Monday, June 20, 2016

Sister Act delights as the opening show of the 2016 Porthouse season


What happens when a new musical opens at the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse in California and becomes the highest grossing show ever at that venue? Obviously, it is grabbed up by a Broadway producer who opens it on the Great White Way.  Right?  Wrong!

The tale of the success of the musical, Sister Act, has a strange path from California to Broadway.  After the Pasadena success in 2006, the show played in Atlanta.  Then, in 2009, it went across the pond and opened in London to mixed reviews, including one which, with British subtleness, referred to it as “a brainless show.”

After a sidetrack in Hamburg, yes, Germany, Sister Act finally opened on Broadway in 2011.   It was a newly revised adaptation, which included a slightly different song list than the Brit or Pasadena versions. 

Strongly praising the tunes of songwriter Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater, which has the harkenings of Motown with a blend of soul and funk, and a little disco thrown in, the show was praised for its ability to “switch up the mood and tempo.” 

The results?  Five Tony nominations, a successful run, and a much praised North American Tour, which graced the State Theatre stage in March of 2013.   Now the script has been released for local productions.  Its regional premiere is gracing the Porthouse stage.

The musical is based on the 1992 comedy film of the same name, which starred Whoopi Goldberg, who, interestingly enough, was the producer of the Broadway production.  

The musical, like the movie, concerns Deloris Van Cartier, a street-smart African American singer “wanna be,” who sees Curtis, her boyfriend shoot a man.  She goes to the police and reunites with Sgt. “Sweaty Eddie,” who had a crush on her when they were in high school.  Fearing for her life he places Deloris in protective custody in a broke, soon to be closed church/convent. 

The Mother Superior (perfectly portrayed by Tracee Patterson), comes from the mold of nuns of old.  Yes, those fearsome enforcers of strict rules, who wielded punishing yardsticks, and gave lesser human beings the evil eye.  The purveyors of such wisdom as “don’t wear patent leather shoes because they reflect up,” “don’t go on a date to a restaurant with white tablecloths because it will remind the boy of bed sheets,” “red clothing incites passion,” and “don’t wear makeup as it entices the devil.” 

When Deloris arrives at the mother house, she and Mother Superior are immediately placed in a battle of wills. 

Of course, Deloris stirs up the cloistered place, makes the quiet nuns into singing rebels, saves the convent,  becomes wimple-buddies with the Mother Superior, and wins Eddie in the process. 

Songs such as “It’s Good to Be a Nun,” “When I Find My Baby,” “Raise Your Voice,” and “Take Me to Heaven,” while not classics, are good Broadway fare. The cast can really sing well.  The choreography is fun. 

Though she could have “copped” a little more attitude, Colleen Longshaw is “Fabulous, Baby!” as Deloris.  Tyrell Reggins wails as Eddie, displaying a strong singing voice and a charming attitude, especially in “I Could Be That Guy.”

There are some nice characterizations, including Katelyn Langwith as Sister Mary Robert, a young novice who isn’t yet “sold on the program” who is influenced by Deloris.  Langwith’s presentation of “The Life I Never Led” is a tender probe into what happens when life limits your options.

Hannah Quinn is delightful as the uninhibited Sister Mary Patrick.  Terri Kent, yes, the Artistic Director of Porthouse, is amusing and has a great time as the straight-laced Sister Mary Lazarus.  Bernadette Hisey is a hoot as Sister Mary Martin-of–Tours, the totally “out of it” member of the sisterhood.  Rohn Tomas does a nice turn as Monsignor O’Hara.

Of course, as in any good escapist musical, there have to be showstoppers.  Sister Act is full of them.  “Sunday Morning Fever,” “Raise Your Voice,” “Fabulous Baby,” and the title song, “Sister Act” all get the audience excited.

Yes, there are flaws.  The gangsters aren’t “gangsta” enough.   The plot is full of plausible holes.  But, in the end, the show is fun, it’s a perfect choice for summer entertainment in the lovely Porthouse Theatre, on the grounds of the magnificent Blossom Center.

The supporting cast is all excellent.  Many play multiple roles with ease.

Jennifer Korecki has her musicians in good tune and support rather than drown out the performers.

The technical aspects of the show, including the abundance of costumes, are all done well.

Oh, be aware that due to a wonderful fund-raising effort by Terri Kent, the entire washroom building has been redone.  Yes, ladies…no long standing in a long line at intermission! 

Well, almost wonderful fund-raising effort.  There is still a need for  more funds.  Besides dropping in donations when the “altar-boys” come around during one of the show’s “church services,” donations can be sent on line at GiveToKent.org (designate the gift to “Porthouse Theatre 50th Anniversary Fund 18802” or send a check to College of the Arts, Attn:  Pam Hutson, P.O. Box 5190, Taylor Hall, Kent, OH 44242.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Sister Act is a perfect slice of summer entertainment placed in a lovely get-away setting!  Director Eric van Baars has put together a smooth running production which gets all the necessary laughs, develops the story line as well as one can with something as fluffy as he has been given, and paces the show so that it moves smoothly along.  See it!


Sister Act  runs until July 2, 2016 at Porthouse Theatre.  For reasonably priced tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to www.porthousetheatre.com.

NEXT UP AT PORTHOUSE: RING OF FIRE, in which music legend Johnny Cash comes to life, from July 7-23, 2016 and FOOTLOOSE, which proves that dancing is a fun part of life, from July 28-August 14, 2016.  Curtain times are 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Blossom open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.

Reimagined Phantom of the Opera impressive at the State Theatre, but . .


It’s been seen by over 140-million people in 30 countries and 151 cities.  It’s been translated into 14 languages.  It’s Broadway’s longest running show. What is it?   Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, which is now on stage at the State Theatre, in a reimagined form. 

The present touring version has a new set, staging, choreography and costumes.   There are new special effects, including computer generated graphics, fire bolts (much like the scoreboard at The Q for Cavs games).   Even some of the characterizations and the emotional level have been altered.

Be assured, however, that in spite of the changes, the well-known story line and the sumptuous music remain intact.

The tale takes place in the Paris Opera House more than a century ago, centering on a  disfigured musical genius who is obsessed with a talented member of the chorus, who he trains to be the leading lady in his new musical, with dire consequences.

And, yes, the sounds of “Think of Me,” “Angel of Music,” “The Music of the Night,” “All I Ask of You,” and ”Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” fill every nook and cranny of the theatre.

The changes have resulted in a staging which appears smaller and less impressive. This, in spite of the cast and orchestra of 52, making it one of the largest productions now on tour.

Though still opulent, this Phantom doesn’t appear to be as “grande” as the original.   The always anticipated chandelier crashing to the stage has been replaced by an unspectacular vertical drop of the large fixture straight down above the heads of the audience seated in the first ten or so rows.  There were sound pops and lighting sparks, but the effect was disappointing, thus no screams of terror or ducking from the people seated in the expensive seats. 

Some will consider the elimination of the crashing chandelier parallel to doing Miss Saigon without the requisite helicopter, Wish You Were Here minus the real swimming pool or American Psycho without a blood splatter zone.

Director Laurence Connor has decided to go with a youthful Phantom, more realism, some less exaggerated characterizations of some roles, and a large cylinder on a turntable placed stage center, which makes for smooth transitions, and enhances the journey of Christine and the Phantom into the bowels of the Paris opera house, but takes away some of the eerie darkness of the original set. 

In other words, the menace of the Phantom is watered down.   This may well have been Connor’s intent as his version places more stress on the intimacy of Christine and Raoul, which adds to the conflict of the romantic triangle.   This version also  stresses the romantic realism of the story, down-pedaling some of the spectacle and melodrama.  

One can only wonder if this less grandiose, reserved, story-line clearer version had been the original, would the show have achieved its level of greatness?   My guess…probably not.

As for this cast, Chris Mann, best known for being a finalist on NBC-TV’s “The Voice,” has a fine Billboard voice.  It does not translate into the powerful Broadway sound needed for The Phantom.  Nor does he have the physical and emotional power to transform a mere human into a maniacally obsessed, bigger-than-life menace.   He definitely is not in the same class as Michael Crawford (the original Broadway Phantom), Mark Jacoby, or Thomas James O’Leary, who also performed the role.  (The part, in this touring edition, is exchanged between four actors, so attendees may see a different Phantom then was on stage opening night.)

Katie Travis has the looks and voice for Christine, but she, like Mann, doesn’t exude the necessary hyper-emotional level.  Hers is a good, but not great interpretation of the role.  (Three actresses trade off the part.)

There are local connections between the cast and this area.  Price Waldman (Monsieur André) was an Oberlin attendee,  Stephen Mitchell Brown (Jeweler) won a Cleveland Critics Circle Best Actor award for his portrayal of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, and Kathryn McCreary (Wild Woman) is a College of Wooster and Ohio State grad.

Cleveland native and Baldwin Wallace University Musical Theatre grad, Trista Moldovan, won raves for her portrayal of Christine on Broadway several years ago. 

The orchestra was full and lush, as befits the score, but sometimes, the lack of sound balance caused lyrics and words to be drowned out.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Phantom of the Opera newbies will undoubtedly be wowed by the reconfigured production.  Those who have seen the Broadway, or one of the early touring company editions, may be less impressed. 


Tickets for The Phantom of the Opera, which runs through July 10, 2016 at the State Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to www.playhousesquare.org.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

2016 Blossom Music Festival is a potpourri of treats!



What do the “1812 Overture,” “An American In Paris,” Pinchas Zukerman, and viewing of film Raiders Of The Lost Ark and playing it’s score all have in common?  They are all part of the 2016 Blossom Music Festival.

Yes, there is something for everyone, no matter your musical tastes, in the July 4-September 4, 2016 season at the beautiful Blossom Music Center.  Sit in the pavilion or lounge on the lawn, but take advantage of northern Ohio music under the stars.

In an interview with Ilya Gidalevich, the Cleveland Orchestra’s assistant artistic administrator, who was hired in January to aid Franz Welser-Möst in the conception and execution of programs at Severance Hall and Blossom Music Center, he revealed that the organization followed the “same programming philosophy of earlier seasons centering on the knowledge that audiences at Blossom were of different age groups and backgrounds than at Severance.”  Therefore, “effort was made to bring in new names as well as those with whom the orchestra has a relationship that would appeal to the Blossom audience demographics.”

The selection of programs are a collaborative process where the history and reputations of the guest artists, the orchestra’s background, the conductors, various selections, and the musicians are considered.    The objective is to “find what will cast the best possible light and make for success.”

Gidalevich, indicated that, “all of the artists are at the top of their field.”  He added, “if you think Broadway, you think Michael Feinstein,” who had a strong performance last year at Blossom.  This year, he will be appearing with the orchestra, itself.  (“Michael Feinstein’s Broadway,” Sunday, July 31 @ 7 p.m.)






 



Celebrated and award winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma “brings together musicians from all over the world with the thread of the Silk Road.”  (“Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma ,” Saturday, August 13 @ 8 p.m.)

Randy Jackson, best known as the front man for the band, Zebra, will sing selections from the Led Zeppelin repertoire accompanied by the Blossom Festival Orchestra.  (“The Music of Led Zeppelin: A Rock Symphony,” Saturday,
August 20 @ 8 p.m.)

Other highlights of the 2016 Blossom Season include: 
•”1812 Overture,” Saturday July 2 @ 8 p.m. and Sunday July 3, 8 p.m., with fireworks.
•”Beethoven’s Heroic Symphony,” Saturday, July 9 @ 8 p.m., conducted by Welser-Möst, with fireworks.
•”Thibaudet Plays Grieg,” Saturday, July 23, 8 p.m., Jean-Yves Thibaudet plays piano, Jahja Ling, conducts.
•”Magic of the Movies,” Sunday, July 24, 7 p.m., Blossom Festival Chorus, Capathia Jenkins, vocalist, Michael Krajewski, conductor.
•Pinchas Zukerman plays Mozart,” Saturday, July 30 @ 7 p.m.




•Zukerman, violin, and The Cleveland Orchestra, with the Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra performing a side-by-side performance of the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 (“Pathétique”), Hans Graf, conductor.
•Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Plays Bach (Brandenburg Concertos #3, 5, 6 & 2), Saturday, August 27, 8 p.m., (Blossom Music Festival debut).

For a complete schedule, times and dates, go to clevelandorchestra.com.

Tickets:  Individual pavilion and lawn tickets, starting at $24, are now on sale by telephone (216-231-1111), in person at the Severance Hall ticket office or online at clevelandorchestra.com.

“Under 18’s Free” offers free tickets to those 17 and under.  Over 90,000 youth have attended Blossom concerts under the support of the Maltz family Foundation.

See you under the stars at Blossom!  Come early, bring a picnic, enjoy the beauty of the grounds.   

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Must see LINES IN THE DUST, a play about Apartheid Schools in U.S. is riveting, edifying and upsetting @ CPT






What will a parent do to insure that her child gets a quality education? 

In 2011, Kelly Williams-Bolar served a 10-day jail sentence for illegally sending her children to a suburban school outside of her Akron, Ohio district.  The sentence disqualified Williams-Bolar from getting her accreditation as a teacher.  A storm of protests, both pro and con, quickly followed the sentence and a later pardon by the governor.

Why did Williams-Bolar feel compelled to get her child out of the ill-performing Akron schools?

As director Beth Woods, whose production of Nikkole Salter’s edifying and upsetting Lines in the Dust is now running at Cleveland Public Theatre, states in her program notes, “Our education system is broken and an entire generation of children has suffered for it.”  These students attend Apartheid Schools, “institutions where 99% of the attendees are black or Latino.” “Schools where courses such as Algebra II and chemistry aren’t offered.”  Schools where, even if Advanced Placement (AP) classes are presented, most students can’t pass the national tests, so they receive no credit for their class work.   Schools where “fewer than 60% of teachers meet all state certification and licensure requirements.”

Wait, this is 2016.  Over 60-years ago, the Supreme Court in Brown V. Board of Education, desegregate the schools.  But either by neighborhood design, attendance zones, controlled choice programs, poverty patterns, or municipal decree, segregated schools still exist.   Cleveland Schools several weeks ago, yes, that’s weeks ago, by court decree, integrated its schools.  Cleveland, Tennessee, that is.

But Cleveland, Ohio and such other metropolitan areas as Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, New York and St. Louis also have mainly Apartheid Schools.  The results?  In Cleveland (Ohio), which remains one of the most segregated cities in the nation, “66% of adults are functionally illiterate (read at or below a 4th grade level).  In some neighborhoods the rate is 95%.

Nikkole Salter is on a campaign to educate all of us, not only of the existence, but the financial cost and waste of human potential caused by Apartheid Schools. 

She also places a spotlight on people like Michael DiMaggio, one of the lead characters in Lines in the Dust, who believes, as do many Donald Trump followers, that “we need to return to the good old days and make America what it was.”  An America dominated by the thinking of Nationalists, who want “America for the Americans,” meaning the white, English speaking population, where women and other minorities know “their place.”   

Salter’s fictional play, with factual interludes, starts as we meet Beverly Long, the African American acting-Principal of the upper-class Essex County, Millburn, New Jersey schools, where houses each sell for around one-million dollars.  She is attending an open house of a home for sale in the community, where she meets Denitra Morgan, also African American.  The two talk about the community, their employment, and what their expectations are for their teen-aged children.

Long is unaware that Denitra is not a lawyer as she claims, does not live in the community, and is scouting out an address to use so that she can district-jump her daughter from the ill-performing inner city school to Millburn. 

What follows is a compelling exposé of the politics and operation of the educational system, the opportunity gaps between the “haves” and the “have nots,” the attitudes of people like Mr. DiMaggio, a member of a group who wants to keep their community as is, making sure that blacks, Jews and other “outsiders” don’t’ take away what the “good people of Millburn” have. 

Salter writes well.  The dialogue is compelling, the ideas crystal clear, the characters well etched.  It’s obvious why her 6 full-length plays have been produced on 3 continents and have received numerous awards.

The Cleveland Public Theatre’s production, under the focused direction of Beth Woods, grabs and holds attention.  The pacing is pitch perfect.  The acting is excellent, the author’s intent and purpose crystal clear.  

Nicole Sumlin gives a stellar performance as Denitra, a mother who wants only the best for her daughter, and is willing to do everything, including giving up custody of her child, in order to get her a prime education.  Bravo!

Kimberly Sias gives a” humanness” to Principal Long, which makes the production even more frustrating as we watch someone who has nothing but the best of intentions attempt to do an end-run around reality.

Skip Corris inhabits the body of Michael DiMaggio.  He is so effective that several “boos” were heard from the audience during the curtain call due to the hateful attitudes of the character. 

The chain link fence that surrounds Douglas Puskas’s set, is truly emblematic of the situation in which many people in this country find themselves able to see into what can be, but living a “can’t be part of that” existence. 

Daniel McNamara’s musical compositions and sound effects help set the proper moods.

Capsule judgement:  If you only see one play this year, it should be Lines in the Dust.  Because of its well-crafted writing that clearly develops Nikkole Salter’s fervent thoughts and feelings about Apartheid Schools and the people who make them happen, the play is often excruciating to watch.  The truth is painful!  The frustration of a problem with no seeming solution, and the possibility of a country operating on a Nationalistic philosophy, become truly scary!   As said, if you only see one play this year, it should be Lines in the Dust.


Lines in the Dust runs @ 7 p.m., Thurs/Fri/Sat/Mon in the newly refurbished James Levin Theatre, through June 18, 2016 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit, just east of W. 65th Street.  Free parking is available within a two-minute walk from the theatre.   For tickets and information call 216-631-2727 or go to www.cptonline.org

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Cain Park’s anti-pollution The Toxic Avenger will delight many!


There seems to be a trend in the choices theaters are making regarding musicals they produce.  Maybe it’s a desire to attract younger audiences, or it’s the popularity of comic book heroes as the subject of television shows and movies, but like it or not, the age of “unusual” protagonists is here.

Broadway has a serial killer in AMERICAN PSYCHO, Beck is running THE HEATHERS, about mean girls, Cleveland Play House showcased LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and a human-eating plant, and Blank Canvas staged THE WILD PARTY, which was filled with drugs, “offing” people, and rock and roll.  All contained murderers, weirdos and/or perverts.  Ah, for the likes of OKLAHOMA and FINIAN’S RAINBOW.  Even the gun toting female in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN would do.

Now Cain Park, that leafy little oasis in the middle of Cleveland Heights, has transformed the stage of  its intimate Alma Theatre into a New Jersey toxic waste dump and is staging THE TOXIC AVENGER.

Yes, THE TOXIC AVENGER, a rock musical based on Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman’s 1984 cult-film about the attempt of a sweet young man to clean up a New Jersey town, with death-filled results.

The musical, written by Joe DiPietro (who was born in Teaneck, New Jersey and was responsible for MEMPHIS, ALL SHOOK UP and I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE), with music by David Bryan, and lyrics by the same duo, contains songs with titles such as, “Get the Geek,” “Kick Your Ass,” “Thank God She’s Blind” and the ever popular, “Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore.”  Really!  (Could I make this up?)

Before the conclusion is reached that THE TOXIC AVENGER is a definite “do not see,” be aware that it’s impossible for anyone with a sense of humor, who likes outrageous slapstick, cross-dressing, soft rock music, and an affinity for the bizarre, not to enjoy themselves.  (The young lady sitting next to me at opening night, mid first-act, leaned over and whispered to her equally hard giggling friend, “I just wet my pants from laughing.”

So, what’s all the fun about? 

Once upon a time in Tromaville, New Jersey, there was a corrupt Mayor-lady (who resembles Governor Chris Christy in many ways and has a Donald Trump hair-do), who with her henchmen (bullies, mobsters and crooked politicians) controlled the city and used it as their personal piggybank, caring little for the environment or the population. 

In the same town was Melvin Ferd, the third, a geeky aspiring scientist, who loves Sarah, the blind librarian.  Melvin wants to clean up the town’s toxic waste dump and also dump the mayor.  For his troubles he is thrown into a vat of sludge and comes out a hulking green monster named “Toxie.”  Toxie becomes a superhero to many as he fights city hall and sleazy politicians and businessmen whose greed have made the correctly named Tromaville unfit for human inhabitation.   

In the process, the hysteria is flamed by the blind librarian tripping over every pebble and crack, an old lady being stuffed into a washing machine, lots of men dressed in drag who sing and dance, as both good and bad guys.  Also on stage is Oprah doing her interviewing “thang”, animal puppets, men with “acne on their soul,” a battle of hairspray cans, a singing and dancing nun, hairdos from hell, and, of course, Toxie, running wild.  The political-infused ending is timing-perfect during this election year.

Add a wailing, but subtle rock score, several nice ballads, fun attempts at coordinated dancing, extended farce, and lots of slapstick, and you have THE TOXIC AVENGER.

The cast is outstanding.  BW musical theatre grad Ellis C. Dawson III is Toxie-right!   He is a hero’s hero, complete with green warts, a dangling right eye, glued on muscles, a charming personality and a nice voice.  His “Kiss Your Ass” and “I Promise” were nicely presented.

Natalie Green is wonderful as the cute and well-meaning blind Sarah.  Her duet, “Hot Toxic Love,” sung with Dawson III,  is delightful. 

Zaftig, big-voiced Kate Leigh Michalski does triple duty as the big-haired Mayor, Toxie’s mother and the singing Nun.  At one point she appears simultaneously as both the Mayor and the mom, with hysterical results.  (The wig designer, who gets no credit in the program, outdid her/himself on that visual allusion.)

Malik Akil, another BW musical theatre grad, has impressive stage presence and a good sense of comic timing, whether he was playing a black dude or in drag.  Trey Gilpin was Akil’s match in “Get the Chick.” 

Mariah Burks and Codie Higer were also excellent in multi-roles.

Jordan Cooper and his band rocked it right and wisely didn’t drown out the singers.

P. J. Toomey’s special effects, which it can be assumed included the makeup that transformed Melvin to Toxie, was impressive.

Though the set changes were a little cumbersome, the off-time was filled with clever actions and lighting effects.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Under Nathan Motta’s creative direction, and a cast of talented and uninhibited performers, THE TOXIC AVENGER is a total hoot!  If you are in the mood for an evening of extended farce and ridiculousness, this is a must see. 

The show runs through  June 26, 2016 in the Alma Theatre in Cleveland Heights’ Cain Park.   For tickets call 216-371-3000 or go to http://www.cainpark.com/

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Heathers the musical@ Beck Center…rockin’ music, teen-aged angst and great choreography!


A teenaged girl snarls at another, “I know who I’m sitting with at lunch, do you?”  Yes, high school can be a time of great angst or hellish glee.  Depends on which clique you are in!  Jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, drama-kids, brains…what was your place in the high school hierarchy?

Veronica, seventeen-year-old teenage misfit at Westerburg [Ohio] High School, yearns to be a Heather, the in-group!  The Heathers...head cheerleader Heather McNamara, the sullen Heather Duke and the “bitch Queen,” Heather Chandler. Yes, the Heathers….3 blond bombshells who run the high school for their own enjoyment.  Harassment, bullying and degrading, allowed.

Veronica hangs with over-weight, nice kid, Martha Dunstock, better known as Martha Dumptruck, until one “glorious day.  That day Veronica’s talents as a forger are discovered and the creation of hall passes  and absence excuses flow forth and detentions disappear.  Through forgery, Veronica becomes a Heather. 

Will Veronica now become miss popular?  Will she, after achieving her goal, turn on Martha?  Will she fall for J.D., new school bad boy and become, like him, a psychopathic killer?   Will idiot jocks Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelly be knocked from their stud pedestals?  Will J.D. satisfy the longings for revenge of every high school outsider who was the victim of character assassination and bullying by the likes of the Heathers?  Will the audience cheer when they vicariously get their settling of scores?

Yes, high school can be hell, and Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, conceivers of Heathers the musical, now in production at Beck Center for the Arts, have found the key to a fun, but often sadistic way of making bullying into a means of entertainment.

Heathers has a bizarre history.  A Daniel Waters-written, non-musical version was filmed in 1988 and became a cult hit.  It made instant celbs of Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty.  Though not a critical hit, the film was named one of the “Best High School Movies” and Ranked #412 on the list of “The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.”

The musical’s start came on September 13, 2010, via a concert/reading in a pub.  The script languished until 2013 when it showed for a limited engagement at Hudson Backstage Theatre in Los Angeles.  And then it hit the big time when, in February, 2014, it opened off-Broadway for a moderate run.  Since then, the script has become a favorite of community theatres looking for a device to attract younger audiences.

Beck’s production, under the direction of Scott Spencer, which is being staged in the intimate Studio Theatre, fills the space with rock sound, great singing and good acting.  The star of the show, however, is Martin Céspedes’ choreography. 

One dynamic dance routine after another explodes.  The opening “Beautiful” sets the mood and is followed by such other showstoppers as “Blue” and “Shine a Light.”  This is Céspedes at his finest and it makes the production a special event.

Madeline Krucek, gives just the right tone to kind, Veronica, who has a strong sense of right and wrong, even if she gets waylaid for a while by bad boy JD (Shane Lonergan).  She has a fine singing voice and nice stage presence.  Her duets “Dead Girl Walking” and “Seventeen,” sung with Lonergan, are compelling.

Logan, dressed in the appropriate “Columbine” black trench coat, doesn’t look like a deadly psychopath (do they ever?), but he portrays killer to the core.  His well sung “Freeze Your Brain” gives a clue into what is going to come.  

Kayla Heichel was born a “high school mean girl!”  This lass portrays evil, power and control with ease as the hateful H. Chandler, leader of the Heathers.  She is well backed up by the other “Heathers,” (McNamara) Amy Kohmescher and (Duke) Tia Karaplis.    They all have strong singing voices and their solos are well done.

Molly Millsaps creates a Martha (Dumptruck), she of beautiful soul, with charm and pathos, in spite of teasing and rejection.  Her version of “Kindergarten Boyfriend” is a wonderful ballad which gets a lovely rendition.

Riley Ewing (Ram Sweeney) and Jonathan Walker White (Kurt Kelly) are right out of the playbook…walking six-packs with no brains and lots of unbridled testosterone.  The duo can actually dance, sing and act.

Matthew Wright (Ram’s Dad) and Paul Floriano (Kurt’s Dad) almost steal the show with their rendition of “My Dead Gay Son.” 

Multi-award winning Trad A. Burns shows his usual creativity in designing a visually and functionally perfect mock-locker filled set.  His lighting design, along with Aimee Kluiber’s costumes, helps in creating the right illusions.

Musical Director Larry Goodpaster and his band do a great job of hitting all the right notes and supporting instead of drowning out the singers.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Heathers the musical continues the Beck trend of staging dynamic, small, cult appealing shows (e.g., Evil Dead, Reefer Madness, and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) in its Studio Theatre.  With dynamic choreography, a well-played rock-infused-with-ballads score, and enough blood, gore and simulated sex to grab and hold an audience, Heathers should be awarded with a sold out run! 

Heathers the musical
is scheduled to run through July 2, 2016 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to http://www.beckcenter.org 


Next at Beck: The regional premiere of Billy Elliot the musical with music by Elton John from July 8 through August 14, 2016.

Monday, May 30, 2016

New theatre, Playwrights Local 4181, to produce local writers’ scripts


The Cleveland-Akron area has many, many theatres.   They each fulfill a missions 

Dobama states its purpose is “to premiere the best contemporary plays by established and emerging playwrights in professional productions of the highest quality.”  The Tony Award winning Cleveland Play House, the first professional regional theatre, states its goal is “to inspire, stimulate and entertain diverse audiences in Northeast Ohio by producing plays and theatre education of the highest professional standards.”  Ensemble’s function is “producing American classics.”

David Todd, Artistic Director of Playwrights Local 4181, recognizes that some theatres have writer’s units which work on the development of new plays, and, on occasion, stage or do staged-readings of original play scripts.  He, however, states, “no local organization is dedicated to solely producing new scripts.” 

Todd and his supporting group present themselves as “a playwrights’ center,” which means they will “develop  plays (and playwrights), produce plays, and otherwise provide our dramatists with a long-needed home.”  They also intend to “offer classes, host projects in the community, and arrange special events.”  They intend to “provide a style of playwright-driven theater” similar to those “found in New York and Chicago.”

The theatre’s battle cry seems to be, “all-new, all-locally created work.”

Those unfamiliar with how a play gets on stage should be aware that the starting point is usually a script.  It may be the sole creation of a writer or writers, inspired by an idea, an incident or some source such as a book or poem or even a work of art that has inspired the writing of a script with the intention of getting it presented on a stage. 

On the other hand, a writer may be hired by someone, usually a producer, who engages the writer to create a script. 

In some instances an organization may encourage or employ someone to produce a document which places the spotlight on the organization’s purpose or some cause they wish to place in the public’s attention.

Once the script is written, it is common to have others read and comment upon the material.  Sometimes an expert, a dramaturge, is hired to work with the writer on developing the project.  Often, in order for the playwright to hear what the script sounds like, a group of actors read the material aloud and breath life into the characters.   The writer may find that the script holds up well or, that it needs rewriting. 

Often, the next stage in the production process is to have a staged reading where actors, usually using scripts and podiums prepare an oral presentation, usually under the guidance of a director.  That reading is usually done before an audience.  A discussion often follows which allows for additional evaluation of the material.  The play may also receive a staging.  This process may be repeated again and again until the script is “set,” vetted to the place that the playwright is satisfied that it has jelled into a final product, ready for staging, with no expected changes to be made.

In rare instances a writer prepares a script and, without any evaluations or readings, it is staged.  This is rare, but does happen.

Playwrights Local 4181’s first staged production is Les Hunter’s To the Orchard.  According to a representative of the organization, Mr. Hunter’s play is set…”in its final form.”

To The Orchard, according to Kelsey Angel Baehrens, who plays Rachel Bergman, the central character, who is a young gay Orthodox Jewish writing student at Brooklyn College,  is “about seeking the courage to live your own truth.” “It’s a sad show.”

Author Les Hunter adds, “All of the characters are wrestling with their pasts and who they are, and looking for ways to go forward.”

Dale Heinen, the play’s director says, “the play deals with the aftermath of the death of Rachel’s mother and what it means to her husband and her daughter.”  She adds, “there’s an element of magical realism to the play, and a lot of humor.” 

As for the production, itself, Heinen indicated she needed to understand the world that the author, Hunter, constructed.  “There is a lot we didn’t know, that we had to learn in order to give the world its proper dimensions.”  “The life of this community [Orthodox Jewish in Brooklyn], the life of this family [who recently lost their female lynchpin], the way the religion is practiced [often turning to their rabbi, their religious leader, for guidance and wisdom], the set of beliefs that go with it [how to honor the dead, what foods to eat, what the philosophy of Orthodox Judaism is regarding homosexuality], the history of the religion [the theory of the wandering Jews, the Eastern European roots of this particular family and religious leader].”

As a former dramaturge, professor of theatre, director, actor, playwright and theatre critic, I found the script to be wanting, in need of further refinement. 

The script is mainly a dialogue.  There is little to no action.  The way the script was staged, or since I didn’t see the script, it may have been the way the writer formatted the material, the staging was static.  Scene stage right, scene stage left, often simultaneous stage left and right staging.  It often felt like we were watching a tennis match. 

The was much movement of stage furniture, breaking the flow of the action.  Much of that was seemingly unnecessary.  Use of spotlights to accent certain areas would have fulfilled the same purpose.  In fact, this is a script which doesn’t appear to need a staged production.  A reading would have done just fine as this is a word play, a closet drama.  Very little of the stage action added much, if anything.

The script contains many concepts of Orthodox Judaism with which many in the audience were probably unfamiliar.  Even myself, who was brought up in a tradition almost identical to that of the characters in the play, found myself confused as to some of the speeches and actions.  Giving the audience a list of vocabulary words did little to help.  It is the responsibility of the author to invent ways of writing dialogue to take care of this problem. 

The staging left much to be desired.  The use of electronic graphics to create the set was interesting, but often disconcerting as the actors often were absorbed by the visuals or cast shadows on the “scenery.”  The actors (Kelsey Angel Baehrens, Andrea Belser, Robert Branch, Michael Regnier), though they clearly knew their lines and put out full effort, didn’t always stay in character or texture their parts to the point of making the people real.

Some of the dialogue seemed forced, unnatural, a written rather than an oral style.  Whether this was the script, the director or the actors’ fault, is unclear.

One might ask, who is the audience for this script?  To whom does it speak?  For whom does it speak?

Capsule judgment:
  Playwrights Local 4181 should be lauded for filling a void in the Cleveland theatre world.  Their goal of producing locally written and developed scripts is admirable.  Their initial production, To the Orchard, was a valiant try.  Though the final outcome left much to be desired, every new undertaking has to have a place from which to grow.  The organization has laid its foundation and it should be encouraged to showcase what hopefully will be a successful and fruitful future.

Playwrights Local 4181’s next production will be Objectively/Reasonable:  A Documentary Play on the Shooting of Tamir Rice.  It will be directed by Terrence Spivey, the former Artistic Director of Karamu in August, 2016.  For information go to:  http://playwrightslocal.org/

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Must see Steel Magnolias filled with pathos and comedy at Cleveland Play House



Steel Magnolias is now in an extended run at the Allen Theatre, as part of the Key Bank Broadway series.  It is based on author Robert Harling’s sister’s 1985 death from diabetic complications following the birth of his name-sake nephew. 

The script, which is one of the most produced in the American theater catalog, originally was a short story.  According to Harling, it was converted into a play in ten days. 

The author selected the title as he felt that Southern women are often considered to be “delicate as magnolias, but [are really] as tough as steel.”

Steel Magnolias is an old-fashioned, well-written play that is filled with pathos and comedy.  The playwright doesn’t obscure his purpose in why he wrote the script.   It is obvious that he unashamedly wants to tell the tale of a group of women who, in the comfort and security of “their” beauty shop, spend every Saturday morning as an informal support group, being for each other what women need…a sense of security and unconditional love.

The setting is Truvy’s Beauty Shop, where the motto is, “There is no such thing as natural beauty.”  The business is located in a converted car port, in the fictional small “twangy” northwest Louisiana parish of Chinquapin.

Truvy Jones, along with Annelle, her newly hired mysterious and anxious assistant, wash, comb-out, poof and hairspray the locks of the locals. 

The Saturday morning crowd includes Clairee, the former first lady of the town, who is now a wealthy widow and owner of the local radio station.  Also present is the ornery Ouiser, whose bark is worse than her bite, and insists, “I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a bad mood for forty years.”   M’Lynn, an earth mother, is often accompanied by her diabetic daughter, Shelby, the prettiest girl in town. 

The year is 1987.  Over three years (four scenes), the audience eavesdrops on Shelby having a diabetic crash, a risky pregnancy, a medical emergency and complications.  Annelle, grows from a timid outsider to a member of the in-group, gets married and transforms into a born-again Christian.  Ouiser continues to gripe, Clairee travels and shares her new-found knowledge, while M’Lynn goes through an event that mothers should not have to experience.

Through it all, there is a growing awareness of the intertwining love and caring each of these women has for each other and the important role that the beauty shop has in their lives.  As M’Lynn states to the women at the play’s conclusion, “You have no idea how wonderful you are.” Truvy responds, “Of course we do.”

Not a male shows his face on stage, though many are discussed.  Husbands, some dead, some living, past and present lovers and suitors, beaus, and a fiancé are all open for investigating, skewering, appreciating and/or rejecting.

The Cleveland Play House and PlayhouseSquare, co-produced this mostly women-conceived show (director Laura Kepley, scenic designer Vicki Smith, costume designer Jen Caprio, lighting designer Jennifer Schriever and sound designer Jane Shaw).  They have created an audience-pleasing production. 

The concept of bringing the two-major production houses together, under the banner of a production as part of the Key Bank Broadway series, is unique.  Usually PlayhouseSquare trucks in successful Broadway touring shows as part of the series.  CPH tends to stage previously produced scripts, adding some locally written works, and hires nationally known, as well as local actors, to populate their shows. 

To blend the two entities together was a bold, but natural move, something made possible by the creative forces of Gina Vernaci, Executive Producer of PHSq and Laura Kepley, Artistic Director of CPH.  They were aided by the physical proximity of the organizations, being in the same downtown block of buildings.

It is obvious that Kepley knows and has a connection with Steel Magnolias.  She adds the right amounts of pathos and comedy to keep and hold the audience’s attention.  The pacing is right on…languid, as fits the Southern setting, while focused, to bring about the levels needed for texturing the tale.

The introduction of talented musician/singers Emily Casey and Maggie Lakis to set the mood before the show starts, and then bridge the various scenes together, added much to the overall effect.

The cast is universally excellent.  Each character is clearly drawn.  The drawls, though present, are not so overdone that they become caricatures.  There is no mocking of these women, their life styles or the way they speak.  This is authentic as shrimp and grits, hush puppies and helmet-sprayed hair.

Elizabeth Meadows Rouse presides with pride and effectiveness as Truvy, proprietor and den mother.  Devon Caraway gives Annelle the right levels of panic and religious fervor.  Erika Rolfsrud is completely believable as M’Lynn,  the caring mother who experiences high grief.  Beautiful Allison Layman doesn’t play Shelby, she is Shelby.  Mary Stout steals the show as the obstinate and opinionated Ouiser.  Charlotte Booker transforms herself into Clairee with ease and surety.

The set, lighting, music (Nathan Motta, the “guy” in the production team) and costumes all come together to make for a flawless staging.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  There was some complaining when it was announced that one of the offerings of the Key Bank Broadway series was going to be a local staging of a script that has been done by many community theatres. After seeing the CPH/PHSq production there should be little upset.  Steel Magnolias is a must see production that tells a life story with comedy and pathos!  Bravo!

Steel Magnolias has an extended run from May 21 to August 21, 2016 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Blank Canvas’s WILD PARTY, not a musical for everyone



THE WILD PARTY is a musical by Andrew Lippa, based on Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 narrative poem of the same name.

THE WILD PARTY is a musical by Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe based on the same poem.

Both versions of THE WILD PARTY opened during the 1999-2000 season, one on Broadway (the LaChiusa/Wolfe creation), the other off-Broadway (the Lippa conception).

The versions differ in format, but still contain the same story line of decadence, bathtub gin, uninhibited sexual behavior, and people who engender little reason to be liked.  The LaChiusa/Wolfe version is presented as a series of vaudeville acts.  Each segment is introduced by signs with titles of what each “act” will be performed.  The Lippa version is a more conventional theatrical story with a beginning, middle and end.

The Lippa version is now on stage at Blank Canvas.

The poem was a sensation.  It was considered so lascivious that it was banned in many places when it was published in 1928.  In spite of the shunning the poem was a success.  Ironically, the only success of March’s writing career.

The story centers on Queenie, a well known party giver and purveyor of bathtub gin and drugs, and her relationship with Burrs, a “clown” with a violent streak.  They live a decadent life style that March indicates was the way the “in” Hollywood crowd lived during the swinging 1920s, the era of prohibition, speakeasies, uninhibited sex, orgies, eccentricism, acceptance of various sexual life styles, and wild parties. 

During one of the parties, Mr. Black, a well-dressed, handsome, suave, seemingly wealthy man of impeccable manners appears.  Queenie falls hard for him, incites Burrs into a jealous rage, with a tragic outcome.

Broad characters fill the stage.  Besides Queenie (Trinidad Snider), Burrs (Patrick Ciamacco) and Mr. Black (Nathan Tolliver), there’s Kate (Neely Gevaart), Queenie’s supposed best friend who is having an affair with Burrs, Jackie  (Richie Gagen), an ambisextrous kid who has no gender preference for his sexual partners, Oscar (Justin Woody) and Phil (Kevin Kelly), gay brothers who are also lovers, Madelaine True (Kim Eskut), a lesbian stripper, and Eddie (Zac Hudak), a punch-drunk prizefighter.

According to the writer, the story is “about the masks we wear culturally and the removal of those masks over the course of the party [life].   Unfortunately, the characters illicit no reason to be liked.  They lead unproductive, rudderless lives, with seemingly no redemptive qualities.  They are self-centered to the degree that we really don’t care what happens to them.  There are no “good guys” to root for, no protagonists, only antagonists. 

The strength of the script lies in the jazz, soul and gospel music and the opportunity to incorporate some big dance and show-stopping numbers.   Unfortunately, due to the postage stamp size of the Blank Canvas stage, and the huge size of the cast, choreographer Katie Zarecki’s dance numbers often appear to be chaotic mash-ups.  Maybe sitting some of the cast down, and having fewer participate in the numbers, would have allowed for a better appreciation of the choreography.  Strong dancing was displayed in the show-stopping “Juggernaut” and “A Wild, Wild Party.”

Many of the cast have excellent singing voices.  Neely Gevaart, a Liza Minelli knock-off, does a great version of “Look at Me Now.”  She, along with Nathan Tolliver, Trinidad Snider and Patrick Ciamacco, blend well in “Poor Child.”  Ciamacco does a strong gospel/jazz version of “Let Me Drown.”  Kim Eskut effectively belted “An Old-Fashioned Love Story.” 

Many of the cast, as is often the case in a mainly neophyte group, feigns characterizations.  Acting what they think the person they are portraying would be, rather than being the person.  Actions are often fake, overdone, non-realistic.  To make the script work, the audience must buy into real people, in real ego-centric stress.

Patrick Ciamacco, he of well-tuned singing voice, created a Burr that was appropriately scary.  Nathan Tolliver is a fine vocalist, but in some instances pre-planned gestures and surface-level acting, distracted from his creating a real person out of Mr. Black.  Trinidad Snider was inconsistent in her vocal presentations, though she created a clear characterization as Queenie.

Personal Sidebar:  Hung on one of the walls of Burr’s apartment is a poster advertising one of his performances at “The Berko Theatre.”  Little does the set designer know that he has satisfied one of the few remaining items on my life’s bucket list, “having a theatre named after me.”  Thanks, Patrick! 

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  If watching decadence is your thing, you’ll probably be turned on by THE WILD PARTY.  If you prefer being in the presence of characters who have redeeming values so you can feel empathy, this is not going to be your show.  The cast, though some give surface level performances, generally display good singing voices and put out full effort.

Blank Canvas’s THE WILD PARTY runs though June 4, 2016 in its west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.  Get directions to the theatre on the website. Once you arrive at the site, go around the first building to find the entrance and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space.  For tickets and directions go to www.blankcanvasthetre.com

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Albee exorcises his demons in THREE TALL WOMEN at convergence continuum


Edward Albee’s THREE TALL WOMEN, a version of which is now on stage at convergence-continuum, has quite a pedigree.  In 1994 it won Best Play recognition from the Drama Critics Circle and the Outer Critics Circle, the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

THREE TALL WOMEN is classic Edward Albee.  The one-time wunderkind  of American existential theatre, his Theatre of the Absurd plays were the toast of the 1960s and 70s.  Besides asking, “why do we exist?,” and writing about the off-kilter ways that people operate, many of his personal topics and references were the center-point of his scripts.  He was at his best when he was exorcising his own demons.

Edward Albee was the adopted son of a wealthy movie/vaudeville theatre magnet.  What is now the Connor Palace, in Cleveland’s PlayhouseSquare, was one of his father’s film palaces.  Edward was raised with very conservative New England values.  When he came out to his parents as being gay, he was basically rejected. 

At eighteen, like the son in THREE TALL WOMEN, he left the Albee home, much in the same way that Beau does in the play, which has many of Edward’s  personal experiences chronicled in it. 

Albee is quoted as saying that the play “was a kind of exorcism.”  Unfortunately, he also admits, “I didn’t end up any more fond of the women after I finished it than when I started.”  Obviously, he wasn’t any fonder of his parents as a result of the exorcism, but it did put him back on track for recognition by the critics, many of whom had thought he had flamed out as his more recent plays were exercises in frustration, getting little praise.

The plot centers on the protagonist, a woman of more than 90-years-of-age, who reflects on her life.  A life that is filled with dealing with a mother who was controlling, of going off to the “city” and living with her sister, dating many men who desired her for being a tall attractive women, an explanation of her sexual pleasures, marrying a man for his money, and now living in a body which she has lost the ability to control.

She recalls the wonders of early marriage, her “penguin” husband’s affairs and death, and her banning and resulting estrangement from her son.

In the first act we meet A, the tall, thin, autocratic, wealthy old woman who appears to be in early stage-Alzheimer’s,  B, her mid-fifties caretaker,  and C, a younger woman, who has been sent in by the law firm hired to take care of A’s financial affairs.  A has not been paying bills, contends everyone is stealing from her, and is managing her estate in a state of psychological chaos. 

In the second act, as A lies inert, in bed, after suffering a stroke, we overhear a conversation with herself at three different ages.  The appearance of the shadow of the son, hovering over his dying mother, overlooks the interaction.

THREE TALL WOMEN premiered interestingly enough in Vienna, Austria in June, 1991.  It played off-Broadway for three months in 1994, then moved on-Broadway for a year-and-a-half run.

The script is a difficult one to produce.  Totally conversation, with will little stage movement or visual excitement, it requires three superb actress to grab and hold the audience’s attention.   It also requires a director who can create interest out of just a flow of words.

The con-con director (Tom Kondilas)  and cast give it a valiant try.  The end product is an acceptable, but not an exceptional staging. 

To make the play live the women must create finely textured performances that dig into each character’s motivations.  Of the three actresses, Lucy Bredeson-Smith creates the most consistent characterization as A.  Teresa McDonough (B) and Sarah Kunchik (C) are acceptable in their role development.

Beau Reinker (The Young Man), who is video recorded, and appears throughout the second act as a background image, hovering near or next to his comatose mother, becomes a distraction after a while.  The video loops the same actions and image, pausing at various points and then starting again.  Two other conundrums are the light and sound.  The illumination levels vary at times, with no seeming consistent purpose.  The background music adds nothing to setting mood or cue meaning.




Capsule Judgement:   For those who like the writing of Edward Albee, Theatre of the Absurd, and existentialism, this is an opportunity to experience one of his three Pulitzer Prize winning scripts.   They should be aware that the convergence continuum production of THREE TALL WOMEN is an acceptable, but not an exceptional staging of the work.


THREE TALL WOMEN runs through June 11, 2016, at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or go to http://www.convergence-continuum.org

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

GLT’s THE FANTASTICKS is a pleasant experience



THE FANTASTICKS, the Tom Jones (book and lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music) musical holds the honor of being “the only Off-Broadway show to have won a Tony.”  In addition, the show, which has been playing in New York for 56 years, is also the longest running theatrical production in American theater history.

“During its original run at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village, THE FANTASTICKS logged a record breaking 17,162 performances.”  In 2002 a New York revival opened at The Theater Center and continues to run.

The musical even has had a Cleveland connection.  In 1991, native Clevelander and Baldwin Wallace University grad Rex Nockengust, played one of the leading roles (Matt) in the New York production.

The memorable score includes such classics as, “Try to Remember,” “I Can See It,” “They Were You,” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain.”  The popularity of the music was obvious during a recent production of the show at Great Lakes Theater when audience members were heard humming along with the on-stage performers.

THE FANTASTICKS tells the story of a young man, Matt, and Luisa, the girl next door, whose fathers have built a wall to keep them apart. The youngsters nevertheless contrive to meet and fall in love. Their fathers, meanwhile, are congratulating themselves, for they have staged a feud in order to achieve, by negation, a marriage between their willfully disobedient children.  Add some comic actors (Henry and Mortimer) and The Mute, an omnipresent character who sets props and plays the wall, and you have the ingredients of a charming musical with a message about life.

The script asks the audience to use their imagination and try to remember such things as falling in love, enjoying a night filled with moonlight and romance, to understand disillusionment and romance, to realize that love can be false, and to gain the insight that through understanding the harshness of the world, individuals can come to understand themselves and each other.

GLT’s production, under the directorship of Victoria Bussert, is a pleasant evening of theater.   I wish that the “Round and Round” segment of the show, which develops Jones and Schmidt’s plea for self-understanding, had been more dramatically presented.  Part of the problem was the set design which placed the scene far from the apron of the stage and high above the audience, so that the tension was not evident.  The various segments need to shock Louisa more so that the intent of Matt’s suffering emotionally shakes her.

Clare Howes Eisentrout was charming as Louisa, the typical teenage girl, in love with love and chasing unrealistic dreams.  She has a lovely singing voice.  Her duets with Pedar Benson Bate (Matt) are nicely presented.  Especially endearing is “They Were You.”  Bate lacked some of the charm needed for Matt, but nicely  developed the basics of the character. 

Matt and Louisa’s fathers, (Hucklebee) Lynn Robert Berg and (Mortimer) Jeffrey C. Hawkins, delightfully sang and acted their roles and were properly klutzy in their dancing.   Their duets, “Never Say No” and “Plant a Radish” were endearing.

Jeffrey C. Hawkins stole the show as Mortimer.  His extended “dying” scenes were amusing.  Aled Davies was wonderfully pompous as Henry, the over-the-hill Shakespearean actor who couldn’t remember his lines, while over-doing their presentation.

Meredith Lark carried out the duties of the Mute with meaningful purposefulness.

Michael Padgett has a fine singing voice, but lacked the needed charisma and sexual presence to develop the sensual El Gallo.  His duet with Pedar Bate, “”I Can See It,” was well done.

Musical director Matthew Webb and Sara Smith proficiently played the piano score, but the sound system made the instrument sound shrill and pounding.

Capsule judgement:  THE FANTASTICKS is a charming show with a fine score which has a meaningful message.  It is a script which looks easy to direct and stage, but its depth is deceiving.  The Great Lakes Theater’s production should be well received by audiences.

THE FANTASTICKS runs through May 29, 2016 at the Hanna Theatre.  For tickets: 216-664-6064 or www.greatlakestheater.org

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

2016 Summer Cleveland Theater Calendar


Though it seems like it will never be here, there will be summer and the Cleveland theater scene will heat up.  Here’s a list of some of the offerings that are being staged. 

ACTOR’S SUMMIT
330-374-7568 or go to www.actorssummit.org
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sundays @ 2 PM

TINTYPES, May 19-June 19—The great American songbook comes to life in this musical review of popular songs from 1890 to 1917, including “Meet Me In St. Louis” and “Yankee Doodle Boy.”

BECK CENTER
216-521-2540 or http://www.beckcenter.org
8 p.m. evenings, 3 p.m. matinees

HEATHERS THE MUSICAL, May 27-July 2—Based on the 1989 film, it’s the musical tale of a teenage misfit who hustles her way into The Heathers, the most powerful clique in her high school, and falls in love with a dangerously sexy new kid.

BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL, July 8-August 14—Based on the 2000 Academy Award nominated film and the 2009 winner of 10 Tony Awards, it’s the story of a young boy in a depressed mining town in England, who discovers his extraordinary gift for ballet, and gets admitted to the prestigious Royal Ballet School.

BLANK CANVAS



440-941-0458 or www.blankcanvastheatre.com

THE WILD PARTY, May 20-June 4—A decadent musical filled with jazz blues, gospel and Tin Pan Alley, which remind us that no party lasts forever.

CAIN PARK
216-371-3000 or http://www.cainpark.com

THE TOXIC AVENGER, June 2-26—(Alma Theater)—Thursdays-Saturday @ 7, Sundays @ 2—A charming but toxic love story, with an environmental twist, which won the Award for Best Off-Broadway musical, about New Jersey’s first superhero (a seven-foot mutant freak with superhuman strength and a heart as big as Newark.

OPEN A NEW WINDOW:  THE SONGS OF JERRY HERMAN, July 21, 7 PM, presented by the Musical Theatre Project.

FOR GOOD:  THE NEW GENERATION OF MUSICALS, August 4, 2016, 7 PM, presented by the Musical Theatre Project.

CLEVELAND PUBLIC THEATRE


216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org

LINES IN THE DUST, June 2-18, 7 PM--Thu/Fri/Sat/Mon in the refurbished James Levin Theatre, is a new work centering on a mother who is determined to find a way for her teenage daughter to escape their impoverished inner city school and get the education she deserves.

CLEVELAND SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL

Free admission. 

KING RICHARD THE SECOND—presented at numerous settings, the adapted Shakespeare classic opens on June 17 at Peace Park, Coventry Park Neighborhood, Cleveland Heights.  For additional times and places go to http://www.cleveshakes.com

THE TEMPEST, an adapted version of the Shakespeare comedy, opens Friday July 22 at Peace Park and runs through August 7 at various locations.  For additional times and places go to http://www.cleveshakes.com

convergence continuum

convergence-continiuum.org or 216-687-0074
Thursday-Saturday @ 8

HARBOR, July 8-30, the story of two newlyweds, Kevin and Ted, living in tranquil affluent domesticity, until Kent’s vagabond, pothead sister and her 15-year-old daughter show up.

SELFIES AT THE CLOWN MOTEL, August 26-September 26, clowns can be funny, sad and sometimes scary, and in this world-premiere production, they can also be human.

OBERLIN SUMMER THEATRE FESTIVAL
Hall Auditorium, 67 N. Main Street, Oberlin
Free admission, reservations requested—440-775-8169
For details and dates go to  www.oberlinsummertheaterfestival.com

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, June 24-July 31—An aging brother and sister request an orphanage send a boy to help on theie farm.  A mix-up results and a romantic, hot-headed 11-year-old girl is sent.  The results are startling and charming.

MACBETH, July 1-30—A Shakespeare classic which chronicles the moral descent of a notable Scottish warrior driven by ambition.

INHERIT THE WIND, July 8-30—A gripping award-winning script by Cleveland Height’s native Jerome Lawrence and Elyria’s Robert Edwin Lee, that follows the events surrounding a young high-school teacher who is arrested for teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. 

OHIO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL

Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens (outdoor performances)
714 N. Portage Path, Akron

THE TEMPEST, Shakespeare’s magical comedy about a wizard and his daughter exiled onto an enchanted desert island filled with air spirits and mutant monsters.
July 1-17, for performance information go to: http://www.ohioshakespearefestival.com/

ROBIN HOOD:  AN ADVENTURE, WITH MUSIC, an original musical family show about Robin, Marian and the Merry Men.
July 21-24 for performance information go to: http://www.ohioshakespearefestival.com/

MACBETH, considered one of Shakespeare’s best tragedies, it tells the fictional story of a Scottish lord who might be king but the price he must pay is dreadful.  Filled with witches and war.
August 5-21, for performance information go to: http://www.ohioshakespearefestival.com/

PLAYHOUSESQUARE

216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org
See the website for specific dates and times

STEEL MAGNOLIAS, Allen Theatre, May 29-August 21, it’s the 1980s in Louisiana at Truvy’s Beauty Shop where “There is no such thing as natural beauty.”  A story of love, loss and enduring friendship produced by the Cleveland Play House as part of the Key Bank Broadway Series.

PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, June 15-July 10, the return of the longest running Broadway musical in a new production featuring reconceived special effects, scenery and lighting designs, but the same marvelous story and musical score.

KINKY BOOTS, August 23-28, winner of six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, it’s the inspirational story of a struggling shoe factory owner, who, with the help of the fabulous Lola, changes the world of shoes and lives of many.  Music by Cyndi Lauper.

TAKE A HIKE TOURS, FREE--every Thursday at 6 PM, from May 19-September 15,  90-minute walking tours of the Playhouse Square District, with actors portraying important historic Clevelanders from the neighborhood.

Broadway Buzz—One-hour before each major Broadway touring show, host Joe Garry gives the inside scoop about each show in the Idea Center @ Playhouse Square (1375 Euclid).  Free admission.  For the complete schedule go to  http://www.playhousesquare.org

PORTHOUSE

http://www.porthousetheatre.com or 330-929-4416 or 330-672-3884

SISTER ACT, June 16-July 2—When nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier witnesses a murder, she ends up in protective custody, posing as a nun!  What follows is a musical delight!

RING OF FIRE, July 7-23—The music legend Johnny Cash comes to life in this Jukebox musical that weaves a story of some of America’s best know songs.

FOOTLOOSE, July 28-August 14—Based on the hit movie with Kevin Bacon, finds high school student Ren moving from Chicago to a rural town.  That place will never be the same!

THE MUSICAL THEATER PROJECT
 (productions staged in review format with narration)
see:  CAIN PARK listing

Monday, May 16, 2016

The bright lights of Broadway as seen by a Cleveland reviewer



Several times a year I go to review what’s on stage on Broadway.  This spring, right at the time the Tony Award nominations were being announced, I had the chance to see some excellent offerings. 

Of course, seeing local talent on stages on the Big White Way adds to the excitement.   During the last season about twenty Baldwin Wallace University grads, which recently was named as the second best musical theatre program in the country, were appearing in the Big Apple.  The shows I saw included Anthony Sagarha in AMERICAN PSYCHO and Cassie Okenka in SCHOOL OF ROCK.  Not to be outdone, Kent State grad Alice Ripley was in AMERICAN PSYCHO.

Here are capsule judgments of four new shows.  To read the whole review of each, go to http://www.royberkinfo.blogspot.com/, scroll down to find the individual columns.





What:  SCHOOL OF ROCK
Where:  Winter Garden, 1634 Broadway
When:  Open run

Capsule judgment:  SCHOOL OF ROCK is a fun-filled show with a nice moral.  The music rocks.  The cast entertains.  It’s the kind of show that audiences love, will do well as it tours the country, and should have a long Broadway life!






What:  AMERICAN PSYCHO, the musical
Where:  Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street
When:  Open run

Capsule judgment:  AMERICAN PSYCHO the musical, like the book and film, will incite waves of avid fans, as well as naysayers.  It’s going to get standing ovations and intermission walk-outs.  Whatever the attitude, it’s clear that Benjamin Walker’s portrayal of Bateman is top notch, the rocking score is enervating, and the multiple hard bodies on the stage are works of art in their own way. And, the question stands…is what goes on on the stage, fact or fiction, allegory or reality?  Is it a statement on America or just an excuse for gore and fun?






What:  THE FATHER
Where:  Manhattan Theatre Club, Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
    261 W. 47th Street
When:  Through June 11, 2016

Capsule judgment:  Florian Zeller’s THE FATHER is a compelling and heart-breaking script that exposes two sides of the mental aging and deterioration process.  The production is exceptionally well-conceived and performed.  In spite of humorous interludes, some may find the play almost too emotionally charged.  That being said, the production is a must see for anyone, as sooner or later they may well be the caretaker of an André, or an André, themselves.








What:  TUCK EVERLASTING, the musical
Where:  Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street
When:  Open run

Capsule judgment:  TUCK EVERYLASTING is a fable of Americana that may be too gentle for New York critics and audiences, but should be a major hit with the family-oriented audiences that make up the Broadway series tours in the hinterlands.  This is a well-conceived production, with hummable folk music, and a charming tale.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Broadway’s SCHOOL OF ROCK is a fun-filled rocking show with a moral!


What happens when a musical film earns over $131-million on a $35-million dollar investment?  If you are Andrew Lloyd Webber, you buy the rights and turn it into the Broadway musical SCHOOL OF ROCK with lyrics by Glenn Slater and book by Julian Fellowes.  Yes, the same Julian Fellows, Baron Fellowes of West Stafford, to be exact, who wrote, created and produced the television mega-hit “Downton Abbey.”

What happens when you take a dynamic, totally uninhibited actor who uses the stage as his playroom, add a bunch of adorably geeky fifth-graders who are singing, dancing and musical instrument playing phenoms, and add to the mix the rock musical sounds of Andrew Lloyd Webber?  The combination becomes SCHOOL OF ROCK.

In contrast to his usual scheme of things, Britain’s Webber opened the show in New York rather than in London.  Why?  Child labor laws are more relaxed in the United States than in England.  In addition, the subject matter better fit Broadway than London’s West End.  But, most importantly, the American schools “produce the sort of kids required to actually perform the show.” 

The task of finding the 13 kids and their understudies and standbys was daunting.  The search for the nine-to-fifteen year olds, started in January, 2015, eleven months before the show opened on Broadway.  Recruitment took place at the various School of Rock after-school educational programs which sprung up after the film’s success.  Open calls were also held in New York, as well as Chicago and Los Angeles.  The result is a dynamic and talented stage full of awesome child performers.

So, what’s it all about?  As was the film, the plot centers on rock singer/guitarist Dewey Finn. There is, however, a lot more emphasis on the kids and their parents, than in the film, which was basically a vehicle for comedian Jack Black.

The musical starts with a performance by the No Vacancy band.  Finn, who has an ADD-type personality, has difficulty pulling back his exuberance and keeps upstaging the lead performer.  Enough is enough, and he is kicked out of the group.

With no income, he moves in with and mooches off Ned, his long-time easily manipulated college band buddy, and part-time teacher, much to the irritation of Patty, Ned’s domineering girl friend. 

When a call comes for Ned to substitute at Horace Green, a prestigious prep school, Dewey sees a chance for some much needed money by posing as Ned. Despite the doubts of Rosalie, the uptight principal, he gets the gig.

The kids are wary of him, especially the uber-organized, brainiac Summer.  He also has to confront the problems of Tomika, the extremely shy daughter of gay men, who turns out to be a superstar singer; Zack, the son of an uptight businessman who doesn’t realize his son is a musical prodigy; Lawrence, who has no confidence, but is a keyboard wizard; Freddy, who everyone thinks is intellectually slow, but once he gets a pair of drum sticks in his hand, he shows how talented he really is; Billy, who is flamboyant, has an interest in fashion design, but is not appreciated by his macho father.  Each of the other kids has untapped talent which the creative Dewey brings out through non-traditional means.

Dewey decides to enter them in the Battle of the Bands.  They get to the tryouts after sneaking out of school, but they are too late to play.  Summer tells the casting director that all the children have “stickittothemanis,” pleads for some mercy, and the heartbroken manager lets the kids perform.  Of course, they get into the competition.

What follows is a series of manipulations, implausible coincidences, and some out and out stretching of dramatic license.  The result?  Farce and hysteria run wild and the audience has one heck of a good time.

Do they win the Battle of the Bands?  That’s not important.  What is significant, is that Dewey and the kids find love and self-respect.

The musical score, though it includes iconic songs from the film, adds many well-crafted additional theatrical melodies.  Among the show stoppers are, “You’re in the Band,” “Stick it to the Man,” “In the End of Time,” “Math is a Wonderful Time,” and “School of Rock.”  Throw in “If Only You Would Listen” and “Time to Play,” and you have the makings of a great score.

The cast is excellent.  Among the adults, Alex Brightman lights up the stage each time he opens his mouth or jumps, slides or leaps.  His uninhibited, tender-at-times performance, is wonderful.  Sierra Boggess is properly uptight as Principal Mullins.  Spencer Moses nicely creates an awkward, hen-pecked Ned, yearning to put on skin-tight banger-leather pants and let loose.  

Cleveland area alert:  Baldwin Wallace University grad, Cassie Okenka is in the adult ensemble and understudies the role of Patty, Ned’s bad-tempered girl friend.

All of the kids are excellent, with special bows to Isabella Russo (Summer), Raghav Mehrotra (Freddy), a stand-in at the performance I saw, and Luca Padovan (Billy).  Bobbi Mackenzie’s belting rendition of “Amazing Grace” stopped the show.

Director Laurence Connor has molded together a cast of kids and adults, created the right attitude for the farcical staging, and hit the right emotional notes. 

JoAnn M. Hunter’s choreography is creative.  Ethan Popp’s music supervision, incorporating the kids on-stage musical performances with the pit orchestra, was well done.

Capsule judgment:  SCHOOL OF ROCK is a fun-filled show with a nice moral base.  The music rocks.  The cast entertains.  It’s the kind of show that audiences love, will do well as it tours the country, and should have a long Broadway life!
What:  SCHOOL OF ROCK
Where:  Winter Garden, 1634 Broadway
When:  Open run

AMERICAN PSYCHO, a statement about present day America or an excuse for gore and fun?


As the lights come up on AMERICAN PSYCHO, THE MUSICAL, standing center stage is Benjamin Walker, who introduces himself as Patrick Bateman. The time is the late 1980s, during the Wall Street boom. 

Walker, stands in a pair of tightie-whities, his zero-fat, sculpted body on display.  (To the pleasure of many, the exposure will continue through much of the show.)

Bateman explains that he can do 1000 stomach crunches, uses deep pore cleanser lotion, water activated shower gel, honey almond scrub and an exfoliating gel scrub, and never uses alcohol on his face as it dries it out.  He finishes his daily personal routine with a moisturizer and an anti-aging eye balm. 

Yes, this is Patrick Bateman, wealthy New York banker, whose life centers on high fashioned suits. (We are advised in a full-page ad in the show’s “Playbill”  that Walker’s are by MR PORTER, “the men’s style destination.” Ditto for all the male cast’s wardrobes.) 

Also important for Bateman is being able to get a reservation at the “in” restaurant.  He has to have the perfect business card and gets upset when a co-worker’s card is “better” than his (e.g., the cards of Paul Allen.  But, more of him later). 

He has an eye candy, wealthy fiancé whom he dislikes, but who fulfills the requirement of being the desirable image he requires. 

His luxury apartment has all the “right” furniture, art and accessories. 

Bateman is “blood, flesh, skin, hair, but has not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust.” 

He also is a man with  inexplicable needs, including a nightly bloodlust.  He’s a psycho, an American psycho.  Or, is he???

Bateman lures people, such as Paul Allen, to his apartment, downs a clear high-end plastic raincoat, and proceeds to decapitate Allen with an ax, produced by the “best” tool company.  Or, did he use an electric sword?  So many instruments of destruction are used to kill off prostitutes and errant others that, after a while, who can remember.

Oh, back to Paul Allen.  Bateman disposes of his body, goes to Paul’s apartment to stage a plausible exit scenario including recording a message on the answering machine (a machine of the highest quality, of course) indicating that the occupant has gone off to London.

After killing off his prey, while partying, Bateman, an espoused social liberal, raves that apartheid needs to end, that there needs to be a slowing down of the nuclear arms race, that terrorism has to stop, and world hunger must be eradicated.  Food and shelter must be provided for the homeless, racial discrimination needs to be ended and civil rights must be promoted, as well as gay rights and women’s equality.  And, of course, there must be promotion of general social concern and less materialism in young people.  Yes, less materialism.  All said with a straight face.  (Oh, come on now.)

Bateman explains that “there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our life styles are probably comparable:  I simply am not here.”

Bateman, in confessing his “crimes” to a detective in a recorded phone message, states, “All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference toward it, I have now surpassed. I still, though, hold on to one single bleak truth: no one is safe, nothing is redeemed. Yet I am blameless. Each model of human behavior must be assumed to have some validity. Is evil something you are? Or is it something you do?”

The bottom line in this gory, yet illuminating musical, is whether Bateman, and his Wall Street ilk are an illusion, a delusion, an allegory, a fable, a metaphor, or a true story.  The writer doesn’t give an answer.  He only presents the tale.  He leaves it up to the audience to decide whether the horror is real, a figment of our imaginations, or a series of symbols of the decadence and value system of the American world in which we find ourselves.

The beating hard rock musical score is filled with symbolic songs such as, “Selling Out,” “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “You Are What You Wear,” “True Faith,” “Hardbody,” “Hip to be Square,” “This Is Not an Exit.”

Benjamin Walker is the stereotype of the tall, dark, handsome, perfectly coiffed Broadway leading man.  He has a strong singing voice, moves with ease, and acts very convincingly.  He is spooky in his Bateman creation!

Kent State University graduate, Alice Ripley, portrays three roles…Svetlana, Mrs. Bateman and Mrs. Wolfe, but the very talented Tony Winner for NEXT TO NORMAL, is basically wasted in the roles.

Also in the cast is Anthony Sagarha, a graduate of Baldwin Wallace University’s Musical Theatre program which was recently recognized as the number two program of its kind in the country.

The cast, which appears to have been picked at tryouts at the New York Athletic Club, all have four-pack abs, some 6- or 8-packs, and surprisingly, can all perform with high level proficiency.  This is probably the most studly assembly of talented singers, dancers and actors ever brought together on a Broadway stage. 

Es Devlin’s ultra-modern scenic design is attitude correct and deserves kudos for the creative way it protects the audience from blood spatters during Bateman’s attack-mode escapades.  Finn Ross’s projections help add to the visual horror.

AMERICAN PSYCHO the musical originally opened in London in 2013, with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik and book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, based on Bret Easton Ellis’s controversial 1991 novel of the same name.  A 2000 cult film devised from the book starred Christian Bale.

Capsule judgment:  AMERICAN PSYCHO the musical, like the book and film, will incite waves of avid fans, as well as naysayers.  It’s going to get standing ovations and intermission walk-outs.  Whatever the attitude, it’s clear that Benjamin Walker’s portrayal of Bateman is top notch, the rocking score is enervating, and the multiple hard bodies on the stage are works of art in their own way. And, the question stands…is what goes on on the stage, fact or fiction, allegory or reality?  Is it a statement on America or just an excuse for gore and fun?
What:  AMERICAN PSYCHO, the musical
Where:  Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street
Run:  Open

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