Review: Little Women the Musical at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission

Cast of Little Women the Musical. Credit: Karen Osborn, House of Bankerd

This season, I’ve seen more Victorian age stories brought to the stage than I’ve seen in my entire life (only about three, but still) and, I’m not a huge fan of this era with its stuffy clothes and attention to the particulars of etiquette and all that jazz but, I have to say, aside from the style (with which all the Costume Designers did impeccable work), I actually enjoyed to the stories being told. Thus is the case with Third Wall Productions’ latest production, Little Women the Musical with Book by Allan Knee, Music by Jason Howland, and Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, based on the novel by Lousia May Alcott. This production is Directed by Christine Thomas with Music Direction by Eliza van Kan, Set Design by Jordan Hollett, and Costume Design by Lisa Ann Dickinson and makes for a charming evening of relatable and enjoyable musical theatre.

Set Design by regular Third Wall Productions designer Jordan Hollet is massive, to say the least. Well, for the space at Third Wall Productions, it’s massive. With essentially four different scene settings, an outdoor garden, a living room, an attic, and a small parlor room, Hollet has managed to cleverly fit all of this in the space provided him. The one level design works quite well, with an elevated attic area, but there are spots in the audience where the action is not easily seen. However, that being said, it’s really the nature of the beast with spaces like this and of no real fault to the designer. Just note that the phrase, “Not a bad seat in the house” does not apply here as there are a few seats that aren’t ideal. Overall, the set design is innovative and creative and helps the story along very nicely and keeps the action interesting.

Grace Dillon, Mea Holloway, Lizzy Jackson, Maggie Flanigan, and J. Purnell Hargrove. Credit: Karen Osborn, House of Bankerd

Lisa Ann Dickson, with the help of House of Bankerd gives us an on point Costume Design for this piece. As stated, this is a Victorian era story and the wardrobe may be just as important as the story itself and Dickson knocks it out of the ballpark with this one. The attention to detail and style are exquisite and seem to be tailor made for each performer. Dickinson and House of Bankerd are to be commended for the fantastic Costume Design of this piece.

I admit I was expecting a different type of score walking into this as I had never experienced Little Women the Musical before but I was pleasantly surprised. The music for this piece is quite contemporary and entertaining and is allowed to shine under Music Direction by Eliza van Kan. The ensemble has a very good, strong sound and seems to make easy work of this score. It’s worth mentioning the pit orchestra for this piece gives a polished, accomplished performance as well. Though the orchestra may have drowned out the cast, at times, and weren’t as tight as they usually are (here and there), they still give a very good showing in this production.

Christine Thomas not only plays Marmee March in this production, but she also takes the helm of it and her vision for this piece is apparent as she brings the story of the March girls to the stage. She keeps the action moving and seems to really grasp the story of these ladies – some who are traditional for their time and some who are forward thinkers. She understands the relationship between these sisters and the different stories going on in this piece and presents them beautifully though, the link between the characters is a little weak and the chemistry is there, but at times seems as though the actors are just going through the motions. Regardless, the entire ensemble works well together and creates Thomas’ vision nicely and the solo moments are absolutely lovely. As Marmee March, she is a vocal powerhouse. She has a strong, clean vocal style and commands the stage with every note in her solos “Here Alone” and “Days of Plenty.” Her portrayal as the matriarch of four daughters is admirable and she seems quite comfortable in the role.

Producer Mike Zellhoffer steps onto the stage as the seemingly curmudgeon neighbor, Mr. Laurence, and Patricia Brunker takes on the role of the actual curmudgeon Aunt March. Both Zellhoffer and Brunker give commendable, authentic performances complimenting the story and the other characters while helping move the story forward. Brunker gives a terrific vocal performance and totally embodies the character of Aunt March and all her stuffiness, while Zellhoffer transitions nicely from stern to kind in his wonderful character work.

Grace Dillon, Mea Holloway, Lizzy Jackson, Maggie Flanigan, and J. Purnell Hargrove. Credit: Karen Osborn, House of Bankerd

Purnell Hargrove takes on the role of the amiable Laurie Laurence, quite literally the boy next door and close friend to the March sisters. Hargrove gives a committed and confident performance and has good chemistry with his cast mates. He looks like he’s having a blast up on the stage and, in his featured numbers “Take a Chance on Me” and “Five Forever,” he seems to be pushing his upper range, vocally, but still gives a commendable showing.

Taking on the role of the youngest sister, Amy March, Lizzy Jackson has a good comprehension of this character and plays her well, though, at times, is a bit scripted in her delivery. However, that being said, she nails the demeanor and personality of this character and plays the transition of Amy March beautifully.

Maggie Flanigan tackles the role of the eldest sister, Meg March, and does so with gusto. She works well with her fellow actresses and her portrayal of Meg makes her a likeable character who’s just trying to find her own way in life with Mr. John Brooke, played by Andrew Pedrick. According to his bio, Pedrick is making his way back to the stage after a decade or so and though he’s quite natural, the character gets lost, sometimes, and I see Andrew Pedrick onstage rather than John Brooke. However, as soon as Pedrick opens his mouth to sing as in his featured number “More Than I Am,” a duet with the able Maggie Flanigan, it’s pure art. He has a smooth, resonating tone and I found myself putting down my pen just to listen to him.

Patricia Brunker and Grace Dillon. Credit: Karen Osborn, House of Bankerd

Daniel Plante takes on the role of Professor Bhaer, the serious and stern fellow boarder to Jo March at a New York City boarding house. Plante’s interpretation is spot on and authentic and though he decided not to use an accent (the character is German), it doesn’t hinder his performance in the least. Vocally, Plante has a unique sound and, technically, gives a superb performance of “How I Am” making for a strong performance overall.

Regular, Mea Holloway takes on the role of the gentle Beth March, the other middle sister who has a sweetness and saintliness about her that the other sisters don’t seem to have. Holloway plays this part to the hilt and impressively portrays the sweet nature of this character consistently throughout. She impeccably interprets her featured songs, “Off to Massachusetts” and the poignant “Some Things are Meant to Be” and she embodies this character wholly.

Grace Dillon as Jo March. Credit: Karen Osborn, House of Bankerd

Grace Dillon as Jo March couldn’t have been cast more perfectly. Dillon takes this role and runs with it, making it her own while sticking to the basics of this character of the exuberant, exciting, forward thinking, middle sister, Jo March. With high energy and a seemingly complete grasp of this character and her objectives, Dillon is authentic and confident in this part. She has a great command of the stage and, aside from her acting abilities, gives an outstanding vocal performance as well. As the evening progresses, she seems to pull back, but still gives powerful performances in songs such as “Astonishing” and “The Fire Within Me”. Kudos to Dillon for a job well done.

Final thought… Little Women the Musical at Third Wall Productions is an enjoyable and stimulating piece that this company executes wonderfully. The story is entertaining and relevant, concerning itself with the struggle of woman and the different choices different women make each day, even if they are cut from the same cloth. With strong female characters, the message of finding one’s own way and overcoming any obstacle is clear and apparent. With a fun score and a clever script, the story is easy to understand and the performances are top notch. Whether you’re familiar with the story or seeing it for the first time, Little Women the Musical will delight and entertain and is a production well worth its price of admission.

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

Little Women the Musical will play through May 21 at Third Wall Productions, 5801 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD 21206. For tickets, call 443-838-4064 or purchase them online.

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Review: Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

The cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

There are quite a few shows that are staples in small and community theatre and you will see them pop up weekly in small hamlets and big cities across this great country. Some shows are just so good they never get old and some, well… let’s just say they’re familiar and comfortable. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s latest offering, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, with Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lyrics by Tim Rice, is definitely in the category of never getting old, having been a continued success for nearly five decades. This production, Directed by Mike Zellhofer, with Music Direction by Edward Berlett, Choreogrpahy by Temple Fortson, Set Design by Jordan Hollett, Lighing Design by Jim Shomo, Sound Design by Charles Hirsch, and Costume Design by Lorelei Kahn, shows the ingenuity of a small theatre and manages to put on a well-crafted, fresh production of an old favorite.

The Cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The Cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Set Design by Jordan Hollett is far from extravagant and is quite subdued, but a simpler design works for this piece because a Director and Set Designer can create a traditional setting or more whimsical and it will still work. Depending on the theatre and the space, the Set Design for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat can be a spectacle, but Hollet has decided against this and has gone with a couple of panels on either side of the stage with crudely painted Egyptian and desert scenes and a large, blank white canvas that stretches across the back of the stage reflecting the very colorful light show that happens throughout the production. His set pieces such as a very cartoon-y camel (that looked fabulous, but had some technical trouble the day I saw this production) and a bulky “chariot of gold” work well with this production and do not take away from the story but add to it. Overall, Hollett’s work is minimal, but compliments the piece very nicely.

Lighting and Sound Design go hand in hand with this piece and where the set may be simply, Lighting Design by Jim Shomo is nothing short of a spectacle, in a good way. Shomo uses all the colors of the rainbow (at least all the colors mentioned in song) and lights the entire stage up like NYC’s famed night club Studio 54 in its hey-day. With what looked like state of the art equipment, the lighting is top notch. It’s worth mentioning there are a few heavy strobe effects that aren’t mentioned in the program or in the curtain speech, so, consider this a heads up! In general, Shomo has created a well thought-out design that adds great value to this piece.

Sound is always a challenge for a small theatre (especially in unique places such as church basements) but Charles Hirsch tackles this challenge with the resources he has at his disposal. The space at Artistic Synergy is intimate, not small, but intimate and when you throw a full orchestra right next to the audience, there are going to be some balancing issues. However, there weren’t as many as there could have been and the actors who had featured roles had microphones that made their performances easy to hear, so, Hirsch was able to find that balance to make for an enjoyable performance. One thing I will say is that this is a loud show. I mean more so than the usual loud of a live performance with a live orchestra. There are parts of this show that are downright rock-concert loud and in this space, they might want to pull back just a tad, but, overall, it’s a very nice balance.

Wayne Ivusich and Jim Gerhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Wayne Ivusich and Jim Gerhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Costume Design Lorelei Kahn is very fitting for this piece and many of the costumes are more of a suggestion of the setting rather than full blown costumes. The design is modern and traditional mixed and all of the actors seem very comfortable and everyone is uniform, which adds to the precise look of the piece. In a hometown homage, Jacob proudly displays his Baltimore Ravens jersey which went over very well with the audience in attendance. Joseph’s 11 brothers have a base costume of jeans, sandals, and different colored button down shirts and it’s a smart move because, for each scene, a costume piece is added or taken away depending on what is going on in the scene. The more traditional costumes, such as Egyptian guards, harem wives, and servants are all simple, but very effective and Kahn’s design is attentive and fitting for this production.

The Cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The Cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Choreography by Temple Fortson is tight and precise, for the most part, and the cast seems to be comfortable in every dance and, more importantly, they seem to be having a blast, thus, leading to the audience having a blast right along with them. The dances aren’t too complicated that the cast of varying experience can’t handle, but not too simple that they’re simply doing jazz squares in every number. Fortson’s choreography is high energy and full of variety, keeping the story interesting for both the ensemble and the audience, alike. Kudos to Fortson for her work on this piece.

Music Direction by Edward Berlett is superb as this ensemble and featured performers sounded well-rehearsed and confident in each number. The harmonies were present and the performances were tight, in general, and easy to understand. If you are familiar with the piece, you’ll be singing along (in your head, hopefully), and if you are not familiar, you will easily understand the vocals to follow along with the old biblical story. I must also mention the talent and impeccable sound of the live orchestra that took this production to a new level. I wish the names of the orchestra members were listed in the program (there could at least be an insert, these guys and gals are great!) because, just like Berlett is to be commended for his Music Direction, the orchestra deserves many kudos for their near flawless performance.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a sung-through show, meaning it’s all music, singing, and dancing with little to no script so, one could argue this type of show only needs a Music Director and Choreographer but there still needs to be a vision and Director Mike Zellhofer gives us a new look at this classic. Presenting an overall traditional staging, Zellhofer makes it fun for both the cast and the audience, and not taking the piece too seriously, but getting the story across smoothly with action that is easy to follow and not taking too much liberty and making it hokey, which is a danger when it comes to shows like this. Zellhofer seems to keep everything under control and crafts a very well-though out production that is a joy to watch.

The Brothers. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The Brothers. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Switching to the performance aspect of this production, I want to mention that the entire ensemble does a fantastic job moving this story along and it’s easy to see each cast member is fully dedicated to this piece and is giving his or her all making for a very successful production. The voices are strong, the choreography is tight, and the chemistry is great as everyone looks as they are having a stellar and fun time with each other which, in turn, makes it fun for the audience.

The roles of Jacob and Potiphar are taken on by Wayne Ivusich who seems to have a very good time with these roles and is comfortable and confident with his performance. He has a good command of the stage and, vocally, is fitting for these roles. He understands the humor in these characters and runs with it making for a strong performance.

Amy Rudai and Lisa Rigsby take on the roles of the Baker and Butler, respectively and they give very good showings as these characters. Traditionally, these characters are doubled and played by two of the brothers, but it was refreshing to see the gender-blind casting for these roles and these ladies pulled them off very nicely. Vocally, they could have been a little stronger, but overall, they gave admirable performances, holding their own against the “guys” and they seems to have a blast with these roles.

Of Joseph’s 11 brothers, there are a few featured roles with and Rueben, the eldest of the Children of Israel, played by Nick Ruth, is one of them. He performs the featured number “One More Angel in Heaven,” a fun country-western style song with a built in hoe-down in which the entire ensemble is dancing and singing about the demise of poor Joseph. Ruth does a commendable job with this number and though it is traditionally sung with a southern twang, his “Baltimore accent” is prominent, but it adds a certain charm to the performance. With a good command of the stage, Ruth gives a good showing and the number itself, is fun going from a slow and steady tempo to a high energy, upbeat tempo making for an pleasant performance.

Asher, portrayed by Bill Bisbee, is another brother who has a featured number called “Those Canaan Days,” in the style of a traditional french ballad. Bisbee does a fine job with the french accent and the other brothers give him fitting backup. Though a slower paced song, the ensemble does a great job keeping it interesting and funny. Vocally, Bisbee gives a strong performance and he’s confident and performs with ease.

Jim Fitzpatrick and Jim Gearhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Jim Fitzpatrick and Jim Gearhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Baltimore theatre veteran Jim Fitzpatrick tackles the role of the Elvis Presley impersonating Pharaoh and he tackles it with gusto. More than just a suggestion of the King of Rock and Roll, Fitzpatrick dons an entire Elvis Presley costume from the pompadour wig and large sunglasses down to the bell-bottomed jumpsuit and gives 100% to this role. His vocals are spot on and his performance is high-energy and he makes a superb showing.

Featured brother Zebulon is played by Joe Weinhoffer and though, usually performed by the brother playing Judah, Weinhoffer performs the featured Caribbean themed 11:00 number, “Benjamin’s Calypso,” with the purpose of defending a wrongly accused little brother, Benjamin. It’s easy to see Weinhoffer is having a delightful time performing this number and the ensemble enthusiastically backs him up. Vocally, he is strong and comfortably holds his own against the ensemble with a very good presence on the stage.

Joe Weinhoffer. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Joe Weinhoffer. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The Narrator is traditionally one of the only featured female roles and for this production at Artistic Synergy of baltimore, this role is split between Mea Holloway and Melissa Broy Fortson. At this particular performance, Mea Holloway takes on the role and though she does quite well, her performance isn’t without a few minor issues including lyrics and timing/cues. Also, at first appearance, with her darker makeup and frequent scowl, she’s a bit harsh looking for the usually jovial Narrator making her seem irritated and preoccupied and it affects her performance. At one point, because of the positioning of a speaker she became a headless storyteller as she was spotlighted from the neck down but her head disappeared behind the shadow of the said speaker – a simple blocking issue any experienced actor would have fixed immediately. Regardless of the minor issues, she has a strong, beautiful voice and, aside from the aforementioned timing/cue problems, she gives an admirable showing in this piece.

Joe Weinhoffer and Jim Gearhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Joe Weinhoffer and Jim Gearhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The titular role of Joseph, the lucky and favorite son of Jacob is portrayed nicely by Jim Gerhardt and he gives a strong, confident presentation. He makes the role his own and has a strong, clear voice to back up his performance. Though it is every actors responsibility and prerogative to make a role or song his or her own, occasionally, it’s wise to keep songs simple. In my experience in musical theatre, tenors love their money notes. How can they not? They feel good and they’re fun to sing. However, it is important to understand that every last note of every song does not have to be taken up an octave or harmonized to a higher note and, in this case, Gerhardt frequently toys with the melody and it loses that special something when it’s overdone. With that being said, his performance is absolutely commendable and he gives a fresh look at the character. His performance of “Any Dream Will Do” and “Close Every Door” (money note included) are very good and he is comfortable with this character and gives a strong, enjoyable performance.

Final though… Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore is community and small theatre at its finest. With familiar nods to our charming little town of Baltimore and some very talented folks, it’s definitely worth checking out. The ensemble is dedicated and gives 100% to the performance and everyone is having a great time on stage and with each other, making for a fun, upbeat, feel-good show that can be enjoyed by all.

That’s what I thought about Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, playing at Artisti Synergy of Baltimore… what did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will play through December 18 at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 8212 Philadelphia Road, Baltimore, MD. Tickets are available at the door (cash, check, or credit card) or purchase them online.