Theater Info for Maryland

Phoenix Festival Theater Company

By • Jun 14th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Phoenix Festival Theater
Chesapeake Theater-Harford Community College, Bel Air, MD
Through June 18th
2:30 with intermission
$18/$9 Youth
Reviewed June 10th, 2011

Sondheim musicals are extremely difficult to perform. Company is a special challenge. It calls for complex characters and complex vocals that are both pulled off by every actor in the ensemble piece. Moreover, these characters are intensely flawed. Where Phoenix Festival Theatre succeeded while many amateur productions fall short was through finding the heart and humanity in each of these characters. These performers, under the helm of Director Robert W. Oppel, find what makes each of these people lovable and brought it to life. At times, they fell a little short of the incredibly complex melodies and harmonies of this score, but they always quickly found their way back on pitch and never allowed the vocal workout to take away from the solid creation of this interesting, complex, and somehow lovable band of “good and crazy people.”

The set for Company is extremely minimalistic. In this production, a series of platforms and steps remained in that vision without confusing minimalistic for simple. The arrangement of the set felt like it was uniquely perfect for the blocking of the show and vice versa. Robert W. Oppel doubled as Set Designer and really did an excellent job of making both set and performance one. There were almost no props, which made the all-important cake with candles stand out even more. Oppel also did a good job of making things slightly contemporary, but, in a way, that really brought the production to a level of existing beyond space and time. That universality and fluidly of chronology added greatly to the thematic concerns of the script. The costumes did a nice job playing into this as well. While they gave a distinct feel of middle-class urban professionals, most of them were transcendent beyond fads of fashion associated with particular times. They could have been worn across several decades and all the seasons. The set and costumes really tapped into a deeper statement about the relevance of Bobby’s struggle and the fact that, in essence, much of the musical seems to be taking place in his own memory. More could have been done with the lighting design to continue to add to the otherwise strong vision.

Tom Burns as Robert sits in the center of this work, and Burns and Oppel made an interesting and clever choice by playing the character is an extremely understated way. Rather than Bobby being larger-than-life and the real center of focus, he was the observer. He was charming and charismatic, but simply. He had a good voice, but not the kind of powerful belt that overshadows the ensemble. His biggest strength was in his subtle facial reactions to the larger-than-life antics of the others around him. At first, it did seem an odd choice to have Bobby played so small, but it further indicated the strength of Oppel’s vision.

Greg Bell (Harry) and Mary Elizabeth Mullin (Sarah) are one of Bobby’s many couple friends. Both of them were down-to-earth and likeable and had some great comedic moments that were really defined through their ability to work with each other in creating the realistic rhythm of the banter of married couple. Greg Bell also really came through on an emotional level with “Sorry Grateful,” so much so that it transcended the fact that his vocals were just passable.

Ron Giddings (Peter) and Sarah Chrzanowski (Susan) were certainly the least memorable of the couples, but they also have some of the least memorable material. Both came across as real people and had a nice likeability and believability.

Troy Hopper (David) and Laura Weiss (Jenny) made for an excellent pairing. He was low-key and mellow, while she was full of energy. It was believable that the two of them balanced each other, and Weiss’ comedic timing and delivery made their scene especially memorable.

Tammy Crisp (Amy) had the best moment of the show in her brilliantly hilarious rendition of “I’m Not Getting Married Today.” As her better half, Robert Tucker (Paul) was realistic in his steady portrayal of her calm and loving counterpart.

In general, the male characters are mellower than their wives. Roger Schulman (Larry) delivers a touching speech about his love for his wife, but it is Deborah Desmone (Joanne) who gets to command the scene and deliver a stellar performance of the iconic “Ladies Who Lunch.”

The absolute best performer in this production, however, is Elisa Dugan (April). Her character, delivery, and vocals are impeccable. Her character, the ditzy flight attendant who can often come across as a caricature in amateur hands, is somehow real, deep, likeable, and complex. As another of Bobby’s girlfriends, Becca Vourvoulas (Marta) also does an excellent job of creating a realistic and interesting character. She also has a beautiful quality to her voice, and, even though she wandered off pitch a few times, was overall able to deliver and entertain with the number “Another Hundred People.” The only real weak link in the production was Amy Luchey (Kathy). She lacked believability and often appeared to be focusing too hard on what she was doing rather than living as the character in the way that the other performers were able. She was also given an extended solo dance, although she is really not a very impressive dancer and was unable to evoke strong emotion with her moment in the spotlight.

Phoenix Festival Theater’s production of Company is definitely worth checking out, whether you are unfamiliar with the interesting, complex, and universal story or have seen it done many times. Through a solid directorial vision and the incredible hearts worn on the sleeves of the performers, it translates into an enjoyable, sometimes hysterical, and often touching and cathartic call for introspection into the reasons we connect or disconnect from the people surrounding us.

Photo Gallery

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Photos provided by the Phoenix Festival Theater


  • Robert: Tom Burns
  • Harry: Greg Bell
  • Peter: Ron Giddings
  • Amy: Tammy Crisp
  • Susan: Sarah Chrzanowski
  • Joanne: Deborah Desmone
  • April: Elisa Dugan
  • David: Troy Hopper
  • Kathy: Amy Luchey
  • Sarah: Mary Elizabeth Mullin
  • Larry: Roger Schulman
  • Paul: Robert Tucker
  • Marta: Becca Vourvoulas
  • Jenny: Laura Weiss

Production Staff

  • Director: Robert W. Oppel
  • Music Director: Shane Jensen
  • Vocal Coach: Alyson Shirk
  • Stage Manager: Alison Anderson
  • Set Designer: Robert W. Oppel
  • Lighting Designer: Ed Lake
  • Props Mistress: Jessica Brockmeyer

Pit Musicians

  • Conductor/Keyboard II: Shane Jensen
  • Keyboard I: Tyler Canonico
  • Reeds: Sherri Domenico
  • Trumpet: Willis Spencer
  • Violin: Trudy Atuobi
  • Bass: Brittany Bowen

Disclaimer: Phoenix Festival Theater allowed ShowBizRadio to attend their final dress rehearsal.

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has been involved in theatre in the state of Maryland and DC for most of her life. She has acted, directed, choreographed, stage managed, and held a million other odd jobs. She has a B.S. in English from Towson University, and is currently pursuing her Master's Degree to become a Reading Specialist. She is a Maryland State Certified English, Theatre, Elementary, and Mathematics Educator. After teaching English and Drama for many years, she now teaches 6th grade Language Arts at Magnolia Middle School in Harford County, Maryland. She wrote the curriculum currently used in Prince George’s County Public Schools for Drama I and Drama II. She now writes and directs plays and musicals for use in church.

2 Responses »

  1. Thank you for your wonder full review of our production. My only quibble is that Robert Tucker is the actor who plays “Paul ” opposite Tammy Crisp as “Amy,” not I.

  2. Thank you for pointing out that mistake. I’ve fixed the text, and apologize for the mistake.