Search

Theatre to the Point

Theatre #tothepoint for DC, MD & VA

Tag

Kaitlin McCallion

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: 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: Willy Wonka Not Quite Sweet Enough

wonka

As we settle into our seats in the black box theatre of Other Voices in Frederick, Md, to watch Willy Wonka the Musical, it’s hard not to think about the late Gene Wilder and his iconic performance in the 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He is ingrained in our collective memories as Wonka (sorry Johnny Depp) even among the younger generation as he forms the backdrop to a never ending number of internet memes.

Sean Byrne has the task of making the role of Wonka his own and he opens act one with a sincere rendition of Pure Imagination, dressed very much like Wilder in a purple jacket, brown hat and bow tie. With the majority of the set hidden by flats our imaginations begin to wonder what Set Designer, Lee Hebb, has in store for us behind them. Before that answer is revealed, however, the whole cast is before us for the Golden Age of Chocolate. It’s a slightly clumsy start with the large ensemble cramped into the restricted space at the front of the stage. As the flats transition to the wings the Bucket house is exposed – a truncated bed, home to the four Grandparents, a table at which Charlie’s parents prepare the daily cabbage soup, and between them a white screen that is used to project an image of a window. The latter is an unnecessary set piece that looks out of place in the overall design.

With the costumes of Wonka and the Bucket family (and many references throughout the show), it is clear we are intended to be in the same era as the original film. However, as Charlie leaves the house and is joined by other children of the town for the The Candy Man, things start to become confusing. The old fashioned cart selling the Wonka bars is surrounded by children wearing modern day attire and it gives the impression that the younger members of the ensemble arrived too late to the theatre and didn’t have time to change. Unfortunately it’s the start of many moments where the Costume Designer(s) and Director, Susan Thornton, don’t appear to have a consistent vision of when the show is taking place.

Reporter Phineous Trout (Thomas Bricker) introduces us to the various golden ticket winners and their parents via the big screen high above our heads stage right, and the action transitions (albeit with some questionable continuity) from some very stylish prerecorded video sections to the stage. In between, we have the one major choreographed number with Charlie (Jacob Holcomb) and Mr. Bucket (James Funkhouser). The relationship between the two is genuine and believable throughout the show but the dance feels out of character (especially for Charlie) and the execution was out of sync for both.

Act one closes with Charlie leading the cast in I’ve Got a Golden Ticket. All the ensemble numbers sound good under the music direction of Cathie Porter Borden, but lack the blend of harmonies to really elevate them to the next level.

Act two has the challenge of transporting us around the chocolate factory and it’s a challenge the show accepts and largely succeeds in overcoming. A painted backdrop of pipes is complimented by an actual pipe that spans the width of the stage above the actors heads. As Augustus Gloop (a disappointingly slim Andrew Seaton) sneezes his way into the chocolate river, the pipe is lit to show him at first stuck, and then shooting across the stage in impressive fashion.

The second act is handled expertly by Thornton. The addition of a second tier, lit in isolation and featuring the colorful Oompa Loompas and the latest rule breaking child, facilitate the set changes on the lower level to the next factory room, and creates a flow and momentum that the first act lacked.

The children all have their opportunities to shine as temptations expose their character flaws. Sophia Carliss gives a strong showing as the gum chewing Violet Beauregarde but the performance of the night comes from Kaitlin McCallion as she oozes attitude every moment she’s on stage as the spoiled Veruca Salt. While some of the other solo vocals are inconsistent in pitch, McCallion’s rendition of I want it Now is the best of the night.

There are other technical successes – the bad nut routine for Veruca and her father ending in their descent down a chute and the plucking of the six inch Mike Teavee from the TV screen are both pleasingly achieved. The white screen reappears and is used far more effectively to show Charlie and Grandpa Joe (Jeff Wine) floating among the bubbles – although a little actor motivation for going behind the screen would have gone a long way.

The lighting design of Steve Knapp and Jim McGuire really enhances the second act and this is exemplified as the upper balcony becomes an elevator and the stage a sea of lights as the show reaches its’ climax.

Willy Wonka the Musical is not as vocally impressive as you would hope and the inconsistency in the costuming and props are muddled choices that prevent us from really buying in to the first act. However, this is a demanding show to pull off in this space and the story telling after the intermission is done well and is thoroughly enjoyable.

#tothepoint Rating: 59/100

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

Ticket Price: $20

Value Review: -$1

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $19. Willy Wonka the Musical continues at Other Voices Theatre, February 10th, 11th & 12th.

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑