REVIEW: Jingle Arrgh the Way! at Columbia Children's Theatre by Melissa Swick Ellington

Jingle-Poster-Web-232x300 Holiday cheer abounds at Columbia Children’s Theatre with the lively production of Jingle Arrgh the Way!: A ‘How I Became a Pirate’ Christmas Adventure (book, music and lyrics by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman; based on a story by Melinda Long). Snappy dialogue and raucous physical comedy amuse audiences of all ages in this companion to the popular How I Became a Pirate, also produced previously at CCT. Young Jeremy Jacob goes on another adventure with Captain Braid Beard and his crew; this time, their destinations include the North Pole and his school’s Christmas play. The show’s comedic success was made evident in the enthusiastic audience’s glee at the opening night performance I attended with my eight-year-old daughter and our friends. (My daughter was hooked before the show even started, as she declared with excitement: “I love that the title of the play is a joke! Jingle Arrgh the Way is supposed to be Jingle ALL the Way, get it?”)

Top-notch performers bring the holiday romp to life, led by the engaging Ashlyn Combs as Jeremy Jacob and the captivating Lee O. Smith as Braid Beard. The hilarious pirate crew features talented actors including Julian Deleon as the charming Pierre, Andy Nyland as the irrepressible Sharktooth, and the marvelous Brandi Smith in the role of Maxine. Charley Krawczyk makes a memorable appearance as Santa, and Paul Lindley II delights viewers in the role of Swill as he spouts information to a hilariously excessive degree. (Kaitlyn Fuller plays Swill at certain performances.)

The actors’ appealing banter draws children into the pirates’ world, highlighted by nifty special effects and plenty of “wow” moments. Director Jerry Stevenson steers this ship with gratifying expertise, and Crystal Aldamuy contributes entertaining choreography. Lindley provides strong musical direction; audience members will especially enjoy singing along with “pirate” versions of familiar holiday favorites.  Donna Harvey’s vibrant costumes work beautifully with the inventive set (designed and constructed by Harvey and Jim Litzinger). The capable production staff also includes Mary Litzinger, Toni Moore, Deleon, Nathan Fuller, Natalie Combs, Candice Fuller, Betsy Siemers, and Dianne Lee.

My young companions both gave Jingle Arrgh the Way! rave reviews. Our nine-year-old friend observed: “Swill is really funny. My favorite part was when Santa met the Captain. That was fun.” My daughter contributed: “I loved that the play is about the pirates from How I Became a Pirate. It was great that the pirates helped Jeremy Jacob with his school Christmas play! Also, there are some scenes that remind me of the book Pirates Don’t Change Diapers. I liked that the actors were the same performers from when they did How I Became a Pirate. Jeremy Jacob, the main character, is my favorite. Kids should go see this funny play!” Audiences will want to stick around after the show, as the traditional post-performance cast appearance for autographs and photos is always a hit with families at CCT.

Columbia Children’s Theatre will present Jingle Arrgh the Way! on Saturday, December 12 at10:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, December 13 at 3:00 p.m. There will also be a special “Late Night Date Night” adults-only performance on Friday, December 11 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 for children ages three through adult; tickets for seniors and active duty military are $8. (For Saturday 7:00 p.m. performances, tickets are $5.00). To purchase tickets, visit or call (803) 691-4548.

REVIEW: Chapin Theatre Company's Into the Woods by Melissa Ellington

intoTheWoods Chapin Theatre Company presents an outstanding production of Into the Woods with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine at the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College. The musical debuted in 1986 at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, followed by a Tony Award-winning Broadway production in 1987. Numerous other versions of Into the Woods have emerged over the years, including Broadway and London revivals as well as the 2014 film adaptation. (This reviewer first fell in love with the musical through the PBS American Playhouse filming of the original stage production. Into the Woods became the first of many musicals I would direct with high school students, and I have fond memories of problem-solving its trickier production demands with energized and optimistic teenagers.) The Chapin Theatre Company succeeds in producing a musical with considerable history through an innovative and fresh approach.

Into the Woods weaves together familiar fairy tales in clever and surprising ways. Key characters are drawn into the woods in pursuit of their dreams and desires: the Baker and his wife seek items needed to lift the Witch’s magic spell and cure their childlessness; Cinderella travels to her mother’s grave for advice on how to attend the prince’s ball; Jack (of eventual beanstalk fame) must sell his beloved cow Milky White in a desperate effort to alleviate his family’s poverty; and Little Red Riding Hood sets out for her grandmother’s house, only to be waylaid by the Wolf. While Act One traces the journey towards wish fulfillment, Act Two takes a darker turn as the characters face what happens after “happily ever after.” As Cinderella sings to a heartbroken Little Red Riding Hood: “Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the wood. Others may deceive you. You decide what’s good.”  Recognition of human imperfection and finding hope amid bleak circumstances provide thematic cornerstones that are as timely now as ever.

Into the Woods has been challenging and moving audiences for decades, and astute director Jamie Carr-Harrington has assembled a top-notch cast for this excellent production.  In the central role of the Baker, Clayton King provides vocal power and emotional connection through pivotal numbers such as “No More,” a poignant sequence with the Mysterious Man (aptly played by Andy Nyland, who is also the appealing Narrator.) Becca Kelly (Baker’s Wife) and Karly Minacapelli (Cinderella) create engaging characters while sharing gorgeous vocal talents.

Catherine L. Bailey triumphs in the complex role of the Witch, communicating both strength and frailty in songs such as “Last Midnight” which is performed as a beguiling lullaby that transforms into a ferocious display of power. Jackie Rowe plays Little Red with depth and compassion, making a role that could easily become a caricature into a highly moving depiction of growing up. After admiring his work on various Columbia stages for years, this reviewer was thrilled to open the program and see Paul Lindley II cast in the role of Jack. Lindley’s vocal energy and magnetic stage presence contribute to a gratifying performance. Nancy Ann Smith delivers a delightful portrayal of Jack’s beleaguered mother.

As the “charming, not sincere” Princes, Jeremy Reasoner and Kyle Neal have impeccable timing and admirable voices, especially in the crowd-pleasing number “Agony.” Ann Baggett (Stepmother), Rachel Glowacki (Lucinda), and Elizabeth Stepp (Florinda) depict Cinderella’s step-family with comedic glee, while Courtney Reasoner shares a beautiful soprano in the role of Rapunzel. Parker Byun succeeds as an appropriately sleazy Wolf and doubles in the role of Cinderella’s incompetent father. Ruth Glowacki’s fierce Granny and Giant and Joshua Wall’s sarcastic Steward contribute to the strong performance.

With superb musical direction by Christopher A. McCroskey, the cast demonstrates extraordinary vocal ability throughout the production. A first-rate group of musicians fulfill the intricate challenges of Sondheim’s score, including David Branham (Bass), Brian Lamkin (Trumpet), and Samantha Marshall (Flute). Patty Boggs’ precise work with percussion enhances the production significantly.

A substantial production staff has collaborated to bring Into the Woods to life, including Carr-Harrington, Lou Clyde (Producer), Carrie Chalfont (Stage Manager), Matt Pound (Technical Director; Set and Lighting Design), Shelby Sessler (Costumer), Kara Pound (Art Design), Diane Moore (Properties) and J.S. Lee (Sound Design and Technician). The technical demands of Into the Woods are considerable, and the production team showcases creativity and skill in staging this performance.

With Carr-Harrington’s expert guidance, the Chapin Theatre Company scores a major win with Into the Woods. For viewers who think they have already seen this material because they went to the movie version: you really don’t want to miss the opportunity to enjoy this lovely production of a musical treasure by a successful local theatre company in the wonderful Harbison Theatre facility. As the characters sing in the opening prologue, “Into the woods, it’s time to go!”

Into the Woods will be presented by the Chapin Theatre Company at the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College on June 24, 25, 26, and 27 at 8 pm and on June 28 at 3 pm. The theatre is located at 7300 College Street in Irmo, SC.  For more information, visit

Review: The Secret Garden at On Stage Productions by Melissa Ellington

secretgarden Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book The Secret Garden has inspired numerous adaptations for stage and film. The classic story follows the metamorphosis of lonely orphan Mary Lennox, a miserably difficult child who blooms into a compassionate leader. Entrusted to the care of her ailing uncle Archibald Craven, Mary defies the stern housekeeper Mrs. Medlock and scoffs at kind Martha and the other maids. As the youthful gardener Dickon Sowerby teaches Mary about the transformative power of nature, the girl bonds with his large family. When granted her wish for a piece of earth to plant seeds and grow living things, Mary knows exactly what she wants: to find the key that opens the door to a secret garden where her aunt perished many years before. Mary’s discovery of her mysterious cousin Colin leads to a touching reunion and redemption of the garden, as well as Mary herself.

Broadway fans will likely remember the 1991 Tony award-winning musical by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon. However, On Stage Productions presents a different musical of The Secret Garden with their current offering. This upbeat version showcases music and lyrics by Bill Francoeur and book by Tim Kelly, proving a suitable choice for the On Stage team.

As with other On Stage shows appreciated by this reviewer, director Robert Harrelson delivers an enjoyable production and inspires confidence in the actors. The cast represents a wide range of ages and artistic backgrounds, which becomes a significant strength through Harrelson’s effective direction. Sincere camaraderie shines in the performance as children and adults work together to tell a beloved story.

Experienced musical director John Norris guides the cast successfully, while remarkable producer Mandy Tenney accomplishes the countless achievements associated with an ambitious theatrical endeavor. The admirable commitment typical of On Stage events is evident as several team members pull double duty both on and off stage. Melissa Berry-Rogers provides sprightly choreography and also performs a lovely dance interlude; Gail Carter serves as Stage Manager while contributing a moving performance as Colin’s mother. Anne Snider and Chris Cheatham play important characters as well as designing scenery and lighting.

Caroline Quinn is excellent in the pivotal role of Mary. She communicates a convincing journey from despising wretch to blossoming triumph, displays an appealing singing voice, and even shares a nifty tap number. Her earnest and believable portrayal illuminates songs like the solo (and later duet) “Secret Garden.”

Tucker Privette tackles the role of Colin with vigor, creating an audience-pleasing performance that is entertaining and poignant. Led by the enchanting Ingram Trexler as Mrs. Sowerby, likeable siblings Dickon (John Carter) and Martha (Hayward Moak) invite Mary into their comforting world, aided by the rest of the good-natured family (Dominick Campbell, James Rabon, Mia Coats, and Ella Johnson). The delightful Sowerby clan presents a standout musical sequence along with Mary, “One Big Happy Family,” one of several numbers that highlight Trexler’s gorgeous voice.

Cheatham crafts an appropriately haunted portrayal of Archibald Craven, while Tim Privette becomes a forceful Dr. Craven. Debb Adams (Cook), Snider (Mrs. Medlock), Julie Smoak (Mrs. Crawford), Alexandra and Murphey White (Kanchi), Michelle Privette (Nurse), Brighton Grice (Chorus/Bellmaid), and Gloria Edlam (Chorus/Servant) give valuable performances that help to convey this compelling tale. Considerable care has been taken with the details of costumes (Gina Cotton and Harrelson), scenic design (Snider and Harrelson), lighting and sound (Cheatham and Zach Tenney). In the pre-show welcome, Harrelson warned that the play can be a “tearjerker,” and he was quite correct. A longtime fan of Burnett’s book and familiar with other stage and film adaptations, this reviewer was nevertheless surprised by the emotional impact of the final scenes and gratified by the actors’ unabashed investment in their roles.

Attending an On Stage performance is a rich experience. An environment of warmth and welcome pervades the theatre from the moment an audience member walks in the door. Thoughtful touches like actors distributing flowers after “Take a Flower to the Fair” mean a lot to viewers, especially young ones (including this reviewer’s enthralled seven-year-old). Through The Secret Garden, On Stage Productions shares an irresistible invitation with the community: Join this “One Big Happy Family” for a satisfying sojourn into a magical garden in an inspiring theatre. Performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. on April 23, 24, and 25 and at 2:30 p.m. on April 26. Visit for tickets and information, or call (803) 351-6751. On Stage Productions is located at 680 Cherokee Lane in West Columbia, SC.