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Maggie Modig

Review: White Christmas

White Christmas.jpg

It’s not easy to get into the Christmas spirit with regrets over the Halloween candy consumption still all too fresh in the memory but as we take our seats at the Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville there is the anticipation that the music of American song writing legend, Irving Berlin, will take us there.

Duane Monahan is Director and Choreographer for this Rockville Music Theatre production and there is a lack of focus for the overall vision of the show. The set design of Maggie Modig and the costumes of Richard Battestelli have some stand out moments – Modig does a nice job with the design of the Inn lobby – but they lack co-ordination and consistency making it unclear when and where our story is taking place.

Amanda Jones has a wonderful old school quality to her voice that brings to mind Judy Garland and it’s perfect for the role of Betty Haynes. Jones is vocally the star of the night and although she gives a solid acting performance it never quite reaches the same heights. In contrast, Liz Weber hits all the right comedic beats in her portrayal of Martha Watson while having some vocal struggles. Weber definitely brings a lot of humor to the role and her performance is noteworthy given that many of the lines delivered by her scene partner, General Henry Waverly (Jack Mayo), fall a little flat. There is a lovely moment of harmony for Music Director, Marci Shegogue, as Jones, Weber and Sirena Dib combine delightfully on Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun.

For much of the night the ensemble outshine the leads. Shows that feature a heavy dose of tap dancing can be a challenge for most community theatre productions but Monahan and his assistant Cathy Oh did a fine job tackling the load. The big routines are relatively basic but they are clean and well-rehearsed. The musical number of the night is I Love a Piano with the choreography incorporating the ensemble and the scenery as the chorus girls enter carrying musical notes which are hung as part of the set. The number builds up to the point where Phil Davies (Michael Page) can show off his tap skills as he performs a well-executed solo on top of the piano. Page is solid vocally as is Paul Loebach as Bob Wallace but neither of the male leads bring enough charisma to their roles or develop real chemistry with their female counterparts.

Visually the show is at its best for the very final number as costumes and the set finally work in harmony and combined with the snow projected in the background we start to feel a little bit of Holiday cheer. There are some confusing moments (Betty’s entrance to the front porch) and overall the characters are not fully developed enough for us to be fully engaged in the serene pace set by Monahan. If you already have your Christmas Tree up then this might be the show for you…

#tothepoint Rating: 59/100

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

Ticket Price: $22

Value Review: -$3

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $19.  White Christmas continues for Rockville Musical Theatre until November 12th.

Review: Pygmalion

Pygmalion

The Town Hall in Kensington is a non-traditional venue for theatre and as such presents an array of challenges for the creative team behind the British Players production of George Bernard Shaw’s, Pygmalion. As we negotiate our way into our temporary seats we get an immediate chance to see Maggie Modig’s set. The stage is split with Professor Higgins’ study and drawing room stage right and Mrs. Higgins’ drawing room stage left. A central curtain at the back of the stage is flanked by painted backdrops of the London skyline. On the apron of the raised stage stand three columns and two benches indicating a third venue.

We hear the sound of rain and a street light is lit stage right. The third venue is established as Covent Garden with Mrs. Eynsford-Hill (Ruth Vernet) and her children, Clara (Erin Schwartz) and Freddy (Todd Mazzie) attempting to find a taxi. The interior venues are not lost as much from the light as we would hope and the rain sound effect vanishes as quickly as it arrived despite the dialogue making it clear it is still raining. As for the dialogue itself, all the actors are mic’d up, which may be dictated by the acoustics of the venue but it takes some getting used to.

After a chance meeting in the opening scene between Higgins (Dan Owen), Colonel Pickering (John Allnutt) and Eliza Doolittle (Jenn Robinson), scene two takes us inside the home of Professor Higgins. Owen gives a strong performance with anger and playfulness always bubbling under the surface of his portrayal of the Professor. He captures the lack of empathy of the character and there is a truth in his work sometimes missing from some of the other members of the cast. Allnutt brings the right amount of affable bluster to the role of Pickering but his delivery is too presentational, something that will be a recurring theme throughout the show.

Eliza Doolittle will always be Audrey Hepburn in the 1964 musical film adaptation, My Fair Lady, and you can hear some of those Hepburn exclamations in Jenn Robinson’s delivery. Although those moments are intended to be larger than life, her focus on her accent and the cadence of her speech make her seem somewhat disconnected and a lot of the emotions feel like crocodile tears. Roger Stone brings the right level of energy to the role of Alfred Doolittle and the exchanges between Stone and Owen are verbally very pleasing. However, visually, the scenes between them, along with Allnutt, just don’t work. Far too often, Director, Pauline Griller-Mitchell, has the 3 men in a straight line facing the audience and the amount of unjustified movement within the blocking is quite staggering.

The costumes, by Harlene Leahy, are a strength throughout the show.  The styles and color palette effectively representing the different classes of this period of British life; although dressing Mrs. Pearce (Sam David), the Scottish housekeeper, in tartan feels a little too obvious. Unfortunately every time David enters the stage there is an annoying hum seemingly linked to her microphone which, along with a moment of horrendous feedback for Owen that comes later, is hard to forgive.

As the lights fade we hear the lessons between Higgins and Eliza that adeptly signify the passing of time before the lights come up on Mrs. Higgins’ (Margaret Lane) drawing room. We meet the Eynsford-Hill family for the second time and Vernet, Schwartz and Mazzie make the most of their limited stage time – with the exchanges between Schwartz and Robinson in both the opening and closing scenes of the first act particularly enjoyable.

The second act has a set surprise up its’ sleeve as the central curtain is drawn to reveal a staircase from which Eliza enters. It gives the set a wonderful depth which sadly it then fails to utilize for any purpose for the remainder of the show.  Robinson is a lot more comfortable as Eliza now she has transitioned into the better spoken version of herself and as the act progresses she starts to find the connection that was lacking earlier.  Unfortunately it’s too late for us to be truly affected by her fate and her decision to leave Higgins is not close to the emotional peak that it should be.

The reappearance of Alfred Doolittle, with his new found wealth, should make for an entertaining final scene and there are some funny moments with Stone lamenting his change in circumstance and Owen sulking like a toddler in time out. However, what follows is more bizarre blocking and characters almost rotating every few minutes to take turns sitting at Mrs. Higgins’ desk in a kind of slow and tedious game of musical chairs.

The Town Hall is a challenging space. The set and costumes are of a high quality and the performance of Owen as Higgins is a highlight…but the sound issues and the inability to isolate the different locations in the lighting design really hurt the overall quality of the production. However, it is the lack of authenticity in the interactions between the characters, largely due to movement rather than delivery, which unfortunately makes it impossible to recommend this show.

#tothepoint Rating: 48/100

You can view a full breakdown of the points here.

Ticket Price: $22

Value Review: N/A

Please review our scoring section. Our unique value for money guide only applies to shows that score 50 out of 100 or higher. The The British Players production of Pygmalion continues Friday through Sunday at Kensington Town Hall until April 9th.

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