Review: Lucky Stiff at Silhouette Stages

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with one 20-minute intermission

Something funny’s going on and it’s happening at Silhouette Stages in Columbia with their latest offering, Lucky Stiff by Lynn Ahrens (Book and Lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (Music), with Direction by Conni Trump Ross, Music Direction by William Georg, Choreography by Tina DeSimone, Set Design by Douglas Thomas, and Costume Design by Linda Swan.

The Cast of Lucky Stiff. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Lucky Stiff is based on a 1983 novel by Michael Butterworth called The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo and is about a nobody English shoe salesman named Harry Witherspoon who lives an uneventful life in East Grinstead, England. He learns that his Uncle Anthony, from Atlantic City, USA has died (killed by his legally blind lover), and he stands to inherit $6 million. The catch is, Harry has to agree to take Uncle Anthony’s corpse on a whirlwind Monte Carlo all-expenses paid vacation or all the money goes to Uncle Anthony’s favorite charity, the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. Harry agrees and sets out to fulfill Uncle Anthony’s dying wish but while in Monte Carlo, he meets a very quirky cast of characters who have plans of their own for the $6 million.

Have a traditional proscenium (traditional) stage, Set Design by Douglas Thomas is innovative and creative. Thomas begins with a blank stage with black curtains and actually uses a quite minimal design using tri-flats to represent different settings that were easy to move and set up. Not once is the audience confused as to where a scene is taking place and use of easy-to-move set pieces, as well, adds to the production value. The attention to detail is impressive with specific bed sheets, glamorous gold table cloths, and representations of the inside of a plane passenger cabin and a public bus. Overall, Set Design was spot on and added great production value.

Doug Thomas, Andy Kolp, Rob Wall, & Neal Townsend. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Costume Design by Linda Swann is splendid as this piece musical/comedy theatre, so everything is a little over the top and it is set in present day. Each character has his or her own individual style and each actor’s wardrobe works well for his or her character. Swann gives us a well thought-out, detailed-oriented Costume Design that helps define these zany characters without making caricatures out of them. Working with characters who are stereotypes and even one or two with secret identities, Swann does a bang up job with her design for this production.

No musical would be complete without a little dancing and Choreography by Tina DeSimone is charming and entertaining. I can tell there are some strong dancers in this ensemble as well as some who aren’t as strong as others, but DeSimone really gets her cast and has modified her choreography (modified, NOT dumbed down) to suit her cast and that’s such an important talent for a choreographer to have. She adds in a good old fashioned kick-line (which always goes over well, like it or not) and has her cast moving comfortably on the stage as well as giving her more experienced dancers more challenging choreography to utilize and show of their talents. Kudos to DeSimone for her excellent efforts.

Rob Wall, Mike COrnell, Becca Hanauer, & Lisa Sharpe. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Music Direction was tackled by William Georg and even though this production used recorded or canned music, it is still executed beautifully. Georg has a vocally strong ensemble to work with anyway and in the opening number, “Something Funny’s Going On”, the power behind the vocals certainly makes the audience take notice and clearly announces this production is ready to begin. Georg mentioned that the system used for this production is more than just pushing a play and stop button, but more interactive and he actually controls cues and timing in the numbers which is quite impressive seeing as though he provides all of the sound effects required, as well. The cast sounds brilliant and, from where I was sitting, not one cue was missed so, major kudos to William Georg on his musical work.

Direction duties are tacked by Conni Trump Ross and she has put on a well-thought out, well put-together production. Her casting is top-notch and fitting and the pacing of this piece keeps it interesting and ending at an appropriate time. Ross seems to understand this piece and the story it tells, while keeping in mind the comedy that goes along with it. She doesn’t take the piece too seriously, but gets the important message across of taking that leap of faith once in a while and trying new things because you never know what can come of it. With Ross’ superb guidance, the ensemble is able thoroughly and seamlessly tell this crazy story.

This is definitely an ensemble piece and the entire ensemble knocks it out of the ballpark, making this an enjoyable, fun evening of theatre.

Todd Hochkeppel takes on a supporting role as Luigi Gaudi and his dedication and effort make for a strong, funny performance. This character is an observer, in the background, and popping up when least expected or when it’s least convenient and Hochkeppel takes this character and runs with it. His character choices, especially his movement, mannerism, and impeccable Mediterranean accent make for an upbeat and fantastic performance.

Don Patterson & Kristen Zwobot. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Don Patterson takes on the role of the neurotic, optometrist Vinnie DiRuzzio. Poor Vinnie, who also happens to be the brother of one of the women after Harry Witherspoon and the $6 million, is dragged into this story kicking and screaming but takes it all in stride. At first glance, Patterson seemed a little out of place, being a tad older than the rest of the “main” cast, but after a minute or two, that is forgotten and he fits right in with this crazy cast of characters. He seems to grasp the character of Vinnie and his neurotic tendencies and portrays him well. Patterson is comfortable in his role, is confident, and does a great job, vocally, with his numbers such as “The Telephone Song” and his duet “Rita’s Confession,” giving a strong, solid performance.

Featuring Alyssa Bell, Rob Wall, & Mike Cornell. Credit: Silhouette Stages

The beautiful Alyssa Bell takes on the role of the beautiful Dominique DuMonaco, a club singer who is “hired” to show harry a good time while he’s in Monte Carlo but ends up in a bit of a different arrangement by the end of the piece. Let me say that I am thoroughly impressed by the effort Bell gives to her character. She especially gives 100% to her solo number “Speaking French” and she is a joy to watch, tackling more challenging choreography while having to belt out a doozy of a song. Though the challenging choreography may have affected her vocal performance a bit, not allowing her to take a much needed breath in her song and belt it out as it should have been, she still does a stellar job with this part. She plays her character flawlessly with just enough “slinkiness” to make her sexy, but also enough naivety to make her innocent and likable. Her accent is commendable and, overall, she her performance is quite admirable.

Featuring Rob Wall & Mike Cornell. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Rob Wall is superb as Harry Witherspoon and really embodies this character making it his own. As the character in which this story revolves around, Wall holds his own and the responsibility quite well giving a strong, self-assured performance. His chemistry with the rest of the ensemble is effortless and helps make his character more authentic. He does a great job maneuvering Uncle Anthony (played brilliantly by a still and quiet Mike Cornell) around in a wheelchair and not crashing into everything up on the stage, which is actually a pretty impressive feat. I would like more volume from him during his songs but he does belt the high money notes, which is natural and, vocally, Wall is a dynamo, with his smooth bari-tenor voice resonating throughout the theatre. He understands his character and you can see the insecurities in the choices he makes onstage and within his face and mannerisms, making for a fine and praiseworthy performance.

Maddie Bohrer, a newcomer to Silhouette Stages, takes on the role of Annabel Glick, a straight-laced, no-nonsense representative from The Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn, just waiting for Harry Witherspoon to trip up, just once, so the $6 million can go to the dogs, instead. Bohrer is absolutely charming and sweet in this role and she plays it beautifully. Her transition from “all-business” to letting her hair down is smooth and effortless and her chemistry with Wall is brilliant. I wouldn’t necessarily consider Bohrer a coloratura soprano, but her voice is sweet and strong and it works perfectly for her character and, on side note, I’d love to see her wail in a rock-opera sometime, just to see what she can do! Her performance is robust  and on point and a joy to watch.

Mike Cornell & Kristen Zwobot. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Kristen Zwobot as Rita La Porta is a standout in this production. From the moment she steps on stage she is in character (the stereotype of a New Jersey gangster girlfriend) and she is consistent throughout the piece. Her comedic timing is spot on and it helps that she grasps the comedy and her character allowing her to have a good command of the stage. Her look, character choices, and use of a New Jersey-esque accent make for a funny, hearty performance. It’s worth mentioning that Zwobot is a bona fide vocal powerhouse. Her voice is strong and clear in numbers such as “Rita’s Confession” and “Funny Meeting You Here,” filling the entire theatre (and then some) making for an outstanding and memorable performance.

Final thought… Lucky Stiff is a fun, fast-paced farce that is sure to tickle your funny bone and have your toes tapping. The material from Ahrens & Flaherty is catchy and easy to listen to and the production is well-thought out and put-together. The entire ensemble is dedicated and gives 100% to their performance and they tell the story effectively. Make sure you add this to your list of things to see this season because you won’t be disappointed.

This is what I thought of Silhouette Stages’ production of Lucky Stiff… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Lucky Stiff will play through March 26 at Silhouette Stages, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-637-5289 or purchase them online.

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Review: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Heritage Players

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission

It’s been repeated through the ages – being a kid isn’t easy! If you can remember (and most of us can), the world is a completely different place for a kid and Heritage Players latest offering The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Directed by Ryan Geiger, with Music Direction by TJ Lukacsina and Robin Trenner and Choreography by Jose Reyes Teneza, takes us right back to that crazy time when changes in body, mind, and viewpoints were happening and every day was a struggle… then the bastards throw something like a spelling bee in the mix to pit us against each other!

Chip Tolentino (Charlie Roberts) at the mic as the rest of the cast looks on. Credit: Heritage Players

Chip Tolentino (Charlie Roberts) at the mic as the rest of the cast looks on. Credit: Heritage Players

Walking into the Rice Auditorium at Spring Grove is a treat! It’s bright, neat, and clean and it’s a space that lends itself nicely to community theatre! Ryan Geiger, who takes on double duty as Director and Set Designer uses the traditional setting (a school gymnasium) for this production and, liking traditional theatre as I do, I thought it worked very nicely. It was a minimal set but Geiger’s attention to detail is on point and large printouts of a scoreboard and sports banners are clever and give the set a neat, precise look. This is a unit set show with movable set pieces and every piece had a purpose and helped tell the story.

Lighting Design by TJ Lukacsina and Sound Design by Stuart Kazanow is appropriate and sets the mood for this quirky piece. Notably, there is a very neat effect concerning the Taj Mahal that is very clever and quite effective.

Sound is always a challenge for small theatres depending on the space and what the space is originally intended for. Kazanow’s Sound Design for this production is good, but seems a bit muted, slowing down the action onstage. Again, this could be because of venue and, overall, Lighting and Sound are respectable.

William Barfee explains his "Magic Foot" as the rest of the cast joins in. Credit: Heritage Players

William Barfee explains his “Magic Foot” as the rest of the cast joins in. Credit: Heritage Players

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is an eccentric kind of show where there’s a lot of music but it doesn’t call for a ton of choreography. However, Choreography by Jose Reyes Teneza fits in nicely. There are only a few big group numbers including “Magic Foot” and “Pandemonium” but the choreography is creative and tight and the cast seems to be having a great time with it.

Music Direction by TJ Lukacsina and Robin Trenner is impressive with great solo numbers and harmonic ensemble numbers that are on point and well-rehearsed. For being a fun, breezy show, Spelling Bee does, in fact, have some complex harmonies, but these were handled beautifully under the direction of Lukascsina and Trenner.

Going along with Music Direction, the orchestra is worth mentioning, giving a commendable performance with Robin Trenner on Piano, Ellie Whittenberger on Synthesizer, David Booth on Reeds, Ina O’Ryan and Juliana Torres on Cello, and Mykel Allison on Drums.

The spellers take center stage. Credit: Heritage Players

The spellers take center stage. Credit: Heritage Players

Taking on double duty as both a character in the production and Costume Designer, Stephen Foreman hit the nail on the head with these costumes. The costume design follows the original Broadway production’s scheme, for the most part, and his eye for detail is impressive. All of this actors seems comfortable in their wardrobe and the well though-out, meticulous costumes definitely add great value to this production.

Being a first time director has its own set of challenges but being a first time director for a musical is something entirely different. However, Director Ryan Geiger does a fantastic job with this piece, understanding its humor and its poignancy in a very balanced production. His casting is superb and his vision is clear, seeing life through the eyes of some very anxious, over-achieving kids in competition with each other and trying to discover themselves in the process. Kudos to Geiger for a job well done on his inaugural production as a director.

The cast. Credit: Heritage Players

The cast. Credit: Heritage Players

Moving into the performance aspect of this piece, I have to say the ensemble, as a whole, is outstanding. Audience participation is the name of the game for this show and the ensemble works with the participants brilliantly. The seemingly random audience members who are asked to participate in the bee seem to have a great time with this ensemble and the ensemble assures each audience member is at ease during the performance. The chemistry is crystal clear, the harmonies are flawless, and the dancing is tight and concise. Every one of these actors is giving 100% and seem to be having a blast onstage, which, in turn, brightens the mood of the audience.

Marcy Parks (Kristi Dixon) explains her many talents, backed up by the girls. Credit: Heritage Players

Marcy Parks (Kristi Dixon) explains her many talents, backed up by the girls. Credit: Heritage Players

Kirsti Dixon’s Macy Park is staunch and uptight, as the character calls and her number was upbeat and energetic. Though Dixon may have slight issues with the higher register of her number, “I Speak Six Languages,” her character is near perfect and she gives a strong, confident performance.

Matt Scheer tackles the role of Mitch Mahoney, the rough and tough, ex-con Comfort Counselor who’s job it is to give the kids a hug and juice box when they’ve been eliminated. Scheer plays the role as more of an 80s metal-head throwback rather than the original gruff, leather jacket and chains wearing character. Still, this character works nicely and he’s comfortable in the part and has a strong, booming voice for his number “Prayer for the Comfort Counselor” that is a fitting finale for the first act.

Logainne Schwartzandgrubinierre (Libby Burgess) tries to describe her strife as her dads discuss behind her. Credit: Heritage Players

Logainne Schwartzandgrubinierre (Libby Burgess) tries to describe her strife as her dads discuss behind her. Credit: Heritage Players

Logainne Schwartzangrubenierre, played by Libby Burgess, is an over-over-achiever pushed by parents who want what’s best for her, but might not see the burden it puts on her young, frail shoulders. Burgess tackles this role beautifully and her character is strong. The anxiousness and nervousness come out in her performance and she seems to really understand this poor kid. She’s comfortable on stage and has great chemistry with Zach Roth and Richard Greenslit, who play her two fathers.

Charlie Roberts takes on the role of Chip Tolentino, the “alpha male” of the group and the winner of last year’s Spelling Bee. Roberts certainly looks the part in his clean cut Boy Scouts uniform but his portrayal of Tolentino falls a bit flat. Overall, he did a fine job with his performance, choreography, and songs, but I want his character to be a little more forceful and less delicate. His featured numbers “Pandemonium” and “Chip’s Lament” was performed nicely, but may have been a little too high for his register. However, he’s confident and comfortable onstage and gives a commendable performance.

William Barfee, the obnoxious, know-it-all, and probably the keenest speller in the Bee, is played by Stephen Foreman who does a good job pulling this character together. His comedic timing is very good, though some of the jokes could be milked just a tad bit more as he tends to skim by them at times and, dare I say it, he could be just a bit more obnoxious as it’s what’s funny about this character. His number, “Magic Foot” is performed well and confidently and he seems comfortable and his look is spot on for this role.

Kristen Zwobot as Olive Ostrovsky. Credit: Heritage Players

Kristen Zwobot as Olive Ostrovsky. Credit: Heritage Players

Kristen Zwobot as Olive Ostrovsky is definitely reaching in for her inner child for this role. She’s believable in the role and captures the awkwardness of a young girl with separated parents who may be too smart for her own good. She seems to get this character and doesn’t play her with pity but with compassion. Her numbers, “My Friend the Dictionary” and “The I Love You Song” (a trio with Rachel Weir and Matt Scheer), are touching and she performs them well with a strong, confident voice.

Zach Roth as Leaf Coneybear. Credit: Heritage Players

Zach Roth as Leaf Coneybear. Credit: Heritage Players

Among the “child” characters, Zach Roth as Leaf Coneybear is definitely a highlight. His character is different from the other characters in that he’s really in it for the fun, not the competition. His innocence and naiveté makes you feel for him and root for him and he pulls the character off with ease. He’s comfortable in the role and his comedic timing is top-notch. He keeps his character interesting and makes a connection with the audience. Kudos to Roth for an admirable performance.

Rachel Weir portrays Rona Lisa Peretti, one of the three adult characters in this show and one of the moderators of the Bee as well as a former winner. Weir is also a highlight in this production in this role as she embodies this character heart and soul. It isn’t hard to believe this woman is a adamant fan of spelling and of spelling bees and that, deep down, she does care for this kids and wants them to succeed because she had been in their shoes at one time. Weir has an absolutely beautiful voice that resonates throughout the auditorium in songs such as her “Favorite Moment” songs throughout the production explaining how the bee actually works. She acts this character flawlessly and has a strong confident presence making her a joy to watch.

Richard Greenslit as Douglas Panch is the standout in this production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. As Douglas Panch, Greenslit has impeccable comedic timing and doesn’t take his character too seriously making for a phenomenal performance. He had me at stitches with his delivery of some of the definitions and sentences for some of the words in the bee. His chemistry with his cast mates is excellent and he seems to have a grasp on the purpose of this character which makes him quite believable in this role. He’s comfortable with a very strong stage presence and gives a performance that knocks it out of the park.

Matt Scheer as Mitch Mahoney and the Cast. Credit: Heritage Players

Matt Scheer as Mitch Mahoney and the Cast. Credit: Heritage Players

Final thought… The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Heritage Players is an entertaining and funny show to which mostly everyone can relate. We’ve all had that crazy time in life where changes were happening and things we don’t find so important today were life or death situations. It’s easy to relate to these characters and see a little of ourselves in each of them. If you want a fun show to check out, get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Heritage Players production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will play through November 20 at The Heritage Players, Rice Auditorium at Spring Grove Hospital Center, 55 Wade Avenue, Catonsville, MD. For Tickets, email heritageplayerslive@gmail.com or purchase them online.