Saturday, August 12, 2017

Superb “Equus” filled with passion at Blank Canvas



In the early 1970s, master wordsmith and playwright Peter Shaffer read a small news story, with little details, about a boy who had blinded six horses at a stable in Sussex, England.  The writer’s imagination went into full gear.  He created a script which included a family background for the obsessed young man, an image of a troubled but successful psychiatrist, and wove them into a compelling play which he named “Equus.”

The story centers on Alan Strong (Antonio DeJesus), a teenager, living in a small town in England and Martin Dysart (Russell B. Kunz), the psychiatrist who treats him after Heather Saloman (Amiee Collier), a compassionate magistrate, pleads with Dysart to take Alan as a patient. 

From the opening scene, in which Alan tenderly hugs Nugget, a horse, to the emotional closing, Shaffer’s two-and-a-half-hour script grabs and holds the viewer’s attention. 

With Dysart as the narrator, we meet Frank (Andrew Narten), Alan’s atheistic, hypercritical father, and Dora (Claudia Esposito), his enabling school teacher mother.  We learn how Jill Mason (Sarah Blubaugh), a young woman introduces him to stable owner Harry Dalton (Chris Bizub) who hires the boy.  We observe as Jill attempts to introduce the virgin boy to sex.  We observe Alan connect to the stable’s horses (Daryl Kelley, Jason Falkofsky, Zac Hudak, Evan Martin, Anthony Salatino and David Turner), who Alan loves, yet is the subject of his maiming.

We observe Alan change from a boy who chants advertising jingles in order to protect himself from human contact, to revealing a little of his past, to finally coming to an understanding of why he acted as he did, with the possibility of his becoming normal.  “Normal.”  Whatever that means.

Alan is not the only one with high angst.  Dysart is in a loveless, sexless marriage, is living an unfulfilled existence, and finds himself having severe nightmares about being a destructive chief priest in Homeric Greece.

The tale is told in retrospect. Dysart, as the narrator, takes the audience to various times and places as fits the tale, rather than making the story sequential.

“Equus” is a tale of passion, religion, sexuality, pain, blame, and freedom.  Alan, a boy in pain, is obsessed with horses from first coming in contact with one on a beach when he was young.  He creates Equus into a Christ-like figure.  Even his first attempt at sex takes place in his “church,” the horse stable, where he is unable to perform when the horses whinny, sending a message of his wrong doing.   Dysart, as does the audience, tries to figure out if Alan’s problems, including his need for freedom, are his own doing or those created by his parents, and whether he is freeing the horses from their confinement and pain by blinding them.

“Equus” is a difficult play to stage.  For the script to work requires two superb actors, a strong supporting cast, creative staging, a meaningful vision for the horses, subtle and appropriate English accents, and a set that enhances the action.

Fortunately, director Patrick Ciamacco has found the cast and has the originality gene to make the near impossible possible.

At an open tryout, Ciamacco found boyish looking twenty-year old Antonio DeJesus.  DeJesus lives up to the English interpretation of his last name, which is “of God,” as Alan. DeJesus gives what has to be one of the most enveloping, highly-textured performances by a male the local theater season.  Kudos!  Bravo!

Russell B. Kunz creates a believable, well-conceived, tortured Martin Dysart.  He is a great match for DeJesus.

Aimee Collier, Andrew Narten, Claudia Esposito, Chris Bizub and Sarah Blubaugh are all prime in their roles.

Noah Hrebek and Patrick Ciamacco’s horse fabrications, and Ciamacco’s set design, which takes us into a barn, complete with Alan’s pit of Hell, enhances the production.


Be aware that the production includes full frontal male and female nudity.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Equus” is not only one of Blank Canvas’s finest productions, but one of the best stagings of the script I’ve seen.  This is required attendance for anyone interested in experiences of marrying a well-written script with a superb staging.  If for no other reason, go to the theater to experience the marvel of Antonio DeJesus.

Blank Canvas’s “Equus” runs through August 26, 2017, in its near 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.blankcanvastheatre.com

Next up at BC is their annual fund-raiser on September 1 and 2. “Chess,” is a concert version of the tale of a politically driven, Cold War-era chess tournament between two men—an American grandmaster and a Soviet grandmaster—and their fight over a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other.  It has music by Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus of Abba, and lyrics by Tim Rice.

October 6-28:  The stage version of the cult-rock movie “The Rocky Horror Show.”

Friday, August 04, 2017

2017 Fall Cleveland Theater Calendar


Here’s a list of some of the offerings of local theatres through the fall season (September-December, 2017). 

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL THEATERS! 



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


September 15 – October 8
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST--“Crazy” McMurphy, a charming rogue, is placed in a ward at a mental institution ruled by the terrible Nurse Ratched.  It’s a battle of wills!

October 6 – November 5
WAITING FOR GODOT—Beckett’s Existential epic “mystery wrapped in an enigma” which examines the hopeless destiny of the human race. Especially significant in this “reign of Trump.”

December 1 – December 31
Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID—A return visit of the 2016 award winning production tells the timeless fairy tale of Ariel, a mermaid princess, as she dreams of the forbidden land above.

BLANK CANVAS  

440-941-0458 or http://www.blankcanvastheatre.com/
 
Thursday, Friday and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm

October 6-28
THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW—The 1950s science fiction rock musical in which Brad and Janet run into car trouble, go to a creepy castle for some help and find Dr. Frank N. Furter.  (Contains adult language and content.)

December 1-16
URINETOWN THE MUSICAL—In a Gotham-like city, a terrible water shortage causes the government to enforce a ban on private toilets.  Watch in delight as this musical satire exposes social irresponsibility, bureaucracy, corporate mismanagement and capitalism at its worst.


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

September 9-October 1
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE—The Academy Award-winning romantic comedy comes to the stage, complete with sword fights, secret trysts, and backstage drama.

October 21-November 19
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK—Anne’s compelling words come alive and urge viewers to stand up for one another in the face of intolerance, fear, and hate.

November 24-December 23
A CHRISTMAS STORY—Yes, it’s back again…one boy, one holiday wish, The Old Man, Santa at Higbee’s Department Store and the glowing-leg-lamp.  A play for the whole family.


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

September 9
PANDEMONIUM 2017:  UNLEASH—CPT’S annual fundraiser transforms the CPT campus into a labyrinth of theatre, dance visual and performance art on every corner.

October 5-7 & 12 (previews), October 13-28 (official run)
THE FAMILY CLAXON—World Premiere of Cleveland Heights award winning writer Eric Coble’s tale of Andrew Claxon who wants to help Grandad Claxon celebrate his birthday but chaos reigns all around the town.

October 5-7
TEATRO PUBLICO NEW PLAY FESTIVAL---A workshop series of new scripts and scenes created by local Latino artists. 

October 26-28 & November 2 (previews), November 3-18 (official run)
THE ART OF LONGING--World premiere of Lisa Lanford’s play that follows the lives of six “third-shift” people who are awake when the rest of the city sleeps.

November 2-5—Y-HAVEN THEATRE PROJECT—An original theater production by the members of Y-Haven, a homeless men’s facility, centering on their life stories.

November 24-26 & 30 (previews), December 1-17 (official run)—
THE LOUSH SISTERS GET HARD FOR THE HOLIDAYS (YIPPIE-KAI-YAY MOTHER LOUSHERS)-- Holly and Jolly Loush return to CPT in this world premiere of a bawdy, boozy, over-the-top holiday cabaret in which they battle villains and attempt to avert disaster. 


convergence continuumconvergence-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

September 1-24
BROWNSVILLE SONG (B-SIDE FOR TRAY)—The Cleveland premiere of Kimber Lee’s story of the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn where life is often tragically cut short.

October 13-November 12
MARJORIE PRIME—Stars Cleveland legend Dorothy Silver as an 85-year-old woman with a handsome new companion which explores what it means to be human in the digital age.

December 1-30
SHERLOCK HOLMES:  THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS—It’s December on the streets of London, Sherlock Holmes is missing, and a young girl’s grandfather has been abducted.  Who will save the day?  The game’s afoot.


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

September 29-October 22
WELL—Lisa Kron, the Oberlin grad who wrote the book and lyrics for the award-winning FUN HOME, writes about a mother who has the extraordinary ability to heal a changing neighborhood despite her inability to heal herself.

November 17-December 10
THE HAIRY APE—Eugene O’Neill’s epic expressionist play about a brutish, unthinking laborer who searches for a sense of belonging in a world controlled by the rich.

December 1-17
THE LITTLE PRINCE—A play with music tells the tale of a world-weary and disenchanted Aviator whose sputtering plane strands him in the Sahara Desert and his meeting a mysterious “little man.”

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

September 29-November 4
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (A SOARING MUSICAL EPIC)—Victoria Bussert directs the Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz, Peter Parnell musical tale of Quasimodo, a deformed bell-ringer, who becomes an unlikely hero.

October 6-November 5
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM—Shakespeare’s comic tale of madness, mistaken identity,  mismatched lovers and mischief-making fairies.

November 25-December 23
A CHRISTMAS CAROL—Dickens’ classic tale of one man’s ultimate redemption.



INTERPLAY JEWISH THEATER   http://interplayjewishtheatre or 216-393-PLAY

Play readings at Dobama are free, but reservations are required. 

November 18
Special event—details to be announced!


KARAMU HOUSE  216-795-707) or www.karamuhouse.org
Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Check the theater’s website for exact times and dates


September
SIMPLY SIMONE:  THE MUSIC OF NINA SIMONE—a musical chronicling the life and career of the songstress.

October-November
THE LAKE EFFECT—Cleveland Heights native Rajiv Joseph’s tale about estranged siblings who reunite at their father’s restaurant in an evening of memories and family secrets.  (Produced in collaboration with Ensemble Theatre.)

December
TBA--An original world premiere of a jazz review featuring holiday classics from Cole Porter to Gershwin.


LAKELAND CIVIC THEATRE
  440-525-7134 or http://lakelandcc.edu/academic/arts/theatre/index.asp
Productions are staged at Lakeland Community College

October 11 & 12 @ noon, October 13 & 14 @ 7:30 PM

A GUIDE’S GUIDE TO LAWNFIELD—Local playwright Faye Sholiton’s play about an 18-year old history geek and unabashed fan of James A. Garfield. While leading a tour of the late president's Mentor home, he encounters a visitor who is particularly adamant that he gets the story right.

NEAR WEST THEATRE
   216-961-6391 or nearwestheatre.org

September 22-October 1
XANADU (Youth Production, ages 9-15)-- a musical comedy based on the 1980 cult classic film of the same name

November 17-December 10
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Intergenerational Production (Ages 7 and up)—A musical based on the Disney film of the same name which tells the story of a cold-hearted prince who has been transformed into a creature as punishment for his selfish ways. To revert into his human form, he must earn the love of a beautiful young lady.

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


September 1-16
LAST OF THE BOYS—Steven Dietz’s serio-comedy about a Vietnam vet which examines identities and memoires of the past.

October 27-November 11
A STEADY RAIN— With a plot similar to a real-life event that involved Jeffrey Dahmer, it focuses on two Chicago policemen who inadvertently return a Vietnamese boy to a cannibalistic serial killer who claims to be the child's uncle.

OHIO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL  www.ohioshakespearefestival.com
 (Winter and Spring Home:  Greystone Hall, Akron)
103 S. High Street, Akron 44308

September 22-October 8
THREE MUSKETEERS:  AN ADVENTURE WITH MUSIC—An OSF Family Theatre production of Alexander Dumas's classic tale of friendship, daring, romance, and intrigue...with music!  Curtain—7 PM-Thursday-Saturday and 2 PM on Sunday.

December 1-17
CAMELOT—Lerner and Loewe’s “one brief shining moment” musical tells the legend of King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table. Thursday-Saturday @ 8, Sunday @ 2.
 

PLAYHOUSESQUARE
   216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org

See the website for dates and times

September 12-17
THE BOOK OF MORMON—The award winning outrageous musical comedy which follows the misadventures of a mismatched pair of Mormon missionaries sent halfway across the world to spread the “Good Word.”

September 29-30
MARTIN LUTHER ON TRIAL—A new original play about Martin Luther on Trial.  A trial in the afterlife, and the prosecutor is the Devil.

October 17-November 5
WAITRESS—This ground-breaking show, with an all-female creative team, with music and lyrics by 5-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles, is an empowering musical about a woman whose dreams come true.  (The national tour will be rehearsed and start in CLE.)—Key Bank Broadway Series.

November 8-December 3
WICKED—a return visit of the Broadway sensation that looks at what happened in the Land of Oz long before Dorothy arrives.  Key Bank Broadway Series.

December 5-23
ON YOUR FEET! —Emilio and Gloria Estefan’s musical story of their breaking barriers to become crossover sensations at the very top of the pop music world.  Key Bank Broadway Series.

THE MUSICAL THEATER PROJECT  
http://www.MusicalTheaterProject.org or 216-529-9411 for tickets and information

(productions staged in review format with narration)



October 14 @ 7 PM-Stocker Center, Lorain County Community College,
October 15-3 PM-Ohio Theatre, Playhouse Square
OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNIN’: THE IMPACT OF OKLAHOMA! —75 years after its
Broadway premiere the first truly book musical reaffirms the strength of our national character.  Featuring Bill Rudman, Nancy Maier, Ursula Cataan, Lindsey Sandham Leonard, Joe Monaghan, Shane Patrick O’Neill and Fabio Polanco.

December 15—8 PM, December 16—2 PM—Stocker Center, Lorain County Community College
December 17 and 18—7 PM—Night town Restaurant, Cleveland Heights
A CHRISTMAS CABARET—Several dozen songs about the holidays which will please the entire family.  Featuring Nancy Maier, Joe Monaghan, Bill Rudman and Sandra Simon.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

“Wilde Tales,” a fun inclusive experience at The Shaw


A yearly highlight of the Shaw Festival season are their lunch-time hour productions which are staged in the intimate Court House Theatre.

This year’s offering is “Wilde Tales,” a fun program and inclusive experience.  It’s composed of three Oscar Wilde short children’s stories adapted by Kate Henning and takes place in the magnificent garden of Oscar Wilde’s imagination.

The offerings include “The Happy Prince,” “The Nightingale and the Rose,” and “The Selfish Giant” all based on the concept that love is “a powerful, life-altering force which is not confined to the mating of a man and a woman, not, for that matter even between humans.”  The fact that Wilde was a homosexual adds to the understanding of his expansive view of love.

In “The Happy Prince,” a sparrow comes across a golden statue of a prince.  The statue weeps for the poor citizens of the town.  The sparrow desires to travel the world with his flock, but he is so taken with the honesty and passion of the prince that he stays and aids the prince by doing kind things for the town folk.  Unfortunately, as the season changes from summer to winter, the sparrow dies from the cold, leaving the prince alone, with a broken heart.

The "Nightingale and the Rose" finds a nightingale who comes across a young student who is in love.  In order to win his lady fair, the youth must find the reddest rose in the kingdom.  In order to get the needed deep blood-red color, the nightingale impales her own heart on a thorn.  She gives her life so that the student can find true love.

"The Selfish Giant," centers on a mean giant who forbids children to play in his beautiful garden.  Because of his selfishness, winter lasts forever and the garden never blooms again.  Finally, the giant recants and allows the children back into the garden, and it flowers again.  One small boy especially wins over the giant.  After the boy leaves, the giant does not see him again until his life ends.

An announcement for the play states, “Calling all children!  We want you not only to see “Wilde Tales” but to make it happen.  Sign up in advance for the pre-show one-hour workshop with the actors to help create the magic on stage.  For ages 6 to 12.”

Yes, children circle the thrust stage of the theatre and give the actors props, some get to take roles, all become the flowers in the garden.  They also get to have their pictures taken with the cast.

The children on stage, and using members of the audience to make sound effects, sing, and do various other tasks, is part of The Shaw’s new policy for creating inclusive theatre which is a device used in this year’s offerings.

The cast includes:  Marion Day, Emily Lukasik, PJ Prudat, Sanjay Talwar, Jonathan Tan and Kelly Wong playing multi-roles.

Capsule judgment:  Christine Brubaker’s direction is creative, the casts are excellent, and the over-all effect is fun, educational and stimulating.  This is a wonderful example of children’s theatre for those of all ages.

For theater information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com. Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets. Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets and senior matinee prices.

Tom McCamus is superb in “The Madness of George III” at The Shaw


G. Bernard Shaw, for whom the Shaw Festival is named and dedicated, wrote in “The Revolutionist’s Handbook,” “Kings are not born, they are made by artificial hallucination.”

He may well have been thinking of George III, the central figure in Alan Bennett’s “The Madness of George III,” which is now in production at the Shaw Festival.

The play is a fictionalized biographical study of the latter half of the reign of George III.  Yes, that George, the one against whom the colonists rebelled, the one who was known as “The Mad George” because of his eccentric behavior, the one who found himself in odds with his son for the leadership of the United Kingdom during a period known as the Regency Crisis of 1788-89.

George III, who came to the throne at age 22 when his grandfather died, was blessed with a booming British economy which was just entering the industrial revolution and, in spite of losing the American colonies, soon added Canada to the British empire.  In spite of this he found himself in conflict with the Whigs, who were strongly opposed to an absolute monarchy.  His stubbornness and micromanagement style of leadership soon caused his popularity to reign.  His situation was not helped by the actions of his oldest son who agitated for George’s removal from the throne so he could be named regent.

The king’s erratic behavior, which with present day knowledge would have been treated as a mental illness with possible mood stabilizing drugs, was beyond the medical field of the time.  He was treated with many primitive methods including leeches, bloodletting, blistering and purging.

Eventually his wife, brought in a Dr. Willis who used “new” procedures.  The King eventually showed signs of some recovery and asserted his control.

The play, rather than plot driven, is a character study and the success of the play rests on the talents of the actor playing the role.

At The Shaw, the role is taken by the very talented Tom McCamus.  His performance is a textured creation displaying extraordinary emotion and the ability to handle humor.  He does not portray George III, he becomes George III.   This is a master class of acting abilities complete with an obvious understanding of the motives and psyche of the man he is portraying.




Chick Reid, as Queen Charlotte, Jim Mezon as Dr. Baker, and André Sills as Pitt, are also very good.  

Kent Bennett’s direction is problematic.  In spite of McCamus and some of the performers’ excellence, the director fails to develop the same needed reality in many others. They, instead, feign their roles, with overdone gestures, fey expressions, often bridging on farce shadowed with melodrama.  They create caricatures rather than real people.

One must question why the set design included two walls of box seats in which audience members were seated.  Yes, even though the production philosophy under the direction of Tim Carrol, the Shaw’s new artistic director, is for two-way, inclusive theater, the presence of the on-stage on-lookers is questionable. 

The stage audience couldn’t be commoners, as the King would never address “the people” directly.  The cast couldn’t interact with them as this is a realistic play requiring not breaking reality with side comments. Even something that could have made sense for the stage audience didn’t work.  The two young girls placed in the second balcony to throw roses onto the cast during the curtain call failed, as the lasses started their actions after the cast had permanently left the stage.

Capsule judgment:  In spite of some questionable directorial decisions, “The Madness of George III” is a play well worth seeing.  The script provides a fascinating view of a historical figure not often exposed to the public and Tom McCamus gives a tour de force performance in the lead role.

For theater information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com. Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets. Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets and senior matinee prices.

The Shaw’s "Saint Joan" is a compelling, effective, inventive production


Joan d’Arc was born January 6, 1412, and was burned at the stake on October 30, 1431.  


During her short life, the oft referred to “Maid of Orleans” was the object of both adoration and damnation because of her role in the Hundred Years’ War and her connection to King Charles VII.  The uncrowned monarch sent her to the siege of Orleans.  Within nine days, leaning heavily on the advice of her “voices,” she defeated the English and had Charles crowned.

Some present day mental health practitioners would label Joan as schizophrenic.  Religious leaders and the French who adored her thoroughly believed that the voices of the Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret, and Saint Catherine of Alexandria, who she vowed she heard and spoke with, were real. 

Her life ended at age 19 when she was captured by the English, refused to admit she was practicing heresy and was sentenced to death by pro-English Bishop Beauvais Pierre Cauchon.  Her post-humus conviction was rescinded in 1456, and she was declared a martyr.  She was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920.


Joan has been the subject of literature, paintings, sculpture, and memorialized by writers, filmmakers and composers.  Even a video game has been created with her as the main character.
George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan” was written three years after her canonization and dramatizes her life based on the records of the trial which led to her death. 


Interestingly, Shaw, who was a noted religious nonbeliever, indicated that concerned people acted in good faith according to their beliefs.  He stated in the play’s long preface, “the characterization of Joan by most writers is romanticized to make her accusers come off as completely unscrupulous and villainous.” 


Not all agree with Shaw as one historian of the time argued that the play was highly inaccurate, especially in its depiction of medieval society.


Some theatre historians declare the play to be Shaw’s “only tragedy,” and Joan a tragic hero.  Shaw, himself, characterized it as “"A Chronicle Play in 6 Scenes and an Epilogue". 


The Shaw production, under the direction of new Artistic Director, Tim Carroll, is captivating.  He states he chose the play to be his first offering in his tenure because,” I have always loved “Saint Joan.”  He goes on to explain that it appears that this play liberated the poet in the writer and that “I think Shaw sees himself in her.” 


The script obviously also released something in Carroll.  His staging is creative. The motives of the interpretation are crystal clear, the use of contemporary dress and language leaves no idea hidden, the imaginative set design which places all the action front and center eliminates theatricality, the audience is sucked in and is an active witness to history.


Joan is not portrayed as a wild religious fanatic or a psychotic.  Sara Topham brilliantly underplays the young lady.  She is real, vulnerable, yet assured.  She does not rant.  She explains with conviction.  We believe that she believes.  Topham does not act Joan, she is Joan.


Masterfully, Wade Bogert-O’Brien as the Dauphin, avoids past portrayals of Charles VII-to be, as a fey sniveling idiot.  His Dauphin is a young man aware that he is unready to assume the massive responsibility being thrust upon him and doing everything to avoid being termed a failure. 


Other members of the cast are equally as competent, each a clearly etched realistic character.  There are no caricatures here, only well-conceived characters.


Kevin LaMotte’s lighting and Judith Bowden’s design aid in creating this epic production.  Claudio Vena’s original music helps set the right tone for the style of the staging.


Capsule judgement: “Saint Joan,” under the direction of Tim Carroll, is a masterful piece of theater.  The production is clear in its intent and purpose and compels the audience to be a part of history.  Bravo!


For theater information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com. Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets. Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets and senior matinee prices.

Delightful, thought-provoking “Androcles And the Lion,” the play to see at Shaw


George Bernard Shaw, for whom Canada’s Shaw Festival is named, was noted for his strong political, gender, governmental and education views.  His special target of biting, yet often subtle satire, was the church.  It didn’t matter the denomination. Shaw skewered all organized religion.

The preface of his “Androcles and the Lion,” which is often referred to as “The Gospels of Shaw,” is an examination of the writer’s analysis of “The Bible” which proclaims the Irishman’s belief that Jesus was a benevolent genius, was brought to popularity due to his martyrdom, but whose ideas were lost at his crucifixion as the Christian church followed the teachings of Paul and substituted ritual for Christ’s philosophy.  The preface, interestingly enough, is longer than the 1912 short play. 

Shaw tells the tale of Androcles (the delightful Patrick Galligan), a Christian tailor, who, while wandering in the forest with his nagging wife, came upon the injured lion and removed a thorn from the paw of the king of the jungle.

Androcles is captured, along with many Christians, and is brought to the Colosseum by the Romans.  Their fate is to be thrown to the lions or participate in gladiatorial combat.

Among the others in his group are Ferrovius (the studly Jeff Irving), a recent Christian convert, who is in a personal torment between his natural violent inclinations and his newly found piousness, and Lavinia (lovely Julia Course), a convert to whom a Roman captain (kindly Kyle Blair) is attracted.

The Christians are sent to the arena to be eaten by lions or killed by the gladiator.  When Androcles is sent in, he is confronted by the same lion from whose paw he had taken out the splinter.  Instead of killing Androcles, the appreciative lion befriends him.  

Androcles is not the only one who is saved. Ferrovius throws off his religious mantel and kills all the gladiators, is offered a position in the Pretorian Guard, and the rest of the Christians are released because of his bravery, and, of course, Androcles and his friendly lion dance around the arena to the delight of all.

When the Emperor enters the arena the lion attacks him.  Androcles asks him to save the Emperor.  The lion does so.  The Emperor then declares that the siege of the Christians over and Androcles and the lion depart together.

Sounds like morbid tale.  No!  In the hands of the creative direction of Tim Carroll, the Shaw’s new Artistic Director, the production is delightful. 

Carroll states in his program notes, “You are about to see a show made with love and respect for the material, but with a complete absence of reverence.” 

Using his newly declared request for a more inclusive method of directing and staging plays, which has been embraced by the staff, the Lion is played by a randomly picked member of the audience (with on-stage coaching by the cast), Stories about those in attendance are shared by cast members who spent a long period before the opening “lights up” with those in attendance, and personal stories are shared by cast members based on colored balls being thrown on stage by audience members. 

Each ball, which had been distributed to viewers by cast members, has been assigned a specific task.   A cane taken from a woman in the first row of the audience becomes a major prop, money is taken from a gentleman as a “donation to the actor’s fund.”   And, so on and so on, building on the concept of inclusion and the delight of the audience.

The flexibility of the production is well-illustrated by a note in the program stating, “Due to the nature of this production, the running time is approximately 1 hour and 55 minutes to 2 hours and 20 minutes including one intermission.”

Capsule judgement:  The Shaw’s “Androcles and the Lion” is a total delight while leaving no doubt of the writer’s negative views about organized religion and oppressive politics.  The entire production is free of pretense, is audience centered, fresh, and a must see for anyone interested in experiencing inclusive theatre at is finest.  Of the 2017 season’s shows, this is probably my favorite!

For theater information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com. Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets. Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets and senior matinee prices.

Creative “Me and My Girl” delights at Shaw Festival


Though America is credited with developing modern musical theater, productions that have a story-line and incorporate dance and song into the format, there is one aspect of the genre which the British do much better…the musical farce.  Yes, shows like “Me and My Girl,” in which slapstick, double-takes, physical exaggeration and the ridiculous hold sway tend to be delightful in the hands of the Brits and Canadians due to their long history of music hall theater in which broad exaggeration and farce hold supreme.

Scripts in which class is taken into consideration is also where the British shine.  In contrast to supposedly classless America, Britain is traditionally class driven.  Therefore, many British plays and musicals mock the British caste system.  Whether it’s “My Fair Lady,” “By Jeeves,” “Half a Six Pence” “Oliver,” or “Me and My Girl,” class plays a roll.

To grasp the underlying premise of “Me and My Girl,” the British class system has to be understood.  In contrast to the caste system in other European countries, the British system is somewhat more flexible.  A person may rise through the order by getting wealthy, being knighted or being revealed as a member of the exclusive group through a quirk of parentage, in contrast to the “you have to be born into this position, no exceptions.”

In “Me and My Gal,” Bill Snibson, the central character in the L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber (book and lyrics) set to Noel Gay’s music, is an uninhibited cockney from Lambeth, which is a dense industrial, commercial, residential, low-level area of London, noted for its unique language patterns, which includes using slang and making up rhymes while speaking.

The story takes place in the late 1930s and tells the tale of the unrefined cockney, Bill (Michael Therriault), who learns that he is the heir to the Earl of Hareford.  Yes, he is now a wealthy titled member of the upper class.  That is, if he gets the approval of the Earl’s solicitor, Sir John Tremayne (Ric Reid), and Bill’s uptight Aunt Maria, the Duchess of Dene (Sharry Flett).  Not only must Bill change his language and actions, but must rid himself of his long time love, Sally (Kristi Frank).

As happens in all farce, after all sorts of ridiculous complications, as in all British fairytales, all’s well that ends well as Bill and Sally are finally brought together as a proper gent and his lady.

Highlight scenes include the coming to life of the portraits of Bill’s ancestors, Sally being whisked off to a speech professor (think Henry Higgins from “Pygmalion”), the show stopping “Preparation Fugue” and the dynamic “The Lambeth Walk,” a dance craze which was highlighted in a story in the “London Times” of October, 1938 with the statement, “While dictators rant and statesman talk, all Europe dances to the Lambeth Walk.”

The Shaw production, under the creative, dynamic direction of Ashlie Corcoran is a laugh-centric, fun experience.  Corcoran, who has as the deft ability to create farcical, uninhibited scenes, is ably assisted by choreographer Parker Esse, who knows how to stage dance routines, especially creative tap numbers.

The cast is universally outstanding, “not a wreck in the peck.”

Though it is generally understood that the original script was written to star Lupino Lane, a 1930’s London theater favorite, who was a singer-comedian known for his acrobatic abilities, it would be hard to believe that anyone could be better in the role of Bill than The Shaw’s Therriault.  The mighty-mite, a diminutive version of famous Danny Kay, is a four-talent star.  He can sing, act, dance and create physical farce with the best of them.   Therriault is a dynamo, who grabs and holds the audience’s attention in every appearance.  His “Leaning on a Lamp Post” was charismatic and his prat falls superb.

Kristi Frank is character-perfect as Sally.  Therriault and Frank’s renditions of “Me and My Gal” and “Hold My Hand” were charming, as was her “Once You Lose Your Heart.”

Capsule judgment:  It’s impossible to sit in the audience and not be carried away with The Shaw’s “Me and My Girl.”  It is a charming, dynamic, fun-filled must see-production.
For theater information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com. Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets. Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets and senior matinee prices.

A Clevelander’s view of the Shaw Festival—2017



The Shaw is one of two major Canadian theater celebrations, the other being The Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario.  Both are professional, high quality venues.

  

The Shaw, as Canadians refer to it, is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw, his writing contemporaries and modern plays that share Shaw’s provocative exploration of society and celebration of humanity.  



Many Clevelanders take the four-hour drive up to Niagara-on-the-Lake to participate in theatre, tour the “most beautiful little city in Canada,” shop, and eat at the many wonderful restaurants.  You can even play golf and go on a rapid ride on the Niagara River.

As I walked down the main street in a t-shirt emblazoned with, “I liked Cleveland even before it was cool,” I was greeted with many “Go Cavs,” “Go Tribe” and “great shirt.”  I was even stopped by a couple from Detroit who were going to stop in CLE on the way home and wanted a list of places
and restaurants to visit.  Gee, I should get a job at Destination Cleveland.

It’s an especially good year to go, as I found out on my recent visit.   The U.S. dollar value is high against the Canadian currency (as of early August, $1 American=$1.24 Canadian).  And, this season’s theater offerings are excellent.

New Artistic Director Tim Carroll has instituted an inclusion policy.  Patrons are met by eager volunteers at each venue. Before each show a member of the cast comes out and introduces himself/herself.  For one show, Carroll himself was our host. 

In many of the productions, members of the audience are involved in the staging through interactions with the cast beforehand or actually coming on stage to be part of the goings-on.   The lion in “Androcles and the Lion” was played by a young lady who indicated she had always wanted to be on stage, but never had the chance.  The children of audience members were involved in “Wilde Plays.” 

The involvement worked well in many shows but using it in all productions is probably not a good idea.  It was a major distraction in staging of “The Madness of George III.”

If you are planning on going to the prettiest little town in Canada, it’s a good idea to make both theater and lodging reservations early, especially with the B&Bs on weekends. 


Our home away from home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (http://www.wellington.house@sympatico.ca), directly across the street from The Festival Theatre, within easy walking distance of all the theatres, where the breakfasts are great and the furnishings lovely.  For information on other B&Bs go to www.niagaraonthelake.com/showbedandbreakfasts




There are some wonderful restaurants.  My in-town favorites are The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King Street), Ginger Restaurant (905-468-3871, 390 Mary Street) and Niagara’s Finest Thai (905-468-1224, 88 Picton St.). 


Having just returned from the Festival, I offer these capsule judgments of some of the shows: (To read the entire review of any of these go to:  http://www.royberko.info/

Me and My Girl” -- It’s impossible to sit in the audience and not be carried away with The Shaw’s “Me and My Girl.”  It is a charming, dynamic, fun-filled must see-production. (runs through October 15)
 

Saint Joan” --  Under the direction of Tim Carroll, Saint Joan,is a masterful piece of theater.  The production is clear in its intent and purpose and compels the audience to be a part of history.  Bravo! (runs through October 15)

Androcles and the Lion” -- The Shaw’s “Androcles and the Lion” is a total delight while leaving no doubt of the writer’s negative views about organized religion and oppressive politics.  The entire production is free of pretense, is audience centered, fresh, and a must see for anyone interested in experiencing inclusive theater at is finest.  Of the 2017 season’s shows, this is probably my favorite! (runs through October 7)


Wilde Tales” -- Christine Brubaker’s direction is creative, the casts are excellent, and the over-all effect is fun, educational and stimulating.  This is a wonderful example of children’s theater for those of all ages.  (runs through October 7)


The Madness of George III” -- In spite of some questionable directorial decisions, “The Madness of George III” is a play well worth seeing.  The script provides a fascinating view of a historical figure not often exposed to the public and Tom McCamus gives a tour de force performance in the lead role.  (Runs through October 15)

Shows I didn’t see because they were in previews or haven’t opened, but are part of the season are: “Dracula” (through October 14), “1837:  The Farmer’s Revolt” (through October 8), “An Octoroon” (through October 14), “Middletown,” (through September 10), “1979” (October 1-14).
 


For theater information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com. Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets. Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets and senior matinee prices.

 

Go to the Shaw Festival!  Find out what lovely hosts Canadians are and see some great theater! 

Don’t forget your passport as it’s the only form of identification that will be accepted for re-entry into the U.S.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Porthouse’s “Newsies” makes for a very pleasant evening of theater


“Newsies” is the Disney produced musical that was inspired by the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in which a group of ragtag ruffian youth, who were the breadwinners for their impoverished immigrant families, stood up to the powerful Joseph Pulitzer, the owner of New York’s major newspaper.  The show is now on stage at Porthouse Theatre, in its area premiere, on the grounds of Blossom Center.


Though the musical embellishes the facts of the real strike, it makes for an entertaining show, which gives us good guys to root for, evil ones a chance to receive jeers, and in the present shadow of political angst, it highlights how the upright can triumph over the hateful, who find self-ego more important than the needs and necessities of those on the fringes of society.
 

“Newsies” has catchy, toe-tapping music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and a hooky book by Harvey Fierstein that gives director Terri Kent a chance to do creative staging and play for both laughs and pathos. 
 

In the mold of the traditional musical, the songs are melodic, the two-act format ends with the first act leaving the audience with a cliff hanger regarding whether good guy Jack or the bad guy Joseph Pulitzer will prevail, and offers an obvious and audience pleasing ending. 

The score includes ballads, marches, and tap dancing inducing sounds.   “Santa Fe” is a song of longing, the show-stopping “Seize the Day” is a choreographic explosion of determination, and the tap dancing dynamic “King of New York” stops the show.   “The Bottom Line” illustrates greed and corruption, “Brooklyn’s Here” shows the power of solidarity of purpose and how enemies can form a bond when it comes to forging change.  


“Newsies” is a hard show to cast and produce.  It requires at least a dozen male dancers, who must also sing and act with precision.   Any theater, other than on Broadway venue, will find difficulty in finding the needed male performers.  


The Porthouse production does a decent job of filling the roles. 
MaryAnn Black has done an excellent job of choreographing the dance-centric show, especially considering the limited stage size.  Flips, somersaults, line-dancing, contemporary moves and balletic moves explode on the stage.  Especially strong dancers are:  Ryan Borgo, Nick Johnson, Matthew Smetana and Jake Rosko.
 

Matt Gittins lacks some of the dynamism of Jeremy Jordan who was the original Jack Kelly on Broadway. However, he is believable as Jack, the leader of the Newsies, the tough guy with a tender underbelly.  He has a strong singing voice. 
 

Beautiful Katelyn Cassidy charms as Jacks’ love interest and defiant daughter of Joseph Pulitzer.  Gittins and Cassidy’s rendition of “Something to Believe In” is one of the show’s musical highlights.
Morgan Thomas-Mills nicely textures the role of Crutchie.   His “Letter from the Refuge” had the right vocal and longing sound.
 

Bryce Baxter was character right as Davey, Jack’s right hand man, the brains of the Newsies.

The small thrust stage gave Scenic Designer Nolan O’Dell a special challenge.  He needed to leave room for dancing and still be able to fulfill the requirement of numerous settings.  He basically accomplished this by using two large scaffold formats, with some additional set pieces.  After a while all the moving of stuff around became a bit much, but, in general the concept worked.
 

Jonathan Swoboda’s 11-piece orchestra played extremely well and kept the upscale pace dynamic without drowning out the singers, which is often a major problem in local theatres.
 

Capsule judgement: “Newsies,” which is based on a real tale of good versus evil, and a love connection of opposites attracting, has a multi-textured melodic score. The Porthouse production contains dynamic choreography and strong musical and vocal sounds, which adds up to a very pleasant evening of theater!
 

“Newsies” runs until August 13, 2017, at Porthouse Theatre (3143 O'Neil Rd., Cuyahoga Falls, OH, on the ground of Blossom Music Center).  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to www.porthousetheatre.com.  Curtain times are 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Porthouse open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.

Friday, July 21, 2017

“Best of Broadway’ brings out the best of the Cleveland Orchestra and Festival Chorus at Blossom



A massive Blossom crowd, a nearly full amphitheater and a lawn in which not a blade of grass was not the covered with blankets, table cloths, lawn chairs and people, came out to hear the “Best of Broadway,” a series of groovy music, jive, jazz, tin pan alley and ballads from the golden years of musicals performed on the Great White Way. 

America is noted for many things:  democracy, hotdogs, apple pie, baseball, and the musical.  Yes, the art form known as musical theater was given birth in this country. 

The date:  September 12, 1866.  The place: Niblo’s Garden, a 3200-seat theatre on Broadway in New York City.  The situation:  A Parisian ballet troupe found itself without a place to perform when their venue, the New York Academy of Music, burned down.  The manager of Niblo’s Garden invited them to participate as part of a Faustian play that was running in his theatre. 

Named “The Black Crook, “the production is considered a prototype of the modern musical in that its songs and dances were interspersed throughout a story and performed by the actors who spoke lines, sang and danced.  The show ran for a record-breaking 474 performances and then toured the country.  Thus, the American musical format was born.




On July 16, The Cleveland Orchestra, under the baton of conductor Jack Everly, presented compositions from Broadway musicals which spanned the Golden Age of the American Musical, the era after World War II, through the British Invasion of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and onward to more recent productions.

Act One opened with a sprightly rendition of the overture to “Annie Get Your Gun,” by Irving Berlin.  Next up was a somewhat disappointing rendition of “Man of La Mancha,” from the Mitch Leigh/Joe Darion musical by the same name, which featured vocalist Ron Remke who has a fine voice, but sang words, rather than stressing the meaning of the words.   He acquitted himself later in the program with a marvelous rendition of “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)” from Jesus Christ, Superstar.

Act One continued with fine renderings of “Maria” from “West Side Story” and “This is the Moment” from “Jekyll & Hyde.” 

The Blossom Festival Chorus then sang an emotion-laden rendition of “Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”  A stirring “Oklahoma,” from the show of the same name was presented by Richard Todd Adams. 

The act ended with Christian DeCicco, dressed in a classic white gown, leaving the audience spellbound with “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from “Evita,” the orchestra finely playing selections from “Miss Saigon,” and the three male vocalists blending their voices for a meaningful version of “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of LaMancha.”

Act Two started with a stirring orchestral rendition of “Seventy-Six Trombones” from Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” followed by Richard Todd Adam’s crowd-pleasing “Trouble” which received a standing ovation.

It may be hard to say and spell, but Christina DeCicco and Ron Remke stopped the show with their fun-filled “Supercalifragillisticexpialidocious” from “Mary Poppins.”

Then came what must be considered the program’s highlights:  orchestral selections from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” Ms. DeCicco’s “I Dreamed a Dream” and Mr. Keegan’s “Bring Me Home” from “Les Miz.” 

“Make Our Garden Grow,” from Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide,” though well sung by the company, seemed like an unneeded tag on following the impressive Lloyd Webber compositions.

Capsule judgment:  From their appreciative reaction, the large Blossom audience had no “Trouble” finding “The Music of the Night” to fill “The Impossible Dream” of hearing “The Best Broadway” played and sung by the Cleveland Orchestra, under the baton of Jack Everly, and Blossom Festival Chorus and guest singers (Christina DeCicco, Ted Keegan, Ron Remke and Richard Todd Adams). Next season we hopefully will have a similar program consisting of songs from musicals of the 2000s.

Next up Blossom:
July 22— “Today and Tomorrow—Vim, Verve & Virtuosity” --Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra at 7:00 PM present compositions by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Felix Mendelssohn, followed at 8:00 PM by The Cleveland Orchestra playing works by Rossini, Paganini and Dvorak.

July 23— “Fire and Rain:  Folk Anthems of the 1970s,” featuring the guitars and vocals of AJ Swearingten and Jayne Kelli and the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Rob Fisher.

Next up at Porthouse:
Disney’s “NEWSIES” from July 27 to August 11.

For tickets to these and other Blossom concerts call 216-231-1111 or 800-686-1141, or go the Severance Hall Ticket Office, or Blossom Box Office, or go online to http://www.clevelandorchestra.com

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The hills are alive, once again, with the “Sound of Music” courtesy of Playhouse Square


As a reviewer who often goes to the theatre three or four times a week, I’m often asked, “How can you see the same show time after time?”  It’s a good inquiry. 

Yes, seeing Tevya and his town folks “schlep” out of Anatevka in “Fiddler on the Roof,” yet once again, watching for the umpteenth time the final kick sequence of “Chorus Line,” pulling out a hankie while viewing as Maria kneels over his body because Tony just got done-in once again in “West Side Story,” and observing Joseph get sold off by his brothers to a bunch of Canaanites because his father bought him an amazing technicolor dreamcoat, may not seem like a productive way for a mature male to spend his time. 

But, hey, it’s my job, and my passion, so there I was in the fifth row of the Connor Palace, having a cute little blond girl sitting behind me say, “I love ‘The Sound of Music.’  I’ve seen the movie twice.  Have you seen it before?”

Yes, my lovely lass, I’m about to see Maria make her bedroom curtains into ugly clothes for the von Trapp kids, charm the lederhosen off their father, climb every mountain, fool the German army and hear the Mother Abbess sing one of my favorite lines in any musical, “How do you hold a moon beam in your hand?” for the umpteenth time.

For those who have spent all their time watching the Browns lose games, the Cavs win a championship, and the Indians almost go all the way, “The Sound of Music, unravels the tale of Maria, who wants to be a nun, but has too much spirit to keep her emotions under control.  A letter to the Abby prompts the Mother Superior to send Maria to be a governess for a widowed naval captain. She goes to the estate and finds that she is the latest in a long line of governesses run off by the children who wish to be loved, not disciplined.  Her exuberance wins over the children and their grieving father.  It’s just before World War II.  The duo marries, but their life is threatened by the Nazis taking over Austria, who give the Captain a commission in the German army which he refuses to take, and the family climbs every mountain as they escape to Switzerland. (And, incidentally come to the US, open a resort in Stowe, Vermont, and…but that’s another story!)
   
A traveling company of the “The Sound of Music,” with music by Richard Rogers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, and based on the book, “The Trapp Family Singer” by Maria Augusta Trapp, is now in a short run at the Connor Palace.

And, though I can sing (not exactly on key), dance (ha) and recite (now, that I can do) every note and line after seeing them over and over, there are many for whom the script on stage is a new experience.  That’s why the theatre is nicely filled and the rest of the run has a good pre-sale.

To make things even better, this production is quite good.  Much better than the 2013 television with the miscast Carrie Underwood of “American Idol” fame as Maria.  While her vocal performance was praised, her acting performance was described as being "amateur," "lifeless" and” lacking emotion” by critics.

The same negatives cannot be said of the pretty, tall University of Michigan grad Charlotte Maltby, who creates a Maria who has spirit, charm and is totally delightful.  The actress’s slight hint of child-like awkwardness and a relaxed, well-trained voice adds to her being a perfect image of the Maria all fans of the show can love.

Though Nicholas Rodriguez has no physical resemblance of an austere Aryan, which is the accepted image for Captain Georg von Trapp, he has the charm and singing voice needed to be a match for Maltby’s Maria.

The kids are all charming, the supporting characters nicely conceived, the sets well enough put together to make the show look like a Broadway “wanna be” rather than a community theatre staging, and the orchestra is large enough to sound somewhat lush.

Capsule judgement:   The little girl sitting behind me was on the edge of her seat throughout the show and, at the end, sleepily said to her mother, “I loved it!” Yes, the touring production of “The Sound of Music,” is a very pleasant experience. “So long, Farewell,” How long will it be before I have to “Climb Every Mountain” again?  Guess as long as I’m a reviewer, “There is No Way to Stop It.”

Tickets for “The Sound of Music,” which runs through July 23, 2017 at the Connor Palace, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or by going to www.playhousesquare.org.

GROUNDWORKS DANCE THEATER delights again at Cain Park concert



As such television programs as “So You Think You Can Dance” and “World of Dance” convince more and more people to appreciate dance as an art form, they also create a higher barrier for local companies to leap.  With such superb choreographers as Tony winning Mia Michaels, Travis Wall, Sonya Tayeh and Tyce Diorio creating visual marvels, and national and world-wide dancers modeling what is “good” in dance, expectations for local companies rise.

Groundworks Dance Theater, David Shimotakahara’s Cleveland-based company, was founded in 1989 and “is a vibrant and sustainable organization, nationally recognized for making a unique contribution to the art form and enriching human experiences through the creation of original contemporary dance.”  It is noted for being innovative, collaborative, unique and “creating meaningful and intimate experiences and exchanges.”

These qualities were clearly on display as, on a hot and sticky evening at the Alma Theatre in Cain Park, an enthusiastic audience saw the company, complete with two new members, present three outstanding compositions, which were in the form and performance level of those which flash across the television screens.

The program opened with the World Premiere of guest choreographer Monica Bill Barnes’ “Untitled.”  Danced to a mélange of such musical selections as Louis Prima’s “Oh Marie,” “Goldberg Variations J. S. Bach, BWV 966, ‘Aria’” as performed by Glenn Gould, and Joan Osborne’s “Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends,” the blend of humor, “the stress on celebration of individuality and chronicling of the innate theatricality of everyday life,” the piece was encompassing and audience pleasing.

 “Inamorata,” as choreographed by Kate Weare and restaged by Douglas Gillespie, is a non-stop exhausting dance featuring the entire company (Felise Bagley, Gemma Freitas Bender, Annika Sheaff, Damien Highfield and Tyler Ring).  

Encompassing a full display of human emotions, the feelings of longing, hope, doubt and mystery were highlighted through a pastiche of various dance styles.

The final selection, the audience pleasing “Chromatic,” found the entire company dancing to musical selections played on player pianos and was conceived by Shimotakahara in collaboration with past and present company members.

Groundworks’ two newest company members are Tyler Ring and Gemma Freitas Bender.  Ring, an Indiana native, is a tall-lanky Tommy Tune-looking dancer.  He displayed excellent flexibility, athleticism and an engaging personality, which blended well with the rest of the troupe.  He is a nice addition.

The attractive Bender, who is from Buffalo, New York, was a 2014-2015 Recipient of the Princess Grace USA Award and is a graduate of Julliard.  Her style of dance fits well with the gymnastic/Pilobolus form of Annika Sheaff, also a Julliard grad, and the elegant movements of the elegant Felise Bagley.

Capsule judgment:  Groundworks continues to be the premiere small dance company of the Cleveland area.  Their opening night Cain Park program was well received by the near capacity audience at the Alma Theatre.

Next up for Groundworks:  Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, August 4 & 5, 2017 @ 8:45 in Goodyear Park in Akron.  They next appear in Cleveland with their Fall Performance Series featuring a world premiere of former company member Amy Miller on October 13 & 14, 2017 @ The Allen Theatre in Playhouse Square.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Overly long, thought-provoking “Neighbors” at convergence continuum



Last year, Dobama Theater’s production of Brenden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “An Octoroon” was selected as Best Non-musical Production by the Cleveland Critics Circle. 

The play was a flash back to the mid-1800s, and mirrored the bigotry, violence, racial profiling, work and housing discrimination, xenophobia and prejudice rampant in the political, business and social landscape of the United States, which has carried over into today’s America.

“Neighbors,” also penned by Jacobs-Jenkins, is now on stage at convergence-continuum. 

As is the case with the multi-award winning Princeton grad, and African-American author’s works, “Neighbors,” Jacobs-Jenkins’ first play, probes the complicated issue of race, family, class and self-identity.  It also uses a historical perspective, the Coon play, as a device to satirize and comment on modern culture.  And, as is his custom, Jacobs-Jenkins uses visual and verbal images, such as sex acts and explicit sexual language, to provoke the audience.  He is an advocate of shocking and creating unsettling feelings to enhance his story telling.

Richard (Prophet D. Seay), who is black, his white wife, Jean (Kim Woodward), along with their angst-filled bi-racial teenage daughter, Melody (Shannon Ashley Sharkey), have just moved from California to an unnamed city, for Richard to be an adjunct professor at the local college.  They have rented a house in an area which appears to be populated by conservative whites.

Richard has attempted to separate himself from black stereotypes by going to a prestigious college, majored in the classics and married a white woman.  He shows animosity for members of his fellow race, and refers to them as “niggers.”

Much to the consternation of Richard, a black family has moved into the house next door.  The new residents have a long history of performing in Coon shows and are always in costume and makeup.  

Coon show entertainers were blacks who, instead of whites in blackface, as in minstrel shows, were made up in blackface and made fun of themselves in racially charged skits complete with dancing, singing, watermelon and chicken eating, references to their males’ enormous penis sizes and females’ large breasts, portraying negroes as ignorant, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, joyous, and musical.

As the tale unfolds, Richard displays anxiety about his teaching abilities, Jean starts to question why she married Richard and turns to Zip Coon (A. Harris Brown), the patriarch of The Crows, and Melody develops a relationship with Jim (Anthony X), a nephew of the next door neighbors, who doesn’t fit in with his relatives.  Conflict, angst and chaos develop, leading to an unsettling ending.

Interludes, sidebars showing Coon production segments, are interspersed into the story line by the family members including Jeannine Gaskin (Mammy), Joshua McElroy (Sambo) and Kennetha Martin (Topsy).  Some are gross, others edifying.

“Neighbors” is not as well written as its sister play, “An Octoroon.”  The plot does not flow as clearly and the Coon Show interludes are difficult to perform by those not well-versed in the genre.  The script also needs drastic cutting.

Director Terrence Spivey and his cast put out full effort, but the over-all effect is not positive.

Capsule Judgement: “Neighbors” is a disturbing play with a well-intentioned message, but, as is often the case with first plays by an author, it lacks a strong center, is too long, and often shocks more than presents awareness reactions.  It is definitely not a play that will be appreciated by everyone.

“Neighbors” runs through July 29, 2017, at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s gentrifying Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or go to http://www.convergence-continuum.org/

Coming up at con-con: “Collaborator,” a one-person show, by Yussef El Guindi, as performed by Hillary Wheelock, August 10-12, 2017.  “Rhinoceros,” an absurdist play by Eugene Ionesco, which, in many ways, examines this country under a Trump administration.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

I can see you…Idina Menzel delights at Jacobs Pavilion






Near the end of her delightful concert at Jacobs Pavilion located in the Flats, multi-award winner Idina Menzel told the story of how, when some South Africans meet, they look directly at each other.  One says, “I can see you.”  The other, after making solid eye contact, repeats the phrase.  Menzel, demonstrated clearly, as the concert proceeded that she, in fact, was seeing her audience, taking them in, and appreciating their presence.   The audience vocally and with extended applause responded by letting her know that they, too, could see her!

The concert, presented with seven musicians and a back-up singer, all of whom did solos and were recognized by the headliner, was presented before an ever-changing mélange of electronic media which paralleled the song choices.

The talented songstress, songwriter, Broadway, television and movie star, was relaxed and charming in interacting with the audience, recognizing not only those in the high priced seats who were up close and personal, but those seated in the bleachers. 

She invited a young girl, who was carrying an “I love you Idina” sign, on stage to get her poster autographed, graciously accepted a pony-tail band from another child and asked her hair-dresser on stage to redo her hairstyle so that he could braid some of the star’s hair and added the jeweled stretchy, and also invited all the kids in attendance to come onto the steps and the edge of the stage to individually and jointly sing “Let It Go” from the hit film “Frozen.”

The concert not only included songs from her newest album and old time favorites, but selections from her Broadway shows “Rent” and “Wicked,” as well as “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from “Funny Girl” and “Wind Beneath My Wings” from “Beaches.”

Many talented stars appear in the concert venues of CLE, but few have the warmth and authenticity of Idina Menzel!   This lady is a true “mench” (Yiddish for “a true human being, a good person.”) 

Menzel’s openness to the audience, her kid-inclusiveness, courtesy to her joint performers and fine singing voice, made for a fine evening of entertainment.  Applause, applause!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Seldom-staged “City of Angels” now at Beck Center for the Arts



“City of Angels," a version of which is now on stage at Beck Center, opened on Broadway in December of 1989 and ran through January, 1992, in a healthy run of almost 900 performances.   Lakewood’s Dee Hoty, a three-time Tony nominee, played a leading role in the Great White Way run.

A musical comedy, it weaves two plots together making for a movie within a play format.  A “reel” world and a “real” world.

It’s Hollywood, late 1940, Stine (Jamie Koeth) has written a detective mystery which has been purchased by a Hollywood studio.  It will be produced and directed by Buddy (Greg Violand).  In spite of the book being a best seller, Buddy wants many, many rewrites, based on his perceptions of what makes a great movie.  Obviously, the meek Stine and the ego-centric Buddy clash.

The movie is a tale of decadence complete with a hard-boiled detective, femmes fatale, murders, plot twists, beatings, robbery, incest, intrigue, ego, ego and more ego.  The real story has a book writer who conflicts with the film’s producer/director, a marriage, an affair, and ego, ego, and more ego.

As Stine pounds away on his typewriter, the film’s melodramatic scenes are acted out.  Alaura Kingsley (Sonia Perez) is ushered into the inner office of PI Stone (Rob Albrecht).  Alaura reveals that she wants to hire Stone to solve the disappearance of her step-daughter, Mallory Kingsley (Madeline Krucek).  The voice-over, a common 40s movie device informs us, “Only the floor kept her legs from going on forever.”  (Yes, that’s the actual line!)   To make matters even more intriging, when Stone returns to his apartment, a few scenes later, Mallory is lounging naked in his bed.

In the main, the “movie” viewer will experience:  Stone getting a beating from a couple of hoodlums, Alaura’s husband, a sick elderly man encased in an iron lung whose inheritance is of great interest to his family, Kingsley getting accused of murder, a possible poisoning, hanky-panky, more hanky-panky, and yet more hanky-panky…you get the idea.

Meanwhile, in “real” life, Buddy is making changes in the script, Stine tries to keep his writing integrity while having an affair with Buddy’s secretary.  He has a confrontation with his alter ego (Stone, the detective in the film).  They sing, “You’re Nothing Without Me,” and reality and fantasy collide.  They later sing, “I’m Nothing Without You,” and the show ends with a happy ending, actually two happy endings.  (Ta-da!)

In spite of the fact that “City of Angels” won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score, it is seldom staged.  The reason for this probably centers on the technical and acting challenges, as well as audience confusion in following the dual plots.

Technically, the stage must be shrouded in various shades of black-gray-white for all movie scenes, giving it a film noir quality, with full color scenery for the reality scenes. Fortunately, Beck invested in an expensive projection system for their lush production of “Little Mermaid” last year and having this allows them to accomplish the shading requirements.  Bravo to Adam Zeek for his outstanding projection design.

The illumination necessities are well-developed by lighting guru Trad A Burns.

Another aspect of the technical requirements is the necessity for the clothing to follow the monocolor/technicolor pattern, as well as having era-correct clothing.  In general, Aimee Kluiber, the costume designer, has achieved the needed level of differentiation.

The biggest performance challenges are to get the accurate separation of the film acting style from the 1940s realism, and the differentiation between the dance and song stylings of the eras and medias.

The film actors should use stylized, exaggerated performance techniques, while the “other” cast must be totally believable and realistic.  

Reviews of the show constantly talk of the non-stop laughter brought about by film actor-centered exaggeration, caused by verbal and physical melodrama.  It takes master actors to pull this off.  Unfortunately, some in this production don’t have the acting chops and/or the extensive training to get the necessary effect.  The result is few laughs and film/reality confusion.

Fortunately, Martin Céspedes has delineated the jazz era movements, including jazz hands, body tilts, exaggerated facial expressions, stutter steps and freezes, from the smoother modern era movements.

The musical has parallel musical scores, with the singers and musicians required to change sounds according to the forms of the two competing media, basically a mellow sound versus a jazzy movie tinny background resonance.

Larry Goodpaster’s large orchestra plays very well, but the dual musical sounds often flow together, missing the shading that helps clear separation of the film noire from reality.  This is especially obvious in the singing.

As is often the case at Beck’s Mackey Theater, the sound system squealed on occasion and the voices faded in and out.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Though it is inconsistent in performance quality, the Beck production of “City of Angels,” gives theater buffs an opportunity to see this seldom-done musical with a fine display of technical effects.

“City of Angels” runs at Beck Center for the Arts until,  August 13, 2017.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to http://www.beckcenter.org
Next up at Beck:  The classic “One Few Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” from September 15-October 8, 2017.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Jivin’ “Ain’t Misbehavin’” is all singing and dancing at Porthouse


“Ain’t Misbehavin’,” now on stage at Porthouse Theatre, is a musical tribute to the black musicians of the 1920s and 30s who were part of the Harlem Renaissance.  It was an era of black ethnic pride and creativity related to Negro literature, art, poetry, and music. 

The show owes its title to the 1919 Fats Waller song, “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” which was a stabile offering at the Cotton Club and Savoy Ballroom, where whites and blacks of New York society paid tribute to the vocal divas and piano players who showcased swing music.

Ain’t Misbehavin'’’ is a musical-review, a series of songs by various composers and lyricists, presented one after another with no verbal bridges in between the numbers.

The review format requires top quality performers and musicians who are capable of performing number-after-number, at top quality, to grab and hold the audience’s attention.  In general, this format has faded from popularity, replaced by the jukebox musical in which songs, written before the idea of putting them together in a stage show, are blended into a story line (e.g., “Mama Mia,” “Jersey Boys”).  

The Porthouse production has a talented cast of singers and performers:  Chantrell Lewis, Aveena Sawyer, Tina Stump, Eugene Sumlin and Jim Weaver.

Show highlights include “The Viper’s Drag”/”The Reefer Song,” “Squeeze Me,” as well as the jitterbug dance number, “How Ya Baby,” the vaudeville flashback tune, “The Ladies Who Sing with the Band,” and the stride piano-centered “Handful of Keys.” 

The audience exploded with applause, often singing along, to the show’s closing unit of Fats Waller-made hits, ‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter,” “Two Sleepy People,” I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed,” “I Can’t Give You Anything Else But Love,” and “It’s A Sin To Tell a Lie.”

To make the show really work, the band must be exceptional.  Music Director/pianist Edward Ripley, Jr., drummer James Alexander II and bass player Jeremy Poparad, who are on a stage in full view of the audience are exceptionally good musicians, but showed little physical or facial enthusiasm during their playing, putting a damper on the needed musical enthusiasm and causing a disconnect between them and the performers. 

Director Eric van Baars kept the pace rapid, varied the choreographic movements, and created interesting stage pictures.  He might have considered cutting some of the over 30 songs as, after a while, the all-too-much similar musical sounds became somewhat tedious.

Patrick Ulrich’s dual leveled stage, complete with an edging of black and white painted piano keys, worked well.  Susan J. Williams’ costume designs were era correct.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Ain’t Misbehavin’” is a musical-review which will be of interest to those who like 1920 and 30’s Harlem Renaissance swing music.  Be aware that the show, though nicely performed, has over 30 songs and no story line.

"Ain’t Misbehavin'"runs until July 27, 2017, at Porthouse Theatre (3143 O'Neil Rd., Cuyahoga Falls, OH, on the grounds of Blossom Music Center).  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to www.porthousetheatre.com.  Curtain times are 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Porthouse open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.

NEXT UP: “Disney’s Newsies” from July 27-August 13.  It’s a dance-centric musical filled with great music and a family-friendly story.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Preview: Cleveland Israel Arts Connection and Dobama present Israeli Actor Roy Horovitz


It is the purpose of the Cleveland Israel Arts Connection, a program of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, to share the beauty of Israel, deepen Jewish identity, and explore the human condition.  This is done by presenting programs of dance, film, music, literature, the visual arts and theater.

Cleveland Israel Arts Connection’s next offering, in collaboration with Dobama, will be two-one act plays starring Roy Horovitz, performed on the stage at Dobama Theatre from July 13 through 16. 

Horovitz, and excellence in Israeli theatre, have been become synonymous based on his work with Habima, the National Theatre of Israel, and his many appearances in the United States.  He was named “Best Actor” at the International Children and Youth Festival twice and “Best Director” at Cameri Theatre of Tel-Aviv.

The Cleveland Israel Arts Connection program will consist of “My First Sony,” a comedy based on an Israeli book of the same name, which centers on eleven-year old Yotam (Horovitz) who is obsessed with documentation, and records his family and their many conflicts on his tape recorder.  The boy finds himself trying to make sense of his world as it crumbled around him, which gives a glimpse of Israeli life not found in the headlines.


“The Timekeepers,” the other one-act on the program, is a script by American writer, Dan Clancy, that caught on in Israel and has since toured the world in Hebrew and English versions. 
The play gives a different view of the Holocaust.  It tells the story of a conservative elderly Jewish watchmaker and Hans, an outrageous gay German man imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp during World War II. The duo is assigned to repair watches for their Nazi overlords. As they work together, suspicion, prejudice and indifference slowly give way to a touching friendship.


Israel, in spite of its orthodox underpinnings, is the most gay-friendly nation in the Middle East.  Gays and lesbians are integrated in all levels of society from politics to business to the military.  Tel Aviv Gay Pride, attended by 200,000 participants in 2016, is a week-long series of events and is considered by many to be a national holiday. 

Horovitz, an out gay man, has benefited from that liberal attitude.  He has performed “The Timekeepers” at Out-In-Israel, as well as at Gay Pride celebrations in the United States.

Horovitz thinks “the play conveys the full spectrum of human emotions, despite its grim setting.”  He’s “pleased how the play shows that the pink triangle was worn side by side with the yellow star during the Holocaust.”

Horovitz says,” I simply love playing Hans.” His favorite moment in the play is the ending scene, “when we come to learn that there is so much more to him than meets the eye.  I hope it will be a reminder to keep our humanity and sense of humor, even in the darkest times and against all odds.”

“I never knew a play that mentions the gay holocaust,” Horovitz said.  “I thought it was important to remind people there were other minorities in the Holocaust.”  (Side note:  Martin Sherman’s “Bent,” which will be performed by Beck Center next June, is another play about homosexuality from that era.  It follows a group of gay men finding ways to survive Nazi persecution of homosexuals.)

Both “My First Sony” and “The Timkeepers” will be performed in English. 

Cleveland Israel Arts Connection is co-chaired by philanthropist Roe Green and Erica Hartman-Horvitz.  Green stated, “We are thrilled to bring a world-class Israeli artist to town to perform.”

The appearance of Roy Horovitz is the first collaboration between Dobama and the Cleveland Israel Arts Connection, which will be followed up in the summer of 2018 with a production of "On The Grill" by Dror Keren.  That script finds the author revisiting the landscape of his childhood, in the Jezreel Valley, evoking, like the last flickering embers of a fire, a way of life that has all but disappeared from Israeli culture: the kibbutz.

What: “An Evening with Roy Horovitz” @ Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights on July 13 (7:30 pm, 14 (8 pm), 15 (8 pm), 16 (2:30 pm).  Tickets:  $30 for general admission, $25 for Dobama members.  To purchase tickets, visit Dobama.org or call 216-932-3396.  For information on the Cleveland Israel Arts Connection, visit jewishcleveland.org