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Review: Chicago

Chiacgo

Haze subtlety drifts in through the rafters of the Keegan theatre and as it catches the light it gives the impressive two- story set a quality that helps transport us back to the 1920s and prohibition era Chicago. Matthew J. Keenan’s design features 4 wooden staircases with both levels featuring vertical blinds that transform effectively into jail cells and allow the orchestra to perform unobtrusively.

And All That Jazz opens the show and while the choreography is well thought for this iconic number the execution of the company feels a little tentative. After Roxie Hart kills her lover we get the first look at the bold character choice of Maria Rizzo in Funny Honey. The song starts as a sweet ode to her husband, Amos (Michael Innocenti) before turning on a dime as she berates his stupidity when he tells the truth to the police. Roxie is often played with a hint of crazy but Rizzo plays the role completely unhinged and it’s a terrific choice as we believe she is capable of absolutely anything. Innocenti is the perfect foil for Rizzo as he captures all the naivety of his character in every line and each facial expression.

The lighting design of Jason Arnold is a real strength of the show (the overhead spot in particular used to striking effect) but the one small complaint comes in Cell Block Tango where the cells are just too dark. It’s a strong vocal from Jessica Bennett as Velma Kelly but the pacing of the spoken interludes drag and this isn’t quite the first act highlight it should be. The scene between Matron Mama Morton (Rikki Howie Lacewell) and Velma suffers from the same pacing issues and lack of connectivity to the dialogue with Bennett’s gaze when looking out too often at the front row when it should have been the back of the house.

Billy Flynn (Kurt Boehm) enters from center aisle of the audience and it feels like a slightly questionable choice from our co Directors (Susan Marie Rhea and Mark A. Rhea) and the moment isn’t helped by Boehm’s mic not working and that plays a part in All I Care About is Love falling flat. That is soon forgotten as Chris Rudy shows off his vocal range as Mary Sunshine on A Little Bit of Good and the best moment of the show follows as Roxy becomes Billy Flynn’s puppet for the press in We Both Reached for the Gun. Rizzo is transformed with stealthily applied rosy cheeks to take on a rag doll like appearance and Rachel Leigh Dolan’s choreography is a joy to watch.

The Conductor (Michael Kozemchak) introduces I Can’t Do it Alone as Velma realizes she needs Roxie and attempts to persuade her to become part of her act. Kozemchak never commands the stage in the role – to the point where it may be a choice – leaving us wanting a little more ‘showbiz’. Bennett’s vocal consistency during a highly energetic routine is commendable and the relationship between Velma and Roxie is always interesting to watch culminating in My Own Best Friend ending the first act on a strong note.

The orchestra is one of the stars of this production under Music Director / Conductor, Jake Null, and they start act two sounding at their best. Things are really moving now and I Know a Girl and Me and My Baby fly by before Amos has his moment with the ballad for the ignored, Mr. Cellophane. Innocenti sings it sweetly and it’s a nice moment but for the first time the staging and the limitations of the set start to make the story telling feel a little unimaginative. Razzle Dazzle pushes back against this notion with the levels used to maximum effect as the company performs a variety of circus acts. While the stage is framed beautifully the execution of the interesting choreography never quite reaches the heights we are hoping for and despite Boehm’s dancing ability he doesn’t bring enough charisma to the role.

Class showcases the best vocal for both Lacewell and Bennett as their voices blend to produce a real moment and the show builds towards a very strong finish musically. Rizzo and Bennett leave everything on the stage with their performance of Hot Honey Rag and it’s a rousing finale. This is another strong production from Keegan and while it falls short in some areas, Maria Rizzo’s take on Roxie is a performance that pushes the value of the show past its’ tickets price.

#tothepoint Rating: 75/100

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

Ticket Price: $45

Value Review: +$5

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $50 making it value. Chicago continues at The Keegan Theatre until April 14th.

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: Imogen

Imogen

Shakespeare’s Cymbeline was always the story of Princess Imogen and Pointless Theatre’s adaptation rightly makes her the headline act. The original title character, the puppet king, is reduced to a literal puppet on the hand of his new wife. That change in emphasis sees Imogen as part of DC’s Women’s Voices Theater Festival and while much of her journey feels relevant to be in that conversation (including her own #metoo moment)  the conclusion appears tone deaf by comparison.

The Dance Loft on 14th Street is the new home for Pointless Theatre and it features a twisted fairy-tale style backdrop by Patti Kalil. The design is simple but effectively combines a palatial feel with that of an enchanted forest while three main archways are covered with white sheets that along with some smartly designed panels in the walls allow the cast to enhance the story telling through silhouette and shadow puppetry.

As the story begins the world created for us through the costumes of Julie Cray Leong and the lighting design of Mary Keegan is visually captivating which offsets some of lack of accessibility of the Shakespearean language. Katelyn Manfre (Imogen) displays a familiarity with that language that allows her to connect with her arc from playful princess (in her wonderfully staged entrance) to a soldier on the battlefield. Hillary Morrow is terrific as the Queen and her physicality and total commitment to the additional role of Cymbeline make that bold choice at least feel interesting, if not totally successful, when in a lesser hand it could have fallen flat. Kiernan McGowan makes our skin crawl as Iachimo – a character with no redeeming qualities – but the choice to depict him as an actual monster with Freddie Kruger esque hands in the scene where he sexually assaults Imogen seems unnecessary and gives her experience a dream like quality where we could question whether it really happened.

The staging and movement is a highlight throughout from Director, Charlie Marie McGrath, and Choreographer, Ryan Sellers, and the impressive gender transformation of Imogen is further elevated by the live music provided by Jonathan Een Newton & Michael Winch. Winch is the Music Director and the Composer and his work heightens many of the best moments while the technical balance between music and actors delivery is handled deftly throughout.

The convoluted plot of Shakespeare’s original work is difficult enough to follow and unfortunately the production of this adaptation tries to do way too much. Re-framing the tale with Imogen being recognized at its’ center combined with this groups passion for puppetry is enough. The evolving costumes as the play progresses – to somehow convey that this is a story and issues that can be transposed to a modern time – are handled inconsistently, and any power that the message could have conveyed (perhaps through just Imogen changing) is lost in the confusion.  There are casting issues too with Lee Gerstenhaber distractingly too young for the role of Belarius, meanwhile a major plot point requires Leonatus (Alex Turner) and Cloten (Maximilian Lapine) to be similar body types – which they are not – giving the audience an opportunity to check out of the reality we are trying to be immersed in.

There is some absorbing work here. Once we accept the fact that the soldiers are now wearing camo and we embrace the presence of the twentieth century tanks during this Roman war, the battle scene in act two is an enjoyable attack on the senses. Choreography, music, sounds and lights crash together to create something quite special when viewed in isolation. Unfortunately it’s really the only the only highlight of a disjointed second act that will soon reach an unsatisfying completion. There are significant directorial issues in the final scene with no attempt at all to conceal the identity of Iachimo or Leonatus even though they are kneeling right next to each other and in full sight of Imogen making the revelation moments that follow almost bizarre.

And then comes that conclusion.

George Bernard Shaw’s Cymbeline Refinished written 80 years ago allowed Imogen to express a stronger feminist message than the original work and this should have been the foundation for Pointless to expand upon. Instead, after all Imogen has been through she takes back Leonatus who tried to have her killed and forgives Iachimo, who sexually assaulted her and we are left with thoughts of an opportunity lost.

#tothepoint Rating: 63/100

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

Ticket Price: $30

Value Review: -$4

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $26. Imogen continues at Pointless Theatre until February 11th.

Review: Omnium Gatherum

Omnium Gatherum.jpg

Omnium Gatherum. A collection of miscellaneous people brought to us by Alexandra Gersten-Vasilliaros and Theresa Rebeck who wrote the play in the direct aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Their work represents the conversations that were being had in all walks of life in post 9/11 America in the form of an elegant dinner party where it quickly becomes clear that all is not as it seems.

The Silver Spring Stage features a relatively simple set design from Don Slater – we feel like we’re in a high end New York apartment – with a table set with seven places. There is one entrance out of this room that will eerily glow with each use and black curtains at the extremities of the stage where serving tables will unnervingly appear from and vanish into. This two sided stage is always the challenge of this space and the positioning of the table, where most of the action will take place, was likely something that kept the Director, Bill Hurlbut, awake at night. The sight lines are not ideal (the experience of the audience likely greatly differs depending on their seat) and we found ourselves for much of the first half of the play looking at the back of three of our protagonists who in turn blocked the faces of those who were facing us. The table is just upstage of center and allows plenty of room for the actors to break away downstage from the group when the moment dictates. It may have been a stronger choice to place the table as far downstage as possible, to really make the audience feel like the eighth member of the dinner party, and allow a more natural choice when the characters need space to break away from all of us. Such are the mysterious goings on at this gathering that the periodic lighting and sound effects could perhaps have even been accompanied by the use of a turntable changing the orientation of the table and allowing us a different perspective of the evening’s guests. This is, however, a well-directed and well-acted play. To hold our attention so closely for over an hour and a half (with no intermission) is testament to that and the character work that has been achieved. The pacing is well done with overlapping dialogue used where appropriate to keep things ticking along and there is just enough intrigue to have us forming our own theories while we follow the debate. There are a few too many times where the need to make a point is combined with leaving the table and while it makes things visually more interesting there were opportunities to be creative in finding justifications for the movement that were passed up.

Truthful performances are absolutely essential for this play to work and thankfully we have a cast who largely succeed in that challenge. Lou Pangaro is absolutely compelling as Khalid as he evolves from quietly expressing his world view into raw honest pleading and his arc through the course of the evening is a joy to watch. Roger (Keith Cassidy) is the Capitalist of the group and the angriest about what has happened to his country. Cassidy is terrific in all of his exchanges and he has a wonderful raspiness to his voice that allows him to commit fully to these moments. Cassidy does have a tendency to pull focus with over playing his reactions to other people’s dialogue and less would definitely be more in this aspect of his work. The moments of playful contempt shared between Roger and Lydia (Leigh Rawls) are the most enjoyable of the night with both actors fully immersed in their beliefs and back story. Suzie (Wendy Baird) represents much of America and is a delightful mix of good intentions,  a little ignorance and unexpected moments of depth. There is a ‘band playing on while the Titanic sinks’ quality to the character that Baird captures wonderfully and it’s a more nuanced performance than you originally realize as the plot develops. Suzie introduces a surprise guest of the evening and Omar LaTiri brings a controlled intensity and believability to a role it would have been very easy to turn into a cliché.

Bill Hurlbut gets good performances from his entire cast and the mystery of the story is handled deftly with the smart lighting and sound design. The questions raised in this play have shaped our current reality and they are asked in a way that will make you feel a whole range of emotions – not least to laugh as it is genuinely funny – which is what good theatre does.

#tothepoint Rating: 65/100

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

Ticket Price: $25

Value Review: +$5

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $30. We recommend selecting a seat near the center walkway between the two seating sections. Omnium Gatherum continues at Silver Spring Stage until November 18th.

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: 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: Aida

AIDA

Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida is a technically challenging and vocally demanding show for a community theatre to take on. With the Director, Andrew JM Regiec, also tackling set design responsibilities (a doubling of duties that can derail far easier productions) we wonder if the Reston Community Players will be up to the task. As we settle into our seats at the Reston Community Center those concerns are quickly allayed.

The show opens in the wonderfully designed modern museum and it is the setting for a man and a woman to be transfixed by each other’s gaze and share an ancient connection. The statue of Amneris (Claire O’Brien Jeffrey) comes to life to deliver a beautiful vocal performance on the slow burning Every Story is A Love Story. Regiec’s vision for the show works in total synchronicity with his and Dan Widerski’s versatile set design. This is perfectly showcased on My Strongest Suit when Amneris and her entourage are using the stairs that cross the stage left to right. The stairs are deconstructed before our eyes and transformed into a runway that brings the action downstage in the form of a fashion show that climaxes with Amneris in one of the best costumes of the night. Jeffrey sings well throughout but does have a tendency to overplay the jokes rather than trust the writing (and the audience) and we have to wait until the second act for the honesty we really want from her character. She strikes the right tragic note necessary in her acting and her singing on I Know the Truth and it’s a wonderful moment that is elevated by the stunning costume design by Charlotte Marson. Her dress conveys the trapped melancholy of the lyrics, conjuring imagery of her being inside a cage.

Elton John and LeAnn Rimes combined to make Written in the Stars a billboard hit and the best known song from the show. The job of portraying the love story of Aida and Radames belongs to Tara Lynn Yates-Reeves and Brett Harwood. Yates-Reeves has a delightful tone to her voice but is definitely taken out of her comfort zone when in her upper register and some of her swaying and gesticulating while singing is somewhat distracting. Harwood has a very rock edge to his voice that would sound at home as Mark Cohen in Rent and he gives a committed vocal performance that overcomes the occasional pitch issue. The true drama and despair of their relationship is never fully realized – unfortunately Harwood’s line delivery often falls a little flat – but there are genuine moments of chemistry between the pair. It’s a strong supporting cast and Paul Tonden, in the role of Radames’ father, sings with clarity and purpose and combines that with a strong stage presence.

The highlight for Music Director, Elisa Rosman, comes just before the intermission with the gospel-esque The Gods Love Nubia. The ensemble does a great job all night but this is the moment for the goosebumps. The choreography by Andrea Cook is relevant and creative throughout, utilizing the levels of the set, but the execution does not reach the same plane. The majority of the dance numbers are not together or clean and would have benefited from another solid week of rehearsal.

The final moments for Aida and Radames are movingly staged as Director and Lighting Designers (Ken & Patti Crowley) collaborate to beautiful effect. Despite no truly standout performance, Regiec deserves huge credit for the overall vision of the show and the creativity and imagination of the set design. In unison with the amazingly fast choreographed scene transitions (kudos to the stage crew) it is worth the price of admission alone – this is must see community theatre.

#tothepoint Rating: 71/100

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

Ticket Price: $27

Value Review: +$15

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $42 making it terrific value.  Aida continues for the Reston Community Players until November 11th.

Review: Pippin

Pippin

It’s opening weekend for the Arlington Players and as we walk in to the Thomas Jefferson Theatre our eyes are greeted by the eclectic set, designed by Jared Davis, which has a slightly mysterious quality that is perfect for Pippin – a musical that always leaves you questioning when and where you are. It looks like one impressive structure but to our pleasant surprise it splits into segments and provides a variety of interesting locations with varying levels for the Director (Christopher Dykton) and Choreographer (John K. Monnett) to utilize.  Unfortunately, over the course of the next couple of hours, that opportunity is squandered.

We are introduced to the troupe and the Leading Player (Erich DiCenzo) in Magic to Do and it’s a tepid start visually and vocally. Until the very end of the night we never get the sense of foreboding we require from the presence of the Leading Player. We’re looking for sinister and seductive in equal measure but DiCenzo comes across more like a Vegas magician. The lighting is an issue for much of the show. At times there appear to be huge dead spots downstage where people are unintentionally lost in shadow, and at others the whole stage is lit where isolation is badly needed. The spotlight is completely over used throughout, most egregiously at the same time that the back wall is being projected upon, spoiling the effect.

Pippin is a show that regularly breaks the fourth wall so it’s important to make the dialogue between those on stage as truthful as possible so that contrast is established. Disappointingly, so many of the conversations between characters are delivered with the actors standing in straight lines facing the audience. The players must become their characters and the material really needs to be handled honestly for the pay off in the second act to make sense. Dykton and his cast treat the whole first act as if it is some long lost sequel to Spamalot, with every funny moment in the writing delivered like a punchline, leaving the action feeling somewhat disconnected from the material. That same sense permeates Monnett’s choreography which fails to exploit the many levels the set presented. During Spread a Little Sunshine, Fastrada (Carla Crawford) is left with absolutely nothing to do on stage during a dance break that seems to last an eternity and you can’t help feel for her by the end of it.

There are other awkward moments in the first act. During No Time at All, Berthe (Melanie-Jennings-Bales) inexplicably turns her back on Pippin (Jonathan Gruich) to walk several paces across the stage (to where we can only assume X marked the spot) to deliver the next part of the song. What should be the highly suggestive staging of sexual discovery in With You, leaves Gruich looking like he wandered into a ballet class. We do end act one in a visually striking way. With the stage eerily lit, the ensemble enters in religious red robes before Pippin confronts his father, Charlemagne (Keith J. Miler).

Music Director, Blakeman Brophy, has dancers first, singers second in the leading male roles. There is no stand out ensemble moment and along with a hesitant performance from the orchestra the show is underwhelming musically. Act two focuses on the relationship between Pippin and Catherine (Patty Rupinen) after she discovers him in There He Was. Many of the jokes before the intermission were overplayed so it’s surprising when Catherine’s initial attraction to the arch of Pippin’s foot is all but discarded. Rupinen gives the strongest vocal of the night on Kind of Woman but the chemistry between her and Gruich is never really developed because of how the scenes are portrayed. There is no real sense that the relationship is evolving into something deeper – in fact Catherine and her son, Theo (Aidan Chomicki) seem like an unwanted distraction for Pippin. There is a rare candid moment when Rupinen starts to reveal Catherine’s feelings for Pippin to the Leading Player. This moment of truth, however, feels a little hollow as everything we’ve seen up to this point is fighting against it.

The staging of the finale features another beautiful set piece, a relatively impressive technical success for the fire effect, and a rather bizarre moment after one of the players pretends to jump into the flames. The gravity of what they are asking Pippin to do does not really land because the foundations for that darkness have not been laid. The final scene of the show is the strongest of the production as the set is deconstructed to make Catherine aware of what life will be like with the choices she is making. As Theo stands alone center stage, with the Leading Player looming in the background, lighting and staging work in harmony to deliver a fleeting image of the show this could have been.

#tothepoint Rating: 50/100

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

Ticket Price: $23

Value Review: -$13

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $10.  Pippin continues for the The Arlington Players until October 21st.

Review: The Wild Party

The Wild Party

Based on Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 poem of the same name, Andrew Lippa’s musical, The Wild Party, opened off Broadway in 2000. The poem was banned for its’ decadent portrayal of the roaring 20s and we settle into our seats expecting an evening of debauchery from The Constellation Theatre Company. The main feature of Scenic Designer, Tony Cisek’s set is an art deco wall with three central stairs leading to a glittering entrance. Behind the upper half of the beautifully lit back wall is a seven piece band.

Queenie was a Blonde opens the show as the male members of the company, in their newsboy attire, surround Queenie (Farrell Parker) and it’s a somewhat uncertain start vocally from the men. The lower half of the stage right wall smartly opens to reveal a bed as we see the origin of Queenie’s sexually abusive relationship with Burrs (Jimmy Mavrikes). Mavrikes plays the light and dark of his character brilliantly and the simple removal of his red clown nose transforms his face with his perfectly sullen eye makeup accentuating every brooding moment. Out of the Blue portrays the fading of the couple’s destructive passion and Parker finds her character somewhere between victim and boredom as ‘the girl who’s caught just staring in space.’ Embracing this introspective lyric is a fine baseline for her character but we need the public façade she presents to be in stark contrast. As Parker makes her entrance at the party she doesn’t so much Raise the Roof as slightly loosen a tile or two.

Look at Me Now marks Kate’s (Kari Ginsburg) arrival and it might as well be an audience instruction for the rest of the night as it’s hard to take your eyes off of her. Ginsburg oozes charisma as the slightly washed up party girl and you can feel her character’s life experience in every single thing she does on stage. Kate has brought Black (Ian Anthony Coleman) with her and he quickly becomes transfixed by Queenie. Poor Child introduces us to Coleman’s smooth vocals and when he drops into his lower register it’s like being wrapped in a warm blanket. The climax of the song, featuring Queenie, Burrs, Kate and Black is perhaps the musical highlight of the whole night. Music Director, Walter McCoy, finds the perfect blend to the overlapping lyrics and what started as melancholy ballad evolves into electrifying raw emotion with Mavrikes in particular pouring everything he has into the moment.

Allison Arkell Stockman has done a masterful job directing this cast and making the limited rhyming dialogue feel truthful and natural. It would be very easy for the other company members to be clichés – after all their stereotypes are named when they are first introduced – but they hit every comedic beat without ever falling into that trap. Rachel Barlaam steals her moments as the predatory lesbian, Madelaine True, and her performance in An Old Fashioned Love Story is laugh out loud funny as is her comic timing throughout the evening. The Juggernaut gives the band a chance to show their full repertoire and they sound at their sultry best (unfortunately the chemistry between Parker and Coleman does not quite reach the same heights) before a breathtaking finale to the song with Ginsburg singing like a women possessed.

The d’Armano brothers (Tiziano D’Affuso & Christian Montgomery) pitch their idea for a musical with A Wild, Wild Party and lighthearted storytelling gives way to high octane choreography. Ilona Kessell’s routines are relevant and entertaining all night but this is the highlight as the energy and execution are spectacular and it’s hard to tell if the audience or the cast are having the most fun. This feels like such a natural end to the first act it comes as somewhat of a surprise to find everyone is still on the stage. Two of a Kind seems destined to be an anticlimax but Eddie (Calvin Malone) and Mae (Emily Zickler) don’t allow that to happen and find their own moment in a thoroughly adorable routine. What is it About Her? is powerfully staged by Stockman, using the full depth of the space, as Burrs and Queenie sing about their relationship while sat with Kate and Black respectively. It is Parker’s best moment of the night as her tragic vocals intertwine wonderfully with Mavrikes’ passionate pleading.

Any thought that the momentum would be lost by the intermission is blown away as Ginsburg completely owns the stage in The Life of the Party. It’s the type of performance that should have her name at the top of any list when award season comes around. The arrival of a bathtub center stage moves the action to the bathroom and after Burrs fails to get his way with Queenie a smart lighting change transports him back into his role as performer as he briefly faces the audience before launching into the self-destructive anthem Let Me Drown. Kessell’s choreography is terrific again as despite the largely flat space she creates depth and levels with her actors as they crouch around the tub before Burrs climbs on top of it and is transported around the stage as the captain of his vessel. The slow motion fight scene that follows, choreographed by Robb Hunter, adds yet another layer to this production and A.J. Guban’s lighting, which is on point throughout, complements it perfectly with strobe effects.  Queenie leads Black to the bedroom and Come with Me certainly brings out the sex in Coleman’s voice but that doesn’t really translate into the physicality between him and Parker and the scene ultimately feels a little awkward. The tension is soon restored as the Queenie, Black, Burr, triangle reaches its’ tragic finale in Make Me Happy. Mavrikes is utterly believable as the unhinged Burrs as he threatens to Kill Black and himself and it’s a performance every bit as compelling as Ginsburg’s.

Constellation has pulled off something special. There is a great depth of talent in this cast and this production team has given them the platform to shine. With two unmissable performances and tickets available at an absolute steal it’s one of the must see shows of the season.

#tothepoint Rating: 82.5/100

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

Ticket Price: $55

Value Review: +$15

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $70. We have based the value rating of +$15 on the highest priced tickets of $55. This show is terrific value at this price but there are tickets available for this show at just $25! See this show while you can. The Wild Party continues at Constellation until October 29th.

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