Review: Clue the Musical at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

 

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

You may be familiar with the board game of who killed someone with what and where, or you may be familiar with the 1985 slapstick, farcical, star-studded comedy film with a script I can recite in my sleep. Either way, if you know either of these things, you’re familiar with something known as Clue! And if you’re not, you should be! You can start with Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s latest offering, Clue the Musical (Book by Peter De Pietro and Music by Galen Blum, Wayne Barker, and Vinnie Martucci, with Lyrics by Tom Chiodo), Directed by Nickolas Epps, with Music Direction by Jeff Baker, and Choreography by Temple Forston. It’s worth mentioning, if you are an uber-fan of the film, like I am, you will not see any of that here, but you will see the same zany characters and will be in for an amusing evening of an original story and music that may or may not help you solve this musical murder-mystery!

Hasheem Brin as Mr. Green. Credit: Artistic Synergy

Set Design by Nickolas Epps, Emma Hawthron, and Temple Forston is minimal but suits this production. A few chairs, a makeshift bar, a small desk, a rickety table that I think is supposed to represent a pool table, and a printed backdrop of the layout of the mansion is all that dons the stage and, though a little more effort could have been put into the design, it works well for this piece and the space.

Temple Forston takes on the duties of Choreographer and, this too is minimal. Some box steps and hand gestures make up the majority of the choreography and I’m wondering if the musical numbers would have been better suited to blocking rather than choreography. None of the choreography really stood out but, to her credit, Forston does give the actors simple, but appropriate moves and it blends well with the performance though it could be tightened up a bit.

Rick Long as Colonel Mustard. Credit: Artistic Synergy

Though a Costume Designer is not listed in the program, Epps states in his Director’s Note that along with having the opportunity to direct for the first time, this is also his hand in Costume Design. The costumes, I must say, are top notch and near perfect for each character. Each has his or her own, individual style and the costumes bring these characters to life. From Miss Scarlet’s slinky red dress to Mrs. White’s authentic, traditional maid outfit the costumes are impressive and kudos to Epps for his handy-work.

Wayne Ivusich as Professor Plumb. Credit: Artistic Synergy

Music Director Jeff Baker, a veteran of the Baltimore theatre scene who does great work did seem to have his challenges in this production. First, this production uses canned (recorded) music and it only features the piano. Running through the sound system, it sounds “tinny” at times but the cast does a fantastic job following along. Vocally, the cast does an admirable job with the songs given to them, even if the songs are a bit blasé and elementary (the songs themselves, not the performances of the songs). Harmonies come and go and energy is a bit low but, again, it’s mainly the material and not the performances. Aside from a few missed lyrics, the cast get through the score and Baker did the best he could with the material given to him.

Stacey Cosden as The Detective. Credit: Artistic Synergy

Director Nickolas Epps takes the reigns of this production of Clue the Musical and as a first time director, Epps does a commendable showing and the missteps taken will be ironed out with experience. This particular show doesn’t call for a ton of blocking but there seems to be nil to none in this production. Actors enter, they stand center stage (or elsewhere), recite their lines, and exit. Though one has to pay attention to the dialogue, the scenes fell a bit flat because of lack of movement to make it interesting. The individual character work is good and each actor found his or her own twist on these well-known characters. Transitions were a little messy and the comedic timing is a bit off but those are things that can be fixed as the run moves along. Casting is near perfect and each actor fit nicely and believably into his or her character. I respect Epps for taking on a full-fledged musical as his first foray into directing and I understand it can be overwhelming. However, Epps, with the minor first-time Director stumbles, seems to have handled it well.

Olivia Winter as Miss Scarlet. Credit: Artistic Synergy

It’s always difficult to portray such well-known characters and the characters of Clue the Musical are quite well-known. This is mostly because of the 1987 film and not necessarily the board game, and this makes it even more difficult for an actor. However, the ensemble for this piece is a small one and each and every one of them give 100% to their performances. They are a dedicated bunch and make the most of their characters giving some strong portrayals.

Hasheem Brin takes on the role of the conniving Mr. Green and though he is scripted and seems a little uncomfortable and scripted at times, he gives a respectable performance and Olivia Winter, as Miss Scarlet, definitely has the look and mannerisms down pat. Meanwhile, Stacy Cosden takes on the role of the no-nonsense Detective (a rather new character to the Clue universe), who shows up toward the end of Act I. Cosden is confident and seems to understand her character, giving a commendable performance.

Colonel Mustard and Professor Plum are portrayed by Rick Long and Wayne Ivusich, respectably. These two gentlemen are well cast and completely embody these characters. Long, as Col. Mustard, is committed and rigid, as the character should be and has a great look for the role. Ivusich, as Professor Plumb, wholly becomes this scheming, pretentious gentlemen and his British accent is spot on. Both give delightful performances.

Ashley Gerhardt as Mrs. Peacock. Credit: Artistic Synergy

As the promiscuous Miss Scarlet, Olivia Winter is a perfect match for this character and she gives a strength and confidence to this role. With her slinky red dress, she doesn’t over-do the promiscuity and actually portrays Miss Scarlet with a certain amount of vulnerability making for a lovely portrayal. Ashly Gerhardt tackles the portrayal of my favorite character, Mrs. Peacock. Gerhardt takes this role and runs with it. She’s not trying to be a carbon-copy of the film version of Mrs. Peacock and she adds her own flair which makes for a superb performance. Vocally, Gerhardt is stunning and gives a kick to the rather uninteresting songs as in her featured number, “Once a Widow.”

Ciahna Heck as Mrs. White. Credit: Artistic Synergy

Rounding out the cast is James Gilbert as Mr. Boddy and Ciahna Heck as Mrs. White, two highlights of this production. Gilbert has a great command of the stage and gives a confident and authentic performance as the character who helps the audience along throughout. He could cut some of the adlibbing and asides that break his character and become somewhat annoying, but he has a great grasp of his character and is believable. Vocally, Gilbert has a smooth bass/baritone that resonates throughout the theatre and makes one take notice as in numbers like “The Game” and “The Murder.”

James Gilbert as Mr. Boddy. Credit: Artistic Synergy

Ciahna Heck knocks it out of the ballpark as Mrs. White. Her British/cockney accent is on point and one can tell she’s giving her all for this role. She has a stupendous command of the stage and is very natural making for a superior performance. Along with her character, Heck is a standout, vocally, with a strong soprano (and singing in accent) that is well fitting in her featured song “Life is a Bowl of Pits.”

Overall, the entire ensemble has a good chemistry, allowing them to work well off of each other and with each other making for a pleasing evening of comedy-murder-mystery theatre.

Final thought… Clue the Musical is NOT my favorite show of the season but not because of the performers or performances… just the show itself! It is a humorous and nostalgic presentation of a familiar board game I spent hours playing as a child. However, if you are a fan of the 1985 film (of which I DEFINITELY am), you’ll see the characters have the same names, but you won’t see any of those rib-tickling one liners or crazy characters that made the film a cult classic. Clue the Musical takes these sinister characters and gives them a comical turn with upbeat songs and convoluted situations that leaves the audience scratching their heads until the ultimate reveal at the end of the evening. The script is a bit trite, the canned music is traditional and a bit uninspiring, but the performances are dedicated and quite admirable. I wonder… will you be able to figure out whodunit?

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

Clue the Musical will play through September 17 at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 8212 Philadelphia Road, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door or purchase them online.

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Review: Fiddler on the Roof at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

Tradition is what keeps things together for some people but there are folks who thrive on change. Tradition and Change certainly make strange bedfellows and Third Wall Production‘s lates offering, the classic Fiddler on the Roof, Directed by Lance Bankerd, with Music Direction by Edward Berlett, Choreography by Kali Baklor, Set Design by Jordan Hollett and Costume Design by Sally Kahn, takes us back to the early part of the 20th century and gives us the tale of a poor, Russian milkman struggling with and trying to balance his traditions and radical, new ideas of a new era.

I have to admit, I had serious reservations when I walked into the theatre and realized Director Lance Bankerd is putting Fiddler on the Roof – a big show – in an intimate space and in the round! Well, as soon as the first number started, though it was a bit tight with such a massive cast, it actually worked and it worked quite well!

Set Designer Jordan Hollett manages to give the audience a full musical theatre experience with set pieces and backdrops rather than full sets and it seems less tedious and just as effective. The story is told with benches and tables with a few “fancy” pieces such as a spinning bed and required wedding canopy. Kudos toe Hollett for his inventive design and intelligent use of space. Also worth mentioning is the painting of the large backdrops by Artists Ann Pallank, Amy Rudai, and Emma Hawthorn, adding great value to the space and the production as a whole.

Sally Kahn’s Costume Design is on point and her choices for this ensemble fir the bill of a poor Eastern European village in the early 20th century. Her attention to detail is commendable as this piece is not only somewhat of a period piece but also a cultural piece dealing with rules and restrictions of the Jewish religion that Kahn seems to understand and wardrobes her actors as such.

Kali Baklor takes on double-duty as both Choreographer and tacking the whirlwind role of Fruma-Sarah, the dead wife of the town butcher. Balkor’s choreography work is impressive and befitting for the piece and her ensemble. The space is intimate so there isn’t a ton of room for her large cast, but she uses what space she does have wisely with minimal but interesting and entertaining choreography. Along with keeping the cast in step, her take on the loud, obnoxious Fruma-Sarah is high-energy, confident and quite admirable.

Music Director Edward Berlett has this ensemble sounding beautiful in each number and his work with actors in the featured numbers is apparent as they run smoothly and sound splendid. I do regret the orchestra has no recognition in the program because they sound absolutely phenomenal. Taking up almost a third of the space, they were not overwhelming and blended in nicely with the ensemble making for a very pleasant sound. Featured musician, violinist Jonathan Goram is a gem in this impressive orchestra as he didn’t falter once during his solos making for an sensational performance. Kudos to the pit orchestra for a job well done and, hopefully, you’ll all get an insert in the program before the production is over!

Direction by Lance Bankerd is innovative and well-thought out, presenting this traditional musical in an nontraditional space. The space is tight, and the attempt of audience immersion from some of the cast is a little much, but some people enjoy that sort of thing and, overall, it was a joyous experience. There are a few curious casting choices, in appearance only, such as some characters who are younger than others actually looking older, but, all in all, it’s a very well put-together production. Fiddler on the Roof is A LOT of show and Bankerd has managed to keep the action moving and his cast kept the pace nicely. Major kudos to Lance Bankerd on a superb job with this piece.

Emma Hawthorn takes a turn as Yente, the matchmaker and pulls off the part nicely. This role is more of a comic relief and has a lot of the funny lines, but Hawthorn’s timing is a bit off on some of the jokes that could have been gold. Overall, however, she gives a fine performance and she understands the important role (after all, there’s an entire song in her honor!). She leads the attempt to bring the audience into the action with asides and interactions and seems successful in her attempts.

Michelle Hosier tackles the supernatural role of Grandma Tzeitel, who Tevye claims comes to him in a dream and she is delightful. She has a beautiful, strong soprano that is featured in “The Dream” and she’s comfortable and confident in the role.

Michael Zellhofer takes on the role of Lazar Wolf and his performance is top notch. He has a strong stage presence and makes this role his own and plays it confidently with a balance of drama and brilliant comedic timing.

Taking on the roles of eldest daughter Tzeitel and her unintended beau, Motel, the tailor are Lauren DeSha and Daniel Plante. From the moment DeSha steps onto the stage, she is a joy to watch. She gives a natural, comfortable performance, both in the portrayal of her character and vocally, and she has great chemistry with her fellow cast mates, espeically with Plante, her character’s love interest. The two give a believable performance and though Plante may not give the strongest vocal performance, but he is certainly giving 100% effort making for a commendable and confident performance.

Next up, Mea C. Holloway tackles the role of Hodel, the second eldest daughter and Joe Weinhoffer as portrays her counterpart, Perchik, the Student from Kiev. Aside from looking a bit older than the actress playing her older sister, Holloway gives a brilliant performance, vocally, but her portrayal of Hodel, though admirable, fell just a little flat. Weinhoffer’s interpretation of Perchik is spot on and his confidence and charisma shines through in his performance. Though he sounds a bit scripted, at times, his a clear, smooth, resonating voice fits the character near perfectly.

Alex Clasing who plays Chava, the third eldest daughter, is a definite standout in this production and her performance is a pleasure to watch. Vocally, she has a strong, clear voice that makes one take notice, even in the group numbers like “Matchmaker” and her acting chops are on point. Clasing portrays Chava naturally and authenticly and works easily with her cast mates. Her performance is one to watch in this piece and I’m looking forward to seeing more from this young actor.

Jenifer Grundy-Hollett as Golde is a treat and she gives this role 100%. Her comedic timing is spot on and she really grasps her character, making wise choices and making Golde a realistic mother and wife.  Her lovely soprano shines through, vocally, especially in numbers like “Do You Love Me?” and “Sunrise, Sunset.” She does play the part with a heavy hint of New York City in both accent and attitude but she still pulls the part off authentically and works well with all her cast mates.

Baltimore theatre veteran Roger Schulman as Tevye is the highlight of this production and he leads this ensemble with ease. Tevye is a traditional, yet jovial character and Schulman embodies these attributes superbly. His performance of Tevye’s signature “If I Were a Rich Man” is a joy to watch and Schulman refreshingly makes it his own. His overall delivery is natural and he makes the audience feel welcome and at home. He presents the subtle transition of his character seamlessly but with certainty and his presentation of Tevye’s evolution and growth is what knocks this performance out of the ball park.

Final thought…Fiddler on the Roof is usually a show that people love or hate. Rarely is there an in between but this production at Third Wall Productions is a creative, innovative presentation of this classic Broadway show. I had my reservations with it being in-the-round, at first, but this production did not disappoint. The intimate space was a bit cramped for the large cast and the attempt of audience immersion was a bit much, but overall, Third Wall Productions can chalk this one up as a bona fide success. The gifted ensemble and orchestra is a joy to watch and hear and the outstanding performances of these talented players should not be missed.

This is what I thought of Third Wall Productions’ production of Fiddler on the Roof… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Fiddler on the Roof will play through February 26 at Third Wall Productions, 5801 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 443-838-4064 or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com 

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Review: Superior Donuts at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes with one 10 minute intermission

Ed Higgins and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Ed Higgins and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

In these crazy times since the election and recent swearing in of the new President of the United States, whether we want to admit it or not, there are definite divisions between races, political though, and fundamental beliefs. That being said, Third Wall Productions latest offer, Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts, Directed by Grant Myers with Set Design by Jordan Hollett, Light and Sound Design by Jim Shomo, and Costume Design by Grant Myers, gives us a story of how people from different walks of life and beliefs can actually grow to understand each other and get along even though those differences are still present.

Michael Zollhofer, J. Purnell Hargrove, and Tracy Grimes. Stasia Steuart Photography

Michael Zollhofer, J. Purnell Hargrove, and Tracy Grimes. Stasia Steuart Photography

Superior Donuts, a local donut shop in downtown Chicago, isn’t much to look at but it is a respectable business owned by Arthur Przybyszewski (played by Ed Higgins) and is frequented by two beat cops (Tracy Grimes and J. Purnell Hargrove), a bag lady (Emma Hawthorn), and the Russian businessman, Max) who runs the DVD shop next door (Michael Zellhofer). These characters, all from different walks of life, make up a delightful and diverse group of people who seem to care about Superior Donuts more than its proprietor until Franco Wicks (played by Isaiah Evans) enters, looking for a job. The older, white Arthur and younger African-American Franco have their differences, of course, but find common ground with the donut shop and actually grow to care about each other. The subplot of Franco’s past is intriguing and puts Arthur’s friendship to the test, which he passes with flying colors. The show doesn’t provide a lot of laughs or the happiest of endings (but I wouldn’t say it was a sad ending either), but it tells an important story.

Bill Brisbee and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Bill Brisbee and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Among the talented ensemble, there are a few standout performances such as Isaiah Evans, as Franco, who gives a confident, authentic performance that makes his character very likable. His moves about with purpose and connects with his fellow actors and the audience making for a stellar performance.

Adding the only comedy to the piece are Michael Zellhofer and Emma Hawthorn who play their characters to the hilt. Zellhofer’s performance as Max Tarasov is commanding and believable and his skill in playing the character straight without working to hard for the laughs his character garners is brilliant. Emma Hawthorn as Lady, the friendly neighborhood bag lady, is outstanding in her role playing it with both humor and a touch of poignancy that really makes you feel for her.

Emma Hawthorn and Ed Higgins. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Emma Hawthorn and Ed Higgins. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Ed Higgins tackles the role of Superior Donuts sole proprietor Arthur Pryzbyszewski and through he gives an admirable performance, it’s a bit shaky and unsure, at times. He has great chemistry with the rest of the ensemble, especially Isaiah Evans, and he carries the character well, albeit a bit monotone, notably during the out-of-nowhere monologues directed toward the audience. Aside from those minor observations, overall, he gives a commendable performance.

Emma Hawthorn as Lady. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Emma Hawthorn as Lady. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

The rest of the talented ensemble hold their own and add value to this production. Tracy Grimes and J. Purnell Hargrove as Officers Randy Osteen and James Bailey, respectively, are charming as the beat cops and friends of Arthur, adding a bit of romance with Officer Randy and old Arthur. Bill Brisbee as Luther Flynn, the tough bookie could play the part a bit more intimidating but he has Chip Willett as Kevin Magee, Flynn’s goon, to pick up the gruff slack. Even William Zellhofer’s Russian is impressive in his brief appearance.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quaint set that was absolutely stellar and very befitting of this piece. Simple, yet detailed, Jordan Hollet’s design is authentic and well thought-out, putting the audience right smack dab in the middle of an old fashioned donut shop, adding an immersive feel to the entire production. Going along with the Set Design, Jim Shomo’s Light and Sound Design is minimal, at best, but to no real fault of Shomo. There really isn’t a lot going on with lights or sound but, then again, when it comes to plays, sometimes minimal is best. There’s not really a need for any fancy light show or sound so, in a way, it fits nicely. It’s interesting to note that it was decided to not use any music for this production, as well, but the use of music might have set the mood better for the scenes and helped with smoother transitions, which were a bit bungled.

The Cast of Superior Donuts. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

The Cast of Superior Donuts. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Director Grant Myers made some curious choices while taking the helm of this production. The transitions were a little unkempt, the frequent breaking of the fourth wall from one of the main characters seemed to come out of nowhere, and a certain fight scene was difficult in such an intimate space, but, overall, despite a some other minor issues, the piece is charming and, as a whole, is very good and well put together. It gets the point across that, with a little trying, anybody can get along, despite their differences. The ensemble gives a commendable performance and they all have great chemistry and work well together.

Final thought…in this time of uncertain race relations and division in current events, Superior Donuts at Third Wall Productions is a light but through-provoking piece expressing how different generations and races can come together in friendship and love. There’s an old adage that “it takes all kinds” and this production demonstrates this very well with its beautifully diverse ensemble who works well together to tell this important story.

This is what I thought of Third Wall Productions’ production of Superior DonutsWhat did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Superior Donuts will play through January 29 at Third Wall Productions, 5801 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, go to thirdwall.org for information or purchase them online.

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