There’s trouble in the kitchen! Of course there’s bound to be trouble when you mix romance and restaurants, but audiences across Baltimore never knew trouble could taste this delectable to their comic pallet! The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre is serving up a healthy heaping of hilarity in this regional premier of Five Course Love. With book, music, and lyrics by Gregg Coffin, this brilliant comic musical is looking for love in all the wrong places. A night full of feisty and fiery love stories tangled into restaurants that practically span the globe; there’s something for everyone in this fabulous show. Directed by Fuzz Roark with Musical Direction provided by Michael Tan, it’s a night out that you won’t want to miss!
Crafting one restaurant on the 13×16 postage stamp stage would be challenging enough but creating five different restaurants that change seamlessly from one to the next seems nearly impossible. Resident Set Designer Alan Zemla rises to the challenge with clever signs and quirky little touches that bring each of the vibrant restaurants to life. From gun-shaped menus in Dean’s Old-Fashioned All-American Down-Home Bar-B-Que Texas Eats to the poppy colors of the Star-Lite Diner sign, Zemla brings elements of the five cuisine cultures to life for all to see.
Wrapping even more aesthetic fun into this production is Resident Costume Designer Laura Nicholson. From Lederhosen to sassy Spanish numbers, there’s something absurdly fabulous for each of the five themes that bloom in this production. Nicholson brings life to the sassy style of the 50s with the Danny/Sandy look from Grease while attending to these same actors in a sharper classier suit and scintillating red dress for the Italian mob scene. Her corny creativity perfect for this Vaudevillian style musical, is truly exceptional and adds a layer of humorous visual gags to the production.
Director Fuzz Roark hones in on the opportunity for comic characters a plenty in this production. Taking each of these rich stock-type figures and pushing his cast of four to play them to the max makes for a wildly entertaining evening. It’s Roark’s expertise in the field of accents that gives an even funnier approach to the scenes. Throwing heavy melodramatic Italian sounds into the scene in La Trattoria Pericolo results in heightened drama with a hilarious edge to it. The same occurs for Ernesto’s Cantina, only with wicked Mexican accents, all leaning toward caricature in their invention. Roark even finds a way to drive a car in the intimate space of the theatre for opening number, a truly impressive feat for this director.
It is Musical Director Michael Tan that puts the final cog into this successful machine. Creating brilliant interludes from Griffin’s compositions to cover brief scene changes, Tan keeps the audience’s attention in this musical. Pushing the pace at just the right speed to keep the delivery crisp and clean but still understandable, Tan brings the audience along for one incredibly comic and thoroughly enjoyable, lighthearted musical journey. Tan conducts the pit as well as guides the four actors through a plethora of characters, making each scene a musical menagerie of comical goodness. Finding ways to incorporate the accents into songs so that they are even more enjoyable to the audience’s ear, Tan brings his mastery of musical theatre to this project making it a smashing success.
The first of the five courses is served up in ‘Dean’s Old-Fashioned All-American Down-Home Bar-B-Que Texas Eats.’ A very nervous and nerdy Matt (Tim Grieb) is anticipating love. Grieb delivers a wonderful character song, “A Very Single Man” that pleads right to the audiences’ heart in a most amusing fashion. Dean (Brett Rohrer) gives a rootin’-tootin’ down-home boot-scootin’ rendition of “Dean’s Old-Fashioned…” a patter song that he strolls through with great confidence. And let’s not forget Barbie (Shani Hadjian) as she croons away this love sick ballad, “I Loved You When I Thought Your Name Was Ken.” Hadjian and Grieb present an epic comic duet where nerves and sass intertwine for good laughs with “Jumpin’ The Gun.” A tasty and delicious, finger-lickin’ hoe-down of a first scene all three of them get the audience on board with their performances.
La Trattoria Pericolo is the sensual Italian café where Sofia (Hadjian) hides her affair from her mobster husband. The entire scene radiates waves of melodramatic Italian opera at the audience, a great construct provided largely by Carlo (Rohrer) as he starts off the delectable trio “If Nicky Knew.” When the three voices of Rohrer, Hadjian, and Grieb come together for this number it becomes a breath-taking moment of high tension and hilarious laughs. It’s Rohrer’s well articulated character man (appearing throughout as the man who runs each restaurant) that really revs up the ridiculousness of the situation.
Perhaps the funniest of the five courses, landing in Der Schlupfwinkel Speiseplatz is the romantic uproarious shenanigans that comes down between Gretchen (Lauren Schein) Heimlich (Rohrer) and Klauss (Grieb.) The costumes alone in this number are enough to keep you laughing for days. Schein makes her first appearance in the musical at this point and she comes in with guns blazing in a leather and latex combination for “No Is a Word I Don’t Fear.” Delivering this saucy sexual number with vigor, Schein is an aural pleasure for all listening. But let’s not forget “Der Bumsen-Kratzentanz” an epic dance involving the trio that you are not likely to soon forget. High notes of comedy come blasting out of all three performers in this scene but it’s Schein’s bruised heart that radiates the strongest at the end of the episode with “Gretchen’s Lament,” lingering with us straight into the main course.
El Plato Principal (The Main Course)
The laughter up to this point in the show has been uproarious, but once the audience dares venture into Ernesto’s Cantina where Guillermo the Bandit (Grieb) forces Rosalinda (Hadjian) to choose between himself and the Cantina Master, Ernesto (Rohrer.) The dueling vocals between Grieb and Rohrer for “Pick Me” become comic genius as they force the poor girl back and forth in a series of salsa, samba, cha-cha steps that just further adds to the hilarity of the situation. Sight gags, sound gags, there are gags of all varieties in this scene. And also touching solos performed by Rohrer in “The Blue Flame.” Keep all eyes and ears on Guillermo for his many renditions of his self-entitled ballad as well, that’s one main dish you won’t want to miss!
Bringing it on home to The Star-Lite Diner we find the final course to be touching and popping full of life. “True Love at the Star-Lite Tonight” is a trio done 50’s style featuring Pops (Rohrer) Clutch (Grieb) and Kitty (Schein.) In true homage to all things Grease there are even some fancy dance moves that make their way onto the stage for this number. Grieb and Schein share the fabulously funny duet “It’s A Mystery” and bring the scene to great applause with their understanding of how to throw phrases in the song back and forth at one another. It’s Schein and Grieb at the end of the number performing this thrilling outcry of love and anticipation in “Love Looking Back at Me” that brings the musical to an awesome conclusion.
Bring an appetite, you won’t go home hungry. Your soul will leave well fed and your funny bone will practically be busted all over the floor with all the good comic goodies they’re feeding you down at Spotlighters with this hysterical new musical comedy.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Five Course Love plays through April 6, 2014 at The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre—817 North Saint Paul Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 752-1225, or purchase them online.
Thanks for the great review – The Midtown-Theatre Meetup group http://www.meetup.com/Midtown-Theatre-Meetup is going this Wednesday.
Nice to see a fellow UMBC alum out in cyberspace.