Review: Lysistrata Jones at Red Branch Theatre Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

411 BCE. That’s when Aristophones’ comedy Lysistrata was first performed in Athens, Greece. That’s a hell of a long time ago but classics are timeless and that’s why they’re performed still today. Though they don’t need to be updated and modernized, it’s always fun to see what happens when they are and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but it’s interesting to see what each era does with them. Red Branch Theatre Company has taken a chance on a modernized classic with their latest production of Lysistrata Jones with Music & Lyrics by Lewis Flinn and Book by Douglas Carter Beane, Directed by Stephanie Lynn Williams with Music Direction by Dustin Merrell and Choreography by Brandon Glass, and it’s worked out nicely for them.

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Hailey Ibberson, Patrick J. Campbell, Victoria Meyers, Tiara Whaley, and Angeleaza Anderson. Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

Lysistrata Jones has taken the story of Lysistrata and taken it out of Ancient Greece to modern day Athens University where the basketball team isn’t really trying that hard when the title character enters the scene and simply wants them to try harder; to want something, and until they do, the girls decide, with the coaxing of Lystrata… no funny business in the bedroom! This leads to an age-old battle of the sexes that involves no funny business in the bedroom and seeking advice from the Madame of the local brothel with some self-realizations along the way.

Scenic Design by Bill Brown is simple, unit gymnasium set which is wise considering the ample but intimate space at Red Branch. His use of bright colors and movable stairs to help create individual settings is both clever and practical making for smooth, easy transitions between scenes, keeping the flow of the piece moving nicely.

Stefany Thomas’ Costume Design is authentic and gives each character his or her own style and helps bring out each character’s personality and charm.

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The ladies of Lysistrata Jones led by Lysistrata Jones herself (Hailey Ibberson). Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

Brandon Glass’ Choreography is top-notch in this high energy, up-tempo piece. The cast looks like their having a great time and Glass’ choreography is fun to watch. The ensemble numbers are tight and well-rehearsed and he seems to know his actors and matches his choreography to enhance the abilities of this cast. Glass is to be commended for his current and varied choreography in this production.

Music Direction by Dustin Merrell is superb and he brings this exciting and energetic score off the page and onto the stage. With songs that stick to the brain like “No More Givin’ It Up,” “You Go Your Way,” and “The Writing on the Wall,” Merrell is working with a contemporary style with (at times) a heavy hip-hop influence but he and his cast pull it off nicely. The band, though a bit muted because of the space, is tight and well-rehearsed and gives a praiseworthy performance.

Director Stephanie Lynn Williams takes the helm of this production and has given us a delightful evening of theatre. She has a good comprehension of the material and though it’s been twisted and re-imagined, the story still holds tight. It’s a show full of fluff, but Williams seems to have taken it seriously enough not to just throw it away. She’s taken the time to bring the gender-based issues and message of self-realization out of the fluff. She keeps the action moving and the transitions smooth which help keep the pacing consistent. Casting is excellent and, overall, Williams has a splendid final product.

Patrick J. Campbell, center, leads the team in Lysistrata Jones at Red Branch Theatre Company. Photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.

Patrick J. Campbell, center, leads the team in Lysistrata Jones at Red Branch Theatre Company. Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

The entire ensemble of this piece is spot on. They are dedicated and are working hard to give 100% but are all having a blast up on the stage. The “boys” Cinesias (Andrew Overton), Tyllis (Jason Quackebush), ‘Uardo (Diego Esmolo), and Harold (Elad Ness) all have great chemistry and embody their very different characters. A standout is Overton as the “play-a” Cinesias who has his character down pat and is hilarious as the young man who can’t seem to figure out who or what he is.

Taylor Witt takes on the role of Xander, the social-conscious semi-activist who isn’t a member of the team but crosses paths with our heroine and teaches her not to give up and to keep moving forward. He gives an authentic performance and his featured number “Hold On” is a catchy number that he performs well.

Every team needs a leader and this one is led by Mick, played by Patrick J Campbell, who gives a good but somewhat subdued and mechanical performance. Vocally, Campbell is a standout with a gentle but strong styling as in his featured number “When She Smiles.”

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Taylor Witt, Hailey Ibberson, and Angeleaza Anderson. Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

The “girls,” as it were, is made of an entertaining and able group consisting of Cleonice (Tiara Whaley), Myrrhine (Victoria Meyers), and Lamptio (Angeleaza Anderson) are everything you want in a cheerleading clique but maybe a little nicer. Each of these characters are different from the next and these ladies have taken these roles and make them their own. Meyers is a believable “good girl” but lets it all out in “Don’t Judge a Book,” her featured duet with Andrew Overton. Whaley takes a commendable turn as the Latina and, though it’s obvious that Spanish is not her native language (at least that’s what it sounded like), she is dedicated to her character and has great chemistry with her fellow actors. Angeleaza Anderson is funny and authentic as the “ditzy” one of the crew. Her vocalization for the character is on point and she gives a confident performance with a good stage presence.

Hailey Ibberson as the title character Lysistrata Jones, the new girl who swoops in to change everything, is absolutely charming. She has a strong presence and gives a committed, confident, and energetic performance and seems to have a good grasp of this character and her tribulations. Ibberson gives a wonderful vocal performance and shines in her featured numbers such as “Change the World” and the poignant “Where Am I Now.”

Patrick J. Campbell, Hailey Ibberson and Taylor Washington. Photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.

Patrick J. Campbell, Hailey Ibberson and Taylor Washington. Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

Taylor Washington as Hetaira and Alex Levenson as Robin are definite highlights of this production. Washington takes on double duty with the character of Hetaira playing both a narrator of sorts as well as the Madame of a brothel. She not only embodies these characters wholly, her vocal stylings on her featured numbers such as “I Don’t Think So” and “Writing on the Wall” are stellar. She takes these songs and makes them her own with her booming voice and she is simply a joy to hear and watch. At the same time, Alex Levenson portrays her character, the level-headed, astute student, with great authenticity and seemingly effortlessly. There are many points in the show I completely forgot she is reading from a script because of her natural and smooth performance. Kudos to both of these actors for a job well done.

Final thought… Though light and airy, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed Lysistrata Jones. It is an upbeat and current piece with a great score, catchy songs, a good script, and high-energy choreography that fits nicely in this summer time slot. The ensemble is dedicated and able and the chemistry is within the entire cast is clear. The classic tale of Lysistrata is broken down but not necessarily dumbed down and this production at Red Branch Theatre Company keeps the audience entertained and engaged.

This is what I thought of Red Branch Theatre Company’s production of Lysistrata Jones… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Lysistrata Jones will play through August 26 at Red Branch Theatre Company, 9130-I Red Branch Road, Columbia, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

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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.