City of Angels ... Baltimore?

"Baltimore. Yecch!" That was a line from Funny Girl when Baltimore was, well, simply yecch! But if you haven't been to Baltimore since Fanny said those words in 1920, you're in for quite a surprise. The city has reinvented itself and the waterfront is just wonderful. As the area grew, so did the theater. While we may be pushing ourselves here in that we are soon opening a new section on Talkin' Broadway called REGIONAL THEATER, I couldn't resist inviting Patti Murphy, who was invited by a local regional company in Baltimore to visit them last night, to be today's guest columnist.

So, here's Patti and her report from Baltimore along with a preview of what is to come from cities from all across America.

City of Angels--Maryland Arts Festival

July 23-26, 1998

Towson University--Baltimore

Talent galore abounds in Baltimore!! Just you wait and see...

What an exciting opportunity I was presented with last week when the decision was made to open a Regional Review section at Talkin' Broadway!! Being a high school teacher with a great love for the theatre and being "off" for the summer, I decided to throw my name in the hat.

Living in suburban Baltimore, I am surrounded by many wonderful theatres with outstanding shows. I will tell you about many of them in the upcoming months. Today, I would like to introduce you to the Maryland Arts Festival.

Housed at Towson University, The Maryland Arts Festival is celebrating its seventeenth year of promoting the fine arts during the summer season. Since late June, the Festival has sponsored the Hugh Whitemore play Pack of Lies (a four part Opera on Film movie/lecture series), the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas on their main stage, the sixth annual faculty/alumni dance concert Making Headways in Dance, and Emerging Art (a contemporary sculpture exhibition).

The final performance of this summer season opens this weekend (July 23-26) for four shows only -- City of Angels. When I called Louise Miller, the Marketing Director for the Maryland Arts Festival, she seemed delighted that Talkin' Broadway was going to put their program on the cybermap. I, in turn, was thrilled to be invited to a special press reception and preview performance on Tuesday night at Towson University's Stephens Hall Theatre.

My mother has been my favorite theatre companion over the years, so it was natural that we would see this performance together. A heat wave hit the Baltimore area hard this week and as we left for the show we were greeted by thunder and some pretty intense lightning. Surprisingly, we missed the storm completely and made it to Towson's campus in time to enjoy the catered reception. There was a lovely light buffet in one of the conference rooms. We enjoyed the roasted veggies, delicious grilled shrimp on skewers, and sliced melon. It was a very festive event with balloons and a beautiful floral arrangement. My compliments to William and his Black & Gold Catering for a job well done!!

The preview performance began at 8 p.m. The Stephens Hall Theatre is very comfortable and affords a good view of the stage from every seat. As the show began, I could tell right away it would be a wonderful experience. I must confess that this was my first time seeing this great musical, winner of the 1990 Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Best Musical. The eighteen-piece orchestra was just fabulous, directed by Michael Decker, who also serves as the show's Producer and Artistic Director.

City of Angels is a remarkable show, taking the audience from a fiction narrative (about a wealthy young woman who hires a tough detective to find her missing step-daughter -- and a plot which gets thicker and thicker) to real life and back again. You find yourself wondering time and again where the line between fiction and reality lies, and which one triumphs in the end.

The impressive cast of 27, directed by John Ford, leads the audience through this story line with endless twists of suspense, comedy, and intrigue. Some cast members were of particular note: Eddie Peters, as Stone the detective, and Shawn Doyle, as Stine the writer, were truly outstanding. Their "You're Nothing Without Me" was definitely a crowd-pleaser at the end of Act I. Carolyn Black-Sotir, known to many Marylanders for her interviews and spotlights for Comcast Cable, was terrific as Alaura Kingsley. Always dressed in immaculate white -- from the suit and evasive hat in the first scene, to the white tennis outfit, to the long, slinky white nightgown --Carolyn dazzles with her sensational voice and super performance. Tom Wyatt also gave a wonderful performance as movie director Buddy Fidler. He really was amazing as he juggled one phone call after the next, while always letting Stine know what was expected of him. I particularly enjoyed "The Buddy System".

Excellent performances were also given by Shannon Wollman (Oolie/Donna) -- "You Can Always Count on Me" -- and Libby Tomlinson Gensler (Bobbi) -- "With Every Breath I Take". Richardson Jones also did a great job as Lt. Munoz, but his rendition of "All Ya Have to Do is Wait" was overpowered, in parts, by the orchestra.

Other memorable moments were the great dance sequences and choreography of the Angel City Dancers, the slow motion fight scene in the shadows at Stone's bungalow, the tastefully done nude scene by Mallory (Lauren Spencer-Harris) in "Lost and Found", the huge iron lung that "housed" the paralyzed Mr. Kingsley (Robert Riggs), the comic timing of the bomb scene in Stone's bungalow, and the brief plug for spiritual therapy by Dr. Mandril (Lou Ghitman).

I thoroughly enjoyed this show and look forward to seeing more of the Maryland Arts Festival next summer. Marketing Director Louise Miller told me that they hope to make the festival bigger and better next year by possibly having the shows runs longer and basically expanding what they now offer. There are also plans to add a children's program next year.

I encourage anyone visiting the Baltimore area in the summer to schedule in some time for the Maryland Arts Festival. The box office can be reached at 410-830-ARTS or you can visit their web site at www.towson.edu/tu/mdarts.

If you are in the area this weekend, check out City of Angels. You will be pleased that you did!!

Until next time,

Patti Murphy
(Talkin' Broadway's Baltimore/D.C. correspondent)


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