Backstage Banter for GODSPELL

Backstage Banter Title Update 061716Thinking about going to a show this weekend? Check out our Backstage Banter for GODSPELL, running until June 26th at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre!

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Review: GODSPELL at Cockpit in Court

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission

There are many shows out there that are community and small theatre staples and Godspell, based on the Gospel of Saint Matthew with Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and Book by John-Michael Tabelak is certainly one of them. It had its off-Broadway debut in 1971 and multiple revivals including the most recent Broadway incarnation in 2011 as well as various professional touring and international productions going strong today. With Broadway standards like “Day by Day” and “On the Willows,” Godspell has the potential to pack playhouses all across the land.

On any given weekend, a production of Godspell is popping up in small theatres in little hamlets and larger theatres in in bigger cities all across this great nation of ours and lucky for us, we have our own local production at Cockpit in Court, directed and choreographed by Baltimore theatre veteran James Hunnicutt with music direction by Nathan Scavilla and co-choreography by Danielle Sten-Guillermo.

The first impression of this production is a pleasant one. As I entered the theatre, I was greeted by a very simple, but artistic set design by Jason Randolph that perfectly fit this show. Reminiscent of a black-box theatre, there are no bells and whistles with this set and it’s brilliant with its two staircases ascending to a second story platform that sits over the main entrance and exit to the stage though sliding doors. One highlight of the set was the recreation of “The Voice” spinning chair that also added an updated flair to the production. Lighting Design by Helen Garcia-Alton was subdued but appropriate though, at times, a little dark, but good, overall.

Rounding out the technical aspect of the production was Sound Design by Jacob Urtes and though it was minimal with no major sound effects it was adequate but had its challenges as there were many times throughout the show I could barely hear what the actors were saying and/or singing and the pit band was too loud and at other times the pit band was too soft. Hopefully, the balance between the band and the actors will be rectified before the end of the run. Also, this production utilized projections (as many productions are utilizing these days) but, I felt the projection choices were at two different ends of the spectrum and either didn’t add anything to the show or were taking attention away from the live action on the stage. I also noticed the projections were few and far in between and, frankly, could have been cut altogether.

Now, onto the performance aspect. I’d like to make it clear that, though this production had its difficulties, it was a very good show, overall. Godspell is a perfect show for small and community theatres and is a fan favorite. Hunnicutt, a revered director in Baltimore community theatre, has done a fine job bringing this production to the stage and all involved should be commended for their efforts.

Godspell is a show that can be very flexible when it comes to a theme and a director can be as creative or traditional as he or she sees fit and though Hunnicutt’s vision seemed fun and upbeat, it was hard for me to see a cohesive vision. I can’t blame Hunnicutt alone as the script is 40+ years old and a lot on the hokey side, which makes the entire picture seem jumbled. The attempts to update and modernize the piece, whether scripted or ad-libbed, seemed thrown in and out of place but there are a few good zingers that managed a laugh from the rather subdued audience but I like my comedy with a bit more edge and reaching for the line of offensive and that’s almost impossible with Godspell.

Another curious choice made by Hunnicutt was to break the 4th wall and have the characters recite the parables of the Gospel of Saint Matthew to the audience instead of to each other. The book for Godspell is already a bit preachy for my tastes and this aspect of the performance just drove that home for me. At times, I felt I was in the congregation of a church listening to a homily rather than in an audience of a show, however, the actors did a great job presenting those parables.

A large part of any successful musical is its choreography and Hunnicutt and Sten-Guillermo give us very entertaining, upbeat numbers. In an effort to update the piece, I saw hints of hip-hop elements but, either because some of the numbers were a little disheveled or the hip-hop elements were very subtle, it was hard to be certain. The dancing was definitely appropriate and thought-out, but the styles seemed to be all over the place and seemed as though the cast would have benefited from a few more dance rehearsals.

One point I must make is that I could definitely tell the small cast gave 100% every step of the way. Even though the pacing seemed to trudge along at times and energy seemed down, that could have had something to do with the unbalanced sound or the script itself. Either way, this very talented cast was totally into what they were presenting. That having been said, with the religious theme of this musical, it seemed the cast was simply reading the script and going through the motions rather than understanding what the text meant. Some of the book seemed to be glazed over just to move the action forward but, I think, if more time had been taken comprehending the text, it would have added a bit more to the performances. I’d like to get this cast together to hang out outside of this production so they can get to know each other a little more because one of the challenges for this cast is that the chemistry between these folks seemed strained. Sure, they were comfortable hugging and patting each other on the back and whatnot, but there was a deeper connection that seemed to be missing but they still put on very good performances.

The opening number, “Tower of Babble,” was a bit lackluster but I could tell from the get that this cast was chock full of AMAZING voices! There were harmony issues, but, individually, this cast is top notch when it comes to singing! This ensemble piece is led by Ryan Slattery as Jesus and Jake Zeranko as John the Baptist/Judas. Zeranko makes his entrance from the back of the auditorium with the traditional conch shell and he gives a very nice rendition of “Prepare Ye” with a very nice voice that I found myself wishing were a little louder at times. Though he was having mic problems, I would liked to have had him project a little more than he was. Zeranko also has the honor of performing one of the prettiest songs in musical theatre, “On the Willows” along a female duo and though he does a fantastic job, I was hoping for a little more emotion as the song is supposed to be happening during the final hours before Jesus’ arrest. He does have a good stage presence, but seems a bit stiff throughout but still gives a very admirable performance.

Slattery, as Jesus, has an absolutely beautiful voice and it is a perfect fit for the role with his gentle and soft manner. He has some very good moments with the cast and the audience, namely “Beautiful City” which is a simple, moving arrangement of just vocals and piano. He was one of the actors who seemed to understand the text and presented it nicely and clearly. “Alas for You” a very emotional, intense song is a highlight for the character of Jesus but Slattery seems to have chosen a more subtle take on the number, losing some of intensity of the song. Though it is an ensemble piece, I would have liked him, as Jesus, to have had a bit more charisma and energy instead of blending in completely with the rest of the cast, but, still, he gives a brilliant performance.

The duo of Slattery and Zeranko gives us “All for the Best” one of the better known songs in Godspell but since the chemsitry was nil to none between the two actors, the number, though entertaining and fun, it kind of fell flat, but the ensemble seemed to have fun with the stylistic number.

Comprising the women’s ensemble are Alyssa Bell, Nicole Smith, Allie McLoughlin, Anna Steuerman, Samantha Ross, and Erin Sullivan and everyone one of these ladies is a power house!

Alyssa Bell does a brilliant job with “Bless the Lord” with her well placed trills and ornamentation showing off her vocal skills, but, whether a sound issue or otherwise, I would have loved for her to have a stronger belt.

Nicole Smith gives a flawless performance, even playing the ukelele in the beginning of her number, “Learn Your Lessons Well.” She has a great belt and wonderful stage presence as she moves comfortably about the stage.

Allie McLoughlin give a very sweet vocal rendition of the uber-famous and well known “Day By Day” but, for all that is good and holy, someone needs to come up with another presentation than the traditional (overused) sign-language rendition. Thankfully, this did not take away from McLoughlin’s talent.

Anna Steuerman give us a haunting rendition of “By My Side” with a very unique, trained voice that sounds like it would totally rock an opera or classical aria and reminds me of someone like Audra McDonald who brings that classical, trained sound to Broadway musicals.

Samantha Ross is indeed a standout in this ensemble with her fun, sexy version of “Turn Back O Man”. She has a beautiful voice and is very confident on stage. She moved beautifully and was one of the actors who kept my attention throughout her entire number. She’s certainly one to watch!

Erin Sullivan gives us “Light of the World”, ending Act I and her rendition is absolutely delightful. She’s got some strong pipes and is comfortable moving around on the stage and has a great presence.

Rounding out the cast is the male ensemble made up of Kevin James Logan and Josh Schoff. These gentlemen, in a sea of ladies, do a fantastic job of holding their own with two of my favorite numbers in Godspell. Logan gives us “All Good Gifts” a soft but soulful song toward the end of Act I. Logan does a great job with this song giving it a good amount of ornamentation and feeling but, I’ve always thought this song was more than just about hitting the notes. Logan hits all the notes in this song flawlessly but falls just short of the feeling this song needs to be 100% successful. Now, I’m not saying he did a bad job because he most certainly did not! He performed this challenging song quite successfully and it was pleasant to watch and listen to him do this thing!

Schoff gives us a very fun rendition of the upbeat 11:00 number, “We Beseech Thee,” which is another one of my favorite songs from this show, and he pulls it off nicely and the cast seems to have a great time with the number as well, though the choreography could be cleaned up just a tad. Overall, Schoff gives a very good performance.

So, even with all its challenges, Cockpit in Court’s Godspell is certainly a very good show and is comprised of a very talented, committed cast giving all they’ve got to this production. It’s a classic musical with familiar tunes and a good message so if you’ve got an hour or two this weekend, go check it out!

This is what I thought of this production of Godspell… what do you think?

Godspell will play Friday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm through June 26th at CCBC, Essex Campus, Community Center. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

American Theatre Wing’s 2016 Tony Awards RECAP

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

2016 Tony Shows

Ok, I’m a couple of days late, but I was searching the Interweb for info on all these shows and people so I could give you fine folks some links to click on!

On Sunday night, The 2016 Tony Awards played out at The Beacon Theatre in New York and here’s a recap of the results… Feel free to click on a person’s name or a show for more info! So… now that the results are in… what did YOU think? Agree with all of it? Disagree with all of it? Tell me, tell me, tell me! Leave a reply below!

BEST PLAY

BEST MUSICAL

BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY

BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL

 

BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (MUSIC AND/OR LYRICS) WRITTEN FOR THE THEATRE

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A PLAY

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A PLAY

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A MUSICAL

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A MUSICAL

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A PLAY

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A PLAY

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A MUSICAL

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A MUSICAL

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY

BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY

BEST ORCHESTRATIONS

SPECIAL TONY AWARD© FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT IN THE THEATRE

SPECIAL TONY AWARD

REGIONAL THEATRE TONY AWARD

ISABELLE STEVENSON TONY AWARD

TONY HONORS FOR EXCELLENCE IN THE THEATRE

 

 

Review: TOWARD ZERO at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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(l. to r.) Thomas C. Hessenauer, Randy Dalmas, John Rowe, Kelly Rardon, and Christopher D. Cahill. Photo credit: Joey Hellman

I always enjoy a good murder mystery and they’re always good money makers for community theatres and no one writes a good murder mystery like the legendary Agatha Christie. This summer, Cockpit and Court Summer Theatre’s first offering in their cabaret space is Toward Zero by Agatha Christie, (who also penned the novel) and Gerald Verner and is directed by Joey Hellman.

Toward Zero tells the tale of a house party (of course) at Gull Point, the house of Lady Tressilian, at Saltcreek, Cornwall. The guests consist of an old family friend, a divorced couple, his 2nd wife and her suave friend, and a barrister, who is also and old friend of the family. The divorced couple are cordial and may still have something for each other, the suave friend has a thing for the 2nd wife, the 2nd wife hates the 1st wife, the old family friend has a thing for the 1st wife, and the hostess and the barrister want everyone to be mindful of their manners. Throw in a Superintendent, an Inspector, and a P.C., and, oh, yeah, a murder, then BOOM… you have an Agatha Christie mystery.

At first glance, I knew I was in for a treat when I walked into the cabaret and was greeted by a beautiful, classic set by Scenic Designer Michael Rasinski. Designing for theatre in the round is difficult but Rasinski pulled it off flawlessly and brilliantly with vintage furniture, wainscoting on the walls, a chandelier hanging in the middle of the stage, and a chaise lounge that, when this production is over, I’d like transported to my house! No detail was overlooked down to the light switches, which were the old fashioned push two-buttoned type rather than the modern one-switch we use today. The set design was practically perfect! Rasinski also pulled double duty as the Lighting Designer and he, too, pulled this off brilliantly with lighting that set the moods perfectly for each scene.

Throughout the production, Sound Designer James Lefter added the usual murder mystery show sound effects such as thunder storms and glass breaking but they sounded like quality effects and not just a generic mp3 that can be downloaded off the Internet (even if they were) and they were all placed perfectly. Director Joey Hellman and Stage Manager Marcy Petrick put together a great soundtrack of music including classical instrumental pieces as well as popular vocal works of the mid 20th century.

Kudos definitely goes to Costumer Eva Grove as costume designs were spot on and thought-out for both formal and casual wear for 1955. There were quite a few costumes for both the male and female actors in this production and each one was appropriate and natural.

Getting into the performance aspect of the production, let me preface by stating that, as a whole, Toward Zero is a very appropriate show for community theatre and Agatha Christie can always be counted on to give the audience a good story and she’ll always keep us on our toes. However, play adaptations of Christie stories can be challenging, especially pieces such as Toward Zero, one of her lesser known adaptations. Even though Christie herself had a hand in writing this adaptation, and it was your classic Agatha Christie whodunnit and predictable, I still found the script a bit jumbled and hard to follow, at times, if you aren’t paying close attention.

Overall, the cast did a fine job with this challenging piece and Hellman made some wise choices such as impeccable blocking, which is difficult in the round, where no actor’s back was facing the audience for any extended period of time, but, as I sat there watching the action unfold, I said to myself, “I think this cast needs to go out for a drink with each other!” because there seemed to be little chemistry within the cast which is of the utmost importance when it comes to any play, especially a murder mystery. The chemistry that is present is OK, but does feel a bit strained.

At various points in the script, characters speak of the feeling of “something wrong” or “something out of place” but, because of the lack of chemistry, unfortunately, there is a lack of much needed tension. For there having just been a murder in the house, and suspicion being thrown around, one would think one could cut the tension with a knife, but, that’s not the case here. It’s as if the actors are just going through the motions of a predictable script. However, let me clearly state I don’t blame the cast or the director… I reiterate… a murder mystery is a challenging undertaking!

Speaking of the cast, in general, the British accents are admirable, but, overall, a dialect coach may have been beneficial all around. The actors knew their blocking and their lines quite well and spoke very naturally with each other.

Christopher D. Cahill as Thomas Royde is the first character we meet and, though it’s a bit difficult to understand what he’s saying, at times (I think the British accent is tripping him up occasionally), he has a very good and demanding stage presence and demeanor and knew and played his character very well and gave a strong performance and his vape pipe was brilliant and added to his character.

Kristin Miller takes on the role of Kay Strange, the 2nd, discontented wife of Neville Strange, played by Randy Dalmas. Miller has a tendency to take her character over the top with seemingly one emotion – upset – accompanied by pouty faces, crossed arms, and rolling eyes every time she steps onto the stage. However, the character is unhappy being where she is and has to deal with an ex-wife, so, Miller’s choices aren’t off the mark and she pulls off a very good, though mellow-dramatic, performance. Kay’s cohort, Ted Latimer, is nicely played by Andrew Wilkin and another character even mentions that Latimer is “a dramatic fellow” and, boy, does Wilkin take this to heart. It’s almost fitting that his character and Miller’s characters are so close because he, too, takes the character a bit over the top, at times, with the same rolling of the eyes and pouty faces. Regardless, he gives a strong performance and  has the perfect look for his character.

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(l. to r.) Christopher D. Cahill, Kelly Rardon, Andrew Wilkin, Randy Dalmas, Kristin Miller, Thomas C. Hessenauer, John Rowe. Photo credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Kelly Rardon tackles the roll of Mary Aldin, the pitiful Lady’s Maid to Lady Tressilian, played by Suzanne Young. Rardon gives a strong performance as Mary and is comfortable moving about the stage, giving a very nice performance but Young is one of the highlights of this production as she gives a very strong, believable performance as the old, crippled Lady Tressilian and has a demanding presence onstage as the matriarch of the bunch, shouting orders, and reminding everyone of the manners of a bygone era. Young is certainly one to watch!

A Baltimore favorite and a fixture in community theatre, John Rowe puts himself in the role of Matthew Treves, a barrister (an attorney, in America), and old friend of the family. He gives a strong performance as a stuffy, old fashioned gentleman of good background and is comfortable on the stage. Well, after being involved in community theatre for over 40 years, one should be comfortable, and Mr. Rowe certainly is! He certainly does take time with his lines, at times, maybe a bit too much time, but he is clear and strong and gives a very strong, believable performance.

Rounding out the cast are Thomas C. Hessenauer, Ryan Frank, and Connor Moore playing Superintendent Battle, Inspector Leach, and P.C. Benson, respectively. Hessenauer, a veteran of Baltimore community theatre, does a wonderful job as the lawman called in to investigate the inevitable murder and he has a strong understanding of his character and is believable as the person who takes charge to find out whodunnit! Occasionally, he comes on strong right out of the gate pointing a suspicious finger at the people he is questioning instead of transitioning gradually into that suspicion, but overall, Hessenauer pulls his role off very well.

As Inspector Leach, Ryan Frank seems to play the part more like an inexperienced young man who got his position because of nepotism rather than on merit. His character pops in, carrying various pieces of evidence and stands on the perimeter while his uncle, Superintendent Battle, solves the crimes. Script wise, I’m not sure the character is needed, but Frank plays the part admirably with the material he’s given and the same can be said for Connor Moore, as P.C. Benson. This character seems to just fill space on stage but could easily be cut, as well. However, Moore, in his impeccable costume and brilliant whistle, pulls off the part nicely and it’s obvious he’s giving 100%!

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Stephanie Horvath. Photo credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Two highlights of this production of Toward Zero are Stephanie Horvath and Randy Dalmas. The two play ex-spouses, Audrey Strange and Neville Strange and they pull off the parts flawlessly. Randy Dalmas has a strong presence and seems to understand his character. He moves comfortably around the stage and, if I might add, has a very nice, smooth voice that lends well to the British accent he pulls off beautifully. Horvath glides across the stage comfortably and effortlessly, embodying the character of an ex-wife who may or may not be who we think she is. Though a few of her reactions to major events in the show could have been more thought out, she is still gives a strong, believable performance. Hovarth and Dalmas make a dynamic duo that are a joy to watch.

Toward Zero is indeed a good show and has some very talented folks involved so, if you find yourself looking for something to do for the next couple of weekends, check it out! Agatha Christie always delivers and it’s always fun to see if you and your friends can solve the mystery before the big reveal!

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with one 10 minute intermission

This is my take on this production of Toward Zero… what do you think?

Toward Zero will play Friday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm through June 26th at CCBC, Essex Campus, Community Center. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.