Thursday, December 14, 2017

The LOUSH SISTERS are boozing and sexing it up again @ Cleveland Public Theatre


Yes, Holly (Beth Wood) and Jolly (Liz Conway) are back again.  This time in Cleveland Public Theatre’s world premiere of” The Loush Sisters Get Hard for the Holidays.” 

Having consumed only some mulled apple cider made me one of the few sober people among the massive crowd of “Yippie-Kai-Yay Mother-Loushers” who obviously arrived early and had consumed a fair amount of wine and beer (no hard liquor is sold) before the show started. 

They continued to imbibe as the girls told smutty stories, sang songs with lots of double-entendres, bragged about their sexual conquests, made comments about theirs and everyone else’s genitalia, and went on an adventure to counter the deeds of Krampus and Karla, the evil villains of this year’s Christmas tale. 

As the program reminds, the duo has been around since 2003.  They are poster children for what it’s like to look at life under a haze of alcohol.  Yes, they have substance abuse problems.  And yes, they are not politically correct.  What they are is very, very funny, especially when they are singing their songs, telling their jokes and reminiscing about their past experiences while reminding us that they are “just tramps from the Near West Side of CLE.”

They make references to present day goings on including choice comments about Matt Lauer, Donald Trump, and Louie K, encouraging “lock them up, lock them up, lock them up!”.

They sing pop songs, not always with the words we all know and love, including “Wing and A Prayer,” “Moving on Up,” “Our Way,” “Jingle Bells,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” “Forget Your Troubles,” “Happy Days,” “Clang, Clang, Clang Goes the Trolley” and their theme song, “That’s Why the Woman is a Tramp.”

The girls are less humorous when they are acting out the plot of a meaningless “story” line, supposedly a take-off on the ‘80s film, “Die Hard.”   No sense in writing a recap of the tale…no one is there for the plot…they are there to laugh at the not-for-prime-time material, often yelling comments to and about the girls.  (Depends on the night as to how raucous it gets.)

Multi-comments are made about Ambiance, “the Store for Lovers,” one of the show’s sponsors, who are “The home of Santa’s Naughty Sack” and appear to supply costumes and props for the show.

Sheffia Randall Dooley (sister, Butter Rum Loush) brings down the house as she gospel rocks her way through “Santa Baby” and other ditties. 


The Minions (Ryan Edlinger, Brian O. Jackson, Colleen McCaughey and Hillary Wheelock), are excellent.  Pianist Buck McDaniel provides not only the music, but some great ad libs from his hiding place behind the high-backed piano.  Brian Pedaci and Jennifer Woda try valiantly to create humor as Krampus and Karla, but the mood and script are against them.

The show runs two hours, with intermission.

Capsule judgement:  The Loush Sisters encourage the audience to “celebrate the love for friends and family, to sit back, relax and have an adult beverage and enjoy the crazy ride.”  Don’t go to this holiday show expecting great theater or a religious experience.  Go, enjoy the uninhibited rantings of two boozed-up broads who are having a hell of good time.  The drunker you are, the better you’ll appreciate what’s going on.  (Be sure to book the Uber in advance.)

“The Loush Sisters Get Hard for the Holidays” runs through December 23 at Cleveland Public Theatre.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

An interesting history lesson unfolds at convergence continuum


Early this year U. S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with the backing of President Trump, rescinded the mandate of the “National Commission of Forensic Sciences.”   It was the purpose of this group to “enhance the practice and improve the reliability of forensic science,” and “to promote scientific validity, reduce fragmentation, and improve federal coordination of forensic science.”

Why, in this day of ever-expanding scientific discoveries and the perilous state of the world, would the federal government do away with an independent agency responsible for promoting scientific validity?

To understand the situation, one must thinking of the duo who pushed the issue.  Both Sessions and Trump do not believe in global warming, they don’t believe in scientific proof.  They are among the group of intellectual “light-weights” who make observations, reach conclusions with little thought, are not concerned with separating fact from “intuition.”  In other words, why spend time and money in finding out “facts,” when facts don’t make money and are a waste of time.

Facts, according to that dynamic duo, are “false news.”  Or, put another way, building hotels and golf courses are of more value to society than scientific discovery.

For many years, scientific discovery was the result of companies investing in research (e.g., General Electric and Westinghouse in electricity, Ford in automobiles, Goodyear and Goodrich in rubber and polymer), or individuals using personal wealth or getting “backers” to finance their ideas to probe the unknown.

Nikola Tesla, a Serbian-American, was an inventor, engineer, physicist and futurist who laid the foundations for modern alternating current and the electrical supply system. 

“The Chaste Genius and His DeathRay Gun,” now on stage at congruence continuum, tells the tale of an obsessive, germ phobic genius who lived most of his life trying to get financial backing from the likes of JP Morgan, to develop his ideas. 

Many of his concepts went no-place, but some eventually allowed others to develop printers that don’t have to be connected to a computer, or headphones without the annoying chord connecting them to an I-phone, or the I-phone, itself.

No, his “Death Ray Gun,” which some in the military community predicted would shorten wars by allowing lasers or particle beams to destroy the enemy, didn’t work out, but it did lay the foundation for J. J. Thompson to discover the electron, which has been important in the fields of electricity, magnetism, chemistry, thermal conductivity, and atomic energy.   

Often thought of as the archetypal “mad scientist,” Tesla died penniless in New York City. 

He did not go unrecognized.  An American Rock band, electric car, intellectual society, song, airport, museum, power plant, 128 streets, moon crater, minor planet, and a STEM high school are named for him.

Playwright Christopher Johnson thought Tesla was interesting enough to center “The Chaste Genius and his Death Ray Gun” on the scientist’s life.  It is now in its world premiere at convergence continuum.

The production, under the direction of Geoffrey Hoffman, is not thrilling theatre.  The script is mostly talk, with interludes of some gimmickry in which some of Tesla’s inventions are supposedly demonstrated.  Unfortunately, though the effort is grand, the theatre-on-a-shoe-string doesn’t have the money and techies to produce the devices to create replicas of Tesla’s creations, so they often come off as magic tricks rather than scientific wonders.




The strength of the show is the acting.  Robert Hawkes as Tesla, and Robert Branch, Val Kozlenko and Nicole McLaughlin-Lublin, playing multi-roles (e.g., Mark Twain, J. P. Morgan and Teddy Roosevelt) are quite effective.

Capsule Judgement:  Though it’s more history lecture than theatrical production, “The Chaste Genius and his Death Ray Gun,” teaches an important lesson about the need for eccentric, out of the box thinkers, who need encouragement and the financial means to create theories, inventions and formulas that can have the capacity to change the world.  It’s worth the long, sometimes lifeless sit, to gain that understanding.



“The Chaste Genius and his Death Ray Gun” runs through December 16, 2017, at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or go to http://www.convergence-continuum.org

Next up at con-con:  THE NEOMFA (Northeast Ohio Maser of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Cleveland State University) PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL (February 8-18, 2018), followed by Paula Vogel’s “The Oldest Profession,” from March 23-April 14, 2018.

Friday, December 08, 2017

“On Your Feet!” leaves audience on their feet and dancing at Connor Palace


Last year, within a short time after getting off the plane in Havana, it became apparent that the Cuban people adore art, music, bright colors, personal style and family unity.  And, after long periods of dictatorships, revolution, communism, deprivation of food and other necessities of life, they have also developed survivor and “can do” attitudes.  

The Cubans who escaped from the island after the Castro regime gained control left their wealth, jobs and families behind, but carried with them their appreciations and outlooks.

These cultural displays can be examined by looking at the Cuban-American enclaves in Florida, where “Española Cubano” is thriving.  Going to the Versailles Restaurant in Miami’s “Little Cuba” is like eating in Havana (with an understanding that the American restaurant has food and seasoning supplies that are not available on “the island.”)

“The Cuban-way” is on display in the story, dance and music-centric “On Your Feet,” the tale of island born Emile Estefan, and wife, Gloria, who went on to create a new music sound and win 26-Grammy awards as ex-pats.

One of the trends in Broadway shows is the jukebox musical, scripts which are created by shoe-horning pre-written songs into a story.

As is the case with most jukebox bio-musicals (e.g., “Buddy—The Buddy Holly Story,” “Jersey Boys,” “All Shook Up,)” some liberties have been taken by adding drama and romantic sequences that may or may not be accurate.  This appears true in “On Your Feet.” 

With a book written by Alexander Dinelaris and music either written by or made famous by Gloria Estefan, “On Your Feet” sizzles with dynamic testosterone-driven Cuban-fusion pop melodies and beats as it tells the story of the couple’s meeting, Gloria Fajardo’s family opposition to her relationship with the older band leader Emilio, the changes she made in dropping out of college and touring with the band, the duo’s marriage, her career conflicts and an accident which almost ended her life.

On the journey, we are introduced to Gloria’s mother (Nancy Ticotin) “a could-have-been” Hollywood star who envies her daughter for doing what she didn’t have the nerve to do, Consuelo (Alma Cuervo), Gloria’s supportive “abuela” (grandmother), her adored father (Jason Martinez), and the others who had an influence on her life and career.

The core of the show is the music…the ballads, dynamic Cuban and Cuban-fusion sounds, and the resulting singing and dancing.

The sounds are infectious.  Listening to “1-2-3,” “Cuba Libra” “Everlasting Love,” “Party Time” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” “Turn Up the Beat,” and “Oye,” and not leaping out of your seat and dancing in the aisles, is a major effort.

 “On Your Feet!” opened on Broadway in late 2015 and closed last August after 746 performances. 

The touring production, under the direction of 2-time Tony Winner, Jerry Mitchell of “Kinky Boots” fame, and choreographer Sergio Trujillo literally and figuratively explodes off the stage. 

The stars, Christie Prades (Gloria) and Mauricio Martinez (Emilo) are so good that there is no time when the audience could perceive that they were not the actual couple, but a pair of actors portraying them.  The singing, the connective interactions are those of reality, not fantasy.

The supporting cast is also totally involved.  This is a highly skilled, mostly Hispanic/Latino assemblage.

The singing, the dancing, the energy, all make this a special evening of theatre.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  The Cuban-American success story is everything that Trump and his alt-right cronies say doesn’t and shouldn’t happen.  Long live immigrants and their success stories!  “On Your Feet” is a joyous must see journey, with an infectious musical beat!  I dare you not to be standing, clapping and singing during the curtain call.

Tickets for “On Your Feet”, which runs through December 23, 2017 at the Connor Palace Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to www.playhousesquare.org.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

URINETOWN, bad title, fun show, flushed with success @ Blank Canvas


 “Urinetown:  The Musical” opened on Broadway in 2001, but its path from lyricist Greg Kotis traveling Europe, encountering a pay toilet, getting an idea for a story, joining with Mark Hollman, writing the lyrics together, Hollman writing the music, previewing the show at the New York’s Fringe Festival, and getting it on Broadway, was filled with pitfalls.  Mainly, producers were turned off by the title. 

Eventually, the Bertolt Brecht-style musical, filled with parodies of Broadway shows, that satirizes capitalism, social irresponsibility, the legal system and populism, found The Araca Group. 

Araca, a New York company is composed of three young men from the west-side of Cleveland.  Brothers Matthew and Michael Rego met Hank Unger during a community theater production of the “Music Man” in 1985, which I directed.  And, in spite of my advice, have gone on to be theatrical wunderkinds.

The trio formed a production company, named it after the Italian town from which “grandpa” Rego (remember Rini-Rego Supermarkets?) came.  The trio had produced “Vagina Monologues” and were looking for their next show.  “Urinetown was it.  They have since produced such Broadway hits as “Wicked,” “’night Mother,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “Rock of Ages,” and the newly opened hit, “SpongeBob Square Pants.”

The musical opened off-Broadway, then moved on to the Great White Way in September, 2001, to strong positive reviews, gained back the initial investment in a record-breaking six weeks, and closed in early 2004, after 26 previews and 965 performances.  National tours and local performances have followed.

The tale centers on the idea that “In the not-so-distant future, a terrible water shortage and 20-year drought has led to a government ban on private toilets and a proliferation of paid public toilets, owned and operated by a single megalomaniac company: The Urine Good Company.  If the poor don’t obey the strict laws prohibiting free urination, they get sent to the dreaded and mysterious ‘Urinetown.’

After too long under the heel of the malevolent Caldwell B. Cladwell, the poor people stage a revolt led by a brave young hero [Bobby Strong].  They fight for the freedom to pee “wherever you like, whenever you like, for as long as you like, and with whomever you like.”



Sound preposterous?  Were you aware that every November 19, the United Nations sponsors “World Toilet Day,” a day set to raise awareness that 2.4 billion people do not have a toilet to use?  The reasons?  Draught, poverty, and government and business control over the flow of water.

“Urinetown:  The Musical” is fun, but it is more than escapism and catchy tunes.  This is a tale of greed, corruption, love and revolution in a city where water is worth its weight in gold. 

Messages pervade, such as what happens when big business is given the right to control our lives.  Think of the pharmaceutical and medical companies and their stranglehold over our health.  What happens when citizens have their rights taken?  What is it like to be lied to continually in an attempt to push a political and economic agenda?  Think Trump and his motley crew!

Think of the rape of the environment caused by loosening the clean air act, elimination of national monuments, and the attitude of “drill,” “drill” “drill” and “dig, dig, dig,” damn the environment. 


Patrick Ciamacco, Blank Canvas’s Artistic Director, loves farce.  He revels in scripts that are out of the norm.  Give him fake blood, sexual titillation, and social deviance, and he’s all in.  This becomes obvious when you consider that he has produced “Debbie Does Dallas” (incidentally, another Araca show), “The Rocky Horror Show,” “Silence! The Musical,” “Wild Party,” “Reefer Madness,” “Bat Boy,” and “Triassic Parq the Musical.” 


Ciamacco and his staff, as evidenced by the screaming, clapping, raucous opening night audience, have created another winner with “Urinetown.” 


It never ceases to amaze of can be created on the theatre’s postage stamp-sized stage.  How choreographer Katie Zarecki squeezes all those bodies on the platform, yet has them dance in a semblance of order, is a wonder.  


Not only did Ciamacco get the cast in character, make sense of the lines, and get lots of laughs, but he designed the lights and sound and built the sets.  Talk about being “all in.”


He is ably supported by musical director and keyboardist, Matthew Dolan, and his well-tuned band (Aaron T. Phillips, Jason Stebelton, Keith Turner and Marcus Greene).


The cast is strong.  Rob Albrecht as Office Lockstock, the narrator, has a wonderful voice filled with irony and satirical overtones.  Dayshawnda Ash comes close to stealing the show as Little Sally.  Stephanie Harden is believable as Hope Caldwell, the evil Caldwell B. Cladwell’s daughter and girl- friend of our hero, Bobby Strong.  Daryl Kelley could be a little more “boy next door”/ “awe shucks” as Bobby, but he does nicely with his solos.  


The chorus sings and dances with vigor.


CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Urinetown:  The Musical” is flushed with success and audiences will enjoy themselves, while gaining some insight into political and economic corruption.  Get tickets early as the Blank Canvas theatre is small and this show should be a big box office success!


“Urinetown:  The Musical” runs through December 16 in the company’s west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.   For tickets and directions go to www.blankcanvasthetre.com

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

2018 Winter/Spring CLE-area Theater Calendar



Here’s a list of some of the offerings of CLE professional theaters through the winter and spring seasons (January-May).  

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

 

February 9-February 25—HAIR--Beck Center and Baldwin Wallace University Music Theatre Program collaborate for the 50th anniversary of the ground-breaking musical that introduced rock and roll to Broadway.  It examines a group of 60s-era youth struggling to balance their lives, loves, and the sexual revolution with their rebellion against the Vietnam War and conservative parents and society.

March 30-April 29—MY FIRST TIME-- Before blogging technically began there was myfirsttime.com which allowed people to anonymously share their own true stories about their “first times.”  Ken Davenport’s script brings these true tales to life.

June 1-July 1—BENT—Few know about the persecution of gays in Nazi Germany.  Martin Sherman’s script follows a group of gay men finding ways to survive persecution before and after the Night of the Long Knives.

BLANK CANVAS
  

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

TBA


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

 

TBA

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

January 20-February 11—MARIE AND ROSETTA—Sister Rosetta Tharpe, "The Godmother of Rock n' Roll" who influenced performers from Elvis to Hendrix, plucks prim and proper Marie Knight from a rival gospel show, and the two challenge one another on music, life, and the Almighty.

February 17-March 11—THE INVISIBLE HAND—a tale of terrorism and capitalism, where greed and deceit prevail and no one escapes without blood on their hands.

April 14-May 6—THE 25 th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE--A coming-of-age Tony award winning musical comedy with a high-spirited, improvised spelling bee that gives new meaning to P-A-N-D-E-M-O-N-I-U-M.

May 5-27—THE ROYALE—It's 1910, and Negro Heavyweight Champion Jay "The Sport" Jackson is determined to prove he is equal to his white counterpart – in the ring and in life.  (Inspired by the life of sports legend Jack Johnson.)


CLEVELAND PUBLIC THEATRE

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

January 24-28 (7:30) -- HOW TO END POVERTY IN 90 MINUTES—Over the course of 90 minutes, audiences list, explore and ultimately decide how to spend $1,000 from that evening’s box office sales.

February 8-March 3 (7:00)—You are invited to be in the studio audience of AMERICAN DREAMS where you will decide which of three contestants will receive the ultimate prize:  citizenship.

February 22-March 10 (7:30)—EN EL TIEMPO DE LAS MARIPOSAS/IN THE TIME OF THE BUTTERFLIES—A fictionalized account of the courageous Mirabal sister from the Dominican Republic who inspired resistance cells against the dictatorial regime of Rafael Trujillo.

March 29-April 21--BR’ER COTTON (7:30)—Ruffrino, a 14-year-old militant, incites riots in school and on-line.  (National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere)

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

February 8-17—NEOMFA PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL-- For the seventh year, con-con will produce new plays by graduate students in the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing program.  It will include two full-length plays by final year students, and two short one-acts by second year students.

March 23-April 14: THE OLDEST PROFESSION by Paula Vogel.  As Ronald Reagan enters the White House, five aging practitioners of the oldest profession are faced with a diminishing clientele, increased competition for their niche market, and aching joints. 




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

January 19-30—GROUNDED—Cleveland writer George Brant’s award winning poetic monologue about a hotshot fighter pilot sidelined by pregnancy and reassigned to manage drone strikes.

March 2-25—THE EFFECT—The UK Critics’ Circle Award for Best New Play is about a clinical trial for a new antidepressant – which might be a Viagra for the heart.

April 20-May 20—APPROPRIATE—the Obie Award winning provocative family drama from Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, the writer of AN OCTOROON.

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

 

January 5-28—ANGELS IN AMERICA PART ONE:  MILLENNIUM APPROACHES—Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winning play--Set in 1980's New York City, a gay man is abandoned by his lover when he contracts the AIDS virus, and a closeted Mormon lawyer's marriage to his pill-popping wife stalls.  New Yorkers grapple with life and death, love and sex, heaven and hell.

February 9-25—JELLY BELLY-- A powerful story of a convict returning from a brief prison stay to resume his position as the neighborhood kingpin.

April 27-May 20--ANGELS IN AMERICA PART TWO: PERESTROIKA--The plague of AIDS worsens, relationships fall apart as new one’s form, and unexpected friendships roll-out. America in the mid-1980s. 



GREAT LAKES THEATER

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

 

February 16-March 11—MISERY—Stephen King’s thriller, in which a successful romance novelist awakes in a secluded home, rescued from a car crash by his “number one fan.”  Fiction quickly becomes stark reality.  The production brings local favorite Andrew May back to the area.

March 29-April 15—MACBETH—Shakespeare's towering tragedy melds unforgettable characters and incomparable language in a fascinating drama of corruption and heroism.  (Note:  For this production, GLT will transform the Hanna into an Elizabethan theater, including seating sections on stage - surrounding the playing area and creating an immersive experience for audiences! Consider onstage seating when planning.)

May 4-20—BEEHIVE THE 60s MUSICAL—The groovy retro-musical-review, under the direction of Victoria Bussert, features hits that range from the Supremes’ melodies to Janis Joplin’s heart-rending rasp to Aretha Franklin’s soul.
 


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

TBA


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

February 8-March 4—SASSY MAMAS—Three longtime girlfriends find themselves living single and ready to ensnare much younger male suitors.

March 22-April 15—ADVENTURES OF THE BLACK GIRL IN HER SEARCH FOR GOD—Based on G. B. Shaw’s short story, it follows a young African girl who is abandoned by a white missionary for asking too many questions about God. 

May 10-June 3—PASSING STRANGER--An edgy musical which follows a nameless African-American Youth who is on a quest to find “the real.”




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


February 2-18—MERRILY WE ROLE ALONG—Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s musical based on the 1934 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, which revolves around Franklin Shepard who, having once been a talented composer of Broadway musicals, has now abandoned his friends and songwriting career to become a producer of Hollywood movies.

NEW WORLD PERFORMANCE LAB
For details: https://nwplab.com/

February—Ma’Sue Productions stages a new play

May—DON QUIXOTE—a new version of the Cervantes play of a Knight in search of the impossible dream.

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

 

February 2-17—BOY—Anna Ziegler’s tale of a little girl who wants to be good but is thwarted by the discomfort that comes from being born a boy, a fact of which she (he) is unaware.

March 16-31—THE LATE HENRY MOSS—Sam Shepard’s work about a father who has spun his dysfunctional American family web and then disappeared, leaving the fractured members to replay the past with longing, with resentment.

May 11-26—WHITE GUY ON THE BUS-- Tells the tale of the dynamics between low-income blacks and economically comfortable whites.
 


OHIO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL  www.ohioshakespearefestival.com
(Winter and Spring Home:  Greystone Hall, Akron).  Shows Thursday-Saturday at 8:00, Sunday matinees at 2:00.

January 24-28—THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE ABRIDGED—37 plays in 97 minutes!

March 2-18—SCAPIN—Molière’s tale of two young lovers who fall in love with two penniless and beautiful women who need to be helped by Scapin, the crafty servant, who can scheme his way into (and out of) any situation.

April 6-22—KING CHARLES III--Prince Charles has spent his entire life in a state of waiting.  But now, Queen Elizabeth II has passed away, and the erstwhile prince finally receives his chance to ascend the British throne. 

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

PLAYHOUSE SQUARE CENTER
 
January 9-28—State Theatre—LOVE NEVER DIES, sequel to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, picks up the tale 10 years after the Phantom’s disappearance from the Paris Opera House and has escaped to New York where he lives in Coney Island.  Christine, who is now a famous opera singer, is lured to America by the Phantom in a last attempt to win her love.

February 6-11—Connor Palace—STOMP-- a percussion group, originating in Brighton, United Kingdom that uses the body and ordinary objects to create a physical theatre performance using rhythms, acrobatics and pantomime.

March 6-25—Connor Palace—RENT—In the late 1980s and early 1900s, a group in NY ‘s East Village face pennilessness, drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, social tension and political unrest as they make personal self-discoveries about what matters in life.  (1996 Tony Winner for Best Musical)

April 10-29—Connor Palace—THE HUMANS—2016 Tony Award winner for Best Play, showcases the Blake family, gathering at the run-down Manhattan apartment to have dinner and deal with aging, illness, and a changing economy.

May 2-27—State Theatre—ALADDIN—The musical tale of Princess Jasmine and her search for a royal groom with the aid of a magic lamp and a Genie.

It’s coming—Lin-Manuel Miranda’s HAMILTON arrives on July 17 for a six-week run!

RUBBER CITY THEATRE--2207 Romig Road, Akron
234-252-0272 or http://www.rubbercitytheatre.com/

February 9-25—TWELFTH NIGHT—The Shakespeare play centers on the twins, Viola and Sebastian, who are separated in a shipwreck.  Viola (who is disguised as a boy) falls in love with the Duke, who in turn is in love with the Countess Olivia.  Mayhem ensues.

April 6-15—EQUIVOCATION-- a play about telling the truth in difficult times. It proposes the question: what if the government commissioned William Shakespeare to write the definitive history of a national crisis.



THE MUSICAL THEATER PROJECT
 

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

January 27—Hanna Theatre, 28—Temple Tifereth Israel—THE GERSHWINS IN HOLLYWOOD—George and Ira penned some of the best popular songs of the decade. This is the story of George’s last years, capped by the brothers’ iconic “Love Is Here to Stay.”  Featuring Bill Rudman and Paul Ferguson, Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, the Joe Hunter Trio, Vince Mastro and Treva Offutt.

March 1-- 3 PM -- ​OLD FRIENDS: AN AFTERNOON WITH CRYER & FORD—GRETCHEN CRYER AND NANCY FORD were the first female writing team to be produced in New York (I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road (1978), Now Is the Time for All Good Men (1967).  With Bill Rudman, special guests Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford, Music direction by Nancy Maier, and featuring Katherine DeBoer and Eric Fancher.

April 15 (Kent State University), April 16—Breen Center for the Performing Arts) --Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ALLEGRO: In-Concert Musical—The musical journey of Joe Taylor, Jr., from his birth in small-town America to the big city and back again to his roots--directed by Terri Kent, music direction by Nancy Maier, new arrangements by Ty Alan Emerson, featuring Joe Monaghan and members of Kent State University’s Musical Theatre Program.

May 6 –3 PM Cuyahoga Community College—East Campus) -- LET’S NOT WASTE A MOMENT: THE IMPACT OF MILK AND HONEY-- The 1961 musical MILK AND HONEY, with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, placed spotlight on the state of Israel, then just 13 years old.

THEATRE NINJAS
 

February 22-24—BRICOLAGE--an explosion of new fusion works created by randomly assigned teams of artists and craftspeople from all over the creative spectrum.

April 6-7--POSITIVE REINFORCEMENTS--a two-night showcase of short-form performance/time-based art, such as theater pieces, dance, sketch/comedy, music, opera, radio plays, performance art and poetry readings, along with representatives from visual and spacial art.

May 31- June. 2—MYSTERY BOX--Behind this door there is a perfectly ordinary room, and in that room there is a perfectly ordinary box. The secrets this box contains and the story of the person who made it are at the heart of a mystery that spans hundreds of years, digital and analogue worlds, and touches the very fabric of the universe

Monday, December 04, 2017

“THE LITTLE MERMAID” goes under the sea again @ Beck Center


Yes, Beck Center has decided to recycle “The Little Mermaid,” last year’s holiday production so that more children of all ages can follow Ariel, the daughter of King Triton, the master of the sea, in her search for “a world in which I feel truly realized on my own terms.”

 “The Little Mermaid” is based on the 1989 Disney film of the same name, which brought to the big screen Hans Christian Anderson’s magical tale.

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

For those of you who are new to the story, as the tale starts, Ariel, her side-kick, Flounder, her sisters, the fish and crustations of the sea frolic.  Meanwhile, Prince Eric and his adviser, Grimsby, are aboard a ship at sea and hear a lovely voice.  The Prince is immediately captivated by the sound, thus laying the groundwork for his eventual pursuit of the source of the music.  It is, of course, Ariel.

A storm, Eric being saved by his yet unrecognized lady love, Ariel, who is fascinated by the “real” world, and the plotting by Ariel’s evil Aunt Ursula to get revenge on Triton for taking away her “deserved” inheritance as the equal controller of the seas, all advance the plot. 

Ursula makes a deal with Ariel in which the young beauty exchanges her singing voice for legs to replace her mermaid tail, thus becoming a human. Ariel and Eric spending time together, (spoiler alert!) a conflict between Ariel, Triton and Ursula in which the magic seashell is broken and the bad aunt is destroyed, Eric proposing marriage, the declaration of peace between humans and the merfolk, and, as in all good fairy tales, the royal joining in marriage of Ariel and Eric, wrap up the tale. 

For this year’s production, Martin Céspedes reinvisons some of his award winning creative and stimulating choreography which covers calypso, ballroom, soft-shoe, line dancing, and some balletic moments.  Alan Menken’s music is again lushly played by Larry Goodpaster and his large orchestra, and we get to swim above and below the sea thanks to Adam Zeek’s creative projections. 

Also back are the lovely Kathleen Rooney as Ariel and handsome Shane Patrick O’Neil as her prince charming, as well as the 2016 Playhouse Square’s Dazzle Award winner, J. R. Heckman as Flounder, Natalie Blalock as the bad, bad Ursula, Darryl Lewis as King Triton, Zachary Vederman (Scuttle), Wesley Allen (Sebastian) and Robert Pierce (Chef Louis).

So, what could be wrong?  Though the outstanding vocals are present, the entire production, with the exception of the dancing, seems to be emotionally flat. 

The cast seems to be walking through their performances rather than enjoying themselves.  Their attitude is catchy as the young audience at a Saturday matinee wiggled, squirmed, and kept wandering up and down the aisles followed by their frantic mothers.  Not their fault.  The production needs a good dose of directorial induced enthusiasm!

Also, in spite of a valiant try by sound designer Carlton Guc, the sound system made understanding sung words difficult.  Why won’t the powers that be at Beck take the criticism of the theater reviewers and patrons, and finally do something about their outdated sound system?

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  I wish I could rave about this go-around of “The Little Mermaid” as I did last year, but I can’t.  This production is acceptable, but with all that talent on stage there needs to be an infusion of joy and enthusiasm to make it reach the high levels of which it is capable.

 
“The Little Mermaid” is scheduled to run through December 31, 2017 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to http://www.beckcenter.org

Sunday, December 03, 2017

“The game’s afoot” as “The Baker Street Irregulars” snoop @ Dobama



In October of 1978 Will Eisner published “A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories.”  The fictional tale ushered in a new venue, the graphic novel, using the drawing media to tell tales. 

In contrast to most “comics,” (e.g., “Peanuts,” “Mary Worth,” and “Little Orphan Annie”), which tend to be serialized, graphic novels are self-contained stories.

Tony Lee and Dan Boultwood wrote a quartet of these novels, aimed mainly at the tween audience, which are spin-offs on Sherlock Holmes stories centering on The Baker Street Irregulars, a bunch of street urchins led by teenaged Wiggins, whom Holmes paid to collect data for his investigations.

In the Lee and Boultwood series, “The Adventure of the Missing Detective,” “The Adventure of the Phantom of Drury Lane,” “The Adventure of the Charge of the Old Brigade” and “The Adventure of the Family Reunion,” Wiggins is joined by “Pockets” a female pickpocket, “Ash” an apprentice chimney sweep,” “Chen,” a boy-wonder Chinatown inventor, “Tiny” a plus-sized butcher’s assistant, and “Eliza,” the granddaughter of a famous London sleuth.

Cleveland Heights’ national award winning playwright, Eric Coble’s adaptation of “Sherlock Holmes:  The Baker Street Irregulars,” is a melodramatic, tween-centric “who done it” play with villains, cops, mistaken identities, subterfuge, heroic acts, dangerous situations, budding love stories and twists and turns.

Though the script has been produced by other theatres, Dobama’s staging is actually a “kind of” world premiere, as Coble sat in while the action evolved, making adaptations to the original work.

The tale?  It is December,1891, shortly after the “disappearance/death” of Sherlock Holmes, following a battle with Moriarty, his arch-nemesis.  The street urchins take up the challenge of defending the Victorian city against crimes.

They are aided by Inspector Lestrade, who questions the youths’ ability to solve crimes, the mysterious Irene Adler and the steadfast Doctor John Watson.

Director Nathan Motta keeps the action generally lively, has worked with his actors to let loose of reality and play the scenes with stylized acting, though a more comic book approach might have added some more audience involvement.  He also has planned with his technical staff to create visually interesting effects.  Though there is a somewhat excessive use of projections, sometimes causing an almost roller-coaster queasiness, the visuals generally work.
 



Christopher Bohan, gives yet another strong performance, following up his starring roles in Dobama’s “How to Be a Respectable Junkie” and “The Flick,” in his dual performance as Doctor Watson and Sherlock Holmes.  Ray Caspio is evil incarnate as both Morris Wiggins and Moriarty.  Ananias J. Dixon properly overplays as Inspector Lestrade.  Laura Starnik makes Mayhew live. Neda Spears is fine as Mrs. Hudson, Holmes’ landlady.


Tenth-grader Colin Frothingham, with a ton of stage experience in his background, excels as Wiggins.  This is a young man who has a promising future as a Thespian.

Elise Pakiela delights as Pockets.

Fortunately, Motta unearthed some performers who are young looking, while being adults.  Miranda Leeann (Eliza Mayhew) and David Gretchko (Tiny) are on target in their portrayals.
   
Undertaking a script such as “Sherlock Holmes:  The Baker Street Irregulars” by a professional theatre like Dobama has its challenges.  The show is child-actor dominant.  In contrast to community theatres, where parents and grandparents can imagine that their little ones as “better than Broadway,” equity theatres don’ t have the latitude of praising those who are young and cute, but not of professional quality. 

In the case of “Irregulars,” one younger cast members tended to stay in character when speaking lines, but when not emoting, eyes wandered the audience and there was a lack of reaction to the lines of others. Another is adorable, and gets laughs, but a high-pitched voice and rapid speech makes lines almost unintelligible.  Hopefully, as the show progresses, Motta will spend some time aiding these fledglings.

Coble’s script is ideal for community theatres, and should get lots of stagings.  The story can be of interest and has roles that are in the amateur theatre wheel house.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Sherlock Holmes:  The Baker Street Irregulars” gets a good staging at Dobama that will be of interest for parents and grandparents looking for a theatrical experience for their tweens and younger teens during this season.  It is a nice option for the much-done holidays shows that are staged again and again.  It is not great theater, but it could make for an entertaining evening of entertainment.

 
Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars” runs December 1 through December 30 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.

Next up at Dobama: “Grounded” by George Brant, another Cleveland award-winning playwright from January 19-February 11, 2018.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

O’Neill’s “The Hairy Ape” opens Ensemble’s 28th season



Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, William Inge and Eugene O’Neill are considered to be the major writers in the mid-20th century modern drama movement.   They used concepts of the emerging field of psychology to illuminate problems of individuals and the society in which they found themselves.

O’Neill, who wrote more than 50 plays, was the first American playwright to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.  He also was awarded four Pulitzer Prizes for Drama.

Scripts such as “Beyond the Horizon,” “Anna Christie,” “The Emperor Jones,” “Desire Under the Elms,” “Mourning Becomes Electra,” “The Iceman Cometh,” “A Moon for the Misbegotten” and “Long Day’s Journey into Night” are now considered to be classics of the modern theater movement.

The latter is an autobiographical play which, though written in the early 1940s, was not produced until 1957, 25 years after his death because O’Neill stipulated that condition.  It is considered his masterpiece.

Ensemble Theatre is opening its 28th season, entitled “We the People,” with O’Neill’s “The Hairy Ape.”  The script fits into the theatre’s selection of plays that “celebrates the diversity and dynamics of the population that makes up this ‘great nation’ while also speaking to the challenges we still face in 2017!”

“The Hairy Ape,” is not one of O’Neill’s classics.  At its opening, and since, the audience, and especially the critics, were perplexed with its expressionistic form.  The use of “excessive monologues, the slowness of certain scenes, and the depressing monotony of the situation,” along with its general tone of brutishness, do not bode for emotional involvement.

It is, in fact, more a closet drama, one which lends itself to reading and discussing, rather than a full staging.  Little happens that requires visual observation of movement.  It lends itself to academic intellectual discussion, more than actor-audience connection.

The overt expression of existentialistic thought, mainly highlighted by the protagonist’s final speech in which he bemoans, “Where do I fit in?” is also off-setting to many. 

The play centers on Yank, the ruler of the steam room on a large ocean liner.  He and his coal-shoveling crew are responsible for the ship’s movement.  He considers himself to be the principal cause for the motion of the vessel, more so than even the captain. Yank is a “coal” guy not one who approves of wind or other forms of energy.  (Sound familiar in this age of energy/global warning disagreements.)

He perceives society as being controlled by the rich, but he fights to control his part of that world.  One day, when a wealthy debutante takes a tour of the boiler room, is repulsed by him, and calls him a “filthy beast,” a hairy ape, he goes through a crisis of identity. 

When he leaves the ship and wanders into Manhattan, he finds himself at odds with the people he sees, even the labor organizers on the waterfront.  He becomes more and more animalistic, living up to his reputation as “a hairy ape.”   He becomes absurd, the very definition of the hero of an existentialistic play.

O’Neil probes the meaning of masculinity, the primitive nature of humans, social repression of the working class by the wealthy, toxic industrial environments, superficiality of the rich, and religious and racial degeneration.

The long one act, 1 hour and 25 minutes without an intermission, is not captivating theatre.  There is little actual action.  Instead long monologues and contrived movement take place.

Director Ian Wolfgang Hinz does what he can to induce attention.  He succeeded in most instances.  He uses the set well and adds lighting to add visual texture.  But, in the end, he can only do so much with the script.

The cast puts out full effort, but often presents “affect” rather than achieving effect.  Many speeches are flat in tone.  There is little texturing of characterizations.  Yelling and forced action often are present.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Ensemble is to be praised for continuing to present classic theater to its audience.  Whether “The Hairy Ape” was the best of the O’Neill play to select is questionable.  For anyone who likes to be exposed to works by noted writers, and those who like to probe into the intellectual nature of the arts, the play may be of interest.

“The Hairy Ape” runs Thursdays through Sundays through December 10, 2017 at Ensemble Theatre, housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to http://www.ensemble-theatre.org

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

Next up at Ensemble: “The Little Prince,” from December 1-17, a play for the whole family, followed by Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America Part One:  Millennium Approaches” from January 5-28, 2018.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Wonderful WICKED wows yet again at State


Okay, I’m a “Wicked” junky.  I’ve seen the show five times, including seeing it in its first week of the New York run. 

“Wicked” opened on Broadway on October 30, 2003.  It is still running, and has performed almost 6,000 shows.   It is the 7th longest-running musical in Great White Way history.

A prequel to the “Wizard of Oz,” “Wicked” tells the “true” story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch, and her relationship with Glinda, the Good Witch. 


The musical has all the elements of the original tale, but gives you the background to how the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin man came to be, as well as how Dorothy got the red (in this version silver) slippers. And, most importantly, what really happened to Elphaba.  (Bet you thought she melted when Dorothy threw water on her. Ha!  That’s fake news!)


We also become aware of the power of gossip and rumors.  Most importantly, in this era of rising bigotry, encouraged by the “Wizard” in the White House, we are exposed to how hatred and making outcasts out of those not white and part of the “in” group, can lead to mass hysteria.


The music and lyrics, by Stephen Schwartz, includes such beautiful and meaningful songs as “Defying Gravity” and “As Long as You’re Mine.” 


As always, Schwartz includes a message song in the score (think “Corner of the Sky” from “Pippen”).  In “Wicked,” it’s “For Good,” stressing the importance of true friendship.


The production qualities of this touring show are impressive. There is a dragon hanging over the proscenium arch that has a wingspan the same as a Cessna 172 airplane. They use 200 pounds of dry ice every show for smoke effects and enough power in a single production to supply twelve houses with electricity. This is not a stripped-down touring show, it’s a full-blown Broadway extravaganza. 


The choreography is creative.  The orchestra is excellent.  (The 5 traveling musicians are joined by 10 locals.)


The cast is very strong.  No, it’s not Idina Menzel (Elphaba), Christine Chenoweth (Glinda) and Clevelander Joel Gray (as the Wizard), but, realistically, who can top that amazing trio?





In this production, Mary Kate Morrissey glows gloriously green as Elphaba.  She hits the vocal high notes with ease and creates a clear characterization.  Her “I’m Not That Girl” is heart breaking, while “No Good Deed” is powerful. 




Ginna Claire Mason is properly bubbly as the shallow blonde ditz, Glinda.   She sings beautifully and textures the role well.  Her smile-inducing “Popular” brought lasting applause.


Jon Robert Hall handsomely walks though the role as the self-centered Fiyero, who falls in love with Elphaba.  Unfortunately, there is little obvious physical chemistry between the two.


There is a strong Cleveland connection and WICKED.  ARACA, (http://www.araca.com) the theatrical production company founded by Michael and Matthew Rego and Hank Miller, all native Clevelanders, are the producers of the show.


CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Put on your tiara, bring your wand, and join the masses who will enjoy “Wicked.”  Whether it is your introduction to this delightful and well-performed musical, or your umpteenth time, you will absolutely enjoy this must see production. 

 
WICKED runs through December 3, 2017 at the State Theatre in downtown Cleveland.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

“Diary of Anne Frank” conveys important message at the Cleveland Play House


The Holocaust was a horrific series of experiences.  As the years go by, and the survivors of the atrocities die off, leaving no one to attest to the actual pain and suffering, those who want to make sure that such experiences do not repeat themselves turn to tangible objects and written accounts.

Probably no record of the trauma has gained more attention than the diary of a German Jewish girl, Anne Frank, whose family went into hiding in Amsterdam, Holland, and came within months of being survivors of the onslaught.

Her words have lived on through the publication of her recounting of time spent in the upper floor of her father’s warehouse and office building in play scripts, textual analysis of her writing, and classes which use her diary as a text.  

Anne Frank, has, in fact, become cottage industry.   The site where she was sequestered offers daily tours.  The site’s bookstore sells everything from copies of the diary, coloring books, Holocaust drawings and art work, commemorative pens and pencils, and yellow cloth Jewish stars, like the ones Jews were forced to wear. 

Anne Frank is one of the most searched topics for research projects and school reports. 

Anne’s symbolic power has been memorialized with streets, schools and parks named after her.  There are also tasteless Halloween costumes and anti-Semitic taunts of soccer fans who draw on her identity.  


Several weeks ago, Lazio, Italy soccer fans plastered the Stadio Olimpico with stickers of Anne Frank wearing a jersey of city rival Roma, whom the Lazio supporters consider to be socialist and “Jews.”  Lazio’s anti-Semitic slurs in the past have included a banner telling Roma supporters: “Auschwitz Is Your Homeland; The Ovens Are Your Homes.”  The actions drew condemnation from the soccer league, the nation’s premier and the head of the European Parliament.


In a visit to Rome’s main synagogue, the premiere said the club would intensify its efforts to combat racism and anti-Semitism and organize an annual trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp with some 200 young Lazio fans to “educate them not to forget.”


A passage from Anne Frank's diary was read before Italian league matches as part of a number of initiatives to condemn the acts of anti-Semitism earlier this week by Lazio fans and to keep alive memories of the Holocaust.  The diary passage reads: “I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”


Even positive attempts to use Anne’s identity have backfired.  Deutsche Bahn (railroad) recently announced that it was planning to name a new high-speed train after her.  Supposedly, this was done to commemorate Anne’s train ride to the concentration camp in which she died at age 14.  The idea, which the railroad thought was an honor, was met with negative outcries and then withdrawn.

The play “The Diary of Anne Frank” is a stage adaptation of the book “The Diary of a Young Girl.”

It is generally believed that the diary was found by Anne’s father, Otto, when he returned to the building where the family hid for slightly over two years, after he was released from captivity.  He was the only one of the hiding place’s population to survive. 

In fact, the handwritten book of notes was hidden by a family friend and given to him upon his return.  Mr. Frank published it in 1947. 

A version of the play, which was produced on Broadway in 1955, was created by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.  Though it won both the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize and garnered strong positive reviews, it was often accused of being too sentimental and void of the Jewish part of the experience. 

In 1997, a revision of the script was done by Wendy Kesselman.  It more closely resembles the diary with some of the conflicts, growing pains and “Yiddishkite” more clearly presented.  It is this script that director Laura Kepley is using for the Cleveland Play House’s present staging.

The CPH production is generally well thought-out and crafted.  Kepley has nicely paced the show, has been careful to honor the Jewish aspects of the story, and brought attention to the part played by the brave gentile men and women of Holland who risked their lives to save their Jewish countrymen.

The cast is strong.  Special recognition to Rick D. Wasserman as the compassionate Otto Frank, Yaron Lotan as Peter Van Daan, who emerges from a shy, almost reclusive young man into Anne’s “beau,” Laura Perrotta as the self-centered Mrs. Van Daan, and Lise Bruneau as the stoic Edith Frank, Anne’s put-upon mother. 



For the play to work on its highest level, the audience must have a love-affair with Anne.  They must feel compassion for the youngster who grows and matures before their eyes.  Annie Fox does not totally gain that affection.  She is too old and lacks the teenage emotional undercurrent to garner the needed empathy.   This is not a bad performance; it just doesn’t hit the heart as it should.

The sound effects:  the sound of the carillon, the voices of children playing in the street, the tramp of marching feet, the singing of German troops, a boat whistle form the canal, add to the emotional power of the piece.




The set, though impressive, is problematic.  Those who have visited the actual site where the Franks, Van Daans and Mr. Dussel hide know it was much smaller and cramped than the massive CPH set.  The construction may mislead some viewers to believe that the inhabitants were not cramped, living on top of each other.  They, in fact, were in a claustrophobic place.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “The Diary of Anne Frank” is a powerful and important play. Especially in this country, when racist, religious and national attacks are condoned by the country’s leader, it is imperative that the message of “never again” be bannered.  Cleveland Play House has done a great service by staging the message of a young girl who was destroyed by bigots and haters.  This is a must see production!
 

“Diary of Anne Frank” runs through November 19, 2017, at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

Next up at CPH: “A Christmas Story,” which plays from November 24 through December 23, 2017.  For information go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com/

Monday, November 06, 2017

Karamu and Ensemble team up for dealing with “The Lake Effect”



Karamu and Ensemble are two venerable local theatres. 

Karamu, the joyful meeting place, is the oldest continually running Black theatre in America.  Ensemble, whose purpose is to showcase classical American drama, has some of its history steeped in Karamu. 

Lucia Colombi, one of Ensemble’s founders was, at one time, Karamu’s interim Artistic Director.  Her daughter, Celeste Cosentino, Ensemble’s present Artistic Director, spent much of her informative theatre years at Karamu.

It is logical, therefore, that the two theatres join forces to produce “The Lake Effect,” a local playwright’s Cleveland-centric script.

Rajiv Joseph is a Cleveland Heights native, a multi-award winning author, who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize (“Bengal Tiger At The Baghdad Zoo”) and won an Obie Award (“Guards At The Taj”).  These, and several of Joseph’s other scripts, including “Animals Out Of Paper” and “Gruesome Playground Injuries” have had Ensemble productions.

“The Lake Effect,” as with other Joseph scripts, is intimate and character-driven.  It spotlights his imaginative voice and his ability to come up with innovative, often quirky ideas, to develop a message.

Joseph says of “The Lake Effect,”” it is, in many respects, a play about separate worlds colliding. On one level, these worlds are divided by race and culture, but beyond that, it’s a play about secrets and families and what binds us together as just regular people.”


It is winter, 2013.  There is a typical 216/440 snow storm raging outside the small, intimate Indian restaurant in Lakewood.  (Yes, the script is filled with area references such as the Cuyahoga River and Edgewater Park.)


Inside we find Vijay, an assimilated mid-thirty-year old son of Vinnie, a man from India, who emigrated with his wife to the area and operated the small neighborhood restaurant while living with his family in the apartment above the establishment. 


Vijay’s mother died in an auto accident when he was 12, leaving not only a void in his life, but resentment because Vinnie unceremoniously dumped her ashes in Lake Erie.  The action caused a permanent rift between father and son.


Vijay fled Cleveland, became a day trader in New York and has returned for his father’s funeral.


As Vijay goes over the restaurant’s books, Bernard, an African American enters in search of lamb biryani.  He asks about Vinnie and shares tales about the family which Vijay didn’t know.  Who is Bernard?  Why does he know this information?


When Priya, Vijay’s younger sister appears, much of the mystery of the relationship between Vinnie and Bernard is revealed, as well as the facts of the strained relationships between the father and his children.


Joseph’s script does not have the depth of some of his other writings, but it holds attention.  As always, the actor’s writer, he gives cast members fleshed out characters to develop. 


Celeste Cosentino’s direction is focused.  Though the script is very talk-centered, she keeps the action moving, thus holding attention.


The cast is generally effective.  LaShawn Little shines as Bernard.  He doesn’t portray Bernard, he is Bernard.  His long monologue, which finds him isolated, outside, in the cold, with snow falling on him, spotlights the play’s theme, as expressed in the analogy that we are all connected by the “water is us,” in this case, the lake effect snow.


Resembling a young Omar Sharif, matinee-idol handsome Ammen T. Suleiman has some nice moments as Vijay.  At times, Natalie El Dabh (Priya), falls into becoming an actor portraying a character, rather than becoming the person

Karamu’s Concert Hall, a newly repurposed black box acting space, allows for an intimacy which this script needs.  Being up-front and personal with the cast allow for a requisite connection.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “The Lake Effect,” written by Cleveland Heights’ award winning playwright Rajiv Joseph, is a thought-provoking script which uses Cleveland area references to develop its theme.  It gets a creditable production at Karamu.

THE LAKE EFFECT continues through November 26, 2017 in the Concert Hall (Black Box Theatre) at Karamu, 2355 East 89th Street.  For ticket information call 216-795-7070 or go on line to www.karamuhouse.org

Friday, November 03, 2017


STILL STANDING: A Musical Survival Guide for Life’s Catastrophes

Written and performed by ANITA HOLLANDER

SATURDAY, NOV. 18, 2017 at 8 p.m.

Fairmount Temple, 23737 Fairmount Blvd., Beachwood, OH

New York-based actor/singer/songwriter ANITA HOLLANDER wrote her evening of original songs to chronicle a journey that began when she was a college student stricken with cancer. A recurrence when she was 26 led to the amputation of one leg, leaving her to perform for more than three decades on the other one. The New York Times review of STILL STANDING called her “provocative, funny, moving, communicative and beautifully polished [with] a wide rainbow of vocal colors that she uses with dramatic sensitivity as well as comic insights…. plus a charming presence that flavors everything she does.” 

She has performed the show off Broadway, at the White House, across America and around the world. 

She returns to her native Cleveland for this one-time event, with her sister Rachel signing for the hearing impaired.

A $10 donation is requested at the door, by cash or check. 

The event is underwritten, in part, by the Roy and Eunice Berko Fund at Interplay.

RESERVATIONS at interplayjewishtheatre@gmail.com; or leave a clear message at 216 393-PLAY (7529)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Con-Con’s “In the Closet,” a thoughtful journey into whether anyone can ever emerge from hiding



Have you ever wondered if your life would have played out differently if, at a young age, you had been able to meet “yourself” a couple of years older, forty years older, and then you as a person near the end of your life?  Would the knowledge of the path you would follow, what pitfalls you would encounter, what decisions you made, make your life different?

That’s basically what happens to “John,” in Siegmund Fuchs’ literal and metaphorical closet in “In The Closet,” now on stage at convergence-continuum.

Siegmund Fuchs, a practicing lawyer who dabbles in play writing, is a native Clevelander.  His first play, “Never Turned Out To Be Four Months,” was first performed at John Carroll in 1998.  He has won recognition in several playwriting competitions with his “In The Closet” being a finalist in the 2015 Elitch Historical Theatre Playwriting Competition.

As the audience enters the small black box, Liminis Theatre, the home of convergence-continuum, they find themselves seated in an area entirely surrounded by men’s clothes.  The “closet” is well- organized.  There is a color—coded place for shirts, another for jackets and coats, another for sweaters and t-shirts.  Besides clarifying the setting, various pieces of apparel will be used as the play progresses to aid in character changes and plot development.

We find Old Man, then Middle-Aged Man and finally Young Man entering into the space for various reasons. 

Old Man is writing his autobiography, which includes comments about the long term cancer illness of his husband. 

Middle-Aged man, who was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown, is confronting his being “old” in a community of men who value youth. 

Young Man shows facial abrasions from his being raped by five men at a party which he was being paid to attend by his bar-owning boss.  He is in the process of a trial for the attackers.

In the midst of their revelations, youthful John enters.  He has just experienced his first gay sexual experience and is angst-filled. 

Why are these men here?  Why do they share information that only each would know if they had lived the same life?  Can they ever “leave the closet”?

The story’s exposition unfolds slowly, the speeches often filled with clichés, and obvious laugh lines, but settles into an interesting framework somewhere during the first act, maturing into a thought-provoking second act.

Director Cory Molner, who designed the clever set, also does a nice job of pacing the performances so that the audience becomes sucked into the swerves of the tale, wondering if any of these men will ever escape the safety of the closet…the place in their minds where they can feel safe, unencumbered by the attitudes, beliefs and criticism of the outside world.



In his con-con debut, handsome young David Lenahan impresses as John.  He has a natural presence and textures the character’s many emotional roller-coaster ride reactions to what he finds out about his present and future life.  This is a talented young man.

Mike Frye nicely develops the tale of his rape and trial experience as Young Man.  Jason Romer, though he sometimes becomes an actor rather than the person he is portraying, has some nice moments as Middle-Aged Man.  Clyde Simon is convincing as Old Man.

Capsule Judgement: “In the Closet” is not a great play, but it is a script that incites a great deal of thought.  It gets a very creditable production at con-con.



“In The Closet” runs through November 4, 2017, at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or go to http://www.convergence-continuum.org/


Next up at con-con: Cleveland playwright Jonathan Wilhelm’s “Camp Beaucoup Congo” from November 16-18, followed by the World Premiere of “The Chaste Genius and His Deathray Gun,” a tale of Tesla, who developed alternating current, florescent bulbs, lasers and robotics as he wrestles with his friends and detractors.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Touring company of “Waitress” serves up sumptuous treat in premiere at Connor Palace


If you were a Broadway investor and someone approached you with the idea of producing a musical about a waitress who worked in a diner, was an expert pie maker, in an abusive marriage, who gets pregnant, has an affair with her gynecologist, and whose only way out of the mess of a life, was to win a pie-baking contest, how likely would you be to plunk down your money?  Oh, and the show will have an all-women development team.

Believe it or not, the money was raised, “Waitress” was mounted, and became a smash Big White Way musical.  Now, the show’s touring company, which rehearsed here, opened this week at the Connor Palace for a three-week run.  It will then tour the country spreading cheer, and the smell of pies throughout the land, forever marked with a “made in CLE” trademark.

As you enter the lobby of the Connor Palace your olfactory senses will be assaulted by the strong smell of cinnamon and sugar.  At every performance frozen apple pies are placed in convection ovens in fireproof boxes near the theatre’s entrance to put you in the right mood. 

According to Andrea Simakis, “Plain Dealer” writer extraordinaire, “A local Whole Foods, following Stacey Donnelly’s lead (she is the owner of Cute As Cake, the bakery which supplies 1500 to 2,000 pies a week to be sold at the New York production of “Waitress”) will provide 16 pies a week to trigger the olfactory fancies of Cleveland theater-goers.”

The smell will be Cleveland, but the pies you can buy in the Connor Palace lobby are products of the Big Apple. 

Simakis continues, “The day before "Waitress" kicks off its national tour in Cleveland, Donnelly will drive about 1,000 pies - Salted Chocolate Caramel and Key Lime - to Playhouse Square.  Apple Crumble, another fan favorite, might be added to the order in the second or third week.”

How is the pastry?  Can’t tell you.  The line was too long for me to get to taste the delicacies, but an overheard opinion was, “the pies are as good as the production…delicious!”

“Waitress” has music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, who achieved general attention when her 2007 hit single, “Love Song,” reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  She is listed on the “Top 100 Greatest Women in Music” and her memoir, “Sounds Like Me:  My Life (So Far) in Song” was published in 2015 and made the “New York Times” best seller list.  To add the meringue to the top of the creation, she played the lead role in “Waitress” for a short time during its Broadway run.

The show’s book is by Jessie Nelson.  The original production was choreographed by Lorin Latarro and directed by Diane Paulus, making it the first Broadway show in which the four top creative spots were filled by women.  (The same group is doing the touring production.)  The posts of costume design and musical direction were also occupied by women.  Talk about breaking the glass ceiling!

The musical is based on the film of the same name written by Adrienne Shelly.  The motion picture, which was a hit at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, was marked by tragedy as Shelly was murdered three months prior to its showing.

The touring production is wonderful in every way.  The well-chosen cast, the creatively designed fragmentary scenery which helps the staging smoothly move along, the right stress on humor and angst, the well-played pop and indie rock music created by the on-stage six-member orchestra, and the finely tuned pacing, all work well. 

Even the pre-curtain recording “turn off your cellphone” message, which was written by Bareilles, is special, setting a wonderful “smile” factor for the show.

Pert Desi Oakley sparkles as Jenna, the pie-maker superb and waitress extraordinaire.  She has a fine singing voice and textures the role of Jenna to elicit strong emotional feelings of empathy from the audience.

Her rendition of “What Baking Can Do” effectively introduces her character, and “She Used to Be Mine” helps in the exposition of her personage.

Charity Angel Dawson is “awesome-right-on” as Becky, the earth mother waitress with a sassy mouth and “zaftig” bosom.  Her voice wails and she compels in “I Didn’t Plan It.”

Lennie Klingaman is delightful as another waitress, Dawn, the geeky, Betsy Ross history-enactment specialist.  She adds just the right level of ditziness to make the character real, and not a caricature. 

Klingaman is matched by the scene-stealing, hysterically funny, Jeremy Morse, whose awkward Ogie appears to have forgotten to take his ADD meds.  Dawn and Ogie’s duet, “I Love You Like a Table” was the production’s musical delight highlight.

Nick Bailey was so successful in creating Earl, Jenna’s abusive husband, that when she said she was leaving him and wanted a divorce, there was protracted applause and cheers from the audience.  His solo curtain call was met with some “boos,” a tribute to his strong character portrayal.

Bryan Fenkart, Dr. Pomatter, Jenna’s gynecologist, Larry Marshall, Joe, a diner customer who plays a major role in Jenna’s ability to break from Earl, and, Maeisha McQueen, Dr. Pomatter’s smart-mouthed nurse, were all excellent.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  The quality of the music, the staging, the performances and the story line of “Waitress” assure that it will delight audiences as it traverses the country.  It’s a must see for anyone who loves musical theater at its creative best.

Tickets for “Waitress,” which runs through November 5, 2017, at the Connor Palace Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or by going to www.playhousesquare.org.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Cleveland Ballet now the resident ballet company of PlayhouseSquare



The “new” Cleveland Ballet, under the artistic leadership of Puerto Rico-born Gladisa Guadalupe, a former member of the “old” Cleveland Ballet, the Dennis Nahat-led company which left CLE for San Jose, California, has been officially named the Resident Ballet Company of Playhouse Square.   

Guadalupe, along with the ballet board’s CEO and Chair, Michael Krasnyansky, have developed a company which intends to “cultivate a world-class resident professional ballet company.”

If their recent Ohio Theatre “Les Sylphides,” the three-part program is any indication, they are well on their way.

The woman-dominated company displayed fine technique and clear purpose as they opened the program with “Les Sylphides,” a half-hour non-narrative ballet with original choreography by Michael Fokine and music by Frederic Chopin.   Danced in traditional costumes and classic moves, the dance was performed to live piano music played by Ralitsa Georgieva-Smith.  The piece was staged by Russian-born ballerina, Aygul Abougalieva.

Filled with lovely moves, nice toe-work and elegant freezes, the “romantic reverie” was filled with poetic meaning. 

“A Collage of Frank Sinatra Songs” took the dancers in another direction…contemporary ballet with an “old blue eyes” twist. 

While still on toe and using effective movements, the dancers took on a guise of relaxed body postures and modern dance freedom of form and flow.  The highlight segment was “Saturday Night” in which Rainer Diaz-Martin instantly became the audience’s favorite, with his floating turns, powerful leaps and complete body control. 

“Saturday Night,” which highlighted Luna Sayag and Victor Jarvis and ‘I’ve Got the World On a String,” were also crowd pleasers.

“Concerto,” the world premiere, choreographed by Gladisa Guadalupe, closed the program.  Danced to Johan Sebastian Bach’s Piano Concerto in D minor, with live music played on dual pianos by Ralitsa Georgieva-Smith and Sophie Van Der Westhuizen, the sound and dance form of the three-movement piece melded well. 

Cleveland Ballet is an up and coming company.  They need more strong male dancers to balance off their very proficient women’s corps de ballet.

Next up: “Nutcracker Suite and Nutcracker Tea Festivities” (with a special appearance of the Singing Angels), December 15-17, 2017.  (Tickets:  playhousequare.org)

For information about the School of Cleveland Ballet which takes students 10-22 years of age call 216-320-9000 or go to http://www.clevelandballet.org/



Sunday, October 15, 2017

“Marjorie Prime” is prime offering at Dobama



Local theater-goers are familiar with the outstanding performance work of Dorothy Silver, often called “the first lady of Cleveland theater.”  Many are also aware of the creative writings of Jordan Harrison from his script development of the television hit, “Orange is The New Black.”  The two merge in Dobama Theater’s masterful “Marjorie Prime.”

Eighty-six-year old Marjorie (Dorothy Silver) sits stage left in an overstuffed recliner chair, which appears out of place in the contemporary sleek living space.  It is a chair obviously placed there for Marjorie’s convenience.

Her grayish wispy hair neatly combed, dressed in a bathrobe and high Ugg-like slippers, she is in conversation with “Walter.”  Walter (Nicholas Chokan), her dead husband.  Walter appears to be in his young thirties.  Walter moves rather stiffly and his voice sounds somewhat mechanical. 

As we find out, Walter is a “prime,” a computerized version of her husband who has been programmed to help Marjorie uncover the intricacies of her past, a necessity, as the woman has started to slide into dementia. 

Marjorie’s memory state confounds her daughter, Tess (Derdriu Ring), with whom she seems to have a contentious relationship.  Marjorie now lives with Tess and her supportive husband, Jon (Steve Sawicki).

The tale takes audience on a twisting, thought-provoking journey, complete with exposure to artificial intelligence.   To reveal any more of the actual story would ruin the experience for those who will be seeing the play.

The ninety-minute intermission-less exploration is almost existentialistic in its pursuit of asking questions.  Queries like: What does it mean to be human in the digital age?  Can technology replace humans?  Is rebuilding past memories really advantageous or is moving forward void of the past better, less painful?  If we had choices, what would we remember and what would we chose to forget?   And, probably the most important inquiry--What are my attitudes toward memory, mortality and the prospect of future life and decline?

Yes, Jordan Harrison explores the mysteries of human identity and the limits, if any, of what technology can replace.

Dobama’s production, under the wise direction of Shannon Sindelar, is superlative.  The cast, the pace, the line interpretation, grab and hold the audience from the fraught, frustrated opening comments and movements of Marjorie, through the introduction of the concept of a prime, to the growing frustrations of Marjorie and Tess, to the heart breaking conclusion.  It’s quite a journey.

Dorothy Silver, as we have come to expect, gives a compelling performance as Marjorie.   Every move, every line, every frown, every flick of her wrist, is meaningful.  It’s such a privilege to be in the spell of this bright, talented and alert octogenarian.

Derdriu Ring again displays her well-honed acting chops.  She doesn’t portray Tess, she is Tess.  It’s hard to believe that Silver and Ring (both Cleveland Critic Circle and Broadwayworld.com-Cleveland Best Actress award winners) aren’t really mother and daughter, simply presenting themselves in a public space.

CLE newcomer, Steve Sawicki, is a welcome addition to the local acting pool.  He gives a nicely textured performance as Jon.

Nicholas Chokan takes on the difficult task of portraying a “prime.”  He easily transfers from a motionless automaton to a life-like robot with amazing ease.

Jill Davis’ realistic contemporary set is playing area correct.  Sound Designer Erik T. Lawson has wisely placed a subtle “Twilight Zone” sound underlying the entire production, taking the audience into an other-world-like space.  (It’s either there, or I was transported to imagine the sound.)

Capsule judgment: “Marjorie Prime” is one of those special theatrical occurrences that allows the audience to experience both a thought-provoking script and a superbly acted and directed staging.  This is theater at its finest!  Go see!  Must see!

“Marjorie Prime” runs through November 12, 2017 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.

Next up at Dobama: Local playwright Eric Coble’s adaptation of “Sherlock Holmes:  The Baker Street Irregulars,” from December 1-30, 2017.