Sunday, July 16, 2017

Solid ‘Spring Awakening’ at the Spotlighters

Sean Dynan as Mechior and Jim Baxter as Moritz
Photo: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography
If you think today’s society is challenged to deal with such thorny issues as abortion, homelessness, child abuse, rape, unplanned pregnancy, homosexuality, and teen suicide, consider how these same topics were candidly portrayed in an 1891 German book Spring Awakening written by Frank Wedekind.  It didn’t go over so well then as it was banned in that country for some time.  #hocoarts

Undaunted, the rock musical Spring Awakening is based on that controversial work and was crafted by Grammy Award-winning songwriter Duncan Sheik with book and lyrics by Steven Sater.  The production opened on Broadway in 2006 and captured eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Direction, Book, Score and Featured Actor, and four Drama Desk awards plus a Grammy.

Those not familiar with the musical Spring Awakening may assume that the show, just by going by its title, is an uplifting, joyous spectacle. Instead, it’s an often dark portrayal of how teenagers struggle to be liberated especially when it comes to sexual fantasies and behavior while the adults in their lives cling to conservative and religious mores in an effort to thwart their kids’ attempts at freedom.  The tension between the two sides is palpable forming the underlying backdrop to the story of Spring Awakening.

The Audrey Herman Spotlighters in its 55th season has taken on the challenge of mounting this musical on its cozy in-the-round stage.  Why not?  It has done so effectively in the past with such iconic musicals as Fiddler on the Roof, Hello Dolly, Rocky Horror Show and Mame through creative direction and efficient use of space.  Talented casts helped, too.

Dynan and Allison Comotto as Wendla
Photo: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography
With Spring Awakening, the production, under the direction of Jillian Locklear Bauersfield, who has helmed some of those mentioned musicals, is solid.  

While the Spotlighters’ limited space and stage contours do not afford an opportunity to present a splashy production, the benefit of its intimacy with the audience is clear.  This is especially true when the raw emotions of the characters are conveyed through song and dialogue.  The audience gets the sense it is right in the middle of the action and can feel those vibes.  
Using the strong score under the excellent direction of Michael Tan and his four-piece orchestra, the story line ably weaves a series of subplots into a dramatic tapestry involving adolescents discovering their feelings about sexuality and intimacy.  Parents of these kids were loathe to have frank “birds and bees” conversations, so the youngsters had to learn about such matters on their own in various ways while dealing with the effects of puberty.

Wendla, played tenderly by lovely Allison Comotto, never received sexual guidance from her mother and paid the ultimate price.  She caught up with a friend from her early childhood years, Melchior, a handsome, intelligent, and rebellious fellow (performed splendidly by Sean Dynan) who, through book learning, was aware of the mechanics of sex and enjoyed his intimacy with a naïve Wendla.  Sadly, this encounter ultimately had tragic consequences as two lives were lost.

Then there is Moritz, played powerfully by Jim Baxter.  He, too, had his issues involving his sexual feelings but was even more victimized by evil, unscrupulous schoolteachers (played deliciously by Marc Korol-Evans and real life wife Tony Korol-Evans) and his unsympathetic father.  The Korol-Evanses adroitly play the other adult roles in the show demonstrating strong acting skills.

Ernst (Chris Weaver) and Hanschen (Aaron Hancock) find love with each other.  Happily, this gay couple is among the few who did not experience sadness, frustration or tragedy and provide some of the lighter moments in the production. One of those is a masturbation scene with Hanschen constantly being interrupted by his father. 

Other characters include Ilse (Ellen Manuel) who runs away from home to escape abuse; Martha (Alyssa Bell) who was abused by her father; Georg (John Endres) and Otto (Brendan Hale) who have fantasies of their own.
Aaron Hancock as Hanschen and Chris Weaver as Ernst
Photo: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography
The music is electric and performed ably by the entire cast. And despite the tight stage, the choreography by Amie Morrow Bell is creative and precise especially in such numbers as “The Bitch of Living,” “My Junk,” and the big production piece and a show highlight, “Totally Fucked” with the ensemble moving around the stage with high energy and cohesion .

Some of the vocals are noteworthy as well. Mr. Dynan, playing Melchior, excels with his tenor voice with an infusion of falsetto in “All That’s Known,” “Left Behind” and duets with Ms. Comotto in “The Word of Your Body” and “Whispering.”

Ellen Manuel as Ilse shines in “Blue Wind” and Jim Baxter as Moritz singing the intense number “Don’t Do Sadness.”  Also, Brendan Hale as Otto demonstrates a sweet tenor voice in the reprise of “The Word of Your Body” with John Endres as Georg.

Amy Rawe Weimer’s costume design and Laurie Brandon’s lighting enhance the quality of the production.

Though it’s a sad story for the most part, Spring Awakening is riveting and entertains with especially good musical numbers and fine acting by the cast under the capable direction of Ms. Bauersfield. It is highly recommended.

Running time. Two hours with an intermission.

Advisory: The show contains sexual situations and profanity and is not recommended for children.

Spring Awakening runs through July 30 at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call (410) 752-1225, or visit spotlighters.org.

Friday, July 07, 2017

'Love Never Dies' to Preview at the Hippodrome

Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre is pleased to announce that Love Never Dies will play its special preview engagement in Baltimore as the season opener of the 2017/2018 CareFirst® BlueCross BlueShield Hippodrome Broadway Series for a limited engagement from October 3 – 8, 2017, prior to the official opening of its North American Tour.

Tickets for Love Never Dies go on sale July 16, 2017 and can be purchased online at Ticketmaster.com, BaltimoreHippodrome.com, www.loveneverdies.com, by calling 800-982-ARTS, or at the Hippodrome Box Office located at 12 N Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201 at the corner of Eutaw and Baltimore St, as well as all Ticketmaster locations. Discounted group orders of 10 or more may be placed by calling 443-703-2401 or contact Andrew Springer at Andrew.Springer@broadwayacrossamerica.com.

The new touring production will reflect an extensive re-working of the material by an Australian creative team for the original Australian premiere in 2011. Described by Chris Boyd in The Australian as “The best thing Lloyd Webber has written in the quarter century since The Phantom of the Opera”.  #hocoarts

Directed by Simon Phillips (Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical) with new set and costume designs by Gabriela Tylesova, choreography by 2011 Astaire Awards winner Graeme Murphy, lighting design by Nick Schlieper and sound design by Mick Potter, the show is one of the few instances of a major West End musical being given a complete makeover for subsequent productions.

Lloyd Webber said he knew about five minutes into seeing its first run-through that he and the new production team had achieved something special. “I have the great joy of being able to say that I think this production is probably the finest one I could ever, ever hope for.”

The year is 1907.  It is 10 years after his disappearance from the Paris Opera House and the Phantom has escaped to a new life in New York where he lives among the screaming joy rides and freak shows of Coney Island. In this new, electrically charged world, he has finally found a place for his music to soar, but he has never stopped yearning for his one true love and musical protégée, Christine Daaé.

Now one of the world’s finest sopranos, Christine accepts an invitation to travel from Paris to New York to perform at a renowned opera house. Christine's marriage to Raoul is suffering at the hands of his drinking and gambling and they desperately need the financial rewards that America can give them.

In a final bid to win back Christine’s love, the Phantom lures her, Raoul, and their young son Gustave, from Manhattan to the glittering and glorious world of Coney Island - not knowing what is in store for them.

Since its premiere in 2010, Love Never Dies has enjoyed productions worldwide in London, Australia, Denmark, Japan and Germany, as well as multiple recordings including a concept album and a London cast recording. A DVD release of the Australian production has delighted fans globally, and now the North American tour brings the musical to the US for the first time.

The Love Never Dies schedule is as follows:

Tuesday, October 3 – Sunday, October 8, 2017:
October 3, 2017 (Tue) 8:00 PM
October 4, 2017 (Wed) 8:00 PM
October 5, 2017 (Thu) 8:00 PM
October 6, 2017 (Fri) 8:00 PM
October 7, 2017 (Sat) 2:00 PM
October 7, 2017 (Sat) 8:00 PM
October 8, 2017 (Sun) 1:00 PM
October 8, 2017 (Sun) 6:30 PM

For more information, please visit www.loveneverdies.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.


Saturday, July 01, 2017

A Whirlwind Joseph Visits Toby’s

Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia is the venue for a new iteration of the popular musical Joseph and the Amazing Color Dreamcoat.   #hocoarts

A well-staged, meticulously choreographed spectacle performed by a talented cast brings Joseph and his coat of many colors to life in a compact whirlwind of memorable, tuneful songs and a story that takes the audience on a journey from the sins of jealousy and revenge to the virtues of forgiveness and reconciliation. The energy-packed, high-tempo production of the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber biblical story blossoms in Toby’s in-the-round setting.  

Helen Hayes Award winners Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick co-directed Joseph and the Amazing Color Dreamcoat with obvious attention to detail, guiding the cast through one number after another with a finely tuned, rapid pace.

Mr. Minnick’s innovative choreography is a highlight of the production.  High energy, precise dance moves in perpetual circular arrangements to accommodate the in-the-round stage are executed flawlessly by a talented ensemble, which is called on to sing throughout these production numbers.  The ensemble performs in just about every song, which is quite strenuous, and they are superb from beginning to end.  

"A well-staged, meticulously choreographed spectacle"

The performances are aided by a competent technical crew and supporting staff.
Lawrence B. Munsey’s costume design is spot on as usual representing the Egyptian garb from many centuries ago accented with a modern touch.  David A. Hopkins’ lighting amplified the action with the effective use of spotlights and fade-outs. 

Ross Scott Rawlings and the six-piece orchestra ably support the vocals and add energy to already amped-up dance routines.  The range of musical genres in Joseph is a varied as the colors on the multi-hued coat.  From a knee-slapping, cowboy hat twirling country-western ditty to rock ‘n roll, to calypso, Mr.  Rawlings’ orchestra was more than up to the task.

Some of the catchy numbers include “Joseph’s Dreams,” “One More Angel,” “Close Every Door,” “Go, Go, Go Joseph,” “Pharaoh’s Story,” “Those Canaan Days,” and my favorite “Any Dream Will Do.”

The familiar plot, described mostly through song, centers on Joseph, the favored son of Jacob who had bestowed upon him a coat of many colors. His eleven brothers were jealous and sold Joseph into slavery while telling their father he had in fact, died.

Joseph winds up working for the mega-rich Potiphar, but Mrs. Potiphar tries to seduce him and, of course, he gets caught.  Joseph is sent to prison where it is discovered that he has the uncanny ability for interpreting dreams and predicting the future.

The Elvis-like Pharaoh is impressed and releases Joseph from prison making him second in command.  The brothers, after not recognizing Joseph, grovel to him and eventually reconcile when his identity is revealed. Joseph is then reunited with his father.

The show features a narrator who spins the tale through song.  During this run, Toby’s is using several narrators, and on the night this performance was reviewed, Janine Sunday handled the role proficiently with good mezzo-soprano vocals.

Wood Van Meter as Joseph
Well cast as the title character is handsome Wood Van Meter.  Energetic throughout and seemingly enjoying the part, Mr. Van Meter, who performs in most of the songs, demonstrates strong vocal skills and is particularly solid in such numbers as “Joseph’s Dreams,”  “Close Every Door,” and “Any Dream Will Do.”

David Bosley-Reynolds plays the role of Potiphar to the hilt. His muscular voice is on display in the aptly named song “Potiphar.”  Lovely Nia Savoy, as the seductress Mrs. Potiphar also performs well in that number.

David Jennings romps through his role as Pharaoh, the Elvis look/act alike.  He runs through a series of Elvis-like antics (especially the trademark hair comb) and performs well with Mr. Van Meter and the ensemble in “Song of the King.”

Other notable performances are turned in by Jeffrey Shankle as Baker and David James as Butler who were cell mates of Joseph.

Andrew Horn as Jacob, Gregory Banks as Levi, all of the actors playing Joseph’s brothers, and the women’s ensemble contribute significantly to the success of the production.

 Joseph and the Amazing Color Dreamcoat boasts a terrific catalog of songs, fine performances, and visually pleasing costumes and set pieces.  It’s a family-friendly show that because of its face pace, sterling performances, and relatively short length should keep the youngsters interested while learning about the power of dreams.

Running time. One hour and 45 minutes with an intermission.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat plays through August 27 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 at tobysdinnertheatre.com.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Imaginative ‘Neverland’ at the Hippodrome

The cast of 'Finding Neverland' Photo: Jeremy Daniel
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” 
― J.M Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan

The concept of imagination was never more on display than at the Hippodrome’s utterly delightful presentation of the national touring production “Finding Neverland.” 

 With dynamic special effects including fairy dust, gorgeous scenery and costumes, standout music, lively production numbers, and a talented cast under the superlative direction of Tony Award winner Diane Paulus (“Pippin,” “Hair”), “Finding Neverland” tells the heartwarming story of how J.M. Barrie was inspired to pen “Peter Pan.”

“Finding Neverland” is an original musical with music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy and a book by James Graham. It was inspired by the 1998 play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” by Allan Knee and his 2004 Oscar-winning film adaptation “Finding Neverland” by David Magee. 

Though “Finding Neverland” ran on Broadway for 17 months, it never garnered a Tony nomination, much less an award.  After seeing it at the Hippodrome, I have to wonder how that was possible given the performances, technical marvels and yes, the story.

J.M. Barrie, who had been struggling to find inspiration for a play, strolls with his dog into London’s Kensington Gardens in 1903 and encounters the recently widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four young sons.   He quickly is enthralled by the boys’ imaginative adventurous games and bonds with them as well as their mother. 

One son, Peter, is not on board yet as he is still grieving the loss of his father and doesn’t want to grow up to face the harsh realities of life.  As it turns out, neither does Barrie.

They all become friends much to the chagrin of Barrie’s wife Mary and Sylvia’s mother, the aristocratic Mrs. Du Maurier.  The Barries’ marriage is deteriorating, which aids the evolving closeness he develops with Sylvia and his affection he has for his sons.  

Meanwhile, theatre impresario Charles Frohman is struggling to mount a successful play for all of upper crust Londoners to enjoy as much as Barrie is struggling to write one.  Barrie’s breakthrough is ultimately realized when he creates Peter Pan and Neverland based on the lives of the Llewelyn children and the villain (Captain Hook) inspired by the grumpy Frohman.

“Finding Neverland” takes the audience on a journey that is filled with make believe adventures, joy and laughter.  But then some of life’s unfair realities are encountered and melancholy sets in, followed by resolve and optimism.

Handsome Billy Harrigan Tighe puts on a stunning performance as J.M. Barrie. His chemistry with Sylvia and the Llewelyn Davies children hits the mark, which is an integral part of the story. 

Mr. Tighe’s gorgeous tenor voice provides superb musicality to the production. He is exceptional in solos, such as “My Imagination,” and “Stronger” but is also enjoyable in duets with Christine Dwyer as Sylvia in “Neverland” and the love ballad “What You Mean to Me.”  His duet with Connor Jameson Casey as Peter the night this performance was reviewed in “When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground” is especially tender and emotional.

Ms. Dwyer is beautiful to look at and equally beautiful to hear. “All That Matters” and “Sylvia’s Lullaby” are examples of her lovely soprano.

Seasoned veteran John Davidson romps through his role as Charles Frohman, the skeptical theatre producer in desperate need for a successful play.  Mr. Davidson competes with the four kids as well as Sammy, the shaggy dog Porthos as a scene stealer and it’s difficult to tell who wins.  

A total curmudgeon, Frohman doesn’t care much for kids.  One funny impromptu development occurred in the second act of this reviewed performance when Frohman stated rather disingenuously that he likes kids. A youngster sitting in the balcony promptly shouted, “No you don’t,” which caused the audience to erupt with laughter resulting in a pause in the dialogue.  Undaunted, Mr. Davidson let the reaction settle down, and he seamlessly continued his lines.

Mr. Davidson also demonstrated his vocal chops in several outstanding production numbers including “Circus of Your Mind” and “Something About This Night.”

As Sylvia’s gossipy mother, Mrs. Du Maurier, who is resistant to Barrie’s relationship with her daughter and grandsons, Karen Murphy shines in the role.  

Comical performances are turned in by Dwelvan David as Mr. Henshaw, Noah Plomgren as Lord Cannan, and Matt Wolpe as Mr. Cromer (the excellent actor) as well as others in the cast.

The Llewelyn Davies kids who form the focus of the story were portrayed ably at his reviewed performance by Colin Wheeler as George, Turner Birthisel as Jack, Tyler Patrick Hennessy as Michael and Connor Jameson Casey as Peter for whom Peter Pan is named after.  They even take a turn in producing and performing their own little play that magnifies the cuteness factor.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

As proficiently as this production is performed, the technical elements take it to another level. Eye-pleasing scenery was designed by Scott Pask, which changes fluidly throughout. 

A large clock fixed at 12:00 appears in many of the scenes. To me, it metaphorically represents how Peter’s and Barrie’s lives are stopped at childhood without wanting to ever grow up.

Kenneth Posner’s lighting design including effective use of projections magnificently works in synch with Jonathan Deans’ sound designed to produce amazing special effects.  This is particularly evident in the thunderous "Stronger" that concludes the first act and “Something About This Night” but was also effectively used in other parts of the production.

Suttirat Anne Larlarb designed the exquisite period costumes.  And Mia Michaels choreographed the energetic dance sequences under the orchestrations by Simon Hale.

Charlie Chaplain once said, “Imagination means nothing without doing.” 

Go see “Finding Neverland” at the Hippodrome, which is playing for an all-too-brief time.. It is an entertaining, imaginative, well-directed and performed production. Don’t forget to bring the kids.

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


“Finding Neverland” runs through July 2 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, visit the Hippodrome Box office or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

My Fair Lady Still a Classic at Olney

Todd Scofield (Colonel Pickering), Brittany Campbell (Eliza Doolittle), 
and Danny Bernardy 
(Henry Higgins) (Photo: Stan Barouh)
Full disclosure: My Fair Lady is my all-time favorite musical.  #hocoarts 
It was my first Broadway LP album, and I must have played it a hundred times loving each song like it was the best of the best. The musical presents an enjoyable storyline woven together by a lush score, lavish costumes and eye-pleasing sets.

It’s been wildly popular and successful Tony Award winning show for over 60 years played throughout the world in dozens of languages. The 1964 film version was a multiple Oscar winner and box office smash.  In short, My Fair Lady is a classic and has been appropriately dubbed my many as “the perfect musical.”

So you can understand my apprehension when early chatter suggested that a “new” My Fair Lady directed by Alan Souza would be mounted at the Olney Theatre Center. In fact, the program quotes Artistic Director Jason Loewith touting the Center’s “reputation for rigorous explorations of the classics.”  Butterflies started to creep in because I’ve seen in the past how some directors take classics on a dubious course in the name of creativity and frankly blow it. 

However, I am pleased—no ecstatic—to report that this iteration of My Fair Lady at Olney does not deviate at the core: all the extraordinary songs and characters are retained, and except for some tweaks around the edges including changing the setting to the 1920’s—10 years later than the original—simpler scenery, and the casting of younger male leads, this production, despite a few minor flaws, excels.  

I applaud the efforts of Mr. Souza for keeping the production true to its successful roots and showcasing the sterling talents of the superbly cast leads and terrific but relatively small ensemble.

The music by Frederick Lowe and the utterly outstanding lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner are the centerpiece of My Fair Lady.  The book by Mr. Lerner was based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.  

The familiar story centers on a young Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, literally plucked from the streets of London by erudite phoneticist Professor Henry Higgins in an uphill battle to turn her speech patterns around and ultimately make her pass as a lady.  Their relationship takes on an interesting dynamic as the show proceeds.  All this transpires with the clear division, values and conflicts between the upper and lower classes of London as the backdrop.

With most musicals, if there are three or four songs that are memorable, that would be considered a success.  In My Fair Lady’s first-rate catalog there are well over a dozen such songs, each distinct and blessed with wonderful melodies and witty lyrics.  The songs don’t just serve as filler or interruptions; they move the action forward and maintain an integral place in the story.

The iconic “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “The Rain in Spain,” “On the Street Where You Live,” and “Get Me to the Church On Time” are favorites for sure.  But even the others, such as “I’m an Ordinary Man,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “You Did It,” and “Show Me” are also examples of tuneful numbers that always please.

Mr. Lerner’s lyrics are as good as it gets in musical theatre.  They advance the story with wit and charm, and many leave a smile as the numbers are performed. 

In the Olney production, however, I found that several of the songs’ arrangements allowed for hurried performances by the vocalists. Because of that increased tempo, the marvelous lyrics contained in “Why Can’t the English?”, “I’m An Ordinary Man,”  “With a Little Bit of Luck,” and “Hymn to Him” for instance, the full potency of those lyrics is not as completely absorbed as they should be.  If anything, the lyrics should be drawn out a tad more so the audience feels the impact of their wit.

Brittany Campbell plays the part of the ornery Eliza with sass and class.  Possessing a soaring soprano voice, Ms. Campbell delivered excellent renditions of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “The Rain in Spain,” and “Show Me,” and she truly triumphs in the big number “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

One small quibble I have is with the song “Just You Wait,” a number where an exasperated Eliza is expressing her defiance towards Higgins, Ms. Campbell needs to be consistent with the dialect. It’s noticeable to those of us My Fair Lady enthusiasts.

Eliza hadn’t mastered the proper speech at this point so the Cockney version of “just you wait” should be pronounced “just you white” and the word “late” should be pronounced “light” throughout the song.  Hopefully, that will be fixed for future performances.

Other than that minor hiccup, Ms. Campbell is outstanding as a vocalist, and her acting is spot on as Eliza with all the voice inflections, facial expressions and body language required by the part.
As the pompous, chauvinistic bully Professor Henry Higgins, Danny Bernardy hit it out of the park aided by a superbly strong speaking voice—perfect for theatre.  His onstage chemistry with Ms. Campbell is fantastic and essential for the production to be successful.

Solid all around and executing his songs with the appropriate amount of flair, Mr. Bernardy is a man in perpetual motion in virtually every scene.  It’s not that he is dancing, but his precise high energy movements on the stage, especially during his vocal performances, are well choreographed and executed. 

Higgins’ sidekick is Colonel Pickering, also a phoneticist, who wagered that Higgins could not turn the disheveled Eliza into a lady to pass as such in London’s upper crust society.  He lost the bet but is pleased to see the results.

Todd Scofield ably plays the role of Pickering authoritatively trying to rein in Higgins’ impatience and coldness towards Eliza.

Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle, is an unmarried working class boozer. Chris Genebach plays the role to the hilt with a muscular voice and excellent dancing.  “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church On Time” are his featured songs, and he along with the energetic ensemble under the choreography by Grady McLeod Bowman, perform these numbers exceptionally.

Benjamin Lurye plays Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Eliza’s suitor with whom she has little interest.  His one number, “On the Street Where You Live” (and reprise) was performed very well and was an audience pleaser.

Notable performances were also turned in by Valerie Leonard as Higgins’ stern housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce,  as well as the socialite Mrs. Higgins, mother of Henry, who clearly has issues with her son.  The remainder of the cast and ensemble support the leads with great talent.

Christopher Youstra is the Music Director of this song-splashed show.  Andra Velis Simon competently conducted the 11-piece orchestra without drowning out the vocalists.
Sound Designer Matt Rowe deserves props for his simulation of galloping horses circling the theater’s interior during the race at the Ascot Racetrack.

Photo: Stan Barouh

Costume Designer Pei Lee does a good job of having the cast attired in period garb representative of the 1920’s.

Other than for the scenes in Higgins’ study where an impressively tall dropdown book case dominates the stage, James Fouchard designed a simple but functional set.  The moving of small set pieces around the stage during some of the numbers by the performers add texture to the visuals.

All in all the Olney’s version of My Fair Lady scores high marks for not only staying true to the classic work but also for enabling a talented, energetic cast to do justice to this magnificent musical. 

With a little bit of luck, with a little bit of luck, you should find the time to see this show.

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


My Fair Lady runs through July 23 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832. Tickets may be purchased by calling 301-924-3400 or by visiting online

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What Morici misses about Trump and the GOP

Letter to the Baltimore Sun




Three things are striking from Peter Morici’s commentary :

 First, he never mentioned Russia once throughout your piece as if that cloud suddenly disappeared.  The Russian meddling in our election and Trump’s at best indifference to it or at worst involvement in it will detrimentally affect the GOP more than the Republican’s sabotaging of Obamacare or the other issues he cited.

Second, his lecturing the Democratic minority leaders for not legitimizing the Trump presidency is laughable.  Where has he been the previous eight years when Republican leaders (and the GOP Congressional caucus) not only not legitimizing President Obama in ways too numerous and too sickening to list here, they literally deprived him of his Constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice.

Third, he mentioned Betsy DeVos and “sound ideas” in the same sentence.


Steve Charing
Clarksville

Published letter here.




Monday, May 29, 2017

Don’t Call Yourself Patriotic if…

As we reflect on this Memorial Day on those servicemen and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defending our country and its freedoms, we should understand that they were the true patriots.  Others are also patriotic, even if they didn’t fight in our wars or serve our country.  They honor our heroes by displaying the American flag and other gestures to show their pride in our nation.

We all have our own definition of patriotism.    For me, in essence, patriotism is a desire to keep our country strong, honor the Constitution, and to treat all of our citizens equally and fairly for the greater good. 

Unfortunately, there are many Americans who equate patriotism with an alt-right nationalistic mindset.  Patriotism shouldn’t espouse exclusivity and discrimination. Patriotism doesn’t promote hatred and violence against our own citizens and neighbors. When one supports ideas and actions that hurt our country, don’t call yourself patriotic.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you are OK with the draft-evading presidential candidate, now commander-in-chief, for treating the Purple Heart like it was some souvenir trinket and lamenting the fact he didn’t have one.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you treasure the 2nd Amendment as  the most sacred part of our Constitution but eschew the tenets of the 1st Amendment, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to peaceably assemble in protest, and yes, freedom of the press.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you agree with a president that wants to ban people from entering our country based on their religion.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you vehemently criticize one president for bowing to the leader of a tyrannical regime that chops off the heads and hands of its people and represses women, but are silent when the current president does so.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you support the president when he chastises our strong European allies on the world’s stage but congratulates the leader of the Philippines for doing a “great job” in his condoning the murder of over 2,500 people during the country’s “war on drugs.”

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you shrug off the undeniable fact that our number one adversary, Russia, interfered with our elections and the president has yet to be persuaded by that conclusion reached by all of our Intel agencies.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you are not bothered by the president’s meeting with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister in the Oval Office, whereby he divulged classified information and that only the Russian state press was permitted to observe while the American media was locked out.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you are unconcerned that the president impeded, if not obstructed, the investigation of Russian ties to our election by firing the man who was spearheading the investigation and admitting that the “Russian thing” was the motive.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you are not disturbed by the president’s son-in-law, who is woefully inexperienced in government (as is the president), who allegedly attempted to set up a secretive back channel communication line with the Kremlin even though the current administration was not in power in order to purportedly skirt U.S. intelligence surveillance.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you couldn’t care less or even applaud the president praising a U.S. Congressman-elect for assaulting a reporter doing his job but is silent on the heroic deaths of two veterans (and a third victim) at the hands of white racist extremists.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if it doesn’t bother you that the president and the U.S, House of Representatives produced a health care proposal that will leave 23 million Americans including a large chunk of the president’s supporters without health care.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you allow the president to roll back regulations that protect the country’s air and water from polluters.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you think for one minute the president has nothing to hide by refusing to share his tax returns with the American people.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you believe the president is putting America’s interests first and not his own family and his business interests.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Baltimore School to be Honored by GLSEN

Roland Park Elementary/Middle School’s GSA wins national recognition

Roland Park Elementary/Middle School  Photo courtesy of Live Baltimore
Baltimore’s Roland Park Elementary/Middle School will be honored along with three other awardees by GLSEN at the 2017 GLSEN Respect Awards – New York to be held at Cipriani 42nd Street on May 15.  Dr. Jill Biden will deliver the evening’s opening remarks.   

Roland Park Elementary/Middle School is being recognized for the work being done by the diverse student-run Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) to ensure that every student of Roland Park Elementary/Middle School has the best school experience possible, with a mission of providing a safe and inclusive space for all genders and sexual orientations.

According to GLSEN, the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe and affirming schools for all students, GSA members at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School “have led advocacy efforts both within their school’s walls and in their community. They have created positive environments in their classrooms by confronting hostility and prejudice against the LGBTQ community.

“Together they created a project called ‘Dear Mx’ in order to educate their school on LGTBQ issues, offering a way for their peers to anonymously ask questions. Their work has also led to a ‘GSA Edition’ in their weekly aired Student News, giving a platform and a voice to LGTBQ people and history, and raising awareness around multiple issues.

“In their community, the Roland Park GSA has worked actively with the GLSEN Baltimore Chapter as well as partner organization PFLAG. Serving as a model for other GSAs across the country, their group testified at a school board meeting to advocate for clearer district policy and guidance around LGBTQ issues.

“From pushing for all gender bathrooms to working towards intersectionality alongside other student groups such as The Diversity Club, the Roland Park Elementary/Middle School GSA continuously demonstrates how important our shared vision of inclusivity is.”

Jabari Lyles, executive director of the Baltimore chapter of GLSEN, explains it was not easy to get this group started at Roland Park.

“Initially, around the year 2009, Baltimore City Public Schools hesitated to allow a middle school to start a GSA,” Lyles said. “Through our advocacy, we urged the board to allow Roland Park to start their group. Fast forward to today, and this group has won this incredible award. The GSA at Roland Park Elementary/Middle is a model for GSAs everywhere. Their hard work, dedication and success show anything is possible when students are motivated, staff are invested, and safe space is created.”
Members of the GSA   Photo: Kimberly Mooney/WYPR

According to a May 5 interview on WYPR’s radio show “On the Record,” eight members of the Roland Park Elementary/Middle School GSA, the principal Nicholas D’Ambrosio, and the GSA’s faculty advisor Kimberly Mooney will be traveling to New York to receive the recognition.

“I was not expecting this recognition as we were up against a lot of high schools,” Mooney said in the interview.  “Getting this proves that kids of any age can accomplish anything whatever they put their minds to and they are making a difference. It shows schools across the country what a small group of committed kids can really do to change the culture of the school and the environment in which kids are trying to learn.”

The other awardees to be recognized by GLSEN are Ryan Pedlow, Founder of Two Creeks Capital, who will receive the Visionary Award; Ann Clark, Superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, will receive GLSEN’s Educator of the Year Award; and First Data will receive the Corporate Ally Award.

“Now more than ever it is crucial to support those pushing to create safe and inclusive spaces for LGBTQ youth,” said Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN’s Executive Director, in a statement.

“I am proud to advocate for LGBTQ students’ lives by recognizing this year’s honorees, each of whom are playing an important role of fighting for justice by ensuring that LGBTQ youth have equal opportunities and the support to reach their full academic potential,” she said.

The GLSEN Respect Awards, introduced in 2004 and held annually in Los Angeles and New York, showcase the work of students, educators, individuals, and corporations who serve as exemplary role models and have made a significant impact on the lives of LGBTQ youth.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

There's Nothing 'Rotten' at the Hippodrome-Not Even Eggs

Cast of 'Something Rotten Photo: Jeremy Daniel
Without question, Shakespeare is an acquired taste.  Many love his works; others not so much.  But how many actually HATE Shakespeare?  Well, in the hilarious musical Something Rotten! there is certainly one: Nick Bottom.  He is a struggling playwright with an underachieving acting troupe who has nothing but disdain for the ultra-successful Will Shakespeare in late 16th century England. And that’s just the beginning.  #hocoarts

Something Rotten! continuing its national tour by stopping by the Hippodrome for an all-too-brief run, delivers countless “you’re killing me” moments from end to end.  That is, if you find the likes of puritanical oppression and the black plague humorous.  Comedic moments are highlighted by well-placed double entendres and a not-too-subtle stream of gaiety, or should I say gayness, running through the production.

The Tony Award winning production irreverently takes on other Broadway musicals like no other, even more so than The Producers, The Book of Mormon, and Shrek to name a few. In fact, there are no less than forty references to Broadway musicals in Something Rotten!

Magnificently directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Casey Nicholaw, Something Rotten! features music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick and a book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell.

Contributing to the show’s excellence are the stellar sets designed by Scott Pack, the brilliant period costuming including exaggerated codpieces worn by the men and even omelet costumes (where else would you see those?) designed by Gregg Barnes, the hue-rich lighting design by Jeff Croiter, the effective sound design by Peter Hylenski, and the fine orchestra conducted by Brian P. Kennedy.

Its music is catchy for sure but the lyrics are stunningly clever.  Most successful Broadway musicals have a show-stopping number that is elicits ovations from audiences. Something Rotten! boasts two such epochal moments.  

The elaborate number “A Musical” is performed halfway through the first act.  Its high-energy tap dancing and kick line choreography and fabulous lyrics, which include clever references to a bevy of Broadway musicals, such as Rent, South Pacific, and A Chorus Line, drew a thunderous extended ovation on opening night.  Also bringing down the house was the second act “Make an Omelette” that contains similar ingredients. 

Moreover, a solid musical may present one or two scene-stealers during the course of the show. Something Rotten! delivers a multitude, which accounts for the prodigious amount of laughter-producing lines.

The insanely funny story centers on the aforementioned Nick Bottom (played superbly by Rob McClure and his younger naïve brother Nigel Bottom (Josh Grisetti) who barely can make ends meet.  Nick more than Nigel is so jealous of Shakespeare (Adam Pascal) that he is desperate to write a successful play for a change.  (All three of these actors are reprising their Broadway roles.)

Finding a soothsayer, Thomas Nostradamus (Daniel Beeman), the nephew of THE Nostradamus, Nick is told that the wave of the future is a musical, whereby the actors break out into song and dance in the middle of their dialogue. What a concept! 

Nostradamus, who apparently did not have all his wires connected properly, looked into the future and predicted the next great play would be “Omelette,” instead of Shakespeare’s greatest hit that sounds similar.  Mr. Beeman is rip-roaring funny in this sequence and is one of the show’s scene stealers.

Shakespeare, meanwhile, displaying surprising insecurity, is worried that the Bottom Brothers are stealing his work.  The ensuing madness, dominated by eggs, needless to say, comprises the rest of the plot.

Perfectly cast as Nick Bottom, Rob McClure puts on an amazing performance not only by his comedic prowess but also his singing and dancing. Full of energy, Mr. McClure frantically tries to compete with Shakespeare and has the audience rooting for this underdog.  He sets the tone right in “God, I Hate Shakespeare.”

Adam Pascal does well as the conceited, gloating, swaggering, Billy Idol-like Shakespeare fresh off his hit play “Romeo and Juliet.” He is the rock star of his time; men and women alike adore him, except, of course, Nick Bottom.  He delivers the numbers “Will Power” and “Hard to Be the Bard” with gusto.

As Nigel, Josh Grisetti, looks up to Shakespeare though he tries to work with his brother on producing the musical.  However, his love interest, a Puritan named Portia (Autumn Hurlbert), convinces Nigel, a poet, that he should write from his heart. Somehow, co-writing “Omelette” doesn’t feel right to him.   

Showcasing a smooth tenor voice, Mr. Grisetti clicks in duets with Ms. Hurlbert, the ballad “We See the Light,” and with Mr. McClure, “To Thine Own Self.”
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Another of the show’s scene stealers is Maggie Lakis who plays Bea, Nick’s wife (Mr. McClure’s real-life wife). Realizing her husband’s struggles and a desire for a better life, Bea wants to help out any way she can.  That includes acting as a part of Nick’s acting troupe though it is illegal for a woman to appear on stage.  She even takes on physical jobs for men disguising herself as a man. Ms. Lakis delivers splendidly in “Right Hand Man.”

As the strict father of Portia, Brother Jeremiah (Scott Cote) seems to be the father of all Puritans.  Bible clinging, intolerant, set in his beliefs, Brother Jeremiah has a habit of slip-of-the-tongue oops moments revealing that perhaps he’s hiding something.  If so, he’s not hiding it too well.  Mr. Cote deliciously plays this role to the hilt.

Another deft performance is turned in by Jeff Brooks as Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, who cannot legally invest in the musical.  Dropping Yiddish words during the dialogue, Mr. Brooks is such a mensch.

Nick Rashad Burroughs as the Minstrel who opens up each act with “Welcome to the Renaissance” does a fine job in setting the tone for the show.

The remainder of the cast provides superb support for the leads with their energetic, precise dancing and strong vocals.

Something Rotten! is a gorgeous spectacle in every respect.  The wonderful music, hilarious lyrics, zany story, well-placed satire and an amazingly talented cast and crew make this a must-see show.  As the tour advances around the country, I wish all the performers well and to break an egg.

Advisory: This show contains sexual innuendo and may not be suitable for children.

Running time. Two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission.


Something Rotten! Plays through April 23 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.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

It's No Illusion: 'The Magic Play' Cuts it at Olney

Jon Hudson Odom (L.) as The Diver and
Brett Schneider as The Magician Photo: Stan Barouh
British author Terry Pratchett once wrote, “It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done.”  In The Magic Play that is currently inhabiting the Mainstage at the Olney Theatre Center in a rolling world premiere, the audience is kept in the dark as to how each trick is accomplished; the results are what matter in what is perceived as magic.

In reality, illusion is not magic.  Card tricks are not magic. Sleight-of-hand is not magic. They just seem that way, especially if we don’t know how the tricks are executed. And to be sure, everybody wants to know!  

More importantly, relationships can’t be forged through magic, whether they are romantic or familial, nor can they be magically repaired when broken or destroyed. 

Playwright Andrew Hinderaker, who had previously won a Helen Hayes Award for his superlative play Colossal, which appeared at Olney two years ago, lays out all these cards on the table with his latest work, The Magic Play.  

There are clear similarities between the two.  In each of these unconventional dramas, Mr. Hinderaker blends real-time spectacle with a plot line that includes a gay relationship and father relationship.    

Additionally, Mr. Hinderaker wrote the role of Mike in Colossal specifically for actor Michael Patrick Thornton, who had suffered a spinal stroke that left him paralyzed from the neck down.  The role of The Magician in The Magic Play”was also written for a specific performer; in this case it was for talented actor-magician Brett Schneider.

Skillfully directed by Halena Kays, Mr. Schneider, as The Magician in The Magic Play’s three-person cast, performs an assortment of mainly card tricks that produce a number of wow moments for the audience. For most of these, Mr. Schneider meanders through the apprehensive crowd to select “volunteers” to assist in the tricks onstage. 

Nothing that would cause any embarrassment to the assistant ensues.  However, this device makes each performance unique and improvisational.  

Adding to the enjoyment, Projections Designer John “Smooch” Medina allows the audience to view The Magician’s illusionary movement of the cards that are on a table by the use of a close-up live feed projected on a screen above the stage.  And Jesse Belsky’s deft lighting design produces the appropriate atmospherics.  (There are other technical marvels in the presentation that I will discuss later.)  #hocoarts

While The Magician is in complete control of his performance in front of an audience and his ability to mesmerize it with astounding trickery, he finds out that the ability to control a relationship does not work, and the deception inherent to magic performances that bleed into his personal life proves to be damaging like a collapsing house of cards.

The Magician had undergone a painful break-up with his boyfriend, The Diver, played convincingly by Helen Hayes Award winning, athletic-looking actor Jon Hudson Odom.  He is seen practicing his dives from a platform, sans taking the actual plunge, for a shot at the Olympics thanks to a clever set designed by Lizzie Bracken.  The interactions with The Diver are manifestations of The Magician’s memories. 

Brett Schneider  Photo: Stan Baouh
Though only hints of their relationship transpire during the play, it illustrates how even The Magician’s memories are controlled.  Because The Magician is so invested in his work and the deception that is a major component of it, The Diver could simply not trust him, especially when he had lied about visiting his father, played authentically by Olney veteran Harry A. Winter.

Father, an over-the-hill magician in his own right living in Reno, had abandoned his son when he was a youngster.  He had taught his son the tricks of the trade so to speak, but the younger one blossomed into an accomplished artist.  The Magician’s attempt to acquire the paternal love he had lacked provides solid dramatic moments.

In an odd twist late in the second act, The Magician asks the audience to reverse the earlier admonition to turn phones off and instead, turn them back on.  He urges the patrons to text to a specific number their request for any kind of magic trick they would like to see performed.

Another assistant is selected at random.  She writes on a card what she would like to see magically happen. The atmosphere turns political as she scribes, “The cheeto must disappear” to an approving but muted crowd reaction.  

Within minutes, the requested texts are hand-written not only on the playing cards but also projected on the screen.  There were similar such requests as well as others like “saw a person in half” and “make the deck disappear” causing this segment to be refreshingly unpredictable theatre.

Mr. Schneider is a superbly skillful magician.  His showmanship and charming demeanor seduce audience members to believe what he wants them to believe. That’s what magic performances are all about.   

On top of that, Mr. Schneider is a proficient actor.  He exhibits strong chemistry with the other fine actors, Mr. Odom, who had also performed in Colossal, and Mr. Winter, during their dramatic and emotional exchanges.

There is no illusion that The Magic Play is pure entertainment.  The personal foibles of a magician are usually not observed by the public.  This weaving of the showmanship with the human element is carried out competently by an excellent script, a talented director, cast and technical crew. It is highly recommended.

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

Advisory: This play contains profanity and is not recommended for children.


The Magic Play runs through May 7 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832. Tickets may be purchased by calling 301-924-3400 or by visiting online

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Even Now

Barry Manilow’s decision late in his life to come out was his alone to make.

Social media was bursting with sarcasm when People released an interview  with pop singer-songwriter, musician and producer Barry Manilow in which he officially revealed he was gay. 

“Shocking!” and “I never saw this coming!” were some of the more common jabs.

Of course, it wasn’t news that he was gay; it was news that he finally admitted it.  The story had broken two years ago that he married his long-time partner and manager Gary Keiff.  That revelation merely confirmed that he was gay.  For decades people suspected Manilow was gay, and it probably didn’t matter to most of his fans.

He launched his career at New York’s Continental Baths as the accompanist for Bette Midler who performed to enthusiastic, mostly gay fans.  This took place in 1971, and it would have been rather rare if a straight man entertained in such a venue.

(I actually knew Manilow was gay as far back as 1977 when a member of his touring band told me.  His secret was safe with me as I respected his privacy and I, too, was in the closet.)

Fans didn’t see Manilow through the lens of being straight or gay.  They saw an engaging, personable artist, whose Adult Contemporary songs—mostly ballads—were laced with saccharine and the melodies quite hummable. 

In fact, Manilow had 47 top 40 singles and 12 reached number one.  The Latin-style “Copacabana” was arguably the most famous of all his hits.

“I thought I would be disappointing [my fans] if they knew I was gay,” he explained to People. “So I never did anything.”

He counted females as a large portion of his fan base and he figured that coming out would hurt him professionally.  But through his five decades in the spotlight, Manilow was never considered a heartthrob in the way Elvis or McCartney was during the height of their careers.  

Moreover, superstar artist Sir Elton John, is similarly not heartthrob material (unless wigs, glitter-laced suits and oversized glasses appeal to many) yet his coming out did little to tamp down his popularity and commercial success.

Additionally, open lesbians k.d. lang and Melissa Etheridge have enjoyed lucrative careers as did openly gay Michael Stipe, the front man for R.E.M., who says he’s a better person for coming out.  And there are others.   

Good music, good talent and good artistry seem to transcend sexual orientation because it simply does not and should not matter. Entertainment value is what makes an artist popular, and it seems that those who are disappointed regarding an artist’s sexual orientation would have a negligible impact.
 
Aside from professional risks that Manilow may have considered in deciding not to come out, he simply could have been one of many older gays who still harbor fears about going public.

“Manilow was born in 1943. Someone born in that year has witnessed the McCarthy-era Lavender scare, police raids on gay bars, the Stonewall riots, the HIV/AIDS crisis and its accompanying stigma, the strong anti-gay currents of the 1990s, the heyday of anti-LGBT conversion therapy, and much, much more,” writes Samantha Allen in The Daily Beast.

“So no matter how accepting 2017 might be—and even that clause has to come with qualifiers about lingering cultural homophobia—they might still be extremely reticent to come out.

When LGBT people come out, the more visibility the community achieves.  More neighbors, family members, co-workers, and friends will then know an LGBT person and more likely will be an ally in the never-ending quest for equality.  #hocoarts

But there are risks in coming out: alienation from friends and family members, loss of job, rejection by religious institutions, being bullied, violence, to name a few.

Coming out as LGBT is a personal decision that must be taken seriously after extensive evaluation of the risks and rewards.  One must reach that comfort level that only he or she experiences before making such a monumental judgment.

Barry Manilow thought the time was right.  Even now.