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Theatre to the Point

Theatre #tothepoint for DC, MD & VA

Review: One Man, Two Guvnors

One Man Two Guvnors

Richard Bean’s adaptation of a Servant of Two Masters won The Late Late Show’s James Corden a Tony back in 2012 and this British comedy is starting to gain popularity in theatres around the country. As the audience takes their places at the two sided Silver Spring Stage we are welcomed by a 3 piece skiffle band that are positioned off the stage between the seating sections.

Director, William T. Fleming also takes on the role of Set Designer and has the task of taking us to multiple locations around 1963 Brighton. All the sets look period appropriate and during the changes we are entertained by the skiffle band that is joined by a different member of the cast to serenade us. Unfortunately the positioning of the band makes it difficult to focus on them and not the moving of set pieces – at times they feel like background music for the changes rather than demanding our attention. The transitions are smooth enough that this isn’t in itself an issue but some of the comedic nature of the lyrics is a little lost on the distracted audience. Fleming also utilizes two video screens at various moments in the show; effectively as a window in the opening scene, and less so as a corridor in the pub and as outdoor scenery at other times. They never detract from the production but it does feel like a ‘we’ve got them so we’re going to use them’ based decision rather than truly believing they enhance the production.

Focus is required from the opening scene as the convoluted plot of love, murder, cross dressing and double crossing is unveiled.  We are in the house of Charlie Dench (Kevin Dykstra) at the engagement party for his daughter, Pauline (Lena Winter) and Alan Dangle (Daniel Riker). Dykstra is very good as the down to earth Charlie and he clearly understands his role as his moments of composing himself when discussing his wife or when attempting to understand the complexities of the science behind twins are funny because they are understated. He plays the character with just enough naivety to explain just why his daughter is so much of a ditz. Winter plays Pauline with a childlike wonder and she is vocally and physically funny to watch throughout.  Riker is all arms and legs as he prances around the stage flamboyantly as the wannabe actor, Alan, and his exchanges with Pauline are always entertaining.

We are quickly introduced to the ‘One Man’ as Francis Henshall (Nathan Tatro) breaks up the party with news that his guvnor, Roscoe/Rachel Crabbe (Kristen Pilgrim) is still alive. It’s an immensely likable performance from Tatro who looks like he is having a huge amount of fun on stage and he has us on his side from the start. Pilgrim plays the intentionally transparent gender switch well and it’s a performance full of amusing mannerisms but her delivery is too fast, especially in the first act. We meet the second guvnor, Stanley Stubbers (Anderson Wells) who is also too rapid with his dialogue. There are numerous times when the laughter is just forming in the back of our throats when it is cut off. This sets the tone for a show where the audience should be hysterically laughing out loud and turns it into one of more internal enjoyment. Wells plays all the dramatic moments of his character without missing a beat and his deep resonating voice in some of the dead pan comic moments is genuinely funny.

Maybe it’s this lack of energy from the audience that prevents the end of act one reaching a true crescendo. Fleming could afford to demand double the pace (at least) from his actors in a scene that was funny but could be elevated to chaotic hilarity. The back and forth between Francis and elderly waiter, Alfie (Lenora Spahn) and a poor unsuspecting audience member are hugely entertaining but with more drive it could be a scene we are laughing about long after we leave the theatre. There are also ongoing references to the horrors of living in Australia throughout the show and Fleming chooses to present these with each actor breaking away from the scene to face the audience and there is a dramatic lighting change as the lines are delivered. In a more conventional show this might have been a bold and effective choice but in a production where the 4th wall is obliterated with regularity it just comes across as odd. Maria V. Bissex successfully conveys the 60s theme through her costumes and for the most part the dialect coach, Pauline Griller-Mitchell, helps us believe we are on the other side of the pond.

Fleming gets good performances from all his actors and there are some very funny scenes (Tatro’s fight with himself is only outdone by the hilarious mating ritual of Pilgrim and Wells) Overall the pacing issues are holding the show back but with the benefit of opening weekend under their belt it is certainly possible this production will get stronger and surpass the value of the ticket.

#tothepoint Rating 61/100

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

Ticket Price: $25

Value Rating: -$3

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $22. Tickets are available on Groupon and Gold Star for $16.50. One Man, Two Guvnors continues at Silver Spring Stage until July 29th.

Review: Heathers The Musical

Heathers

The 1988 movie, Heathers, starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater achieved cult status with Gen Xers and the musical that had an Off-Broadway run in 2014 has perhaps surpassed that with Millennials who have embraced this story as their own. That is certainly the vibe tonight inside the Maryland Ensemble Theatre with a raucous sold out crowd. Despite the MET’s mainstage season finishing just two weeks ago this MET X production of Heathers The Musical is the second show to open on this stage in the period since. That hectic schedule perhaps contributed to the minimalist nature of Cecelia Lee’s set which featured painted walls with colorful squares outlined in grey and two platforms at the rear of the stage that looked like the backdrop for an 80s music video.

Veronica Sawyer (Georgiana Summers) opens the show with her spoken diary entry and we are introduced to the array of high school students in Beautiful. It’s a strong start to the show that not only showcases the hopes and fears of these high school kids but also the excellent costume work of Cody Gilliam. The attention to detail in defining each member of the ensemble along with the many costume changes throughout the show are a real highlight of the production. The arrival of the Heathers is incredibly stylized and works well in these opening moments but once we hit the dialogue we are confronted with the extremely affected accent and movement of Heather Chandler (Drew Canning) There is no sense at any stage that this is a real person and perhaps that was intentional, as it is a consistent actor/director choice throughout the show, but it becomes exhausting to listen to and increasingly difficult to watch.

Fight for Me features some hilarious slow motion fight choreography from Steve Custer as JD (Jordan Champe) tussles with football players Ram Sweeney (Mark Sullivan) and Kurt Kelly (Andrew Zabetakis) Sullivan actually comes close to stealing the show, which is some achievement while portraying such a vacuous character, as his smooth vocals, comic timing and facial expressions are spot on for the whole performance. We get an insight into JD’s backstory via the 711 anthem, Freeze Your Brain, and while Champe certainly looks the part of the bad boy in his trench coat and dog tags he plays JD a little too sweet at times; a hint more darkness in the first act would have felt more appropriate and would have helped sell his overall journey. Champe’s gaze all too often finds the floor rather this his scene partner and although this may have been a character choice it doesn’t translate well during his vocals.

It’s a credit to the Director, Caitlyn Joy, that we buy into the each new location despite the limited visual changes. The show has a great flow and Joy uses the central MET pillar smartly throughout – especially effectively as Veronica stumbles through JD’s bedroom window during the raunchy standout song of the first act, Dead Girl Walking. As the body count begins to rise it becomes increasingly obvious that the set would have benefited greatly from a third platform surrounding the pillar. There is so much action on the floor that simply does not work from a sight line perspective in this space. Raising those moments up by a foot would have had a major positive impact on the overall production. With none of the actors mic’d up in this intimate setting there were some sound balance issues. Music Director, Jonas Dawson, forms part of an unseen 3 piece band that unfortunately overpowers the vocals at times.

The second act really kicks things up a notch with the laugh out loud number, Dead Gay Son. Tad Janes is a comic force in all his cameos but never more so than as Ram’s Dad in his moment of acceptance and sexual awakening at his son’s funeral. The song also features the best of Lena Janes’ choreography. At times Janes’ work could have benefited if the platforms had been incorporated a little more to add levels to her routines. The execution could certainly have been tighter, especially in Big Fun and Hey Yo, Westerburg, but her choreography was relevant and entertaining for the duration of the show.

Summers is a strong singer but it is her ability to bring out the emotion of her character into her lyrics that is the strength of her performance. Her tragic pleading in the beautiful Seventeen is one of the most captivating scenes of the night and her overall acting performance is full of delightful quirks with more than a passing nod to Winona Ryder’s performance in the original movie. There are more vocal highlights to come as Heather McNamara (Kaitlin McCallion) delivers a haunting rendition of Lifeboat. It’s a song that could easily be forgettable but McCallion makes it a moment and part of an impressive overall character arc. Megan McGee gives some of the best and most truthful work of the night as Martha Dunstock. McGee infuses every line with thought and feeling and delivers perhaps the strongest vocal of the show in the heartbreaking Kindergarten Boyfriend. It’s a song of introverted self-reflection that turns to imagery of taking flight and the freedom that she hopes her suicide will bring her. The static staging of the song, standing center stage in the spotlight, feels a little out of sync with the moment. Ending the song in that spot, as she takes what she thinks will be her final step, would have been a more powerful choice.

Although this is an entertaining production of Heathers The Musical featuring some fine individual performances, the show is vocally good, not great, and lacks a truly stand out ensemble moment. The show features some sexually explicit themes, especially in act one, and won’t be to everyone’s taste, but Joy handles the material well and pushes the barriers with this talented young cast without ever over stepping.

#tothepoint Rating 64/100

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

Ticket Price: $15

Value Rating: +$13

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $28 so grab a ticket if there are any left! Heathers The Musical continues at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre until July 8th.

Review: When We Were Young and Unafraid

When We Were Young and Unafraid

A play about women, domestic violence and abuse, set in one kitchen location in 70s America…but this isn’t the Deep South and these are different crimes of the heart. Playwright, Sarah Treem, transports us to Whidbey Island off the coast off Washington State; the year is 1972 with America in the midst of second wave feminism and the Supreme Court ruling on Roe vs. Wade still a year away.

The kitchen in question belongs to a bed and breakfast that also serves as a safe house. Matthew Keenan’s set is rich in detail and looks lived in and welcoming. The angle of the stage right wall allows light to pour in through the window and along with the staircase leading to an unseen second floor it allows our imagination to picture the world beyond our stage. There are four locations to draw the action downstage with an armchair, a table and chairs, an island with stools and the door with a telephone on the wall next to it. Most of the plot unfolds in these spots with the rear of the stage used more functionally (to make coffee mostly) and the design works very well. The irony of the location as a backdrop for this story of women’s lib is not lost as the protagonists are at their most comfortable while baking muffins and cookies.

In the opening scene, the mother/daughter dynamic between Agnes (Sheri S. Herren) and Penny (Kaylynn Creighton) is quickly established.  Agnes is the owner of the B&B and Herren plays her in an unselfish down to earth manner that allows others the opportunity to explore the full range of their characters emotions around her. Her delivery allows the dry sense of humor of Agnes to shine through and in a rare moment when her emotions are needed to get the better of her it’s one of the most truthful moments in the play. Creighton gives an excellent performance throughout, navigating smoothly between surly and sarcastic and innocent and vulnerable, as Penny deals with the confusion of a teenage girl who has grown up around so many abused women.

Mary Anne (Jenna Berk) is the latest woman to arrive seeking accommodation and the help of Penny. Berk plays the disconnected moments of the character convincingly and the scene where she passes on her ‘wisdom’ to Penny on how to get a boy to ask her out is truly unsettling. We’re never supposed to feel comfortable enough to like Mary Anne and Berk walks that line well, but it is her reactions to the triggers that force her to relive the horror of what she has endured that don’t feel genuine. Her vocal delivery and physical performance in these moments unfortunately just don’t work.

Hannah (Nora Achrati) arrives looking for work and declaring that the future of feminism can only be achieved by stopping having sex with their oppressors and becoming lesbians. Looking and sounding like Huckleberry Finn’s big sister, Achrati steals the show with her southern drawl and wonderful comic timing. There is heart and honesty in her work that make it a truly winning performance. Tom Hadjimichael plays Paul, the only man in the play, and he portrays just a hint of a potential darkness under the charm the playwright warns us about to leave us guessing throughout as to his true nature.

Director, Marie Sproul, needed to drive the dialogue more, especially in the opening scenes. The pacing feels like people taking turns to speak and because of that the conversations lack a certain authenticity. There is unnecessary movement in some key moments and the best example of this is where Mary Anne realizes just where her advice has taken Penny. This intense moment and connection between characters is broken by a cross and counter where simple eye contact and standing their ground would have been so much more powerful. The scene transitions are handled well and Jordana Abrencia’s sound design moves us throughout the days as popular 70s tunes give way to sounds of crickets or bird song.

Ultimately the twists in the plot are not strong enough to justify the amount of setup in the first act – but that is a flaw in the writing not the production. Taking on and shining a light on these issues makes this work worthwhile and important and the performance of Nora Achrati is worth the entrance fee…if you pay the right price for your ticket.

#tothepoint Rating 67/100

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

Ticket Price: $45

Value Rating: -$11

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this production at $34. Tickets are available on Groupon and Gold Star for $28 making the show good value for money if you can grab this deal. When We Were Young and Unafraid continues at the Keegan Theatre until July 8th.

Review: Silent Sky

Silent Sky

Silver Spring Stage transports us back to the early 20th Century to tell the story of Henrietta Leavitt, an American astronomer. Playwright, Lauren Gunderson, shines a light on the forgotten women of the Harvard College Observatory, the work they did to map the sky, and Leavitt’s discovery that paved the way to measure the distance between the stars.

The two sided Silver Spring Stage features the elegant Harvard workplace with entrances either side of a central bookcase. Andrew Greenleaf’s set is flanked by a projection screen on each wall and as the lights dim and Henrietta Leavitt (Marnie Kanarek) takes the stage they become windows to the heavens and sparkle with stars. Unfortunately at this very moment the projector goes into sleep mode and we see an hourglass on the screen and then a message about VGA inputs. The issue is over in a matter of seconds but our sense of wonder will take a little longer to recover.

For the vast majority of the show the screens are used very effectively as our way to experience the beauty and vastness of the night sky. However, in the opening scene, Henrietta, and her sister, Margaret (Annie Caruso), are on their way to worship and the stage right screen displays an early morning sky while the stage left screen shows a simple white church. The lighting is such that Caruso casts a shadow onto the screen displaying the church which is not visually pleasing. Later we are taken into a Harvard lecture room and then to Boston Harbor by the projected images. With the screens such an integral part of the set, the temptation for Director, Bill Hurlbut, to use them in other ways in understandable, but we can’t help feeling the more powerful choice would have been to only utilize them for us to look up. The lighting and ambient sound is enough to take us to these other locations.

Kanarek does a fine job expressing the frustration and determination of Henrietta as she tells of her intent to follow her passion and Caruso provides an excellent contrast as the homely and down to earth, Margaret. Their early dialogue suffers a little from the exchanges and movement being too proscenium in nature and that is also true when Henrietta arrives at Harvard and meets Peter Shaw (Noah Rich), Annie Conan (Marianne Meyers) and Williamina Fleming (Mindy Shaw). We needed more eye contact between the actors; their connection to each other is far more important than opening themselves up to the audience. Perhaps it is because of this that the first time we really feel an emotional connection between characters is when they are not in the same place, as Margaret reads aloud her letters to Henrietta who responds to them while she continues her work. This technique is used to great effect again later as Henrietta and Peter’s relationship is at its’ most believable when they are apart and we see their connection grow brighter and then diminish through their overlapping words.

Director, Bill Hurlbut, keeps an excellent pace to the show. The scene transitions are slick and subtle lighting changes signify the passing of time with the actors moving off stage or into a new position with precision timing. Once in each act, Greenleaf’s set delivers a nice surprise as one of the screens in removed and a platform slides out to reveal a hidden room, all achieved with minimal fuss. The costumes are all individually well done although perhaps lacking an overall cohesiveness and the nature of the wigging of Meyers is a little distracting.

Noah Rich finds the right balance between the chauvinist attitudes of the age and the social awkwardness his character feels around women.  Mindy Shaw captures the dry sense of humor of Williamina Fleming and is for the most part consistent with her Scottish accent (it occasionally crosses the Irish Sea) and her double act with the Marianne Meyers as the imposing Annie Cannon is a frequent source of laughter. While all three give good performances they do occasionally cross the line of playing it funny rather than just trusting that the writing is funny and some of the jokes are both verbally and physically spoon fed to the audience. As the staging becomes more intimate as the play progresses so do the relationships between the actors, especially between Kanarek and Caruso.

And then we reach the epilogue.

It’s just a beautiful, awe inspiring, moment as the whole theatre is bathed in stars and Kanarek reveals the fate of the characters we have been introduced to as they leave the stage one by one. While we care about these people, it is the context of her discovery, our place in the universe, and the authenticity of her emotion in the story telling that brings a tear to our eye.

#tothepoint Rating 62/100

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

Ticket Price: $25

Value Rating: -$1

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $24. Tickets are available on Groupon and Gold Star for $16.50 making the show excellent value for money if you can grab this deal. Silent Sky continues at Silver Spring Stage until May 28th.

Anonymous

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As local actors, directors and production staff, getting honest feedback for our work has been elusive. Family and friends are always positive and our theatre families offer unconditional support for our work.  We have found the vast majority of the reviews in our region to simply be an extension of our theatre family. As performers we wanted something else from reviews of our work. We wanted help to get better.

When we are not working in or on a production we want to see other people’s work. As a theatre goer how are we to discern, from the vast number of shows available, where we should spend our money when the scale used to rate a show starts at 4 out of 5? As a customer we wanted something else from a review. We wanted something better.

Through many post show conversations, listening to our fellow actors and directors and production team members, we found we were not alone in our desire for something different. The frustrations that we shared were shared by others too. We didn’t want to be the people to attempt something different; we wanted someone else to fill that void. We believe the majority of our peers want honest and constructive opinions but we knew it would be a jolt to some to see a change in the review culture of the region. We were concerned it could potentially adversely affect our ability to continue to work on and off the stage if we were the ones to address this.

By the end of 2016 we decided we couldn’t wait any longer.  We concluded, in the short term at least, the only way we could write the honest and constructive reviews we wanted to write, and continue to work with those who we were writing about, was to do so anonymously. We knew this could call into question the credibility and integrity of the reviews but trusted that the writing, over time, would dispel those concerns. The vast majority of the feedback we have received has been positive. We have received correspondence from multiple directors asking if we would come and review their future shows. These people want honest opinions and those who don’t or who are offended by the anonymity don’t have to read them.

They are, after all, just opinions.

Thank you for taking this journey with us, we genuinely want to improve our art and ensure the public sees the best our professional and community theatres have to offer.

Anonymous.

Review: Legally Blonde

Legally Blonde

Legally Blonde is one of the most enjoyable and uplifting musicals of the last 10 years and the crowd at the Slayton House Theater are ready for some fun. The lower third of the back wall is a brick design, above it is a plain white backdrop and sitting in front is a movable stairway to nowhere. The action gets underway with Serena, Margot and Pilar entering through the house and the rest of the sorority girls take the stage and launch into the incredibly infectious Omigod You Guys. The three girls don’t really have the space they need in the house and although the stage is not particularly wide, it is deep and high enough that it could have accommodated a permanent platform as part of the design – something that the show would have greatly benefited from.

There are so many set changes in the first half of act one alone as we transition to the mall, the restaurant, the Harvard yard and Callahan’s classroom. To its’ credit the show never stops flowing but it feels like hard work for the cast and crew as they perform the numerous set changes. Director, TJ Lukacsina, is also credited as the Set Designer and it’s clear the show would have benefited from a ‘less is more’ approach. A more versatile ‘base’ set would have allowed the staging and the actors to tell the story and take us to those locations with minor changes rather than attempting to construct each scene fully onto a blank canvas.

The lack of levels definitely hurts the choreography of Rikki Lacewell. There is an overall lack of creativity and a repetitive nature to her steps, and we all too often find the cast in straight lines across the stage (even disappointingly from front to back of stage in the Irish dancing section of Legally Blonde Remix where creating some angles would have gone a long way). During Whipped into Shape the house is again utilized and several audience members actually cower in their seat as the jump rope comes dangerously close to them.

Lindsey Landry looks exactly as you would picture Elle Woods and she doesn’t hit a bad note all night. Matt Wetzel does not look exactly as you would picture Emmett but what quickly becomes evident is that he has excellent comic timing and a wonderful tone to his voice that is displayed best as he delivers the challenging Chip on My Shoulder.

There are some other excellent vocal performances in the show, none more so than Michele D. Vicino-Coleman as Paulette. Her rendition of Ireland and its soaring reprise are standout moments although the delivery is far too presentational. Vicino-Coleman also falls into the trap of the acting becoming too focused on the accent, losing some of the feel for the character. Allison Bradbury as Vivienne and Stephen Foreman as Warner both give performances that add to the feeling that for the most part this is a vocally impressive show. Co Music Directors, Nathan C. Scavila and Michael Wolfe, do have some issues with the ensemble, especially during Legally Blonde Remix, and unfortunately the energetic nature of Brooke Wyndham’s (Summer Hill) workout routine for Whipped Into Shape make it difficult for her to stay on pitch during the 2nd half of the song.  It’s a shame for Hill as she can clearly sing and is genuinely funny in her line delivery. Jennie Phelps stands out among the ensemble with her consistent and committed character choices.

There are some moments of confusion in the transitions and this is most noticeably the case after Callahan kisses Elle and she appears to re-enter his office. We’re never clear where the following scene with Emmett takes place and it distracts from a pivotal moment in the plot. The show, however, is ultimately a relative success on the back of the performances of Landry and Wetzel. Wetzel gives the acting performance of the night and Landry finds just the right level of emotion and self-doubt in the heartfelt Legally Blonde that by the end of the show we do feel like we have taken the journey with her.

#tothepoint Rating 60/100

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

Ticket Price: $20

Value Rating: +$0

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $20 meaning it reached the value and expectations of the ticket price. Legally Blonde continues at Silhouette Stage until May 28th.

Review: Still Time to go to Ford’s

Ragtime

A slow meander through the Ford’s Museum is a chance for reflection about the journey of this country and the history of this theatre before we take our seats for tonight’s production of Ragtime. We immediately start to wonder if the cast are aware the house is open as they wander the stage in costume, place props and casually chat to others in contemporary clothing. After some initial confusion it’s clear this is a choice, and a statement, and one that will become apparent at the end of the evening.

Scenic Designer, Milagros Ponce de Leon, dominates the stage with a 3 story metal platform that accommodates a 9 piece orchestra on the second level. It features two detachable stairways that reach to that second level and which become integral to so much of the movement and flow of the show. The only issue with the impressive structure is the top tier is partially lost to some in the orchestra seating with people craning their heads to see underneath the overhang of the dress circle. A large piano sits center stage and Coalhouse Walker (Kevin McAllister) takes his seat and leads the cast through the Prologue: Ragtime.

As Mother (Tracy Lynn Olivera) says Goodbye My Love to her husband on one ship, Tateh (Jonathan Atkinson) and his daughter, Jewish immigrants from Latvia, arrive in America on another. We are distracted from the beautiful Journey On by the failure to hear any of lines delivered by Tateh’s daughter (Dulcie Pham), it’ s unclear if this is a projection issue or a mic failure (possibly the latter as she is fine for the rest of the show). At other times during the production, the orchestra, who sound spectacular, are too loud for some of the more delicate moments – it’s a difficult balance with the musicians onstage and one that is not quite achieved tonight.

Songs like Crime of the Century and Henry Ford introduce us to some of the real historical characters sprinkled into the play with the latter featuring some excellent production line choreography from Michael Bobbitt. Although these numbers help transport us to the period there is a sense by the middle of the first act that the audience is suffering from full choral fatigue. Perhaps this helps make the beautiful simplicity of Sarah’s Your Daddy’s Son the stand out moment of act one. Nova Payton delivers an incredible vocal that hauntingly resonates throughout this old theatre and her performance is one of wonderful restraint.

The show is almost musically flawless from this point on under the Music Direction of Christopher Youstra, and when Payton and McAllister duet on The Wheels of a Dream they dovetail so perfectly you don’t want them to stop. Of course the play takes a darker turn and Sarah is beaten to death leaving Coalhouse distraught. The transition from Sarah’s lifeless body to her moving off stage is one of many moments where Director, Peter Flynn and his Lighting Designer, Rui Rita, work in perfect harmony. McAllister is moved to tears and the cast sound at their absolute best on Till We Reach that Day to close the first act, with Ines Nassara standing out vocally among a very talented ensemble.

Any sense that the tension would be diminished by the intermission is quickly dismissed as McAllister pours his heart out on Coalhouse’s Soliloquy. It’s an incredibly emotional moment that encompasses heartbreak and rage and he lives every single syllable. The combination of McAllister’s rich baritone vocals and his connection to this role make it a truly standout performance.

Director, Peter Flynn, displays plenty of imagination and vision with the transitions between scenes although that is not always matched by the movement within the scenes themselves. One of many smart scene changes takes Father (James Konicek) and his son to a baseball game as both stairways are moved center stage to form bleachers.  We are then transported to Atlantic City and Costume Designer, Wade Laboissonniere, has some fun with the period beach attire. There are many pleasing technical successes throughout the production; the use of sheets to illustrate the silhouettes created by Tateh and then the projection of those silhouettes as moving images onto a blanket are very well done.

Mother and Tateh’s paths cross again at the beach but the chemistry never quite takes off between Atkinson and Olivera and we don’t really buy into their future together. Atkinson gives a strong vocal performance and portrays a genuine relationship with his daughter but his delivery too often feels like someone impersonating an Eastern European accent rather than having one and it is a little cliché. Olivera still has her finest moment to come as she absolutely stops the show with her incredibly powerful rendition of Back to Before.

James Konicek does a fine job with the slow character arc of Father as he eventually comes to see past the color of Coalhouse’s skin as he attempts to resolve the standoff at the Library. There is still time for one more hair on the back of the neck moments for McAllister as he convinces his friends that their job is not to die but to go out and Make Them Hear You. Father’s naivety at the fate that awaits Coalhouse if he steps outside is a chilling moment as the orchestra are joined by the cast banging on the set in unison to signify the end of his life by gunfire.

After the epilogue the ensemble reprise Wheels of a Dream and are joined again by others in current day clothing, showing that this story of America is not confined to the history books, but one that is still unfolding today. Get a ticket to see this one while you still have the chance.

#tothepoint Rating 80/100

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

Ticket Price: $50

Value Rating: +$10

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $60. Ragtime continues at Ford’s Theatre until May 20th.

Review: Catch Peter at the MET

Starcatcher

The Maryland Ensemble Theatre is not afraid of a challenge and this hugely ambitious production of Rick Elice’s adaptation of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s book about the origins of Peter Pan is definitely that. The MET’s quirky main stage features concave seating that can provide sight line issues and a central pillar that scenic designers must embrace as part of their design. That task falls upon Cecelia Lee and she utilizes the full depth of the space, creating different levels with platforms for her nautical set which is heavy on detail with netting, frayed rope, crates, driftwood and sails, making a visually interesting backdrop for the story to unfold. Peter and the Starcatcher is very much a play with music and the design incorporates three musicians in their own little crows’ nest stage left.

There is a lot of information for the audience to digest at the top of the show as we are introduced to the two ships, The Neverland and The Wasp, the two trunks that are central to the plot, and many of the characters. It’s delivered in a slightly confusing manner but what the production sometimes lacks in clarity it more than makes up for in creativity as the actors really become the story. Director, Julie Herber, clearly revels in this elaborate game of chess as she moves the pieces at her disposal around the stage. Ropes are used to frame smaller moments to represent cabins and scene changes are achieved with movement of the cast with the central column the pivot as characters melt into the background as others come to the fore. This inventiveness is illustrated best when Molly Aster, played with an impeccable British accent by Caitlyn Joy, is exploring the depths of The Neverland. The Ensemble form a wall and doors that swing open to reveal different parts of the bowels of the ship and the action within to great effect.

The Captain of The Neverland is Bill Slank, played with wonderful, snarling authority, by Matthew Crawford. Crawford’s dominant stage presence is the standout performance of the first act although the manner of his demise is so low key it almost passes us by. Looking after Molly is Mrs. Bumbrake, played in true British pantomime style by Thomas Scholtes. It’s a wonderfully ridiculous performance by Scholtes who looks like he loves every minute he spends on the stage. Molly meets the orphans, Prentiss (Daniel Valentin-Morales), Ted (Taylor Rieland) and the boy who will become Peter Pan (Matt Lee). It is a huge credit to Joy and Lee that we never question that these are adults representing Molly and the boy.

Meanwhile on The Wasp, Captain Scott (another outstanding dialect delivered by Jeremy Myers) has been bound as the Pirates take control of the vessel.  Robert Leembruggen couldn’t look more like Smee if he tried and he’s amusing throughout, with a no nonsense deadpan delivery that you would expect from the Yorkshire native, as the perfect foil for the over the top antics of Black Stache. Joe Jalette has the task of portraying the Pirate Captain and he bears more than a passing resemblance to Christian Borle who played the role on Broadway. Jalette takes a while to really hit his stride but his confidence grows throughout the show and by the time the second act is in full flow he’s stealing scene after scene as he struts around the stage.

As the story moves to Mollusk Island ropes descend at the rear of the stage to depict a jungle and the audience is very much required to bring their childlike imaginations along for the ride. For the most part we are happy to let those imaginations run wild with everything the story asks of us but with so many outrageous characters it is important for some real relationships to be developed to connect us emotionally at the same time. This is where the production falls a little short. The performances of Valentin-Morales and Rieland as Prentiss and Ted are further comic relief but opportunities for us to really care about these boys are passed up too often to play everything larger than life. Reiner Prochaska never feels like quite the right fit for the unflappable Leonard Aster leaving us un-invested with his relationship with his daughter, Molly. All this means that by the time Lee and Joy do give us wholehearted honesty in the final scene it feels a little out of place.

The overall vision and staging by Julie Herber for this production is a big achievement. The action flows relentlessly with the only slight complaint being the more intimate scenes occasionally being played too far forwards leaving those at either extreme of the house looking at backs. The costumes of Stephanie Hyder are excellent throughout with the individual mermaid costumes at the top of act two all hilariously unique. It’s a bold and imaginative production and while not all the choices work it’s the sort of risk taking theatre that should be on your schedule over the next few weeks.

#tothepoint Rating 69.5/100

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

Ticket Price: $24

Value Rating: +$15

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $39. Peter and the Starcatcher continues at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre until May 7th.

Review: Bright Stars on the Silver Spring Stage

Boise

It’s opening weekend at the Silver Spring Stage and it’s clear many in attendance have little idea what to expect from playwright Sam Hunter’s 2011 award winning play, A Bright New Boise. The audience are positioned on two sides of the square stage separated by a wide walkway that will provide a second location away from the break room of the arts and crafts store, Hobby Lobby, where most of the play takes place. With the set in darkness, Will (Brendan Murray), takes his place on the outside of the pillar at the corner of the stage between the audience and declares “Now” and the sense that we don’t know what we are ready for is heightened.

The lights come up on the break room and Scenic Designer, Dean Leong, has produced a convincing location. The two walls feature a sink, microwave, lockers and inboxes that form a sterile setting broken up only by a lonely motivational poster informing the staff to ‘Hang in there’. Tables and chairs adorn the rest of the stage and a TV and VCR are positioned on the inside of the corner pillar in such a way that no-one in the audience can see the screen. Faith is a central theme of Hunter’s play and as the story unfolds the TV’s placement is wonderfully unsettling for the audience as it almost takes on a God like role as we start to question if the staff are watching it or if it is watching them.

Murray is excellent as Will as he draws us in to the genuine warmth of his character while his checkered backstory and extreme religious views about the rapture are slowly unveiled. In the opening scenes, as he starts his first day in his new job, Murray finds the balance of awkwardness, evasiveness and likability in all of his delivery and mannerisms. It’s a really subtle and believable performance that allows us not to define this man simply by what he believes. The manager of the store, Pauline, played by Andrea Spitz, is a brash and relatively uncomplicated woman. Spitz is much of the comedy as the darkness descends as the show progresses and she understands her ‘why me?’ role in proceedings but some of her expressions and reactions play a little too big for this close-knit audience.

Will is introduced to teenage co-worker, Alex (Ben Miller), and it is quickly revealed that Alex is Will’s biological son who was adopted as a baby. Miller portrays the apathy and then angst of his character persuasively and the dynamic between the two is engaging to watch. Leroy (Shaquille Stewart), Alex’s older brother from his adopted family, provides an excellent contrast for Will with Stewart’s comfortable demeanor in the break room making it easy to believe he has worked there for years. Leroy wears self designed obscene shirts and delivers language to match that cause a few mutterings from the crowd. “I’m deliberately making you uncomfortable” he tells Will, but it’s far more a message from the playwright to his audience.

The play is truly at its’ best when Murray is sharing the stage with Maura Suilebhan who is a joy to watch as the introverted and sheepish Anna. All of her quirks and facial expressions would be so easy to be overplayed but she never falls into that trap and all of her exclamations and self admonishments are incredibly natural. There is great chemistry between Murray and Suilebhan and their awkward flirting is just really good theatre.

Director, Matt Ripa, moves us through the timeline of the play, largely with lighting changes in the break room effectively signifying the passing of time. He isn’t afraid of silence and that adds to the sense of unease at all the right moments. The movement of the actors is consistent and logical in the vast majority of the exchanges. One slight disappointment is a pivotal scene where Will reads his blog aloud to Anna. We see all that Will is experiencing as he reads his work but we feel a little cheated of Anna’s reaction as she sits with her back to the audience. Later, a moment where Alex buries his head into the wall by the lockers also lacks a certain authenticity. When the scenes transition to the walkway off stage we really feel like we are intruding on these personal moments and Ripa moves the action between the two locations very capably. Murray excels in these off stage scenes and his proximity to the audience only adds to the truth he brings to his character. Unfortunately the ease in which Miller portrayed the emotions of Alex earlier are not matched now that he needs to show much more vulnerability and pain in a more restrained way. In the same location a scene between Will and Leroy almost slips into soap opera territory with Stewart’s delivery.

The show is a technical success with sound and lighting both at a high standard throughout. Set and costumes are not demanding but are done well with minimum fuss. Ripa gets good performances from all of his cast and Murray and Suilebhan absolutely make this a show worth making the effort to see.

 #tothepoint Rating 65.5/100

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

Ticket Price: $25

Value Rating: +$6

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $31. A Bright New Boise continues at the Silver Spring Stage until April 30th.

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