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You’ll see Shakespeare at its most involving and theater at its finest

In four years of existence, Annapolis Shakespeare Company has enriched the local theater scene not just by providing a venue that focuses on the classics, but also by doing so with productions that are engaging and accessible. The Company has achieved its goal of becoming a professional company. Now, Annapolis Shakespeare Company moves from the Bowie Playhouse to its own black box Studio 111 on Chinquapin Round Road in Annapolis. The space is smaller, but the standards remain high.
    Case in point: the current production of Macbeth, perhaps Shakespeare’s darkest and bloodiest work. Producing artistic director Sally Boyett and her team show us Shakespeare at its most involving and theater at its finest: imaginatively staged, crisply directed and solidly acted. Audience proximity to the action — the 50 or so seats surround the small stage floor on three sides — means you can literally feel the insanity of Macbeth (Brit Herring) and Lady Macbeth (Rebecca Swislow) as their ambition turns to murder and madness.
    Herring and Swislow are both excellent, giving their characters a fiery chemistry not just for each other but also for power. Herring’s mad exclamations to the audience and his delivery of several of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies (“tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” upon the death of his beloved), are in-your-face menacing. Swislow’s “out damned spot” to the blood on her hands as she sleepwalks evokes fear as well as a bit of pity for her.
    Michael Crowley’s Macduff, Kim Curtis’ Duncan and Brian Davis’ Banquo are standouts among the talented supporting cast of 10, each playing several roles. As the three witches who predict Macbeth’s rise and fall, Renata Plecha, Vanessa Bradchulis and Stephanie LaVardera are downright chilling. The three can be cartoonish in lesser hands, but this trio gives them a substance that convinces us they must be of the underworld.
    All of this is achieved with nary a set and few props. It’s acting that lights the passion of this production, acting that is supported by Nancy Krebs’ vocal coaching, the modern costumes of Maggie Cason, sound effects by Gregory Thomas Woolford Martin, believable fight choreography by Amy Pastoor and ethereal lighting by Steven Strawn and Preston Strawn. It all adds up to an experience that evokes the eeriest of eerie and the most evil of evil. That little black box theater sure felt like the early 1600s.

Playing thru Nov. 24: FSa 8pm; Su 3pm: Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Studio 111, Annapolis; $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-415-3513; www.annapolisshakespeare.org.

Michael Keaton wows in this darkly funny drama

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton: Need for Speed) was in style about the same time as acid-wash jeans. The superstar lead of the popular Birdman film series did not fare well as a real actor. His fall was fast from blockbuster action star to bad bit parts.
    Now nearly forgotten, soft in the middle and desperate to prove his relevance, Riggan has mortgaged his home and sunk his assets into bringing his favorite book to Broadway. He plans to adapt, direct and star in the production, reclaiming his legendary standing.
    The only problem? Birdman.
    As Riggan navigates a thousand little crises prepping for opening night, he hears the voice of Birdman. Forget the artsy-fartsy façade, Birdman advises. Go back to the big-budget action flicks that made you a star. With a vicious critic eager to eviscerate the play, a method actor (Edward Norton: The Grand Budapest Hotel) more interested in truth than finishing a performance and an acerbic daughter (Emma Stone: Magic in the Moonlight) fresh out of rehab, Riggan thinks better of Birdman’s suggestions.
    When he develops the ability to move things with his mind, his destiny seems to be his for the making. Is he really Birdman?
    A fascinating mishmash of fact and fiction, Birdman feels like the cinematic equivalent of improvisational jazz. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Biutiful) uses crafty camerawork to make the film look like one continuous shot. We feel like we’re inhabiting the same space as the characters rather than observing them. We drop in, follow them around and occasionally leave them behind in search of more interesting people. The practice gives the film a breathless quality, as if Iñárritu has us jogging behind the action.
    As the titular Birdman, Keaton is a revelation. He was Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), so his own story partially mirrors Riggan’s. Since the 1990s, Keaton has wasted his talents on thankless roles and bit parts. Birdman illustrates just what we’ve lost. In it Keaton gives two performances, one as Riggan, one as Birdman, who Keaton carves out as a distinct secondary antagonist, the devil tempting him back to easy cash and artistic drudgery.
    Keaton surges through the movie with a manic energy that is endearing as well as unsettling.
    Birdman is not a film for the popcorn crowd. It is not an unofficial Batman sequel. Iñárritu forces us to work out metaphors and contend with complex characters. If you’re up for an unconventional challenge, this movie will reward you with excellent acting, interesting scripting and breathless cinematography.
    Birdman proves that Keaton ranks with the best actors who ever protected Gotham City.

Great Drama • R • 119 mins.
 

You can do a lot of terrible things, but don’t kill a man’s dog

John Wick (Keanu Reeves: 47 Ronin) is hanging on by a thread. Numbed by the death of his wife, he goes through his daily routine on autopilot. Anticipating her husband’s reaction to her demise, Wick’s wife planned a companion for his recovery: a beagle puppy named Daisy.
    As Wick warms to the pup, a trio of Russian gangsters warms to his tricked-out Mustang. They break into his house, beat him senseless, kill poor Daisy and abscond with the car.
    They picked on the wrong man.
    Before Wick was a hapless widower, he was a hit man for the Russian mob. Criminals called him the Boogeyman. John gave up his kill-crazy ways for marriage. With wife and dog gone, Wick has nothing holding him back. So what if his target is Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen: Game of Thrones), son of Viggo (Michael Nyqvist: My So-Called Father), the head of the Russian mob.
    Brutal, fasted-paced and funny, John Wick is an action film with brains and brawn. The directorial debut of two former stuntmen, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, the film specializes in a fluid action style that’s exciting and beautiful. There are no garbled clashes of steel and bullets; each fight, car chase and shootout is carefully choreographed.
    Stahelski and Leitch also take great pains to make their movie light. Sure, plenty of blood flies through the air as John slices his way through New York and New Jersey, but the film has a wry sense of humor. Everyone knows the legend of John Wick, from cops to hotel clerks to mobsters, and everyone acknowledges that John’s vengeance will be brutal and most likely unstoppable. Most stay out of his way. Those that don’t grimly acknowledge they’re cannon fodder before engaging him.
    As the eponymous Wick, Reeves embodies an eerie quiet rage. At 50, he still has the physicality and fighting skills of a much younger actor, making him a credible threat when he takes on a room full of baddies. His balance of cool detachment and cold calculation makes Wick likeable yet frightening. When his cool exterior cracks, it reveals an all-encompassing wrath.
    It’s never a question that he will get his revenge. The question is how many necks he’ll have to snap along the way. John Wick is a campy action flick that uses style to make up for substance. It isn’t going to revolutionize cinematic storytelling, but you won’t mind as you watch Reeves barrel through the mob crews of New York.

Good Action • R • 101 mins.

Cast, staging and pace threaten to leave you breathless

There is nothing like the rat-a-tat of briskly delivered dialogue to transport an audience to a different time and place, and Colonial Players is currently doing the job atop the broad shoulders of Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men.
    If you think having seen the movie is enough, think again. First time director Jeff Sprague has hit the trifecta with this production: a believable cast, intelligent staging and a vocal pace that sometimes threatens to leave you breathless. It’s a completely different, and much more involving, experience made intimate by Colonial’s in-the-round space.
    First, the cast. From the lowest of the enlisted to the bigger-than-life commanding officer, Sprague has assembled a company so believable that they make you feel everything about what it’s like to be stationed at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, except perhaps the exhausting heat. Jamie Austin Jacobs is stellar as Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson, who along with his buddy Pfc. Louden Downey (Fred Fletcher-Jackson) is accused of murder after a “code red” — Marine lingo for a hazing of sorts — kills a fellow Marine who wasn’t measuring up. Every barked line evokes empathy for this dedicated warrior who was following orders, and the fraternal care he provides the less-aware Downey earns our sympathy. Dawson’s evolving admiration for Navy Lt. Daniel Kaffee, the smart-talking Harvard grad assigned to defend him, is well-crafted and a pleasure to witness.
    Kaffee’s fast-paced dialogue starts off with smart-assed one-liners the character uses to hide the fact that his propensity for plea-bargaining has kept him from seeing the inside of a courtroom. Paul Valleau (who will be replaced for the November 6, 7 and 8 shows by Jeff Mocho) admirably shows us a Kaffee whose passion for justice, and for his defendants, grows with each piece of evidence that they were ordered to perform the code red.
    Kaffee’s Navy legal team is rounded out by Erin Hill as Lt. Cdr. Joanne Galloway, who outranks Kaffee and initially resents his lack of interest, and Brandon Bentley as Lt. Sam Weinberg, the family man who believes the defendants picked on a weakling. Opposing them is Capt. Jack Ross, a savvy prosecutor played by Pat Reynolds. Throughout the production these four anchor the fast-paced drama with the occasional touch of comedy that is so mandatory to prevent the emotion on the stage from slipping into monotony.   
    Also outstanding are Ben Wolff as Jonathan Kendrick, the Bible-verse-spewing lieutenant who gives the order that leads to a fatal code red; and Bill Coffin as Matthew Markinson, the guilt-ridden captain whose unwillingness to stop the code red pushes him to a point of no return. Both Wolff and Coffin are so natural in these roles that you’d think they’d just stepped off the base and onto the stage.
     Of course, the bigger-than-life villain in the piece is Colonel Nathan Jessep, the commanding officer of Gitmo. After Jack Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth” became the catchphrase of the early 1990s, you’d be forgiven for thinking the same character might appear on the stage. He does not. He does not have to because David Thompson has made Jessep his own, a character almost manic with power, whose complete belief in the rightness of any decision he makes is shrouded in the myopic vision that protecting his country comes at any cost. Thompson’s verbal attack of Kaffee after he admits to having ordered the code red is downright scary — yet eerily effective in forcing us to understand his motivation. He is wrong, yes, but he is convinced he is right, and Thompson’s passionate portrayal makes us think twice.
    Now, the staging. This is a complex play with a lot going on, and pacing is critical. Sprague meets the challenge by avoiding the usual director trap of cutting the lights, throwing on some music and changing the scene. Every setting is already on the stage, and the characters simply move from one to the other as the lights fall and rise, or as a quartet of Marines marches on and off doing various running cadences. This makes the rat-a-tat of the action match the rat-a-tat of the dialogue, and the audience as a result is captivated.
    Speaking of that dialogue: It is real and it gets graphic. It is so believably delivered by every character that it’s hard to discern the least experienced from the veterans. That believability has the audience looking at each as a real person, not a character. Kudos to Sprague, whose own military background undoubtedly contributed to the realism on display here, and kudos to each of the young actors who have so invested themselves in their characters, no matter how small.

Stage manager: Ernie Morton. Assistant director: Theresa Riffle. Set and floor designr: Terry Averill. Lighting designer: Shirley Panek. Sound designer: Theresa Riffle. Costume coordinator: Beth Terranova.
Playing thru Nov. 8: ThFSa 8pm; Su 2pm: Colonial Players, Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.

Violence and horror make a surprisingly beautiful war story

Working in a tank is a special kind of hell. For five men the cramped chamber of a motorized cannon is their home, their battlefield and, often, their coffin. With limited visibility, thin armor and light firepower, Sherman tanks were often easy targets, especially against the superior German Tigers.
    The crew of the Fury has so far beaten the odds. Led by Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt: The Counselor), the team has survived combat in Africa, France and Germany. As they roll toward Berlin, they lose their trusted gunner in gruesome fashion. The replacement is a typist named Norman (Logan Lerman: Noah), who’s never been in a tank and is terrified by the prospect of battle.
    As Fury rolls toward combat in the heart of Nazi territory, the seasoned four must make Norman a soldier if they are to survive.
    A brutal, beautiful film about the monsters war makes, Fury offers truths rarely shown in movies about the Greatest Generation. Director/writer David Ayer (Sabotage) looks at these men with respect and sadness, examining the complicated mix of violence and family they depended on to survive.
    As men who have seen it all and wish they hadn’t, Pitt, Shia LaBeouf (Nymphomaniac), Jon Bernthal (Mob City) and Michael Peña (Gracepoint) are realistic versions of stock characters. Pitt is the tough-as-nails leader whose sadistic streak covers the heavy toll of combat. The religious man, LaBeouf quotes scripture to comfort himself in the face of death. Bernthal is the wild man whose chosen analgesic against the horrors is outrageous behavior. Peña is the drunk scrounging ruined towns for his solace.
    Ayer makes Norm our stand-in. With him, we’re thrown amid the Fury crew, no training, no get-to-know-you talks. He must kill or risk his crewmates through inaction.
    Fury doesn’t shy away from the unsavory. Grady gleefully instructs Norman that women will sleep with him for as little as a candy bar. These are desperate women, terrified of the men with guns who could invade their homes, demand their meager possessions or worse. Faced with the choice of rape or rewarded submission, they take the candy bar.
    While Ayer revels in the ugliness of war, he and cinematographer Roman Vasyanov (Charlie Countryman) find ways of making even the claustrophobic tank scenes beautiful. Gripping battles unfold in painterly shots that embody the immense scale of war as well as its personal tolls.
    Fury is easily the best combat film in a decade.

Great Drama • R • 134 mins.

Hearts beat in time with the building suspense

Twin Beach Players’ Halloween season production of the eternally terrifying Legend of Sleepy Hollow took seven months in the making — from spooky sound effects to thick fog and period costumes to uniformly spot-on acting.
    Eerie sound effects help transform a gymnasium into the town and forest of Sleepy Hollow, where I edged forward on my seat as suspense built to the hair-raising climax.
    Washington Irving gave us this story now embedded in American tradition, and he himself appears to tell it to us. As Irving, Kurt Kugel leads us through the play with his supernaturally quiet narration.
    The nervous, studious and awkward Ichabod Crain, played brilliantly by Justyn Christofel, comes as a new teacher to a town haunted by a Headless Horseman. My heart went out to Ichabod as he fell hopelessly in love with the town beauty, Katrina Van Tassell (Brianna Bennett) much to the dismay of her suitor, town brute Abraham “Brom” Van Brunt (Ethan Croll).
    Brom captures the role of the bad guy as he makes it his duty to teach the schoolmaster a lesson in humility and gathers the boys of Sleepy Hollow to scare Ichabod.
    Tales are told of the Headless Horseman’s rampage through the woods that Ichabod is willing to brave to attend a party at the home of the apple of his eye, who has herself invited him.
    When Ichabod cuts in on Brom to dance with Katrina, Brom plans revenge: confrontation with the Headless Horseman.
    Each character in the supporting cast of townspeople has distinct charms. There are gossips, troublemakers, clowns and bystanders who don’t know what to make of the new schoolmaster — nor he of them and their tales.
    Dawn Dennison’s costumes are perfect to period.
    The basic stage conveyed many settings, such as a handful of human trees with long, skin-hugging, black-gloved arms reaching to the sky and creeping thru Ichabod’s hair as if they were twigs in a haunted forest. Children played forest animals, with an opening dance number led by an adorable spirit (Koral Kent) who makes a huge impression, all without speaking a word. She wisps in and out in her pumpkin costume with the grace and poise of a ballerina. When she places a pumpkin into the hands of the Headless Horseman, she seems immune to terror.
    Don’t miss this spooktacular production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Playing to full-house crowds opening weekend, it’s sure to sell out as Halloween approaches and the barrier between worlds grows thin.


The original production of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was adapted for Twin Beach Players’ by resident playwright, Mark Scharf, who also penned last year’s production of Frankenstein. Pioneer Drama Service will publish both scripts.
 
Playing thru Nov. 2: FSa 8pm; Su 3pm; plus 9pm Oct. 31 at North Beach Boys and Girls Club; $15 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-286-1890; www.twinbeachplayers.com.

Sometimes being right isn’t enough

Investigative journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner: The Immigrant) believed that if people weren’t upset, he wasn’t doing his job. He spent his career exposing injustices and telling what he believed to be fundamental truths.
    Webb’s subjects aren’t typically sympathetic. He reported on ways the government infringes on the rights of drug dealers, confiscating property and money even when charges are dismissed or dropped.
    When a drug trafficker’s girlfriend tells Webb that her boyfriend has been selling drugs brought into the country with the government’s help, he finds the story he believes will make his career.
    This movie is a story based on the real reporter’s quest for that story.
    Traveling from Nicaragua to Washington, D.C., and back to L.A., Webb pieces together a conspiracy that implicates the CIA in a massive drug trafficking ring to earn money to fund the Contra War.
    Warned that his story will earn him powerful enemies, Webb refuses to back down. But his principled stand may be a mistake.
    With the story out, the CIA began a campaign to discredit Webb, using other journalists, propaganda and intimidation. Webb’s career went into a tailspin. People followed his family and lurked outside his house. Still, he remained convinced if he kept pushing, he’d prove the truth and win back his life.
    Kill the Messenger is a good movie that fails to be great. Director Michael Cuesta (Homeland) is skilled at building tension, but he neglects story for cheap thrills. Unlike Webb, Cuesta isn’t interested in meticulously documenting what happened. He offers only the broad strokes accompanied by some thrilling scenes of governmental interference. Characters are undeveloped, making the movie seem shallow and sensationalistic.
    Cuesta floats a few conspiracy theories of his own, including implicating the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post in discrediting Webb. The plot line is interesting, but ultimately infuriating because it’s given so little screen time.
    As Webb, Renner saves the movie from mediocrity. He plays a tenacious crusader who can’t bear to back down. Renner’s natural humor and charm make Webb a relatable, interesting hero even when he’s making questionable choices. As Webb watches his life, career and family crumble around him, Renner shines as a man who realizes too late just how far down a dangerous path he’s gone. Still he holds fast.
    Imperfect though it is, Kill the Messenger will make you view power sources — from the government to newspapers — with skepticism, which was the goal of Gary Webb’s brave and brash reporting.

Good Drama • R • 112 mins.

Exploring marriage and other horrors

Can you ever really know the person you’re married to? You can know their usual Chinese food order, maybe anticipate their tastes in art and music. But do you ever know what’s going on in your spouse’s head?
    Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck: Runner, Runner) meets his soul mate at a party in New York. Amy (Rosamund Pike: Hector and the Search for Happiness) is a catch: beautiful, brilliant and wealthy. After marriage, they remain the ideal couple. Even when the economy tanks, forcing them back to Nick’s Missouri home, they appear blissfully in love.
    Until Nick comes home to a house littered with broken glass and overturned tables — and Amy gone. Police find Nick very calm and the scene suspicious.
    Was Amy kidnapped? Or were there cracks in this perfect marriage?
    Obsessing over the missing wife, the media seek a story for their viewers. Amy emerges as an angel and Nick as Suspect Number One. He’s too polite, too smarmy, not worried enough. When Amy’s diary appears, it offers a damning portrayal of the man at the center of the mystery. Soon, the 24/7 news coverage has convinced Nick’s neighbors, the American viewing audience and the police that there’s something wrong with the way Nick Dunne searches for his wife.
    Is an innocent man a media scapegoat? Or is something sinister lurking beneath the shiny veneer of the Dunne union?
    Gone Girl is a domestic drama turned horror movie. Director David Fincher (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) explores just how scary marriage can be in this adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel.
    A master of dark and mysterious visuals and horror movie tropes, Fincher creates a fascinating thriller from the twisting novel. He is at his best exploring media scrutiny. In a beautiful sequence that makes Nick look like the Frankenstein Monster running for the hills, Fincher turns a candlelight vigil into a torch-wielding mob scene.
    As the couple whose marriage curdles in its fifth year, Affleck and Pike are superb. Affleck, who endured heavy and often cruel media scrutiny over his relationships 10 years ago, seems born for the part of media-beleaguered Nick. His face is too perfect, his smile too bright and his reactions seem off. He’s exactly the kind of man who invites mistrust.
    Pike is the real find in this marital horror show. Fierce, beautiful and whip smart, she is a pillar of domestic bliss one moment and a tragic victim the next. Her large eyes remaining unreadable, Pike makes her Amy a woman obsessed with keeping up appearances. When the shell cracks, Pike revels in revealing the creature beneath.
    This movie will make you take a long hard look at your beloved.

Great Thriller • R • 149 mins.

Denzel Washington puts power tools to bloody good use in this action thriller

To the employees of HomeMart, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington: Two Guns) is a teddy bear. He shows off dance moves on breaks, helps an overweight employee train to become a security guard and has a kind word for all. His coworkers speculate on Bob’s former occupation: teacher or Wall Street tycoon gone broke?
    A widower, he lives like a monk in a sterile apartment with books and few modern conveniences. When the solitude gets to him, he visits the local diner to sip tea and read in the neon glare. Here he befriends Teri, a young prostitute for the Russian mob (Chloë Grace Moretz: If I Stay). They talk books, dreams and fate, while Bob proposes Teri consider a less fraught career path.
    When Teri’s pimp beats her into the ICU, Bob returns to his past as a CIA wetworker. The mob, in turn, must figure out who is massacring foot soldiers before losing the entire East Coast operation.
    This blood-soaked vengeance yarn based on a popular 1980s’ television show has more in common with Death Wish than with primetime television. Director Antoine Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen) takes his time unleashing Bob into stunning, tense and gory action sequences that have audiences cheering and gasping.
    Fuqua doesn’t waste time on script or subtle characterization. His love is action clichés. In his hands, you see how effective a rain-soaked, slow-motion showdown can be. He also mines all the violent potential of the HomeMart store. I’ll never look at yard clippers the same way again.
    Women do better than usual in this action film. Yes, Teri is brutalized. But she remains a daughter figure rather than becoming Bob’s girlfriend. For a feminist twist on the CIA handler, ­Melissa Leo is cast as a powerful ally.
    Washington’s range from charming to terrifying is a wonder. This is his movie. He fires a gun and wields a corkscrew believably, but it’s his acting that makes Bob compelling. When Bob lets loose his murderous talents, Washington transforms him up to his eyes, which go from lively to dead.
    The Equalizer is a classic action movie. Watching it, you’ll shovel popcorn into your mouth, cheer, scream and hope that if you’re ever in trouble, Denzel Washington has your back.

Great Action • R • 131 mins.

Song and dance liven up the first book of the Bible

Family legacies of love, anger and rebellion define Shakespeare, fairy tales, soap operas and the oldest story of them all, The Book of Genesis, recounted in 2nd Star Productions’ Children of Eden with exquisite beauty. This is a show the whole family will love by Stephen Schwartz, creator of Broadway legends Godspell, Pippin and Wicked. Heart breaking and humorous, it recounts Genesis in songs ranging from lyrical ballads to pulsing dances, Gospel and even soft shoe.
    In Eden, Father (Chris Overly) creates the heavens with a spectacle of lights in “Let There Be.” Next come Adam (E. Lee Nicol) and Eve (Caelyn Sommerville) in the doting “Father’s Day.” Eve’s “Spark of Creation” is glorious, as is the Father’s “Grateful Children.” Revel in “The Naming” of a delightful menagerie. Hear the sibilant snake (Robbie Dinsmore, Dakarai Brown, Tara Hebert, Erin Lorenz and Malarie Novotny) seduce Eve in five-part harmonies in “In Pursuit of Excellence.” Cry with Adam when he is torn from Father in “A World Without You,” Follow the couple’s discordant “Expulsion to the Wasteland,” where they express redemptive joy in parenting Cain (Creed Jackson) and Abel (Andrew Sharpe) in “Close to Home.”
    See history repeat itself when adult Cain (Austin Dare) blames his parents for their plight “Lost In the Wilderness” and disobeys his father, striking out for pagan lands. Mourn when Abel (Daniel Starnes) catches the blows intended for his father and Cain’s descendants are forever marked by his sin. By the Act I finale, your heart will break with Eve’s in her twilight song, “Children of Eden,” a glorious farewell to her countless descendants.
     Act II opens with a spectacular African-inspired song fused with Asian-inspired dance in “Generations of Adam.” The first act’s earth-toned rags are replaced by an array of colorful stripes and silks as we meet Noah (Nicol) and Father making preparations for the flood. Noah is to bring Mama Noah (Sommerville), his sons Ham (Dinsmore) and Shem (Brown), their wives Aphra (Erica Jureckson) and Aysha (Geneva Croteau), his youngest son, Japheth (Starnes) and his chosen bride, any girl who does not bear the mark of Cain.
    Of course, Japheth chooses the forbidden Yonah (Alexandra Baca), whom he persuades to stow away in their romantic duet “In Whatever Time We Have.”
    The carousel-inspired orchestral “Return of the Animals” enchants with its parade of 11 species, from anteaters with flicking tongues to towering giraffes and elephants. Then comes the starving time, Yonah’s discovery and Noah’s agonizing decision: “The Hardest Part of Love.” In Schwartz’ retelling, the severe God of the Old Testament softens as Noah releases all his children to different corners of the world, and Mama Noah leads the ensemble in the rousing Gospel anthem “Ain’t It Good?”
    Opening night of this charming spectacle would have been divine except for one colossal problem: Father, aka God Almighty, had laryngitis. As Overly’s impressive stage credits don’t include miracles, 2nd Star was short sighted to have no understudy for this pivotal role. Nicol and Sommerville, however, are vocally stunning, if a bit mismatched; she’s fresh as a spring rainbow and he’s ripe as Indian summer.
    The vocal ensemble and orchestra sound better than ever, with shining performances and a powerful chorus of storytellers led by soloists Alexandra Baca, Shannon Benil, Cheryl Campo, Kimberly Hopkins, Mary Wakefield and Chad Wheeler.
    The set is a simple stepped landscape backdrop, draped with flora, with ark and flood superimposed. Special effects including thunder and lightning are impressive. Costumes reflect civilization’s advances, though Adam’s AppWorld tattoo begs for justification.
     “The hardest part of love is letting go,” warns Schwartz, and this is true of his musical as well. I plan to return when God is feeling more like himself, and I suggest you do, too.


With Nathan Bowen, Wendell Holland, Charlize Lefler, Sophia Riazi-Sekowski, Samantha Roberts, Gene Valendo, Maia Vong, A.J. Williams and several adorable kids. Director and choreographer: Vincent Musgrave. Set designer: Jane B. Wingard. Costumes: Linda Swann, Carrie Dare and Beth Starnes. Musical director: Joe Biddle. Lights and sound: Garrett R. Hyde.
Playing thru Oct. 25: FSa 8pm; Su 3pm at Bowie Playhouse at White Marsh Park, Bowie; $22 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700; www.2ndstarproductions.com.