Review: Clue the Musical at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

 

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

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

Hasheem Brin as Mr. Green. Credit: Artistic Synergy

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

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

Rick Long as Colonel Mustard. Credit: Artistic Synergy

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

Wayne Ivusich as Professor Plumb. Credit: Artistic Synergy

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

Stacey Cosden as The Detective. Credit: Artistic Synergy

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

Olivia Winter as Miss Scarlet. Credit: Artistic Synergy

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

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

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

Ashley Gerhardt as Mrs. Peacock. Credit: Artistic Synergy

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

Ciahna Heck as Mrs. White. Credit: Artistic Synergy

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

James Gilbert as Mr. Boddy. Credit: Artistic Synergy

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: 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.