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Steve Knapp

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: 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: Willy Wonka Not Quite Sweet Enough

wonka

As we settle into our seats in the black box theatre of Other Voices in Frederick, Md, to watch Willy Wonka the Musical, it’s hard not to think about the late Gene Wilder and his iconic performance in the 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He is ingrained in our collective memories as Wonka (sorry Johnny Depp) even among the younger generation as he forms the backdrop to a never ending number of internet memes.

Sean Byrne has the task of making the role of Wonka his own and he opens act one with a sincere rendition of Pure Imagination, dressed very much like Wilder in a purple jacket, brown hat and bow tie. With the majority of the set hidden by flats our imaginations begin to wonder what Set Designer, Lee Hebb, has in store for us behind them. Before that answer is revealed, however, the whole cast is before us for the Golden Age of Chocolate. It’s a slightly clumsy start with the large ensemble cramped into the restricted space at the front of the stage. As the flats transition to the wings the Bucket house is exposed – a truncated bed, home to the four Grandparents, a table at which Charlie’s parents prepare the daily cabbage soup, and between them a white screen that is used to project an image of a window. The latter is an unnecessary set piece that looks out of place in the overall design.

With the costumes of Wonka and the Bucket family (and many references throughout the show), it is clear we are intended to be in the same era as the original film. However, as Charlie leaves the house and is joined by other children of the town for the The Candy Man, things start to become confusing. The old fashioned cart selling the Wonka bars is surrounded by children wearing modern day attire and it gives the impression that the younger members of the ensemble arrived too late to the theatre and didn’t have time to change. Unfortunately it’s the start of many moments where the Costume Designer(s) and Director, Susan Thornton, don’t appear to have a consistent vision of when the show is taking place.

Reporter Phineous Trout (Thomas Bricker) introduces us to the various golden ticket winners and their parents via the big screen high above our heads stage right, and the action transitions (albeit with some questionable continuity) from some very stylish prerecorded video sections to the stage. In between, we have the one major choreographed number with Charlie (Jacob Holcomb) and Mr. Bucket (James Funkhouser). The relationship between the two is genuine and believable throughout the show but the dance feels out of character (especially for Charlie) and the execution was out of sync for both.

Act one closes with Charlie leading the cast in I’ve Got a Golden Ticket. All the ensemble numbers sound good under the music direction of Cathie Porter Borden, but lack the blend of harmonies to really elevate them to the next level.

Act two has the challenge of transporting us around the chocolate factory and it’s a challenge the show accepts and largely succeeds in overcoming. A painted backdrop of pipes is complimented by an actual pipe that spans the width of the stage above the actors heads. As Augustus Gloop (a disappointingly slim Andrew Seaton) sneezes his way into the chocolate river, the pipe is lit to show him at first stuck, and then shooting across the stage in impressive fashion.

The second act is handled expertly by Thornton. The addition of a second tier, lit in isolation and featuring the colorful Oompa Loompas and the latest rule breaking child, facilitate the set changes on the lower level to the next factory room, and creates a flow and momentum that the first act lacked.

The children all have their opportunities to shine as temptations expose their character flaws. Sophia Carliss gives a strong showing as the gum chewing Violet Beauregarde but the performance of the night comes from Kaitlin McCallion as she oozes attitude every moment she’s on stage as the spoiled Veruca Salt. While some of the other solo vocals are inconsistent in pitch, McCallion’s rendition of I want it Now is the best of the night.

There are other technical successes – the bad nut routine for Veruca and her father ending in their descent down a chute and the plucking of the six inch Mike Teavee from the TV screen are both pleasingly achieved. The white screen reappears and is used far more effectively to show Charlie and Grandpa Joe (Jeff Wine) floating among the bubbles – although a little actor motivation for going behind the screen would have gone a long way.

The lighting design of Steve Knapp and Jim McGuire really enhances the second act and this is exemplified as the upper balcony becomes an elevator and the stage a sea of lights as the show reaches its’ climax.

Willy Wonka the Musical is not as vocally impressive as you would hope and the inconsistency in the costuming and props are muddled choices that prevent us from really buying in to the first act. However, this is a demanding show to pull off in this space and the story telling after the intermission is done well and is thoroughly enjoyable.

#tothepoint Rating: 59/100

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

Ticket Price: $20

Value Review: -$1

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $19. Willy Wonka the Musical continues at Other Voices Theatre, February 10th, 11th & 12th.

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