Monday, August 17, 2015

TEAR IT OFF, a romance novel comes alive at convergence continuum


Book buyers spend an estimated $1.08 billion dollars each year purchasing romance novels.  Since 1972 when Avon printed Kathleen Woodiwiss’s “The Flame And The Flower,” supposedly the first U.S. published book of that genre, almost 55% of all paperbacks sold in the U.S. have centered on romantic relationships with optimistic endings, whose covers usually feature a handsome buff man saving a helpless woman.  These types of stories also dominate E-book downloads.

The main plot of a romance novel usually revolves around two people as they develop a love for each other and work on developing a relationship.  In general, these writings reward characters who are good people and penalize those who are evil.

Who reads these books with such titles as “Dancing on Coals,” “Playing it Close,” “Chained,”  “Hearts of Paradise,” “The Flirting Games,” “Utterly Sluttily,” and “Pale Stranger?”  They are mostly consumed by females (84%), aged 30-54.

Local playwright Mike Geither has built on the interest in romance novels by writing TEAR IT OFF, a “romantic novel” within a “romantic play.”  Part true formulaic page burner, part melodramatic farce, the script is now being produced by convergence-continuum.

Beth, a widow, and Bridget,  her younger sister, are two ladies with obviously too much time on their hands.  They fill their hours adlibbing tales of adventurous lovers, scorned lovers, scarred lovers, reunited lovers, secret lovers, sudden lovers, royal lovers, jilted lovers, and, eventually, a real lover.

The duo records their actions and words as they act out the stories. 

Into their lives comes, Charles, a mechanic and jack of all trades.  Of course, Charles has a back story centering on his younger brother, Tim, who has recently been released from jail.  So, all the elements of the romance novel are set…two lustful ladies, an eligible male, and a bad guy.

As the tale proceeds, we find out that Charles writes children’s novels.  Wow…he can join the ladies in crafting their book.  Of course, in the process of acting out the scenes, Charles is continually required to take off his shirt.  Tim, as per the format of these books, does a bad deed—he steals a family heirloom coin--is caught, and repents.  In the meantime, both ladies lust for Charles, he beds one.  Therefore, there is another conflict, as per genre requirements.   You get the point.

TEAR IT OFF proficiently directed by Karin Randoja.  She has a nice sense of comic timing and the overly-dramatic.  The laughs roll along, the overblown characters are well developed, and the whole thing works well.

Lucy Bredeson-Smith, her big saucer eyes gleaming, makes Beth into a willing participant in the over-exaggerated tale.  Lauren B. Smith, with her dyed red hair shining, develops nicely into a lustful vixen. 

Though he lacks the stud body or sultry looks of the stereotype romance novel leading man, Terrence Cranendonk is excellent as Charles. (Maybe Randoja cast him because he doesn’t fit the mold, thus making the whole thing even more ludicrous.)  Beau Reinker makes for a believable slick con artist and, as the sound designer, adds some great effects to enhance the slight setting. 

Capsule Judgement:  TEAR IT OFF is no great theatrical script, but the premise and the way it is developed makes for a fun evening of theatre, resulting in a get-away from the “real world,” where goings-on are a little less formulaic.

TEAR IT OFF runs through September 5, 2015 at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074.

Next up at con-con is the regional premiere of THE HAPPY SAD, a comedy with songs, by Ken Urban. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Classic ‘OUR TOWN’ gets nice traditional read at Blank Canvas

I consider OUR TOWN, which is now being performed at Blank Canvas, to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. It not only won the Pulitzer Prize in 1938, it has become one of the most performed and studied plays in the English language.  It, along with Arthur Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN, Eugene O’Neil’s LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, Tennessee Williams’ STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, and William Inge’s DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS, continue to be listed as the best written modern American plays by theatre experts.



On the surface, the play appears to be a rendition of the daily activities found in small town America in the first third of the twentieth century.  In reality, it is a tribute to basic humanistic views of life.  Wilder’s stated intent is to make each person “become a personal witness to the everyday activities that we have seen before, read about before, even lived before, but often taken for granted.”

Each time I see, direct, teach or have appeared in OUR TOWN, I bask in the after-glow and find myself trying to understand and appreciate the potential of life. 



Playwright Thornton Wilder, who was brought up in Hong Kong and China, was imbued with an Asian perfectionist attitude. His education at Oberlin and Yale centered on the classics. These influences are deeply imbedded into the ‘OUR TOWN’ script. The stage manager represents the classical Greek chorus and the guide in Asian theatrical forms. The direct speeches to the audience create a theatricalism that stops the viewers from transferring their thoughts to the play’s characters and focuses the spotlight on themselves. He is exact in his descriptions of the sun rising and setting and where stores and houses are placed on the stage.



Wilder tells exactly where things are on stage, but they aren’t there…no drug store, no horse, just oral references to them.  He states that Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, where the play takes place, is located at 42 degrees, 40 minutes latitude and 70 degrees, 37 minutes.  Exact?  Hardly. That would not place the town anywhere near New Hampshire.  In another scene, Mrs. Webb and Mrs. Gibbs are stringing beans that have just been picked from the garden. Sorry, but beans don’t grow in New Hampshire in May. Why does Wilder do this? He wants the play to carry a universal message. This is not about the existence of those in Grover’s Corners, it is about all of us, all of our lives.




Wilder writes exact stage directions in the script. No real scenery, he instructs.  Usually two trellises, two ladders, some chairs, and 2 tables are used. The New England dialect is another specific device. The “ay yehs” and other area sounds are on the printed page.  

It is here that you must be alerted to decisions made by Blank Canvas’s director, Pat Ciamacco, who has thrown many traditional Wilder devices to the wind. In this production, no ladders, no trellises, no New England accents. 

Ciamacco has given the show a universal appeal by using clothing which doesn’t represent the era.  Speech patterns are a mix of a little flatlander, Ohio twangs, and even a little southern drawl is heard.  The stage manager is more a commentator than a town spokesman.   The pantomiming is representational, not presentational.  Normally in pantomime, actors realize that objects have weight, drinking vessels have liquid in them, opening windows takes effort…not so in this production.  They feign what they are doing, no attempt at reality.  Ciamacco gives us an understandable interpretation, which anyone except a Wilder devotee should find quite easy to watch and easily gain Wilder’s message.



Wilder divided the play into three segments, each with a clear title: Act I: Daily Life, Act II: Love and Marriage, and Act III: Death.   When the late Frank Sinatra did a 1955 television play-with-music version of the script, he was the stage manager and opened each act with a song based on Wilder’s titles. 

The first act’s opening tune states, “You will lose your heart, I promise you in this, our two-by-four town, welcome-on-the-door-town, if you will make it your town too.”  This shares with the audience that the story is a universal tale, with personal implications.

Other songs in the television version were “Love and Marriage,” the preview to George and Emily’s love story.  (Paul Newman played George and Bowling Green grad, Eva Marie Saint, was Emily.)  “Look to Your Heart,” the show’s last song, highlighted that Wilder’s ideas were meant for each of us to consider.
 

Blank Canvas’s casts’ acting levels are inconsistent.  There are some very strong performances and some less proficient, but, because of Ciamacco’s directing approach, the production works without every cast member being exactly on target.

Strong performers are John J. Polk (Dr. Gibbs), Laura Starnik (Mrs. Gibbs), Lynna Metrisin (Mrs. Webb), Perren Hedderson (George), Makenna Weyburne (Rebecca), Becca Frick (Emily) and Lance King (Mr. Webb).

There are some excellent scene highlights.  The before the wedding breakfast conversation between Mr. Webb and George is delightful, as is the talk between Emily and her mother, when Emily inquires about whether she is pretty and finds out she is pretty enough for all “normal purposes.” 

The final act’s message segment when Emily’s request to return to earth after she dies, and the second act drug store scene are emotionally compelling.  Emily’s goodbye to earth speech evoked sobs from the woman sitting next to me.  It brings Wilder’s illuminating writing and his message when the now-dead Emily returns to earth to re-experience her twelfth birthday.  She quickly realizes that time goes so fast and people don’t look at each other and states, “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do human beings ever realize life while they live it?”

The drug-store scene is a warm moment in the play when true love is recognized and realized.  Wilder has written it with tenderness and is not false or overly sentimental and highlights that love comes out of daily life. 

Harlowe R. Hoyt, in his review of a production of ‘OUR TOWN’ at the Jewish Community Center, stated in the April 25, 1958 Plain Dealer, “The burgeoning of love at the soda fountain between Ilene Latter and Roy Berko is one of the most delightful scenes of the play.” About the Perren Hedderson and Becca Frick’s enactment of the same scene I say, “ditto!”




CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you haven’t seen the classic OUR TOWN before, or have seen it, but need a good shot of appreciation for life, go see the Blank Canvas production.  Director Patrick Ciamacco sets it out before you, plain and simple, doing nothing to get in the way of Wilder’s intent and purpose.  Nice job!
Up next at Blank Canvas….BAT BOY:  THE MUSICAL, which is horror-spoof and big-hearted satire on American prejudice.  It’s a love story with a wicked bite!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Cleveland Orchestra and Blossom make for a superb evening

There is probably no outdoor venue in the country that matches Blossom for sheer beauty and musical delight.  Wolf Trap in the Virginia countryside near DC, and Tanglewood, home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra are fine, but when you throw in the Blossom setting, and add the Cleveland Orchestra, nirvana has been reached.

Blossom, now in its 48 th season, was founded not only to act as a summer venue for audience entertainment, but to insure that the Cleveland Orchestra could attract some of the world’s great musicians by offering full-year, rather than seasonal contracts.  Obviously, both goals have been reached.

By Blossom also opening itself to not only classical concerts, but classic rock, country, pop, and Broadway concerts, and ballet performances, it has broadened its traditional mature audiences, to a younger attendance base.   Twenty percent of the Orchestra’s audience at Severance Hall and Blossom percent is age 25 and younger.  This is an achievement that is the envy of the world’s orchestras, many of which are facing financial problems.

The concert on August 8 delighted the large audience with a program consisting of Beethoven’s “Lenore Overture No. 2,  his “Piano Concerto No. 5” (“Emperor”), Opus 73, and Dvorak’s “Symphony No.  8.”

“Lenore” is a segment of Beethoven’s only opera, “Fidelio,” which highlights the writer’s belief in freedom from political oppression and the boundless power of human love.  The segment presented is one of three versions of the overture crafted by the writer.  The composition is so strong, some believe that it dwarfs the rest of the opera, thus making the remaining segments “superfluous.” 

The musicians flowed through the composition, with Gustavo Gimeno leading the assemblage with an extended hand and flipping wrist.  He highlighted emphasis by leaning forward and thrusting his baton at the appropriate instrumentalist(s). The finely crafted piece ended to extended applause.

The highlight offering was the forty-minute “Piano Concerto no. 5 in E-flat major, Opus 73,” commonly referred to as “The Emperor Concerto,”
because of its grand sound.  Consisting of three movements—the first with large orchestral chords and piano flourishes, the middle with melding the piano with the orchestra, and filled with lingering phrases, and the third, which included one of the most familiar tunes in classical music.

Pianist  Garrick Ohlsson, a Grammy Award recipient, was the winner of the Chopin International Piano Competition.  He has been hailed for his technical prowess and artistry.  The accolades were proven well deserved in this concert.  He blended well with the orchestra when that was required and also played compelling solo segments. 

“The Emperor Concerto” ended with a well-deserved standing ovation.

Though music during the 19 th century, moved from symphonic tones that were happy, toward sounds that had darker musical colors, Antonin Dvorák did not follow that trend.  He, much like Brahms, his friend and mentor, tended to avoid grappling with grave questions about fate and human life, and instead gave the audience happy feelings while still creating “serious” music.  “Opus 88,” the concert’s last piece, was a joyful music example of his style.

The Orchestra played with energy and successfully carried the audience to the piece’s masterfully strong abrupt finish. 

Beethoven once stated, “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.  It is the wine of new creation.”  Listening to the Cleveland Orchestra one quickly realizes what he meant!
Future pop Blossom presentations include:

Aug 15-8PM--TCHAIKOVSKY’S VIOLIN CONCERTO, James Feddeck, conductor, Simone Lamsa, violin, playing Weber, Tchaikovsky, & Sibelius.

Aug 16-7PM—THE BRITISH INVASION, Michael Krajewski, conductor, an evening of great British hits…the songs of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who and more.

Aug 22-8PM—BACH AND MOZART, Nicholas McGegan, conductor, Mark Kosower, cello—Back, Haydn, Mozart.

Aug 29—8PM—JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER ORCHESTRA WITH WYNTON MARSALIS, the noted NY Lincoln Center musical group joins the Cleveland Orchestra, for an evening of Jazz

Aug 30—7PM—GIL SHAHAM PLAYS BRUCH. Edo de Waart, conductor, Gil Shaham, violin, join to play Bruch and Mahler. 

Sept 5 & 6—8 PM—THE MUSIC OF JOHN WILLIAMS, Richard Kaufman, conductor, tribute to Hollywood’s most legendary composer…”Star Wars,” “E.T.,” “Harry Potter,” “Jaws,” and Schindler’s List.”

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

Saturday, August 08, 2015

2015 Fall Cleveland Theater Calendar

Though the weather is still warm, soon the leaves will be turning and the Fall 2015 theatre season will be upon us.  Here’s a list of some of the offerings from September through December.

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’ capsule comments about the plays they see at http://www.clevelandtheaterreviews.com

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL THEATRES!

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

QUILTERS (Oct. 8-Nov. 1, 2015)—A play with music, in which frontier women share their love, warmth, and lively humor while facing a life of adversity.

GUYS ON ICE (Nov. 25-Dec. 22, 2015)—Lloyd and Marvin brave the cold as they dream about catching the big one, while enjoying the pleasure of a fishing-pole and a warm snowmobile suit.

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

SPITFIRE GRILL (Sept. 18-October 18, 2015)—A play with music and lyrics about a feisty parolee Percy Talbott, as she takes a job at Hannah’s Spitfire Grill in rural Wisconsin with startling results. 

MOTHERS AND SONS (Oct. 9-Nov. 15, 2015)—Terrence McNally’s play about what happens when a mother, whose son has died of AIDS, visits the home of her son’s ex-partner and is forced to come to terms with the life her son might have lived.

MARY  POPPINS (Dec. 4, 2015-Jan 3, 2016)—An encore production of the local and Broadway award winning show that broke all Beck Center box office records last year.  Again starring Rebecca Pitcher, with choreography by Martin Céspedes.

BLANK CANVAS

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

BAT BOY THE MUSICAL (October 16-31, 2015)—A horror spook satire musical of a half boy/half bat discovered in a cave near fictional Hope Falls, Virginia, who is taught the “civilized” ways of society with disastrous results.

REEFER MADNESS (December 4-19, 2015)—a raucous musical comedy which takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the hysteria caused when clean-cut kids fall prey to marijuana, with the resulting outcome of listening to evil jazz music, and partaking in sex and violence.

CESAR’S FORUM
Kennedy’s Theatre (entrance in the Ohio Theatre lobby)
216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org

THE INVESTIGATION (Oct 16-Nov 14, 2015)—A documentary drama based on the verbatim testimonies from the Frankfurt Trials of 1963-1965, where survivors of Auschwitz face those in charge of the camp.

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

A COMEDY OF TENORS (Sept 5-Oct 3, 2015)--The Tony Award winning CPH kicks off its 100t th season with the world premiere of Ken Ludwig’s farcical play about three tenors, three egos, and one stage!

THE CRUCIBLE (Oct 10-Nov 8, 2015)—Arthur Miller’s classic that uses the Salem Witch trials to put the McCarthy House Un-American Activities Committee and the American society on trial.

 A CHRISTMAS STORY (Nov 27-Dec 23, 2015)—It’s back!  Yes, its all there--Ralphie wants a Red Ryder b-b gun, he has to wear that pink-bunny suit, his dad wins a glowing-leg lamp, his friend gets his tongue stuck on a steel pole because of a triple-dog-dare, and the entire family has fun watching this holiday classic.

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

WHITE RABBIT RED RABBIT (Oct 8-25, 2015)—An absurdist adventure by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, with a performance by a different actor each night.

TEATRO PUBLICO DE CLEVELAND (title to be announced)—(Oct 15-24, 2015)—an original show created and performed by the ensemble.

THE LOUSH SISTERS LOVE DICK’NS (GREAT EXPECTATIONS)—(Nov 27-Dec 19, 2015)—Join Holly and Jolly Loush (aka—The Loush Sisters) for a bawdy, boozy, over-the-top holiday cabaret.

FEEFER RISING (Dec. 3-19, 2015)—A devised solo performance that explores emerging sexuality and selfhood through the eyes of an adolescent girl.

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

OR (Sept 4-Oct 4, 2015)—Liz Duffy Adams’ bawdy farcical sex comedy.

THE CALL (Oct. 23-Nov 15, 2015)—A politically charged story about a white couple who decide to adopt a child from Africa.

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (Dec. 4, 2015-Jan 3, 2016)—A farcical musical  prequel to Barrie’s “Peter Pan” that is filled with madcap fun.

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

FARRAGUT NORTH (Aug 27-Sept 6, 2015)—A timely story about the lust for power and the costs one will endure to achieve it.

DEATH OF A SALESMAN (Sept 18-October 11, 2015)—Considered one of Americas greatest plays, playwright Arthur Miller exposes the underside of success, happiness, and false dreams.

AGES OF THE MOON (Nov  3-Dec. 6, 2015—Sam Shepard’s gruff and funny play about the mutual desperation of two friends, which is put to a test at the barrel of a gun.

THE LION, THE WITCH, & THE WARDROBE (December 4-13, 2015)-- This new dramatization of C.S. Lewis’ classic, set in the land of Narnia, recreates the magic and mystery of Aslan, the great lion, his struggle with the White Witch, and the adventures of four children.

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

THE SECRET GARDEN (Sept 25-Oct 31, 2015)—Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon’s musical based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, tells the tale of 10-year-old Mary who returns to England to live with her melancholy uncle at his neglected estate.

KING LEAR (Oct 2-Nov 1, 2015)—Shakespeare’s classic brutal, exciting, terrifying tragedy.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Nov 28-Dec 23, 2015)—Great Lakes celebrates the holiday with its 27 th annual production of Gerald Freedman’s adaptation of Dickens’ classic tale.

INTERPLAY JEWISH THEATRE
mailto:interplayjewishtheatre@gmail.comor 216-393-PLAY
(staged readings are free at Dobama; performance cost at The Maltz Museum: members--$6, for non-members the performance is free with the purchase of an admission to the museum; reservations required.

HAPY ENDING (Oct 19-2 PM)—Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, 2929 Richmond Rd., Beachwood—A play about the power of denial by Iddo Netanyahu, playwright, author and physician.  Reservations at 216-593-0575 or visit maltzmuseum.org

EXQUISITE POTENTIAL (Nov 8 & 9 @ 7 PM)—Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Hts—His dad thinks David Zuckerman, one of the characters in this play, is the messiah.  What do you think?  Playwright Stephen Kaplan, who will attend the Sunday staged reading of his show, will share his views in a talk back with the audience.

LAKELAND COMMUNITY THEATRE
440-525-7134 or http://lakelandcc.edu/academic/arts/theatre/index.asp
evenings at 7:30, matinees at 2:00

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (September 18-October 4)—Edward Albee’s award winning drama examines the volatile marriage of George and Martha over one alcohol soaked evening…staring Gregory Violand and Molly McGuiness.

none-too-fragile
http://www.nonetoofragile.comor 330-671-4563
evenings at 7:30, matinees at 2:00

IN A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP (Aug 28-Sept 12, 2015)—Neil LaBute’s  110-minute fun, rug-snatching meditation on what is and is not true and the ease of rushing to misjudgment.

FIRST LOVE (Sept 9-24, 2015)—Charles Mee’s play about two people in their seventies who fall in love for the first time in their lives, but they work in fits and starts toward sabotaging their last chance for happiness.

TBA (Nov 6-21, 2015)

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

BULLETS OVER BROADWAY THE MUSICAL (Oct 6-18, 2015)—Musical comedy written by Woody Allen, with original direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, about a young playwright who, in desperate need of financial backing for his play, accepts an offer from a mobster looking to please his showgirl girlfriend.  (Connor Palace)

EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL (Oct 16-18, 2015)—Combines the cult films “Evil Dead,” “Evil Dead 2” and “Army of Darkness” to make a crazy theatrical experience that allows the audience to sit in the “Splatter Zone” and get drenched from the onstage mayhem.  (Ohio Theatre)

GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER (Nov 3-15, 2015)—A musical that tells the story of Monty Navarro, a distant heir to a family fortune, who sets out to jump the line of succession by eliminating the eight relatives (all played by one actor) who stand in his way.  (Connor Palace)

STEVE SOLOMON’S CANNOLI, LATKES, AND GUILT! (Nov 8, 2015)—The author/performer of “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m in Therapy” continues the tale with this, his newest project.  (Ohio Theatre)

SOULMATE?  A True Love Story (Nov 14, 2015)—About a quirky boy who falls in love with the most popular girl in school and tries everything to get her to notice him until he realizes all he has to do is be himself.  (Ohio Theatre)

THE DUMBASS (Nov 21, 2015)—Najee Mondalek’s play about an Arab American community that centers on Im Hussein, her know-it-all husband, which deals with divorce, infertility, drug abuse, conflict between generations, welfare fraud and more. (Hanna Theatre)

THE WIZARD OF OZ (Dec 1-6, 2015)—A new production which contains all the beloved songs from the Oscar winning movie score plus new songs by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. (Part of the Star Performance Series)  (State Theatre)

ELF (Dec 29, 2015-Jan 3, 2016)—A modern day Christmas classic about Buddy, a young orphan who mistakenly crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and is transported back to the North Pole. (Part of the Star Performance Series) (Connor Palace)

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

PERFECTLY MARVELOUS:  THE SONGS OF JOHN KANDER (Oct. 31-Nov 1, 2015)—Oberlin Grad John Kander, who wrote the scores for “Cabaret,” “Chicago,” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” joins Karen Ziemba, who starred in three of Kander’s shows, join in this concert tribute to Kander and his writing partner, the late Fred Ebb.  (Allen Theatre)  For tickets to this Musical Theater Project show go to: 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org

THEATRE NINJAS
http://theaterninjas.com/shows
Performance venues vary…see individual play listings

TALL SKINNY CRUEL CRUEL BOYS (Oct. 22-Nov 7, 2015)—This bold dark comedy about self-destruction, honesty, and finding what you really need centers on Brandy, a children’s entertainer, with some serious demons in her personal life.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

A Clevelander’s view of the Shaw Festival—2015

Jackie Maxwell, the Shaw Festival’s Artistic Director, states, “I have always found that theatre is at its best when the audience spans several generations – a guarantee that the story being told on stage is being taken in and reacted to in a variety of ways, enriching the experience for all.” 

Maxwell’s belief is well-developed in the Shaw Festival’s 2015 season.  “Peter and the Starcatcher” is a magical adventure for people of all ages.  “The Lady from the Sea,” invites the serious mature theater-goer to revel in one of the first realistic plays ever written.  Tony Kuschner’s “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures” is a provocative exploration of society and celebration of humanity.  And the list goes on.

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

The Shaw Festival is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw, his writing contemporaries,  and contemporary plays that share Shaw’s provocative exploration of society and celebration of humanity.  


Many Clevelanders take the four-hour drive up to “The Shaw,” as it is called by locals, 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.

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, making the trip, at the time I went, about one-quarter lower than might be.  And, this season’s offerings are generally excellent.

It’s a good idea to make both theatre 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) and Ginger Restaurant (905-468-3871, 390 Mary Street).

Having just returned from the Festival, I offer these capsule judgments of some of the shows:

“The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures”—runs through October 10--Director Eda Holmes has honed “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures” into a  well acted, well staged production that grabs and holds an audience’s attention.  This is a thinking person’s play, not aimed at the “I go to the theatre to have a good time and get away from my troubles and that of others” crowd.  (Be aware that it is a 4-hour show.)

“Light Up The Sky”--runs through October 11--Recognizing that at its best, the theatre can elevate and maybe even change the beliefs of an audience, “Light Up The Sky” is filled with farcical slapstick, ironic comedy, great character sketches, and funny twists and turns.  As a script it is moving as well as funny and to add to the mix, it gets a superlative production at The Shaw.

“Peter and the Starcatcher”—runs through November 1--“Peter and the Starcatcher” is a delightful fantasy of imagination and  growing up that gets a farcical, creative and wonderfully enjoyable production under the direction of Jackie Maxwell and scenic design by Judith Bowden.  It’s  a must see for anyone, child or adult, who can turn themselves over to experiencing the wonderment of imagination.

“Sweet Charity”—runs through October 31-- Most of the audience, who may be unaware of the style of Bob Fosse, of the brash New York attitude needed for shows like “Sweet Charity” and “Guys and Dolls,” will probably find the Shaw production a source of entertainment. For those in the “know,” the production is just too nice, too bland, lacking in “cheek.”

“The Divine”—runs through October 11--“The Divine” is a well-constructed and compelling play that gets a first rate production.  The cast is universally strong, the technical aspects well-conceived, the pacing attentio- grabbing and holding, which adds up to a must see, standing ovation, theatrical experience.

“The Lady from the Sea”—runs through September 13--“The Lady from the Sea” gets an extremely strong production at The Shaw.  For those who like serious thinking person’s theater, and are interested in seeing a show that is a forerunner of the  modern day contemporary realistic play, the staging is definitely worth seeing.

“You Never Can Tell”—runs through October 25--“You Never Can Tell” is a disappointing production which spends way too much time begging for laughs and too little time developing the social messages that Shaw alludes to in the script. Those who are interested in laughing at ridiculous will probably enjoy the show.  Those interested in fidelity to the intent and purpose of the author will be less than delighted.

“The Twelve-Pound Look”—runs through September 12--“The Twelve Pound Look” is a perfect device to prove that with a focused purpose and a clear outline, it doesn’t need to take hours to make a statement.  The meaningful script gets a delightful and well conceived production.  What a lovely way to spend a  35-minute lunch break.

To read the complete reviews of these shows go to:  http://www.royberko.info

Shows I didn’t see, but are part of the season are:  “Pygmalion”—May 31-October 24 and “Top Girls”—May 23-September 12.


For theatre 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 theatre! 

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

Must see ‘Hairspray” leaves ‘em dancing in the aisles Porthouse Theatre

The farcical yet message-loaded “Hairspray” is the type of musical that in a bad production falls flat, but in a good production leaves the audience energized and dancing in the aisles.  Fortunately the must see production at Porthouse Theatre is dynamic, creative, full of joy!

The stage musical based on the 1988 John Walters movie with music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, and book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan is a cry for integration in 1960s segregated Baltimore. 

The story focuses on “zaftig” Tracey Turnblad, who has three desires in life:  dance on the “Corny Collin’s Show” (think Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand”), have “every day, Negro day,” and meet Link Larkin, the show’s “stud” male.

Tracey keeps getting sent to detention at her school because of her well-sprayed huge hair (the Jackie O signature style of the era) .  The detention room is populated by African Americans who expose the liberal-minded Tracy to “black” dancing.  After Tracy gets selected to be on the show, against the wishes of Velma von Tussle, the show’s prejudiced producer, she launches a campaign to integrate the show.  

Of course, all hell breaks loose including picketing, a riot, a jail lockup, a jail breakout, white kids singing and dancing in 'Balmur’s all black North side, the coming out of Tracy’s agoraphobic, plus-sized mother, love affairs between Link and Tracy as well as that of Penny, Tracy’s white best friend and Seaweed, the son of black dj and vocalist, Motormouth Maybelle. 

The 2002 Broadway production won eight Tony Awards, ran over 2500 performances, has had numerous foreign and community theatre productions, and was made into a film in 2007.

Director Terri Kent has molded a group of professional and college students into a mighty musical theatre force.  The audience was rockin’ and screamin’ from the first song, “Good Morning Baltimore,” through the closing infectious “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”  The reprise of that song found the sold out performance on their feet, dancing, singing, clapping and screaming for more.

Katey Sheehan, she of chunky cheeks, darlin’ dimples, big voice, and dancing feet, was Tracy-terrific.  She has an infectious stage presence that well fit the role.  Talia Cosentino, who has “a Broadway future star” written all over her, was “Gidget”-cute as Tracy’s best friend Penny.  Chuck Richie (in drag) was endearing as Tracy’s mother and Rohn Thomas was charming as Tracy’s dad.

Sandra Emerick was evil incarnate as the prejudiced, self-centered Velma von Tussle, and Lindsay Simon was mini-evil incarnate as Velma’s daughter, Amber.

On opening night, Colleen Longshaw (Motormouth Maybelle) almost achieved the impossible deed of stopping the show for a standing ovation after her wailing, infectious rendition of the gospel-rock “I Know Where I’ve Been.”  The ovation was cut short by too quick a light fade and musical interlude.  (I understand that this was adjusted by the second night and Longshaw was properly rewarded!)

Jimmy Ferko was appropriately affected as Link Larkin, but got a little too automatic at times.  Jared Dixon’s Seaweed was a dynamo of dancing and singing perfection.  Bria Neal was delightful as the full spirited dynamo, Little Inez.  Ian Benjamin was good, but could have been a little more over-the-top as Corny Collins.  Dance captain Kirk Lydell “killed” with his dancing skills!  Shamara Costa, Alex Echols, and Eveena Sawyer were song and style-right as a Supremes-like trio.

Song highlights were:  “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now,” “Velma’s Revenge,” ”Welcome to the ‘60s,” and “Big, Blonde & Beautiful.” 

In “I Can Hear the Bells,” the singing was fine, but I couldn’t hear the bell sounds, as instead of bells, lame special effect lights were used.

“Run and Tell That” displayed choreographer, John Crawford’s, creativity in using a small space with great effect.

Audience favorites were “You’re Timeless to Me,” which got a reprise, and “I Know Where I’ve Been.” 

Musical Director Jonathan Swoboda, and his band, Alex Berko, Jennifer Korecki, Dave Bans, Jean Wroblewski, Craig Wholschlager, Jim Lang, Ryan McDermott, Jeremey Poparad, Don Day and Bill Sallak rocked the sounds, but wisely underscored rather than drowned out the singers.   That is a difficult task as the music lends itself to be blasted.

The costumes were generally fine but the women’s wigs needed better selection and attention.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  Director Terri Kent pulled out all the stops, added tons of shticks and gimmicks, has a rocking band, creative and well performed choreography, and a focused cast, which  resulted in a wonderful, “this you must see” theatrical experience.  

 
“Hairspray” runs July 30-August 16, 2015 at Porthouse Theatre. Curtain times are 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Blossom open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to www.porthousetheatre.com.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Ibsen’s well-conceived “The Lady from the Sea” examines women’s issues at The Shaw

“Women have to unlearn the false good manners of their slavery before they acquire the genuine good manners of their freedom. ”  (G. B. Shaw) 

As the era of Romanticism in the theatre faded away in nineteenth century Europe, it was replaced by Realism.  Realism, the attempt to look at the issues of the day with discerning eyes and an invitation to examine what was going on, and if change was needed.  One of the most important issues was the role of women.  For many years, females were to assume the role of dutiful wife and, if unmarried, dutiful daughters.  There was little opportunity for unwed women to enter into productive career other than a few restrictive “old maid” positions. Careers such as being a nanny or a nurse. 

Henrik Ibsen was a major Norwegian playwright who was largely responsible for the rise of the realistic play.  He is often referred to as the "father of modern drama." Ibsen is one of the most important playwrights of all time, generally revered in western world literary circles.

Ibsen’s plays were considered scandalous to many of his era, when Victorian values of family life and propriety largely held sway in Europe and any challenge to them was considered immoral and outrageous.   Ibsen set a goal to upset those narrow attitudes.

Victorian-era plays were expected to be moral dramas with protagonists pitted against darker forces.  The serious plays of the times were expected to result in a morally appropriate conclusion, thus goodness brought happiness, and immorality pain.  Ibsen challenged the required format.

Ibsen was interested in examining the world with an eye to a realistic, rather than a morally idealistic conclusion.  He wanted to make the playgoer think about the world and decide what needed to be done to make it a more fulfilling and rewarding place.

 “The Lady From the Sea” is a typical Ibsenian tale of examination.  The script concerns marriage, freedom, and a woman’s right to make decisions for herself.

Filled with symbolism, the story centers on Ellida, who lives where the fjord meets the open sea.  She is married to Doctor Wangel, a widower who has two grown daughters (Bolette and Hilde).  Ellida had a son who died as a baby.

Ellida and the doctor’s marriage is filled with angst.  Part of this centers on the fact that Ellida had been engaged to a sailor who was accused of murdering his captain, and fled, leaving Ellida unfulfilled.  When the sailor returns to claim her, she must make a choice between staying in her marriage or leaving with the sailor.  Dr. Wangel releases her and [spoiler alert] much to his delight, she chooses to stay with him.

The Shaw production, under the direction of Meg Roe, is true to the intent and purpose of the author.  The show, which is all dialogue and little action, could become tedious, but the pacing, the music and sound, and the acting grab and hold attention.

The cast is universally strong, with excellent performances by Moya O’Connell as Ellida and Ric Reid as Doctor Wangel.  Both create characters who not only assume their roles, but become the character’s persona.  This is important as the play is one of the first in the era of Modern Realism, thus requiring total character integrity.

The starkness of the lighting and set work well, but at times, the huge cliff in the middle of the small acting area, causes movement difficulty and blocks some of the audience from viewing the performers.

Capsule judgement:  “The Lady from the Sea” gets an extremely strong production at The Shaw.  For those who like serious thinking person’s theater, and are interested in seeing a show that is a forerunner of the  modern day contemporary realistic play, the staging is very worth seeing.


What: ”The Lady from the Sea”
Where:  Shaw Festival, Court House Theatre
When:  April 30 to September 13, 2015
For tickets or information:   1-800-5111-Shaw or http://www.shawfest.com/

YOU NEVER CAN TELL misses the mark at Shaw

"Don't fall in love:  be your own, not mine or anyone else's."  (G. B. Shaw)

George Bernard Shaw once described his play, “You Never Can Tell,” as “a pleasant play about love as ecstasy and as terror.”   Valentine, a desperate for affection dentist, states in one of his speeches that he is in a “duel of sex,” which contains, “urgent questions about the unequal power of men and women as lovers and as parents.” 

Whatever, the 1897 four-act play is a comedic farce which, like many Shavian writings, deals with such issues as women’s rights, the British education and political systems.  It is filled with stimulating thoughts and there is natural humor in the writing.

Inspired by Madame Sarah Grand’s novel, “The Heavenly Twins,” the play finds the participants at a seaside town in August, 1896.  Mrs. Clandon and her three grown children have just returned to England after an extended stay in Madeira. 

The undisciplined and creative twins, Dolly and Phillip, who have no idea of who their father is, meet him by chance and invite him to a family lunch.  To add to the potential confusion, Valentine, a dentist with a meager practice, has fallen in love with Gloria who has come to his office.  Gloria, a modern woman, has no intention of accepting his love-sick advances, let alone marrying any man. 

Ah, yes, this is a Shavian comedy of errors with strong farcical overtones, which means mistaken identities, wisdom dispensed with the titular phrase, “You never can tell,” and an overly obvious plot line.

The Shaw production, under the direction of Jim Mezon, flails mightily. 

Mezon states, “to me this play is about acceptance. All of his [Shaw’s] characters must learn to accept what they neither sympathize with nor understand.”  He thus, appears to think that the people are real and the message is real.  Therefore, it is confusing that he built the play into a bizarre series of shticks, overblown people and overdone sets.

Rather than allow the comic elements of the play to emerge naturally, he turned to extended absurdity.  Farce is difficult to perform.  It requires direction that takes the ridiculousness of the writing and plot, and works with the actors to play their parts with great honesty.  This is not the tack of Mezon’s performers, many of whom overdo their personas to the extreme.

Peter Millard as William, the waiter, our narrator and spreader of Shaw’s philosophical views, is spot on in his portrayal.  He states his lines, draws attention to what he is saying, and gains his share of natural laughs. 

Julia Course overdoes her haughtiness as Gloria with excessive facial mugging and stiff body, but comes close to reality in her oral presentation. Gray Powell is likeable as the dentist with designs on Gloria.  Tara Rosling is right as Mrs. Clandon, the mother who left her marriage to become an independent woman.

The twins, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff as  Philip, and Jennifer Dzialoszynski as Dolly, are so far out that they lose touch with reality.  As Phillip, Jackman-Torkoff overly minces and preens.  Dzialoszynski screeches and overacts. They become caricatures to be laughed at, rather than characters to be laughed with.  The same may be said for Jeff Meadows as an overplayed Bohun (in bad makeup) and Patrick McManus excessively mugs as Crampton.

Even the overdone settings and oft-garish costumes draw distracting attention.

Capsule judgement: “You Never Can Tell” is a disappointing production which spends way too much time begging for laughs and too little time developing the social messages that Shaw alludes to in the script. Those who are interested in laughing at ridiculous will probably enjoy the show.  Those interested in fidelity to the intent and purpose of the author will be less than delighted.


What: ”You Never Can Tell”
Where:  Shaw Festival, Theatre
When:   April 26 to October 25, 2015
For tickets or information:   1-800-5111-Shaw or http://www.shawfest.com/


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thought provoking, revealing THE DIVINE, is compelling at The Shaw

“I have my own soul.  My own spark of divide fire.” (G. B. Shaw)

As related in the program notes for “The Devine,” now in production at the Shaw Festival, “In the beginning of the 20th century the Catholic Church . . . occupied a predominant space in Quebec society.  More than the government, more than the business world, the church organized Quebec society, determined its outlook on the world and fed its imagination.”

That control of Quebec extended into every aspect of the culture…the arts, education, financial system, and social service institutions.  The conservative church, and therefore its clergy, were all powerful. 

Into this atmosphere came Sarah Bernhardt, noted as the most famous actress the world had ever known. Bernhardt became so famous that she was nicknamed, “The Divine Sarah.”

Her acting style was a natural approach in which the actor does not demonstrate passions, but internalizes them.  This form of performance evolved into what is known today as “the method.”

Though records vary as to the total veracity of the complete account, when Bernhardt, on a Canadian tour, came to Quebec for a three-day run in December, 1905, she was denied permission by the church to perform. 

The reasons for the decision may been that she was considered a Jew and the church was extremely anti-Semitic.  Though she was the daughter of a French Jewess, Sarah was Baptized and attended Catholic school.  In spite of this, she was still considered a Jew, because of the Jewish belief that a child is Jewish if the mother is Jewish.

Banning of the productions could have been due the choice of plays.  One of the scheduled shows, “Adrienne Lecouvreur,” was a French tragedy, which praises adulterous love and ridicules a man of the cloth for going to Parisian salons, direct affronts on values of the church.

Another reason for the censorship could have been that the run included a Sunday Christmas performance, which was against church regulations. 

Still another reason for the rejection might have been that the divine Sarah was noted as having had a child out of wedlock. 

As for the Shaw production of “The Divine:  A Play For Sarah Bernhardt,” Michel Marc Bouchard wrote the script under a commission of the Shaw Festival, where it is getting its world premiere.  On opening night, Bouchard logged a first.  He is the first playwright to have ever watched one of his own plays premiered on a Festival stage.

The story centers on two young men studying to become priests.  Michaud, the son of the province’s Minister of Finance, is a theatre lover and is excited about the coming visit of The Divine Sarah.  Talbot, who has a deep secret, arrives at the seminary on the day of Bernhardt’s arrival.  He and Michaud are given the task of delivering a letter to the actress informing her of the church’s dictum that she cannot perform in the city.  Following their presentation to Ms. Bernhardt, they each are thrust into different directions as they deal with a series of revelations.

The play not only tells of the difficulty of Bernhardt’s attempt to perform, but also has a modern twist by adding  subplots that deal with child labor, dangerous industrial working conditions, pedophilia, and homosexuality among the clergy.

A powerful speech by Bernhardt previews the climax of the play when she defiantly speaks about, among other things, the marginalizing of women.

Everything about the Shaw production is superb.  The script is well constructed.  The directing by Jackie  Maxwell keeps the action flowing, the characterizations are clear, and the mood correct. 

All of the acting is top notch.  Wade Bogert-O’Brian gives a sensitive, focused and well-textured portrayal as Talbot, the newest priest-in-training.  Ben Sanders makes fine transitions as Michaud, another seminarian, who goes through a series of edifying experiences.

Martin Happer creates a Brother Casgrain who is both compelling and disgusting.  Ric Reid is properly despicable as the shoe factory owner.  Kyle Orzech is totally believable as Talbot’s young brother who is forced to work in the shoe factory under horrendous conditions.  Mary Haney creates a realistic Mrs. Talbot, who gives up her health and existence to try for a better life for her children.

Fiona Reid does Sarah Bernhardt proud by not portraying the divine one, but by becoming her.  This is a well-conceived and effective multi curtain-call deserving portrayal. 

Capsule judgement: “The Divine” is a well-constructed and compelling play that gets a first rate production.  The cast is universally strong, the technical aspects well-conceived, the pacing attention grabbing and holding, which adds up to a must see, standing ovation, theatrical experience.  


What: “The Divine”
Where: Royal George Theatre,  Shaw Festival
When:  July 5-October 11 , 2015
For tickets or information:   1-800-5111-Shaw or http://www.shawfest.com/

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

SWEET CHARITY entertains @ The Shaw, but . . .

“As long as you do not know the future you do not know that it will not be happier than the past.  That is hope. (G. B. Shaw)
 
Until about 1943, the entity now known as the American musical, consisted mostly of songs, dances and occasionally, a story line.  Then came Rodgers and Hammerstein and their integrated book musical, “Oklahoma.”  For about the next twenty years, most American musicals followed the pattern of having a clear story into which the singing and dancing were seamlessly blended. (Think “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Carousel,” “My Fair Lady.”) 

In the mid-sixties, experimental type musicals such as “Hair” started to emerge.   This followed the age-old tenet that the arts represent the era from which they come.  In other words, as U.S. society started to question traditions, this was reflected in the changing form and content of theatre.

“Sweet Charity,” with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, and book by Neil Simon,  a version of which is now on stage at the Shaw Festival, is loosely based on Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria,” which placed the spotlight on Italian streetwalkers.  The Fellini film centered on the ups-and-downs of an ever hopeful prostitute.

“Sweet Charity” centers on Charity Hope Valentine, a taxi dancer in a New York dance hall.  A brassy but sweet young lady, she, as the Fellini lead character, has a goal. Charity yearns for one thing—romantic love which will result in true happiness.  The format of the musical harks back to the traditional book musical.

Hers is a story of a journey that is sad and unhappily hopeless as she searches, but fails to find her true self.  And, as was the case in “Nights of Cabiria,” Charity gets caught up in the merry-go-round of life and can’t get off.

As the story unfolds, Charity meets Oscar, a shy moralist.  She believes her luck has changed, but (spoiler alert) when he finds out about her job and her past, things turn sour.  But Charity, true to her persona, stays hopeful that someday her yearnings will materialize.

Bob Fosse, who directed the 1966 production of “Sweet Charity” on Broadway, was an energetic, dynamic choreographer, with a creative style of dance filled with jazz hands (elbows locked in place, fingers wiggling quickly with the hands tilted out to the sides and the wrists not moving), bent knees, turned out feet and slanted bodies, and edgy moves.  The effect is the creation of a dynamic tension, a ready to explode attitude.  The music is hard and driving, the angst obvious, adding up in clear picture of tension and frustration. 

It is in regard to the Fosse stamp on the show that the Shaw production falters.    Director Morris Panych and choreographer Parker Esse fail to develop the needed edginess, the New York attitude of fast-paced and driving attitude, that the script requires.

The show is not blunt enough. Adding a few “Nu Yawk” sounds does not a New Yorker make.  The script is filled with pizzazz, in your face language, jazzy musical sounds of brass and sass, lyrics that create clear attitudinal pictures of the characters. The line interpretations and choreography fail to invoke the needed tension.

The score is outstanding, filled with memorable tunes including “You Should See Yourself,” ”Big Spender,” “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” and “I’m the Bravest Individual.” 

The music, as written,  fits Fosse’s energetic and creative style is too languid performed under the direction of Paul Sportelli.

Panych is not alone in not interpreting American musicals as intended.  Just as American directors and actors have trouble with British and Canadian farces, Canadian directors often don’t add the needed edge to many below-the-border musicals.

Adorable Julie Martell tries hard as Charity.  She has a nice singing voice and an acceptable stage presence.  Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the needed chutzpa.   She blanches in comparison to Gwenn Verdon and Shirley MacLaine who played the role on Broadway and in the film version.  It’s like seeing Julie Andrews playing Mamma Rose in “Gypsy” instead of Ethel Merman.

Kyle Blair is on target as the shy Oscar Lindquist.    His “caught in an elevator” scene with Martell is absolutely delightful.  Farce at its finest.

Melanie Phillipson (Helene) and Kimberley Rampersad (Nickie) do a nice job of attempting to create two of the dance hall trollops, but, as with Martell, they lack the sass.

Charlotte Dean’s costumes and Ken MacDonald’s set designs work well.


Capsule judgement:  Most of the audience, who may be unaware of the style of Bob Fosse, of the brash New York attitude needed for shows like “Sweet Charity” and “Guys and Dolls,” will probably find the Shaw production a source of entertainment. For those in the “know,” the production is just too nice, too bland, lacking in “cheek.”

What: “Sweet Charity”
Where:  Shaw Festival, Festival Theatre
When:  April 17-October 31, 2015
For tickets or information:   1-800-5111-Shaw or http://www.shawfest.com/

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Frenetic “LIGHT UP THE SKY” exposes the world of theater @ The Shaw

“The theater is not so much a profession as a disease.”  (Moss Hart)

Moss Hart, the author of “Light Up the Sky,” now in production at the Shaw Festival, is a comic genius as a writer, and a recognized superstar as a director and producer.   His list of hits is awesome.  The plays he wrote solo, or with a collaborator, include “You Can’t Take It With You,” which was awarded the 1937 Pulitzer Prize, “Man Who Came to Dinner,” and “Light Up the Sky.”  His film directing included “Gentleman’s Agreement,” “Hans Christian Anderson,” and “A Star is Born.”  He was the original director of “My Fair Lady,” for which he received the Tony Award, and also “Camelot.”

Who, then, would be better equipped to write a script about the highs and lows of business of theater?   The play, which is often moving, and continuously funny, is a cynical portrait of the theater, highlighting the fragile egos, fickleness, desperate for praise performers and producers who revel in over-wrought dramatic interludes. 

The play centers on a group of theater professionals trying out a play in Boston.  The script is written by a first time playwright, but stars a cast of seasoned veterans.  They all believe the script and production is wonderful, until they are so filled with self doubt, that they believe the show is everything other than brilliant.

The curtain rises on the flower-filled Boston hotel room of Irene Livingston, a temperamental Broadway diva, just prior to the opening night performance.  Present are the star’s sarcastic mother, the lowbrow producer, his wife, who is a sharp-tongued former professional ice skating show star, the truck-driver playwright, and the high strung director. 

They toast the show, leave for the performance and return in a state of hysterical panic, thoroughly convinced, based on the audience’s reactions, that the production is a major flop.  Their previous glee turns into vicious personal attacks.  No one is spared the barbs.

Two factors affect the outcome.  First, the audience was composed of many drunk Shriners, and secondly, the reviewers unanimously give the show rave reviews. 

The Shaw production is a fun-filled romp.  Director Blair Williams understands farce, and he pulls out all the shticks and gimmicks to make the fast-paced staging work.  He is blessed with a cast who understand that for farce to work, every part must be over-exaggerated, but realistic.  As such, we laugh with the actors, not at them.

William Schmuck’s lush hotel set design creates the perfect attitude, as does Louise Guinand’s warm lighting.  Marek Norman’s original music enforces the farcical mood.

Thom Marriott, though he sometimes screams his lines so that they become incomprehensible, is properly offish as Sidney Black, the wealthy overpowering producer.  Claire Jullien effectively creates Irene Livingston as an overindulged diva who must be the center of attention.  Steven Sutcliffe is properly hysterical as Carleton Fitzgerald, the play’s melodramatic director. 

Charlie Gallant is totally believable as the idealistic novice playwright, the one person who has a realistic grasp on the real world, not having been spoiled by the “theatricality” of the whole “all the world’s a stage” venture. 

Kelli Fox as Sidney Black’s wife and Laurie Paton, as Irene’s mother, form a card playing duo that is long on chutzpa and short on tact.  Shawn Wright is right on target as the wealthy Elkhart, Indiana theatre-struck Shriner, who naively pushes the plot along by trying to buy into the “failed” show. 

Graeme Somerville is believable as Owen Turner, a successful playwright who has weathered these opening night hysterics before, as is Kelly Wong who plays it straight as Irene’s uptight stockbroker husband, and Fiona Byrne as Miss Lowell, who is a ghost writer for Irene’s biography.

Capsule judgement:  Recognizing that at its best, the theatre can elevate and maybe even change the beliefs of an audience, “Light Up The Sky” is filled with farcical slapstick, ironic comedy, great character sketches, and funny twists and turns.  As a script it is moving as well as funny and to add to the mix, it gets a superlative production at The Shaw.


What: “Light Up The Sky”
Where:  Shaw Festival, Festival Theatre
When:  June 25 to October 11, 2015
For tickets or information:   1-800-5111-Shaw or http://www.shawfest.com/

Monday, July 27, 2015

The brief but poignant THE TWELVE-POUND LOOK delights and edifies @ Shaw

“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they cant find them, make them.” (G. B. Shaw)

J. M. Barrie’s one act drama, “The Twelve-Pound Look,” which is now in production at The Shaw Festival, is a funny, poignant, strong strike for the women’s movement.  It is a quick view (35-minutes) of how a woman can take control of her destiny, break traditional bonds, and lead a worthy life.

In the late 1800s only three major occupations were available to British women:  being a governess, dressmaker or a wife and mother. 

In 1910, when  “The Twelve Pound Look’ opened, based on the encouragement of such writers as G. B. Shaw and J. M. Barrie and early women’s activists, the idea that women could leave the security of being a wife and venture into the world of work was being debated.  But societal  patterns were starting to  recognize that maybe women wanted something more than being an “object d’art” and to be an equal in a marriage.  As a quick study of modern history will reveal, for better or worse, women have come a long way.

When the proverbial curtain goes up on “The Twelve Pound Look,” wealthy Harry Simms is practicing for the ceremony in which he will become a knight.  He is a success!  His finely coiffed and dressed wife’s attempts to insert her ideas into the process are summarily rejected.  She is, of course, “just a woman.” 

A typist is brought in to answer the messages of congratulations which have already started to arrive.

Much to “Sir” Harry’s consternation, the typist turns out to be a woman.  Not just any woman, but his former wife, Kate.  Kate, who, fed up with his controlling ways, demeaning attitudes about women, and view that women are decorations and chattels of men, saved 12 pounds, bought a typewriter, and left him to fend for herself.

In contrast to Harry’s new wife, the beautiful and cowed “Lady” Sims, Kate, has grown into a self-satisfied woman, full of humor and confidence.  How long will it be before wife number two decides to take a stand and no longer be the slave to Harry’s macho control?  Probably not very long, as before Kate leaves, “Lady” Simms asks the price of a typewriter!

Under the focused direction of Lezlie Wade, the Shaw lunch time production is an edifying delight.  From the manly furnished and decorated living room designed by William Schmuck, to the costumes which show the differing attitudes of the two Mrs. Sims, the production is perfectly conceived.  The musical prelude “If Eve Had Left the Apple on the Bough,” a comic opera song by Victor Herbert and Henry Blossom, sets the perfect comic  and ironic attitude.

Neil Barclay is properly filled with pomp and circumstance as Tombes the butler who also acts as the narrator.

The beautiful Kate Besworth is perfectly dressed and coiffed as the cowed Lady Sims.  Her delivery of the play’s final line, the most important utterance of the play, is presented with just the right tone of foreboding doom for Harry and his controlling ways.

Patrick Galligan has the proper air of arrogance and entitlement to make him the villain of the well-conceived piece.

Moya O’Connell makes for a perfect Kate.  Dressed in a business suit, displaying the carriage of a self-respecting woman, she makes it clear that she has achieved her goals in life…becoming an independent woman and living a worthy life!


Capsule judgement:  “The Twelve Pound Look,” is a perfect device to prove that with a focused purpose and a clear outline, it doesn’t need to take hours to make a statement.  The meaningful script gets a delightful and well conceived production.  What a lovely way to spend a  35-minute lunch break.

What: “The Twelve Pound Look:
Where:  Shaw Festival, Court House Theatre
When:  June 11 to September 12, 2015
For tickets or information:   1-800-5111-Shaw or http://www.shawfest.com/



Creative, delightful “Peter and the Starcatcher” @ The Shaw

“Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage:  it can be delightful.”  (G. B. Shaw)

Mention J. M. Barrie, and the immediate thought is Peter Pan.  Peter Pan, the tale of a boy who refused to grow up, has become a cottage industry.   Dolls, movies, a musical play, coloring books, cartoons, Halloween costumes, a non-musical play, and books quickly come to mind. 

Did you know that there has even been a prequel written about Peter and the boys?  Yes, a subsidiary of Disney, published, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a 2004 book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, which provides a back story, an explanation of what happened before the J. M. Barrie popular tale, “Peter Pan.”

A play with music, with book by Rick Elice and music by Wayne Barker, was adapted from “Peter and the Starcatcher.” It debuted in 2009 at La Jolla Playhouse.  It was restaged in 2011 for an Off-Broadway production, and opened on-Broadway in 2012.   It is now on stage at the Royal George Theatre of the Shaw Festival in a delightful production directed by Jackie Maxwell. 

Act 1 takes place at sea.  We sail on ships which evolve before our eyes.  Act Two finds us on an island.  

We find out how an orphan called Boy evolves into a lad named Peter.  The tale reveals how he and two friends meet Molly, confront a band of pirates led by Black “Stache,” and how a crocodile got a taste for the pirate leader.  We share with the cast how Peter protects a trunk of “star stuff,” and the mischievous Tinker Belle comes to be.   The action ends as Molly and her father return to the real world, while Peter and the Lost Boys remain on the isle of Neverland, with a promise to visit Molly sometime in the future.  

For those in the know, we realize that Peter, will use the “star stuff” to fly to a home in England, where Molly (Darling) now lives with her children Wendy, John and Michael.  And, of course, Peter will take the trio on a flight to Never Neverland where Wendy will become, at least for a short time, the “mother” of the lost boys and have an adventure which includes a croc with a taste for Captain Hook, a band of pirates, some Indians, and, well….you get the idea!

The farce is performed with imaginative staging that enhances the fantasy nature of the work.  It is, as the program says, “deliriously foolish.”  The production elements, as evidenced by the howling and giggles emitted from both adults and children alike, is meant for everyone.  Only a true grouch wouldn’t be entertained.

Filled with ropes which become waves of water, doorways, devices for levitation and Peter’s near drowning and flight, the simple effects work well.  Hanging sheets of filmy gauze create sails, but are also used as devices for mermaids to hang from and swim their way through the sea.

Each member of the cast is character correct.  Kate Besworth, is the fearless tomboy, Molly, with enough lady-like characteristics, to see her as a future proper mother.  Charlie Gallant delights as Peter, the orphan boy who doesn’t want to grown up, but obviously needs a mother so he can become a true “leader.”

Andrew Broderick (Ted) and James Daly (Prentiss) take on the roles of Peter’s friends with wonderful boyish hellion qualities. 

Jonathan Tan morphs into Smee, Black Stache’s bumbling henchman, with a nice farcical quality.  Martin Happer doesn’t scare the little ones as the “fiercesome” Black Stache.  Instead, he takes on a rather cherubic bad guy veneer.  


Capsule judgement:  “Peter and the Starcatcher” is a delightful fantasy of imagination and  growing up that gets a farcical, creative and wonderfully enjoyable production under the direction of Jackie Maxwell and scenic design by Judith Bowden.  It’s  a must see for anyone, child or adult, who can turn themselves over to experiencing the wonderment of imagination. 

What: “Peter and the Starcatcher”
Where:  Shaw Festival, Royal George Theatre
When:  April 8 to November 1, 2015
For tickets or information:   1-800-5111-Shaw or http://www.shawfest.com/

Tony Kushner's "iHo"--a long play that captivates at Shaw

“Revolutionary movements attract those who are not good enough for established institutions as well as those who are too good for them.”  (G. Bernard Shaw)

The Mandate of the Shaw Festival is to “produce plays from and about his [Shaw’s] era and contemporary plays that share Shaw’s provocative exploration of society and celebration of humanity.”   Tony Kushner’s “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures” is a perfect example of a contemporary script that fulfills that mission.

The title was inspired by Shaw’s pamphlet, “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism.”  Though it doesn’t try to explain or build on Shaw’s pamphlet, the publication’s topics of socialism and capitalism are central to the play’s core.

The rest of the title alludes to “Science and Health” the book written by Mary Baker Eddy, which serves as the central text of the Christian Science religion.  The teachings of Eddy, and the book itself, though not central to the play, are alluded to in the script.

Kushner’s plays often center on Judaism, politics, gay rights and the metaphysical world.  A declared liberal, he often examines social justice.  “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures,” which is referred to by The Shaw as “iHo,” contains references to all of the usual Kushner themes.

Kushner received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play “Angels in America:  A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.”  The openly gay playwright and scriptwriter, has also received The National Medal of Arts, as well as several Tony Awards and an Emmy. 

Kushner in a 2011 interview indicated that the title of his almost four-hour play centers on the intrusion of the spiritual into the political and economic world.  He indicated that not this, nor any of his plays, is meant to be politically illuminating though his works contain many references and speeches about these topics.  (To hear the interview go to: http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/Writers+and+Company/ID/2273993459/
“Writers and Company”  September 25, 2011.)

“Iho” is saga about a big American family in 2007.   A big Italian American family which contains lesbians, homosexuals, an African American, an Asian, a laborer, teacher, lawyer, former nun, and a theology professor.  This dysfunctional family unit is headed by the patriarch, Gus Marcantonio, a former longshoreman and  union organizer with strong left-leaning tendencies, has been behaving oddly.   

At the stage where we meet him, Gus is disillusioned, confused and defeated by the 21st century.  He is aware of his feeling of having lived false dreams, of seeing his life and that of his children, caught in a conundrum of historical forces not being on his or their side.  He questions revolutions, the consequences of compromise, evolutionary socialism (a movement advocating political, religious and/or economic reform), though he has lived his life dedicated to the accomplishment of change.

Into his Brooklyn brownstone converge his sister, a former nun, who has been staying with him for a year, his three children and their spouses, ex-spouses and lovers.  Questions abound:   Should he sell the brownstone?  How are the various factions within the family dealing with infidelity and conflicting political and religious views?  Can they or should they stop Gus from committing suicide?

The dark comedy uses humor and exposition to examine the various aspects of a family unit and what happens when individual needs conflict with group process.  It probes a world of abandoned dreams.  It showcases political fantasies and what happens when those dreams come up against life’s realities.  Kushner seems to propose the idea of the perfectibility of the world as being a religious concept, not a political one.

The staging is creative.  Pairs and trios square up to verbally slug it out.  The whole stage often explodes in talk and counter-talk, overlapping rants.  It seems that no one is listening to anyone else.  That is, no one except the mesmerized audience! 

The cast is excellent.  Jim Mezon puts on the persona of Gus Marcantonio at the start of the production and wears it throughout.  The character is complex, requiring complete reality and sensitivity to the motivations that cause someone to contemplate and attempt suicide.  Mezon accomplishes that completely.

Steven Sutcliffe is pathetically convincing as Gus’s gay, oldest son, Pill, caught in his obsessive needs for a young prostitute and the requirements of being married to a man who has given up so much for him.   Andre Sills effectively portrays Paul, Pill’s husband. 

Empty, Gus’s labor lawyer lesbian daughter, gets a strong focused presentation by Kelli Fox.  Her pregnant partner, Maeve, is clearly developed by Diana Donnelly.

Both Gray Powell, as Vito, the youngest son, and Julie Jasmine Chen, as his wife, are completely believable.

Fiona Reid, as Clio, Gus’s pacifistic sister, is physically and verbally absent, making her right on target as the former nun. 

Thom Marriott (Empty’s ex-husband) and Julie Martell, as Michelle, the wife of Gus’s former union member, play their vital roles with a clear focus.

Peter Hartwell’s complex era correct set works well.

One of the hallmarks of the audience’s involvement in a production are the discussions which take place during intermissions.  At “IHo,” the time was spent by many discussing the play:  Good sign!

Capsule judgement:  Director Eda Holmes has honed “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures” into a  well acted, well staged production that grabs and holds an audience’s attention.  This is a thinking person’s play, not aimed at the “I go to the theater to have a good time and get away from my troubles and that of others” crowd.

What: “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures”
Where:  Shaw Festival, Studio Theatre
When:  July 11-October 10, 2015
For tickets or information:   1-800-5111-Shaw or http://www.shawfest.com/

Monday, July 20, 2015

A lovely night at Blossom: Michael Feinstein entertains and educates

The evening was warm, the crickets in full voice, the pavilion almost filled, the lawn covered with bodies, blankets, bottles and baskets, sounds wafting from the big band musicians, melodic words, and a spoken and sung pleasant voice entertaining and educating.   It was the program,  “Michael Feinstein A Big Band Tribute to Frank Sinatra” at the beautiful Blossom Center.

Diminutive Michael Feinstein’s musical career started at age 5 in Columbus, Ohio.  The young Michael started to play piano by ear, developed into a piano bar celeb, came to New York, was introduced to Ira Gershwin, composer of “I Got Rhythm,” “Love is Here to Stay,” and “’Swonderful,” became his assistant for six years, met the elite of the music business, and transformed himself into “The Ambassador of the Great American Songbook.” 

Feinstein has transcribed, arranged, catalogued and performed a vast collection of American musical standards.  His personal connection with such musical greats as Rosemary Clooney, Sammy Davis Jr., Cole Porter and Liza Minnelli opened the door to a knowledge of music that turned him into an anthropologist and archivist.  In 2007 he founded the Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Initiative, dedicated to celebrating the art musical form and preserving it through educational programs, competitions, and making the songs available to the public.

Feinstein, who has won two Emmy Awards, is also a song stylist who presents over 200 shows each year.

You don’t go to a Feinstein concert to hear imitations of the singers whose songs he presents, but to hear the compositions presented in the style of those artists.  You don’t go expecting a performer who captivates the audience like Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler or Edina Menzel.  You go to hear a pleasant evening of personal tales, revealing information, and classic songs.

His July 18, 2015 Blossom concert was a tribute to Frank Sinatra.  Feinstein revealed how he met and became friends with “old blue eyes.”  How Sinatra was instrumental in expanding the young man’s musical contacts, and personal stories about the man who is considered to be one of the greatest interpreters of American songs.

Starting with “Luck be a Lady” from the musical, “Guys and Dolls,” to probably Sinatra’s mantra,  “New York, New York,” the evening flowed easily from song to song, from tale to tale.  There was humor, pathos, name dropping and a little gossip.

Songs included “Time After Time,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” which was written as a waltz, but was reinterpreted by Sinatra, and “It’s Alright With Me.”  Other songs were “Just One of Those Things,” which Feinstein indicated Sinatra viewed as the saddest lyrics ever written, and “Night and Day, “one of the great man’s favorites.  Others presented were “Someday,” “My Kind of Town,” written specifically for Sinatra by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn for inclusion in “Robin and the Seven Hoods,” and “Fools Rush In,” the kind of song which was sung with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of Scotch in the other.  “All the Way” was followed by a medley of songs from the Sinatra songbook including “Come Fly With Me,” “It’s Witchcraft,” and “I’ve Got the World on a String.”

The appreciative crowd gave Feinstein a much deserved standing ovation and left humming their favorite song from the encyclopedia of music they had just heard.

Future pop Blossom presentations include: 

“Broadway Divas,” a program including songs from “Wicked,” “Les Miz,” “Cabaret,” “My Fair Lady,” and “Chicago.” (August 2)

“The British Invasion:  The Music of the Beatles, The Stones, The Who,” and more.  (August 16)

“Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis” (August 29)

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

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Groundworks Dance Theater captivates at Cain Park

As the capacity audience was settling in on opening night of Groundworks Dance Theatre’s summer concert in Cain Park’s Alma Theatre, there was a loud electronic sound stage right.  As the eyes shifted in its direction, a lawn mower was pushed on stage.  This was followed by a series of other sounds and actions of everyday occurrences including playing golf, sunbathing, and living in suburbia. 

“House Broken, as choreographed by Rosie Harerra is a series of everyday songs such as “It’s Not Unusual” by Tom Jones, “So Happy Together” by the Turtles, “Little Boxes” by Pete Seeger, and “Cranking and Old Lawnmower,” by Million Dollar Sounds,” which, when blended together, created a zany picture of modern life via dance.

Each well executed crossroads piece between theatre and dance highlighted the skills of the newly constituted Groundworks company.   The composition, which was premiered in 2014, was well executed and delightful.  New dancers are Lauren Garson, former member of the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company and Parson Dance.  You may have seen her on the launch of Microsoft XBOX 360. Michael Marquez is a 2015 graduate of The Julliard School, who has premiered a series of new creations by such choreographers as Monisa Bill Barnes, Emery LeCrone and Kyle Scheurich.  The duo blended well with company veterans Felise Bagley, Annika Sheaff and Damien Highfield.

“Remora,” in its world premiere, was a superb showcase that demonstrated the physical skills of the company.  The piece was complex and demanded and received perfect timing. 

Synced to the repetitive cadence of the music created by composer Michael Wall, the non-narrative performance exploded on stage with gymnastic exertions, controlled moves, fine lifts and meaningful body contact between the dancers.   Dennis Dugan’s lighting enhanced the mood and movements.  Two highlight segments were Annika Sheaff’s solo and Damien Highfield and Felise Bagley’s duet.  The audience response was explosive.

“Boom Boom,” created by Groundworks Artistic Director David Shimotakahara in 2009, is a highlight piece in the company’s repertoire.

The number pays tribute to the essence of the blues.  As stated in the program about that musical form, “For all its pain and suffering it is also full of life.  There is loneliness and endless journey, but here is also an attitude about survival.”

The musical sounds, sometime plaintive, sometimes playful, sometimes lively, sometimes haunting, were well echoed in the dancing.

The musical score included:  “Sitting on Top of the World,” “Today I Sing The Blues,” “When the Train Comes Along,” “Hound Dog,” and “Got My Mojo Working.’

Capsule Judgement:  GroundWorks Dance Theater’s “At Cain Park’s Alma Theater” was a well danced and an entertaining evening of theatre.  The newly constituted company has a vitality and proficiency that maintains the integrity and artistic significance of David Shimotakahara’s mission of fine dancing and imagination. 


Presentation dates:  July 17-19, 2015

Upcoming GroundWorks performances:

Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival
July 31 and August 1 @ 8:45 pm
Glendale Cemetery, Akron

Arts in August
August 14, 2015 @ 8:30 pm
Tremont’s Lincoln Park

Fall Performance Series
October 16 & 17 at @ 7:30 pm
The Allen Theatre, PlayhouseSquare

For information about GroundWorks go to http://www.groundworksdance.orgor call 216-751-0088.