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Wednesday, September 06, 2023

This (Sister) Act at Toby’s Never Gets Old

If you prayed for a top-notch musical to kick off the fall season, then your prayers have been answered. Sister Act makes its return to Toby’s The Dinner Theatre of Columbia under new direction with several leads and cast members reprising their roles from the 2016 iteration. The show’s themes of humanity, hope, faith and sisterhood, and the message that people can change for the better if given the right environment and support never gets old.  

Helmed by Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick, this slick production at Toby’s is as good as it gets. Mr. Minnick, who also choreographs the intricate, well-executed dance numbers, is blessed with a sterling cast whose vocals soar, works damn (oops, sorry) hard, and has a lot of fun entertaining for an appreciative audience.

With music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, Sister Act is based on the successful 1992 movie of the same name that starred Whoopi Goldberg.   The musical production opened on Broadway in 2011 and received five Tony Award nominations. The prolific Menken is best known for his composing such stalwarts as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Little Shop of Horrors and Newsies, to name a few.

There is an abundance of comedy that will keep you laughing heartily. The up-tempo songs are toe-tapping with some powerfully delivered ballads in the mix.  The influence of disco, Philly soul and gospel is evident in Mr. Menken’s score. A few of the songs are of the show-stopping variety and are performed exceptionally by the skilled vocalists.  Ross Scott Rawlings’ six-piece orchestra (he alternates with Nathan Scavilla) is well-balanced in support of the performers without overpowering them.

Set in 1977 Philadelphia, the Whoopi Goldberg in this production is Ashley Johnson-Moore as Deloris Van Cartier, an aspiring disco diva who ends up in hiding at a convent at the urging of police desk chief Eddie Souther (Gerald Jordan) when her married club-owning gangster boyfriend, Curtis Jackson (Ryan Holmes) and three buffoon-like accomplices Joey, Pablo and TJ (Jordan B. Stockdale, Brian Dauglash, and Anwar Thomas, respectively) find out she’s squealed to the cops about his murdering one of his cronies.  Curtis is hell-bent (sorry again) to find her.

At the convent, Deloris meets up with the rigid, no-nonsense Mother Superior (Lynn Sharp-Spears) where their backgrounds, personalities and religious values clash but mostly in a light manner laced with sarcasm.  Deloris brings to the convent her streetwise persona, plenty of sass, and an irreverent view of religion and is frustrated by the convent’s restricting rules.

She also brings a ton of singing talent to help the other sisters transform their hapless choir into one that is adding more folks to the pews and more dollars to the collection plate, which are needed to make necessary repairs.  Throughout her stay at the convent,she never loses her dream to be a big-time singer.

Moreover, Deloris finds the meaning of true friendship as she engages with the other sisters.  From them Deloris ultimately finds a higher purpose to her life and that ultimately they are not much different from her.

David A. Hopkins’ imaginative set design converts the in-the-round stage to a realistic convent and church chapel atmosphere. To be sure, there are other scene locales like bars and a disco that require a bevy of props and set pieces, but the design for the convent and church truly excels.   

Stained glass windows along the walls of the theater in addition to well-placed candles, projection screens and even a faux church organ take the audience inside these hallowed walls. Numerous set pieces are employed that include tables, chairs, pews, bars, a piano, beds, swinging doors, lighted pillars among them add much texture to the scenes. The staging for the scene changes with all of these set pieces involved is thoroughly smooth and seamless. Lynn Joslin’s lighting design is magnificent and augments the scene changes to perfection.

"...this slick production at Toby’s is as good as it gets." 

Dammit, those fabulous costumes! (ugh, there I go again.)  Sarah King and Carrie Seidman fitted the cast in stunning attire. Tight disco dresses, various sets of habits for the sisters (black, white and red), colorful gowns for the choir boys, pajamas, and polyester suits present enormous visual appeal to the audience.

Without question, Helen Hayes nominee Ms. Johnson-Moore (Memphis, The Wiz, The Color Purple) as Deloris turns in a star-quality performance as she did during the 2016 Toby’s production.  She offers the right amount of impudence in her dialogue, showcases her comedic skills with spot-on timing and body language, and Lord, can she sing!

Commanding a rich soprano voice, Ms. Johnson-Moore excels from the opening numbers “Take Me to Heaven” and “Fabulous Baby” to “Raise Your Voice” and “Sister Act.”

The romantic interest is “Sweaty Eddie” Souther, played by Gerald Jordan, a klutzy policeman whom she knew in high school.  Eddie is assigned to protecting her from Curtis.  His big song “I Could Be that Guy” is strong and emotional and well-delivered.  That number is enhanced by a wonderful double-breakaway costume.

As the deadpan Mother Superior, Ms. Sharp-Spears reprises her role and is the perfect foil for Deloris.  Their exchanges provide many of the laughs in the show with each feeding off each other with well-timed retorts. “Here Within These Walls” and “I Haven’t Got a Prayer” ably displays Ms. Sharp-Spears’ solid soprano voice and her amazing ability to hold a note. Ms. Sharp-Spears is excellent throughout.

Ryan Holmes as the show’s antagonist Curtis shines in “When I Find My Baby” aided by his three aforementioned cohorts.  He repeats that number in the second act as a solo very movingly demonstrating his rich baritone vocals.

A young apostolate in the convent, Sister Mary Robert, played tenderly by MaryKate Brouillet, takes the leap from being shy to confident thanks to her bonding with Deloris.  Her soaring performance of “The Life I Never Led” that depicts this discovery is one of the production’s highlights.

The remainder of the company supports the leads effectively in the musical numbers with their vocals and dancing.  Mr. Minnick’s creative choreography is exemplified in such songs as “When I Find My Baby,” “I Could Be That Guy,” “Sunday Morning Fever,” and in the revival-like finale, the reprise of “Raise Your Voice.” Another favorite of mine is “Lady in the Long Black Dress” performed by Jordan B. Stockdale, Brian Dauglash, and Anwar Thomas.

Other notable performers include the comedic Robert Biedermann as Monsignor O’Hara, David James as Ernie, Valerie Adams Rigsbee as Sister Mary Patrick, Lynne Sigler as Sister Mary Lazarus, and Jane C. Boyle as Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours.

Rounding out the company are Jeffrey Shankle, Patricia “Pep” Targete, Asia-Ligé Arnold, Adrienne Athanas, Brandon Bedore, Tina Marie DeSimone, Lydia Gifford, and Patrick Gover. The male swing is Angelo Harrington II, and the female swings are Amanda Kaplan Landstrom and Alexis Krey-Bedore.

Sister Act is an enjoyable, well-staged, uplifting musical with a solid score, stunning visuals, an amazing cast and crew under expert direction. Praise the Lord, it will surely entertain you. Don’t miss it. Your prayers will be answered. Amen!

Advisory: Strobe lighting and fog effects.

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

Sister Act runs through November 5, 2023, 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 online.

Photos: Jeri Tidwell Photography

The Menu appears here.

Drink Special: “The Van Cartier”

Monday, September 04, 2023

The Other Mr. Splash

Orioles owner John Angelos is throwing cold water on the fans’ spirits.

Orioles owner John Angelos dousing the fans with his nonsense

Without question, this has been a magical season for the Baltimore Orioles and Orioles Nation. One year removed from a major turnaround last year (83 wins) that effectively ended the rebuild, this season the O’s sit atop the American League. And that includes you—Astros, Blue Jays and Yankees.

They are currently on pace to win 101 games when just two years ago, their record was 52-110. Most betting experts prior to the 2023 season had projected the O’s to win 75 games or thereabouts—a regression from 2022. But that didn’t happen. Experts are not always experts.

The team, the fans, and both the national and local media are all abuzz surrounding this astonishing success. Even Gerry Sandusky, the sports anchor on WBAL-TV, has allowed Orioles news to share the time slot with the Ravens happenings that always used to dominate.

Attendance, though not great, has improved. An increasing number of fans root on the team in the road ballparks, no longer fearful of being mocked by the home crowd. There is a lot of well-deserved and long overdue swagger among the O’s faithful.

Nearly everyone seems excited in Birdland and for good reason. Besides the superb and consistent record in which they have not been swept in a series dating back to before the arrival of catching phenom and all-star Adley Rutschman, and in this season the Birds only lost four games in a row once, the team is showcasing its exciting and highly touted young prospects.

Budding superstar Gunnar Henderson, the favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year trophy; Grayson Rodriguez, a hard-throwing pitcher with electric stuff; slick fielding and potentially strong bat Jordan Westburg; southpaw prospect DL Hall; and the emergence of other pitching talent, such as Yennier Cano, Dean Kremer and Kyle Braddish have all made key contributions.

And when you add the likes of Ryan O’Hearn, James McCann, Adam Frazier, Kyle Gibson, Danny Coulombe, Jacob Webb, Shinataro Fujinami  and Aaron Hicks that the O’s picked up as well as mainstays Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays, Ramón Urías, Cionel Pérez and Anthony Santander, the team is jellin’ with off-the-charts chemistry and solid ability. The only on-field downer this season has been the potentially serious injury to super closer Félix Bautista.

Yes, everyone is excited except one key person: the team’s owner John P. Angelos. I could be wrong, but I have never heard or read where Angelos openly rooted the team on or praised the on-field performances given their success. Last season, with the dramatic turnaround, he called them overachievers. This year, crickets.

The O’s instituted a “Bird Bath” section in left center field at Oriole Park whereby a fellow dubbed Mr. Splash, using a hose, sprays the O’s fans seated there with water on every Oriole extra base hit or run scored.  Just as Mr. Splash soaks the jubilant fans, Angelos douses Birdland with cold water seemingly every time he speaks.

In Spring Training, Angelos, who is always crying poverty, promised to open the team’s books to the media. That never happened. My guess is that with the second lowest payroll among the Major League teams, the Orioles are more profitable than he wants to let on. After all, major league owners receive approximately $100 million from TV and other revenue sources every year before a single ticket is sold.

Then there was the astoundingly tone deaf escapade involving broadcaster Kevin Brown. It was reported that the popular Brown had been suspended following his comparing the team’s successful performance this year at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg with the futility of previous seasons. That didn’t sit well with Angelos who reportedly took offense at Brown’s mentioning the factual numbers, which, by the way, Brown read from a graphic on the MASN broadcast, since Angelos believed people would see him as cheap in those lean years.

The real Mr. Splash
The blowback was rapid and intense. Angelos managed to turn himself into the laughingstock of the baseball world, and Brown was reinstated eventually under fierce pressure. Angelos couldn’t figure out how this suspension took place.

While that was going on, Anglos has been dithering with the Maryland Stadium Authority on a new lease at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It is due to expire at the end of this year. Maryland Governor Wes Moore has been involved with the negotiations, but no signing has taken place. Angelos had pledged a new deal by the all-star break. But just like his offer to be transparent about the team’s finances, this was another broken promise. Mindful of what happened to the Colts sneaking out of Baltimore forty years ago, Orioles fans are understandably skittish.

If that wasn’t enough, Angelos said in a New York Times interview that this small market team cannot afford to sign the young studs to long-term deals unless ticket prices (already high) would go up dramatically.

As part of the negotiations with the MSA, Angelos wants to model the surrounding area of Camden Yards after The Battery outside Atlanta’s Truist Field with its shops, restaurants and bars. It’s a noble idea but logistically challenging. Truist Field is in a suburban area; Camden Yards is in an urban district with not much available land.

If Angelos wants the Orioles to emulate the Braves, he should follow their example of extending the contracts of their young stars: Ronald Acuna Jr., Austin Riley, Matt Olson (right after trading for him), Ozzie Albies, Sean Murphy (also immediately after a trade), Spencer Strider, and Michael Harris III. That’s an all-star team right there.

I am suspicious that deep down Angelos does not want the Orioles to succeed on the field, only on the balance sheet. He never gave words of encouragement as the team grabbed first place and has held it thus far. The more team success, the more pressure he would face to open the checkbook and sign the young studs long-term.

Angelos doesn’t appear to be onboard the Birdland Express. He just throws cold water on the fans’ spirits and the good vibes the team created. They will prevail on the field, however, not because of him but in spite of him.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Poignant ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at Beth Tfiloh

Gabe Lewin as Tevye

Fiddler on the Roof at Baltimore County’s Beth Tfiloh Community Theatre is “a perfect fit…like a glove,” to borrow a line from the show. It would seem to be a no-brainer that BTCT would have put on this musical years ago. Except there is that pesky thing called production rights that theatre producers and artistic directors must pursue and obtain. Thankfully, BTCT was able to secure said rights after a five-year quest, and this classic is now being presented as its annual summer musical. And it’s superb.

Fiddler on the Roof, with its iconic score, opened in 1964 and became the longest running show on Broadway (over 3,000 performances) until it was eclipsed by Grease.  It captured 9 Tony Awards of the 10 categories nominated including Best Musical, Score, Book, Direction and Choreography. 

Based on the Sholem Aleichem story Tevye and his Daughters, the show was crafted from music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein. A hit movie and numerous productions worldwide were spawned by the timeless musical.  

Popular songs, such as “Tradition,” “Matchmaker,” ‘If I Were a Rich Man,” “To Life” and “Do You Love Me” are performed expertly during Beth Tfiloh’s production. And the classic “Sunrise Sunset” during the climactic wedding scene at the end of the first act is extraordinary.

Venerable director and co-artistic director Diane M. Smith leads a talented and enthusiastic cast, crew and orchestra in bringing the six decades-old powerhouse musical to life. The performers’ ability to act, sing and dance at such a high level may make you forget that this is a community theatrical production.

With the company being predominantly Jewish, it lends a unique authenticity to the musical and that is evident throughout. Adding to that authenticity are the magnificent period costumes designed and coordinated by Lizzie Jaspan.

The story centers on a Jewish family in Anatevka, a small village in 1905 Czarist Russia. The head of the household, Tevye, tries desperately to cling to the old-time Jewish traditions while confronting the emerging changes in social mores that his three oldest daughters bring to the table. These young women eschew deeply ingrained Jewish traditions in favor of pursuing lives of their own as the times are changing.

"The performers’ ability to act, sing and dance at such a high level may make you forget that this is a community theatrical production."

If there ever was a character in theatre who one feels compelled to root for, it has to be Tevye, the nearly impoverished milkman in Anatevka. His strong-willed wife has a sharp-tongue, and he is struggling to house, feed and clothe his five daughters.   And on top of that, Tevye and his family as well as the other Jews in Anatevka face constant anti-Semitism and intimidation from Czarist Russia.

The central character, Tevye, played by Gabe Lewin, appears in most scenes in the production. On one hand he possesses a rich and authoritative baritone voice. On the other hand, he acts with a commanding presence to include appropriate facial expressions, mannerisms and timing. On one hand he demonstrates comedic instincts.  On the other hand, he can dance, too. Mr. Lewin would have made Zero Mostel—the original Tevye—proud of his work and would have applauded him with both hands. 

Once Mr. Lewin kicked off the production with a solid rendition of “Tradition,” you knew you were in for a treat the rest of the way.  He continues to soar in “If I Were a Rich Man,” the group number “Sabbath Prayer,” and in one of the more touching songs, “Do You Love Me?” with Kendra Keiser as his wife Golde.

Abby Ostrow, Ella LaFiandra, Samara Silverman

Demonstrating his acting dexterity, Mr. Lewin convincingly and endearingly conveys his frustrations with his daughters Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava.  Each one of them pushes back on longtime Jewish traditions, deeply troubling Tevye, to pursue the ones they love. 

With Tzeitel it was Tevye’s breaking an agreement—convinced by the protests from Tzeitel (played exceptionally by Hannah Elliott)—with the much older wealthy butcher Lazar Wolf, played by Brian Singer.  Lazar had been “matched” by Yente (Julie Kitt who plays the part wonderfully leading to amusing exchanges.)  

But Tzeitel wanted to be with and eventually marry the poor and timid tailor Motel (pronounced MAH-tel) played very well by Yitzchok Smilowitz. In dramatic fashion, Motel calls up his latent inner strength to fight for the woman he loves. He performs well in the number “Miracle of Miracles.”

Hodel, charmingly played by Ayala Asher, caused Tevye’s blood pressure to rise as she rebuked tradition too.   She was not being formally “matched” and instead found love with Perchik, a radical who thinks little of such customs.  Strong-headed Perchik is played excellently by Eitan Murinson.  Ms. Asher’s rendition of “Far From the Home I Love” is moving, using her beautiful voice to full effect.

For Chava (Talia Lebowitz), it was all Tevye could take.  When analyzing each of the other two daughter’s intentions, he reasoned, “On the one hand…but on the other hand…” before he reached a decision.  In Chava’s case, “I have no other hand,” he concludes.  This is a result of her desire to be with Fyedka (Kemuel Vander-Puije) who was not Jewish.  Tevye could not go along in this case. 

Then there is Golde, Tevye’s wife of 25 years.  She provides comedic balance with her brusque retorts to Tevye especially when the sacred traditions were being compromised.  Golde succumbs to Tevye’s fake nightmare ruse in a spectacular scene that includes white-clad spirits from the otherworld that allowed her to be convinced that Tzeitel should marry Motel. Kendra Keiser plays the role to the hilt.

Kendra Keiser as Golde and Gabe Lewin as Tevye

Scott Black effectively plays the Constable, an underling of the anti-Semitic Czar but one who has compassion for the Jewish community in the village.  He ably expresses his conflicting emotions between duty and his concern for Tevye and his cohorts.

At the end, the Czar ousts the Jewish residents from Anatevka and the family members go their separate ways in a sad conclusion.

The remainder of the sizable cast and ensemble provide excellent support for the principal characters with their vocals and dancing. They execute these numbers choreographed by Rachel Miller with energy and precision, which are on target with Jewish traditional and Russian Cossack dances.  Charlotte Evans Crowley ably directs the six-piece orchestra.

The set was designed by Evan Margolis, BTCT’s co-artistic director. The backdrop is simple but contains the Hebrew words for Tradition, Marriage, The Bible, Family, Home, and Community—all overlying themes from the show.

Scene changes are executed by moving large set pieces like a porch, benches, chairs, tables, beds, a cart and a well. While these changes occur, Ms. Crowley’s orchestra provides music to help with the transitions.

At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise in the U.S. and beyond, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of what can happen. Amid the music, dancing, celebrating and joy, Fiddler on the Roof, brings that poignant consciousness to the fore.  

מַזָל טוֹב (congratulations) to Beth Tfiloh Community Theatre and director Ms. Smith for staying true to the original and all of its traditions and to the hardworking performers and technical crew for executing an unforgettable and enlightening production.

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

Advisory: Fog effects in use.

Fiddler on the Roof plays August 23 and 27 at the H. Morton Rosen Arts Center located at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, 3300 Old Court Rd., Pikesville, MD 21208. Tickets can be purchased by calling 410-413-2436, visiting online


Photos: Evan Margolis/Beth Tfiloh Community Theatre

Monday, July 03, 2023

How the Orioles Can Boost Attendance

We’re at the halfway point in the Baltimore Orioles 2023 season. With a dramatic turnaround in 2022, so much so that they competed for postseason playoffs following five one hundred plus loss seasons (exception pandemic-shortened 2020) and showcasing some of baseball’s brightest stars, Mike Elias, the team’s general manager declared the team’s rebuild is over. This season, the O’s are 15 games above .500 at this writing and in 2nd place in the grueling American League East Division. With all the excitement building around this team, you would think the fans would pack the Yard.

It hasn’t happened yet.

The Orioles have drawn 921,766 as they completed their final home stand before the all-star break. That averages to be 20,949 per game, and it ranks 22 out of the 30 MLB teams.

When you factor in the giveaway promotions when free hats and shirts are handed to the fans, the team draws well. Other than those special events, there were more crowds less than 20,000 than above. The recently completed series against the Minnesota Twins is illustrative. Friday’s game drew 35,000 when floppy hats were given out. Saturday’s game brought in 40,000 when Hawaiian shirts were the treat. Sunday’s game with nothing for free brought back the usual 16,000. Even the Washington Nationals with the 4th worst record in baseball is outdrawing the O’s with the 4th best record.

This shouldn’t be the case. People around the nation are noticing the surprising low attendance. For that Sunday game against an exciting Twins team with such stars as Buxton, Correa, Kepler and Gray, the game was carried nationally on Peacock. It had to be embarrassing to see such a sparse crowd with the home team sporting such a solid record with some of the young stars already contributing.

People have offered various explanations, not the least of which is Baltimore’s relatively small market size. It is true Baltimore has the 5th smallest market size of the MLB cities. But St. Louis, which is just two notches above Baltimore in size rankings, has the 2nd largest attendance this year.

Here are some ideas that could bring the fans in and party like it was 1992.

Lower the ticket prices.

Adley Rutschman should be signed to an extension
The Orioles have the 10th highest ticket prices out of 30 teams averaging $123 per ticket. This is
outrageous given the team has the next to lowest payroll at $60,722,300. The O’s have no $300 million contract on the books, so it is crazy that the ticket prices are so high. The cost of tickets exceeds such powerhouse franchises with high payrolls, as the Phillies, Braves, Jays and Mets.

Make a Splash.

I’m not referring to Section 86 in Oriole Park that is known as the “Bird Bath”—an exceptionally clever marketing idea where fans in that section can get hosed down following extra base hits and runs scored by the home team. I’m talking about doing something significant at the trade deadline or before to acquire some quality pitching and a slugging bat in the order. The O’s have the minor league resources to package deals together and help the club. I trust Mike Elias’ judgment on this.

Last year, despite the big-time turnaround and in the hunt for a Wild Card spot, the Orioles were sellers. They did little to improve the club’s chances down the stretch and unloaded a fan favorite Trey Mancini. The lack of a big addition allowed the team to slump in September and thus, failed to make the postseason.

Fans were rightfully angered by this lack of commitment, which carried through in the off-season. Other than pitcher Kyle Gibson who signed a one-year $10 million contract, the O’s didn’t land a free agent worth talking about. Gibson essentially replaced Jordan Lyles who the team did not sign.

Also, extend the contract one of the team’s players, Adley Rutschman or other players as well. Not only are you locking in a quality player for years to come but you are telling the fan base that you’re in it to win it. This commitment from ownership would go a long way in winning back the confidence of the fans and they will be more likely to attend games in person.

Get the offense going again.

Fans love offense. When those 40,000 attended the Saturday game against the Twins, the team lost 1-0. That is so disheartening spending all that money, getting psyched for the game and had nothing to cheer for. It’s like renting a limo to an exclusive restaurant and sitting at a table without being served. Runs make excitement and fans want to share in that.

The Orioles are not a poverty team.

This is tied to the above suggestion about making a splash. While the Angelos family as well as other team owners cry poverty, it is not the case. Yes, the O’s attendance has been dismal for several years, but that is understandable when you examine the on-field product. It’s different now. Despite the relatively low attendance in league rankings, it is still an improvement over last season.

When you consider national TV, local TV, and streaming revenues as well as other income, teams generally begin each year with about $100 million in the bank before a single ticket is sold. I’m not telling owners how to spend money, but I believe the Orioles are in much better financial shape than is conveyed. Earlier in the spring, CEO John Angelos promised to reveal the books to the media. It hasn’t happened. My guess and it is only a guess, is that the Orioles with its low payroll is flush with cash and Angelos doesn’t want that fact revealed.

There may be other factors for the attendance challenges and I’m sure there are a plethora of suggestions to fix it. I believe these would work to get the fan base back into the Yard without having to hand out articles of clothing each game.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

No Wasting Away at Toby’s ‘Escape to Margaritaville’

It is summertime and you’re lying on a striped chaise lounge on a pristine Caribbean beach watching the calmness of the azure ocean. The palm trees sway softly in the light breeze and as you relax and mellow out to the tunes of one of the most popular folk storytellers of all time. There’s a tacky little bar nearby where it’s always Five O’clock.   

But you don’t need to spend a ton of bucks to head to this tropical paradise for that type of diversion. Rather, you can come to Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia to chill during its jukebox musical production of Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville.

You won’t find any sand.  There isn’t much of an ocean in the theatre.  And there’s certainly no lost shaker and salt. But under the meticulous direction and choreography of Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick and scenic design and lighting by David A. Hopkins as well as Janine Sunday’s costume design, the atmosphere is just right. And with a volcano to boot. (Recall Mount Humongous from SpongeBob SquarePants?)

“Margaritaville,” Buffett’s most popular song of all, spawned a chain of restaurants and bars that has kept that word in the lexicon of American culture. Expectedly, it is performed in Toby’s production of Escape to Margaritaville along with other popular tunes, such as “Fins,” Five O’Clock Somewhere,” “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw” (a title you won’t find anywhere else),”Changes in Lattitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “Come Monday” (as part of a medley) and a host of others.

To be sure, Jimmy Buffett is a cult-like figure and has been so for over five decades. His fans, known as Parrotheads, are as devoted to an artist as anyone can be. Yet, Buffett’s work transcends those loyal fans as his music has broad appeal in the pop-rock, country-rock, calypso and easy listening genres. His music often conveys an island escapism mindset, and that is evident in the show’s storyline. The performers’ attire as well as that of much of the audience reflects that, too.

Ross Scott Rawlings (alternates with Nathan Scavilla) ably leads the six-piece orchestra split up in two locations in the theatre in backing up the talented lead vocalists and ensemble. Mr. Minnick’s choreography, which is manifested in most of the performed songs, offers the energetic cast the opportunity to strut their stuff. A memorable tap-dance number during the song “Grapefruit, Juicy Fruit” excels. Another well-choreographed number that stands out is the amusing song “Fins.”  

Some jukebox musicals are biographical like Jersey Boys (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons), Tina: The Tina Turner Musical and Ain’t Too Proud (The Temptations). Others use an original story as a vessel to convey an artist(s) work, such as Mamma Mia! (ABBA), and Jagged Little Pill (Alanis Morrisette). Escape to Margaritaville falls into the latter category. The 2017 musical is based on the music of Jimmy Buffett with a book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley.

The plot, which brings the music to life, is light and heartwarming. It centers on Tully (Patrick Gover), a singer-musician at the bar in the Margaritaville hotel on a small Caribbean island. He performs his music at night and woos the lady vacationers during the day. When scientist Rachel (Kathleen West) joins her bestie Tammy (Anna Phillips-Brown) from Cincinnati just prior to Tammy’s wedding on a bachelorette vacation, Tully sees in Rachel something different, and after a few days of intimacy, he falls in love. But Rachel is not in love with him.

The engaged Tammy who was warned by her crummy fiancée back home Chadd (Brandon Bedore) about “land sharks” and adhering to a diet so that she loses weight before the wedding, meets Brick (Jordan B. Stocksdale), a bartender at the Margaritaville. Brick believes that Tammy is beautiful just as she is but her engagement to Chadd is a major complication.

A wild volcano eruption (why have a volcano if there isn’t an eruption?) sends the vacationers packing and the Margaritaville staff escaping. What ensues, and there is a lot, will not be divulged here so that you can enjoy the twists and turns as you are treated to some wonderful music and performances.

I will say that a bunch of words taken from Buffett’s lyrics find their way into the plot. Examples include sponge cake, tin cup or chalice, shrimp, carrot juice, porch swings. You get the picture.

As the confident and talented ladies’ man Tully, handsome Patrick Gover (Rocky, Ghost, Grease) portrays the role convincingly. Guitar-strumming virtually throughout the production, Mr. Gover’s flat abs provides eye candy for the audience and can sing up a volcano eruption. Exuding charm and passion, Mr. Gover delivers in his solo “King of Somewhere Hot” and in duets with Ms. West in “”Son of a Son of a Sailor” and “Coast of Marseilles.” He also performs in the group opening number, the vibrant “License to Chill.”

Kathleen West as Rachel demonstrates her fine acting skills during her interactions with Anna Phillips-Brown playing Tammy and with Mr. Gover. Her vocal talents shine in the aforementioned duets and in her solo “It’s My Job.” Her duet with Ms. Phillips-Brown in the popular “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” is very well done.

For her part, Ms. Phillips-Brown delivers a knockout performance, and in the second act she literally delivers a knockout punch. Possessing extraordinary vocals, Ms. Phillips-Brown soars in the duet with Mr. Stocksdale “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

As the bartender Brick, Jordan B. Stocksdale is not just likeable, he is loveable. He conveys authenticity, humor and warmth that has the audience rooting for him. He appears in several group songs and excels in the tap-dance group number “Grapefruit, Juicy Fruit.”

"[Buffett's]music often conveys an island escapism mindset, and that is evident in the show’s storyline."

Veteran actor Robert Biedermann turns in a moving performance as JD, an aging one-eyed pilot who spends his days drinking at the bar (who doesn’t know someone like that?). He adds warmth and humor to the show and sings well in “Grapefruit, Juicy Fruit.” “He Went to Paris” performing with Mr. Gover and Mr. Stockdale and in other group numbers.

Brandon Bedore effectively plays Chadd, the villain of the show, as the boorish fiancée of Tammy who is obsessed by her weight. As a member of the Ensemble as well, Mr. Bedore performs in all of the group numbers and is particularly fun in “Fins.”

Marley is the owner of the Margaritaville and is played deliciously by Asia-Ligé Arnold. She brings a frozen concoction of sass, humor and playfulness to the show and appears in several group songs.

Similarly Anwar Thomas, who plays Jamal, the busboy, adds a lot of joy and energy to the production.

Other members of the cast and Ensemble include Valerie Adams Rigsbee, Joey Ellinghaus, Angelo Harrington II, David James, Amanda Kaplan-Landstrom, Shawn Kettering, Alexis Krey-Bedore, Dustin Perrott, Cassie Saunders, Jeffrey Shankle, and Patricia “Pep” Targete.

Scenic Designer David A. Hopkins and Properties Designer Shane Lowry turned the in-the-round theatre into a realistic looking tacky bar with overhead multi-colored string light and numerous set pieces and props. It added neatly to the atmosphere.

This is an enjoyable production and a wonderful escape for a few hours. Great music, an energetic and talented cast and delicous food make this a nice summer experience. Don’t miss this show. If you do, there is no one to blame, and as the song says, it’s your own damn fault.

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

Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville runs through August 20 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 online.

Photos: Jeri Tidwell Photography

The menu is shown here.

The specialty drink is "The Coconut Telegraph".

Patrick Gover as Tully

Friday, June 09, 2023

Disney’s ‘Frozen’ Turns on the Warmth at the Hippodrome

Caroline Bowman as Elsa. Photo: Deenvan Meer

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines spectacle as “something exhibited to view as unusual, notable, or entertaining especially an eye-catching or dramatic public display.” The dictionary should also list Frozen, the 2018 stage musical adaptation of the 2013 Walt Disney Oscar-winning animated film now playing at the Hippodrome Theatre, as another definition of spectacle. That is because spectacle is what this show is.

Under the direction of Michael Grandage, choreography of Rob Ashford and musical direction from Conductor Faith Seetoo, the production is well-performed by a talented cast and incredibly staged.

With unbelievable lighting design (Natasha Katz), special effects (Jeremy Chernick), projections (Finn Ross), magnificent scenery design and construction as well as the scintillating costumes (Christopher Oram) the word spectacle is an understatement. There were moments that I simply said, “wow.”

Creating ice and snow on a theater stage is no easy task. Sure, the animated film with its artistry and technical prowess can do that with aplomb. For the stage, Disney’s magic takes over, and the audience is treated to a visual display that must be described as breathtaking.  At one point in the show, there was so much sparkly ice depicted in the scenery and on the stage, I expected a Zamboni to roll across it.

The stage version, making its North America tour, provides additional depth to the characters and expands the song catalogue from 8 to 20. With music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and book by Jennifer Lee, the songs from the original film are wonderful. The added songs are pretty good and are primarily bolstered by the splendid vocals that bring them to life.

"...a visual display that must be characterized as breathtaking."

There is a lot of energy in the show though there are moments when the action slows down because of extended dialogue. And at times the volume for some of the dialogue could be dialed up a notch. But these quibbles don’t detract from what is otherwise a superb production.

 Frozen is an endearing fairy tale that the young and the not so young will enjoy. The story focuses on two orphaned sisters, Elsa and Anna, who are princesses in a Scandinavian kingdom. Their relationship is torn apart when Elsa cannot control her powers in which she can turn everything into ice. When Elsa accidentally hurt her younger sister Anna while building a magical snowman Olaf, that’s when the problems become real.

Years later, Elsa is depressed because she cannot rein in her powers, which left the town of Arendelle (not to be confused with Arundel) in a state of eternal winter.  She remains guilt-ridden for hurting Anna and fears she has become a monster. Elsa heads to the icy mountains and builds an ice palace in order to cope with the situation.

Anna with the help of three friends, the kind-hearted Kristoff; Olaf, the adorable, crowd-pleasing snowman (puppet) whom the sisters built; and Sven, the equally adorable reindeer (also a puppet), go on an adventure-filled trek to find her sister to help restore summer to Arendelle.

Prior to that journey, Anna had fallen for Hans, a handsome prince, who becomes an important figure at the show’s end. But it is the love and bond between the two sisters that warms the heart enough to melt the prevalent ice.

A native of Fulton, Md. in Howard County, Caroline Bowman excels as the adult Elsa. An experienced and polished performer in such Broadway and touring shows as Wicked, Grease, Spamalot, Evita and Kinky Boots among others, Ms. Bowman demonstrates solid acting skills and powerful mezzo-soprano vocals in conveying her burdened character. She belts out the first act finale, Oscar winning “Let It Go,” the popular girl-power anthem, to perfection. Ms. Bowman hits it out of the park with another quality number in the dramatic song “Monster.”

Lauren Nicole Chapman is wonderful as the adult Anna who is determined to find her sister and renew their love for each other. She falls in love with Hans (Will Savarese) only to be betrayed later on. Not all princes are princes apparently. Their duet in the comical “Love Is an Open Door” with its terrific choreography is one of the show’s best. Ms. Chapman and Ms. Bowman hook up well in the emotional “I Can’t Lose You,” a song added to the stage version. The chemistry between the two sisters is amazing.

As Kristoff, the ice harvester who joins Anna on her quest to find Elsa, Dominic Dorset is excellent. With his loveable reindeer Sven (Collin Baja who alternates with Dan Plehal in a physically demanding role) in tow, Mr. Dorset’s character finds himself increasing attracted to Anna.  He performs well in “Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People,” “Kristoff Lullaby,” and a duet with Ms. Chapman in “What Do You Know About Love?”

Jeremy Davis is superb as the puppeteer for the snowman Olaf. Both Olaf and Sven are clear audience favorites, especially for the kids in attendance, and provide much of the comical moments throughout.

Christine Bowman as Elsa & Lauren Nicole Chapman as Anna
Photo: Matthew Murphy

Will Savarese does a fine job as Hans. With his matinee idol looks, Mr. Savarese is convincing as the prince that Anna falls for. But his dark side emerges later, leading to a dramatic conclusion. His strong tenor voice is notable in “Hans of the Southern Isles” and the aforementioned duet with Ms. Chapman in “Love Is an Open Door.” He also performs well with Ms. Bowman and the company in “Monster.”

Also, excellent performances are turned in by Avelyn Choi (alternates with Norah Nunes) as Young Anna, Sydney Elise Russell (alternates with Erin Choi) as Young Elsa, Belinda Allen as Queen Iduna, Kyle Lamar Mitchell as King Agnarr, Gretel Scarlett as Head Handmaiden, Tyler Jimenez as Pabbie, Taylor Marie Daniel as Bulda, Jack Brewer as Bishop, Evan Duff as the comedic Weselton, and Jack Brewer as another comical character Oaken. The members of the Ensemble are also talented and energetic.

If you pay close attention, you can identify components of the show that are reminiscent of such Broadway standouts as The Wiz, Into the Woods, Spamalot and Beauty and the Beast, and that’s a good thing.

There is no question that Frozen is geared towards children.  In fact, there were many young girls in the audience dressed as Elsa and Anna, and the lines to the Disney and Frozen merchandise in the lobby were long. However, there is sufficient humor, warmth, songs, dancing and dazzling scenery and costumes to entertain adults as well. And entertain it does.

Go see the spectacle known as Frozen. It will melt your heart.

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

Disney’s Frozen runs through June 18 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.

Monday, June 05, 2023

Pride and Prejuduce

Seattle Mariners star Julio Rodriguez displaying his Pride for the LGBTQ
community; sign on the right not so much.

I am old enough to remember when LGBTQ Pride celebrations were mocked by opponents mainly because of the attire or lack thereof worn by the participants. Before social media took off, images were cherry-picked to illustrate the tawdriest outfits and flamboyant costumes. These photos were used to raise money by right wing religious groups and others to push their anti-LGBTQ agenda in an effort to stop the legalization of same-sex marriages, adoptions and other LGBTQ rights.

Now it seems that the opponents of Pride celebrations are not confined to religious institutions but by the far-right cluster of everyday people who are simply homo/bi/transphobic. They don’t want to see our community period; we should return to the closet so that their sensibilities are not shaken.

Of course, extreme right wing homophobic politicians cynically have seized on the bigotry in the land to win voters. They bundle their hateful rhetoric under the vague term “anti-woke.” They demean drag shows, conflating drag queens with transgender folks in an effort to frighten parents. By the way, the “anti-woke” b.s. is not restricted to LGBTQ folks, but it also is aimed at people of color, immigrants and other marginalized people.

With each year, the annual ritual of holding LGBTQ Pride festivals and parades all over the world is gaining more media coverage and popularity.  These celebrations have been taking place for over 50 years since the first one in New York City marked the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising when patrons in the Greenwich Village underground bar fought back against yet another police raid.

Pride, as it is simply called, has had different meanings to different people. To me it is affirming that I will love who I want.  I also acknowledge the adversity that LGBTQ people have had to endure throughout their lives, and that we are proud that we have survived though, sadly, not everyone has.

The availability and the anonymity of the internet with its chat platforms, groups and topical pages reveal the bigotry that is still out there despite recent progress in the LGBTQ community.

Nothing is more obvious as to the extent of homo/bi/transphobia on sports fan pages. Nothing triggers these people (overwhelmingly male) when a professional baseball team announces their annual Pride Nights or Nights Out events or a hockey team wishing its fans Happy Pride Month. It gets ugly and stupid all at once.

In response to a team’s recognition of Pride, the comments on these pages typically reflect three categories to mask (not that well) the individuals’ homo/bi/transphobia:

1.     We shouldn’t mix politics and sports.

Well, you can’t always take politics out of sports. For example, there was the big-time flap over boxing champion Muhammad Ali’s virulently strong opposition to the Vietnam War. Donald Trump made political hay over football quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the National Anthem to protest racial injustice at the hands of the police.

For my part, when the “don’t mix politics and sports” refrain comes up, I reply, “People said the same thing when Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers.” And now his uniform number 42 had been permanently retired by all major league baseball clubs, and he is honored every year on April 15, the date of his first game.

Chicago Cubs pitcher Marcus Stroman tweeting his support of LGBTQ Pride.

Frankly, I don’t see being LGBTQ as political. It’s who we are. Period. The opponents sounding off against us make it political.

 Just stick to baseball.

Do these people urge to the team to “stick to baseball” when there is a breast cancer awareness night or a military night or Mother’s Day or other similar events? Not hardly. Team uniforms conform to these special days—Camo hats for military nights; pink bats, wristbands and caps for Mother’s Day, etc. Nobody is offended. To my knowledge, teams have not been pressured to wear rainbow uniforms during Pride Night games. It’s total nonsense.   

 There should be a “straight pride.”

This is the most comical category, and you will clearly note the absurdity. The notion that straight folks need to demonstrate their pride is ludicrous, and that’s being mild.  Every day is straight pride. 

LGBTQ Pride, as I indicated, is a celebration of who we are and enduring the myriad manifestations of hatred directed towards our community.  Straight people have not had to grapple with being straight in our society. Consider:

• No straight person has been fired from their job or not hired for being straight.

• No straight person has been kicked out of an apartment or disapproved of a lease because he or she is straight.

• No straight person has been assaulted or killed for being straight.

• No straight person has to hide their sexuality from family members, classmates, clergy, co-workers, bosses, friends and neighbors.

• Straight people are not committing suicide because of prejudice against their being straight.

Let’s be real. A few blatantly admit their bigotry because they safely hide behind an abstract identity. But others try to clumsily conceal their homo/bi/transphobia by using arguments contained in the above three categories. It doesn’t work. 


Monday, May 22, 2023

The Rainbow Road is Rather Winding

The road is long.

With a many a winding turn

That leads us to who knows where.
Who knows 


These lyrics from the pop song “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell and made famous by The Hollies, Neil Diamond and others metaphorically describe the events in LGBTQ Baltimore during the 20 years that Baltimore OUTloud has been existence. The twists and turns are seemingly endless. Along this road, which is alternately rough and smooth, are triumphs, defeats, jubilation, tragedies, courage and determination.

The birth of OUTloud itself was an unlikely development with its first publication occurring in May 2003.  It came about when the editor of Gay Life, the communication arm of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore (GLCCB), sought more independence in its content, and along with other investors launched a new company, Pride Media, Ltd., that published a newspaper, Baltimore OUTloud. A bunch of writers and staff who had been volunteering at Gay Life headed over to the nascent periodical.

The GLCCB and OUTloud had an uneasy co-existence at first. Some would characterize the situation as contentious. Over the years, however, there was a rapprochement, and both Gay Life and OUTloud co-existed peacefully for the betterment of the community.

In 2016, the road took another turn and a deal was struck between OUTloud and the GLCCB whereby Pride Media, Ltd. bought out Gay Life and in effect, merged providing space in OUTloud to publicize GLCCB events, such as Pride, and its programs.

The fact that these entities reached such a significant and collegial agreement after the early frosty relations marks one of the major turns in Baltimore’s rainbow road.

Politically, that rainbow road was fraught with speed bumps and potholes along the journey. Yet, it took us to some important destinations but by no means final. Marriage equality is a prime example.

When OUTloud first hit the streets on May 16, 2003, the legal recognition of same-sex couples was merely a pipe dream. The only article in the first issue that remotely touched on the subject was a lawsuit filed in federal court to strike down a Nebraska constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex relationship recognition.  Very few envisioned the legalization of same-sex marriage, not with all the conservative and religious opposition getting in the way.

As the years passed, momentum for achieving what was once considered impossible gained steam. With the work by key LGBTQ organizations, hundreds of dedicated individuals, elected officials and a society that was growing more amenable to fairness and equality, that pipe dream became a reality. Marylanders voted to support marriage equality, and the U.S. Supreme Court in effect made it legal in every state. And whoever thought that the Mayor of Baltimore, the Governor of Maryland and the President of the United States would all advocate for marriage equality?

Baltimore OUTloud was there every step of the way covering the setbacks and successes, which are intrinsic to any civil rights movement. A little less than 10 years after its first publication, OUTloud was present at Baltimore’s City Hall to chronicle the first same-sex weddings in Maryland. And that was followed up with a state law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity that survived heated and nonfactual rhetoric from opponents.

So the road seemed to have unbended with the surface appearing to be smooth. But another turn has been encountered: a sharp turn, which is making the journey more perilous.

The far right has seized upon queer-affirming books in school libraries, drag shows, pronoun usage, transgender athletes and a revived emphasis on parental control in education as a way to justify attacking the LGBTQ+ community. They have falsely accused LGBTQ+ people of “grooming” children and wrongly conflating drag queens with transgender individuals.

These ideas, which have been politically successful in many conservative areas, are threatening the LGBTQ+ communities and the gains we achieved, thus putting all of us at risk. In fact, hundreds of bills are before state legislatures (some already passed) that largely target transgender youth especially gender affirming care.

From the dim prospects of marriage quality to the celebratory same-sex weddings, to attacks on trans kids, to asserting drag shows more of a threat to children’s safety than guns, along with the condemnations of Pride events, the turn in the road is so sharp, it borders on being a u-turn.

Another turn occurred since publication day, which also could not have been predicted. Twenty years
ago, the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore, dubbed as the “gayborhood” because of the plethora of LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly bars, clubs, shops and restaurants concentrated in a small area, was a bustling place. On a given Saturday night, people were dining inside and outside the City Café. Lines of patrons were seen waiting for admission into the Club Hippo. Across the street, Grand Central was packed where you could hardly move. Leon’s, The Drinkery and Jay’s on Read attracted their own devotees.

Almost suddenly in 2015 when the Hippo actually closed its doors, the gayborhood began its descent. The ending of the 43 year-old mainstay of Mount Vernon—the largest dance club in the state that attracted visitors from all over the U.S. and beyond—signaled a turn that became irreversible. Grand Central, the next largest club in the area, was put on sale. While it tried to hang on as a viable alternative to the Hippo, a combination of factors led to its demise, not the least of it was the Covid pandemic. Jay’s on Read closed ostensibly for financial reasons. The effects of Covid claimed the City Café and the Mount Vernon Stable, which were popular eateries in the area. Flavor, the only lesbian bar in Mount Vernon, was also forced to close its doors.

Prior to these losses, the community center, which is now called the Pride Center of Maryland, had moved a mile or so northbound to be closer to a population that would benefit more from its programs. Not only did the Center leave the gayborhood but the annual Pride parades and block parties—a staple of the area every June—left with it.

Earlier, Lambda Rising, a well-known LGBTQ+ bookstore chain, went out of business succumbing to competition from online book retailers.

While other establishments have sprung up to serve the community, the identity of the gayborhood is not the same with all of these missing pieces gone. It just seems like a long time between May 2003 and now with so much happening, both good and bad.

But what remains constant despite the twisting rainbow road over 20 years is the fact that Baltimore OUTloud remains the only LGBTQ publication in Maryland.  It has weathered a precipitous decline in interest in print periodicals, the passing of its co-owner, the effects of the pandemic as well as financial challenges that all newspapers and magazines are facing.

Other publications have folded, among them and surprisingly, the City Paper. But here we are 20 years later: Baltimore OUTloud is still standing and poised to continue its coverage along that winding rainbow road that leads us to who knows where.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

‘SIX’ Reigns Supreme at the Hippodrome

Merely three days removed from the coronation of King Charles III, the Hippodrome raises the curtain on Six, a musical’s take on the six wives of Henry VIII, which is in the midst of a national tour.  I cannot say for sure if the events occurring during the marriage(s?) of Charles III will result in a musical five hundred years from now, but I can’t rule it out. And with his genetics, he could still be around to authorize it.

The production at the Hippodrome is electric—literally and figuratively—featuring six top-notch female performers as Henry’s wives and queens and an array of spectacular effects. Six is a blend of razzle, dazzle, sizzle, energy, humor, sparkling costumes, attitude, and an abundance of fierceness not seen in most musicals.

Six is a British musical comedy in which the original Broadway production earned nine Tony Award nominations in 2020 capturing two. “Six: Live On Opening Night Broadway” debuted as Number 1 on the Billboard cast album charts and surpassed 6 million streams in its first month.

Under the direction of Jamie Armitage and Lucy Moss, the latter of whom co-wrote the book, music and lyrics with Toby Marlow, Six brings a little history from the 16th   century with a ton of sass and talent from the diverse cast.  Though the accuracy of the historical depiction has been questioned, the wives and their fates are true.

 “Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.”

In a sort of a kvetch fest, Henry VIII’s six Tudor queens hold a modern pop concert to relate their gloomy stories of victimhood involving the king. They share the abuse they experienced under Henry: the misogyny, the infidelity and the brutality. The lead singer will have been determined in a contest by who suffered the most while being Henry’s wife.

To be sure, each wife had her miseries—some even lost their heads—but through song and witty dialogue they are hell bent on ridiculing the others in the pronouncements of their hardships. After all, it is a competition.

Ultimately, they decide to scuttle the notion that their legacy is so tied to one man and instead agree to re-write their own stories that celebrate womanhood, modern-day girl power and a poke in the eye of “patriarchal structure” for good measure. They do not want to be known as simply one of Henry’s wives.

All of the performers demonstrate exceptional mezzo-soprano vocals, comedic timing and dance moves that are choreographed by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille. Each queen has her own unique story to tell and each is linked to a musical genre and a contemporary pop star or a combination of several as Marlow and Moss created composites of these stars as inspiration or “Queenspiration” for the characters.

Catherine of Aragon (played by Gerianne Pérez) is Henry’s first and longest wed wife. Despite her being loyal, Henry divorced her as he chased what turned out to be his second wife, Anne Bolyeyn. Ms. Pérez is a commanding figure who would be a combination of Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and Jennifer Hudson in her solo “No Way.”

Six brings a little history from the 16th   century with a ton of sass and talent from the diverse cast. 

For her part, Anne Boleyn (Zan Berube) tried to deal with Henry’s infidelity by making him jealous by flirting with others. That strategy backfired as she lost her head as a result.  She nails the comic relief aspect of the show as she constantly reminds the other wives that nothing could be worse than having her head chopped off. Ms. Berube brings Miley Cyrus. Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne to mind with her rendition of “Don’t Lose Your Head.”

Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour (Amina Faye), claims she was most loved by Henry but under the condition she bears a male child. She died after giving birth to Prince Edward. Ms. Faye’s astoundingly moving torch song “Heart of Stone” channels Adele’s “Hello.”

Terica Marie plays Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife. She brings Nicki Minaj and Rihanna into the fold with “Get Down,” a danceable rap song about her post-divorce life.

Wife number five is Katherine Howard (Aline Mayagoitia), a self-confident though abused young woman by those in power over her who also wound up headless. She is excellent in the upbeat “All You Wanna Do” that would make Ariana Grande and Britney Spears proud.

The sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr (Sydney Parra), had multiple marriages of her own with Henry being the third of four. Parr was remembered for “surviving.” She pushes most of the feminist themes throughout and her wonderful rendition of “I Don’t Need Your Love” is inspired by Alicia Keys Emeli Sandé.

The rollicking finale “Six” performed by The Queens is a celebration of each other and themselves and puts the exclamation point on a terrific show.

Three cheers to the technical crews from the tour and the Hippodrome Theatre for transforming the elegant stage to a powerhouse concert venue. Tim Deiling’s lighting design is beyond fantastic as is Paul Gatehouse’s sound design.  Emma Bailey’s set is simple enough with nine illuminated cathedral-like arches as the basic scenery. Thus, when combined with the brilliant lighting effects, the stage becomes a stadium concert spectacle. The boisterous cheering from the audience clearly adds to that ambience.

The orchestra under the music direction of Lena Gabrielle was every bit a concert band mounted on a platform upstage providing exceptional backup to the vocalists. The rich score includes some soul, hip-hop and house music that carries the witty and descriptive lyrics. Even a heart-wrenching torch song is part of the catalogue.

Imaginative colorful, glittering costumes designed by Gabriella Slade bring additional sparkle to the production.  They feature gleaming, sexy metallic attire with boots and crowns as each of the queens are attired in a distinctive color and style that give off a Spice Girls vibe.

Six packs all the elements of scintillating theatre in its performances, music and technical prowess into a tight, fast-paced, highly entertaining 80 minutes. Its message of independence, pride and feminism and support for one another resonates.

I don’t know if Charles III ever saw Six but if he had, I’m sure he will be mindful of his legacy and not follow the path of Henry VIII. It won’t be pretty.

Running Time. One hour and 20 minutes with no intermission.

Six runs through May 14 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: Joan Marcus