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Fredericktowne Players

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: 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: Into The Woods

Into The Woods

It’s Saturday night at the JBK Theatre on the Campus of the Frederick Community College and time for us to venture Into the Woods. The 1998 Stephen Sondheim musical, which intertwines many of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, got a new lease of life after the release of the 2014 Disney movie and it’s the Fredericktowne Players opening show of their 2017/18 season.  The first impression is a positive one as the set design by Morgan Southwell and Steve Knapp is simple but visually impressive.  The back wall and flats feature intricately painted woodland scenes and there are two platforms, one across the rear of the stage, and another, like a catwalk, leading down center.

The curtain speech is delivered by a man in a grey suit and as the lights fade they are quickly brought back up to reveal he is in fact our narrator (Bob Ashby) for the evening. This is a nice touch but although the suit clearly distinguishes Ashby as separate from the rest of the action it makes him feel disconnected with the delivery more sale figures in the boardroom than imaginative storytelling. The lighting design of Steve Knapp works well in conjunction with the set giving the impression of sunlight finding its’ way through a canopy of branches – the slight distraction of the shadows across the faces of the actors is the price to pay for the effect.

Despite the initial aesthetic impact of the set, the limitations of the one fixed location quickly become apparent. The nature of the entrances and delivery become repetitive and overly presentational. Zach Harris, making his directorial debut, addressed this to an extent by using the stairs at either end of the stage as alternative ways of transitioning the action but unfortunately this adds to the overall feel that the pace is dragging a little. Finding more opportunities to utilize choreographer Kendall Sigman would have helped the overall balance of the show but it is difficult to pinpoint in this production where Sigman influenced the movement.

Little Red (Kaitlin McCallion) ups the energy whenever she is on the stage and her interactions with the Wolf (Alex Prete) are some of the best moments of the first act. McCallion brings a lot of attitude to the role and is always engaging but at times her delivery becomes screechy and difficult to understand. There are diction issues throughout the show, at times caused by the speed and nature of the delivery and at others due to the volume of the unseen orchestra which overpowers the actors. The Baker’s Wife (Lisa Shinn) and The Baker (William Lewis) give two of the strongest performances of the night. Shinn and Lewis are very good vocally but it’s the sincerity they bring to their relationship that makes them standout. Clay Comer has a commanding stage presence and comes close to stealing the show as Cinderella’s Prince. Comer’s duet with Rapunzel’s Prince (Steve Gondre-Lewis) on Agony (and later in the reprise) is the most interesting and entertaining of the night as the two men complement each other perfectly.

Music Director, Matt Dohm, has plenty of talent to work with and it’s a very solid show vocally. The Witch (Robin Samek) sounds simply beautiful on Stay with Me and Jack (Cam Sammartano) makes every word of I Guess This is Goodbye and Giants in the Sky believable. Neither Samek nor Sammartano find this truth in their character work however, to the extent that the deaths that occur in the second act completely pass us by until they are referenced by someone else on stage. We need the musical honesty that is displayed at its’ raw best on Your Fault to carry over into the acting and we are left wanting.

There are plenty of good choices along the way – the presence of the Giant is handled simply and effectively and the magic of the witch achieved with smart sound and lighting choices. There are more confused moments where Cinderella’s Prince arrives on a carousel horse complete with coconut shell sound effects lifted halfheartedly from Spamalot.  A needless sound effect suddenly asks us to believe there is a door to the home of Jack and his Mother where such logic to comings and goings has long since been discarded by the audience.  The costumes work well for the most part (the exception being Cinderella’s dress which is the sort of thing bridesmaids have nightmares about) adding to the sense that this looks like a good show. The tickets are competitively priced and it is encouraging to see a young director given an opportunity that he will only improve from.

#tothepoint Rating: 60/100

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

Ticket Price: $15

Value Review: +$5

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $20. Into The Woods continues at FtP until October 1st.

Review: Hairspray

Hairspray

The drums from the orchestra strike up the familiar beat of Good Morning Baltimore and as we transition from the bedroom of Tracy Turnblad (Natalie Mixon) the curtain opens on the Fredericktowne Players summer production of Hairspray. The stage at the JBK Theatre at the Frederick Community College is adorned with painted flats depicting various Baltimore locations. The set pieces we have are perfectly serviceable and those that were omitted would not have been missed too much if the design had worked hand in hand with the lighting of the show – but as the evening progresses it is obvious that is not the case.

Mixon is clearly a talented young lady and she has the vocal command and skill to sing the part but the opening number sets the tone for an acting performance that perhaps lacks a little maturity and experience to bring enough of the required energy and spunk to the role of Tracy. The ensemble sound respectable from the outset but the movement and choreography required to jump-start what is in fact two hours of non-stop singing and dancing is just not present at the top of the show. Despite lacking this initial jolt of energy, Choreographer, Kendall Sigman, overall does a very good job of utilizing a cast that has many good movers but few seasoned dancers.

We move to the famous local teen dance show and we are greeted by the larger than life Corny Collins (Alex Prete) and his permanent cheesy grin. Prete has an ease and likability on stage and embodies the personality of Collins while displaying his vocal chops on The Nicest Kids in Town. His performance is one of the highlights of the show but unfortunately the unforgivable sound issues that plague the production all night are most prevalent with his character and at times it seems almost every other word is being lost. The limitations of the lighting are brought to the forefront in Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now, as Tracy and Edna (Christopher Berry) start in their house and then are joined by Penny and Prudy Pingleton (Becca Sears and Lisa Shinn) and Amber and Velma Von Tussle (Bonnie Samantha Fox and Lisa Swinton) without any explanation as to how they got there. This is one of several moments where no section of the stage is isolated and believable entrances and exits are completely dismissed and we find ourselves asking…where are we? These young women and their mothers can definitely sing (and Sears’ quirky performance throughout shows off her fine comic timing) but the staging is more like a show choir number than story telling within the show.

Berry gives a thoroughly enjoyable performance with his authentic Baltimore accent in the role of Edna. He has boundless energy and attitude, great timing with his deep booming voice and convincingly portrays the loving nature of the character to Tracy and Wilbur (Mike Warshauer) Those genuine moments from Berry are not always reflected by Warshauer whose performance sometimes slips into cliché and caricature territory. Swinton’s vocal performance is commendable but she misses the mark with the required character traits of Velma; being sweet, predictable and ultimately whiny instead of villainous, sarcastic and domineering.

The lack of production values are the focus again when Edna is transformed with her new wardrobe and hair at Mr. Pinky’s Hideaway. The outfit is horribly ill-fitting and combined with the misjudged wigs and make-up it all becomes increasingly distracting. There is a somewhat consistent color palette to Kirk Bowers costume design with the kids in the Corny Collins Show but opportunities to elevate these with bows, ribbons and big hair are passed up. Tracy’s costume also fizzles when we need it to sparkle the most as she is upstaged by several members of the ensemble in the finale, You Can’t Stop the Beat.

Brittney Poindexter puts her full range of talents on display as she navigates her way through the roles of stern principle, butch predatory gym teacher and guard at the ladies prison. Poindexter commits to every character making strong and funny choices and gives Berry a run for his money in the scene stealing stakes. Another much needed highlight of the evening is the vocal capability of Corinthian Carr making her stage debut as Motormouth Maybelle.  Now this lady can sing! However, this natural talent feels under directed in all her scene work and this is one of several areas where stronger influence needed to be exerted by the Director. I Know Where I’ve Been is often a showstopper but Kopp’s staging has more the feel of a talent show (where Carr’s impressive instrument would likely get our vote) with an unfortunate disconnect to the other actors on stage. Kopp may keep the show moving well throughout but the lack of character development really doesn’t allow the actors or the audience to connect fully to the material.

There are some strong vocalists under the music direction of Matt Dohm (Rita Scott as Little Inez being another that deserves a mention for her singing and stage presence) but the ensemble never quite hits the heights we would hope. The choreography choices are smart and effective for the most part – although transforming You’re Timeless into a tap number lost much of the endearing nature of the song. There is a lot of talent in this young cast but there isn’t enough directorial vision or technical support to allow them to reach their potential…or for the show to reach the value of the ticket.

#tothepoint Rating: 55/100

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

Ticket Price: $23

Value Review: -$8

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $15. Hairspray continues at FtP until July 23rd.

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