Our Most Recent Reviews
Lion King Jr.
By Joe Barton
WATERVILLE PLAYSHOP’S LION KING, JR IS A VISUAL DELIGHT!
As I took my seat at the Maumee Indoor Theatre, I was greeted by a gorgeous backdrop of an African sunrise in beautiful hews of yellow and orange with the outline of a black tree in the foreground. On stage was a massive, two story rock, again, in hews of yellow and orange with bits of desert brown. Instantly, I knew this was Pride Rock on the savannas of Africa. As I waited for the show to begin, I had already been transported to another place, another time and that no detail had been overlooked by Director Shauna Newbold, Choreographer Caitlin Hudson or Producers Tammy Fitch and Mark Pike.
As the lights dimmed to black, I could see the young performers getting in to place. As the lights began to rise, I was greeted by a colorful and vibrant Rafiki (Emma Parrish). Her Rafiki was fully formed character and she attacked the song with a big, beautiful voice. Her energy was palpable and it made the opening incredibly dynamic. As she sang her “call” to the other animals, multiple animals began to saunter down the aisles answering her in hushed tones as to not overpower the solo. Quickly, the stage was filled by apes, antelopes, zebras, giraffes and even an elephant. As they entered down the aisles, the main stage filled with grasslands and a pack of lions. Leading the lions was Mufasa (Tyler Cowdrey), Sarabi (Elizabeth Stuart), Sarafina (Abigail Fitch) and, the bitter Scar (Bobbi Baranek) along with Mufasa’s most trusted assistant Zazu (Katie Trumbull). Each of the lions, including the pack of lionesses, used a distinctive, proud stride to carry them across the stage. In fact, all of the animals used a lot of body movement to inhabit his/her character and bring the opening number to a dramatic crescendo!
The action began quickly as we saw Mufasa and Young Simba (Lucas Patterson) enter the stage. Mufasa (Tyler Cowdrey) was aptly played to full physical ability. Throughout his many scenes, mostly with Young Simba, he showed both the patience of a wise and protective Father and the awareness of looming danger to his kingdom. Likewise, his vocals, especially during They Live in You, were strong and beautifully sung with heart. Young Simba had boundless energy and a voice to match. All his vocals were extremely well done and his acting was subtle and believable. Lucas Patterson is one to watch in future productions. His energy was infectious and allowed for his taunting of Zazu to fluster the Horned Bill to full effect. Zazu, (Katie Trumbull) used her body to glide across the stage and interact with both Mufasa and Young Simba. She had a very sophisticated carriage which allowed me to know she was really in charge whether the others liked it or not. Although it was hard to hear many of her vocals, what I did hear was enjoyable. Young Nala (Divya Shetty) also showed a full range of talent in both dance, acting and singing with boundless energy. She was a nice choice opposite the Young Simba. She is another young actor to watch in the future. The trio of Young Simba, Young Nala and Zazu during I Just Can’t Wait to be King was a great showcase of all three actors’ talents.
Another trio of note was that of Shenzi, Banzai and Ed (Aly Rollins, Tanner Strock and Morgan Cull). The three had a natural chemistry and worked well as a group. They used their bodies well to inhabit the hyenas and a lot of physical humor as well. And even though Ed didn’t say a line, he spoke volumes with his face and body. Of course, the trio was being led behind the scenes by the devious Scar played to full effect by veteran Bobbi Baranek. Every move was calculated and she fully embodied this character. It was a risk by Director Newbold to choose a woman to play such an iconic role as Scar, but it was a wise choice. Bobbi fully committed to this role both physically and vocally and it paid off for her and the production. With the addition of the Hyena chorus Be Prepared was another highlight of the show.
The Lioness pack, led by Sarabi (Elizabeth Stuart) and Sarafina (Abbie Fitch), were a harmonious pack. The choreography of the pack was seamless and allowed for some beautiful stage pictures. As a group, both their overall look and vocals contributed to some very good moments during the production in both The Mourning and Shadowlands.
The production took a much-needed comedic change as Timon (Ben Bascuk) and Pumba (Adam Lenhart) were introduced. This duet was made famous by the movie and Ben and Adam did not disappoint. Their vocals were great in Hakuna Matata as well as during the Luau Hawaiian Treat, but it was their use of vocalization and their physical manifestation of the characters that made them both so successful. Each of these young gentlemen landed every joke and worked well as a duo. They were truly a treat to watch and opened Act II with a bang.
Not to be outdone by Young Simba, “older” Simba, played by Trevor Gill-Snow, had the same high-energy as Young Simba, but also carried the guilt of his father’s death. Both in body and vocals, Trevor made for a great compatriot to both Timon and Pumba and as a love interest for the “older” Nala, played by Elizabeth Gozdowski. In both Shadowlands and Can You Feel the Love Tonight, Nala had some great vocals and worked well with both the Lioness pack and Simba.
Because this is such a lead driven show, it is easy to forget the chorus, but not in this instance. Whether the chorus was being used as animals in the opening numbers (a special shout out to the happiest giraffes I have ever seen), grasslands, jungle or Hyenas, the chorus kept the show moving and was involved through body, voice and movement. They were task oriented and made each scene more textured and diverse as if each had a story to tell just as important as the central intrigue. All the children involved should be extremely proud of how well they performed in this production.
Of course, someone had to put this all together and Director Shauna Newbold made some great stage pictures. Most notable scenes for me were Timon and Pumba during their philosophical discussion about stars, the Rafiki/Simba/Mufasa staging of He Lives in You reprise in Act II and, of course, the dynamite opening/closing number, Circle of Life. It should also be noted that Ms. Newbold used the stage well throughout the show and kept the pace brisk. Lots of imagination went into the overall look and feel of the show and it all culminated in a spectacular show that many of these kids will remember for a long time to come.
I would also like to give special mention the choreography of Caitlin Hudson. It was simple, yet affective, but more importantly it utilized the students to the best of their ability. She utilized those who had more dance experience to do more intricate choreography (usually the Lioness pack) and kept other choreography less advanced so that all could feel accomplished. Overall, she made great use of the stage and kept the choreography interesting no matter the level of dance.
Special mention must be given to the costume design of Michelle Johnson and the make-up design of Dylan Coale. This was far beyond most JR. productions. The costumes were in the pattern and design of African tribes allowing the audience to easily distinguish various characters and/or animals. Each color pattern used worked perfectly to tell the story of the Lioness tribe, the zebra, etc. And the animal masks were a great idea to help keep the costume from becoming too cliché. Likewise, the make-up design was unique; every animal had a distinct look that had a bit of African tribal art combined with animalistic design. The marriage between costumes and make-up was harmonious and allowed for enhanced stage pictures throughout the show. With so much lush color in the make-up and costumes combined with an absolutely gorgeous set, I was overwhelmed with the sense of pageantry I had at the first time I saw Lion King several years ago on Broadway.
Lion King, JR was well-beyond what I expected of a “junior” production. Producers Tammy Fitch and Mark Pike pulled together a dynamite team of All Stars to culminate in a fully spectacular production. Those production elements, combined with great direction and choreography AND a phenomenal cast of some of the best young talent in Northwest OH/SE Michigan, made for an Outstanding production. Waterville Playshop should be insanely proud of what they have accomplished. Congratulations!
Fiddler on the Roof
By Bart Soeder
There are very few musicals as immediately recognizable as Fiddler on the Roof. Since it debuted on Broadway in 1964, countless schools, churches and community theaters have tried their hand at reviving this classic. In this latest effort by Waterville Playshop, Michael Barlos-in his directorial debut for Playshop-has collected a marvelous cast and guided them quite skillfully to bring all the requisite emotion to the performance.
Some of my favorite moments are Tevye’s private conversations with God. With his regular pronouncements of “on the one hand” and “on the other hand”, it is easy to find yourself really empathizing with the internal struggle Tevye endures. Mark portrays him gracefully as a man with great tenderness and a touch of humor.
The three eldest daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava-played by Katie Trumbull, Adelle Blauser and Elizabeth Stuart respectively- are all eager to find husbands and implore the “Matchmaker” to help them find the perfect match. The girls sing beautifully and are clearly having fun together. Speaking of the matchmaker, Kim Baranek plays Yente and brings her usual excellent comedic timing to the role.
Another humorous highlight of the performance is “The Dream”. Tevye’s frenetic energy is matched only by the scolding Grandma Tzeitel played by Cyndy Brookover and the wonderfully booming voice of Fruma Sarah, played by Cayla Cale.
There are too many other noteworthy parts of this performance to cover them all here but the chorus deserves mention for their efforts. They did an excellent job reacting to the action of the main characters, helping to keep the audience focused on what was happening. Matt Zwyer and his orchestra pit did a remarkable job with musical accompaniment and the sound and light crew did well.
The beauty of Fiddler on the Roof is the mingling of humor, sadness and ultimate optimism for an unknown future through the story and the music. There is a timelessness to the story that makes it especially relevant today. It is difficult not to appreciate the connection of the displacement of those in the story with the mass exodus of people from their homes in war torn areas today.
Michael Barlos and his collection of cast and crew competently brought this classic musical to life for yet another appreciative audience. Thank you.
High School Musical
BY CHRISTI KING (Spotlight Studio – Director)
Disney and high school are a staple of most children’s lives making it a perfect paring for the theatrical stage. When entering the lobby of the Maumee Indoor Theatre the audience was transported back in time to the buzzing and vibrant halls of high school. Class pictures hung on the walls, the lines for concession were reminiscent of the school cafeteria and the crowds of people rushing around talking about who’s who set the atmosphere for The Waterville Playshop’s rendition of ‘High School Musical.’
This story is a classic bubblegum version of boy meets girls. Pretty Brainiac Gabriella, played by Erin Ripley, meets basketball jock Troy Bolton, played by Jonathan Crawford, and they fall for each other against all social odds. Having met over the summer they find they have a mutual love for singing that bonds them tightly together and in the end their cliques together. Erin Ripley had a beautiful and sweet singing voice that lent itself to the authenticity of her character and Jonathan Crawford played the part of the basketball jock to cool and confidant perfection. The innocence of young high school love was awkward and believable. The hysterical paring of siblings Sharpay Evans, played by Elizabeth Stuart, and Ryan Evans, played by Trevor Gill-Snow, carried the magical campy feeling of the show. The message for everyone to find what makes you happy and to stay true to yourself resonates with all ages.
The two story set design was amazing and built depth to an otherwise very shallow stage. Using the stage buildout around the orchestra pit and the theatre isles made for a truly interactive audience experience. The costuming was simple and cute as if it was taken right out of the hallways of any high school. The strong cast carried the peppy music through the audience despite some sporadic microphone issues from the lead characters.
What a great community performance from Waterville Playshop.