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Arts and Culture (Theatre Reviews)

Area premier gives the popular film a song-and-dance twist

Catch Me If You Can: The Musical, an area debut, is a song-and-dance celebration of the lovable conman, Frank Abagnale Jr. (Ron Giddings), and the FBI agent who caught him, Carl Hanratty (Joshua Mooney). The fugitive traveled five million miles impersonating an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer and cashed $1.8 million in fraudulent checks — all before turning 21.
    The story is many things. It’s the sad tale of a broken marriage between big talker Frank Sr. (Tom Newbrough) and his opportunist war bride Paula (Alicia Sweeney). It’s a funny escapade about a jet-setting playboy who masters persuasion as a survival skill. It’s a mind-boggling lesson in counterfeiting and police procedures from the bumbling team of Hanratty and his cohorts: Branton (Fred Fletcher-Jackson), Cod (Jamie Austin Jacobs) and Dollar (Nick Carter). It’s the heartbreak of true love in the rearview mirror when the Feds track Frank to the home of his fiancée Brenda (Hayley Briner) and her conservative Southern parents, Carol (Sweeney) and Roger (Steve Ariesti). And it’s a glitzy chorus of hoofers in uniforms and hot-pants evoking the glamour of the early 1960s.
    The nonmusical Dreamworks film — starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Amy Adams and Christopher Walken — was so successful that the theater world couldn’t let it be, which is unfortunate. For even Marc Shaiman’s musical talent (Hairspray) couldn’t enrich such a rich story. It’s not that the musical’s bad; it received four Tony nominations. It’s just that the songs aren’t memorable, and the story is better told in prose. Still, to give credit where credit is due, this cast rocks the jazzy, campy, film noir score seasoned with riffs borrowed from Duke Ellington and Cat Stevens.
    Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre has assembled a powerhouse cast.
DiCaprio is a tough act to follow, but Giddings — a longtime veteran of local stages best remembered for his award-winning portrayal of Bat Boy — fills those shoes without a misstep. Charming and versatile, he is a song-and-dance tour-de-force, by turns brash and boyish, self-assured and scared, culminating in a poignant “Goodbye.”
    Mooney is equally impressive as Hanratty, looking every inch the hardened middle-aged cynic despite his youth. A theater student at Frostburg State, he played Lancelot in last summer’s Garden Theatre hit Spamalot. Together, the duo is perfect in their finale duet, “Stuck Together.”
    Briner, in her Summer Garden Theatre debut, brings both personal and vocal strength to the role of Brenda. Her tender “Fly, Fly Away” benediction is a highlight.
    Newbrough, a longtime trouper, conveys a multi-layered portrayal of the washed-up wannabe Frank Sr., creating a tortured role model who is equal parts inspiration (“Butter Out of Cream”) and desperation (“Little Boy Be a Man”).
    Sweeney, a veteran of six Summer Garden Theatre productions, charms in the elegant mother roles of the cosmopolitan danseuse Mrs. Abagnale and the conservative Southerner Mrs. Strong.
    With the exception of some amplification hiccups, this show is technically tight with smart staging and choreography. I recommend it for its astute depiction of the real people who lived this true story. Just don’t expect to leave this musical humming.


    Two and a half hours, including intermission. Mild profanity and adult situations. With Hannah Thornhille as Cheryl Ann, Colin Hood as Dr. Wannamaker and Gabrielle Amaro, Madeleine Bohrer, Lucy Bobbin, ­Amanda S. Cimaglia, Debra Kidwell, Caitlyn Ruth McClellan, Rebecca Gift Walter, Brandon Deitrick and David Ossman.
    Director and costumer: Mark Briner. Musical director: Julie Ann Hawk. Choreographer: Becca Vourvoulas. Set: Matt Mitchell. Lights: Matt Tillett. Sound: Lindsea Sharple and Dan Snyder. Stage manager: John Nunemaker. Musicians: Ken Kimble, Rich Estrin, Randy Martell, Randy Neilson, Tony Settineri, Kevin Hawk, Tod Wildason, Jeff Eckert, Reid Bowman, Zach Konick and Bill Georg.
    Th-Su 8pm thru July 25 plus W July 22: 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $22; rsvp: 410-268-9212; ­summergarden.com.

 

Counting future stars

They’re gaining on you, Angelina Jolie, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Daniel Day Lewis. The talented teens of Twin Beach Players are hot on your heels as the next generation of rising stars.
    See for yourself in Twin Beach Players’ Youth Troupe production Sherlock Holmes and the Most Amazing Case!
    This year marks the 17th season that this small but mighty community theater has been entertaining audiences. This is the first 2015 Youth Troupe show. If there were opening night jitters, you couldn’t tell as 11 young actors took to the stage, breathing life into a new work.
    Youth Troupe alum and playwright Matthew Konerth has written a light-hearted parody of familiar — and new — characters and the sleuthing antics beyond Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s well-known detective stories.
    “I love the cast of characters,” said Konerth, of Baltimore, who delivered just what Players’ president Sid Curl demanded.
    Youth Troupe allows young artists to explore and “find their niche,” says Curl, who finds himself “amazed at the talent.” In winter classes, the Players build talent by teaching acting, fostering professional attitudes and developing trust. These teens have spent hours rehearsing, studying reference material provided by their play’s director, Rachel Cruz, discovering the characters of their roles and learning their lines. These young thespians, ranging in age from 13-17, were selected out of 40 who auditioned. Serious about theater, they are taking this experience in stride.
    First-time Players’ director Cruz couldn’t be prouder. “This has been an amazing experience, and lots of fun,” she said. Her challenges have included motivating her young cast and keeping them focused. As with adults, Cruz treats the teens with respect, praising their work ethic and energy.
    Like his fellow cast members, Cameron Walker, 15, researched his Sherlock Holmes role by reading material provided by his director. Other inspirational sources included studying BBC television and movies. No stranger to the Players, Walker auditioned because he loves the arts and is a “fan of Sherlock Holmes characters.” He brings a commanding presence, instinctive vocal variety and expressive reactions to his British investigator’s persona.
    One of three female actors cast in gender role reversals, 14-year-old Olivia McClung portrays John Watson as a calmer investigative sidekick to Walker’s excitable Holmes. She said she welcomes the challenge of performing an “iconic character” like Watson. Along with her fellow actors, she believes there is something special about being with the cast and developing a stage presence.
    Each young actor brings unique character choices to the roles. Taylor Baker, 17, plays Holmes’ girlfriend, Irene Adler. Like her younger sister, Sidney Baker, 14, who plays Mary Watson, both enjoy portraying characters and plan on using their new skills in future productions.
    Mickey Cashman, 14, plays an animated French waiter full of lively quips with a good ear for an authentic French accent. He especially likes the self-discovery and expression he finds in acting.
    New to the troupe and Twin Beach Players, Hannah Lunczynski, 14, has enjoyed performing the role of arch-villain, Professor Moriarty because he’s such a different character from others she’s acted. Travis Lehnen, 15, has worked onstage and behind the scenes before taking on the role of love-seeking Inspector Lestrade. Lehnen likes the script and thinks it’s “pretty cool to do the show.”
    Kiera Gallagher, 13, adds touches of feistiness and one-upmanship to the role of Holmes’ older brother, Mycroft. Transitioning to a convincing male role has been a fun challenge for her, said the aspiring actor who hopes to land roles in commercials.
    Victoria Mastando, 14, and Melly Byram, 13, are convincing as the scheming Russian duo Katarina and Victor. Aaliyah Roach, 13, plays indignant and persistent landlady Mrs. Hudson, who comes to collect Holmes’ belated rent payment. Like the others, Roach believes acting is a “unique way to express myself and push my limits.”
    A well-lit minimalist set complements make-up, hairstyles and clever costuming.
    “If these teens are the future of theater, I believe it is in good hands,” said Director Cruz.


Mark July 31 to August 9 on your calendars for more original works by young playwrights in the Players’ 10th Annual Kid’s Playwriting Festival.

FSa 7pm and Su 3pm. Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern MD, 9021 Dayton Ave., North Beach: www.TwinBeachPlayers.com.

Tribute strikes a chord

Think of the music of Johnny Cash, and many hearts respond to his evocations of love, faith, family, tragedy and redemption. Think of Johnny Cash himself, and we remember a fallible and gifted man who wrestled throughout most of his 71 years to overcome powerful personal demons. There’s not one without the other. Music and man are intertwined, as they are in Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, Annapolis Infinity Theatre Company’s first and latest mainstage production this season, interpreted by a stellar five-member cast of multi-talented professional actors/musicians from Broadway and beyond.
    The 2006 original Broadway production on which this show is based was short-lived and unsuccessful. The one Infinity presents was conceived by William Meade and adapted from its disappointing predecessor by Richard Maltby Jr. and Jason Edwards. No small feat, Infinity’s production transports us in time to a by-gone era in deep south Arkansas, recollects Cash’s inaugural appearance at The Grand ‘Ole Opry and highlights the legendary romance between Cash and June Carter.
    Brief character narratives, reminiscent songs and well-synchronized scene transitions converge to create a rich, theatrical experience. We are charmed as the actors morph into different roles, singing and playing instruments in a range from acoustic and electric guitars, cello and trumpet to banjo, fiddle, juice harp, washboard, tambourine and harmonica — among others.
    The inventive, rustic set surrounding a circular, edge-lit platform enables smooth maneuvering while enhancing the production’s historical context. Lighting choices combined with character-appropriate costuming contribute to the relaxed, authentic atmosphere.
    Under the guidance and vision of stage and musical director Amy Jones and staff, an energetic, charismatic and masterful production has emerged. Katie Barton, Lori Eure, Silas Moores and Spiff Wiegand shine while playing characters in Cash’s life. Ben Hope’s portrayal of Johnny Cash is tender yet strong. A sole drummer sits discreetly up-stage adding a balanced, percussive rhythm to most of the 30 songs.
    Favorites like “Hey Porter,” “Cry, Cry, Cry,” “Ring of Fire,” “Jackson” and “I Walk the Line” are bookended by others including “Big River,” “Flesh and Blood,” “Man in Black,” “If I Were a Carpenter” and “A Boy Named Sue.”
    Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash is a winner. All of the elements come together seemingly effortlessly to deliver an entertaining, soulful and spirited musical tribute.


Th 2pm and 7pm; F June 26 and Sa 8pm; Su 2pm thru June 28: Children’s Theatre of Annapolis. $20-$36; rsvp: 877-501-8499; infinitytheatrecompany.com.

Figuratively and literally, this show is Looney Tunes

Don’t say you weren’t warned. Colonial Players is forthright about Why Torture Is Wrong, and The People Who Love Them, the unconventional “arc” show offered to make the theater-in-the-round better rounded. Marketing Director Tim Sayles calls this “raucous and provocative” show an “ideologically pointed black comedy by America’s master absurdist playwright,” Christopher Durang. Well and good. A political commentary on post 9-11 paranoia could be hilarious — except I only laughed twice. Admittedly, I was in the minority.
    This show is Looney Tunes, both figuratively and literally, with soundtrack and soundbites lifted straight out of Warner Brothers’ classics. Imagine a society populated only by extremists. Now give them sophomoric quirks and non-sequitur dialogue, and throw in nauseating violence for good measure. This show is so warped that I’m breaking with tradition to give the spoiler: Reality lurks on the periphery until the final 10 minutes, when the action rewinds to construct an alternate course of how things should have unfolded were the principals not xenophobes on red alert.
    Felicity (Diane Samuelson) awakes to find herself married to a congenial stranger whom she suspects of slipping her a roofie at Hooters. Zamir (Pat Reynolds) is unemployed and has criminal connections, conservative Muslim ideals and an intolerant temper. Felicity’s parents are no help, as her mother, Luella (Jean Berard), who cultivates an image of clueless confusion, responds with platitudes from her encyclopedic knowledge of Broadway hits. Her ultra-conservative father, Leonard (Richard Fiske), who masquerades as a butterfly collector while analyzing top secret intelligence in the attic, has his naïve partner Hildegarde (Chaseedaw Giles) investigate Zamir.
    Misinterpreting Zamir’s conversation with a porn-producing minister, the Rev. Mike (Jason Vaughan), about a film called The Big Bang, Hildegarde has Leonard kidnap and torture Zamir. Assisting is Agent Looney Tunes (Ruben Vellekoop, also the narrator) who speaks only in cartoon quotations. Zamir’s false confessions of a terrorist plot trigger catastrophic consequences.
    The jokes are a jumble of societal barbs, from ballroom dancing at Hooters and falling panties with cheap Chinese elastic to Hanoi Jane and Freedom toast. Humor this forced requires a level of sincerity that only Vaughan achieves throughout, though Reynolds and Giles are entertaining.    Mostly, however, the dialogue feels awkward. Complicating matters, this show is technically complex, from its extensive light grid to its versatile stage dominated by a raised platform with trapdoors. Thus, the scene changes are tedious and sight lines limited.
    If your mind races like American Pharoah, if you enjoy sensory overload, if you find dismemberment entertaining, this show is for you.
    Two and a half hours with intermission. Contains violence, mature themes and adult language.


Director: Kristofer Kauff. Set designer: Terry Averill. Sound: Kaelynn Miller. Lights: Wes Bedsworth. Costumes: Sarah Wade.

ThFSa 8pm; Su 2pm (and 7:30pm June 14) thru June 20: Colonial Players, 108 East St., Annapolis. $20/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org.

Whodunnit? Ask the audience

When Charles Dickens died 145 years ago this month, he left behind an unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Release was scheduled in a dozen installments between 1870 and 1871, but he finished only six. Afterward, it became a bit of a cottage industry to take on the novel’s completion, including deciding which of Dickens’ characters was responsible for the murder of the title character.  Would-be Dickens met with varying levels of success. One that turned out quite well is the version that kicks off Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s 50th season.
    With book, music and lyrics by Rupert Holmes (earworm warning: Holmes is perhaps best known for his 1979 hit “Escape … The Piña Colada Song”), the show debuted in 1985 and won Holmes five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Original Score. Lighter and broader than the novel, this musical Drood’s action and audience are in an old-time English music hall, a show-within-a-show complete with emcee and cast playing not Dickens’ characters but music hall performers playing Dickens’ characters.
    And what characters they are, an English town’s worth of winking whackies, led by a triad of top talent. David Merrill has a great time as John Jasper, Drood’s schizoid uncle and choirmaster. Paige Miller is the sincere ingénue Rosa Bud, Drood’s betrothed after whom Jasper lusts. Emily Lentz is Drood in a traditional cross-dressing role. All three have wonderful voices, and Merrill’s and Miller’s especially soar on the operatic “The Name of Love and Moonfall,” sung after he confesses his love for her.
     As the proprietor of the Music Hall Royale, Erik Alexis excitedly introduces us to the actors and their characters and guides us through the story with old jokes and a fine voice. His duet with Merrill on “Both Sides of the Coin,” a 100mph patter-song romp through an actor’s confusion when playing two parts, is a highlight of the night.
    As the newcomers from Ceylon, Casey Lynne Garner and DJ Wojciehowski stir things up nicely as siblings Helena and Neville Landless. Wendell Holland’s Reverend Crisparkle is perhaps not the upstanding man of the cloth he wants us to believe. As Princess Puffer, an opium den denizen, Maribeth Vogel offers up a fine “The Garden Path to Hell” in describing how a boyfriend turned her to a life of sleaze. Several other fine characters anchor the show, including Ethan Goldberg as Durdles, the usually drunk stonemason, and Stephanie Bernholz, doing a fine job with the stick puppet that plays Durdles’ Deputy.
    Connecting all of these characters to the plot might take more space than allotted here, so let’s just say that when Drood ends up murdered, there are plenty of suspects, plus a new character who comes on to investigate. This being a musical based on Dickens’ version of Drood rather than the brooding, dark and incomplete novel, it’s all tied up with a happy ending. Several, in fact.    
    Whodunnit? You get to decide.


Director: Andy Scott. Music director: Ken Kimble. Choreographer: Elysia Greene-Merrill. Stage manager: Kristy McKeever. Costumer: Jackie Colestock. Lighting designer: Drew Fox.
 
Playing thru June 20. Th-S plus W June 17 8pm: 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $22; rsvp: 410-268-9212; summergarden.com.

The music is timeless as life ­imitates art

Is it life imitates art? Or art imitates life? Either way, when Kiss Me, Kate hit Broadway back in 1948, winning a Tony Award, it marked the first time that Cole Porter’s music and lyrics integrated into a stage story, moving beyond showcasing Porter’s clever musical banter to pushing the story along. The story, told in show-within-a-show technique, is the on-and-offstage comedy of errors of the producer, director and star of musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Fred Graham, his ex-wife and costar Lilli Vanessi, and a comic cast with some very fine voices.
    Brian Binney nails Fred’s egoism, has a fine voice and cavorts across the stage with a jumpiness that mirrors his desperation to ensure that the show goes on. He is desperately trying to keep Lilli from quitting after she discovers his lust for Lois Lane, the sexy young actress whose boyfriend owes some very bad men some very big bucks. As Lilli, Brenda D. Parker is as convincingly egotistical as Fred. She has a powerhouse voice that is flexible enough to move from ballad to comedic in a matter of measures. As Lois and Bill, her boyfriend in arrears, Amy Greco and Nathan Bowen give us a pair of sure-footed hoofers and singers who seem born to the stage of old, whose attractions were soft shoe and solid voices, not special effects and remakes.
    The story is frantic and funny, but it’s the classic Porter songs that keep the audience — at least those of a certain age or interest in Broadway history — thinking a-ha at recognizing tunes that turned out to be timeless. The hit parade starts with the company announcing “Another Op’nin’, Another Show.” As the parade passes by, we’re mesmerized by Parker’s beautiful “So in Love” and riotous “I Hate Men,” Greco’s and Bowen’s “Why Can’t You Behave?” and, opening Act II, Jared Shamberger’s turn as Paul energetically leading the company through a very nicely choreographed “Too Darn Hot.” Special mention to the bassist in the orchestra — either Jeff Eckert or Steve Hudgins in the program — who plucks a very jazzy accompaniment on the latter.
    Other chestnuts, from “Wunderbar” by Binney and Parker to Greco’s “Always True to You in My Fashion,” keep the parade of hits coming. When two toughies, played by Josh Hampton and Michael Iacone, show up trying to collect from Bowen’s Bill and end up a part of the cast, they bring a cool liveliness to the goings-on that culminates in a hilarious “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” that seems to go on forever — and deserves to.
    Costumes by Linda Swann are colorful and fun. Director Roy Hammond and choreographer Rikki Howie Lacewell keep the pace moving. Stage manager Joanne D. Wilson keeps the scene changes short. The live orchestra led by Joe Biddle does a nice job moving the music without overpowering the singers, quite an accomplishment when an orchestra of more than a dozen is playing in a relatively small 155-seat venue like Bowie Playhouse.
    2nd Star’s Kiss Me, Kate brings us old Broadway that’s as good as new. It’s comedy, romance and music that were built to last. Judging by the vitality of 2nd Star’s production, tickets likely won’t.


Playing thru June 27, FSa 8pm; Su 3pm: Bowie Playhouse at White Marsh Park, Bowie; $22 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700; 2ndstarproductions.com.

Set to music, Oscar Wilde is twice as funny

It’s ironic that when Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest premiered in 1895, many critics loved its humor but were taken aback at its lightness, its refusal to take on heavy social or political issues of the time, as most dramas had done. The irony is that it’s exactly this drive to escape the heavy responsibilities of “position” that impel Jack Worthing to create an alter ego, Ernest, through whom Jack can live a life untethered by the demands of position.
    Even so, Wilde’s Earnest was quickly acclaimed one of his greatest works, and certainly his greatest comedy, one that moved the audience to laughter consistently and whose dialogue and characters rang so true that even today the plot seems as likely as life. Take this thespian froth, add music that stays true to the times and the story, and you end up with the hilarious hit that The Colonial Players of Annapolis is displaying on its in-the-round stage through May 16.
    Director Rick Wade — a long-time directing, acting and playwright veteran of Colonial Players (Wade wrote the book for the group’s version of A Christmas Carol, a three-decade Annapolis tradition) — knows just how to make the most of that stage. Along with set and floor designer Edd Miller and lighting designer Frank Florentine, Wade turns Colonial’s theater into a garden of comedy, with pastel flowers lining the walls behind the audience, a floor just as beautiful, lights constantly in motion and set pieces cleverly rearranged during quickly choreographed scene changes ranging from London flats to a country garden.
    Worthing, played by Eric Hufford, and his pal Algernon, played by Steven Baird, have a nice camaraderie on stage, giving the little digs that friends do. When Algernon, whose cousin Gwendolyn Jack is in love with, figures out Jack’s Ernest ruse, the plot takes off. It’s a plot that, because of Wilde’s intricacy with words and humor, requires direction that keeps the pace moving. In turn, the cast must have the talent to not only portray these characters brightly but also to reject the temptation to allow the pace to trip up a basic acting requirement: The audience must hear and understand you, especially in the round, when the actor is always facing away from at least one section of the audience. This cast gets the job done.
    From the impossible patter of “A Handbag Is Not a Proper Mother” to the round of “My Eternal Devotion,” some very nice voices are on display here. But never does the music take precedence over the comedy.
    This is a stellar cast. Erica Jureckson as Gwendolyn and Sarah Wade as Cecily, the young ward of Worthing, work very well together, especially when singing “My Very First Impression,” an irony about their ability to size up a man on first glance. Greg Jones as Lane, Worthing’s valet, is top-notch and in fine voice in “You Can’t Make Love,” with Sherri Millan’s servant girl Effie, about the many burdens of upper classdom that prevent their enjoying … ahem … life to its fullest. As Gwendolyn’s mother Lady Bracknell, Barbara Bartos is the picture of rigid elitism in that “handbag” song and throughout. And as Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble, Dianne and Duncan Hood get plenty of laughs but serve up a touching dose of mature puppy love as well as dance around their feelings for each other in “Metaphorically Speaking.”
    There are others, including several smaller characters who do double duty keeping the scene changes brisk, often getting their own tee-hees. The bottom line here is every audience’s top priority in a comedy: Keep things moving, and make us laugh. They do, and you will.


Playing thru May 16: ThFSa 8pm; Su 2pm: Colonial Players Theatre in the Round, Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org.

AACC Students shine in this classic thriller of unexpected stardom and unrequited love

Since Opera AACC debuted 13 years ago, the company has been renowned for outstanding productions, and this year’s The Phantom of the Opera is no exception. The surprise difference, however, is a first ever all-student cast. Students studied a range of skills from vocal production to theater props and technology at Anne Arundel Community College. You’d have to drive to Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory to find a better student version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning musical: a classic thriller of unexpected stardom and unrequited love.
    This mammoth undertaking includes costumes and makeup worthy of La Scala; a versatile set featuring starry nights, rolling fog, a subterranean lake and a hand-beaded chandelier 100 hours in creation; a finely tuned and precise ensemble of 26 singers with a fine ballet troupe; and some of the most fabulous voices you’ll hear on an amateur stage.
    Laura Sparks shimmers as Christine, the chorus girl turned star. Jeffrey Walter as Raoul has a swoon-worthy voice and bearing. Emily Sergo’s diva, Carlotta, exhibits phenomenal coloratura and comedic timing. Character actors Kevin Cleaver and Leonard Gilbert as managers Andre and Firmin delight, as does Lucy Bobbin as Meg. As for the Phantom, Sophomore Gabe Taylor has a heart-breaking high tenor, though his low notes, so integral to this role, lack the command that age will bring.
    The greatest musical moments come in the octet Prima Donna, the Act II opening chorus Masquerade and Christine’s duet with Raoul, All I Ask of You. See it with the one you love and feel the tender frisson.
    Technically, this show is well directed and produced with few exceptions. Christine and the Phantom are a physical mismatch, as she towers over him. Body mics do a disservice to several cast members, providing excessive consonants at the expense of the musical line. Backstage activity is all too visible to opera goers seated in the wings of the auditorium. The clumsy handling of the chandelier detracts from the spectacle. Still, these are minor points in an otherwise must-see gem of contemporary musical theater.


Director: Douglas Brandt Byerly. Music director and conductor: Blair Skinner. Set: Sean J. Urbantke. Sound: Christopher L. Ballengee. Lights: Michael D. Klima. Makeup and wigs: Kristin Clippard. Choreography: Kristi Schaffner.

Playing thru April 25: Th 7:30pm; FSa 8pm: Kauffman Theater at the Pascal Center, AACC, Arnold; $25 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-777-2457.

Don’t miss this Twin Beach Players' show, for you’re sure to walk out smiling

In a typical visit to a theater, you experience a play from your sensory point of view, including watching it unfold through plot twists and turns while listening to witty dialogue spoken by richly portrayed characters. In Twin Beach Players’ Noises Off, you get that and more as you bear witness to Noises On, a play within a play revealed from the point of view of actors preparing and starring in a comical sex farce.
    Before Noises Off has finished, you will feel exhausted, not unlike the actors, having watched seemingly countless pratfalls, observed multiple character and prop entrances and exits, heard numerous opening and closing of doors, many double entendres, reappearing sardines and other props, character-appropriate and colorful costumes — and a monstrous two-level set spun around twice by stage crew.
    Confused? Let me explain.
    Directed by Players’ president Sid Curl, English playwright Michael Frayn’s Noises Off is the story of six actors, one stage manager, one stage technician and director who rehearse and perform their play, Noises On. A standout ensemble cast and complicated physical and technical cues make Noises Off a theatrical ­triumph.
    The moment you make your way to your seat in the auditorium of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Maryland and see before you a two-level English country home constructed of tall painted flats, working wood stairs and numerous doors, combined with colorful prop pieces and thoughtful background music, you appreciate the transformative effort involved in this challenging undertaking.
    A combination of new and veteran performers, the strong cast reacts well to each other through deliberate character choices, effective and credible vocal variety and exceptional comic pacing and timing. Sherry Curl-Hall’s Dotty Otley is animated and energetic. Keith Mervine plays Lloyd Dallas, a convincing and experienced director. Ethan Croll’s Gary Lejeune is equally impressive with deliberate gesturing and authoritative demeanor.  Brooke Ashton as Kate Harrison creates a vain starlet threatening to quit the show whenever things don’t go her way.
    Luke Woods’ Frederick Fellowes is a believable, mature actor who respectfully questions his director. Didi Olney masters Poppy Norton-Taylor’s job as a fretful stage manager. Amy Prieto adds maturity to Belinda Blair, an eternal optimist. Kevin McCoy sparkles as obedient stage technician Tim Algood. Jeff Larsen amuses as Selsdon Mowbray, an unreliable actor with a drinking problem.
    Opening night had a few technical problems including long intermissions to turn the stage set, but they were not surprising, as the cast and crew had just one week to rehearse with the entire set in place.
    Don’t miss this show, for you’re sure to walk out smiling.


Playing thru April 26: Th-Sa: 8pm; Su 2pm: Boys & Girls Club, North Beach; $15 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-286-1890 twinbeachplayers.com.

Bold choices — for these homesteaders and Bowie Community Theatre

Since the mid-1960s, Bowie Community Theatre’s bread and butter has been mysteries, comedies and classics. Still, it has never shied away from taking on lesser-known material with depth and message. It has found such a gem in Pearl Cleage’s 1995 production Flyin’ West. This is a beautifully written piece that brings to life the oft-ignored story of how former slaves in 1898 moved west — Kansas, in this case — toward a life of self-dependence.
    A small story with a big impact, Flyin’ West demands actors who can plow the depths of their characters’ pasts to bring us dual realities. On the one hand, that’s what they lived as slaves. On the other, it’s the hope they feel as they simultaneously work to make their town of Nicodemus an enduring success and ward off speculators who see dollar signs across the acres.    
    Director Estelle Miller has assembled a cast that makes us feel the warmth and love they have for each other, their determination to create a town that will prosper and the indignities of having darker skin at a time when whites had no legal barrier preventing them from committing all sorts of abuse.
    More specifically, this is a story of four very strong African American women, with a cast doing justice to each. It all takes place at the home of Sophie Washington and Fannie Dove, 30-something homesteaders who have opened their home to Leah, their 70-something neighbor whom they do not want to be alone during the oncoming winter.
    As Leah, Sandra Cox True gives us the past: several very touching monologues about what it was like being a female slave who had another slave forced on her to bring healthy male children to the plantation. Her story about that first time, at age 13 — and subsequent stories about the babies being taken away — are heartbreakingly real. Yet True also gives us some wonderfully funny and dry responses in her back-and-forth with the other characters … including the story of how she learned to bake an especially tart apple pie.
    As Fannie, Lolita Marie gives us the present. She bickers with Sophie, flirts with neighbor Wil Parish and seems to have aspirations of ensuring that the hardscrabble homesteader’s life doesn’t preclude having some of the finer things; she made sure their fine china went with them from Memphis to Nicodemus. Marie’s Fannie is gentle and perceptive.
    As Sophie, Kecia Campbell gives us a taste of the future as the strong-willed visionary whose singular purpose in life is to leave behind the past and forge ahead by doing all she can to ensure that Nicodemus remains in the hands of her people. She plans the layout of the town just as she plans her own future, and Campbell’s characterization is spot on. She has no intention of playing second fiddle to anyone, whether a slave overseer or the male-dominated society she faces.
    Brawnlyn Blueitt plays younger sister Minnie with appropriate innocence and tentativeness, growing stronger as she and her baby survive the abuses of her husband. Hard to believe this is Blueitt’s stage debut.
    Neighbor Wil is the good guy neighbor who would do anything to help the women, especially Fannie. Darius McCall is quite appealing; his Wil is a touch dimmer than the others, but his loyalty and strength manifest when the time comes for him to be the protector.
    Frank is Minnie’s husband. A mulatto born of a white man and a slave mother, Ben Harris walks a bit of an acting tightrope as Frank. The character as written threatens to fall into cliché: frustrated self-hating drunk gambler who hits his wife and wants to sell their land. But Cleage doesn’t quite allow Frank to cross that line, and Harris’s performance, while potent, is subtle enough to make us believe Frank’s self-loathing and explosiveness.
    It all takes place on a beautifully realized set of a see-through house by set designer Dan Lavagan, lit nicely by Bowie Playhouse veteran pro Garrett Hyde. The pace on opening night was occasionally tentative, both with the actors’ lines and long scene changes, all of which are sure to tighten up as the run progresses.
    One can hope: the show started at 8pm. Act I ran 1.5 hours, and it all ended about 10:50. Nearly three hours is long even for a musical, much less a straight play. But that’s a minor caveat considering the importance of this story.
    This brilliant script brought to life by riveting performances adds another chapter to how the West was won.


Playing thru April 25: FSa 8pm; 2pm Sa April 18 and Su April 19: Bowie Community Theatre, White Marsh Park, Bowie; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 301-805-0219;  bctheatre.com.