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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Review: Bye Bye Birdie at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission

The Cast of Bye Bye Birdie. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The 1950s was an interesting, white picket fenced, bobby socked, and black and white time in America and, though problems were bubbling under the surface, it was a simpler time. Elvis Presley broke through with his pelvis-shaking rock and roll, but there was still a certain innocence to his bad-boy persona and we couldn’t get enough. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s latest production, the classic Bye Bye Birdie with a Book by Michael Stewart, Music by Charles Strouse, and Lyrics by Lee Adams, takes us back to that bygone era and to a small town to give us a taste of nostalgia and a peek into 1950s suburbia. Bye Bye Birdie is Directed by Jeff Baker (who may or may not have been the Music Director, as well, since a Music Director is not listed in the program), with Choreography by Suzy Hasselbush, Set Design by Colby Aerford, Daniel DeJong, and Stanton Zacker, and Costumes by Amy Rudi.

Set Design by Colby Aerford, Daniel DeJong and Stanton Zacker is innovative, considering the space they had to work with. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore certainly doesn’t have the smallest stage in Baltimore, but it is still an intimate space and the use of spinning flats for different scene settings is practical and efficient. They don’t clutter the stage too much with set pieces but a few well-placed items give the idea of where the action is taking place and leaves space for the large cast. The painting and detail work by Ann Pallanck and Amy Rudai expresses the time period very nicely with bright, light colors and sets the mood nicely. The minimal, but appropriate Set Design adds value to this production, as a whole.

The Cast of Bye Bye Birdie. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Amy Rudai also took on the duties as Costume Designer and this aspect of the production is certainly a highlight. Rudai’s attention to detail is impressive and instead of going with the usual poodle skirts, saddle shoes, and cardigans, she manages to give us an authentic representation of the time in which this piece is set with below the knee knitted skirts, plain white athletic shoes for the young ladies, and plain jeans, Jack Purcell-looking shoes, and t-shirts/sweaters for the young gentlemen and suits and dresses for the adult cast. The Conrad Birdie costume could have had a bit more pizazz and glamour rather than looking like an ordinary “greaser” and the wardrobe for Rosie Alvarez look a bit out of place (I keep thinking 80s for some reason – could be the broad shoulder jackets) and a particular costume in Act II for “Spanish Rose” is unnecessary but overall, the costume choices are spot on and Rudai’s work is impeccable.

Choreography by Suzy Hasselbush is charming and appropriate for her cast. It’s obvious she knows her cast and has choreographed accordingly which is of the utmost importance for any choreographer. Now, that’s not to say anything is dumbed down for this cast. There are some impressive numbers including the opening “The Telephone Hour” and the trio for “Put on a Happy Face.” Hasselbush’s work lights up the stage and keeps this piece interesting.

The Cast of Bye Bye Birdie. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Baltimore theatre veteran Jeff Baker takes on Direction of this production and does a superb job. He understands the piece well and even though it’s musical comedy and poking fun at 1950s middle America, he takes it just seriously enough to tell the coming of age story in a meaningful way. He doesn’t shove the fact of the 1950s down our throats with clichés and obvious bits, but let’s the story unfold through the script and the performances. His casting is decent and he’s given us a well thought-out production.

Since no Music Director is listed in the program, I’m going to assume Mr. Baker took on those duties as well, knowing he has taken on this role in numerous productions in the past. The ensemble, as a whole, sounds fantastic and they blend well and harmonize together beautifully. The musical numbers are well rehearsed but it is unfortunate that it was decided to use canned music for this production (that’s recorded music, for those who might not be in “the know”). Bye Bye Birdie has such a wonderful score, it may have been nice to hear a live orchestra playing along supporting this dedicated ensemble. There were some hick-ups, skips and missed musical cues for actors that may have been smoothed out if a live orchestra and conductor were in attendance, but overall, the cast was ready and worked well with the recorded music.

Jennifer Hasselbush and Stanton Zacker. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Moving into the performance aspect of Bye Bye Birdie, Stanton Zacker and Jennifer Hasselbush take on the roles of Harry and Doris MacAfee, the poor, defeated parents of Kim MacAfee and Randall MacAfee, with the former having been chosen to give heartthrob Conrad Birdie one last kiss before being shipped off to the Army. Both of these actors were dedicated and comfortable with their roles and portrayed them nicely. Hasselbush somehow embodied a mother of the 1950s and is very authentic in her interactions with her family making for a strong performance. Zacker is a bit scripted and lets some golden one-liners zoom right past but he is still believable as the frazzled father of a teenaged girl and his chemistry with his fellow cast mates is strong. Vocally, Zacker is impressive, as is Jennifer Hasselbush. In numbers such as “Hymn for a Sunday Evening” and the popular and standard “Kids” they were entertaining and gave very respectable performances.

Matt Peterson as Conrad Birdie. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The role of Conrad Birdie… the Birdie of Bye Bye Birdie, is tackled by Matt Peterson and he gives a good showing of the heartthrob, pop icon, Elvis Presley-esque character but, overall, I would have liked a little more suave, brooding, sex appeal and charisma. Yes, again, it’s a musical comedy, but if you’re gonna play a character inspired by Elvis Presley… work it, especially the charisma! The costume may have had a hand in it as well, as stated before, being dressed in just some jeans, a t-shirt, converse shoes, and a leather jacket. He looked more like a T-Bird from Grease than the most famous man in the country. However, that being said, Matt Peterson does NOT give a terrible performance does an admirable job in this role. He is dedicated to this role and certainly looks the part. He’s comfortable and does have a strong stage presence as well as a terrific, albeit soft, voice.

Melissa Broy Forston as Mae Peterson. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Melissa Broy Forston takes on the hilarious role of Mae Peterson, the helicopter mom (when helicopter moms weren’t cool) who hounds and guilt trips her adult son into seeing things her way. Forston takes this role and hits the ground running. She’s confident with a strong stage presence and her comedic timing is splendid. She understands this character and the humor and embraces both giving a strong performance.

Hunter Lubawski as Kim MacAfee. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Hunter Lubawski takes on the role of Kim MacAfee, the sweet, naive teenager who wants to grow up too fast. Lubawski is cast perfectly as this character and she’s comfortable in this role. She gives a worthy vocal performance and is radiant in her numbers such as “How Lovely to Be a Woman” and “One Boy,” exuding that innocence and tenderness this character requires and her transition from young child to young woman is subtle but certain and her performance is commendable.

Olivia Winter as Ursula Merkel. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Often, you’ll see a performer in a supporting role who just stands out in a production and in this production that performer is Olivia Winter as Ursula Merkel, Kim’s fanatic, loyal, and number-one-Birdie-fan. Winter is definitely a highlight of this production because of her enthusiasm and dedication to her role. She’s got a beautiful voice that is highlighted in numbers such as “The Telephone Hour” and her character choices for this role are near perfect. She shines during ensemble numbers like “A Normal American Boy” and “Honestly Sincere” with her natural and confident performance. I’m looking forward to seeing future performances from this young actress.

Alana DiSabatino as Rosie Alvarez. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Taking on the role of Rosie Alvarez, the loyal, love-lorn, secretary, and girlfriend of Albert Peterson is Alana DiSabatino. DiSabatino has a good command of the stage and does an admirable job with this challenging role and seems quite comfortable and dedicated. She understands her character and embodies the objectives and wants of Rosie, namely, becoming Mrs. Albert Peterson. She certainly entertains and keeps things moving in solo numbers including “What Did I Ever See in Him” and (especially) “Spanish Rose” though, the costumes and choreography might take away from the exceptional vocal abilities of this talented actress, leaving her breathless, at points. Overall, DiSabatino gives a praise-worthy and thoroughly entertaining performance.

Seth David as Albert Peterson. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Last but not least, Seth David as Albert Peterson, who is a standout in this piece. Though he may not look like the clean-cut, suit and tie gentleman of the mid-century business man with his modern looking long hair pulled back into a pony tail, he still embodies all the qualities and insecurities of this character. He works well with both Melissa Broy Forston as his overbearing mother and Alana DiSabatino as his pushy, but patient girlfriend, balancing his characters interaction between the both of them. His transition is seamless from a dedicated, allegiant son to a confident, independent man is believable and he manages to keep the character likable throughout. Vocally, David is a powerhouse and performs his numbers such as “Put On a Happy Face” and “Talk to Me” near perfectly with an impressive grasp of the choreography given to him making for a superb performance.

Seth David and Alana DiSabatino. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Final thought…Bye Bye Birdie is a fun, lighthearted piece that’s perfect for community and small theatres and Artistic Synergy of Baltimore gets it right with this production. They have a very dedicated and talented cast and crew and the production is well-thought out with a good pacing. Aside from the canned music, the cast handles the material well and they make this classic, often-produced piece their own making for an enjoyable evening of theatre.

This is what I thought of Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s production of Bye Bye Birdie… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Bye Bye Birdie will play through March 19 at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 8212 Philadelphia Road. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 288-4281 or purchase them online.

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Review: Fiddler on the Roof at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

Tradition is what keeps things together for some people but there are folks who thrive on change. Tradition and Change certainly make strange bedfellows and Third Wall Production‘s lates offering, the classic Fiddler on the Roof, Directed by Lance Bankerd, with Music Direction by Edward Berlett, Choreography by Kali Baklor, Set Design by Jordan Hollett and Costume Design by Sally Kahn, takes us back to the early part of the 20th century and gives us the tale of a poor, Russian milkman struggling with and trying to balance his traditions and radical, new ideas of a new era.

I have to admit, I had serious reservations when I walked into the theatre and realized Director Lance Bankerd is putting Fiddler on the Roof – a big show – in an intimate space and in the round! Well, as soon as the first number started, though it was a bit tight with such a massive cast, it actually worked and it worked quite well!

Set Designer Jordan Hollett manages to give the audience a full musical theatre experience with set pieces and backdrops rather than full sets and it seems less tedious and just as effective. The story is told with benches and tables with a few “fancy” pieces such as a spinning bed and required wedding canopy. Kudos toe Hollett for his inventive design and intelligent use of space. Also worth mentioning is the painting of the large backdrops by Artists Ann Pallank, Amy Rudai, and Emma Hawthorn, adding great value to the space and the production as a whole.

Sally Kahn’s Costume Design is on point and her choices for this ensemble fir the bill of a poor Eastern European village in the early 20th century. Her attention to detail is commendable as this piece is not only somewhat of a period piece but also a cultural piece dealing with rules and restrictions of the Jewish religion that Kahn seems to understand and wardrobes her actors as such.

Kali Baklor takes on double-duty as both Choreographer and tacking the whirlwind role of Fruma-Sarah, the dead wife of the town butcher. Balkor’s choreography work is impressive and befitting for the piece and her ensemble. The space is intimate so there isn’t a ton of room for her large cast, but she uses what space she does have wisely with minimal but interesting and entertaining choreography. Along with keeping the cast in step, her take on the loud, obnoxious Fruma-Sarah is high-energy, confident and quite admirable.

Music Director Edward Berlett has this ensemble sounding beautiful in each number and his work with actors in the featured numbers is apparent as they run smoothly and sound splendid. I do regret the orchestra has no recognition in the program because they sound absolutely phenomenal. Taking up almost a third of the space, they were not overwhelming and blended in nicely with the ensemble making for a very pleasant sound. Featured musician, violinist Jonathan Goram is a gem in this impressive orchestra as he didn’t falter once during his solos making for an sensational performance. Kudos to the pit orchestra for a job well done and, hopefully, you’ll all get an insert in the program before the production is over!

Direction by Lance Bankerd is innovative and well-thought out, presenting this traditional musical in an nontraditional space. The space is tight, and the attempt of audience immersion from some of the cast is a little much, but some people enjoy that sort of thing and, overall, it was a joyous experience. There are a few curious casting choices, in appearance only, such as some characters who are younger than others actually looking older, but, all in all, it’s a very well put-together production. Fiddler on the Roof is A LOT of show and Bankerd has managed to keep the action moving and his cast kept the pace nicely. Major kudos to Lance Bankerd on a superb job with this piece.

Emma Hawthorn takes a turn as Yente, the matchmaker and pulls off the part nicely. This role is more of a comic relief and has a lot of the funny lines, but Hawthorn’s timing is a bit off on some of the jokes that could have been gold. Overall, however, she gives a fine performance and she understands the important role (after all, there’s an entire song in her honor!). She leads the attempt to bring the audience into the action with asides and interactions and seems successful in her attempts.

Michelle Hosier tackles the supernatural role of Grandma Tzeitel, who Tevye claims comes to him in a dream and she is delightful. She has a beautiful, strong soprano that is featured in “The Dream” and she’s comfortable and confident in the role.

Michael Zellhofer takes on the role of Lazar Wolf and his performance is top notch. He has a strong stage presence and makes this role his own and plays it confidently with a balance of drama and brilliant comedic timing.

Taking on the roles of eldest daughter Tzeitel and her unintended beau, Motel, the tailor are Lauren DeSha and Daniel Plante. From the moment DeSha steps onto the stage, she is a joy to watch. She gives a natural, comfortable performance, both in the portrayal of her character and vocally, and she has great chemistry with her fellow cast mates, espeically with Plante, her character’s love interest. The two give a believable performance and though Plante may not give the strongest vocal performance, but he is certainly giving 100% effort making for a commendable and confident performance.

Next up, Mea C. Holloway tackles the role of Hodel, the second eldest daughter and Joe Weinhoffer as portrays her counterpart, Perchik, the Student from Kiev. Aside from looking a bit older than the actress playing her older sister, Holloway gives a brilliant performance, vocally, but her portrayal of Hodel, though admirable, fell just a little flat. Weinhoffer’s interpretation of Perchik is spot on and his confidence and charisma shines through in his performance. Though he sounds a bit scripted, at times, his a clear, smooth, resonating voice fits the character near perfectly.

Alex Clasing who plays Chava, the third eldest daughter, is a definite standout in this production and her performance is a pleasure to watch. Vocally, she has a strong, clear voice that makes one take notice, even in the group numbers like “Matchmaker” and her acting chops are on point. Clasing portrays Chava naturally and authenticly and works easily with her cast mates. Her performance is one to watch in this piece and I’m looking forward to seeing more from this young actor.

Jenifer Grundy-Hollett as Golde is a treat and she gives this role 100%. Her comedic timing is spot on and she really grasps her character, making wise choices and making Golde a realistic mother and wife.  Her lovely soprano shines through, vocally, especially in numbers like “Do You Love Me?” and “Sunrise, Sunset.” She does play the part with a heavy hint of New York City in both accent and attitude but she still pulls the part off authentically and works well with all her cast mates.

Baltimore theatre veteran Roger Schulman as Tevye is the highlight of this production and he leads this ensemble with ease. Tevye is a traditional, yet jovial character and Schulman embodies these attributes superbly. His performance of Tevye’s signature “If I Were a Rich Man” is a joy to watch and Schulman refreshingly makes it his own. His overall delivery is natural and he makes the audience feel welcome and at home. He presents the subtle transition of his character seamlessly but with certainty and his presentation of Tevye’s evolution and growth is what knocks this performance out of the ball park.

Final thought…Fiddler on the Roof is usually a show that people love or hate. Rarely is there an in between but this production at Third Wall Productions is a creative, innovative presentation of this classic Broadway show. I had my reservations with it being in-the-round, at first, but this production did not disappoint. The intimate space was a bit cramped for the large cast and the attempt of audience immersion was a bit much, but overall, Third Wall Productions can chalk this one up as a bona fide success. The gifted ensemble and orchestra is a joy to watch and hear and the outstanding performances of these talented players should not be missed.

This is what I thought of Third Wall Productions’ production of Fiddler on the Roof… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Fiddler on the Roof will play through February 26 at Third Wall Productions, 5801 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 443-838-4064 or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com 

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Review: Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

The cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

There are quite a few shows that are staples in small and community theatre and you will see them pop up weekly in small hamlets and big cities across this great country. Some shows are just so good they never get old and some, well… let’s just say they’re familiar and comfortable. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s latest offering, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, with Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lyrics by Tim Rice, is definitely in the category of never getting old, having been a continued success for nearly five decades. This production, Directed by Mike Zellhofer, with Music Direction by Edward Berlett, Choreogrpahy by Temple Fortson, Set Design by Jordan Hollett, Lighing Design by Jim Shomo, Sound Design by Charles Hirsch, and Costume Design by Lorelei Kahn, shows the ingenuity of a small theatre and manages to put on a well-crafted, fresh production of an old favorite.

The Cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The Cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Set Design by Jordan Hollett is far from extravagant and is quite subdued, but a simpler design works for this piece because a Director and Set Designer can create a traditional setting or more whimsical and it will still work. Depending on the theatre and the space, the Set Design for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat can be a spectacle, but Hollet has decided against this and has gone with a couple of panels on either side of the stage with crudely painted Egyptian and desert scenes and a large, blank white canvas that stretches across the back of the stage reflecting the very colorful light show that happens throughout the production. His set pieces such as a very cartoon-y camel (that looked fabulous, but had some technical trouble the day I saw this production) and a bulky “chariot of gold” work well with this production and do not take away from the story but add to it. Overall, Hollett’s work is minimal, but compliments the piece very nicely.

Lighting and Sound Design go hand in hand with this piece and where the set may be simply, Lighting Design by Jim Shomo is nothing short of a spectacle, in a good way. Shomo uses all the colors of the rainbow (at least all the colors mentioned in song) and lights the entire stage up like NYC’s famed night club Studio 54 in its hey-day. With what looked like state of the art equipment, the lighting is top notch. It’s worth mentioning there are a few heavy strobe effects that aren’t mentioned in the program or in the curtain speech, so, consider this a heads up! In general, Shomo has created a well thought-out design that adds great value to this piece.

Sound is always a challenge for a small theatre (especially in unique places such as church basements) but Charles Hirsch tackles this challenge with the resources he has at his disposal. The space at Artistic Synergy is intimate, not small, but intimate and when you throw a full orchestra right next to the audience, there are going to be some balancing issues. However, there weren’t as many as there could have been and the actors who had featured roles had microphones that made their performances easy to hear, so, Hirsch was able to find that balance to make for an enjoyable performance. One thing I will say is that this is a loud show. I mean more so than the usual loud of a live performance with a live orchestra. There are parts of this show that are downright rock-concert loud and in this space, they might want to pull back just a tad, but, overall, it’s a very nice balance.

Wayne Ivusich and Jim Gerhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Wayne Ivusich and Jim Gerhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Costume Design Lorelei Kahn is very fitting for this piece and many of the costumes are more of a suggestion of the setting rather than full blown costumes. The design is modern and traditional mixed and all of the actors seem very comfortable and everyone is uniform, which adds to the precise look of the piece. In a hometown homage, Jacob proudly displays his Baltimore Ravens jersey which went over very well with the audience in attendance. Joseph’s 11 brothers have a base costume of jeans, sandals, and different colored button down shirts and it’s a smart move because, for each scene, a costume piece is added or taken away depending on what is going on in the scene. The more traditional costumes, such as Egyptian guards, harem wives, and servants are all simple, but very effective and Kahn’s design is attentive and fitting for this production.

The Cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The Cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Choreography by Temple Fortson is tight and precise, for the most part, and the cast seems to be comfortable in every dance and, more importantly, they seem to be having a blast, thus, leading to the audience having a blast right along with them. The dances aren’t too complicated that the cast of varying experience can’t handle, but not too simple that they’re simply doing jazz squares in every number. Fortson’s choreography is high energy and full of variety, keeping the story interesting for both the ensemble and the audience, alike. Kudos to Fortson for her work on this piece.

Music Direction by Edward Berlett is superb as this ensemble and featured performers sounded well-rehearsed and confident in each number. The harmonies were present and the performances were tight, in general, and easy to understand. If you are familiar with the piece, you’ll be singing along (in your head, hopefully), and if you are not familiar, you will easily understand the vocals to follow along with the old biblical story. I must also mention the talent and impeccable sound of the live orchestra that took this production to a new level. I wish the names of the orchestra members were listed in the program (there could at least be an insert, these guys and gals are great!) because, just like Berlett is to be commended for his Music Direction, the orchestra deserves many kudos for their near flawless performance.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a sung-through show, meaning it’s all music, singing, and dancing with little to no script so, one could argue this type of show only needs a Music Director and Choreographer but there still needs to be a vision and Director Mike Zellhofer gives us a new look at this classic. Presenting an overall traditional staging, Zellhofer makes it fun for both the cast and the audience, and not taking the piece too seriously, but getting the story across smoothly with action that is easy to follow and not taking too much liberty and making it hokey, which is a danger when it comes to shows like this. Zellhofer seems to keep everything under control and crafts a very well-though out production that is a joy to watch.

The Brothers. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The Brothers. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Switching to the performance aspect of this production, I want to mention that the entire ensemble does a fantastic job moving this story along and it’s easy to see each cast member is fully dedicated to this piece and is giving his or her all making for a very successful production. The voices are strong, the choreography is tight, and the chemistry is great as everyone looks as they are having a stellar and fun time with each other which, in turn, makes it fun for the audience.

The roles of Jacob and Potiphar are taken on by Wayne Ivusich who seems to have a very good time with these roles and is comfortable and confident with his performance. He has a good command of the stage and, vocally, is fitting for these roles. He understands the humor in these characters and runs with it making for a strong performance.

Amy Rudai and Lisa Rigsby take on the roles of the Baker and Butler, respectively and they give very good showings as these characters. Traditionally, these characters are doubled and played by two of the brothers, but it was refreshing to see the gender-blind casting for these roles and these ladies pulled them off very nicely. Vocally, they could have been a little stronger, but overall, they gave admirable performances, holding their own against the “guys” and they seems to have a blast with these roles.

Of Joseph’s 11 brothers, there are a few featured roles with and Rueben, the eldest of the Children of Israel, played by Nick Ruth, is one of them. He performs the featured number “One More Angel in Heaven,” a fun country-western style song with a built in hoe-down in which the entire ensemble is dancing and singing about the demise of poor Joseph. Ruth does a commendable job with this number and though it is traditionally sung with a southern twang, his “Baltimore accent” is prominent, but it adds a certain charm to the performance. With a good command of the stage, Ruth gives a good showing and the number itself, is fun going from a slow and steady tempo to a high energy, upbeat tempo making for an pleasant performance.

Asher, portrayed by Bill Bisbee, is another brother who has a featured number called “Those Canaan Days,” in the style of a traditional french ballad. Bisbee does a fine job with the french accent and the other brothers give him fitting backup. Though a slower paced song, the ensemble does a great job keeping it interesting and funny. Vocally, Bisbee gives a strong performance and he’s confident and performs with ease.

Jim Fitzpatrick and Jim Gearhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Jim Fitzpatrick and Jim Gearhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Baltimore theatre veteran Jim Fitzpatrick tackles the role of the Elvis Presley impersonating Pharaoh and he tackles it with gusto. More than just a suggestion of the King of Rock and Roll, Fitzpatrick dons an entire Elvis Presley costume from the pompadour wig and large sunglasses down to the bell-bottomed jumpsuit and gives 100% to this role. His vocals are spot on and his performance is high-energy and he makes a superb showing.

Featured brother Zebulon is played by Joe Weinhoffer and though, usually performed by the brother playing Judah, Weinhoffer performs the featured Caribbean themed 11:00 number, “Benjamin’s Calypso,” with the purpose of defending a wrongly accused little brother, Benjamin. It’s easy to see Weinhoffer is having a delightful time performing this number and the ensemble enthusiastically backs him up. Vocally, he is strong and comfortably holds his own against the ensemble with a very good presence on the stage.

Joe Weinhoffer. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Joe Weinhoffer. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The Narrator is traditionally one of the only featured female roles and for this production at Artistic Synergy of baltimore, this role is split between Mea Holloway and Melissa Broy Fortson. At this particular performance, Mea Holloway takes on the role and though she does quite well, her performance isn’t without a few minor issues including lyrics and timing/cues. Also, at first appearance, with her darker makeup and frequent scowl, she’s a bit harsh looking for the usually jovial Narrator making her seem irritated and preoccupied and it affects her performance. At one point, because of the positioning of a speaker she became a headless storyteller as she was spotlighted from the neck down but her head disappeared behind the shadow of the said speaker – a simple blocking issue any experienced actor would have fixed immediately. Regardless of the minor issues, she has a strong, beautiful voice and, aside from the aforementioned timing/cue problems, she gives an admirable showing in this piece.

Joe Weinhoffer and Jim Gearhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Joe Weinhoffer and Jim Gearhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The titular role of Joseph, the lucky and favorite son of Jacob is portrayed nicely by Jim Gerhardt and he gives a strong, confident presentation. He makes the role his own and has a strong, clear voice to back up his performance. Though it is every actors responsibility and prerogative to make a role or song his or her own, occasionally, it’s wise to keep songs simple. In my experience in musical theatre, tenors love their money notes. How can they not? They feel good and they’re fun to sing. However, it is important to understand that every last note of every song does not have to be taken up an octave or harmonized to a higher note and, in this case, Gerhardt frequently toys with the melody and it loses that special something when it’s overdone. With that being said, his performance is absolutely commendable and he gives a fresh look at the character. His performance of “Any Dream Will Do” and “Close Every Door” (money note included) are very good and he is comfortable with this character and gives a strong, enjoyable performance.

Final though… Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore is community and small theatre at its finest. With familiar nods to our charming little town of Baltimore and some very talented folks, it’s definitely worth checking out. The ensemble is dedicated and gives 100% to the performance and everyone is having a great time on stage and with each other, making for a fun, upbeat, feel-good show that can be enjoyed by all.

That’s what I thought about Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, playing at Artisti Synergy of Baltimore… what did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will play through December 18 at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 8212 Philadelphia Road, Baltimore, MD. Tickets are available at the door (cash, check, or credit card) or purchase them online.