Saturday, July 31, 2021

GroundWorks dances out of its Covid cocoon for concert at Cain Park


David Shimotakahara was with the Ohio Ballet when news came out that Heinz Poll, the co-founder of that company, was going to retire.  Rumor was that Shimotakahara was being considered for the job. Unfortunately, the Ohio Ballet board selected another company member.  Following that decision, things did not go well for OB, either artistically or financially.  

After his retirement, Poll distanced himself from the company, which had struggled.  

In 2002, according to the Akron Beacon-Journal, he told his successor to remove him from the company's printed materials. "It's not the kind of company I would have wanted to have," he told the paper at the time. "It clashes totally with my personal aesthetics."  

Ohio Ballet disbanded in 2006.

Many local dance aficionados agree that, based on what happened with OB and GroundWorks, which Shimotakahara founded in 1998, the fate of Ohio Ballet would have been quite different if he had been appointed as the company’s artistic director.

Shimotakahara, in developing his new company was determined to “challenge the preconceptions about dance.” This desire to push boundaries is evident in Groundwork’s bold initiative: “To seek collaboration and input from guest choreographers of the highest caliber and to constantly evolve the repertoire of the company.”

“Over the past 15 years, GroundWorks has created and produced over 60 original works. Twenty-one of these have been commissioned from nationally and internationally renowned guest artists. In addition, Shimotakahara has contributed over 30 pieces to the company’s rep. His work is about here and now. He is interested in framing issues surrounding individuality, privacy, place, and connectivity through movement that speaks through its musicality and physicality.”

This philosophy parallels well with Poll’s beliefs which was once characterized as "clarity, precision, lean look, and distinctive style."  Parallel also to Poll is that GroundWorks gained national acclaim as “a small troupe of well-trained classical dancers capable of performing in a wide range of styles, who welcomed good dancers whose bodies were considered wrong for ballet, which is also true of GroundWorks.”

An examination of some of the company’s former dancers illustrates the variances of styles and body types.  Amy Miller was a muscular and powerful dancer.  Felise Bagley, probably the most proficient and elegant local contemporary/modern dancer in the area, was a lovely waif.  Annika Sheaff, a former member of Pilobolus Dance Theater defied the image of the classical ballet dancer.  Tall and lanky Kyle Ring was more Broadway star Tommy Tune than Baryshnikov.

 

GroundWorks emerged from the Covid-induced lay-off with a new “fab” five.  As evidenced by their Cain Park July 23 and 24th concert, they were not as synced as the usual Shimotakahara-meticulously honed dancers. 

 

The program opened with Axis.  Created by New York Choreographer Adam Barruch with original recorded electronic music and sound by Roarke Menzies. The piece was created as a dance-film.  It was first seen online by GroundWorks in June 2021.  It “explores the alchemical processes that drive the natural world and the inner workings of our bodies.”

 

Highlighted by strong solos performances by Annie Morgan and Chance Williams, the dancers interwove through movements performied as AC current, alternating the powerful with the static.  Though sometimes lacking in unity, the overall effect was positive.

 

Sud Butser’s Dream is David Shimotkahara’s homage to sounds of early American jazz. 

 

Danced to the sounds of such jazz icons as Fats Waller, Mound City Blowers, Scott Joplin, Tin Parham and Mamie Smith that piece suffered by being on the large Evans stage instead of an intimate venue.  The dancers were fully engaged but the transitions between segments and the lack of any humor when the music cried for it, led to tepid applause at the conclusion.

 

Inside, choreographed by Clevelander Antonio Brown, was conceived as a film project in the fall of 2020. The work “examines five individuals who are confined from the outside and battle with their thoughts of past and future.”

 

The dancers responded well to the multi-sounds and the inner conflicts each experienced.

 

Capsule judgment:  GroundWorks Dance Theater is in the midst of a reconceptualization with five new dancers who must learn not only Artistic Director David Shimotakahara’s request for precision, but in working as a team.  The past company transitions indicate that it can be done.  It should be interesting to watch.

 

Next up for GroundWorks is the Heinz Dance Festival on August 5 @ 6 at Firestone Park in Akron and Fall Performance Series on November 5 & 6 at Night Stage, Akron Civic Theatre.  For information go to groundworksdance.org

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Derdriu Ring is compelling in the convoluted THIS GIRL LAUGHS @ Beck Center



Finegan Kruckemeyer, the author of THIS GIRL LAUGHS, THIS GIRL CRIES, THIS GIRL DOES NOTHING, now on stage at Beck Center for the Arts, was born in Ireland and has lived much of his life in Tasmania, an island state of Australia.  

As is the case with many Irish playwrights and authors, the subjects they write about are often heavy and morbid.  The writing style is sometimes abstract, leaving a sadness in their wake. 

 

Kruckemeyer also seems to have been influenced by the Tasmanian Aboriginal peoples and their oral history tales.  These influences are apparent in the fantasy storytelling style, format and subject matter of his writings. 

 

Eric Schmiedl, Beck’s director of THIS GIRL LAUGHS, THIS GIRL CRIES, THIS GIRL DOES NOTHING, states of the plot of the play in his program notes: “Once upon a time, a girl was born. And twice upon a time, a girl was born. And thrice upon a time, a girl was born.” 

 

He continues, “She then embarks on a remarkable journey as each girl discovers the world and her own place in it. At the end of the play our storyteller discovers that ‘I am Albienne. Carmen. And also, Beatrix.’ She is the mother and wife. She is the big-hearted baker. She is the brave explorer. All three in one.”

 

Supposedly the play alerts us that we are all born of flesh and that life is made up of struggles and aspirations.  These purportedly are mirrored as we share in the adventures as one of the sisters walks the globe to find her purpose, one searches for adventure, and the third grows where she is planted.

 

Confused?  In spite of a brilliant performance by Derdriu Ring, who plays all three women, from the comments overheard as the audience left the 90-minute play without an intermission, so were a lot of members in attendance. 

  

Ring holds an MFA from The Gaiety School of Acting, Dublin and BA from University College Cork, Ireland and began her acting career at The Abbey Theatre, Dublin. An active member of both Actors Equity and Screen Actors Guild for 25 years.  She is an active award-winning actress with citations from Cleveland Critics Circle, Times Tributes and Broadwayworld.

 

Capsule Judgment:  This Girls Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing is advertised as family friendly.  The younger members of the audience on opening night were observed squirming and obviously not interested or understanding.  They were not alone.  In spite of a brilliant performance by Derdriu Ring, the obtuse tale did little to grab and hold the audience.

 

This Girls Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing runs through August 8, 2021 in the Senney Theater of Beck Center. For tickets call 216-521-2540 X 10 or go to beckcener.org. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Beautiful setting, wonderful concert--THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK @ Blossom


As I was walking into the pavilion at Blossom Music Center, the woman in front of me kept stopping to take pictures on her I-phone.  She stopped, turned around smiled and said, “Sorry, I’m from New Orleans.  My husband and I are on a trip to see various outdoor music venues.  This is the most beautiful one we’ve seen.”   

Yes, Washington, DC has Wolf Trap, Boston, Tanglewood, Baltimore, Merriweather and Denver, Red Rocks. I’ve seen them all, and none compares to our Blossom.  And, to make things even better, the Cleveland Orchestra, one of world’s premiere music ensembles, plays in the lush setting in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

 

On July 18, the Orchestra, under the baton of Lucas Waldin, with vocalist Capathia Jenkins, presented THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK:  GERSHWIN & ELLINGTON.

 

As the evening’s program states, “Generations of Americans have brought new energy and innovation to music, from Broadway to Hollywood, from jazz clubs to big band dance halls, from hoe-down shindigs to symphonic wonders.  And, without equal, to the idea of a set of “standard” songs representing the best this country has to offer.  Not just songs wrapped in flag-waving patriotism, but a “Great American Songbook” that tells, not so much about love of country, but about living life in this country, filled with tales of love and laughter, heartache and headache.  Of America’s rise in the 20th century as an emblem of freedom to be . . . whoever you are.”

 

The jazzy and mellow music had the audience both humming and foot shuffling. The combination of the proficient sounds of the orchestra and the outstanding vocalist made the evening one of special appreciation for the sounds of American composers.

 

The program opened with George Gershwin’s joyous “Funny Face Overture,” transitioned his exciting “Strike up the Band” and then to the beautiful “All the Things You Are,” with lyrics by Jerome Kern and music by Oscar Hammerstein 2nd.

 

On and on went the wonderful songs of the orchestra and the enchanting Ms. Jenkins.  “Get Happy,” Satin Doll” and “Goody Goody” kept the audience entranced.

 

The amazing Capathia Jenkins is an American actress and singer who is best known for her work as a Broadway performer, with starring roles in THE CIVIL WAR, GODSPELL, CAROLINE, OR CHANGENEWSIES, THE HATTIE MCDANIEL STORY and FAME BECOMES YOU.

 

The woman can scat, wail, croon and mesmerize!!

 

Following a Cole Porter Medley, Lucas Waldin asked the audience if they knew that Cole Porter had written a song about Cleveland.  

 

The conductor went on to relate that Cole Porter, a member of the Yale Class of 1913 and a close friend of Yale alum, Leonard Hanna, Jr., often stayed at the Hanna family home on East Boulevard, today part of the Western Reserve Historical Society’s Cleveland History Center, where they would perform small shows.   

 

On March 22,1924, Porter was asked if he had time to write something special tying a show that they were doing that evening to Cleveland. Porter said no, they’d all been busy, and had only the same show they’d put on at the Yale Club in New York. 

 

Hanna said Cole must close himself in his library, where he had a small upright piano moved.  Supposedly, he told Porter he couldn’t come out until he’d written a CLE song. 

 

Twenty or 30 minutes later, Cole sheepishly asked, “Can I come out now? I have a song.” The song being, “Let’s Make It Cleveland.”  

 

The first stanza of the ditty, which Porter himself performed that evening, is:  

“Come on my dearie, Beside Lake Erie,
We are going to settle down.
Out in Ohio, Oh me, Oh my Oh,
I know the grandest town.
Cleveland!
That’s the title of this ditty,
Cleveland!
It’s the famous Forest City, Cleveland!” 

 

(If you want to read the full lyrics go to https://pressbooks.ulib.csuohio.edu/my-recollections-of-old-cleveland/chapter/my-yale-days/)

 

The GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK concert ended with “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart,” “Blues in the Night” and “How High the Moon.”  

 

The audience left humming and smiling!  An evening very well spent!

 

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  A gorgeous setting.  A wonderful orchestra.  A top-notch singer/entertainer. A Cole Porter tale few knew.  What more could one want? “

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Production qualities of Mercury Theatre’s Amélie overcomes unremarkable script & score




Amélie, which is now on stage at Mercury Theatre, is a musical is based on the romantic comedy film of the same name. 

 

The stage version opened on Broadway in 2015 to underwhelming reviews, resulting in a brief two-month run.  In a less than stellar year of openings, it did not garner a single Tony nomination.  

 

Though it attempts whimsy, it often misses its mark due to a somewhat convoluted plot design and lack of emotional highs and lows.  Craig Lucas, who conceived the book simply, was not capable of duplicating the charm of the five-time Oscar nominated film.

 

The tale follows the journey of the inquisitive Amelie, a child who has survived a tragic and isolated childhood, who turns the streets of Montmartre into a world of her own imagination.  She discovers that dreaming and fantasizing is easier than participating in her own story. 

 

We travel though almost thirty scenes with her, as she meets the likes of Suzanne, a trapeze artist-turned-cafe owner; Georgette, a hypochondriac tobacconist; Julian Dufayel, and an artist with brittle bone disease. 

 

Most importantly, from the storyline standpoint, “Amélie finds love in the form of Nino, a mysterious young man, and who is possessed by creating a photo album.  Living in her imaginary world of make-believe and whimsy has been safe, but Amélie knows it is time to step out of her dreams and find joy for herself.”

 

The unremarkable score with music by Daniel Messe and lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messe, fails to produce a single song that is truly memorable.

 

The Mercury production, under the direction of Pierre-Jacque Brault, succeeds where the book and music fail. 

 

The set design by David McQuillen Robertson sets the right visual images to allow Brault to set stage pictures.  One may wonder, however, why there was a double set of doors stage left, slowing down entrances and leading to visual confusion.

 

Patrick Ciamacco’s projections are well-conceived.

 

Michael Jarret’s light design helped create the right warm moods.  Considering the natural echoes in the huge Notre Dame College auditorium, Eric Simma’s sound design makes some, if not all the spoken and sung words, understandable.

 

With little drama and no comedy sequences the director and cast is forced to create attention.  They basically succeed.

 

The musical director, Matthew Croft, and his excellent orchestra effectively underscore, rather than drowning out the performers, a quality that often becomes a problem in musical theatre production.  (Hurrah!)

 

The cast creates consistent characterizations and the voices are uniformly excellent.   

 

Gracie Keener is charming as Amelie.  Kelvette Beacham delights as Suzanne.  Neely Gevaart does a nice turn as Gina.  Benson Anderson (Nino), Trey Gilpin (Hipolito) and Nick Grimsic (Lucien) nicely develop their roles.

 

Brault has created some some magical moments including “Tour de France” “Blue Arrow Suite” and “A Better Haircut.”

 

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  AMELIE is the type of musical that some will find charming, others, like myself, will find it a lesser musical.  The show gets a very creditable production at Mercury Theatre.

 

Next up at Mercury is BALLS OVER BROADWAY—part theatre, part bingo hall, part camp, all fun! (August 29).

 

For tickets to Mercury performances call 216-771-5862.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Berko tribute: Good night sweet Dorothy, and, may the flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. I know your departure has provoked a sea of tears.

Dorothy Silver, the “grande dame” of Cleveland theatre, noted for her talent, charm, grace and compassion, once said of herself, "I've been letting myself grow old for years. I'm very confident in my age. Also, it helps me be competitive in getting many stage and film roles, since so many older actresses try to take years off their age."

Silver’s passing on Saturday, July 17 was explained by her son Paul in an email. “Last week while on a trip to visit our cousins in Woodstock, NY, Dorothy suffered a major stroke and was hospitalized in Kingston, NY.  Three days ago, she entered hospice care and passed away early today at the age of 92.” 

The Cleveland theater scene will never be the same.  Nor will be the hearts of those of us who loved and respected “our” Dorothy!  

Silver was noted for her leadership at the Jewish Community Center and Karamu, and performances on stage at venues such as Cleveland Play House, Ensemble Theatre, Dobama, Cleveland State University, Beck Center, Great Lakes Theater and Actors Summit. 

Silver once estimated she had been in roughly 280 plays since she started acting in 1949.  She also appeared in films, including for Love & Other DrugsOld Fashioned and The Shawshank Redemption.  

She was the winner of numerous acting and directing awards from Cleveland Critics Circle, Times Tributes, Broadwayworld, The Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Scene.

She did not know how to give anything but an awe-inspiring performance.  She could bring an audience to tears or laughter with ease.  Her often slow cadence was interrupted with thoughtful pauses, quirky facial changes and just the right vocal emphasis to make the line or lines fully achieve their meaning.

Mrs. Silver’s passing helps bring to a close a phase of local theatre which was highlighted by the likes of her late beloved husband and fellow actor/director, Reuben Silver, Lee Zinner, Rhoda Koret, Don and Marilyn Bianchi, David Frazier, Providence Hollander, and Lucia Colombi.  They helped establish CLE as a center of meaningful and high-quality theater.

Dorothy, no matter the setting or her mood, always greeted her friends with an impish smile, eyes twinkling and a firm clasp of the hand.  

In an interview she was asked: “What’s making you laugh?”  Her answer: “Life makes me laugh because it’s funny. It’s odd. Unexpected things happen.”

My wife and I loved Dorothy.  We revered her talent as well as her vivid presence.  Her passing has left a void in our lives. 


Good night sweet Dorothy, and, may the flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.  I know your departure has provoked a sea of tears.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Berko: News about CPH, BORDERLINE FESTIVAL, BECK CENTER, COVERGENCE CONTINUUM, WICKED @ PHSQ, BW MUSICAL THEATRE PROGRAM


CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE 2021-2022 MAINSTAGE SEASON

Where Did We Sit on The Bus? by Brian Quijada
Oct 23 – Nov 14, 2021
This autobiographical solo show follows that kid from his childhood to adulthood as he explores his family’s history, his identity as a first generation American, and what the world will be like for his future children

Light It Up! by Jason Michael Webb and Lelund Durond Thompson
Nov 27 – Dec 22, 2021 
When the annual downtown Christmas tree lighting ceremony takes an unexpected turn, an array of Clevelanders step-forward to keep the spirit of the season alive.  This world premiere musical features original pop, rock, gospel, and jazz holiday tunes.

The Three Musketeers, adapted from the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas
Feb 5 – 27, 2022
An adventurous tale of brave friends fighting injustice, is jam-packed with secret plots, treacherous spies, dazzling swordplay, and sweeping romance. 

Antigone, freely adapted from the play by Sophocles.
Mar 5 – 27, 2022
In a dystopian near future, a war-torn nation struggles for peace and unity. This high-stakes timeless tale burns with contemporary relevance, as age and youth clash over the future.

I’m Back Now by Charly Evon Simpson
Apr 30 – May 22, 2022
Sara journeys to Cleveland to meet her birth mother, Elle, and discovers that they are descendants of Sara Lucy Bagby, the last person ever prosecuted under the Fugitive Slave Act.  This world premiere play was commissioned through the Roe Green Fund for New American Plays.
To receive more information, visit www.clevelandplayhouse.com/subscribe.

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BORDERLIGHT INTERNATIONAL THEATER AND FRINGE FESTIVAL

The 2021 BorderLight International Theatre + Fringe Festival announces the lineup for the 2021 BorderLight VIRTUAL Fringe Festival, which includes 33 distinct live streamed and on-demand virtual works, interactive and genre-bending online experiences, as well as self-guided audio adventures.

The shows will be available starting July 22-July 31 via BorderLight’s website, with tickets ranging from free to $12, as well as many “pay-what-you-can” options. View the full lineup at www.borderlightcle.org

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BECK CENTER’S 2021-22 SEASON

Broadway Bound by Neil Simon
Featuring Broadway legend Austin Pendleton as Ben
September 10 – October 3, 2021, Senney Theater
The final play in Simon's semi-autobiographical trilogy (Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues), Broadway Bound.

The Exonerated by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen
October 8 – November 7, 2021, Studio Theater
This docu-drama recounts first-person narratives in dramatic form through the legal records of six wrongly convicted inmates. 

Elf (The Musical) adapted by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan
December 3, 2021 – January 2, 2022, Senney Theater 
This big-elf-living-in-a-small world comedy follows Buddy the Elf in his quest to find his true identity in a holiday bedazzled New York City. 

Lizzi The Musical, music and Lyrics by Steven Cheklik-deMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens Hewitt 
February 4 – February 27, 2022; Senney Theater
A sexy, bloody American mythology, LIZZIE is set to a blistering score of hard rock featuring BWU musical theatre faculty and students.  

Meteor Shower by Steve Martin
April 1 – May 1, 2022; Studio Theater
Pulls back the curtain on two married couples and the extreme transformation they can experience when the sky is the limit. You’ll have a burning desire to find out what happens.

The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez
 May 28– June 27, 2022, Studio Theater
 A delightful, gender-bending farce…a funny and often glorious tribute to the art of drag…Lopez delivers a strong message on tolerance for the entire spectrum of human sexuality, while creating a barrelful of fun in the process.

Something Rotten!, book by John O’Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick, music and lyrics 
July 8 – August 7, 2022, Senney Theater 
Set in 1595 the story of two brothers, who just happen to be the nemeses of a little-known Mr. William Shakespeare, are desperate to write a hit play. A local soothsayer foretells that the future of theatre will involve Singing, Dancing, AND Acting, all at the same time! Gasp! The brothers then decide to write a (wait for it) MUSICAL! The world’s very first musical! 

•••••••••••

2021 MINI-SERIES AT CONVERGENCE-CONTINUUM

A Black Comedy by Elizabeth Meriwether
August 20-September 11
An unlikely and uncomfortable friendship exists between old-man alcoholic Jasper and socially awkward 17-year-old Oliver Parker. Sharply funny and keenly tragic, Oliver Parker! is anything but a typical coming-of-age story.
 
White by James Ijames
October 8 - 30
An exploration of black women’s exploitation by feminism, by contemporary culture, and by white women. 
 
The 20th Century Way by Tom Jacobson
December 2 - 18
The true story of two actors who hired themselves out to the Long Beach Police Department in 1914 to entrap “social vagrants” in public restrooms.

••••••••••

WICKED RETURNS TO PLAYHOUSE SQUARE
DEC. 8, 2021 – JAN. 2, 2022
TICKETS ON SALE MONDAY, AUGUST 2

•••••••••••••••

WORD FROM BW’S MUSICAL THEATRE PROGRAM

Matthew Harris and Caitlin Houlahan will be returning to Girl from The North Country, John Kramer will be returning to The Book of Mormon and Zach Adkins is in Diana -- waiting to hear how auditions go this summer for everyone!

 
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Tuesday, July 13, 2021


CULT FAVORITE BROOKLYN, THE MUSICAL AT PORTHOUSE

Roy Berko


BROOKLYN, THE MUSICAL, now being staged at Porthouse Theatre, on the grounds of Blossom Center, premiered on Broadway in October, 2004 and ran for 284 performances.  Though the run wasn’t long, and many of the reviews found the script “trite and non-realistic,” it did accumulate a solid cult following.

 

The script centers on a play within a play in which five ragtag homeless musicians, known as the City Weeds, transform an area at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge into a performance area and present a play about a girl named Brooklyn, named after the birthplace of her wayward father who had a fling with her Parisian mother and disappeared, leaving the woman pregnant. 

 

As the Streetsinger tells the story, “Once upon a time, a famous young Parisian came to America to search for the father she never knew. Her only clue, her name... Brooklyn. The reigning Diva of the Decade, Ms. Paradice is threatened by Brooklyn's new-found fame. She challenges Brooklyn to a Battle of The Divas at Madison Square Garden.  

 

Brooklyn accepts hoping to deliver the father she has yet to find. Feeling the soul of the city that bears her name, Brooklyn is moved by a street performer who plays a rusty old crowbar as if it were a Golden Saxophone. 

 

The Streetsinger leads Brooklyn to her father. She learns the truth of who he is and where he's been. Although our "Wicked Witch of The Hood" Ms. Paradice is about to wreak havoc with our heroine and her father, she doesn't mind if you love to hate her, because, after all, that's still love. Moments before showtime, the wicked Ms. Paradice confronts Brooklyn's father.  She comes bearing gifts [drugs]. 

 

The Battle of The Divas begins. Ms. Paradice takes the stage. She warns America not to turn its back on her now. 

 

Brooklyn finds herself center stage, abandoned by her father. The crowd roared, the votes poured in.  Paradice Won! Brooklyn was just another face in the crowd. However, in that crowd was another face. ‘So you gotta ask yourself, do you believe in happy endings?’"

 

Yes, the tale is convoluted and many will find themselves as lost in the tale as the Streetsinger’s explanation.

 

The Porthouse production, under the direction of Eric van Baars, the theatre’s Executive Producer, is populated by mainly Kent State students, past and present.

 

The cast displays strong singing voices.  Kirstin Henry (Brooklyn) hits some outrageous notes, and makes “Once Upon a Time” and “I Never Knew His Name” memorable.  

 

Moria Cary displays the right cocky attitude as Paradice and effectively sells “Raven” and “Brooklyn in the Blood.”

 

Miguel Osborne makes for a convincing Streetsinger.  His jointly sung signature song, “Streetsinger” is a show highlight.

 

William Porter nicely interprets “Love Was a Song” and “Sometimes.”

 

The rest of the cast, Olivia Billings, Dylan Berkshire and Maria Watts adeptly sing, dance and create their characters.

 

The cast often find themselves in a battle to be heard because musical director Edward Ridley, Jr. and his proficient, but overly enthusiastic orchestra are too loud, playing like they are in a rock concert rather than underscoring the singers.

 

Capsule Judgment:  BROOKLYN THE MUSICAL is not a show for everyone.  The story is convoluted and the music not memorable. In spite of these flaws, the Porthouse production is good enough to make the trip out to the beautiful setting a worthwhile ride.

 

BROOKLYN THE MUSICAL runs through July 24.  Tickets are available by calling 330-672-3884 or going to at https://www.kent.edu/porthouse/bklyn-musical

Next up at Porthouse:  ALTAR BOYZ (July 29-August 15)—directed by Terri Kent, choreographed by Martín Céspedes.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

VERB BALLET JOINS THE LIVING WITH A WONDERFUL EVENING OF DANCE




Friday, June 26, after a Covid-induced period of Zoom-only dance recitals, Cleveland’s “classical ballet with a dash of American modern dance” company, joined the world of the living with a performance of three pleasing pieces, at the Breen Center.  
 
That’s not to say Verb is abandoning streaming.  The Director’s Choice” program was filmed and was streamed locally, nationally and internationally to an audience it had developed during the last year and a half.  A group of viewers who, not only bought tickets to the company’s electronic programs, but also became donors. 
 
As Dr. Margaret Carlson, Verb’s Producing Artistic Director stated before the opening curtain, it was those ticket sales and donations that kept the company financially solvent during the angst filled “we can’t perform live” days.
 
The program opened with a video interview featuring Richard Dickinson, the company’s Associate Artistic Director.  A former member of the Ohio Ballet, he explained why that Akron based company was the “grandfather of Verb.”
 
Ohio Ballet was founded by Heinz Poll, a German-born dancer who left the country in 1951 for political reasons.  After periods in France and New York, In Akron, he founded the Chamber Ballet, later Ohio Ballet, at the University of Akron in 1968.  Over a span of 31-years he choreographed 60 ballets and created a reputation that led to a local rivalry for excellence and audience between OBT and the Cleveland Ballet.  Unfortunately, due to what local dance aficionados would call errors in judgement by the companys’ boards, both organizations ceased to be.

In 1999, when he retired, Poll left the rights to some of his works to former dancers and company. Dickinson, who was given the rights to Triptych, the opening selection of the evening, explained the influence that Poll had on dance.

Triptych, in its company premiere, was first performed in 1988 and has been restaged from Poll’s original choreography by Dickinson.

Set to Mendelssohn’s piano concerto #2, the classical ballet with contemporary overtones, was danced on point in smooth, flowing movements.  Highlights of the number were a lovely pas de deux performed by Cleveland native Kelly Korfhage and Butler University graduate Benjamin Shepard, and strong solo segments by Emily Dietz, also a Butler grad.

The mood for the number was developed through Lighting Director Trad Burns’ warm lighting, which accented A. Christina Giannini’s costumes.

Stephania Martinez, the conceiver and choreographer of World of Another, a new ballet commissioned by Verb, was filmed explaining her philosophy of dance conception and how this piece was conceived.  She explained that using a computer and a wide-angle GoPro camera to enable full viewing of the studio, the ballet was created.  Martinez explained that she was inspired by “kinetic momentum, a versatility that expands the boundaries of contemporary ballet movement.”

Filled with visual interactions and creation of living images, World of Tomorrow is a showcase for displaying the breath of Verb’s multi-cultural company, with everyone, including Sikhumbuzo Hlahleni, and International Cultural Exchange Artist and Somlya Schirokauer, a Junior Trainee, taking the stage.  

Before one of the company’s favorite pieces, Bolero, was presented, Xochiti Tejeda de Cerda, who Poll gifted the rights, did a video interview.  Set to the sensual and exciting music of Maurice Ravel, Heinz Poll’s original sizzling choreography exploded amidst controlled movements, swirling capes and enticing dancing, featuring Antonio Morill.  
 
It was a perfect ending to joyous hour and twenty minutes of dance.

Capsule Judgment:  Audiences are emerging from the days of angst.  Live dance is back!  Verb Ballets is back!  Bravo!

Join Verb Ballets for free summer performances on July 30-31 for the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, on August 13 for Tremont Arts in August, August 20 for Ballet Under the Stars, and September 3 at Cain Park.  For details go to verballets.org/performances

  

Saturday, June 19, 2021

QUILTERS proves to be a pleasant way to bring back live theater to Porthouse


The weather forecast was for storms, possibly a tornado.  The actress scheduled to play the lead role wasn’t going to perform.  Cars stood at odd angels blocking spaces in the parking lot.  But, in reality, none of this mattered.  Opening night for Quilters, the first show after a year of theatrical darkness, went off like a charm. 
 
Quilters is a series of short playlets, with music.  It has a book by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek, and music and lyrics by Damashek.
 
The stories center on the lives of American Pioneer women as originally presented in the book The Quilters: Women and Domestic Art by Patricia Cooper and Norma Bradley Allen.
 
Though it won the Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival, when it opened on Broadway in 1984, it ran a meager 24 performances and 5 previews. 
 
The issue on the Great White way was that the material lends itself to an intimate production and an older audience.  That’s not what Broadway is about.  It is, however, just what Porthouse, with its small thrust stage in the Midwest setting, engenders.

The rather static mélange of skits, monologues and songs, unified by a theme rather than a sustained plot or characters, fits the pallet of the local audience.  Who are willing to fall in love with what many might call “hokey.” 

The script showcases reminders of a world of the past, straightforward comments about childbirth, honesty, school days, courtship, weddings, spinsterhood, twisters, fire, illness, death, religion, log cabins, and Midwest loyalties.  

What the Porthouse production also has is Terri Kent.  Kent, the venue’s Producing Artistic Director, stepped in at the last minute to play the central cog of the tale when Marla Berg became ill and had to drop out of the show.  With no aside meant to the very talented Berg, Kent was born to play the role of Mother/Sarah, the kind matriarch.
  
The daughters, each of whom play multiple roles, are well portrayed by Danielle Dorfman, Stella Fisher, Hannah Hensler, Israeljah Khi-Reign, Megan Polk, Alexis Wilson and Cameron Olin.  They are all students or graduates of Kent State.  Each has a strong singing voice and display well-honed acting and movement skills.

Jennifer Korecki and her orchestra set a note-perfect pace and sound for the production.  Michelle Hunt Souza’s costumes are period correct.  Cynthia Stillings’ lighting sets all the right moods and Ben Needman’s set is visually pleasing and aids in allowing the actors to create visually lovely pictures.  Parker Strong’s sound design leads to clear listening.

No credit is given to whomever made the many beautiful quilts but he/she/they deserve a well-earned solo curtain.

The production, which is heighted by the creative staging and movement, is directed and choreographed by Kent, with Rhon Thomas serving as Assistant Director.  

Capsule judgement:  Quilters, which could be dubbed Quilters 101, is not only a workshop of the role of material and sewing in the early days of this country, but a history lesson of the experiences of the women who helped settle the Midwest.  Don’t expect big chorus numbers or show stoppers, or to come out humming the score.  This is a just a pleasant slice of old-time life and makes for a nice way to spend a summer evening and the return of live theater.

Quilters runs through July 3, 2021 at Porthouse Theatre, on the grounds of Blossom Center.  For tickets go online to online to https://kentstateticketing.universitytickets.com/ or call 330-672-3884.




THE CHOIR OF MAN IS A JOYOUS WAY TO REOPEN THE THEATRES AT PLAYHOUSE SQUARE



Walking into the Mimi Ohio theatre for The Choir of Man was almost a surreal experience.  After receiving my tickets, based on the self-imposed over year-long Covid lockup, my mind was bouncing.  Do I wear a mask?  How close will others be in the auditorium? Do I greet people by shaking hands, hugging, or by keeping social distance?  

In spite of my being out of practice, all went well.  

The familiar redcoats, with smiles on their faces, welcomed theater-goers by informing that if one had their Covid vaccines, there was no requirement to wear face coverings, but could do if desired.  Seating was spread out so nobody would be directly in front of or next to anyone.  Beverages would be sold by touchless methods of payment.  

My emotional butterflies disappeared.  

The Choir of Man, which is presently reopening Play House Square, has been called, “rowdy,” raucous and resoundingly good fun,” “faultless,” “exhilarating,” “wildly entertaining,” and a “joyful romp.”   It is, as advertised, “80-minutes of unadulterated entertainment that combines high energy dance, live music and foot stomping choreography with the incredible talent of ordinary guys who perform everything from sing-along classics to classical rock.”

The cast features tap dancers, poets, instrumentalists and singers, ensuring that there is something for everyone in this uplifting presentation.  

The audience is greeted with an open curtain.  The setting is an authentic Irish bar where everyone is invited “to come ready to drink in the action!”  The performers wander onto the stage, greeting each other, yelling to the audience and passing out free beer to willing takers on long paddles to avoid contact.  

It must be assumed that in past and future non-Covid days, audience member would be invited up to the bar and given the chance to tip-a-pint with the “town folks.”

The cast is dynamic and care-free.  They remind the audience that, “the more you drink, the better we sound.”  

Even without imbibing, it immediately becomes apparent that these are multi-talented young men.   Switching from instrument to instrument, and able to sing every mode of musical style, they harmonize, sing solos of joy and remorse, tell jokes, tease and taunt each other, dance and reach out emotionally and personally to audience members, with enthusiasm and gusto. 

One of the local theatre-folk described the whole thing as the musical Once without women or plot!

Kudos to creators Andrew Kay and Nic Doodson (who also directs), choreographer Freddie Hudelson and Denis Grindel, who plays the narrator and keeps the action centered and flowing.

Capsule judgment:  It isn’t Frozen, The Lion King, or Hamilton, which some local theater-goers might have preferred to re-open the theatres of Playhouse Square, but The Choir of Man is an evening of emotional song and dance, and a perfect selection to reopen Playhouse Square. The response has been so positive that the run has been extended until July 25.

For tickets, which cost between $59 and $79, go to:  https://www.playhousesquare.org/events/detail/choir-of-man-2021


 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

BROADWAY'S John Cullum DELIGHTS IN STREAMED "AN ACCIDENTAL STAR"

 


Broadway’s John Cullum delights in streamed AN ACCIDENTAL STAR

 

Roy Berko

(Cleveland Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association)

 

The average theatre-goer is probably unaware of the Broadway superstar, John Cullum.  In spite of his two Tony wins and numerous nominations, and 60+ years starring in such shows as CamelotOn a Clear Day You Can See ForeverUrinetown The MusicalThe Scottsboro BoysOn the Twentieth Century and 110 in the Shade, his name is seldom mentioned when “important” Great White Way stars are listed.  If anything, he is probably more noted for his role in the television show Northern Exposure.

 

My exposure, and ever-lasting admiration for the gentle man with the folksy twang, who hails from Knoxville, Tennessee, was in 1975 when I saw Shenandoah.  I was not only enthralled by the anti-war message of the musical, and its emotional score, but by Cullum’s ability to interpret a song.  His vocal range, even then wasn’t great, but his ability to sing words of meaning and tell a tale, was spell-binding.

 

Cullum’s 1960 Broadway debut was playing Sir Dinadan in Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot.  He also understudied King Arthur.  It followed his accidental casting in several plays, including roles, in which he admits, he should not have been cast.  These “accidents” took place in 1956, within six weeks of his arriving in New York.

 

This and other personal tales are the core of John Cullum:  An Accidental Star.  Stories about the golden days of the American musical and his friendships with the likes of Richard Burton, Robert Goulet, and Julie Andrews, told in his home-style manner, is interspersed with songs from shows in which he appeared.  

 

Melodies include “On A Clear Day,” “Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight,” “There But For You Go I,” “Camelot,” and “Come Back to Me.”

 

Is Cullum’s voice as good as it was in his prime?  Of course not, he’s 91 years old, but he can still tell a great story and make the song lyrics meaningful.

 

Kudos to his accompanist, Julie McBride.

 

Capsule judgment:  John Cullum:  An Accidental Star is a wonderful opportunity to become acquainted with one of Broadway’s “unknown” stars and learn about the making of some of the important musicals.  This is a delightful 90-minutes of entertainment!

 

The show streams from April 8-22.  Once you purchase your ticket, you will receive a link that can be used any time between 8PM on April 8 and 11:59PM on April 22.

 

For information and purchasing tickets, which start at $15, go to:  https://www.vineyardtheatre.org/an-accidental-star/

 

Thursday, April 08, 2021

IN ORDINARY DAYS, CASSIDY FINDS THE PERFECT SCRIPT TO STREAM


 

IN ORDINARY DAYS, CASSIDY FINDS THE PERFECT SCRIPT TO STREAM 

Roy Berko
(Member: American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)
 
In these days of angst, many theaters have attempted to stream various types of entertainment.  The formats have been mostly musical reviews, with a few scripted musicals being attempted.  
 
Most of these pieces haven’t worked too well.  It is hard to imagine running through the woods hand-in-hand, dancing cheek-to-cheek, or making love, when there is definitely a screen divide separating the participants.
 
Adam Gwon’s ORDINARY DAYS is a song heavy, action light musical, that requires little in the way of sets or physical interactions to develop the tale.  Many of the songs are solos.  Even the duets don’t require much physical interaction.

The story concerns four young New Yorkers whose lives intersect as they search for normalcy and personal and interpersonal connections.  They are each searching for, as one of the song’s states, “The Perfect Picture.”  
In spite of some personal stress by the characters, they are neither life threatening or a reflection of major pending doom.  Which is fine as there is a longing today for ordinary days and normalcy as an escape from the ever-present angst.  

As Kristin Netzband, the show’s director states, “The sense of the show is simply of how the lives of four individuals interconnect.”  

Of the staging process she states, “Rehearsing during the pandemic proved interesting. The process began virtually before going in-person with social distancing between masked actors taking place in the Cassidy Theatre lobby.  Then the staging moved to the actual set, which was on platform levels with plastic sheeting between the characters.”

Zach Palumb is dork-perfect as Warren, the cat sitting artist who paints “pithy sayings” on paper which he distributes around Manhattan.

One day, during his Big Apple wanderings, he finds a notebook.  The contents are the research notes of Deb, Rachael Armbruster, she of strong voice and good acting chops, who is a graduate student who has escaped from her hick town, but is frustrated by her studies and her lack of ability to tap into the writings of Virginia Woolf, the subject of her thesis. 

Warren and Deb originally are indifferently to each other, but when Warren takes her to the roof of his building, and they discuss their ambitions, they both realize they hoped for something more.  Warren throws the papers of his sayings over the roof’s edge. Seeing this, Deb also throws her thesis off the edge. 

The other couple is Jason (Pat Miller) and Claire (Kelley Wheelock) who have recently moved in together, but are having doubts about their relationship.

Miller’s “The Spaces Between” is nicely presented, while Wheelock’s “I’ll Be Here” is one of the show’s highlight vocals.

The two couples collide when, as Warren’s papers float downward, Jason who has decided to move on from Claire, finds one of the papers, with the statement,” Don't worry, everything will be OK." Claire also sees the shower of papers, calls Jason on his mobile.  After a revelation about a past relationship she realizes that it is okay to move on to her life with Jason.

Obviously this is not a great story line, but it is the music which carries the show.

The production’s musical director is Heidi Herczeg.  Though the music was well played, the sounds often drowned out the singing of the performers, making some of the vocals difficult to hear.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  Cassidy Theatre’s ORDINARY DAYS was a nicely directed and performed production of a story-light script which leant itself to being presented in a streamed format.  Kudos to director Kristin Netzband and her cast, Pat Miller, Kelley Wheelock, Rachael Armbruster and Zach Palumb.

The show streams April 9-11, 2021.  

Tickets may be purchased here:  Buy Tickets