Review: Disney’s The Little Mermaid at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre

By TJ Lukacsina

Run Time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission

Under the Sea with Sebastian (Derek Cooper). Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

Sebastian is certainly onto something when he tells Airel that “the human world is a mess. Life under the sea is better than anything they got up there.” Especially if he’s referring to Cockpit in Court’s latest production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glen Slater. This production is Directed by Jillian Bauersfeld, with Music Direction by Andrew Worthington, and Choreography by Karli Burnham. Originally produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, this adaptation from Disney’s 1989 film has a book by Doug Wright which has had some unfortunate rewrites since the show closed on Broadway in 2009. I’ll be upfront in saying that the majority of my qualms for this production stem from these poor rewrites and cuts that Disney made before allowing it to be licensed to local theatre groups. In general the writing is watered down and presentational on a basic, at times insulting, level and makes you feel as if you’re watching the Wikipedia Summary instead of the show. Thankfully, Jillian Bauersfeld’s handling of the show not only makes it palatable but also an enjoyable experience for all ages.

Briefly, The Little Mermaid is about Ariel, King Triton’s youngest daughter, who wishes to pursue the human Prince Eric in the world above. She bargains with the evil sea witch, Ursula, to trade her tail for legs by giving up her voice. But the bargain is not what it seems, and Ariel needs the help of her colorful friends, Flounder the fish, Scuttle the seagull and Sebastian the crab to restore order under the sea. (www.mtishows.com)

Under the Direction of Jillian Bauersfeld, Music Direction of Andrew Worthington and Stage Management of Robert W. Oppel, this production is highly entertaining and manages to allow the audience to drift from scene to scene without any pull from the undertow. The audience feeds off the energy flowing from the stage and one can’t help but enjoy being slightly distracted from little kids singing along to some of their favorite songs. That’s when you know you have tapped into the Disney magic and are encouraging future theatre lovers.

Allison Comotto as Ariel. Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

Walking into the theatre you are treated with a projection of a beach and the sounds of waves and seagulls to help take you away from the pouring rain outside. Creating their magical world, Set Designer Michael Rasinski should be proud of the scene shop’s execution. These beautiful set pieces are large enough to maintain their presence while the cast dances on and around them. Corals in Ariel’s grotto and individual wood planks on Eric’s ship are the kinds of details that help transport you and are much appreciated. But even with the details, a little more attention to the destruction of the grotto would have helped the audience grieve with Ariel instead of wonder why she was so upset that her thingamabobs were moved a few feet away from her whatchamacallits. However, all of these set pieces would go unnoticed if it weren’t for Thomas Gardner’s Lighting Design. Overall, the lighting is aesthetically pleasing and appropriate. The heavy use of haze allowed the lighting to be seen to help fill the full stage space but allowed the lights to become distracting during the scenes on the apron where they obscured the projection heavily. Use of moving lights helped to create the underwater effect and while effective, would occasionally get lost due to similarities in the color pallette . Mr. Gardner certainly has an eye for key moments in songs and certainly knows when and how to highlight them for maximum effect.

Deanna Brill’s Costume Design walked the line between expectation and invention. I applaud the bold choice to tastefully show so much beautiful skin and the design of the mer-tales that were as practical as they were visually delightful. The ensemble were dressed vividly while the classic looks from the movie were still alluded to, from Prince Eric’s classic outfit to even the puffy sleeves on the wedding dress. From the fish, eels and even the birds, the costumes allowed the actor’s characters to come to life.  Although the designer is not listed in the program, make-up design was detailed and really helped to establish these characters as otherworldly. My main makeup concern was actually a lack of a certain makeup: the decision to not conceal actor’s tattoos. While appropriate in some shows, I found them to be a minor distraction for this production.

Gary Dieter as Scuttle. Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

For a show that has a focus on story and is aided occasionally with dance, Karli Burnham’s Choreography helped to showcase the wonderful talent in the cast. With a working knowledge of the costumes, the choreography wasn’t limited to just foot movement but body and arm movements which allowed for a fluid movement from the actors. Some of the large ensemble numbers while portraying water felt repetitive and tedious in their attempt to fill the musical space. However, her work really shines with the small tap ensemble as well as the evolution of dance Eric teaches Ariel in “One Step Closer” was storytelling through dance.

The heavy lifting of Alan Menken’s score is in the capable hands of Andrew Worthington. The cast was well prepared and knowledgeable enough of their parts to make them their own and not rely on mimicking the original cast recordings. All voice parts were balanced and easily heard along with the pit thanks to the constant vigilance by sound designer Brent Tomchik. Following Mr. Worthington’s conducting was a competent orchestra consisting of established musicians in the area: Stephen Deninger, William Zellhofer, Christopher Rose, Stacey Antoine, Joseph Pipkin, William Georg, and Gregory Troy Bell. While proficient and accurate, the orchestra only suffered from a lack of actual brass and additional woodwinds. Even though those parts were covered in the keyboards, I found the patches were inconsistent among themselves and rarely compensates for the timbre from the actual instrument.

All these designers were able to achieve on a level which produced a thorough and consistent vision from Director Jillian Bauersfeld. With the aid of Assistant Director Jake Stuart, the cast is able to portray these fantasy characters with heart, believability and a recognizable humanity. While working under the shadow of a Disney title, it’s difficult to produce a show that allows artistic freedom with a vision while still giving the audience a dose of their expectations from the movie which kicked off the Disney animated renaissance. Ms. Bauersfeld was able to give us a cast worth watching and set up a show that ran smoothly. Small decisions to have the sea characters constantly moving arms or allowing several acting choices that were inconsistent to their characters are minor annoyances and never hurt the overall enjoyment. The true art of directing is assembling the right team to find the right cast and crew and allow everyone to do what they do while pushing them for more. Congrats to Ms. Bauersfeld on your ability to inspire everyone to give their best!

(l-r) Josh Schoff as Flostom, Holly Gibbs as Ursula, and Jonah Wolf as Jetsam. Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

I have always felt that some of the hardest working actors seem to get lost in the ensemble. When asked to play several different characters, help shift set pieces, and often run off stage only to completely change costumes and makeup and run back on stage for two minutes of a three minute song, it’s hard to remember what is next let alone your name. Major kudos to Nicole Arrison, Olivia Aubele, Amy Bell, Lanoree Blake, Katelyn Blomquist, Karli Burnham, Kelsey Feeny, Shani Goloskov, Aaron Hancock, Mark Johnson Jr, Dorian Smith, Ian Smith and Jose Teneza for your energy, talent and being consistently in character. These actors jumped from the sailors steering the ship and winding the rope, to King Triton’s court, to the seagull ensemble, chefs and Ariel’s attendants in the castle and were always able to help establish the mood of the scene.

Featuring Ellen Manuel (Aquata), Elisabeth Johnson (Andrina), Malarie Zeeks (Arista), Kaitlyn Jones (Atina), Emily Caplan (Adella) and Hannah Bartlett (Allana), Ariel’s mer-sisters were a wonderful balance to Ariel’s positive and dreamy attitude. Using different hair styles and different shells while porting vastly different personalities and physical traits, each sister managed to be her own while presenting a unified front in their featured numbers “Daughters of Triton” and “She’s in Love.” Pulling double duty, they are a delight to see on land competing for Eric’s love in the vocal contest that plays up the fantastically poor vocals of these characters.

Brian Jacobs as Chef Louis. Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

In supporting yet memorable roles, Brian Jacobs revels in playing Chef Louis during “Les Poissons” while Nicholas Pepersack’s dignified and proper Grimsby was always moving with purpose on stage. Mr. Jacobs clearly enjoys his song and slashes into his character to the breaking point of the cleaver. A fun cameo for sure that was able to get the giggles and laughs from the audience. Grimsby’s conversation with King Triton really gives Mr. Pepersack a moment to have a heartfelt moment and show how proud he is of Prince Eric.

My scene-stealing award goes to Gary Dieter who simply was Scuttle from the moment he flew in to his flawless tap dance in “Positoovity.” Scuttle was over the top and as endearingly annoying as I remember from the movie. It was hard not to smile when he was visible. Sharing the stage with him most of the time and impressively holding his own ground was Adrien Amrhein as Flounder. With sweet dance moves and a solid voice, this kid will secure more roles on stage and we will benefit from seeing him. Dutifully performing a poorly written character, his choices to not emphasize being friend-zoned and play up the best friend were appreciated.

Slithering onto the stage on their matching scooters were Josh Schoff as Flotsam and Jonah Wolf as Jetsam. The choice of scooters to maneuver them around stage was inventive and paid off in execution. Both actors were able to skillfully incorporate them in their character and not rely on them as a crutch. They were perfect henchmen to Holly Gibbs’ Ursula. Having arguably both the best and worst songs in the show, Ms. Gibb was able to make the most of her voice and complemented with acting ability that emanated from all eight limbs.

As ruler of the sea, Mark Lloyd’s King Triton managed to capture the softer side and showcased his mourning for his deceased wife and inability to properly communicate with Ariel. “If Only” is a great song to show that Triton is more than just a fierce ruler who banished his sister to a small part of the ocean but is also a parent who is sometimes unsure how to parent. He relies on Sebastian, played by Derek Cooper, to spy on Ariel and win her trust. With a clever costume and sublime vocals, Mr. Cooper is able to bring Sebastian into our lives with his own lovely interpretation. “Under the Sea” is his time to shine and when out in front singing he earns your attention with powerful falsettos and fantastic facial expressions.

The Daughters of Triton. Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

Our leading man, Jim Baxter hits the stage as Prince Eric while taking charge of his ship. Mr. Baxter certainly looks every bit of what you’d expect from the cartoon and captures his love for adventure when on the ship and when courting Ariel in the second act. When beginning “Her Voice” he was oddly out of breath but managed to salvage some and really drive the second half of his number home with gusto and emotion. Not to be out-done by her new fiance, Allison Comotto’s Ariel is exactly what you could want from a Disney princess. Ms. Comotto is able to capture Ariel’s longing and desire to escape all while dealing with difficult family members. Allison really comes to life in Act two when her curiosity and excitement can only be communicated through her facial expressions. The joy Ariel finds in the new world is brilliantly shown during “Beyond My Wildest Dreams” where she sings her inner monologue to us. But however fantastic she is, she is at her prime when singing “Part of Your World.” Congratulations on your fairytale engagement and for inspiring a cast to follow your lead.

Disney’s Little Mermaid is a local theatre production that is able to rely on the community of actors, crew, musicians and artistic staff to bring its own magic to the stage. They should be proud of the work that they have poured into this show. The perfect escape from the summer heat, bring the family to see Cockpit in Court’s production where “it’s better down where it’s wetter.”

Disney’s The Little Mermaid will run through Auguest 5 at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre, CCBC Essex, Robert and Eleanor Romadka College Center, F. Scott Black Theatre. For tickets call the box office at 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

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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: The Wiz at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission

Approaching the Wizard. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


The Wizard of Oz holds a special place in many hearts the world over and rarely is a re-imagining or re-telling of a beloved story ever just as successful as the original but The Wiz, with Lyrics & Music by Charlie Smalls and Book by William F. Brown (which, incidentally had its FIRST showing here in Baltimore at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre) most definitely falls into the category of successes. Spotlighters Theatre has opened their production of The Wiz, Directed by Tracie M. Jiggetts, with Music Direction by Brandon Booth, Choreography by Traci M. Jiggetts, Timoth David Copney, and Aliyah Caldwell and it’s a joyous, entertaining sight to behold.

Ease on Down the Road. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


Set Design by Alan S. Zemla is smart and simple considering the intimate space of Spotlighters, however, Zemla makes simple work nicely for this piece. Almost every inch of the theatre is used with each back corner dressed up as Dorothy’s Baltimore home (that’s right, Baltimore, not Kansas), The Emerald City Gate, and, in Act II, Evillene’s throne. The stages cleverly stays pretty clear throughout the production with set pieces and dressings insinuating the setting of each scene quite effectively.
Costume Design by Fuzz Roark is nothing short of stellar. The Wiz is a tricky one, but Roark has stepped up to the plate and hit a homerun. Word has it, he was practically sewing just until the the lights when up on opening night but his hard work has paid off. The attention to detail (especially the colorful and creative Munchkin costumes) and the overall design add great value to this piece. Working along side Roark were Karen Eske, who constructed The Wiz costume, Cheryl Robinson, who constructed the Addaperle and Glinda costumes, and Sarah Watson, who constructed the Evillene costume and all were spot on and grand, absolutely befitting of each character.

Tornado Dancers. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


Choreography by Tracie M. Jiggetts, Timoth David Copney, and Aliyah Caldwell is a highlight of this production. This team seems to have understood the varying abilities of their cast, which is important in this area, and they’ve managed to come up with innovative and original choreography that fits well with the piece and moves it along nicely. Aliyah Caldwell (Lead Dancer), Stephanie Crockett (Dancer #2) , and Kimani Lee (Dancer #3) are exquisite and fluid as the Tornado, poppies, and Oz Ballet Dancers and give superb performances.

Renata Hammond and Amber Hooper. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


Music Director Brandon Booth does a fine job with this piece as a whole. His work with the cast has produced a nice balance and brilliant performances from the entire ensemble. Working with music that is familiar is a challenge, but Booth, along with his actors and outstanding pit orchestra consisting of himself on Keyboard, Greg Bell on Bass Guitar, and William Georg on Percussion and 2nd Keyboard, has breathed new, fresh life into this already beautiful piece.

Timoth David Copney as The Wiz. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


Taking the helm of this production, Director Tracie M. Jiggetts has created this alternate Oz in a small but adequate space beautifully. Aside from a lackluster death for the Wicked Witch of the West, which not soley the fault of Jiggetts as she certainly has limitations in the space, and curious omissions probably because of space and time constraints, she has a clear vision, moving Dorothy Gale to Baltimore and out of Kansas and giving gracious nods to the surrounding areas (even mentioning Dundalk, Ritchie Highway, and ArtScape), and her casting is extraordinary. Let me take a moment to discuss pacing, as well. According to the Spotlighters website, this show is supposed to run 2 hours and 45 minutes but, Jiggetts has managed to keep this piece moving and the pacing is on point! She manages to tell the entire story in 2 hours with a 15 minute intermission and that, my friends, is uber impressive for a show of this stature, so the cuts are absolutely forgiven.

Phoenix Averiyire, Neves R. Jones, and Sofia Raquel Esme D’Ambrosi. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


Moving into the performance aspect of this production, I wouldn’t be doing any favors with this reivew if I didn’t mention Phoenix Averiyire, Neves R. Jones, and Sofia Raquel Esme D’Ambrosi as the Munchkins. Cuteness overload! These three very young actresses were spot on in their performances and held there own against their adult counterparts. For child actors, they are flawless and throw just enough shade to be adorable and not flippant. These young ladies are definitely a highlight of this production.
Darlene Harris takes on the role of Aunt Em and, unfortunately, must have been having some vocal issues for this particular performance as she spoke through her number “The Feeling We Once Had,” and the backup vocals were kept in, making it sound a bit awkward, but… Harris acts the hell out of the number, not losing the poignancy of the piece. I hope she feels better for the rest of the run because I have a feeling she wails this number. As The Wiz himself, Timoth David Copney works it and embodies The Wiz entirely with great comedic timing and a good grasp of the character. Vocally, he gives a great, confident performance in numbers such as “So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard” and the gospel inspired “Y’all Got It!” Elaine Foster tackles the role of Glinda and this casting is superb. She brings the grace that is required for this character and, vocally, she handles her song “A Rested body is a Rested Mind” exceptionally with a delicate, but strong tone. DDm as Evillene is a powerhouse with instant command of the stage. DDm gives a strong, commendable performance vocally and in character. Rounding out the cast of characters other than the main four friends, Renata Hammond takes on the role of Addaperle and she is most certainly another highlight in this production. Her comedic timing is near perfect and her confident performance shows she’s comfortable in the role. Becasue of her portrayal, you will instantly like this character and her vocal performance is just as impressive as she belts out her number “He’s the Wiz.”

Amber Hooper as Dorothy Gale. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


Amber Hooper as Dorothy Gale, the young lady whisked off to Oz with the help of a tornado. Sometimes it’s difficult to portray such an iconic character and Hooper does a fine job exuding the innocence and naivete of this young girl. She looks the part and seems to understand not only the character but the re-imagining of the character, as well. She’s comfortable on stage but seems to blend in, getting lost in the shuffle as the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion join the journey. Vocally, she gives an admirable performance with a strong hint of classical training and she manages the material nicely.

Justin Johnson as The Scarecrow. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


Justin Johnson as Scarecrow gives an outstanding performanc, making the part his own and bringing an lovable ignorance with a hidden intelligence, as is required for the character and making him a joy to watch. His choices are brilliant such as his nerdy laugh that got me every time. His comedic timing is down pat and his movement as the Scarecrow is spot on and Johnson makes the character likable from the get. Vocally, Johnson gives a fantastic performance with a smooth, but resonating tone that works well, especially with his main number “I Was Born the Day Before Yesterday,” and his movement in the number keeps it upbeat and entertaining to watch.

Shae Henry as The Tin Man. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


Next, we meet Shae Henry as Tin Man and he handles this role with a tranquil feel. He is lovable and gives a bang-up performance as the poor man searching for a heart. He has great chemistry with his cast mates, and his character is consistent throughout the production. Vocally, Henry gives an pleasing performance and shines in his number “Slide Some Oil to Me.”

J. Purnell Hargrove as The Lion. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


J. Purnell Hargrove as Lion is the absolute standout in this production. He grasps not only the character but the humor, as well, giving an exemplary performance that has the entire audience belly laughing as soon as he hits the stage. He’s confident and milks this character for every laugh without becoming annoying, which is quite a feat. Vocally, Hargrove is strong and really sells his numbers such as “Mean Ol’ Lion” and his duet with Hooper, “Be a Lion.” He’s certainly one to watch in this particular production.
Final thought… The Wiz at Spotlighters Theatre is a fun, entertaining, and well put-together production that should not be missed this season. Though it is in an intimate space and limitations, Spotlighters still manages to give us a big show with all the bells and whistles expected from this show. The added humor and nods to our humble city of Baltimore engages the audience and adds a nice personal touch. Superb pacing, great casting, fantastic costumes, brilliant choreography, terrific performances, and familiar tunes take this production to the hilt and make for a very enjoyable evening of theatre. Get your tickets now! You won’t be disappointed with this one!
This is what I thought of Spotlighters Theatre’s production of The Wiz… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
The Wiz will play through April 30 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or them online.
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Review: Lucky Stiff at Silhouette Stages

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with one 20-minute intermission
Something funny’s going on and it’s happening at Silhouette Stages in Columbia with their latest offering, Lucky Stiff by Lynn Ahrens (Book and Lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (Music), with Direction by Conni Trump Ross, Music Direction by William Georg, Choreography by Tina DeSimone, Set Design by Douglas Thomas, and Costume Design by Linda Swan.

The Cast of Lucky Stiff. Credit: Silhouette Stages


Lucky Stiff is based on a 1983 novel by Michael Butterworth called The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo and is about a nobody English shoe salesman named Harry Witherspoon who lives an uneventful life in East Grinstead, England. He learns that his Uncle Anthony, from Atlantic City, USA has died (killed by his legally blind lover), and he stands to inherit $6 million. The catch is, Harry has to agree to take Uncle Anthony’s corpse on a whirlwind Monte Carlo all-expenses paid vacation or all the money goes to Uncle Anthony’s favorite charity, the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. Harry agrees and sets out to fulfill Uncle Anthony’s dying wish but while in Monte Carlo, he meets a very quirky cast of characters who have plans of their own for the $6 million.
Have a traditional proscenium (traditional) stage, Set Design by Douglas Thomas is innovative and creative. Thomas begins with a blank stage with black curtains and actually uses a quite minimal design using tri-flats to represent different settings that were easy to move and set up. Not once is the audience confused as to where a scene is taking place and use of easy-to-move set pieces, as well, adds to the production value. The attention to detail is impressive with specific bed sheets, glamorous gold table cloths, and representations of the inside of a plane passenger cabin and a public bus. Overall, Set Design was spot on and added great production value.

Doug Thomas, Andy Kolp, Rob Wall, & Neal Townsend. Credit: Silhouette Stages


Costume Design by Linda Swann is splendid as this piece musical/comedy theatre, so everything is a little over the top and it is set in present day. Each character has his or her own individual style and each actor’s wardrobe works well for his or her character. Swann gives us a well thought-out, detailed-oriented Costume Design that helps define these zany characters without making caricatures out of them. Working with characters who are stereotypes and even one or two with secret identities, Swann does a bang up job with her design for this production.
No musical would be complete without a little dancing and Choreography by Tina DeSimone is charming and entertaining. I can tell there are some strong dancers in this ensemble as well as some who aren’t as strong as others, but DeSimone really gets her cast and has modified her choreography (modified, NOT dumbed down) to suit her cast and that’s such an important talent for a choreographer to have. She adds in a good old fashioned kick-line (which always goes over well, like it or not) and has her cast moving comfortably on the stage as well as giving her more experienced dancers more challenging choreography to utilize and show of their talents. Kudos to DeSimone for her excellent efforts.

Rob Wall, Mike COrnell, Becca Hanauer, & Lisa Sharpe. Credit: Silhouette Stages


Music Direction was tackled by William Georg and even though this production used recorded or canned music, it is still executed beautifully. Georg has a vocally strong ensemble to work with anyway and in the opening number, “Something Funny’s Going On”, the power behind the vocals certainly makes the audience take notice and clearly announces this production is ready to begin. Georg mentioned that the system used for this production is more than just pushing a play and stop button, but more interactive and he actually controls cues and timing in the numbers which is quite impressive seeing as though he provides all of the sound effects required, as well. The cast sounds brilliant and, from where I was sitting, not one cue was missed so, major kudos to William Georg on his musical work.
Direction duties are tacked by Conni Trump Ross and she has put on a well-thought out, well put-together production. Her casting is top-notch and fitting and the pacing of this piece keeps it interesting and ending at an appropriate time. Ross seems to understand this piece and the story it tells, while keeping in mind the comedy that goes along with it. She doesn’t take the piece too seriously, but gets the important message across of taking that leap of faith once in a while and trying new things because you never know what can come of it. With Ross’ superb guidance, the ensemble is able thoroughly and seamlessly tell this crazy story.
This is definitely an ensemble piece and the entire ensemble knocks it out of the ballpark, making this an enjoyable, fun evening of theatre.
Todd Hochkeppel takes on a supporting role as Luigi Gaudi and his dedication and effort make for a strong, funny performance. This character is an observer, in the background, and popping up when least expected or when it’s least convenient and Hochkeppel takes this character and runs with it. His character choices, especially his movement, mannerism, and impeccable Mediterranean accent make for an upbeat and fantastic performance.

Don Patterson & Kristen Zwobot. Credit: Silhouette Stages


Don Patterson takes on the role of the neurotic, optometrist Vinnie DiRuzzio. Poor Vinnie, who also happens to be the brother of one of the women after Harry Witherspoon and the $6 million, is dragged into this story kicking and screaming but takes it all in stride. At first glance, Patterson seemed a little out of place, being a tad older than the rest of the “main” cast, but after a minute or two, that is forgotten and he fits right in with this crazy cast of characters. He seems to grasp the character of Vinnie and his neurotic tendencies and portrays him well. Patterson is comfortable in his role, is confident, and does a great job, vocally, with his numbers such as “The Telephone Song” and his duet “Rita’s Confession,” giving a strong, solid performance.

Featuring Alyssa Bell, Rob Wall, & Mike Cornell. Credit: Silhouette Stages


The beautiful Alyssa Bell takes on the role of the beautiful Dominique DuMonaco, a club singer who is “hired” to show harry a good time while he’s in Monte Carlo but ends up in a bit of a different arrangement by the end of the piece. Let me say that I am thoroughly impressed by the effort Bell gives to her character. She especially gives 100% to her solo number “Speaking French” and she is a joy to watch, tackling more challenging choreography while having to belt out a doozy of a song. Though the challenging choreography may have affected her vocal performance a bit, not allowing her to take a much needed breath in her song and belt it out as it should have been, she still does a stellar job with this part. She plays her character flawlessly with just enough “slinkiness” to make her sexy, but also enough naivety to make her innocent and likable. Her accent is commendable and, overall, she her performance is quite admirable.

Featuring Rob Wall & Mike Cornell. Credit: Silhouette Stages


Rob Wall is superb as Harry Witherspoon and really embodies this character making it his own. As the character in which this story revolves around, Wall holds his own and the responsibility quite well giving a strong, self-assured performance. His chemistry with the rest of the ensemble is effortless and helps make his character more authentic. He does a great job maneuvering Uncle Anthony (played brilliantly by a still and quiet Mike Cornell) around in a wheelchair and not crashing into everything up on the stage, which is actually a pretty impressive feat. I would like more volume from him during his songs but he does belt the high money notes, which is natural and, vocally, Wall is a dynamo, with his smooth bari-tenor voice resonating throughout the theatre. He understands his character and you can see the insecurities in the choices he makes onstage and within his face and mannerisms, making for a fine and praiseworthy performance.
Maddie Bohrer, a newcomer to Silhouette Stages, takes on the role of Annabel Glick, a straight-laced, no-nonsense representative from The Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn, just waiting for Harry Witherspoon to trip up, just once, so the $6 million can go to the dogs, instead. Bohrer is absolutely charming and sweet in this role and she plays it beautifully. Her transition from “all-business” to letting her hair down is smooth and effortless and her chemistry with Wall is brilliant. I wouldn’t necessarily consider Bohrer a coloratura soprano, but her voice is sweet and strong and it works perfectly for her character and, on side note, I’d love to see her wail in a rock-opera sometime, just to see what she can do! Her performance is robust  and on point and a joy to watch.

Mike Cornell & Kristen Zwobot. Credit: Silhouette Stages


Kristen Zwobot as Rita La Porta is a standout in this production. From the moment she steps on stage she is in character (the stereotype of a New Jersey gangster girlfriend) and she is consistent throughout the piece. Her comedic timing is spot on and it helps that she grasps the comedy and her character allowing her to have a good command of the stage. Her look, character choices, and use of a New Jersey-esque accent make for a funny, hearty performance. It’s worth mentioning that Zwobot is a bona fide vocal powerhouse. Her voice is strong and clear in numbers such as “Rita’s Confession” and “Funny Meeting You Here,” filling the entire theatre (and then some) making for an outstanding and memorable performance.
Final thought… Lucky Stiff is a fun, fast-paced farce that is sure to tickle your funny bone and have your toes tapping. The material from Ahrens & Flaherty is catchy and easy to listen to and the production is well-thought out and put-together. The entire ensemble is dedicated and gives 100% to their performance and they tell the story effectively. Make sure you add this to your list of things to see this season because you won’t be disappointed.
This is what I thought of Silhouette Stages’ production of Lucky Stiff… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Lucky Stiff will play through March 26 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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