Review: Bonnie & Clyde at Monumental Theatre Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

The infamous Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow me their fate on a back road made of dirt in Bienville Parish, Louisiana on May 23, 1934 but their deeds and notoriety have lived on since. Their dastardly actions were plastered on the newspapers of the time but, until recently, little was known about the love story between these two outlaws. Though a cautionary love story, this makes for good fodder for a musical theatre piece and Monumental Theatre Company‘s latest offering, Bonnie & Clyde with Music by Frank Wildhorn, Lyrics by Don Black, and Book by Ivan Menchell and Direction by Ryan Maxwell, Music Direction by Paige Rammelkamp, and Choreography by Melrose Pyne takes us back to the dusty Depression of the 1930s and sheds light on this fascinating and poignant story.

Walking into the small space, I’m immediately taking back to the 1930s dust bowl with a minimal but authentic Set Design by Jessica Cancino. As it is a unit set, the locations are implied with simple but thoughtful set pieces that tell me exactly where I am in the scenes with no confusion. Her clever use of silhouettes keeps the piece interesting and adds great value to the production. Overall, Cancino is to be commended for her use of the space and intelligent design.

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Rachel Barlaam as Bonnie and Russell Silber as Clyde. Credit: RJ Pavel

Like the Set Design, Ethan Henry’s Costume Design fits the piece perfectly. The earth toned color palet keeps everything authentic and it’s a very well thought-out costume plot. The wardrobe for Bonnie Parker is sexy, but not overly sexy and the plain floral print dresses for the ladies work quite well and are coordinated nicely. The gentlemen, with their suspenders, tank-tops, and high waist pants add a realness to the production and the pinstriped suits are spot on. Overall, the Costume Design adds to the piece rather than deflects from it and makes for a great looking production.

Choreography by Melrose Pyne is polished and together and her ensemble keeps it tight. This production hit it out of the ballpark in the gospel inspired number “God’s Arms Are Always Open” and, well, give me a good gospel song and my toes are a-tappin’! Melrose knows the cast and their abilities and matches her choreography to bring out the best in them. Major kudos go out to Pyne for this engaging and entertaining choreography.

Though the orchestra is small, Music Direction by Paige Rammelkamp is near perfect. Her cast was in harmony and on point and the orchestra (consisting of Paige Rammelkamp on Keyboards, Theresa Arnold on Bass, Jess Bauer on Violin, Jack Cohen/Doug Elliott on Trombone, Marque Nelson on Percussion, Rick Peralta on Guitar, and Justin Baughman on Reeds) sounded like a damn recording! They are well rehearsed and give a brilliant performance.

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Rachel Barlaam as Bonnie and Russell Silber as Clyde. Credit: RJ Pavel

Telling a biographical story on stage is quite a feat but Ryan Maxwell takes the helm of this production and his direction makes for an easy to follow, charming evening of theatre. He keeps his cast moving and the action running smoothly, using his intimate space wisely. Even when the story slows down in Act II, Maxwell keeps it interesting with his blocking and seems to have a strong grasp of this story and what these characters are going through. His casting couldn’t be better and he seems to have pulled the best performance out of each of them. His understanding of minimalism is apparent and choosing a more implied approach rather than spectacle is a wise one.

Moving on to the performance aspect of Bonnie & Clyde, it’s worth mentioning this is a strong ensemble. Though only a few performances are mentioned in this review, every single actor in this ensemble is to be commended for his or her work and for the foundation they give to the entire production, such as the Salon Girls in “You’re Goin’ Back to Jail.”

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Russell Silber as Clyde, Rachel Barlaam as Bonnie and Morgan Scott as Ted. Credit: RJ Pavel

Jonathan M. Rizzardi takes on the role of Preacher and though he seems a little stiff (which may be a character choice), his vocal work is fantastic. He’s the featured singer on the aforementioned “God’s Arms Are Always Open” and he is no joke in this number. Hitting notes that are sometimes up in the rafters, he brings this number home. Another featured role, Ted Hinton is tackled by Morgan Scott and he seems to embody this down-home boy character making him a likable character even though he is written as somewhat of a nemesis to our main characters. Both actors do well by their characters and add to the story.

Young Bonnie and Clyde are played by Hailey Ibberson and Camryn Shegogue, respectively and they make these parts their own. Vocally, both give confident, seemingly effortless performances.

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Rachel Barlaam as Bonnie. Credit: RJ Pavel

Taking on the title roles of this piece are Russell Silber as Clyde Barrow and Rachel Barlaam as Bonnie Parker and both are well fitted in their roles. Both are absolute able actors but that’s not to say there were a few minor issues such as chemistry. Though the chemistry is good between Silber and Barlaam, it does seem to come and go and there are few awkward kisses (passionate kisses, mind you) that seem to be more scripted than natural. Vocally, both actors are quite adroit, especially Barlaam with a clear, strong voice that resonates throughout the theatre but at times the performances from both seemed a little lackluster for these two outlaw characters. However, these two do share some great moments such as in the numbers “How ‘Bout a Dance” and “Bonnie”.

Definite highlights of this production of Bonnie & Clyde are and Jana Bernard as Blanch Barrow and Benjamin Stoll as Buck Barrow. These two, together and individually, are powerhouses. Their chemistry seems effortless and their performances are near flawless. Benjamin Stoll embodies the character of Buck Barrow, the conflicted brother of Clyde who finds himself always having to choose between his wife and his brother, and his portrayal of him his completely believable. Vocally, Stoll is phenomenal with a smooth, clear baritone that I could listen to for days and days and shines in the numbers such as “When I Drive” and “Raise a Little Hell (Reprise)”. Jana Bernard, as the confident, opinionated, independent Blanche Barrow, steals every scene she’s in, without really trying, and her portrayal of Blanche Barrow is not only uber-authentic but damn funny. Her presence on stage is strong and she is nothing less than a joy to watch. Her vocal talents are superb and she commands the stage, especially in her featured number, the hilarious “You’re Goin’ Back to Jail”Bernard takes this role and chews it up and makes it her own. Did I mention their chemistry? Totally believable and they work well off each other. Keep an eye on these two in this production.

Final thought… Bonnie & Clyde, a beautifully tragic and cautionary tale, though not so successful on Broadway, is a bonafide hit at Monumental Theatre Company. It is well thought-out, precise and a delight to experience. The ensemble is top-notch, with a few solid standout performances, and the orchestra is spot on. The director and entire ensemble have a strong comprehension on the characters they are playing and the story they are telling making an outing down to Alexandria, Virginia well worth it. Whether you’re familiar with the story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow or not, you won’t want to miss this production so… run and get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Monumental Theatre Company’s production of Bonnie & Clyde… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Bonnie & Clyde will play through July 30 at Monumental Theatre Company, Ainsle Arts Center, 3900 West Braddock Road, Alexandria, VA. For tickets, purchase them at the door or purchase them online.

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Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Baltimore Shakespeare Factory

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to experience theatre that is not full of flashy sets or intricate costumes, but of minimal design and I’ve grown to appreciate this style immensely. I’m learning that you don’t need all the bells and whistles to tell a good story (notice, I said “good” story) and Baltimore Shakespeare Factory (BSF) demonstrates this near perfectly with their latest offering, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, Directed by Tom Delise. It’s good old fashioned story-telling in a serene, outdoor setting that takes you back to the days of old when Shakespeare ruled the stage and people appreciated a good story.

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Titania and the Fairies seducing an egotistical Nick Bottom. Credit: Will Kirk

If you get a chance to check out a production in the Meadow at Johns Hopkins University’s Evergreen Museum and Library… DO IT! In the middle of a bustling city, this small patch of land is the perfect setting for an evening of Shakespeare, and you can bring your own picnic if you wish! The sounds of nature surround you as you watch a timeless story unfold before you performed by able actors working from a flawless text.

In a nutshell (if it’s possible), A Midsummer Night’s Dream is about events unfolding around the marriage of Duke Theseus and Hippolyta, the former Queen of the Amazons. Included in these events are the escapades of four young Athenian lovers, a traveling troupe of actors – The Mechanicals, a bunch of fairies, and the King and Queen of the Fairies who are throwing monkey wrenches in everything while trying to fix it at the same time. Sounds complicated doesn’t it? Well, it’s not too complicated if you pay attention and it’s quite funny and farcical making for a great evening of theatre.

Director Tom Delise, a Shakespeare purist, seems to have a confident grasp on the material. His vision of bringing pure Shakespearean theatre to the stage with little gems of modern day references to tell the story make it easy to follow and indubitably entertaining. He keeps the action moving and interesting creating a smooth flow that isn’t overwhelming to those not as experienced. He manages to keep it down to a nice 2-hours while still telling the entire story which is a feat in itself when it comes to any Shakespeare play. Kudos to Delise for an impeccable production.

 

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Kathryne Daniels and Jeff Miller. Credit: Will Kirk

Costume Design by Jessica Behar is simple, yet very appropriate and effective. Being a fanciful piece with a fairy king and queen and man turning into a donkey, one would think the costumes have to be outlandish and complex, but Behar has managed to design a costume plot that isn’t over the top, but still quite effective. Of course, the togas and tunics are present, but ornamented nicely and subtly differentiating the classes (the upper crust and the actors, really). Tatiana, Queen of the Fairies is elegant in her flowing robe while Oberon, King of the Fairies is aptly costumed in a nature-inspired ensemble with funky headpiece included. Overall, Behar’s design is appropriate, creative, and adds value to the production as a whole.

Moving to the performance aspect of this piece, it’s worth saying the entire ensemble gives 100% to their performance and work quite well together. It’s a joy to watch this cast as a whole and they know their stuff!

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Micaela Mannix, Liz Galuardi, Fred Fletcher-Jackson, and Davon Harris. Credit: Will Kirk

Taking on the roles of the four confused lovers are Fred Fletcher-Jackson as Lysander, Liz Galuardi as Hermia, Davon Harris as Demetrius, and Micaela Mannix as Helena and this quartet hits the nail on the head with their performances. Their chemistry is second to none and they’re comedic timing is delightful. In a particularly farcical scene where poor Hermia is actually sat on by the boys, I was laughing out-loud and thoroughly enjoying the physical comedy before me. All four give confident performances and are a joy to watch.

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A couple of The Mechanicals performing the play-within-the-play. Credit: Will Kirk

The Mechanicals, the acting troupe, compsed of Cheryl Campo, Tess Garret, Jeff Miller, Tegan Williams, Kathryne Daniels, and Shaquille Stewart, much like their name implies, is a well-oiled machine and all work well off of each other. Their mini play-within-the-play had me belly-laughing – especially Jeff Miller, who had the honor of taking on the female role, as many males did in the time period, and he played it to the hilt with an impeccable grasp of the cheeky comedy. Other highlights in this troupe are Shaquille Stewart who takes on the role of Nick Bottom, the egotistical, self-admiring actor, and Kathryne Daniels as Peter Quince, the flustered writer of the troupe. Stewart steals just about every scene he’s in with his physical comedy and superb delivery and Daniels humorously portrays Quince’s frustration with big gestures and asides that work well with the material. It’s a job well done by all.

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Allie Press as Puck. Credit: Will Kirk

Allie Press tackles the role of Puck, the impish go-to guy for King Oberon and she really grasps this character. The character of Puck means well and is only doing his masters bidding but he is also a lurking observer most of the time and strikes when it is most opportune. Press skillfully delivers her dialogue and moves about the stage effortlessly giving a confident, strong performance.

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Elijah Moreland as Oberon, King of the Fairies. Credit: Will Kirk

Definite highlights of this production are the Titania and Oberon, the Fairy Queen and King played masterfully by Valerie Dowdle (a BSF Company Member) and Elijah Moreland. Their chemistry is brilliant and they work very well off of each other. Moreland, in probably the flashiest costume in the production, moves confidently and gracefully taking on not only the intricate role of Oberon, but also of Duke Theseus. He delivers his dialogue clearly and has a good comprehension of his characters. His interaction with the audience is subtle and not in your face which is something I can totally deal with not being a huge fan of breaking the fourth wall. Overall, Moreland has a strong presence on the stage and gives an absolutely commendable performance.

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Valerie Dowdle as Hippolyta. Credit: Will Kirk

Valerie Dowdle also takes on two roles – that of the Titania and Hippolyta and she nails both of these characters. Quite an able Shakespearean actor, Dowdle effortlessly embodies her characters, especially that of Titania, and gives a strong, graceful, and authentic performance. Her comprehension of the material is apparent and her delivery is completely natural, making it easy to follow and understand. Another fine performance from Ms. Dowdle.

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The Fairies and Nick Bottom. Credit: Will Kirk

Final thought…A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Baltimore Shakespeare Factory is a step back in time where there was no need for big spectacles or lights and sound but the actors told the story and the text spoke for itself. Baltimore Shakespeare Factory’s attempt at producing authentic Shakespearean theatre is a success, especially out on the rolling meadow at Johns Hopkins University’s Evergreen Museum and Library. T he actors are well-rehearsed and have an impeccable comprehension of the story they’ve been tasked to tell and their interpretation, along with the vision of Director Tom Delise, is easy to follow and quite entertaining. This is a fun, humorous, timeless tale and BSF knocks it out of the ballpark with this production. Those experienced with Shakespeare or those who are currently discovering his work will be thoroughly delighted and entertained.

This is what I thought of Baltimore Shakespeare Factory’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

 A Midsummer Night’s Dream will play through July 30 at Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, The Meadow at Johns Hopkins University’s Evergreen Museum and Library. For tickets, purchase them at the door or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

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Review: Jesus Christ Superstar at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission

Regardless how religious one is, many stories in the Bible are familiar because many of the stories have been the inspiration for countless artistic endeavors. Usually, one doesn’t even have to practice a faith or be spiritual to know the story of Jesus Christ, and whether one does believe or not, does not hinder the amazing storytelling the Bible offers. The latest offering from Third Wall Productions, the popular Jesus Christ Superstar, with Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lyrics by Tim Rice, Directed by Mike Zellhofer and Music Direction by Daniel Plante and Choreography by Kristen Rigsby reminds of those stories and how they can be presented in a modern, yet simple format making it extraordinarily entertaining while staying on message.

Jesus Christ Superstar, still going strong after more than 40 years, is loosely based on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and tells of the events during the last week of Jesus’ life while touching on his relationships with Judas Iscariot, Mary Magdalene, the Disciples, and the Romans, culminating with the Crucifixion and death of Jesus.

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Jesus and the Apostles at the Last Supper. Credit: Kristin Rigsby Facebook/Third Wall Productions

Taking place in the Sanctuary of the St. Thomas Episcopal Church, the overall design works quite well. With no actual set, lighting is mainly used to distinguish between scenes and Light Design by Jim Shomo connects the scenes smoothly, setting the mood for each. At times, the lights are overwhelming and a bit too flashy, contrasting with the minimal look of the entire production, but, in general, Shomo does an extraordinary job lighting this space – a type not often used for traditional theatre.

Costume Design by Amy Rudai is traditional and simple, fitting with the production very nicely. Rudai does elaborate on a few of the costumes such as those for Pilate, King Herod, and the Pharisees but not so much as they stood out so much they are a distraction, but gave the production a skillful balance and authentic look.

Choreography be Kristin Rigsby is on point for this production. She seems to really know her cast and her choreography accentuates their talents and abilities and keeps the production moving and exciting. Rigsby’s cast of able featured dancers (Jillian Arnold, Grace Volpe, Elizable Volpe, Grace Dillon, Andrea rudai, Maggie Flanigan, Clare Green, Kali Baklor, Brooklyn Ritter, and Jennifer Alexander) are definite highlights of this production and the choreography is well though-out, well rehearsed, varied, and fresh.

Music Director Daniel Plante is superb and he has this cast singing in harmony and with gusto. The ensemble of this piece is strong and adds great value to the production as a whole. With such a familiar score, it can be difficult not to imitate the many previous renditions but try to add a crazy spin on the material but Palante seems to understand that less is more and keeping it traditional isn’t such a bad thing sometimes. Under Plante, this ensemble is well rehearsed and does an extraordinary job with the material.

It’s worth mentioning that, once again, the Pit Orchestra is phenomenal and gives a splendid performance. Consisting of Conductor Andrew Zile, Marshall White on Trumpet, Alan White on Horn, Kevin Jones on Bass Guitar, David Kistler on Lead Guitar, W. William Zellhofer on Piano, David E. Booth, Jr. on Reeds, Winfield Clasing on Drum Set, and Daniel Plante on Percussion, this orchestra is one to be reckoned with. Kudos for a job well done!

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Jesus Christ Superstar. Credit: Kristin Rigsby Facebook/Third Wall Productions

Michael Zelhoffer takes the reigns of this production and kudos to for telling this timeless story in a way that is entertaining but not overwhelming for the senses. Hats off to Zelhoffer for a fantastic production. Many Andrew Lloyd Webber productions can be put in to the category of “Extravaganza” or even called spectacles (which I personally don’t mind), but Zelhoffer does it right with this piece. Though there are built in restrictions when your stage is the altar of a church, but Zelhoffer doesn’t worry about fancy sets and simply tells the story. That’s what it’s about and he hits the nail on the head with this piece. I appreciate he keeps it simple and let’s the actors and the score do what they are meant to do. He also takes a turn onstage as Pontius Pilate, the conflicted Roman in charge of saying “yay” or “nay” to the Crucifixion and he gives an admirable performance.

Moving onto the performance aspect of this piece, The Pharisees, the nemesis of Jesus of Nazareth are played nicely by Anthony Singer (Caiaphas), Harper Craven (Annas), and Brian Becker (Priest 3), who all exude a believable “holier than thou” persona making it easy for the audience to dislike them, in general, aside from a few lyric flubs from Singer, the trio has a great chemistry, look the parts, and give strong performances.

Mea Celeste Holloway, a Third Wall Productions regular, takes on the role of Mary Magdalene, and for being the only real featured female role in this piece, any actress in this part has the chance to shine amidst her male counterparts. The character herself is forlorn and apprehensive but Holloway just blends in with the rest of the ensemble, giving a subdued performance. Between her featured vocal numbers, Holloway seems to just be going through the motions and the character may have been more effective with a little more “oomph” than she gives. That being said, she gives absolutely lovely performances of her featured numbers such as the standard “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “Everything’s All Right.”

Chip Willet as Simon and Andrew Pedrick as Peter, two of the featured Disciples, and they rock it out, as required, and give commendable, confident performances both character-wise and vocally. Willet is strong as Simon and takes command of the stage during his featured number “Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem” and Andrew Pedrick nails it with his portrayal of a man at odds with accepting his role in Christ’s mission or denying Christ to save his own skin and he gives superb performances of his featured numbers “Peter’s Denial” and “Could We Start Again, Please.”

Thomas Rendulic portraying King Herod is a delightful highlight of this production. One of the more humorous roles in this piece, Rendulic embodies this flamboyant character and Rudai’s costume design is spot on, all the way down to the gold gladiator sandals. His performance of the upbeat, ragtime “King Herod’s Song” is well done and entertaining, along with superb backup dancers.

Timoth Copney tackles the complex role of Judas Iscariot and his portrayal is quite worthy of the well-known character. Copney beautifully expresses the heavy emotion and turmoil of this trouble character and you can clearly see how he delves into the part. Vocally, Copney is powerhouse. Though some parts of some of the songs may have been a tiny bit out of his vocal range, he pulls off featured numbers such as “Heaven on Their Minds” and the title song, “Jesus Christ Superstar” confidently and passionately, making the role and the songs his own, commanding the stage and giving an exceptional performance.

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The Crucifixion. Credit: Kristin Rigsby Facebook/Third Wall Productions

Having performed the role numerous times, James Fitzpatrick as Jesus of Nazareth is glorious. His voice is a perfect fit for this role and he gives a 100% commitment, giving an authentic, passionate performance that commands attention. Aside from a few obligatory high pitched screams that seem out of place, Fitzpatrick’s performance is near perfect and on point both in character and vocally as revealed in his poignant rendition of “Gethsemane,” Jesus’ only solo piece. Overall, Fitzpatrick seems to really understand who he’s portraying and embodies him wholly.

Final thought… Jesus Christ Superstar at Third Wall Productions is a well thought-out and well put-together production that doesn’t slap you in the face with overdone sets or costumes but lets the actors and score tell the timeless story of Jesus Christ’s last days on earth. The familiar score is kept intact and the performers really seen to understand the story they’re telling. Minimal, but entertaining and committed, get your tickets now for this limited run!

This is what I thought of Third Wall Productions’ production of Jesus Christ Superstar… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Jesus Christ Superstar will play through July 8 at Third Wall Productions, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 1108 Providence Road, Baltimore, MD 21286. For tickets, purchase them at the door or purchase them online.

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