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: Psycho Beach Party at StillPointe Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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: Grey Gardens at Stillpointe Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15 minute intermission

Looking on the bright side isn’t something everyone can do. Not everyone can find joy in the face of adversity but in Stillpointe Theatre’s latest offering, Grey Gardens with Music & Lyrics by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie and Book by Doug Wright, shows us there are folks who can. Directed by Danielle Robinette and Ryan Haase, with Music Direction by Ben Shaver, Choreography by Lauren Spencer-Harris, Set Design by Ryan Haase, Costume Design by Kit Crescenzo, and Lighting Design by Adrienne Gieszl, Grey Gardens shows that there are people who can see the light at the end of a dark tunnel and survive even when the world has forgotten them.

The cast of Grey Gardens at Stillepoint Theatre. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

The cast of Grey Gardens at Stillepoint Theatre. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Some are very familiar with the Beale women and the documentary about an Easthampton mansion named Grey Gardens and some have never heard of such a place or this piece of Long Island history. I was introduced to the Beales a few years back when a very good friend described a 1970s documentary that I just had to watch about these two oddball recluses who lived in a dilapidated 28-room garbage and critter filled mansion with barely any utilities and engulfed in overgrown foliage in Easthampton among the well-maintained houses and lawns of the well-to-do and… I’ve been in love with these two oddballs ever since!

Co-Directors Danielle Robinette and Ryan Haase really captured the essence of this piece, which is survival and self-preservation, treating it dignity and respect. The relationship between this mother/daughter duo was so complex, they managed to touch on all the nuances such as the co-dependency and even jealousy these women had for each other. Their casting is on point and the experiment of using two spaces to represent to different times is a bona fide success. There is such a vast difference between the settings and time of Act I and Act II, it totally makes sense to use two separate spaces.

Speaking of spaces, Ryan Haase’s Set Design is, in a word, impeccable. He never ceases to amaze me with his original designs and this production is no different. Aside from being in two different spaces, the contrast between Act I and Act II is absolute and really compliments the story of these two women, not to mention, the attention to detail in Act II which adds tremendous value to this already superb production.

Another impressive aspect of this production is the phenomenal musicians in the orchestra. this orchestra is spot on in every number and has a very polished, well-rehearsed sound. Music Diretor Ben Shaver not only did a splendid job with the onstage ensemble, he managed to get together a top notch band including himself on Piano, Joe Pipkin on Drums, Stacey Antoine on Reeds, Billy Scaletta on Keyboards, and Andrea Gibeck on Violin. Kudos to each every one of them for a job well done.

Christine Demuth as Little Edie and Bobby Libby as Joe Kennedy. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Christine Demuth as Little Edie and Bobby Libby as Joe Kennedy. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

I can’t overlook the Costume Design by Kit Crescenzo as they are spot on and authentic, adding realism to this production, especially in Act II where the costumes are near perfect matches to the wardrobe the women wore in the Maysles Brothers documentary.

Working in such unique spaces, Adrienne Gieszl has to be clever with her Lighting Design and it is absolutely appropriate and befitting to the piece, setting the mood for each scene and number subtly but surely.

The ensemble for this production is dedicated and gives a brilliant showing. Bobby Libby makes a great showing as Joe Kennedy with his booming, smooth voice and good grasp of the character while Barney Rinaldi has a great command of the stage and gives a confident performance as the Bouvier patriarch, Major Bouvier. Jon Kevin Lazarus tackles the role of Jerry and his interpretation of this character is absolutely endearing and just made me want to give him a big ol’ hug. Rounding out the ensemble is Terrance Flemming as Brooks and Brooks Jr. and Anne Murphy or Kate Kilner-Pontone as young Jackie Bouvier and Avagail Hulbert or Compton Little as young Lee Bouvier, all who give commendable performances. Also, I’d like to comment on the Choreography by Lauren Spencer-Harris that was absolutely appropriate for the piece adding great value to the piece as a whole.

Gould (Adam Cooley) at the piano and Big Edie (Zoe Kanter) signing as Jackie and Lee look on. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Gould (Adam Cooley) at the piano and Big Edie (Zoe Kanter) signing as Jackie and Lee look on. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Three actresses lead this exquisite ensemble in this journey through space and time and Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale is played flawlessly by Zoe Kanter (in Act I as a younger Big Edie) and Danielle Robinette (in Act II as the older Big Edie that was immortalized in the documentary). Both of these actresses seem to really have a grasp on this character as Kanter plays her as whispy and carefree who values family above all, regardless of if it’s falling apart or not, and desperately trying to hold on to her only remaining child so she won’t be alone. And though Kanter is a bit stiff in her performance at times, almost as if she’s thinking too hard, she belts out her songs with a resonating and beautiful belt and she gives a fantastic showing. It’s also worth mentioning the great chemistry with Adam Cooley, who plays Gould, Big Edie’s ever-faithful accompanist, confidant, and friend and gives an admirable performance with a flamboyancy and flair I imagine the real George “Gould” Strong would have been.

Playing the role of older Big Edie in Act II, Danielle Robinette, couldn’t have played it better. With a brilliant make up job aging her to fit her character and her slouched posture and limping that was consistent through her entire performance made for a believable showing. Vocally, Robinette gives an outstanding performance, especially with the touching and tender “Jerry Likes My Corn.” Playing a somewhat iconic character can be daunting but Robinette takes this role and makes it her own.

Christine Demuth as Little Edie. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Christine Demuth as Little Edie. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Last but certainly not least, there’s Christine Demuth who is the absolute highlight of this production. She embodies both a young Little Edie and the iconic older Little Edie from the iconic documentary, all the while, bringing her own interpretation into the character. Not only does she give an outstanding vocal performance, her acting chops are superb. The subtle but definite change in her character from Act I to Act II is seamless and she plays it to the hilt. The real Little Edie had a very distinctive accent (New England, for sure) and Demuth is on point. From the moment she steps onstage until the emotional “Winter in a Summer Town,” she had me hooked. Kudos to Miss Demuth on a stellar performance and I can’t wait to see more from her.

Final thought…Grey Gardens is poignant and compassionate look into the lives of two women time and everyone else seemed to have forgotten but who had the gumption to survive. Whether or not you are familiar with the original Maysles Brothers documentary, Grey Gardens, you will not be disappointed with this production. Stillpointe Theatre has managed to bring a fresh look and feel to this piece and is not only able to express the absolute quirkiness of the Beales with brilliant casting and set designs, but also the tenderness and tragedy of this overlooked piece of Americana. This is NOT an experience you want to miss this season. Get your tickets now!

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

Grey Gardens will play through February 4 at Stillpointe Theatre, 1825 N Charles Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, go to stillpointetheatre.com for more information or purchase them online.

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Theatre News! Stillpointe Theatre Expands to Include Mercury Theatre in Station North!

From Stillpointe Theatre for immediate release:

Last year, Stillpointe Theatre opened the doors on their new performance space in Station North, located at 1825 N. Charles Street, in the heart of Baltimore’s Art and Entertainment District. Within the past year, the company members of Sillpointe Theatre have strived to create fresh, exciting, accessible theatre for their Baltimore audiences.

As of October 1st, Stillpointe will not expand to include it’s neighboring building, the Mercury Theatre, located at 1823 N. Charles Street. The former sight of the Strand Theatre, and most recently, Baltimore Improv Group, will house productions for the 2017 season, and also be available for rental to local arts groups.

It is the hope of the Stillpointe Theatre Artistic Council to use the current space as a gallery/cabaret space that can be used for smaller performances, rehearsals, and private events, while the newly acquired space will be used primarily as a performance space, with new dressing rooms, storage, and office space also featured in the plans. Artistic Director, Ryan Haase, also spoke of the desire to install a double door in the wall separating the two spaces to create a more professional and streamlined flow for audience members and performers alike.

Performances for the 2017 season are being solidified, and any and all rental inquires may be made by contacting stillpoineti@gmail.com. The Stillpointe Theater is an ADA-accessible building, and does not discriminate in race, class, color, sex, or orientation when renting their facilities.

Check out the original article with photos HERE!

Review: Evil Dead the Musical at Red Branch Theatre Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

October is upon us and many of us are settling in for a month of scary movie nights, road trips to haunted attractions, decking our homes out with fake spider webs and carved pumpkins, and everything else that is Halloween. Autumn is my absolute favorite time of year and part of this affinity has to do with this frightening holiday! Red Branch Theatre Company‘s latest gory offering, Evil Dead the Musical, Directed and Choreographed by Jenny Male with Music Direction by Aaron Broderick is just what is needed to get the October festivities started and just hits the spooky spot!

Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

If you haven’t at least heard of the 1981 cult hit film Evil Dead and its subsequent sequels and reboots, you had to have been living under a rock for the last 35 years, but, seriously… its a campy horror classic that you should have on your list of films to see before you die. It’s so popular, premium cable network STARZ premiered a new TV show called Ash vs. Evil Dead, based on the film. Both this TV show and the original film star Bruce Campbell as Ash, the unlikely hero, who fights “deadites” to save the world , whether he likes it or not.

Red Branch Theatre Company brings this cult classic to the stage brilliantly and this is an experience you don’t want to miss!

Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Special Effects and Make up really drive this type of show and Hannah Fogler knocked it out of the park with her ingenuity and creativity. At its core, Evil Dead the Musical is a gory, blood-soaked supernatural tale and Fogler completely embraces this. There’s only so much blood and gore one can produce on the stage for a live performance (unless you’re a certain barber on Fleet Street), but Fogler manages to give us just the right amount without making it look too fake or hokey but enough to add value to the production and not take away from the other elements of the production. Zombies are all the rage these days and, if you are unfamiliar with Evil Dead, “deadites” are pretty much zombies and Fogler’s Make-Up Design clinches the look impeccably. With the help of masks, the transitions of the actors is flawless and the Special Effects and Makeup are certainly technical highlights of this production. You’ve been warned! If you’re squeamish, be prepared for the squirting blood and guts that accompany this brilliant piece.

Danny Bertaux as Scott, Sarah Goldstein as Cheryl, and Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Danny Bertaux as Scott, Sarah Goldstein as Cheryl, and Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Set Design by Ryan Haase is nothing short of superb, using levels, the appropriate cool, earthy, woodsy colors of an old, semi-abandoned cabin in the woods, easy entrances and exits to move the action along smoothly, and movable wall art (Yep! You read that correctly!). The space at Red Branch Theatre Company is already a great space for the productions they offer, but Haase has managed to completely turn this stage into the cabin where this crazy story takes place. His eye for detail is extraordinary and he utilizes his space wisely to match the challenges of the setting of this production. Kudos to Haase for his creative eye and smart set design.

Lighting Design by Lynn Joslin effectively captures the creepiness of the setting and set the mood with the dim lighting and use of strobe effects during certain points in the piece giving us a dark wood on a stormy night. Joslin’s design was very appropriate and provided added value to this production.

Angeleaza Anderson as Shelly, Benjamin Stoll as Ash, Sarah Goldstein as Cheryl, Danny Bertaux as Scott, and Carson Gregory as Linda. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Angeleaza Anderson as Shelly, Benjamin Stoll as Ash, Sarah Goldstein as Cheryl, Danny Bertaux as Scott, and Carson Gregory as Linda. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Costume Designer Andrew Malone did a very good job dressing his actors in costumes that are modern but have a nostalgic flair that’s absolutely fitting for this piece. The actors look very comfortable in their respective costumes and move about effortlessly. Notably, the character of Ash had an ensemble that near perfectly matched Bruce Campbell’s attire in the film and Malone is to be commended for his eye for detail.

Jenny Male tackles the double duty of Director and Choreographer and she does a phenomenal job. She takes this familiar, campy tale and transfers it to the stage flawlessly. She keeps the story moving and seems to understand the type of dark humor overflowing in this piece but keeps it together with clever blocking and a spot on casting. It’s challenging to take a piece of popular culture and present it in a new way but Male changes aspects of the story that have to be changed to update and/or fit the stage and keeps beloved aspects of the story intact for the die-hard fans of the original films. The balance is superb and make for a very successful production.

Cast of Evil Dead the Musical. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Cast of Evil Dead the Musical. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

The choreography is just about as campy as the show itself but it works perfectly! The cast seems to have a great time with the dance numbers and I had a great time watching them. They’re upbeat and energized, and just a bit chintzy when they need to be! Kudos to Jenny Male for a job well done.

Under the Music Direction of Aaron Broderick, this ensemble sounds amazing. The score is very good, but campy, but Broderick had this cast in harmony and on point with this piece. The style is modern but still very musical theatre and, as with choreography, the cast seems to have a blast while performing these songs and with songs with titles such as “What the Fuck Was That?” and “Do the Necronomicon”… how could one not have a great time?

Front (l-r) Carson Gregory as Linda, Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Back (l-r) Danny Bertaux as Scott, Angeleaza Anderson as Shelly, Sarah Goldstein as Cheryl. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Front (l-r) Carson Gregory as Linda, Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Back (l-r) Danny Bertaux as Scott, Angeleaza Anderson as Shelly, Sarah Goldstein as Cheryl. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Though there is what many would consider a main character (Ash), this is truly an ensemble piece and this entire ensemble has great chemistry and they all work well together. It’s a joy to watch them interact, play off of, and support each other, just as a tight-knit cast should.

Peter Boyer, Cole Watts, and Sarah Luckadoo bring up the “chorus” or ensemble of this cast, but that certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t essential to this piece.

Peter Boyer takes on the role of Jake and, though his character seemed a little out of place as a reliable hillbilly who happens to be wandering in the same woods as the abandoned cabin, he played the role well, giving 100% and his comedic timing was spot on. His number “Good Old Reliable Jake” seemed to be filler, to me, but he performed the number admirably.

Sarah Luckadoo and Peter Doyle. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Sarah Luckadoo and Peter Doyle. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Cole Watts portrays Ed, the submissive boyfriend of a much more assertive character who falls into an unfortunate situation, and though Watts doesn’t have a ton of stage time, his number “Bit Part Demon,” which pokes fun at the obligatory slaying of various demons in Evil Dead, is impressive and he keeps the energy up throughout the number.

Sarah Luckadoo rounds out the ensemble of this production and does a fine job as both living characters and inanimate objects such as a footbridge and she does it all with gusto and high energy. She manages to have fun with the camp and creates a very enjoyable performance.

Danny Bertaux as Scott and Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Danny Bertaux as Scott and Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

The five unfortunate friends who find themselves in the middle of this bloody, demonic story are Shelly, the ditzy, “loose woman,” played by Angeleaza Anderson (who plays a completely different, scholarly character named Annie, as well), Scotty, the bone-head best friend played by Danny Bertaux, Cheryl, this good girl, nerdy sister played by Sarah Goldstein, Linda, the hero’s girl, played by Carson Gregory, and our unlikely dashing hero, played by Benjamin Stoll.

Danny Bertaux, as Scotty, has a great command of the stage and is very comfortable in his role as the stereotypical “frat boy” looking for a good time in the woods with a girl he picked up only days before. Vocally, he does an impeccable job carrying the lower range and keeping in harmony with his fellow singers and he fills out the ensemble numbers very nicely. His character portrayal could have been reigned in a bit as, at times, it seems he’s trying too hard and going over the top, even for a campy piece. Overall, his performance is admirable and he’s giving his all which is fun to watch.

Benjamin Stoll as Ash, Angeleaza Anderson as Annie, Peter Doyle as Jake. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Benjamin Stoll as Ash, Angeleaza Anderson as Annie, Peter Doyle as Jake. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Angeleaza Anderson does a great job playing Shelly, the absolutely annoying counterpart to Danny Bertaux’s Scotty. She does such a good job, I found myself really irate with this person, waiting for her demise. Her performance of this character could have been pulled back a bit, as well, as it was a bit much, at times. Thankfully, Anderson picks up the role of Annie, the scientist and very intelligent daughter of the owner of the cabin, who comes to searching for her father. This character was much more likable, though matter-of-face, but her transition between the two characters was a complete switch displaying Anderson’s impressive acting chops. Her vocal performance was equally impressive, carrying the higher register and her number “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons” is entertaining and very enjoyable.

Danny Bertaux, Carson Gregory, and Peter Doyle. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Danny Bertaux, Carson Gregory, and Peter Doyle. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

As Linda, the hero’s girlfriend and loyal S-Mart employee, Carson Gregory takes on this role with the understanding that the character is not the dramatic, romantic lead and it works brilliantly! She’s comfortable on the stage and gives a strong performance. Her vocal abilities are apparent as she flawlessly sings through the heartwarming and humorous “Housewares Employee” that deals with the meeting and eventual relationship between Linda and Ash. Gregory is a confident and diligent performer that is an asset to this production.

One of the highlights of this production of Evil Dead the Musical is Sarah Goldstein who takes on the role of Cheryl, the good-girl of the group. Goldstein really embraces this character and gives her all to her performance. Her comedic timing is spot on and she plays her character straight, making the craziness of the situation even more humorous. She’s a very strong performer and is quite comfortable on the stage and in this role. Her numbers “They Won’t Let Us Leave” and “Look Who’s Evil Now” are fun to watch and she pulls them off confidently as these songs sit well in her vocal range. She’s another actor who takes on two different characters and the transition is superb. As one of the characters with a good amount of stage time, she doesn’t drop her character once, keeping it up throughout the entire piece. She’s definitely one to watch in this production.

Angeleaza Anderson as Annie and Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Angeleaza Anderson as Annie and Benjamin Stoll as Ash. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

This brings us to our handsome, humorous hero, Ash, played flawlessly by Benjamin Stoll. Stoll carries this production effortlessly and seems to understand the humor and tongue and cheek that accompanies this piece. His comedic timing is near perfect and his physical work is outstanding. Vocally, Stoll is a standout with a smooth, beautiful baritone-tenor that resonates through the theatre. It doesn’t hurt that he’s pretty easy on the eyes being cute as a button and dashing all at the same time! However, school girl crush aside, Stoll does an amazing job in this role. This character is so iconic, it’s quite challenging to take on the responsibility of keeping the character familiar but also bringing a fresh point of view. Stoll very impressively manages to make the character of Ash his own and not a second rate version of the genius of Bruce Campbell and it made his performance top notch. I’m looking forward to seeing Stoll’s work in the future.

Final thought… Evil Dead the Musical is a fun, bloody, and definitely campy show that certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s easy to see the performers are having a great time which results in the audience having a great time, as well. You don’t have to be familiar with the films to enjoy the show and if you are not familiar, it’s a great introduction and if you are familiar, this production has taken care not to mess too much with the themes and gags that made the films so successful and you’ll certainly be overcome with a feeling of nostalgia. Perfect for the Halloween season, you should add this show to your Fall “to do” calendar!

This is what I thought of this production of Evil Dead the Musical.… what do you think?

Evil Dead the Musical will play through October 29 at Red Branch Theatre Company, 9130-I Red Branch Road, Columbia MD 21045. For tickets, call the box office at 410-997-9352 or purchase them online.

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.