Review: Macbeth at CCBC Academic Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

The Scottish Play. Macbeth. To utter the name in any theatre across the globe is considered to be bad luck for a production and anyone involved. Superstition right? During this time of year, late fall, All Hallows’ Eve is upon us and we might, for a split second, think of those silly superstitions have some weight to them. Fortunately, CCBC’s Academic Theatre’s latest offering, Macbeth, Directed by Anne Lefter with Set and Lighting Design by Terri Raulie and Costumes by James Fasching, doesn’t seem to carry the bad luck I’ve heard tell about. This production is presented in a traditional setting with some non-traditional casting and breathes new life into the timeless words of The Great Bard.

Set Design by Terri Raulie is simple, yet complex-looking with drapes hanging at different levels, giving depth to the stage as well as a tilted platform, reminiscent of how the original theatres of old were built and it gives a very authentic feel. Simple with earthy colors is the way to go with this production and Raulie uses her space wisely. Raulie also doubles as the Lighting Designer and her heavy design certainly makes up for the sparse (but appropriate) set on this large stage. The use of light and shadows designed by David Sunderland-Martin to move the story along is brilliant and simple, allowing for the imagination to fill in the blanks of this age old story. The shadow work alone is very impressive and gives the story a modern feel. Kudos to Sunderland-Martin for his work.

Though all this lighting was very appropriate to this production, there were moments when the stage was very dim and it was difficult to see the actors and action taking place. The dim lighting certainly set the mood, but took away from the action simply because it could not be seen clearly. Overall, Set and Lighting Design is outstanding and added great value to this production.

Macbeth's coronation. Credit: Dave Frey

Macbeth’s coronation. Credit: Dave Frey

Costuming a traditional Shakespearian production can be a challenge but veteran Costumer James Fasching takes that challenge and runs with it. His costume choices are impressive and his actors seem very comfortable in their respective garb, which is absolutely necessary. His color scheme matched the set, using earthy tones and dark colors adding to the authenticity of the piece and helping set the mood for the production.

Taking on a Shakespeare piece has its own set of problems from the beginning but Director Anne Lefter has given this piece a fresh look and, though she kept it traditional for the most part, managed to modernize it with technical elements and gender-blind casting. Lefter has an impeccable understanding of this piece and, in turn, her cast has a good grasp of the material, allowing them to present clearly to the audience. The death scenes (spoiler?) are outstanding and the audience even gets a “jump scare”, but I won’t tell you where it is, because, well, that would be cheating! There is an intense scene in which an entire family gets slaughtered and, I repeat, it is intense! The fight choreography from Rob Oppel is precise and works well in the scenes and adds just the right amount of action to the piece. The cuts Lefter decided to make in the script are wise (otherwise, we’d have been there for hours!) and in no way take away from the story of the tragic Macbeth. Kudos to Anne Lefter for taking the helm of this successful production.

Darius Foreman as Macduff and Anna Steuerman as Macbeth. Credit: Dave Frey

Darius Foreman as Macduff and Anna Steuerman as Macbeth. Credit: Dave Frey

Going into the performance aspect of Macbeth, the ensemble, as a whole, gives a remarkable performance and they work very well together. Sarah Spain, Cece Heck, Jaylon Paton open the show as the Three Sisters or Witches, making a creepy entrance in the dark, and serving as something of a narrator throughout the piece. They were a little hard to hear at times but all did a wonderful job working off of each other and, though I may have like my Witches to be a little more slinky and sinister, the trio does a fine job and are enjoyable to watch.

Henry Medrano and Alex Spain take on supporting characters in this production but certainly give 100% to their roles. Medrano takes on the roles of Malcom and Angus (Malcom, heir to Duncan’s crown and Angus, a nobleman against Macbeth) and plays them convincingly enough though he might want to work on his accent to match his fellow cast members and Spain takes on a few roles such as Murderer and Bodyguard. Both are self-assured in their roles and help move the story along nicely.

Tate Erickson tackles the role of Duncan, the ill-fated King of Scotland and I thoroughly enjoyed his performance. He is confident and comfortable on stage and seems to grasp the meaning of his character nicely. He really gets the rhythm of the Shakespearian language down. Listening to him, it sounded as if he were simply speaking naturally, without sounding jumbled, helping the audience’s understanding of the story. I look forward to seeing more from Erickson in the future.

Amy Fowler, as Banquo, does a splendid job taking on a masculine role and making it her own. She has a great stage presence and is comfortable and natural. She seems to understand the meaning of her character and plays it confidently. She has a great look for the role and gives a commendable and enjoyable performance.

It’s worth mentioning the child actors in this production of Macbeth. Sara Baunoch, Sammy Baunoch, and Sophia Clark are absolutely flawless in the children roles of this piece. These brave actors certainly hold their own against their older counterparts and give brilliant performances, giving 100% to their roles. High fives to these three young actors of whom, I predict, we’ll be seeing much more in the future.

As Macduff, Darius Foreman is formidable, with a large stature and great stage presence. He gives a fine portrayal of the doomed soldier and seems comfortable in the role. Throughout the performance, it was very difficult to understand Foreman whether it was the large space or, perhaps, needing a little work on diction. I found his vocal performance (not being able to understand a lot of what he is saying) impeded his physical performance, which looks very confident and comfortable. Overall, he gives an admirable performance and works well with his fellow cast members to move the story along.

Anna Steuerman as Macbeth and Lashay McMillan as Lady Macbeth. Credit: Dave Frey

Anna Steuerman as Macbeth and Lashay McMillan as Lady Macbeth. Credit: Dave Frey

Anna Steuerman as the titular character of Macbeth really grasps her character. It is clear she understands the torment, guilt, and anguish Macbeth is going through and she expresses it flawlessly. Both vocally and physically, Steuerman embodies the character of Macbeth and makes it her own. There are times she might be able to pull back a bit, but it is a tragedy and I can see where she is going. However, there’s a fine line between tragedy and melodrama and Steuerman, at times, teeters on that line. Her performance as Macbeth is strong, though, and she is clear and easy to understand making for a very successful performance.

Lashay McMillan as Lady Macbeth is a definite stand-out in this production. She takes on this complex role of a woman trying to stand by and even guide her husband no matter what the cost. McMillan portrays her not only as cold and calculating, but as compassionate, which is a difficult task but she tackles it successfully. Her confidence is clear and she elegantly moves about the stage with purpose. She seems to understand the yearning, pain, and distress of Lady Macbeth and plays it beautifully. Her performance is authentic and entertaining and I’m looking forward seeing Ms. McMillan in future productions.

Final thought… for some, any Shakespeare can be a tough pill to swallow, especially the tragedies, but CCBC Academic Theatre manages to make Macbeth accessible and present it with a fresh vision. Whether or not you are familiar with Shakespeare plays, you will not be disappointed in this production.

Macbeth will play through October 31 at The Community College of Baltimore County, Essex Campus, Robert and Eleanor College Center Theatre. For tickets, call the box office at 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

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Review: Das Barbecu at Spotlighters

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

A series of Wagner operas and the great state of Texas?! Can the two mix? Sounds crazy, right? Well, Spotlighters Theatre‘s latest contribution to Baltimore theatre, Das Barbecu, with Book & Lyrics by Jim Luigs and Music by Scott Warrender, proves that it can be so. Directed by Greg Bell, with Music Direction by Michael Tan and Choreography by Jillian Bauersfeld and Greg Bell, Das Barbecu manages to take Wagner‘s complex four-part Ring Cycle opera and make it just a little more accessible and (some would argue) more interesting and fun for audiences not so versed with the classics. Now, this isn’t to say that Das Barbecu is a dumbed-down version of the Ring Cycle, but more contemporary and in-tune with today’s audiences. The story, characters, and message is still in tacked, only now it has a charming Texas drawl.

Rob Wall and Clare Kneebone. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

Rob Wall and Clare Kneebone. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

The intimate, in-the-round space at Spotlighters would usually be a challenge for a show like this with its multiple locations and, well, they say everything is bigger in Texas, but Spotlighters has a lot of experience putting big shows up in this small space and Set Designer Alan Zemba used his space very wisely. With simple yet creative set pieces, Zemba manages to take the audience from the garden of a palatial mansion to a vast ranch, to bedrooms, then to a bar, then to the top of a mountain, then to a barbecue (whew!), all with minimal set pieces. Not only was the set creative, but it is easy and practical enough for the stage crew to get on and off quickly. I will say, however, there were a few scene changes that seemed a bit longer than usual, but all in all, the stage crew had razor sharp, rehearsed precision and the set worked beautifully with the piece and certainly helped tell the story.

The cast of Das Barbecue. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

The cast of Das Barbecue. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Adding great value to this production is Costume Design by Andrew Malone. There are so many characters in this piece played by only five actors, Malone does an impeccable job making each character absolutely individual and memorable with simple, yet noticeable wardrobe changes. An actor can play up to five characters, but, because of the character costumes, it is easy to distinguish each character, which is invaluable with this involved, twisting story. Major kudos to Andrew Malone for his creative and flawless design.

With the space being as intimate as it is, Light Design by Al Ramer is simple, yet very befitting to this production and did not impede but enhance the action onstage. The lighting is well thought-out and sets the proper mood for each scene helping move the story along.

Moving into the production aspect of this piece. Choreography by Jillian Bauersfeld and Greg Bell is fun and very appropriate for this piece and the space in which it is performed. The dancing is tight and entertaining and adds to the production rather than takes away from this piece. Also, the actors are comfortable with the choreography and perform it confidently and with high energy making it enjoyable to watch.

Allison Comotto and Clare Kneebone. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

Allison Comotto and Clare Kneebone. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Baltimore theatre veteran Music Director Michael Tan does not disappoint in this production. He manages to take his small cast and have them harmonizing and blending beautifully to bring this story to life. Some songs are funny and some poignant, but whichever mood, under the direction of Tan, the actors seem to understand what these songs are about and perform them accordingly. It helps that the most of the ensemble is already strong, vocally, and Tan uses this to his advantage making for a very impressive showing.

Directing 5 actors to play 26 characters can be quite a challenge for any director, experienced or otherwise, but Greg Bell takes on this challenge and executes his impeccable skill. It is important for whomever takes the reigns of this piece to completely understand the story of Wagner’s complicated Ring Cycle and Bell seems to have a tight grasp and his vision for this piece is apparent and well put together. He excels in blocking his actors to keep the story moving smoothly and at a near perfect pace. Though, as an audience member, I did have to do my part by paying attention, but the story was presented to me clearly and I wasn’t scratching my head or asking questions during intermission or after the performance. Das Barbecü is another well-done project from Greg Bell.

Jim Gross. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

Jim Gross. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Jim Gross, a.k.a. Actor 4, takes on the role of Woton, Gunther, Hagen, a Texas Ranger, and a Giant and, according to his bio, is back after a year hiatus from the stage. He gives an admirable performance having to take on so many characters and keeping each an individual through not only costumes, but mannerisms and physicality, as well. His Texan/Southern accent could use a bit more work as I don’t hear much of one throughout and his solo number “River of Fire” does fall a bit flat for being so early in the second act. However, he does hold his own commendably against the other strong actors in the ensemble and his performance is to be applauded.

Clare Kneebone. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

Clare Kneebone. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Clare Kneebone was last seen at Spotlighters in Tick, Tick… Boom! and, in this production, she is known as Actor 3, taking on the roles of Brünnhilde, a Norn Triplet, a Texas Ranger, and a Rivermaiden. Kneebone is comfortable on this stage and takes strong command when she appears. Though this is a complete ensemble piece, she takes on what’s closest to the female lead in this piece and she gives a confident, natural performance. Her beautiful, strong vocals blend very nicely with the ensemble and shine through in her solo number “County Fair.” Kneebone is a joy to watch and I look forward to experiencing her future work.

Rob Wall. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

Rob Wall. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Rob Wall is no stranger to the Spotlighters stage, also having been last seen in Tick, Tick… Boom! Wall takes on the responsibilities of Actor 5, performing the roles of Siegfried, a Norn Triplet, Milam Lamar, Alberich, and a Giant. Taking on what could be considered the lead male role, Wall gives a very enjoyable, strong performance. His gorgeous, booming voice resonates throughout the theatre but he blends well with the ensemble, filling out the sound beautifully. He is able to separate each character he plays and give them each their own respective lives. He understands his characters and works hard to bring them to life. He has a great command of the stage and seems quite comfortable and natural in his roles and this is another great performance from Rob Wall.

Allison Comotto is Actor 1 and takes on the roles of Gutrune, a Norn Triplet, Freia, Y-Vonne Duvall, a Rivermaiden, and a Valkyrie. She, too, is a veteran of the Spotlighters stage having been last seen in Zombie Prom.

Allison Comotto. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

Allison Comotto. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Comotto is a busy bee in this production but she is certainly a highlight with her spot-on comedic timing and natural acting chops that make her characters very enjoyable to watch. Vocally, she’s strong and is able to hold her own in the harmonies and blends well. Not to beat a dead horse, but her comedic timing is absolutely flawless. Her character, Y-Vonne Duval (actually pronounced WHY-vonne), a high society Texas wife who knows all the gossip in town, is just plain hysterical. She’s comfortable on stage and has a very strong presence that makes one take notice. Her natural talents are a joy to watch and I’m looking forward to seeing more from Ms. Comotto in the future.

Andrea Bush. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

Andrea Bush. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Lastly, but certainly not least, Andrea Bush, who is most decidedly another standout of this production. Bush is an absolute pleasure to watch as she navigates through her characters as Actor 2, taking on the roles of Narrator, Fricka, Erda, Needa Troutt, Back-Up Singer, Katsy Snapp, a Rivermaiden, and a Valkyrie. For as many characters as Bush had to play, she transitioned seamlessly and gave each character an individual personality, displaying her on-point acting skills. Vocally, this woman has some strong pipes and her booming voice is an asset to this piece. In both her comedic and more serious numbers, she gave a strong vocal showing and found the feeling in every song through her performance. Her comedic timing is outstanding and she seems to understand all her characters and the story, allowing her to give an assured performance that adds value to this production. She’s defintiely one to watch.

Andrea Bush and Allison Comotto. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

Andrea Bush and Allison Comotto. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Final thought… much like the Looney Tunes made Wagner much easier to swallow (and introduced children and a lot of adults to the opera genre), Spotlighters production of Das Barbecu takes a complex, classic piece and makes it more accessible and funny. Wagner’s Ring Cycle is not a piece I am entirely familiar with, but now, should I delve into a performance of it somewhere in my journeys, I’ll have a better understanding of the story and will probably appreciate more than I would have going in blind. Who knew Texas and a Wagner series of operas would mesh so well together?

Want another point of view? Check out what The Bad Oracle had to say!

Das Barbecu will play through October 30 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.

 

 

 

 

 

New Backstage Banter for Evil Dead the Musical at Red Branch Theatre Company

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Click here to check out the Backstage Banter for Evil Dead the Musical at Red Branch Theatre Company!

“Autumn is my absolute favorite time of year and… Evil Dead the Musical… is just what is needed to get the October festivities started and just hits the spooky spot!”

Red Branch Theatre Company

Review: Young Frankenstein at Silhouette Stages – A Monster Hit

By Mark Briner

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In the 2001 Tony season, Mel Brooks made history and swept the evening with a (then) record number of fifteen nominations and a (standing) record of twelve wins including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book, Best Direction, and 3 of the four Best Performance awards (only because there was no leading actress role to nominate) with his musical adaptation of his early hit movie The Producers. What better way to follow up the momentum but to announce that Brooks’ next project would be adapting what he considered his personal best movie for the musical stage? Silhouette Stages latest offering, Young Frankenstein, with a Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan and Music & Lyrics by Mel Brooks, Directed and Choreographed by Tommy Malek, and Musical Direction by Nathan C. Scavilla, couldn’t be anything but a monster hit!

The transition of Young Frankenstein seemed to be problematic in ways his inaugural attempt wasn’t. The project seemed to suffer under the weight of the movie’s success. The Producers was a story about deliberately writing a bad musical for illicit financial gains, and Brooks’ original score of schlocky, borscht belt inspired ditties worked perfectly and added an extra layer of goofy parody onto the material. However in Young Frankenstein, he had to overcome the shadow of an ideal screenplay (inspired by and co-authored with star collaborator Gene Wilder), a virtual perfect scene by scene parody of the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein screen classics, and arguably the most definitive and iconic casting ever achieved in a single film.

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“Life, Life” Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

His movie wasn’t just a success, or merely a film with huge cult following, it stands as one of the most flawless comic experiences ever filmed. Subsequently his 2007 premiere of the musical met with the antithesis of his previous critical glorification. First, a musical should elevate its core material by the addition of music to justify its incarnation. Brooks and Wilder’s original screenplay is already razor sharp in its streamlined execution of both broad and subtle jokes, and a flawless parody of its subject. His music in most instances just slows the plot to a halt. The actors in the movie make maximum efficiency of their screen time with exquisite and unique comic timing, setting up and dropping rapid fire, nonstop jokes with sharpshooter precision, then move onto the next one. Their counterparts in the musical, by contrast nail a punchline, then stop the narrative to sing about it for three minutes.

Secondly, there’s the issue of the music itself. Brooks’ amateurish compositions actually added to the humor of The Producers. But in Young Frankenstein, while there are some numbers that land well like “Together Again (for the First Time)” a comic vaudevillian duet between Frederick Frankenstein and new assistant Igor, and “Transylvania Mania”, a hilarious first act finale number led by Igor to hide the existence of the Monster from the townsfolk who haven’t forgotten history, most stand out (or more accurately, don’t stand out) as what would be considered throwaway numbers in other shows and last minute grabs from the trunk of The Producers‘ leftovers (the New York Post referred to it as a “ho-hummable” score). But the major prohibitive factor facing any production is the fact that if ever a movie was full of definitive performances, this cast with Brooks comic veterans Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Chloris Leachman, Kenneth Mars, Gene Hackman, and the incomparable Madeline Kahn define the term “definitive performances”. Every actor in every production sets foot on stage with a Herculean handicap of merely not being their predecessors.

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

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

However, time has been kinder to the piece since 2007.  It no longer lumbers under the umbrella of The Producers, which has not aged well, showing it owes much if its success to its own stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. There is also (stab this reviewer in the neck immediately) a new generation that has not seen the movie and grown theatre kids that know the musical better. And with its original panning and some pretty bad excuses of musicals gracing the New York stage in the last decade, audiences can release their expectations and enjoy the many hilarious moments Brooks provides saluting his film triumph. Fortunately, this distance allows Silhouette Stages audiences to appreciate every entertaining aspect of their valentine to Brooks legacy.

It would normally be unfair and unethical to compare local actors to counterparts from a classic movie, but every audience member who has seen the movie will be doing just that subconsciously, so it is in this case relevant. For those who haven’t (if this pertains to you and you’re still reading–go, watch the movie! NOW!), well those people should be ashamed of themselves and don’t really add anything to this discussion, so, proceeding. Up front, full disclosure, this reviewer is one who counts the movie as one of his all-time favorites, and pretty perfect, with no room for variation and personal interpretation.  It’s Brooks way or fail. Fortunately, the cast and team at Silhouette stage seem to understand this mindset completely and have provided a thoroughly entertaining, full color 3-D fleshed out tribute to all that is sacred in Brooks’ broad comic universe.

Director/choreographer Tommy Malek understands the film and its techniques completely. The movie being a spoof of the original 1930’s Universal classics, he provides preshow ambience by screening movie trailers of films of that era. A slick and unexpected touch is his addition over Brooks’ long and completely unnecessary overture (believe this reviewer, the score is no Gypsy) of a series of filmed still credits for his production, the stars and production team billed in painstakingly perfect sendups of the film credit style of the day, in one stroke transforming the overture from lackluster to highlight. It is obvious early on that Malek has a thorough grasp on not only his original source material, but on how to adapt in into another medium theatrically. The performers are great and game for his hijinks, but for the gullible audience member who thinks that good actors jump on the stage and just bring the performance you see, know full well every performer in this show owes at least half of their success to Malek’s masterful hand saluting physical comedy, vaudevillian shtick, clowning double takes, over the top excess, and the power of the perfect comic pause. He pays ultimate tribute to the style and influence of Brooks at his best, but without imitating. Rather he filters his Brooks-ian homage through a cast of well-tuned instruments and, like the titular Dr. Frankenstein, bestows new energy and life into this potential monster of a show.

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

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

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

Matt Wetzel as Igor. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Matt Wetzel as Igor. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

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

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

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

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

Jean Berard as Frau Brucher. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Jean Berard as Frau Brucher. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

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

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

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

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

Christopher Kabra as The Monster. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Christopher Kabra as The Monster. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

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

Ashley Gerhardt as Elizabeth. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Ashley Gerhardt as Elizabeth. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

The biggest impediment any production of Young Frankenstein faces, including its Broadway incarnation, is the burden placed on any actress to operate in the broad and all-encompassing shadow of the inimitable Madeline Kahn, who defined the role even better than it was written. What does any production do when the legendary Miss Kahn (still sadly missed in the entertainment world) is not available? Fortunately for Malek, he turns to veteran Ashley Gerhardt. Miss Gerhardt wisely avoids imitating Miss Kahn (because no one can ever live up to that), but strikes a perfect delicate balance of interpreting Miss Kahn’s performance through her own unique comic styling. The book also does her character no favors by slowing up her ace comic timing with redundant songs that stall her efforts. However, Miss Gerhardt delivers one after the other with relish and power, especially her final torch song ode to “Deep Love” (yes, it’s Brooks which means it’s as Freudian as it sounds). Miss Gerhardt understands all the comic depths available to her vast resources in the role, and plumbs every last one of them, in the process, like Kahn, walking off with the show under her own comic terms.

A slight disappointment of note to this reviewer, after an exhilarating performance, Miss Gerhardt was denied the crowning moment of her efforts. The character of Elizabeth undergoes a ridiculous journey that inversely parallels that of the Monster, starting out as a spoiled society maven and transforming by story’s end into the literal Bride of Frankenstein (that’s not a spoiler; if you haven’t watched the movie by now it’s your own fault). Brooks, due to the amount of time he had to sacrifice to music added into his book, rushes to an ending, obliterating the movie’s wedding night scenes. Miss Gerhardt was sadly not provided the wig for the final transformation that every fan of the movie is waiting for, and thus does not receive the opportunity to deliver the ultimate joke of her, and the show’s, diligent efforts. However, as stated, this was a final dress rehearsal so, hopefully, that slight has been rectified for everyone’s benefit to give everyone – Miss Gerhardt, Mr. Malek, the show, and the audience – the final comic resolution they all deserve. If it’s a budgetary thing, a very real consideration in community theatre, this reviewer suggests the cast chip in for the director’s gift and, instead of a poster or a T-shirt, purchase the Bride’s wig for everyone’s best interest. It would be the best cast money spent ever.

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

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

Technically, the show overall succeeds in producing a mammoth show on a community budget. Costume designer Caroline Jurney assembles a nice variety of period appropriate attire from two continents, with the necessary nod to the iconic looks of the film. Lighting designer Jeremy Mayo conservatively delivers all the appropriate mood lighting with a palette limited by the space. Set and sound designer Alex Porter makes wise use of his space and budget, reserving the bulk of the set for the doctor’s laboratory, with many bells, whistles, switches, and old fashioned lights that provide all the necessary atmosphere. Porter does an admirable job of recreating the essence of it in critical pieces. For all other scenes, he wisely selects a representative piece of scenery–a door, a boarding dock, the requisite trick bookcase–and effectively allows his talented performers to conjure up the negative space. Special note should be paid to the sound.

This production uses studio tracks instead of a live orchestra which is usually a dicey choice, resulting in a flat and uniform sound with no dynamics. But Silhouette Stages is blessed with an apparently superior sound system because the resulting stereo sound features multiple layers, audio positioning, and richness that has been heretofore unheard of in local productions, where sound is virtually always a liability these days.

But amidst all praise, let it be reiterated that despite all the stellar talent gracing the stage, the true star of this show is director Malek. He approaches this piece with the necessary reverence for his source, instills it with a clear vision, and collaborates with talented and willing actors who are game to trust him in coordinating their performances into a successful and loving tribute to one of the most iconic comedies ever filmed.

Young Frankenstein will play through October 30 at Silhouette Stages, Slayton House Theatre, 10400 Cross Fox Ln, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-637-5289 or purchase them online.

Theatre News! Stillpointe Theatre Expands to Include Mercury Theatre in Station North!

From Stillpointe Theatre for immediate release:

Last year, Stillpointe Theatre opened the doors on their new performance space in Station North, located at 1825 N. Charles Street, in the heart of Baltimore’s Art and Entertainment District. Within the past year, the company members of Sillpointe Theatre have strived to create fresh, exciting, accessible theatre for their Baltimore audiences.

As of October 1st, Stillpointe will not expand to include it’s neighboring building, the Mercury Theatre, located at 1823 N. Charles Street. The former sight of the Strand Theatre, and most recently, Baltimore Improv Group, will house productions for the 2017 season, and also be available for rental to local arts groups.

It is the hope of the Stillpointe Theatre Artistic Council to use the current space as a gallery/cabaret space that can be used for smaller performances, rehearsals, and private events, while the newly acquired space will be used primarily as a performance space, with new dressing rooms, storage, and office space also featured in the plans. Artistic Director, Ryan Haase, also spoke of the desire to install a double door in the wall separating the two spaces to create a more professional and streamlined flow for audience members and performers alike.

Performances for the 2017 season are being solidified, and any and all rental inquires may be made by contacting stillpoineti@gmail.com. The Stillpointe Theater is an ADA-accessible building, and does not discriminate in race, class, color, sex, or orientation when renting their facilities.

Check out the original article with photos HERE!

Review: Evil Dead the Musical at Red Branch Theatre Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

October is upon us and many of us are settling in for a month of scary movie nights, road trips to haunted attractions, decking our homes out with fake spider webs and carved pumpkins, and everything else that is Halloween. Autumn is my absolute favorite time of year and part of this affinity has to do with this frightening holiday! Red Branch Theatre Company‘s latest gory offering, Evil Dead the Musical, Directed and Choreographed by Jenny Male with Music Direction by Aaron Broderick is just what is needed to get the October festivities started and just hits the spooky spot!

Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

If you haven’t at least heard of the 1981 cult hit film Evil Dead and its subsequent sequels and reboots, you had to have been living under a rock for the last 35 years, but, seriously… its a campy horror classic that you should have on your list of films to see before you die. It’s so popular, premium cable network STARZ premiered a new TV show called Ash vs. Evil Dead, based on the film. Both this TV show and the original film star Bruce Campbell as Ash, the unlikely hero, who fights “deadites” to save the world , whether he likes it or not.

Red Branch Theatre Company brings this cult classic to the stage brilliantly and this is an experience you don’t want to miss!

Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Special Effects and Make up really drive this type of show and Hannah Fogler knocked it out of the park with her ingenuity and creativity. At its core, Evil Dead the Musical is a gory, blood-soaked supernatural tale and Fogler completely embraces this. There’s only so much blood and gore one can produce on the stage for a live performance (unless you’re a certain barber on Fleet Street), but Fogler manages to give us just the right amount without making it look too fake or hokey but enough to add value to the production and not take away from the other elements of the production. Zombies are all the rage these days and, if you are unfamiliar with Evil Dead, “deadites” are pretty much zombies and Fogler’s Make-Up Design clinches the look impeccably. With the help of masks, the transitions of the actors is flawless and the Special Effects and Makeup are certainly technical highlights of this production. You’ve been warned! If you’re squeamish, be prepared for the squirting blood and guts that accompany this brilliant piece.

Danny Bertaux as Scott, Sarah Goldstein as Cheryl, and Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Danny Bertaux as Scott, Sarah Goldstein as Cheryl, and Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Set Design by Ryan Haase is nothing short of superb, using levels, the appropriate cool, earthy, woodsy colors of an old, semi-abandoned cabin in the woods, easy entrances and exits to move the action along smoothly, and movable wall art (Yep! You read that correctly!). The space at Red Branch Theatre Company is already a great space for the productions they offer, but Haase has managed to completely turn this stage into the cabin where this crazy story takes place. His eye for detail is extraordinary and he utilizes his space wisely to match the challenges of the setting of this production. Kudos to Haase for his creative eye and smart set design.

Lighting Design by Lynn Joslin effectively captures the creepiness of the setting and set the mood with the dim lighting and use of strobe effects during certain points in the piece giving us a dark wood on a stormy night. Joslin’s design was very appropriate and provided added value to this production.

Angeleaza Anderson as Shelly, Benjamin Stoll as Ash, Sarah Goldstein as Cheryl, Danny Bertaux as Scott, and Carson Gregory as Linda. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Angeleaza Anderson as Shelly, Benjamin Stoll as Ash, Sarah Goldstein as Cheryl, Danny Bertaux as Scott, and Carson Gregory as Linda. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Costume Designer Andrew Malone did a very good job dressing his actors in costumes that are modern but have a nostalgic flair that’s absolutely fitting for this piece. The actors look very comfortable in their respective costumes and move about effortlessly. Notably, the character of Ash had an ensemble that near perfectly matched Bruce Campbell’s attire in the film and Malone is to be commended for his eye for detail.

Jenny Male tackles the double duty of Director and Choreographer and she does a phenomenal job. She takes this familiar, campy tale and transfers it to the stage flawlessly. She keeps the story moving and seems to understand the type of dark humor overflowing in this piece but keeps it together with clever blocking and a spot on casting. It’s challenging to take a piece of popular culture and present it in a new way but Male changes aspects of the story that have to be changed to update and/or fit the stage and keeps beloved aspects of the story intact for the die-hard fans of the original films. The balance is superb and make for a very successful production.

Cast of Evil Dead the Musical. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Cast of Evil Dead the Musical. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

The choreography is just about as campy as the show itself but it works perfectly! The cast seems to have a great time with the dance numbers and I had a great time watching them. They’re upbeat and energized, and just a bit chintzy when they need to be! Kudos to Jenny Male for a job well done.

Under the Music Direction of Aaron Broderick, this ensemble sounds amazing. The score is very good, but campy, but Broderick had this cast in harmony and on point with this piece. The style is modern but still very musical theatre and, as with choreography, the cast seems to have a blast while performing these songs and with songs with titles such as “What the Fuck Was That?” and “Do the Necronomicon”… how could one not have a great time?

Front (l-r) Carson Gregory as Linda, Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Back (l-r) Danny Bertaux as Scott, Angeleaza Anderson as Shelly, Sarah Goldstein as Cheryl. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Front (l-r) Carson Gregory as Linda, Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Back (l-r) Danny Bertaux as Scott, Angeleaza Anderson as Shelly, Sarah Goldstein as Cheryl. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Though there is what many would consider a main character (Ash), this is truly an ensemble piece and this entire ensemble has great chemistry and they all work well together. It’s a joy to watch them interact, play off of, and support each other, just as a tight-knit cast should.

Peter Boyer, Cole Watts, and Sarah Luckadoo bring up the “chorus” or ensemble of this cast, but that certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t essential to this piece.

Peter Boyer takes on the role of Jake and, though his character seemed a little out of place as a reliable hillbilly who happens to be wandering in the same woods as the abandoned cabin, he played the role well, giving 100% and his comedic timing was spot on. His number “Good Old Reliable Jake” seemed to be filler, to me, but he performed the number admirably.

Sarah Luckadoo and Peter Doyle. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Sarah Luckadoo and Peter Doyle. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Cole Watts portrays Ed, the submissive boyfriend of a much more assertive character who falls into an unfortunate situation, and though Watts doesn’t have a ton of stage time, his number “Bit Part Demon,” which pokes fun at the obligatory slaying of various demons in Evil Dead, is impressive and he keeps the energy up throughout the number.

Sarah Luckadoo rounds out the ensemble of this production and does a fine job as both living characters and inanimate objects such as a footbridge and she does it all with gusto and high energy. She manages to have fun with the camp and creates a very enjoyable performance.

Danny Bertaux as Scott and Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Danny Bertaux as Scott and Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

The five unfortunate friends who find themselves in the middle of this bloody, demonic story are Shelly, the ditzy, “loose woman,” played by Angeleaza Anderson (who plays a completely different, scholarly character named Annie, as well), Scotty, the bone-head best friend played by Danny Bertaux, Cheryl, this good girl, nerdy sister played by Sarah Goldstein, Linda, the hero’s girl, played by Carson Gregory, and our unlikely dashing hero, played by Benjamin Stoll.

Danny Bertaux, as Scotty, has a great command of the stage and is very comfortable in his role as the stereotypical “frat boy” looking for a good time in the woods with a girl he picked up only days before. Vocally, he does an impeccable job carrying the lower range and keeping in harmony with his fellow singers and he fills out the ensemble numbers very nicely. His character portrayal could have been reigned in a bit as, at times, it seems he’s trying too hard and going over the top, even for a campy piece. Overall, his performance is admirable and he’s giving his all which is fun to watch.

Benjamin Stoll as Ash, Angeleaza Anderson as Annie, Peter Doyle as Jake. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Benjamin Stoll as Ash, Angeleaza Anderson as Annie, Peter Doyle as Jake. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Angeleaza Anderson does a great job playing Shelly, the absolutely annoying counterpart to Danny Bertaux’s Scotty. She does such a good job, I found myself really irate with this person, waiting for her demise. Her performance of this character could have been pulled back a bit, as well, as it was a bit much, at times. Thankfully, Anderson picks up the role of Annie, the scientist and very intelligent daughter of the owner of the cabin, who comes to searching for her father. This character was much more likable, though matter-of-face, but her transition between the two characters was a complete switch displaying Anderson’s impressive acting chops. Her vocal performance was equally impressive, carrying the higher register and her number “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons” is entertaining and very enjoyable.

Danny Bertaux, Carson Gregory, and Peter Doyle. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Danny Bertaux, Carson Gregory, and Peter Doyle. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

As Linda, the hero’s girlfriend and loyal S-Mart employee, Carson Gregory takes on this role with the understanding that the character is not the dramatic, romantic lead and it works brilliantly! She’s comfortable on the stage and gives a strong performance. Her vocal abilities are apparent as she flawlessly sings through the heartwarming and humorous “Housewares Employee” that deals with the meeting and eventual relationship between Linda and Ash. Gregory is a confident and diligent performer that is an asset to this production.

One of the highlights of this production of Evil Dead the Musical is Sarah Goldstein who takes on the role of Cheryl, the good-girl of the group. Goldstein really embraces this character and gives her all to her performance. Her comedic timing is spot on and she plays her character straight, making the craziness of the situation even more humorous. She’s a very strong performer and is quite comfortable on the stage and in this role. Her numbers “They Won’t Let Us Leave” and “Look Who’s Evil Now” are fun to watch and she pulls them off confidently as these songs sit well in her vocal range. She’s another actor who takes on two different characters and the transition is superb. As one of the characters with a good amount of stage time, she doesn’t drop her character once, keeping it up throughout the entire piece. She’s definitely one to watch in this production.

Angeleaza Anderson as Annie and Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Angeleaza Anderson as Annie and Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

This brings us to our handsome, humorous hero, Ash, played flawlessly by Benjamin Stoll. Stoll carries this production effortlessly and seems to understand the humor and tongue and cheek that accompanies this piece. His comedic timing is near perfect and his physical work is outstanding. Vocally, Stoll is a standout with a smooth, beautiful baritone-tenor that resonates through the theatre. It doesn’t hurt that he’s pretty easy on the eyes being cute as a button and dashing all at the same time! However, school girl crush aside, Stoll does an amazing job in this role. This character is so iconic, it’s quite challenging to take on the responsibility of keeping the character familiar but also bringing a fresh point of view. Stoll very impressively manages to make the character of Ash his own and not a second rate version of the genius of Bruce Campbell and it made his performance top notch. I’m looking forward to seeing Stoll’s work in the future.

Final thought… Evil Dead the Musical is a fun, bloody, and definitely campy show that certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s easy to see the performers are having a great time which results in the audience having a great time, as well. You don’t have to be familiar with the films to enjoy the show and if you are not familiar, it’s a great introduction and if you are familiar, this production has taken care not to mess too much with the themes and gags that made the films so successful and you’ll certainly be overcome with a feeling of nostalgia. Perfect for the Halloween season, you should add this show to your Fall “to do” calendar!

This is what I thought of this production of Evil Dead the Musical.… what do you think?

Evil Dead the Musical will play through October 29 at Red Branch Theatre Company, 9130-I Red Branch Road, Columbia MD 21045. For tickets, call the box office at 410-997-9352 or purchase them online.

New Backstage Banter for Wait Until Dark at Everyman Theatre

Backstage Banter Title Update 061716

Check out the Backstage Banter for Wait Until Dark at Everyman Theatre!

“… throw in Greenwich Village, NYC in 1944 and a basement apartment and you have a fast paced, intelligent story that has you writhing in your seat and wanting to jump up on stage to yell directions to the protagonist.”

Everyman Theatre