Review: ‘Judy and the General’ at Spotlighters Theatre

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It’s a rare and special treat to see the world debut of a new musical, and I was lucky enough to have the privilege of seeing the first public performance of Judy and the General at The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre (Spots) last night.

Kellie Podsednik and Rob Wall in Judy and the General. Photo by Shaelyn Jae Photography.

This show, written by Rosemary FrisinoToohey, has been two years in the making. There was a staged reading last year at Spotlighters, and it is now fully realized in this delightful production with stage and musical direction by Michael W. Tan. I always say I love seeing new shows because they’re the classics of tomorrow, and I can see Judy and the General having a future. After all, as Fuzz Roark, the managing artistic director said in his curtain speech, “Every show that’s on Broadway right now started in a room probably a lot like this.”

Judy and the General is based on the biblical Book of Judith. It tells a sort of coming-of-age story of the beautiful Judith – Judy to her friends – and her eventual heroic deeds. This show is fun, and silly, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Though it is based on ancient literature, it is full of modern references and intentional anachronisms to draw the audience in and help them relate to the work. FrisinoToohey’s new musical is well written with adroit lyrics, clever jokes, and timeless themes like poverty, freedom, feminism, and love. The audience was happily laughing throughout the performance.

The Spotlighters theatre is not your traditional proscenium stage. It has four columns, four sections of seating, and four entrances and exits through the audience, which are used by the performers. It is always interesting to see how they use and transform the space for their shows. Judy and the General was no exception with its clever staging by Tan and gorgeous set design and scenic art by Alan Zemla. The columns are painted and textured to look like real stone, and the walls are painted in beautiful landscapes and windows.

The set is illuminated by the lighting design of Fuzz Roark. He used the lighting to create moments with different colors and to delineate between locations by lighting different parts of the stage. A particularly nice moment was during Judy’s prayer (“Closer to My Heart”) when the lights shifted to blue to create a more somber tone.

The costumes were simple, but effective for demonstrating character changes, and made nice use of layers. Julia Golbey supervised costumes with specialty pieces by Roark. I loved Judy’s second act costume. The colors were beautiful, and the flow of the garments accented Judy’s movements, though it was a little distracting when she kept fiddling with her head covering, which kept coming loose.

Kay-Megan Washington in Judy and the General. Photo by Shaelyn Jae Photography.

Tan’s direction was a crucial part of bringing this show to life. The king emerging on a rolling throne was a stroke of comedy gold, which was immediately rewarded with laughter from the audience.

Another very amusing moment was the brief fourth wall break at the start of “April.” The love interests noticing the music was a fun way to highlight their quick tumble into love. Also, I appreciated the choice to have some of the actors doubling as several different roles instead of casting actors in brief parts.

Thanks to the role doubling, the entire ensemble was very active throughout the show with each performer getting quality stage time. Kay-Megan Washington started the show on a very strong note as the Narrator (Maid). Her voice – clear and strong voice with a hint of sass – immediately brought us in, and she continued to lead the show with a steady presence.

Richard Greenslit had many roles as Workman, Servant, Soldier, and Advisor, and he pulled off some startlingly quick costume changes. Greenslit elicited happy chuckles from the audience as the Servant, dancing in “The Guy in Charge.” He committed to the bit and was not afraid of a bit of silliness.

The lovely Kellie Podsednik played the titular role of Judith. She brought strength and earnestness to Judy. Though it was sometimes a strain to hear her speaking, Podsednik’s singing and awkward flirting with the general were quite charming. Rob Wall played the other titular role of Holofernes, the general, as well as Manasseh in the first act.

These two characters could not be less alike, which made for a fun contrast seeing Wall transition from the sweet, caring Manasseh to the cocky, brutish Holofernes. Wall showed nice diversity playing both characters equally well. Wayne Ivusich, like Greenslit, was an actor with many hats playing Dad, King, Head Man, and Captain. The King was by far my favorite role of Ivusich’s. He brought some excellent levity with his simplemindedness and playful manner while poking fun at those who have power.

The show ended on a very sweet note with the whole ensemble singing acapella harmonies in “That’s All There is to That.” As the lights came up after the curtain call, I heard an audience member happily say, “That was cute,” which sums up the show quite nicely.

Judy and the General was, to repeat myself, delightful. It had a message without being too weighty. It had a bit of bawd without being raunchy. I wouldn’t bring young children to this show, but it’s a very good time. Go see this show, support new and local theatre, and bring your friends.

Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Judy and the General plays through July 29, 2018, at The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre – 817 Saint Paul Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225, or purchase them online.