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NEXT TO NORMAL

She & Her Productions mounted a monumental task to present the musically challenging NEXT TO NORMAL for Kansas City audiences on a small stage and a small venue. At first, planned to be the musical’s local debut, the Kauffman Center stole the thunder last year when a traveling version of the show made its KC debut there last spring.

The story looks at the life of a dys
functional family (Imagine that in a modern theatrical production.) struggling to survive with lives hopelessly flawed from past tragedies. Remember The Three Faces of Eve? How about Sybil? Well, schizophrenia and multiple personality disorders intrigued readers and viewers, but that was first in the 1950s and then the 1970s. Now, the newest mental buzz is bi-polar disorder. Mostly treated with mind and mood-altering drugs, doctors never address the causes of the malady but only treat the symptoms, hopefully, to stop the onslaught of the progressive illness. Layered drugs never cure the problem, but only mask the true emotional state of the sufferer.

Diana Goodman, NEXT TO NORMAL’S lead character suffers bipolar disorder and the cause and effect on her family leads the storyline of the show. A small cast of family members, doctor, and a boyfriend comprise the cast of the musical drama performed on a well constructed set designed similarly to many RENT sets. The difference here is that the orchestra is mostly concealed rather than viewed, probably to not distract from the actors. And the vocal demands of NEXT TO NORMAL far surpass the vocals needed for RENT. 

And, speaking of actors, director Tiffany Garrison Schweigert assembled a cast with acting and vocal skills to masterfully produce the show. “Amazing and talented” she said prior to the show when asked what to expect of the vocal performances. A difficult score requires vocal talent more over than acting talent for this show. 

The lead performer, Kristin Leathers, plays Diana, the woman struggling with reality and doing what she can to keep her family in tact while bipolar issues magnify as the years progress. Not until the second act does her story fully unfold to inform of the causes of the illness. Give lots of credit to Leathers’ singing and acting. She possesses a beautiful voice and understands the character. Her strength in vocal and acting performance fit well in the play. When singing, she delivers solid vocals. When acting, she performs with passion and understanding of the role. The only small weakness is when the two collide and the singing and acting have to occur in the same frame, and dialogue and singing are mixed. This is usually in tandem with other performers, so it’s a really tricky part to portray and make the shifts from speech to vocals and back and forth. Still a very vibrant, poignant performance with a super difficult role.

For the male lead, Robert Hingula, as Dan, Diana’s husband, possesses the strongest of the male vocals. His crisp, clear singing amazes audiences, and his touching portrayal of the supportive care-giver keeps the audience engaged with him each time he enters the stage. Hingula delivers an exceptional performance with no weakness throughout the acts. Audience members understand his concern, torment, and passion in dealing with an ill wife and a teenage daughter.

Great vocals also come from Graham Fairleigh who portrays two psychiatrists in the production. While his roles are small, they develop the storyline and propel it forward while adding to the inner conflicts of the husband who needs to make tough decisions to foster his wife’s treatments and possible cures. When Fairleigh opens up with his vocal performances, every eye focuses on him and only him.

Standing firm alongside his vocal and acting talents, Daniel Beeman plays the son. Not a lot can be said of his character or station in the play without ruining the story for those that do not know NEXT TO NORMAL. Suffice it to say Beeman’s character connects the characters and the inner emotional conflicts and outward physical interactions. All relationships pivot on his character and the perception of that character. As far as vocally, Beeman’s voice commands attention in his solos and blends extremely well in some trio with Hingula and Fairleigh. Wow! Can this young thespian sing and act. Watch him work his way through the piece as he adds layers to his character as it changes.

Moving on, the daughter, Natalie, performed by Deanna Mazdra, moves adeptly through the piece as the troubled teenager who struggles to understand her place in the family and her relationship with both parents. Obviously, the mother-daughter conflict serves as the main problem, but she also deals with rejection, low self-confidence, typical teenage image problems, acceptance, trust, and longing for peace. Only a talented actress with good direction faithfully delivers on all tasks. Expect to see that and more in Mazdra’s performance. And, don’t stop with the acting; her singing skills match those of everyone else in the cast. She equals all other actors and does not miss a note or pitch in the entirety of the show.

Finally, Matthew King, as Henry, Natalie’s boyfriend, shows both his acting and vocal range in a much smaller part than the others. His stage time really only involves scenes with Natalie and the development of her story. Yes, he does have one or two scenes with other cast members, but his character’s role creates the development of Natalie’s self-worth and delivers her from the abyss of mental illness that pulls her toward a similar fate as her mother’s plight. King’s soft spoken character provides support and strength to Natalie’s character. Do not mistake King’s soft delivery for weakness or soft vocals. He lets loose with some really great solo, duet, trio, and ensemble harmonies. The only weakness was sound on his dialogue. A tweak of the technical crew fixes that. Yes, King has a quiet voice, but the sound crew can amplify his dialog and adjust his microphone accordingly.

Give credit to Schweigert for directing this difficult piece that relies more on vocal performance than dialogue. She needed a cast that could develop the characters yet still provide a schooled vocal performance. Obviously, she chose wisely and correctly to accomplish her undertaking. She directed her players to perform to the demands of the piece and work as an ensemble with no character over-stepping the script.

What the audience sees and reacts to also depends on the crews that produce the actions. Sound, Make-up, Set, Prop, Orchestra, Lights, Projection and more provide the totality of the show. A weakness in any of those technical areas can destroy a performance. NEXT TO NORMAN contains no weaknesses in these areas. And the show opened Friday, Nov. 2, and will grow with future performances.

I RECOMMEND THIS SHOW, BUT NOT FOR CHILDREN UNDER MIDDLE SCHOOL AGE. SOME DIALOGUE MAY BE UNSUITABLE FOR THEM. THIS WILL BE SUBMITTED TO KCSTAGE.COM IF YOU WANT TO CHECK OUT FUTURE PERFORMANCES.

I had the privilege of seeing She&Her Productions' "Next To Normal."  It was breathtaking. The entire cast was wonderful.

"Wow!" to quote the guy next to me after experiencing the 
powerful performance of "I'm Alive" by the actor/singer 
performing as "Gabe," Daniel Beeman. However, Daniel was 
not alone as each member of this fantastic 6-member cast 
pulls you in and truly makes you feel/experience/live the 
trauma this next to normal family endures. This awesome 
play needs a larger stage to contain the dynamic acting 
and singing skills of this fantastic cast! As it is they 
blow the doors off their current theatre and will totally 
blow your mind when you experience it. Only six more 
performances left as of this review. You must see this 
one if you see no other this season!

If you only attend one show this year, this is the one to get to. The talent of the actors is beyond amazing. The show takes you on a journey - you feel the pain that this family feels. I have attended this show twice already and plan to attend again. IT IS THAT GOOD!!! Run, do not walk, to the box office to purchase your ticket.

This was one of the best shows I've seen. All the actors had very strong singing voices. I will definately see it again.




12th Night, Or What You Will
Reviewer: BobEvans
Title:  Shakespearean Mayhem
Rating: 5

Performance Reviewed:
Twelfth Night, or What You Will
by She&Her Productions

She & Her Productions created another stellar show with their debut of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at Just Off Broadway Theatre. Like all other shows I've attended of theirs, the casting stands out from other metro venues. Credit goes to the girls with selecting talented directors who carefully cast actors capable of taking on the subtle distinctions of their characters and then perform with precision accuracy.

Granted, the performance I attended was flawed, not due to acting, but due to an air-conditioning  malfunction that kept audiences fanning themselves with programs while dedicated actors overcame uncomfortable circumstances to perform with gusto and flair, while visibly sweating under the theatrical lights. I certainly applaud the performances of Sir Toby (Michael Masterson) and Antonio (Rick Duplissie) whose characters wore costumes that had to create discomfort. Antonio, in a sword fight scene, wore a tight, heavy wool sweater, while Toby’s character wore a coat for 90% of his performance. In uncomfortable conditions, their characters stayed true and never wavered. Only sweat running down their faces displayed their discomfort. Thankfully, Antonio’s costume changed in the last part of the show. Duplissie’s acting remained strong despite the discomort he had to endure. I enjoyed him.

Masterson portrayed Sir Toby with a broad comedic flair and boisterous attitude as his drunk, conniving character lead the cast and helped create the mayhem of the plot. Without his stong performance, the other characters would not hold the piece together. In each of his scenes, he connected with his fellow characters to create fun and games. Also, the comedic flair of Malvolio (Scott Shaw) keeps viewers entertained thoughout the play. Shaw portrays Malvolio as the biggest, pompous ass and target of Sir Toby’s plot.  Shaw masterfully creates the character that captivates the audience at the end of Act II and brings broad comedy to Act III when he reappears decked out in a hideous costume of yellow long stockings. His facial expressions, crisp delivery, and vocal cadence make Shakespeare not sound so stilted to audiences who may not be Shakespeare scholars.

My enjoyment continued with the performance of Duke Orsino (Andy Penn) who never ceases to amaze me with his acting skills and understanding of character. I have enjoyed Andy in heavy, adult drama and also in a comic farce. I looked forward to see him tackle Shakespeare, and I was not disappointed.  His character, though not the lead, is pivotal to the plot. His facial expressions, reaction to dialog spoken to him, and his clear delivery were spot on in the show. Scenes where Viola (dressed as a man) falls in love with him and yearns for his affection are played with a sweetness and believability. How could he not see that he is a she in disguise? Yes, he does so masterfully. And when the deception finally unfolds, he reacts with heartfelt relief and surprise as the resolution. Penn should be working professionally.

As for the women in the show, Viola/Caesario (Alexandria Rose) recites Shakespeare with confidence, and her reaction/facial expressions help even novices understand Shakespearean speech. She confidently portrays the dual role of woman and woman in men’s clothes. Her scenes with Orsino and Olivia are both funny and touching. The only weakness is possibly with volume at times. When facing sideways or when quiet, her lines were sometimes hard to hear. Her facial expressions and body movement help fill in the gap of volume. Rose is a very talented actress and adept at Shakespeare.

Olivia (Kelsey Matthias) delivers a good performance as a woman hitting on another woman (unbeknownst to her). Her scenes with Rose are both funny and touching. Her recitation of Shakespeare’s verse was crisp, clear, and decisive throughout the performance. At the performance I attended, she tripped on her costume in one scene and never broke character. That helped win me over in watching her perform for the first time.

All in all the characters were well cast and talented. Of course, the aforementioned stood out to me. That is not to say the others were not their acting equals. In an ensemble like this one, all have to create strong characters for the show to work. I feel lucky that my initial viewing of Twelfth Night was such a professional production. Watch for the performances of the other good actors in the show who I also enjoyed: Nathan Bowman, Bianca Jordan, Garrett Larson, and Dean Kinsey. I shudder to think of a high school or less professional version of this tale.  One weakness would cause the collapse of the show and the comedy within. I marvel at the professionalism of all the cast.

Great shows do not come from bad directors. As I watched, I could tell that the director took care and pride in his casting and direction. Nowhere will you find a mismatched actor and character. Along with direction, his assembled behind the scenes crew need recognition. Costumes, lighting, sound, sets, and music all contribute to an enjoyable evening of theatre.

If you like live theater, I encourage you to go to see this production. If you are not sure of Shakespeare, give this a try. It’s a funny show.  It’s got great characters. It’s got broad comedy performed by skilled actors.





Orange Flower Water
Title: Orange Water pushes limits to extreme Rating: 5 Performance Reviewed: Orange Flower Water by She&Her Productions Four actors, two couples, one bed, lives spiraling out of control, and heartbreaking reality - all grab the audience for an intense look at the effects of an affair that spins all lives into a free-fall. Be prepared for extreme adult fare, extreme language, extreme adult action, and extremely precise acting. Opening night of "Orange Flower Water" brought a sell-out crowd to the small theater venue that aims to create intimate experiences for audiences. Intimate, yes. It does create an intimate experience with only 50 seats with the front row just inches from some of the stage blocking. Directing kudos go to Doug Ford who selected and guided a strong cast through the adult drama about the effects of an affair that spirals out of control. The couples deal with past promises, lost love, raw emotions, wants, needs, desires, and broken dreams. Ford fine tuned each performance to wring the most from the gifted actors who brought the drama to life. All four performers deserve praise for their performances. With such intense material, all worked together and off each other to create the drama of each scene. The two adulterers David and Beth (Doug Dresslaer and Alli Tunnel) create the conflict that affects the lives of their spouses, Brad and Cathy (Andy Penn and Helena Cosentino). Each actor brought great insight to each character and delivered strong performances. While all four actors turned in flawless performances, audience members will find themselves wanting to know more about the character of Brad. Penn's portrayal of a man who discovers his wife's illicit affair and shatters his reality rips at the viewer's heartstrings. Penn set a high standard for his future performances. Watch for him around town. Overall, an intense drama created a stellar night of theater. Go see the show. Don't miss it. But, be aware, it's not for children.

TWO ROOMS

 myti0709

Title:  A Little Theater with Big Drama

Rating: 5

Performance Reviewed:

Two Rooms by She&Her Productions

I am so impressed with this company. They have consistently brought great theater to the KC art community. Once again they are showing their salt with Two Rooms. Fletcher has taken a relatively young cast and given us very mature performances.

Cassidy Kirch, Lainie, gives a stunning performance. She has the ability to draw you in and before long you see and feel the complete and complex emotions of her character. Matt Leonard as Walker Harris delivers a performance which shows his depth. He has a great range of emotion and where the character could have been trite and cold, he breathes warmth and subtly. Grant Wayman as Michael is poignant. Claudia Copping as Ellen, gets to show a tiny bit of strength. Within minimal set design, the director has flawlessly given us a chance to delve deeper into the characters and their motivation. This show is fantastic. She&Her Productions is quickly proving their gold-mine status in the community.

URINETOWN

Reviewer: LindsayAdams
Title:  It is a privilege to see...Urinetown
Rating: 4

Performance Reviewed:
Urinetown
by She&Her Productions

The play “Urinetown’”s premise is based on the conceit that somewhere in the indeterminate future, there is a 20-year drought.

To conserve the water, people are not allowed to have any private toilets. A company called UGC has taken over public toilets, calling them “public amenities,” and charge people ridiculous fees to urinate. They are in cahoots with the government and police, making urinating anywhere other than a public amenity illegal. As Penelope Pennywise, a rough and tumble woman who is in charge of Public Amenity #9, sings, “It is a privilege to pee.”

The evil head of UGC, Caldwell B. Cladwell, is played by Dennis Maddux. The dastardly, simpering suits that follow him are hilarious.

After his daughter Hope, played by UMKC student Alana Henderson, meets and almost instantaneously falls in love with Public Utility worker Bobby Strong (played by Michael Bradley), he is inspired to start a revolution against the unfair fee to pee, not knowing he is defying his lover’s father.

“Urinetown” skillfully skewers big corporations. It looks at the paradox of the safety of corporatism versus the individual freedoms of anarchy. The script has a meta-theatrical self-awareness of the clichés and conventions of the musical form.

It takes these ideas and turns them on their head by adhering to them strictly during the show with ridiculous scenarios.

The expectation of a pleasant, happy ending is thrown out the window after being trampled upon. The show works thanks to the actors playing the ridiculousness of the show up to the hilt.

Little Sally, played by Tracy Van Unen, is a chipper young girl. She provides the voice of reason that is constantly poking holes in the logic of the musical between scenes, and occasionally “pauses” the musical to discuss the action with Officer Lockstock played by Ken Koval, who narrates the play.

At the beginning of the show, during his opening monologue, she asks him why he is leaving things out, and he explains to her that too much exposition at the beginning kills the show.

“Urinetown” subtly spoofs and alludes to past musicals such as West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, Chicago, Fiddler on the Roof, Les Mis, Into the Woods, and The Threepenny Opera to name a few.

Cheesy choreography pays homage to excessively dramatic predecessors while adding its own eccentric spin, such as the chorus line bunny hop during Cladwell. P. Cladwell’s glorious mantra of evil, “Don’t be the Bunny”.

Samantha Barboza as Penelope Pennywise was very impressive with her powerhouse vocals that felt as if they could shake the rafters. She had nice comedic chops as well.

Michael Bradley, as Bobby Strong, had a firm, strong voice that assailed and enthralled the audience with its power and fluidity. He plays up his character, who is idealistic to a fault and haunted by a recurring flashback of his father. This has a great comedic effect.

Officer Lockstock and Little Sally were pleasant farcical comedic relief in an already funny show.

While there were great performances all around, the show was driven by the sheer exuberance of the ensemble. There was some remarkable acting and vocal strength in the harmonies on the ensemble’s part. The ensemble’s high octane dance numbers, while not perfectly synchronized and at times slightly messy, make up for it in the fact that the dancers are throwing everything they have into it.

“Urinetown” fulfills its snarky premise without being self-indulgent. The script is brilliant and this production is most definitely worth seeing, even though as Little Sally points out in the show, “The title is awful.”

Reviewer: nicetheater
Title:  Where's the bathroom?!
Rating: 5

Performance Reviewed:
Urinetown
by She&Her Productions

I had heard of "Urinetown" but had never seen the show nor heard the music.  I was curious as to how She&Her were going to pull off a musical in the limited space (knowing it COULD be done, just curious HOW it would be done!)

What an enjoyable evening of musical theater it turned out to be!  I fell in love with the show, and the production was outstanding.  Not a weak link in the entire cast.  Not everyone was perfect, but everyone had a character, played it through and to the hilt consistently and how can you not enjoy a performance when the performers are enthusiastic!

The set, while quite simple, worked effectively.  Kudos to the director and cast for understanding that the pace of the show is only as good as the pace of your scene/set changes!  This show worked fine with a simple set - the actors didn't give me time to scrutinize what might or might not be  working on the set.

Costumes - cohesive and consistent and relevant to the show.

Tech - lights and sound were done well.  The only sound problems come from the acoustical shortcomings of the building but clearly the actors were aware of their surroundings and worked hard with what they had.

Music - excellent.  I never once had trouble hearing singers over the music (and I always think it's an accomplishment when you put the musicians in another room and they follow the action onstage blindly and vice versa).  The ensemble as a whole was extremely talented and the vocal work was outstanding in solo AND group numbers.

I can't say enough good things about the staging and choreography.  It added so much to the show - it was timely, fresh, and enjoyable.  All in all, I felt that all aspects of the production worked together and the end result is a very good show with lots of energy, lots of talent and lots of laughs.

Performance Reviewed:
Urinetown
by She&Her Productions

The theatre scene in Kansas City has begun to center around the middle of the city.  Most of our theatre companies are working within a few miles of each other from the Crossroads to Crown Center/Union Station to the campus of UMKC.  But a new company is bringing some theatrical entertainment a little further north.  With their small theatre in the River Market She and Her Productions joins a long history of entertainment in the area.

In the 70s this area was known as the River Quay.  From Wikipedia: “One of the most tragic times during this period occurred when a gangland war broke out among members of the Kansas City mafia over control of the newly created (and thriving) River Quay entertainment district (and also control over mob skimming at the Stardust Resort & Casino in Las Vegas).  In the process several mobsters were killed and three buildings were blown up in the River Quay which effectively ended its function as Kansas City's entertainment center. The battle was to end the era of mob control of the Vegas casinos.”  The Quay was an urban renewal plan to make a family friendly shopping and entertainment district centered heavily on Kansas City’s jazz history.  It was hoped it would replace the 12th street district which had devolved into a seedy area riddled with crime, drugs and prostitution.

These days the River Market is a little quieter and the excitement more likely to come from a deal on fresh veggies at the farmer’s market or She and Her Production’s of "Urinetown".  The show is set in your town after a twenty-year drought.  The lack of rain has caused a terrible water shortage, making private toilets unthinkable.  Restroom activities must now be done in public toilets controlled by a mega corporation called "Urine Good Company" (or UGC).  To control water use at these public facilities people have to wait in long lines and pay to “take care of business”.  Harsh laws and stringent policing ensure that people pay to pee.  The worst offenders are sent to the mysterious and sinister "Urinetown", a prison from which no one returns.

Cheery, right?  And this is a musical?

<Side note:  She and Her Productions presents at the River’s Edge Theatre.  This old storefront has been pressed into service as a small performing venue.  It appears to have one working toilet.  That means audiences must wait in line for the simple right of taking a pee.  As I saw the line run from the toilet backstage out to the right side of the house I began to wonder if it was a coincidence or a device used to put the audience in the same position as the characters on stage.  Okay, maybe I have listened to too many conspiracy theories, but, in a way I could really respect this kind of purposeful scheme.>

I was completely unfamiliar with the show and quite honestly in the first few minutes was planning escape routes.  But it quickly became apparent that the overly large style of performing and the presentation style that bounced between opera, gospel and Broadway along with vaudeville and bad community theatre was all part of the fun and humor.  The melodrama that unfolded had moments reminiscent of the best and worst of Broadway and spent plenty of time poking fun at itself.  This broad canvas gave the cast and director the opportunity to paint with big strokes (I’m talking paint roller big) and use every old schlocky musical joke and bit to great ends.

In closing let me say the ensemble was very good as was the offstage (and unseen) band who mostly didn’t outplay the non-miked singers on stage.   Extra kudos to the chorus who is known as “the Poor” in the show, they found interesting and funny things to do without stealing focus, and that’s not easy.

For more information about the creative minds behind She & Her Productions see the September issue of “KC Stage Magazine”.

For more information on "Urinetown", which runs thru October 22, check out www.sheandherproductions.com/

Check out September's KCSTAGE issue
Jennifer and Tiffany are cover story

The partnership (both on and off stage) of the ladies behind She&Her Productions, Tiffany Garrison-Schweigert and Jennifer Coville-Schweigert, definitely is a case for the proverb ‘opposites attract’. In Jennifer’s own words, “Boisterous, outgoing, actor - yeah. And {Tiffany} - subtle, observer, director.” And it shows in the interview. Tiffany is quiet, answering in short bursts almost like she was shy to say anything too much; while Jennifer not only is talkative, but is more than willing to go a little off topic with just the slightest permission. Both Tiffany and Jennifer have been involved in the Kansas City theatre community for a number of years, and how they got together continues the concept of a romantic comedy. Tiffany grew up in Olathe, and got a BA in theatre education from Emporia State. After a brief stint of teaching high school theatre in Wichita, she came back to the Kansas City area. The love of theatre actually predates her birth, as her mother was pregnant with Tiffany while playing Snoopy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Meanwhile, Jennifer was born in Queens, and was an army brat who travelled around a lot as a result. She has gone to both Stephens College and St. Mary’s, and is just a few credits shy of getting her degree in theatre, having been doing theatre since she was six. Her dad got stationed in Kansas City, and she began acting in various shows in the area. The two met, in a bar of all places, having seen each other at various theatre events, and started dating partly due to their mutual love of theatre (they got married in 2009). Jennifer had prompted Tiffany’s re-involvement with theatre. “I met Tiffany and told her about all these awesome directing opportunities here in Kansas City. I was like, ‘Well, get back into it, if that’s what you love, you know?’” she says with a laugh. Tiffany continues the story, “With both of our love of theatre, we kept going to see theatre and doing theatre, and we’re like, ‘Well, I think we can do this. Why don’t we give this a shot?’ And so here we are.” And thus She&Her Productions was born. Tiffany introduces herself as the “Her”, and is the artistic director of the up and coming company, while Jennifer is the “She” and is the board president and producer. It was through a friend of theirs that led them to find their first theatre space, the Emerald in the West Bottoms, normally used for visual artists for gallery space. Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things was done in June 2010, with the added aspect of collaborating with artists to show their work as well. (If you’re not familiar with the plot of The Shape of Things, the theme delves around what exactly art is.) “We called ourselves She&Her Productions,” Jennifer says, “and we borrowed some folding chairs and had a minimalistic set and did a show to full houses every single night, and incorporated local artists to display their work on the walls.” That made the two realize they must be doing something right, and started looking for a more permanent home. After that, they moved into the Crane building, also in the West Bottoms, naming the space The Birdhouse. “A raw, very raw warehouse,” Jennifer continues the story with a laugh. “With the help of tons of friends, we turned it into a theatre space basically from the ground up. We bought theatre chairs, we started just kind of getting things here and there, lighting and sound and all the things that you’d need to make a workable theatre. We then did You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, that was our first show in our new space.” Charlie Brown was also a success. “We thought we were going in the right direction,” Jennifer says. “Then, we realized the difficulties of a warehouse space. We got into the winter months, and realized there was one functioning heater in that building.” “We use the word ‘functioning’ lightly,” Tiffany says with just a hint of sarcasm. “So this is when we started to get into the actual realm of the business aspect of it,” Jennifer says. “It was fun putting on the shows, but now we were in the business side, the building aspects of it. Regardless of if we put on good shows or not, people were not relating to the shows - they were just relating to how cold it was in the space.” So, they started looking for a different space, and are now in the River’s Edge Theater in the River Market. “That was right about almost a year,” Jennifer says. “We’ve learned the ins and outs a little bit of starting up a business: the funding, the costs of everything involved, the setting up of the theatre space. So, we said, ‘All right: going into this next year, we’re going to get more organized.’” This organization includes an ambitious season of nine productions, two of which are in repertory.“We didn’t really have a concept {when they started},” says Jennifer. “We’re just like, ‘We want to produce theatre.’ And now, I feel the place that we’re at is way more organized: we have a concept, an idea of what we want to get across in our theatre shows, and what we’ll want to get out to the theatre community.” It helps that Jennifer’s day job is as the director of marketing and sales for Old Town Lofts, which means her marketing expertise definitely gets utilized in promoting She&Her. Tiffany further develops explaining what the She&Her mission is. “I think it’s basically we just want to produce shows that’s going to give artists in Kansas City the opportunity that they’re not going to get at another theatre, you know? We’re not trying to be the Unicorn or any of the bigger professional theatres in Kansas City. Yeah, it’d be awesome to get there, but we know that we’re nowhere near that. We’re trying to bring the opportunity to young, new actors in the Kansas City area that can get their feet wet. And, you know, essentially doing great theatre.” But despite being the She and Her of She&Her Productions, they’re quick to state that the company is more than just the two of them. “She still wants to direct at different places,” Jennifer says, motioning to Tiffany, “I want to act: we don’t want to monopolize She&Her. Yes, we’re the basis of it, but we want other people to get in. We still want to be in touch with the community and support other theatres. I think all the theatres in Kansas City should work together in that aspect: we all just kind of support each other. “We have other directors coming in, directing the shows. We just didn’t want it to be the Jennifer and Tiffany show, you know? We want people to feel at home at She&Her and know that they can come in and express themselves in that space as well.” But it’s the teamwork behind She&Her that Tiffany is most proud of. “Most importantly, theatre is a collaboration art. It’s the art of collaboration. So I’ve learned you can’t do it all by yourself. When I tried to teach, I tried to do it all on my own and I got burned out. You have to have a team, and you have to have a really good team, and you have to be able to trust that team that they’re going to do their role or their part or whatever.” Jennifer knows that the two have learned a lot in their first year of running She&Her. “I think from a business standpoint, to anyone who’s looking to start their own, just to have a plan in place, to think out that plan. Don’t just fly by the seat of your pants. I think that’s what we kind of did the first year: we just kind of learned as we went instead of having some definitive stuff in place. So, I strongly suggest getting organized and getting your plan visualized before you go through with it. And just love what you do.“Do shows that you feel passionate about,” Tiffany continues. “I haven’t done one show this year that I haven’t felt passionate about. You just got to do shows that you feel some connection and passionate about

 LOVES LABOUR'S LOST

Gutsy Selection, Zestful Production

She&Her Productions has made an ambitious selection in choosing "Love’s Labour’s Lost," one of Shakespeare’s less frequently performed masterpieces, as its inaugural production of the season at the River’s Edge Theater. And last night, before a small, opening night audience of less than 25 people, the little, relatively new community theatre in Kansas City’s River Market did a valiant job pulling it off.

Under the direction of Jeremy Riggs, the production uses a bare stage with little more than two benches and some really remarkable and fabulous period costumes designed and built by Christie Artzer. The whole effect of the sparse set and costume-heavy production is strikingly similar to what the theatre audience in Shakespeare’s day might have experienced. I initially wondered about the prudence of having a curtain time of 8:00, especially for a Shakespeare production, but it’s time that the early-to-bed folks in K.C. experienced a curtain time more akin to that in the rest of the civilized world--and it at least allows them to have a leisurely dinner without rushing to the theatre.

The play centers on three young men who make a three-year vow of chastity in order to pursue a rigorous course of studies under Ferdinand, the King of Navarre. Immediately thereafter enter a French princess and her three ladies in waiting, resulting in libidinal frustration, confusion, and the imminent breaking of vows. The casting for this show has been wisely executed for the most part, with the strongest talent delegated to the performers who have the most important roles. Of the three young men, Berowne (Corbin Hernandez) is the central figure and his performance was the most memorable, while his paramour, Rosaline (Keely Siefers), gives him a real run for his money. As the Princess of France, Mackenzie Goodwin makes a remarkably powerful showing that evinces poise and ease onstage, and her delivery of lines shows her training and artistry.

Much of the more gratuitous comic relief emanates from the secondary plot. The Spanish braggart Don Adriano De Armado, played to the hilt by Rick Williamson, and his page Moth come into conflict with the fool Costard (Joshua Gleeson) and the dimwitted constable, appropriately named “Dull.” Of the secondary characters, the performance of Gleeson’s Costard, accompanied by lots of very visually funny pratfalls, really stands out as lively and inspired; the parody of classic Spanish “machismo” on Williamson’s part also is certainly quite funny and memorable at times.

Riggs has created some funny stage business as well, including outfitting Moth with a very short sword, giving Maria a prop which she continually munches on (although I was not sure what it was; it seemed like a french fry), and employing the back-of-the house exit for a hunting scene. Be prepared for some measure of audience involvement, and one character at one point crawls on his knees through the second row of theatre seats. Riggs has also added in a few lines of modern dialogue to accompany the entrances and exits of the characters as background fodder, which works quite well, and has written some really great original music that is played in the background to accompany certain scenes. The Spanish music played to intensify the comic musings and machinations of Don Adriano really works to support his character and make it all the more memorable.

Obviously, Shakespearean language can be a challenge for any actor, and especially for some of the less inexperienced players, and sometimes there is a little too much close adherence to the iambic pentameter in this play--which features one of the highest ratios of poetry to prose in Shakespeare’s works. A few of the performers seemed a little nervous and stiff when they first came onstage, but they seemed to loosen up as the opening night performance went on. Because the theatre is quite intimate, there is really no need for mics. Although her acting was solid, Katherine (Cassidy Kirch), could have worked a little more on her projection—although she did not have much dialogue, so it didn’t detract from the play’s overall success.

Overall, for a community theatre endeavor, this is a well-constructed and enjoyable show that isn’t done often, and even less so in K.C., so it is definitely worth attending. And, if backstage rumors are to be believed, She&Her Productions is planning on tackling and mounting a Shakespearean work every August, so we certainly look forward to seeing what ambitious show they’ll undertake next season.

THE PILLOWMAN

She and Her Productions’ The Pillowman

Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman is both moving and disturbing, and on Monday, March 21st, director Trevor Belt and his cast did it justice. Those of you who haven’t experienced this dramatic piece of theatre need to make it down to the Westbottoms this weekend while you still have time. Musician Caleb Hopkins set the mood with the eerie sounds of an old piano – it’s slightly out of tune, but it really added to the ambiance of it all – and the audience knew they were in for a trip, especially as they took their seats so close to the action.

The play opens in an interrogation room where Katrurian, played by Coleman Crenshaw, is being questioned and beaten by Tupolski and Ariel (Rick Williamson and Matt Leonard, respectively) over the recent murders of children who have met their demise in the same fashion of the characters in Katurian’s short stories. It is soon revealed that they are also holding his mentally retarded brother, Michael (Jeremy Frazier) in another room. Without revealing any plot points, things get crazy and there is a lot of stage blood. Throughout the play, the audience sees many of Katurian’s stories acted out by Cheryl Barker, Jared Walters, Alice Pollack, and Quinton Barker, all of which did a wonderful job with the mostly silent characters.

Crenshaw’s performance as Katurian started out slow. When the lights came up and he was sitting there blindfolded, being startled by the sounds of Williamson in the room, it felt really contrived. I was not convinced. However, the further into the production (and the bloodier he got), Crenshaw became more and more believable. Once he hit his pace, he delivered an amazing character with real human emotions. You couldn’t help but feel for him as he was being mistreated, even while you doubted his innocence. His interactions with his brother were the highlights of his performance, showing a wide range and severe dedication to his character.

Williamson as Detective Tupolski was brilliantly funny. The man was so hilarious that you felt bad for laughing so hard when the topic of the play is such a serious one. His witty banter and sarcasm was perfect for his role as the “good cop” and you can’t help but like him. However, when his personality takes a meaner turn in the third act, the previous nice-guy demeanor doesn’t hold him back from laying down the law. The switch seemed a little over done to me and I feel it would have benefitted Williamson to pull back on the anger a little bit. Because the audience was so fond of him and his pleasant behavior from earlier in the play, it’s almost a shock to the system to see him so different at the end. Other than that small critique, a spot on job.

Frazier had a hard task ahead of him when he was cast as a mentally handicapped man. There is always the risk of over doing it and making it seem cartoonish and offensive. However, this was not an issue for him. Frazier played Michael more like a boy trapped in a man’s body and it was so natural that I’m sure he must be a fun loving guy, in touch with his inner child. Michael suffers more from ignorance, or even innocence, than he does from a lack of intelligence; Frazier hit the nail right on the head. You only ever see him interact with Katurian, but that’s all you need to fall in love with him.

I saved Matt Leonard for last for a few reasons: (1) I consider him a good friend, so I’m slightly biased, (2) I’ve got a lot to say about his character, and (3) my favorite part of the show involves him specifically. Leonard’s character Officer Ariel is, without a doubt, the bad cop. For reasons later revealed, he hates Katurian and has no problem showing that hate with his fists (all of that stage blood is entirely his fault). For the majority of the play, Ariel seems pretty two dimensional: a slightly sadistic cop who really enjoys “interrogations” and cigarettes. Let’s talk about the cigarettes. I’m fairly certain he went through at least a pack and a half over the course of the production. I understand that it is in the script and a staple for his character, but that is overkill. If you are sensitive to tobacco smoke, be sure to sit in the back because he is smoking like a chimney. Leonard uses it to show his character’s anger and frustration, but I think we get that enough from his facial expressions and physicality. He gets so into it that he speeds through each cigarette in half the time it should take to smoke. He also made the decision to do the scene changes with a lit cigarette in his mouth. Again, maybe it’s because I don’t want my friend’s lungs to shrivel up, but I think I would be concerned even if I didn’t know the actor. Ariel’s rage is very passionate and violent – Belt had everyone yelling a lot so Leonard had no choice but to crank it up to eleven since his character is supposed to be the loose cannon. I think it would have been just as effective, if not more, for him to have a seething rage, rather than a loud one. And everyone was pretty loud (shouting in such a small performance space might have something to do with it). But we did get to see the more understated emotions of Ariel in the third act and that is where my favorite part is. When Tupolski has flipped to “bad cop” it makes sense for Ariel to swap with him. Leonard has a beautiful moment at the end of the play in which he has no lines at all, but the subtle changes in his physicality and the softening of his face speak volumes. Yes, the play is about Katurian and his brother. But at that moment, when you see just how their story has affected this once raging cop, your eyes well up a little bit. I am so glad that McDonagh included this scene in his script, and that Leonard was there to do it justice.

Just like any production, there were a few things that could be improved upon. A lot of the blocking is down on the floor so some people have sight line issues, the light board operator is right behind the audience and whispered conversations could be heard, and then there is the trains passing the building and blowing their horns (which no one can do anything about anyway). But overall, I was extremely impressed (I gave one of those standing ovations that I’m so stingy with). I want to take just a moment to pat scenic designer Donovan Kidd on the back. You come in thinking, that’s simple enough, but then the first scene change comes and that thought changes immediately to, WOW that’s cool! I won’t ruin it for you. GO SEE IT! There are only three more performances left, so please don’t miss the opportunity to be a part of this experience. The building’s chilly, so bring a jacket, and it’s a long show with a later starting time, so make sure the babysitter can stay late. Congratulations to Trevor Belt and his phenomenal cast. You have a show to be proud of. 5 out of 5 stars.


I had the pleasure of seeing Pillowman at The Birdhouse this past weekend and it was amazing. The actors were all stellar with extra kudos to Coleman Crenshaw. The show is disturbing yet extremely captivating! Added bonuses were the live music coming from the piano and the cool set design. Not only was this an amazing show but i would like to mention the really cool theater space of She&Her Productions. The raw brick walls and brick floor were incredible, along with the exposed timber beams. They had a separate bar area which was amazing as well. The space definitely helped create the mood for the show. Im so excited for more She&Her Production shows! Glad they are here creating wonderful theater. If you miss this show it will be too bad. Definitely a show you can not pass up. Thank you for a great night of theater! 

"The Pillowman" is a dark comedy written by one of the most famous dark comedic writers of the modern theatre age, Martin McDonough. As dark and as violent as this production is, however, it never loses the playwrights intention of being a *comedy*.

Trevor Belt's direction is strong and precise in this production. As two detectives grill a confused writer, (the good: Tupolski, the bad: Ariel, and the clueless: Katurian), there are moments of severe and scathing dialogue that drift seamlessly into ridiculous banter that will make you forget they're going to shoot him in the head at any minute. The audience finds themselves torn between taking it too seriously and cracking a wide-eyed and surprised smile at it all while the police grill him mercilessly.

When Michal, Katurian's mentally challenged brother, enters the action, things take an even more frightening twist. Jeremy Frazier's brilliant performance is heart-wrenchingly believable, and the brotherhood that exists between he and fellow actor Coleman Crenshaw is fascinating to watch. Likewise, the dichotomy between Matt Leonard as the bad cop(?) and Rick Williamson as the good cop(?) mixes in colorful but painful layers of drama that carry throughout the play.

As fascinating, funny, and harsh as it all is, there are some minor set-backs. Yes, it's an interrogation -- but does there really have to be that much screaming during one? I don't know, I've only seen them on movies and TV, and those are obviously exaggerated. But I found myself wondering if some moments might've been more effective "whispered" than "shouted". Costumes seemed minimal if non-existent. If it's set in a totalitarian dictatorship, would the citizens really be wearing Abercrombie and Fitch? I don't know, I've never lived in one. But hey, non of my complaints are a very big deal anyway.

I love the script, have loved it for a while, and I think the production as a whole does the playwright and the play more than justice. I recommend all KC theater-goers to make the time to see this show. After all, escapism can only give you so much -- and this show will give you the rest.

“The Pillowman” is a dark (oh so very dark) comedy about an author in a totalitarian state who is being
interrogated for the murder of three children in the neighborhood. The cops suspect him because many of his
stories include the gruesome death of a child. It was a very compelling production and story. The set, although
minimalistic was utilized very well (In ways I won’t tell you so that I don’t spoil anything). The actors in
the play are some of the best in the city. The acting was captivating throughout the run. You could sense the
chemistry within the ensemble very well. At points the yelling in the play teetered to the somewhat
irritating, but you simply have to keep in mind that it’s necessary (It’s an interrogation, whaddya
expect?). The overall atmosphere was an experience in itself. The venue was the perfect space for a show of
this nature. The style of lighting, creepy piano playing, and floor leveled stage helped a great deal to
further engage you with the play. It’s creepy, it’s funny, and it’s downright interesting. You’ll laugh,
you’ll cry, you just may pee your pants (Or just get really uncomfortable. Whatever happens when you get
scared). So go see it! (Note: There are real cigarettes used in the performance. So if you can’t
take real smoke, make sure you sit in the back. If you don’t come, you may regret it.)

She&Her Productions' performance of "The Pillowman" is an intense, heart-wrenching roller coaster that left me speechless and emotionally drained by the end of the evening.

The plot is, as their description indicates, about a writer in an unnamed totalitarian state being interrogated about the violent content of his short stories and their similarities to a series of child murders. It delves into the concepts of what art is, and whether a creator is responsible when it goes beyond the story. Is "Taxi Driver" (and Jodie Foster) at all responsible for John Hinckley's shooting of Ronald Reagan? Can you really blame Marilyn Manson for the massacre at Columbine high school? Does what Stephen King or Clive Barker write reflect or inspire humanity? The character of Tupolski says at one point, "I think there is a solution, but then I'm clever." But by the end of the play, the only solution is the quote of my title - that there are no happy endings in real life.

The story has echoes of "Of Mice and Men", "A Clockwork Orange", and "Waiting for Godot", and the dialogue is very precise - almost too precise, as the few times the actors flubbed a line it was a little too obvious as a result. And as with "Of Mice and Men" and "Waiting for Godot", it takes a while for the story to settle in and find its bearing, the characters hard to tell apart and figure out right away. But once I figured out what's going on, I was reminded of watching the coverage of 9/11 - too gruesome to watch, but too compelling of a story to turn away.

As for the acting, Coleman Crenshaw (as Katurian) started out slow, which made it a harder buy in since he was who we needed buy in from. But once he got going, he did a very good job. Rick Williamson (as Tupolski) and Matt Leonard (as Arial) also got better as the show progressed, but special note needs to go out to Jeremy Frazier as Michal. As the brother of Katurian, who (for reasons pertaining to the plot) is not emotionally an adult even though he's physically older than Katurian, did an excellent job of playing innocently 'idiotic' without turning it into a stereotype or a caricature.

Kudos to the fight choreography and makeup - as a techie, there were only a couple of times in the show where it was obviously fake to me - and that might be partly because I was sitting on the side and not in front. And double kudos to the decision to use a real fire at the end of the show, as it added a sense of realism that gave me shivers. And the scene changes? I don't want to ruin it, but let's just say they were some of the best scene changes I've ever seen.

I can't say I enjoyed the piece, any more than I could say I enjoyed watching "Shindler's List". If you want to be entertained, this is not a production you want to go to. But if you want to be awed and shown what theatre truly can be, you have to catch this before it closes.

Angie Fiedler Sutton
http://angiefsutton.wordpress.com/


 

 
 

YOU’RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN. REVIEWS


If you are tired of the same'ol-same'ol theatre in the same boring spaces - you owe it to yourself to get down to the west bottoms – (no, don’t go to the haunted houses) - go right around the corner from the Edge of Hell to She & Her's new theatre space in the old crane building. The space is amazing - open yet intimate, rustic yet refined - a very versatile environment that breathes creativity. I haven’t been so impressed with a space in a long time.

Tiffany Garrison-Schweigert & Jennifer Coville have done a truly amazing job not only finding one of the coolest and exciting new performance spaces in the metro area, but also with their debut offering of the Peanuts inspired musical, "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown".

This was by far one of the best performances of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” I have ever seen, and one of the most talented ensembles that I have seen in a long while. Everyone in the cast has an amazing voice and perfectly embodied their characters. It had been nearly 5 years since I had seen this show and this time around it felt fresh and new - almost like a completely different show than any of the previous productions I have seen. Everything about the production was top notch. The lighting and sound were all very professionally executed. The pit was tight & clean. The staging, the choreography, the interactions between the characters all effortlessly flowed together to produce an end product far greater than the sum of its parts.

Kudos to She & Her, their entire production staff and this unique cast on an excellent performance.




You know you are watching something truly amazing when your 16 month old son sits, watches, and claps and enjoys the show as much as you do. 

This is definitely the way you should experience theatre, in a unique atmosphere with truly gifted individuals.




Saturday night’s performance of “You're a Good Man Charlie Brown” at She & Her Productions was very enjoyable.

I had made my way down to the west bottoms to go check out the new theatre nestled under the 12th street bridge, right amongst all of the madness that currently is the haunted houses. I didn’t quite know what to expect going down to the bottoms with all the freaks and ghouls in the thick of Halloween season. My first concern was that I was going to have to park a mile away due to all of the haunted house traffic. I was pleasantly surprised when I got there to find a nice, fenced-in, well lit parking lot of “Charlie Brown parking only”. Right next to the theatre no less. That was nice! Nothing is more annoying when you go to a show and have to fend for yourself when it comes to parking.

Seeing a show in a new and interesting place is always an exciting experience. I love the way that She & Her productions have utilized the space in this building. I can't wait to see another production there. Walking in - it reminded me of the feeling I had the first time I saw a show at the old LateNight Theatre. From the outside it doesn’t look like much – but it’s what’s on the inside that counts. I was expecting a sort of open, "free for all" performance space with folding metal chairs. They had actual cushioned theatre seating that was comfortable and elevated on risers. The Stage had two levels which added a nice depth to the performance. Sometimes the action was down in front of the audience other times it was on the actual stage. The most surprising feature of the theatre was the elevated lounge area off to the side of the lobby, furnished with comfortable seating and art work, (a very cool place to hang out pre-show and intermission.) The possibilities of what they can do in this building are endless.

Tiffany Schweigert-Garrison has managed to assemble a near perfect ensemble, a very talented group of young actors. We are all familiar with the Peanuts gang. These beloved characters were brought back to life with a simple familiarity about them, yet each actor added a new level and life to these classic characters. My two favorite performances were Jeff Newman as Schroeder and Tracy VanUnen as Sally. Granted those are my favorite two characters in this particular show, so I am always slightly more biased towards them but at the same time more critical of them. These two actors delivered and completely blew me away. The rest of the cast was equally talented and deserves props for their Exciting and Energetic performances.

The choreography offered some nice little surprises here and there, especially for such an intimate space. The lighting design was very cool. A backlit drop with classic comic strips projected during the scene transitions, some very simple yet well planned lighting effects really complimented each and every number in the show.

I will say that I was a little leery of the band sitting right next to the audience (that rarely ends well.) But the sound was well managed and despite a few minor technical difficulties with the stage mics; once the show got going, I couldn’t even tell that the band wasn’t in a pit or back stage.

A great show, Bravo!


She & Her Productions has done a terrific job of transforming the Crane building in the West Bottoms into an inviting performance space. The theatre seats are comfortable and set on risers to create excellent sight lines and there is a cozy room off to the side of the performance space where patrons can enjoy drinks. My only qualm with the facility was that there was only one, though beautifully decorated, bathroom.

The October 18th performance of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown was extremely entertaining and provided an all around fun night of theatre. The costumes, hair and makeup brought the audience back to their childhood days of enjoying the Peanuts comic strips and cartoons; Jennifer Coville-Shweigert (co-producer) and Tracy Van Unen were especially convincing as Lucy and Sally. The set was simple, but effective and the lighting by Russell Langdon, no stranger to lighting design, was extremely impressive for such a small space. The orchestra, led by J. Preston Schell, was completely up to par; I never heard a missed note and the sound was mixed well.

As to the performers, this show was very well cast though I was least impressed with Jason Patrick Pollard as the title role and Alisha M. Garnier as Snoopy. This could be because I hold actors in such pivotal roles to a higher standard, but Pollard seemed more monotone than sad and Garnier struggled with some of the notes (always a danger when casting a female Snoopy) and downright exhausted during her choreography. In her number “Supper Time”, I was concerned that she was going to pass out right in front of me! Perhaps this was just an issue in this particular performance. One must consider that actors are just as susceptible to fatigue and illness as everyone else.

Though all of the actors were entertaining (some more than others) my absolute favorite performance was given by Phillip Russell Newman as Schroeder. His voice was perfectly suited for the role and his energy topped all the rest. I actually felt like jumping up and celebrating Beethoven Day with him! Newman’s brother Jeff played Linus and he also gave a spectacular performance. His number “My Blanket and Me” included an impromptu tap dance that the entire cast participated in. It was clear that there were only a few with any tap experience and the rest of the performers struggled with the basics. I commend them for taking on the choreography with no previous training and know that I could do know better myself. Watching them dance, I could identify the names of the moves, but know that I would not be able to execute them any better than the novice dancers on the stage.

Overall, I give this performance a four out of five stars and I look forward to not only seeing more shows in this venue, but hope to participate in them myself. It is clear that She & Her Productions is on their way to being a very successful theatre company and I can’t wait to see it blossom. Congratulations to the cast and to director Tiffany Garrison-Schwegert on an entertaining production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.
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