Monday, December 05, 2016

Natalie Weiss will perform at Music Box concert and teach in a Cleveland Music Theatre intensive education program




Cleveland Music Theatre (CMT), the brainchild of native Clevelanders Miles Sternfeld and SeanPatrick, was created to provide exceptional education for the Cleveland community and beyond through reimagined, innovative musical theater productions and workshops. Broadway, national, and local artists collaborate to create a dynamic synergy, fostering successful professional careersand development in the theatre. The organization has presented the critically praised shows The Who’s Tommy (2013) and Aida, in July (2015). 

To date, CMT’s major thrust has been to present well-attended intensive training by providing opportunities for local students to explore the realities of what it means to be a modern working theater professional.  The intensive classes are taught by working Broadway professionals, national and local artists, including Tony Award winners, and cover every aspect of the business including the role of the performer, casting directors, agents, directors, music directors, choreographers, conductors, producers, and composers.

Intensive presenters have included Alice Ripley (Tony Award winner for Next to Normal), Shoshana Bean (Broadway:  Wicked and Hairspray), Christina DeCicco (Broadway:  Evita, Sister Act), Paige Faure (Broadway, Cinderella), Morgan James (Broadway:  Godspell, Wonderland, Motown), John Leggio (Broadway:  Cats, My Fair Lady, Showboat), Kathleen Marshall (Three-time Tony Winning Director/Choreographer), Patina Miller (Tony Award winner for Pippin), and Jared Zirilli (Broadway:  Lysistrata Jones, Wicked).

Local theatre professional instructors have included:  Victoria Bussert (Director of Musical Theatre, Baldwin Wallace University), Martín Céspedes (award winning choreographer), Jacqui Loewy (Director of Theatre, Notre Dame College), Fabio Polanco, (Professor of Acting, Kent State University), and Brian Zoldessy (Cleveland Critic Circle and Times Theatre Tributes award-winning actor).

CMT’s next offering will find Broadway performer, Natalie Weiss, doing double duty, teaching in the Cleveland Musical Theatre’s “Pop/Rock Intensive,” as well as starring in the organization’s Music Box Supper Club concert.   The venue is located at 1148 Main Avenue, on the West Bank of the flats.

Weiss, who graduated from Pennsylvania State University, was a season 4 semi-finalist on “American Idol,” was the understudy for Elphaba in Wicked, and spent two-and-a-half-years with Les Miserables.  She was also an understudy in Sherie Rene Scott’s Everyday Rapture.  Her videos, “A New World” and “Spark of Creation,” preceded her breakaway YouTube hit “Breaking Down the Riffs.”   She is noted for her impressions of Celine Dion and Britney Spears.  For more information on Weiss go to http://www.natalieweiss.net/

CMT alums Christina Ciofani, Dani Apple and Grace Hunt will also appear on December 18 at the 7:30 concert. 

The “Pop/Rock Musical Theatre Intensive” runs from December 16-18, 2016 at Cuyahoga Community College-East.  It will not only have Weiss on the faculty, but also features Martin Céspedes (choreographer) and Rob Kovacs (composer and music director).  The curriculum will include breaking down riffs, singing coaching, teaching auditioning techniques, and demonstrating original Broadway choreography.  Participants will also sing live in Natalie’s concert.

For information for both the intensive and the concert go to http://www.clevelandmusicaltheatre.org

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Delightful THE LITTLE MERMAID @ Beck Center



One of the difficulties of doing the Disney Theatrical, The Little Mermaid, is how to do the underwater scenes.  Yes, much of the story of Ariel, the daughter of King Triton, the master of the sea, in her search for “a world in which I feel truly realized in my own terms,” takes place, as the songs states, “Under the Sea,” in contrast to “The World Above.”  

Beck Center, with the aid of Projection Designer, Adam Zeck, from the University of Cincinnati, and a very expensive new projection system, solved the water problem by adding water motion, fish, underwater plant images, and a realistic storm.  The addition of undulating gossamer cloth, which created waves, added to the visual imagery. 

Scott Spence and his design team did everything except reverting to the Broadway use of “merblades,” wheeled footwear to allow the mermaids and fish to “float” across the stage, to making the whole fantasy aspect of the show work well. 

Then, Spence cast a wonderful blend of professional and amateur actors and singers, and turned the movement and dance over to award winning choreographer Martin Céspedes, to complete the visual and aesthetic delight.

The Little Mermaid is based on the 1989 Disney film of the same name, which brought to the big screen Hans Christian Anderson’s tale of a mermaid who dreams of wanting to be her true self.  In contrast to many Disney heroines, Ariel’s desire goes beyond finding Prince Charming, though, as is the case in most fairy tales, she does find and marry a Prince. 

The script made its Broadway debut in January of 2008 and ran 685 performances and fifty previews.   The Beck show is an interpretation developed in 2012 which strongly stresses that Ariel’s ambitions are bigger than the search for a man to complete her, moving Disney into the more modern era.

As the tale starts, Ariel (Kathleen Rooney), her side-kick, Flounder (J. R. Heckman), her sisters, the fish and crustations of the sea, frolic through the “Overture” and “The World Above.”  Meanwhile, Prince Eric (Shane Patrick O’Neill) and his adviser, Grimsby (Brian Pedaci) are aboard a ship at sea and discuss in the song, “Fathoms Below,” the mythical merfolk who live under the sea. 

Much to the delight of King Triton (Darryl Lewis), the court composer, Sebastian (Wesley Allen), a fuss-budgeting crab, has the Mersisters, Triton’s daughters, minus the always daydreaming Ariel, sing “Daughter of Triton.”

Eric, aboard ship, hears a lovely voice, is immediately captivated by the sound, thus laying the groundwork for his eventual pursuit for the source of the music.  It, of course, is Ariel.

A storm, Eric being saved by his yet unrecognized lady love, Ariel, who is fascinated by the “real” world, the plotting by Ursula to play revenge on Triton for taking away her “deserved” inheritance as the equal controller of the seas, the conflict between King Triton and Ariel for her breaking the rule against contact between merfolk and the human world, a deal between Ariel and Ursula in which the young beauty exchanges her singing voice for legs to replace her mermaid tail thus becoming a human, Ariel and Eric spending time together, (spoiler alert!) a conflict between Ariel, Triton and Ursula in which the magic seashell is broken and the bad aunt is destroyed, Eric proposing marriage, the declaration of peace between humans and the merfolk, and, as in all good fairy tales, the royal joining in marriage of Ariel and Eric takes place. 

The stage version, much to the frustration of some of the little ‘uns in the audience, one of whom was heard whining, “That’s not the way it was in the movie!” makes some changes from the film.  The main alterations include that an initial shark chase was dropped, more emphasis on the conflict between King Triton and his exiled sister, Ursula, and Ursula’s spying on Ariel, instead of being via the magic seashell, is done by her henchmen, Flotsam and Jetsam.  In a  major change, Ursula’s ultimate destruction, thus freeing Ariel from a nasty spell, is completed when the magic seashell is destroyed.  It was the latter that elicited the whine from the chiffon dressed little stickler for the movie’s version of happenings.

The Beck production is well conceived, creative and a delight for young and old.  The staging is magical, the visual elements far above anything done on local theatre stages due to the encompassing electronic visuals.  Martin Céspedes has outdone himself with creative, stimulating choreography which covers calypso, ballroom, soft-shoe, line dancing, and some balletic moments.





The cast is point-on.  Lovely Kathleen Rooney, a hometown girl and Baldwin Wallace Musical Theatre grad, was born to play a Disney heroine, which she has done on professional stages.  She has a lovely presence, a well-trained singing voice, and acts and dances with complete believability.

Sean Patrick O’Neil makes for a charming Prince Eric.  Well known for his many appearances in Musical Theatre Project concerts, he has a strong voice well displayed in “Her Voice” and “One Step Closer.”

Natalie Blalock knows how to play bad, and her Ursula is bad to the core.  Her version of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” made her an enemy of everyone in the audience.  Even in the curtain call she was growling at the audience, scaring the little kids in the first couple of rows into utter panic.

Darryl Lewis, he of huge voice and physical presence, was King Triton right-on.  Zachary Vedermann (Scuttle), Wesley Allen (Sebastian) and Robert Pierce (Chef Louis) delighted the audience.





J. R. Heckman, winner of the 2016 Playhouse Square’s Dazzle Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance of Donkey in Solon High School’s Shrek the Musical, is an especially talented young performer who sings, dances and acts with total competence.  His Flounder was absolutely charming.  Watch for this kid’s name in Broadway lights.

Alan Menken’s music was lushly played by Larry Goodpaster and his large orchestra.

Douglas Puskas is not only an excellent scenic designer, who created a set for this complicated musical, but must be a master logo practitioner.  The Beck stage has no backstage, wing space or fly gallery.  How he managed to fit and figure out how to move the stage pieces in place with ease and proficiency is impressive.

Jeff Herrmann’s lighting added many specially needed effects and, for the first time in many a musical, the sound system, this time designed by Carlton Guc, actually made the performance audible, with no squeaks, squeals or dead spots. 

The costumes, provided by Music Theatre Wichita, were outstanding.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  The Little Mermaid is a total delight and absolutely a  must see for anyone who likes well-performed and conceived fantasy musicals.   What a wonderful evening of theater for audiences of all ages.

THE LITTLE MERMAID is scheduled to run through December 31, 2016 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to http://www.beckcenter.org

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Cleveland Orchestra sublime, The Nutcracker uninspired



When the Cleveland Ballet left this area for San Jose, California, in 2000, it is rumored that the organization was over one-million dollars in debt.  Lots of fingers were pointed as to why the deficit existed, but one thing is for sure, there will always be, it the minds of those who saw it, one lasting legacy of Dennis Nahat and his reign as the company’s Artistic Director.  From its 1979 debut, when it sold out every night of its two-week run, until its escape to the west coast, Nahat’s THE NUTCRACKER reigned supreme.

Since that departure, many venues have attempted to fill the void by bringing in alternate companies to perform Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s THE NUTCRACKER, based on E. T. A. Hoffman’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.”  Dance groups from Russia, Canada and varying parts of the U. S. have come here to dance the wonders of The Snowflakes, and the exploits of The Sugarplum Fairy, Marie, and The Nutcracker. 

Unfortunately, and the present production staged by the Pennsylvania Ballet included, none have been able to duplicate the sheer joy of watching the then “wunderkinds,” Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriguez, dance Marie and The Nutcracker.  No one has entranced and delighted a “Nutcracker” audience as Nahat, himself, performing Herr Drosselmeier, complete with magic tricks and giving the gift of the nutcracker to our heroine.

Nahat’s opulent production told the story as a dream-come-true.  It had a clear beginning, middle and end.  It had visual beauty, real dancing, not just dancers walking around and falling into poses.  The second act pas de deux was breathtaking, filled with high twists and leaps, marvelous toe work, there was an exciting battle between the rats and the wooden soldiers, and delightful interludes.  The dances of the nations were filled with country-specific choreography.   The costumes, the growing Christmas tree, the falling snow, the scenery, all of which was a major part of the cause of the Ballet’s deficit, may have broken the financial back of the organization, but it delighted the eye and made the soul soar.

One thing Nahat’s version didn’t have was the Cleveland Orchestra, under the direction of Brett Mitchell, playing Tchaikovsky’s glorious, pulse-increasing music.  The Pennsylvania Ballet was blessed with the sound of the world-class musicians, normally housed in Severance Hall or taking much-praised journeys to Miami Beach and Europe.  Nahat also didn’t have the angelic voices of the Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Chorus, to create the vocal segments of the score.  Yes, the musical segments of the evening were sublime, gorgeous.

George Balanchine’s choreography of THE NUTCRACKER, the version presented by the Pennsylvania Ballet, lacks the panache and storytelling of the Nahat version.  The tale has no clear beginning, middle and end.  Much to the delight of the many parents and grandparents in the audience, the stage is filled with many children, in this case, “Children Supernumeraries,” who came from across Northeast Ohio to audition, rehearse and appear in the production.   Many appeared to be quite talented in walking around the stage, dancing a little, and staying in character.  The few Pennsylvania Ballet’s company members were quite competent, but none were truly outstanding. 

In this version of the tale, Marie doesn’t dance, and The Nutcracker/Little Prince has one segment where he re-explains the Rat-Wooden Soldiers battle, in over-wrought pantomime. 

Capsule judgment:  Those who hadn’t seen the Nahat choreography of The Nutcracker should be perfectly happy with the Pennsylvania Ballet version, as evidenced by the reluctant, but eventual standing ovation of many in the very crowded theatre.  It is worth going to hear the Cleveland Orchestra play the score, take in the familiar tale, or what there is of it, and be thankful that there is, at least, an attempt to bring this, the greatest holiday ballet in the lexicon of the Western world, to a PlayhouseSquare stage.
 UPCOMING DANCE CLEVELAND CONCERTS
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Ohio Dance Theatre and Verb Ballets
The Nutcracker, December 16-18, 2016 at the Stocker Arts Center on the campus of Lorain County Community College 1005 N. Abbe Road, Elyria, OH
Tickets:  440-366-4040 or verballets.org
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Dance Theatre of Harlem, January 21, 2017--3 and 7:30 PM at Ohio Theatre

Jessica Lange Dance, March 4, 2017—7:30 PM at Ohio Theatre

Ballet Biarritz presents Cinderella—April 1, 2017 @ 7:30 PM and April 2, 2017 @ 3 PM at Ohio Theatre

Tickets:  216-991-9000 or dancecleveland.org
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CLEVELAND BALLET

On January 27, 2017, A Celebration of Dance and Music returns to the Hanna Theatre.  The program, a remounting of the company’s October 11, 2016 successful program, includes original dances choreographed by Artistic Director Gladisa Guadalupe and Ramon Thielen.
Tickets:  playhousesquare.org

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

2017 Winter/Spring Cleveland Theater Calendar



Here’s a list of some of the offerings of local theatres through the winter and spring seasons (January-May).  SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL THEATRES!

You can track my reviews on http://www.royberko.info/, or contact me to get on my direct review list.  You can see a synopsis of the local reviewers’ comments about the plays at http://www.clevelandtheaterreviews.com/

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

BRING IT ON THE MUSICAL—February 10-26, 2017
This movie-based musical examines the complexities of friendship and what it takes to win a national championship in cheerleading.

THE DRESSER—March 3-April 9, 2017
Tom Fulton and Andrew May star in a heartbreaking story of a ragtag Shakespearean company touring Britain and their fading “leading man” who suddenly realizes he can’t think of his first line.

BLANK CANVAS
  

440-941-0458 or http://www.blankcanvastheatre.com

TBA

CESEAR’S FORUM
216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org

TBA

CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE
  
216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com
7:30 Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 Saturday and Sunday

KEN LUDWIG’S BASKERVILLE--January 21-February 12, 2017
Five actors play nearly 50 roles in this comic transformation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes classic mystery.

HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE—March 4-26, 2017
Pulitzer Prize winner follows Li’l Big as she takes a no-holds-barred trip back in time to her adolescence in 1960s Maryland and her relationship with an older man.

BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY—April 1-23, 2017
A darkly comic tale of truth, family and pride finds an ex-cop risking his family’s apartment because of a racially charged lawsuit.

FREAKY FRIDAY—April 15-May 14, 2017
A transformation of an American cult classic into a contemporary musical based on a mother and daughter swapping bodies for a day.

CLEVELAND PUBLIC THEATRE

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

I CALL MY BROTHERS—February 9-March 4 (7:00 PM)
A car.  An explosion.  A city is paralyzed with fear.  A 24-hour journey inside a young man’s head.

BARBECUE—February 16-March 11, 2017 (7:30 PM)
An open-air intervention becomes raucous and unpredictable as familial stereotypes collide with realities and racial politics.

TEATRO PUBLICO DE CLEVELAND—March, 2017
Details TBA

STATION HOPE—April 29 (5:30 PM)
200 artists from across Northeast Ohio inhabit historic St. John’s Episcopal Church to celebrate hope and address many of the important issues of our time.  FREE

RED ASH MOSAIC—May 25-June 17, 2017 (7:30 PM)
An experiment in theatrical form with interwoven and contradictory narrative threads, powerful physical action, chanting and poetic texts.

convergence continuum

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

TBA

DOBAMA
 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org
check the theatre’s blog for performance times

THE NIGHT ALIVE—January 20-February 12, 2017
In Dublin, Tommy defends a destitute woman against a violent attack, and a fragile glimmer of hope appears for him.

THE FLICK—March 3-26, 2017
In a run-down movie theatre in central Massachusetts, three underpaid employees attend to one of the last 35-millimeter film projectors in the state.   2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

HAND TO GOD—April 21-May 21, 2017
Best play Tony winner is a comedy that teaches that the urges that drive a person to give in to their darkest desires can fit like a glove.

ENSEMBLE THEATRE

  216-321-2930 or http://www.ensemble-theatre.com
Fridays and Saturdays @ 8, Sundays @ 2

THE PHANTOM TOLL BOOTH—JANUARY 13-22, 2017 (Friday and Saturdays @ 7, Saturdays @3, Sundays @2
A tale of Milo’s adventures in the Land of Wisdom force him to think about many new things.

RADIO GOLF! — February 3-26, 2017 (Fridays and Saturdays @ 8, Sundays @ 2)
August Wilson’s final installment on his ten-play Pittsburgh cycle.  Set in 1990s, it’s the story of a successful entrepreneur who aspires to become the city’s first black mayor.

THIS IS OUR YOUTH—February 9-19, 2017 (Fridays and Saturdays @ 8, Sundays @ 2)
Follows forty-eight hours in the lives of three very lost young souls at the dawn of the Reagan Era.

OCCUPATION DAD—March 17-April 2 (Fridays and Saturdays @ 8, Sundays @ 2)
Jason’s kid won’t walk.  His mother won’t help.  His older brother’s a jerk-off.  His sister’s kids are already perfect.  The Playground moms are psychotic.  Everything is just hunky-dory.

THE NORTH POOL—April 28-May 21, 2017 (Fridays and Saturdays @ 8, Sundays @ 2)
A psychological thriller in which a high-school vice principal and a Middle Eastern-born transfer student engage in a politically and emotionally charged game of cat and mouse, with dangerous consequences.

GREAT LAKES THEATER
  http://www.greatlakestheater.org or 216-241-6000
Wednesday-Saturday @ 7:30, Saturdays @ 1:30, Sundays @ 3

WAIT UNTIL DARK—February 17-March 12, 2017
A 1960s Greenwich Village apartment is the scene for a deadly game of cat and mouse when con-men terrorize an unsuspecting blind women.  What you can’t see can hurt you!

HAMLET—March 31-April 15, 2017
The world’s most famous tragedy!

FOREVER PLAID—May 5-21, 2017
A pitch-perfect jukebox musical with pop hits of the 1950s, directed by Victoria Bussert.

INTERPLAY JEWISH THEATRE
  interplayjewishtheatre@gmail.com or 216-393-PLAY
(Play readings at Dobama are free, but reservations are required.  Presentations at the Maltz Museum are fee based)

TBA

KARAMU HOUSE  216-795-707) or www.karamuhouse.org
(Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday)

REPAIRING A NATION—February 9-26, 2017
It's 2001 and the Davis family gathers for a typical holiday celebration in their native Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Things go awry when Lois insists the family join a lawsuit seeking reparations for the Tulsa Race Riots that devastated the family 80 years ago.

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU—April 20-May 7, 2017
The 1937 Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama centering on Grandpa, an eccentric old man who has never paid his income taxes.  Family members and assorted guests write sex-filled melodramas, make candy delivered with subversive notices, paint pictures of nudes, make fireworks in the basement which explode.  The FBI invades and chaos runs wild.

LAKELAND CIVIC THEATRE
  440-525-7134 or http://lakelandcc.edu/academic/arts/theatre/index.asp

BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (the musical) -- February 3-5, 10-12 and 17-19, 2017
Based on the book of the same name, BMC centers on Francesca Johnson, an Italian war bride living in Winterset, Iowa, in 1965, who has had an unfulfilling farm life. One day Robert Kincaid, a photographer comes to photograph the famous covered bridges of Madison County, stops to ask directions, and Francesca’s life changes.  (My Broadway review:  http://royberkinfo.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-briddges-of-madison-county-well.html

NEAR WEST THEATRE   216-961-6391 or nearwestheatre.org
THE WIZ—February 10-19, 2017
(Youth Cast, ages 9-15)
Infuses THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ with a mix of rock, gospel and soul music to create a funky sing along journey down the yellow brick road.

RISE! — MARCH 4, 2017 (6:30-10:30 PM)
(INTERGENERATIONAL CAST, AGES 7+)
Annual benefit party…food, drink, silent auction and musical performance.

MARY POPPINS—May 5-21, 2017
(Intergenerational Cast, 7+)
An imaginative convergence of the classic film musical and the children’s book combine to make a new script about the Nanny who can do no wrong:  It’s Supercalifragilisticexpalidocious!!!

none-too-fragile theatre   330-671-4563 or http://www.nonetoofragile.com

THE WHALE—February 3018, 2017
Award winning play about a six-hundred-pound recluse, who hiding away from the world and slowly eating himself to death, is given one last chance at redemption.

A SKULL IN CONNEMARA—March 17-April 1, 2017
The last play of the “Leenane Trilogy,” which included The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” is a funny whodunit concerning Mick Dowd who is hired to disinter bones in sections of his local cemetery to make way for the new arrivals.  As the time approaches for him to dig up the bones of his own late wife, rumors about his possible involvement in her sudden death resurface.

SALVAGE—May 5-20, 2017
Danny’s sister and mother have just laid him to rest and now find themselves racing against time to rescue his prized possessions from the family basement before a flood hits.  Enter Danny’s high-school sweetheart to lend a hand.  Is she here to pay her last respects or to keep Danny alive forever? 

OHIO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL
  www.ohioshakespearefestival.com
(Winter and Spring Home:  Greystone Hall, Akron)

LONE STAR—February 10, 12, 16, 18, 2017
In the backyard of a small-town Texas bar we find a macho Vietnam vet who cherishes three things above all:  his country, his sexy wife and his 1959 pink Thunderbird.

THE UPSTART CROW—February 9, 11, 17, 19, 2017
Vincint Dowling’s tale of Susanna, Shakespeare’s daughter, who comes to the Globe Theatre after her father’s death.  She discovers life, love and comes to terms with the loss of the Bard.

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS—April 14-30, 2017
Shakespeare’s comedy about what happens when two sets of twins find themselves in the same city, on the same day, resulting in a web of mistaken identities and confused lovers

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

INTO THE WOODS—January 10-29, 2017
A musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine which intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault fairy tales, exploring the consequences of the characters' wishes and quests.

THE KING AND I—FEBRUARY 7-26, 2017
The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical which relates the experiences of Anna, a British schoolteacher hired as part of the King's drive to modernize his country.

CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME—March 21-April 9, 2017
Staged with numerous electronic media effects, the insightful script opens a window into the mind of an autistic. (My Broadway review:  http://royberkinfo.blogspot.com/2014/11/mesmerizing-curious-incident-of-dog-in.html

SOMETHING ROTTEN! — April 25-May 14, 2017
A clever musical, set in 1595, that follows the Bottom brothers, who struggle to find success in the theatrical world as they compete with the wild popularity of their contemporary William Shakespeare and wind up inventing a new theatrical form…the musical.  (My Broadway review:  http://royberkinfo.blogspot.com/2015/05/farcical-something-rotten-very-new.html

THE MUSICAL THEATER PROJECT
http://www.MusicalTheaterProject.org or 216-529-9411 for tickets and information
(productions staged in review format with narration)

HEY, BIG SPENDER! THE CY COLEMAN SONGBOOK—January 28, 2017 (9 PM) and January 29 (2 PM)—performed at the Hanna Theatre, Playhouse Square
Spotlight on Cy Coleman, the writer of such musicals as SWEET CHARITY, BARNUM, THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES and CITY OF ANGELS, performed by Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, the Joe Hunter Trio, Vince Mastro and Treva Offutt.

HELLUVA TOWN:  A New York Soundtrack
April 21, 2017 @ The Hunt Club
Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano make their Cleveland debut with this witty and exhilarating show which celebrates a love/hate relationship.

BEHIND THE MUSICAL ANNIE
April 29, 2017 (7 PM) @ Stocker Arts Center/Lorain County Community College and April 30, 2017 (3 PM) @ Chagrin Falls Performing Arts Center
It’s been 40 years since the red-headed orphan debuted on Broadway.  Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse’s score will be performed by Sheri Gross, Gilgamesh Taggett and Lexi Cowan.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Well written, well performed THE NIGHT THOREAU SPENT IN JAIL at Ensemble



Henry David Thoreau was a rebel.  A rebel with many causes.  He opposed taxation, contested war on foreign soils, was a strong advocate for the abolition of slavery, refused to pay fees for things that he thought were earned and therefore should not cost money (e.g., as a Harvard graduate he rejected paying the dollar required for getting his official graduation certificate).  He believed in the interdependence of man and nature, independent thinking, education through discovery, and he rebuffed organized religion. 

An educated man, he was unusual in his mid-nineteenth century era where few even went to what is now known as high school.  He was a deep thinker whose essay "Civil Disobedience" is an argument for nonconformity to an unjust state, and is quoted even today.

His creativity is reflected in his many life-teaching quotes, including: “To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” And, “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.”

On the surface, Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee’s 1970 play, The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, which is now on stage at Ensemble Theatre, appears to be a histro-drama about Thoreau.  In reality it is more than that.  Besides giving a snapshot of the man’s life and philosophy, it is a Vietnam-era exploration of resistance to war, a central Thoreau concept.  

The script, like many Lawrence and Lee writings, draws on events from United States history that speak to contemporary issues.   Their Inherit the Wind addressed intellectual freedom and McCarthyism.  The Gang’s All Here examined 1920 government corruption.  Even their delightful Auntie Mame cast an evil eye on conformity and hypocrisy.

Lawrence and Lee are local guys.  Lee was born and grew up in Elyria.   Jerome Lawrence Schwartz was born in Cleveland, graduated from Glenville High School in 1933 and went to Ohio State. Ironically, The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail received its first production at OSU in 1969.

Based on a real historical fact, Thoreau did spend a night in jail in Concord, Massachusetts, for refusing to pay a poll tax because the money might be used to pay for the Mexican-American war.  He refused to leave jail when his aunt paid his tax bill.  

It is easy, after the recent election of a xenophobia who shows little regard for science, women, the physically and mentally ill, minorities, and those of different views, to see the ideological relevance of the play to contemporary educated liberal thinking audiences. 

The script jumps in time order, opening with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau’s friend, remembering the “man of Walden.”  We then see Thoreau in jail, interacting with Baily, an illiterate wanderer accused of arson.  A trip further back in time including Thoreau’s youth, presents years at Harvard, frustration in trying to teach children to think but being thwarted by the lock-step school curriculum, and the unappealing requirement to flog students.  It exposes Henry’s close relationship with his brother John, with whom he founded an unsuccessful outdoor school, the death of John when he accidentally cut himself and bled to death, his conflicts with Emerson and many of the Concord residents, and the hints of what is to come that leads to Thoreau’s future as a major luminary of the intelligencia.

The play is well-written.  The direction, under the focused guidance of Ensemble’s Artistic Director Celeste Cosentino, is equally encompassing.   The cast is outstanding.

Geoff Knox, undoubtedly one of the best young local professional actors, embraces the roll of Thoreau with complete focus.  He not only has the perfect “New England” language sound and cadence, but develops a real characterization.  It is worth the price of admission to see Knox/Thoreau in action.

Terry Burgler is totally believable as Emerson, the champion of individualism, who is noted as essayist, lecturer, and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century.  He is nicely balanced by Leslie Stager, as Lydian Emerson, the great man’s compassionate wife.

The rest of the cast, mainly, Joseph Pine (John, Henry’s brother), Sara  Bogomolny (Ellen, John and Henry’s love interest), Allen Branstein (Bailey, Henry’s cellmate), and Davion Brown (Williams, a freed slave who Henry befriends), are all solid in their performances.

Stephen Vasse-Hansell’s set design, mainly a platform with electronic graphics changing to set the place, works well.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: A well-conceived script gets an excellent production.  It is not an escapist theatrical experience filled with laughs and physical movement, but a presentation which will please many due to its philosophical message.  It’s a must see for anyone interested in good theater!

The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail
, which runs around two hours with intermission, will be on stage Thursdays through Sundays through December 11, 2016 at the Ensemble Theatre, housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to http://www.ensemble-theatre.org/

Ensemble’s next full staged production is The Phantom Toll Booth on stage from January 13-22, 2017 (Friday and Saturdays @ 7, Saturdays @3, Sundays @2.  It’s
the tale of Milo’s adventures in the Land of Wisdom which forces him to think about many new things.

To see the views of other Cleveland area theatre reviewers go to:  clevelandtheaterreviews.com

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Great compositions played by the superb Cleveland Orchestra results in a thrilling evening at Severance


The November 25, 26 and 27, 2016 Cleveland Orchestra program, "Beethovens Fateful Fifth," under the baton of Jaap van Zweden, consisted of Benjamin Britten’s “Sinfonia da Requiem,” Wolfgang Amadè Mozart,” Piano Concerto No. 23,” and Ludwig Van Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5,” a trio that brought continued applause and vocal accolades from the sold-out opening night audience.

“Sinfonia da Requiem”

A mid-twentieth century Britten composition, “Sinfonia da Requiem,” was commissioned by the Japanese government to commemorate the Empire’s 2600th anniversary.   Japan rejected the music because of the use of Latin titles for its three movements and for its somber overall character. 

Ironically, the first performance of “Requiem” took place in New York in March 29, 1941, about eight months before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, which started the Asian phase of the Second World War. 

The twenty-minute piece was later incorporated into “War Requiem,” a work for chorus, orchestra and soloist, which is one of pacifist Britten’s masterpieces.

“Requiem” is one of Britten's purely orchestral work, and was his first major work that did not include a soloist.

Opening with thunderous drumbeats of impending storms and doom, it often has overtones of dissonance and surprisingly comes to a quiet ending, a solemn prayer for the dead.

The Orchestra was in complete command of the composition, enveloping Severance in the multi-textured work.

 “Piano Concerto No. 23”  




Russian born, and both Russian and Cleveland Institute of Music trained, pianist Daniil Trifonov wrapped the audience in his beautifully conceived rendition of Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 23.”  His long fingers made love to the keys, flawlessly coaxing exquisite sounds from the instrument.  Physically swaying, a smile often creasing his face, he was totally immersed in the composition and in total sync with both van Zweden and the orchestra.  The audience responded to his performance with three standing ovations, and got rewarded with a short solo encore by Trifonov.

Running about 25 minutes, the piece consists of three movements.  Mozart, who is credited with giving the piano concerto a whole new meaning, was a master at alternating orchestral and solo passages.  He is credited with creating a “piano concerto capable of expressing the most diverse characters and feelings from grandiose and festive too lyrical and intimate, with innumerable shadings in between.”  Trifonov and the Orchestra superbly highlighted the beauty of this Mozart work.


“Fifth Symphony”

The Cleveland Orchestra first played Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” during its inaugural season in 1919.  It has been one of their mainstays, both locally and on tour, since.  


Considered the most famous of all symphonies, few ever get tired of hearing it from its first four-note theme, which matches Morse code’s dot-dot-dot-dash pattern tapping out “V,” to its loud, powerful and triumphant finale.
 

The Orchestra, as should be expected from one of the world’s great musical assemblages, played each of the four movements in a concise, focused and glorious manner.  

As my grandson, a Jacob School of Music at the Indiana University award winning composer and pianist stated, “the performance was perfectly executed.”  

What a way to bring to a close a very special evening of music. 
 

Bravo!!!
 

New faces
 

The Orchestra welcomes Wesley Collins, as principal viola and violinist Jessica Lee as assistant concertmaster.
 

Upcoming concerts at Cleveland Orchestra performances include:

CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA and PENNSYLVANIA BALLET, “The Nutcracker”

Two world-class arts organizations combine to stage George Balanchine's “The Nutcracker,” the favorite holiday ballet.  Performed at the State Theatre in PlayhouseSquare on:  November 30 through December 4.

CHRISTMAS CONCERTS

December 10-18—Brett Mitchell, conductor, Cleveland Orchestra Chorus with guest choruses, Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Chorus, Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus Chamber Ensemble, College of Wooster Chorus, and University of
Akron Concert Choir.  (See http://www.clevelandorchestra.com/  

for details and to obtain tickets or call 216-231-1111).                                                          


                                              

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Huge and enthusiastic cast tells the tale of JOSEPH @ Near West Theatre



JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical, had an unusual path to being one of the oft-produced musicals of all time.  It has been estimated that world-wide, over 20,000 school, community and professional theatres have produced the work.

As the creation story goes, in 1967, when Webber was 19 years-old, he was asked to write a pop cantata for the school choir to sing at their Easter end of term concert.   He asked his friend, Tim Rice, to write lyrics for the project.  They decided to base the work on the story of Joseph from the Biblical book of Genesis. 

JOSEPH started as a twenty-minute choral piece.  The show gradually developed into what is now a full script.  It is, however, a different type of script than most musicals.  In fact, it is not a script at all, just a collection of twenty songs arranged in chronological order, with no narrative and no stage directions.  This is why each production of the show takes on a different approach.

Sometimes the presentation is done in two acts, sometimes in one.  It has been staged as a bedtime story in pajamas, a Biblical epic complete with clothing of the time of Jacob, a fantasy costumed in out-of-this world clothing, and with and without a chorus.  The Near West Show theme centers on Joseph and His Son’s Construction Company.  It’s been done by a cast of twenty or, as is true of the Near West Theatre’s production, 52 performers appear.

The Narrator explains, in the “Prologue,” the background to the story, that this is a tale of Joseph, whose clairvoyant powers, intelligence and charm lead to both his being his father’s favorite and the wrath of his 11 brothers (“Jacob and Sons”).   The envy increases when Jacob gives Joseph, a symbol of respect (“Joseph’s Coat”).   His “bros” get rid of him by attempting fratricide, but change their minds sell him to some passing Ishmaelites (“Poor, Poor Joseph”), who take him to Egypt.  They explain his “death” to their father in “One More Angel in Heaven.”

Joseph eventually becomes the Pharaoh’s favorite when he successfully enciphers the leader’s nightmares (“Pharaoh’s Dreams Explained”), saves Egypt from famine, becomes the second in command, eventually forgives his brothers when they come to beg for food (“Grovel/Grovel”) and, in an emotional climax, reunites with his father (“Jacob in Egypt”).

The play concludes with the audience on its feet clapping as the cast sings ‘Any Dream Will Do” and “Give Me My Colored Coat".

Like many of Andrew Lloyd Webber conceptions, which includes CATS, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, EVITA, ASPECTS OF LOVE, and SUNSET BOULEVARD, much of the music is infectious.  There are parodies of French ballads ("Those Canaan Days"), rock and roll ("Song of the King"), western ("One More Angel In Heaven"), 1920s Charleston ("Potiphar"), Calypso ("Benjamin Calypso"), and go-go music ("Go, Go, Go Joseph").

Tim Rice, the lyricist and Webber’s longtime collaborator, not only has written for Broadway, but for such Disney shows as ALADDIN, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and THE LION KING.

JOSEPH AND THE TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT is an ideal show for Near West Theatre, which serves as both a production house and a safe place for youngsters, tweens, teens and adults.  Its audience is as divergent as its performers and technicians.   Few theatres have the massive stage to allow for the huge cast, and gimmicks such as a real golf cart to be incorporated into the show.

Kelcie Nicole Duggar, the Narrator, has a fine voice and the ability to sing meanings, not just words.  Her “Prologue” set a perfect tone to start the show.  Robert Kowalewski is not the studly leading man image, but has a sweet quality that made Joseph into a charmer.  His “Close Every Door” was well interpreted and sung. 

At times, due to the mass of bodies on stage, Joshua Landis’ choreography looked like mass chaos rather than coordinated movements.  The same could be said for much of Bob Navis Jr’s staging.  Maybe, in the future, consideration should be given to double casting roles, with performers on alternate nights, or only having part of the cast appear in some numbers.

Navis has incorporated many shticks and gimmicks into the show, adding a joyousness to some scenes, eliminating some of the cleverness in others.  Someone sitting behind me commented in disappointment that the “Elvis Song,” (“Song of the King”) didn’t have the traditional white-suited, hip swiveling rock-a-billy sound and visual imagery.  (Cory Markowitz, the Pharaoh, did a nice job with the “new” arrangement of the song.)

Navis kept the show moving right along, though some of the set changes seemed overly long. 

Ben Malkevitch’s musicians did a nice job of supporting, rather than drowning out the performers, especially in the solos.

It must be a major challenge to costume such a giant cast.  In general, April Rock’s costumes worked, but Joseph’s coat of many colors was under-whelming.  The words to the song list the many colors of his coat.  A short jacket with fringe, with a couple of color patches, does not “a coat of many colors” make!

Capsule judgement:  JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT is a fun show for audience of all ages.  As evidenced by the extended applause at the end of the show, and the many instances of audience delight displayed during the production, the cast and crew’s efforts were appreciated.  Near West Theatre should be praised for carrying out its mission of empowering children, teens and adults through transformational arts.

JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT runs at New West Theatre through December 11, 2016 at their new home, 6702 Detroit Avenue.  Valet parking is available Friday and Saturday for $6 and a parking lot and street parking are also available.  Call 216-961-6391 or go to http://www.nearwesttheatre.org for tickets and information.

Near West Theatre’s next show is THE WIZ (FEBRUARY 10-19, 2017--Youth Cast, 9-15) , followed by MARY POPPINS (May 5-21, 2017) –Intergenerational Cast, Ages 7+.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Cleveland’s effect on Broadway and relevant capsule comments



Several weeks ago, in my review of Baldwin Wallace University’s production of WEST SIDE STORY I stated, “BWU’s Music Theater program is nationally recognized for its quality, as evidenced by the number of its graduates who have light up the Broadway theater scene and touring productions.  Of those in the WEST SIDE STORY cast I stated: “Broadway bound?  Colton Ryan, though not the tall macho leading man type, should find a place on the Great White Way in roles for the young, clean scrubbed type who have big voices.”



It didn’t take long for the prophecy to come true.  It has been announced that Ryan, a “BW senior music theatre major, has been cast as the main off-stage voice for Ben Platt the lead in DEAR EVAN HANSEN, a new musical by Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Steven Levenson, that opens at the Music Box Theatre on December 4.” 

Other BW students on Broadway this season are:  Caitlin Houlihan, WAITRESS, Steel Burkhardt, ALADDIN, Shannon O’Boyle and Kyle Post in KINKY BOOTS, Cassie Okenka  SCHOOL OF ROCK, Malik Akil, HOLIDAY INN, and Will Brandstetter in EAT YOUR SCIENCE.

Many locals go to New York and request evaluation of shows that are now on the boards.  Here are a few capsule judgments of some shows I saw on a recent visit.


CAGNEY

Capsule judgement:  CAGNEY is a high energy song and dance bio-musical that grabs and holds attention through infectious singing and dancing, and an award-winning performance by Robert Creighton.  The show has deservedly done so well at the box office that the original limited run has been extended and an additional weekly matinee has been added.  This is a show well-worth seeing.  (To read a complete review of this show go to:  http://royberkinfo.blogspot.com/2016/11/energizing-cagney-lights-up-stage-with.html )






FALSETTOS

Capsule judgement: The well written, sung and acted revival tells the tale of Marvin (Christian Borle, who won Tony Awards for both PETER AND THE STARCATCHER and SOMETHING ROTTEN), as a gay married man who leaves his marriage, and Whizzer (Andrew Rannells, Tony nominee for THE BOOK OF MORMAN), as a Reagan-era nuclear family who galvanize as they cope with their relationships, planning a bar mitzvah, and confronting the AIDS crisis.  Though somewhat dated due to medical advancements in treating AIDS, the script still elicits strong emotional reactions.



A BRONX TALE


Though not open for reviewing since it is still in previews, A BRONX TALE, with book by Chazz Palminteri, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glen Slater, features Bobby Conte Thornton, who appeared in the world premiere of Ken Ludwig’s farce, A COMEDY OF TENORS, which opened Cleveland Play House’s 100th anniversary season.  Side note:  Look for A BRONX TALE to be one of the hits of the 2016-2017 Broadway season.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Energizing CAGNEY lights up the stage with song and dance



Born on July 17,1899, not on the Fourth of July, James Francis Cagney, Jr., better known to the public as Jimmy Cagney, was, in fact, a Yankee Doodle Dandy.  A product of the lower east side of Manhattan, he was of Irish decent, a tough kid who learned his boxing, tap dancing and acting skills on the streets.  Noted for his distinct vocal style, short stature, and penguin-like walk, his “bad guy/gangster” performances in such films as “White Heat” earned him much fame, probably capped off when he shoved a grapefruit into Mae Clark’s face in “The Public Enemy.”  The action was supposedly ad-libbed by Cagney.

He went on to win an Academy Award as Best Actor for “Angels with Dirty Faces.”  This was followed by an Oscar for his portrayal of George M. Cohan “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

His career in show business started when he appeared as woman in a song and dance comedy skit in “Every Sailor.”  This followed years in vaudeville as a dancer and comedian. 

He spent much of his early film life as a $500-a-week contract actor at Warner Brothers.  Those years highlighted by many clashes with Jack Warner, the company’s leader, over his efforts regarding unionization for better working conditions and pay for performers. 

A bio-musical, CAGNEY is now running off-Broadway.  As in most musicals based on the lives of famous people, such as FUNNY GIRL (Fanny Brice), GYPSY (Gypsy Rose Lee) and FIORELLO (Fiorello LaGuardia), dramatic liberties are taken that make the “real story” more entertaining.

Blending together Cagney’s life with the songs identified with the actor, such as “Grand Old Flag” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (words and music by George M. Cohan), and those that tell his personal story, “Black and White,” “Mean,” “81st Street Rag,” “Tough Guy,” and “Some Other Guy,” the score, which features music and lyrics by Robert Creighton and Christopher McGovern, is tune-filled and of high energy. 

The book by Peter Colley has some soap opera moments, but, due to the dynamics of the performances and the creative staging by director Bill Castellino, and Joshua Bergasse’s equally inventive choreography, the over-all effect is exciting and energizing.

Robert Creighton, yes, the same guy who co-wrote the music and lyrics, was born to play Cagney.  Of the same physical build, high emotional level, and singing and dance skills, Creighton doesn’t portray Cagney, he is Cagney.  

Creighton is backup by a multi-talented cast, all of whom play multi-roles.  His mother, brother, Jack Warner, Bob Hope, and others, are all effectively created by Jeffry Denman, Danette Holden, Bruce Sabath, Josh Walden and Ellen Zolezzi. 

Martha Bromelmeier’s era-correct costume designs and James Morgan’s simple, but effective scenic designs, add to the effectiveness of the staging.

Capsule judgement:  CAGNEY is a high energy song and dance bio-musical that grabs and holds attention through infectious singing and dancing, and an award-winning performance by Robert Creighton.  The show has deservedly done so well at the box office that the original limited run has been extended and an additional weekly matinee has been added.  This is a show well-worth seeing.


THE FACTS:
What:  CAGNEY
Where:  Westside Theatre/Upstairs, 407 W. 43rd Street, between 9th and 10th
Previewed:  March 16, 2016, opened:  April 3, 2106, run through May 28, 2017
Matinees: Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday
Evenings:  Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday
Time:  2 hours 20 minutes with one intermission

Monday, November 14, 2016

BODYTRAFFIC (Dance Cleveland), upcoming dance offerings


A near sold-out audience rose as one following the BODYTRAFFIC dance concert at the Ohio Theatre.  They had witnessed a variety of creative, well-executed, serendipitous dance numbers.

BODYTRAFFIC, a Los Angeles dance company founded by Lilian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett, transplanted New Yorkers, centers on “invention, attitude and urban edge.” 

The company members defy traditional dance body types and ages.  Usually, the mention of dancers engenders a vision of anorexic young females and zero-body fat/gym-toned bodied males.  Not so with BODYTRAFFIC.  This is a body-type blind company.  All ages, sizes and ethnicities are in the company.  A light as air moving male dances next to hulking brother probably ten years his junior.  A solid built female twists and twirls besides a delicate sister. 

Not only the body sizes and age differ, but the three-segment program at the beautifully refurbished Ohio Theatre showed the variance in the company’s repertoire.

Israeli choreographer Barak Marshal’s “And at midnight, the green bride floated through the village square…” told the “true story” of a family of eight sisters and one brother who were neighbors of his mother’s family in Aden, Yemen. 

Danced to Yiddish, Israeli, Sephardic, Ladino, Yemenite, Ashkenazik and gypsy music songs and sounds, the offering included solo and group precision dancing.  Using exaggerated melodramatic gestures and movements, the company energetically, often humorously, told a series of short tales of fighting, screaming, cursing, reconciliation that enacted the family’s rage, unhappiness and loneliness. 

“Once again, before you go,” choreographed by Victor Quijada, with music by Jasper Gahunia, used his b-boy background to fuzz movements from across the dance genres.  The program included acrobatic movements, interweaving of bodies, creative lifts, twisting and springing to create aesthetic pictures of emotions and feelings.

“O2Joy,” was the obvious audience favorite.  Combining the vocal and musical jazz sounds of Oscar Peterson, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Glenn Miller the company flowed through Richard Siegal’s creative choreography.  Highlight segments were “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “All of Me.”  Guzman Rosado floated through air as he mesmerized the audience with his fluidity and ease.

Capsule Judgement: If you missed BODYTRAFFIC, fear not. Pam Young and her Dance Cleveland planners are sure to have a repeat performance of this marvelous and entertaining company!

UPCOMING DANCE CLEVELAND CONCERTS

Dance Theatre of Harlem, January 21, 2017--3 and 7:30 PM at Ohio Theatre
Jessica Lange Dance, March 4, 2017—7:30 PM at Ohio Theatre
Ballet Biarritz presents “Cinderella”—April 1, 2017 @ 7:30 PM and April 2, 2017 @ 3 PM at Ohio Theatre

Tickets:  216-991-9000 or dancecleveland.org

CLEVELAND BALLET

On January 27, 2017, A CELEBRATION OF DANCE AND MUISIC returns to the Hanna Theatre.  The program, a remounting of the company’s October 11, 2016 successful program, includes original dances choreographed by Artistic Director Gladisa Guadalupe and Ramon Thielen.

Tickets:  playhousesquare.org

CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA and PENNSYLVANIA BALLET, “The Nutcracker”

Two world class arts organizations combine to stage George Balanchine's “The Nutcracker,” the favorite holiday ballet.  Performed at the State Theatre in PlayhouseSquare:  November 30 through December 4.

Tickets and information: playhousesquare.org


Saturday, November 12, 2016

BWU’s WEST SIDE STORY, a step above the rest


WEST SIDE STORY, the Jerome Robbins (concept development), Leonard Bernstein (Music), Arthur Laurents (book), and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics), had an interesting road from idea to Broadway production to revivals.  The script is now in production by the Baldwin Wallace Department of Theatre and Dance and the Conservatory of Music’s Musical Theatre Program.

In 1974 Jerome Robbins conceived the idea of a contemporary musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET.  His idea was to center the focus on the conflict between an Irish Catholic family and Jewish family living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan set during the Easter-Passover season.  The Catholic “Jets” and the Jewish “Emeralds” were “gangs” in conflict. 

Originally titled, EAST SIDE STORY, Bernstein proposed an operatic musical score.  The idea was rejected and a “lyric theater” concept was accepted.  Difficulty with the book and music caused the idea to be dropped. 

A number of years later, the idea re-emerged as WEST SIDE STORY, with Laurents changing the characters’ backgrounds to Polish and Irish descent and the formerly Jewish Maria to Puerto Rican.  Variances with the original ROMEO AND JULIET story were altered, especially Juliet’s faking her death. 

As the score and script developed, there was much adjusting of where various songs would appear and comic relief to increase the impact of the play’s tragic ending were added.   Effort was made, however, to ensure that the show would be a musical drama, not a musical comedy. 

Gang warfare in New York, just as the show was to open, made the topic relevant. 

Cast members, especially the dancers, were treated as actors, not just as bodies to be choreographed, which opened a new way for chorus members to be treated, and laid the foundation for such shows as A CHORUS LINE. 

The original production opened on Broadway in September, 1957, to strong positive reviews, ran 732 performances, went on national tour and returned to run another 253 performances.  Several revivals followed, including a 2009 version in which some of the lyrics and spoken lines were spoken and sung in Spanish.

The script for WEST SIDE STORY appears regularly on the Best American Musical’s lists and is considered to be one of the most difficult shows to stage due to the complex music and required dancing.  The film version won ten Academy Awards, in spite of the fact that the vocals for many of the songs were dubbed, as the roles were played by Hollywood actors rather than accomplished singer-actors.

The story is set in an Upper West Side neighborhood in New York in the mid-1950s, where gang rivalry for “turf” and “face” are the superficial source of conflict.  Tony, a former member of the Jets, realizes the ridiculousness of being a member of a gang from “womb to tomb” and has withdrawn.   At a dance, he falls in love at first sight with Maria, the sister of the leader of the Sharks.  Tragedy follows as gang members are killed, in spite of Tony’s attempt to quell the fight.

This is a musical with a “dark theme, sophisticated music, extended dance scenes, and focus on social problems.”  It is credited with changing the course of the American musical by introducing the musical drama, serious social subjects, and a turn from escape to serious-minded story telling.

Baldwin Wallace University’s Music Theater Department is ranked as one of the best in the nation.  Their undertaking the difficult WEST SIDE STORY is an expected action for the program as the show gives the “Broadway with stars in their eyes” students a chance to stretch their acting, singing and dancing skills. 

The show is double cast.  Since I only saw the opening night performance by the Shark Cast, all of the reviewing comments center on that group of actors.

The production, under the direction of Victoria Bussert and choreographer Gregory Daniels, was an overall success.

Starting slowly and methodically, probably due to opening night nerves, the presentation shifted from automatic pilot to full-throttle somewhere during the middle of the first act. 

The “Jet Song” opening dance number lacked spontaneity.  Though well- choreographed, every move seemed preplanned, not establishing any real tension, a necessity for telegraphing the angst that is the guts of the story.  “The Dance at the Gym-Blues” also was somewhat emotionally flat.  Second act large dance numbers such as “Ballet Sequence,” hit the stride, leading up to an emotional conclusion that found the audience properly shell-shocked.

The “Officer Krupke” number was clearly the audience’s favorite “escape from angst” offering, while the “Ballet Sequence” was beautifully enacted, and “America” delighted.

The same emotional static involvement pattern followed with the vocals.  In his opening song, “Something’s Coming,” Colton Ryan (Tony) had difficulty articulating words in his lower range.  As the show proceeded, he seemed to relax, being, not performing, and his strong and expressive voice gained full vocal power.

Nadina Hassan created a beautiful and expressive Maria, growing emotionally from shy new-immigrant, to strong bereaved woman.  Her “I Feel Pretty” was truly delightful.

Shayla Brielle created a clearly sexually explosive Anita.  The drugstore scene, where she lays the foundation for the show’s climax, was aggressively focused.

Amy Keum was delightful as Anybody’s, the “I want to be a gang boy.”  Michael Canada nicely textured the multiple personality levels of Chino, and Elizabeth Rosenberg sang “Somewhere” with clear emotional meaning.  Dan Hoy was credible as Riff.

The production was enhanced by Jeff Herman’s lighting and Statue of Liberty on-its-side setting, Charlotte Yetman’s costumes, and David Gotwald’s sound design.

Broadway bound?  Colton Ryan, though not the tall macho leading man type, should find a place on the Great White Way in roles for the young, clean scrubbed type who have big voices.  Nadina Hassan has the potential for pretty ingénue roles.

The large orchestra was excellent, though in several instances their size and volume drowned out the performance. 

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  BWU’s Music Theatre program is nationally recognized for its quality, as evidenced by the number of its graduates who have lit up the Broadway theatre scene and touring productions.  WEST SIDE STORY is a difficult show to “get right.”  As should be expected from the quality students and proficient staff, the production was a step above what other colleges could do. Better than Broadway?…no.  But, definitely the incubator where future Broadway stars bud and grow.   Anyone who hasn’t seen this wonderfully conceived musical should attend this production.

WEST SIDE STORY is scheduled to run through November 22, 2016.  For tickets and information call 440-826-2240 or go to www.bw.edu/tickets

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Introducing Bill Rudman, the man behind the Musical Theater Project and “Footlight Parade”


Bill Rudman, Artistic Director of the Musical Theater Project who hosts the radio show “Footlight Parade” and often co-hosts the MTP live performances, has had an interest in musical theater since he was five and his parents let him stay up late to watch Mary Martin in Peter Pan on television.  As Rudman said in a recent interview, “That did it!”

How did Rudman, who is noted as one of the country’s most knowledgeable theater buffs, gain his encyclopedic knowledge of the field?  He “started to read about musicals when he was ten, and he’s been reading/listening/attending ever since.”  He shared, “that makes 55 years of study.”  He has not only sponged up the material, but, when he was a student at Hiram College, he “taught a full-credit course in musical theater history.”

Rudman’s interest became a profession when he decided to “follow my bliss.”  He had been affiliated with Great Lakes Theater.  He left in 1996 with the intent of creating a nonprofit organization that would “house a radio show, a concert series, a school program, and eventually a record label.”  Obviously, his “bliss” has been accomplished as his dream has become a nationally recognized accomplishment.

Besides being a knowledgeable expert in theater, he acted and sang as a college student.  He still sings in MTP concerts.   But, he admits, “performing and directing were never part of the plan.”  He thinks of himself as a writer/historian/commentator, writing scripts for and hosting the radio show and concerts.

As for the concerts themselves, they are already tentatively planned through the 2017-2018 season.  Where do the subjects come from?  “There are thousands and thousands of songs written for musicals.  I, myself, make new discoveries all the time.” It appears that Rudman will never run out of possible program ideas.

The concerts were originally co-hosted by Rudman and jazz pianist Joe Hunter and were presented by the Tri-C JazzFest.  “Joe is still featured in the more jazz-oriented shows, such as January’s salute to Broadway composer, Cy Coleman, which we’re doing in partnership with Cleveland Jazz Orchestra.”  Presently, Rudman partners with Nancy Maier.  “I can’t remember how we [he and Maier] met, but we first worked on a show at Cain Park about 12 years ago, and one thing led to another. She’s a marvel and is now associate artistic director of The Musical Theater Project.”

The radio show, “Footlight Parade,” went on the air on WCLV in 1983, is heard on 100 public stations around the country, and was “picked-up by Sirius XM eight years ago,” which brought national attention to Rudman.

How does Rudman find “hidden treasures” that are included in the concerts and radio shows?   Rudman stated, ‘It’s just part of who I am. I’m plugged into a collectors’ network in NY and I’m constantly learning new things. One of the greatest joys in my life — and this goes back to my childhood — is sharing what I find. I think of everything we do at TMTP as acts of giving. In a country that increasingly spews hate, we celebrate an art form that has always been about hope and love.”

As for the famous musical theatre personalities and how he makes arrangements for their appearances, he told the story that “last year we brought in the Tony Award-winning Karen Ziemba to co-host a John Kander concert with me. I had gotten to know him [Kander] through a 2-CD set we produced of his works, and he promised to attend but said he was too shy to co-host.  So I thought of Karen, who has done more Kander work than anyone except Liza [Minnelli].  Karen and I had a blast!”

As for inside scoops, a favorite story is about Lerner and Loewe, who are the subject of MTP’s next concert.  “Oh, it’s how they met!  But I’m not going to tell you— come see the show and you’ll hear it.”  He did state, “I think of them as the last of the Great Romantics — not just about love, but about life. Artistically they were meant for each other. So their musicals all come from a deep place of shared sensibilities.”

If Rudman had the opportunity to go to any musical production, past or present, what would it be?  “Probably Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Allegro (1947), their only truly experimental musical. It took risks like crazy, and moves me deeply.

What are his favorite three musicals? He stated, “I’m not ranking them: R&H’s Carousel and Sondheim’s Follies and Sunday in the Park with George. They all make me weep unashamedly.”  The greatest musical ever conceived? “Probably Follies and the way it plays with time and space while telling a powerful story about the death of at least part of the American dream.”

So, that’s a little of history of Bill Rudman, the Musical Theater Project, and “Footlight Parade.”

Next up for MTP?  “Almost Like Being in Love: The Songs of Lerner and Loewe” on November 20 at the 2 PM at the Hanna Theatre.  Join Bill Rudman, Nancy Maier, singer Benjamin Czarnota, Clare Eisentrout, with violin and cello arrangements by Cleveland composer Ty Alan Emerson.  Some of the songs to be included are: “If Ever I Would Leave You,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “They Call the Wind Maria,” “On the Street Where You Live,” and “The Night They Invented Champagne.”  And, of course, you’ll learn how Lerner and Loewe met. 

In January, 2017, MTP offers “Hey Big Spender!  The Cy Coleman Songbook” on Saturday, January 28 (8 PM) and Sunday, January 29 (2 PM) at the Hanna Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.

For tickets to either of these concerts call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org/

Sunday, November 06, 2016

RASHEEDA SPEAKING features strong performances @ Karamu




As the lights come up on Joel Drake Johnson’s RASHEEDA SPEAKING at Karamu, a shadow of a woman can be seen through the textured door window of a doctor’s office. 

Inside, Dr. Williams is discussing with Ileen, a long-time employee, and newly appointed office manager, the fact that Jaclyn, the other secretary, has been off sick for the last five days, and he is not thrilled to have her back.  He shares with Ileen that he doesn’t think Jaclyn “fits in” and has discussed with human resources the possibility of replacing her. 

In order to accomplish the coup, the doctor must have proof of Jaclyn’s incompetency.  He tells Ileen that in her new administrative position, she is to write down all of Jaclyn’s actions. 

As the conversation comes to a conclusion, the door opens revealing Jaclyn, who has been waiting outside.  She is African-American, the other two white.

Within a few minutes Jaclyn is complaining about the status of her plants and how the office is filled with toxins. She is abrupt on the phone, treats Mrs. Saunders, an elderly patient, with disdain, upsetting the already confused old lady.   Jaclyn later confides to Ilene that she knows the doctor doesn’t like her.

Is Dr. Williams a racist, or, as Jaclyn has demonstrated, is she not a good fit in an office where she has to deal with patients?

In a revealing scene, Jaclyn tells of an instance where, on her Chicago bus, young white professional men refer to “stern, frozen-faced middle-aged black women like her, as ‘Rasheedas.’”

The tension between Ileen and Jaclyn increases as the latter secretly mixes up items in the former’s desk drawers, misplaces folders on Ileen’s desk, brings the office manager a present and then asks for it back.  Jaclyn keeps changing personalities as she is first nasty to Mrs. Saunders, then is overly nice, nasty on the phone, then sugary-nice.

Ileen’s demeanor changes from pleasant to suspicious to fearful. Conflicts arise.  Where is the hole punch to be kept?  Does the water spilled on the floor while Jaclyn tends to her plants cause a potential slipping danger?  Who is to bring the morning pastry?  Is Jaclyn to be included in the daily patient information sessions?

The script leaves you scrambling to puzzle out its implications, which would not be bad, if there were any real implications to draw.  

While the tension and power struggle spinning out of control is often fascinating and comical, it all seems contrived.  The behaviors of all the characters are often too erratic, and occasionally so extreme that it seems the playwright is just playing with the audience, interested in teasing and taunting with no real purpose.  Instead of getting a true picture of racism in the work place, or the conflict of black-white relationships, or differences of members of a race interpreting the verbal and nonverbal patterns of others, we find ourselves in search of a purpose for the script.

The problem is not caused by director Sarah May or her cast. 

May nicely paces the action, keys the laughs, and has worked for clear stage pictures and effective character development. 

Treva Offutt nicely textures her performance as the eccentric and manipulative Jaclyn. Mary Alice Beck wilts before our eyes as the “nice” Ileen who becomes a gun-carrying basket case of emotions.  John Busser is consistent in his character development of Doctor Williams, and long-time Cleveland-area award-winning actress, Rhoda Rosen, delights as Mrs. Saunders.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  The play has lots of laughs and some intriguing situations, but RASHEEDA SPEAKING proves that fine acting and good directing cannot always cover up for a rudderless script. 

RASHEEDA SPEAKING continues through, November 4, 2016 at Karamu, 2355 East 89th Street, which has a fenced, guarded and lighted parking lot adjacent to the theatre, and provides free parking.  For ticket information call 216-795-7077.

Watch for big changes at Karamu.  Starting in January major renovations will take place to create “new” Jelliffe and Arena Theatres, with funding supplied by a $1.8 million grant from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission.   These changes will necessitate production venue changes for the rest of this season.  Check on the website, http://www.karamuhouse.org/, to ascertain where future shows will be produced.

Well performed ANNAPURNA ends fall season at none too fragile


Ulysses, a former college professor and well-published poet, has been living off the grid for over twenty years.  His wife and son assumed he was dead. 

A search of her mother’s home, after the old woman dies, allows Emma, Ulysses’ former wife, to find several boxes of letters and poems that Ulysses had sent to Sam, his son, but were never delivered to the partially deaf boy.

With information from the letters, and the help of a private investigator, Emma searches out Ulysses and finds him in a desolate town in Colorado, living in a run-down trailer park, nearly penniless.  When she arrives she finds him dressed only in an apron, a backpack containing his oxygen tank, and in the final stages of emphysema.

Emma enters the trailer carrying suitcases, bags of food, and years of pent-up hatred.   She, fled one night with then five-year-old Sam, has lots of stuff to unload…both physically and emotionally.

The couple bicker, spar about Emma invading his life, his rejection of medical help, an on-going feud with a neighbor, and that their Sam may soon be arriving.

Truths unravel and the defining moment that caused the disintegration of their lives together, is revealed in an emotionally charged scene.

The title, ANNAPURNA, refers to the mountain in the Himalayas, the tenth tallest in the world, which is one of the most dangerous to climb.  Ironically, in Sanskrit Annapurna means “full of food.”

The play is Sharr White’s modern day parallel to Homer’s 8th century poem, “The Odyssey.”  That epic tells the tale of Ulysses, who was sent on a long journey because he displeased the god Poseidon.  Like the Ulysses of old, the modern day Ulysses was also on a journey, an expedition of escape and regret, filled with a failed career, drunkenness, illness and self-hate.

none too fragile’s production, under the adept direction of Sean Derry, is both funny and emotionally charged.  The performance quality exceeds the script itself, which is generally formulaic in structure. 

As is always the case, Derdriu Ring (Emma) develops a beautifully textured, clear characterization.  She rides the emotional waves and milks a great deal from the lines.

Jeffrey Grover creates a bitter and deflecting Ulysses’ in escape from pain and reality.  His final emotionally wrought scene is a masterstroke of performance.  

Capsule judgement:  ANNAPURNA is the tale of two highly damaged people, caught in an impossible climb to the top of an impregnable mountain, confronting their lives.


For tickets to “ANNAPURNA which runs through November 19, 2016, at none too fragile theater in Akron, call 330-671-4563 or go to nonetoofragile.com

The theatre has announced its ambitious 2017 season which includes:  THE WHALE, A SKULL IN CONNEMARA, SALVAGE, IMPENDING RUPTURE OF THE BELLY, LAST OF THE BOYS and A STEADY RAIN.  Check its website for information about the plays and how to obtain season tickets and receive an artist Don Drumm creation.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

FINDING NEVERLAND, a PETER PAN prequel, pleases at the Connor Palace




Peter Pan has had quite a life.  Since his conception by J. M. Barrie, the boy who refused to grow up has been associated with books, plays, films, costumes, art work, a television series, and music, as well as having his name given to a race horse, a food product, a bus line, an emergency health rescue service, a psychological syndrome, and a rock band.

Such publications and films as PETER PAN (J. M. Barrie), PETER PAN—3 Classic Tales (J. M. Barrie), PETER AND THE SECRET OF RUNDOON and PETER AND THE SWORD OF MERCY (Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (Rick Elice), PETER PAN AND WENDY (Alyn Cardarelli), PETER PAN IN SCARLET (Geraldine McCaughrean), HOOK (Steven Spielberg), RETURN TO NEVER LAND (Disney), and PAN (Joe Wright) have centered on some aspect of Peter’s existence. 

Peter, who symbolizes the nonchalant, fearless, cocky, forgetful and self-centered charmer, whose everlasting youth is due to his exposure to “star stuff,” a “magical substance which has fallen to earth,” is an international celebrity.

Peter’s latest Broadway life, FINDING NEVERLAND, crafted by James Graham (book) and Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy (music and lyrics) is now on stage at the Connor Palace as part of the Key Bank Broadway Series.

How did Peter come to be?  As far as history can reveal, he is named after a real boy, Peter Llewelyn Davies, the son of Sylvia Davies, a woman with whom Barrie had a platonic relationship, and Pan, a minor deity of Greek mythology, who represents nature and a free spirit.

As we learn in FINDING NEVERLAND, J. M. Barrie was a fairly successful playwright, whose plays, after a while were all basically the same.  He needed to find some inspiration to change his pattern. 

In 1903, Barrie and the widow Sylvia Davies, became acquaintances from their meetings in Kensington Park, London, where Barrie befriended Davies’ grieving but spirited boys, and eventually became their father figure.  From observing the boys and encouraging their imagination, especially that of Peter, the eldest of the four, Barrie, unleashed his own imagination.  Through Peter, he explored the power of creativity to open up new worlds.

Through his experiences with the Davies boys, PETER PAN is written, and staged to the chagrin of the stuffy and uptight company of actors in producer Charles Frohman’s theatre.  Produced to great accolades, as the old adage goes, “the rest is history!”

FINDING NEVERLAND had a healthy 17 month run on Broadway and is now on its US national tour. 

This is an impressive professional production.  The tour’s press and marketing director, Cleveland area local, Anita Dloniak, indicated in an interaction before the opening night curtain rose, that the massive show’s sets, costumes and props were shipped here in seven trailers.  It took close to 60 workers about 16 hours to load the 12.5 tons of scenery and lighting onto the stage. 

Included in the eye-popping staging, which has numerous electronic graphics, is the musical number, “Stronger (Part 2)” in which a pirate ship, complete with billowing sails, rope ladders, and towering masts, is constructed before our eyes and sails into a raging storm.

The production, according to director Diane Paulius, “is orchestrated within an inch of its life!”  This is both an advantage and disadvantage.  The show zips along with impressive precision, as does three-time Emmy Award winner Mia Michaels’ well-conceived choreography.  But, there is sometimes a lack of spontaneity and realism in the flow of lines, movements and character development.  Everything is actually too precise, making for an almost on-autopilot format in Act I.  Act II seemed a little more spontaneous.

Though FINDING NEVERLAND is a story for all ages, this staging may not be well suited for very young viewers.  If they’ve seen the animated PETER PAN or a stage production in which Peter, Wendy and Michael actually go aloft, they may be disappointed as the “flying” scenes are done by actors carrying the trio…no spectacular “I’m Flying” here.

The score has elements of contemporary and an “old fashioned musical.”  It is well-played by the orchestra.  There are several songs, however, in which the lyrics are drowned out by over-amplified instruments.

The well-conceived score, which includes “Neverland,” ”Imagination,” “We Own the Night,” the four part “Circus of the Mind,” “The World is Upside Down,” and “When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground,” is well sung.

The cast is universally strong.  Cincinnati’s Kevin Kern, who appeared on the 6th game night of the World Series for the curtain call wearing a Cleveland Indian’s uniform, is spot on as J. M. Barrie.  The charming actor, who has appeared on Broadway as Fiyero in WICKED, was also seen in WEDDING SINGER and LES MISERABLES.  He has a pleasing voice, develops a clear characterization, and has a wonderful time interacting with the boys and the large, energetic floppy Sammy, a charming dog who portrays Porthos.

Tom Hewitt creates an appealing Charles Frohman, the first producer of PETER PAN, who is both a curmudgeon and a hyper-charged businessman.  Lovely Christine Dwyer presents a Sylvia Davies who is compassionate and appealing.  Her “All that Matters” was well sung and interpreted as was her duet, “Neverland” with Kern.

The Llewelyn Davies children vary in their casting from performance to performance.   Opening night, Eli Tokash was outstanding as Peter.  The young man showed great sensitivity and developed a clear concept of the importance of the role.  The other boys for that night, Jordan Cole, Finn Faulconer and Mitchell Wray were also excellent.

Special kudos to Paul Kieve for the spectacular stage illusions, Daniel Wurtzel for the air sculpture, Jon Driscoll for the projections, and William Berloni, an animal trainer, for the delightful performance by the crowd pleasing Sammy.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  The touring production of FINDING NEVERLAND is a technically impressive and nicely conceived, if somewhat stilted production.  It clearly lays the prequel story of Peter Pan with a strong score and clear story.

Tickets for FINDING NEVERLAND, which runs through November 20, 2016 at the Connor Palace, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to www.playhousesquare.org.