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Articles by Jane C. Elkin

Five women seek balance between domesticity and independence, birth control and motherhood, drugs and responsibility in 1960’s London

I was expecting SHOUT! The Mod Musical to be smashing, and it is. With hits by the likes of Petula Clark, Lulu, Shirley Bassey, Mary Hopkin, The Seekers and The Association plus a phenomenal cast of singer/dancers plus a superstar director (Jerry Vess) from seven previous Summer Garden productions, how could it be anything but?
    What I didn’t expect was relevance.
    SHOUT!, which debuted in 2006, revisits the Swinging Sixties in London through the eyes of five women in different stages of life as they discover women’s liberation. Seeking a balance between domesticity and independence, birth control and motherhood, recreational drugs and responsibility, they strive for the glamorous autonomy of superstars like Dusty Springfield even as her music counsels them to wear their hair for him, do the things he likes to do. It was a confusing decade of change, so thank God that Shout Magazine, the U.K.’s answer to Elle, had an advice columnist. Gwendolyn (Ginnie White) guides them through each life crisis with dismissive beauty and fashion tips: all hilarious — until they’re just not, anymore.
    The girls are as anonymous as their letters, each identified only by the color of her frock. There’s Orange Girl (Jamie Erin Miller), the tippling housewife who is completely contented and completely in denial; Blue Girl (Kara Leonard), the vain and lonely sophisticate who can’t find a chap she connects with; Green Girl (Brittany Zalovick), the commitment phobic good-time gal; Red Girl (Mariel White), the baby and a hopeless romantic mess; and Yellow Girl (Katie Gardner) the loud and emotional American.
    They sing in harmonies that approximate the originals without disappointing. Some, like the anthems Windy and Georgy Girl, are delivered in duets; some, like White’s touching rendition of To Sir with Love are solid; and some, like Downtown, are ensemble pieces that eclipse the originals. Nancy Sinatra never sang These Boots Were Made for Walking as well as these skirts. White also sells Those Were the Days and How Can You Tell. Gardner wows with Son of a Preacher Man and Shout. Zalovick rocks One, Two, Three and I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love. Leonard stuns in You’re My World and Don’t Sleep In the Subway, where she flirts with the crowd. And Miller shines in I Only Want to Be with You and Don’t Give Up. Some of the music, like Coldfinger is just fun.
    Interspersed with the music are comedic vignettes à la Laugh-In, poking fun at the French, the Brits, the Royals, fad diets, Twiggy, orgies and asbestos dresses. Leonard’s skin cream commercial in which she contorts her face to look like Munch’s The Scream is a scream, as is Gardner’s stalking of Paul McCartney. Your Fashion Horoscope is an eye-popping trip back through the rack.
    A musical revue needs more than just the right sound and jokes, though. Looks matter, and this production is spot-on from the Mary Quant minis and Vidal Sassoon bobs to the white Go Go boots and frosted lips. The girls speak in accents that echo the ubiquitous Union Jacks decorating the stage and costumes as they swim, jerk, shrug, frug and otherwise dance their way to psychedelic bliss.
    This show is technically tight with custom voice-overs and few glitches on opening night. The fine musical combo grooves in balance with the singers. Only the pre-show entertainment, perhaps a Dionne Warwick medley, was regrettably inaudible.
    SHOUT! is rated PG-13 for sexual and drug references, but those are sedate by modern standards. So go downtown, where the lights are bright. Everything’s waiting for you at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre.

By Philip George and David Lowenstein. Director and set designer: Jerry Vess. Musical director: Anita O’Connor. Choreographer: Jason Kimmel. Costumer: Julie Bays. Dialect coach, hair and makeup designer: Emily Karol. Lights: Alex Brady. Orchestra Conductor and pianist: Ken Kimble.
Playing thru July 19: Th,SaSu July 3, 5 & 6; Th-Su July 10-13; and W-Sa July 16-19. 8:30pm at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre. $20: 410-268-9212; www.summergarden.com.
It would be a shame for one seat to go empty during this run.
Debuting to 10 Tony Awards 50 years ago, Hello, Dolly! is a rarity among musicals: song and dance blend seamlessly with story, its buoyant innocence saving it from contrivance. Based on Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker, it’s a perfect vehicle for 2nd Star Productions, long recognized for outstanding musicals. The combination of strength in show and talent makes this the best amateur musical production I have seen in 13 years of reviewing. 
 
Dolly Levi (Nori Morton), as charming as she is perceptive and manipulative, is a marriage broker who, after a long widowhood, has set her own matrimonial sights on Horace Vandergelder (Gene Valendo), the half-millionaire from Yonkers who also happens to be her client. Horace is set to marry Irene Molloy (Pam Schilling), a lovely widow and milliner from the city. But his quest does not end as he — or six younger romantics — anticipated, as Dolly lets drop some slanderous rumors about Irene’s character.
 
Horace’s two clerks at Vandergelder’s Feed Store — Cornelius (Nathan Bowen) and Barnaby (Daniel Starnes) — close the store without Horace’s knowledge to follow him, intent on sightseeing and kissing a girl — all on two dollars. Horace’s niece Ermengarde (Emily Freeman), meanwhile, steals off to the city at Dolly’s urging with her forbidden love Ambrose (Josh Hampton). Dolly enters the pair in a polka contest at the swanky Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, where Horace will dine.
 
In the city, Cornelius and Barnaby spot their boss and take refuge in Irene’s hat shop, where Horace discovers them and abandons Irene. She and her assistant Minnie (Colleen Coleman) then fall for Cornelius and Barnaby. Dolly next sets up Horace with a mannequin, then with Ernestina (Rebecca Feibel), a crass floozy, interrupting their miserable tête à tête so that he will fall for her in desperation. Horace’s employees, meanwhile, are trying to entertain the milliners on a pittance in an adjacent booth when an accidental wallet swap saves their day but causes Horace to be arrested for not paying his bill. The polka contest turns into a riot. Everyone is hauled to court, but Cornelius saves the day with a speech on the power of love that moves the Judge (Mark Jeweler) to free everyone but Horace. Dolly, of course, is there to save his day.
 
There is not a clinker in this cast. The leads, all well cast, know how to sell their songs. With hummable hits like Put on Your Sunday Clothes, It Takes a Woman and It Only Takes a Moment, the singing is pitch-perfect and the dancing precise. Morton is every inch the marvelous meddler; Valendo delivers just the right blend of tightwad anxiety; Bowen charms with naïve sincerity and energy to burn; Starnes is an impressive presence as the teen playing a teen; Schilling sings like a lark in Ribbons Down My Back and Coleman is her perfect ingénue foil. Tim Sayles is hilarious as Rudolph, the maître d’ who barks orders like a German drill sergeant in the Waiters’ Galop, a stunning ballet of  tuxedoed servers. Feibel wrangles the laughs with her bumptious shenanigans. There are even children — two talented girls — always a welcome sight in community theater choruses.
 
Sets and costumes are a feast for the eyes with half a dozen ornate set changes and two dozen beautiful ensembles complete with parasols, plumes, boaters and bonnets. The robust nine-piece orchestra sometimes overpowers the soloists, but never a word is lost. 
 
Money is like manure. It isn’t worth anything unless you spread it around, Dolly is fond of saying. The same is true for talent. It would be a shame for even one seat to go empty during this run. So buy your tickets now, Before the Parade Passes By.
 
 
Hello, Dolly! by Stewart and Herman. Director and set designer: Jane B. Wingard. Costumes: Linda Swann. Musical director: Joe Biddle. choreography: Vincent Musgrave. Lights and sound: Garrett R. Hyde. With Heather Jeweler as Mrs. Rose and Brianne Anderson, Aaron Barker, Rosalie Daelemans, Austin Dare, Genevieve Ethridge, Samantha Gardner, Ethan Goldberg, Ann Marie Hines, Julie Hines, Amy Jones, Crista Kirkendall, Brigid Lally, Erin Lorenz, Rebekka Meyer, Spencer Nelson, Malarie Novotny, Sharon Palmer, Sophia Riazi-Sekowski, CeCe Shilling, Jordan Sledd, Deb Sola and Sarah Wessinger.
 
Playing thru June 29. F & Sa at 8 pm; Su at 3pm at 2nd Star Productions: Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park. $22 w/discounts; rsvp 410-757-5700; www.2ndstarproductions.com.

Gather under the stars for satins and sequins, top hats and tails and vocal harmonies with that Merry Melodies brand of manic sweetness

It seems only yesterday we were urged to come and meet those dancing feet … on 42nd Street. But the 2001 revival of the 1980 Broadway hit (both multiple Tony Award winners) debuted as a 1933 Warner Brothers film starring Ruby Keeler and Ginger Rogers. Now Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre brings back this buoyant musical extravaganza, after a 20-year hiatus, in a show billed as a “bold celebration of the transcendent joys of Broadway.”
    Packed with show-stopping classics, it stars several dynamic leads guaranteed to satisfy the strongest nostalgia craving. ASGT’s stage can’t provide the same trademark visuals of Busby Berkeley’s film choreography, but the tapping is complex and tight, highlighting the virtuoso performances of Hannah Thornhill as Peggy Sawyer, the sudden starlet, and Summer Garden Theatre newcomer Nicholas Carter as her friend Andy, the dance captain of her star vehicle, Pretty Lady. Maggie (Allie Dreskin), the show’s wisecracking writer, is equally impressive for her singing.
    Because even the spunkiest musical needs a story line, no matter how flimsy, Peggy the small-town-girl takes the city by storm and wins the hearts of hard-nosed producer Julian Marsh (Brandon Deitrick) and sweet chorus boy Billy (Kyle Eshom).
    Meanwhile, aging diva Dorothy Brock (Allison Erskine) gives Peggy her lucky break, literally, when age trips over youth in rehearsal. Dorothy was due for a change, anyway, having tired of her sugar daddy who is the show’s backer, Abner Dillon (Wendell Holland), and desperate to reunite with her secret love, Pat Denning (Thomas Brandt).
    For a show with two love triangles, there is nary a spark beyond the music. But with hits like We’re in the Money glittering green as a lotto commercial, Lullaby of Broadway with its great male harmonies, and Shuffle Off to Buffalo staged in train cars, the rest is fluff.
    Thornhill, ASGT’s star of Thoroughly Modern Millie and Chicago, has it all: voice, moves, personality and Renée Zellweger’s looks. Carter astounds as an Astaire for the modern age. Dreskin brings a Bette Midler quality to Maggie, wowing early on in Shadow Waltz, and dominating the stage for a third of the show. Newby Erskine’s strong contralto is best showcased in About a Quarter to Nine and I Only Have Eyes for You. Eshom shines in Dames. Caitlyn Ruth McClellan, Lacy Comstock, Amanda Cimaglia and Trent Goldsmith excel in the tertiary lead chorus roles of Anytime Annie, Phyllis, Lorraine and Brent, featured in the big-production numbers.
    From an acting perspective, Aubrey Baden is worth mentioning for his terrific impersonation of a rehearsal pianist, despite the fact that he doesn’t play or speak. All the music, in fact, is provided by a tiny, tinny backstage combo. Holland is a quintessential milksop. Deitrick does a decent job with his famous pep talk, “You’re going out there a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star,” but he has trouble navigating 42nd Street in his solo reprise of the title song in the finale. Similarly, some dragging tempi and a lighting problem siphoned some of the show’s energy on opening night.
    Still, if you love satins and sequins, top hats and tails, and vocal harmonies with that Merry Melodies brand of manic sweetness, you will thrill to this chestnut.


With Samantha Curbelo, Ashley Gladden, Debra Kidwell, Maureen Mitchell, Erin Paluchowski , Aaron Quade and D.J. Wojciehowski.
By Stewart, Bramble, Warren and Dubin. Director and choreographer: Kristina Friedgen. Musical director: Julie Ann Hawk. Dance captains: Nick Carter and Caitlyn Ruth McClellan. Set designers: Friedgen and Dan Snyder. Costumes: Miriam Gholl. Lights: Alex Brady. Orchestra conductor/pianists: Hawk and Laura Brady.
Playing thru June 21. Th-Su plus Wed. June 18 at 8:30 pm @ Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise St. $20; rsvp: 410-268-9212; www.summergarden.com.
 

Take an intimate look at private lives affected by corporate callousness.

Colonial Players has kept audiences engaged in a season that has swung from the ridiculous to reality: from a time machine to Death Row, and now from a tabloid fantasy to the Industrial Revolution. In Melanie Marnich’s These Shining Lives, a fictional treatment of a factual tragedy, we meet four victims of radium poisoning whose plight spawned a landmark Supreme Court decision on corporate responsibility and workers’ safety. Despite the legalistic dénouement, this story is less Erin Brokovich than an intimate look at the private lives affected by corporate callousness.
    If you’re a fan of television’s Big Love or The Big C, you’re already familiar with Marnich’s work. Or perhaps you were lucky enough to catch this show’s 2008 debut at Baltimore’s Center Stage. Regardless, this touching chronicle of friendship and suffering will arouse your anger and sympathy for Catherine (Sarah Wade), Charlotte (Krissy McGregor), Frances (Josette Dubois), Pearl (Aricia Skidmore-Williams) and thousands like them who, for over a decade, decorated watch faces with a paint composed of radium powder and their own saliva.
    From the Roaring Twenties to the Great Depression, these working girls were heady with newfound freedoms and “easy money” thanks to the newly discovered element thought to impart a healthy glow and beneficial side effects. They got $8 a day; they lost teeth, jaws, limbs, their jobs, their good names and their lives.
    Through it all, the men around them tiptoed around the obvious. Mr. Reed (David Carter), the supervisor, kept a watchful eye on their degeneration even as he denied the hazards of the job. The company doctor (Eric Hufford) prescribed aspirin and rest. Catherine’s adoring husband Tom (Ben Carr), suspicious from the start, nevertheless grew resentful of and dependent on his wife’s work even as she
withered before his unbelieving eyes.
    The powerful story could have been more affecting with a more elaborate set. For despite luminescent designs on the floor and walls, the recycled kitchenette and worktables are ineffective substitutes for a deathbed and courtroom, and even those pieces remain unchanged throughout the production. Period costumes add a colorful touch to an otherwise drab environment, as do the scratchy recordings. But a vintage cathedral radio and more period embellishments would have added a whole new dimension of ­reality and interest.
    From a performance standpoint, Wade glows as Katie, from her first ecstatic entrance to her dying breath, meshing with Hufford with palpable chemistry in last weekend’s fine understudy performance of husband Tom. Carter brings a charming smarminess to the role of the calculating boss. McGregor, Skidmore-Williams and Dubois construct a decent rapport as the smart aleck, the jokester and the moralist. Yet beyond a couple limps and a sling, they are less convincing than Wade in their personas and their frailties. Where are the crutches, the bruises, the pallor, the blacked-out teeth and the physical manifestation of persistent pain? Without them, the tragedy feels less immediate than it should.
    Still, this show does a good job of reminding us that precious time is ticking and we should never take a moment of our shining lives for granted.

Director: Craig Allen Mummey. Set designers: Mummey and Laurie Nolan. Sound: Keith Norris. Lights: Alex Brady. Costumes: Beth Terranova.
 
Playing thru May 31. ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm at Colonial Players Theater, 108 East St., Annapolis; rsvp: $20 w/discounts; 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.

Compass Rose is the first theater to produce this edgy drama

“Why try something new when we already know what we like?” asks the conservative character in Compass Rose’s current production, Another Day On Willow Street.
    “Because,” says founding artistic director Lucinda Merry-Browne, “the future of theater depends on new works.”
    So Annapolis audiences are the first ever to see this new work by acclaimed playwright, author and actor Frank Anthony Polito. Chosen for its unique structure and strong themes, this edgy drama about two relationships in crisis leading up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks considers the themes of sacrifice and commitment against a backdrop of domestic stress, isolation and jealousy.
     Ian (Ric Andersen) and Stacy (Renata Plecha) have it all: a townhome on Willow Street, his Wall Street banking career and her early retirement from publishing to have their baby. Only problem is, she’s not ready and he’s too busy enjoying his role as sole breadwinner to indulge her fears. Going stir-crazy at home, she makes a friend at the park. Mark (Jonathan Lee Taylor) is a struggling actor who rents the studio next door and is living as a geographic bachelor separated from his love, Paul (Anthony Bosco), a Boston-based lawyer. Paul, who is nursing his dying mother, is pressuring Mark to help him fulfill her dying wish to see them married. Only problem is, Mark still hasn’t come out to his parents.
    There are a lot of phone calls and domestic squalls, crossed signals and crossed paths between unacquainted neighbors, Starbucks and even some gratuitous gay phone sex as each couple hashes out the same issues in parallel conversations that echo each other. The main message, stated twice, is that, “people put things off and put things off and put things off only to realize their lives are over.” Not an original thought, but one worth repeating.
     Set and lighting are minimal, characters clichéd and dialogue circular. Yet there is some strong acting. Most notable are Bosco and Taylor, both Equity actors who were cast as last minute replacements with just one week to learn the show. Each fleshes out his role, to the extent the script allows, with finesse. Plecha, last seen as the nurse in Compass Rose’s Romeo and Juliet, is also convincing as the reluctant housewife.
    However, Andersen, last seen as Bob Ewell in Compass Rose’s To Kill a Mockingbird, is wooden and one-dimensional. There is more chemistry between Stacy and the gay neighbor than there is between husband and wife.  
     From a technical perspective, the blocking is awkward, often requiring downstage actors to turn their backs on the audience to carry on conversations with those upstage.
    Other problems come with the script. Characters’ names are barely used the first half of the show, making it hard to identify them. The play has a general flatness, and the roller-coaster of a pseudo dramatic arc culminates in a confusing climax, tidy resolution and abrupt ending.
    This is no instant classic, but it will make you think about the transience of life and the fragility of love.
    Adult themes make this show inappropriate for ages under 16, and runtime is advertised as 75 minutes with no intermission, yet opening night ran an extra 15 minutes.

Director: Lucinda Merry-Browne. Costumes: Julie Bays. Lights: Chris Timko.
Playing thru May 31. Th 7pm; FSa 8pm; Sa May 24 2pm and 8pm; Su and Sa May 31 2pm. Compass Rose Theater, Annapolis. $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-980-6662; www.compassrosetheater.org.

Dignity Players exits stage left field, imagination amok

For nine years, Dignity Players has mounted quality productions on the themes of social justice and equality — morality plays that inspire with occasional forays into seriocomedy — brilliant, thought-provoking stuff. And now, as Monty Python would say, for something completely different: a hilarious send-up of John Buchan’s classic thriller The 39 Steps, which became a 1935 Alfred Hitchcock hit. Like a beloved professor playing a prank on the last day of school, Dignity delivers an unforgettable couple of hours of pure pleasure, with a gag a minute and romance to boot.
    The story follows the adventures of Richard Hannay (Ty Cobb), who leads a boring life until he meets a woman with a thick German accent, Annabella Schmidt (Rebecca Ellis), who says she’s a spy. He takes her home where she is murdered, and soon a mysterious organization called The 39 Steps is hot on his trail in a manhunt across the British Isles that climaxes in a death-defying finale.
    This film noir classic has enjoyed a renaissance of late as a riotous blend of virtuoso performances in which three of the four actors portray 25 roles ranging from walk-ons to leads. It sounds impossible, yet with inventive stagecraft it’s not only possible but preferable to the traditional production. There’s Chaplinesque physical comedy, cartoonish pranks, puppetry, shadow play, mime, a train-top chase scene — and references to every Hitchcock blockbuster.
    From the opening scene at a Vaudevillian performance featuring The Amazing Mr. Memory (Duncan Hood) and his manager (Eric Lund), these two actors (billed simply as Clown 1 and Clown 2) never take a break. No sooner does the imperiled Annabella appeal to Richard for protection than the clowns are lurking outside his apartment as the two most delightful trench-coated spies since Boris and Natasha. Each time Richard glances out the window, they skulk and slink into view carrying their own full-sized lamppost, reappearing throughout the show as cops, businessmen, inn keepers, farmers, Hitler sympathizers, newsboys, conductors, maids and milkmen. Ellis, meanwhile, reappears as a helpful farmer’s wife and a traitorous confidante who unmasks him only to find herself handcuffed to him for the duration.
    Technically more complex than Dignity’s usual fare, this production features fog, gunshots, special lighting and a slide show backdrop. The hilarious preshow of Alfred Hitchcock’s tongue-in-cheek videos introducing his greatest hits is not to be missed.
    Director Jim Reiter, a veteran of Dignity Players hits such as Sordid Lives, The Crucible and Shadowbox, has assembled a brilliant cast. Cobb — a Dignity alum from 8 and Sight Unseen — is equal parts suave, sly and charming. Ellis — who has appeared with nearly every local theater except Dignity — is cool and glamorous with a demure style perfect for the period. Lund — who has worked with Dignity on and off stage in productions such as The Vagina Monologues, A Christmas Carol, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and The Shadow Box — exhibits Peter Sellers’ comic genius in his portrayal of characters such as Professor Jordan, the Nazi.
    Hood — an ubiquitous local favorite memorable for his hilarious Scrooge, Psuedolus and Shakespeare — displays his box of tricks: from Mr. Memory’s out-of-body experiences to a sanctimonious Scot’s brimstone mealtime blessing. After appearing with countless theaters in the Baltimore-Washington area, he is excited to be doing this play, his one and only with Dignity, because of this show. “Normally the stuff they do is too serious for me to care about,” he says, “but THIS ONE!”
    If the perception of seriousness has kept you from Dignity’s many outstanding productions over the years, change your ways. The 39 Steps is the funniest play you’ll see all year and Dignity’s swan song: a parting gift for nine great years.


Costumes: Jeannie Christie. Stage manager: Andy McLendon. Technical designers: Julien Jacques and Mickey Lund.
Playing thru May 17. Th-Sa 8pm at The Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, 333 DuBois Rd. $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-266-8044 x127; www.dignityplayers.org.

This romanticized Frankenstein story is a shocking musical with a rocking score.

The story of a Bat Boy living in a West Virginia cave — illustrated with a photoshopped baby picture —  amazed America in 1992 when published by Weekly World News, which bills itself as The World’s Only Reliable News. Playwrights Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming shared the popular fascination, and a gothic science fiction began stewing in their minds.
    Five years later, with the help of composer/lyricist Laurence O’Keefe, their romanticized Frankenstein story — a sort of Edward Scissorhands meets Dracula and Liza Doolittle — became a hit musical with a shocking book and rocking score.
    Now, Beverly van Joolen and Colonial Players shake up staid Annapolis with a five-star production and an all-star cast exultant in pathos, religiosity, hypocrisy and tasteful debauchery.
    Ron Giddings as Bat Boy/Edgar is phenomenal, embodying his character’s mutations with curled extremities, nasal mewling, haunted eyes and adorably creepy ears. Yanked from his subterranean home, he lives like a curiosity with the family of Hope Falls’ veterinarian Dr. Parker (Chris Patton), suspended arms folded from his cage or flitting to the tabletop. Starved for love and blood, he is dependent on the charitable Parkers, who transform him from a bald beast to a civilized boy.
    The virginal missus, Meredith Parker (Wendy Baird), mothers and tutors him as she sings A Home for You, feeding him people food he retches. Meanwhile, the villainous doctor secretly feeds his bloodlust and plots his destruction even as sister Shelley (Paige Miller) learns to love him.
    Despite good intentions, proclaimed in the song Christian Charity, townsfolk are not so accepting.
    Edgar alienated the locals right off the bat by biting young Ruthie Taylor (Emma Panek), who with brothers Rick (Nathan Bowen) and Ron (Corey Jeweler) discovered him in the cave. She’s been languishing in the hospital ever since. There Mrs. Taylor (Alicia Sweeney) croons Mrs. Taylor’s Lullaby to her with the comic shrillness of Edith Bunker. Hormone-crazed Rick seethes, in Whatcha Wanna Do?, over Edgar’s place in Shelley’s home and heart.    
    Meanwhile, Edgar’s Pygmalion-like transformation — mastering English with a British accent no less, singing Show You a Thing or Two — proves fantastic and fatal. Sheriff Reynolds (Scott Nichols), Mayor Maggie (Debbie Barber-Eaton) and citizens (Bronwyn van Joolen, Shannon Benil, Sam Cush, Kendra Penn and Shirley Panek) can’t warm up to the freak in formalwear.
    When Edgar crashes a church revival where the Rev. Hightower (Lynn Garretson) raises the roof with Christian love, singing A Joyful Noise, Edgar’s earnest prayer for healing in Let Me Walk Among You is thwarted by Dr. Parker’s slanderous lies. Thus, the Bat Boy becomes the scapegoat for the community’s woes.
    He and Shelley flee to the woods where Pan (John Hamli), sublime in fur and codpiece, presides over their coupling amid an animalistic orgy. His song is Children, Children. The couple quarrel over their future together in Inside Your Heart before her parents discover them and resolve the mystery of Edgar’s history (via a video projection to onstage scrims) to determine the couple’s fate.
    It’s macabre, zany, sweet and ridiculous with rousing tunes like Hold Me, Bat Boy that you’ll continue humming all weekend. The entire cast delivers in this biting social commentary. Miller and Giddings will break your heart with their harmonies and humanity, while Hamli and Garretson astound with their powerhouse vocals. Baird and Bowen display comic genius in their singing and acting roles.
    Colonial’s most technically intensive project to date, Bat Boy employs four types of LED lights, colored strobes, center stage floating projections, fire, smoke, fog, a mirror ball and moving sound. Even the program, in tabloid format, delivers with flashy headlines and bat-themed trivia.
    You’ll have to see this extraordinary two hours and 15 minutes to believe it.
    But don’t take the kids: Content depicts violence, sex and drug use, and special effects are alarming.

Musical director: David Merrill. Choreographer: Jamie Erin Miller. Set: Terry Averill. Sound: Wes Bedsworth. Lights: Frank A. Florentine. Costumes: Elizabeth Chapman. Makeup: Eddie Hall. Additional special effects: Keith Norris. Musical accompaniment: Right on Cue Services. Film: Make Your Mark Studios.
 
Playing thru April 19. ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm at Colonial Players Theater, 108 East St., Annapolis. $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.
 

Fired by the kind of love that transcends reason and leaves you weak in the knees.

From the thunderclap of their meeting to their untimely deaths, the power of Romeo and Juliet’s love for each other resonates throughout the play, and throughout history.
    So promises Compass Rose Theater in program notes to the youthful production of William Shakespeare’s classic. Yet the thunderclap failed to sound at the play’s pre-opening pay-what-you-can matinee. Blame it on a delayed opening due to technical problems, non-traditional casting or inexperience. Whatever the reason, there was no passion. Passionate debate and sword fights, yes, but passionate kisses, alas, no.
     Seventeen-year-old Ely Pendry, a Compass Rose alum dating back three years to Lost in Yonkers, is the best Romeo I have ever seen. He is fired by the kind of love that transcends reason and leaves you weak in the knees.
    Fourteen-year-old Sydney Maloney as the child-bride Juliet, however, does not yet have the depth of understanding to transcend emotions beyond coquetry, fear and tantrums. Similarly, this promising production feels immature. From the previous show’s recycled set to Friar John’s (Kyle Lynch) forgotten opening monologue and a conspicuous lack of equity players central to the theater’s mission, it left me unmoved. This despite many fine performances.
     In brief: Family tension is palpable from the opening clash in which the Prince of Verona (Brenna Horner) orders Romeo Montague’s father (Lynch) and Juliet Capulet’s father (Dan Reno) to rein in their feud. Romeo and his friends Benvolio (Shaina Higgins) and Mercutio (Emily Kaye Lynn) recklessly crash the Capulets’ party — and the lovers first meet.
    Juliet’s nurse (Renata Plecha), sympathetic in the extreme, arranges for the lovers’ secret marriage. Then Juliet’s kinsman Tybalt (Michael Robinson) kills Mercutio in a duel and is subsequently killed in like fashion by a reluctant Romeo who is banished from Verona, leaving Juliet inconsolable.
    Capulet and Lady Capulet (Maggie Robertson) arrange for her speedy betrothal to the haughty Count Paris (Matt Miller), an elder suitor whom she despises. Thus Friar Laurence (Thomas Hessenauer), who performed her wedding, arranges a fake death to buy time until Romeo can spirit her away from the crypt. Miscommunication results in their serial suicides.
     There is great action and acting in this show. The sword fighting is tight and treacherous. Lynn’s Mercutio sparkles with charisma and energy. Robinson’s Tybalt is a menacing hot head who commands attention. Plecha and Hessenauer bring the wisdom and compassion of age to their nurse and friar characters, and Reno demonstrates a mercurial temperament as Juliet’s father that well explains her fear of displeasing him.
    The period costumes are beautiful and tailored. Of the four women in pants roles — a reversal of the norm in Shakespeare’s time — only Lynn has the hairstyle to pull it off with aplomb, and the Prince looks strangely androgynous. Another disconcerting turn, which is probably accurate for the time and therefore a brilliant decision on the director’s part, is actors in their late 20s playing the parental roles. Do the math and be amazed. There is some music scattered throughout, but inconsistent in period and style.
     Despite the shortcomings, there is still much to enjoy in this blossoming production, not least Pendry and Lynn’s outstanding performances. As a professional show, it earns a B. But as a student project from an educational theater, it’s a real winner.

With Casey Baum as Romeo’s servant and Sydney Knoll as Juliet’s servant. Director: Lucinda Merry-Browne. Costumes: Julie Bays. Fight director: Casey Kaleba. Lights: Megan Lang. Sound: Kathleen Boidy. Set: Amy Kellet.
Playing thru April 20. Th 7pm, FSa 8pm (Sa April 12 & 19 also 2pm) Su 2pm at Compass Rose Theater, 49 Spa Rd., Annapolis. $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-980-6662; www.compassrosetheater.org.

2nd Star Productions casts dynamite in this explosive production

2nd Star Productions grew up on musicals and comedy. Now 18 years old, the company has matured. You’ll see the change — and you’ll want to, I promise you — in 2nd Star’s first production in a new playhouse.
    A Soldier’s Play, at the Charis Center for the Arts, is serious drama arising from social discord. It’s the kind of significant show you’d expect from Dignity Players, the Annapolis social justice-focused company about to go dormant. Rated R for mature audiences, Charles Fuller’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize winner is historical fiction rooted in racial tension and mystery. 2nd Star brings a dynamite cast of fresh talent to its production.
    The time is 1944. The setting is a segregated army base in Louisiana, where 90 percent of the soldiers are black enlisted men warehoused away from combat. One of the black soldiers has been murdered. Circumstances are puzzling. The story follows the investigation of his death.
    Sgt. Waters (Cristopher M. Dinwiddie), was admired for his high standards and impeccable record — and resented for his inflexibility. When his body is found in the woods, his commanding officer, Capt. Taylor (Dan Kavanaugh), refuses to accept the obvious explanation of a Klan attack. He demands a full investigation. But when black lawyer Capt. Davenport (Kevin Sockwell) is assigned to the case, Taylor worries that Davenport’s color will stand in the way of his investigation. In fact, Davenport’s race and conviction make him just the man to navigate the ins and outs of the black enlisted men’s barracks and the white officer corps. What follows is a series of testimonies, related in flashbacks, illustrating the sergeant’s mercurial temperament, racial  self-loathing and self-important authority over a company of elite baseball players.
    Among Sgt. Waters’ soldiers are Pvt. Wilkie (Benny Pope), a former sergeant demoted for being drunk on duty; Pvt. Smalls (Antoine Bragg), a surly malcontent; Pvt. Henson (Daley Fitzgerald Gunter), a hunky ladies’ man and dispassionate observer of barracks’ politics; PFC Peterson (Reginald Grier), the quiet one; Pvt. C.J. Memphis (Ramone Williams), a gifted blues musician and gentle soul from the South; and Cpl. Cobb (David E. Johnson Jr.), C.J.’s best friend. Cpl. Ellis (Frederick Henderson) is the sergeant’s eager right-hand man. Two bigoted white officers, Lt. Byrd (Lawrence Griffin) and Capt. Wilcox (Ethan Goldberg), are dragged into the investigation as the last to see Sgt. Waters alive. Davenport considers the whole crew to have motives and means for the murder.
    In this vast and youthful cast, only the three white actors — Kavanaugh, Griffin and Goldberg — are familiar to Anne Arundel audiences. The rest, a remarkably talented and fit group justly cast as athletes, make the barracks hum with palpable camaraderie. All were recruited by the show’s producer, Cheramie Jackson. Dinwiddie stuns as Sgt. Waters, a role he played for Prince George’s Hard Bargain Players, and Johnson’s soulful melodies haunt long after curtain. 
    New faces and content aren’t the only surprises consequent on 2nd Star’s accommodation of the new three-show scheduling restriction imposed by its long-time home, Bowie Playhouse, to accommodate a fourth residential company.
    Long acclaimed for ornate sets, 2nd Star now offers a minimalist set of black platforms without special effects in the Charis Center’s primitive accommodations. It doesn’t matter, given the energy onstage.
    You’ll be on edge the full two hours.

Director and set designer: Jane B. Wingard. Producer: Cheramie J. Jackson. Lights: Rick Schultz. Sound: Ramone Williams. Costumes: Wingard and Jackson.
Playing thru March 9. FSa 8pm, Su 3pm at Charis Center for the Arts, 13010 8th St., between the post office and fire department in Bowie’s historic district. $15 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700; www.2ndstarproductions.com.

The donuts are all that’s missing in this theatrical treat

Welcome to Superior Donuts in Uptown Chicago, established by the Przybyszewski family c. 1950 and static ever since. You know the place: checkerboard floor, lettered window, illuminated menu board, vintage register. All that’s missing in Colonial Players’ set is the sweet aroma and some napkins for the dispensers.
    Arthur (Terry Averill), the aged hippie who owns the place, hasn’t had his heart in it lately. What with his ex’s death, his daughter’s estrangement and the new Starbucks across the street, he’s more in touch with past failures than present possibilities.
    Still, he has his regulars: namely officers James Bailey (Chris Haley) and Randy Osteen (Shirley Panek), who has a crush on Arthur; and Lady Boyle (Mary McLeod), his homeless friend and confidante. When vandalism pushes Arthur to the brink, Max Tarasov (Rick Estberg), the Russian immigrant who owns the DVD store next door, offers to buy the place.
    Then Franco Wicks (Darius McCall) hires on and lobbies for healthier menu options, poetry readings and profit sharing. Arthur isn’t so sure about Franco’s ideas, but he feels kinship with the gifted writer who’s put school on hold to pay off debts — gambling debts, as it turns out. Enter Luther Flynn (Mike Fox), a loan shark and exploiter, and his enforcer Kevin Magee (Gerald Inglesby).
    While Superior Donuts is funnier and lighter than Tracy Letts’ typical work (August: Osage County), it nevertheless contains mature themes, language and violence. A story for modern times, about community as a substitute for family, it teeters between chill and chilling. Arthur’s story lulls us with introspective calm through snippets of conversation in his foggy present and lucid soliloquies about his past — until reality breaks the hush, demanding he take a stand against the thugs who strong-arm his new friend.
    This is a smart show, well staged and well acted. Every actor surpasses the character sketch. Averill is every inch the 1960s’ holdout, deceptively sly and capable under his rumpled appearance.  McCall delights with his youthful enthusiasm and mastery of a role he learned in only three weeks. Estberg is flashy and hilarious with his authentic Russian accent and butchered English, bringing a depth of conviction to the comical immigrant who nevertheless commands respect. McLeod wears her duct-taped tiara with dignity. Haley and Panek eclipse their cop personas with genuine personalities. The Mafiosi radiate menace, and Ben Carr captivates in the tiny cameo of the monosyllabic Russian giant Kiril Ivakin.
    The show is technically strong as well, with a soundtrack of ambient street noises timed to swell each time the door opens and lighting details that evoke a commercial failure. The costumes speak volumes about their characters, from Lady’s plastic-bag boots to Arthur’s tie-died T-shirt.
    My only reservation is the credibility of casting Terry Averill as the main character. Averill is an outstanding actor, but his frail build belies the Pillsbury doughboy image of the aged baker. Add to that his climactic fight scene with hulking Fox (Luther) and the play touches on theater of the absurd. It’s like watching Tony Soprano and Woody Allen in a knock-down drag-out.
    Suspend your disbelief in that incongruity, and you’ll see a winner at every level, including insight into urban development, racial tension and the fragmentation of the family.

Director and set designer: Kristofer Kauff. Sound: Ben Cornwell. Lights: Brittany Rankin. Costumes: Jean Berard and Beth Terranova. Running time: two and a half hours plus intermission.

Playing thru March 8 ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm (also 7:30pm Feb. 23) at Colonial Players Theater, Annapolis. $20w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.