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A love story so funny it has to be true

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani: Silicon Valley) is trying to live both American and Pakistani dreams. His parents want him to be a devout Muslim, choose an honorable profession like the law and agree to an arranged marriage with a nice Pakistani woman. Kumail pretends to buy into these goals, but his dream is making a living as a comedian.
    When Kumail meets Emily (Zoe Kazan: The Monster) at a club, he is smitten. They date, though Kumail knows that if his parents learn his secret, he’ll be disowned. Then Emily’s illness forces Kumail to reevaluate his double life.
    Heartfelt, hilarious and beautifully performed, The Big Sick is a near-perfect romantic comedy. Kazan and Nanjiani are both likeable performers, so even when they make terrible decisions, we want them to succeed. Director Michael Showalter (Grace and Frankie) blends the romantic storyline seamlessly with Kumail’s comic review of the conflicting messages of his upbringing. Standup darlings Bo Burnham and Aidy Bryant pop up with great supporting performances.
    It helps that the story is true.
    Najiani wrote the script with his wife, Emily V. Gordon, who really did fall into a coma while they were dating. Yes, this news gives away this story’s ending. But starry-eyed endings are not what this movie is about. See it to learn how a man comes to balance familial and romantic love as Kumail falls in love not only with Emily but also with her parents.
    Conflicts are handled deftly and without villains. Kumail’s parents want what they believe is best for him. Kumail loves them, even when he disappoints them.
    The Big Sick is both full of heart and uproariously funny.

Great Romantic Comedy • R • 120 mins.

Bringing the Book of Matthew to Life

Godspell was originally a college project by the show’s author, John-Michael Tebalak, then a student at Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh. Another student, Steven Schwartz, was brought in later to add a score, which of course includes such musical staples as Day By Day and Light of the World. Debuting off-Broadway in 1971, Godspell was a smash. It still is all these years later because of its simple staging, relatively uncomplicated music and the universal and timeless message of the Book of Matthew.

Given its youthful heritage, it might be a bit surprising to see that some of the cast members in Pasadena Theater Company’s lively production are almost twice the age Jesus was when he died. However, Godspell is a play about community as much as anything else, and community is ageless, as are the parables from the Book of Matthew with which Jesus teaches his charges. The 10 people assembled by director Chuck Dick are indeed a community, and this cast’s energy and commitment make us in the audience feel a part of that community as well.

Comedy is at the core of the first act. A more sober undertone of betrayal and resurrection shadows the second. Both work well because of the talented cast, a tight band and that simple staging.

Every Godspell needs an effective Jesus, one around whom the crazies can orbit, and John Andrew Rose provides just the right amount of wisdom and calm to anchor this production. He delivers his lessons with obvious love, sings his numbers with a strong, clear voice and is as adept at laughing along with his small community of followers as he is making us feel the searing pain of his crucifixion.

As John the Baptist, and later Judas, Frank Antonio is a strong presence, especially animated when he is forced to betray Jesus after accepting 30 pieces of silver to do so. Antonio’s bit of mime as Judas feels trapped in the box he has built for himself is particularly touching.

The rest of the cast each have their individual moments, from Joe Rose’s emotional and soaring All Good Gifts, to Lindsey Miller’s crystalline soprano on the rocking Bless the Lord, to Christy Stouffer’s faithful rendition of the hit Day By Day.

When Jesus and John the Baptist join together in the soft-shoe number All for the Best, we can tell we’re hearing something special, even though the band often overwhelms the two, especially Antonio’s double time diatribe about the rich as it patters alongside Jesus’ straight time. In such an intimate setting, one would hope that these issues can be ironed out, because too many words of too many songs get drowned out. The people who wrote these words, whether in biblical times or in the early ’70s, chose them carefully in this play to make a point. That point shouldn’t be blunted by unbalanced sound.

The occasional use of a microphone helps in some spots, but occasional use probably needs to be upped to almost regular use in the case of some soloists, especially when members of the band sing the beautiful and haunting In the Willows. The microphone is right there, on a stand, ready and waiting to be used. Might as well use it because it’s a song whose lyrics are as beautiful as the music.

Sound technicalities aside, this is a talented group who work together seamlessly, truly representing what Tebalak had in mind when he wrote the play: community. That’s something we need more of these days, and the timelessness of Jesus’ teachings is brought to life beautifully here, and will touch you regardless of your religious, philosophical or political leanings.


About 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission. Costumes: Christy Stouffer and cast. Music director: Tom Jackson. Choreographer: Jason Kimmell.

Thru July 23: FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, Pasadena Theatre Company, Humanities Recital Hall, AACC, Arnold, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: www.PTCShows.com.

After three tries, Marvel gets it right

Peter Parker (Tom Holland: The Lost City of Z) hoped his internship with Stark Industries would lead to more excitement than neighborhood watch duty. The high-schooler is recruited by Ironman Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.: Captain America: Civil War), to fight against Captain America, then sent back to school and allowed to use his new powers, and his neat Stark-industry suit, only to stop small crimes.
    After fighting superheroes, Parker gets no thrill from AP Chemistry.
    Strong enough to stop a car with his bare hands, smart enough to create a tensile web that can hold his weight or immobilize a bad guy, the teen chafes. He ditches class to hunt for big criminals.
    His mistake is choosing a weapons dealer who is combining alien technology with human artillery. The firepower is deadly, and so is the dealer,
Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton: The Founder).
    Should Parker have gotten his learner’s permit before taking on a supervillain?
    The latest addition to the Marvel comic pantheon features a likeable lead who plays a believable teen — plus action, humor and heart.
    At this point, you probably know that Parker was bitten by a spider. If you’ve read the comics or watched the movies, you’ve seen it happen. In a smart decision, director Jon Watts (Cop Car) spares you seeing it again.
    Casting is excellent. As Parker, Holland is the first Spider-Man in two decades who is both physically right for the role of a teenage boy with superpowers and actor enough to make the teen likeable. Holland communicates Peter’s decency and childish over-eagerness in ways that make his poor choices understandable, even endearing.
    As the foe Peter must face to become a real hero, Keaton turns in a great performance. Marvel villains tend to be one-dimensional, with only vague motivation for their misdeeds. Watts and Keaton craft a more complex adversary. Toomes begins as a decent man who out of desperation turns to crime. He is both charming and menacing as he spars with Holland.
    Spider-Man: Homecoming is the rare origin story that pleases both comic book novices and persnickety fans. It took Marvel three tries to hit on the perfect tone for Peter Parker.

Great Superhero Movie • PG-13 • 133 mins.

More than one long tease

Meet Hot Metal, an amateur stripper revue featuring six unemployed steelworkers desperate to make a buck in Buffalo. The Chippendales they ain’t — with average dance moves and less than average abs — but that’s just the thong, er thing. Sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do to keep body, soul and family together.

            The Full Monty, playing for the next three weekends at the Annapolis Summer Garden Theater, is based on the British film whose everyman cast was a breakout hit in 1997. It enjoyed a two-year run on Broadway in the early 2000s, then, ironically, closed before the economy tanked and the story gained a whole new level of plausibility.

            Jerry (Eric Hufford) is a loveable fu@!-up, separated from his wife Pam (Kaitlin Fish) and desperate to retain joint-custody of their teen, Nathan (Matthew Beagan). For that to happen he needs cash assets fast; only Walmart is hiring, and they don’t pay $hit. His buddy (Dean Allen Davis) Dave’s  marriage to Georgie (Cara Marie Pellegrino) is likewise limping along.

            In a flash of inspiration, they decide to emulate a local act the ladies adore, Keno, aka Buddy (Paul Pesnell) the buff boytoy.

            Their first recruit is Malcolm (Christian Gonzalez), sole support of his invalid mother Molly (Stephanie Bernholz), and in the midst of trying to commit suicide when they recruit him in the hilarious Big Ass Rock, a litany of the ways in which his newfound friends can help him accomplish the deed.

             Next is Ethan (Justin Thomas Ritchie), a naive optimist bent on replicating Donald O’Connor’s unconventional wall-walking from Singing in the Rain.

            They find their choreographer in a ballroom dance class. Harold (Brandon Deitrick), a former boss who is polishing his Latin moves for a Puerto Rican vacation with wife Vickie (Caitlyn Ruth McClellan), who is unaware he’s been laid off.

            Noah, aka Horse (Willie Baker), is an oldster who dazzles with some smooth moves from his youth in the terrific ensemble number Big Black Man.

            Jeanette (Adam Timko) is their tough-as-nail-polish accompanist and mentor, an old trouper who, in this production, is depicted as a cross-dresser with an unabashedly male voice and demeanor.

            Billed as “more than one long tease — a story full of heart, hope and surprising sincerity,” this show’s best moments are its most tender: You Rule My World featuring Davis and Deitrick, whose characters have marriage troubles … the reprise sung by Pellegrino and McClellan, as their wives … the duet You Walk with Me, sung by downcast Gonzalez and optimistic Ritchie … and sweet-guy-who-can’t-grow-up Hufford’s contemplative Breeze Off the River.

            The best fast-paced number is the Act I finale, Michael Jordan’s Ball. Entertaining with athletic-inspired dance moves, it leads the audience to expect more from the less-than-inspired climax, when the dancers finally Let It Go to a chorus of audience catcalls.

            Act II is draggy and plagued by dialog problems.

            Additionally, there is the issue of body-specific dialogue often spouted by the wrong physical-type, when other directorial choices could have made for a more believable production.

            Contrary to rumors and despite the opening night’s sell-out crowd, tickets are still available. Be warned, however, that this production is rated R for nudity, language and content, and there is a specific advisory against bringing children.

 

The Full Monty by Terrence McNally and David Yazbek. Director: Mason Catharini. Music director: Emily L. Sergo. Choreographer: Andrew Gordon. Production manager: Matthew Walter. Stage manager: Atticus Cooper Boidy. Set: Ryan Ronan. Costumes: Madeline Hogue. Lights: Matthew Tillett. Sound: Bill Reinhardt. Musicians: Ken Kimble, Rich Estrin, Randy Neilson, Dean Pesnell, Allyson Wesley, Reid Bowman and Declan Hughes. With Kevin Cleaver, Angel Duque, Wendell Holland, Leigh K. Rawls, Chris Timko and Heidi Tolson.

 

Playing Thurs.-Sun. thru July 22, plus Wed. July 19, at 8:30 pm @ Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $25, rsvp: 410-268-9212;  www.summergarden.com. 

Sam Elliott shows what an old cowboy can do ­without his spurs and hat

Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott: The Ranch) has made a career of being That Guy. The actor with the smooth baritone is a commercial success, but he’s proud of only one of the many movies he’s made, The Hero, an old-school Western.
    Once the image of America’s cowboy, the ultimate specimen of masculinity, the 71-year-old actor is reduced to doing voiceovers in hokey commercials. Divorced and at odds with his daughter, he has only one friend, his drug dealer.
    It’s not a great life, but at least he’s got weed money.
    Two events throw Hayden’s life into turmoil. He wins a lifetime achievement award, and he is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
    Faced with the likely end of his life, he takes stock and makes amends. But his first steps — accepting the award and reconnecting with his daughter — trip him up.
    Well-acted but predictable, The Hero is a fair movie built on a great performance. From the cowboy image to voiceover work, actor Sam Elliott is a lot like the role he plays. But Elliott has something Hayden doesn’t: more than one great credit to his name. The long underrated actor shines in this film.
    Director Brett Haley (I’ll See You In My Dreams) allows Elliott’s performance to dominate, but his plot could be any movie of the week. Helping Elliott freshen clichés is Laura Prepon (Orange is the New Black), who infuses the role of younger love interest with charm and interest. Her Charlotte helps Lee mature, even though he’s the senior citizen in the relationship.
    At 72, Elliott is at the top of his game. It’s worth a ticket to see what this old cowboy can do without spurs and hat.

Good Drama • R • 93 mins.

Women fight a rabbi and their ­husbands’ prejudices

A close-knit Orthodox community in Jerusalem has gathered to celebrate a bar mitzvah. As the boy steps up to read the Torah, the congregation literally collapses around him. The women’s balcony falls.
    Among the injured is the rabbi’s wife.
    Faced with this tragedy, he suffers a psychotic breakdown and is incapable of visiting his wife in the hospital, let alone guiding his flock.
    Seeking a spiritual leader, the men find Rabbi David (Avraham Aviv Alush: The Shack) a charming young leader who is building a devout following.
    At first, all seems well. Rabbi David offers to take over reconstruction plans for the synagogue. But his ultra-Orthodox beliefs don’t sit well throughout a community that has found ways around their religion’s most stringent rules. Forbidden to touch electrical devices during Shabbat, they leave their lights and appliances on all weekend so they are not technically violating a rule while enjoying modern conveniences. If they need a switch turned, they enlist the gentile friend down the hall.
    When Rabbi David blames these accommodations for the congregation’s misfortune, a schism results.
    The women don’t appreciate the rabbi’s insistence on headscarves. They bristle at his denunciation of their immodesty as the cause of the collapse of the balcony. He re-opens their beloved synagogue without their balcony, telling the women that they need to learn their place, which is apparently a dingy back room with a barred window’s view of the service.
    Ettie (Evelin Hagoel: Yeled Tov Yerushalyim) organizes the women of the congregation for a fight.
    In this carefully constructed tale of religious and marital strife, director Emil Ben-Shimon (Wild Horses) has made a funny, winning movie about the power of communities. He takes us inside a usually closed culture and explores how a woman can be devout without being repressed.
    The plot is predictable; you’ll know exactly where the movie is going and how it will resolve. While that could create a boring film, strong performances from Hagoel, Alush and Igal Naor (False Flag) keep the audience invested.
    This delightful Israeli film about the importance of family, freedom and faith is a welcome change from the strife of the modern world. It’s worth a trip to Baltimore or D.C. to see it.

Good Dramedy • NR • 96 mins.

Be sure to see this lovely ­production of an American classic

Love is a flower that grows in any soil,

works its sweet miracles undaunted by autumn frost or winter snow,

blooming fair and fragrant all the year,

and blessing those who give and those who receive.

            —Louisa May Alcott

 

A coming of age story of four New England sisters at the time of the Civil War, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women explores family, charity, duty and femininity from their perspective. But without question, what ties this family and this story together is love: fervent love for each other and love of their faith, community and country. Each sister, each character even, wrestles with who they are and the choices they make in terms of impacts on those around them. Their struggle for individuality while attempting to balance their responsibility to their family creates many thought-provoking situations.

            Set in 1861, Twin Beach Players’ production interprets Part One of the Alcott’s beloved novel. The story begins as sisters Jo (Olivia McClung), Meg (Brianna Boyer), Beth (Ashley Vernier) and Amy (Riley Nikolaus), plan for Christmas. The holiday is to be celebrated without their father, Mr. March (Andrew Brinegar), who has become a chaplain to be of service to his country in the Civil War. Though frustrated by their modest circumstances, the girls take what little money they have and buy gifts for their mother, Marmee (Taylor Baker), who spends her time caring for the family and volunteering in the community. Aunt March (Aaliyah Roach), a cantankerous relative and Jo’s employer, visits with gifts plus unwelcome opinions.

            Before long, two soon-to-be friends and suitors, Laurie (Cameron Walker) and his tutor John Brooke (EJ Roach) are introduced. The men live with a kindly but reclusive neighbor, Laurie’s uncle, Mr. Lawrence (Travis Lehnen). Rounding out the characters is the faithful family servant Hannah (Elizabeth Cullens).

            The story twists and turns as petty disagreements between the sisters are dwarfed by the threat of illness and loss. Then the sisters discover the lengths they will go for the family they love.

            Director Rachel Clites-Cruz has assembled a wonderful team of technical artists and actors to bring this story to life.

            Wendy Cranford has designed and Frank Antonio constructed a colorful and warm set excellently furnished with antiques. Cranford also designed make-up allowing the cast of teenagers to portray a wide range of ages, for the most part very well. Costumes by Dawn Denison are charming and well-tailored, as are sound and lighting design, always a challenge in Twin Beach Players’ multi-use space. The teens running the show do a great job.

            The young cast, including many faces familiar to Twin Beach audiences, is capable and engaging. Though a bit stiff in Act I, the four sisters and their mother soon settle into their characters. By Act II, real smiles and genuine emotions rise. The introduction of the two young men, Walker and Roach, bring the leading characters out of their shells with some of the best and most honest exchanges of the show. This is particularly true for Meg and John Brooke, who make the audience take a collective sigh when they gaze into each other’s eyes. Olivia McClung’s performance is very strong as the free-spirited Jo. Brianna Boyer is captivating as Meg. Ashley Vernier and Riley Nikolaus as the younger March sisters both find their stride later in the play as their characters become featured in the tale. Keep an eye out for touching storytelling by Travis Lehnen and some nice moments from Elizabeth Cullens. 

            If love is the flower that grows in any soil, as Alcott says, it has certainly found a home here at Twin Beach Players, where this dedicated group has shared their affection for her story. Be sure to head out to see this lovely production of an American classic.

 

Thru June 25: FSa 7pm, Su 3pm, Twin Beach Players, 9021 Dayton Ave., North Beach, $15 w/discounts, rsvp: www.twinbeachplayers.org.

 

Parking may be difficult on Friday nights due to the popular North Beach Farmers Market.

Fear is the monster in this clever ­psychological horror film

Disease is sweeping the country. How it started or can be prevented, these are mysteries. The only thing anyone knows for sure is that once you catch it, you’re dead.
    Paul (Joel Edgerton: Loving) is the patriarch of a family trying to survive this modern plague. He sequesters his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo: Alien: Covenant) and son in a cabin in the woods, banking on isolation to protect them from the disease that has nearly destroyed humanity. The family spends quiet days foraging for food, purifying water and keeping the house secure.
    When a man breaks in, Paul votes to kill him. Sarah offers another plan: sharing resources. Will (Christopher Abbott: Sweet Virginia) claims his family has livestock but no drinkable water.
    Relenting, Paul establishes rules for security protocols, social interaction and water purification. At first, Will and his family seem like godsends, breaking up the monotony of the days and contributing to the shared household.
    But soon, Paul grows suspicious. Is he imagining the little lies and provocations? Or is a sinister plan afoot?
    Director Trey Edward Shults (Krisha) continues his exploration of inner turmoil bubbling into chaos. Rather than monsters lurking in the woods or a slasher picking off teenagers, this terrifying movie deals with the poor decisions of people panicked by fear and paranoia.
    Like The Witch before it, this film trades on atmosphere. Something is slightly off about everyone and everything, and discomfort builds as oddities pile up. Foreboding cinematography ramps up the tension and performances contribute to the unease. Edgerton in particular gives a wonderful performance of quiet, weary-eyed Paul unsettled by suspicion and evolving to violence.
    People are the only hope and the biggest threat to the continuation of humanity in It Comes at Night.

Good Horror • R • 91 mins.

Women finally get their hero in this ­triumphant DC Comic adaptation

Amazons have thrived for centuries on the island of Themyscira, content to train for battle and broaden their minds with language and philosophy. This matriarchal society follows rules: no men and no leaving.
    But Diana (Gal Gadot: Keeping Up with the Joneses) chafes. Banned from combat training by her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Neilsen: Stratton), Diana learns the art of war in secret from her aunt, the famous general Antiope (Robin Wright: House of Cards). With super strength and powers unmatched by her cohorts, she has the makings of a great warrior.
    Themyscira’s harmony is shattered when a plane crash-lands off the coast, bringing a man and the real world to their shores. Diana saves the man, Steve (Chris Pine: Star Trek Beyond), who she learns is a soldier in something called The Great War. She listens with horror to his stories of mass deaths, human cruelty and suffering. Diana decides that such calamity must have been caused by Ares, the god of war Amazons are sworn to destroy, and sets out with Steve to save the world.
    Based on the wildly popular comic book heroine, Wonder Woman is an astounding departure from the DC cinematic universe. A sincere story about a woman who saves the world, it’s the first quality movie DC has produced since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in 2008. With good character work, fun action and a surprising lot of humor, Wonder Woman is the opposite of the shallow, dour orgies of explosions of the studio’s recent past.
    Much of the credit is due to director Patty Jenkins (Exposed), the first woman to direct a film with a budget over $100 million. She develops Diana’s character, introducing a strong but naïve woman trying to understand the foibles of humanity. The focus is on Diana’s finding her place in the world.
    Jenkins also understands the value of a great battle scene. In one goose bump-raising sequence, men watch stunned as Diana charges a machine gun. The scene is socially as well as dramatically significant, as her fights and triumphs will be acted out by a generation of little girls who’ve seen on the big screen that women can do more than supply a love interest for the hero. My theater was filled with young girls clamoring to be the next Diana Prince.
    As the woman behind the Wonder, Gal Gadot turns in a star-making performance. Her Diana is brave, pure of heart and uncowed by social conventions. She stands up for truth and justice, maintaining her beliefs even in the face of horror and cruelty. Characters this earnest can become boring or pedantic, but Gadot makes Diana likeable by showing her inherent kindness. Kindness — not her superior strength or fighting skill — a leader and a hero.
    Wonder Woman isn’t perfect. There are pacing problems, and ancillary characters could be developed further. But overall, this is a heroic effort for both DC and Jenkins. They’ve given the world a great female hero, the first in a big-budget solo film, proving that saving the world is women’s work.

Great Action • PG-13 • 141 mins.

Practically Perfect in every way

It’s always dangerous to take on a classic; the chances of disappointment are so great. Who could ever compete with Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews as Bert the Chimney Sweep and Mary Poppins? Popular brother-and-sister team Nathan Bowen and Emily Mudd, that’s who.

            And what about this new script (2005) with its added plot twist and songs? Won’t the audience revolt? No. They gobble it up like a Spoonful of Sugar. This is a story that never grows old and hands down the most thrilling and professional amateur musicals I have ever had the privilege of reviewing.

            “Sometimes families are upside down for a time,” Mary Poppins says, and that’s when she comes in to help right them with her magical ways. Poor Jane and Michael Banks (Sophia Riazi-Sekowski and Nathaniel Burkhead) have a nanny problem. Or more precisely, nannies have a problem with them.

            Their mother Winifred (Mary Schmidt Wakefield) would just as soon have no nanny at all. A former actress, she would rather play with her children than host society teas. But husband George (John Dickson Wakefield) is nothing if not proper. All the best families have nannies; they ensure precision and order and quiet in a way that the housekeeper, Mrs. Brill (Penni Barnett), and the butler, Roberts Ay (Davis Wooten Klebanoff), cannot.

            Mary Poppins answers a want ad the children wrote but never posted for The Perfect Nanny. After beginning her mission, though, Mary Poppins — in a major digression from the film — goes AWOL for a time, replaced by the horrid Miss Andrew (Alexa Haines), the holy terror of George’s childhood and a woman so evil her medicine bottle billows noxious fumes.

            A half dozen new numbers like Miss Andrew’s Brimstone and Treacle enhance the hallmark standards, which on this stage are as much about dancing as singing. Choreographer and Broadway veteran Andrew Gordon can’t help being a center of attention with his stylized prancing, leaps and high kicks. He leads a fine-tuned ensemble of 30 additional cast members in such spectacular group numbers as Step in Time; Let’s Go Fly a Kite with Alan Barnett as the park keeper; and Jolly Holiday, spotlighting the phenomenal Tyler White as the dancing statue Neleus.

            Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, featuring Lydia West as the venerable storekeeper Mrs. Corry, is — well, you know — complete with a Cancan chorus line and pictograms. Carole Long as the Bird Woman delivers a sweet Feed the Birds under a laser-light flight of white doves and accompanied by a church choir worthy of St. James of Piccadilly. The bankers’ theme, Precision and Order, led by the Chairman (Thom Eric Sinn), is seriously funny. This show has more energy than BGE, and at a fraction of the price.

            Visionary imagination and meticulous attention to detail help make this production enchanting. Watch for magical touches like Mary Poppins’ bottomless bag of furnishings and a kitchen disaster that cleans itself. A cadre of hooded Druid-looking figures lends a mildly sinister tone as stagehands moving props and occasionally people — perhaps even to death in one case. There are six opulent sets and over a hundred stunning Edwardian costumes.

            And what splendid casting! Mudd is indeed Practically Perfect, and Bowen’s sweet gentility is crystal clear. The husband and wife team of Wakefields exudes domesticity and testiness as only true marrieds can. All of the leads, even the children, are poised and possessed of charmed voices. In fact, young Riazi-Sekowski performs like a pro rather than a budding scientist entering Greenbelt’s Eleanor Roosevelt High School. Burkhead, an Alexandria sixth grader, has the pure voice of a choirboy. Their presence on an Anne Arundel stage is testament to the drawing power of 2nd Star’s excellent reputation for musical theatre, which will no doubt be recognized again for this production come awards season.

            The show’s only weakness is an under-rehearsed and over-enthusiastic orchestra that sometimes drowns out the actors, a problem that should abate as the Pygmalion effect kicks in.

            If you enjoy musical theater, you can’t afford to miss this tour de force.


            Mary Poppins: a musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney Film by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, Julian Fellowes, George Stiles, Anthony Drewe and Cameron Mackintosh. Runs two hours and 45 minutes.

            Director: Fred Nelson. Music director: Sandy Melson Griese. Choreographer: Andrew Gordon. Producer: Gene Valendo. Stage manager: Joanne D. Wilson. Set: Jane B. Wingard. Costumes: Linda Swann. Makeup, hair and hats: Sascha Nelson. Lights and Sound: Garrett R. Hyde.

            Playing thru July 1: FSa (except July 1) 8pm, Su and Sa July 1 3pm, 2nd Star Productions, Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Dr., $22 w/discounts, rsvp: www.2ndstarproductions.com.