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Rikki Lacewell

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: Sister Act

Sister Act

Sister Act was a box office smash for Whoopi Goldberg on the big screen back in 1992 and the Musical of the same name has been incredibly popular with theatre audiences all over the world since it opened in London’s West End in 2010 before moving to Broadway a year later. It is opening weekend at the Community College of Baltimore County and as the curtain is drawn on this Cockpit in Court production we sit back eager to see if Director, Choreographer and Costume Coordinator, Tom Wyatt, can successfully juggle all these roles.

The action is set in the 1970s and the costumes do for the most part convey that era although not in a particularly cohesive manner. It’s a slightly lackluster start to the show as Deloris Van Cartier (Rikki Howie Lacewell) takes the lead on Take Me to Heaven and is backed up by Michelle (Amy Luchey) and Tina (Lacy Comstock). Lacewell sings well throughout but her acting choices lack a certain honesty, too often falling in to the trap of trying to play it funny with her delivery and this contributes to too many of the comedic moments missing the mark.

We meet Mother Superior (played with skill and restraint by Jane C. Boyle) and with the high energy of all the other Sisters in the convent, Boyle manages to shine in an understated way. The performance showcases the lovely tone in her voice in a role that could have easily fallen flat under a less experienced actress.  As we transition to the convent we are greeted by the Set Designer, G. Maurice Conn’s, impressive two story set that has an upper platform (which is used disappointingly sparingly) and working doors on the ground level. Eddie (Troy Haines-Hopper) is the hero of our story and he displays the velvety smoothness to his voice on I Could be That Guy. While his crooning is just a little pitchy at times it’s easy to forgive as he brings a sweetness and charm to the role. Again, however, the comedic timing of the line delivery means too many potentially laugh out loud moments are unfulfilled. Just as act one seems to be meandering its’ way to the intermission the whole production reaches new heights with Raise Your Voice (featuring excellent lighting) and Take Me to Heaven (Reprise). The Nuns are truly the strength of this show and the singing, dancing and excitement they bring to these two numbers leave us invigorated and ready for act two.

The energy level is maintained throughout the second act but the quality in all aspects of the production is a story of highs and lows. Wyatt has some scenes executed with near precision while others fall well short of this high standard. The choreography for the Nuns is fun, visually stimulating and full of energy, while the men’s numbers, particularly Lady in the Long Black Dress, are awkward in execution. Wyatt gets credit for the pace of the show as set changes occur at great speed and even though the action is broken up with blackouts they are quick and forgiving. Isolating areas of the stage as part of the lighting design could have simplified some of these changes and it was certainly achievable as designer, Kasey Conn, showed in the first act. The sound issues are the low point of the evening with mics consistently cutting out. This was most frequently an issue for Monsignor O’Hara (Thom Sinn) and it is to his and the rest of the casts’ credit that they persevered and made their voices heard. The costumes peak with the Nuns and the added flair to their outfits (and the stunning costume for Deloris in the finale) but lose their way in Fabulous Baby Reprise with the ensemble appearing to be in wrong decade in their 1960s swing dresses and their hot pink clashing horribly when the men join in wearing red.

Music Director, Nathan Scavilla, has done a creditable job with this group and the live seven piece orchestra sound fine throughout and add to the sense of occasion (especially as the Pope appears from within their midst). The Nuns sound great together on all of their songs but the exceptional vocal of the night belongs to Sherry Benedek as she truly takes us to church in her role as Sister Mary Robert. She finds a truth, naivety and a childlike sense of adventure and we believe every word she sings of The Life I Never Led. That investment is missing when Curtis Jackson (Jake Stuart) arrives in the final moments to kill Deloris – the tension just isn’t there as the stakes of the situation just never seem high enough.

There are some genuinely physically funny scenes as Curtis’ men chase the Nuns through the ground level doors and later as they are taken down in the conflict at the convent. Overall these moments, along with some impressive highlights musically, don’t quite do enough to make this review a strong recommendation…but these Nuns are worth making the effort to come and see and the show finishes on an absolute high as they Spread the Love Around. We can’t help but wonder if the production responsibilities had embraced a similar mantra if some of the inconsistencies would have been overcome.

#tothepoint Rating: 61/100

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

Ticket Price: $22

Value Review: $0

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $22 meaning it reached the expected value. Sister Act continues at Cockpit in Court until August 6th.

Review: Legally Blonde

Legally Blonde

Legally Blonde is one of the most enjoyable and uplifting musicals of the last 10 years and the crowd at the Slayton House Theater are ready for some fun. The lower third of the back wall is a brick design, above it is a plain white backdrop and sitting in front is a movable stairway to nowhere. The action gets underway with Serena, Margot and Pilar entering through the house and the rest of the sorority girls take the stage and launch into the incredibly infectious Omigod You Guys. The three girls don’t really have the space they need in the house and although the stage is not particularly wide, it is deep and high enough that it could have accommodated a permanent platform as part of the design – something that the show would have greatly benefited from.

There are so many set changes in the first half of act one alone as we transition to the mall, the restaurant, the Harvard yard and Callahan’s classroom. To its’ credit the show never stops flowing but it feels like hard work for the cast and crew as they perform the numerous set changes. Director, TJ Lukacsina, is also credited as the Set Designer and it’s clear the show would have benefited from a ‘less is more’ approach. A more versatile ‘base’ set would have allowed the staging and the actors to tell the story and take us to those locations with minor changes rather than attempting to construct each scene fully onto a blank canvas.

The lack of levels definitely hurts the choreography of Rikki Lacewell. There is an overall lack of creativity and a repetitive nature to her steps, and we all too often find the cast in straight lines across the stage (even disappointingly from front to back of stage in the Irish dancing section of Legally Blonde Remix where creating some angles would have gone a long way). During Whipped into Shape the house is again utilized and several audience members actually cower in their seat as the jump rope comes dangerously close to them.

Lindsey Landry looks exactly as you would picture Elle Woods and she doesn’t hit a bad note all night. Matt Wetzel does not look exactly as you would picture Emmett but what quickly becomes evident is that he has excellent comic timing and a wonderful tone to his voice that is displayed best as he delivers the challenging Chip on My Shoulder.

There are some other excellent vocal performances in the show, none more so than Michele D. Vicino-Coleman as Paulette. Her rendition of Ireland and its soaring reprise are standout moments although the delivery is far too presentational. Vicino-Coleman also falls into the trap of the acting becoming too focused on the accent, losing some of the feel for the character. Allison Bradbury as Vivienne and Stephen Foreman as Warner both give performances that add to the feeling that for the most part this is a vocally impressive show. Co Music Directors, Nathan C. Scavila and Michael Wolfe, do have some issues with the ensemble, especially during Legally Blonde Remix, and unfortunately the energetic nature of Brooke Wyndham’s (Summer Hill) workout routine for Whipped Into Shape make it difficult for her to stay on pitch during the 2nd half of the song.  It’s a shame for Hill as she can clearly sing and is genuinely funny in her line delivery. Jennie Phelps stands out among the ensemble with her consistent and committed character choices.

There are some moments of confusion in the transitions and this is most noticeably the case after Callahan kisses Elle and she appears to re-enter his office. We’re never clear where the following scene with Emmett takes place and it distracts from a pivotal moment in the plot. The show, however, is ultimately a relative success on the back of the performances of Landry and Wetzel. Wetzel gives the acting performance of the night and Landry finds just the right level of emotion and self-doubt in the heartfelt Legally Blonde that by the end of the show we do feel like we have taken the journey with her.

#tothepoint Rating 60/100

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

Ticket Price: $20

Value Rating: +$0

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $20 meaning it reached the value and expectations of the ticket price. Legally Blonde continues at Silhouette Stage until May 28th.

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