Theater Info for Maryland

Spotlighter’s Theatre Unraveled on the Gravel: A New Musical

By • Aug 9th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Unraveled on the Gravel: A New Musical
Spotlighter’s Theatre/Baltimore Playwrights Festival
Spotlighters Theatre, Baltimore, MD
Through August 21st
1:50 with no intermission
$20/$18 Seniors/$16 Students
Reviewed August 5th, 2011

It is probably best to look at Unraveled on the Gravel: A New Musical within the context of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival. Granted, there are three additional shows to see in the coming weeks that might change this assessment, but, as of right now, this is the best script that has been chosen for production. It still has many of the problems and pitfalls that come with an amateur script, but Kevin Kostic is distinctly more adept at writing dialogue than has been seen in the last two productions. The production itself is high-quality in terms of staging and technical aspects. The weakest aspect in this production, however, is the performers. While a few demonstrate some real potential and bright moments, it is hard to understand how others came to be cast in these roles.

This script succeeds where others failed, because it does sound like things that actual people would say. The dialogue is authentic, and each character has a unique voice. On the downside, the plot is a little predictable. When it travels into past times, it does not reveal much than what was already fairly obvious. This makes the script drag at times and seem very anticlimactic. However, it does show some real depth of pain and dealing with consequences of actions. The moving backward is a difficult plot structure even when brilliantly done, look at the often reworked and yet always unsuccessful Merrily We Roll Along. It is a great concept in theory, but it really does little to add to the show. Since there are no great surprises, it might work a little better to rework the show into a forward-moving chronology. Another difficulty is that the main character is not likeable, and the way in which he finds “peace” with his actions is very selfish. The script could be improved with a stronger resolution that makes a more powerful statement. For the most part, the songs are lyrically strong. The one exception would be in the last, because it again touches on the ages in the character’s life that were visited “28-22-18.” Since the use of the ages in script construction was not as powerful as the author hoped, neither are the lyrics of the last song. There is still, however, a lot of promise in the other lyrics that work the magic of being specific to the character’s struggle in a way that touches on the universal. Sometimes, the melodies are great, but the songs tend to lack cohesiveness in their structure. A catchy chorus might make way to a verse that just doesn’t flow or vice versa. There are moments of promise in the score as a whole, but the composer needs to work a little more on making sure each song works as a song with a real arc of movement and a genuine cohesion. This show most likely has a lot more revisions in its future, but it holds promise that something great could come of those revisions.

The production quality was top-notch. The set was a realistic and detailed beach house. The lights were used well to give the effect of a few other locales, like the highway at night, and moods, like the haunting inside Ray’s mind. The sound was well-balanced between the bands and the voices. The costumes were appropriate for the characters’ personalities and the different ages at which they appeared. It was really very well done in all technical aspects. Director Michael Tan did a nice job of bringing these elements together and using the technical pieces in conjunction with his staging to try to tell the story.

Unfortunately, several of the key performances struggled. The main character Ray was played by Josh Kemper. Kemper had a nice tenor range and, at times, hit some really great notes and showed his power. However, he often seemed like he was a little too inside of his own head, even for this character, and didn’t really bring the strength needed for the rock score. As an actor, he had some great nonverbal expressions and actions, but, when he spoke, he didn’t always make a strong acting choice. He also lacked realistic chemistry with Amber (Sarah Jachelski). Of course, that might not have been his fault. Jachelski can not sing. It is ear-splitting and often off-key. Her acting is equally as bad, and every single line sounds artificial. She has absolutely no sense of timing or nuance. It is hard to imagine how she ended up in this role.

Christopher Jones (Wriggs) seems to be very talented. He has a great voice and a big, broad personality. However, his voice sometimes didn’t fit completely with the style of the music. He also has extremely expressive and telling nonverbal reactions. On the other hand, his performance was a little too big for the small space, and he seemed much older than it would have been nice to see the character portrayed, in look and actions. While he is very good, this might not be the right stage, show, and role for him to best let his skills shine. Nick Huber (Marlon) was good at creating a very real character. He seemed like he just said the things that he said and not like they had been written for him. The only issue was that there was not much of a change in his character between time periods, although it was discussed that the character had actually changed dramatically. Huber also had a nice, solid vocal. Mike Mililo (Wayne) came across a little inexperienced on stage, but he demonstrated great heart that made you feel like he was really trying. He was able to make his character likeable even when not fully believable. Although he did not have a great tone quality and sometimes struggled a little with finding his harmony notes, when he did hit the harmony line, he and Huber blended beautifully.

There are a lot of things that need work in this production, but, in context of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, it is the closest so far to what you would expect from a production in the actual theatre season.

Photo Gallery

Ray's Dilemma. Amber (Sarah Jachelski-L), Ray (Josh Kemper-Ctr), and Wricks (Chris Jones-R). Ray (Josh Kemper) tried to out-run his past.
Ray’s Dilemma. Amber (Sarah Jachelski-L), Ray (Josh Kemper-Ctr), and Wricks (Chris Jones-R).
Ray (Josh Kemper) tried to out-run his past.
“This isn’t what I wanted to do today” Amber (Sarah Jachelski) tells Wayne (Mike Milillo-L), Ray (Josh Kemper-Ctr), and Marlon (Nick Huber-R).
“Why can’t you just talk to me?” Amber (Sarah Jachelski), begs Ray (Josh Kemper).
Bad news travels fast! Marlon (Nick Huber-L), Wayne (Mike Milillo-Ctr) and Ray (Josh Kemper-R).
“I can be there for you” Ray (Josh Kemper) comforts Amber (Sarah Jachelski).
Bad news travels fast! Marlon (Nick Huber-L), Wayne (Mike Milillo-Ctr) and Ray (Josh Kemper-R).
(L-R): Mike Milillo, Nick Huber, Kevin Kostic (playwright), Sarah Jachelski, Chris Jones, and Josh Kemper.
(L-R): Mike Milillo, Nick Huber, Kevin Kostic (playwright), Sarah Jachelski, Chris Jones, and Josh Kemper.

Photos by Ken Stanek Photography


  • Ray: Josh Kemper
  • Marlon: Nick Huber
  • Wayne: Mike Mililo
  • Wricks: Christopher Jones
  • Amber: Sarah Jachelski

Production Team

  • Book, Music, & Lyrics: Kevin Kostic
  • Director: Michael Tan
  • Musical Director: Michael Tan
  • Stage Manager: Kate Kolarik
  • Lighting Designer: Fuzz Roark
  • Set Designer & Dresser: Debbie Bennett
  • Sound Designer: Sherrionne Brown
  • Costumer Designer: Tori Halperin Kuhns
  • Costruction: Michael Spellman, Fuzz Roark, Andy Smith
  • Scenic Art: Fuzz Roark
  • Paint Crew: Sherrionne Brown, Michael Tan, Tabby Winske
  • Booth Operator: Kate Kolarik
  • Running Crew: Aja Morris-Smiley

Pit Band

  • Pit Director/Guitar: Brennan Kuhns
  • Bass: Elliott Peeples
  • Percussion: Christopher “Lucky” Marino

Disclaimer: Spotlighters Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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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.

4 Responses »

  1. While the reviewer may have strong (and perhaps, valid) opinions about the play script, she betrays a lack of understanding and finesse on the critique of theatrical elements. To drag fledgling actors over the flames, as she does, is uncalled for and unnecessarily cruel. With what seems like only a partial understanding of production, her review of these elements is very one sided and judgmental, particularly to Ms. Jackelski. The actors, working for no pay and with limited rehearsal time, are at the mercy of a script in process as well as the limited time/experience/ability of the director in working with them. A production is more than just the set and sounds. It is the director’s work with the actors. Ms. Gusso would do well to take that into account before casting aspersions onto the performers.

    This reader has read this kind of generalized, awkward and mean spirited comment in other assessments by said reviewer. In the future, more constructive critiques to the actors would be welcome–if Ms. Gusso is capable of this. (I should say that I am not, in any way, connected to this production nor to any of the performers involved.)

  2. Comments are not posted without a full complete name to be associated with the comment. I emailed you that morning asking for your first name and did not receive a response. The decision to allow comments lies solely with myself as editor.

  3. My play, “The Sculptress,” was also reviewed by Ms. Gusso as part of the 2011 Baltimore Playwrights Festival. This was my first play, and what I have learned is that no two critics – -like no two other audience members — will react in the same way to my play. I see this as both the risk and the reward of live theater.

    For better or for worse, live theater will always be reviewed, and I, for one, am trying to be grateful for the good reviews, strong enough to take the bad ones…and, I hope, smart enough to learn from the whole process.

  4. This is true, however there are informed reviewers and then there are other ones.