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: The Last Five Years at Stillpointe Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission

Disclaimer: This production of The Last Five Years at Stillpointe Theatre is presented with two casts. I was only able to experience one cast and will be reviewing the cast I saw – Cast B, I believe (though my program stated I was seeing Cast A), consisting of Danny Bertaux as Jamie and Jessica Bennett as Cathy.

Jessica Bennet & Danny Bertaux as Cathy & Jamie. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Baltimore has some pretty awesome theatre going on right now in intimate and larger theatre across this charming city, but in this particular go-round, Stillpointe Theatre‘s latest offering, The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown, Directed by Darius K. McKeiver, with Music Direction by Ben Shaver, Set Design by Ryan Haase, Costume Design by Heather Jackson, and Lighting Design by Adrienne Gieszl is superlative and is definitely a bit of theatre you do not want to miss.

The Last Five Years is about a five-year relationship between Jamie, a young, brilliant author and Cathy, an actress waiting for her break. It tells the story in an interesting way messing with the chronology as Cathy tells the story from end to beginning and Jamie’s story is from beginning to end. The two characters don’t interact much except for a song representing their wedding smack dab in the middle when the timelines actually intersect.

Jessica Bennet & Danny Bertaux as Cathy & Jamie. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

After seeing a couple of shows at Stillpointe Theatre, I’m impressed with their unique space. It’s intimate, but it works for their purposes and Set Design by Ryan Haase has not disappointed yet. He really knows this space and his design is exceptional for this production. He uses what space he has wisely and his modern and minimalist approach adds great value to this piece. Blending nicely with Adrienne Gieszl’s subtle but intelligent Lighting Design, the set is a character of its own. There are two upper levels on either side add variety (and a place for actors to change wardrobe, if need be). Most of the space is taken up by the orchestra, and a few chairs and an old upright piano accompany the actors, along with a few odds and end along the perimeter of the stage, but that’s all this piece needs and Haase doesn’t overdo it with clutter. Once again, major kudos goes to Ryan Haase who has given us another innovative, creative, and modern design to tell a story.

Jessica Bennet & Danny Bertaux play Cathy & Jamie. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Keeping with the modern/present day setting, Costume Design by Heather Jackson is smart and appropriate and does not hinder the action but helps it along. Both actors look comfortable in their wardrobe and each costume is fitting of whichever scene it accompanies. Some may think it can’t be difficult to costume a present-day piece, but, it’s a little harder than you think. There are many points to consider such as what is going on in the scene or what kind of personality does the character have? Jackson seems to understand her characters and has worked nicely with her actors to give an excellent Costume Design.

Please indulge me and let me take a moment to dote over Music Direction by Ben Shaver and the exceptional orchestra for this beautiful piece. Shave just got it. He had his cast sounding on point throughout the entire piece and his orchestra, whom he conducted as well, was just a superb. He understands this music and he got the maximum performance out of his actors. The orchestra, consisting of Ben Shaver on Piano, Trevor Shipley on Guitar, Cody Raum on Bass (standup bass, mind you), Livy Amouruso on Violin, and the dashing Steven Bainbridge on Cello fills the space with Jason Robert Brown’s music and are impeccably balanced with the actors, not drowning them out, but not holding back, either. They are well rehearsed and didn’t miss one single cue that I caught, anyway. It is an absolute pleasure to hear these folks in action.

Danny Bertaux as Jamie and Jessica Bennet as Cathy. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Director Darius K. McKeiver does an outstanding job in telling this story. It’s clear he understands the material and he keeps it relatable and simple for the audience while still keeping the complexity of the situation apparent. His casting choices are creative and non-traditional using an interracial cast (and an all female cast) which is refreshing for a piece like this which is usually cast with a Caucasian man and woman, not to say that wouldn’t have been just as effective, but non-traditional casting is usually a pleasant surprise and it definitely worked for this piece. McKeiver keeps the action moving and the pace of this piece is flawless. There isn’t an intermission, but I didn’t even notice because the piece moved along so nicely. McKeiver has a good grasp on these characters and his guidance for this well-thought out and well put-together production is excellent.

Danny Bertaux & Jessica Bennet as Jamie & Cathy. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

As Jamie, Danny Bertaux knocks it out of the ballpark with this one. He grasps the character nicely and comprehends his objectives and runs with it. Bertaux has such a big presence on the stage, he seems to overdo it at first, but the space is intimate, so it just seems that way so he balances out his performance as the piece progresses. The role of Jamie has its challenges, but Bertaux meets every one of them confidently and gives a stellar performance. Vocally, he is a powerhouse, filling the entire space with a rich tone and impressive range and it’s a joy to watch and listen to him in this production.

Jessica Bennet & Danny Bertaux as Cathy & Jamie. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Taking on the role of Cathy, Jessica Bennett is exquisite. I was enthralled from the first beautiful note that came out of this woman’s mouth. She’s comfortable in this role and has a great command of the stage. She gives a strong, stand out vocal performance and her interpretation of each song is authentic and exudes emotion without going too far. I could feel Bennet’s pain or happiness in each of her numbers and she brings me into her performance, embodying this character of Cathy. It is a privilege to experience her solid performance.

Understanding the nature of this piece, Bertaux and Bennet actually don’t have much close interaction aside from a song or two in the middle of this piece. That being said, they both do such a fantastic job with their character and the material, I can feel their connection every moment from beginning to end, which is a feat as the characters are on different timelines and have a lot of solo work. The superb handling of this piece is a credit to these two actors.

Final thought… It is not my intention to over pander to this production but a good production is a good production and The Last Five Years is a show that needs to go to the top of your list of shows to see this season. It’s some of the best theatre happening in Baltimore at the moment and it’s a poignant, emotion-filled piece that is presented beautifully with an insanely talented cast and a superb orchestra to back them up. It is a minimal but complete and immersive production that is easy to relate and connect with and will touch you deeply. Get your tickets while they last.

This is what I thought of Stillpointe Theatre’s production of The Last Five Years… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The Last Five Years will play through March 25 at Stillpointe Theatre, 1825 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD. For information or tickets log on to stillpointetheatre.com or purchase them here.

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Review: Murder Ballad at StillPointe Theatre @ The Ottobar

 

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By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 1 hours and 10 minutes with no intermission

Art can happen anywhere at any time and StillPointe Theatre has proven that with their latest offering, Murder Ballad with Book & Lyrics by Julia Jordan and Music & Lyrics by Juliana Nash. Directed by Corey Hennessy and Co-Directed by Amanda J. Rife with Music Direction by Nick Jewett, Murder Ballad is a voyeuristic peek into a juicy, dark love triangle in an edgy setting of which one would be hard pressed to look away!

Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

First, the setting of this production is like none I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing and it was a joyous experience. The action takes place in the upstairs bar of The Ottobar and it couldn’t be a better setting. The performance has a very casual, fringe feeling too it and could be considered performance art, but whatever you consider it, the setting sets an appropriate mood. Researching the piece, I discovered that it was, in fact, written for just this type of setting but The Ottobar, a Baltimore institution for live, local music, was familiar and comfortable, putting me instantly at ease for this completely immersive production. The booming bass from the live bands playing downstairs added to the realism of just sitting in a crowded bar watching the drama unfold between three poor souls in the city and I was set in the mood of curious excitement.

The Ottobar. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

The Ottobar. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

The setting being what it is, there’s not much in the way of set, lights, and sound but, it absolutely worked for this production. There was some special lighting and a few props but the Production/Design team of Ryan Haase, Corey Hennessey, Zoe Kanter, and Danielle Robinette didn’t seem to have much to do but their choice of the upstairs bar at The Ottobar is brilliant. The bar itself compliments the performance and, though this piece might work on a traditional stage, I wouldn’t have wanted to experience it any other way. Since the upstairs bar at The Ottobar isn’t huge, the actors were able to use just about every inch of the space without much trouble. The band was set off in one of the corners and they aren’t hidden, but exposed in all their glory and were apart of the setting and a welcome addition.

To mention sound, the balance between the actors and the band could use a little more work as the actors microphones were set very low. When the Murder Ballad band started it was challenging to hear what the actors were singing but when the local bands downstairs started, it was almost impossible, but the blocking of the piece helped a little, putting the actors closer to the audience members throughout.

Murder Ballad is a sung-through piece and it’s worth mentioning the score by Juliana Nash is exhilarating with a modern rock feel that had me tapping my foot throughout the performance. Reminiscent of the music of the guitar heavy 90s, I thoroughly enjoyed this well-befitting score.

The Murder Ballad Band. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

The Murder Ballad Band. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Speaking of the music, I have to mention the terrific band for Murder Ballad consisting of Nick Jewett on Guitar, who also put on the hat of Music Director, Cody Raum on Bass, Trevor Shipley on Keys, and Joe Pipkin on Drums. These guys were on point and on key through the entire performance and the use of electric drums was wise as it kept everything very well balanced. Kudos to these talented players!

Co-directors Corey Hennessey and Amanda J. Rife do a fantastic job of transferring this piece to this unique setting, not disrupting the original set up of the bar. They keep their actors moving around, keeping the action interesting and purposeful. There is a slow-motion fight scene during a pivotal point in the piece but since the space is so intimate, it seems a bit trite and doesn’t work as well as it would on a more traditional stage. Regardless, Hennessey and Rife use their space cleverly and give us an entertaining and meaningful show.

Moira Horowitz as Michael. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Moira Horowitz as Michael. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Cleverly, the actors performances begin well before actual show time. They actually begin the moment the first patron walks through the door and it’s fun to watch these four characters interact as I settled into my seat and waited for the actual show to start. The gender-blind casting worked wonderfully with this piece and did not hinder the story at all, but complimented the story. The actors didn’t put a masculine or feminine spin on their characters but simply played them as human beings.

Corey Hennessey as Narrator. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Corey Hennessey as Narrator. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Aside from co-directing, Corey Hennessey tackles the role of the Narrator (a part originally played by a female) with a strong presence and just enough creepiness to make one shudder when he is near. This character is very similar to the omnipotent Master of Ceremonies (MC) character in Cabaret – a more traditional musical – as he is ever-present and lurks in the shadows, just watching. Hennessey starts out strong with a strong voice and sets the mood for the entire piece with an edginess that is very appropriate for this character. However, as the show progresses, his performance falls a little flat as the only feeling I get from him is “I’m-irritated-and-I-don’t-care-about-these-idiots”. The only emotion he seems to emote is that of disdain. Rolling eyes and grimaces can only take this character so far, but if he isn’t interested and irritated with these characters, why should I worry about them? Vocally, his performance is good, but he does have some issues with the notes in the higher register. Overall, with few issues, he gives a strong and confident performance.

Moira Horowitz takes on the role of Michael, the stand-up, feet-on-the-ground provider who falls for the wild city girl. Horowitz does a fine job portraying this character and seems to understand the inner pain of this character. Thankfully, Horowitz does not try to play this character as a man, but simply as a person struggling to understand his partner and the relationship in which he is involved. Vocally, she is delicate when needed and strong when needed and holds her own very well.

Amber Wood as Tom and Sarah Heiderman as Sara. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Amber Wood as Tom and Sarah Heiderman as Sara. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Taking on the role of Tom, the downtown bad boy, is Amber Wood who gives the part a realistic feel as she navigates through the desperation and wanting of this character who let “the one” slip through his fingers only to find her again, years later. Wood has the appropriate look and is quite comfortable in this role and has a good command of the “stage.” She, too, does not try to play this part as a man, but simply as non-gender specific person in the middle of a love triangle and she plays it with ease. She easily finds her way through the score with rock-style vocals and gives a very enjoyable performance.

Moira Horowitz as Michael and Sarah Heiderman as Sara. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Moira Horowitz as Michael and Sarah Heiderman as Sara. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

The highlight in this production is Sarah Heiderman as Sara, the bad-downtown-girl turned good-uptown-mother. Her performance is nearly flawless and confident as she has a very strong command of the the stage. She has a big voice and is comfortable with the score giving a idyllic performance. Her character’s transition is seamless and her inner conflict is expressed beautifully in her gestures and facial expressions. She really understands her character and, what’s more, her characters change and portrays it beautifully. She is a joy to watch and I look forward to seeing her future work.

Final thought… Murder Ballad is a strong, modern piece about love in the big city as well as finding and losing “the one.” It’s a meaningful piece with a well thought-out, relatable story and a fantastic rock score. The setting and immersion is worth the price of admission and the experience is riveting! If you don’t mind that the fourth wall is broken and if you’re into fringe-type theatre, this is the show for you! Go check it out! It’s an experience not to be missed!

This is what I thought of this production of Murder Ballad.… what do you think?

Murder Ballad will play through September 17 at StillPointe Theatre @ The Ottobar (upstairs), 2549 N Howard Street, Baltimore, MD 21218. Tickets are available for purchase at the door or purchase them online.