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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.

Theatre to the Point Best of 2017: Community 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:

Aida – Reston Community Players

We were blown away by the technical quality of this production that we described as “must see community theatre”

Review

Best Play:

A Bright New Boise – Silver Spring Stage

It’s been a year where local theatres have embraced plays with some pretty dark themes and none were more enjoyable than Silver Spring Stage exploring the rapture inside the break room of a Hobby Lobby.

Review

Best Value Show:

Aida – Reston Community Players

With ticket prices set at $27 we wondered if this show could reach value. Director, Andrew JM Regiec, oversaw a show that smashed that price, scoring 71/100 for a $42 value.

Best Actor in a Musical:

Matt Wetzel, Emmett (Legally Blonde) – Silhouette Stages

Best Actress in a Musical:

Sherry Benedek, Sister Mary Robert (Sister Act) – Cockpit in Court

Best Actor in a Play:

Brendan Murray, Will (A Bright New Boise) – Silver Spring Stage

Best Actress in a Play:

Maura Suilebhan, Anna (A Bright New Boise) – Silver Spring Stage

Best Director of a Musical:

Susan Thornton, Willy Wonka the Musical – Other Voices

Best Director of a Play:  

Bill Hurlbut, Omnium Gatherum – Silver Spring Stage

Best Music Director:

Nathan Scavilla, Sister Act – Cockpit in Court

Best Choreographer:

Kendall Sigman, Hairspray – The Fredericktowne Players

Best Set Design:

Andrew JM Regiec & Dan Widerski, Aida – Reston Community Players

Best Costume Design:

Charlotte Marson, Aida – Reston Community Players

Best Lighting Design:

Steve Knapp & Jim McGuire, Willy Wonka – Other Voices

Best Sound Design:

Robert Pike, A Bright New Boise – Silver Spring Stage

Check out all of our reviews here.

Review: Omnium Gatherum

Omnium Gatherum.jpg

Omnium Gatherum. A collection of miscellaneous people brought to us by Alexandra Gersten-Vasilliaros and Theresa Rebeck who wrote the play in the direct aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Their work represents the conversations that were being had in all walks of life in post 9/11 America in the form of an elegant dinner party where it quickly becomes clear that all is not as it seems.

The Silver Spring Stage features a relatively simple set design from Don Slater – we feel like we’re in a high end New York apartment – with a table set with seven places. There is one entrance out of this room that will eerily glow with each use and black curtains at the extremities of the stage where serving tables will unnervingly appear from and vanish into. This two sided stage is always the challenge of this space and the positioning of the table, where most of the action will take place, was likely something that kept the Director, Bill Hurlbut, awake at night. The sight lines are not ideal (the experience of the audience likely greatly differs depending on their seat) and we found ourselves for much of the first half of the play looking at the back of three of our protagonists who in turn blocked the faces of those who were facing us. The table is just upstage of center and allows plenty of room for the actors to break away downstage from the group when the moment dictates. It may have been a stronger choice to place the table as far downstage as possible, to really make the audience feel like the eighth member of the dinner party, and allow a more natural choice when the characters need space to break away from all of us. Such are the mysterious goings on at this gathering that the periodic lighting and sound effects could perhaps have even been accompanied by the use of a turntable changing the orientation of the table and allowing us a different perspective of the evening’s guests. This is, however, a well-directed and well-acted play. To hold our attention so closely for over an hour and a half (with no intermission) is testament to that and the character work that has been achieved. The pacing is well done with overlapping dialogue used where appropriate to keep things ticking along and there is just enough intrigue to have us forming our own theories while we follow the debate. There are a few too many times where the need to make a point is combined with leaving the table and while it makes things visually more interesting there were opportunities to be creative in finding justifications for the movement that were passed up.

Truthful performances are absolutely essential for this play to work and thankfully we have a cast who largely succeed in that challenge. Lou Pangaro is absolutely compelling as Khalid as he evolves from quietly expressing his world view into raw honest pleading and his arc through the course of the evening is a joy to watch. Roger (Keith Cassidy) is the Capitalist of the group and the angriest about what has happened to his country. Cassidy is terrific in all of his exchanges and he has a wonderful raspiness to his voice that allows him to commit fully to these moments. Cassidy does have a tendency to pull focus with over playing his reactions to other people’s dialogue and less would definitely be more in this aspect of his work. The moments of playful contempt shared between Roger and Lydia (Leigh Rawls) are the most enjoyable of the night with both actors fully immersed in their beliefs and back story. Suzie (Wendy Baird) represents much of America and is a delightful mix of good intentions,  a little ignorance and unexpected moments of depth. There is a ‘band playing on while the Titanic sinks’ quality to the character that Baird captures wonderfully and it’s a more nuanced performance than you originally realize as the plot develops. Suzie introduces a surprise guest of the evening and Omar LaTiri brings a controlled intensity and believability to a role it would have been very easy to turn into a cliché.

Bill Hurlbut gets good performances from his entire cast and the mystery of the story is handled deftly with the smart lighting and sound design. The questions raised in this play have shaped our current reality and they are asked in a way that will make you feel a whole range of emotions – not least to laugh as it is genuinely funny – which is what good theatre does.

#tothepoint Rating: 65/100

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

Ticket Price: $25

Value Review: +$5

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $30. We recommend selecting a seat near the center walkway between the two seating sections. Omnium Gatherum continues at Silver Spring Stage until November 18th.

Review: The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid

It is a bitterly cold Friday night in Olney and the perfect opportunity to gather for the opening of the Damascus Theatre Company’s production of The Little Mermaid and hope to be warmed by a little Disney magic. The stage at the Carl Freeman auditorium features two impressive downstage set pieces – Ariel’s shrine stage right and Ursula’s lair stage left – and a platform a third of the height of the back wall with a projection screen behind.  The show opens with a lengthy overture and as the lights come up we see fabric stretched across the lower section of the stage to represent the water. Ariel (Kendall Sigman) makes a slightly shaky first impression vocally on The World Above as she glides across the stage in roller skate shoes and while it is an effective way of representing movement underwater we’re interested to see how this affects the choreography as the show progresses. Designer Bill Brown is off to a strong start as set pieces converge from both wings to turn the entire back platform into a ship and it’s an impressive transition into Fathoms Below with Prince Eric (Kevin James Logan), Grimsby (Ernie Poland), Pilot (David Robinson) and the Sailors looking striking against the blue backdrop.

Unfortunately, Director, Shelly Horn places much of the rest of the first act in the middle of the stage where there is no set with actors taking it in turn to walk downstage center (it becomes a procession) to deliver their solo. When the action does move to Ariel’s or Ursula’s location the lighting is a huge distraction as the actors are simply not blocked in the light. It is unclear how much of this is lighting design or technical issue but far too often we have people in semi-darkness. Despite an unsatisfying low key entrance, Becca Sears looks the part as Ursula in her squid dress and convincingly fitted wig and while the staging of Daddy’s Little Angel is unimaginative, Sears gives a fine vocal. Sigman overcomes what were perhaps early jitters and brings that Disney Princess quality to Part of Your World and despite the unseen orchestra being too quiet at times the show is definitely beginning to sound the part. Logan sings impressively and with feeling (especially on Her Voice) but that emotion vanishes in his line delivery and the dialogue between him and the Sailors before The Storm is completely flat. That isn’t the case for King Triton (Brian Lyons-Burke) as he thunders across the stage to destroy Ariel’s human shrine but despite a pleasing visual effect the lackluster accompanying sound and muted reaction from Sigman make the whole moment underwhelming.

The choreography of Cheryl Campo is also missing the mark. She’s in Love, featuring the Mersisters and Flounder (Nick Ramirez) is a huge lost opportunity and whether it’s the limitation of the roller skate shoes or just a lack of ambition, the routines are far too basic. That’s also the case with the big ensemble number, Under The Sea, with the added frustration that the platform is completely ignored while the lower level is restrictively overcrowded. Ramirez gives an admirable performance but it’s questionable to cast someone of his age in this role and it leaves the whole relationship between Flounder and Ariel feeling somewhat awkward.  The first act ends on the vocal highlight of the night with Sears terrific in her lower register as she belts Poor Unfortunate Souls.

The second act begins with Ariel trying to get accustomed to her new feet and she is helped by Scuttle (Jason Douds) and the Gulls in Positoovity. Most of what we have seen to this point has been movement rather than choreography so while it’s an unremarkable tap routine it’s a welcome change and a fun way to highlight some of the ensemble. There are a lot of set changes after the intermission and there are too many blackouts used for the transitions. Isolating areas of the stage with a stronger lighting design would have facilitated seamless changes of scene and a much better flow to the story telling. Some of the new locations are visually impactful and the simple tall white windows really pop against the backdrop for the interior of the palace. As Ariel sings Beyond My Wildest Dreams it would have been great to see Prince Eric silhouetted walking across the back platform but instead he wanders through the middle of the scene and leaves us (which won’t be for the last time) questioning exactly where we are?

Co-Music Director, Keith Tittermary brings a lot of flamboyance to the role of Chef Louis in Les Poissons but the reprise featuring a convoluted chase sequence between the Chefs and Sebastian (William Jeffreys) is completely under-cooked. The concept is fine but the execution is nowhere near tight enough for the comedy to land and needed another week of rehearsal at least. Kiss The Girl features Ariel and Prince Eric in a rowboat on the lower level of the stage surrounded by various aquatic ensemble members. Scuttle and the Gulls appear on the upper platform above the boat which as birds makes sense (with the fluffy white clouds on the projection screen further establishing it as the sky)…until they are joined by a frog and turtles. It is part of an overall inconsistent vision from the Director as rules are established (when and where the fabric is used to depict water for example) and broken just as quickly. If Only is the standout number of the second act with four locations isolated in in the light for Ariel, King Triton, Prince Eric and Sebastian. All four are in great voice with Sigman delivering her best vocal of the night – but even this highlight is distracting because of the choice of the positions and the unbalanced nature of the stage. There is more confusion to come in the finale as the shoreline, firmly established in the prior scene (a line in the sand if you will) is ignored as Maids appear in the waves and Chefs in the sky.

This is vocally a fairly strong show from the leads but it lacks a big ensemble moment and the choreography possibilities are almost completely unexplored. There are committed acting performances from Lyons-Burke, Sears and Jeffreys but they are given little support from the overall staging of the show while the potential of the set is under-utilized and the enjoyable costume design of Laurie Williams is overshadowed by the hugely disappointing nature of the lighting.

#tothepoint Rating: 48/100

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

Ticket Price: $20

Value Review: N/A

Our scoring system and our unique value for money guide only applies to productions that score 50/100 or higher. The Little Mermaid continues for The Damascus Theatre Company until November 19th.

Review: White Christmas

White Christmas.jpg

It’s not easy to get into the Christmas spirit with regrets over the Halloween candy consumption still all too fresh in the memory but as we take our seats at the Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville there is the anticipation that the music of American song writing legend, Irving Berlin, will take us there.

Duane Monahan is Director and Choreographer for this Rockville Music Theatre production and there is a lack of focus for the overall vision of the show. The set design of Maggie Modig and the costumes of Richard Battestelli have some stand out moments – Modig does a nice job with the design of the Inn lobby – but they lack co-ordination and consistency making it unclear when and where our story is taking place.

Amanda Jones has a wonderful old school quality to her voice that brings to mind Judy Garland and it’s perfect for the role of Betty Haynes. Jones is vocally the star of the night and although she gives a solid acting performance it never quite reaches the same heights. In contrast, Liz Weber hits all the right comedic beats in her portrayal of Martha Watson while having some vocal struggles. Weber definitely brings a lot of humor to the role and her performance is noteworthy given that many of the lines delivered by her scene partner, General Henry Waverly (Jack Mayo), fall a little flat. There is a lovely moment of harmony for Music Director, Marci Shegogue, as Jones, Weber and Sirena Dib combine delightfully on Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun.

For much of the night the ensemble outshine the leads. Shows that feature a heavy dose of tap dancing can be a challenge for most community theatre productions but Monahan and his assistant Cathy Oh did a fine job tackling the load. The big routines are relatively basic but they are clean and well-rehearsed. The musical number of the night is I Love a Piano with the choreography incorporating the ensemble and the scenery as the chorus girls enter carrying musical notes which are hung as part of the set. The number builds up to the point where Phil Davies (Michael Page) can show off his tap skills as he performs a well-executed solo on top of the piano. Page is solid vocally as is Paul Loebach as Bob Wallace but neither of the male leads bring enough charisma to their roles or develop real chemistry with their female counterparts.

Visually the show is at its best for the very final number as costumes and the set finally work in harmony and combined with the snow projected in the background we start to feel a little bit of Holiday cheer. There are some confusing moments (Betty’s entrance to the front porch) and overall the characters are not fully developed enough for us to be fully engaged in the serene pace set by Monahan. If you already have your Christmas Tree up then this might be the show for you…

#tothepoint Rating: 59/100

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

Ticket Price: $22

Value Review: -$3

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $19.  White Christmas continues for Rockville Musical Theatre until November 12th.

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