Review: 'The Value of Moscow' at Dark Horse Theatre Company

Review: 'The Value of Moscow' at Dark Horse Theatre Company

It’s risky business for a theatre company to stage unknown/new works. There is no telling how the audience will react. In the case of The Value of Moscow (written by Amy Dellagiarino), the risk payed off. Dark Horse was able to put forward a very entertaining, fresh piece of theatre. The plot is described as “Three grown "adult" sisters are thrust back into living together as a last resort after their various lives have fallen apart”. It makes many allusions to Chekhov’s play Three Sisters and takes inspiration from many of his other works as well. Just like a true Chekhovian work, the play deals with numerous serious events/themes but is, at its core, a comedy of life. Part farce and part family drama, the show has something for everybody!

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Review: 'Godspell' at Rooftop Productions

Review: 'Godspell' at Rooftop Productions

Ryan Walker excelled in the role of Jesus, commanding attention and focus every time he was on stage. He ranged from kind to stern to loving, and ultimately to heartbroken. I believed he cared for each and every one of his “disciples” and only ever wanted the best for them. His vocals never faltered, and he never seemed out of the moment. The script doesn’t provide very many given moments for Judas to shine in the piece, but that didn’t stop Jay Tilley from creating his own moments to shine. He gradually broke off from the group and made it clear he wasn’t buying everything Jesus was selling. The two worked quite well together, making the ending of the musical that much more tragic.

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Review: 'Craving For Travel' with Dark Horse Theatre Company

Review: 'Craving For Travel' with Dark Horse Theatre Company

In my experience, true theatre magic doesn’t come in huge auditoriums or expensive venues. It comes from small rooms or meeting spaces. Such was the case for Craving For Travel presented by Dark Horse Theatre Company. From the moment you enter the venue (a historic church), you are engrossed in a sense of community and love of the theatre. The show follows a hectic day by two rivaling travel agents (once married to each other) and the interactions they have throughout the day. The fun part is that only two actors are on stage, playing the agents and everyone they come in contact with. This leads to hilarity and entertainment for the audience.

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Review: "9 to 5" at Prince William Little Theatre

Review: "9 to 5" at Prince William Little Theatre

Musical adaptations of movies are all the rage right now, and for good reason. They’re easily recognizable, thus drawing in large audiences. “9 to 5” is no exception, with its timeless music and story. Dolly Parton, an original star in the film, penned the musical's lyrics and music, while Patricia Resnick wrote the book. Prince William Little Theatre staged a rather entertaining production of this show which I am glad I saw, over this past weekend.

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Review: "Barnum" at Prince William Little Theatre

Review: "Barnum" at Prince William Little Theatre

While many of us are still awestruck over the smashing success that was The Greatest Showdown, we might forget that it wasn’t the first musical to deal with P.T. Barnum, nor was it the most accurate musical to do so. The great folks at PWLT, possibly cashing in on the subject’s popularity, mounted a very entertaining production of Barnum. Barnum, as the name suggests, follows the life and tribulations of P.T. Barnum, spanning decades and focusing mostly on what happened behind the scenes of his illustrious circus. It begins with Barnum in a low-profile sideshow, attempting to sell “Humbug” to as many people as he can, then we slowly see him become more and more successful, leading to his museum purchase. After that, we see tragedy after betrayal after tragedy as Barnum must ultimately figure how to go about his love of the circus.

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Review: "The Addams Family" at Rooftop Productions

Review: "The Addams Family" at Rooftop Productions

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Addams Family the Musical at The Center for the Arts in Manassas, Virginia. The musical, as expected, is based on the old Addams Family TV show and the 1990’s films. The show, put up by Rooftop Productions, follows an older Wednesday Addams who believes she has fallen in love with a young man, Lucas. Lucas and his family come from Ohio, which is a stark contrast to the Addams’s interesting lifestyle. Trouble in sues when Wednesday asks her father, Gomez, to keep the couples potential marriage a secret from Morticia, Gomez’s wife and Wednesday’s mother. This causes a rift in the family and all relationships involved.

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Review: Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors

Christian Jost

  • OnStage Washington D.C. Critic

I’ve always had a soft spot for Little Shop of Horrors. It was the first musical I ever saw live and it solidified my dreams of wanting to be a performer. That being said, I try to see it whenever I can, especially when an institution with a reputation like SSMT mounts a production. Little Shop was first introduced to the world with a 1960 “dark comedy” film that was eventually transformed into a stage musical by Alan Menken (Music) and Howard Ashman (Book and Lyrics). It was first mounted in 1982 and reached main stream fame with its 1986 movie adaptation. This production was directed by Robin Higginbotham, with musical direction by John Clanton. This show follows Seymour Krelborn as he begins to find success in his poor community, all thanks to a new breed of plant life he’s discovered. However, things take a turn when his plant reviles it can talk and make all of Seymour’s dreams come true, including winning over the love of Seymour’s life, Audrey. However, like with most things, the plants favors come with a price.

Picture Credit: C. King Photography

Picture Credit: C. King Photography

This cast consisted of only 8 actors. That’s it. Now I fully understand that this is “traditional”, in the sense that that is how it was done when the show was first put up but it’s hardly ever done that way anymore, and I feel for a good reason. The stage looks so empty when you only have 5 or 6 actors on stage for the large numbers like “Skid Row” and “Suppertime”. It felt like SSMT had spent their budget for actors on the other shows in their summer stock so they decided to do this show with as few people as possible, which is very unlike them. All that being said, with what little cast they had, they still had some good performances. Jeremy Scott Blaustein excelled as the show’s lead, giving us great vocals and a defined character. Lauren Wright also did remarkably well as Audrey, a role that requires serious commitment and focus. The “urchins” were played by Dorian McCorey (Chiffon), Jordan Leigh McCaskill (Crystal) and Adia J. Seckel (Ronnette). All though at times it appeared the group struggled vocally at some points in the show, Mrs. McCaskill never disappointed, acting as the leader of the 3, she definitely gave the strongest performance of the group. Jef Mueller and Russell Rinker both also gave solid performances as Mushnik and Orin/others respectively. 

The real star of this show was the set and lights. The set was beautiful, which is ironic sense it was depicting the worst of America. Every part of the set was used at some point and it just captured the tone of the show so well. I particularly enjoyed the strong uses of green to drive home the main theme of envy/greed in this show. Kudos to Michael “Jonz” Jones for the scenic design in this production. Lighting credit goes to William McConnell Bozman, whose designs really drew the audience in. Plus everyone loved the lightning bolts shaped like plant roots!

Picture Credit: C. King Photography

Picture Credit: C. King Photography

My biggest issue with this show was the plant, Audrey II, both as a prop and as a character. Now I don’t believe that the plant always needs to be cast as it’s traditional race, but it needs to have that soulful jazzy voice and , in this case, Dan Morton didn’t have it. If you’ve ever seen Little Shop before then you know how important the plant is and this Audrey II felt very wooden, as if he was reading from a script. I also had an issue with how fake the plant looked, now I understand it must, obviously, look a little fake due to its nature but it was so clearly a puppet that it took the audience out of the moment. I think that was a big directing issue with the whole show, it couldn’t decide whether it took itself seriously or not. I appreciate that this show can be slightly cliché at times but the message in it is still important and it felt SSMT comically brushed over the messages to get laughs. Don’t get me wrong, this show had absolutely strong moments, it just didn’t deliver on other aspects. That can be said of all shows. 

Little Shop of Horrors is up through the end of this weekend in Winchester Va. The cast is having fun throughout and the set alone is worth the price of a ticket! Tickets can be found here http://www.ssmtva.org/. 

Review: Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre’s 'The Pirates of Penzance'

Christian Jost

  • Onstage D.C./L.A. Critic

Gilbert and Sullivan. Without me having to say anymore you can already hear/see what we’re talking about today. We’re talking that masterful patter song style with sweeping instrumentals, and if you’re like most, you think The Pirates of Penzance. The Pirates of Penzance is classified as an Operetta, the style Gilbert and Sullivan excelled at. Operetta’s bridged the gap between the classical Opera style we know so well and the musicals we watch/listen to everyday. Operettas were some of the first shows that told a story through both song and dialogue. This show, Pirates of Penzance, is generally regarded as a classic and a family favorite for all generations. It follows the tale of an indentured pirate, Frederic, as he is relieved of his pirate service and then vows to end the scourge of piracy. On his first day off the ship he encounters a Major General and all of his daughters, the fairest one being Mabel.

Photo: "C. King Photography"

Photo: "C. King Photography"

Conflict appears when Frederic is informed by his old caretaker Ruth and his old captain, The Pirate King, that he may not be as free from his pirate service as he thinks. All the while being a laugh riot for the audience.

This show was excellent in many ways but perhaps its greatest achievement was how well it was able to capture the sense of parody and farce that Gilbert and Sullivan intended it to have. They added 4th wall breaks to entertain the audience, they gave us excellent comedic timing on the lines, they had great comedic direction when it came to physicality, they even had a sword fight with the conductor. It’s easy to lose a lot of the humor surrounding this show as it is written in a musical style that is considered old fashion these days, but we mustn’t forget this show was written to be funny and to poke fun at society, class systems, and of course, other musicals. The company and crew understood that perfectly and delivered it so well and convincingly that if felt like the show could have been written yesterday. I didn’t want it to end!

There were standout performances all around this show. Elizabeth Albert (Ruth) gave such a great and comedic portrayal of an older women begging for Frederic’s affection. Frankie Thams gave a phenomenal performance as Frederic, singing and acting the part perfectly. The role of Mable calls for serious vocal talent and Katie Davis had enough to spare! She sang beautifully and added a little feistiness into Mabel’s character that isn’t usually seen, making us like her character much more. Matthew R. Wilson gave a hilariously brilliant portrayal as the Major General, acting as a median between the audience and the action on stage. Dan Morton also showed his wonderful physical humor and talented dance moves as the Sergeant. It is indeed a glorious thing to be a Pirate King and Russell Rinker proved it. He was indeed the crowd favorite of the night and mine as well, showing wonderful humor and vocal skill to create the perfect character. This show also included a very professional ensemble, with standout leading ensemble performances by Sarah Summerwell, Madelyn Pyles and Josh Walker.

This production was wonderfully directed by Jeremy Scott Blaustein, with stylized choreography by Trey Coates-Mitchell. As stated above, they both captured the true spirit of humor in this show, having jokes that could have been right out of a David and Jerry Zucker movie. This show also featured a whimsical yet stunning set, with Scenic Design by Michael “Jonz” Jones. Under the musical direction of Karen Keating, the cast and orchestra seemed musically flawless. Gilbert and Sullivan may be the only thing harder to perform musically than Sondheim, and they all pulled it off!

I don’t say this often but this show is a MUST SEE. It’s up till the end of this weekend at Shenandoah University in Winchester Va. Tickets can be bought here http://www.ssmtva.org/ . Don’t miss out!

 

Review: 'Footloose' with the Mclean Community Players

Christian Jost

  • OnStage Washinton D.C./L.A. Critic

This past weekend was the opening for the Mclean Community Player’s production of Footloose; which, as many of you know, is an adaptation of the beloved 80’s teen movie of the same name. The show was adapted for the stage by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie. Original music came from Tom Snow and lyrics from Dean Pitchford. Footloose follows the story of Ren McCormack as he transitions from city life in Chicago to small town life in Bomont. Conflict arises when Ren realizes that Bomont has very strict laws against teenage activities, specifically dancing. These laws were created and are upheld by the town’s Reverend, who lost his son in a tragic accident years prior. The Reverend’s attempts to keep the town’s youth safe backfire, and it pushes his own daughter Ariel farther and farther away.

Ok, let’s move on to the topic at hand: The McLean Community Players production of Footloose, Directed and Choreographed by Shaun Patrick Moe. I'll admit that I had my reservations about seeing this show but I was excited to see what this cast would do with it. This production provided many solid performances, many from its supporting cast. Sara Talebian gave an excellent performance as Ariel’s best friend Rusty.  She gave a very honest portrayal of a confident small town girl trying to get the guy of her dreams and protect her friends. Sierra Hoffman and Tori Garcia also gave great performances as Ariel’s friends Wendy Jo and Urleen; they had great chemistry together and excelled comically and musically. Jon Simmons also stood out as Ren’s best friend Willard, he provided us with huge laughs and really won the affection of the audience. The best performance of the night was undoubtedly given by Nikkie Culbreth as Ariel. She sang beautifully, and her acting couldn’t be topped. She showed us humor, sensuality, rebellion, hatred, acceptance, and humanity in this flawless performance.  She was always in the moment, and as a result, completely stole the show. 

While Morgan DeHart had looked the part, and surely had his moments as Ren McCormack, something didn’t click.  As far as I could tell, it was inexperience that hindered DeHart. He seemed very uncomfortable and nervous on stage, speaking way too quickly and not very convincingly. That being said, it actually allowed for an interesting dynamic because Ariel became the lead character of the show, making us care about her story over all others; whether that is good or not is debatable, but it was indeed different perspective and an overall triumph for Culbreth. 

The choreography was also a triumph is this show, being just simple enough that everyone on stage could pull it off and difficult enough that the audience was impressed. The ensemble excelled at the choreography, and if they made any mistakes I sure couldn’t tell. The ensemble was what really kept this audience engaged, they all seemed to click together and made great character choices. Everything the ensemble did seemed fresh and new, like they were showing it to us for the first time. The strongest ensemble members were Franklin Williams, Michael Ferry, Megan Khaziran, and Clair Baker. The best ensemble performance and the best song in general was the classic “Holding Out for a Hero”. Of all the songs Dean Pitchford brought over from the movie, this one works the best in the Musical and this cast pulled it off flawlessly. 

The set design by Bill Brown also stood out; it managed to give us everything we needed to get lost in the scenes without having a completely cluttered stage.  Although at times some songs seemed too high for certain characters; they never let that stop them and sang their hearts outs. Praise to Music Director Lori Roddy for that and the other great music in the show. Matt Robotham also did an outstanding job on percussion for the show and that goes for the entire pit orchestra who all did great. Their were a couple sound issues but other than that the tech for this show seemed to run smoothly, kudos to the crew for that.

Despite a few of this production's setbacks, I can’t deny the fact that it is entertaining. The cast is truly having fun on stage and the audience can tell. We root for them. This show is up for two more weekends in McLean Virginia, a suburb of Washington D.C.! Tickets and info can be found here.  

Review: Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre’s 'Sweeney Todd'

Christian Jost

  • OnStage D.C./New York Critic

Winchester VA - I for one, am a huge fan of the Sweeney Todd movie, if for no other reason than Johnny Depp’s performance alone. That being said, I had high expectations for SSMT’s production of Sweeney Todd, and they sure did deliver. The movie is good, but it doesn’t let the viewer see the full spectacle you experience when the show is done live right in front of you. Sweeney Todd was originally penned by Stephen Sondheim, with the book by Hugh Wheeler. The first production opened in 1979 and went on to win numerous Tony’s, including Best Musical. The show follows the life of Benjamin Barker as he returns to London after being wrongfully imprisoned and takes on a new persona, Sweeney Todd. He seeks restitution and eventually revenge, and, well, the rest is the play and he wouldn’t want us to give it away!

This production had some very good performances, including Christopher Sanders in the titular role. Sanders gave an impressive performance, although at times the acting felt a little over the top. Now, granted, in a show like this that is expected, but the performance seemed very “one level”, meaning he didn’t give us those real, human, moments that Sweeney Todd is supposed to have in order for the audience to accept his character: A broken man who has lost his way. That’s actually the one big note I had for the show in general; it all seemed very one dimensional, the lights were always at the same level, the set was always dark and solemn, the characters never seemed to have moments of humanity. This is a dark show, but it’s also a show where everyone feels like what they’re doing is justified and sensible.  I never really felt that. There were also standout performances from Christopher Prasse as Anthony, Gabriella Francis as Johanna, and Michael Forest as The Beadle. The true star of this production was Dolly Stevens as Mrs. Lovett. She gave the role every emotion it called for, whether it was humor, lust, greed, guilt, etc.  She gave all her energy to us and we then in return we gave it back to her. 

Dolly Stevens and Christopher Sanders. Photo by C.King Photography.

Dolly Stevens and Christopher Sanders. Photo by C.King Photography.

The thing that made this production so entertaining was the ensemble. They were almost constantly on stage, watching, listening, moving set pieces, singing, etc. They were the most believable part of the show, always being in the moment. The ensemble in this musical serves as a Greek chorus of sorts, always reprising “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” with new information in it. It’s vital that the ensemble gets the audience’s attention and they definitely had mine throughout. I also always approve of a diverse ensemble, and although this one may have been as racially diverse as others I’ve seen, it was also diverse with body types. There were tall men, tall women, short men, short women, bigger men, children sized people, and many others. It looked like how a neighborhood would actually look, everyone being different. Some standout ensemble members were Sarah Summerwell, Madelyn Pyles, and Josh Walker.

Other impressive things about this production were the music, the costumes, and director’s choices. There’s no doubt that Sondheim is some of the hardest Broadway music to sing and play, and this cast and orchestra pulled it off flawlessly. I give credit to Thomas Albert, the Musical Director and Conductor for that. The costumes helmed by Jennifer Flitton Adams were also a remarkable part of this show.  Everything was beautiful, even the things that were supposed to resemble poverty were designed with detailed elegance. Director and Choreographer Edward Carignan also did some lovely things with this show, whether it was casting an older couple for the leads, synchronized movement for the ensemble, an interesting approach to the murder presented in the show, or a very clever opening, he did a good job all around. The set was also beautiful; I thank William Pierson for allowing me to view his work.

In conclusion, I do recommend this show because it is something different. Take a break from the Legally Blondes, the Rent’s, and the other modern rock musicals and go enjoy the genius of Sondheim. This show is up through the end of this weekend and I encourage everyone to visit Winchester, VA and experience this well crafter piece of art! Tickets available here:  http://www.ssmtva.org/box-office/ 
 

 

Review: 'Next to Normal' at the Keegan Theatre

Christian Jost 

  • OnStage Washington D.C. Critic

I’ll admit that I hadn’t ever really appreciated Next to Normal until I had to perform “Just Another Day” for a class project in high school and ever since then I’ve been obsessed with this show. The excellent music by Tom Kitt and the Lyrics/Book by Brian Yorkey are revolutionary in their style, honesty and realism. Next to Normal was one of the first to approach its subject matter, mental illness, in such a way that it educated people about something they couldn’t relate to unless it affected them personally. It also received acclaim from medical professionals about how realistic the illnesses are portrayed as well as how the doctors would go about treating them.

The show follows a middle class family, the Goodmans, as they deal with the mother of the house and her worsening bipolar disorder. Diana’s mental state takes a toll on her entire family, including her husband Dan, her daughter Natalie, and in a way her son Gabe. There are also appearances by Diana’s doctors and Natalie’s love interest, Henry.

Chad Wheeler and Kari Ginsburg in ”Next to Normal” from The Keegan Theatre. (C. Stanley Photography)

Chad Wheeler and Kari Ginsburg in ”Next to Normal” from The Keegan Theatre. (C. Stanley Photography)

From the moment you walk into the Keegan Theater you feel like you’re part of a community of people who are all there to have fun, just like you. The Keegan, which as far as I can tell was built inside an old church, is a rather small space that allows beverages in the theater and uses a tablet as a box office and it’s a very unique and fun experience. The stage is rather small and very close to the audience, however for this show that was ideal. You got to see every little movement and facial expression from the cast and the intimacy pulls you right into the captivating story. Everyone in attendance talked with one another, was very respectful, and I believe they all had a great time. I kept wishing for a theatre to do Next to Normal in my area so I could witness it and then finally the Keegan mounted an excellent production and I had the pleasure to attend and be completely satisfied. This production was a success due to the cast, the tech, and the direction.

The cast for this production was perfect in every way. Although they all looked different than what I had come to expect from Broadway clips and other videos, I couldn’t imagine watching the show with any other cast after seeing this one. It’s hard to live up to Alice Ripley but Kari Ginsburg sure gave it her best. She excelled with the part of Diana, having the perfect voice and characterization throughout the whole show.

It’s very hard to convincingly play a character that the audience can both love and hate and she pulled it off remarkably well. Chad Wheeler gave an excellent performance as Dan; we see his character’s constant struggle and loss when it comes to his wife and daughter and though you start off not liking him very much, by the end you are heartbroken for him. I had the pleasure of seeing Matthew Hirsh play the role of Gabe on Friday night. Hirsh is the understudy for the role but I wouldn’t have known had I not seen the playbill. He was magnificent and if you know this show then you know how hard that role is to pull off and he did it brilliantly. Scott Ward Abernethy gave a very believable performance, playing Diana’s doctors. Christian Montgomery also played his role of Henry very well and was the one who made me tear up in the second act. Now, when you think Next to Normal you think of the mom as being the star of the show, having all the characters revolve around her.  

At the Keegan however that wasn’t the case. Caroline Dubberly’s portrayal of Natalie stole the show. She went above and beyond when executing this role and everything about her performance was nearly perfect. By the end of the show you walked away thinking Natalie was the lead of this show and justifiably so. The one big thing that impressed me about the cast as a whole was how “in the moment” they all were, it felt as if this was the first time they’d ever done the lines or the blocking and it made the production as a whole feel very real and believable. I hope to one day work with a cast as in sync as this cast was.

This production was co-directed by Colin Smith and Mark. A. Rhea, both doing an excellent job. One of the directing choices I loved was the decision to cast Dan and Diana young, you really felt for both of them by realizing they weren’t even really middle aged yet. That choice also helped set up the depressing similarities and mirroring of Diana and Natalie. The audience realized how close Natalie could be to having this exact same set of illnesses if she has the gene for them, which is more than likely. The music was flawless, both vocal and instrumental, kudos to Jake Null for that. Set/Scenic design, by Carol H. Baker and Matthew Keenan, was another success of this production. From doors that were cut in half, to stairs on the ceiling to a giant shattered glass archway, everything made the show come together.

Caroline Dubberly in Keegan Theatre’s Next to Normal (Photo: C. Stanley Photography)

Caroline Dubberly in Keegan Theatre’s Next to Normal (Photo: C. Stanley Photography)

The lighting design for this show was also incredible, there was light were there needed to be light, color when color was justified and darkness when the characters needed it. Allan Sean Weeks really did a great job with that. Also there were amazing projections on the glass arch way throughout the whole show, done by G. Ryan Smith that were superb for setting the tones of certain scenes/songs. If I had one technical critique it would be that at times the pit was too loud, you couldn’t hear the seven people on stage belting their lungs out over just a few instruments. I know Next to Normal is a rock musical but it was still at times distracting. Other than those moments, Jake Null, Jaime Ibacache, Deborah Jacobson, Brad Emmett, Manny Arciniega, Alexandra Touzinsky, and Katie Chambers all did fantastic in the pit.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend seeing this show that has just been extended through July 16th. The theatre is unique, the cast is amazing, and the tech is executed perfectly. Also, being located in the heart of the Nation’s Capital, just off Dupont Circle, there are loads of fun things to do before or even after the production is over!

Review: “The Taming Of The Shrew” at the Shakespeare Theatre Company

Christian Jost

  • OnStage D.C./Los Angeles Critic

WASHINGTON DC - There’s nothing I love more than non-traditional Shakespeare and this production was exactly that. Non-traditional. This Production, directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, was set in mid-20th century Europe at its height of fashion.

This production also was a musical of sorts due to the fact the characters would often break out into contemporary musical numbers to advance characterization, including adding some aspects to characters that were not in Shakespeare’s original work.   But we’ll talk about that later. The Taming of the Shrew follows a father, Senor Baptista and his desire to find a husband for his eldest daughter, Katherina, so that he may then find a husband for his daughter Bianca. This seems like a harmless enough task if it weren’t for the fact that Katherina is infamous for being a foul-mouthed shrew who does not have any gentlemen callers. Bianca however, is loved by all and has many men fighting for affection, specifically local noblemen Hortensio and Gremio, and the newly arrived in town Lucentio. Hilarity ensues when various characters decide to go undercover to infiltrate Baptista’s house to seduce Bianca from the inside until a husband can be found for Kate.  Eventually Kate does find a husband in the mischievous Petruchio, leaving Bianca’s hand available for marriage. The rest is the show so I wouldn’t dare spoil it!

 photos by Scott Suchman

 photos by Scott Suchman

This show is traditional to Shakespeare in one sense: All the actors were male. They weren’t males being portrayed in “drag” however, they were just men playing females, and convincingly. So convincingly, I might add, that many people around me were shocked when they realized Bianca was played by a man (the very talented Oliver Thornton). The director’s reasoning behind this casting choice was very honest and sincere. It boiled down to this: The Taming of the Shrew is viewed as very sexist and misogynistic these days, and justifiably so. This director states that is would be “monstrous” to ask a women to perform Kate’s role and her last speech specifically, in today’s world. The all-male cast is a true look at identity in this work, not gender. It is also very interesting that the Public Theatre in NYC is mounting an all-female production of this show and I can only imagine that the reasoning is similar and the effect will be just as powerful. As Iskandar put it “maybe this play can only be produced this way now”. There are five main aspects of the show I would like to focus on that really made this play something spectacular.

Diversity

This show had just about every skin tone you could think of (the way a show should be). Starting with Katherina, played beautifully by 30 Rock’s Maulik Pancholy who is of Indian decent. Although Kate’s sister is white and Kate has a much darker complexion, I never once felt like they weren’t sisters.  I believed it all the way. Their father Baptista, played by Bernard White also had a darker complexion that fit the character and the setting. You also had Tony nominee André De Shields who played several parts throughout the show, including Vincentio who plays Lucentio’s father.  Like before, I 100% believed he was Lucentio’s father even though Vincentio was African-American and Lucentio was of Asian descent. Throw in several people with English accents like Peter Gadiot who played Petrucchio, who reminded me of Kit Harington from Game of Thrones, and you’ve got a brilliantly diverse cast of talented performers who played their roles both well and convincingly.

Costumes

The costumes for this show, helmed by Loren Shaw, were simply fantastic. As I stated earlier, the show was set in 1950’s Italy where fashion and fashion magazines were very popular. The play suggested that Baptista made his fortune by having his own fashion magazine that Bianca modeled for. That being said, the house of Minola had to have elegant costumes and it did indeed. Baptista sported a golden outfit for the majority of the show that showed his social status immediately. Bianca wore mainly pink throughout the show, solidifying her character as “a perfect lady”. All the suitors were also upper class so they all sported top notch clothing, from fur capes, to gold chains, to fine denim, to long formal jackets. Kate also had an amazing wedding gown, not to mention the excellent job the costumers did with Kate and Petruchio’s “peasant” costumes after they leave the wedding which is quite the contrast from the other characters. In a nice homage to classic Shakespeare many characters at one point or another wore costumes that while seemingly modern, also incorporated codpieces. I confess my favorite pieces were the red jackets that Petruchio and eventually Kate show off in the last scene of the show that suggested a phoenix design.

Subtlety

I could write here all day about the acting in this show and how each line was given with elegance and eloquence but I don’t have the time. The true acting glory in this show were the subtle things (looks, gestures, etc.) Now as I’ve said before I can’t give credit to the director or the actors when it comes to subtlety because it could have been blocked that way or it could have been a character choice from the actor. Either way greatness was achieved. Before I talk about the subtle things I must fill you in on some things. This show added two romances that aren’t usually present in the show, without adding any dialogue to the original play.  I’ll talk about how in a bit. They added a one-sided romance from Tranio, Lucentio’s man-servant, towards Lucentio, and they also added a seemingly two-sided romance between Bianca and Biondello, a poor local hired man working with Lucentio. This matters because some of the best acting in this show was on the faces of Tranio (played by Matthew Russel) and Biondello (played by Drew Foster) when Bianca’s marriage to Lucentio was solidified. The looks of just sheer heartbreak and loss was enough to crush anybody’s spirit. André De Shields and Tom Story (playing Hortensio) also had their fair share of great moments, especially when it came to interacting with Kate. Great subtle things also contributed to the solid performance of Petruchio who would do things like pick his toes, shove food in his mouth and so on to make it clear he was a nobleman in name only. A great performance was also given by Gregory Linington as Grumio, who appeared be the most perfected Shakespearean actor on stage. I’ll disclose that my favorite bit of subtle acting was this look on Kate’s face on her wedding day, a look of absolute regret and fear that sticks with audience well after the curtain call has ended. 

Music

As I stated above this could have just as easily been considered a musical as opposed to a play. I like to consider it a happy middle ground. This show used musical number to do so much, the opening number set the theme for the show, they had numbers that expressed characterization, secret desires, and everything in between. Just about all music came from Duncan Sheik, a composer most known for the Tony-nominated, Spring Awakening. You could tell instantly the music came from the creator of Spring Awakening, because most of it had that teenage angst vibe to it as well as great romantic numbers. These were contemporary songs that seemed to flow flawlessly into the words Shakespeare provided us. It made the plot and the characters so much stronger and it was more understandable/enjoyable to the audience. Some of the more impressive musical numbers were “Shine Inside” where the audience learns of Tranio’s secret love for his master, “Mouth on Fire” which is sung by the ensemble as Petruchio tames his shrew, and the closing number “The End of the Outside” which left a bittersweet taste in the audience’s mouth and left us wondering if this really was one of Shakespeare’s comedy’s we had just watched. The strongest Vocalists were Telly Leung (playing Lucentio) and Drew Foster who were just brilliant. Also, with any musical number there is choreography, so kudos to Chase Brock on the good work there.

Audience Interaction

 photos by Scott Suchman

 photos by Scott Suchman

This aspect of the show was like nothing I had ever seen, heard of, or experienced before. It started out when you first got the Theatre and there were merchants as well as actors from the production who talk with you and encouraged pictures. They sang, drank, and laughed throughout the theatre which made you care about these characters before the curtain even went up because you just danced and sang with them in the lobby! They also made a point to block scenes throughout the audience periodically so we felt included. I was in the front row so they interacted with me more than most, and it made me feel very special and invested into this production. The most interesting and creative thing happened at intermission. Right before intermission there was the marriage of Kate. Intermission was the reception of the wedding on stage. So the audience was invited on stage to drink and mingle with the cast for twenty minutes, all the while the cast was still in character and performing musical numbers. They served wedding cake and wine, to over age patrons of course, and there was also some interesting character development happening if you were paying attention that I won’t spoil for you. The cast also greeted the audience in the lobby after the show was over and talked and took pictures and it was such a great time for all.

So in conclusion I recommend this show to anyone and everyone. It is an important look into society not only back then but also how society is moving forward. There isn’t a weak actor in the bunch or a weak vocalist, and you’ll never feel more involved or attached in another production the way this The Taming of the Shrew will makes you feel. This production is on till June 26th and tickets can be bought online (http://www.shakespearetheatre.org/) or you can call 202.547.1122. Please do yourselves a favor and see this show before it’s too late!

Review: “My Fair Lady” with the Pickwick Players

Christian Jost

  • OnStage Virginia Critic

I’ll be honest, up until Saturday night, I had never seen My Fair Lady, the play or movie. All I knew was the general plot and that the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised at the production the Pickwick Players put forward, even though I’m not a fan of the musical itself. My Fair Lady follows the life of a young Ms. Eliza Doolittle as she is thrown into the lives of Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering, who believe they can transform her into a proper young lady as opposed to the street girl she really is. This proves to be more difficult than Prof. Higgins anticipated, causing him to spend night after night teaching Eliza before she finally gets it. The show takes a turn however when Eliza doesn’t know that she is a transformed lady and must decide the proper thing to do when choosing how to spend the rest of her life.

The Pickwick Players, primarily located in Hamilton VA, have been doing productions for just about 11 years now and show no signs of stopping. They’ve presented 23 full scale musicals that range from “The Secret Garden” to “High School Musical”. They also have an annual summer camp for younger actors that put up musicals as well. If you’re in the area and want to learn more about the group check out their website, www.thepickwickplayers.com. 

Standout performances in this production would Include Kristen Fitzgerald who plays Eliza. I’ve had the honor to see Kristen perform in another production where she didn’t have an accent, which lead to my surprise when seeing how flawless her dialects were and how seamlessly she switched between them when need be. She also had a perfect voice for the part and was able to sing her high notes to the back of the house with no trouble.  Jeff Mitchell gave a very believable performance as Higgins, making the audience laugh and cringe whenever the show called for it. Although Mr. Mitchell stumbled over a line here or there, it actually managed to work for the character, it felt as if the character began to speak, realized the diction and syntax of the statement wasn’t good enough and decided to reword it. The most impressive thing about Fitzgerald and Mitchell was that those roles were double cast! Usually I don’t care for double cast shows because they always feel lacking in quality, as most actors only give 50% because they only get 50%. This was definitely not the case in this production, both gave it 100% and if I hadn’t looked at the program I would have thought the roles were theirs exclusively.  Although John Geddie took a little while to get his energy up as Colonel Pickering, once it was up it stayed up.  He wound up getting some of the best laughs of the night as well as showing the kindhearted aspect of the show that isn’t present in many of its characters. Finally, Bill Kirkendale showed amazing commitment to his character, Eliza’s father, and seemed to execute this role to perfection. His accent, mannerisms, movement and overall performance were the most authentic of the show.

The most impressive thing to me in this production was the Ensemble. As we all know, the Ensemble can either be a fun and great experience or terrible depending on how the cast approaches it. It’s no secret that some people in the Ensemble auditioned for leads and didn’t get them and became bitter, usually this reads pretty well on stage as it feels like the ensemble isn’t really interacting with each other and just sings the songs because the script tells them to. However this Ensemble had none of that; they were completely engaged with each other and professionally acted and reacted to the surroundings (meaning they didn’t take away from the leads, they just shined on their own without forcing the audience to pay attention to them). Some standout members of the Ensemble were Erica Stewart, Bob Rosenberg, Donna Russel (who also gave a great performance as Mrs. Higgins, Henry’s mother), Mike Goshorn and my personal favorite Loralee Price.

As a critic I can’t tell you whether the direction by Michele Reynolds and Donna Russell was really good or the characters were excellent at making choices or some combination of both but somehow something impressive stuck.  In a play the audience can expect to see a certain amount of “garbage” which means characters do things like fix their hair, adjust their clothes, or do any number of things that don’t fit the scene. This show however, lacked that as every movement by the actors seemed precise and intentional. I commend them for that. Although there was little choreography in the show, the choreography they did have seemed very synchronized.  Kudos to Theresa Pazanowski for that.

Another shining star in this production was the costuming. It’s no secret costume budgets for community theatre are very small, the Pickwick Players however spared no expense. The costumes were perfect for everyone in the cast. Whether it was Eliza’s elegant ball gowns, Higgins proper English cardigan or some the largest hats you’ve ever seen for the horse race goers. I hope to see more community shows where the costume artists/designers put as much detail and effort into their costumes as Deirdre Breithaupt, Katie McDaniel, Loretta deLamare, And Lou Mitchell. This production used tracks instead of a live band, which is usually no problem, however there were a few times when the music was too loud to hear the singing on stage. That being said, the vocals in this show, taught by the music director Mike Goshorn, were all pretty solid. Some standout songs included “I Could Have Danced All Night”, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly (Reprise)”, and “Get Me To The Church On Time”.

What plagued this production the most were the long set changes. Granted they performed on a middle school stage which are all very tight to maneuver but having several 40+ second set changes in a show that is already over 3 hours long is a bit excessive. The stage also seemed to be a bit cluttered at times due to the large amount of people in the cast. I understand the desire to cast as many people as possible in a show like this but in my opinion there needed to either be a smaller cast or a less complicated to set. Having both combined caused the audience to be overwhelmed at times, making them lose focus from the performance as a whole and nobody wants that. I won’t blame the actors for the slower pace of this show because that’s just the kind of show it is. It’s a more old fashion type of musical and we don’t really relate to its themes as much anymore. They did the best they could with the material they were given and put forward a show to be proud of. I hope to see them continue to grow and put up great works in the future!

Photo: Donna M Kross