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Matt Kopp

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: 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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