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First Date

By Other Voices Theatre

First Date (book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner) is a musical comedy depicting the perils and pitfalls of modern dating life in New York City. With only one location and a small cast it is surprising that this show has not been more of a regular feature on the local scene since its’ five month Broadway run ended in early 2014. That one location is the Skyline Lounge, an upscale restaurant and bar, and it is brought to life in rich detail by set designer, Lee Hebb. The props team have ensured a fully stocked bar as the center piece of the design complete with a flat screen TV neon sign. Front and center is a high top two seat table that is flanked at the edge of the stage by other restaurant tables. The walls are adorned with artwork paying homage to musical theatre and high above the bar is a silhouetted city skyline that comes to life when the lights change and the cut out windows glow with warm amber light.

The lighting design from Steve Knapp comes close to stealing the show as areas of the stage and actors are isolated with wonderful precision. The opening number, The One, has more cues than some other shows have in their entirety and we really feel like we are sharing the innermost thoughts with each of the cast members. Technically it’s a brilliantly executed opening to the show but it feels a little tentative vocally and it’s probably the one time in the production we wish the un mic’d singers would fill the space more.

Our three musicians, music director Jonas Dawson, along with John Maestri and Natalie Spehar, are hidden in the wing stage left. The live music is a highlight of the show with the band sounding imperious, despite only being a trio, while never overpowering the on stage performers. First Impressions introduces us to our protagonists, Aaron (Nicholas Cox) and Casey (Katherine Worley) who are meeting on a blind date. Cox portrays a nervous geeky charm that makes the character endearing and he gives a sweet vocal performance. Cox is not a powerhouse and that leaves us wanting more in some of his solo moments but in general the story telling nature of the songs allow his personality to the fore and in the later duets he is the perfect foil for his cast mates. Worley arrives in a striking red dress with a healthy dose of cynicism and eye rolls that is a good starting point for her first act arc.

Two other couples are sat at tables at either edge of the stage and they transition from extras to family, friends and exes as the story unfolds. Director Susan Thornton stages these moments seamlessly with the help of those lights and the pacing is terrific. Bailout Song #1 introduces us to Casey’s gay BFF as Man #2 (Thomas Bricker) is isolated stage right for a cell phone call to see if she needs saving from her date. Bricker plays the flamboyant attitude to the max and it is likely to be a performance that will divide opinion – for the phone calls (Bailout calls 2 & 3 follow later) put us in the loved it category. These moments are ludicrously over the top but they are joyously so. Later when the character actually comes to the bar (in a more real scenario) some of the mannerisms feel a little close to the line of what some could consider offensive.

The show really hits it’s comedic and vocal stride with The Girl for You as the Oy Vey’s resonate hilariously around the theatre as if we had a full choir before Bricker transforms into a (very white) rapper. The Awkward Pause features Man #1 (James Funkhouser) strumming on the acoustic guitar with wonderful sincerity and the earnestness displayed by the rest of the cast on this parody of Simon & Garfunkel’s Hello Darkness My Old Friend is the highlight of the night.

The World Wide Web is Forever sees the pace start to meander a little. This isn’t really a show that requires much traditional choreography but we would like a little more from the movement here. The flat screen TV suddenly feels a little over used and some of the earlier excellently implemented rules about when other characters are frozen / change role seem to become inconsistent (Funkhouser keeping on the green hat instead of it being used to indicate a switch in character being a prime example) The date isn’t going very well and Safer arrives just in time to keep us invested in its’ outcome. Worley gives a solid comedic performance but she feels truly at home when the material leads her in a more emotional direction and she really connects here with her acting and singing. The original production was performed without an intermission but this is a moment that gives the show heart and is a natural place to take the break.

The glue for much of the first act was Man #3 (Stacy Carroll) in her primary role as the waiter. Carroll has excellent comic timing and delivery and looks incredibly comfortable as she owns the stage for opening song of act two, I’d Order Love. Requesting her light from the booth and music from the band she delivers a rich, smooth vocal and exudes stage presence. It is difficult to justify why the role was not changed to make her character a woman. It likely would have required some minor adjustments but it is hard to see how this wouldn’t have been the right choice. The other women in the production are also vocal stand outs. Woman #2 (Tori Weaver) is full of wonderful little quirks as the ex-girlfriend Allison, while Woman #1 (Taylor Knapp) sings with a beautiful clarity that seems effortless on The Things I Never Said as Aaron’s Mother.

When the final scene moves outside of the bar we appreciate the white city skyline painted on the stage right wall as it helps us buy into the change of location. Cox and Worley deliver their best vocal of the night on Something that Will Last as they finally are able to let their real life connection (yes they are a couple according to the bios) inhabit their performance.

This is a high quality technical production working in great harmony with Thornton’s direction. Dawson has great voices to work with throughout the supporting cast to find some wonderful company moments while the additional round of applause for the band when the music ended after the curtain call was richly deserved.

We rate this show at $32 and with ticket prices at $22 a +$10 value rating. Tickets will likely be hard to come by. First Date continues at Other Voices Theatre until February 17th. https://www.othervoicestheatre.org/

A Chorus Line

By The Fredericktowne Players

Simple ideas are so often the best and the longevity of A Chorus Line’s original Broadway run and it’s continued relevance, including Broadway and West End revivals, are testament to that. If anything the formula of following the dreams of the many wanting to be the chosen few while we learn more about their personal backstory has been revitalized by the era of reality TV talent competitions using the same blueprint.

The set design for A Chorus Line is effectively preordained. A Marley covering the FCC stage and a wall of ballet mirrors (that rotate to form a solid black backdrop as required) are flanked at the rear of the stage on either side by a vertical bank of lights. Unfortunately this clean and crisp setting has to be cluttered on each downstage extremity to accommodate the band. The Fredericktowne Players commitment to quality live music, here under the excellent music direction of Matthew Dohm, is to be applauded but it causes issues with the balance between the band and actors that likely won’t be overcome unless the group finds a different home.

Any thoughts about the freezing temperatures outside are quickly forgotten as the production gets off to a red hot start with the anthem of every starving artist, I Hope I Get It. The director, Zach (Stephen Ward) and assistant, Laurie (Tracey Durr) – a gender switch from the original Larry – put the hopeful dancers to the test and it’s an incredible start to the show. Choreographer Laurie Newton has these dancers ready and the execution is terrific as the cast really bring it with everything elevated by the wonderful brass pieces in the band making this feel like the start of something big.

That makes the next 15 minutes of the show, all the more frustrating as director Christopher Berry can’t keep up the momentum. With the dancers on the line and Zach now a disembodied voice from the back of the house, the pace becomes glacial. This is largely due to the line delivery from Ward rhythmically fitting in between the staccato music. If the intent is to come across as cold or uncaring to help with the character arc – it doesn’t work – it just sounds disconnected from the material and drags the energy down.

The lighting issues of the show really begin to become apparent during And. As Bobby (Jack Dempsey) is telling us his colorful history we are suddenly transported into the head of other dancers on the line as they panic about what they could or should share with the director. These moments are crying out for intimate lighting with only the person whose thoughts we are hearing lit – instead we find ourselves scanning the line trying to discover which persons’ lips are moving. Becca Sears has no problem standing out in these early moments as the endearingly quirky Judy and you can’t help wanting her to succeed.

These lighting issues continue into At the Ballet as Newton’s decision to bring back some of the cut dancers doesn’t really work without the lighting to sell the dream like sequence. Vocally the song gets off to a little bit of a pitchy start but by the mid point Sheila (Nora Florez) Bebe (Emma Cooley) and Maggie (Julia Creutzer) combine beautifully with Dohm on the keyboard. Sing! allows Olivia Smith to show off her terrific character development as Kristine, the bundle of nervous energy who can’t sing. The duet with her husband, Al (Danny Santiago) is hugely fun and while the character Kristine might not be able to sing, Santiago’s beautifully rich tone is the standout male vocal in the cast and leaves us wishing by the end of the night he had a solo.

The 4 part montage that leads us into intermission is a little bit of a mixed bag. Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love features Mark (Ethan Ropp) hitting all the right comedic beats (as any story about Gonorrhea should) but then the production hits a major sound snag on Nothing as all of Diana’s (Ciara Hargrove) solo is lost due to mic failure and she cannot project enough to overcome the band. Gimme the Ball is a joyous outpouring to take us to intermission with the dancers in excellent synchronicity with Newton using the full depth of the space and Zachary Bryant spectacularly nailing back flips at the front of the stage.

The Music and the Mirror is the stand out moment of the night while also highlighting the shortcomings of the production. There is no real need to bring Zach down to the front of the house to talk to Cassie (Melanie Drummer) Despite a strong vocal performance, Drummer seems to be fighting her instinct to sing to the back of the house rather than to the director below her in the front row. Her dance though is spectacular as she feels every note from the band and completely owns the stage. Drummer’s simple red costume looks striking reflected in the mirrors and this could have been a truly transcendent moment if it had been lit correctly. Unfortunately, as is the case for much of the night, a true lighting design is passed over for a combination of two follow spots and the result with mirrors is unsurprisingly blinding light reflected into the audience.

Paul (Brian Dauglash) has one of the longest monologues in any musical as he opens up to the director about his past. Dauglash plays it truthfully and paces the emotional delivery patiently to draw us in to his story. It’s the highlight of an excellent overall performance. We are invested as an audience in this young man so his injury in The Tap Combination and the aftermath should be a poignant moment but the staging is such it really isn’t clear what has happened. A knee injury is the diagnosis but there is no drama created so the sudden seriousness of everyone just feels contrived and the whole section is buttoned by Paul being carried off with hands under the very body part that is supposedly hurt.

What I did for Love isn’t helped by those moments that preceded it but it is redemption for Hargrove as with her mic now working we hear what we were missing in the first act as she sings it very sweetly backed up by the company in fine voice. As the final cuts are made the quick costume change isn’t quite as quick as we would like but it’s worth the wait as it appears no expense was spared in nailing the signature gold costumes for the finale. The cast look spectacular as they take their final bows and as the line becomes a rotating circle it is really a triumphant moment.

There is a lot of talent in this production and the singing and dancing is at a consistently high level. Christopher Berry has overseen some fine character development in his actors but the show doesn’t move as swiftly as it should. The show represents good value for money but we could be talking about something in terms of ‘can’t miss’ without the lighting issues lowering the value of the show significantly.


The lighting had such an impact on the overall production we took the decision here to lower the director’s ‘Overall Vision’ score.

You can see how our scoring works here: https://theatretothepoint.com/scoring/

The Fredericktowne Players production of A Chorus Line continues until February 10th. http://ftptheater.com/Website/

Superior Donuts

By the Reston Community Players

Tracey Lett’s won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for his play August: Osage County and he quickly followed up that work with Superior Donuts. Despite receiving less critical acclaim (and a limited Broadway run) the play set in a donut shop in Chicago spawned a now canceled CBS sitcom of the same name and has become a popular choice for small professional and community theatres.

Maddie Modig’s donut shop set is functional, if a little sparse, and lacking in the extra detail that elevates one location shows to the next level. The view outside the shop window adds extra depth to our world but the painted backdrop is not convincing. The sound design is effectively one wind cue repeated every time the door to the shop is opened. Chicago is windy. Check.

The play centers around the relationship between donut shop owner Arthur Przybyszewski (Michael Karfen) an ageing white man who was a 60s radical, and Franco Wicks (Bryce Monroe) a young African American man looking for a job and with dreams of becoming a writer. Unfortunately it never quite feels like the pair of them are in the same play – Karfen feels like he’s in that sitcom version – and the audience at times is willing to provide an accompanying laughter track. The problem is this is a play with so many larger than life peripheral characters who add heightened comedic moments that it just isn’t needed from one of the main characters. The writing for Arthur is funny it doesn’t need to be played funny. Monroe, in contrast, is in a dramedy and is fresh, funny and honest and you can’t help but smile at some of the little character choices he makes.

The disconnect in styles between the leads is the major issue for director Seth Ghitelman and it’s one that the production really can’t overcome. Scenes are connected with soliloquies from Arthur but there doesn’t seem to be any justification for Karfen to find his way into Adam Konowe’s lighting apart from knowing that was where he was supposed to be. The impact of these personal moments is also lessened by the punch line driven approach of the character.

Tel Monks is pure pantomime as the Russian businessman, Max Tarasov, and in a more grounded production he would have been the ridiculous that we were willing to embrace. It’s a little too much here but there is no denying Monks’ comic timing. Mattie Cohan plays Officer Randy Osteen and is another to embrace the sitcom style with a highly affected Chicago accent that no-one else in the cast attempts.

The plot centers around the gambling debt of Franco but Monroe is the only one giving us a sense that we should really be invested in the seriousness of his predicament. This is hammered home by the stage fight (with two choreographers listed – Karen Schlumpf and Ian Claar) that is funny for all the wrong reasons. The action is far too ambitious and is brought all the way down to the apron of the stage so it’s clear just how safe the actors are being…

The performance of Bryce Monroe is the highlight of a production that is certainly lighthearted fun at times. At the heart of this script, however, is a genuine friendship that crosses race and generations and that feels unexplored here.

The ticket price is high for community theatre at $28 and on this occasion we cannot recommend it as value for money.

Superior Donuts continues at the Reston Community Center until February 2nd. https://restonplayers.org/

 

Equivocation

At Silver Spring Stage

Bill Cain’s play is a timely and playful exploration of propaganda and fake news as we are transported to early 17th century London. What would have happened if the Government had asked William Shagspeare (sic) to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot?

Set Designer, Bridgid Burge, has created a simple but flexible setting that features wooden beams in pleasing geometric shapes (surely inspired by one of our locations, the Globe Theatre) that allows director, Madeleine Smith, the canvas she needs to create her play(s) within a play.

Smith clearly understands this two sided space well as she uses the stages’ central pillar to anchor many of the scenes. The movement of her actors is skilled and always with intent – and the actors are certainly a skilled bunch without a weak link in the cast. Shag is played by Keith Cassidy and while his first act performance is fine enough he really comes into his own after the intermission once the material allows him to explore more of an emotional range. Gary Sullivan is at his finest when he embodies the physicality of Robert Cecil and this three hour production is always at it’s most sharp when Sullivan is driving the pace as the cold and calculating Secretary of State.

That pacing is not helped by the transitions (the awkward silences could so easily be avoided) which are the weak point of the production. Dylan Sullivan’s sound design features some beautiful music that really elevates some of the more poignant moments but the sound cues always feel too short, ending abruptly. If they had continued through the scene changes, combined with a little more connection to James Morrison’s lighting, the flow would have been so much more cohesive. This frustration is elevated because Smith manages the more difficult in scene changes deftly as the actors transition between locations and roles.

Nicholas Temple excels in these moments and his vulnerability in his portrayal of Tom Wintour really helps ground the show. Temple is a stand out of the first act but things go slightly awry with his attempted Scott (ish) accent once he takes on the crown of King James. With actors playing actors it would be so easy to over act with much of this material but Smith’s cast never fall into this trap and there is clearly respect for the writing and a truthfulness in the performances – particularly from Tom Howley, another with commanding stage presence.

There are some other issues with the production. The safety equipment for the hanging scenes is cumbersome and awkward to watch as the attempts to attach the noose correctly occur in full light (and we see the equipment on their slumped bodies after they are cut down) It would have been better to light it more dramatically and pull the other action downstage so as to not highlight the issue. The pace towards the end of the show is sloppy and borderline indulgent and while part of that is due to the writing the last 15 minutes could be tightened up considerably.

We can say, without equivocation, that this is a show worth seeing. It’s well costumed, the fight choreography is solid and above all the acting is at a consistently high level.

The ticket price is $25 but as you can see we rank this show at a $32 price point making it good value for money. You can see how our scoring works here https://theatretothepoint.com/scoring/

Equivocation continues at Sliver Spring Stage until February 2nd. http://www.ssstage.org/equivocation/

Review: Chicago

Chiacgo

Haze subtlety drifts in through the rafters of the Keegan theatre and as it catches the light it gives the impressive two- story set a quality that helps transport us back to the 1920s and prohibition era Chicago. Matthew J. Keenan’s design features 4 wooden staircases with both levels featuring vertical blinds that transform effectively into jail cells and allow the orchestra to perform unobtrusively.

And All That Jazz opens the show and while the choreography is well thought for this iconic number the execution of the company feels a little tentative. After Roxie Hart kills her lover we get the first look at the bold character choice of Maria Rizzo in Funny Honey. The song starts as a sweet ode to her husband, Amos (Michael Innocenti) before turning on a dime as she berates his stupidity when he tells the truth to the police. Roxie is often played with a hint of crazy but Rizzo plays the role completely unhinged and it’s a terrific choice as we believe she is capable of absolutely anything. Innocenti is the perfect foil for Rizzo as he captures all the naivety of his character in every line and each facial expression.

The lighting design of Jason Arnold is a real strength of the show (the overhead spot in particular used to striking effect) but the one small complaint comes in Cell Block Tango where the cells are just too dark. It’s a strong vocal from Jessica Bennett as Velma Kelly but the pacing of the spoken interludes drag and this isn’t quite the first act highlight it should be. The scene between Matron Mama Morton (Rikki Howie Lacewell) and Velma suffers from the same pacing issues and lack of connectivity to the dialogue with Bennett’s gaze when looking out too often at the front row when it should have been the back of the house.

Billy Flynn (Kurt Boehm) enters from center aisle of the audience and it feels like a slightly questionable choice from our co Directors (Susan Marie Rhea and Mark A. Rhea) and the moment isn’t helped by Boehm’s mic not working and that plays a part in All I Care About is Love falling flat. That is soon forgotten as Chris Rudy shows off his vocal range as Mary Sunshine on A Little Bit of Good and the best moment of the show follows as Roxy becomes Billy Flynn’s puppet for the press in We Both Reached for the Gun. Rizzo is transformed with stealthily applied rosy cheeks to take on a rag doll like appearance and Rachel Leigh Dolan’s choreography is a joy to watch.

The Conductor (Michael Kozemchak) introduces I Can’t Do it Alone as Velma realizes she needs Roxie and attempts to persuade her to become part of her act. Kozemchak never commands the stage in the role – to the point where it may be a choice – leaving us wanting a little more ‘showbiz’. Bennett’s vocal consistency during a highly energetic routine is commendable and the relationship between Velma and Roxie is always interesting to watch culminating in My Own Best Friend ending the first act on a strong note.

The orchestra is one of the stars of this production under Music Director / Conductor, Jake Null, and they start act two sounding at their best. Things are really moving now and I Know a Girl and Me and My Baby fly by before Amos has his moment with the ballad for the ignored, Mr. Cellophane. Innocenti sings it sweetly and it’s a nice moment but for the first time the staging and the limitations of the set start to make the story telling feel a little unimaginative. Razzle Dazzle pushes back against this notion with the levels used to maximum effect as the company performs a variety of circus acts. While the stage is framed beautifully the execution of the interesting choreography never quite reaches the heights we are hoping for and despite Boehm’s dancing ability he doesn’t bring enough charisma to the role.

Class showcases the best vocal for both Lacewell and Bennett as their voices blend to produce a real moment and the show builds towards a very strong finish musically. Rizzo and Bennett leave everything on the stage with their performance of Hot Honey Rag and it’s a rousing finale. This is another strong production from Keegan and while it falls short in some areas, Maria Rizzo’s take on Roxie is a performance that pushes the value of the show past its’ tickets price.

#tothepoint Rating: 75/100

You can view a full breakdown of the allocated points here.

Ticket Price: $45

Value Review: +$5

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $50 making it value. Chicago continues at The Keegan Theatre until April 14th.

Review: The Pillowman

The Pillowman

It is closing weekend for The Pillowman at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre in Frederick and the orientation of the quirky mainstage has been transformed into a thrust space for the current season. Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy takes place in a fictional police state and Todd Mazzie’s set transports us to an interrogation room with disconcertingly stained walls and the emergency exit stage door smartly used with a card swipe and lighting change as the only way in and out. Some of the other details of the environment feel a little under developed but it’s a convincing enough back drop.

We begin with Katurian (Steve Custer) being brought in for questioning by detectives Tupolski (J.D. Sivert) and Ariel (Joe Jalette). The early blocking by director Peter Wray seems overly concerned with the sight-line challenges of the new stage layout and the movement feels a little forced and unjustified. That plays its’ part in what is actually a very short first act, dragging a little. The dynamics just don’t quite work in the early going – Sivert gets all the required laughs but only dips a toe into exploring the darker side of his character and the stylized performance of Jalette isn’t sadistic enough to act as a counterpoint in the relationship. Custer is very natural in his delivery as he learns about his situation, testing his boundaries with his captors, and his moments of guttural anger are truly compelling. The issue comes when the emotion switches to fear and panic – like a singer going into their head voice from their chest voice. Custer lives in this vocal range too often and while he commits fully, a terrified whisper punctuated by one or two of these moments would have felt more authentic.

The second act gets under way with Katurian in storytelling mode. The Writer and the Brother is central to the plot but while Custer excels in the telling of the story we are left with the feeling there were more creative ways to visualize the tale than the slightly awkward presence of Ron Ward and Caitlyn Joy as the Mother and Father. There are striking moments however and that sets the mood for the scene between Katurian and his brother Michal (Sean Byrne) that is the strongest of the show. The character development between director and actors is on full display here as the tragic details of events past and present intertwine. Byrne is terrific as the ‘slow’ brother and while at times the performance is almost too subtle, his mannerisms are on the right side of a line which we would not want him to overstep. There are moments where Byrne’s smart choice to be uncomfortable with making eye contact with his brother backfire as he appears to be looking directly at the audience and it is enough to take us out of the moment.

The Little Jesus story starts the final act and the girl (Karli Cole) carries a worryingly large cross around the stage and despite one laugh out loud moment with Cole lip syncing to Custer’s dialogue (and the smart transformation as part of the set into a coffin) we are again left to wonder what might have been achieved with more left to the imagination.

We return to the original interrogation room and the chemistry between Custer and Jalette has much more spark to it from this point forwards. There is still a sense that Sivert is playing Tupolski a little too cute and there are moments during the telling of his story about a deaf Chinese boy where the racist choice of his character feels border line gratuitous. The brilliance of McDonagh’s writing and the twist in the tail (SIC) are slightly mishandled as new evidence is brought into the room (as we try and avoid spoilers) and is portrayed in the dream like fashion of earlier not the reality we have created. That is quickly forgotten, however, as in a powerful final scene Katurian stands at the front of the stage, Michal stands in the doorway and Ariel is frozen, bent over the desk. It’s beautifully staged, beautifully lit, and a moving end to the production.

#tothepoint Rating 66/100

You can view a full breakdown of the allocated points here.

Ticket Price: $20

Value Rating: +$12

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $32. The Pillowman continues at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre until March 11th.

Review: Company

Company

The Fredericktowne Players take on another Stephen Sondheim musical and as we take our seats at the JBK Theatre we are looking forward to some good Company. Set Designer, Morgan Southwell, has delivered a 70s style apartment dominated by a large couch and armchairs center stage. Behind this, either side of the front door, the walls are simple white frames allowing us to see the musicians behind. Visually this is a little distracting and the issue is magnified by the size of the orchestra (22 piece!)

Stage right features a convincing period kitchen with an outside terrace area further downstage. Director, Alex Prete, smartly establishes the apartment as an interchangeable home by having cast members rotate in through the kitchen door to speak on the phone as Bobby (Rennes Carbraugh) listens to his answerphone messages. Still, at times during the evening it can be confusing as to whose property we are in and something as simple as changing the color of the throw blanket on the couch would have helped constitute scene and location changes. Company introduces us to all of the people in Bobby’s life and the show is off to impressive vocal start as Music Director, Matt Dohm, has the harmonies on point. The large orchestra, however, is overpowering in the early going and Carbraugh feels like he’s fighting them – but concerns that this will be an ongoing issue are unfounded and balance is achieved.

Prete needs to drive the pace in the early exchanges as the dialogue between Bobby, Harry (Matt Kopp) and Sarah (Jessica Graber) really drags its’ feet. The conversation with David (Billy Lewis) and Jenny (Rachel Allnutt) is more natural and delivers some early laughs but there is still the sense that things are meandering along. We are introduced to the three women in Bobby’s life as April (Natasja Handy) Marta (Aly Julian) and Kathy (Jen Drake) perform You Could Drive a Person Crazy. It’s not the strongest vocal performance of the night and as the only choreographed number of the first act the execution is somewhat disappointing. Someone is Waiting gives us the first real opportunity to appreciate Carbraugh’s committed vocals but while he sings alone on stage about all the women in his life we’re left frustrated at the missed staging opportunities and the creative ways those women could have been incorporated into that story telling. This feeling spills over into Another Hundred People as a song about the hustle and bustle of New York life, inexplicably features Marta at the center of an empty stage. Aly Julian overcomes some early pitch issues to deliver a strong vocal but the lyrics are betraying the staging.

Robin Samek shines as the neurotic bride, Amy, and she dovetails perfectly with the calm nature of Paul (Luis Montes). Getting Married Today is the stand out number of the first act as Samek’s inner doubts spill out at breakneck pace while Montes shows off the terrific, rich nature of his voice. It’s a scene that is laugh out loud funny and ultimately moving. The strong performances continue as Carbraugh gives a stirring rendition of Marry Me a Little. Again he is left all alone center stage and while representing his solitude is important there are other more visually interesting ways to convey that.

Kendall Sigman delivers a much needed jolt of energy after the intermission with the choreography for What Would We Do Without You? Once more the execution is far from precise but it’s a creative routine and the fun the cast are having translates to the audience and makes it easier to forgive the technical deficiencies. Bobby brings April back to his apartment and to his bedroom and the bed that has been present and unused up to this point is finally justified. It would have helped the set (and the comedy of this moment) if the bed could have folded out from the wall for Poor Baby.

Downstage left has been transformed into a wine bar and Bobby and Joanne (Karen Harris) sit outside at a table. The kitchen area stage right is utilized as a dance floor with the disco lights at odds with the slow jazz of the score, while the middle of the stage is in semi darkness. Steve Knapp is given an almost impossible task to light this scene well and ultimately the dance floor did not need to be seen (just Imagined above the audience’s heads) which would enhanced the humor of Harris berating the dancers. Despite that, Ladies Who Lunch gives Harris the opportunity to leave absolutely everything on the stage (including the contents of her drink)

Being Alive starts with those familiar harmonies and the stage is framed beautifully for a photograph but what follows is another whole song of Carbraugh standing in his spotlight. It’s a rousing final vocal in an accomplished performance but the connection to the other people on the stage could and should have been explored far more. This is a solid production for the Fredericktowne Players as they continue to give opportunities to first time directors and their competitive ticket pricing makes this show value for money.

#tothepoint Rating: 58/100

You can view a full breakdown of the allocated points here.

Ticket Price: $15

Value Review: +$3

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $18. Company continues at FtP until February 4th. 

Review: Imogen

Imogen

Shakespeare’s Cymbeline was always the story of Princess Imogen and Pointless Theatre’s adaptation rightly makes her the headline act. The original title character, the puppet king, is reduced to a literal puppet on the hand of his new wife. That change in emphasis sees Imogen as part of DC’s Women’s Voices Theater Festival and while much of her journey feels relevant to be in that conversation (including her own #metoo moment)  the conclusion appears tone deaf by comparison.

The Dance Loft on 14th Street is the new home for Pointless Theatre and it features a twisted fairy-tale style backdrop by Patti Kalil. The design is simple but effectively combines a palatial feel with that of an enchanted forest while three main archways are covered with white sheets that along with some smartly designed panels in the walls allow the cast to enhance the story telling through silhouette and shadow puppetry.

As the story begins the world created for us through the costumes of Julie Cray Leong and the lighting design of Mary Keegan is visually captivating which offsets some of lack of accessibility of the Shakespearean language. Katelyn Manfre (Imogen) displays a familiarity with that language that allows her to connect with her arc from playful princess (in her wonderfully staged entrance) to a soldier on the battlefield. Hillary Morrow is terrific as the Queen and her physicality and total commitment to the additional role of Cymbeline make that bold choice at least feel interesting, if not totally successful, when in a lesser hand it could have fallen flat. Kiernan McGowan makes our skin crawl as Iachimo – a character with no redeeming qualities – but the choice to depict him as an actual monster with Freddie Kruger esque hands in the scene where he sexually assaults Imogen seems unnecessary and gives her experience a dream like quality where we could question whether it really happened.

The staging and movement is a highlight throughout from Director, Charlie Marie McGrath, and Choreographer, Ryan Sellers, and the impressive gender transformation of Imogen is further elevated by the live music provided by Jonathan Een Newton & Michael Winch. Winch is the Music Director and the Composer and his work heightens many of the best moments while the technical balance between music and actors delivery is handled deftly throughout.

The convoluted plot of Shakespeare’s original work is difficult enough to follow and unfortunately the production of this adaptation tries to do way too much. Re-framing the tale with Imogen being recognized at its’ center combined with this groups passion for puppetry is enough. The evolving costumes as the play progresses – to somehow convey that this is a story and issues that can be transposed to a modern time – are handled inconsistently, and any power that the message could have conveyed (perhaps through just Imogen changing) is lost in the confusion.  There are casting issues too with Lee Gerstenhaber distractingly too young for the role of Belarius, meanwhile a major plot point requires Leonatus (Alex Turner) and Cloten (Maximilian Lapine) to be similar body types – which they are not – giving the audience an opportunity to check out of the reality we are trying to be immersed in.

There is some absorbing work here. Once we accept the fact that the soldiers are now wearing camo and we embrace the presence of the twentieth century tanks during this Roman war, the battle scene in act two is an enjoyable attack on the senses. Choreography, music, sounds and lights crash together to create something quite special when viewed in isolation. Unfortunately it’s really the only the only highlight of a disjointed second act that will soon reach an unsatisfying completion. There are significant directorial issues in the final scene with no attempt at all to conceal the identity of Iachimo or Leonatus even though they are kneeling right next to each other and in full sight of Imogen making the revelation moments that follow almost bizarre.

And then comes that conclusion.

George Bernard Shaw’s Cymbeline Refinished written 80 years ago allowed Imogen to express a stronger feminist message than the original work and this should have been the foundation for Pointless to expand upon. Instead, after all Imogen has been through she takes back Leonatus who tried to have her killed and forgives Iachimo, who sexually assaulted her and we are left with thoughts of an opportunity lost.

#tothepoint Rating: 63/100

You can view a full breakdown of the allocated points here.

Ticket Price: $30

Value Review: -$4

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $26. Imogen continues at Pointless Theatre until February 11th.

Theatre to the Point Best of 2017: Professional Theatre

As the first year of Theatre to the Point comes to a close we wanted to recognize the best of what we saw in 2017. We were paying audience members at a limited number of shows this year and in the future as our site grows we expect these yearly reviews to be a far more comprehensive overview of the best our region had to offer.

Best Musical:

The Wild Party – Constellation

We were wild about this Constellation production. Stellar performances and great value for money led us to declare it was “one of the must see shows of the season”

Review

Best Play:

Peter and the Starcatcher – Maryland Ensemble Theatre

We loved this bold and imaginative show. Quality small professional theatre at community theatre prices.

Review

Best Value Show:

Big Fish – Keegan

There was some great value this year and this was a close run race. With a +$17 rating Big Fish was the big value.

Review

Best Actor in a Musical:

Kevin McAllister, Coalhouse Walker (Ragtime) – Ford’s

Best Actress in a Musical:

Kari Ginsburg, Kate (The Wild Party) – Constellation

Best Actor in a Play:

Zach Brewster-Geisz, Dixon (Oblivion) – Unexpected Stage

Best Actress in a Play:

Nora Achrati, Hannah (When We Were Young and Unafraid) – Keegan

Best Director of a Musical:

Eric Schaeffer, Titanic – Signature

Best Director of a Play:  

Christopher Goodrich, Oblivion – Unexpected Stage

Best Music Director:

Walter McCoy, The Wild Party – Constellation

Best Choreographer:

Ilona Kessell, The Wild Party – Constellation

Best Set Design:

Milagros Ponce de Leon, Ragtime – Ford’s

Best Costume Design:

Debra Kim Sivigny, Big Fish – Keegan

Best Lighting Design:

Rul Rita, Ragtime – Ford’s

Best Sound Design:

Tony Angelini, Big Fish – Keegan

Check out all of our reviews here.

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