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Volume XVII, Issue 1 - January 1 - January 7, 2009
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2008 Reviews

2nd Star Production’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Naval Academy Masqueraders , Tempest

Colonial Players’ Rabbit Hole

True West is True Genius

Colonial Players’ Philadelphia

An Evening of One-Act Comedies

john & jen at Standing O

All Shook Up at Annapolis Summer Garden Theater

Standing O Productions’
On the Twentieth Century

Fun and Mind Games

Annapolis Summer Garden Theater’s Forever Plaid

Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s On the Town

2nd Star Productions’ My Fair Lady

Bay Theatre Company: Edward Albee’s The Goat

Twin Beach Players’ Much Ado about Stormy Weather

Dignity Players’
Vanishing Point

Colonial Players Examines Crime and Punishment

Bowie Community Theater’s Social Security

Annapolis Chorale’s Aida

Hansel & Gretel: A Delicious Diversion

Chivalry and Pageantry at Arundel Mills

Colonial Players,
Kiss Me Kate

2nd Star Production’s Leading Ladies

Dignity Players’ Antigone

Bay Theatre Company’s Glass Menagerie

Twin Beach Players’ Heartstrings

Annapolis Chorale’s South Pacific

The Pirates of Penzance at Opera AACC

Spend an Enchanted April with Colonial Players

Children’s Theatre of Annapolis’ Beauty and the Beast

Curtain Call

The Fantasticks at Bay Theatre Company

“Deep in December, our hearts should remember and follow” where Bay Theatre takes us.

reviewed by Davina Grace Hill

photo by Stan Barouh

Michael Padgett as El Gallo and Catherine Jones as Luisa.

Most 48 year olds are not as spry as the Bay Theatre’s current production of The Fantasticks. The allegorical story, memorable, haunting lyrics and simple theatrical conventions have helped The Fantasticks to endure as the world’s longest running musical.

The story is Shakespearean in its indirection: Scheming parents stage a phony feud, forbidding their children to have contact, confident that will trick them into marriage. The mysterious El Gallo is brought in to abduct the young woman so that the young man can save her, be the hero and profess his love so they will live happily ever after. So goes the parents’ plot. Which, of course, goes awry.

The children want to discover the world, so they part. In their travels, they discover pain, hardships and deceit. Eventually they reunite and, not blinded by illusion but grounded in reality, rediscover their true love.

This ancient story line (previously mined by no less than Shakespeare, Donizetti and Edmond Rostand), conveys universal truths about parents and children, love and romance. That is why it has proven so enduringly popular.

Bay Theatre’s production should also prove enduringly popular. The singing is extraordinary. Even acknowledging the intimate theatrical space of Bay Theatre, it is glorious to hear singers in full voice who do not need mechanical amplification. 

Even better is the quality of the ensemble acting. While actors center stage are speaking, it’s enlightening to watch the actors at the edges of the scene who are watching and reacting. In this ensemble, every actor’s focus was true.

Michael Padgett has the central role of El Gallo and the show’s most memorable song “Try to Remember.” Physically he dominates the stage (he is very tall!). Clad all in black, he brings Clint Eastwood overtones to his stage persona. His singing is powerful, and his final monologue about why he hurt Luisa (the young woman) is unexpectedly poignant.

As Luisa, Catherine Jones displays a gorgeous voice with the wonderful song “Much More.” As Matt, John Dellaporta fully conveys the rapture of first love. 

The two parents, normally played as the fathers, are here played as mothers by two actresses who are a revelation to watch. Nicole Halmos and Barbara Pinolini are entirely believable as mothers looking out for their children as they run the gamut of emotions from anger, friendship, confusion, goofiness and sadness to happiness.

As the befuddled duo in the abduction plot, Rob Shand as Mortimer and Richard McGraw as Henry are the comic relief of the show. A torn pink doublet and a dime store Indian headdress certainly accentuate the physical comedy and boisterous ineptness that can only be conveyed by those who are expert at their craft. Shand and McGraw prove their expertise.

Genevieve James, last seen doing superb work in Picnic, here plays a luminescent mute whose silent reactions puts a theatrical twist on the convention of a chorus commenting on the action.

On a bare stage — minimal with only a piano, a box and climbing pole — this production is all about the actors and the story. At Bay Theatre Company, it is all our imaginations need.

The piano that takes up the largest space on stage is played by M. Shookman. His artistry sets a high bar for the actors. It is the delight of the audience that each and every one of them does so.

Guiding the production is director Lucinda Merry-Browne, who injects inside jokes about the theatrical space and has a gift with stage movement. Her stage blocking always seems natural and obvious, not a contrivance to take the actor from one side of the stage to the other. That is not an easy thing to do on a bare set with nothing to motivate movement.

Kudos once again go to Bay Theatre for selecting a holiday production that conveys the spirit of the holidays without being the expected or the sentimental. This gift to theatergoers is appreciated. As the song goes, “Deep in December, our hearts should remember and follow” where Bay Theatre takes us.

Playing thru Jan. 24 at 8pm ThFSa; 3pm Su @ Bay Theatre Company, Annapolis. $30; rsvp: 410-268-1333.

2nd Star Production’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Reviewed by Davina Grace Hill

During 1962’s lackluster pre-Broadway try-outs of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Jerome Robbins was called in to tune up Stephen Sondheim’s musical contributions to Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart’s story. Robbins’ biggest change was to demand a new opening song to set the stage. Adding that song, “Comedy Tonight,” made the show — and it still does.

In 2nd Star Production’s newest rendition, the comedy seems to have been misplaced. No doubt the pace of Forum has to be frenetic. But that is different from forced, which is how opening night felt.

The team of director Jane B. Wingard, musical director Donald K. Smith and choreographer Christine Asero are capable of stellar collaborative work, as was evidenced by their recent My Fair Lady ( But with Forum, there’s lots of running around but little choreography. The music and orchestra were off pitch, and the actors and staging seemed forced and uninspired.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a comedy inspired by the farces of a pre-Christian Roman playwright. The show has mistaken identities, plot misdirections, satirical commentary, social class clashes and brazen characters in abundance.

The plot is a contrivance hatched by Pseudolus, a slave who will do anything to buy or con his way to freedom. When Pseudolus learns that his young master Hero is smitten with Philia, a courtesan from next door, he bargains for his freedom if he can deliver Philia to him. Unfortunately, Philia has already been sold. Pseudolus connives and masquerades and plots, and soon everyone is involved in his scheme as it gets increasingly difficult to keep the charade going.

As Pseudolus, Brian Douglas is animated; he’s facially very expressive, perhaps almost to the stage of mugging. His voice is strong and carries his songs, and he conveys Pseudolous’ zest for life very well. What he misses — and it is critical — is Pseudolus’ longing for freedom at the root of all the zaniness.

As the young lovers Hero and Philia, Nathan Bowen and Laura Kavinski look the parts and act their roles well. But they do not sing them well.

As Hysterium, an older slave to whom Pseudolus reports, Jerry Khatcheressian successfully captures the spirit of Forum and brings the needed triumvirate of good vocals, lightness of foot and facial expressiveness. Hero’s parents, Senex and Domina, portrayed by Edward Smith and Anne Staunton Adams are well portrayed; Adams displays a vocal ability that begs for a bigger role with more than one song.

Wendell Holland as the military general Miles Gloriosus commands the stage, and as Erronius, the neighbor sent to run around the Roman hills seven times, Martin Hayes is appropriately befuddled. Protean soldiers and scantily clad courtesans led by their owner Lycus (Steven Bradford) round out the cast.

The set design, not credited in the program, is fanciful, clever in its use of heights and colors. 2nd Star sets are always a strong asset to their shows.

Perhaps this was a difficult opening night, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum may yet find its humor. Given 2nd Star’s past excellence and the promise they carry for the future, they deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Playing thru Dec. 13 at 8pm FSa; 3pm Su & Sa Dec. 13 @ Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park, Bowie. $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700.

Naval Academy Masqueraders play a stunning, sensual Tempest

But bring your hearing aid

reviewed by Jane Elkin

William Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest, is “such stuff as dreams are made on”: a mysterious tropical island inhabited by magical creatures under the control of royal sorcerer Prospero (Dr. David White) and his sprite Ariel (Naomi Reynolds). It was the stuff of fantasy written for 17th century Englishmen, few of whom had traveled or dabbled in the occult, and none of whom had the benefit of preconceived commercial notions of the fantastic. A modern director must therefore work twice as hard to convey the playwright’s vision, and Christy Stanlake does this with astounding clarity at U.S. Naval Academy Masqueraders’ production.

Unfortunately, this visually stunning show is marred by a bad acoustic, for Mahan Hall is a notorious sound swallower. Even under the best of conditions, conveying Shakespearean language to a modern audience takes a performer seasoned to master the enunciation, stress, timing and body language. In this regard, White is impeccable in the role that is his swan song to his long career as an English professor at the Academy. Reynolds is likewise memorable for her clarity and whimsicality. In a dialogue-heavy plot, though, much is lost in the confusion of garbled group scenes.

To wit, Prospero and his beautiful daughter Miranda (Sierra Cox) were exiled to the island when his dukedom was overthrown by his villainous brother Antonio (Ryan Mati) and wicked peer Alonso (Mike Gumpert). With the help of two indentured servants — the animalistic Caliban (Mike DiDonato) and the sprite Ariel — vengeful Prospero causes the usurpers’ ship to run aground on his island. Collateral victims include Prince Ferdinand (Gus Hernandez), who is Alonso’s son and Miranda’s suitor; Prospero’s ally Gonzalo (Bryan Watson); nobles Trinculo (Mark Pfender), Sebastian (Roosevelt Detlevson), Francisco (Anthony Rush), Adrian (Sara Artime) and Stephano (Ken Mateo); and the ship’s crew. Splintered into factions and influenced by Ariel’s charms and Caliban’s base suggestions, the mortals reveal their true colors to Prospero, who will be master of their destiny.

This Tempest is so rich in texture, color, music and movement that it is practically a blending of the senses: a condition called synesthesia, to which Shakespeare alludes in Ariel’s recounting of how she played upon the mortals’ sensibilities until, “They smelled music.” Richard Montgomery’s set is detailed and inviting, the costumes sumptuous and the special effects true to life.

Best of all, though, are innovative touches like a hazy video projection that brings Miranda’s distant childhood memories to life, a soundtrack of African- and Caribbean-influenced recordings and original dances and songs improvised with just a few drums and bells. The effect is magical but soporific. If only the actors’ energy were more clearly expressed — and their voices more clearly heard — this could have been an outstanding production.

Costumes: Bonnie Jarrell & Richard Montgomery. Lighting: Mike Gumpert and Julia Kranz. Sound: Jeremiah Marquez. Choreography: Chelsea Maxwell and Ashley Valanzola.

Playing thru Nov. 22 at 8pm FSa; 2pm Su @ Mahan Hall, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis. $10 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-293-8497.

Colonial Players’ Rabbit Hole

Theater that makes you laugh to keep from crying

Reviewed by Davina Grace Hill

Can a drama about the most incomprehensible of all things, the sudden loss of a child, be funny? Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire proves that the answer can be yes. While the subject is tragic and the play gives real depth to the emotional pain of the characters, the dialog of Rabbit Hole proves the point that sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.

Rabbit Hole won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for its high-wire act of a family trying to live normal lives after losing their four-year old son to a traffic accident. There is no villain in this story, and that lack adds to the tension. The boy chased his dog into the street, where he was struck by a car driven by a teenager.

The lost boy’s family now live as individuals because each reacts and copes with grief in different ways — ways that, ironically, often compound the pain for others. For example the mother, Becca, puts away pictures and toys because the daily reminders are too painful; however, the father, Howie, needs those reminders of his son’s existence.

Lindsay-Abaire has sets up a powerful scenario of pain that’s rarely mined because it is too off-putting for a night’s entertainment. As Rabbit Hole’s characters put on the proverbial good face for each other, they make a thoughtful and a funny night of theatre — one you need not shy away from and one Colonial Players is to be commended for producing.

Director Tom Newbrough assembles a veteran cast who convey subtle nuances and character shadings. Kris Valerio brings vibrant and sad life to a mother struggling with loss — and facing additional loss if she can’t come to terms with her husband’s reactions. Valerio seems almost too tightly wound, not allowing the audience a glimpse of her inner struggle. When she breaks down, the comparison makes her more compelling.

As the father, Jim Gallagher has to set up the conflict between his character and Valerio’s and show how each is grieving in ways that push the other away. Because Lindsay-Abaire doesn’t provide a resolution for both characters, Gallagher gets short-shift. Given the script limitation, he is eloquent in his portrayal of a father, confused and hurting, trying to help his family cope.

Millie Ferrara portrays Nat, Becca’s mother, another mother who lost a son. Ferrara mines abundant laugher from speaking inappropriately as she tries to be comforting. Her comedic timing is impeccable, and her valiant attempts to comfort her daughter in an inconsolable situation are well played out.

Jamie Erin Miller plays sister Izzy, who is pregnant and wants to be happy while trying her best to be whatever her sister and brother-in-law need. Miller’s Izzy is also charming and a bit flaky.

Josh Greenwalt portrays Jason, the teenager who is haunted by guilt that he might have been driving too fast, “32 or 33 on a 30-mile-an hour zone.” Greenwalt’s body language, nervousness and vocal timidity convey guilt in a poignantly nuanced performance.

Once again Colonial Players creates a workable stage in a space that seems too small for the demands on it. Once again, they produce a play whose reach seems too large for typical community theater resources. Yet they succeed, show after show.

Stage manager: Judi Hilton-Hyde. Costume designer: Leslie Woolford; Lighting designer: Terry Scott Morton. Set sesigner: Barbara Colburn.

Playing thru Nov. 8 at 8pm ThFSa; 2pm Su; 7:30pm Oct. 26 & Nov. 2 @ Colonial Players, Annapolis. $20: 410-268-7373.


True West is True Genius

If you only see one show this year, make it this one.

Reviewed by Jane Elkin

The conflict between good brother and bad brother is as ancient as Genesis, but in the Bay Theatre Company’s True West, the 1980 tragicomedy by Pulitzer Prize winner Sam Shepherd, sibling rivalry also blasts the myths of the American dream and the golden West. Tommy Lee Jones and Peter Boyle starred in the original, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly both earned Best Actor Tony nominations for the 2000 revival. But it’s hard to imagine they were better than Andy English and Michael Felsher.

Somewhere between Los Angeles and the Mojave Desert there is a drab trailer home where dreams go to die. Our hero, Austin (Felsher), doesn’t know that, though. The budding screenwriter goes there to housesit for mom, anticipating sealing his first lucrative deal with a Hollywood producer while in the area. That is, until his estranged brother Lee (English) appears on the scene.

Lee is like a cast-off pair of cheap shoes that chafe. An alcoholic drifter and career criminal, he disturbs Austin’s peace of mind, insinuates himself into his business and usurps his dream. Uneducated but smarter than his Ivy League brother, Lee angles for Austin’s prize, playing him like a big fish. Poor Austin, bound by rules, honor and insecurity, plays right into his hands. As strained mutual resentment turns to passive aggression and then violence, they reminisce and philosophize, share confidences and metamorphose into each other.

English’s Lee is a champion manipulator whose fluent body language is suffused with so many layers of emotion that you forget he’s acting. Crude and smooth, needy and smug, wheedling and menacing, he understands abusers and changes moods without warning. Felsher’s Austin puts up a weak fight before sinking to rock bottom.

The program notes that Shepard’s plays are about “intimations of catastrophe in the midst of swagger.” That about sums up Lee’s relationship with the world. With personal magnetism and gumption, he out-schmoozes the producer, Saul (Glenn Vitale), a man who oozes artifice, and thus shafts his brother. When Mom (Dianne Hood) returns at the worst possible moment with shocking developments of her own that drive Austin to desperate action, we don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

For a tale that is so dark, True West is surprisingly funny, its humor stemming from the aspects of dysfunctional family life that everyone understands to some degree: the essence of kinship, the legacy of alcoholism and the promise of change.

The only problem with this otherwise flawless production is that Hood’s elegance seems out place in this homespun wasteland with its dated furnishings and souvenir plates, momentarily compromising credibility. Her performance is otherwise excellent.

If you only see one show this year, make it this one.

Directed by Lois Evans. Sets by Bart Evans. Lights by Karen Owens. Costumes by Janet Luby. Playing thru November 8 at 8pm Th-Sa; 3pm Su @ Bay Theatre Company, 275 West St., Annapolis. $30 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-1333;


Class Warfare Takes a Turn

Frivolity loses the battle in Colonial Players’ Philadelphia Story.

Reviewed by Diana Beechener

It’s a big risk to perform a play that saved Katherine Hepburn’s career, cemented Cary Grant as a matinee idol and won Jimmy Stewart an Oscar. Colonial Players takes that gamble with their season-opening production of Philip Barry’s The Philadelphia Story. On the gamble, the Players break even: The supporting case is unflappably wry, but the two leads take themselves too seriously to light the screwball spark.

True to a genre born as antidote to the Great Depression, Barry’s play revolves around the lavish second wedding of socialite Tracy Lords to working-class hero George Kittredge (Richard McGraw). To avoid a scandalous story on her father’s adulterous affairs, Tracy agrees to allow two undercover reporters into the wedding party. She mocks them with spoiled eccentricities until the arrival of her first husband, Dexter, throws her plans for a loop. Then the socialite must find her footing while keeping her wedding on track, fending off her first husband and defending her class to an embittered reporter.

Barry wrote the acerbic tale of class and gender clashes specifically for Hepburn, who acquired the rights to the play and took it from Broadway to the silver screen. The film’s iconic status makes any adaptation an uphill battle. Colonial Players acknowledges the looming shadow with film production stills framed in the lobby.

Taking over roles immortalized by Hepburn and Grant, Zarah Roberts (Tracy) and Pat Reynolds (Dexter) tinge a light battle of the sexes with the hostile warfare of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?

Two standouts in the production are the pesky press who invade Tracy’s nuptial weekend, bent on exposing the reluctant family to the society pages. Ben Carr’s downtrodden journalist Macculay Connor combines a snobbish dismissal of the upper class with a regular-Joe charm.

As razor-witted, world-weary photographer Liz, Jamie Erin Miller is the perfect Girl Friday to Carr’s Connor. Slinging one-liners with amiable cynicism, Miller seems to channel Jean Arthur for a light-hearted performance that drew some of the largest laughs. Carr and Miller’s light touch with their roles make them the easy winners of this class-war comedy.

Set designer Edd Miller creates two stylish set pieces for The Philadelphia Story. Utilizing low furniture and set pieces, hecreates a swank environment without obstructing any views in the theater-in-the round.

Fans of the film may be a bit let down, but newcomers should enjoy the snappy dialogue and screwball situations.

Playing thru Sept. 27 at 8pm ThFSa; 2pm Su @ Colonial Players, Annapolis. $20; rsvp: \410-268-7373.

Director: Beverly Hill van Joolen. Production manager: Tom Stuckey. Set decoration: Jocelyn Bartone, Clarice Baux and Bill Hahn. Lighting design: Alex Banos. Sound design: Wes Bedsworth. Costume design: Beth Terranova.

With Bill Hahn, Walt League, Stephanie Morelli, Marky Regensburg, Marty Thompson, Bronwyn van Joolen and Ed Wintermute.


An Evening of One-Act Comedies

This will leave you thinking about some pretty significant issues: politics, people and pets

reviewed by Jane Elkin

2nd Star Productions was formed under the guiding principle that “To be not bad is not good!” The line is borrowed from Lee Falk’s Home at Six, one of three one-acts featured in In the Beginning, which is on the whole … not bad. Each of these stories is clever and engaging, with beautifully painted sets and several memorable comic actors. But overall, performances range from pretty darn good to pretty amateur.

A temporary change of venue has no doubt thrown 2nd Star off its game, for the Bowie Town Hall’s elevated stage, limited technical capabilities and stark auditorium lack the intimacy of the Bowie Playhouse, currently undergoing renovation. The choice of one-acts over a full-length play with name recognition may also have thinned the talent pool. Still, there is plenty for an attentive audience to enjoy.

Coup d’État, written by Carolyn Jones at the height of the Cold War, is set in the fictional Caribbean paradise of St. Cassis, where revolutionaries (Stevie Mangrum and Steve Andres) and dictators current and deposed (Marty Hayes, Wendell Holland and Jerry Gietka) wrestle with a menu of governmental options. A slow starter, this play catches fire when Carole Long hits the stage as Yurina Brushnik. A comrade on a PR campaign to win their political souls, she is fabulous in this role with her cheerless demeanor, strong physical presence and Boris Badanov voice. She’s the perfect foil to Debbie Krauss and Rosalie Daelemans’ American obsession with consumerism and materialistic make-over ideas for the absolute monarchy.

The Cat Connection by Elyse Nass brings together two old ladies who have nothing in common but their affection for the same two-timing stray cat. Long, playing a bitter dreamer, seems to have trouble breaking character from her previous role. But Kathy Marshall is compelling as a realist whose dismal reality threatens her inherent core of sunshine. It is a bittersweet study in fear and loneliness, depression and addiction, fantasy and reality, in which opposites find kinship and love through feline devotion. This is the only serious play of the three, and it is tempered with many light-hearted touches.

Home at Six, by Lee Falk, combines theater of the absurd with farce. In this monosyllabic comedy straight from the Twilight Zone, a man’s life is turned upside down when he arrives home two hours earlier than usual to discover that his perfect family is anything but. Charlie Maloney (Dad) plays a clueless straight-man to a fine cast of frauds all under the control of his conniving but candid wife (Daelemans) who cultivates their weaknesses to enable her own peccadilloes. Grams (Debe Tighe) is hooked on drugs, the kids drink beer (Zachary Fadler) and start fires (Vivian Wingard) and the maid (Krauss) steals. Wingard and Krauss are as delightful as Daelemans is delicious, and Fadler’s disrespect seems so real you’ll want to ground him.

This show is not 2nd Star’s best, but it will leave you chuckling, scratching your head and thinking about some pretty significant issues: politics, pets and people.

Jane B. Wingard: Director, costumer and set designer. Lights and sound by Al Chopey, Pete Dursin and Garrett R. Hyde.

Playing thru Sept. 27 at 8pm FSa; 3pm Su @ 2nd Star Productions, Bowie City Hall, 2614 Kenhill Dr., Bowie. $20: 410-757-5700.


john & jen at Standing O

Chesapeake Country’s Off-Broadway — off Ritchie Highway

reviewed by Davina Grace Hill

Newly formed Standing O Productions’ john & jen is not a perfect show, but it is an interesting one that might not have been seen in the area had it not been for this new company. Performed by two musicians and two singer/actors, the musical makes a moving, thoughtful and effectively staged night of theatre.

Written by Tom Greenwald (who also wrote the lyrics) and Andrew Lippa (who also wrote the music) john & jen ambitiously tries to chronicle both the trajectory of a family and how it is affected by the world changing around them from the early 1950s into the 1990s. To do all this in a musical format is challenging ambition that almost works.

Ron Giddings, artistic director of Standing O Productions, plays two different Johns, of two different generations. He portrays his characters as youngsters superbly. Then you watch his shoulders square and you would swear you hear his voice crack and deepen … until suddenly his character is a teenager. And you believe.

Sheri Kuznicki portrays Jen as she evolves through three stages: older sister protective of her new little brother, escaping college-bound student, mother of her own child. Her fierceness in attempting to protect John from all the harms of the world is palpable. When she ultimately fails, as she must, her anguish is wrenching.

Guided by Debbie Barber-Eaton’s sure directorial hand, no movement or gesture is irrelevant or unintended. With a bare stage and only three white storage cubes from which bits of clothing and props are pulled to suggest the ages of the characters or the location of the scene, Barber-Eaton compells your mind’s eye fill to in the blanks.

The largest presence on the stage is the baby grand piano. As played by musical director Marsha Goldsmith, it provides the heartbeat of this dramatic musical. But Buzz Stillinger’s evocative cello is the show’s soul.

Musically, the refrains aren’t repeated enough to become hummable in the car after the show. But there are strong songs, including the exhortation “Hold Down the Fort” and the poignant “Santa Can’t Be Here Tonight.” Both Giddings and Kuznicki carry their vocals superbly, and they are well partnered, balancing each other.

Ultimately, however, it is the power of the theme — we may try to escape, but the past is never finished with us — and the strength of the performances that carry this show. The first act builds to a tear-inducing conclusion fully conveyed by the actors. The second act is a weaker script, and its focus meanders. But Giddings and Kuznicki keep the show on track.

Family relationships are the inspiration of great theatre from Aristophanes to Shakespeare to Albee. For a new company in its inaugural season to give the familiar theme a novel presentation is an auspicious and bold beginning.

Stage manager: Elizabeth R. Zuses. Costumes designer: Elizabeth Hudson. Set designer Ron Gidding (the dad). Properties by Michael and JoAnn Gidos.

Playing thru Sept. at 8pm F-Su; 2pm Sept. 7 @ Black Box Theatre, Chesapeake Academy, 1185 Rt. 648, Arnold. $18 w/discounts: 410-647-8412.


All Shook Up at Annapolis Summer Garden Theater

The King and The Bard are rocking and rolling in their graves

reviewed by Jane Elkin

Athunderstorm drenched the Annapolis Summer Garden Theater just minutes before All Shook Up’s second performance, prompting general panic and an hour and a half delay. The valiant cast and crew rallied, but some things were beyond their control. With five strong leads and impressive song and dance, All Shook Up has plenty of talent. Yet it plays more like a 1950s’ film strip more than a film: image, narration, beep, next.

Joe DiPietro conceived this revue of Elvis hits within the skeleton of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in 2004 at Connecticut’s Goodspeed Opera House. But even in the skilled hands of its eventual Broadway star, Cheyenne Jackson, it had limited success. Jackson earned a Theater World Acting Award, but the show lasted only six months.

On Annapolis Summer Garden Theater’s stage Vincent Kirk Musgrave brings all the right moves to Chad, the Elvis-inspired greaser. He makes the most of some hilarious one liners, and he can sing. His opening “Jailhouse Rock” made my hair stand on end. Despite the parallels to young Elvis, his Chad is a more mature prophet of cool, à la Fonzi, preaching the musical mantras “Let Yourself Go” and “Follow That Dream.”

But holy shades of Bye-Bye Birdie!, such ideas threaten the town where he finds himself stranded, a place so square that Mayor Matilda (Angela Germanos) and Sheriff Earl (Rusty Russell) enforce the Mamie Eisenhower Decency Act. So Chad aims to liberate the good citizens, including the mayor’s son Dean (Ned Kimble) whose race-crossing love for Lorraine (Geniece Albritton), is forbidden. It’s Hairspray without the bouffants.

Enter Natalie (the phenomenal Ali Guidry), a tomboy who masquerades as Ed to infiltrate Chad’s inner circle. But love is blind, so he dismisses her just as she dismissed her devotee Dennis (loveable and versatile Nathan Bowen). Chad’s too busy pursuing the museum docent, Miss Sandra (campy Taylor Jae N. Touzin), as is Natalie’s father Jim (reliable crooner Bob Brewer). Jim, in turn, doesn’t realize the affection of his faithful friend Sylvia (Robyn Birch/Sharnae Wallace), who is Lorraine’s mother. Sandra, of course, wants nothing to do with Jim or Chad, preferring Ed aka Natalie. It’s a circular game of affection tag with a happy ending.

Two chorus members rise above anonymity: virtuoso Peter N. Crews and newcomer Sharnae Wallace, who was cast as an understudy despite a mighty gospel wail that left me aching to hear more. André Hinds and Anwar Thomas, a pair who wowed me earlier this season in Amelia’s Journey, are equally compelling for their dance moves.

As impressive as some actors are, others are annoying, including Germanos and Kimble, who give us stereotypes as the battle ax and momma’s boy.

Costumes are terrific, especially the museum statuary, and the proliferation of blue suede shoes is a nice touch.

But overall All Shook Up is lackluster. Perhaps the director was wearing too many hats, for while her choreography is exciting, her set — with the exception of a loft and Ferris wheel — is not. Audio difficulties and silent scene changes did not help. Spotlights were off-target, and actors entered unilluminated through the audience. Chad’s forays into the crowd with his motorcycle were missed opportunities for interaction. Perhaps most surprising in a company of ASGT’s caliber, however, were the wooden crowd scenes that begged for more sight gags.

Disappointments aside, however, Musgrave is a must-see. You will be amazed.

Music direction: Ken Kimble. Costumes: Sarah Kendrick. Lights: Kevin Davin.

Playing thru Aug. 30 8:30pm Th-Su @ Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $18: 410-268-9212;


Standing O Productions’ On the Twentieth Century

New company takes you first class all the way

Reviewed by Jane Elkin

Annapolis’ newest theater company, Standing O Productions, pulled out of the station with an express to fun On the Twentieth Century, the Jazz Era’s premier train. An award-winning musical that’s been forgotten since leaving Broadway 30 years ago, it fulfills Standing O’s raison d’être. By focusing on neglected gems and new hits, they aim to be the first place you see a show — so you can skip the Amtrak to New York.

Praised as “the last great-book musical,” this obscure show appeals to audiences saturated with Sondheim- and Webber-style poperas. Based on a 1930s’ play and movie of the same name, the original production with Kevin Kline and Madeleine Kahn won four Drama Desk Awards and five Tonys, including Best Score (Cy Coleman) and Best Book (Betty Comden and Adolph Green).

Standing O’s visionary founder Ron Giddings explains the play’s Broadway disappearing act. Most shows have one difficult element: costumes, props, lights, set, music. This show has them all. The score requires greater vocal agility than any of Coleman’s other works, being more instrumental in style. Add an orchestra, 70 fabulous costumes, a half dozen spectacular dances, a set involving two revolving Pullmans and staged scenes from the Bible and the French Revolution — and you see Giddings has a point. He also has lot of support: His father built the set, and his mother is the company’s managing director.

The story unites a has-been and a has-it-all, both stuck on themselves and each other but unwilling to admit it. Broadway producer Oscar Jaffe (Tom Newbrough) pursues his former leading lady turned screen idol, Lily Garland (Christina Enoch), hoping to lure her back to the stage. But his schemes and henchmen, Owen (Ronnie Schronce) and Oliver (John Halmi), can’t compete with rival producer Max Jacobs (Greg Bosworth) and Lily’s famous boy toy Bruce Granit (Judson Davis). So Oscar enlists God’s help, convincing religious nut Lititia Primrose (Sue Centurelli) to finance his production of Mary Magdalene with Lily as the star. When anticipation caves to deception on several fronts, the stars collide in a supernova of emotion.

In a dream cast where even the chorus members are virtuosos, Newbrough is a comic genius, Enoch exudes diva quality and Davis’ voice and physical conceit conjure Kline at his best. A Will Ferrell double — Halmi — plays a fitting sidekick to Schronce’s darker accomplice, both excellent singers with presence. Bosworth is so good he seems neglected, and Alicia Sweeney manages to sing badly beautifully as the hilarious past-her-prime prima donna, Imelda Thornton. Other musical highlights include “Mine,” “Five Zeros,” “Sextet,” “Last Will and Testament” and a barbershop quartet of conductors (Giddings, Halmi, Bosworth and David Thompson) singing the opening announcements, which were composed by Musical Director Marsha Goldsmith.

Of course a new troupe is bound to stumble, no matter how precocious the baby. The overture seemed overly long with no action, despite a score so evocative of a train it screamed for bustling travelers. The show is technically lopsided, with impressive lighting but no audio effects. Where are the steam engines, whistles and clickety-clack? The set is serviceable, but the gap between train cars grew so wide in the final scene change that the orchestra remained exposed. Also, the program was an exercise in frustration, offering neither scene nor song outlines. But these are part of the learning curve.

Next month’s john & jen, at Chesapeake Academy’s Black Box Theater, should be smoother.

Direction and choreography by Ron Giddings. Set by Ron Giddings Sr. Costumes by Elaine Claar. Lights by Alex Banos.

Playing thru Aug. 3 at 8pm FSa; 2pm Su @ Pascal Center, Anne Arundel Community College, Arnold. $20: 410-647-8412.


Fun and Mind Games

Nine discoveries in one act at Colonial Players

Delightful writing, interesting themes, some great acting and unexpected voices from new playwrights are yours to discover.

By Davina Grace Hill

Colonial Players of Annapolis put together a two-evening program of nine one-act shows and titled the whole event Fun and Mind Games. It could have been named Discovery, for each show deals with a discovery of some sort.

As in a good compilation of short stories, some thematic threads hold the featured nine shows together. But each also stands alone as a theatrical experience. If schedules don’t permit seeing both nights, don’t be dissuaded. See the night that you can for a thoughtful, enjoyable evening of theater. Delightful writing, interesting themes, in some cases great acting and unexpected voices from new playwrights are yours to discover in Fun and Mind Games.

Not everything works equally well, but who cares? Farcical diversity to metaphorical conflict to frightening character study and lots of comedy all showcased in a total of three and a half hours is nothing short of invigorating.

On the verge of their 60th anniversary, Colonial Players is committed to featuring diverse festivals to nurture new directors or new playwrights, and challenging their actors and technical crews as well as rewarding their audiences. The Players aims to “generate good conversation among good company,” they write in their program. They succeed.

The stand out show is “Coax,” a character study that messes with conventions and, like a song that sticks in your memory, is a show you can’t shake loose.

The stand out actor is Andrea Elward as Gertude in “Hamlet, Act VI” who displays precise comedic timing of gesture and interpretation.

“The Game” is the thought-provoking metaphorical competition between the characters Life and Death for the futures of Youth and The Girl. Sue Struve as Death and Josie DuBois as Life manage to create characters from concepts.

Not all the other actors in the other shows manage as well. If there is a flaw in the festival, it is that too often the actors rely on showing emotions. It is a harder task to feel the emotions you invite the audience to observe than to broadcast them. This subtler approach is better managed by veteran actors and directors.

The joy of the festival is “Scene Change” which shines light on those shadowy, dark-clad folks who dart onto stage between scenes to change the set. The hilarity of the staging is that although the stage hands are the stars of this show, they still don’t get the limelight: The entire show is done in the dark, half-light of a scene change.

“Trifles,” a farmhouse mystery, and “Civilization and Its Malcontents,” a bit of an overwrought debate between things of art and things of science, felt like they needed a tighter directorial hand and more inventive staging. But both are intriguing enough to want a second viewing.

“Love at Twenty” and “The Dangers of Tobacco” are monologues by unhappy people, the first a young woman becoming aware of herself, and the second an older man becoming aware of his unhappy situation.

“The Mystery at the Dunbar Mansion” is a spoof that will hold some allure for those who like murder mysteries.

Theater that leaves you wanting to see one or another actors doing another role; wanting to read another work by a newly discovered playwright; wanting to debate concepts of life and death and art and science … theater that makes you laugh thoroughly and deeply and unexpectedly: It doesn’t get any more invigorating than that.

Slate I (which includes “The Dangers of Tobacco,” “Trifles,” “Love at Twenty,” “The Game,” “Scene Change,” and “Hamlet, Act VI”) plays July 18 and 19 at 8pm. Slate II (which includes “Coax,” “The Mystery at the Dunbar Mansion,” and “Civilization and Its Malcontents”) plays July 17 at 8pm and July 20 at 2pm. Colonial Players, 108 East St., Annapolis. $10; rsvp: 410-268-7373;

Annapolis Summer Garden Theater’s Forever Plaid

Beat your feet to Compromise Street to meet these cool cats.

reviewed by Jane Elkin

Ah, the early 1960s! It was Shangri-La, full of Moments to Remember: when America dreamed of going from Rags to Riches instead of the other way around, and Three Coins in the Fountain bought a gallon of gas. It’s all back in living color, with a nifty soundtrack, in the Annapolis Summer Garden Theater’s production of Forever Plaid.

Stuart Ross’s hilarious hit interweaves heavenly harmonies with the touching story of an acapella quartet of crooners whose dreams of immortality are slammed by a busload of parochial school virgins on their way to the Beatles’ American debut. How prophetic. But Hot Diggity, by some miracle the Plaids have returned from the hereafter for one night only to give the performance of a lifetime.

This premise earned a 1990 Drama Desk Awards nomination for an outstanding musical revue and begat numerous international troupes just half way into its four year run off-Broadway.

The show’s appeal hinges on tight musical arrangements delivered by loveable nerdy guys in bowties.

The Plaids, Frankie (Peter Crews), Smudge (Nathan Bowen), Sparky (Trent Goldsmith) and Jinx (Kyle VanZandt) are sweet, clean cut and hard working romantics, too committed to each other to find time for dating. Their humor stems from their outsized optimism, rabid Plaid pride and obsessive compulsion with overly choreographed dance routines. Then too, they are a sight for sore eyes in those plaid dinner jackets with the musical motif.

Nervous patter binds it all together. But adept as they are at acting scared to be on stage for the first time in 44 years, they are maturing into the stylists they were on their way to becoming with such classics as “Sixteen Tons,” “Chain Gang,” “Perfidia” and “Day-O.” You’ll go ape for their Beatles remake of “She Loves You,” “Yessiree Bob,” the “Matild”a sing-along and a tribute to Perry Como. The Ed Sullivan Show in three minutes and 11 seconds is a gas! Did they forget anything? No, Not Much.

The Plaids are all well cast and cute: the cut-up (Sparky), the shy and high tenor (Jinx), the worrier with the remarkable bass voice and geek glasses (Smudge) and the de facto leader (Frankie). Crews’ front man is so endearing that they should sell little Frankie dolls at the concession stand. He is also the most stylized dancer of the group.

The real miracle here is that the show opened just one week late following a serious injury that sidelined an originally cast performer days before the original opening. You won’t guess that Goldsmith stepped into his patent leather shoes with just a week and a half of preparation.

I plaidly recommend this bonbon with all my Heart and Soul. So don’t be Undecided. Beat your feet to Compromise Street to meet these cool cats.

To hear sound bites from this zany romp through the dusty LPs of our collective consciousness, visit

Direction and set designer by Jerry Voss. Music direction by Barbara Markey. Choreography by Amber Perkins. Lighting by Kevin Davin. Costumes by Nikki Gerbasi and Maureen Card.

Playing thru July 26 @ 8:30 PM, Th-Su (except final weekend, closing Sa) @ Annapolis Summer Garden Theater, 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $18 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-9212;


Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s
On the Town

reviewed by Jane Elkin

On the Town is a wartime frolic that packs a sea bag of song and dance into a dinghy of a plot involving three sailors, three girls and a whirlwind tour of the Big Apple. Sixty years after its inception, even most theater buffs can’t name any of its tunes beyond the signature “New York, New York” (it’s a helluva town.) With shallow character sketches and little dialogue, raw energy is all that keeps this musical afloat. Yet the current production at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre has only two performers who can deliver that energy in gales. Otherwise, this ship is mostly becalmed.

A bit of historical perspective illustrates the show’s early popularity and subsequent dormancy. Originally a ballet, Fancy Free, this 1944 collaborative effort between composer Leonard Bernstein and choreographer Jerome Robbins rode such a tide of patriotic fervor at the American Ballet Theater that it was adapted the same year for Broadway, with a book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. It was subsequently filmed with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, and was twice resurrected on Broadway, once with Bernadette Peters, but always with dwindling success. In short, it takes a lot to launch this production to such standards that a modern audience will buy into it. Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, alas, has overreached its talent pool.

The storyline follows Chip (Jason Vellon), Ozzie (Ryan Kearney) and Gabey (Nathan Bowen) as they try to locate the subway celebrity Miss Turnstiles, aka Ivy (Ali Guidry). A supposedly cultured girl who is in reality a coochy dancer at Coney Island, Ivy is the object of Gabey’s obsession and the catalyst to the threesome’s solo adventures. Ozzie looks for Ivy in a museum and instead finds Claire (Monica Anselm), an anthropologist who has for too long repressed her animalistic side. Naïve Chip is taken for a ride by the madcap cabbie Hildy (Hannah Thornhill).

Of the three couples, Vellon and Thornhill are the ones with real chemistry. More than just terrific singers and dancers, he has the charm of a young Travolta with the comic timing of Dick Van Dyke; she comes across as strong as Betty Davis and spirited as Lucille Ball.

Other leads are memorable — either for their dancing: Anselm and Guidry — or their singing: Bowen and Kearney. Entertaining performances are also turned in by understudy Ronnie Schronce as Claire’s downtrodden fiancé Judge Bridework; Michelle Harmon as the versatile cabaret singer; and Diana Wolf as the unscrupulous voice teacher Mme. Dilly.

Standouts among the chorus include Lindsay Espinoza as the most watchable dancer; Trent Goldsmith as the quintessential 1940s’ advertisement poster boy; and Tim German as the prehistoric man in the museum.

Technically speaking, the show looks great, with hairstyles and costumes perfect for the era. Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre also has a creative approach to solving the numerous staging challenges inherent in projecting a big city onto a small stage. The live orchestra was good, but would have been better offstage where they could not drown out the singers’ lyrics.

If you are on the town and nostalgic for the war years and the Technicolor movies of youth, stop in for a look-see. Tap your toes to some dance tunes, and take a trip back to an idealized time when America swarmed the stage for an escape from the war.

Directed by Debbie Barber-Eaton. Music direction by Ken Kimble. Choreography by Ron Giddings. Set by Barber-Eaton and Peter Kaiser. Lighting by Kevin Davon. Costumes by Elizabeth Hudson.

Playing thru June 21 at 8:30pm Th-Su (except final weekend, closing Sa) @ Annapolis Summer Garden Theater, 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $18 w/discounts: rsvp: 410-268-9212;


2nd Star Productions’ My Fair Lady

This production has found some upper notch above top.

reviewed by Davina Grace Hill

If Eliza herself could comment on the current 2nd Star production of My Fair Lady, the first act Eliza might say Eeayyu, eh yam a gud shew, eh yam! The finale Eliza would be more likely to say, Being very respectable, I care for it greatly.

2nd Star Productions gives the classic 1956 musical adaptation of G. Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion an energetic and joyful tone that makes Lerner and Loewe’s sparkling music and lyrics shine even brighter.

The story of dialectician Henry Higgins’ bet that he can transform a London flower girl into a duchess is so well known and beloved that any less than top notch production suffers by comparison to the famous film. This production has found some upper notch above top notch: It is that good.

From the background street urchins to Henry Higgins himself, every member of the company is believable. Director Jane B. Wingard deserves great credit for keeping the momentum moving, the pacing varied and casting actors who deliver excellent performances.

Eliza is one of the greatest musical theatre roles. She is the epitome of the emerging woman character that Shaw returned to in his plays. Lerner and Loewe gave her memorable songs in, “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly.” Pamela Day brings a bright full voice to the role and is utterly believable at both ends of Eliza’s journey. Eliza’s transition from guttersnipe to society lady is done so well that it makes one greedy to see a bit more of her emotional transition. But that is just being greedy for more of a good thing, which Day’s performance certainly is.

Henry Higgins became an icon of musical theatre, thanks to Rex Harrison’s point-perfect depiction. Any actor taking on the role is challenged to making his audience forget Harrison. Gary Seddon demolishes all prior impressions with a uniquely defined, clearly articulated, masterly portrayal of Higgins. Seddon has elegance and grace coupled with precise, immaculate comedic timing reminiscent — of all people — of the great Jackie Gleason.

There are times when Seddon gives a simple wave of a few fingers or a slight heel kick to punctuate Higgins’ mood or reaction. Every time it is a perfect counterpoint to the stage moment. Seddon’s voice doesn’t always carry over the orchestra, but that is a problem throughout, when the orchestra, which is also quite good, overpowers the solo singers.

The third iconic character in My Fair Lady is the affable Alfie Doolittle. Some of Shaw’s best characters are lower class, showing his affinity with them. Doolittle is one of the very best: charmer, scoundrel, miscreant, street philosopher and utterly lovable. Lerner and Loewe gave Doolittle the two eminently hummable songs, “With a Little Bit of Luck,” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.” Jonathan Glickman as Doolittle is delightful as he sings and dances the heck out of those two songs.

A fourth standout performance is by Nic Petersen as Freddie Eynsford-Hill. When he sings “On the Street Where You Live,” an expansive, expressive rich voice effortlessly tumbles out. It is a high point of a show full of many high points.

From intricate staging to effective lighting to seamless sound cues, the production crew has supported the actors in creating an elegant, impressive and enjoyable My Fair Lady.

Note must be made of the final scene, which always poses awkward possibilities as to the future of Eliza and Higgins. 2nd Star Productions has accurately portrayed it as a realization of equality and genuine fondness between the two.

To paraphrase Higgins: By George, they’ve done it!

With musical direction by Donald K. Smith; choreography by Christine Asero.

Playing thru June 28 at 8pm FSa; 3pm Su @ 2nd Star Productions, White Marsh Park, 6314 Crain Hwy., Bowie. $18: 410-757-5700.


Now Playing at the Bay Theatre Company: Edward Albee’s The Goat

reviewed by Davina Grace Hill

When writing of this caliber is presented with actors and direction this good, the result is a superb night of theater.

For The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?, absurdist playwright Edward Albee won the Tony Award for the best play of 2002.

In presenting all the shades of Albee’s humor, pathos and complexity, Annapolis’ Bay Theatre Company is monumentally successful.

The complexity begins when the successful architect, Martin, admits to his best friend, Ross, that, although he is deeply in love with his wife, he is having an affair. The absurdist twist? Martin’s affair is with a goat — though he seems oblivious that his admission might have social repercussions.

Repercussions are indeed sparked when a horrified Ross alerts Martin’s wife, Stevie, to what he’s learned. Stevie careens through conflicting emotions from shock to horror to affront to wounded betrayal to confusion and anger. Adding another level to the melee is the reaction of Billy, Martin and Stevie’s gay son.

“Women in deep woe often mix their metaphors,” says Stevie, and Albee’s metaphors, too, run deep and in multiple layers. Bay Theatre keeps all the streams of metaphorical nuances quite clear.

This script is so complex it could easily go wrong — but at Bay Theatre it never does. Director Lucinda Merry-Browne does a masterful job of pacing her action and building the events to small crescendos that ultimately lead to shattering ones.

As Stevie, Janet Luby (who is co-founder and associate artistic director of Bay Theatre Company) gives a nuanced, elegant and shattering performance. She walks a high-wire of emotional vulnerability with such skill that when she finally falls, the crash is profound. The term bravura is often used lightly to describe actors’ performances. This is unequivocally a bravura performance.

Tom Gregory portrays the architect, Martin. Albee’s complex metaphors would not work if Martin’s actor hinted at embarrassment or confusion over his feelings for Sylvia. Martin is quite clear: He loves Sylvia, he believes she loves him — and he can’t understand why anyone would be bothered. Playing the difficult part of the foil to all the other actors reactions, Gregory does eminently well.

Portraying Ross, Lee Ordeman conveys the moral concern the role of best friend requires — if not the familiarity and intimacy we expect.

In the role of Billy, the son who watches his family go through a nuclear meltdown, Bret Jaspers conveys the conflicting sense of love and horror his father’s news has caused him to feel.

In The Goat or, Who is Sylvia language is very strong and moments of violence are shocking. But none of it feels gratuitous. Gentler sensibilities should be alerted to the rawness of the subject matter and emotions on display.

Once again Bay Theatre scores with its creativity on its tiny stage. The set design by Troy-Jon Sets is gorgeous and fitting. On all points, Bay Theatre has scored a huge success with its creativity, audacity and trust in the intelligence of its audiences.

Playing thru June 14 at 8pm FSa; 3pm Su; 8pm May 20 & 27, June 5 & 12 @ West Garrett Building, 275 West St., Annapolis. $25 w/discounts: 410-268-1333;


Twin Beach Players’ Much Ado about Stormy Weather

Reviewed by Margaret Tearman

Against a backdrop of a wind-thrashed Chesapeake Bay, Twin Beach Players gamely held on to their hats to play William Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing on the North Beach boardwalk. Actors competed with the howling wind, seagull chatter and the occasional dog barks to be heard by brave spectators, bundled against the May gale in blankets and hooded coats.

Weather willing, next week’s audience and performers may fare better.

The pirate tale of love and romance is one of Shakespeare’s most enduring stage plays. In the comedic romp, the four romantic leads, Captain Claudio (Danny Beach) and Hero (Emily Miller), and their comic counterparts, Master Benedick (Tom Weaver) and Beatrice (Bess Wilkins) battle for love as the supporting cast of merry characters contrive to join them together or devise ways to keep them apart.

Twin Beach Player’s director Sid Curl changed the story’s locale from Shakespeare’s Spainish vineyards to the island of Tortuga, a pirate sanctuary in the Caribbean.

“The fun I thought could be in the locale, so I transferred all to the Caribbean,” says Curl. “And again got to prove how universal William Shakespeare’s writing can be.”

The gray skies and occassional spray from a wave crashing against the seawall set an appropriate stage for the pirate’s tale, though that very ambience made it difficult to hear and sometimes understand the actors, especially in Shakespearean diaglogue.

The unusual presence of theater on the boardwalk drew curious onlookers: joggers slowed their pace to take in the scene, fisherman on the pier followed a cast of a different sort and an assortment of dogs waited with their owners as they stopped mid-walk to see what all the fuss was about.

There was something for everyone — including the dogs.

As the Shakespeare’s first act came to a close — to the modern McCartney tune “Silly Love Song” — a second, very different band of merrymakers took the stage.

Cue the dogs.

Lynn Franklin, Joan Rosen, Sam the standard poodle and Tucker, the long-haired dachshund — otherwise known as The Boogie Woogie Bow Wows — entertained the windblown spectators with doggie dances and skateboarding feats.

The local quartet performs on stages across the country and had just returned from a grueling two-day, six-performances run in Michigan.

“The dogs are really tired,” Franklin told the crowd. “But your clapping will wake them up.”

The audience responded with an enthusiastic round of applause, and for a few minutes, the biting May wind was forgotten.

As charming as a performance on the boardwalk can be, it’s not an ideal venue for interpreting Shakespeare. Despite the inhospitable weather and the inevitable distractions found in a public setting, the first two performances drew a good crowd.

“So far, it’s been a success,” says producer Janine Naus. “We had a full crowd on Saturday, and more than 30 people came on Mother’s Day.”

See Much Ado About Nothing with its intermission entertainment by the Boogie Woogie Bow Wows at 2pm Sat., May 17 and Sun., May 18 at the North Beach Pavilion, Bay Ave., between 3rd and 5th streets in North Beach. Bring your own chair or sit in one of the 50 pavilion chairs. Free w/donations accepted.


Dignity Players’ Vanishing Point

Meet three fascinating characters — and three powerful actresses

reviewed by Davina Grace Hill

We all love mystery, adventure and spectacle. Such is the premise of Vanishing Point, a musical that made its world premiere last week in Annapolis.

Vanishing Point weaves together the historic vanishings of mystery writer Agatha Christie in 1926, spectacle-creating evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson in 1926 and adventure-seeking aviator Amelia Earhart in 1937. It seems to want to make a point about women, their strength, and the social expectations they face.

The concept is intriguing (if not entirely successful), the music stellar and the production strong. Exemplary are the actors: Margaret Allman as Christie, Wendy Baird as McPherson and Sheri Kuznicki as Earhart. The three women sing almost continuously, weaving through gospel, folk and ragtime-tinged melodies all scored and sung in high Sondheim style. Their performances and vocal powers carry the show.

Allman sings her rapid-fire lyrics superbly. Her Christie is funny, flirty, wounded when she discovers her husband’s indiscretions and creative when she plots her retribution.

Baird has a powerful voice and commands the stage, as McPherson is said to have done. She also skillfully conveys the confusing entrapment of her character’s self-sought fame.

Kuznicki has one wonderful song, “Vanity and Gravity,” but other show-stopping songs go to the other characters or the trio. Earhart’s emotional journey is not well defined and her fate undiscovered, making a less distinct character.

Director Mickey Handwerger lightly guides the production, done with Dignity Players’ typical minimalism, with actors and script the sole focus.

A stronger hand might have reined in the show’s length and intensity. With 14 songs, all sung with full-out fervor, and 75 minutes, the first act wants variety in pacing, quieter moments and less exposition.

The second act works far better. It’s more metaphysical as the three characters interact and ponder how to explain their disappearances.

The strong show has uneven elements. Joe Gems on piano is wonderful — but the piano can overpower the singers. And there’s surprisingly little focus on the feminine values of these trailblazing women.

The overall effect surmounts all, whetting our curiosity about three fascinating women and their missing days — and introducing us to three strong, powerful, full-voiced actresses who deserve to be seen before this production vanishes.

Book and lyrics by Rob Hartmann and Liv Cummins; music by Rob Hartmann; original concept and additional lyrics by Scott Keys. Music direction by Mark Hildebrand,.

Playing thru May 11 at 8pm ThFSa; 7:30pm Su & 2:30pm May 11 @ Unitarian Universalist Church, 333 Dubois Rd., Annapolis. $20 w/discounts: 410-266-8044 x127;


Colonial Players Examines Crime and Punishment

After 72 years of infamy, the Lindbergh baby killer pleads his case.

reviewed by Diana Beechener

In a tiny jail cell, Bruno Richard Hauptmann waits for death. Convicted of the kidnapping and murder of American hero Charles Lindbergh’s infant son, Hauptmann went on trial when the first headline hit the streets. The media convicted the German immigrant — labeled Lone Wolf Hauptmann, Mad Dog Hauptmann or simply the baby killer — before he ever saw a courtroom. Colonial Players’ stunning performance of John Logan’s Hauptmann scrutinizes the media’s influence over the American justice system through the memories of a man who might — or might not — have committed the crime of the century.

Baltimore journalist H. L. Mencken called the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby in 1932 “the biggest story since the resurrection.” Americans were horrified. Lone Eagle Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne were idolized as the perfect American couple after Lindbergh’s successful first-ever solo flight from New York to Paris. Then Charles Jr. was stolen from his bed, and the media converged to cover every intrigue and the anguished plea from the parents. The crime coverage and news reports made live drama, printed and broadcast nightly. The discovery of the golden couple’s crushed baby in a ditch several weeks later was unfathomable tragedy.

The media amplified the outraged cries: Someone, anyone had to pay.

As the minutes tick down to his execution, Hauptmann pleads his case to the audience, his memories unfolding in a collection of scenes with the small ensemble playing multiple supporting roles. Hauptmann breaks through the play’s fourth wall, addressing you and arguing his case. Hauptmann makes a strong argument for the innocence of its protagonist, but it never lets you forget that the narrator is unreliable.

As the case preoccupies newspaper, radio and newsreels, Hauptmann loses control over his own story. Narrating the events, he is forced to take the role of the kidnapper because the other actors refuse. Even as he professes his innocence with logic and earnest vows, he cannot escape the role of baby killer. As the story spins back to death row, his mask of control slips.

Director Beth Terranova, who drew laughs as Italian maid Costanza in Players’ Enchanted April, throws focus on the actors by paring away typical distractions. The set, also designed by director Terranova, is brilliantly sparse. Simple wooden chairs shift from scene to scene, forming cell walls, cemetery fences and courthouse furniture. Using chairs for the principal set design is ideal for Colonial Players’ theater-in-the-round, where elaborate sets can block the actors from sections of the audience.

Terranova gives the press a leading role in the play, inundating the scenery, costumes and blocking. As the trial begins, reporters surround Hauptmann — recreating his jail cell — reciting their sensational headlines. Also the costume designer, Terranova chose muted browns and grays, giving the play the same color palate as a weathered newsreel.

The floor also serves as a constant reminder of the media coverage. Blocks of gray paint form an abstract portrait of Hauptmann’s mug shot on the floor.

Terranova’s minimal staging choices showcase Pat Reynolds’ mesmerizing performance. The focus of every scene, Reynolds shifts effortlessly between cynical commentator and harassed victim. He makes Hauptmann a complex figure: He controls the stage, exuding an affable charm when speaking to the audience, but he clearly manipulates his narrative. By withholding truths and offering implausible explanations, Reynolds creates a character that the audience wants to believe — but doesn’t fully trust.

Jim Reiter lends impressive support, playing multiple roles from H. L. Mencken to key witness Dr. Condon to three major witnesses in the Lindbergh trial. As each testimony concludes, Reiter turns his chair and morphs into the next character.

With attention to detail and expert staging, Colonial Players add nuance to Logan’s tense drama. Hauptmann doesn’t provide easy answers, but it does offer stunning performances. And that’s enough for a favorable verdict.

Ensemble: Thurston Cobb, Danny Brooks, Jamie Elliott, Ron Giddings, Theresa Riffle and Emily Bowen. Production manager: Tom Stuckey. Lighting designer: Dottie Meggers and Jason Ward. Sound designer: Wes Bedsworth. Props: Lizzy Wilbond.

Playing thru May 24 at 8pm ThFSa; 2:30pm Su; 7:30pm May 18 @ Colonial Players, 108 East St., Annapolis. $20; rsvp: 410-283-7373;


Bowie Community Theater’s Social Security

You’ll put on a happy face at this light-hearted wink at love, lust and family relationships

Reviewed by Jane Elkin

Social Security, an adult comedy by Andrew Bergman (author of such hits as Blazing Saddles and The In-Laws), is a light-hearted wink at love, lust and family relationships. If you like sitcoms, stereotypes and one-liners, Bowie Community Theater’s production is for you. The script is neither compelling nor deep, but it delivers escapist laughs aplenty.

Set in the trendy East Side penthouse of art dealers Barbara and David Kahn (Maribethe Vogel Eckenrode and Jim Estepp), Social Security plays on family tensions and the clash of the classes. Barbara and David live a charmed life of orderly prosperity until her sister and brother-in-law, Trudy and Martin Heyman (Debbie Samek and Andrew Negri), turn their lives upside down with the unwelcome news that Mother must stay with them for a while.

Mother, chief among the stock caricatures who propel the action, is Sophie Greengrass (Michele Hitchcock), the classic Jewish mother. This blue-wigged, kvetching octogenarian comes across like a Yiddish version of Vicki Lawrence from Mama’s Family. Hard of hearing, hard headed and hard to get along with, she threatens Barbara’s sanity and marriage.

Mother’s power to disrupt has already been proven in sister Trudy’s life. Small-minded and cheap, Trudy the housewife and her CPA husband live a boring life of inane predictability under mother’s domineering thumb. Worst of all, Trudy is turning into her mother: overbearing and obnoxious while lacking her mother’s confidence and wisdom. Now the Heymans’ 18-year-old daughter has taken up with two men, an arrangement her father mistakenly refers to as a menagerie. They dump Sophie on the Kahns to rescue their daughter.

After some initial misery, the Kahns’ problem solves itself when Sophie meets one of their famous clients, Maurice Koenig (Rich Fogg), a centenarian artist who is smitten with her common sense and old-fashioned family values. Romance transforms her from battle-ax to babe, and life will never be the same for any of them.

There are no weak links in this cast. But as comedies go, someone always gets all the best lines, and in this show that would be David. Sophie, however, has one visual stunt that trumps all dialogue, and though I will not spoil the surprise, I promise it is worth twice the price of admission.

These are characters you will like getting to know. You will feel comfortable in their home and chuckle at the familiarity of their squabbles. You’ll tap your toes to mood music from the 1960s hits like “Put on a Happy Face” and “Just in Time.” And you will leave with renewed optimism and appreciation for those difficult, offbeat and misunderstood relatives with whom you are occasionally forced to spend time.

Directed by Estelle Miller. Set design and lights by Garrett Hyde. Costumes by Karen Spitzer.

Playing thru April 26 @ 8pm F & Sa; Su @ 2pm @ Bowie Community Theatre, White Marsh Park, Rt. 3 South, Bowie. $15 w/discounts; rsvp: 301-805-0219;


Annapolis Chorale’s Aida

Previewed by Jane Elkin

Giuseppe Verdi’s grand operas combined eye-popping spectacle with big sound. Had he lived into the 20th century, he would have hired Cecil B. Demille to stage Aida, and he would have wanted a chorus as big as the Annapolis Chorale — all 160 of them. They get the best song, the Triumphal March, which you’ll recognize from the 2006 Winter Olympics opening ceremonies.

This weekend J. Ernest Green directs a semi-staged, abbreviated Aida, sung in Italian with English supratitles, accompanied by the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra. It features a cast of international rising stars singing some of the most vocally challenging opera repertoire ever written. Hear baritone rising star Shouvik Mondle plus tenor Antonio Nagore, mezzo Jeniece Goldbourne and soprano Leah Anne Myers — before they become tomorrow’s superstars and you can’t afford a ticket.

They sing a tale of love, loyalty, jealousy and hope as Ethiopian slave princess Aida and her beloved Egyptian soldier seek happiness despite a jealous Egyptian princess and the wartime capture of Aida’s father. To the victor goes the girl, so in predictable operatic fashion, the lovers embrace death as their best option. Now that’s devotion!


Hansel & Gretel: A Delicious Diversion

Peviewed by Jane Elkin

The Wagnerian soprano in a Viking helmet, bellowing a foreign language, is a tough stereotype to break. That’s why Annapolis Opera — in conjunction with Opera AACC — reaches out to new audiences each year with Children’s Opera. This year’s opera is Engelbert Humperdinck’s 1931 classic Hansel and Gretel, with a score, based in German folk tunes, including “When I Go to Sleep at Night” and “Brother Come and Dance with Me.”

This fully staged favorite is abbreviated to one hour and sung in English. Kids will enjoy the All Children’s Chorus of Annapolis as the gingerbread children. Additionally, Humperdinck changed the tale’s worst fear factor so that the sinister step-mother is softened to a regular mom who, under stress, unthinkingly sends her kids on an errand in the woods. Rachel Sitomer and Julie Hiscox are charming and talented as the misbegotten moppets.

The director, Douglas Brandt Byerly, also plays the father. Accompaniment is by the Opera AACC Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Marc Boensel.


Chivalry and Pageantry at Arundel Mills

The courtly spectacle is as carefully choreographed as a Broadway play.

Reviewed by Ben Miller

Clashing swords, charging knights, prancing horses and a costume drama of good and evil bring the 11th century of Europe to Arundel Mills.

Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament is an over-the-top spectacle larger than the big screen. The show unfolds in a 1,000-seat arena where the often-cheering spectators — all with good views — look down on colorfully costumed knights mounted on galloping horses.

The actions of the knights and their horses, the squires and pages, King, Prince, Princess and Lord Chancellor; the music; the lights; and even the serving of dinner are as carefully choreographed as a Broadway play.

Medieval Times is not new to the area. This is the fifth year for a company that, by last year, had entertained one million guests.

This year’s production is new, but returning fans can be assured that there is treachery afoot and plenty of action. In summary, the Prince is kidnapped, the good King and the sweet Princess worry for his safe return and the Green Knight threatens to disturb the peace of the kingdom.

There are interludes to the drama.

In the Tournament of Games, mounted knights throw javelins, toss flags and pierce rings with their lances in the Maryland state sport, jousting.

The horse demonstrations may be the highlight for adults. The beautiful Andalusian stallions show European-style dressage steps — leaping, marching and trotting — that are a tribute to the horses’ intelligence and the skill and patience of their trainers. Look for the scene where the mounted horse trots in time with the music.

In another captivating moment, a falcon, released by the Royal Falconer, soars through the arena, seemingly in time with the music.

The experience of the audience is as choreographed as the performance itself.

We gathered in the Hall of Arms, which has a bar, souvenirs and displays of medieval artifacts.

The Lord Chancellor directed us to our seats based on our color-coded tickets. Each section roots for an individual knight dressed in the same colors.

Drinks and dinner are served. Children will be delighted there are no utensils; everyone eats with their hands. Dinner portions are Henry the Eight-sized: chicken and spare ribs with bread, soup, potato and dessert. A vegetarian menu is also served.

The action continues during dinner and builds to a crescendo of flashing swords (look for the sparks) and wounded knights. As the evening progresses, the audience gets more and more into the action with applause and cheering.

The performance could be rated PG for the violence. Younger children need to be reminded that this isn’t real; it’s more like a dance than a fight. The wounded knights are conspicuously walked off the floor by the squires and pages.

The young knights are remarkably athletic performers and good horsemen. They are also hot, according to our middle-school aged female seatmate.

You can be assured that all ends well. Good does triumph, after all.

Outside the arena, performers meet with guests after the show. We met with the Royal Falconer and the Lanner-Saker falcon, an unexpected highlight.

The Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament at Arundel Mills, 7000 Arundel Mills Circle, Hanover. Show times vary with evening performances and weekend matinees. Adults, $50.95; children under, 12 $37.95 w/groups rates: ; 888-we-joust.


At Colonial Players, Kiss Me Kate Hits the Right Notes

Colonial Players channels zany Shakespeare in Cole Porter’s 1940s’ screwball style

Reviewed by Diana Beechener

“If your blonde don’t respond when you flatter her, tell her what Tony told Cleopaterer,” advise two pinstriped gangsters who soft-shoe across the stage during Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate. Adapted from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Colonial Players’ anything-but-typical night of Shakespeare puts backstage drama in the spotlight with quarreling actors, madcap misunderstandings and a couple of thugs with a good sense of rhythm.

What you’ll see in Colonial’s theater in the round is a play playing a play. In 1940s’ post-war Baltimore — a far cry from the Baltimore we see on television in The Wire — ego-driven Fred (Matt Garcia) directs himself at Ford Theatre in a production of Shrew. Fred divides his time between chasing the coquettish Lois (Jamie Miller) and contending with his staring shrew, former wife and failed film star, Lilli (Catherine Chiappa). The two stars fight their feelings and each other while supporting actors Lois and Bill (Ronnie Schronce) engage in their own battle of the sexes. Lois uses her wiles to advance her career and her wardrobe. Her jealous boyfriend, Bill, spends his off-stage time amassing huge gambling debts and signing Fred’s name on his IOU.

Pugilistic romance is Shakespeare’s subject too, so life mirrors art mirroring life.

As the opening night curtain goes up on the play within the play, the drama backstage takes center stage, with a jealous Lilli driving home her defiant lines by slapping Fred. Their theatrical squabble spills over into Cole Porter’s version real life. Lilli is about to storm out of the theater when two gangsters arrive to collect on Bill’s IOU. In madcap desperation, Fred convinces the thugs to don harlequin garb and join the cast. With the addition of two armed players, one livid lead and the sudden appearance of the U.S. Navy, Fred soldiers on so the show can go on.

Set designer Gary Adamsen wisely chose only essential furniture with little backdrop, forcing all attention to the performances and elaborate dance numbers. Director Beverly Hill Van Joolen brings on a live four-piece band to play Cole Porter’s delovely music.

Both Matt Garcia and Catherine Chiappa hit all the right notes as Kate’s leads. Chiappa, easily the best vocalist of the cast, dominates her scenes. More impressive, however, is Matt Garcia, who projects such caddish charisma that it’s hard to believe he learned his part in only a week. In a twist worthy of Porter or Shakespeare, the Players’ original lead became ill, forcing the last minute recasting. Garcia’s effortless performance elevates the play and is a credit to his talent.

Yet the gangsters steal the show. Whether in pinstripes and fedoras or harlequin jumpsuits, Steve Migdal and Jeff Sprague maintain their tough-guy personas while cracking wise. Never given names, the characters are a modern nod to Shakespeare’s fools — outsiders who function as wry observers of the action. Armed with revolvers, brassy New Yawk accents and a soft-shoe number, they show what would happen if Tony Soprano had taken vocal lessons. In the Kate’s hilarious musical number, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” Sprague and Migdal perform a pun-filled Vaudevillian tap number, explaining how to snag a dame by quoting the bard.

A play-within-a-play plot does not lend itself to theater-in-the-round. In several scenes, actors play to their imaginary audience with their backs to a whole section of their real audience, obstructing the view of the action.

That’s a nuisance, but it doesn’t spoil the zany entertainment Colonial Players channels 1940s’ screwball style from Porter on Shakespeare. Chiappa and Garcia’s chemistry sparks, as do the gangsters’ pistols in this credit to Porter and the bard.

Musical director: Pete Thompson. Choreographers: Nancy Dall, Matt Macis and Theresa Olson. Lighting design: Alex Banos. Sound design: Richard Atha-Nicholls. Costume design: Mary Schmidt. Ensemble: Michelle Harmon, Monica Anselm, Nathan Bowen, Trent Goldsmith, Robert Hardy, Jim Murphy, Michael Rease, E. Aubrey Baden, Christiana Bartone, Carol Anne Drescher, Brenda Garcia, Heather Harris, Mark Kidwell, Erik Springer-Emerson and Bronwyn van Joolen.

Playing thru April 5 @ 8pm Th-Sa; 2:30pm Su; 7:30pm Feb. 3 @ The Colonial Players Theater, 108 East St., Annapolis. $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373;


2nd Star Production’s Leading Ladies

Can love flourish when the suitors are female impersonators?

Reviewed by Davina Grace Hill

Mistaken identities, physical comedy and considerable bluster are constant elements of Ken Ludwig’s work. Leading Ladies is no exception.

Written just over three years ago, Leading Ladies revisits the themes and characters of Ludwig’s 1995 work, Moon Over Buffalo. Down-on-their-luck actors go to extreme lengths to gain fame and fortune, in the process discovering true love off the stage. As an added bonus, they get to hack up Shakespearean verse. The twist? They get to do it in drag.

2nd Star’s production, directed by Charles W. Maloney, introduces Leo (played by Leo Knight) and Jack (John Parry) as the pair of Shakespearean actors who learn of a dying matron who is leaving her fortune to two long-lost heirs — if they can be located. The heirs are named Stephanie and Maxine. Leo and Jack, actors after all, don’t find female impersonation a daunting obstacle. Off they go to try to gain the inheritance.

At the matron’s home, Leo falls madly in love for a minister’s betrothed and Jack falls for another local young lass. Annoyingly, the matron doesn’t die. So Jack and Leo remain on the scene, falling more in love with the local ladies and deeper into the gender deception.

Leo Knight and John Parry work very well together. Their comedic timing is excellent, and they convince us, as the show demands, that they are a well-established team. Given the differential in their heights, they also provide visual amusement, especially when clad as women.

Nora Zanger plays the object of Leo’s affection, Meg, ably — with one exception. Whether she knew all along that Jack and Leo weren’t Stephanie and Maxine is important to this show; that distinction wasn’t made clear on opening night.

Caitlin E. Jennings plays Audrey, the young woman that Jack falls for, with bravado and confidence. Discovering in the program that she is but a sophomore in high school makes her accomplishment even more applause worthy.

Jack Degnan as the flustered minister, Carole Long as the not-quite-dying matron and Nick Schultz as a goofy “Buddy Holly-esque” young man keep the action moving. Martin Hayes as Doc Meyers and Rich Church as a Moose member, round out the cast.

Once again scenic designer Jane B. Wingard showcases considerable skill. The set has levels and visual interest and is extremely well painted and appointed. Art deco touches are excellent in the Act 1 train scene.

Intricate pacing is needed in a Ken Ludwig play. Director Maloney starts Leading Ladies at one level from which it never varies; it just barrels on through. The result is that Leading Ladies makes us laugh but does not necessarily leave us satisfied when the house lights come up.

Playing thru March 22 at 8pm FSa; 3pm Su @ Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park, off Rt. 3, Bowie. $18 w/discounts: 410-757-5700;


Dignity Players’ Antigone

Fine writing and extraordinary acting make Antigone worth your while

Reviewed by Jane Elkin

You’ll see some extraordinary acting in Dignity Players’ showdown between Frank B. Moorman and Hallie Garrison.

You’ll also see the uncanny power of a play that has survived for 2400 years. Greek playwright Sophocles’ understanding of human nature was so keen that new generations continue to find it illuminating. In 1944, French playwright Jean Anhouihl adapted Antigone to his times, echoing the French resistance against Nazi occupation. Now Dignity Players opens a theater season devoted to women’s history with Lewis Galantiere’s translation of Anhouihl’s Antigone.

Antigone, played by Garrison, is a young woman who defies authority to do what she thinks right. Authority is Moorman’s Creon, her uncle and the father of her fiancé, Haemon (Jamie Hanna). Her defiance demands her execution.

From the moment we first see the cast in freeze-frame motif 10 minutes before the show begins, we know them. There is no mistaking Creon: authoritative, threatening and cool. Antigone: solemn and calm, her distant eyes bespeaking troubled thoughts. Haemon: youthfully optimistic and confident.

Their story is one more link in the crazy chain of events that makes up the Oedipus saga.

Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus, formerly the king of Thebes. Opportunist Creon seeks to “impose order on this absurd little kingdom” after his two nephews, Polynices and Eteocles, kill each other in a civil war. His edict forbidding the burial of the rebel Polynices, Antigone’s brother, is more than she can bear, though it poses no burden to their sister Ismene (Becki Placella). Ironically, only Ismene and Creon will regret their choices.

Creon tries to overlook Antigone’s defiance because she is betrothed to his son. But when she refuses his proffered alibi, he orders her arrest by abusive Guardsmen (Josh Riffle, Robby Rose and Nick Beschen.)

Haemon curses his father and chooses death with Antigone. When Queen Eurydice (Donna Soraparu) learns of her son’s suicide, she takes her own life. Creon’s legacy is his miserable solitude. His best argument for Antigone’s compliance, that “life is nothing more than the happiness we get out of it,” will forever resound in his memory of missteps on the road to power.

The ensemble as a whole delivers a solid interpretation. Garrison and Hanna give fine performances. Moorman, however, is so remarkable I cannot imagine any star I’d rather see in this role. He channels his character.

Dozens of luminaria light the stage to nice effect, and I liked the togas featuring subtle variations of color and decoration to indicate wealth and rank.

Best of all, though, are Moorman’s performance and the superb writing.

Directed by Mickey Handwerger. Costumes: Donna Soraparu. Set: Barrett, Handwerger, Eric Lund and Soraparu. Lights: Annie Garrison. With Theresa Riffle and Bryan Barrett.

Playing thru March 9 at 8pm Th-Sa; 2 pm Su @ Unitarian Universalist Church, 333 Dubois Rd., (off N. Bestgate Rd.) Annapolis. $20 w/ discounts; rsvp: 410-266-8044 x 127;


Bay Theatre Company’s Glass Menagerie

Raising the bar; redefining the standard

Reviewed by Jane Elkin

The dysfunctional family in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie lived in St. Louis in the 1930s. Yet his semi-autobiographical drama about an overbearing single mother and her two grown children is as relevant today as ever.

Amanda Winfield (Lucinda Merry-Browne) is so blinded by her unrealistic expectations for Tom (Ben Russo) and Laura (Kristen Calgaro) that she cannot appreciate them for who they are. She badgers them relentlessly. Modern kids might escape to drugs or online gaming. Tom escapes to booze and the movies, and Laura to her menagerie of glass animals while Amanda latches onto the dream of a gentleman caller to save Laura from spinsterhood.

This show is so well cast that it is the new standard by which I will judge every other production. Amanda’s usual persona as a cloying harpy with a Southern drawl is banished forever as Merry-Browne infuses her with sincere motherly concern. Like a cornered animal seeking to protect her young, she worries about their future. She doesn’t know when to curtail her tongue because it is her only weapon. Here is a woman I can almost relate to. I no longer loathe her, for she made me laugh and cry — just as a real mother will.

Russo’s slouch and blasé expression convey the message I’m outta here! long before he mentions the possibility. Yet his filial sense of duty and love for Laura show in his every reluctant step and word.

Calgaro’s gentle and fragile Laura is a tortured soul, yet the only calming influence on her family. A frumpy and awkward cripple, her transformation to dazzling and almost graceful is magnificent as she exudes the potential only her mother could prevision. It is a joy to watch her unfold like a blossom in a warm room.

Williams describes the Gentleman Caller, Jim (Judson Davis), as “the long delayed but always expected something that we live for.” Davis is so likeable in this role that we pray for him to love Laura as only her family does — and rescue her from them.

Williams claims to “give the truth in the clever disguise of illusion,” yet this dingy tenement feels as real as primal memory. The set is like a time machine with its yellowed wallpaper, bare light bulb and timeworn furnishings. Best of all is the fire escape that serves as their porch. It rattles with every footstep, conveying each character’s mood: dancing in anticipation, tip-toeing in culpability or stomping in sullen resentment. Likewise, costumes are carefully chosen and tailored, with an eye to style and dramatic effect.

My complaints are few. One set design choice and the blocking of one scene obscure some crucial dialogue, and the cramped seating is worse than flying coach. Still, I loved this show; it is a Must See.

Directed by Nancy Robillard. Set design: Dave Buckler. Costumes: Eric Langmeyer. Lights: John Burkland.

Playing thru March 29 at 8pm Th-Sa; Su @ 3pm with special Sa matinee March 29; no show Feb. 28 @ Bay Theatre Company, 275 West St., Annapolis. $25 with discounts; rsvp: 410-268-1333;


Twin Beach Players’ Heartstrings

North Beach makes a cozy venue for this tug at your heartstrings.

Reviewed by Dick Wilson

Twin Beach Players, a theater group that’s becoming known for its wide-ranging and ambitious productions, tugs at Heartstrings in its Valentine show.

This Valentine show is no syrupy tale of young lovers whose hearts are on the verge of breaking until redeemed by a Valentine card.

The Valentine cards come, but not before the damage has been done. The nice thoughts on a card don’t change reality. And reality is what this adult play deals with.

In monologues, three women of different backgrounds and outlooks puts their own twists on an old tale: being wronged by men.

Anna (Regan Cashman) is a simple, soft-hearted soul who’s outwardly tough, sometimes brash and combative. She’s made a lot of bad choices (and she knows it) with regard to men, but she’s resilient. Cashman is the play’s light humor.

Elizabeth (Clare O’Shea) has chosen alcohol as the route she will travel to escape the pain inflicted by an unfaithful, lying husband, and she’s far down that road. In a powerful performance, O’Shea is immersed in this role, swigging gin, passing out, waking up and doing the things that intoxicated people do. The humor in her role is darker than in Anna’s, but they offset one another nicely.

Helen (Joanne McDonald) has — perhaps more than the others — submerged her own life’s desires and aspirations to be wife, helpmate and companion to a husband who thought of himself as Emperor of the Household. McDonald’s character is emotionally positioned in the middle between Elizabeth and Anna. Her air of subdued suffering fits neatly between their extremes. 

They three are connected in a strange way, which brings in a fourth woman, Barbara (Marianne Rude), an intellectual who is married relatively contently to a college professor. Her monologue ties the elements of this drama together.

Heartstrings was written by Phillip Glass who, not so coincidentally, is a longtime friend of Eleanor Nelson, secretary of the Arts Council of Calvert County. Many years ago Nelson suggested to Glass the title Heartstrings for his play, which has run off-Broadway and at other venues to high acclaim.

North Beach makes a cozy venue for this tug at your heartstrings.

Directed by Diane Belanger. Produced by Janine Naus. Playing thru Feb. 23 at 8pm F; 7pm Sa @ Black Box Theatre, Union Church, 8912 Chesapeake Ave., North Beach. $15 w/discounts: 410-257-0207;


Find Respite from Winter in Annapolis Chorale’s South Pacific

No synthesizer can evoke Pacific trade winds as effectively as a dozen violins and violas.

previewed by Jane Elkin

Whether you’re new to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific or an old fan, Annapolis Chorale’s concert of this classic of American musical theatre promises to warm you up. The melodies are hummable, and the lush orchestration punctuates the lyrics without distracting from their message. It’s a message still warm 60 years after James Michener wrote the tales that inspired the musical: a message about the insidious nature of racism, the transience of happiness and the narrowing of choices during wartime. Opening in 1949, South Pacific ran five years on Broadway; a revival opens at the Lincoln Center next month.

The Chorale’s collaborations with the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of J. Ernest Green, produce top-notch, originally orchestrated performances of a full choir and professional soloists-actors — just as the composer intended. The result is a fuller sound than is typically heard in local musical theater. Let’s face it; no synthesizer can evoke Pacific trade winds as effectively as a dozen violins and violas.

The composer magically evokes the moods of his characters and their surroundings. The haunting allure of “Bali Hai” (sung by Jenni Bank as the Polynesian trader Bloody Mary) flirts with the octave to leave you pining for fulfillment on this magical isle. In the youthful romp “A Wonderful Guy,” the orchestra sets Nurse Nellie (Katie Hale) to dancing with a grand ballroom sound. But her mature lover’s reflective response, “Some Enchanted Evening,” sung by Emile (Jimi James), contrasts with measured gravity and the intensity of 40 instruments whispering simultaneously. The indecision in Lt. Cable’s (Tom Magette) musings on prejudice are echoed in the dithering melodic line of “You’ve Got to Be Taught.” For raw vocal energy, however, there is nothing like my favorite, “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” featuring every male voice from the lowest bass to the highest tenor.

Enjoy a little pre-Valentine’s Day romantic get-away to the tropics. As an added incentive, come as you are to the Casual Friday concert and enjoy a post-concert Q&A session with the cast and conductor.

Playing Feb. 8 & 9 at 7:30pm @ Maryland Hall, 801 Chase St., Annapolis. $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-263-5114.


The Pirates of Penzance at Opera AACC

Singing students take Gilbert and Sullivan to the theme park

reviewed by Jane Elkin

Pirates are hot this year, and Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic The Pirates of Penzance is enjoying a renaissance, first at Second Star Productions in Bowie, soon to be at the Washington Savoyards and currently at Opera AACC. So how does a director make his largely amateur production stand out among a field of semi-professional competition? The answer is with clever adaptation for modern audiences, which John Bowen delivers in treasure troves.

His resetting of the Victorian operetta to a contemporary theme park, named D’Oylyland in honor of the original G & S producer Richard D’Oyly, provides contextual relevance for modern audiences as well as a fresh take on characters and plot. Through entertaining program notes, liberal rewrites and pantomime, the story is clear from the moment the overture begins. Adorable little Frederic (Bobby Kaiser) goes to D’Oylyland with his nanny, Ruth (Charlotte Taylor). Despite his obvious captivation with the Royal Navy Pilot School recruitment booth, she apprentices him to the D’Oylyland pirate attraction instead. Thus half the story is explained before Ruth sings her famously incomprehensible aria of how she confused the words pirate and pilot, thus dooming older Frederic (Frederic Rey) to indentured servitude until his 21st birthday.

Frederic hates the piratical profession so much that he vows to annihilate his coworkers, the Pirate King (Douglas Brandt Byerly) and his band, once he is freed. But here is the sticking point in the updated plot. If the pirates are merely theme park actors, what is Frederic’s motivation to violence? In the show’s spirit of silliness, I am inclined to chalk it up to disgruntled employee behavior. Let’s just say he went postal. After all, Frederic tells us that he has been constantly backstage since he was eight years old, and Ruth is the only woman he has seen in all that time.

Once out of indenture, Frederic meets Mabel (Julie Hiscox) behind the Mermaid Lagoon Putt-Putt attraction, and it is lust at first sight. Mabel is a ward of Major General Stanley’s Academy of Dramatic Arts for Wayward Schoolgirls, and while she and Frederic are backstage making out, the other schoolgirls carp cattily about the lovers and spy on them through the employee lounge door. The pirates all want a piece of the action and threaten to kidnap the girls, but Major General Stanley (Larry Ellinghaus), the girls’ father, saves them by telling a sentimental lie.

Stanley is also resident owner of D’Oylyland, and when the pirates learn of his deceit they attack his corner office at the family estate, Ye Olde Haunted Castle. Poor Frederic has been forced to reenlist with the pirates due to a contractual snafu. His leap year birthday makes him ineligible for freedom until the year 2080, so Mabel’s only hope of rescuing her fiancé is the venerable police force, under the uneasy command of their sergeant (Michael Collins). They reluctantly march to certain death in a fight against the pirates, but quick thinking on the sergeant’s part averts conflict when he invokes piratical submission in Queen Elizabeth’s name.

Creativity defines Anne Arundel Community College’s show. The set features an attractive backdrop of the theme park map. Most of the costumes are cute period garb, with colorful pirate apparel, Keystone Kops and naughty parochial school girl uniforms. But poor Major General Stanley looked worse than ludicrous in an incongruous layering of safari outfit, academic robes and sleepwear. The numerous hats he wore stacked atop each other — a pith helmet, tasseled mortarboard and fur fez — combined to make him look like a raving lunatic. It was distracting, to say the least.

The amateur cast is distinguished by two stand-outs: Julie Hiscox (Mabel) is destined for stardom with her glorious coloratura soprano voice and stunning face and figure. Byerly, the founder and artistic director of Opera AACC, is an excellent Pirate King. Rey as Frederic hit his stride in Act II, but the other leads are uneven. Clearly this troupe exists to give students room to grow.

At the same time, Opera AACC’s Pirates entertains audiences with a fresh perspective on a comic cultural classic.

Directed by John Bowen. Set: Christa Ladney and D.B. Byerly. Costumes: Mary Bova and A.T. Jones & Sons Inc. Lighting: D.B. Byerly.

Playing thru Feb. 2 at 8pm FSa @ Pascal Center, Anne Arundel Community College, Arnold. $10 w/discounts: 410-777-2457.


Spend an Enchanted April with Colonial Players

Colonial Player’s Enchanted April blooms with wisteria, sunshine and breezy comedy.

Reviewed by Diana Beechener

Stuck in a drab women’s club as rain pounds on the windows, bored English housewife Lotty Wilson (Darice Clewell) stumbles on an advertisement for an Italian castle, directed to those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine. Lotty leads a circle of women — all seeking refuge from their London lives — on a quest for physical and emotional revival in the flowery soil of Italy. Matthew Barber’s witty adaptation of Elizabeth von Armin’s novel leads these ladies through the countryside on a joyous romp. Colonial Players’ whimsical adaptation of Enchanted April sends audiences on their own vacation.

The horrors of the Great War linger in the background. In 1922, clothing is drab, rain is constant and spirits are dampened.

Lotty, a free-spirited optimist, is lost at her husband’s tightly controlled society parties. Rose Arnott (Heather Quinn), a pious church woman, watches in horror as her poet husband forsakes his art to write trashy novels and mingle at society parties. Lotty persuades Rose to accompany her to Italy so they can both regain joy. To lessen their financial burden, Lotty and the ever-reluctant Rose find two roommates: the severe widow Mrs. Graves (Carol Cohen) and flighty socialite Lady Bramble (Zarah Roberts), who is never far from her flask. As the women wander among the wisteria and soak in the sunshine, each faces the demons that followed her through their London lives.

In Colonial’s theater in the round, Doug Dawson’s brilliant set design uses every inch of space to enhance the themes. He captures Rose and Lottie’s first-act English desperation with drab carpets and dark wood that absorb the minimal lighting. The women seem enclosed in a small box with the light slowly fading. In Mezzago, the set transforms into an airy villa garden where soft cream walls reflect warm light. Trellises of wisteria, which denotes welcome in Victorian floral symbolism, hang above the front-row audience’s heads, drawing them into the warmth of the castle. Sun-worn veranda furniture, floral murals and rustic villa doorways complete the set’s transformation.

In this paradiso, director Mary Fawcett Watko coaxes wonderful performances from her actors. She demonstrates a flare for uproarious humor in a scene featuring a precariously draped towel and a group of shocked ladies. The performances of the ladies, however, supply the enchantment.

As Lotty, Clewell is the play’s driving force. Her exuberance and bursts of insight balance her madcap character. Beth Terranova also gives a bravura performance as Costanza, the maid, draws some of the biggest laughs with her Italian lines.

The spell is interrupted by inexplicable music cues. During a dramatic scene, a mournful piano suddenly tinkles over the speakers, ripping the audience’s attention away from a dramatic revelation and hurling them into a movie of the week. Quinn’s moment is undercut.

That lapse aside, for over two hours, our own winter blooms with wisteria and sunshine as the characters’ hopes are revived and the troubles of the time overcome.

Ensemble: Richard Koster, Nick Beschen and Richard McGraw. Stage manager: Herb Elkin. Lighting design: Herb Elkin, Eric Lund and Richard Koster. Sound design: Mickey Handwerger and Wes Bedsworth. Costume design: Jean Beall and Donna Soraparu.

Playing thru Feb. 9 @ 8pm Th-Sa; 2:30pm Su; 7:30pm Feb. 3 @ The Colonial Players Theater, 108 East St., Annapolis. $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373;


Children’s Theatre of Annapolis’ Beauty and the Beast

Ah! The energy of youth. The cast of teenagers is astonishing

reviewed by Davina Grace Hill

Irish playwright Bernard Shaw would have erased his famous line — “youth is wasted on the young” — had he seen Children’s Theatre of Annapolis’ January musical, Beauty and the Beast.

The young performers in the cast of 35 — ranging in age from 12 to 18 — display not only youthful energy and enthusiasm but also considerable talents.

Director Joe Thompson has done something quite remarkable with his large cast: Given each at least a small moment to shine individually. He has skillfully avoided creating a faceless chorus or ensemble, creating instead a very large group of distinct secondary characters to support the leading actors. Jason Kimble’s choreography supports that feat by contributing little dance highlights for each character.

Thompson paces the show a bit too fast for full character development, but these characters and story are so well known that the audience has already met the actors halfway.

The popular musical explains how a magic spell transforms a cold, arrogant young man into a Beast and how a lonely, forgiving young woman, Belle, gives him a last chance to rescind the spell. Complications enter in the person of Belle’s unwanted suitor Gaston, his sidekick Lefou, her father Maurice — and the cadre of humans turned into inanimate objects such as candelabrum, a clock and a teapot.

As the Beast, R.J. Pavel displays not only a full and very controlled vocal ability but also the pathos and sadness to make you care about the Beast. In his song, “How Long Must This Go On?” the longing and yearning he creates is palpable; he makes it the emotional centerpiece of the show.

As Belle, Lindsay Espinosa shines with powerful vocal talents and great stage presence. She makes Belle an intelligent character as well as a beautiful one.

The third stand out is Miguel Mattia-Uribe as Lefou. Gifted with a malleable body and an expressive face and fearless about taking pratfalls, he provides considerable comic relief.

Dorian Jackson as the villainous suitor Gaston and Martin Thompson as Belle’s father Maurice carry their roles but might have been pushed to own the stage a bit more during their important moments.

The inanimate objects are portrayed by Kyle VanZandt as the candelabrum (Lumiere), Scott Aucoin as the clock (Cogsworth), Malarie Novotny as the teapot (Mrs. Potts), Carly Snyder as the teacup (Chip), Emily Sergo as a wardrobe (Madame de la Bouch) and Brittany Kemmer as a feather duster (Babette). Scott Aucoin’s comedic skills shine, and Carly Snyder and Emily Sergo’s vocal skills are impressive. Malarie Novotny not only sings well, she also inhabits her teapot and carries the title song exceedingly well. Brittany Kemmer flirts and flounces just as a feather duster should. Kyle VanZandt’s Lumiere seems a bit overshadowed by Aucoin’s Cogsworth, but vocally VanZandt carries on the songs “Be Our Guest” and “Human Again.”

Opening night was marred by technical difficulties, but the cast of teenagers was astonishing. Coming from different schools and home schools from throughout the region, these young people (and their parents) have overcome school rivalries, social networks and physical distances to create a disciplined and structured theatrical community. Would that we all, children and adults alike, could experience a similar transformation.

Playing thru Jan. 13 at 7:30pm F; 2pm & 7:30pm Sa; 2pm Su @ Pascal Performing Arts Center, Anne Arundel Community College, Arnold. $12 w/discounts: 410-757-2281;

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