PETER RABBIT AND ME, Pumpkin Theatre 2016


TheatreBloom, Amanda Gunther


Rating: 5/5 Stars

Carefully cultivating a world of wondrous imagination and whimsy, Director Jeremy Scott Blaustein upends the traditional proscenium and thrust style stage setup featured at Pumpkin Theatre and opts instead for an alley, or tennis court, arrangement. This makes for a unique vantage point from the audience as it lengthens the play area for the performers and allows the younger audience members to sit right at the edge of the vegetable patch in Mr. McGregor’s garden. Blaustein, who works closely with Scenic Charge Heather Mork, Costume Designer Wil Crowther (who doubles as a Properties Designer), Lighting Designer Helen Garcia-Alton, and Properties Designer Ally Cribbs, fabricates a world of Victorian London that enchants the audience and invites them into the highly chimerical world inside the mind of Beatrix Potter.

While the garden painting on the fence post is simple, much like the warren inside the draped tree where the rabbits live, the more exacting details come into play up in the nursery. Blaustein and the creative team have inspired something mesmerizing to behold. Coupled with Mandee Ferrier Roberts’ compositions and well-timed musical sound effects, there is a true sense of wonder and imaginative intrigue occurring from the moment the lights come up. Wil Crowther’s era-appropriate costumes complete this magical aesthetic, and although the world of Beatrix Potter is quite real— until we slip into the vivid story about Peter Rabbit— there is a charming electric charge of fantasy living within the costumes and walls because of the impressive design work featured therein. A special nod of praise is owed to Properties Masters Crowther and Ally Cribbs for their delectable vegetables which are planted all along the play space’s perimeter! They look so impressive you’ll want to eat them up yourself!

Blaustein encourages the suspension of disbelief, upon which all good theatrical endeavors thrive. His guidance in regards to the various physical approaches of the characters makes the transition from humans in the real world to animals in the storybook world a seamless one. The energetic hopping about as bunnies is particularly amazing (especially when Wil Crowther’s simple addition of fuzzy hands and ears are all it takes to transform people into bunnies.) Each of the characters who starts as a human but then becomes an animal, or even a grumpy farmer, portrays elements of their human persona into their storybook animal— not unlike the way double-cast characters are written into timeless childhood classics like Peter Pan. Blaustein keeps the show hopping down the bunny trail so as to keep the attention of everyone watching.

With Mandee Ferrier Roberts’ orchestrations there is a lot of singing happening inside the show. First Bird (Sofia Alvarez) and Second Bird (Reese Bruning) do a bit of singing and are lovely rope-skipping girls at the very top of the performance in addition to being the sweet little giddy bunny sisters of Peter Rabbit. Graham Rifkin, who is the Baker’s Boy turned Mr. Mouse, is the real songbird of the show as almost every time he enters the stage he’s singing out a terrific tune. All three of these young performers are convivial and sprightly, fun to watch from start to finish.

It’s a joyful theatrical experience and there is lots to laugh about and lots to learn! Now hop along, behave yourselves, stay out of mischief and be sure to catch Peter Rabbit and Me at Pumpkin Theatre before it hops along down the lane!




PIRATES OF PENZANCE, Shenadoah Summer Music Theatre 2016


DCMetroTheaterArts, Johnna Leary


RATING: 5/5 STARS

The Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre’s (SSMT) production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance breathes fresh and hysterically contemporary life into an older operetta. Brilliantly directed by Jeremy Scott Blaustein, with very crisp musical direction from Karen Keating, The Pirates of Penzance is an 1879 operetta with music by Arthur Sullivan and book and lyrics by W.S. Gilbert.

The standout of the entire production, a difficult feat to master in this case, is Matthew R. Wilson as the Major General. From his delightfully eccentric personality to his brilliant off-the-cuff improvisations to some delightfully over-the-top entrances and exits,
if you don’t at least chuckle at some of Wilson’s hilarious antics, especially during his famous patter number “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General”…… you may need to check your pulse and make sure you’re still with us.

Another interesting choice was the casting for Major General Stanley’s daughters. In typical productions, the females are all around an identical age, but in the SSMT production of The Pirates of Penzance, the daughters are all clearly various ages. The ensemble is
very energetic and let humorously individual personalities shine through their pirates and policeman characters.

As with their production of Sweeney Todd earlier this summer, the SSMT production staff and
Blaustein made some extremely inventive choices to bring a modern twist to this classic operetta. Modern pop culture improvisational references are thrown in and imaginative staging makes the production freshly exciting, especially when performers make some (occasionally unexpected) entrances and exits through the auditorium.

For a wonderfully witty and modern fresh take on a classic operetta, featuring some
outstanding character work, be sure to catch The Pirates of Penzance at SSMT before it sails away!


OnStage Blog, Christian Jost

This show was
excellent in many ways but perhaps its greatest achievement was how well it was able to capture the sense of parody and farce that Gilbert and Sullivan intended it to have. They added 4th wall breaks to entertain the audience, they gave us excellent comedic timing on the lines, they had great comedic direction when it came to physicality, they even had a sword fight with the conductor. It’s easy to lose a lot of the humor surrounding this show as it is written in a musical style that is considered old fashion these days, but we mustn’t forget this show was written to be funny and to poke fun at society, class systems, and of course, other musicals. The company and crew understood that perfectly and delivered it so well and convincingly that if felt like the show could have been written yesterday. I didn’t want it to end!

This production was
wonderfully directed by Jeremy Scott Blaustein, with stylized choreography by Trey Coates-Mitchell. As stated above, they both captured the true spirit of humor in this show, having jokes that could have been right out of a David and Jerry Zucker movie. This show also featured a whimsical yet stunning set, with Scenic Design by Michael “Jonz” Jones. Under the musical direction of Karen Keating, the cast and orchestra seemed musically flawless. Gilbert and Sullivan may be the only thing harder to perform musically than Sondheim, and they all pulled it off!

I don’t say this often but
this show is a MUST SEE. It’s up till the end of this weekend.











director - AUTHOR - actor - producer

1776, Toby's Dinner Theatre 2015


TheatreBloom, Amanda Gunther

For God’s sake, theatergoers, sit down! And make sure you do it over at Toby’s Dinner Theatre where history comes to life in one of her most striking productions to date. Directed by Jeremy Scott Blaustein, this inspiring story is unlike anything ever seen on the stage at Toby’s. A remarkable exploration into the theatrical realm where the dialogue and stories outweigh the song and dance numbers. Rising to the challenge, and soaring through it with patriotic red white and blue colors, the sensational cast starts a conflagration worthy of this nation’s rebellious beginning; a testament to the talent that treads the boards of that stage eight shows a week.
____

Storytelling has long been an essential element of the performances found on the Toby’s stage, but never before has it been so keenly felt. 1776, being the show that holds the record on Broadway for longest scene without a musical number, puts the integrity of performance ability on the line. Under the sharp and focused eye of Director Jeremy Scott Blaustein, a revolution erupts into practice. The outcome of the nation is well known but there comes a point in the story where the tension is so thick and the constant churning of debate is so heady that one doubts whether or not America will become a nation. Blaustein motivates the cast with zeal; a continual billow stoking the flames of debate and discussion that moves the show along with great fervor.
___

Vote yes! Vote yes! Vote to see this show as many times as you can. The talent is at its highest, the storytelling at its finest. A production that would do our founding fathers a great justice; in earnest, they would be proud.    


MD Theatre Guide, Mark Beachy

 …an important musical.


Jeremy Scott Blaustein does a nice job at bringing together the large cast of 26 to the Toby’s stage.  24 of those roles belong to men, which, if you are a stage director, you know how hard it is to find talented men to fill the demanding casting requirements.

What would life be like today if Congress would have been able to approve a clause in the Declaration condemning the slave trade? As the saying goes, those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it. That is one reason why 1776 is such an important musical.  


Broadway World, Jack L.B. Gohn

The show is a fine evening of theater, and, because of, not despite, all the palaver, it is especially worthwhile to take youngsters to. I had a fifth-grader with me, and he was goggle-eyed at the debate and the bell-ringing conclusion. Never underestimate the theatrical impact of ideas and of ideals. You should go.


DC Theatre Scene, Jeffrey Walker

Highly Recommended

The founding fathers are looking spry and lively at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia right now as they once again fight for independence in the musical 1776. It’s a masterpiece, I say, and I cheered every word and every letter. I hope you will feel that way, too.

___


Director Jeremy Scott Blaustein has assembled a continental congress of performers who are more than up to the task
of bringing to life the events and debates leading up to the birth of our fledgling nation.

___


I suggest you order tickets now to 1776 at Toby’s, individual patrons, bus groups and the like will likely clamor to relive the summer of our country’s founding. The show runs until – you guessed it – July 5. I may have to go back for Independence Day, but I will wager it’s already sold out.


DCMetroTheatreArts, John Harding

If you’ve ever wanted to applaud Ben Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers of the Land of Liberty, here’s an opportunity. All of them come out for well-deserved bows at the end of an excellent new revival of 1776 — The Musical at Toby’s Dinner Theatre.

___


The answers to these questions and more make for a lively debate, and rarely will you see it handled with more immediacy and passion than in-the-round at Toby’s. Again and again I sat hypnotized, feeling like a privileged observer to history.
___


Directors/Choreographer Jeremy Scott Blaustein doesn’t short-sheet the historical record when it comes to the passions behind the positions. When tempers flare, this production acknowledges just how combustible those flinty gentlemen-farmers could become.
___


The timing of Toby’s Dinner Theatre’s production of 1776 could hardly be better. It’s a red-white-and-blue reminder of the ever-present price of liberty.


OUTspoken, Steve Charing

A must-see worthy of a 13-star salute.

Toby’s production under the direction of Jeremy Scott Blaustein (he plays Richard Henry Lee of Virginia), works beautifully with an incredible attention to detail and precise timing from the predominantly male company. 
___


In addition to the superb setting, costuming, excellent sound design by Mark Smedley, and effective lighting by Coleen M. Foley, the production is further enhanced by the efforts from the cast, and in particular, the tour de force performance by Toby’s veteran Jeffrey Shankle.  His acting props are on display as he passionately tries to convince his colleagues to vote for independence.

1776 is not your conventional musical as evidenced by the fact the show does not end with a song or a kiss but instead the increasing din created by the clanging of the Liberty Bell as each signature is affixed to the document.  Not everyone may be interested in the arcane procedural matters of formal gatherings like the Continental Congress.  But Toby’s fabulous cast and crew make such matters comical and entertaining and a must-see worthy of a 13-star salute. 


Severna Park Voice, Dylan Roche

Audiences that catch the Toby’s production, which opened April 23, might find themselves surprised. “1776” dramatizes the seminal event in American history with wit, philosophy, emotion and even a little bit of humor. It’s not as if the ending is a big surprise, so the entertainment is in taking a personal, humanized look at what actually went down in the Second Continental Congress.
___


The four leading men are perfectly cast and they’re supported by a fully dimensional ensemble of personalities from the actors playing the other forefathers. The dialogue-heavy scenes in Congress move along at a steady pace, hitting ups and downs of hope and desperation as they go. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the conflict, and as the show moves toward its dramatic conclusion, the audience comes to understand what these men endured to do the right thing for their nation’s future.
___


This musical is a particularly good show for a family audience — appropriate and educational, but with plenty of fun as well. When school lets out and Fourth of July gets closer, moms and dads will want to think about getting tickets and giving the kids a better understanding of what independence means.


The Baltimore Sun, Michael Guiliano

This show's high word count presents a bit of a challenge for anybody staging it. However lively the debate, there's always the risk that having so many guys in powdered wigs arguing could be a static theatrical experience. Fortunately, the director and choreographer of the Toby's production, Jeremy Scott Blaustein, finds ways to keep the squabbling politicians moving around; and the theater's in-the-round stage facilitates all of the entrances and exits in this generally light-hearted show.

As for the men populating this sweltering chamber in Philadelphia, the Toby's production is blessed with an abundance of actors who know how to make these characters seem like, well, real characters.

These politicians go through drafts both written and liquid before they arrive at the Declaration of Independence. It's an enjoyably patriotic experience to watch as they argue, joke, argue some more and eventually get those familiar words approved.