Monday, February 20, 2017

Beat the Press

Trump’s war with the media is a cornerstone of his strategy

“Fake News!” “Fake News!” “Fake News!” “Dishonest Media!” “Dishonest Media!” “Dishonest Media!”  These slogans are now boilerplate in President Trump’s tweets, (still) campaign rallies and press conferences. 

His attacks on the press began in earnest during the primary debates when he slammed Megyn Kelly for asking “tough” questions.  They escalated during the general election campaign when he dangerously incited his rabid supporters by pointing to the caged-in pens reserved for media at rallies and decrying that “they are the most dishonest people on earth.”

This loathsome behavior continued throughout the month after his inauguration and as recently as this past weekend tweeting that the media “is the enemy of the American people” and continuing the assault on the press at his comfort food campaign-style rally in Melbourne, Fl.

What gratitude!  #hocopolitics

In rather simplistic terms, the media, who he assails, made Trump. Because if his different style (many would say absurd) and his willingness to go beyond normal boundaries in discourse, the media took to Trump like seagulls to a pile of trash. 

They never let him out of their sight and followed him to each and every campaign event with the expectation or hope that something outlandish would be said that would make for interesting coverage especially on TV, which would boost ratings.  Rarely were they disappointed.

The upshot of this focus on Trump was that the other primary candidates were starving for similar attention, and for the self-proclaimed billionaire, Mr. Trump received oodles of free press while his opponents had to spend.

President Trump who gets his information from “the shows” eschews mainstream media except for FOX News, the unofficial media partner of the Republican Party, and also from such places as Breitbart News, Gateway Pundit, and InfoWars.

For someone who calls the mainstream media dishonest, Trump and members of his Administration hypocritically traffics in conspiracy theories and blatant lies.  From his assertion that his crowd size at the Inauguration was much larger than observed estimates to the ranking of his Electoral College victory as the greatest since Ronald Reagan, Trump cares little about facts, truth and honesty.

The media took to Trump like seagulls to a pile of trash. 

Then there are the fabricated stories he purveys, such as some unspecified horror going on in Sweden (nothing occurred), or his counselor’s mentioning the Bowling Green Massacre (no such event), or his press secretary’s description of the terrorist attack in Atlanta (he meant Orlando since the two cities are so close—400 miles apart). 

Why has he unleashed these non-stop attacks on the integrity of the press while his own statements are so frequently false? Anytime Trump’s weaknesses or worse are described in the media, even if they are totally accurate, he angrily charges “fake news” simply because he doesn’t like it or it makes him look bad.  Discrediting Trump’s image is considered a sin that requires a strong rebuke; self-preservation is his number one priority.

There is more.  Let’s go back to the primaries.  The supreme marketer was aware that if you repeat something often enough, it will stick, especially with his base.  “Lyin’” Ted, “Little” Marco, “Low Energy” Jeb were monikers that helped destroy the candidacies of Cruz, Rubio and Bush, respectively—Trump’s chief rivals.

Come the general election, “Crooked” Hillary took over, and his campaign narrative was built around that label.  Again, it worked, though many other factors were part of the mind-boggling upset.


Bring on the press. The “failing” New York Times, “Fake News” CNN,  “Dishonest Media”—repeat, rinse, spin and repeat.  It will stick, and it is vital for Trump and his presidency to discredit the media for two reasons.

One, the media fact-checks his statements and tweets and they are often false, inaccurate or exaggerated, made-up, or out-and-out lies.  He hates to be called out though it’s the press’ duty as stated in the First Amendment to keep the three branches of government accountable to the people, and the press is that vehicle. 

Second, it is my belief that if there are any serious investigations into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russian intelligence officers prior to the election and there are findings that Trump and/or his campaign staff were in collusion with the Russians, Trump’s presidency could be in jeopardy.  

By discrediting the media ad nauseum, if and when these revelations come to light, he will have built a safety net of sorts and deny any such findings by blaming the press for the disclosures. People will discount those reports, because he is banking that the oft-repeated charge of “fake news” will resonate and the public will see him as a victim.

That may be his best strategy because much of his base will support him and blame the “dishonest media” for having an anti-Trump agenda. Will it work?  Time will tell.

In the meanwhile, the press needs to be vigilant and hold firm against these charges.  The First Amendment’s Freedom of the Press must be protected for the sake of our country.

“If you want to preserve — I’m very serious now — if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press," Senator John McCain said on Meet the Press this past weekend. “And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”

Yes, that’s how dictators get started.

Friday, February 10, 2017

We Must Never Forget

The Trump threat is real for LGBT individuals

Don't be fooled.  His Administration is dangerous.
On a given night, hundreds would cram the city’s streets, some carrying a gay periodical, and patronize the dozens of gay bars, cafes, nightclubs, pornography shops, cabarets and bathhouses.  Adding to the crowd was an ample supply of hustlers that was visible along the dim, nighttime corridors. 

Inside the buildings, female impersonators, clad in lavish brightly colored garb, performed amidst a foggy, smoky cloud that enveloped the jammed rooms.  Toe-tapping songs were played to the resounding joy of the gay and straight audiences of the packed nightclubs and cabarets with the music drifting outside into the streets.  #hocopolitics 

In other establishments, men freely danced with men; women danced with women.  They openly embraced.  An anti-gay law on the books was seldom enforced.  Gay life was colorful, free and vibrant. Gay neighborhoods were established throughout the city.  It had the most active gay culture on the entire continent, and it was a sexual Mecca. 

_________________________________________________________________________________

Does this scene describe New York?  San Francisco?  Washington, D.C.?  Not hardly.

It happens to be Berlin, Germany, just prior to the Nazis’ rise to power.  Indeed, it was estimated that there were more gay establishments and periodicals in 1920 Berlin than in 1980 New York.  Not only was homosexuality tolerated, it flourished. 

But as the music played inside Berlin’s gay clubs, sweeping political and social change was about to unfold that would rock the world.  The patrons (and owners) of these establishments were oblivious to the new political reality; they continued to dance, seek out sex partners and lived in their own secluded, care-free world, unsuspecting of the emerging satanic forces and the horror of what was about to befall them. It sneaked up on them, and when they realized what was happening, it was too late.

As fast as a snap of a whip, there was the accession of Nazism and Hitler and the enforcement of the infamous Paragraph 175 that severely criminalized homosexual behavior. All gay clubs, hotels and other similar establishments were closed down.  Known homosexuals were ordered to appear at police stations and were pressured to identify other homosexuals. School children were asked to inform on teachers who were suspected of being homosexual, employers on employees, and vice-versa.

Their tragic journey had begun. Gay men in Germany were sought out and rounded up with most being shipped to concentration camps for imprisonment and extermination.  They were forced to wear a pink triangle for easy identification and lived in separate blocks apart from the other prisoners.  The prisoners wearing the pink triangles were brutally treated by the guards and by inmates from other categories.

Homosexuals and those supporting abortion were seen by the new government as a threat to the Nazis’ dream of world dominance.  It was as much about the lack of procreation as the lack of morality.  For gay men it was also about their lack of masculinity—it did not fit the Aryan paradigm.   They joined Jews, gypsies, criminals, political enemies, Communists, the disabled, epileptic and other outcasts that did not conform to the Third Reich’s master plan.  (And yes, Trump White House, accept it or not, Jews constituted the overwhelming majority of the victims during the Holocaust.)

Approximately 100,000 gay men were arrested, 50,000 sent to prison camps, and hundreds were castrated.  All told, an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 homosexuals, mainly those who were deemed “incurable,” were exterminated in the death camps.  Their death rate was said to have been three to four times higher than other non-Jewish categories during the Holocaust.

As you can see, apathy can be a perilous thing, and unfortunately, it is not confined to history.

The new Trump Administration is chilling.  Though no executive order has been signed yet that would allow discrimination against LGBT people under the guise of “religious freedom,” don’t be fooled.  Virtually every cabinet appointee, every advisor, every key figure in the Administration has actively pursued an anti-LGBT agenda in his or her career.  Some of these are extreme including Steve Bannon, Tom Price, Betsy DeVos, and Jeff Sessions.

While Trump may want to play good cop, bad cop by wrapping himself in a rainbow flag for show, an anti-LGBT agenda can take hold in each of these departments and various levels within the executive branch.  Homophobic and transphobic Republicans in Congress will do nothing to stop such efforts; in fact, they have been trying for decades to foster anti-LGBT policies and stood in the way of progress. 

Moreover, the Supreme Court could very possibly tilt towards in a regressive way during Trump’s term, so there may not be relief from that branch of government.

 LGBT folks must be on the alert and forcefully express their opposition to efforts to turn back the clock.  The threat is very real. 

And we don’t need to go back too far in history to understand the effects of apathy, complacency or indifference. The mantra, “We must never forget” applies now more than ever.


Monday, February 06, 2017

A Bloody Good 'Sweeney Todd' at Olney

Photo by Stan Barouh
Britain has always been given a bad rap—fairly or unfairly—for the taste of their food.  If anyone had actually eaten Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies in 19th century London, you would see why.  The meat contained in those goodies was derived from sliced and diced humans from a killing spree by a man who was eventually called Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

The ultra-successful dark musical with the same name has come to the Main Stage of the Olney Theatre Center in all its gory, er, glory.  Propelled by the music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Hugh Wheeler that was adapted by Christopher Bond, Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street captured eight Tony Awards in 1979 including Best Musical.   #hocoarts

With the production ably helmed by Olney Theatre Center’s artistic director Jason Loewith, it is easy to see why Sweeney Todd and its numerous revivals has been a hit for decades.  Aside from the wonderful music, the production at Olney is bolstered by superb atmospherics, creative staging and top-notch performances by a talented company.

Sondheim’s rich score and, at times, hilarious lyrics are magnificent and convey the story in operetta form with little spoken dialogue.  This complex score is handled expertly by Musical Director Christopher Youstra, Conductor Doug Lawler and the nine-piece orchestra.

Songs, such as “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” “Poor Thing,” “Johanna,” “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir,””Pretty Women,” “Epiphany,” the comical  “A Little Priest” and “Not While I’m Around” are highlights.

The well-known tale centers on Sweeney Todd (formerly Benjamin Barker) who was wrongfully imprisoned for 15 years by corrupt Judge Turpin. He returns to London seeking revenge on the Judge for ruining his life by separating him from his wife and child.

Todd runs into Mrs. Lovett, a baker, whose meat pies are lacking protein and aren’t selling.  The two see a mutually beneficial partnership: he slays the Judge in revenge as well as others from his barber chair; she uses the carnage to bake into the pies that are sold to unsuspecting customers.  

A love story also unfolds as Todd’s daughter, Johanna, has been taken in by the Judge and Todd’s sailor friend, Anthony, falls in love with her and goes to great lengths to get her. 

However, the story does not end well as far as the characters are concerned, but it was a lot of fun getting to the macabre conclusion thanks to an infusion of black comedy.

In the title role, veteran actor David Benoit triumphs with his commanding presence on stage and muscular baritone vocals. A sturdy actor through and through, Mr. Benoit conveys his despair over his plight and his desire to lash out at not only his antagonist but all of humanity.

He has solid performances in “The Barber and His Wife,” the duet with the Judge in “Pretty Women,” and a tremendous emotion-packed rendition of “Epiphany.”

For the role of the cheerful and garrulous Mrs. Lovett, E. Faye Butler excels.  While the temptation is there to ham up the part, Ms. Butler maintains enough restraint while allowing the comical lines to hit the mark.  Mrs. Lovett is smitten with Todd but fails to divulge an extremely important situation.   

Ms. Butler sings beautifully throughout.  Yet, her duet with Mr. Benoit, “A Little Priest,” the hilarious number that concludes the first act in which Mrs. Lovett suggests to Todd the idea of sharing the corpses of his victims to create the pies, is a showstopper.

As the evil Judge Turpin, Thomas Adrian Simpson turns in a solid performance.  The audience roots for his demise for sending Barker/Todd up the river on trumped-up charges, raping Barker’s wife and having designs on Barker’s daughter Johanna.  His excellent baritone is demonstrated in “Johanna,” and the duet with Mr. Benoit, “Pretty Women,” just prior to his exiting the barber chair down the chute, is well-done in a chilling sort of way.

Grace Jones as the lovely "yellow-haired" Johanna, the object of Anthony’s (as well as Judge Turpin’s) affections, puts her soprano voice to good use in “Green Finch and Linnet Bird.”

Jobari Parker-Namdar as Anthony exhibits a strong tenor voice in another “Johanna” number and with Ms. Jones in “Kiss Me.”

Frank Viveros plays Pirelli, a con artist who as a barber first loses a bet to Todd and then his life as he attempted to blackmail him.  Mr. Viveros plays the campy role adroitly and his rendition of “The Contest” is outstanding showcasing a strong dramatic tenor voice.

Michael J. Mainwaring does well as Tobias, the sidekick to Pirelli and eventual assistant to Mrs. Lovett.  His solid tenor is evident in “Not While I’m around,” a duet with Ms. Butler.

Rounding out the leads is Rachel Zampelli playing the male role of Beadle Bamford, the Judge’s accomplice.  She performs “Ladies and Their Sensitivities” well.  And Patricia Hurley does a sterling job as the Beggar Woman who everyone dismisses until her tragic end.

The 10-person ensemble performs ably especially with “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.”

As noted earlier, the visuals lend reality to the time and place.  There is the industrial-themed, multi-level steel set designed by Milagros Ponce de León that provides depth and texture to the action.  Included is the notorious barber chair that is rigged so that the unsuspecting victims of Todd’s throat-slashing slide down a chute to the basement bake house.

E. Faye Butler as Mrs. Lovett & David Benoit as Sweeney Todd
Photo: Stan Barouh
Scene changes are fluid as bulky set pieces are moved in and out rapidly.  Mr. Loewith has his cast utilize the entire stage and upper levels of the set as well as the aisles in the audience for entering and exiting that expands the presentation.

Colin K. Bills’ stark lighting design contributes mightily to the atmosphere.  The stage is mostly dim with a light layer of fog to depict London as well as to represent the darkness of the plot and the ghoulish acts that are the cornerstone of Sweeney Todd.   Selective spotlights highlight key parts of the action rather than illuminating the entire stage at once.  Don’t expect lavish color here; this is not a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

Seth Gilbert’s costumes are spot-on period apparel adding to the authenticity.  Even the costumes are darkened to simulate the soot that existed in from the filthy air that Victorian-era Londoners had to endure.  Talk about paying attention to detail!  

The costumes reflect the clear demarcation of classes in London’s society that form the backdrop to the story—from the poor beggar woman’s natty rags to the well-heeled Judge’s aristocratic attire with the working class garb of Todd and other working “stiffs” in between.

In true Olney Theatre Center style, Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is yet another Broadway-caliber production. Kudos to Mr. Loewith, Mr. Youstra and the enormously talented cast and crew for a splendid interpretation of this classic. 

It would be wise to purchase your tickets to this spectacle, and if nothing else, you will at least be paying more attention to what you eat.

Running time: Two hours and 45 minutes with an intermission.


Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street runs through March 5 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832. Tickets may be purchased by calling 301-924-3400 or online .

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Gritty 'Fucking A' at Iron Crow

Jessica Bennett and Kaya Vision Photo: Rob Clatterbuck
Let’s get down to it: The title of this play is a vulgar, slang expression usually reflecting triumph or joy in response to a piece of unexpected positive news.  “I won $500 million the Power Ball drawing”…Fucking A!”  “Trump’s election was overturned…Fucking A!”  I’m not sure which is the more welcome development.  #hocoarts 

Nonetheless, there’s not much joy emanating from the plot of Fucking A, Suzan-Lori Parks’ expressionistic play being performed at the Baltimore Theatre Project as Iron Crow Theatre’s first main stage drama of the current season.  So, the title isn’t derived from any celebration.  In fact, the play, in keeping with Iron Crow’s dark play theme for the current season, is bleak with no happy ending to cheer.  

Where there is joy to behold, however, it is the stunningly performed version of the compelling play directed skillfully by Stephen Nunns.  The queerness that is a hallmark of Iron Crow productions is evidenced by the cross-gendering of several roles and is done so effectively.

The “A” is a riff on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 19th century novel The Scarlet Letter whereby the “A” was branded on those accused of adultery.  In this play, the ‘A’ denotes abortionist, which is stamped on the chest of the main character, Hester Smith (played brilliantly by Jessica Bennett).  Similar to The Scarlet Letter the main character of Fucking A is named Hester, a strong woman with an illegitimate child. 

Fucking A ambiguously takes place in “a small town in a small county in the middle of nowhere.” The set is emblematic of the dystopian view of society that Ms. Parks conveys in her work.

The story reveals a society dominated by class, power and corruption and how various members of these classes relate to the larger society. Hester, faced with a choice of going to prison or being an abortion provider, chose the latter.  Her son Boy Smith was taken at an early age to prison 20 years ago for stealing meat, which was instigated by a “rich bitch” who eventually became The First Lady of The Mayor. 

The core of the plot is Hester’s unending love for her son and her yearning to get Boy out of prison regardless of the cost, all the while she performs abortions on rich women.    Rather than divulge the twists and tragedies that transpire, I will leave it to the audience to experience. 

The play contains superbly executed dramatic scenes that are edgy and tense.  Such drama is interrupted by brief sardonic songs in which virtually all the main characters sing about themselves and provide a bit of comic relief.

One particular scene stands out. Hester believed it was Boy who had been granted a sought after and paid for furlough picnic.  The inmate taken to Hester by the guard is a character named Jailbait, played exceptionally by Kaya Vision.  Hester was ebullient over the prospect of this reunion, but that elation drops down an elevator shaft to utter despair when during the course of the picnic, she not only discovers that Jailbait isn’t actually her son, but that he admits to killing Boy (or so we think).

As Hester, who is involved in the majority of the scenes, Jessica Bennett turns in a tour-de-force performance. It gives the impression that the role was written for her in mind.

Ms. Bennett showcases her acting skills with her timing, voice inflections, facial expressions and body language.  When emotions run high, she delivers the requisite passion.  When the temperature is dialed back some, she gives the audience the needed softness in her persona.   And when called upon to sing, Ms. Bennett displays solid vocals.

Deirdre McAllister does well as Hester’s friend Canary Mary, a prostitute.  Her repartee with Ms. Bennett offers some comedic moments.

As the character Monster, an escaped convict who is being tracked down by bounty hunters, Javier Ogando’s performance is powerful and convincing.  He has a bright future in theatre if that is his path.

The three bounty hunters—Martha Robichaud, Kelly Hutchison and Caitlin Weaver (also plays Freedom Fund Lady who accepts payment from Hester so that Boy can attend Hester’s picnic)— are portrayed as males.  They do a great job as sadists on the prowl for Monster.
The Hunters Photo: Rob Clatterbuck

Another solid performance is given by Jared Swain as Butcher, a butcher no less, who takes a liking towards Hester.  The two enjoy warm moments together and Butcher, clad in a blood-stained apron, offers valuable butchering lessons to Hester (wink).

Rounding out the cast are Cricket Arrison as the First Lady, Hester’s antagonist; Jamil Johnson as The Mayor who cheats on The First Lady with Canary Mary; and Rebecca Dreyfuss playing the roles of the Guard and Scribe.

If there is any quibble, and it’s a minor one, it concerns the device of using alternate language when the women discuss sexuality and fertility.  This is part of the play, and projections onto the stage are normally used to translate the dialogue.  In this production, a voice over is used instead, but on a few occasions, the sound originating from off-stage collides with the verbiage on the stage rendering both incomprehensible.

Designed by Logan Lynch, the set is gritty and abstract in form with the main piece being a rustic wooden wall that holds lit candles with a ledge on top where as many as five cast members sit behind as if they are appellate judges.  There are also worn pieces of furniture located at different points around the stage, such as love seats, benches and a swing plus an assortment of tables and a bed that are moved around to accommodate the many scene changes.  

For the most part, the 11-member cast remains in view in separate areas of the stage throughout the play even if they are not featured in a particular scene.  The three musicians (Josh Eid-Reis, Percussion; Dave Engwall, Mandolin; and Kevin Krause, Guitar/Banjo) stay on the stage for the duration.

Iron Crow Theatre has found its niche with these edgy, queer and dark productions.  Fucking A is the latest entry in the catalogue of well-performed and directed plays and is highly recommended.

Running time. Two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission.

Advisory: Fucking A contains sexual situations, profanity and violence and is not suitable for children under age 18.

Fucking A plays weekends through February 12 (Thursday performance on February 9) at the Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, visit Iron Crow Theatre.   

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

‘Beautiful’ Nostalgia Fills the Hippodrome

Julia Knitel as Carole King Photo:Joan Marcus
Most of us who enjoy the music of the 60’s may recall how that era was dominated by the likes of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, the Motown artists and so on.  What seems to fly under the radar in many people’s memories are the works of the prolific music-composing duos of Carole King and Gerry Goffin as well as Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil who churned out a string of classic pop songs during their illustrious careers.  #hocoarts

With the jukebox musical Beautiful-The Carole King Musical now playing at the Hippodrome Theatre, we not only get to relive many of those hits and experience some surprise as to which artists covered them, we catch a glimpse into the early career and life of Carole King through the book written by Douglas McGrath.  Mann and Weil also played a part in King’s professional beginnings and are portrayed in the show as well.

It is sheer delight to reminisce about the old standards as the music dominates Beautiful. However, there is a mixture of drama, romance, infidelity, heartbreak and comedy to weave the songs together that features a talented cast and superb orchestration with Nick Williams at the helm. Mark Bruni skillfully directs this two-time Tony Award winning production, which is currently on tour.

Carole King standards “So Far Away,” “It’s Too Late,” You’ve Got a Friend” and “Beautiful” are performed with feeling by Julia Knitel in the title role.  

Yet, the songs that the Goffin-King team wrote that were covered by other artists shed light on the versatility and expanse of their catalogue that consist mostly of ballads.  In fact, King’s first ever song she composed, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” at the age of 17 was recorded by the girl group Shirelles in 1960 that catapulted to Number 1 on the Billboard chart.

Other hits from this duo include “Take Good Care of My Baby” for Bobby Vee, “Up on the Roof,”  and “Some Kind of Wonderful” (Drifters), “One Fine Day” (Chiffons), “The Locomotion” (Little Eva), “Pleasant Valley Sunday’ (The Monkees), “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Aretha Franklin).

Backup singers in the Ensemble Songs emulate selected numbers by Neil Sedaka, the Shirelles,  The Drifters, Little Eva, The Chiffons (referred to in the program as Janelle and the Backup Singers) and The Righteous Brothers with sparkling precision adding joy to the production. 

All are decked out in colorful 60’s era costumes designed by Alejo Vietti with the women dressed in satiny gowns similar to the original performers wore when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, concerts, and the like.

The team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who emerged as friendly competitors during those early years, were no slouches either.  “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (Righteous Brothers), “Walking in the Rain” co-written by Phil Spector (Ronettes, and Jay and the Americans among other groups), “On Broadway” (Drifters), and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (The Animals).  All of these songs are included in Beautiful.

As one hit after another rolls out during the show,  Carole King’s story from an ambitious 16 year-old living in Brooklyn, NY with her mother Genie Klein (played deliciously by Suzanne Grodner) to her pregnancy and marriage as a teenager to song-writing partner Gerry Goffin (Andrew Brewer) unfolds. 

With their success mounting, Gerry, played by Andrew Brewer, feels suffocated in the marriage after the birth of their daughter and wants to have an affair with Janelle.  Hurt, Carole plods on with her career while hoping Gerry would return.  Those hopes were dashed, however, when Gerry is discovered with yet another woman and Carole ends the marriage in a dramatic high point of the show.

Ms. Knitel as Carole displays a lovely, clear singing voice throughout.  Her vocal resemblance to Carole King is strong, which enhances the reality of the show. 

Mr. Brewer also performs well in the numbers he is called upon, such as “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “Up on the Roof” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”

Ben Frankhauser sprightly plays the nerdy hypochondriac but talented Barry Mann with excellent comedic timing and body language.  His rendition of “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” is strong.

Erika Olson plays Cynthia Weil with a bouncy, sweet demeanor. Mann and Weil’s marriage was also headed in the wrong direction as their successful career proceeded but ultimately managed to straighten it out.  There are frequent comedic exchanges between the members of this couple while the interactions between Carole and Gerry are much more serious.

As Don Kirshner who launched Carole King’s stunning career, Curt Bouril does a wonderful job as the demanding record producer.

And who doesn’t love a witty Jewish mother form Brooklyn?  Sardonic and endearing, Ms. Grodner provides hilarious moments throughout the show. 

“If there’s a choice between Times Square and hell, the good people will choose hell,” she said when 16 year-old Carole wanted to venture into Manhattan to have a song she wrote,  “It Might as Well Rain Until September,” produced. 

This fine production is aided by the multi-level, colorful scenery designed by Derek McLane.  Two large towers with oblong panels that house lights appear in most of the scenes. There are also two scaffolds where performers can reach by stairs to offer a different sight line.  Drop-down scenery is also employed.  An abstract background is used to depict a recording studio.

This set is amplified by the hue-rich lighting designed by Peter Kaczorowski which makes good use of the lights embedded in the towers.

All this makes Beautiful-The Carole King Musical a sight to behold and enjoyable to hear. The audience was chomping at the bit to sing along to the familiar songs but struggled to hold back until the very end when after the curtain call, the ensemble led the spirited “I Feel the Earth Move” and everyone joined in. 

Turn back the clock and enjoy this wonderfully executed trip down memory lane.  Indeed, it’s a beautiful experience.

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Beautiful-The Carole King Musical runs through January 29 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Lighter Show Boat Docks at Toby’s

Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
Ever since Show Boat debuted in 1927, controversy followed it.  Was this a racist musical or was it a musical about racism?

On one hand, it was the first show on Broadway where black and white individuals performed together. It also drew attention to miscegenation laws and the horrors such laws inflict on people.

On the other hand, the first production of Show Boat featured two white women playing black characters—Julie and Queenie—in blackface.  And it also depicted a multitude of offensive stereotypes about black people and racial slurs that were common during the 1877-1927 period during which the show’s plot took place.

Controversy or not, Show Boat, with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and based on Edna Ferber’s best-selling novel of the same name, remains a musical classic.  The iteration of Show Boat now playing at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, is a talent-rich production whereby the superb cast is attired in magnificently detailed period costumes that were designed by AT Jones & Company.

Co-Directors Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick (who also choreographed the production) made the decision to trim the sprawling show to a manageable level.  Several songs and scenes were cut, and with them, much of the offensive dialogue and slurs.  Serious themes, such as abandonment, gambling and poverty remain woven throughout the fabric of the plot.  #hocoarts

This is not to say the Toby’s version was completely cleansed of racial tensions. The N-word was spoken early on to remind the audience of what race relations were like during this Jim Crow era.  

Miscegenation laws factor in a key sub-plot. A married couple, Steven Baker, who is white (played convincingly by Justin Calhoun) and Julie LaVerne (Julia Lancione) who is of mixed race, were the victims of these laws. The tense confrontation between the local sheriff played powerfully by David Bosley-Reynolds and Steven and Julie—the two leading performers on the Cotton Blossom, a show boat that traveled up and down the Mississippi River—is one of the better dramatic scenes. 

Though Steven convinces the sheriff that he “has Negro blood in him” and is backed up by the troupe, they are forced to cease performing with the white performers on the Cotton Blossom because of segregation.

Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
Despite the serious issues, Ms. Orenstein and Mr. Minnick deftly guide Show Boat with a lighter touch than the original, resulting in more laughs than gasps, and the classic songs including the ballads “Ol’ Man River,” “Only Make Believe” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” were retained.

Ms. LaVerne as Julie sparkles and her perfor
mance in “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” is moving.  Mr. Calhoun, in playing Steven, a not-so-good actor on the Cotton Blossom but thinks he is, creates some fine comedic moments. 

Robert John Biedermann 125 effectively plays Captain Andy Hawks, the patriarch of the Cotton Blossom, which is the hub for which the subplots revolve.  Mr. Biedermann knows how to deliver a punch line with the best of them and excels throughout the show.  His repartee with the ultra-talented Jane C. Boyle, who plays his stern, humorless, domineering wife Parthy, is hilarious and provides effective comic relief sprinkled among the dramatic sequences in the plot.

The Hawks’ daughter, Magnolia, is played by Abby Middleton. Magnolia falls in love with a riverboat gambler Gaylord Ravenal played by Russell Rinker and marries him against Parthy’s wishes.  After subsequently moving to Chicago and succeeding at first with his gambling, the financial bottom falls out for Gaylord, and he abandons Magnolia and their newborn daughter Kim.  Gaylord returns two decades later and the couple reconciles as the show ends. Kim (Allie O’Donnell) becomes a successful performer in her own right.  

Ms. Middleton’s gorgeous soprano voice and Mr. Rinker’s solid tenor are on display in the beautiful “Only Make Believe” and “Why Do I Love You.”  Her solo, the reprise of “Can’t Help Lovin Dat Man,” and his solo “Where’s the Mate For Me” are outstanding.

Marquis White, who plays Joe, a dockworker delivers the iconic, slow-moving “Ol’ Man River” in a goose bump-inducing, knockout performance that showcases his stellar bass voice.

Joe’s wife, strong-minded Queenie, a cook on the boat, is played flawlessly by Samantha Deininger.  She demonstrates spot-on comedic and acting skills, and her mezzo-soprano vocals stand out in “Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun’” and in the moving duet with Mr. White, “I Still Suits Me.”

Other performers on the Cotton Blossom include Frank Schultz and Ellie May Chipley, played by Jeffrey Shankle and Elizabeth Rayca, respectively. They also deliver comic moments.  The married couple becomes successful and generous with their success.  Their duet, “Goodbye My Lady Love” is a joy.

Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
The remainder of the ensemble perform very well in support of the leads and in production numbers.  Mr. Minnick’s choreography is creative in designing several dance sequences that play well on Toby’s in-the-round stage.

Ross Scott Rawlings and his six-piece orchestra do a splendid job in performing Mr. Kern’s score and allowing the vocalists to shine without drowning them out.   

Mark Smedley’s sound design is perfectly executed as all dialogue and music are heard with clarity.
David A. Hopkins who designed the effective lighting effects also designed the set. Elements of a 19th century show boat are seen overhead with detailed lattice work and fences at the two balconies denoting the upper deck of the boat.  In addition, many props and set pieces are effectively utilized to portray the era that include carts, sacks of flour, bales of cotton, and miscellaneous furniture for scene changes spanning 40 years.

The trimmed-down version of Show Boat at Toby’s manages to provide the audience with sufficient flavor from the time when segregation and miscegenation laws ruled the day without dragging it out.  It also demonstrates the strength and fragility of relationships over a swath of time through an excellent score and potent dialogue.

Get your tickets to hop on Show Boat. This is an entertaining, well-directed production performed by a talented company that is sure to please.  


Running time. Two hours and 40 minutes with an intermission.


Show Boat plays through March 19 at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets can be purchased by calling the Box Office at 410-7390-8311 or 1-800-88TOBYS or online .

Friday, January 20, 2017

We’re Not Sore Losers; We Just Love Our Country

Since the election, the millions of us who have been in anguish over Trump’s Electoral College win or have protested or have posted anti-Trump memes on social media have been accused by his dwindling number of supporters as being sore losers.  This is the mindset of an eighth grader, and to no surprise this accusation has come from the eight-grader-in-chief himself, Donald Trump.  #hocopolitics

Sore losers? Really??

Of course, so many of us have been stunned by the results.  We have wrung our hands over the now real scenario of someone who is so thinly informed on policy, so unstable in his personality, such a pathological liar, so thin-skinned, so narcissistic, so paranoid (he blamed the “rigged” poll takers for the historically low 32-40 percent approval ratings heading into the Inauguration), that Trump is actually the 45th President of the U.S. 

Add to that the tainted election process because of likely Russian cyber interference and FBI chief James Comey’s own meddling that has sparked the launch of several investigations prior to Trump’s taking the oath. Then there is the popular vote differential of some 2.8 million making Trump the biggest loser to have won the Electoral College. 

I love how the Trumpsters respond by saying that’s all because of California.  Shrug off Cali if you want but that state alone represents the world’s sixth largest economy.  If we’re cutting off states from our calculations, let’s knock off the votes down the center: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  We can play this dumb game, too.

This is not sore losing.  This isn’t about wins and losses as Trump emphasizes.  The angst is real; people are literally terrified about what may happen to this country as Trump has taken the reins.
Much of this disquiet could have been mitigated had Trump made any kind of effort to bring the country together, any kind of outreach.  Not his style. 

He would rather coddle the tyrannical Vladimir Putin, the guy who has a way of making his opponents “disappear” and expanding Russia’s already lengthy borders by force than alleviating the concerns of the American people—the majority who did not vote for him, California or not.

He could have shown more interest in attending vital Intelligence briefings than chillin’ with Kanye West.  He could have avoided a major feud with the Intelligence community resulting from their uncovering Russia’s intent to help him win the election.

He could have released his tax returns as promised and not hide behind the bogus audit as an excuse to conceal his true wealth, business entanglements with foreign governments, and the extent of his charitable contributions, just to name a few.  He could have attempted to divest his business—not hand them off to Eric and Donny Jr.—to um, drain the swamp some. 

He could have taken the high road by ignoring the comments of venerable civil rights veteran Rep. John Lewis’ assertion that Trump is not a legitimate president.  But no, thin-skinned Trump was moved to tweet out that Mr. Lewis is all talk and no action.  Look who’s talking!

He certainly could have made some form of outreach during his dark Inauguration speech to all those tens of millions of voters who opposed him. Nothing.

He could have graciously mentioned his defeated opponent Hillary Clinton during this golden opportunity.  But he lacks grace.

"He has done nothing during the transition to win over his opponents whom he refers to as enemies as dictators often do."

Trump could have made these moves but he refuses to and would rather blame the “dishonest media” for exposing him.  Instead, Trump embarked on a “rub-it-in-your-face” victory lap whereby he waxed nostalgic over how the election results rolled in on that fateful night on November 8 and shocked the pundits.  He continued to belittle his vanquished opponent as recently as this week.  And he still claims with a straight face that he won in an electoral landslide.  Good grief! 

Sore loser?  How about sore winner?

No, we are worried not only about Trump’s lack of knowledge, interest and curiosity on issues and his fingers on the nuclear codes, but also the hall of shame he has surrounded himself with. 

What a group of bigots and Russia-loving goofballs he assembled!  Very few have the experience needed to do the job they are appointed to do, and what experience they do have is scary.  The ill-suited, non-diverse individuals he has nominated to cabinet positions is akin to allowing baseball players to play football against a pro football team. In other words, they’re out of their league.

And you have the haters starting with the homophobe-in-chief VP Mike Pence and the lead anti-Semite Steve Bannon.  Everyone else falls into their rightful place.  Then there are the former generals, billionaires and bankers who relate so well with the average Trump voter. Right.

He has done nothing during the transition to win over his opponents whom he refers to as enemies as dictators often do.  And Republicans are not going to capitulate so easily—not with Trump’s favorability numbers at historic lows.  Honeymoon?  More like a looming divorce.

Trump is faced with daunting problems as he enters the office: his own inexperience and lack of gravitas; an extreme right wing cabinet and cabal of advisers; multiple investigations that, if allowed to continue, I believe will produce explosive findings; serious and perhaps illegal conflicts of interests; a bitterly divided country; a squandered transition in which he exacerbated the divide, an ungracious Inaugural speech, and so on.

Call us sore losers if you want.  We just love our country and will try to get it back.  “Make America America Again” should be our slogan. 

Now to find some blue hats to put that on.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Winning 'Mamma Mia!' Takes it All at the Hippodrome

Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia
Everyone loves a beautiful white wedding especially when it takes place on a lovely sun-splashed Greek Island. It’s even more special if the bride is walked down the aisle with her proud father.  

Getting to the latter forms the plot of the popular jukebox musical Mamma Mia! which is making an all-too-brief return to Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre as part of its “final” farewell tour.

Under the direction of Phyllida Lloyd, a remarkably exuberant and talented cast brings the house down with outstanding musical performances, spot-on comedy, and solid acting when called upon during the show’s dramatic moments.  A wide variety of attire including spandex and  wet suits and brightly colored costumes at the end of the show adorn the energetic cast.  Those young, lithe men in the ensemble who were shirtless at times, well that was good costuming, too.   #hocoarts 

The set is simple with two basic structures that are turned around for scene changes.  It is enhanced, however, by the backdrop consisting of mainly blue horizontal lines denoting the merger of the sea and sky, which is further amplified by Howard Harrison’s hue-laden lighting design.  Together with the costumes, the production is lavishly colorful.

Based on the songs of the successful 70’s pop rock group ABBA that were composed by former band members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, British playwright Catherine Johnson managed to tie together seemingly unrelated songs to craft a story line around them that works.

Twenty year-old Sophie Sheridan (played superbly by Lizzie Markson), dreams of a perfect wedding where she marries her beau Sky (Dustin Harris Smith). She also wants her father to walk her down the aisle.  But who’s her daddy?  She never knew who her father was as she was raised only by her mother, Donna Sheridan (Betsy Padamonsky). 

Cashelle Butler, Betsy Padamonsky and Sarah Smith
Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia
Donna owns a taverna on a Greek island and at one time was the lead singer of a pop trio Donna and the Dynamos along with Tanya (Cashelle Butler) and Rosie (Sarah Smith).

Sophie sneakily peruses her mother’s diary entries and determines the possibilities based on steamy episodes that took place just prior to her birth: Sam (Shai Yammanee), an architect; Bill (Marc Cornes), a travel writer; and Harry, a British banker (Andrew Tebo). Unbeknownst to her mother, she secretly invites all to her wedding feeling she will know who that man is. 

Much of the story is centered on how the three men interact with Sophie and how they explain their presence to Donna as well as the mother-daughter relationship that evolves over this two-day period.  But how that transpires up until the actual wedding and its surprising twist at the end (surprising only if you haven’t seen Mamma Mia! before) becomes the plot that is coaxed along by the music.

That music and the performances are a joy to behold.  Kevin Casey’s five-piece band is robust but at times too much so to allow some vocals to pierce through.

Not all of the ABBA catalog is on display; for instance, the popular “Fernando” is not performed.  Yet, many favorites like “Dancing Queen,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “Take a Chance on Me” (my favorite) and “The Winner Takes it All,” and, of course, the title song, "Mamma Mia,"  help make the production soar.

Anthony Van Lasst’s choreography is precise with an abundance of energy.  The dancing in “Money, Money, Money” and “Voulez-Vous” are two good examples of that.  However, “Dancing Queen,” performed by Ms. Padamonsky, Ms. Butler and Ms. Smith, is a bona fide show stopper.

I am reluctant to say that Sarah Smith steals the show since all the leads and ensemble are so talented.  But let’s just say, she borrows it and forgets to return it.  

The bubbly Ms. Smith sparkles as Rosie, an unmarried free-wheeling soul, with an incredible command of physical comedy.  The moment she is onstage, a smile is triggered followed by a healthy dose of laughter as she meanders about.  In the comedic “Take a Chance on Me,” a duet with Marc Cornes, Ms. Smith kills it and not just by her antics but also her superb vocals.

Another member of the Donna and the Dynamos trio, Cashelle Butler, who plays the thrice-married Tanya, also demonstrates her comedic skills and lovely singing voice.  Her vocal chops are on full display in “Money, Money, Money,” “Chiquitta,” “Super Trouper” as well as “Dancing Queen.”

As Sophie, Lizzie Markson showcases a fine soprano voice as well as strong acting prowess.  “The Name of the Game,” “Under Attack’ and “I Have a Dream” are all well-performed.  Her dramatic interactions with Ms. Padamonsky as her mother Donna and Dustin Harris Smith as Sky are superbly played by all the actors, especially in scenes where there are notable confrontations.

Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia
Ms. Padamonsky is sterling as Donna.  She is a commanding force onstage with her acting skills and gorgeous soprano voice.  As part of the trio in “Dancing Queen” Ms. Padamonsky excels.  She also delivers in “One of Us,” “SOS, a duet with Mr. Yammanee, “The Winner Takes it All,” and “Our Last Summer,” a duet with Mr. Tebo.

Mr. Tebo as Harry, Mr. Yammanee as Sam and Mr. Cornes as Bill act and sing very effectively. They each present plausible explanations on how they could be Sophie’s real dad, and combined with Donna’s uncertainty, muddies the waters keeping the audience in suspense. 

There are Donna’s two workers at the taverna.  One is Pepper, played by Austin Michael, who makes an unsuccessful attempt to woo Tanya.  Their number together “Does Your Mother Know” is hilarious.

The other is Eddie played by hunky and handsome Max Ehrlich.  All I can say is “Mamma Mia!”

The eight longest running show both on Broadway and London’s West End, Mamma Mia has been played everywhere on earth and perhaps two other planets.  If that weren’t enough, there is a popular film version with the same name.   Oddly, the musical never captured a Tony Award though it received five nominations in 2002.   That factoid is shrugged off by the 60 million who have seen the show worldwide.

The touring company is blowing through Baltimore faster than you can say “Mamma Mia.”  So quickly get your ticket and take a chance on this excellent production with its lively familiar music.  Surely, you will be dancing at your seats.


Running time: Two hours and 40 minutes.

Mamma Mia! runs through January 15 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Trump Supporters: The Joke’s on You


We are inching towards the National embarrassment of inaugurating as the 45th President of the United States the least popular, least respected, least informed and least qualified person to ever hold that position.  The voters and supporters of Donald J. Trump need to know that his promises which suckered them into voting for him resulting in an Electoral College victory yet losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million will fall short.
He will not “lock her up.” He will not “build a big and beautiful wall.”  He will not ban Muslims from entering the U.S.  He will not deport millions of undocumented immigrants. Gays will not submit to “conversion therapy.” (Sorry, Mr. Pence.)

He will not fix the inner cities.  He will not create jobs; rather, there will likely be massive job losses as a recession becomes a real possibility.  He will not give the middle class a substantial tax cut; that will be reserved for the billionaire class.  He and Congress may repeal Obamacare alright but will not replace it with anything meaningful, and that will cost millions of citizens their health insurance.

Trump will not “drain the swamp” as he and his adult offspring are the swamp with their unlimited conflicts of interests and foreign entanglements.  And you can be certain he will never release his tax returns though he had promised to do so.  Not happening.
Trump will not make America safe.  He eschews intelligence briefings and shrugs off the nearly irrefutable evidence presented by our intelligence community that Russia interfered with our election via cyber intrusions. 

As commander-in-chief he does not know any more than the generals as he had asserted.  His knowledge of military operations and strategy is as dismal as his unpatriotic multiple attempts to avoid military service.  He doesn’t know the meaning of the Purple Heart or the purpose of nuclear weapons.
Russia got their long-desired puppet.  They must have been downing vodka shots all over the Kremlin upon news of the election.  Compliment Mr. Trump—say he’s a great leader, a smart man, etc.—and Russia can continue to implement its expansionist desires unimpeded by the U.S.

All this plus a Republican-controlled Congress that will tamper with Medicare, Social Security and the Veterans Administration, not to mention de-funding Planned Parenthood and other pillars of liberalism.  Watch what happens then.
Trump supporters will indeed be disappointed…you will have been snookered…just like the many hundreds of contractors who were stiffed by Trump after they built his ubiquitous structures.

Don’t worry, in four years, you will have the chance to undo the damage you had wrought, if we live so long.

A ‘Guide’ to Pure Fun at the Hippodrome


Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella Hallward, Kevin Massey as Monty
Navarro and Kristen Hahn as Phoebe D'Ysquith Photo: Joan Marcus
There are different ways to climb the social ladder.  There are different ways to rise above others to get rich.  But killing your competition?  Eight of them, in fact? That’s a whole different matter.
In the musical comedy, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, making a brief visit to the Hippodrome to close out 2016, we get to see just that.  Darko Tresnjak, known for his work in Shakespearean plays, holds nothing back in directing this hilarious Edwardian farce.  The production is aided by sturdy performances surrounding a cleverly crafted plot and score.  #hocoarts

A brilliantly detailed Victorian-style stage within a stage designed by Alexander Dodge serves as the set for the vast majority of the action.  Exceptionally creative and colorful projection imagery in the rear includes smoke drifting out of factory smokestacks in 1907 England, clouds floating by and other similar devices that enhance the real time feel during the numerous scene changes.  
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder won a host of honors highlighted by four Tony Awards in 2014 including Best Musical. It features a book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak.  It is based on the 1907 novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman, which also was the basis for the 1949 British film Kind Hearts and Coronets that starred Alec Guinness.

With tongue firmly in the cheek, the audience learns from the outset that the show could be uncomfortable if they have a “weaker constitution,” and if so, they should go.  Indeed, there is a serial killer on the loose, but with the exception of a couple of killings, there isn’t much gore, so don’t take the bait.  Stick through it and enjoy this witty laugh-a-thon.
Monty Navarro, a poor Englishman, (played wonderfully by Kevin Massey) just learned from a woman named Miss Shingle (Mary VanArsdel) that his recently deceased washerwoman mother was actually a member of the aristocratic D’Ysquith family.  She had been banished, however, when she defied the family wishes and eloped with a Castilian and worse, a musician (also deceased). 

Mom never told her son about his true ancestry, but Miss Shingle informs him that he is ninth in line to inherit the earldom of Highhurst and encourages him to take his rightful place in the family.  Oh, the possibilities!
Realizing his dream for success is only eight bodies away, Monty proceeds to off all those ahead of him in the line of succession in various and sundry ways.  The methods he uses are bizarre and creative and seem to fit the personality or livelihood of the victims to a tee.  For example, a “bulging” bodybuilder Major Lord Bartholomew D’Ysquith perished when Monty allowed an over-weighted barbell to fall hard on the unsuspecting soul’s neck.  Guess what rolled to the gym floor?

A flamboyant Henry D’Ysquith who was married but is clearly enamored by men is also a beekeeper.  Monty sprays a lavender perfume on Henry’s beekeeping clothes knowing that it attracts bees—so many, in fact, that the victim dies from a thousand stings. Special effects comically show the swarm chasing Henry until his demise.
There are more, of course, including the most gruesome of all—the fall from a bell tower by Reverend Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith—but it’s best to just leave you with these teasers.

John Rapson and Kevin Massey in "Better With a Man"
Photo: Joan Marcus
Monty writes all this in his journal while in jail two years later after he is arrested for the murder of one of the victims, which ironically was the one death for which Monty was not responsible. 
During the ensuing carnage, Monty had fallen in love with Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams), a social climbing, self-centered beautiful woman.  He also encounters a more down-to-earth but equally pretty Phoebe D’Ysquith (Kristen Hahn) who is not above him in the line of succession. He is faced with a difficult choice.

A twist at the end is better left unmentioned here.
The musical is unique in that all of the D’Ysquith victims are played by a single actor, John Rapson, who delivers a magnificent tour-de-force performance. Some fourteen costume changes are needed for Mr. Rapson alone.  Not only does he cleverly take on the essence of each ill-fated character—male and female—but he deftly uses a variety of dialects and personalities to portray them.    

His muscular baritone voice shines in several fun songs like “I Don’t Understand the Poor,” “Poison in My Pocket,” “Better With a Man” (an outright hilarious duet with Mr. Massey), and “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun.”
As the anti-hero Monty, Kevin Massey demonstrates his sensitivity and vulnerabilities quite proficiently.  On stage for just about the entire production, Mr. Massey remains strong throughout with his acting skills and super tenor voice.  That talent is evident in such numbers as “You’re a D’Ysquith,” “Foolish to Think” and “Stop! Wait! What?!” 

However, the show-stopping number “I’ve Decided to Marry You”—a zany, high energy song with Mr. Massey, Krisitn Hahn as Phoebe and Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella—is a dandy and brought down the house.
Ms. Hahn’s beautiful soprano highlights the diet with Mr. Massey in “Inside Out.” For her part, Ms. Williams’ soprano scores in “I Don’t Know What I’d Do” and “Poor Monty.”

The remainder of the company, the technical crew as well as the orchestra under the direction of Lawrence Goldberg support the leads quite ably. 
A special nod goes to Linda Cho for the outstanding period costumes, especially the richly colorful floor-length gowns worn by the ladies.  The eye-opening workout costume worn by the bodybuilder Major Lord Bartholomew had the audience laughing so hard.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder is a lavish, well-directed, immensely funny production that deserves the accolades it had received on Broadway.  The touring company does the show justice and more and should not be missed.
Running time: Two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder runs through January 1 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.