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: Das Barbecu at Spotlighters

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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