Check out the new Backstage Banter for HOAX by the encounter at 14 Karat Cabaret! A new piece of theatre that’s part experimental theatre, part magic show, part TED Talks and entirely entertaining! Leave a comment to tell us what you thought!
Check out the new Backstage Banter for HOAX by the encounter at 14 Karat Cabaret! A new piece of theatre that’s part experimental theatre, part magic show, part TED Talks and entirely entertaining! Leave a comment to tell us what you thought!
by Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Baltimore is certainly known for its quirkiness (some would say weirdness) and that’s exactly why I adore this city! There’s a little join called Maryland Art Place (MAP) down on West Saratoga Street that I had never heard of but am certainly glad I have now. At the moment, in the 14 Karat Cabaret, a space that was once a basement but is now charming and, yes, quirky performance space, MAP is presenting a brand new work entitled HOAX, by Annelise Montone in collaboration with Magician Brian M. Kehoe with Consulting Director Deirdre McAllister and this is a show not to be missed this summer!
I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world but every road has always led back to dear old Baltimore and though I was born and raised in this fine town, there are still nooks and crannies that I’ve yet to explore. MAP and the 14 Karat Cabaret was one of those nooks and I was delighted of my new discovery and I was honored to witness a piece of theatre that, on a regular evening, I may not have given a second thought because of the style. I’m glad I gave this a second thought and decided to attend. I would call HOAX part experimental theatre, part magic show, and part TED Talks but entirely entertaining and authentic. The writing is strong and the performances are powerful.
HOAX is about Maxwell Fink and Sarah Swanson (if that’s their real names), two con artists who have come together to pull back the veil on your everyday cons and to warn the audience. Maxwell, with his clever sleight of hand and smoke and mirrors wants to quit the con business and very much wants the audience to understand the art of confidence so we won’t be scammed again. Sarah, on the other hand, is a bit more apprehensive, but goes along with Maxwell out of pure loyalty, being the ever-reliable assistant.
Walking into the space, I knew I was in for an interesting and entertaining evening. The space has the feel of a black box theatre, with just about every surface painted black but it is decorated with mismatched chachkies and eclectic memorabilia from previous shows and presentations and has a very down-home feeling. At first, I felt out of place and didn’t know what to expect as I’m accustomed to actual theatres or theatre spaces with stages, but quickly became more at ease and comfortable because of the friendly, charming atmosphere. The joint even has a cash bar (water, wine, and lemonade), which is always fun!
As for the actual production, the stage is constructed in a corner of the space and part of the space is blocked off by simple drapery that is absolutely appropriate for this show. Scenic Design by Harley Winkler is absolutely spot on with gold drapery and rolling boxes that serve as storage and seating for the cast of two. The set and space in general gave me the feeling I was sitting in a side show attraction at a carnival in a by-gone era with a hint of creepiness but overpowering feeling of curiosity that pushed the hint of creepiness to the back of my mind. Lighting Design by Alec Lawson added to the curious, strange atmosphere with simple but brilliant lighting, using the lighting already in the space as well as small lamps at the edges of the stage, almost like foot lighting that shines an eerie up-lighting that adds value to the production.
The Sound Design of this production deserves a shout out, as well! For not having a live band, the music choices were practically perfect from the old songs, the carnival sounds, the calliope music, the canned laughter – everything! Everything fit like a glove and the cues were absolutely flawless and I’m assuming Stage Manger Stephy Miller has something to do with those cues and should be commended for her work!
The costumes for each character are very suitable and period, and don’t take away from the performances but add to the production as a whole. A checkered blazer and oxford shoes for Maxwell and a striking red dress for Sarah add that extra bit of authenticity to these characters.
Also adding major value to the production is something of which I am not a huge fan, usually, and that is the audience participation. Again, I’m not crazy about breaking that “fourth wall” whether I’m on stage or in the audience during a production. However, using audience participation worked perfectly with this production. Since it’s part magic show, of course, the audience has to be involved and that’s an aspect that made this production shine – the total emersion of the audience. We are right there with Maxwell and Sarah and they are talking to us, not at us.
Brian M. Kehoe takes on the role of Maxwell Fink, a con artist who is on the top of his game but wants to repent and is desperate to teach the audience how to spot and avoid a scam. Kehoe’s performance is brilliant and flawless from the moment he interrupts the audience having their drinks in the bar area until the very last lines of the show. According to his website, brianmkeho.com, he is a “magician/lecturing conjurer/actor” and he ain’t lyin’! He’s certainly every one of those things. He is natural and comfortable onstage and though he might have a small stature, he has a huge, confident presence that commands the stage. Throughout the entire show, as Maxwell, Kehoe is talking to his audience and interacting, giving a complete sense of inclusion. If reading directly from a script, he seems as though he’s just having a conversation with his audience and if going off of an outline, he doesn’t falter once. His interaction with the audience, when he’s asking for volunteers, is not pompous but, just like a con man, very friendly, and his volunteers want to cooperate. His emotion when talking about his need to redeem himself is poignant and authentic, making the audience feel for him and even root for him to find his redemption. Overall, Kehoe’s performance in HOAX was a joy to watch and I’m excited to see more from him.
The role of Sarah Swanson, the discontented but loyal (or so it seems) assistant/partner is taken on by author Annelise Montone and her performance is absolutely first-rate from her intense entrance, pretending to be Mary Toft, a woman in the early 1700s who claimed to give birth to rabbits or rabbit parts, anyway, to her snarky interactions with Kehoe as Maxwell, to her interaction with the audience. Not once did she lose character of the irate, somewhat fed-up Sarah Swanson, who is tolerating Maxwell Fink’s obsession with going legit but doesn’t necessarily want to repent herself and has accepted what is and is willing to continue conning out of what I assume is survival. I lost a few of her lines due to lack of projection, but missed nothing that threw me off course and, in such an intimate space, it still worked out nicely. Her bright, intense red dress and baby blue period shoes added to her character giving Montone a perfect look to go along with her wonderful performance.
A highlight for both actors is their chemistry onstage. Just like old friends or frienemies, Kehoe and Montone seems to completely understand their individual characters and how they relate to each other resulting in a beautiful duet between the both of them.
HOAX will also be presented at Baltimore Fringe this year, giving you yet another chance to check out this show.
Final thought… HOAX is an intense, powerful piece that engages the audience every step of the way. The lesson of how to spot and avoid a scam is important and relevant and the performances were brilliant. Having experience with more traditional theatre in more traditional spaces, I didn’t know what to expect with HOAX but I was in no way disappointed and recommend seeing this production. Don’t be one of those suckers born every minute that Mr. Barnum spoke about and miss this show!
This is what I thought of this production of HOAX… Do you have any thoughts?
HOAX will play through August 20, Friday-Saturday at 8pm at The 14 Karat Cabaret at Maryland Art Place (MAP), 218 W. Saratoga Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. For tickets, contact BoxOffice@MaxwellFink.com or call 443-681-9229 for assistance or purchase them online.
Backstage Banter is the video supplement to Backstage Baltimore! Check out what they had to say about The Gazebo at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre! Backstage Banter E4: THE GAZEBO at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre
Backstage Banter is the video supplement to Backstage Baltimore! Check out what they had to say about Monty Python’s Spamalaot at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre! Backstage Banter E3: MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre
by Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Murder mysteries are a staple of community theatre, especially summer community theatre and and one can always count on Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre to successfully present at least one, if not more each summer. C&Cs latest offering, The Gazebo by Alec Coppel, based on a story by Myra Coppel and Alec Coppel and Directed by Baltimore theatre veteran Linda Chambers is a little different, but in a good way.
The Gazebo isn’t your run of the mill “whodunit” but a farcical display where the TV-writer-husband is trying to secretly get rid of a house in the suburbs to move back to the city and the soap-opera-actress wife falls in love with a European gazebo that she has delivered to N.Y. piece by piece, as a present for her husband, and the audience already knows who the killer is but the question is… who’s the victim? The script moves along nicely and the characters are likeable and the twist toward the end makes it a very enjoyable production.
At first glance, I could tell this was a top notch production as the set, which is in a round, is absolutely beautiful. The stage is just about on the same level as the audience, but Set Designer Moe Conn does a brilliant job expressing the elegance of an early 60s Long Island, N.Y. home from the gold wall art to the intricate fireplace and bookshelf display. Conn does a great job of matching the room with appropriate furniture and everything blended very well together.
Conn also took on the duties of Light Designer and though with a straight play lighting is minimal, but Conn does a very nice job setting the mood and contrasting between bright scenes and dark scenes very appropriately. Though the dark scenes are supposed to be… well… dark, it may have been a tad too dark, but it was still appropriate and set the mood nicely.
The show actually starts with a bang and you’ve now been warned! A real stage gun is used, so… be aware! Thank goodness the audience is warned ahead of time or I would have probably been hanging from the rafters! However, I like the “go big or go home” attitude and Director Linda Chambers did a fantastic job moving the story of The Gazebo along. I’ve stated before and I’ll state it again, directing in the round is difficult work, but Chambers does it flawlessly. She moves her actors around the stage fluidly and naturally and gives attention to all four sides of the audience and she uses her space very wisely. The pacing is a bit slower than it should be for a comical farce, but still moves along nicely (though the blackouts between scenes could pick up the pace a bit, as well). Chambers vision is apparent and her casting is on point.
According to the program, the time of this piece was the “Early 60s” and Costume Designer Eva Grove does a fine job costuming the cast in the garb reminiscent of that ear. I say reminiscent because I wouldn’t say the look was exactly from the 60s but with the loud prints and saddle shoes, it had hints of the ear. That being said, the costumes were absolutely wonderful and appropriate. Grove’s actors were comfortable, which is very important, and were dressed as I imagined their characters would be dressed being from upper class Long Island.
Heading up the small cast of The Gazebo, Thom Peters takes on the role of Elliott Nash, the TV writer who is stuck in the suburbs of Long Island because his wife loves the house they live in but longs to be back in the New York City, living in the Algonquin Hotel with their outstanding room service. Peters does outstanding work portraying this role when things are going well for Elliott Nash but when things start getting a little frantic, Peters seems to have a hard time keeping up. A farce is very fast-paced with many things happening at the same time and when the pacing in the script picked up, Peters performance became exasperated facial expressions, a high-pitched voice, and flailing arms. However, that’s not to say his performance wasn’t good, just a bit much and a drastic change from when things were running more smoothly in the script. Overall, his performance is very good, indeed, and he is comfortable and confident on stage and seems to understand his character and the troubles his character has to endure.
Tom Wyatt, known in Baltimore theatre, takes on the role of Harlow Edison, the next-door neighbor and friend who happens to be a District Attorney, is a highlight in this production. From his first appearance on stage, his has a very good command of the stage and has a great presence. He’s very natural and comfortable and glides effortlessly through his performance. He’s a joy to watch in this production.
As the leading lady in this production, Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, a Baltimore theatre regular, is the standout as Nell Nash. She really seems to know her character and couldn’t be more natural in this role and she is quite comfortable and confident on stage with a commanding presence that doesn’t overpower but makes one take note. Her comedic timing is spot on and she really seemed to get the nuances of her character, the actress-wife who only wants her husband to be happy and will stick by him through thick and thin, whatever that may be. Hunnicutt’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.
In a more minor but very important role, Christopher D. Cahill tackles the character of Charlie Thorpe, the contractor who lays the foundation for the titular gazebo (of which he humorously pronounces “Gaze-boh”). Cahill’s character acting hits the nail on the head and is a highlight in this production making Charlie Thorpe a very likable character who reminds me of that favorite uncle with the down-to-earth charm that makes you smile when he comes around. Cahill also takes on the role of a British tough-guy called The Dook, which is a complete flip from the down-to-earth Charlie Thorpe and he pulls this role off brilliantly, as well. Two completely different characters performed flawlessly by one actor.
Rounding out the cast are Regina Rose as Mrs. Chandler, the motivated real estate agent secretly working with Elliott Nash, Anna Steuerman as Matilda, the unimpressed maid of the Nashes, Richard Ahlstrom as Louie, the bumbling assistant thug to The Dook, and Albert J. Boeren as Detective Jenkins, the no-nonsense officer of the law just trying to get down to the bottom of things.
Final thought… The Gazebo is a light mystery-farce that moves along quickly and has some magnificent performances. Not the usual “whodunit” but very enjoyable and is appropriate for the space and all audiences. If you’re looking for something fun to do the next couple of weekends, check out this show! Bring your friends and see if you can figure out who the victim might be!
This is what I thought of this production of The Gazebo.… what do you think?
The Gazebo will play through July 31, Friday-Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm at CCBC, Essex Campus, Community Center. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.
by Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 2 hours and 25 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Many folks the world over are familiar with or at least have heard of that crazy troupe from across the pond called Monty Python and this company’s various films and television appearances. I was one of those folks who had heard tell about this zany group of people but… I admit it… I was not very familiar with their work and I do get funny looks for saying so! However, I did have the pleasure of seeing Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre’s latest offering, Monty Python’s Spamalot, with Music by John Du Prez and Lyrics & Book by Eric Idle, Direction by Laurie Starkey, Musical Direction by R. Christopher Rose, and Choreography by Amanda Dickson.
Having heard of Monty Python, I knew I was in for some comedy but I was glad I hadn’t seen any of the films because I was able to go in with no preconceived notions. I knew this piece was loosely based on the story of King Arthur and Camelot but that’s about as far as my knowledge went. Most of the jokes, although about 40 years old, were new to me and I enjoyed watching the audience burst into fits of laughter and often joined in.
From the moment I entered the theatre, I knew I was in for a treat from a technical standpoint and Scenic Designer Michael Rasinski took me back to the Middle Ages with his brilliant set. The focal point is a large two story castle right in the middle of the stage with two towers on either side. Along with smaller set pieces, the set came together very nicely, and scene changes were fluid and quick. The large set, which looked like a lot of thought and care was taken, helped the story along without overshadowing it. While renting sets and set pieces is easier and a route many larger theatres take, Rasinski designed and created a sensational, original set that deserves its own curtain call. I also have to mention the representation of “God” that was very clever and funny as the higher being is portrayed as to very, very large feet that fly in and , indeed, that might need a bit of room to store for the next time! The attention to detail is impressive and I’m looking forward to seeing more from Rasinski in the future.
Adding to the production value is the well thought out costume plot by Costumer Mark Briner. This seems like a show with a million costumes, but Briner has brilliantly managed to make sure every piece of wardrobe is in place and each character is costumed appropriately whether it be the female ensemble in soldier uniforms or a male actor playing the mother of a knight, all the costumes are spot on and fitting for this madcap musical.
Speaking of music, Music Director R. Christopher Rose did a fine job of getting this large cast to perform these songs swimmingly. As a fan of “old-fashioned” Broadway, all the songs were definitely of the traditional “show tune” variety and the cast pulls them off nicely under the direction of Rose.
As far as community theatre goes, Choreographer Amanda Dickson knocks this production out of the park! Her choreography is not only appropriate for the piece, but very entertaining and well thought out. All of the larger numbers like “Knights of the Round Table” were tight and precise, which is what I look for in group dances, and the cast looks like their having a blast performing. “The Laker Girls” cheer routine was brilliant and the ensemble performed it flawlessly and the tap numbers (which make this old fashioned Broadway guy smile ear to ear) hit the nail on the head! Dickson seems to know her cast and choreographs accordingly, making the production look effortless.
Rounding out the production side of Month Python’s Spamalot, I mustn’t neglect Director Laurie Sentman Starkey and I have to say she does a bang up job with this production. She seems to have a complete grasp of the material and the comedy therein, which is no small feat and her vision is well thought out and it transferred flawlessly to the stage. Her casting choices were superb and under her guidance, this production is top notch.
Overall, the performance of Cockpit in Court’s Monty Python’s Spamalot was very enjoyable and every entertaining. Again, as a person who was only somewhat familiar with the popular Monty Python, I was certainly not disappointed, in general. I consider Monty Python’s Spamalot an ensemble piece and I adore ensemble pieces as it features each individual of a cast in one way or another. The female ensemble of this piece is absolutely on point with their dances and voices and they added a certain pizazz that I look for in this kind show. The male ensemble, though decent and giving a very respectable performance, doesn’t seem to have the energy that the female ensemble has in the group numbers. One mostly male ensemble group number (and eleven o’clock number), “His Name is Lancelot” stands out to me, but, I must say that, though it was a disco, upbeat song, the performance is a little flat and fell short of energizing the audience as it should have. Regardless, it is clear the entire ensemble, both female and male, gives 100% to their performance and carried the show along very nicely.
Sir Lancelot, one of the most famous Knights of the Round Table is portrayed by standout Steve Flickinger, who also takes on many other roles in this piece including a French Taunter, a Knight of Ni, and Tim the Enchanter, all of whom he portrays magnificently. Flickinger is a brilliant character actor with great comedic timing who’s quite a busy bee in this production but each of his characters is unique and stands on their own.
Another standout in this production is Jeff Burch, a Baltimore theatre native who takes on the role of Sir Robin, as well as Guard 1 and Brother Maynard. Burch does a splendid job as Sir Robin, the Knight of the Round Table who has, shall we say, theatrical proclivities and a habit of soiling himself at the most inopportune times. His number “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” is one of those old fashioned numbers I’d mentioned before and Burch performs it flawlessly with high energy.
As the only female with a featured role, Eileen Keenan takes on the role of The Lady of the Lake, and being the only featured female among all these zany male characters can be quite challenging. However, Keenan tackles the role with no holds barred and carries her own with this crazy actors and has a big voice with an impressive belt, which is exactly what this role needs. There were times when Keenan seemed a little out of breath for her big diva-esque numbers and her pitch may have been a little off as was the case in her number “The Diva’s Lament” but, overall, she performed the role brilliantly and with a brassy confidence that is required for this challenging role.
David Jennings as Sir Gallahad, as well as taking on the roles of Herbert’s Father and The Black Knight is one of the highlights of this production. His comedic timing is spot on and he commands the stage whenever he steps on. He seems to understand the tongue and cheek comedy of this piece and though his performance is outstanding, he knows not to take himself too seriously as to not ruin the comedy of his characters. He exhibits this understanding in his duet with Eileen Keenan, “The Song That Goes Like This.” It’s a beautifully written song, but still comical, and can’t be taken too seriously and though the two perform the song beautifully, the comedy is still prominent and shines through. I look forward to seeing great things from Jennings in the future.
Another absolute highlight and standout in this production was Baltimore theatre veteran Gary Dieter who takes on the role of Patsy, King Arthur’s devoted and belittled manservant. There’s not much I can say about Deiter’s performance other that it was near perfection. He is certainly a triple threat. His acting and comedic time are superb as he also takes on a couple of other roles in the piece, his voice is big and confident, and his dancing is magnificent, especially his tap dancing skills which are hands down excellent. He takes the lead in the number “Always Look in the Bright Side of Life” arguably the most famous of the songs from this production, and his performance is impeccable in this production. He has a great command of the stage and is a pure joy to watch in this production.
Of course, Monty Python’s Spamalot couldn’t be without the character of King Arthur, who is portrayed by Phil Gallagher. It’s a fun-fact that Gallagher is actually from across the pond and his British accent is absolutely genuine. He’s a fine actor and seems to grasp understand the comedy of the piece but, according to his bio, this is his very first attempt at musical theater and… it shows. While he is up against power houses like Dieter and Jennings, his singing and dancing seem sub-par but he does hold his own and is very comfortable on the stage, which helps immensely. Though his performance is up to the level of some of his fellow actors, he keeps the character light and airy and he does have great comedic timing. He may not have experience with musical theatre, but his confidence shines through and his command of the stage is evident.
Rounding out the cast are Chip Meister, another Baltimore theatre regular, who takes the roles of Sir Bedevere, Dennis’ Mother, and Concorde, Stanton Zacker, as Not Dead Fred, and Sir Bors, and Austin Shields as Historian, Minstrel, and Herbert.
Meister pulls his characters off gloriously, especially as Dennis’ Mother, who he plays in bad drag, and has the audience in stitches, Zacker, as Not Dead Fred, participates in one of the most famous bits from Monty Python and takes the lead in the number “I Am Not Dead Yet,” in which he gives a wonderful performance, also leaving the audience in fits of laughter, and Shields, who opens the show as the Historian and sets the tone and pace, does a very nice job as the Minstrel and Herbert with his tenor voice and slim frame which both fit perfectly with the roles.
Final thought… Monty Python’s Spamalot is a perfect production for a larger community theatre and Cockpit in Court’s production is not to be missed this summer. Overall, it is a very enjoyable, funny, fast-paced show that is chock full of familiar jokes and bits but also has a fresh presentation for those who are not so familiar. I was unfamiliar with the show but I was certainly NOT disappointed. As a matter of fact, I’m looking forward to seeing the Monty Python films on which this show is based!
This is what I thought of this production of Spamalot.… what do you think?
Monty Python’s Spamalot will play through July 31, Friday-Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm, and Thursday, July 28 at 8pm at CCBC, Essex Campus, Community Center. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase the online.
by Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Most theater folk know or at least have heard of the recent Broadway sensation called Hamilton. Now, about 20 years ago, there was another Broadway sensation that caused the same kind of ruckus (whether warranted or unwarranted, depending on who you talk to) written by a Lyricist/Composer/Author named Jonathan Larson called RENT. Well, let’s go back a few years before that and this same Lyricist/Composer/Author wrote a small, three person musical called Tick, Tick… Boom!, an autobiographical account of what he called his failure and frustrations up till that time.
Tick, Tick… Boom! with Book, Music, & Lyrics by Jonathan Larson and Vocal Arrangements and Orchestrations by Stephen Oremus is the latest offering from Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre and is Directed and Choreographed by Jillian Locklear Bauersfeld with Music Direction by Michael W. Tan.
I’m going to admit, I’ve never been a RENT fan by any stretch of the imagination, but… I was pleasantly surprised and quite entertained by this production of Tick, Tick… Boom! and I just might have to give RENT another more comprehensive listen!
Beginning with the production aspect, Set Designer/Scenic Artist Alan Zemla used the small Spotlighters space very wisely by not cluttering it with frivolous set pieces but with six black boxes that were moved around and acted as all the set pieces including a bed, a BMW, office furniture, and convenience store counter. The moving of the boxes was incorporated into the blocking and with no other clutter on stage, it was easy for the actors to transition from one scene to the next. Also impressive are the theatre walls themselves. Each wall is cleverly painted to represent New York City from New York Subway walls to a representative skyline. Zemla is to be commended for his work in this production.
Costume Design by Andrew Malone was simple and contemporary as this play is pretty much set in modern times, 1990 to be exact, and, though the “skinny jeans” (or what looks like skinny jeans) the character of Jon is wearing throughout the show may be a bit of a stretch, the plaid button-down was a perfect choice, as were the outfits of the other two characters.
The space is very unique and small with pillars on the four corners of the stage and I imagine it’s a bit difficult to light a production but Lighting Designer Fuzz Roark managed very nicely. Though a little dark at times, the production was lit very appropriately and simply with no major bells and whistles, which is not needed in this production, anyway, and Roark’s lighting scheme was spot on.
Again, being a small space, one would think sound wouldn’t be an issue, however, it is quite a feat to launch a full fledged musical in a small space but Sound Designers Lanoree Blake and Fuzz Roark managed to do just that. There is a full, live pit orchestra only inches away from the stage and none of the actors are equipped with a microphone so, there are only a few times when the balance between the orchestra and the actors is a little wonky and if an actor is on the opposite side of the stage from where one is sitting it’s difficult to hear every line, but I lost nothing from the story and was able to keep up. The sound effects used were appropriate and well placed and moved the story along quite nicely.
According to the Director’s Note, Director Jillian Locklear Bauersfeld had directed Tick, Tick… Boom! About 10 years ago, while a directing major in college. She states that production was a success and though I can’t speak for her previous attempt, I’m tending to agree with her because this production can be chalked up as a success, as well! Anyone who takes on directing theatre in the round starts off with a challenge, but Bauersfeld pulls this off flawlessly, keeping her actors moving and using her space wisely as to not forget any section of the audience. Her blocking is very fluid and this keeps the pace of the piece moving nicely along, not too fast and not too slow. She seemed to have understood these characters and managed to pull thought-out performances from her cast, and her vision of Jonathan Larson’s life was clear and apparent with minimal sets, costumes, and props.
Music Direction by Baltimore theatre veteran Michael W. Tan (who also plays the keyboard) is superb as he brings the songs of pre-RENT Jonathan Larson to life. There is a certain modern feeling one must understand when dealing with Jonathan Larson and Tan seemed to understand this perfectly. Not the usual “show tunes,” Tan manages to pull the modern pop-rock style from his actors that fit this show like a glove. The fantastic orchestra he’s pulled together, including Christine MacDonald on guitar (with John Jeffries subbing on guitar on certain shows), Greg Bell on bass, and William Georg on percussion, also help make this production all the more enjoyable.
The only comment I can make on the music of this show is that it is amazing. It is certainly a Jonathan Larson score but it’s modern and melodic and the upbeat songs are driving and the ballads are poignant. If one is familiar with the more famous show from Larson, one can hear the beginnings of most of those songs in these songs. I enjoyed the variety of the score and the attempt at using different styles such as the country and western inspired “Therapy”, the rocking “No More,” and nostalgic, oldies sound of “Sugar.” These upbeat, fun songs were balanced out nicely with poignant power ballads such as “See Her Smile” and “Real Life” that didn’t slow the show down at all, but moved the story along. Also, among these different styles, these songs have a 90s feel to them and, as a kid of the 90s, I was thoroughly entertained!
Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, it’s a very small cast consisting of three actors – a perfect size cast for the space. Included in the cast is Garret Zink as Jon, the hapless lyricist/composer/author who’s about to turn 30 years old and doesn’t think he’s done anything with his life, Clare Kneebone as Susan the understanding, but yearning girlfriend of Jon, and Rob Wall as Michael, the forward moving best friend.
Jon is the first character to whom we’re introduced and he serves as the narrator throughout the show. Garret Zink has a very good presence and seems comfortable on stage with perfect articulation even though his Baltimore accent peeks in occasionally. Although his performance seems a little forced at times and his flailing hand gestures sometimes draws attention away from what he’s saying, he still pulls off the role very nicely and you do feel for the character and even relate to him as Zink brings a certain honesty to the character. The Larson score can be challenging (his mentor was Stephen Sondheim for goodness sake!) and aside from struggling a bit in the upper register, Zink was able to make a good showing with appropriate style and presentation.
Rob Wall as Michael was an absolute joy to watch. From the moment he steps on stage with his big smile and smooth, friendly voice, Wall makes Michael a character who’s easy to like. He’s very comfortable and confident on stage and he moves easily and with purpose. According to his bio, he sang in the Naval Academy Mens Glee Club and was the announcer for Naval Academy parades and with his velvet, booming voice, I don’t doubt it! He performed his songs flawlessly and not only hit the notes, but had that extra understanding of the songs such as “Johnny Can’t Decide” and “Real Life” where he takes the reigns and that takes his performance to a much deeper level. Wall also gives Michael a certain amount of calm that balances out the agitation that Zink gives the Jon character. Wall is certainly one to watch and you don’t want to miss him in this performance!
This leaves us with Clare Kneebone, who takes on the role of Susan, the girlfriend. Kneebone is the standout in this production and not only because she’s the only female but because she plays this role brilliantly, confidently, and flawlessly. As she stepped onto the stage, it was clear she was a powerhouse and very comfortable on stage. Her performance was very natural and purposeful as it was clear she understood her character and what her character was going through. Along with a fantastic acting talent (as she plays various characters, including a theatrical agent and an actress in a workshop of a new show), Kneebone has a very impressive musical talent as well and her big, beautiful voice shines throughout this production, namely in her solo number, “Come to Your Senses,” a true power ballad in which she’s not even playing the role of Susan, but of another character – the actress in the workshop of a new show, Karessa. Her performance alone should be reason enough to see this show!
Final thought… Tick, Tick… Boom! Is a show that shouldn’t be missed! Even if you aren’t a huge RENT fan, that’s OK because this show absoltuely stands on its own. Yes, you will see the beginnings of that more famous show, but it’s to be expected as it’s the same lyricist/composer/author and it’s definitely his unique style. This cast is great, the music is fun, and story is certainly relatable! Go see this show!
This is what I thought of this production of Tick, Tick… Boom!.… what do you think?
Tick, Tick… Boom! will play through July 31, Friday-Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm with a Ten Spot Thursday on July 14 at 8pm at Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.
by Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission
It’s that time of year and school’s out for the summer! If you have little ones running around all day (yours or otherwise), you might want to consider what Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre Court Jesters Young People’s Theatre has to offer. This year, the children’s troupe of Cockpit in Court is presenting Disney’s Mulan, Jr. with Music & Lyrics by a plethora of folks including Matthew Wilder, David Zipple, Jeanine Tesori, Alexa Junge, and even Stephen Schwartz, Additional Music & Lyrics by Bryan Louiselle and Book by Patricia Cotter. This stage production is based on, of course, the 1998 Disney film Mulan, and the story of “Fa Mulan” by Robert D. San Souci. This production is brilliantly directed by Baltimore theatre veteran Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, Choreographed by Rachel Miller, with Music Direction by Patty DeLisle.
Seriously, even if you don’t have children of whom you’re responsible, you really should check out this production of Mulan, Jr. I’m an adult and not a huge fan of what one would call children’s theatre, but I have got to admit… I was thoroughly and pleasantly impressed by what these kids and production team did with this show! From the moment I walked into the theatre and saw the set, I knew I was in for something notable. Scenic Artist Laura Miller created absolutely beautiful real life backdrops of Chinese countrysides and pink blossoms that was a refreshing break from the current trend of using projections (which I think is here to stay, like it or not). Miller hand painted each backdrop and that made it all the more impressive. Actually, the set design by Diane M. Smith was perfect and beautiful but it didn’t take away from the performance but seamlessly blended in, giving the audience a very pleasant aesthetic experience.
It takes a special kind of person to direct a show with about 40 people in the cast but it takes an extra-special person to direct a show with about 40 kids (and a few teenagers) and Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, somehow or another, managed to pull it off flawlessly… I repeat… flawlessly! Hunnicutt does have experience being the resident director of another children’s theatre that shares the space so, this was old hat for her, but still, her direction was superb. As children’s theatre goes, things can get a little hokey and silly, and Mulan Jr. had it’s share of all that, but it still kept me interested because the pace of this show did not falter once. Hunnicutt’s blocking of this huge cast was fluid and she managed to get everyone on and off the stage easily and with no major mishaps. Watching this particular production and its fluidity, I can think back on a few shows I’ve been in that were comprised of mostly or all adults and could have used the help of Hunnicutt’s guidance!
Music Director Patty DeLisle is to be commened and applauded for her work in getting this cast to sound amazing! Let’s face it, working with children and teens can be difficult at times but DeLisle managed to get these kids and teens to sound great. Of course, the cast is to be commended, as well and it seems they may not have been as difficult to work with as other casts may have been, but it seems DeLisle took her time to teach these numbers and harmonies (which can be hard even with adults) and got these kids to understand what they were singing making the performance shine.
When there’s music and singing, dancing isn’t far behind and Choreographer Rachel Miller, who doubles as Mulan, the show’s namesake and main character, seemed to know her cast and what they were capable of and every single choreographed number was pulled off brilliantly and flawlessly. Each number was tight and very well rehearsed. This production even had a very brave number where a stage full of kids were dancing and swinging bamboo sticks and, though I may not have been brave enough to attempt it, the cast pulled it off without a hitch and it was a very entertaining number!
To round out the production side, Costume Design by Sharon Byrd was very appropriate and beautifully done, managing to bring together the Asian theme of the show with flowing silk (or silk-esque) robes and matching soldier outfits that all looked like it took time to conceive and execute. Kudos goes to Byrd for her work.
Now, I’ve already stated this was a show that was enjoyable and entertaining and these kids did a bang up job of bringing the story of Mulan to life, which is no small feat being it was a successful Disney film, but these kids manage to do it brilliantly!
We first meet the Ancestors, Hong (Destiny), Laozi (Honor), Lin (Loyalty), Yun (Love), and Zhang (Strength) played by Emily Ricci, Colleen Beyer, Sophie Claudio, Olivia Lockett, and Katheryn Schudel, respectively. These young ladies start this show off with a bang and set the tempo which was absolutely perfect. Each actress said her lines with confidence and with a very mature articulation that set the tone for the entire show and it was an appropriate and started the show off with a bang.
Let me take a moment to discuss comedy. Comedy, in my opinion, is much harder to pull off than drama as I’ve always found it more difficult to make someone laugh than to make someone cry and there is a certain amount of natural, raw talent to get the timing of jokes (hokey or not) and to execute them. Athena Claudio, who plays Mushu, is one of those naturally talented people who can read a joke in the script and has that perfect amount of timing and understanding to make a joke work and throw the audience into a fit of laughter. Claudio is an absolute standout in this production and I see this young lady going very far in the theatre world! She strikes me as a triple threat as she danced, sang, and acted her way throughout the show with a maturity and natural flair. When she took the lead on the song “Keep ‘Em Guessin’, this reviewer definitely took notice.
Rachel Miller, who, as stated before, took on double duty as Choreographer, was the perfect choice to play the title role of Mulan. From her first appearance, she had a strong presence and command of the stage and a clear confident voice that belted out songs such as her torch song, “Reflection.”
Charlie Holt, as Shang, Mulan’s love interest, did a fine job as the leader of the Chinese Army (it helped that he was about a head taller than the rest of the cast) and he was comfortable in his role having a strong presence on the stage.
This review wouldn’t be complete for this particular production if I didn’t mention Dylan Morrison, Jules Einhorn, and Zachary Byrd who masterfully took on the roles of Ling, Quin-Po, and Yao respectively. These three young actors were a joy to watch and their comedic timing was on point! They had the audience in stiches, especially during their own bit of cross-dressing, but you’ll have to check out the show to see how that comes about. Notably, Zachary Byrd has a talent rare for young performers in that he is able to take a joke and run with it, regardless of whether the audience is laughing with him or at him, but I’m venturing to guess the audience is laughing with him because this young man has a confidence that allows him to act a fool on stage without hesitation and that is sometimes difficult for veteran actors and makes Byrd a standout in this production.
Though the title of this show is Mulan Jr. this is indeed an ensemble piece and each and every member gives 100% to this production. From Sarah Moscoso, who played a very intimidating and hard-nosed villain, Shan Yu to Kiara Burke who brilliantly took on the role of the old, wise Emperor, the chemistry was great and I could see that everyone was having a great time, which is so very important when it comes to community theatre. I’m looking forward to seeing the work of many of these young performers in the future!
If you don’t have kids of your own, grab your nieces or nephews, or your friend’s kids, or your neighbor’s kids and get to this show! You will not be disappointed and, who knows, you might even be opening the door for a budding performer or a budding theatre lover.
Final thought… this show is not to be missed!
This is what I thought of this production of Mulan, Jr.… what do you think?
Mulan Jr. will play July 10 at 1:00pm, July 12-14 at 11:00am, July 15 at 7:00pm, July 16 at 1:00 & 4:00pm, and July 17 at 1:00pm at CCBC, Essex Campus, Administration Building. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.