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Arts and Culture (Theatre Reviews)

If it’s entertainment you’re after, seeing this one is elementary

Fancy a spot of mystery to sharpen the old mind after summer’s idyll? Then you must check out Sherlock’s Last Case by Charles Marowitz, showing at Colonial Players through September 26. While I am forbidden by Colonial and Scotland Yard to divulge the particulars of this brilliant whodunit, trust me when I say Annapolis’ grand dame of amateur theater has produced another winner with this escapist spoof, rich in one-liners and plot twists.
    Here we have Sherlock Holmes (Jim Gallagher), sleuth extraordinaire, at his best: an aficionado of violin, fencing, handwriting analysis, history, chemistry, psychology, yoga and Jiu Jitsu, with a peerless intellect and ego to match. So what if Marowitz’s Sherlock is a touch more pompous than we remember? He has earned that privilege, especially since he dispatched his evil nemesis, Dr. Moriarty.
    Enjoying retirement at his cozy Baker Street home, Holmes is ensconced in silk settees and smoking jackets, listening to chamber music and bantering with his loyal associate Dr. Watson (Nick Beschen), that jolly good fellow. Blessed is the man who can count on such an indulgent friend. There’s also efficient housekeeper Mrs. Hudson (Lisa KB Rath), upon whom they both rely for sustenance and the civilizing touch of a woman. She also comes in handy for amusement, as Holmes loves to joke about her parsimonious Scottish nature. Other than such entertainment and the newspaper, however, life is so boring that Holmes has taken to the opium pipe with renewed gusto.
    Then a letter arrives from Moriarty’s outraged son, Damion, followed by a visit from his daughter, Liza (Erin Leigh Hill). A delicate auburn-haired beauty who catches Holmes’ attention with her fair looks and temperament, Liza understands her late father’s faults all too well and has come to arrange a truce between Holmes and her brother, who resides in (shudder) America. No sooner has she left, however, than a mysterious assailant hogties Watson in the closet and threatens Holmes with death. Enter the venerable Inspector Lestrade (Morey Norkin), and by scene three the thriller is off and running.
    Marowitz’s script, winner of the Louis B. Mayer Award, challenges the audience to solve the perfect crime by thinking beyond the evidence and taking nothing for granted. It also entertains with such a rich repertoire of parodies and puns that you will find yourself stifling laughter so as not to miss the next zinger.
    This production, directed by Beth Terranova, is brilliantly cast with Gallagher delivering a spot-on Sherlock. Beschen, though a touch soft-spoken, brings lovable new dimension to the typically circumscribed Watson. The Victorian costumes — by Carrie Brady with Regina Todd — are stunning, and the accents — coached by BettyAnn Leesberg-Lane — melodious. The only hole in this show is the lighting: so dark during the two key suspense scenes as to be soporific, and so bright with black light effect at curtain as to be blinding.
    This is a don’t-miss, even for those who, like yours truly, don’t ordinarily go in for mysteries. If it’s entertainment you’re after, it’s elementary.
    Two and a half hours with intermission. Includes simulated smoke, gunfire and blood.


Th-Sa 8pm, Su 2pm, plus 7:30pm Sept. 13 (Sept. 13 only, students free with available seats at curtain time); thru Sept. 26. 108 East St, Annapolis, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: 410­-268-­7373.

Your inner child will want to see it again and again — even without Cousin Itt

“America has loved the Addams Family for 80 years, and now we have a rerun marathon of your favorite creepy and kooky characters in the flesh and blood. They’re all back (minus Cousin Itt) in a surprisingly sanguine musical that celebrates family values through the generations. Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s production will keep you smiling from the moment Thing cues the overture until the inspirational finale, Move Toward the Darkness.
    Gomez (Vince Musgrave) and Morticia (Alicia Sweeney) are a matched couple. He a devoted family man and she a macabre lovely, they share a passion for life and death. Gomez revels in his whacky Spanish ancestry in the opening tango, When You’re an Addams, while Morticia celebrates their complete candor in her cha-cha, Secrets. But when daughter Wednesday (Lucy Bobbin) confides a secret love affair to her father, Gomez has two problems: Morticia’s possible reaction and his sorrow that, as he sings, Wednesday’s Growing Up. Love is also a problem for little brother Pugsley (Drew Sharpe/Matthew Beagan) with whom Wednesday shares a sadomasochistic sibling rivalry. Cue the waltz What If She Never Tortures Me Anymore?
    Wednesday’s boyfriend, Lukas Beineke (Daniel Starnes), is a conservative Midwestern tourist she met while crossbow hunting on the Addams property in Central Park. A disastrous dinner with his parents, Mal (Jim Reiter) and Alice (Andrea Ostrowski Wildason), ensues, despite Wednesday’s pleas for One Normal Night. When Mrs. Beineke accidentally imbibes one of Grandma’s (Ginny White) herbal truth serums while playing Full Disclosure, a game “loosely based on the Inquisition,” she lambastes her control-freak husband in the grave Lament. Uncle Fester (Eric Meadows) comes to the rescue by summoning the dead Addams ancestors to keep the Beinekes hostage until all can resolve happily ever after. For despite his upbringing, the suitor who aspires to be a coroner is an Addams at heart.
    This cast shines brighter than a blue moon. Musgrave draws on his Cuban heritage to create the quintessential Spaniard with a versatile voice of gold: tortured in the tango, Not Today, urgent in the habanera, Trapped, introspective in Happy Sad and haunting in Morticia (“the screams she saves for you, the hell she puts you through!”).
    Sweeny, every curvaceous inch Morticia with the mincing step and withering deadpan, is most compelling in her cheery softshoe, Death Is Just Around the Corner. As Wednesday, Bobbin is as cold as ice and hot as flames with a voice and moves to wake the dead in her pulsing solo, Pulled. As her suitor,  Starnes is charming and lovable in his salsa-infused rock anthem, Crazier Than You. Sharpe is a vulnerable, hollow-eyed Pugsley. As Uncle Fester, Meadows is sweet strumming a ukulele and crooning love songs to the moon. Reiter is too convincing as the unfeeling square, while Wildason is maddening with her Pollyanna-style rhyming couplets. And Steve Streetman is uncanny as the Frankensteinean butler Lurch. As for the chorus, they are the most spirited the company has ever gathered.
    With a dilapidated Victorian set complete with spider-patterned wallpaper, a torture chamber and sound effects featuring ghostly moans and the thumping of Poe’s Tell Tale Heart, you’ll feel right at home. Spotlights broadcast the silhouette of the creepy tree in the yard with a full moon projected onto the roof of a neighboring building, where Fester serenades from the parapet. The music features clever lyrics reminiscent of Weird Al and dance moves from the zombie to rigor mortis. Costumes are scary good with ghostly details like tire tracks across the back and nooses. There are a few awkward scene changes and special effects, but nothing to detract from an otherwise spooktacular show.
    As Director Debbie Barber-Eaton writes in her program notes, this is a show about the “family to which we all secretly wish to belong.” Your inner child will want to see it again and again — even without Cousin Itt. Buy your tickets now, before they all vanish.


Two hours and 45 minutes with intermission. By Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice and Andrew Lippa. Director: Debbie Barber-Eaton. Musical director: David Merrill. Choreographer: Jamie Miller. Costumer: Nikki Gerbasi. Set: Matt Mitchell. Lights: Matt Tillett. Sound: Dan Caughran. Musicians: Ken Kimble, Rich Estrin, Randy Martell, Trent Goldsmith, Reid Bowman, Zach Konick, Randy Neilson and Paul Pesnell.

With the chorus of Addams ancestors: Katie Gardner (bride), Kevin Cleaver (caveman), Michael Ruttum (conquistador), Ashley Gladden (courtesan), Karah Parks (flapper), Mariel White (flight attendant), Christian Gonzalez (gambler), Kristi Dixon (Native American), Nathan Bowen (Puritan) and Brian Mellen (sailor).

Th-Su thru July 25, W July 22, 8:30pm, Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise St.. $22; rsvp: 410-268-9212.

Billed as a smart and energetic musical comedy with a pop rock score and immensely likable story, this show delivers

With Baby, Infinity Theatre Company surpasses the high expectations raised over five years of bringing professional New York City productions to Annapolis each summer. This show delivers on its billing as a smart and energetic musical comedy with a pop rock score and immensely likable story. If you last saw it in the 20th century, you’re in for some surprises. The 1984 Tony-nominee was reworked in 1999 with new songs and significant plot twists that make it less idealistic than the original.
    Parenthood is an equal opportunity job — until it’s not. Thus, in a college town we have three diverse couples who all find at the same time that they are expecting. Two aren’t prepared, while one has been trying for years. You can guess which one is the false positive.
    Lizzie (Lauren Wright) and Danny (Nick DeVito) are undergraduate music majors who have just moved in together when they face the biggest decisions of their lives: to have or not to have it, to marry or not to marry. Arlene (Joy Hermalyn) and Alan (Erick Pinnick) are empty-nesters celebrating their 20th anniversary when she conceives during a champagne-fueled night of passion at The Plaza. Again the question arises: to have or not to have it? When she ultimately miscarries, there’s a new question: to remain or not to remain married? Then there are Pam (Erin Wegner Brooks) and Nick (Jon Reinhold), two athletic coaches who are desperate for a baby yet suffer the insult of infertility on the heels of her false alarm. For them the question becomes whether their marriage can endure the lack of a child.
    Chances are you don’t know the music yet, but you’ll leave humming three choruses: the driving feminist anthem I Want It All; the head-bopping Fatherhood Blues; and the hilarious Ladies Singing Their Song, featuring a Vaudevillian parade of intimate strangers who offer unsolicited advice and labor horror stories.
    Each song is memorable in the hands of this stellar cast. Wright’s The Story Goes On, a wondrous look at the cycle of life, will have you cheering. DeVito’s proposal, I Chose Right, will leave you breathless. Pinnick will make you laugh with recognition in Easier to Love, his wise juxtaposition of marital and paternal love. Hermalyn, who bears a striking resemblance to Bette Midler both vocally and physically, delivers a powerful and searching ballad, Patterns, about the many ways long-term marriages avert crisis with convention.    
    Hometown girl Wegner Brooks inspires hysterics and tears in her gymnastic song cycle Romance, segueing from romantic Tango to defeatist rant as she submits to the rules of love by the book. The voice you will yearn to hear more, from the first smooth jazz strains of Baby, Baby, Baby, is the rich baritone of Reinhold, a Robert Goulet for the new age. Equally unforgettable is his stirring duet with DeVito, At Night She Comes Home to Me.
    When is the right time to have a baby, to get married, to separate? These are the eternal questions. But in the end, it’s all about the couple, not the kids.
    As Lizzie collects teddies for the nursery, Pam collects teddies for the bedroom. Whichever you are, if you’ve ever experienced or pondered having a baby, this fabulous show will appeal to you.


Appropriate for ages 14 and above. Baby by Sybille Pearson, David Shire and Richard Maltby Jr. Directed by Igor Goldin. Musical director: Jeffrey Lodin. Set: Paul Tate de Poo III. Costumes: Tristan Raines. Lights: Jimmy Lawlor. Sound: Wes Shippee. Pit Band: Jeffrey Lodin, Laura Brady, Tom Harold and Ahren Buchheister. With Sam Hood Adrain, Alex Smith, Ana Marcu, Jacob Shipley and Emily Freeman.

Playing 2 & 7pm Th; 8pm Sa (and F July 31), 2pm Su, thru Aug 2. Children’s Theatre of Annapolis, 1661 Bay Head Rd.
$20-$36; rsvp: 877-501-8499; infinitytheatrecompany.com.

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; ­summergarden.com.

 

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: www.TwinBeachPlayers.com.

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; infinitytheatrecompany.com.

Figuratively and literally, this show is Looney Tunes

Don’t say you weren’t warned. Colonial Players is forthright about Why Torture Is Wrong, and The People Who Love Them, the unconventional “arc” show offered to make the theater-in-the-round better rounded. Marketing Director Tim Sayles calls this “raucous and provocative” show an “ideologically pointed black comedy by America’s master absurdist playwright,” Christopher Durang. Well and good. A political commentary on post 9-11 paranoia could be hilarious — except I only laughed twice. Admittedly, I was in the minority.
    This show is Looney Tunes, both figuratively and literally, with soundtrack and soundbites lifted straight out of Warner Brothers’ classics. Imagine a society populated only by extremists. Now give them sophomoric quirks and non-sequitur dialogue, and throw in nauseating violence for good measure. This show is so warped that I’m breaking with tradition to give the spoiler: Reality lurks on the periphery until the final 10 minutes, when the action rewinds to construct an alternate course of how things should have unfolded were the principals not xenophobes on red alert.
    Felicity (Diane Samuelson) awakes to find herself married to a congenial stranger whom she suspects of slipping her a roofie at Hooters. Zamir (Pat Reynolds) is unemployed and has criminal connections, conservative Muslim ideals and an intolerant temper. Felicity’s parents are no help, as her mother, Luella (Jean Berard), who cultivates an image of clueless confusion, responds with platitudes from her encyclopedic knowledge of Broadway hits. Her ultra-conservative father, Leonard (Richard Fiske), who masquerades as a butterfly collector while analyzing top secret intelligence in the attic, has his naïve partner Hildegarde (Chaseedaw Giles) investigate Zamir.
    Misinterpreting Zamir’s conversation with a porn-producing minister, the Rev. Mike (Jason Vaughan), about a film called The Big Bang, Hildegarde has Leonard kidnap and torture Zamir. Assisting is Agent Looney Tunes (Ruben Vellekoop, also the narrator) who speaks only in cartoon quotations. Zamir’s false confessions of a terrorist plot trigger catastrophic consequences.
    The jokes are a jumble of societal barbs, from ballroom dancing at Hooters and falling panties with cheap Chinese elastic to Hanoi Jane and Freedom toast. Humor this forced requires a level of sincerity that only Vaughan achieves throughout, though Reynolds and Giles are entertaining.    Mostly, however, the dialogue feels awkward. Complicating matters, this show is technically complex, from its extensive light grid to its versatile stage dominated by a raised platform with trapdoors. Thus, the scene changes are tedious and sight lines limited.
    If your mind races like American Pharoah, if you enjoy sensory overload, if you find dismemberment entertaining, this show is for you.
    Two and a half hours with intermission. Contains violence, mature themes and adult language.


Director: Kristofer Kauff. Set designer: Terry Averill. Sound: Kaelynn Miller. Lights: Wes Bedsworth. Costumes: Sarah Wade.

ThFSa 8pm; Su 2pm (and 7:30pm June 14) thru June 20: Colonial Players, 108 East St., Annapolis. $20/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org.

Whodunnit? Ask the audience

When Charles Dickens died 145 years ago this month, he left behind an unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Release was scheduled in a dozen installments between 1870 and 1871, but he finished only six. Afterward, it became a bit of a cottage industry to take on the novel’s completion, including deciding which of Dickens’ characters was responsible for the murder of the title character.  Would-be Dickens met with varying levels of success. One that turned out quite well is the version that kicks off Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s 50th season.
    With book, music and lyrics by Rupert Holmes (earworm warning: Holmes is perhaps best known for his 1979 hit “Escape … The Piña Colada Song”), the show debuted in 1985 and won Holmes five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Original Score. Lighter and broader than the novel, this musical Drood’s action and audience are in an old-time English music hall, a show-within-a-show complete with emcee and cast playing not Dickens’ characters but music hall performers playing Dickens’ characters.
    And what characters they are, an English town’s worth of winking whackies, led by a triad of top talent. David Merrill has a great time as John Jasper, Drood’s schizoid uncle and choirmaster. Paige Miller is the sincere ingénue Rosa Bud, Drood’s betrothed after whom Jasper lusts. Emily Lentz is Drood in a traditional cross-dressing role. All three have wonderful voices, and Merrill’s and Miller’s especially soar on the operatic “The Name of Love and Moonfall,” sung after he confesses his love for her.
     As the proprietor of the Music Hall Royale, Erik Alexis excitedly introduces us to the actors and their characters and guides us through the story with old jokes and a fine voice. His duet with Merrill on “Both Sides of the Coin,” a 100mph patter-song romp through an actor’s confusion when playing two parts, is a highlight of the night.
    As the newcomers from Ceylon, Casey Lynne Garner and DJ Wojciehowski stir things up nicely as siblings Helena and Neville Landless. Wendell Holland’s Reverend Crisparkle is perhaps not the upstanding man of the cloth he wants us to believe. As Princess Puffer, an opium den denizen, Maribeth Vogel offers up a fine “The Garden Path to Hell” in describing how a boyfriend turned her to a life of sleaze. Several other fine characters anchor the show, including Ethan Goldberg as Durdles, the usually drunk stonemason, and Stephanie Bernholz, doing a fine job with the stick puppet that plays Durdles’ Deputy.
    Connecting all of these characters to the plot might take more space than allotted here, so let’s just say that when Drood ends up murdered, there are plenty of suspects, plus a new character who comes on to investigate. This being a musical based on Dickens’ version of Drood rather than the brooding, dark and incomplete novel, it’s all tied up with a happy ending. Several, in fact.    
    Whodunnit? You get to decide.


Director: Andy Scott. Music director: Ken Kimble. Choreographer: Elysia Greene-Merrill. Stage manager: Kristy McKeever. Costumer: Jackie Colestock. Lighting designer: Drew Fox.
 
Playing thru June 20. Th-S plus W June 17 8pm: 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $22; rsvp: 410-268-9212; summergarden.com.

The music is timeless as life ­imitates art

Is it life imitates art? Or art imitates life? Either way, when Kiss Me, Kate hit Broadway back in 1948, winning a Tony Award, it marked the first time that Cole Porter’s music and lyrics integrated into a stage story, moving beyond showcasing Porter’s clever musical banter to pushing the story along. The story, told in show-within-a-show technique, is the on-and-offstage comedy of errors of the producer, director and star of musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Fred Graham, his ex-wife and costar Lilli Vanessi, and a comic cast with some very fine voices.
    Brian Binney nails Fred’s egoism, has a fine voice and cavorts across the stage with a jumpiness that mirrors his desperation to ensure that the show goes on. He is desperately trying to keep Lilli from quitting after she discovers his lust for Lois Lane, the sexy young actress whose boyfriend owes some very bad men some very big bucks. As Lilli, Brenda D. Parker is as convincingly egotistical as Fred. She has a powerhouse voice that is flexible enough to move from ballad to comedic in a matter of measures. As Lois and Bill, her boyfriend in arrears, Amy Greco and Nathan Bowen give us a pair of sure-footed hoofers and singers who seem born to the stage of old, whose attractions were soft shoe and solid voices, not special effects and remakes.
    The story is frantic and funny, but it’s the classic Porter songs that keep the audience — at least those of a certain age or interest in Broadway history — thinking a-ha at recognizing tunes that turned out to be timeless. The hit parade starts with the company announcing “Another Op’nin’, Another Show.” As the parade passes by, we’re mesmerized by Parker’s beautiful “So in Love” and riotous “I Hate Men,” Greco’s and Bowen’s “Why Can’t You Behave?” and, opening Act II, Jared Shamberger’s turn as Paul energetically leading the company through a very nicely choreographed “Too Darn Hot.” Special mention to the bassist in the orchestra — either Jeff Eckert or Steve Hudgins in the program — who plucks a very jazzy accompaniment on the latter.
    Other chestnuts, from “Wunderbar” by Binney and Parker to Greco’s “Always True to You in My Fashion,” keep the parade of hits coming. When two toughies, played by Josh Hampton and Michael Iacone, show up trying to collect from Bowen’s Bill and end up a part of the cast, they bring a cool liveliness to the goings-on that culminates in a hilarious “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” that seems to go on forever — and deserves to.
    Costumes by Linda Swann are colorful and fun. Director Roy Hammond and choreographer Rikki Howie Lacewell keep the pace moving. Stage manager Joanne D. Wilson keeps the scene changes short. The live orchestra led by Joe Biddle does a nice job moving the music without overpowering the singers, quite an accomplishment when an orchestra of more than a dozen is playing in a relatively small 155-seat venue like Bowie Playhouse.
    2nd Star’s Kiss Me, Kate brings us old Broadway that’s as good as new. It’s comedy, romance and music that were built to last. Judging by the vitality of 2nd Star’s production, tickets likely won’t.


Playing thru June 27, FSa 8pm; Su 3pm: Bowie Playhouse at White Marsh Park, Bowie; $22 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700; 2ndstarproductions.com.

Set to music, Oscar Wilde is twice as funny

It’s ironic that when Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest premiered in 1895, many critics loved its humor but were taken aback at its lightness, its refusal to take on heavy social or political issues of the time, as most dramas had done. The irony is that it’s exactly this drive to escape the heavy responsibilities of “position” that impel Jack Worthing to create an alter ego, Ernest, through whom Jack can live a life untethered by the demands of position.
    Even so, Wilde’s Earnest was quickly acclaimed one of his greatest works, and certainly his greatest comedy, one that moved the audience to laughter consistently and whose dialogue and characters rang so true that even today the plot seems as likely as life. Take this thespian froth, add music that stays true to the times and the story, and you end up with the hilarious hit that The Colonial Players of Annapolis is displaying on its in-the-round stage through May 16.
    Director Rick Wade — a long-time directing, acting and playwright veteran of Colonial Players (Wade wrote the book for the group’s version of A Christmas Carol, a three-decade Annapolis tradition) — knows just how to make the most of that stage. Along with set and floor designer Edd Miller and lighting designer Frank Florentine, Wade turns Colonial’s theater into a garden of comedy, with pastel flowers lining the walls behind the audience, a floor just as beautiful, lights constantly in motion and set pieces cleverly rearranged during quickly choreographed scene changes ranging from London flats to a country garden.
    Worthing, played by Eric Hufford, and his pal Algernon, played by Steven Baird, have a nice camaraderie on stage, giving the little digs that friends do. When Algernon, whose cousin Gwendolyn Jack is in love with, figures out Jack’s Ernest ruse, the plot takes off. It’s a plot that, because of Wilde’s intricacy with words and humor, requires direction that keeps the pace moving. In turn, the cast must have the talent to not only portray these characters brightly but also to reject the temptation to allow the pace to trip up a basic acting requirement: The audience must hear and understand you, especially in the round, when the actor is always facing away from at least one section of the audience. This cast gets the job done.
    From the impossible patter of “A Handbag Is Not a Proper Mother” to the round of “My Eternal Devotion,” some very nice voices are on display here. But never does the music take precedence over the comedy.
    This is a stellar cast. Erica Jureckson as Gwendolyn and Sarah Wade as Cecily, the young ward of Worthing, work very well together, especially when singing “My Very First Impression,” an irony about their ability to size up a man on first glance. Greg Jones as Lane, Worthing’s valet, is top-notch and in fine voice in “You Can’t Make Love,” with Sherri Millan’s servant girl Effie, about the many burdens of upper classdom that prevent their enjoying … ahem … life to its fullest. As Gwendolyn’s mother Lady Bracknell, Barbara Bartos is the picture of rigid elitism in that “handbag” song and throughout. And as Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble, Dianne and Duncan Hood get plenty of laughs but serve up a touching dose of mature puppy love as well as dance around their feelings for each other in “Metaphorically Speaking.”
    There are others, including several smaller characters who do double duty keeping the scene changes brisk, often getting their own tee-hees. The bottom line here is every audience’s top priority in a comedy: Keep things moving, and make us laugh. They do, and you will.


Playing thru May 16: ThFSa 8pm; Su 2pm: Colonial Players Theatre in the Round, Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org.