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Becca Sears

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/

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.

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