Matt Becker

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.

 

Frost/Nixon at Burlington County Footlighters’ Second Stage

A flurry of entertainment masquerading as politics has infected the news cycle for the last two years. To ameliorate this madness I opted to watch a theatrical presentation exploring the thin line between politics and show business. Granted, that decision may sound like the drunken whim of a law student out celebrating the only time he ever managed to pass a bar. Nonetheless, I was sober as a judge when I attended the opening night performance of Frost/Nixon at Burlington County Footlighters’ Second Stage this October 5th.

Tim Kirk directed this analysis of two unlikely adversaries. Both men reached vertiginous heights of success at the summit of their professions; one in television, the other as the leader of the free world. Failures crushed each man plummeting them to the ground like modern day Icaruses. But a burning ambition ignited both to strive for that apex again. The only obstacle preventing each man’s return to glory was the other man.

A night of engaging theatre quickly transitioned into a verbal chess match. With Matt Becker in the role of David Frost and Bernard DiCasimirro portraying Richard Nixon it was game on.

Matt Becker did a wonderful job transitioning Frost from a carefree talk show host into a credible journalist. The English accent he adopted reflected the character’s cheery persona. Mr. Becker showed the audience that means of speaking masked a facade. As the show progressed, he brought out the complexities of Frost’s character. I liked the uncomfortable way he avoided the question when Caroline (played by Emily Huddell) accused him of being “sad.”

My favorite scene occurred when Frost received an unexpected phone call. Mr. Becker lamented the poor quality of the interviews and how he’d gambled his career on them. Then an inebriated Nixon contacted him. With a slight slur and an abundance of bravado, Mr. DiCasimirro drew comparisons between the two men. Mr. Becker listened while a poker face for the ages came over his expression. The look captured the character’s determination and frustration. As he sat silently listening to the President’s drunken oration, Mr. Becker drew my attention even better than Mr. DiCasimirro’s brilliant portrayal of the intoxicated former President.

Richard Nixon assured the American people that he was “not a crook.” In the role of the former President, Bernard DiCasimirro sure stole the spotlight. His witty delivery of anecdotes captured both Nixon’s disarming charm and social discomfort. His efforts to rattle Frost before he began the interviews captured the character’s ruthlessness. Through his skillful portrayal he managed to inspire empathy for the disgraced former Chief Executive; transitioning him from a cynical political operator into a vanquished and broken man. Nixon may have let down the American people. Mr. DiCasimirro certainly didn’t let down the audience at Burlington County Footlighters’ Second Stage.

Mr. DiCassimiro captured the character’s essence brilliantly. My favorite moment came when Nixon learned that Frost made the $200,000 down payment for the interview with his own money. Mr. DiCasimirro nonchalantly quipped to an aide: “If I’d known that, I would’ve offered him tea.”

In addition to directing, Tim Kirk played several roles in this piece. He delivered a terrific rendition of negotiator extraordinaire Swifty Lazaar. He played it so well that I had to avoid him after the show. I worried that he’d be able to talk me into spending a fortune on a pair of those Italian shoes Mr. Becker wore.

I usually don’t agree with the inclusion of a narrator in theatrical productions. Frost /Nixon featured two. To my surprise, Mr. Morgan crafted both roles very well. The playwright used them to provide insights into both the Frost and Nixon camps. The audience got to learn about the motivations behind each character’s supporters. The performers who played the narrators animated the text beautifully. Dave Pallas (as Jim Reston) presented the story from the Frost camp. I enjoyed the way brought out the anxiety and frustration with the project. Francis B. Pedersen (Jack Brennan) provided a convincing point-of-view from a dogged Nixon loyalist.

I also credit performers Richard E. Brown II, Alex Levitt, Scott Alexander Ross, Emily Huddell and Eilis Skamarakas for their contributions to the performance.

I had one criticism of the show. The story’s premise defied belief. My mind couldn’t process the idea of a Republican politician talking to a reporter not representing Fox News. I understand that the events in the story occurred 19 years prior to the network’s advent, but still: I would have found a musical version of Tolkien’s The Hobbit performed on an ice skating rink much more believable.

Media and politicians do share some common practices. In addition to sensationalism, both tend to frame issues as zero-sum games. The latter does not provide the best source material for a fun evening of theatre. The cast and crew of Burlington County Footlighters’ Second Stage still did extraordinary work making Frost/Nixon enjoyable. Mr. DiCasimirro’s rendition of Nixon made him into a tragic figure worthy of Shakespeare. Mr. DiCasimirro’s character told Mr. Becker’s, “Only one of us can win. The other ends up in the wilderness.” In staying true to Nixon’s personality, this statement proved inaccurate. The audience walked away the victors from this contest.

Frost/Nixon heads out to the wilderness from Burlington County Footlighters’ Second Stage after October 13th.

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.