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Little creatures look for a fearless leader in this fun comedy

Since the dawn of time, Minions have been looking for a master to serve. The yellow cylindrical beings are attracted to the baddies of the world and biologically compelled to assist them.
    But they’re terrible at the job.
    These yellow dunderheads have managed to cause catastrophes from the extinction of the dinosaurs to Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. For their constant failures, they are expelled from society.
    In their icy cave, the Minions long for a new evil mastermind. In 1968, three leave the cave to realize their hope. They find Scarlett Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock: ­Gravity), the world’s first female supervillain. She’s ruthless, she’s stylish and she’s beautiful. The Minions are enthralled.
    To earn a spot on Scarlett’s payroll for the banana-like brethren, the Minions must complete a trial mission: Steal the queen of England’s crown.
    Clever and relentlessly silly, Minions is a family film that entertains all generations.
    The stars are the creatures who chatter gibberish and take in the world through wide Buster Keaton eyes, sweet of nature even as they try to be bad. These are not cruel or stupid creatures, and the film seems to cherish the innocent exuberance that often leads the Minions astray.
    Pierre Coffin (who also co-directs) has the unenviable job of providing a voice to the Minions, and though he doesn’t speak in comprehensible sentences, he manages to create three distinct personalities as well as a whole host of emotions.
    Bullock has a grand time as Scarlett, a brassy villain whose princess complex exacerbates her mood swings.
    Though their concept is fairly straight forward, directors Kyle Balda and Coffin find innovative ways to tell the story. The setting inspires a fantastic classic rock soundtrack that drives the action and will have adults tapping their toes. Minions also uses 3D technology in an interesting way. Coffin and Balda play with perception, having objects enter or leave frame in unexpected places. Scenes seem alive, and the 3D effect catches the audience off guard.
    Minions doesn’t have the depth or beauty of Pixar’s Inside Out, but profundity isn’t its thing. This is a movie for a bucket of popcorn and an escape from the summer heat. As children aren’t the only people in the seats, there are a few jokes to keep adults laughing as these little yellow henchmen bumble their way through London.

Good Animation • PG • 91 mins.

The best of times and worst of times brought to vivid, emotional life

The most famous first lines in literature — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” — may make you fear you’re in for a dry history lesson.
    Not so with Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s A Tale of Two Cities. As soon as actor Brian Keith MacDonald follows that opening, you realize this production is going to be about the fire of feelings, not the dust of historic facts. Thereupon, it becomes impossible not to go with this revolutionary ride.
    Lara Eason’s adaptation of Dickens’ 1859 novel is concise, filtering out a few characters and situations to put on stage the very basics of the book that so many read in high school. (Most lists have A Tale of Two Cities as the top-selling book of all time, excluding the Bible and other religious books often given away.)
    We’re in England and France before and during the French Revolution, with the aristocracy’s long years of entitlement and cruelty punished by the revolutionaries, whose self-justified actions are just as cruel.
    This production runs only one hour and 45 minutes including intermission, but if anything, the power of Dickens’ story and the clarity of his characters’ feelings are enhanced by that brevity. That’s due in very large part to a cast of seven actors, including MacDonald, who plumbs the depths of each main character even as they quickly switch to playing multiple others.
    MacDonald plays the cynical drunk Sydney Carton, who turns out to be the hero. Patrick Truhler gives us Charles Darnay, the French noble who changes his name out of disgust at his family’s treatment of the peasants. Richard Pilcher is Doctor Manette, imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 years. James Carpenter is Jarvis Lorry, Manette’s friend. Laura Rocklyn is Doctor Manette’s daughter Lucie, loved by both Carton and Darnay, and the central character tying everything together. Joel Ottenheimer plays Monsieur Defarge, the wine shop owner who becomes a revolutionary leader. Amy Pastoor plays his wife Madame Defarge, whose cruel back story is hinted at in such speeches as “Tell the wind and fire where to stop; not me!” Each of these actors does a remarkable job switching from role to role in a way that clearly delineates the character of the moment so that the audience keeps up easily with the action.
    Director Sally Boyett, the company’s founder and producing artistic director, keeps the pace moving with nary a scene change in the small, 70-seat, black-box space. The play is beautifully choreographed so that the action is constant, yet the emotions remain the focus. Lighting designer Adam Mendelson’s illumination is so focused and appropriate that it acts as another character.
    It’s very likely, of course, that you’ve read the book. It’s not very likely that when you did you were kicked in the gut by the emotions and raw power of the characters that are brought to life so vividly in this sincere and succinct production.

Stage manager: Sara K. Smith; Sound designer: Gregory Thomas Martin; Fight choreographer: Amy Pastoor; Dialect coach: Nancy Krebs.

FSa 8pm, Su 2pm & 7pm thru Aug. 2. 111 Chinquapin Round Rd., Annapolis. $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-415-3513;

If this is the best humanity has, it’s time to welcome our machine overlords

Skynet, an artificial intelligence software system, was created to make life easier. Instead of improving streaming speed, Skynet became self-aware and a powerful enemy of the human race. Hacking into every computer system in the world, Skynet built an army of infiltration androids (called Terminators), launched missiles and wiped out three billion people.
    By 2029, humanity has a savior. John Connor (Jason Clarke: Child 44) is a fierce warrior who seems to know exactly what Skynet will do before the machine does it. On the eve of losing the war to the humans, Skynet takes desperate action: It sends one of its Terminators (Arnold Schwarzenegger: Maggie) back in time to 1984, the year John’s mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke: Game of Thrones), gives birth to him.
    To stop the prenatal assassination, John sends back his most trusted soldier, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney: The Water Diviner). Kyle imagines Sarah to be a helpless woman terrorized by a killer machine. What he finds is a warrior who takes out Terminators in the blink of an eye and has more weapons training than a Navy SEAL.
    It turns out Kyle and the Terminator aren’t the only time travelers. After the 1984 attempt fails, Skynet sends a Terminator back to the 1970s to kill Sarah as a child. The attempt, which kills Sarah’s parents, is thwarted by a friendly Terminator (also Schwarzenegger) who then raises Sarah in preparation for her 1984 meeting with Kyle. Those two crazy kids share a night that creates John Connor.
    Now, the timeline has splintered. Kyle and Sarah must attempt to change the future using time travel, explosives and their rapidly aging Terminator.
    Sound confusing and convoluted? It is.
    Try not to think too hard about the multiple timelines; the writers clearly haven’t. From its misspelled title to its horrible plot, Terminator Genisys is an exercise in audience patience.
    Director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) hammers what should be the final nail into the coffin of the Terminator franchise with this stupid, messy film. He apes the style of James Cameron’s first film, but the callbacks to the original underscore just how awful this movie is. Action sequences are bloodless, loud and confusing cacophonies of sound and CGI animation. Explosions are big, but without any connection to plot they’re little more than an expensive distraction.
    Writers Late Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier do the bare minimum, relying on the audience’s memory of the previous films and lazy exposition on the nature of time travel to move the plot along. With never a reason for what happens, characters look as confused as the audience is.
    With a terrible script and a director with no vision, it’s easy to understand why the performances are so uniformly bad. Clarke and Courtney are set up to for an antagonistic romance, but they fail to find the right chemistry. Instead of sexual tension, we have two people who don’t seem to like each other very much. Clarke also has trouble being tough. She flinches when she fires guns, screams in a baby voice and pouts at both man and machine when things don’t go her way. Only Arnold, who was born to play the robotic character that made him famous, is having any fun. He still delivers one-liners with aplomb and manages to look deadly at an age that qualifies him for Social Security.
    Poorly written, badly acted and ­utterly confusing, Terminator Genisys is the reason sequels get such a bad rap.

Dismal Action • PG-13 • 126 mins.

Area premier gives the popular film a song-and-dance twist

Catch Me If You Can: The Musical, an area debut, is a song-and-dance celebration of the lovable conman, Frank Abagnale Jr. (Ron Giddings), and the FBI agent who caught him, Carl Hanratty (Joshua Mooney). The fugitive traveled five million miles impersonating an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer and cashed $1.8 million in fraudulent checks — all before turning 21.
    The story is many things. It’s the sad tale of a broken marriage between big talker Frank Sr. (Tom Newbrough) and his opportunist war bride Paula (Alicia Sweeney). It’s a funny escapade about a jet-setting playboy who masters persuasion as a survival skill. It’s a mind-boggling lesson in counterfeiting and police procedures from the bumbling team of Hanratty and his cohorts: Branton (Fred Fletcher-Jackson), Cod (Jamie Austin Jacobs) and Dollar (Nick Carter). It’s the heartbreak of true love in the rearview mirror when the Feds track Frank to the home of his fiancée Brenda (Hayley Briner) and her conservative Southern parents, Carol (Sweeney) and Roger (Steve Ariesti). And it’s a glitzy chorus of hoofers in uniforms and hot-pants evoking the glamour of the early 1960s.
    The nonmusical Dreamworks film — starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Amy Adams and Christopher Walken — was so successful that the theater world couldn’t let it be, which is unfortunate. For even Marc Shaiman’s musical talent (Hairspray) couldn’t enrich such a rich story. It’s not that the musical’s bad; it received four Tony nominations. It’s just that the songs aren’t memorable, and the story is better told in prose. Still, to give credit where credit is due, this cast rocks the jazzy, campy, film noir score seasoned with riffs borrowed from Duke Ellington and Cat Stevens.
    Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre has assembled a powerhouse cast.
DiCaprio is a tough act to follow, but Giddings — a longtime veteran of local stages best remembered for his award-winning portrayal of Bat Boy — fills those shoes without a misstep. Charming and versatile, he is a song-and-dance tour-de-force, by turns brash and boyish, self-assured and scared, culminating in a poignant “Goodbye.”
    Mooney is equally impressive as Hanratty, looking every inch the hardened middle-aged cynic despite his youth. A theater student at Frostburg State, he played Lancelot in last summer’s Garden Theatre hit Spamalot. Together, the duo is perfect in their finale duet, “Stuck Together.”
    Briner, in her Summer Garden Theatre debut, brings both personal and vocal strength to the role of Brenda. Her tender “Fly, Fly Away” benediction is a highlight.
    Newbrough, a longtime trouper, conveys a multi-layered portrayal of the washed-up wannabe Frank Sr., creating a tortured role model who is equal parts inspiration (“Butter Out of Cream”) and desperation (“Little Boy Be a Man”).
    Sweeney, a veteran of six Summer Garden Theatre productions, charms in the elegant mother roles of the cosmopolitan danseuse Mrs. Abagnale and the conservative Southerner Mrs. Strong.
    With the exception of some amplification hiccups, this show is technically tight with smart staging and choreography. I recommend it for its astute depiction of the real people who lived this true story. Just don’t expect to leave this musical humming.

    Two and a half hours, including intermission. Mild profanity and adult situations. With Hannah Thornhille as Cheryl Ann, Colin Hood as Dr. Wannamaker and Gabrielle Amaro, Madeleine Bohrer, Lucy Bobbin, ­Amanda S. Cimaglia, Debra Kidwell, Caitlyn Ruth McClellan, Rebecca Gift Walter, Brandon Deitrick and David Ossman.
    Director and costumer: Mark Briner. Musical director: Julie Ann Hawk. Choreographer: Becca Vourvoulas. Set: Matt Mitchell. Lights: Matt Tillett. Sound: Lindsea Sharple and Dan Snyder. Stage manager: John Nunemaker. Musicians: Ken Kimble, Rich Estrin, Randy Martell, Randy Neilson, Tony Settineri, Kevin Hawk, Tod Wildason, Jeff Eckert, Reid Bowman, Zach Konick and Bill Georg.
    Th-Su 8pm thru July 25 plus W July 22: 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $22; rsvp: 410-268-9212; ­


The boys are back; their clothes are not

Magic Mike (Channing Tatum: Jupiter Ascending) retired his thong with his bump-and-grind act three years ago. Now a furniture builder, the former stripper is dedicated to growing his burgeoning business. Business is good but burdensome. His workers want health care, he wants retail space and he’s tired of hauling showpieces on and off a truck as he sells his work to Tampa stores.
    When former co-workers call him as they pass through town, Mike reminisces about the great old times. While he has been struggling for growth, Big [redacted] Richie (Joe Manganiello: True Blood), Ken (Matt Bomer: The Normal Heart), Tito (Adam Rodriguez: The Night Shift) and Tarzan (Kevin Nash: John Wick) have been partying. They persuade Mike to join them for one final hoorah: the Stripper Convention in Myrtle Beach.
    He throws caution and clothes to the wind, joining his buddies for a week of drugs, bonding and semi-nude dancing.
    How many shirts can one man tear off in a single movie?
    The original Magic Mike, a character study of men in the adult entertainment industry, featured nuanced looks at the problems of the business, including drugs. With the sequel, Magic Mike XXL, filmmaker Gregory Jacobs (Wind Chill) gives the audience what they’re clamoring for: lots of nearly naked men grinding to R&B hits.
    Story and characters take a back seat to oiled chests and teeny strips of fabric. Dance sequences are long and impressive, as Jacobs shows off the special talent of each performer. Tatum and his pals also have camaraderie that translates onto camera. It’s believable that these goofy guys would spend time together perfecting hip rolls, talking about women and drinking.
    The biggest disappointment in Magic Mike XXL is the women. Though marketed to females, the movie is uninterested in them. As Mike’s love interest Zoe, (Amber Heard: 3 Days to Kill) pouts prettily while Tatum dances circles around her. The only woman who displays personality is Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith: Gotham), a sexy MC who has a secret past with Mike. Pinkett Smith commands every scene she’s in, impressively drawing focus from a horde of handsome, gyrating men.
    Go with friends. Half the fun of this silly movie is listening to people hoot and holler as if Magic Mike could twerk right off the screen.

Revealing Dramedy • R • 115 mins.

The best actor in the film is a dog, who is saved the trial of lines.

Max is the perfect Marine. The Belgian Malinois is a search dog whose job in Afghanistan is sniffing out weapons, explosives and possible trouble for his platoon. His partner Kyle (Robbie Amell: The DUFF), is more than a trainer; he’s Max’s whole world. So when an ambush leads to Kyle’s death, Max is a broken dog. Afraid of gunfire, aggressive and unwilling to be touched, Max has PTSD and is useless to the Marine Corps.
    Kyle’s family is having a similar reaction. Father Ray (Thomas Haden Church: Heaven is for Real) is stoic. Mother Pam (Lauren Graham: Parenthood) cries as she cooks. The only person who seems unaffected is Justin (Josh Wiggins: Hellion), Kyle’s little brother. A videogame-obsessed teenage terror, Justin is too busy committing petty crimes, BMX biking and sassing his parents to care. After Kyle’s death, Justin’s surliness worsens.
    Brought by Marines to Kyle’s funeral, Max refuses to leave the casket. The dog’s fidelity convinces Pam and Ray to take him home. But the traumatized dog refuses any attentions except Justin’s. Deciding responsibility could help the surviving son, his parents put him in charge of Max’s rehabilitation.
    Max has the best intentions and the worst execution. The movie eschews character development and reasonable plot for plodding moral messages. At fault is the script by Boaz Yakin (who also directed) and Sheldon Lettich. Neither writer trusts the audience to understand the themes, instead belaboring their points with cringe-worthy dialog. The duo also has a limited view of Mexican families, trotting out every possible stereotype from gang association to Chihuahuas.
    The best actor in the film is Max, who is saved the trial of lines. Even veteran actors like Church and Graham can’t make much of this script. Portrayed as the dog’s saviors, the family chains him outside, without shelter or water, in Texas. That’s animal abuse. Ray lectures Justin on the importance of the dog one moment, and the next is willing to shoot him. Graham has the thankless job of being the subservient mother unyieldingly supportive of her men.
    The dog is this movie’s saving grace. Malinois are expressive by nature, and Yakin capitalizes on every ear twitch and head tilt. Max’s antics are amusing, his ability to search grids and leap over obstacles is inspiring and the story of the dogs who have served alongside U.S. troops since World War I is fascinating. Young viewers will be captivated by the pretty dog, but a few violent scenes of war and shootouts may scare them.

Fair Family Film • PG • 111 mins.

Counting future stars

They’re gaining on you, Angelina Jolie, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Daniel Day Lewis. The talented teens of Twin Beach Players are hot on your heels as the next generation of rising stars.
    See for yourself in Twin Beach Players’ Youth Troupe production Sherlock Holmes and the Most Amazing Case!
    This year marks the 17th season that this small but mighty community theater has been entertaining audiences. This is the first 2015 Youth Troupe show. If there were opening night jitters, you couldn’t tell as 11 young actors took to the stage, breathing life into a new work.
    Youth Troupe alum and playwright Matthew Konerth has written a light-hearted parody of familiar — and new — characters and the sleuthing antics beyond Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s well-known detective stories.
    “I love the cast of characters,” said Konerth, of Baltimore, who delivered just what Players’ president Sid Curl demanded.
    Youth Troupe allows young artists to explore and “find their niche,” says Curl, who finds himself “amazed at the talent.” In winter classes, the Players build talent by teaching acting, fostering professional attitudes and developing trust. These teens have spent hours rehearsing, studying reference material provided by their play’s director, Rachel Cruz, discovering the characters of their roles and learning their lines. These young thespians, ranging in age from 13-17, were selected out of 40 who auditioned. Serious about theater, they are taking this experience in stride.
    First-time Players’ director Cruz couldn’t be prouder. “This has been an amazing experience, and lots of fun,” she said. Her challenges have included motivating her young cast and keeping them focused. As with adults, Cruz treats the teens with respect, praising their work ethic and energy.
    Like his fellow cast members, Cameron Walker, 15, researched his Sherlock Holmes role by reading material provided by his director. Other inspirational sources included studying BBC television and movies. No stranger to the Players, Walker auditioned because he loves the arts and is a “fan of Sherlock Holmes characters.” He brings a commanding presence, instinctive vocal variety and expressive reactions to his British investigator’s persona.
    One of three female actors cast in gender role reversals, 14-year-old Olivia McClung portrays John Watson as a calmer investigative sidekick to Walker’s excitable Holmes. She said she welcomes the challenge of performing an “iconic character” like Watson. Along with her fellow actors, she believes there is something special about being with the cast and developing a stage presence.
    Each young actor brings unique character choices to the roles. Taylor Baker, 17, plays Holmes’ girlfriend, Irene Adler. Like her younger sister, Sidney Baker, 14, who plays Mary Watson, both enjoy portraying characters and plan on using their new skills in future productions.
    Mickey Cashman, 14, plays an animated French waiter full of lively quips with a good ear for an authentic French accent. He especially likes the self-discovery and expression he finds in acting.
    New to the troupe and Twin Beach Players, Hannah Lunczynski, 14, has enjoyed performing the role of arch-villain, Professor Moriarty because he’s such a different character from others she’s acted. Travis Lehnen, 15, has worked onstage and behind the scenes before taking on the role of love-seeking Inspector Lestrade. Lehnen likes the script and thinks it’s “pretty cool to do the show.”
    Kiera Gallagher, 13, adds touches of feistiness and one-upmanship to the role of Holmes’ older brother, Mycroft. Transitioning to a convincing male role has been a fun challenge for her, said the aspiring actor who hopes to land roles in commercials.
    Victoria Mastando, 14, and Melly Byram, 13, are convincing as the scheming Russian duo Katarina and Victor. Aaliyah Roach, 13, plays indignant and persistent landlady Mrs. Hudson, who comes to collect Holmes’ belated rent payment. Like the others, Roach believes acting is a “unique way to express myself and push my limits.”
    A well-lit minimalist set complements make-up, hairstyles and clever costuming.
    “If these teens are the future of theater, I believe it is in good hands,” said Director Cruz.

Mark July 31 to August 9 on your calendars for more original works by young playwrights in the Players’ 10th Annual Kid’s Playwriting Festival.

FSa 7pm and Su 3pm. Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern MD, 9021 Dayton Ave., North Beach:

Pixar explores the mind and emotions of a girl on the brink of adulthood

Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler: Parks and Recreation) was the first emotion Riley (Kaitlyn Dias: The Shifting) knew. Joy wasn’t alone long, 33 seconds after popping into Riley’s mind, she’s joined by Sadness (Phyllis Smith: The Middle), Anger (Lewis Black: Let Freedom Laugh), Fear (Bill Hader: Trainwreck) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling: The Mindy Project).
    For 11 years, Joy led the team, controlling Riley’s responses to the world and safeguarding her memories. All the emotions love Riley, but Joy is particularly protective, trying to keep the others from making Riley feel anything but happiness. Joy’s nemesis is Sadness, a well-meaning but mopey figure who Joy feels is unnecessary. Excluding Sadness proves harder as Riley ages.
    When Riley’s family moves to a new city, Sadness becomes more assertive. Riley flounders, and Joy blames Sadness.
    After Sadness accidentally corrupts Riley’s core memories, she and Joy are sucked into long-term memory, leaving Anger, Fear and Disgust trying to take over.
    Can Joy find her way back to Riley’s control center? Will Sadness find a way to contribute? What goes on in the minds of little girls?
    Directed by Pete Docter (Up) and first-timer Ronaldo Del Carmen, Inside Out is a funny and honest look at a girl on the brink of adulthood. The filmmakers consulted psychologists to perfect the science of Riley’s mind, but the film doesn’t feel like a lesson. Each facet of Riley is beautifully realized with an explosion of color and imagination. From French fry forests to vampire teen boyfriends, there’s plenty to relish as Joy and Sadness try to find their way home.
    Docter and Carmen rely on their vocal cast to fill in their world. Poehler and Smith are particularly good as foils who must learn to appreciate each other. Black is perfectly cast as anger, and Hader is a shrill delight as fear. But Richard Kind (Happyish) steals the film as Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend long relegated to a dark corner of imagination land.
    Pixar is at its best when it takes on big concepts, such as loss (Up), growing up (Toy Story series) and love (WALL•E). In Inside Out, Pixar delves into the psyche of a child on the verge of puberty who is learning that life is filled with complex emotions. The film captures the death of childhood and the birth of a more multifaceted emotional life, both celebrating and mourning the changes required. The parts of childhood we build upon and the parts we let go shape us, and as Riley’s emotional life becomes richer, her emotions must learn to work together lest they spin her out of control.
    The genius of Pixar is making a film for everyone in the theater, from the wide-eyed kid with a bedtime to the jaded reviewer with a notepad on her knee. The brain crew is colorful, funny and engaging for little ones, and though their deeper struggles and symbols might be lost on the Sesame Street crowd, they will hit home for parents and teens.
    Docter has a knack for finding heart and nobility in every character. This tender treatment of a young girl’s emotional journey is worth a ticket and a few tissues.

Excellent Animation • PG • 94 mins.

Tribute strikes a chord

Think of the music of Johnny Cash, and many hearts respond to his evocations of love, faith, family, tragedy and redemption. Think of Johnny Cash himself, and we remember a fallible and gifted man who wrestled throughout most of his 71 years to overcome powerful personal demons. There’s not one without the other. Music and man are intertwined, as they are in Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, Annapolis Infinity Theatre Company’s first and latest mainstage production this season, interpreted by a stellar five-member cast of multi-talented professional actors/musicians from Broadway and beyond.
    The 2006 original Broadway production on which this show is based was short-lived and unsuccessful. The one Infinity presents was conceived by William Meade and adapted from its disappointing predecessor by Richard Maltby Jr. and Jason Edwards. No small feat, Infinity’s production transports us in time to a by-gone era in deep south Arkansas, recollects Cash’s inaugural appearance at The Grand ‘Ole Opry and highlights the legendary romance between Cash and June Carter.
    Brief character narratives, reminiscent songs and well-synchronized scene transitions converge to create a rich, theatrical experience. We are charmed as the actors morph into different roles, singing and playing instruments in a range from acoustic and electric guitars, cello and trumpet to banjo, fiddle, juice harp, washboard, tambourine and harmonica — among others.
    The inventive, rustic set surrounding a circular, edge-lit platform enables smooth maneuvering while enhancing the production’s historical context. Lighting choices combined with character-appropriate costuming contribute to the relaxed, authentic atmosphere.
    Under the guidance and vision of stage and musical director Amy Jones and staff, an energetic, charismatic and masterful production has emerged. Katie Barton, Lori Eure, Silas Moores and Spiff Wiegand shine while playing characters in Cash’s life. Ben Hope’s portrayal of Johnny Cash is tender yet strong. A sole drummer sits discreetly up-stage adding a balanced, percussive rhythm to most of the 30 songs.
    Favorites like “Hey Porter,” “Cry, Cry, Cry,” “Ring of Fire,” “Jackson” and “I Walk the Line” are bookended by others including “Big River,” “Flesh and Blood,” “Man in Black,” “If I Were a Carpenter” and “A Boy Named Sue.”
    Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash is a winner. All of the elements come together seemingly effortlessly to deliver an entertaining, soulful and spirited musical tribute.

Th 2pm and 7pm; F June 26 and Sa 8pm; Su 2pm thru June 28: Children’s Theatre of Annapolis. $20-$36; rsvp: 877-501-8499;

Behind a great man, a woman more qualified

CIA top agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law: Black Sea) is handsome, smooth and comes out on top in a fight. Fine’s secret isn’t training or a vodka martini, shaken not stirred. Behind Fine’s success is CIA analyst Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy: Mike and Molly).
    Cooper who gathers intel, memorizes building plans to lead Fine in and out, warns him when bad guys approach. Though qualified as a field agent, Cooper is content to be the voice in Fine’s ear, eschewing credit to support the man she secretly loves. Fine barely notices, treating her like Siri, a neat toy that can answer all his questions.
    An intelligence leak leads to Fine’s death at the hands of crime boss Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne: Annie), who has uncovered the identities of all the top CIA operatives. Reeling from Fine’s death, Cooper volunteers to track Rayna and the portable nuke she’s marketing. The CIA is desperate enough for an operative Rayna’s people won’t recognize to overlook her 10 years out of the field.
    Cooper is issued a cover identity, a gun and a mission.
    A mashup of James Bond and Inspector Clouseau, Spy is a hilarious comedy buoyed by smart writing, enthusiastic performances and snappy action. Writer/director Paul Feig (The Heat) crafts a comedy that empowers, a rarity in blockbuster filmmaking. Spy has plenty of obscene humor, sight gags, physical comedy and witty dialog, but the director’s feminism sets it apart. Feig is interested in how often women allow themselves to be overlooked. In Spy, all of the women are capable, funny and smart; they just don’t know it until they’re tested.
    In the real world, too, McCarthy has long needed a film worthy of her talents. Usually her weight is the punchline. Forced to fall over, act like an oddball or hit on men who react with revulsion, she has spent much of her career as a side show. In Spy, she’s allowed to be a person, not a shtick. Her Cooper is a smart, funny woman who discovers that she’s a natural in the field.
    McCarthy carries the film and has a great supporting cast backing her up. As the ruthless, snobby Rayna, Byrne is delightfully snarky. She spars admirably with McCarthy and manages to make Rayna somewhat likeable in spite of her evil ways. The real surprise of Spy, however, is action hero Jason Statham as rogue spy Rick Ford. Usually a snarling, serious presence, Statham proves himself to be a comedic talent by lampooning his man-of-action image. He spews ridiculous tough-guy talk and takes pratfalls like a champ. His chemistry with McCarthy crackles as he competes with her to take down the criminals.
    A few jokes and sequences fall flat, as Feig has a tendency to push a joke a bit too far. But the laughs greatly outweigh the groans in this rare R-rated comedy that’s both smart and funny. Buy a ticket to see Melissa McCarthy show the James Bond wannabes what a real spy looks like.

Great Comedy • R • 120 mins.