Review: Into the Woods at Heritage Players

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

Fairy tales are probably some of the best fodder for stage adaptations because, after all, they’re entire stories that are already written and told. It’s up to the author and, if a musical, the lyricist and composer of that stage adaptation to put the story together with a script and songs. In the case of Heritage Players latest offering, Into the Woods with Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and Book by James Lapine, Directed by TJ Lukacsina, with Music Direction by Chris Pinder and Choreography by Rikki Howie does something refreshingly different. By intertwining a bunch of different stories into one big story, we get a delightful, interesting spin on what happens in the life of these popular characters outside of the stories we all know and love.

Briefly, Into the Woods gathers together the title characters of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and a few other popular tales and throws them together in a story of trying to our happy-ever-after in life, regardless of what it throws at you, and learning that life, in fact, is not a fairy tale. Through aspects of each story, we learn a little more about these characters and realize all is not always what it seems.

Set Design by Ryan Geiger, though simple, is fitting and quite effective. The unit set is good for different settings with a simple opening of a swinging panel and small props and set pieces. For a complex show like this, this set design is well-thought out and doesn’t hinder the action, but helps by not getting in the way. Kudos to Geiger for an inspiring design.

Andrew Malone, an established Costume Designer in the area, reveals his able talents in this production. Every character is fitted appropriately to character but unique enough that no one is the traditional image we know from the stories. This piece gives the costumer a chance to be fanciful as well as elegant and Malone hit the nail on the head in this production.

Sound Design by Brent Tomchick and Lighting Design by TJ Lukacsina had some issues, but overall, the design worked for the prouduction. Whether it was a dependency on microphones or directorial neglect, there were many characters I couldn’t understand because I could not hear them. A few of the members of the ensemble didn’t project as they should and their lines were lost. Of course, the mics themselves had their own troubles of not being at the correct levels or even turned on at the correct times. Lighting Design is its own beast and can make or break a show. Now, Lukacsina’s design certainly did not break the show, but there were curious choices throughout. A favorite covering of light seems to represent some sort of light and shadows through leaves, as if in the woods, so, I get it, but it doesn’t do the ensemble any favors as most of them are lost in the shadows. It gets rather dark at times, as well. Yes, there are dark parts in this show… metaphorically, they don’t have to actually be IN the dark. Again, there were some technical issues with Sound and Lighting Design but, overall, it is suitable for this production and doesn’t take away from the story or the performance. In fact, it just might need a little tweaking or closer attention because for the most part, it works.

Choreography by Rikki Howie is minimal, at best. Not because Howie is lazy but the piece itself doesn’t call for a lot of dancing. There are a few moments when the cast gathers together to do what look like jazz squares (or box steps, depending on where you came up), and hand gestures but, that’s all that is required, really. Most of the songs simply need staging and not a lot of bouncing around. Howie does her best with the material she’s given and, all in all, the choreography is delightful. The cast is comfortable and that makes them look good, which is somewhat the point.

Chris Pinder tackles this piece as its Music Director and his work is to be applauded. Teaching and working on a Sondheim score is no easy feat and Pinder has succeeded. He seems to understand the music and its nuances and he has guided his cast to give a splendid performance. Not only does he have a strong ensemble, vocally, he has a phenomenal orchestra backing them up. Well-rehearsed, and spot on, the orchestra is near flawless with this score and adds great value to the production as a whole. Included in the orchestra are Chris Pinder, Conductor; David Booth, Flute; Matt Elky, Clarinet; Allyson Wessley, Horn; Kevin Shields, Trumpet; Lynn Graham, Piano; John Keister, Synthesizer; Zachary Sotelo, Percussion; Naomi Chang-Zajic and Susan Beck, Violins; David Zajic and Kyle Gilbert, Viola; Ina O’Ryan and Juliana Torres, Cello; and Joe Surkiewicz, Bass.

TJ Lukacsina takes the helm of this production as its Director and, as stated, taking on any Sondheim piece is a challenge but Lukacsina, with a few minor hiccups, seems to have stepped up to the challenge. Casting is superb and his staging is concise making for a good pace and tempo for a naturally long piece with smooth, quick transitions. Overall, the piece is focused with a clear vision from Lukacsina and it moves along nicely… in Act I. Act II in this production has its problems but it’s mainly in the staging of this fast-paced script. Actors seem to be coming and going haphazardly through the various entrances and exits on the stage and if one is not familiar with the piece already, it’s easy to see how one might get a little perplexed in Act II. With cleaner staging, Act II may run a bit more smoothly. Again, the hiccups are minor and, overall, Lukacsina seems to have a good comprehension of the piece and a good grasp on what the characters are about making for a well thought-out, delightful production.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, Todd Hochkeppel takes on the supporting role of the Narrator, the first character we encounter and Hochkeppel gives a respectable performance but, compared to the other characterizations, seems a bit over the top at times with grand, sweeping gestures that could be pulled back a bit. However, he has a great booming voice and fits well in the role.

A couple of other supporting but important roles that move the piece along are the Mysterious Man played by Richard Greenslit and the Steward to the royal family, played by Sean Miller. Both Greenslit and Miller give commendable performances and make the most of the stage time they have.

The princes, played by Josh Schoff (Rapunzel’s Prince) and John Carter (Cinderalla’s Prince), are well cast in the roles and give admirable performances but their rendition of “Agony” falls a little flat. This is one of the most well-known numbers in this piece and it’s a hilarious song. Schoff and Carter sing the song beautifully, but really just stood opposite each other and didn’t seem to capitalize on the physical humor and melodramatic presentation that makes this number so enjoyable. It’s as if they both took the roles too seriously. Though both give entertaining performances, the stronger of the two is John Carter whose interpretation of Cinderella’s Prince is absolutely befitting, if not a tad too soft spoken (which is a shame as his smooth, deep timber is perfect for the stage!), and his take on The Wolf is spot on.

Scott AuCoin tackles the role of the Baker, the unlikely hero of the piece and Mia Coulborne takes on the character of Red Riding Hood, the bratty little girl who has no choice but to grow up throughout the story. Both actors are confident and committed to their roles and with characters being so intricate to the plot, both carry the responsibility nicely. Vocally, both give superb performances as in Red Ridinghood’s number “I Know Things Now” and the Baker’s “No More” and both seem to have an easy go with the material. Their chemistry with the rest of the ensemble is believable and they give 100% to their parts. Their interpretations of the characters could use a little kick as the performances were a bit scripted and forced but, overall, they give an admirable showing.

Rapunzel (played by Kirsti Dixon), the hapless girl stuck in a tower by her “mother”, who happens to be a Witch (portrayed by Rowena Winkler), are a good match to play these complex characters who play a big part in the plotline. Dixon shines with her beautiful soprano and gives an authentic portrayal as the young girl who knows there’s more out in the world than what she knows of her small tower. Winkler gives a completely dedicated, high energy performance as the Witch and her transition from Act I to Act II is more subtle than it should be both in character and presentation, but it works for the most part. Vocally, she has a better go with her higher register rather than the lower, but, overall, she gives a praiseworthy performance.

Some of the most humorous bits of this production come from Cinderella’s stepmother (Traci Denhardt), and the Stepsisters Florinda (Jamie Pasquinelli) and  Lucinda (Danyelle Spaar). This trio of actresses understand the importance of these characters but don’t take the roles so seriously that they’re not having fun. Pasquinelli and Spaar have a stupendous chemistry and play their characters to the hilt making for delightful performances. Denhardt as the stern Stepmother is poised and elegant, as the character requires and all three performances are on point. Along with this trio, Jessa Sahl takes on the role of Cinderlla’s Mother, a guiding ghost in a tree in the woods, and she gives a strong showing, especially vocally, with a clear voice that resonates throughout the theatre.

Jack is portrayed by Atticus Boidy and Jacks’ Mother, played by Temple Forston are a befitting duo with a great chemistry that makes for a charming mother/son relationship. Boidy has a good grasp of his character and gives an impressive vocal performance, shining in his featured number “Giants in the Sky” while Forston is believable as the stern but loving mother who only wants what’s best for her son. She makes the role her own and, though her character’s demise could have been tweaked out a bit more, she gives a commendable, strong performance.

The absolute highlights of this production of Into the Woods are Sydney Phipps taking on the role of Cinderella and Alana Simone who tackles the role of The Baker’s Wife. These two powerhouses are the ones to watch. Phipps effortlessly sings through Cinderella’s numbers such as her bit in the opening of Act I and her featured number “On the Steps of the Palace.” Also, her portrayal of Cinderella is authentic and because of Phipps splendid portrayal, you feel for this girl and are rooting for her. She has a good comprehension of the character, has a good presence on stage, and gives a strong, confident performance.

Likewise, Alana Simone starts off strong and keeps up the energy and consistency throughout the production. She has a booming voice and good chemistry with her fellow ensemble members, especially with Scott AuCoin, who plays her character’s husband. Simone belts out her numbers such as “It Takes Two” (with AuCoin), and the poignant “Moments in the Woods” with just the right amount of intensity and gentleness that is required of each number. Major kudos to Phipps and Simone for jobs very well done.

Final thought…Into the Woods is a monumental feat for any theatre, especially community theatres. Heritage Players certainly gives it the old college try and though some aspects fall short, others absolutely thrive. The show is long, by nature, and though this production has terrific pacing with an energetic cast, plan on sticking around for near three hours. Most of the cast is absolutely able and committed making for some great performances but as the production moves along, it seems to lose a little steam. That’s not to say it is not a commendable performance, because it most certainly is. With an ensemble who works well together, a simple but effective set, an orchestra that is on point, and a few standout performances, it’s definitely worth checking out this interpretation of a Stephen Sondheim favorite.

This is what I thought of Heritage Players production of Into the Woods… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Into the Woods will run through November 19 at Heritage Players in the Thomas-Rice Auditorium on the Spring Gove Hospital Campus, Catonsville, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door or 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.

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Review: Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf at Red Branch Theatre Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 90 minutes with one 10-minute intermission

Tis the season for joy and merry making and the latest offering from Red Branch Theatre Company, Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf with Music & Lyrics by Harry Connick, Jr. and Book by Lauren Gunderson & Andrew Fishman, with Direction by Laura Greffen, Music Direction by Dustin Merrell, Choreography by Rick Westerkamp, Scenic Design by Gary Grabau, Costume Design by Andrew Malone, and Lighting Design by Stephanie Lynn Williams and Amy Williamson has all this and more. Grab the kids, nieces, nephews, or any young person in your life and check out this fun story of never giving up and discovering one of the true meanings of Christmas.

The cast of Harry Connick Jr.'s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

The cast of Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Scenic Design by Gary Grabau is simple yet innovative for this production and the clever use of levels keeps the set interesting as well as the use of revolving flats to create the various settings and getting the cast on and off quickly and quietly. The painted scenes of the North Pole with snow covered hillsides and Evergreen trees are cute and serve their purpose but might be a little plain for such a fun show. However, overall, the scenic design is bright and very fitting for this piece. It’s worth mentioning the inventive, working conveyer belts in Santa’s workshop add great value to this production making for a well-thought out set.

To set the mood, Lighting Design by Stephanie Lynn Williams and Amy Williamson use the lighting wisely to show contrast between the bright and busy North Pole to the downtrodden and dark Bluesville. Lighting is appropriate and does not take away from the production but blends in making for smooth transitions and gives the correct cues to what feeling each scene has.

The cast of Harry Connick, Jr.'s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

The cast of Harry Connick, Jr.’s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Veteran Costume Designer Andrew Malone never disappoints and this production is no different. Malone hits the nail on the head with this fanciful wardrobe for elves and dear old Santa Clause and citizens of Bluesville alike. Each elf costume is individual and adds to the characters and all the costumes are traditional, yet they all have a contemporary flair and Mr. Malone is to commended for his work on this production.

The cast of Harry Connick, Jr.'s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

The cast of Harry Connick, Jr.’s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

As this is a show with music by the incomparable Harry Connick, Jr., it goes without saying there is a lot of music and it is, after all, a musical. So, with lots of music comes lots of dancing and Choreographer Rick Westerkamp has taken on this challenge with ease and has this ensemble dancing and gliding across the stage in each number accompanied by this fun and jazzy score. The choreography is well thought-out and is a great match for Connicks music.

Speaking of Connick’s music, Music Direction by Dustin Merrell is superb. Though there is no live orchestra, the consolation prize is hearing the smooth, jazzy recorded voice of Harry Connick, Jr. himself tell the story of The Happy Elf in between the scenes. Merrell has a strong vocal ensemble and has them sounding fantastic in each number. These aren’t the old fashioned Christmas Pageant songs you’ll hear throughout the season, but new jazzy holiday show tunes and Merrell has the cast singing in harmony that rings throughout the theatre.

The Cast of Harry Connick, Jr.'s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

The Cast of Harry Connick, Jr.’s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Harry Connick, Jr.’s The Happy Elf is certainly a children’s show, meaning it is a show for children and directing this type of show can be tricky. However, Director Laura Greffen has taken on this challenge and has produced an unqualified success. Her vision is apparent and she understands the humor geared for a young audience, but also understands that parents and adults may be in the audience, as well, and she finds a happy medium to entertain everyone. She keeps the action moving and precise to stay within the 90 minutes, including the intermission and that’s perfect for any children’s show. Overall, Greffen gives us a well put-together and smooth running production.

Moving into the performance aspect of this production, Todd Hochkoppel takes on the role of Mayor and though his is confident and comfortable in this role, his performance fell a little flat for me. However, that’s not to say he didn’t do a good job, because he certainly, like all of the ensemble, gave 100% to his character and understood what his character was about making for a good performance in general.

Adeline K. Sutter takes on the role of an unconventional, modern, slinkier Mrs. Clause that we’re used to, but she pulls it off nicely. Likened more to an old time gangster moll, her acting chops weren’t stretched completely as her only expression was one of irritation and contempt, but she pulled them off very nicely. Sutter takes on double duty and portrays Coppa, an agent in “Gnomeland Security” and a nemesis of our hero, Eubie the Elf. Her talents are much better portrayed in this role and her performance is strong and entertaining.

Santa, the big man himself, is played masterfully by Dean Allen Davis and I’ve got to say, he’s a pretty spot on Santa Clause with a big, resonating speaking voice that booms throughout the theatre. However, his singing voice isn’t as strong, but he still makes a good showing as the joyful old man that has a tummy like a bowlful of jelly.

Dean Allen Davis, Adeline K. Sutter, and Seth Fallon. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Dean Allen Davis, Adeline K. Sutter, and Seth Fallon. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Seth Fallon takes on the role of Norbert, the curmudgeon head honcho Elf in the North Pole who isn’t a big fan of our hero and is by the book and waiting for our hero to falter. Fallon does a fantastic job as the stuffy, sour elf trying to ruin everything the hero is trying to accomplish and he makes the role his own. As good a job he does with the character, he does carry around an “assistant” that is a hand puppet and I’m still scratching my head as to the purpose of said puppet other than children always appreciate a funny looking puppet because it did not seem to move the story forward or have any importance at all. Regardless, Fallong gives a strong, confident performance.

Katie Ganem. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Katie Ganem. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Molly and Curtis, the bad kids from Bluesville are played by Katie Ganem and Sarah Luckadoo, respectively. These two characters, mainly Molly, are the two kids Eubie the Elf is supposed to help see the light and the true meaning of Christmas. Both Ganen and Luckadoo do outstanding jobs portraying bratty kids running amuck in the town, causing trouble and not caring much about anything and Ganen as Molly, gets the point across that she is a neglected child, probably just acting out to get attention. Luckadoo is perfect as the “sidekick” and willing participant in the brattiness going on. The two actors have a great chemistry with each other and the rest of the cast making for wonderful performances.

Megan Henderson takes on the role of Gilda, the sweet, shy elf who has a thing for our hero, Eubie, and Courtney Branch tackles the role of Hamm, the mechanic elf, who spends more time under a sleigh than inside of it. Both of these actresses were confident and comfortable in their respective roles and gave strong performances. Megan Anderson gives off an air of feminine cuteness that the character requires while she tries to get the attentions of Eubie and, most of the time failing, but for no fault of her own. On the other end of the spectrum, Courtney Branch, as Hamm, is very likeable and believable as the more tom-boyish character that just wants to help her friends. Both actors seem to understand the individuality of their characters and plays them accordingly making them a joy to watch.

Cheryl Campo. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Cheryl Campo. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

A definite highlight of this production is Cheryl Campo who plays Gurt, the wife of the Mayor of Bluesville. Aside from being very expressive and totally giving 100% to her role, this lady has a set of pipes on her! Though her solo number is a bit short, it’s easy to hear the strong vocals and they certainly shine through in the ensemble numbers, as well. Campo commands the stage quite well and is an absolute joy to watch. I look forward to seeing more from her in the future.

Justin Moe. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Justin Moe. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Finally, we get to our hero, Eubie the Happy Elf, played skillfully by Justin Moe. Simply going on looks, I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing this role other than Justin Moe but, look aside, he had me sold from the start. He was able to keep the energy up the entire 90 minutes and is absolutely believable as this character, giving his all and taking the role seriously enough to bring the audience into the story. He obviously understands his character’s objective and each choice he makes moves his character toward that goal of making sure Christmas is enjoyed by everyone, even a dark, salty town like Bluesville. Moe is a pleasure to watch with his strong vocal performance, and assured performance that makes him a distinct standout in this production.

Final though… Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf at Red Branch Theatre Company is a fun, feel-good holiday story that is a good break from the hustle and bustle of this season and it’s perfect for the family as a whole. The kids will adore it and the story is endearing for adults as well, reminding us what Christmas is all about. Take a break from the aforementioned hustle and bustle and take a trip down to Red Branch Theatre Company to join in on their merry making!

That’s what I thought about Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf, playing at Red Branch Theatre Company… what did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf will play through December 18 at Red Branch Theatre Company, 9130-I Red Branch Road, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 220-6517 or purchase them online.

Review: The Game’s Afoot at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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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: 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Evil Dead the Musical at Red Branch Theatre Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

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

Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

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

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

Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Marx in Soho at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 1 hours and 35 minutes with no intermission

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Karl Marx. Credt: Public Domain

If I were to invite any deceased historic figure to dinner, Karl Marx would not have been my first choice. Actually, he probably wouldn’t have even crossed my mind but after experiencing Spotlighters Theatre latest offering of Marx in Soho by Howard Zinn and directed by Sherrionne Brown and starring Phil Gallagher, I think Mr. Marx could possibly make my Top Five (of whom currently includes Mozart, Joan Crawford, Karen Carpenter, Abraham Lincoln, and Walt Disney, but I haven’t a clue of who would be bumped).

I admit… I walked in thinking this piece thinking it was going to be uber-political and argue the pros of Marxism and Communism and, with the political climate being what it is in the country at the moment, I rolled my eyes and settled in for the long haul. I can also admit my thinking was incorrect. Though this piece did touch on a many of Karl Marx’s ideas, it was not so much political as it was a piece showing Marx in a different light. He is usually thought of as a revolutionary, trouble maker, or rabble rouser but Zinn’s piece expressed his softer side; his life as a family man and his love and adoration for his wife and children (of which only three lived into adulthood). It shows a Marx who can admit when he is wrong and came back from the dead to express to the world that his ideas are different to the ideals of Communism that Lenin spouted out and that he wasn’t so stubborn that he couldn’t debate (sometimes heatedly) different ideas with friends and colleagues. Zinn manages to reveal Marx’s positive achievements rather than concentrate on the negative connotations of his life and work.

I certainly have my own ideals, politically and otherwise, as we all do, but I’m glad I was able to attend this production of Marx in Soho as it enlightened me, made me think, and reminded me that there are many different angles to folks that we must consider before passing any type of judgment. This piece wasn’t a lesson on Marxism or Communism, but a look into the life of a man who had his own ideas and way of looking at the world and his courage to express them, regardless of any adversity. Zinn manages to balance out the history and the entertainment in his script and it blends together beautifully.

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Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shaelyn Jae Photography

Spotlighters is a unique space, to say the least. It’s theatre in the round, which is always challenging and to add to that challenge, they have four pillars on each corner of the stage of which they have to contend but Spotlighters has not disappointed, yet! The production teams for each show manage to use the space to maximum efficiency, and this production is no different. The Set Design by Director Sherrionne Brown is minimal, with a desk, a couple of chairs, and a stool, but it all comes together perfectly. It’s the set decorations of old photos of historic figures such and folks from Marx’s life add a sense of familiarity, like we’re sitting in Marx’s parlor or study, as a guest or old friend, listening to him as he talks about his ideas and writings.

Lighting Design by Fuzz Roark was very subtle but that’s exactly what is needed in this piece. His use of brightness levels are barely noticeable but add depth to the performance as the lighting seems to change with Marx’s changing moods from fiery revolutionist to loving husband and doting father and add great production value to the piece. The imitation thunder and lightning are perfect transitions and stop signs for the character of Karl Marx when he gets a little too saucy or political.

Director Sherrione Brown uses this space wisely and keeps her actor moving fluidly as to not ignore any part of the audience that surrounds him. Her guidance, along with the natural instincts of Phil Gallagher, brought Karl Marx to life right before my eyes and the nuances of the character, including the look, gestures, and facial expressions set me at east, as an audience member looking in. The Set Design complimented the performance and Brown is to be commended for her thought-provoking work on this piece.

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Phil Gallagher as Karl Marx. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shaelyn Jae Photography

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Phil Gallagher as Karl Marx. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shaelyn Jae Photography

Phil Gallagher as the titular character of Karl Marx is an absolute joy to watch. Performing in a biographical piece has its own set of challenges but Gallagher completely nails this role and gives an outstanding performance. From the moment he steps on stage, one cannot help but notice the striking resemblance Gallagher has to a young(er) Marx (a little different from the common white bushy bearded, older Marx). The Costume Design by Andrew Malone is spot on and very appropriate for the time in which Marx lived and for this piece. Gallagher is very comfortable both in his wardrobe and on the stage, having a strong command and he moves smoothly around making sure he gives attention to all sides of his audience. To be honest, Gallagher has completely changed the way I envisioned Karl Marx that was formed from what I’ve researched about him and from the stern photographs I’ve seen. Gallagher’s very authentic performance makes Marx approachable and downright likeable and though this may have something to do with the script, it is mostly because of the friendly feel I get from Gallagher. He is so natural in this role, there were many times I completely forgot there was a script involved. His German accent is on point and he, impressively, holds it throughout the entire performance, adding a realism to the performance. Gallagher seemed to have really understood the man he was portraying and it showed through in his strong, confident performance. Major kudos to Phil Gallagher for this exceptional performance as Karl Marx.

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Phil Gallagher as Karl Marx. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shaelyn Jae Photography

Final thought… Marx in Soho is a show that makes me see things from a different angle and appreciate another view. In these crazy times of this crazy United States Presidential election, I’m glad that I was reminded that this is very important. This piece portrays another side of a man who is commonly seen in a negative light and makes him more familiar and approachable. Whatever ideals you may have, Marx in Soho is an enlightening, provocative look into the life of a man who, in the end, just wanted the world to be a little better for everyone.

This is what I thought of this production of Marx in Soho.… what do you think?

Another point of view: The Bad Oracle’s review of Marx in Soho

Marx in Soho will play through September 18 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD 21202. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.