Kevin Esmond

Holmes and Watson at Burlington County Footlighters

Theatre fans won’t have to do a lot of sleuthing to find good theatre this winter. Burlington County Footlighters is presenting Holmes and Watson. The game was afoot on Friday, January 17th. Your correspondent attended the opening night performance that evening.

Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher put Sherlock Holmes’ observation that “what one man can invent, another can discover” into crafting this play. He also disproved the fictional sleuth’s musing that, “There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before.” Mr. Hatcher expanded on the “whodunit” premise and added a “whoisit” element to the tale. Holmes and Watson explored a mystery in which the famous detective served as the source.

Three years following Holmes’ death, Dr. John Watson (played by Ed Marcinkiewicz) received a strange memo. A man named Dr. Evans (played by Kevin Esmond) summoned him to an asylum off the coast of Scotland. Three men had arrived each claiming to be Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Evans invited Watson to identify the correct one. In a set-up that seemed a bit like a Victorian version of the game show To Tell the Truth, Watson went to this island and then interviewed each alleged Holmes.

Each supposed Holmes had an eclectic personality. Three outstanding actors portrayed the alleged sleuth.

Performer Matt Becker played the most conventional of the three. Mr. Becker captured the attributes of the confident, analytical Holmes. He spoke in a quick fashion, reminiscent of Jeremy Brett, and exhibited the detective’s self-assurance. He best portrayed these features during his first meeting with Watson. Mr. Becker illustrated the sleuth’s powers of deduction by interpreting the scent of the tobacco on his clothes and evaluating the cut of his suit.

Joe Chialastri portrayed the neurotic version of Holmes. Mr. Chialstri showed superb delivery with his narration of Holmes’ final encounter with his nemesis Professor Moriarty. He deftly varied his character’s lines by talking in both American and convincing British accents. His hurried speaking expressed the character’s anxieties. His nervous demeanor added humor to the show; as did the straight jacket he wore throughout the entire performance.

Dave Pallas enacted the deaf, mute and blind incarnation of Holmes. These personality traits didn’t provide Mr. Pallas many opportunities to flex his histrionic muscle. C’est dommage. The performer, however, exploited the opportunities the script presented him. When hypnotized by Dr. Evans he delivered a gripping description of Holmes’ last confrontation with Moriarty.

Like many detective stories, this one became more complex as the story developed. To add to the mystery, Dr. Evans revealed that an inspector (played by Bernard DiCasimirro) arrived before Watson. Someone murdered this investigator. His final words were, “Sherlock Holmes.”

The plot then became even more involved. A missing document and the arrival of a woman (played by Kristin Curley) who claimed to be “murdered” became part of the story. Dr. Evans and Dr. Watson each struggled to solve these mysteries while attempting to identify the true Holmes.

“It has been a long axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important,” Holmes said in A Case of Identity. The same premise applies to directing.

A story featuring a legendary character requires a renowned director to present it. Burlington County Footlighters chose theatrical maven Gabrielle Affleck to lead this project. Ms. Affleck has directed several shows at Footlighters including Kimberly Akimbo (on BCF’s 2nd Stage) and the award winning productions Dracula and The Explorers’ Club. For the latter, Ms. Affleck received the Best Director honor for Footlighters’ 2017 – 2018 season.

Ms. Affleck may have found inspiration from Arthur Conan Doyle’s character. Perhaps recalling Sherlock Holmes’ observation that he couldn’t “make bricks without clay,” Ms. Affleck selected excellent performers to bring Holmes and Watson to the stage.

Mr. Marcinkiewicz applied Holmes powers’ of deduction into Watson’s character. The performer displayed calmness and cunning reasoning ability. He also delivered the quick reasoning more often identified with Holmes’ character. His slow walk as he explained his analysis showed an underlying arrogance.

Kevin Esmond played the guarded Dr. Evans as an enigmatic figure. His laconic responses showed that he knew much more than he was willing to tell. His character gave Watson incomplete information; in many cases telling him that he couldn’t share the details. The only ideas he expressed openly were those on Watson’s writings. His character harbored a belief that he understood them better than Watson himself. Mr. Esmond’s critiques made his character even more intriguing.

The two characters’ personalities allowed Mr. Marcinkiewicz and Mr. Esmond to perform gripping exchanges opposite one another. These two thespians’ performances made them much more engaging than the dialog suggested.

Mr. Hatcher added elements of literary criticism to the script. Mr. Esmond accused Watson of writing exaggerated “stories” about Holmes. He argued they enhanced the Holmes mystique at the expense of facts. Mr. Marcinkiewicz countered that he wrote accurate “accounts” of Holmes’ deeds. A tense, yet witty conversation resulted.

Kristin Curley played all the female roles in the show. They required a range of acting skills. Ms. Curley expressed the different accents and character traits believably. Her characters included the traumatized “woman”, the unemotional Irish orderly and the ebullient woman in red.

Bernard DiCasimirro added his monumental talents to the show. Even while in the background, Mr. DiCasimirro’s presence hovered over the scenes. His funny accent, shuffle and bushy beard allowed the Orderly to provide excellent comic relief.

Mr. DiCasimirro played another very notable role in the show. He took on the role of the detective genre’s most famous villain in the form of Professor Moriarty. The dark hat and cape he wore gave him a Snidely Whiplash aura sans the handlebar mustache. Mr. DiCasimirro brought out the character’s malicious persona without degenerating into melodrama.

This portrayal of Moriarty once more showed Mr. DiCasimirro rather adept at playing “bad guys.” In October of 2018, Mr. DiCasimirro played an outstanding Richard Nixon in Burlington County Footlighters’ 2nd Stage production of Frost/Nixon. After his mastery of portraying antagonists, it would be interesting to watch Mr. DiCasimirro play a likable protagonist. The strength of his recent performances shows that he has the ability. Perhaps Mr. DiCasimirro should consider trying the role of someone like Sherlock Holmes. If his performance in this show is any indication, he could do so without audiences even knowing that he’s acting.

“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.” Holmes said in A Scandal in Bohemia. Judging from the gasps of surprise your correspondent heard during the show, this audience did much more of the former than the latter. The script contained more plot twists and surprises than the last two minutes of a Saw film. While mind-bending at times, the shifts made the suspension of disbelief more interesting.

Once again, Jim Frazer proved himself a set designer beyond comparison. In the past, he’s turned the Footlighters stage into a Christmas village, a Victorian explorers’ club and the Bonnie and Clyde death car among many other locations. This time he transformed it into both Switzerland and a late-Victorian asylum.

Holmes and Watson contained flashbacks to the final confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty. This scene occurred at the Reichenbach Falls in the Bernese Oberland. The rocks combined with creative lighting (also designed by Mr. Frazer) to simulate moving water made Mr. Frazer’s set appear even more uncannily authentic than usual.

Mr. Frazer displayed excellent attention to detail with the asylum. Exposed brick showed through sections of the gray concrete walls. The archways leading off-stage added to the dreary ambiance.

This set provided the director with opportunities for some mesmerizing visual spectacles. Ms. Affleck used them brilliantly. The scene at the falls where the silhouette of Holmes played his violin looked more like a movie scene than live action theatre.

Ms. Affleck used lighting ingeniously for another key scene. When Kristin Curley (as “the woman”) explained the events that led to her situation, Ms. Affleck had her move to center stage. A spotlight provided the only illumination. This staging gave the scene more impact.

Mr. Frazer and Sound Designer Bob Beaucheane combined their talents to create realistic thunder and lighting. The crashes and flashes enhanced the tension on stage at the appropriate times.

“They say that genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains,” He (Sherlock Holmes) remarked with a smile. “It is a very bad definition, but it does apply to detective work.”

The same premise applies to theatrical performances. The cast and crew at Footlighters sure showed their own brand of genius for Holmes and Watson.

Other members of the production team included: Assistant Director Pat Frazer, Producer Torben Christiansen, Stage Manager Chrissy Wick and Props/Special Effects Coordinator Jasmine Chalfont. Amanda Cogdell, Ty Chalfont, Jen Scache Bloomberg managed costumes. Valerie Brothers performed hair and make-up.

The real mystery is why theatrical fans would miss the opportunity to see Holmes and Watson. Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s work will enjoy the show; as will anyone interested in detective stories. Its plot twists will also appeal to fans of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. South Jersey’s community theatre fans don’t need someone as smart as Mycroft Holmes to tell them to see it. The decision to watch this show is “elementary.” It runs through February 1st at Burlington County Footlighters.

 

Oliver! at the Ritz Theatre Company

The Simpsons character Krusty the Clown cynically stated, “I don’t use my A-material for charity.” The cast and crew of Oliver! took a much more professional philosophy towards aiding those in need. McMagical Productions sponsored this benefit performance that runs from February 21st through February 23rd and is hosted by the Ritz Theatre. I attended the February 22nd show.

Prior to the show, McMagical Productions President Donna Krier addressed the audience. Mrs. Krier explained that McMagical Productions is a non-profit organization created to honor the memory of Barbara McKinsey, a young dance teacher who passed away from lung cancer in 2013.

According to the organization’s website:

McMagical Productions serves those suffering from chronic diseases by raising money, raising awareness and raising their spirits through the performing arts.

Our focus has primarily been on raising funds and awareness for lung cancer research through donations to the Lung Cancer Research Foundation (formerly Free to Breathe,) but we are also working to support other causes as well. For each of our production events, we choose one of the charities close to our hearts, and all the proceeds from that event go towards a donation for that charity. The charity that is supported will be listed on each flier, and additional information about the charities will be available at our events.

Proceeds from this February 21 – 23 run of Oliver! will benefit the Lung Cancer Research Foundation.

I’ve noted before how the Ritz Theatre possesses an unparalleled capability to transform itself. Their casts and crews have converted the building into settings such as the magical world of Disney, a medieval forest and a Christmas wonderland. For this run they took a much different tack. It seemed that they converted the facility into Burlington County Footlighters.

Fans of the Cinnaminson based group would be well-served taking the trip to Haddon Township. Numerous big name performers typically associated with Footlighters contributed their talents to this show. Alan Krier (as Fagin), Lindsey Krier (as Nancy), Buddy Deal (as Mr. Bumble), Tim Sagges (as Mr. Sowerberry) , Gabrielle Affleck (as Mrs. Sowerberry), Bailey Shaw (as Charlotte/Rose Seller), Matt Becker (as Noah Claypole/Knife Grinder), Kevin Esmond (as Bill Sikes) and Stevie Neale (as Mrs. Bedwin) performed. Another BCF legend, Valerie Brothers, directed.

Ms. Brothers didn’t limit the cast to Footlighters alumni. In the lead roles, Jack Barkhamer played Oliver Twist and Naomi Serrano performed The Artful Dodger.

The Ritz Theatre contains much more space than the theatre at Footlighters. Ms. Brothers utilized the opportunities it provided for her. The ensemble employed the entire room for the opening number. While singing “Food Glorious Food” the performers entered though the back and walked down the aisles. During a chase scene Mr. Barkhamer ran through the room after picking Mr. Brownlow’s (played by Steve Phillips) pocket. Matt Becker in the role of a policeman pursued.

Playwright Lionel Bart achieved every songwriter’s dream with Oliver!. It contained a host of catchy songs; just about all possessed some kind of earworm. I’d keep hearing them over-and-over in my head until the next one began. Music Director Peg Smith and the orchestra provided spectacular accompaniment.

“Consider Yourself” made for one of the more memorable numbers. Naomi Serrano delivered phenomenal vocals while performing an excellent dance routine; the latter choreographed by Liz Baldwin. Mr. Barkhamer accompanied her on this number very well. He delivered an excellent solo number on the moving “Where is Love?”

Tim Sagges and Gabielle Affleck performed “That’s Your Funeral” together. It was a pleasure to hear such talented actors combine for a duet.

One of Oliver!’s songs even included a four part harmony. Credit goes to Bailey Shaw, Lisa Krier, Marisa Lazar and Matt Becker for their respective deliveries on “Who Will Buy?” The added reverb gave the number a haunting quality.

Fans of Alan Krier need to see Oliver! And people not familiar with his work will be his fans after this run. Audiences get the full Al Krier experience with this show.

Mr. Krier built upon his reputation for his unique approach to costuming. While nothing will compare with his The Fox on the Fairway wardrobe (incidentally, designed by Valerie Brothers) he used notable attire in Oliver!. He came out wearing a hat. The brim partially covered his face. He wore a raggedy looking trench coat. I’ve watched Mr. Krier perform for several years. I’ve even spoken with him a number of times. I didn’t recognize him. It wasn’t because of the fake beard, either. Mr. Krier is just that talented an actor.

Mr. Krier entertained with his usual comedic prowess. He did a routine with jewelry that printed words cannot adequately describe. Suffice it to comment that Mr. Krier behaved hysterically.

Fans of Mr. Krier’s vocal stylings would be pleased, as well. He contributed his singing skills to several numbers including “I’d Do Anything”, “Be Back Soon” and the ironically titled “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two.” I used the word ironic because audience members won’t feel like their pockets were picked after hearing Mr. Krier’s crooning.

I’ve referred to Mr. Krier as the patriarch of the Krier Royal Family of South Jersey Community Theatre. Two of his children, Lindsey and Lisa, performed in this show with him. Lindsey’s performance gave this reviewer the impression that she’s ready to take over as leader of that family dynasty NOW.

To share a personal anecdote with readers: the first community theatre show I reviewed was a performance of Avenue Q at Burlington County Footlighters. It took place in May of 2014. Lindsey Krier delivered a moving rendition of “It’s a Fine, Fine Line.” I still remember her singing it even though I heard it once and that occurred almost five years ago. I didn’t think it would be possible to her to improve as a vocalist, but Ms. Krier has developed into a much stronger performer now. Based on how talented she was back then, that’s quite an achievement.

Ms. Krier treated the audience to her exceptional singing ability. “As Long as He Needs Me” contained emotional angst. Ms. Krier captured that sentiment through her vocal inflections and added facial expressions. In addition to her solo numbers, she sang an excellent duet with Abby Swaney.

When I interviewed Alan Krier back in July of 2017, I asked him what it was like to share the stage with Lindsey in Tommy. He said, “We’ve done a few shows together, but we really haven’t had any scenes together.” In Oliver! the two performed together on the “I’d Do Anything” and the reprise of the “It’s a Fine Life” numbers.

 

Al and Lindsey Krier

Alan and Lindsey Krier backstage at Oliver!

Lindsey Krier also displayed remarkable acting ability throughout the evening. Her struggle to save Oliver (Jack Barkhamer) from the evil Bill Sykes led to an excellent confrontation scene. She and Kevin Esmond performed it with uncomfortable realism.

Other performers in the extensive ensemble included: Abby Swaney, Lindsay Deal, Steve Phillips, Michael J. DeFlorio, Susan Dewey, John Sayles, Nicky Intrieri, Liz Baldwin, Christa Campisi, Zachary Capone, Nick French, Paul Huntington, Robert Repici, Chris Valkyria, Noah Bantle. Abigail Bradshaw, Tristan Cogdell, Emily Ferry, Sabrina Gipple, Lizzy Holland, Meghan Lex, Joey Lieberson, Zachary Palais, Nora Ragonese, Maezie Ruggles, and Rebecca Seligman. Caspian Aicher-Roberts played Oliver Twist at the Saturday matinee show.

The final performance of Oliver! will take place on Saturday, February 23. McMagical Productions and the The Ritz Theatre Company will next present Disney’s The Lion King, Jr on April 19th and April 2oth, 2019. For more information, please consult www.mcmagicalproductions.org and http://www.ritztheatreco.org.

 

Merrily We Roll Along Presented by the BCF Intern Company at Burlington County Footlighters

The opening scene of this musical took the audience to a party held in Frank Shepard’s honor. All the “movers and shakers” of Bel Air arrived to pay tribute to this towering titan of Tinseltown. As well they should have. While starting out as a small-time writer of musical scores, he’d achieved dizzying heights of prominence as a Hollywood movie producer. Everyone loved Frank; well, everyone except his ex-wife, his estranged writing partner and his life-long friend whom he drove to a life of alcoholism. For that matter, his ex-wife didn’t care for him, his current wife suspected him of infidelity, and potential wife number three had been attacked by wife number two. Merrily we roll along.

This annual installment of the Burlington County Footlighters Intern company served as an outstanding vehicle for these eager thespians. Director Kevin Esmond had a lot to work with here. The show featured numerous roles so that even the secondary characters had an opportunity to display their skills.  I’d especially give kudos to Mack Massey. He turned in a convincing performance playing a nine year old child.

The show featured an unusual time sequence. It began in 1976 and ended after Sputnik’s launch. Each act progressed backwards in time. We got to witness Frank’s rise to stardom in reverse. It’s difficult to keep an audience engaged with that structure. After all, they already know the ending when the play starts. Then again, in the talented hands of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, I remained interested.

The musical centered on the interlocking lives of three friends. Franklin Shepard (played by Ryan Kiernan) the music writer, Charlie Kringas (Alec Hamilton) the playwright, and Mary Flynn (Daio Floyd) a novelist. The three had exceptional chemistry together. One highlight of the show came when they sang as a trio on the tune, “Old Friends”.  While pressed together on a small couch, they had to execute some tricky choreography, also. I didn’t hear any of them go out of key the whole time.

Sondheim likes trios, apparently. Another one featured Mr. Kiernan, Mr. Hamilton, and Sarah Peszka (as Beth) singing “Bobby and Jackie and Jack” in the 1960 scene. This homage to the Kennedy clan included a bit of a traditional Irish dance. It also required the three to rattle-off the names of everyone in the Kennedy family very fast while in unison. (Sondheim likes sixteenth notes, too.)  The fact the cast remembered the all the lyrics alone impressed me. (more…)

Theater Review – How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying at Burlington County Footlighters

Some will wonder: why spend an evening watching people connive their way up the corporate ladder, cynically manipulate co-workers and eliminate any obstacle, both real and imagined, while doing so? Can’t one see that every day at the office? Perhaps, but Burlington County Footlighters made it an entertaining pleasure to witness such chicanery.

This cast, crew and orchestra got right down to business. Brenda Kelly Bacon directed and choreographed a phenomenal show. This performance showcased everything: singing, acting and elaborate choreography. It featured many memorable musical numbers. J. B. Biggley’s (played by Kevin Esmond) performance of his college fight song, “Grand Old Ivy” will stay with me for decades. The character showed more enthusiasm for his alma mater than I’m accustomed to seeing during March Madness. The musical also showcased some astonishing dance numbers. Several featured tap dancing. As I sat in the front row, my ears hurt a bit from the entire ensemble performing percussive tap. But as the members of Pink Floyd observed: “What price art, eh?”

All the actors turned in outstanding performances. Matt Becker displayed astonishing range in the role of J. Pierrepont Finch. He played a hyper-ambitious young man obsessed with ascending to the top of World Wide Wickets. Still, he did so in a way that made the character likeable and amusing. It’s a struggle to identify his core competency. He delivered comedic chops, sang and danced with equal dexterity.

Angela Longo (Rosemary) played an exceptional romantic distraction for Finch’s ambitions. She delivered a pining rendition of “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” about wanting to be a businessman’s wife. It added a humorous contrast to the following exchange with Smitty (Alexandra Haas).

Rosemary: “What do you call the opposite of a sex maniac?”

Smitty: “A businessman.”

I especially enjoyed watching Becker and Longo merge their skills and work together as a team. Both these thespians possessed very strong, clear voices. I relished the opportunity to hear them sing together. The two performed the ballad “Rosemary” brilliantly. I also enjoyed their rendition of the catchy tune “Been a Long Day” with the aid of Smitty. (Talk about an earworm. As I’m writing this, the song is running through my head again.)

Kaitlyn Delengowski turned in a memorable performance as the ditsy Hedy LaRue. It’s hard enough to speak in a squeaky voice let alone sing in one and stay in key. She played the role as a red-head as opposed to a stereotypical blonde. That added a more realistic touch to the character.

The show featured a litany of memorable musical numbers. I mentioned several already. Another one that I find myself humming from time to time is “The Company Way”.  (Al Krier, as Twimble, did a fantastic job taking the lead on this tune.) Some of the lyrics stuck with me.

I play it the company way

Wherever the company puts me, there I’ll stay.

And

Junior have no fear

Whoever the company fires

I will still be here.        

While listening to the song, I found the extent of its veracity on par with Biblical truth.

I also liked the “Coffee Break” number. The ensemble showed what that can happen in an office during a coffee shortage. Think One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While funny, I did detect a colonel of truth to it.

How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying delivered a humorous send-up of one ambitious man’s rise to the top. Finch got ahead rather easily. The cast at Burlington County Footlighters succeeded in putting on a great show. I can’t say they succeeded as easily as Finch, though. The amount of time and effort they put into this production was evident in their performances. As always, I applaud and marvel at the passion I see in its thespians. The show runs through February 7th.

 

Theatre Review – David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross at Burlington County Footlighter

I spent this past Saturday with a group of bitter, middle aged men who drank and swore copiously. The entire conversation entailed lamenting how much they couldn’t stand their jobs, wanted to get even with their bosses and get rich in the process. Before readers get the impression I didn’t spend this weekend any differently than usual, I attended a theatrical performance. I had the pleasure of watching the Burlington County Footlighters present David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama, Glengarry Glen Ross. What a job they did!

Robert Hawkey did an exceptional job animating the character of Richard Roma; a role iconized by Al Pacino in the movie version. Mr. Hawkey made the personality entirely his own. When he first appeared on stage gesticulating in his gold suit, he scared me. I sat in the front row and worried that by the end of the play I’d be walking out the door owning a hundred acre time share in Florida. It takes great faith in one’s histrionic capabilities to take on a character that conniving and, yet, convincing, but he did so exceptionally well. According to the playbill, this run of Glengarry Glen Ross is his first theatrical performance in seven years. Upon discovering that, I respected him even more. Either he possessed natural confidence performing in front of an audience, or he’s so good at his craft he could act like he did. Either way, bravo.

I also enjoyed Breen Rourke’s rendition of Shelly “The Machine” Levine. I’ve always thought that character a hybrid of serious pathetic loser Willy Loman and comical pathetic loser Al Bundy: disgraceful and, at the same time, comical. Mr. Rourke displayed these dual characteristics throughout his performance. His emphatic pleading with Mr. Williamson (played by Kevin Esmond) for “prime” leads in the opening scene led me to empathize with the character. Moments into his spiel, however, I got tired of listening to his whining. I felt sorry for him, but wished he would go away. Rourke’s exceptional acting chops made me forget the later point shortly after.

In essence, Roma served as the archetype of the consummate winner, while “The Machine” embodied the pitiful loser. Hawkey’s and Breen’s superb interaction in the final scene really concretized this dichotomy. I give both actors credit for executing this so well.

Dave Moss (played by Daniel Brothers) and George Aaranow (Alan Krier) worked as great contrasts, too. These thespians brought out the subtleties in Mamet’s text through their interface. I’ve read the play, but didn’t catch the semi-humorous subtext of the conversation. Brothers’ performance of the devious schemer to Krier’s unwitting dupe allowed me to understand the underlying dynamics of the drama much better.

For those unfamiliar with Mamet’s writing, young children should not accompany parents to this performance. There’s a lot of freaking bad language: no bullsnot. While many will no doubt enjoy witnessing the characters swear at and berate their boss (kudos to Kevin Esmond for taking it all in stride), I’d recommend doing so in the company of a mature audience.

The stage crew did a great job with the set design. They converted an elegant Chinese Restaurant set into a trashed real estate office. I applaud how they managed to get it done during a short 15 minute intermission.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Burlington County Footlighters presentation of Glengarry Glen Ross. Intense tragedy populated with delicate interjections of dark humor, and foul language filled the evening. I just hope I don’t run into the cast the next time I’m in the market for real estate. If they can sell as well as they can act, they just might set me back a couple hundred grand for swamp side acreage.