Spring Awakening, Caught with its Pants Down.
By Ben Ryland

The original 1890’s play, Spring Awakening, by Frank Wedekind (translation: Jonathan Franzen) is currently being performed by the Mobtown Players at Clipper Mill. This is the original work that the recent award-winning musical was based on. I have seen neither before and what I have seen from the musical and its score was not that impressive. Staging can be everything but since the show is not still running after only a couple of years (compared to RENT) I am still left wondering about its youthful appeal.

Maybe it is merely the sexually explicit scenes of masturbation and circle jerks, or for the most depraved among, us the young teen age rape sequence. God help me to understand but I just don’t get it. And I was a teenager once.

Having school boys with Rhodes Scholar vocabularies, the repressed mentality of the adults and an unexplained not of this earth ringer thrown in at the finale was lost on me. The term Moral Order is thrown about by all concerned in this German based story which is an unintentional (?) precursor of the atrocities of the early to middle last century of hatred and violence that was demonstrated by the same factions.

If Spring Awakening is supposed to be a primer on budding adolescent merging sexuality we are all in trouble and the tragedies of last century becomes more comprehensible from start to finish. Unfortunately the popularity of the musical with young people once again demonstrates we have once again learned nothing from the lessons of the past.

Moritz and Melchior are best friends in an expensive prep school along with a large cast of equally underachieving students. They speak in pompous prose in a style that in addition to being completely unrealistic is misleading disguised as sophisticated. They are just a bunch horny school boys trying to justify their actions much like the protagonists of Lindsay Anderson’s cult favorite film of the 1960’s- ‘if…’ So similar in fact that the resultant death and destruction are in much the same vein if not in exact execution.

You are aware that this is a heavy, edgy show by oblivious hints. With minimal staging, the actors speaking often in the dark, and the pretentious staging- Damn it you must know this is an important work. So important that is has been totally forgotten from the classical cannon of drama until the musical appeared. What can be more pretentious than that? Oh yes, I know: it was banned from production after being written for many years so it has to be ground breaking and truthfully provocative!

Crap…..

Using actors from the Carver High School acting program makes it even more so since most adults in the audience seemed to be shocked at what these budding adults, just past puberty, were portraying onstage. The adult’s response was almost like being caught by a coworker at a porno theatre in the 70’s by attending this show. The actors friends in the audience even tittered at many of the sexual high-jinks mimed onstage much like Jack McFarland’s reactions (in televisions ‘Will and Grace’) whenever someone innocently mentions balls or heinous.

Josh Kemper is intense as Melchior and is an actor to watch in the future. His counterpart Chris Magorian as Moritz is less effective in his pivotal role rushing through his incomprehensible dialog-at a break neck speed. As he continually questions the metaphysical qualities in life and customs he looses the audience because of his inarticulation. The splendid Melanie Glickman as Wendla fulfills her role of the sexually uninformed female but trying to keep up with the boy’s part of the sexual equation. Women are beaten, and expect it in this society so sexual and emotion repression can only manifest its worse in them. Wendla’s mother even allows a butcher to botch an abortion that kills her raped 14 year old daughter.

What seems to be the inspiration of the oft-mentioned conceptual visionary of this production, the late Terry Long, is that old dramatic standby- MORE is less. Done in a more chamber style staging this Spring Awakening might be more humanistic and approachable. At a running time of three hours and 15 minutes is very similar to Les Miz in performance but without the laughs.

Spring Awakening – Mobtown Players at Clipper Mill
This Friday and Saturday
http://www.mobtownplayers.com

Theatre News
Feb. 28th,2009

The Baltimore Theatre Alliance will present their next Post-show Showcase Cabaret this Sunday (March 1st) at the Spotlighters Theatre at 6:00pm. Your $15 donation to BTA will offer you food before the Cabaret which will feature performances from- ‘SWEENEY TODD’ (Spotlighters), HEAVY, WET SECTIONAL improv group, ‘CINDERELLA ‘(Loch Raven HS), and several vocalists. All for a $15.00 donation!!!!

Tickets: 410-752-1225 or http://www.ticketturtle.com/index.php?show=6134

Don’t miss this fun evening…………….
=========================================

Center Stage Promotional Discount:
If you donate gently used woman business attire the theatre is offering $10 off a ticket to
“Fabulations”. Use the code 09suitup when ordering tickets online or by phone. You will receive a donation receipt that you will need to pick up your tickets at the boxoffice. For more information- http://www.centerstage.org.
============================================

Loch Raven High School to stage Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ‘CINDERELLA’, March 5-7. The cast of student range in age from 14 to 18 years old. Showtime is 7pm.
============================================

The beautiful Fulton Theatre in Lancaster has announced their new season:
Hello, Dolly!
Driving Miss Daisy
Dial M for Murder
Noises Off
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Information- http://www.thefulton.org
============================================

Big news from Arena Stage:

Not only was their smash hit production of, ‘NEXT TO NORMAL’, recorded for CD release (with the original Arena Stage cast) it is opening on Broadway & the Booth Theatre on March 27th with an official opening night on April 15th.

Also, ’33 Variations’, which had its world premiere last season at Arena will open with Jane Fonda starring at the Eugene O’Neil theatre on Broadway March 9th.

A full review of Arena’s current show- Edward Albee’s ‘A Delicate Balance’, and Olney’s- ‘Is He Dead?’ are now posted – Click on Reviews.
=============================================

The Greenbelt Arts Center will open the popular drama, ‘Amadeus’, with a run from March 13th until April 4. Their phone number is 301-441-8770 and the locations is 123 Centerway in Greenbelt.
=============================================

Olney Theatre Center is presenting the area premiere of an original play by
Mark Twain, ‘Is He Dead? now until March 8th. =============================================

Arena Stage in DC is presenting a star-studded production of Edward Albee’s- ‘A Delicate Balance’ until March 15th. The pivotal roles are played by two original cast members from the Broadway production of ‘Angels in America,’ Kathleen Chalfant and Ellen McLaughlin. To obtain tickets for this 1967 Pulitzer Prize winning play are available at:www.arenastage.org or 1-202-488-3300
=======================================

Signature Theatre in Arlington has extended their production of, ‘The Little Dog Laughed’ until March 15th. Tickets: http://www.signature-theatre.org. See the review on this website. Also Signature’s disappointing and expensive production of ‘Les Miz’ closes this Sunday.

========================================

The Vags opens a new production of Harold Pinter’s- ‘Old Times’ shortly which runs from 2/27 – 3/29
========================================

Charyl Churchill’s- ‘Cloud Nine’ is now playing at Audrey Herman’s Spotlighters Theatre until March 8th. It is a parody and spoof of the Victorian age and its rigid attitudes especially towards sex. The show is suggested for mature audiences only. Now until March 8th. Ticket Reservations at: 410-752-1225.
========================================

Toby’s Dinner Theatres:Baltimore-
‘Sophisticated Ladies’ until March 15th (‘Disney’s Beauty & Beast’ next)
Columbia- ‘High School Musical’ & ‘My Way’ in repertory.
========================================

The Hippodrome has a busy couple of months ahead with the following shows-Menopause: The Musical – 3/5-8
Riverdance – 3/10-15
Celetic Woman- 3/17 & 18CATS- 3/24-29
A Bronx Tale- 4/14-26 (starring ChazPalminteri)
========================================

Warner Theatre in DC-
A Bronx Tale- 2/28-3/8
Jesus Christ Superstar- 3/17-22 (Starring Teddy Neely)
RENT- 5/26-31 (Starring Adam Pascal & Anthony Rapp)
========================================

National Theatre in DC-
A Chorus Line- 3/10-4-12
Chicago- 3/31-4/12
========================================

Bethesda Theatre-
Pluck, The Titanic Show- beginning 2/12
Forbidden Broadway- beginning 3/12
Menopause: TheMusical- beginning 4/14
To submit theatre news email: stagesbaltimore@aol.com
(list web news as the subject.

Click on News for the latest

Olney Presents a World Premiere of
A ‘New’ Mark Twain Comedy,
RENT on DVD
And Edward Albee at Arena Stage

By Ben Ryland

After 12 years on Broadway and a long laundry list of actors, RENT closed on Broadway.
The ephemeral nature of live entertainment usually only leaves us the cast recording, playbill, program and sometimes the script to remember the experience of a musical on Broadway.

But thanks to SONY the final week of performances was captured and edited into the ultimate recording- the show its self. Granted the talented final cast were no slackers but upon comparison with the original (Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs, Jesse Martin, Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin Vega, etc.) there is a slight bit of an energy spark missing on the video. But why quibble, many of the first cast show up on stage for the extended finale that can also be jumped to directly in the Bonus features. Baltimore’s Tracie Thoms played Johann in the movie version and in this final cast.

Even though I was bounced (downsized before the bankruptcy in 2001) from SONY Theatres
-and still holding a grudge after working for them for more than a dozen years- I will recommend all RENTheads and theatre lovers to check out this DVD for the following reasons- Filmed in HD with 17 cameras and incredible sound; hopefully it will sell well creating a market for ‘Live on Broadway’ recordings in the future.
—————————————————————————————————————

Mark Twain’s- Is He Dead?

Yes, this is a new play by Mark Twain. The recently discovered manuscript (Twain’s only play) has been adapted by David Ives and a fun evening is had by all. Olney has created two beautiful sets; I missed the changeover at intermission so if you don’t have to go stay and watch the transformation.

The French themed farce is based on a real starving artist, Jean-Francois Millet, but not based on
anything which really happened in his life. Millet and friends decide to have him fake becoming ill and die so his paintings will rapidly appreciate in value creating a buying frenzy which he will perpetuate by being alive to paint new ones. He was a talented artist but France was full of them, so to keep the ruse going he disguises himself as his widowed twin sister- “we have been twins for many years,” she explains.

The lone shark/art collector, Andre, has everyone in his pocket and takes a liking to the widow, after Millet’s girlfriend refuses his advances. Jokes and one-liners that would do Neil Simon proud hit home over and over. Twain even throws in a few boob and fart jokes too.

In the second act flushed with success the widow is wooed by several men both paupers and rich alike. But girlfriend Marie disguised as a policeman comes to investigate the death and gives the best performance of the show. A female Inspector Clouseau that would have Peter Sellers rolling in his grave from laughing. Elizabeth Jernigan as the cop keeps the audience rolling too in the final act.

Jeffries Thaiss as Millet (and his twin) is wonderfully sexual as a male and female even outshining his comedic role in Steve Martin’s The Underpants earlier this season at Olney.

To use the old theatre expression about acting- “Dying is easy, comedy is hard,” director Halo Wines and her merry cast of players have proven she and her cast don’t need just the script to make a stuffy era of history into a laugh a minute production. I loved it.

Mark Twain’s Is He Dead? – Olney Theatre Center – Route 108 and Sandy Spring Road.
Now until March 8th only
Tickets: http://www.olneytheatre.org
—————————————————————————————————————-

Edward Albee’s- A Delicate Balance

This 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama is now being presented at Arena Stage in DC/Virginia with some star powered actors from Broadway. Kathleen Chalfant and Ellen McLaughlin were both in the Tony winning, Angels in America Parts 1 & 2. A Delicate Balance is a huge play, and just as emotionally draining as ‘Angels’ in its own way.

The family depicted is typical. Loads of trauma, skeletons and eccentrics but with quick witted dialog. Staged in the elegant sitting room of the retired couple Agnes and Tobias the alcoholic sister of Agnes has ensconced herself upon their good nature and hospitality. As often in these types of plays the drunk is the most profound, observant and ultimately the voice of truth. McLaughlin gives a magnificent performance as Claire. Hints of Tobias sleeping with her years before are quickly ignored by Agnes as are the 4, or is it five times, daughter Julia has be married and dumped only to return home yet again. Throw in the couples best friends showing up and moving in because they are suddenly afraid in their own house and you have the ground work for a drama that only Albee could come up with.

As the alcohol flows to everyone but Agnes the sorted details arise wrapped in the playwrights usual off-kilter focus. After 3 hours and two intermissions everything goes back to normal but the audience has an understanding that this tight-knit group will continue along their same
route. There is no pivotal role in this play because every member of the group play pivotal
roles. Each with their own quirks, talking of suicide, uncomfortably details about their dead (maybe gay) son and/or drinking themselves into a stupor provide rich acting characterizations.

Director Pam MacKinnon creates a world of confusions out of chaos and pulls it off. The ensemble are a seamless cast of mostly veterans (several from Olney) who knowingly inhabit their creations. When Mama Agnes is speaking to her daughter she, “apologizes because I am articulate,” but that is a ruse also. Her idea of functional is to bring a delicate balance to her family and friends and as it often is, only to ignore the faults and histories of each.

Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance – Arena Stage in Crystal City, VA (temporary home)
Now through March 15th
Tickets: http://www.arenastage.org

THEATRE NEWS – 2/20/09

Next to Normal

Next to Normal

SHOWTUNE VIDEO MADNESS,
is a hit on Tuesday nights at the Club Hippo. The event is now 4 hours-
from 8:30pm until 12:30am every week.

The Baltimore City Paper has made SHOWTUNES a critic pick for a fun night on Tuesdays in Charm City. Everyone is Welcome to the hottest night out in town. Free Admission!!!

Bring your friends and join us. Free snacks and theme nights (with prizes twice a month). And the best Broadway, Hollywood and comedy on the big projection screens in full stereo.
=============================================

Big news from Arena Stage:

Not only was their smash hit production of, NEXT TO NORMAL, recorded for CD release this week (with the original Arena Stage cast) it is opening on Broadway @ the Longacre Theatre on March 27th with an official opening night on April 15th.

Also, 33 Variations, which had it’s world premiere last seas at Arena will open with Jane Fonda starring at the Eugene O’Neil theatre on Broadway March 9th.

A full review of Arena’s current show- Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, will be posted on this website over the weekend.
=============================================

The First United Church in Fell Point will be hosting a production of, Godspell, next weekend February 27th – March 1st. Godspell was written by composer Stephen Schwartz who also has a little show on Broadway you may have heard about called, WICKED. Tickets are available at the door (cash only) and the location is 1728 Eastern Ave.
============================================

The Greenbelt Arts Center will open the popular drama, Amadeus, with a run from March 13th until April 4. Their phone number is 301-441-8770 and the locations is 123 Centerway in Greenbelt.
=============================================

Olney Theatre Center is presenting the area premiere of an original play by Mark Twain, ‘Is He Dead? now until March 8th. REVIEW WILL APPEAR ONLINE THIS WEEKEND.
=============================================

Scapino! (a long way from Moliere) is being performed at the McManus Theatre at Loyola College weekends Feb. 13th – 22nd. 410-617-5024.
=====================================

Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind is playing at RepStage at HCC in Columbia until March 1st. At once wildly comic and deeply affecting, this turbulent love story entwines the destines of two families, from California and Montana, into a searing snapshot of America today.
=====================================

Arena Stage is presenting a star-studded production of Edward Albee’s- ‘A Delicate Balance’ until March 15th. The pivotal roles are played by two original cast members from the Broadway production of ‘Angels in America,’ Kathleen Chalfant and Ellen McLaughlin. To obtain tickets for this 1967 Pulitzer Prize winning play are available at:www.arenastage.org or 1-202-488-3300
=======================================

Signature Theatre in Arlington has extended their production of, ‘The Little Dog Laughed’ until March 15th. Tickets: http://www.signature-theatre.org. See the review on this website. Also Signature’s disappointing and expensive production of ‘Les Miz’ closes this Sunday.

========================================

The Vags opens a new production of Harold Pinter’s- ‘Old Times’ shortly which runs from 2/27 – 3/29
========================================

Charyl Churchill’s- ‘Cloud Nine’ is now playing at Audrey Herman’s Spotlighters Theatre until March 8th. It is a parody and spoof of the Victorian age and its rigid attitudes especially towards sex. The show is suggested for mature audiences only. Now until March 8th. Ticket Reservations at: 410-752-1225.
========================================

Toby’s Dinner Theatres:Baltimore-
‘Sophisticated Ladies’ until March 15th (‘Disney’s Beauty & Beast’ next)
Columbia- ‘High School Musical’ & ‘My Way’ in repertory.
========================================

The Hippodrome has a busy couple of months ahead with the following shows-
Menopause: The Musical – 3/5-8
Riverdance – 3/10-15
Celetic Woman- 3/17 & 18
CATS- 3/24-29
A Bronx Tale- 4/14-26 (starring ChazPalminteri)

========================================

Warner Theatre in DC-
A Bronx Tale- 2/28-3/8
Jesus Christ Superstar- 3/17-22 (Starring Teddy Neely)
RENT- 5/26-31 (Starring Adam Pascal & Anthony Rapp)
========================================

National Theatre in DC-
A Chorus Line- 3/10-4-12
Chicago- 3/31-4/12
========================================

Bethesda Theatre-
Pluck, The Titanic Show- beginning 2/12
Forbidden Broadway- beginning 3/12
Menopause: TheMusical- beginning 4/14
————————
To submit theatre news email: stagesbaltimore@aol.com
(list- web news as the subject.

grease_tour_054

February 5th, 2009

GREASE at the Hippodrome Theatre
By Lou Cedrone

It’s a national institution. It’s “Grease.” It first appeared on Broadway in 1972, thanks to Baltimoreans Kenneth Waissman and Maxine Fox (married at the time) who brought it in from Chicago where it had been authored and staged (on a lesser scale) by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.

Waissman and Fox retained the Chicago ambiance but Baltimorized the show by framing the proscenium with graduation pictures from a Forest Park yearbook.

It caught on. Big. It ran for seven years and when it closed, was the longest-running show “in the history of Broadway.”

It has since lost that distinction, but since it closed there in 1979, it has enjoyed long-running revivals and has probably played every dinner theater in the country.

Then there’s the movie. That was out in 1977. Another smash.

And now we have the latest production at the Hippodrome. A road version of the recent Broadway revival, it will run there through February 15, and judging by the opening night reaction, it’s another smash.

Most of the cast is new to the show. Taylor Hicks is not. He’s the “Teen Angel.” He’ll stay with the show through February 8. He’s the American Idol winner, a crowd pleaser but then all the players in the show know how to please the audience.

At heart, “Grease” has always been cartoonish, a collection of skits connected by a lively score. Knowing this, this cast moves with speed and style. You’ll see other “Grease” companies down the road but none more lively than this. It may be over the top at times, but that may be the best way to do it.

January 25th, 2009

little-dog-signatureSHOWTUNE VIDEO MADNESS – Plus a Hit and a Miss this Week in Local Theatre

By Ben Ryland

 

 

Every Tuesday night from 9pm until 1am it’s SHOWTUNE VIDEO MADNESS

at the Club Hippo sponsored by Baltimore Outloud and the Hippodrome Theatre.  All your favorite musical numbers from Broadway and Hollywood with a few comedy bits thrown in has the crowd singing and dancing. The clips are shown on the big projection screens with the incredible Hippo sound system entertaining show queens and theatre fans alike. Requests are welcomed & singing and/or dancing are not required.

 

The Baltimore City Paper called the weekly event a ‘Critics Pick’ for a fun evening out. Admission is free and there are drink specials. On Tuesday February 3rd its GREASE night and you might win a pair of tickets to the show at the Hippodrome Theatre. On February 17th it is the DVD release party for, “High School Musical 3,” with give-a-ways. Join us Tuesday nights at the Hippo and bring your friends.

 

Signature Theatre presents The Little Dog Laughed

After the disappointing (for me at least) production of Les Miz, the Signature Theatre in Arlington is presenting the gay themed hit direct from Broadway- The Little Dog Laughed in their smaller theatre- The Ark.

 

 The intelligently written and funny script by Douglas Carter Beane (As Bees in Honey Drown, To Wong Foo and the recent Tony nominated, XANADU) is an important show about love, romance, big bucks and hypocrisy in Hollywood. It seems that movie star Mitchell always gets a slight case of reoccurring homosexuality every time he gets drunk and this time his wish has been fulfilled by ‘Manhattanschoolboys.com.’

 

We all know that many Hollywood A-list actors are gay as we also know they will never come out. Here we have a story of an actor on the brink of superstardom, Mitchell (Matthew Montelongo), who has fallen for a rent boy while visiting NYC. The sweet hustler, Alex (Ivan Quintanilla), is looking for something that he hasn’t found in his life- someone to share it with.

But Mitchell’s Hollywood agent, Diane (3 time Helen Hayes Award winner Holly Twyford), is of the barracuda variety and determined to keep him on the straight and narrow path.

 

Complicating the trio is Alex’s girlfriend who is pregnant and a new gay play that is being pitched to Diane for her main client as a film vehicle. Of course she wants rewrites to make the protagonist straight, or at least straight appearing, so her movie star can play gay and win an Oscar for being daring and playing a homosexual. But Mitchell and Alex’s romance is running full throttle and she is worried he is on the verge of coming out. Yikes!

 

When Mitchell informs her that he wants Alex to accompany him to see the play Diane believes that this preference may become obvious, “like taking his mother to the Academy Awards as his date.” To keep his career on track, “all it takes is a little deception,” according to his lesbian agent. In a clever bit of casting director Michael Baron has given the three gay roles to three gay actors, in fact Montelongo and Quintanilla are long time partners.

 

The Little Dog Laughed has a unhappy ending but the playwright always defends it in interviews. It is a compromise which life is full of but it serves everyone’s purpose in this story. I must admitted the conclusion really disturbed me when I saw the play for the first time last year in New Haven, Ct. But Signatures version gets it right by really making the play more sincere and loving. Twyford is the driving force of the cast if a bit too smirky at times. The actress has all the best jokes and plays them to the back of the house unnecessarily. There is nothing subtle about the role or her performance. Quantanilla is a standout bringing real feelings to his boy toy role and I predict great things for him in the future. Montelongo and Casie Platt (Ellen the girlfriend) are both strong actors but fade into the background when the agent is preaching to his choir.

 

This is an important (gay) play in an outstanding local premiere at Signature and worth your attention. Plus the fact that it is fall out of your seat funny. It’s not to be missed.

 

The Little Dog Laughed    Signature Theatre, The Village of Shirlington, Arlington, VA

Now until March 8th.

Tickets:  www.signature-theatre.org

 Mid-life, the Crisis Musical

mid-life-tobys Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia is presenting a new musical, Mid-life, for a short run until March 8th. It is so depressing, not the show but what it represents to us of a certain age. Menopause, socks with sandals, yelling at neighborhood kids, balding, too tired for sex and needing to pee several times during the night. It’s all here and more in this 90 minute review style show.

 

Unfortunately both the show and production has its problems. The music is merely serviceable and un-melodic with lyrics that you can see coming from a mile away. The cast tries their best but there are problems with pitch in some voices and the ‘orchestra’ sounds hollow. I don’t have a problem with most small theatre productions that just use a piano but here at Toby’s you expect more. As for the acting and comic timing of the cast of six, the less said the better. Director Shawn Kettering does have fun with the staging and the video projections are a clever touch but even he can’t save the lame script.

 

The show does have some funny scenes but much of the delivery is pedestrian at best and once again you can see where the jokes are going. However the older dinner theatre crowd ate most of it up as fast as they did the steamed shrimp on the pre-show buffet. You will probably never hear of another production of this show so if this is your cup of tea hurry on down to Columbia.

 

 

Mid-Life, the Crisis Musical – Toby’s Dinner Theatre,

Now through March 8th

 

Tickets: 410-730-8311

 

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

chitty-chitty-bang-bang2

It’s a Flying Car, but Not Much Else

By Ben Ryland

 

Ian Fleming was the creator of “Bond, James Bond,” then in 1964 he wrote a book for his young son, Casper. That book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, was musicalized by the Disney composing team into a popular children’s film. Using all of his stylistic Bond writing touches he created a hero into gadgets a fantastical flying car, a foreign villain (anyone other than British/American) from a strange foreboding land and a heroine with a comical name.

 

This stage version very popular in London but not so popular in New York is on tour currently at the Hippodrome. Only this time the hero’s (Potts/Bond) girl doesn’t get laid, and the villain is silly instead of menacing, while our leading man is still very into gadgets- in fact he is an actual inventor.

 

When Caractacus Potts creates a candy stick whistle that blows we simply have the entire show review ready to go. CCBB is very juvenile, obsessively so but I want to blame it failure on stage adapter Jeremy Sams. The director, Ray Roderick, seems to have tried to work some alchemy in the production but apparently didn’t have much to work with. The songs are too generic and unmemorable to make much of a difference with the exception of ‘Toot Sweets’ and ‘Hushabye Mountain.’ You will get sick of the title tune reprised in voice and endlessly repeated in background arrangements.

 

Steve Wilson as Potts is bland but it seems to work for him and much of the cast. Vocally

most are standouts including Truly Scrumptious (Kelly McCormick) and the touring child actors. The standout performance, if brief, is given by Oliver Wadsworth as the Childcatcher and nice comic relief is offered by Dirk Lombard and Scott Cote as the Baron’s bumbling henchmen.  As for the Baron and Baroness villains they are too silly for words; to the point of embarrassing.

 

The true star of the show is the flying car of course and the effect is not just exciting but exhilarating for the audience. I could spend several paragraphs on ‘how-they-did-it’ like the Sunpaper critic has but most theatre patrons, including myself; wish to believe in theatrical stage magic especially when there are no wires holding the rest of the show together.

 

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – at the Hippodrome Theatre, 12 North Eutaw St.

Currently playing until Sunday, January 18th.

Caroline, or Change at Center Stage

By Ben Ryland

 

If you have seen the wonderful documentary- Show Business: The Road To Broadway, it features Caroline, or Change along with the other nominees for the Best Musical Tony Award in 2005. The film follows the development of the show from inception to Tony night where it was a front runner more for its leading actress, the critic’s darling- Tonya Pinkins, than the show itself. The award went to Idina Menzel for WICKED the popular audience choice instead.

 

Caroline is a domestic for a Jewish family living in Louisiana in 1963. Try as they might to show equality to the woman in the turmoil and civil rights changes of the 60’s the family members are all left feet towards her. To teach their son to be more careful with his pocket money they offer the maid the coins in his pockets on laundry day instead of a raise. Caroline stubbornly resists the changes in the country failing to improve herself with new found opportunities even though friends are going to school and trading up jobs. She is borderline self-destructive towards most barring God and her own children’s dreams.

 

Playwright Tony Kushner and composer Jeanine Tesori have attempted to tell a story of the times through those who accept or ignore change but the storyline only works on a superficial level. This is not an epic musical like Ragtime; this is more observational than reactionary and on a tiny scale.

 

One would assume that the popularity of the show is based on the staging, acting and the dynamics of the leading lady. With singing and dancing laundry appliances in the basement they are Caroline’s connection with the real world and its changes, not just the change in the kid’s pants pockets. The Supremes style singing group on the radio and on stage moves the story along more than the protagonist; a device that is limited and ultimately unfulfilling dramatically.

 

The staging here is the best part of the production along with the cast who can act and sing their underwritten roles. Directed by Baltimore native David Schweizer, he appears to know the limitations of the work but uses it to his best advantage. Regional theatre actress E. Faye Butler (fresh off her acclaimed run of the show in Chicago) breathes life into the role and sings the hell out of it too. Future directors take heed: Butler is astounding as Caroline and worth the price of a ticket. The rest of the cast with one exception is up to the task, but it’s Butler that brings the audience to their feet.

 

Caroline, or Change    CenterStage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore

Now until January 18th

Tickets: www.centerstage.org

 

 

 

Signature Theatre Les Miserables

les-miz-signature-21

Truth in Advertising?

By Ben Ryland

 

Only a few theatres have been granted performance rights to Les Miz, and those have been selected by producer Cameron Macintosh based on their reconceiving the original staging.

The nationally-acclaimed Signature Theatre just south of DC in booming Arlington was one of the chosen few.

 

Earlier this year the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia did the show in a thrilling, heart-wrenching production that was a total sell-out for the entire summer. Unhappily, despite raves from most of Washington’s theatre critics, the production at Signature has a lot to be desired.

 

From the moment one enters the theatre you are in the world of the 19th century underbelly of France. Director Eric Schaeffer has declined to discuss the money spent but with a larger than normal orchestra, more than a hundred costumes and a cast of dozens of equity actors it was a small fortune.

 

The question of what you are in for at this Les Miz is immediate. The stylized set is a cross between a ravaged junkyard and a steel roller coaster accident and makes no sense. In the first scene the prisoners are at hard labor for their crimes; shown as pulling ropes with chairs attached up and down. Was Schaeffer’s vision a stylized version? If so, then why does he jump back and forth between the stylistic and realistic? And be forewarned fans of the show- there is not a turntable barricade. There wasn’t one in Philly either only here it is sorely missed.

 

The cast consists of local professional actors from past Signature, Toby’s Dinner Theatre and Olney Theatre productions; but most of the leads are Broadway/ Road tour veterans who add nothing to the mix. Greg Stone was a weak Jean Valjean but maybe he was having an off night.

Tom Zemon seemed to be performing in Jesus Christ Superstar but singing the role of Javert.

Locals Andrew Call as Marius handled the role well & Christopher Bloch is having fun as innkeeper Thenardier and is the only one onstage that impressed me as he often does. Chris Sizemore is full of piss and vinegar as Enjolas when he should have been cast as Valjean (however he is a might young for the role). Felicia Curry plays Eponine, not as twitter pated for Marius but instead a crazy, stone-eyed stalker. The less said about the other women roles the better. Of course most can all sing the roof off the place but Les Miserable requires a lot more.

 

The costumes are appropriate rags for the most part but lacking in any wit or style. The lighting makes the show come alive in spots but misses the mark on big dramatic moments especially the deaths.

 

Intermission comments overheard in the lobby were the complete bewilderment of the storyline from newbie’s (the program lacked the usual synopsis) to major fans of the work trying to understand why they weren’t having a good time. But I must add that the show queens seemed to be the cheerleaders of the production.

 

Director Schaeffer and musical director Jon Kalbfleisch did a monumental job of such a mammoth undertaking with only 280 seats. If only the results had the passion onstage that they obviously had in attempting to reconceive the world’s most popular musical.

 

Les Miserables – Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave, Arlington, VA

Tickets: www.signature-theatre.org

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