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Kendall Sigman

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. 

Theatre to the Point Best of 2017: Community Theatre

As the first year of Theatre to the Point comes to a close we wanted to recognize the best of what we saw in 2017. We were paying audience members at a limited number of shows this year and in the future as our site grows we expect these yearly reviews to be a far more comprehensive overview of the best our region had to offer.

Best Musical:

Aida – Reston Community Players

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

Review

Best Play:

A Bright New Boise – Silver Spring Stage

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

Review

Best Value Show:

Aida – Reston Community Players

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

Best Actor in a Musical:

Matt Wetzel, Emmett (Legally Blonde) – Silhouette Stages

Best Actress in a Musical:

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

Best Actor in a Play:

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

Best Actress in a Play:

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

Best Director of a Musical:

Susan Thornton, Willy Wonka the Musical – Other Voices

Best Director of a Play:  

Bill Hurlbut, Omnium Gatherum – Silver Spring Stage

Best Music Director:

Nathan Scavilla, Sister Act – Cockpit in Court

Best Choreographer:

Kendall Sigman, Hairspray – The Fredericktowne Players

Best Set Design:

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

Best Costume Design:

Charlotte Marson, Aida – Reston Community Players

Best Lighting Design:

Steve Knapp & Jim McGuire, Willy Wonka – Other Voices

Best Sound Design:

Robert Pike, A Bright New Boise – Silver Spring Stage

Check out all of our reviews here.

Review: The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid

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

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

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

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

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

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

#tothepoint Rating: 48/100

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

Ticket Price: $20

Value Review: N/A

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

Review: 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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