Review: Charlotte’s Web at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

A pig and a spider. Who’d have thought a friendship between these two animals would change the lives of millions of kids throughout the world? It certainly changed mine when I first saw the animated film, Charlotte’s Web, based on the story by E.B. White, and heard Debbie Reynolds utter the words “Greetings and salutations!” With a star studded cast of voices, this film taught me about death, moving on, and hope, making it a classic in children’s cinema. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore‘s latest venture, Charlotte’s Web the Musical, a staged version of the beloved story, with Music and Lyrics by Charles Strouse and Book by Joseph Robinette, with Direction by Melissa Broy Forston, Music Direciton by Michelle Harmon-Bruno, and Choreography by Jennifer Otero, may not be a carbon copy of the cartoon I watched repeatedly, but the story is still familiar and the lessons taught still remain.

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Simon Gusso, Cordelia “Cordy” Gusso, Bryonna Davis, and Gregory Aerford. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Melissa Broy Forston takes the reigns of this first attempt of children’s theatre by Artistic Synergy of Baltimore and is more or less successful in the attempt. She has gathered a beautifully diverse cast of characters of dedicated blooming actors who give their all. Forston keeps the story moving and the use of a minimal Set Design (also by Forston), allows for quick scene changes and smooth transitions. The actors make their entrances and exits on time and, though they may have a lot to learn, Forston seems to have put them on the right path.

Choreography by Jennifer Otero is fitting of the production and the actors with whom she is working and the actors seem to have picked up the simple, but appropriate dances and perform them with gusto and hit their marks.

Michelle Harmon-Bruno takes on Music Direction and, though contending with canned music that sounds straight out of a 1980s video game, she still has the young cast singing their hearts out and interpreting cute songs such as “Eating,” “Who Says We Can’t Be Friends?” and “Don’t” as only children can. Aside from a few hick-ups and microphone issues, the ensemble performs the music well and look to be having a great time doing so.

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Alexis Arthur and Simon Gusso. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Concerning the performance aspect of this production, overall, the young ensemble does well with this piece and seems to understand the story they are telling and though there is much more to learn, these fledgling actors seem to be well on their way, including Jasmine Artis, playing Goose who has a booming voice and good stage presence, and the cool, well-rehearsed Madi Anne Cosden, who takes on the role of Templeton, the seemingly selfish, curmudgeon barn rat who ends up caring more than he lets on. Chloe Davies takes on multiple roles including Owl, Reporter, Concessionaire, Judge, and Announcer and makes the most of all of the roles. Among these aforementioned actors, the entire ensemble deserves kudos for a job well done!

Taking on the role of Wilbur is Simon Gusso. Gusso goes all in with this role, taking on the persona of the young pig who has no control over what happens to him but learning how to deal with whatever is thrown his way. He knows his lines and, what’s more, has a good comprehension of his role and gives a commendable performance.

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Raychel Nguyen, Simon Gusso, and Madi Anne Cosden. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Taking on the titular role of Charlotte, the gentle spider, is Alexis Arthur and she certainly makes this role her own. She portrays Charlotte with an authentic gentleness that is required of the character and, vocally, she is strong and gives a quite delightful performance.

Lurvy, the Zuckerman farmhand, is humorously played by Gregory Areford, who is a perfect match of this role. He has a good stage presence and isn’t afraid to be a clown, which is a good attitude for any actor to have.

A standout in this piece is young Raychel Nguyen, who takes on the role of the loving and sensitive Fern, who saves Wilbur and raises him for the first few months of his life. Nguyen seemingly has some experience on stage and has a good technique allowing her to project well, speak naturally, and hit her marks. She gives a believable performance, embodying the character nicely.

Final thought… Charlotte’s Web the Musical at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore is a sweet, fun re-telling of a childhood favorite that teaches important life lessons in way that doesn’t necessarily sugar-coat but explains in a way children will understand. The cast is works hard and gives 100% effort to the production making for a charming evening of theatre.

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

Charlotte’s Web the Musical will play through August 6 at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 8212 Philadelphia Road, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

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Review: Tick, Tick… BOOM! at StillPointe Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: Approx. 80 minutes with no intermission

If you’re a fan of musical theatre, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of Jonathan Larson or… you’ve at least heard of that relentless bohemian musical he penned called RENT. With that out of the way, let’s get into StillPointe Theatre’s latest offering, Tick, Tick… Boom! with Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson and Book by Jonathan Larson and David Auburn, Directed by Grace Anastasiadis, with Music Direction by Stacey Antoine. Tick, Tick… Boom! is Larson’s pre-RENT, semi-autobiographical piece that gives us more insight into his life with catchy but thoughtful songs and a nostalgic feel that takes us back to those flannel, maroon and black, angst-y 90s that we all remember and love.

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Set of Tick, Tick… Boom! at StillPointe Theatre. Credit: Ryan Haase

It’s no secret I am a fan of Ryan Haase’s set designs and this production is no different. Once again, Haase has creatively and efficiently designed the intimate StillPointe Theatre space into something magical and befitting of this material. His minimal, immersive set puts the audience smack-dab in the middle of the action and makes us part of the show. His choice of material, which really is just some chairs, a small love-seat, an old upright piano, and a sea of musical staff paper that floats above the audience, may not sound like much, but really works with this show, not distracting but adding to the story and production as a whole.

Kitt Crescenzo has great attention to detail with it comes to costuming this small cast of three and the 90s pop out with the dark color palate and accessories, and she even has the “90s yuppie” look down with the vertical striped shirt and loafers. The authenticity of the wardrobe took me back to this by-gone ear and added value to the piece.

Direction by Grace Anastasiadis is superb and she really seems to have a good comprehension of the material. With a more popular Larson piece out there in the world, it can be daunting to take on a lesser known piece, but Anastasiadis takes it and runs with it. Her blocking keeps the action moving and keeps the audience engaged and part of the story unfolding in front of them. With minimal sets, cast, and props, she tells the story beautifully and her casting is top notch.

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The Band. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Music Direction by Stacey Antoine is on point. The small, four-piece band including Stacey Antoine on Piano, Tanner Selby on Guitar, Cody Raum on Bass, and Joe Pipkin of Percussion are well-rehearsed and Antoine has a good grasp on Larson’s score. The cast is in tune and in harmony and the band, behind glass doors but still very much intertwined in the production, give a commendable performance.

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Adam Cooley and Ryan Haase. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Ryan Haase is delightful as Mike, the best friend who never gives up on you but is finding his own way in the process. I’ve already stated he’s a wizard when it comes to Set Design, but he’s rather able onstage, as well. He understands this character and his yearning for something more. He plays him with a stiffness that works well for the role and, vocally, Haase shines with a smooth tone in numbers such as his featured number “Real Life” and in his beautiful harmony in “Johnny Can’t Decide.” It’s good to see him using his talents onstage in this production, as well as off.

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Adam Cooley as Jon. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Adam Cooley as Jon gives a commendable performance and really gets to the heart of this character. It’s worth noting that from the moment you step into the theatre, Cooley does NOT LEAVE THE STAGE. He’s there for the entire 80 – 90 minute ride and he doesn’t falter once. He keeps the energy up and transitions smoothly through each scene, telling the story as he goes along. Impressively, Cooley actually plays the piano, quite well, in his poignant and emotional number “Why” and it just takes the show to the next level. This show is really on his shoulders, as Jon, but he rises nicely to the challenge.

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Amber Wood and Adam Cooley. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Last, but certainly not least, we have Amber Wood as Susan and she is a definite highlight of this production. She gives an absolute natural performance that takes the audience in from the moment she steps onto the stage. Relaxed and cool, as the characterization calls for, she performs this role seemingly effortlessly and her vocal performance is spot on and is a joy to watch. She has a good comprehension of the role and the characters place in the story and she superbly makes it her own. I’m looking forward to seeing more from Ms. Wood.

Final thought… Tick, Tick… Boom! at StillPointe Theatre is a charming, poignant look semi-autobiographical look at one of the prolific composers of the 20th century who was teetering on entering the 21st century but was taken from us too soon. Though I am not a fan of Jonathan Larson, this piece touched me. Without the fanfare and over-saturation that I had to endure with RENT, this piece stands firmly on its own but certainly gives us the beginnings of RENT but only subtly. StillPointe, as usual, has managed to take this small show and give us an immersive experience that is beautiful, thought-provoking, and all-around entertaining. The performances are authentic and emotional and the overall production is on you do not want to miss so get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of StillPointe Theatre’s production of Tick, Tick… Boom!… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Tick, Tick… Boom! will play through August 10 at StillPointe Theatre, 1825 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

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Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Baltimore Shakespeare Factory

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to experience theatre that is not full of flashy sets or intricate costumes, but of minimal design and I’ve grown to appreciate this style immensely. I’m learning that you don’t need all the bells and whistles to tell a good story (notice, I said “good” story) and Baltimore Shakespeare Factory (BSF) demonstrates this near perfectly with their latest offering, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, Directed by Tom Delise. It’s good old fashioned story-telling in a serene, outdoor setting that takes you back to the days of old when Shakespeare ruled the stage and people appreciated a good story.

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Titania and the Fairies seducing an egotistical Nick Bottom. Credit: Will Kirk

If you get a chance to check out a production in the Meadow at Johns Hopkins University’s Evergreen Museum and Library… DO IT! In the middle of a bustling city, this small patch of land is the perfect setting for an evening of Shakespeare, and you can bring your own picnic if you wish! The sounds of nature surround you as you watch a timeless story unfold before you performed by able actors working from a flawless text.

In a nutshell (if it’s possible), A Midsummer Night’s Dream is about events unfolding around the marriage of Duke Theseus and Hippolyta, the former Queen of the Amazons. Included in these events are the escapades of four young Athenian lovers, a traveling troupe of actors – The Mechanicals, a bunch of fairies, and the King and Queen of the Fairies who are throwing monkey wrenches in everything while trying to fix it at the same time. Sounds complicated doesn’t it? Well, it’s not too complicated if you pay attention and it’s quite funny and farcical making for a great evening of theatre.

Director Tom Delise, a Shakespeare purist, seems to have a confident grasp on the material. His vision of bringing pure Shakespearean theatre to the stage with little gems of modern day references to tell the story make it easy to follow and indubitably entertaining. He keeps the action moving and interesting creating a smooth flow that isn’t overwhelming to those not as experienced. He manages to keep it down to a nice 2-hours while still telling the entire story which is a feat in itself when it comes to any Shakespeare play. Kudos to Delise for an impeccable production.

 

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Kathryne Daniels and Jeff Miller. Credit: Will Kirk

Costume Design by Jessica Behar is simple, yet very appropriate and effective. Being a fanciful piece with a fairy king and queen and man turning into a donkey, one would think the costumes have to be outlandish and complex, but Behar has managed to design a costume plot that isn’t over the top, but still quite effective. Of course, the togas and tunics are present, but ornamented nicely and subtly differentiating the classes (the upper crust and the actors, really). Tatiana, Queen of the Fairies is elegant in her flowing robe while Oberon, King of the Fairies is aptly costumed in a nature-inspired ensemble with funky headpiece included. Overall, Behar’s design is appropriate, creative, and adds value to the production as a whole.

Moving to the performance aspect of this piece, it’s worth saying the entire ensemble gives 100% to their performance and work quite well together. It’s a joy to watch this cast as a whole and they know their stuff!

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Micaela Mannix, Liz Galuardi, Fred Fletcher-Jackson, and Davon Harris. Credit: Will Kirk

Taking on the roles of the four confused lovers are Fred Fletcher-Jackson as Lysander, Liz Galuardi as Hermia, Davon Harris as Demetrius, and Micaela Mannix as Helena and this quartet hits the nail on the head with their performances. Their chemistry is second to none and they’re comedic timing is delightful. In a particularly farcical scene where poor Hermia is actually sat on by the boys, I was laughing out-loud and thoroughly enjoying the physical comedy before me. All four give confident performances and are a joy to watch.

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A couple of The Mechanicals performing the play-within-the-play. Credit: Will Kirk

The Mechanicals, the acting troupe, compsed of Cheryl Campo, Tess Garret, Jeff Miller, Tegan Williams, Kathryne Daniels, and Shaquille Stewart, much like their name implies, is a well-oiled machine and all work well off of each other. Their mini play-within-the-play had me belly-laughing – especially Jeff Miller, who had the honor of taking on the female role, as many males did in the time period, and he played it to the hilt with an impeccable grasp of the cheeky comedy. Other highlights in this troupe are Shaquille Stewart who takes on the role of Nick Bottom, the egotistical, self-admiring actor, and Kathryne Daniels as Peter Quince, the flustered writer of the troupe. Stewart steals just about every scene he’s in with his physical comedy and superb delivery and Daniels humorously portrays Quince’s frustration with big gestures and asides that work well with the material. It’s a job well done by all.

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Allie Press as Puck. Credit: Will Kirk

Allie Press tackles the role of Puck, the impish go-to guy for King Oberon and she really grasps this character. The character of Puck means well and is only doing his masters bidding but he is also a lurking observer most of the time and strikes when it is most opportune. Press skillfully delivers her dialogue and moves about the stage effortlessly giving a confident, strong performance.

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Elijah Moreland as Oberon, King of the Fairies. Credit: Will Kirk

Definite highlights of this production are the Titania and Oberon, the Fairy Queen and King played masterfully by Valerie Dowdle (a BSF Company Member) and Elijah Moreland. Their chemistry is brilliant and they work very well off of each other. Moreland, in probably the flashiest costume in the production, moves confidently and gracefully taking on not only the intricate role of Oberon, but also of Duke Theseus. He delivers his dialogue clearly and has a good comprehension of his characters. His interaction with the audience is subtle and not in your face which is something I can totally deal with not being a huge fan of breaking the fourth wall. Overall, Moreland has a strong presence on the stage and gives an absolutely commendable performance.

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Valerie Dowdle as Hippolyta. Credit: Will Kirk

Valerie Dowdle also takes on two roles – that of the Titania and Hippolyta and she nails both of these characters. Quite an able Shakespearean actor, Dowdle effortlessly embodies her characters, especially that of Titania, and gives a strong, graceful, and authentic performance. Her comprehension of the material is apparent and her delivery is completely natural, making it easy to follow and understand. Another fine performance from Ms. Dowdle.

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The Fairies and Nick Bottom. Credit: Will Kirk

Final thought…A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Baltimore Shakespeare Factory is a step back in time where there was no need for big spectacles or lights and sound but the actors told the story and the text spoke for itself. Baltimore Shakespeare Factory’s attempt at producing authentic Shakespearean theatre is a success, especially out on the rolling meadow at Johns Hopkins University’s Evergreen Museum and Library. T he actors are well-rehearsed and have an impeccable comprehension of the story they’ve been tasked to tell and their interpretation, along with the vision of Director Tom Delise, is easy to follow and quite entertaining. This is a fun, humorous, timeless tale and BSF knocks it out of the ballpark with this production. Those experienced with Shakespeare or those who are currently discovering his work will be thoroughly delighted and entertained.

This is what I thought of Baltimore Shakespeare Factory’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

 A Midsummer Night’s Dream will play through July 30 at Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, The Meadow at Johns Hopkins University’s Evergreen Museum and Library. For tickets, purchase them at the door or purchase them online.

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Review: She Kills Monsters at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 80 minutes with no intermission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Noises Off at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with two intermissions (one 15-minute and one 10-minute)

Doors and sardines! Doors and sardines! Apparently, that’s what life is all about… right? Well, maybe not, but it’s always exciting (and a little voyeuristic) to take a peek behind the scenes to see how a show is produced. I don’t know about you, but when a film or an album tickles my fancy, I always enjoy seeing a “Making of…” that particular project and Everyman Theatre‘s latest and last offering of their 2016-17 season, Noises Off by Michael Frayn, Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi, gives us a humorous, frantic peek into what it takes to get a show off the ground and that the show must go on… no matter what.

L-R Deborah Hazlett, Megan Anderson, Carl Schurr, Beth Hylton, Bruce Nelson, and Eric Berryman. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Noises Off is a “show within a show,” meaning the show itself is about putting on a show called Nothing On and Everyman Theatre has even provided the audience with a program for Nothing On, which adds to the authenticity of the piece. The show is given to us in three acts with breaks in between each act. Act I consists of the final dress, Act II takes place backstage a few months into the tour with the play still going on in the front with problems upon problems going on in the back, including cast love triangles, real and imagined, and Act III shows a performance during the last leg of the tour when everyone has lost all give-a-fuck and have stopped being nice and have started getting real, making for some interesting choices onstage. The comedy comes from the slight changes in each Act as the character flaws come to surface off-stage causing everyone to undermine their on-stage performances with A LOT of slapstick. The contrast between the fictional characters of the play Nothing On and the fictional actors playing those characters is also a great example of comic dissonance.

It’s worth mentioning that Noises Off was made into a film in 1992 and starred heavy-hitters such as Carol Burnett, Michael Cain, John Ritter, and Christopher Reeve, among other big names of the time, and, though it was a box office flop, it has since become a favorite (for those who love theatre, anyway), and has gained a sort of cult-ish following. I’m proud to say I’m a part of that group and I LOVE this film.

BACK: Bruce Nelson and Beth Hylton. FRONT: Danny Gavigan, Deborah Hazlett, and Carl Schurr. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

That being said, the production at Everyman Theatre is definitely one to contend with. With Director Vincent M. Lancisi at the helm, Everyman has made this production their own and it is difficult to compare, which is a feat in itself. Lancisi has a complete comprehension of this piece and the farcical comedy with which it comes. He keeps the action moving and the pacing, for the most part, is spot on. Most of the casting is spot on and Lancisi was wise to use the Everyman Theatre Resident Company to fill all but one role as they were splendid in the roles. Though Act I seems a bit subdued, I was at a matinee performance, so, that may have been a factor but, overall, Lancisi does a superb job presenting the never-give-up essence of this piece and brining to the audience an example of putting on a show and what happens behind the scenes as opposed to what we, the audience, sees as the final product.

L-R Beth Hylton, Bruce Nelson, Danny Gavigan, Deborah Hazlett, Emily Kester, Eric Berryman, and Wil Love. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

I would not do any favors for this review or do the production justice if I didn’t mention the set for this production. I’ve stated in the past that Everyman Theatre has yet to disappoint when it comes to their sets and this production is no different at all. Set Design by Daniel Ettinger is exquisite and complex but absolutely appropriate for this piece. Ettinger has an amazing attention to detail and from the stylish woodwork to the knick-knacks, every set piece is befitting and seems to have been carefully chosen. As the three acts require a “flipping” of the set to represent both the front of the set as well as backstage, Set Design must be handled carefully and Ettinger is on point with is design. During the breaks between acts, the set is flipped completely and while most theatres who produce Noises Off have the luxury of a revolve on the stage, Everyman Theatre crew has to manually flip individual set pieces and they do so with great precision and speed so a major shout out and kudos to Stage Manager Cat Wallis and the stage crew of this production.

Emily Kester as Brooke Ashton and Danny Gavigan as Garry Lejeune. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Costume Design by Eric Abele is appropriate as Director Vincent M. Lancisi wisely decided to keep the play set in the 1970s and all the actors were dressed in the general styles of the day with nothing too modern, and all looked comfortable, even the poor actor playing Garry Lejeune with his plaid pants and matching coat and the actress playing the scantily clad Brook Ashton running around in her underwear for most of the show. Abele’s overall Costume Design helped the setting of the piece added value to it rather than distract from it.

Lighting and Sound Design by Jay Herzog and Phillip Owen, respectively, is impressive with an acute attention to detail that added extra authenticity to the production. The slight differences between the front of the set to the back of the stage lighting is realistic as there are certainly different levels of brightness and darkness and the difference in sound is exceptional. Being familiar with being backstage during a production, it’s uncanny how Herzog manages to bring that sound to the audience – a sort of muffled, but understandable speaking to which one must pay close attention to hear what is being said. Both Herzog and Owen are to be commended on their work for this production.

L-R Danny Gavigan as Garry LeJeune, Deborah Hazlett as Dotty Otley, and Bruce Nelson as Frederick Fellowes. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

The ensemble for this production of Noises Off is top-notch and all are dedicated, committed performers who understand the piece and the comedy/farce that goes along with it.

Though all of the performances were on point, Carl Schurr’s take on the role of Lloyd Dallas, the helpless director of the runaway train of a production, falls a little flat for me. The character has peaks and valleys of frustration, calm, anger, and resignation, but Schurr doesn’t seem to invest enough emotion to show the contrast between the feelings this character is experiencing. His frustration could be much more which would make the instant switch to calm much more comedic. I can see where he is going with the character, trying to keep the calm and being a British gentleman, of sorts, but I would still like to see the desperation of the character trying to make the show work. That being said Schurr’s comedic timing is absolutely marvelous and he has great chemistry with his cast making for an fine performance.

FRONT: Bruce Nelson as Frederick Fellowes. BACK: Emily Kester as Brooke Aston. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Bruce Randolph Nelson takes on the role of the dim-witted Frederick Fellowes who is prone to nose-bleeds and isn’t a very good actor at all. In this sense, Nelson is such a good actor, he has this character down pat and certainly makes the role his own as he hits the ground running. The spirit of show is improvisation and Nelson is a hands-down expert in this area. However, there may have been times he took it a bit far, this could just be me being stuffy, but he does such a fine job with the script, too much addition takes away from the performance. This isn’t to say Nelson doesn’t do a great job because he most certainly gives an impeccable performance that will have you belly-laughing throughout his performance.

Megan Anderson as Poppy NOrton-Taylor and Eric Berryman as Tim Allgood. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Tackling the roles of the poor over-worked Stage Manager, Tim Allgood and Assistant Stage Manager, Poppy Norton-Taylor, are Eric Berryman and Megan Anderson, respectively and these two actors completely embody these roles and make them their own. In real life, the behind the scenes folks are sometimes the most dedicated to a production and Berryman and Anderson evoke that spirit in these characters flawlessly, frantically trying to keep the show on course and doing whatever they can to help. Anderson’s portrayal of the skittish, emotional Poppy makes you feel for this character from the get and Berryman’s take on the easily flustered Tim, is funny and authentic.

Danny Gavigan takes on the young Garry Lejeune, a good enough actor with a jealous streak, who involved with the older Dotty Otley and can’t finish a sentence to save his life, unless it’s scripted. Gavigan does a bang up job in this role. His contrast between the two characters he plays (the actor and the character in the play Nothing On) is clear and concise and his physical work a could be a tad more frenetic and fluid but he does a superb job, looks comfortable in the role, and has a very good command of the stage.

L-R Megan Anderson as Poppy NOrton-Taylor, Wil Love as Selsdon Mowbray, and Deborah Hazlett as Dotty Otley. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Wil Love is hilarious as Selsdon Mowbray, the aging, heard of hearing, alcoholic actor who seems to be on his own time and script, but manages to shuffle along with the rest of the show. Love’s comedic timing is spot on and he completely embodies this character making him real and a joy to watch. Emily Kester takes on the role of Brooke Ashton, the ditsy, by-the-script bombshell blond actress, and holds her own with the Resident Company members and they seem to welcome her with open arms. Running around in her unmentionables for a majority of the show doesn’t seem to faze Kester and she gives a strong comedic performance having great chemistry with her cast mates.

Beth Hylton tackles the role of Belinda Blair, the upbeat, positive (for the most part), peacemaker of the troupe and gives a beautiful performance. She’s confident and graceful as this character but also plays the comedic bits superbly, as well. Hylton’s portrayal is believable as the positive one in the group who sees the glass as half-full and is enough to get on your nerves, but also as the one who is able to keep it together when things start falling apart. She gives a committed performance that is a joy to watch.

Deborah Hazlett as Dotty Otley. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Deborah Hazlett as Dotty Otley is absolutely believable and likable in this role and her comedic timing is outstanding. She seems to start off cautious at first, kind of like a slow burn, but then she starts to let loose and by the second act, she lets it go, especially with her quiet interactions with Gavigan who, as Garry, is the love interest to her character, and the relationship is rocky. She may lose her accent here and there, but for the most part, she has it down. Her facial expressions and mannerisms as this character are excellent and make for a very successful performance.

Final thought… Noises Off at Everyman Theatre is a madcap farce that will tickle the most stubborn of funny bones. With a witty script and a dedicated cast, we are given a peek behind the curtain of putting on a production and all that goes with it, good and bad. The entire production is well put-together and the cast has a superb comprehension of the piece. Noises Off has been popular in its own right but contending with a beloved film version (in theatre community, anyway) comparison is always a challenge. However, this production knocks it out of the ballpark. The pacing is frantic, as it should be, and the comedy is spot on making this a must see this season. I couldn’t think of a better way to end out a season so… get your tickets while they last!

This is what I thought of Everyman Theatre’s production of Noises Off… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Noises Off will play through June 18 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For  tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or purchase them online.

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PRESS RELEASE: A Deeper look at STEREO Akt, the Hungarian Company behind Promenade: Baltimore

Single Carrot Theatre’s World Premiere of Promenade: Baltimore coming on June 2nd!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

BALTIMORE, MD – The ambitious international collaboration and world premiere, Promenade: Baltimore, opens next week at Single Carrot Theatre. Interviews and outreach to local community members continue to influence the shape of the show, a new element in the model first conceived by the ensemble of STEREO Akt, the Hungarian company whose Budapest-based show, Promenade: Urban Fate Tourism, served as the inspiration for this new endeavor. When Single Carrot’s Artistic Director, Genevieve de Mahy saw the show in 2015, she was inspired by the way the relationship between audience and city was changed and enhanced by the performance and began the process of collaborating across oceans.

STEREO Akt is a theatre production workshop based on the continuous collaboration of director Martin Boross and produce Anikó Rácz. Founded in 2011 and based in Budapest, the company’s work is focused on the – often silent – interaction of performers and viewers; they mount a diverse mix of stage performances, site-specific projects, and social actions with the help of an ever-growing group of artists and volunteers from the local community. Each STEREO Akt performance begins with a simple questions: what will happen to the viewer? This unique emphasis on experience – rather than text – provides the opportunity to move out of traditional theatre spaces allowing the magical and ordinary to blend against a backdrop of everyday life.

Amonst those who have traveled to the United States to collaborate on Promenade: Baltimore are Julia Jakubowska and Martin Boross, both of whom were involved in the original STEREO Akt production. Jakubowska, who is originally from Poland, first performed in Promenade when she was a newcomer to Hungary and spoke virtually no Hungarian. “I felt back then that I was an audience member more than a performer,” she recalls, adding that her original character – a woman contemplating suicide – was drawn from Jakubowska’s own feelings of loneliness and isolation. “Being here in Baltimore is much different… getting to know the city through the eyes of our actors, who are my first guide and teachers in the city. It’s an exciting and rich experience.”

Boross, who serves as director for both versions of Promenade, added that interviews with local community-members have been particularly inspiring: “One of our interviewees said that Baltimore either gives you a hug or punches you in the stomach. The city is full of paradoxes, and it has many faces… by getting in touch with the communities here, it becomes clear that there are an incredible number of citizens who want to act, who can articulate the problems of the neighborhoods, and are able to choose the right tools to move things forward.”

“Working with STEREO Akt on a project about Baltimore has been a process of exchange,” said Single Carrot Artistic Director Genevieve de Mahy. “They see Baltimore with fresh eyes and notice things I had forgotten about. I show them things that you would not see on the surface.”

“We’d like to make something that is entertaining and provocative at the same time,” Boross stated. “To create a plot that avoids the cliches, that is not harmful, but honest, and gives room for dialogue. To create something that makes people feel that they see themselves truly. Even if it’s a fragile state that image reflects, they can still be proud of this image.”

This immense international collaboration opens on June 2nd and runs through June 25th.

Show Synopsis:

Grab your buss pass and get ready to ride! Single Carrot Theatre and STEREO Akt present Promenade: Baltimore, a boundary-breaking production that invites its audience to board a bus and traverse the city, passing through neighborhoods both familiar and unknown. Audience members watch through the windows as actors on the street present poetic expression of everyday life in Baltimore, complimented by a live-mixed soundscape of music, narration, and stories based on and told by neighborhood residents. Promenade: Baltimore celebrates and explores all that is Baltimore: highlighting it’s complexity, struggles, treasures, and, ultimately, its undeniable  beauty. World Premiere.

WHEN:

June 2-June 25, 2017

Thursdays & Fridays at 6:30pm

Saturdays & Sundays at 2pm & 6:30pm

 

WHERE:

Single Carrot Theatre

2600 N. Howard Street Baltimore, MD 21218

Entrance on 26th Street.

Free parking available in adjacent lot and on the street.

 

TICKETS AND ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Tickets: $10-$45

Web: singlecarrot.com

Phone: 443-844-9253

Email: boxoffice@singlecarrot.com

Twitter: @singlecarrot

Instagram: @singlecarrot

“The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.” -Paul Cezanne

Review: Psycho Beach Party at StillPointe Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

So, we’re just about smack dab right in the middle of Maryland, and if you’ve been here for more than a year, you know how crazy the weather can be. It’s summer time and it feels like the middle of autumn… today… tomorrow might feel like the beginning of winter, who knows? However, seeing that we’re in the summer months, if you ever wanted to be a hep cat or a cool chick and ride the waves on the warm, summer beach, StillPointe Theatre has just the ticket for you with their latest production of the kooky Psycho Beach Party by Charles Busch, Directed by Courtney Procter with Set Design by Ryan Haase, Costume Design by Nick Staigerwald, Lighting Design by Lillie Kahkonen, and Sound Design by Todd Mion.

Briefly, Psycho Beach Party is about Chicklet Forrest, a teenager with a personality problem who desperately wants to be in the “in crowd” at Malibu Beach in 1962. Her biggest problem is her personality problem… she has too many of them! These include a Safeway checkout girl, Steve, a male model, and the entire accounting firm of Edelman and Edelman. Her biggest problem, among others, is her alter ego who is a sexual vixen leaning toward Fifty Shades of Grey who wants nothing less than world domination. Along for the ride are some beach bums, the adorable Yo-Yo and Provoloney, the dashing catch and medical school dropout Star Cat, and the King of the Beach, the surf God, Kanaka. Throw in a promiscuous Marvel Ann and Chicklet’s best friend, Berdine, and Mrs. Forrest, you have a twisted tale that’s a cross between the Hitchcock psychological thrillers, Gidget, and a Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello beach party all bunched up in an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-little-polka-dot-bikini.

Once again, Set Design by Ryan Haase does not disappoint. Though a little more minimal than his usual flare, his design is perfectly befitting for this piece, cleverly using the natural levels available to him in this intimate space and using more representative rather than a literal design. Haase’s creativity is impeccable with using material like laminate flooring to represent a sandy beach, which works surprisingly well. It’s minimal, but Haase trusts his actors and artistic team to tell this story and his design does not hinder the storytelling in any way, but enhances it. Kudos to Haase for another job well done.

Rex Anderson, David Brasington, and Jess Rivera. Credit: StillPointe Theatre

As this is definitely a period piece, costuming can be challenging but Costume Designer Nick Staigerwald seems to have no problem with taking us back a few decades to a Malibu Beach with authentic early 60s style swimsuits that help this piece move along. From the modest but bright and printed bathing suits of the ladies to the not-so-modest, barely-there pastel shorts of the men (which absolutely need to make a comeback), the wardrobe is totally appropriate and adds to these characters adding value to this production.

StillPointe’s Mercury Theatre space is interesting and quite intimate and seems a bit tricky for production but you wouldn’t know it with Light Design and Sound Design by Lillie Kahkonen and Todd Mion, respectively. Kahkonen’s use of isolated lighting for important points in the script is spot on and moves the story along and she cleverly uses the general house lighting, as well, to clearly light the space to make sure we see all the action. All the while, Mion’s well-suited and well thought-out Sound Design is reminiscent of the aforementioned beach movies, utilizing the guitar heavy surf-rock music of the era during the transitions that brings the entire production together.

Courtney Procter takes the Directing reigns and has a clear vision for this curious, wacky piece. She doesn’t take the piece too seriously but just seriously enough that the camp isn’t overdone and the story is clearly told. It really is like watching an early 60s teen beach movie and the pacing is on point. She knows the space well and uses what’s available to her. With great casting and intelligent blocking, Procter gives us an enjoyable evening of quirky theatre that’s perfect for Baltimore.

Moving toward the performance aspect of this production, the entire ensemble deserves props for their work in this piece. Playing 1960s beach teens is a feat in itself but all of these actors found their characters and played them well.

Andy Fleming, John Benoit, Christine Demuth, Rex Anderson, and David Brasington. Credit: StillPointe Theatre

Jess Rivera takes on the role of Marvel Ann and Bevin Keefer tackels the part of Bettina Barnes. Both of these actresses gave quite admirable performances and take the roles to heart as the vixen of the beach (Rivera) and the movie star who wants to be an actress (Keefer). Vocal choices and mannerisms drive these characters home nicely to help move the story along.

John Benoit as Kanaka, a little older and King of the Beach, is believable and has the surf tone down pat. He gives a confident performance if a bit scripted, at times, but that’s more the script itself rather than Benoit’s performance choices. Meanwhile, Andy Fleming takes on the role of Star Cat, the medical school drop-out who might have more to offer than he thinks and he plays the role with a self-assurance that is befitting of the part.

Character-wise, the cute-as-a-couple-of-buttons David Brasinston as Yo-Yo and Rex Anderson as Provoloney have to be my favorite. Did I mention the shorts? I did? I’ll say no more about it then. Brasinston and Anderson make a perfect comic team and exude a certain innocence and naivete that is spot on for these young coming-of-age characters. They play their homo-erotic subplot to the T and are hilarious in the process with their asides and quiet background interactions. The seem comfortable in these roles and look like they’re having a blast which, in turn, makes their characters even more lovable and helps the audience have just as much of a good time as they are. Kudos to these two for brilliant, funny performances.

Kathryn Falcone as Mrs. Forrest is impressive as the uptight, 50s/60s mother who seemingly only wants what’s best for her daughter and may or may not have a sordid past. Her character is already an anomaly for being a single mother in the time period but she plays it to the hilt. Mrs. Forrest does go through a comical, complex transition but Falcone plays it seamlessly giving an authentic performance and she is absolutely dedicated to the role.

Though the entire ensemble gives commendable performances, a couple of highlights of this production are June Keating as Berdine and Christine Demuth as Chicklet.

The Cast of Psycho Beach Party. Credit: StillPointe Theatre.

Keating shines as the good-goody, nerdy, but extremely intelligent Berdine portraying this character with a gentleness and purity that makes you root for her. Her subtle facial expressions and movements make her performance natural and totally believable. She’s a joy to watch and I hope to see more from Ms. Keating in the future.

As Chicklet, the most complex character in this piece, Demuth delves into this character and, for as kooky as Chicklet is, Demuth doesn’t play it too absurd and finds a good balance between camp and sincerity. Her transition from personality to personality is flawless (and quite comical, at times) and she has a great comprehension of this loony girl. Her dedication and commitment to this role make her performance a highlight to this production and a treat to experience.

Final thought… Psycho Beach Party at StillPointe Theatre is a fun, nostalgic, and comedic romp through an era when Frankie and Annette ruled the waves… in the movies, anyway, and everyone wanted to be a hep cat or a cool chick. StillPointe Theatre has managed to embody and represent this era in their intimate space with a colorful set design, authentic costumes, and, overall, a well put together production. The script is quirky and a little zany, but the cast is committed and give their all making for an enjoyable evening of theatre. If the crazy Baltimore weather is getting you down, check out Psycho Beach Party and join the grooviest kids in town for some fun in the sun!

This is what I thought of StillPointe Theater’s production of Psycho Beach Party… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Psycho Beach Party will play through June 16 at StillPointe Theatre, 1825 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MDFor more information or tickets, log on to stillpointetheatre.com or purchase them online.

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