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Sunday, April 23, 2023

Kander and Ebb Musical Revue Dazzles at Olney

Harris Milgrim, Nova Y. Patton, Kevin S. McAllister
Natascia Diaz & Karen Vincent
The songwriting duo of Kander and Ebb may not have the same name recognition in musical theatre and film as legends Rodgers and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart, Lerner and Loewe even Tim Rice and Elton John. But it should.

John Kander and the late Fred Ebb have collaborated on a mountain of songs—many quite familiar—that earned them numerous accolades, Tony’s and Oscars for their efforts. Spanning six decades, the team penned the music for such classic musicals as Cabaret, Chicago, Kiss of the Spiderwoman and The Scottsboro Boys to name a few. And did you know that they wrote the colossally famous song “New York, New York” for the film with the same name? Neither did I.

Fortunately, the works of Kander and Ebb are being celebrated in a scintillating revue taking place at the Olney Theatre Center in a partnership with ArtsCentic and Everyman Theatre. With a striking set, a superb orchestra and an incredibly talented company of five, 31 songs are showcased in a two-act revue that brings to life some of the Kander and Ebb fine catalogue.

The revue is titled “The World Goes ‘Round,” an updated version of the 1991 off-Broadway production “And the World Goes Round” that was originally created by Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman and David Thompson.  (On a personal level, the title is ironic given I was battling the effects of vertigo during the few days leading up to opening night. Those who have experienced this condition could relate. But enough of me. Back to the review of the revue.)

Kander and Ebb were known to be ahead of their time. While certain topics were considered off-limits, Kander and Ebb confronted dark issues like Nazism in Cabaret, for instance, and social injustice. They dealt with the marginalized in society like the incarcerated. They dealt with racism, female sexuality, queerness and gender fluidity.  But their songs do not necessarily reflect darkness. Kander and Ebb have also created snappy buoyant melodies and joyful, even humorous lyrics. The eclectic mix performed during the revue range from tuneful, emotion-packed torch songs to comical numbers.

The quintet performing these selections consists of a multi-talented and experienced troupe: Natascia Diaz (Broadway’s Man of La Mancha and the Olney Theatre/Round House production of In The Heights); Kevin S. McAllister, who also directs this revue (Broadway's Caroline...Or Change and Come From Away); Harris Milgrim (Broadway’s Cats); Nova Y. Payton (Signature Theatre’s Into the Woods and The Color Purple); and Karen Vincent (Ford’s Theatre’s Ragtime and Into the Woods).

Natascia Diaz and Harris Milgrim

The members of this group can sing up a storm; they can dance gracefully; they do comedy well; and they can “roller skate.” Well, maybe not so much the latter as they hilariously demonstrate those skills in “The Rink” from the show with the same title.

Under the direction of Mr. McAllister, who is no stranger to directing revues at Olney as he helmed the sparkling “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” this past winter, the show is well-paced and expertly staged.  Music director and maestro Christopher Youstra with his fabulous seven-piece orchestra playing upstage throughout the show, provide the performers with superb backing and do the Kander score proud.

Each member of the company has a turn in singing solos with about half of the selections sung in combination with others or the entire company. As individuals, their vocals shine; in combination with others, they soar.

Nova Y. Payton, with her astoundingly big voice, gets the show off on a high note with her rendition of “And the World Goes ‘Round” from the film New York, New York. Another solo “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret is a showstopper. It should be noted that this ballad was not written by Kander and Ebb specifically for Cabaret but was included in the 1972 film version. It had been written in 1964 for Liza Minnelli’s debut album Liza! Liza!

As mentioned previously, director Kevin S. McAllister also performs in the troupe. Possessing a burly tenor voice, Mr. McAllister demonstrates his strong vocals in the title song from the lesser known 60’s musical The Happy Time as well as “I Don’t Remember.” His rendition of “She’s a Woman” from Kiss of the Spiderwoman is outstanding.

Karen Vincent has a lush voice and performs well throughout. Her two solos, “Colored Lights” from The Rink and “Isn’t This Better?” from Funny Lady are spot on. In a comical number “Sara Lee” that was popularized by Liza Minnelli, Ms. Vincent joins Ms. Payton and Harris Milgrim. It is a pure delight as costume designer Moyenda Kulemeka fitted the ladies in garb resembling pastries. Ms. Kulemeka did a fabulous job in outfitting the troupe in a wide variety of costumes that coincide with the applicable period.

Ms. Vincent also performs in “How Lucky Can You Get” from Funny Lady with Mr. Harris and Mr. McAllister and “There Goes The Ballgame” from New York, New York with Natascia Diaz and Ms. Payton.

Mr. Milgrim takes on many of the revue’s comedic moments and hits them out of the park. The lithe, athletic performer reminds me of a modern-day Tommy Tune. He literally shows off his fit physique in the amusing “Arthur in the Afternoon” from The Act, which is splendidly sung by Natascia Diaz.  An accomplished dancer to be sure, Mr. Milgrim has a solid tenor singing voice and can hold a note longer than an airport line.  He shines in “Sometimes a Day Goes By” from Woman of the Year, an exceptional rendition of “Mister Cellophane” from Chicago and “Marry Me” from The Rink.

Besides “Arthur in the Afternoon,” Natascia Diaz with her rich vocals performs adroitly in “A Quiet Thing” from Flora, The Red Menace. This show happened to be Kander and Ebb’s first collaboration and launched the career of Liza Minnelli who won a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for the 1965 production. Ms. Diaz takes the lead in the outstanding dance number “And All That Jazz,” one of the highlights from Chicago and performs a beautifully performed extended dance number “When It All Comes True” with Mr. Milgrim.

There are a number of well-executed dance numbers that rev up the tempo of the revue. Choreographer Shalyce Hemby guides the company with precise and fluid movements in such songs as “Coffee In A Cardboard Cup” from 70, Girls, 70, “Me and My Baby” from Chicago, and “Money, Money” from Cabaret. “The Rink” concludes the first act with a roller skating “exhibition” from four of the five members of the company that is pure fun. Ms. Payton was wise to stay off the wheels for this one as she took on a different and safer role during the number.

Scenic Designer Daniel Ettinger allows the performers to do their thing in a gorgeous, colorful setting. The orchestra is upstage but in certain numbers, the platform moves towards the front. There are several rectangular panels on the wall that serve as screens for projections designed by Patrick W. Lord. These projections contain a wide assortment of images that coincide with a particular song. Several personalities are seen offering tributes to Kander and Ebb. They include Chita Rivera and Dame Judi Dench among others.

Lighting Designer Aja M. Jackson adds rich hues to the optics. As a great touch, strings of footlights frame the stage, the wall panels and even the platform where the orchestra is mounted to give off a cool theatre vibe. Well done!

One does not need to be familiar with all the Kander and Ebb songs to enjoy this wonderful musical experience. More likely than not, you will recognize the real popular ones and enjoy the interpretation that is applied. For example, the production number “Cabaret” has been “jazzed up” with an enjoyable result. And there’s the surprise finale “New York, New York” with a new twist.

This production is an extraordinary tribute to the team of Kander and Ebb. Outstanding performers and orchestra with stellar work from the technical crew all under the guiding hand of Kevin S. McAllister make this a don’t miss show. Life is indeed a cabaret.

Running time. Two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission

The World Goes ‘Round plays through May 21, 2023, 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 here.

Photos by Teresa Castracane Photography

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Not Every New Idea is a Good One

When I first saw the new PFLAG logo, I thought the person showing it to me was committing a prank. Sadly, he wasn’t. I admit that I don’t know how the decision was reached at PFLAG National to change the existing logo(left) to the new one (right); who designed this thing; how much did it cost the organization to commission the new design; and how and why PFLAG officials believe this was a good idea. All I know is that it was a ridiculous decision and an example of how to screw up branding. Moreover, all chapters must use the new edition in their communications and websites.

A logo has been essential for companies, universities, sports teams and organizations of all stripes to create a brand identity and for customers to recognize it immediately. An overwhelming majority if these entities have maintained their logos for years and in many cases, decades as they understood the critical marketing imperative of having the company readily identified with their logo.

Logos appear on official communications, signs, advertising and various types of merchandise. Rarely do these entities tinker with them. If they do, it is usually subtle and just a few minor tweaks at that. They know all too well that maintaining a consistent logo works. It surely has worked well with companies like Coca-Cola, Walmart, Delta Airlines, NBC, Kellogg’s, Colgate, NY Mets, Royal Caribbean, Ford, University of Miami, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Red Wings and thousands of others.

LGBTQ organizations benefit from their logos as well. The Human Rights Campaign’s popular yellow equal sign on a blue field can be seen on thousands of cars’ bumpers, businesses windows, t-shirts, caps and mugs. Whatever your opinion is of HRC, you must admit they know a thing or two about branding.

But PFLAG seemed to have ignored the basics of marketing and decided to dispense with the cheerful, colorful, distinctive logo on the left in favor of the new one that screams…meh.

If I had drawn this new logo in my 7th grade art class, my teacher not only would have given me a low grade but she would have also scolded me for a lack of effort and imagination. Simply put, it is visually unappealing and simply boring.

The change does not appear to be necessary.

I am not trying to dump on PFLAG. I love the organization with its hundreds of chapters nationwide and believe it is one of the most effective organizations in the LGBTQ rights movement. For over 50 years and through its volunteers PFLAG has succeeded in keeping countless number of families together and literally saved lives in the wake of hostility and discrimination.

I have been a volunteer in multiple chapters for a better part of 20 years and have written a slew of positive articles in the LGBTQ and mainstream press touting PFLAG’s invaluable work.

Their brand and reputation have always been wonderful, and even in today’s difficult times for LGBTQ organizations, it should capitalize on that brand.

I’m pretty sure it’s too late to restore the previous logo, but hopefully decision-makers at PFLAG National will see the light nonetheless. 

Monday, April 17, 2023

LGBTQIA+ Unity Center Unveiled in Westminster

There is a Rainbow Room, a Game Room, a Media Room and a lounge area for those who simply want to get away from the hubbub. These rooms comprise the new safe space, called the Unity Center in Westminster, Md., to promote inclusion and equity for LGBTQIA+ people, families, their friends and allies in Carroll County. It is located on the ground floor of Westminster’s Saint Paul’s United Church of Christ (17 Bond Street), which has served as the meeting space for PFLAG-Carroll County for over 15 years.

The PFLAG chapter’s volunteers with cooperation and donations from the church, local businesses, schools and the public have developed this space to serve the needs of the community.

“Carroll County actually does a very decent job of providing services for our community overall, but they are still lacking for our LGBTQIA+ folks,” says Joy Fisher, the PFLAG-Carroll County chapter’s president.  “We see our Unity Center helping to fill that void.  Additionally, I feel that having the Unity Center solidifies our presence.”

The need is evident. Last June the Carroll County School Board voted to ban Pride flags on school property.

“I think it is taking a step back to take something away that students recognize as a support, that [they] recognize something they’ve come to know as a safe place,” Superintendent Steven Lockard, who does not have a vote, told CBS Baltimore.

The official ribbon-cutting ceremony that launched the new Unity Center took place on April 16 when a diverse crowd of about 50 attended the tour of the space and ceremony.

PFLAG provides services at the Unity Center for the LGBTQIA+ community that are not currently available in Carroll County. They include:

▲Support via phone, email and website

▲Social Media—Facebook, Private Facebook groups, and Instagram

▲Library/resources—Loans of Queer-themed DVDs, books and resources

▲Young, Teen & Adults (YTA) Fridays and Safe Space programs for queer individuals and allies (see below)

▲Education—Provide speakers and training to expand understanding and support of LGBTQIA+ issues

▲Social events—a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community and their allies to participate in and benefit from activities, such as dances, picnics, karaoke, movies and games

▲Monthly PFLAG Community Meetings—Open to the public to provide support, education and advocacy for issues and challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ folks, their families and allies.

▲Monthly PFLAG Parents’ Support Group—for parents and caregivers of LGBTQIA+ children and family members

“We want the community at large to understand that we are here, and we plan to continue to support our LGBTQIA+ youth and adults,” explains Fisher.  “The Unity Center means support, it means love, it means reaching out to those struggling and needing somewhere to feel safe and be around like-minded people.  We hope the Unity Center invites dialogue and we can have meaningful and useful discussion with folks who are having trouble understanding or accepting our LGBTQIA+ folks.” 

“The Unity Center means support, it means love, it means reaching out to those struggling and needing somewhere to feel safe ..."

She adds, “But whether we bring the community around or not, it will not stop us from providing our LGBTQIA+ people the safe space they need and eventually the services to help them strive in our community.  We look forward to growing the Unity Center with all the many ideas and programs that we can manage.” 

In light of the Carroll County School Board’s actions, one of the major programs PFLAG-Carroll County is offering through the Unity Center is the previously mentioned Youth, Teen and Adults (YTA) Fridays Monthly Safe Space program.

This is intended for gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, pansexual and transgender individuals and their allies. The cost is free but donations are always accepted.

Starting in June, the First Fridays from 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. the Unity Center will be open for those ages 14 to 18 (9th to 12th grade).

The Second Fridays during the same timeframe the space will be available to Adults over age 18.

The Third Fridays from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. children ages 10 to 14 (5th to 9th grade).

Some of the activities in this environment include video games, board games, ping-pong, foosball, air hockey, karaoke, arts and crafts along with good conversation. The chapter supplies snacks, drinks and pizza and offer a separate area for supportive parents who want to stay and chat with other parents.

President Joy Fisher recognizes that the Unity Center will bolster the chapter’s visibility and provide awareness in the community.

“We are very excited to begin this initiative and were very encouraged by the Grand Opening participants, and we feel we are well on our way to a successful, useful and needed endeavor,” she says. 

 “Our Unity Center steering committee has worked very hard for over 6 months to bring this to fruition and I for one am very excited.  It would be neglectful of me not to do a huge shout out to our team:  Erin Snell, Jody Ledford, Judy Gaver, Beatrice Bordzol, Debra Weidman, Lisah Aubergine, Marty Kuchma, Jane Bownes, and Laura Russel.  Without their dedication and willingness to assist none of this would have come together. 

For more information visit the chapter’s website or email PFLAGcarroll@gmail.com

Thursday, April 13, 2023

A Very Cool 'Grease' Rocks at Toby's

How do you not love a musical where one of the featured songs is titled “Mooning”? The popular show Grease, which is currently playing at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, has many reasons for one to fall in love besides the titles of the songs.

It’s pretty safe to say that virtually all theatre-goers have heard of or seen the American classic musical Grease in some form or another. Grease had been one of Broadway’s longest running productions. It spawned several revivals on Broadway and has played all over the world in professional theatre via tours as well as in summer stock, community theatre and in schools all over the U.S. The 1978 movie with the same title starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John was a huge success.  And even that led to a sequel.

Grease takes you back to an era where spit curls and cigarette packs stuffed in the sleeves of tight t-shirts, and sporty cars, drive-ins, sock-hops and gossipy Pink Ladies ruled the day for teenagers. It is no wonder that this beloved 1971 musical, written and composed by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, found a way into the hearts of so many.  

And here it is (again). As in the past, the bouncy nostalgic 1950’s era production at Toby’s can also be characterized as a smash.

Working with an essentially fresh new cast from Toby’s iteration of four years ago, Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick directed and choreographed this vibrant masterpiece with supreme skill and vision. The precise staging and period aesthetics are matched by a wonderful young and exuberant cast whose dance moves are dazzling and whose vocals are sparkling.

Musical Director Ross Scott Rawlings six-piece orchestra (conducted by Nathan Scavilla on this particular evening with Mr. Rawlings taking the baton at other performances) is in total synch with the company, never overwhelming the vocals.

Janine Sunday stayed true to the era by designing a splendid array of 1950’s costumes including black

Cassie Sauders as Sandy; Patrick Gover as Danny

jeans, black tight t-shirts and black leather jackets for the guys and cheerleading uniforms or below-the-knee pastel-colored skirts for the gals. The costumes worn during the number “Beauty School Dropout” are unforgettable.

Lynn Joslin’s lighting design is captivating and creative. And Mark Smedley’s sound design brings crystal clear audio to Toby’s in-the-round theater.

Scenic Designer David A. Hopkins did a wonderful job with the set. Lockers are on the balcony to denote what would be ordinarily seen at a high school. Projection screens are mounted around the theatre's walls that capture images of yearbook pictures and other period scenes throughout. Streamers from the ceiling are used to decorate a school dance. Awesome set pieces from diner booths to a miniature red and white hot rod dubbed “Greased Lightning” amplify the presentation so adroitly.

The plot, probably familiar to most due to the show’s prolific exposure, has undergone some tweaking in terms of score and dialogue during its course.  Yet, it continues to center on the relationships between lead characters Danny Zuko (played by charismatic Patrick Gover) and the Sandra Dee-like Sandy Dumbrowski (played well by Cassie Saunders) and among their respective working class peer cliques—the Burger Palace Boys (formerly called the T-Birds in other productions) and the Pink Ladies—at the fictional Rydell High School in 1959. 

While other characters emerge and their attempts at coupling form much of the comedic sequences, the focus remains on the ebbs and flows of the romantic relationship between Danny and Sandy.

Director Minnick steers the action with a light touch and keeps the proceedings breezy and fun throughout. Yet, embedded in the plot are such social issues as teenage pregnancy, peer pressure bordering on bullying, sexism, and gang violence amid the themes of love, friendship, teenage rebellion, sexual exploration during adolescence, and class consciousness. 

"...the bouncy nostalgic 1950’s era production at Toby’s can also be characterized as a smash."

Although those issues are legitimate in any period, Grease is all about the 50’s in terms of music, wardrobe, culture, dialogue, and gestures. Its popularity over these many years is a testament to the show’s ability to entertain audiences of all ages and in all eras.

And entertain they do.

The perfectly cast energetic and multi-talented company in the Toby’s production do the show proud.  Once the iconic production number “Summer Nights” is performed so effectively in the second scene of the first act, the tone is set and the audience is captured for the duration.

As one would expect in a musical with the pedigree of Grease, the songs are the show’s strength, and the cast delivers under the guidance of Mr. Minnick and Musical Director Rawlings.

A big dance number “Greased Lightnin” with the aforementioned hot rod rolling on the stage belonging to one of the greasers Kenickie (played strongly by Calvin Malone) is a crowd pleaser to be sure.

Other numbers with high-level, high-intensity choreography include the production numbers, “Summer Nights,” “Those Magic Changes,” “Freddie My Love,”  “We Go Together,” “Shakin’ at the High School Hop,” “Born to Hand Jive,” “You’re the One That I Want,” as well as others.

Then there is that hilarious song “Mooning” performed marvelously by Tony Lemus and Lydia Gifford.

The uniqueness of each dance number, the creativity and precision involved and the ability to perform the dances within the confines of Toby’s in-the-round stage are a testament to the guidance from Mr. Minnick and the performers’ talents.

As Danny Zuko, Patrick Gover excels as an actor and vocalist. With his matinee idol good looks, Mr. Gover does his greaser garb proud.  He has all the moves: a cocky swagger, preening and adjusting his hair frequently to make it crystal clear he is the lead greaser and attracting women is essentially a given.  Mr. Gover’s solid tenor voice excels in “Summer Nights” using falsetto at the end effectively and “Alone at the Drive-In Movie.”

Cassie Saunders plays innocent and later, not so innocent Sandy,  to the hilt. Also equipped with strong vocal prowess, Ms. Saunders performs very well in “Summer Nights” and the lovely ballad “Hopelessly Devoted to You”—a song popularized by Olivia Newton-John in the film version of Grease and later incorporated in the stage musicals. She also performs well in the reprise of “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.”

As Betty Rizzo, the tough, gum-snapping, chain-smoking heavy among the Pink Ladies, Alicia Osborne does justice to her role.  She expertly performs the song “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.”

Other outstanding performers include Calvin Malone as Kenickie, Tony Lemus as Roger, Brandon Bedore as Doody, Caelyn D. Williams as Marty, Joey Ellinghaus as Sonny, Emily Flack as Frenchy, Dereck Atwater as Eugene Florczyk, Lydia Gifford as Jan, Asia-Lige Arnold as Miss Lynch as well as Teen Angel whose performance of “Beauty School Dropout” is a goose-bump-producing vocal, Jeffrey Shankle as Vince Fontaine, Shane Lowry as Johnny Casino, Candace Foreman as Cha-Cha DiGregorio, and Brooke Bloomquist as Patty Simcox.

Rounding out the company are the ensemble members Angelo Harrington II, Alexis Krey-Bedore, James Mernin and Tori Weaver.

The Toby’s production stayed true to Grease’s classic rock ‘n roll core, and everybody associated with it deserves bravos. Even if you spent a summer night with Grease before, drive your hot rod over to Toby’s and catch this amazing production. Grease is the word, and is the one that you’ll want! But please avoid mooning.

Running time. Two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission

Grease runs through June 11 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 4900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 410-730-8311or visiting here.


The full buffet menu is shown here, and the specialty drink is “Pink Lady.”

Photos: Jeri Tidwell Photography

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

‘Hadestown’ at the Hippodrome is One Helluva Show

Hannah Whitley as Eurydice and J. Antonio Rodrigues as Orpheus
One may not have to be well-versed in Greek mythology to appreciate Hadestown, the highly touted musical that is currently making a national tour stop at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre. For while the characters in the show—Orpheus, Eurydice, Persephone, Hades, and Fates—are based on those in Greek mythology, there is a strong connection to the modern world’s environment. One thing is for certain: the power of love and hope despite struggles and hardship transcend time.

The story is narrated by the herald of the gods, the lively and nimble Hermes. He guides the audience throughout and is aided by the ensemble performing as a Greek chorus and the three Fates who shape the destiny of each human. The energetic opening song, “Road to Hell” presents the contours of the story and sets the tone.

Hadestown is a mostly sung-through musical that presents a folk-rock vibe with an infusion of soul, jazz, and pop.  This unique show was conceived by Anaïs Mitchell, who wrote the music and the story. In 2019 it received 8 Tony Awards out of its 14 nominations including Best Musical and Best Original Score.

Captivating and emotional, the production at the Hippodrome, under the direction of Rachel Chavkin and choreography by David Neumann, is exceptional. Though the story is riveting, and the eclectic music is memorable, the strength of the shows lies with the performers and their magnificent vocal prowess.

Orpheus is a passionate songwriter and musician who falls in love at first sight with Eurydice a pragmatic but vulnerable young girl. He immediately, and I do mean immediately, asks Eurydice to be his wife. But the young girl lives in poverty and suffers through and is fearful of extreme climate changes. Orpheus believes that he can create a song that can remedy the world’s ills. Their love does well in spring and summer but is challenged during the fall and winter seasons.

Matthew Patrick Quinn as Hades; Hannah Whitley as Eurydice
The impoverished and hungry Eurydice gets caught in a storm while trying to find food. At that point she is lured by Hades, the ruler of the Underworld (hell) and encouraged by the Fates, to escape the harsh conditions above and become a factory worker in Hadestown, a hellish industrial empire with its oil drums and what-not. Seeking that security, she signs a contract to do so.

Upon discovering that Eurydice is missing, Orpheus receives instructions from Hermes how to go to Hadestown to rescue his love despite the odds. With his music and undying love for Eurydice in tow, Orpheus arrives. He is confronted by Hades who points out that she signed that contract and is bound by it. But Persephone, Hades’ wife in a rocky marriage and who alternates her time in the Underworld and in the world above, tries to persuade Hades to let Eurydice go, noting the determination on the part of Orpheus. How the final decision is reached and what ultimately transpires form the remainder of the powerfully emotional story.

This all unfolds on a fixed multi-level set that resembles a well-worn New Orleans jazz club complete with a French Quarter-style balcony. Rachel Hauck’s scenic design allows the terrific seven-piece orchestra to appear onstage with some musicians moving about the stage from time to time. A steel door is located upstage that swallows up those entering Hadestown.

The scenes are split between this jazz club as well as Hadestown where the workers in hell perform their repetitive tasks in circles on a turntable. This effect, choreographed by David Neumann in addition to the creative and vivid lighting design by Bradley King that includes swinging light fixtures during emotional moments, is impactful. Neumann’s well-choreographed numbers are presented throughout, with “Livin’ It Up On Top” and “Way Down Hadestown” being exemplary, showcasing high-voltage, emphatic dance movements.

The show starts off with Hermes, the narrator, so I will start with him. Played deliciously and with flair by Nathan Lee Graham, the character captures the audience’s imagination and affection with his joyful and sympathetic qualities. What few comedic moments surface during the musical, Mr. Graham holds most of them.  He has a nice tenor voice and performs in multiple numbers including the stage-setting opener “Road to Hell” and the standout song “Wait For Me.”

J. Antonio Rodriguez shines in the role of the passionate and eternally optimistic Orpheus. A fine singing voice that is featured in such songs as “Epic I,” “Epic II,” “Epic III,” “Come Home With Me,” and the group number “Doubt Comes In,” Mr. Rodriguez possesses an exceptional command of falsetto during his vocals and is a treat to listen to.

Mr. Rodriguez displays wonderful onstage chemistry with Hannah Whitley, who plays the role of Eurydice. Their growing love is captured tenderly with a prevalence of emotion. The realistic and worried Eurydice is a perfect counterpoint to the sanguine Orpheus.    

Ms. Whitney’s voice is as clear as a bell and performs in many group numbers. Her duets with Mr. Rodriguez in “All I’ve Ever Known” and “Gone, I’m Gone” are gorgeous.

Matthew Patrick Quinn is outstanding as the antagonist Hades. Commanding and authoritative, Mr. Quinn conveys the steely ruler of the Underworld with verve. His bass voice is stunning with his lower register likely to reach the depths of Hadestown itself. Mr. Quinn excels in the duet with Ms. Whitney in the seductive “Hey, Little Songbird” and in the solo “His Kiss, The Riot.”

As Hades’ wife Persephone, the person who tries to assist Orpheus in his pursuit and attempts to reconcile her own marriage, Lana Gordon is enjoyable in conveying the lively, free-spirit.  Equipped with a powerful singing voice, she opens the second act with a good deal of campiness, and her solo, “Our Lady of the Underground,” does just that. Ms. Gordon also performs well in group numbers including “Livin’It Up On Top” and the duet with Mr. Quinn “How Long?”

The Fates consist of three singers who are omniscient and all-seeing and who provide commentary and advice throughout the show. They are played very well by Belén Moyano, Dominique Kempf, and Nyla Watson. The trio performs in several numbers including “When the Chips are Down” with Ms. Whitney and “Word to the Wise.”

The talented Workers Chorus include Sean Watkinson, Jordan Bollwerk, Jamal Lee Harris, Courtney Lauster, Eddie Noel Rodriguez and Racquel Williams.

Hadestown is an entertaining and vibrant production with exceptional performers, music, costumes and staging. It takes us back to mythical time but has a relationship to the world we live in today. A key takeaway is keep moving forward and do not turn back. Should you see Hadestown at the Hippodrome? Hell yes!

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

Hadestown runs through April 16 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.

Photos: T. Charles Erickson