Review: She Kills Monsters at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 80 minutes with no intermission

Stephen Edwards, Danielle Shorts, Lanoree Blake, Rachel Verhaaren, and Amanda Harris. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Have you ever role-played with a Dungeon Master? Acted out your fantasies with a group of people in in a dimly lit basement? Sounds kinda kinky, no? Well, I’m talking about Dungeons and Dragons or D&D for those in the know. If you don’t know a damned thing about D&D, don’t feel bad, I didn’t either and never even had an inkling to dabble in it. However, I have had friends that have taken the leap and started campaigns with like minded folks and have had a blast and made some great friends. It’s almost like it’s own culture and if you do want to get an idea of what this game and culture are all about, head on down to see Spotlighters Theatre‘s latest offering, She Kills Monsters by Qui Nguyen, Directed by Stephanie Miller, with Set Design by Alan Zemla, and Costume Design by Lanoree Blake. With a well thought-out script and a cast who has a great comprehension of the material, She Kills Monsters is one of the best productions running at the moment.

Andrea Bush, Amanda Harris, and Danielle Shorts. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

She Kills Monsters follows the story of Agnes, an average 20-something in the mid-90s, as she struggles with the loss of her entire family in a car crash, including her younger sister Tilly, who she realizes she never really knew. Through the popular role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons, and with the help of Chuck, a sort of expert of the game, Agnes navigates through a fantasy world created by sister to discover who she was and, in the midst of it all, discovers things about herself. Throw in a band of fanciful allies, an uncertain relationship with an average boyfriend, a sassy best friend, and evil cheerleaders, you have an entertaining and thoughtful story to which everyone can relate in one way or another.

The story is, in a word, brilliant. It’s funny, poignant, and well thought-out and the short scenes lend itself to good pacing. The audience is enthralled and all-in from the start creating an electrified energy throughout the small theatre. The script cleverly guides the audience into rooting for these characters and before you know it, you’re invested, which is what a good script is supposed to do.

Set Design by Alan Zemla. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Set Design by Alan Zemla is minimal, as expected for the intimate space, but that’s not to say it’s boring because that it is not. Zemla uses his space wisely and utilizes the corners of the theatre that almost gives an immersive feel to the entire production. Zemla knows his space and makes it work beautifully for this production.

Lanoree Blake’s Costume Design is spot on as this story takes place in the 90s and, at first glance, I knew exactly what time period I was in. Her attention to detail took me back to a time when Nirvana ruled the airwaves and flannel was high fashion. Her design for the fantasy world, New Landia, are also impressive and fitting for each character that is created. Kudos to Blake for her work on this production.

Rachel Verhaaren as Agnes. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

I wouldn’t do this production justice without mentioning the exquisite Sound Design by Stephanie Miller, who happens to take the helm of this production as Director, as well. The carefully chosen music for this production is on point and fits it perfectly. Mostly themes from video games, it the design has a nostalgic feel that puts the audience at ease (those who are old enough to remember these sounds from the 90s that are ingrained in our psyche).

Miller also has an exquisite understanding of this story and crafts the story in a way that’s easy to follow, even if you aren’t familiar with the nuances of the game. Her casting is superb and her vision is apparent. She guides this cast seamlessly through the complex but relatable story and the very short scenes run at a great pace but aren’t choppy helping the entire production run smoothly.

Tina James as Vera. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

As characters in the real world, Miles, the doting but average boyfriend played by Peter Daly, and Vera, the sassy best friend played by Tina James, keep Agnes as grounded as possible. James does a commendable job as Vera, portraying her as a strong-willed, sarcastic, but caring friend and her deadpan style humor, though scripted at times, works quite well for the character and adds to the character. Daly does a fine job in his portrayal but, in the intimate space, I got the feeling he was uncomfortable making a connection with his cast mates as his eyes dart all over the place, rarely making eye contact while having a dialogue with anyone and it’s somewhat of a distraction to his performance. Otherwise, he seems to understand his character quite well and is committed to his role.

Michael Crook and Peter Daly. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Michael Crook tackles the role of the very helpful, over-zealous Chuck, the resident expert of Dungeons & Dragons, and it’s as if Crook was born for this role. At times, he’s a little too much and over the top, but that very well could be the intimate space making his gesturing and voice bigger than intended. I imagine in a larger space, he’s on point. He does, however, embody a teen-aged boy excited about playing make-believe and he gives an impressive performance.

In a supporting but extremely humorous role, Sam Cure takes on the character of Steve, a fellow player of D&D who pops up in the middle of various fights Tilly’s group gets into only to be struck down, quickly, every time. Again, Cure has little stage time, but what he does have tickles the funny bone and his portrayal almost has you rooting for him.

Danielle Shorts and Amanda Harris. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Amanda Harris as Kaliope and Danielle Shorts as Lilith are stunning in their roles as members and femme fatales (but good guys) of Tilly’s rag-tag New Landia campaign. Shorts has her character down-pat and gives a confident performance with a good command of the stage while Harris’ character is more subdued but her portrayal is equally as commendable and she looks comfortable in the role. Both of these actors have great chemistry with each other making for splendid performances.

Zoe Lunga and Claire Iverson. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Taking on the villainous roles in this production, Zoe Lunga and Claire Iverson take on the roles of Evil Gabbi and Evil Tina, respectively, and they play these evil cheerleaders to the hilt. Both actresses give believable performances and I can imagine both of these bully characters roaming the halls of any high school in the country today. Along with the ultimate mean girls is Andrea Bush who takes on the role of Farrah, the smack-talking, rough-around-the-edges fairy guard who is trying to thwart our unlikely heroes. Bush is absolutely hilarious as this dirty-mouthed fairy and gives a superb, no-holds-barred performance.

Lanoree Blake as Tilly. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

A couple of definite highlights of this production are Lanoree Blake as Tilly and Rachel Verhaaren as Agnes. Both actors have great chemistry and seem to have a great comprehension of the characters. Lanoree completely embodies her character of a teen-aged “outsider” who has found comfort and a chosen family in this game and world she has created. Her portrayal of Tilly, giving her a rough exterior but a fragile soul, is top notch and makes for some very poignant scenes. Verhaaren gives an authentic performance as an older sister and has great chemistry with her cast mates. Her yearning and strife are well portrayed and you feel for this character from the get and are happy to go on this journey with her. Kudos to superb performances for both of these actors.

Stephen Edwards as Orcus. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

The standout of this production, mainly for his acting chops and comfort on stage is the funny and confident Stephen Edwards who takes on the role of Orcus, an evil soul-snatcher who has pretty much given up and called it quits on the evil business and joins our heroes on their quest to recover Tilly’s soul (more so because he’s the one that lost it and is forced to help). Edwards is a natural on stage and so comfortable in this role, he puts the audience at ease. His performance seems effortless as he throws out one-liners (many of which refer to the 90s and are dear to my heart) and, even though his character is evil, or was at one time, Edwards plays the role in such a way that he is absolutely likable. From his delivery of his lines to his movement about the stage he gives a near flawless performance that is not to be missed and I hope to see more from this actor in the future.

Rachel Verhaaren as Agnes. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Final thought… She Kills Monsters at Spotlighters Theatre is a fun, thoughtful piece that you do not want to miss this season. The story is deep and poignant with an important message of not only self-discovery but discovery and acceptance of those closest to you. With a brilliant, raw script and dedicated performances from a cast who gives 100%, this production of She Kills Monsters is a highlight of the season and a great way to end out for Spotlighters to end out their 55th season. Do yourself a favor and get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Spotlighters Theatre’s production of She Kills Monsters… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

She Kills Monsters will play through June 18 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.

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Review: The Women at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours and 50 minuts with one 15-minute intermission

Kellie Podsednik and Michele Guyton. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Times change and gender roles aren’t so black and white anymore. Though equality may not be 100% today, the stereotypes of men and women have blurred and aside from child birth and those pesky hormones, estrogen and testosterone (which both exist in both sexes, mind you), I like to think men and women are on a pretty level playing field. Of course, I’m saying this as someone of the male persuasion (with many female tendencies, if you catch my drift). Spotlighters Theatre’s latest offering, The Women by Clare Booth Luce, Directed by Fuzz Roark, with Set Design by Alan Zemla, and Costume Design by Andrew Malone, Amy Weimer, and Darcy Elliott takes us back to a bygone era where women were expected to tend to home an children while men were expected to provide and, if a husband strayed, it was all good and no questions were asked as long as the wife kept lifestyle to which she was accustomed. As advertised, this is a play is called The Women… and it’s all about the men!

Briefly, The Women is a comedy of manners and a 1930s commentary about the high class lives and power plays of wealthy socialites of Manhattan and the gossip that guides and ruins relationships, namely for women. Most of the discussions are about the men with which these women are involved and though the men are important to the plot, they strictly talked about but never seen.

The Women was written and first produced in 1936 and later adapted into an uber successful film in 1939 starring some of the top actresses of the day including Norma Sheer, Rosalind Russell, and Joan Crawford. It was also adapted and updated in 2008, but we’ll pretend that never happened.

Kellie Podsednik as Crystal Allen. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Anyone who’s tread the boards of the Spotlighters stage or sat in the audience can see right off the challenges it presents being an intimate space as well as in the round, but Alan Zemla’s Set Design is spot on for this production. Practically each scene is a different setting and the use of set pieces is the most effective and innovative way to present each scene. Zemla’s attention to detail is impeccable and the pieces used in this production are befitting and does not hinder the story whatsoever but moves it along nicely. The scene changes could move a bit faster, with some going as long as 2 to 3 minutes long (a century in production time), but the 4-person stage crew does a stupendous job moving the large, but absolutely appropriate set pieces on and off stage cautiously in the small space. Kudos to Alan Zemla for a job well done.

The wardrobe for this piece is a beast but Costume Design by Andrew Malone, Amy Weimer, and Darcy Elliot is on point. Every stitch these ladies wear is appropriate, to period, and authentic. Set in the days of art deco, the gowns provided to these actresses are superb and all of the actresses look comfortable in what they are wearing. Most of the ensemble members seem to have at least 3 costumes a piece, so I can only imagine the hours this Costume Design team put into this production, but it paid off. They were able to present the glamour these society ladies exuded as well as the conservatism of the 1930s through casual wear and business attire. Overall, Malone, Weimer, and Elliott knocked it out of the ballpark with their design and added great value to this production.

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

Baltimore theatre veteran and Spotlighters Theatre Managing Artistic Director Fuzz Roark takes the helm as Director of this piece and for a man directing all these ladies, he does an outstanding job. Aside from the long scene changes, Roark keeps the action moving along and though the piece runs almost 3 hours, it’s not because of any dragging on the stage, it’s just a lot of show, that Roark has managed to present at a good pace and with authenticity. His casting is impeccable and, above all, his vision is clear, and he seems to have a strong comprehension of the material and the era in which this piece is set allowing him to present an impressive production that is a joy to watch.

Kellie Podsednik as Crystal Allen. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

There are definitely some actresses who are stronger than others and there is a wide range of ability on the stage. However, all the members of this ensemble work well together and off of each other having a tremendous chemistry. Within this abundant cast, there were quite a few highlights.

Ilene Chalmers is charming and motherly as Mrs. Morehead, the conservative, wise mother of poor Mary Haines and though her role doesn’t require as much stage time as others, she gives a strong performance and delivers her lines confidently. Another “supporting” role is that of Jane, the loyal maid, played by Christina Holmes. Holmes gives an outstanding performance adding an Irish accent that is near flawless and she makes this character her own and one to watch.

Michele Guyton as Mary Haines. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Nancy Blake, the witty, single and brassy author and world traveler of the group of ladies this story follows is played by Andrea Bush and she is on point with this character. She has a definite command of the stage and digs her teeth into this character, giving her a rough-around-the-edges persona that actually makes her very likable. This character doesn’t mince her words and Bush embraces this giving a very enjoyable, humorous performance.

Kellie Podsednik tackles the role of Crystal Allen, the other woman who frankly doesn’t give a damn and knows how to play the game of infidelity and social climbing. From the moment she stepped on stage, I wanted to scratch this woman’s eyes out so, with that said, Podsednik played this role superbly. She had just enough smugness and confidence that one has to almost respect her even though she is a homewrecker. Crystal Allen is a high-toned woman, but Podsednik may have taken her vocalization or accent a bit too far, almost sounding straight up British, but other than that minor detail, her performance is realistic and outstanding.

Suzanne Young as Countess de Lage. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

The role of Mary Haines, or Mrs. Stephen Haines, a gentle, level-headed socialite housewife and the character around whom this story mainly revolves is tackled by Michele Guyton who brings a certain grace and dignity to this character. Her choices work very well for this character and she gives a balanced and confident performance and, at times, seems to glide effortlessly across the stage adding to her brilliant performance.

A certain highlight of this piece is Suzanne Young who takes on the role of Countess de Lage, the very rich, care-free, love lorn lady who has been married several times. Young is an absolute hoot in this role summoning up belly laughs from the audience nearly every time she’s on stage. She understands the comedy and her timing is just about perfect. She plays off the other actresses beautifully and delivers her lines naturally and boldy. I’m lookig forward to seeing more from this extremely talented actress.

Melanie Bishop and Michele Guyton. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Melanie Bishop portrays Sylvia Fowler, the sharp-tongued, gossipy, friend you love to hate and she plays it with gusto making her bona fide standout in this production. Having last seen Bishop in Spotlighters production of The Game’s Afoot playing a similar character in a similar time, she couldn’t have been cast better. She understands this type of character in and out and brings an authenticity that is second to none. I’d love to see her play another type of character because her acting chops are on point, but I thoroughly enjoy watching her play this type of role. Bishop’s comprehension, her comfort on the stage, and her strong stage presence makes for a superior execution of this nasty, loud-mouthed character.

Final thought… The Women at Spotlighters Theatre is a witty, brash, and honest play taking the point of view of women of the 1930s and though socially outdated, with certain ideas of how men and women should behave in relationships (namely marriage), it is still a piece ahead of its time. It portrays strong women and gives a humorous, true, and intelligent insight into their ideas of men. Spotlighters Theatre’s production is well thought-out, entertaining production with an more than able ensemble of strong actresses that should be added to your list of shows to see this season.

This is what I thought of Spotlighters Theatre‘s production of The Women… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The Women will play through March 19 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

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Review: Three Penny Opera at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 3 hours with one 15 minute intermission

Connor Moore As the Street Singer. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

Connor Moore As the Street Singer. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

I’m both a musical theatre fan and an opera fan, with emphasis on the former, but I certainly appreciate a good opera now and then. Of course, both genres’ main element is music but the production is a bit different. Spotlighters Theatre‘s latest offering, Three Penny Opera Adapted by Bertolt Brecht and Music by Kurt Weill (adapted from a translation of Jonathan Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera by Elizabeth Hauptmann) merges both of these genres to give us a three hour journey where our heroes fight for social and economic justices to which today’s audiences can relate. This production is Directed, Edited, Adapted, and Newly Translated by Michael Blum, with Music Direction by Erica Rome, and Choreography by Melissa McGinley.

The story begins with the familiar Ballad of Mack the Knife, beautifully performed by Connor Moore (though, be forewarned, it’s much different from the jazzy Bobby Darrin version we’re used to), then goes on to tell the story of Macheath (a.k.a. Mack the Knife) the most notorious criminal in all of England. Macheath marries Polly Peachum (Allison Hicks) much to the dismay of her parents (Frank Mancino and Kay-Megan Washington), who happen to be wealthy and in charge of all the beggars in London but there’s not much to be done since Tiger Brown, the High Sheriff of London is a very good boyhood friend of Macheath. Mr. Peachum, with his clout, threatens Tiger Brown, leading to the arrest of Macheath who manage to escape (a couple of times) with the help of some prostitutes, which leads to an abrupt ending a la deus ex machina (but you’ll have to see it to see if it’s happy or sad).

Steve Quintillian and Robert Wall. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

Steve Quintillian and Robert Wall. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

Although this piece runs just about as long as an average opera, the pacing and tempo is very good so, it’s not that the cast is dragging their feet, it’s just A LOT of show. Blum skillfully punches out each scene smoothly without much downtime and keeps the action moving along nicely.

Spotlighters Theatre’s space being as intimate as it is, the Set Design by Alan Zemla is fitting for this piece utilizing set pieces rather than a unit set, which is clever, and using space off the stage wisely, as well.

Going along with the production aspect of this piece, Costume Design by Amy Weimer and Darcy Elliot was well thought-out and befitting with variety and authenticity.

Rachel Verhaaren, Andrea Bush, Evangeline Ridgeway, and Kay-Megan Washington. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

Rachel Verhaaren, Andrea Bush, Evangeline Ridgeway, and Kay-Megan Washington. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

Overall, this is a well put-together production with a tight ensemble but the story gets somewhat lost in the translation by Director Michael Blum. According to Blum’s bio, he has a background in opera, and it seems as though that’s how he approached this production rather than a play with music or a musical theatre piece. The program states the setting of this piece is supposed to be Baltimore in 2017 and London, 1838 (as seen through the eyes of Brecht in Berlin, 1928) – did ya get all that? Blum manages to portray the latter adequately, but the only hint of Baltimore 2017 comes in to play during two instances where the cast dresses up like modern day beggars but, unless I missed it, I didn’t get the feel of modern day Baltimore at all in this piece. However, minor curious direction choices aside, his casting is full of superb vocalists and most are indeed top notch such as Kay-Megan Washington, Allison Hicks, and Amber Hooper – all vocal powerhouses. Music Director Erica Rome is to be commended for her work with this ensemble as they are on point, musically, and Choreography by Melissa McGinley is charming and appropriate, adding value to the production.

Robert Wall. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

Robert Wall. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

A couple of highlights in this production are Evangeline Ridgeway as Jenny Diver and Robert Wall as Tiger Brown, High Sheriff of London. Both a very accomplished vocalists and each portrays his or her respective character with confidence and ease with a strong presence on the stage.

Steve Quintillian takes on the role of our “hero,” Macheath, and though his overall performance falls a little flat as, vocally, he may not be as strong as his counterparts, he gives a good showing as the suave con man, King of Criminals and he is dedicated to his role.

Allison Hicks. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

Allison Hicks. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

The entire ensemble gives an admirable, dedicated performance (especially ensemble standout Andrea Bush, who carries her smaller role naturally and confidently), moving the piece along smoothly and really rounding out this production beautifully.

Final thought… Three Penny Opera is definitely a bit of an acquired taste but definitely worth checking out because of the incredibly immense vocal talent in this production. The translation may make the sordid story of criminals, con men, crooked cops, and even a little love a bit jumbled, but, overall, it’s a well-performed, charming piece with an absolutely dedicated ensemble. Whether your an opera fan or an old fashioned musical theatre fan, you’ll find a familiar joy in this production.

This is what I thought of Spotlight Theatre’s production of Three Penny Opera.

What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Three Penny Opera will play through February 5 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

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Review: The Game’s Afoot at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

gamesafoot-artwork_orig

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

When one thinks of the holidays, rarely does one think of a murder-mystery, but Spotlighters Theatre latest offering, Ken Ludwig’s The Game’s Afoot, Directed by Fuzz Roark with Danny Romeo, along with Set Design by Alan Zemla, Lighting Deisign by Al Ramer, and Costume Design by Andrew Malone is a joyful whodunit that is sure to be a pleasing break from the hustle and bustle of this holiday season.

The Cast of The Game's Afoot at Spotlighters Theatre. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

The Cast of The Game’s Afoot at Spotlighters Theatre. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Set in 1936, this zany story unfolds at the large estate of William Gillette, a famous actor who is known for portraying that well known sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. The problem is, Gillette fancies himself a real life detective and when murder comes to his home, he and his guests (and cast mates from his latest production) work to figure out who the culprit is. Throw in a sharp tongued theatre reviewer and a local constable, the investigation develops with humorous results.

Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Set Design by Alan Zemla is impressive with an attention to detail. Spotlighters is somewhat unique in the fact that practically the entire theatre is used in their sets and this production is no different. It’s already theatre in the round and every corner is utilized, including a large trimmed Christmas tree, a small closet, an entrance/exit to the stage, and… get this… a secret room, which is absolutely ingenious. Taking a moment with the secret room, the door is evening seemingly automatic with the pull of an ornamented rope. Zemla’s detail with the stone work and shiny marble floor is superb and adds value to the production and sets the mood for the piece. Major kudos to Alan Zemla on his brilliant design.

Lighting Design by Al Ramer is appropriate and well planned out, adding to the value of the production. Murder-mysteries rely on precisely timed blackouts and Ramer’s design is on point, adding suspense to the scenes. Spotlighters is a small space but Ramer manages to light it accordingly with a well thought out design.

Melanie Bishop, Ilene Chalmers, and Thom Eric Sinn. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Melanie Bishop, Ilene Chalmers, and Thom Eric Sinn. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Costume Design by Andrew Malone is impeccable and he nails the period of the piece, which is the mid-1930s (and one of my favorite eras). Mens fashion hasn’t changed much through the years and a suit is always the norm, but Malone fits his male actors nicely and they seem comfortable as they move about the stage. The ladies fashions are quite a different story. Malone completely captures the essence of the 1936 upper class with flowing, yet form fitting gowns that ooze elegance. All the characters look their part and the period and gives an authenticity to the entire piece. Overall, Malone’s design is stunning and intelligent and is a joy to experience.

Tom Piccin and Ilene Chalmer. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Tom Piccin and Ilene Chalmer. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Direction by veteran Fuzz Roark with Danny Romeo is very good and they give us a charming and entertaining piece. Their vision is strong and through clever blocking in the round and with the talents of the cast, the story is easy to follow throughout. Roark and Romeo keep the action and their actors moving naturally to make sure the entire audience gets attention and doesn’t miss out on any of the story being told. The character work is brilliant and with the guidance of Roark and Romeo, they are fleshed out and authentic. The twist at the end is a bit abrupt and a tad bit confusing, but it is surprising, as intended and you’ll have to check it out to find out what it is! In general, Roark and Romeo did a splendid job with this piece and kept it funny, entertaining, and suspenseful, making for an veritable murder-mystery for the holidays.

Suzanne Hoxsey as Inspector Harriet Goring. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Suzanne Hoxsey as Inspector Harriet Goring. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Moving into the performance aspect of The Game’s Afoot, Suzanne Hoxsey takes on the role of Inspector Harriet Goring, the local constable assigned to check out a mysterious call made to the police station earlier in the evening. The character of Inspector Harriet Goring is supposed to be the “straight-man,” as it were, taking things seriously and trying to solve the mystery. Through this seriousness, the comedy shines through but, frankly, Hoxsey’s performance falls flat for me. She seems as though she’s trying too hard for the laugh but the timing is off and somewhat monotone, cautious delivery loses the comedy. That being said, Hoxsey gives 100% to her performance which is very admirable. She’s dedicated to the role and sticks with it with confidence and a command of the stage.

Kellie Podsednik, Ilene Chalmers, and Andrew Wilkin. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Kellie Podsednik, Ilene Chalmers, and Andrew Wilkin. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Andrew Wilkin tackles the role of Simon Brigh, the younger actor who exudes a certain sleaziness but you can’t figure out just why because he seems like a gentleman but there’s just something about him. Wilken plays that aspect of the role beautifully and he looks the part and plays it confidently but his representation of this character seems to be all in contorted facial expressions. At times, in his intense scenes, he comes off more as a scary deranged clown rather than an upset and angry young actor. His character goes from one end of the spectrum to the other, between a suave demeanor to an angry desperation and both are a bit over the top with no in between. Now, this is not to say his performance is bad, because it is not. He commands the stage easily and his voice resonates throughout the small theatre. He, too, gives 100% to his character and makes choices to allow his character to be easily understood.

Tom Piccin as Felix Geisel does an admirable job as the loyal, laid back best friend and gives a strong performance with very good comedic timing and an urgency that drives his character’s actions. He understands his character and plays him with ease while having great chemistry with his fellow cast mates making for a very enjoyable performance.

Kellie Podsednik as Aggie Wheeler. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Kellie Podsednik as Aggie Wheeler. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

The role of Aggie Wheeler, the young, impressionable actress is taken on by Kellie Podsednik and her take on this character is thoughtful and entertaining. There may be more to this character than meets the eye and Podsednik plays the role with a natural, innocent air that works well and actually makes her a likable character. Podsednik is comfortable on stage and gives a strong performance that is confident and enjoyable.

Ilene Chalmers takes on the role of Madge Geisel, an old friend who is just as loyal as her husband, Felix. Chalmers plays this role with gusto and gives her all to this character and her dedication pays off as her portrayal is authentic and natural. Madge Geisel is more than an innocent bystander and she likes to get into the heart of the action and Chalmers plays this beautifully. She has a strong command of the stage and is a joy to watch.

Thom Eric Sinn. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Thom Eric Sinn. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Thom Eric Sinn plays William Gillette, the leading man who is famous for playing Sherlock Holmes and actually considers himself a brilliant detective and who has gathered these poor souls to his home on Christmas Eve. Sinn has a very strong stage presence and fits nicely into this character. His voice resonates throughout the theatre and he is natural and comfortable in this role. He has great comedic timing and does well with the farce, though his urgency does seem a bit forced at times. Overall, Sinn gives a very strong and entertaining performance.

Penny Nichols as Martha Gillette. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Penny Nichols as Martha Gillette. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Martha Gillette, the doting, elderly mother of William Gillette, is played by Penny Nichols and she is beyond charming in this role. At first glance, I didn’t buy the fact that Nichols is playing Sinns mother as she looks entirely too young for the role, but her portrayal of the character just emphasizes her acting skills and she played this part to the hilt. After a few moments, she is totally believable as the mother of Sinn’s character, regardless of looking younger than her character is supposed to be. She has beautiful comedic timing and her asides as she leaves the stage are just as funny as her onstage lines. She is a joy to watch and I hope to see more of her work in the future.

Melanie Bishop as Daria Chase. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Melanie Bishop as Daria Chase. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Melanie Bishop as Daria Chase, the cut-throat, acidic theatre reviewer who seems to know the secrets of all the other guests and isn’t afraid to share them, is an absolute highlight of his production giving an outstanding performance. She has the fast talking, quit witted character down pat even using a Katherine Hepburn-esque voice that absolutely fits this character making her more authentic. Her confidence and comfort on stage makes for a superb performance that is not to be missed.

Final thought… The Game’s Afoot at Spotlighters Theatre is a bona fide murder-mystery that will have you laughing and scratching your head, wondering “whodunit?” The performances are strong and the story is entertaining and original making for a fun night of theatre in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Take a break from the craziness and check out this show!

This is what I thought of Spotlighters Theatre production of The Game’s Afoot. What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The Game’s Afoot will play through December 18 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.

Review: Tick, Tick… Boom! at Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre

by Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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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!

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Garrett Zink as Jon. Photo Credit: Spotlighters Theatre

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.

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Garret Zink as Jon & Rob Wall as Michael. Photo Credit: Spotlighters Theatre

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.

Garrett Zink as Jon & Clare Kneebone as Karessa. Photo Credit: Spotlighters Theatre

Garrett Zink as Jon & Clare Kneebone as Karessa. Photo Credit: Spotlighters Theatre

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.

Garrett Zink as Jon & Rob Wall as Michael. Photo Credit: Spotlighters Theatre

Garrett Zink as Jon & Rob Wall as Michael. Photo Credit: Spotlighters Theatre

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!

Clare Kneebone as Susan. Photo Credit: Spotlighters Theatre

Clare Kneebone as Susan. Photo Credit: Spotlighters Theatre

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.

Garrett Zink as Jon, Clare Kneebone as Susan, and Rob Wall as Michael. Photo Credit: Spotlighters Theatre

Garrett Zink as Jon, Clare Kneebone as Susan, and Rob Wall as Michael. Photo Credit: Spotlighters Theatre

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!

Clare Kneebone as Susan. Photo Credit: Spotlighters Theatre

Clare Kneebone as Susan. Photo Credit: Spotlighters Theatre

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.