Sunday, August 18, 2019

none too fragile has new home—high quality of productions still the same!


None Too Fragile Theatre has a new home!  But fear not! If their production of “Woody’s Order!” is any indication, the high quality of the theatre company’s shows will not suffer.

None Too Fragile, in its short existence, has received many Cleveland Critics Circle and Broadwayworld.com recognitions for excellence in acting, directing and productions.  It has achieved this while appearing in an assortment of settings, including the back room of a restaurant.  Finally, the company has a new, and hopefully, permanent home…the former Coach House Theatre at 732 W. Exchange Street in Akron.

While sprucing up the building, which houses a proscenium stage, comfortable theatre-style seating and a big lobby, None Too Fragile’s co-artistic director, Sean Derry, is on the road with “Boogieban” which, last year, was one of the area’s most awarded shows with David Peacock and Travis Teffner, being chosen as co-winners of the Cleveland Critics Circle award as Best Actors in a Non-Musical. 

After a run in Chicago, which received rave reviews from Windy City critics, the NTF troupe will travel to the New York where they will attempt to prove that it is “The” place to produce new contemporary plays. 

In the meantime, Alanna Romansky, the company’s co-founder and co-artistic director, with the help of a determined group of theatre supporters, opened the new performance space with “Woody’s Order!,” a solo show written and performed by Ann Talman.  

Talman appeared on Broadway in “The Little Foxes” with Elizabeth Taylor, as well as in “The House of Blue Leaves” “Some Americans Abroad” and “The Women.”

An often emotionally tale of the decision that must be made by Ann, a professional actress/comedian who is torn between her Broadway career and being the sole caretaker for her nonverbal, cerebral palsied brother and Alzheimer-afflicted father.


At one point, she’s dividing her time between Los Angeles, New York, her brother’s nursing home in Allentown and her father’s nursing home in Pittsburgh

This is a tale of high drama with strong underlying comedy segments.

The play, which has also been made into a documentary, is finely directed by John Shepard who “makes this a deeply moving journey of pain, compassion and, ultimately, love.”

For the compassionate, this is not an easy play to watch.  But it is a performance well worth the discomfort.  



Talman is nothing short of amazing in telling her own tale and performing all ten or so characters in the script.  This is a master class in acting.

Capsule judgment:   None Too Fragile starts off its tenure in its new Akron theatrical home with a must see production!

For tickets for “Woody’s Order!” which runs through August 31, call 330-962-5547 or go to nonetoofragile.com

Up next: “These Mortal Hosts,” Cleveland Heights playwright Eric Coble’s tale of what happens when three lonely people band together as their lives and bodies herald events far beyond their comprehension.




Saturday, August 10, 2019

“The Lion King” roars mightily at State Theatre



There is an old adage in the theater that an audience should not leave a musical theater production whistling sets and costumes.  In other words, it should be the music and story-line that are most important.

Obviously, the person who dreamt up that line hadn’t been exposed to Julie Traymor’s costumes and puppets as well as her directorial and creative approach to transforming “The Lion King” from an animated film to Broadway musical.  

The integration of the technical elements of the touring production, as was true of the Broadway staging, is captivating.  The story, visuals and musical components are so beautifully stitched together that one cannot conceive any aspect without the other.

Since its 1994 creation, Walt Disney Studio’s animated feature film, “The Lion King” has become a cottage industry.  The film, the stage-show which is still running on Broadway and has numerous touring versions, including one revisiting the State Theatre, a film-remake that is presently in theaters, and products galore including DVDs, t-shirts, stuffed animals, and carry bags, have been produced and are on-sale in the theatre lobby.

With book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi, music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice, the tale of King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi, the rulers of the Pride Area, their son, Simba, and the King’s wicked brother, Scar, the tale has been well told.

The show’s music, which includes “Circle of Life,” “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” “They Live in You,” ”Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?,” is memorable.  BTW...don’t anticipate hearing “The Morning Report.”  The song was eliminated, from both the Broadway and touring productions, along with making other musical adjustments, to save about eight production minutes.

The stage show starts as Rafiki (a baboon who serves as a shaman to the royals of Pride Rock), calls for all to know that the circle of life will continue as a new cub, to be named Simba, will be announced at the gathering of the animals.

The theatre is soon filled with large puppet birds and animals, including an elephant, who march down the aisles and fill the stage. 

The tale continues as playful Simba, whose enthusiasm often overcomes his emerging logic, gets into one scrap after another, including going to the elephant burial ground and being involved in a wildebeest stampede in which his father is killed by Scar.
Scar convinces Simba that his father's death was his fault and tells him to run away, which the guilt-ridden boy does.


Scar claims the throne and allows hyenas to control the Pride Lands.  They willfully destroy the animals needed to keep the survival of the fittest in balance.  Hunger and desolation exist.
After running away, Simba collapses from exhaustion.  Vultures begin to circle, but are scared away by Timon, a mischievous meerkat, and Pumbaa, a warthog with gastrointestinal problems. 
Simba grows to adulthood and eventually he realizes that he must return and reveal himself. 
 

As in all good tales of good versus bad, Simba defeats Scar, who has destroyed the tranquility of the jungle.
 

With the battle won, Simba's friends come forward and acknowledge him as the rightful king. Simba ascends Pride Rock and roars out across the kingdom. The Pride Lands recover and the animals gather in celebration as Rafiki presents Simba and Nala's newborn cub, continuing the circle of life.
 

 “The Lion King” opened on Broadway on November 13, 1997.  It is still running to sold out houses.  The show has been seen nationally and internationally by over 100 million audience members.  It has received over 70 major theatre awards internationally, and is the 3rd longest running Broadway musical.

The touring show has most of the elements of the original Big Apple production.  Some of the scenic effects have been pared down so the show can be set up on various sized stages.  But, do not doubt that the show has the same effect as the original. 

The touring show is spectacular!

The touring cast is outstanding!  There is not a weak performer on stage. 
 

It should be revealed that this is not a tale for some children, especially young and/or sensitive ones.  The staging is filled with hyenas, numerous deaths, and there are scary dark scenes. “Cinderella” this is not!   A little boy, who was sitting in front of me kept covering his face and whimpering in the scary segments, and didn’t come back for the second act.  It is one thing to see the action in a movie, but in real life, things get much scarier.
 

Capsule judgment:  If you have not seen the stage version of “The Lion King” do it now!  Due to the complicated technical aspects, and exceptional puppets and costumes, no community theatre is going to be able to duplicate the production qualities.  Besides, these are difficult roles to sing, dance and act.  It takes professionals to pull it off.  Go!  Enjoy!  But, maybe leave the young and more sensitive kids at home.
 

“The Lion King” runs through September 1, 2019 in the State Theatre, as part of the Key Bank Broadway Series.  To purchase tickets, call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

“The Ladykillers” a lesser farce at The Shaw


Farce is a sub-genre of dramatic comedy with the intent of making an audience laugh.  The story line is the device that gets the amusement-reaction. The plot in a farce is likely to be improbable, and maybe even incomprehensible.  That’s part of the humor-inducing methodology.  Verbal humor runs the show.   An example of a classical farcical play is Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”  Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor” is another.

The farcical genre sometime takes on the guise of low comedy when it goes beyond using language to get the desired laughs by adding slap-stick physical absurdity.  Examples of physical farces are “Noises Off,” ‘The Torch Bearers” and, the present off-Broadway hit, “The Play That Goes Wrong.”

It takes special directing and acting skill to get the desired effect of farce, especially the physical variety.  Special attention needs to be paid to getting the audience to laugh at the spoken word, not at the actors exaggerated presentational skills.  If over-done the ridiculous becomes so absurd that it is no longer funny, but stupid.

Graham Linehan’s “The Ladykillers,” now on stage at The Shaw, bills itself as a farce. It is of the physical variety, with lots of shticks and gimmicks inserted to get the audience to laugh not only at what is said, but for what is done. 

The slight plot concerns a sweet little old lady, alone in her house, who is pitted against a gang of criminal misfits.

Professor Marcus and his fellow robbers rent a room in the home of eccentric Mrs. Wilberforce.  The villains plot to involve her, unwittingly, in a supposedly well-conceived heist.

Their pose to the landlady is that they are musicians and need a place to practice.  A series of ridiculous events, including hiding the money from the heist in a bass case, killing each other off, playing a concert for a group of Mrs. Wilberforce’s friends, and trying to keep one-step ahead of the landlady and the police, gives open invitation to lots of ridiculousness.

“The Ladykillers” is a 2011 stage adaptation based on the film of the same name.  Those who saw the movie, which starred Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers and Danny Green, know what a delight it was.  The West End reviews of the play stated that it was a “perfect pitch performance,” "A joy from start to finish," and "An exuberantly inventive evening."

I wish I could say the same of the Shaw production. 

The script is not of the same quality as Wilde or Ludwig, but it is serviceable.

Unfortunately, though there were many funny and audience laugh-inducing moments, Tim Carroll’s directing begged the audience for laughs.  There were enough naturally funny moments in the play that would have brought laughter, without begging for the humor. 

Sight gags were repeated over and over.  The first time someone is hit in the head by a turning blackboard it was funny.  By the fifth time it was not.  How many times can we be induced to laugh by an off-kilter picture being straightened?  An actor’s over-expressed confusion may be amusing the first time.  When repeated over and over it becomes boring.  The same with the over-done parrot squawking. 

Judith Bowden’s clever turn-table set design was a nice visual addition as was Paul Sortelli’s original music. 
Chick Reid was delightful as Mrs. Wilberforce.  Damien Atkins was on-point as Professor Marcus.  Steven Sutcliffe nicely developed the role of the old-lady-hating Louis.  Ric Reid properly phumphered his way as Major Courtney.

Capsule judgment: “The Ladykillers” gets an over-done farcical production at The Shaw.  It will be of great glee to many, however, it would have been more amusing if the material had been allowed to develop its natural farcical level, without redundant shticks and over-done characterizations.
WHAT:  THE LADYKILLERS
WHERE:   FESTIVAL THEATRE
WHEN:  Through October 12

“Sex”—Mae West as you never thought you’d see her!


Many know Mae West as a sex symbol and purveyor of bawdy double entendre, as well as an advocate of sexual independence. 

Did you know that she was also a playwright? 

Yes, Mary Jane West, who many know only from her famous lines, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough," "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful," and "It is better to be looked over than overlooked," wrote many play scripts including “Sex” which now is onstage at The Shaw Festival.

The pillar of sexuality had a seven-decade career as a performer in amateur shows and beauty contests, as well as vaudeville and Broadway productions.   She later moved to Hollywood where she gained fame and fortune on the silver screen. 

Her career was capped when The American Film Institute named her 15th among the greatest female stars of classic American cinema.

“When her cinematic career ended, she wrote books and plays and continued to perform in Las Vegas and in the United Kingdom, on radio and television, and she recorded rock and roll albums.”
West’s Broadway career started in 1926 with the play, “Sex,” which she wrote, produced and directed.  The production was panned by the critics.  One review stated, “The play is nasty, infantile, amateurish, and has vicious dialog.”  Another commented, “We were shown not sex but lust—stark naked lust.”


The city officials raided the theatre, arrested West and the entire cast.  She was prosecuted on morals charges and for "corrupting the morals of youth."

Instead of paying a fine, in a good publicity stunt, she chose to go to jail.  It is reported that “while incarcerated on Welfare Island, she dined with the warden and his wife; she told reporters that she had worn her silk panties while serving time, in lieu of the burlap the other girls had to wear. She served eight days with two days off for good behavior. Media attention surrounding the incident enhanced her career by crowning her the darling bad girl who had climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong.”


Audiences loved the show and the arrest publicity and awarded it with good ticket sales for the 375 performance run.  The marquee boasted the bright, glittering word ‘SEX’ and posters were shouting “Sex with Mae West.”  


Eventually, “the guards of morality in New York had had enough.  After complaints from key religious and political figures permanently closed the show.”
What was the fuss all about?


The story centers on Margy LaMont, an ambitious prostitute, who, in search of a better life, travels from a Montreal brothel to a Trinidad night club to a Connecticut upper class dwelling.  The humorous and sex innuendo–loaded plot is filled with gangsters, sailors and society matrons while displaying both tongue-in-cheek and out-and-out humorous incidents and inciting language.
The production is cleverly directed by Peter Hinton-Davis.  Creative scene changes, inventive use of cross-dressing, and a key eye on the humorous, leads the audience on a fun-filled, often outrageous journey.


The cast is outstanding.  Diana Donnelly looks like Mae West, but wisely makes the role of Margy hers, not doing a West-like imitation.  She textures the lines, indicating not only a fine sense of comic timing, but the ability to wring meaning from the speeches.


Though it is sometimes hard to accept her as a him, Julia Course gives the correct illusions to the role of Jimmy, Margy’s wealthy young lover.


Fiona Byrne does a nice turn as Clara, the society woman caught in an act of deviance.


Jonathan Tan is touchingly brilliant as Agnes, a put-upon prostitute.


The costumes, set and lighting all enhance the production.


Capsule Judgment: “Sex” is a delightful surprise.  Besides getting a compelling production at The Shaw, it is an eye-opener into the life of an American sex symbol who not only fought censorship, but once quipped, “I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.”  This is a must see show!

 
WHAT: “Sex”
WHERE:  Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre
WHEN:  Runs through October 13.

G B Shaw merrily mutilates, mystifies and maligns marital bliss in “Getting Married” @ The Shaw


George Bernard Shaw is noted for his stands on women’s liberation, religiosity and the British cast system. 

In his “Getting Married” the Irish curmudgeon is in full voice as he dissects, debunks, devalues and basically destroys the institution of marriage, while making his case for women’s rights and the ridiculousness of religious customs and practices.

Specifically, GBS “analyses and satirizes the status of marriage in Shaw's day, with a particular focus on the necessity of liberalizing divorce laws.”  And, where better to do this than on the day of a marriage.

Though generally considered one of Shaw’s lesser works, most critics agree that though it is short on action and some of the sharper barbs that are included in the Shavian lexicon, it is an excellent discussion on the foibles of the traditional Western world’s laws about marriage, divorce, having children and the role of women in the work world.

Shaw is noted for the preface to his plays where he often sets forth the views he is expressing in his scripts.  In “Getting Married” he takes the view that "Marriage remains practically inevitable.” 

“In a future society, he argued, there could be no practicable replacement for marriage, neither individually negotiated deals or unconstrained free love. Despite this, there was a very pressing question of improving its conditions. Shaw went on to argue for sensible divorce laws to protect the welfare of adults and children.”


It’s 1908. Edith, youngest daughter of Bishop Bridgenorth, is about to be married. Her uncle will give her away, as he has all her sisters. As at all the other weddings, he proposes to Lesbia, the bride's aunt, who refuses him for the "tenth and last" time. Lesbia wants a family, but not a husband who smokes and is as untidy as the General.  The General is soon shocked to find that his disreputable brother Reginald will be at the wedding. Reginald was recently divorced by his wife for assaulting her and for his adultery with a prostitute.  


Thus is laid the foundation for a battle over marriage, divorce, family values, the reproduction of children.  A pamphlet about the dangers of marriage, which is being read by both the potential bride and groom, adds to the angst.  


An attempt to write “new” rules for marriage just adds to the frustration.  Such matters as disagreement over rights and responsibilities about medical, religious, and financial matters, and how to get divorced emerge. 


As must happen, for this is a dramatic comedy, the young couple gets married, several other problematic relationships get solved, and everyone dances in the curtain call.

The Shaw’s nicely paced, often whimsical production, under the direction of Tanja Jacobs is delightful, especially the first act.

Many patrons thought the play had ended when the initial act curtain descended, only to be told there was more to come.  The second act, which brought about the final denouement, was not as fun-filled as the first.  In fact, cutting out much of it would have not left much of a hole in the writer’s intent and purpose.

The cast, which was both racially and age inclusive, sometimes with confusing results, was mostly excellent.  Standouts were Damien Atkins, Martin Happer, Stephen Sutcliffe, Graeme Somerville and Chick Reid. 

The technical aspects of the show were excellent.

Capsule judgment:  George Bernard Shaw is the master at skewering social, religious and political actions and concepts with which he disagrees.  His sharp, satirical and comedic language is put to good use in the delightful and pointed “Getting Married.”

WHAT: “Getting Married”
WHERE: Royal George Theatre
WHEN:   Runs through October 13

“Rope”—a treatise on Nietzscheism and religious questioning masquerading as a mystery


When theatrical mysteries are thought of the works of Agatha Christie (“The Mousetrap”), Anthony Schaffer (“Sleuth”), Tim Kelly (“The Butler Did It”), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (“Sherlock Holmes”) and Tom Stoppard (“The Real Inspector Hound”) come to mind. 

These shows build tension and suspense, leave the audience grasping at clues to solve “who did it” or what twist and turn will reveal the villain.

Patrick Hamilton’s “Rope,” which is now on stage at The Shaw’s Royal George Theatre, unfortunately wouldn’t make the well-made mystery list, as it suffers from poor concept development and a weakly conceived production. 

The British play is set on the first floor of a house in London in 1929.  The story, centers on Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo, two young university students who have pulled off what they perceive to be the perfect crime, that of murdering a fellow student. 

Much like in the real Leopold and Loeb murder of young Bobby Franks, their reason centers on the belief that they can get away with the act because of their supposed intellectual superiority, a very Nietzschesque concept.

Friedrich Nietzsche proposed an ethical relativism philosophy in which superior men ignore the concept of good and evil and, because they are super beings, transcend the morality of the herd.  He stated, “Man is a rope, fastened between animal and Superman—a rope over an abyss.”

It is from this quote that the play’s title emerges.

As the play opens, in a dimly lit room, we see the duo carry in a body and dump it into a chest center stage. 

In a bizarre twist, the young men host a party at which the locked chest, which contains the corpse, is used to serve a buffet.  Included in the guests is the father of the dead student.

“After the party, one guest, a former professor of the murderers, returns and contrives to open the chest. He is shocked and ashamed that they have acted in response to his own declarations of amorality. The play ends with this quandary unresolved.”

The play was first an experimental BBC show, then an Alfred Hitchcock film.  The latter contained many changes to the stage play.  (Changes it appears should have been considered for this production.)

The script which, in the Shaw program is compared to Meyer Levin’s “Compulsion,” is neither as well-written or intriguing as that masterful play. 

Some of the characters are weakly developed, others seem to have no place in the tale, and the plot lacks the needed twists and turns to grab and hold the audience.

As for the production, director Jani Lauzon does what she can to breathe life into to it, with little success. 

Joanna Yu has done a masterful job of creating a multi-level set which allows us, through the use of a scrim back wall, to see people ascending and descending a staircase.  The lighting, however, did little to enhance the production.

Capsule judgment: “Rope” is a weakly written script which fails to compel or demand attention.  One can only wonder why the powers that be decided that it was worth the time and effort of the cast, crew and audience.

WHAT:  ROPE
WHERE:  Royal George Theatre
WHEN:  Runs through October 12

Audience-pleasing “Brigadoon” at The Shaw



The Golden Age of the American theatre, which is generally identified as from 1943 to 1975, starting with “Oklahoma” and ending with “Chorus Line,” were highlighted by a combination of songs, spoken dialogue and dancing contained in a story which had a clear structure, emotional content, and whose components were integrated together.

The shows that followed “Oklahoma” generally followed a format.

An important aspect of the musicals was of a two-level plot.  The first consisted of a love story, the second a tale of comic relief.  (e.g., Curley and Lauri—love story, Will and Ado Annie—comic relief, in “Oklahoma.”)

The script generally also included an opening number that set the emotional mood for the story (e.g., “Comedy Tonight” from “Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”).

There was an “I Want Song” in which the lead character told what they want from life (e.g., “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from “My Fair Lady.”) 

Other elements were a conditional love song that set up the romantic tale (e.g., “If I Loved You” from “Carousel.”  And, a “noise” song, a show stopper in each act intended to “wake up” the audience (e.g., “Bloody Mary” and “There is Nothing Like a Dame” in “South Pacific.”)

Though there were many successful Golden Age writers, probably the kings of the movement were the duos of Rogers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe.

The former centered most of their shows on exploring community and social messages (e.g., “The King and I” and “Flower Drum Song.”)  The latter duet of writers, including their “Camelot” and “Brigadoon,” looked at the perfect time, the perfect place and the perfect love story.”
 

“Brigadoon,” which is now on stage at The Shaw Festival, tells the tale of two men, who, following World War II, while vacationing in Scotland stumble upon Brigadoon, a magical and mythical place that appears for only one day every 100 years. 

As must happen in any good romantic musical, Tommy, one of the tourists, falls in love with Fiona, a young woman from Brigadoon.  Problems abound as he is engaged, the wee village only has a short period of presence based on a deal made between the town’s pastor and the powers-that-be, and Tommy needs to stay forever or return to a life in New York sans love.   Added to the problems is the tale of a young Scottish lad, frustrated that the love of his life has been given to another, threatens to leave Brigadoon, thus breaking the spell, leading to its disappearance, forever.
 

From the opening number, we see and feel that “the mist is on the gloamin', and all the clouds are holdin' still,” that we are going to “go roamin' through the heather on the hill.” 

Love is in the air and we are aware from the “Vendors Call” and Fiona’s I wish song, “Waitin’ for My Dearie,” that song and dance are going to take us on a “wee” wonderful journey in which “Almost Like Being in Love” will become a reality.

“Brigadoon” is filled with enchanting and endearing songs.  It’s almost impossible to leave the theatre not humming such standards as “Almost Like Being in Love,” “From This Day On,” and “There But For You Go I.”

The Shaw production is an audience pleaser.  The story is clearly told, the almost cartoonish set illuminates the lack of reality of the goings on, and the music, in most instances, is well sung and interpreted.

As illustrated by Agnes DeMile’s dynamic original choreography for the Broadway production, the dancing in the Shaw staging is a little too controlled, needing more spontaneity and dynamism.  This was especially true in the “The Chase” in which the danger of the very existence of Brigadoon should be apparent, and “The Sword Dance” which needed to highlight the strong emotional feeling of impending doom.

The “noise” songs, “The Love of My Life” and “My Mother’s Wedding Day,” needed more abandonment and clearer diction to ensure that the humor of the musical tales could be understood and enjoyed.

The cast was generally strong.  Lovely Alexis Gordon was charming as Fiona MacLaren, the romantic lead.  She has a fine singing voice as was well illustrated in “From This Day On.” 

Handsome George Krissa created a totally believable Tommy, Fiona’s “Heather on the Hill” partner.  His “There But For You Go I” was a production emotional highlight.  He and Gordon displayed a nice interpersonal connection.

Mike Nadajewski was generally pleasing as Jeff, but both he and pert Kristi Frank as the seductive Meg, needed to have more dynamism as the comic reliefs.

The costumes, musical sound, lighting and sound all enhanced the production.

Capsule Judgment: “Brigadoon,” which is a classic example of one of the great American musicals, gets a very credible, audience-pleasing performance, at The Shaw. 

WHAT:  BRIGADOON
WHERE:  Festival Theatre
WHEN:  Through October 13

“The Glass Menagerie” shimmers at The Shaw


The modern era of theater was highlighted by the writings of Arthur Miller, William Inge and Tennessee Williams. 

Miller, the sophisticated Jewish easterner, who as a social philosopher, asked in his writings, “Is this the best way to live?”

Inge, reflecting on his Mid-western sensibilities and Christian moralism, plus his guilt over his homosexuality, viewed a world peopled by solitary protagonists encumbered with strained sexual relationships.

Williams, writing in a style referred to as “Poetic Realism,” was a man born of the south.  His messages and symbolism reflected his family and its influences as he wrote of those fighting to retain their dignity, find their lives unsatisfactory, often doomed to go unnoticed while being overwhelmed.  His lead characters are often crushed by the world around them, specifically the women who found themselves living in worlds which they didn’t understand and which didn’t understand them.

His “The Glass Menagerie,” now in production at The Shaw, is probably the best example of pure Williams.  It premiered in 1944 and catapulted Williams to theatrical prominence.

A memory play, a biographical treatise which centers on his mother, sister, himself and his absent father, it reveals all of the author’s digging for his devils, including alcoholism and homosexuality.  This is Williams probing for his “why,” his issues and his writing style. 

The play opens with Tom (the compelling Andre Sills) stating to the audience, “Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."

This line, the key to understanding Williams use of symbolism throughout the script, is heightened by Sills having interacted with the audience before the start of the show, doing sleight of hand coin and scarf illusions.  A device added in this production, not prescribed in the script.

The setting is a dingy St. Louis apartment.  It’s the home of Amanda Wingfield (extremely well-portrayed by Allegra Fulton), a middle aged woman with remembrances, real and illusionary, of her days as a Southern belle.  A time when she supposedly danced at cotillions, had beautiful dresses and numerous gentlemen callers.  A time before she married a man who abandoned the family, out of frustration and personal need. 

The other occupant is Laura, Tom’s sister (sensitively portrayed by Julia Course).  She is a woman with a limp as the result of a bout with polio, who is socially challenged, is basically an agoraphobic who has made an escape world for herself populated by crystal figurines, her glass menagerie, and a set of records left by their father. 

Amanda yearns for the comforts and life she lived as a girl, worries extensively of what will happen to Laura when she is left alone, with her fears of the outside world and her reactions to the abandonment by her husband and the possibility of Tom departing and leaving Laura and her. 

Her constant nagging for Tom to bring home a gentleman caller for Laura, with the plot of getting him to marry the girl, finally is satisfied when Tom asks a fellow worker at the shoe warehouse where he is employed. 

Unknown to Tom is that Jim, the gentleman caller, (sensitively portrayed by Jonathan Tan), casually knew Laura in high school and called her "Blue Roses", when she returned to school after a bout of pleurosis.   Also unknown is Laura’s crush on Tom when the two were in school.

Amanda’s plans for Laura and Tom are dashed when, after being kind to the young woman, Tom reveals that he is engaged. 

And so the drama spirals to a sad conclusion, as Tom leaves, in an ingeniously staged exit march around the stage, to  seek a way to satisfy his yearnings and Laura blows out the candles leaving her and Amanda to live out their lives in a veil of darkness and unrequited dreams.
The characters and story mimic Williams' own life more closely than any of his other works.  It spotlights Williams (whose real name was Thomas), his mother, Amanda, and his sickly and mentally unstable older sister, Rose.


Williams learned in 1943 that, in his absence his sister had been subjected to a botched lobotomy, leaving her incapacitated (and institutionalized) for the rest of her life.
With the success of “The Glass Menagerie,” Williams gave half of the royalties to his mother, designated half of the royalties from his play “Summer and Smoke” to provide for Rose's care, arranging for her move from a state hospital to a private sanitarium. Eventually he was to leave the bulk of his estate to ensure Rose's continuing care.  Rose died in 1996.

The Shaw production, under the adept and creative direction of László Bérczes is magical.  The clarity of many of Williams’ symbolic radiate.  The theatre in the square stage is effectively used.  The characterizations are cleanly-etched and the performances are nicely textured. 


Tom’s need to escape, while feeling a need to fill in for his absent father, is obvious.  


Amanda is pathetic, not crazy, a woman caught in a time and place she does not understand.  

Laura is maimed, not crippled.  Maimed by having to live with a delusional mother and a slight impediment, made larger by her mother’s unrealistic expectations for her.  

Jim is sensitively interpreted.

Capsule judgment:  The Shaw’s “The Glass Menagerie” is a masterfully staged show of one of the finest dramas in the American theatrical lexicon.  This is an absolutely must see production!  Huzzah!


WHAT:  THE GLASS MENAGERIE
WHERE:  JACKIE MAXWELL STUDIO THEATRE
RUNNING THROUGH OCTOBER 12

Shaw Festival Reviews--2019



As I walked down the main street in Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada, I had several people look at my black t-shirt with the white letters which stated, “I liked Cleveland before it was cool” and make positive comments or give a thumbs up.

The Shaw Festival is often like being in downtown Cleveland on game day.   Lots of 216/440 residents migrate North for a day, days or a week to visit “the most beautiful little city in Canada.” 

They purchase peaches, cherries, and nectarines, tour the wine country, play golf,  and attend plays at The Shaw.  It also doesn't hurt that the present exchange rate is $1.32 American for the Canadian dollar.  (For the non- mathematical—Americans get a little over 30-cents back for every dollar they spend. Use credit cards to get the highest exchange rate.)

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


 

It’s a good idea to make both theatre and lodging reservations in advance, especially with the B&Bs on weekends. Our home away from home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (http://www.wellington.house@sympatico.ca), directly across the street from The Festival Theatre, within easy walking distance of all the theatres, where the breakfasts are great and the furnishings lovely.  Unfortunately, this is the last year that the proprietors will accommodate new guests.  So, if you’d like to stay there, reserve for this year, now! For information on other B&Bs go to www.niagaraonthelake.com/showbedandbreakfasts




There are some wonderful restaurants.  My in-town favorites are The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King Street) and Niagara’s Finest Thai (905-468-1224, 88 Picton Street).  There is also Gingers (905-468-387, 1390 Mary Street) a short ride out of the main square.  The Epicurean is a nice place for a seasonal food lunch.


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

SEX-- “Sex” is a delightful surprise.  Besides getting a compelling production, it is an eye-opener into the life of an American sex symbol who not only fought censorship, but once quipped, “I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.”  This is a must see show!

THE GLASS MENAGERIE--“The Glass Menagerie” is a masterfully staged show of one of the finest dramas in the American theatrical lexicon.  This is an absolutely must see production!  Huzzah!
 

THE LADY KILLERS--“The Lady Killers” gets an over-done farcical production at The Shaw.  It will be of great glee to many, however, it would have been more amusing if the material had been allowed to develop its natural farcical level, without redundant shticks and over-done characterizations.
 

BRIGADOON-- “Brigadoon,” which is a classic example of one of the great American musicals, gets a very credible, audience-pleasing performance.
 

ROPE--“Rope” is a weakly written script which fails to compel or demand attention.  One can only wonder why the powers that be decided that it was worth the time and effort of the cast, crew and audience.

GETTING MARRIED-- George Bernard Shaw is the master at skewering social, religious and political actions and concepts with which he disagrees.  His sharp, satirical and comedic language is put to good use in the delightful and pointed “Getting Married.”  See this one!
To read the complete reviews of the shows I saw, go to:  http://www.royberko.info
 

Other festival shows are:
THE HORSE AND HIS BOY, THE RUSSIAN PLAY, CYRANO DE BERGERAC and VICTORY.  The holiday season offerings are HOLIDAY INN and A CHRISTMAS CAROL.
 

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

 

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

Don’t forget your passport as it’s the only form of identification that will be accepted for re-entry into the U.S.  Figure in time to get through customs at the U.S.-Canadian border.

Saturday, August 03, 2019



I am often contacted concerning my teaching schedule.  As of now, I am scheduled to teach the following classes for Fall of 2019.  

(Please DO NOT contact me about registration.)

Jewish Community Center


    CURTAIN UP:  THE AMERICAN MUSICAL THEATER


Dr. Roy Berko, one of Cleveland's leading theatre critics, using facts, stories, videos and anecdotes, will take you on a journey from THE BLACK CROOK, the first American musical, to HAMILTON and other present-day productions.  Topics include:  the effect of Jewish lyricists/composers/script writers on the American musical, how examining the musicals and plays of an era allows for an understanding of that era, the formats of musicals, and the role of the writers, lyricists, composers, producers, directors and performers of America’s major contribution to the theatre lexicon.
    Wednesdays--September 4 through October 16

             11:30 AM-12:30 PM
    Jewish Community Center, Mandel Classroom
    Information:  Jan Rutsky 216-593-6248 or jrutsky@mandeljcc

ILR-EAST
    YIDDISH AND JEWISH THEATER AND THEIR INFLUENCE ON AMERICAN DRAMA, COMEDY     AND MUSICALS


Under the guidance of Dr. Roy Berko, with the use of videos, stories, facts and discussion, explore the history of the Yiddish/Jewish theater, in Europe and America, and those whose creative talents gave birth to not only American theatrical dramas and comedies, but the American musical theater.   Class is limited to 44 students.
    Tuesdays--October 15 through November 19, 2019

              11:00 AM-12:45 PM
    Temple Emanuel, Pepper Pike
    Information:  https://www.bw.edu/alumni/organizations/ilr-east/

-->

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Pleasurable “Music Man” at Porthouse


Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” is one of American musical theatre’s most produced shows.  Professional, community and educational theatres stage the show on a regular basis.  The songfest, which is as American as apple pie and a Fourth of July fireworks display, is now on stage at Porthouse Theatre.

The show’s march to popularity was not an easy one.  After many years of trying to convert Willson and Franklin Lacey’s hokey story into a musical, trying to shoehorn almost 40 songs into the score (twenty-two were eventually cut), more than forty script drafts, and a change of producers, the show finally opened on Broadway on December 19, 1957.

Opening night reviews were sensational, calling the production, “a marvelous show,” “rooted in wholesome and comic tradition,” and “a whopping hit.”  It went on to win five Tony Awards, including winning Best Musical recognition over “West Side Story.”  Praise was heaped on original cast members, Robert Preston, who reprised his title role in the 1962 screen adaptation, and Barbara Cook.

Willson wrote the book “But He Doesn’t Know the Territory” about the trials of getting the show to Broadway. 

Stories include that Wilson’s interest in the story was inspired by his boyhood experiences in Mason City, Iowa.  In addition, it is revealed that the song, “Ya Got Trouble,” was originally spoken dialogue about the serious woes facing River City parents, but during the developmental process it was realized the words had a sound to it that was ideal for a “patter song,” so music was written to underscore the cadence.  

We also become aware that in “the original production (and the film), the School Board was played by the Buffalo Bills, the 1950 International Quartet Champions of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA).”

And, “Robert Preston claimed that he got the role of Harold Hill despite his limited singing range because, when he went to audition, they were having the men sing "Trouble." The producers felt it would be the most difficult song to sing, but with his acting background, it was the easy for Preston.”

As for the story, “the plot concerns con-man, Harold Hill, who poses as a boys' band organizer and leader, selling band instruments and uniforms to naive Midwestern townsfolk.  He promises to train the members of the new band.  Harold is no musician, however, and plans to skip town without giving any music lessons. Prim librarian and piano teacher Marian sees through him.  When Harold helps her younger brother overcome his lisp and social awkwardness, Madam Librarian changes her tune.  And, of course, as happens in all good musical comedy love stories, Marian falls in love and Harold risks being caught to win her hand. As the lights go out all are assured that the duo will live happily ever after.

Though pleasant, the Porthouse production is not without its flaws.

The strengths of the production, under the directorship of Terri Kent, are the enthusiastic large cast, the high quality of the musicianship under the baton of Jonathan Swoboda, the creative set by Nolan O’Dell, the quality of the sound as designed by Parker Strong, where the music and voice balance make for easy hearing of the lyrics, the high quality of singing voices, and some of the performances.

Thom Christopher Warren does a nice job of setting up Harold Hill.  Though he could have been a little more hard-sell in his con-man approach, he is charming enough to be believable as a sham salesman.  He has a good singing voice and his ability to do patter is excellent, as displayed in “Ya Got Trouble.”

Though there seems to be little emotional connection between her and Warren, Emma Sohlberg is properly uptight as Marian, the librarian.  Her “Goodnight, My Someone,” sung with adorable Mai Renard (Amaryllis) was charming.
 



Mason Henning does a nice turn as “bad boy” Tommy and the Quartet--Tim Culiver, Sam Johnson, Morgan Thomas-Mills and Jay White--were pitch-perfect.  Bernadette Hisey, as has come to be expected from this talented actress, was delightful as Mrs. Paroo.  Rohn Thomas nicely “phumphered” his way as Mayor Shinn.

The dancing, which was enthusiastic and creatively designed, lacked precision.  Maybe after the show runs for a while the movements will look less labored and more polished.

The show would have been aesthetically aided by era-correctly costumes.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “The Music Man” is a staple of the American musical theater genre.  It makes for a wonderful summer escape.  The Porthouse production is not without its flaws, but all in all, the end result is a pleasurable experience.

“Music Man” runs at Porthouse Theatre through August 11, 2019.  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to http://www.porthousetheatre.com/.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Nicely conceived "Chess" production enhances a weak script at Near West


Most musicals follow the tried and true pattern of being written in a format that it is expected to be examined and redone through a series of readings, rewrites, staged readings, rewrites, previews, more rewrites, and, if lucky, a full-staged production.  As the process continues the script and score are improved to attempt to ensure that they are well-integrated.

Unfortunately, from the developmental perspective, “Chess” was first a concept album, then there was an attempt to develop a stage musical.  This is not totally unusual.  Other shows, such as “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Evita” followed this format and did fairly well, but most shows, whose names you don’t know because they never “made it,” haven’t fared so well.

Why would a writing and producing team choose to break the mold, when the odds are against the venture being successful?  Usually it is because they don't have the capital to go through the usual process, so they figure that selling the album will raise the money to mount a production.

In the case of “Chess” the concept album was released in the autumn of 1984.  The recording was such a hit that, even when the show itself received such reviews as being described as "a suite of temper tantrums, [where] the characters ... yell at one another to rock music," and that "Chess” assaults the audience with a relentless barrage of scenes and numbers that are muscle-bound with self-importance," the West End production ran three years.  The same fate did not greet the much-altered US-version premiered on Broadway in 1988, which barely survived for two months.
 

The script tends to be contrived. The music may work well as a concert piece, but is not totally appropriate for a musical.  And the production was rudderless as illustrated by the fact that the first preview on the West End “ran 4 hours with a 90-minute intermission.” 

Opinions vary as to why the show was never a real hit.  The easiest description was that the book for the story line was never well-developed and the music /lyrics never fit smoothly into the story.  As such, in trying to make the show better, many different versions of the show have been put on over the years, featuring modified plots, different selections of music, and various casts of characters.
 

Though the musical plays out as a chess match, inspired by some of the political machinations surrounding the 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Championship competition, the script basically tells of a love triangle between two chess playing grandmasters and a woman who serves as a manager to one of the players but falls in love.  

Oh, if it were only that simple.  All sorts of other disparaging themes emerge including the Hungarian revolution against the Soviet Union, the personal eccentricity of the reclusive American chess aficionado, the Cold War political posturing between the US and Russia, the rocky marriage of the Russian chess player, and am attempt at political asylum, just to name a few of the side trips.


Despite the fact that the musical itself could never seem to settle on a single format that worked, the music from “Chess” composed by Benny Andersson and Björn of the pop group ABBA, (the same ABBA whose tunes are used in the juke box musical “Mamma Mia”) with lyrics by Ulvaeus and Tim Rice, has remained popular. 


“Tim Rice admitted that after the comparative failure of “Chess,” his all-time favorite, he became disillusioned with theatre." He commented, "It may sound arrogant, but “Chess” is as good as anything I've ever done. And maybe it costs too much brainpower for the average person to follow it."

Or, maybe if time had been spent developing a solid story and book before shoe-horning in pre-written songs that often have nothing to do with the plot, the result would have been different.

The question may well be raised as to why Near West Theatre chose to do “Chess.”  Maybe, part of the answer lies in the theatre’s mission.

“Near West Theatre builds loving relationships and engages diverse people in strengthening their sense of identity passion, and purpose, individually and in community through accessible, affordable and transformational theatre arts experiences.  Near West is an open and affirming organization.”

Though many of their shows are of high production quality, the organization’s social service mission, making sure that those who participate, on and off stage, are in a safe zone, are respected no matter their race, religion, ethnicity, body shape, sexual orientation or age, holds paramount. 

To carry out their inclusive nature shows tend to have large casts, putting Equity actors on stage is not a priority and human process is as important as theatrical product.   In addition, shows are often chosen to aid the mostly tween and teenagers to learn history and sociological lessons.  “Chess” does exactly that.

Near West’s production, under the direction of Kelcie Nicole Dugger, has some excellent, textured performances, e.g., Grant Bell (Anatoly Sergievsky) and Sarah Farris (Florence Vassy) both develop very believable personas and have excellent voices.  Unfortunately, others tend to posture and act rather than react, scream rather than develop intense emotions. 

Many of the chorus admirably stay in character, listening and reacting to the dialogue, while others draw attention to themselves, upstaging the speeches and song lyrics of the soloists through over-wrought gestures and over-done facial expressions. 

Scott Pyle’s musicians play well, though sometimes they get a little overly enthusiastic and drown out the vocals.

The interestingly designed choreography by Josh Landis insured that all the members of the chorus were given the chance to perform.

Todd Plone’s scenic design sets the correct moods, and were intensified by Adam Ditzel’s lighting.  Melody Walker and Lady Jen Ryan did an excellent job of designing period correct costumes.

(Side-comment:  Congrats to Trinidad Snider, a Near West Theatre alum, and one of the area’s premiere musical theater performers, on her appointment as NWT Artistic Director.)

 







Capsule judgment: “Chess” is not a well-conceived script.  The Near West Theatre’s production was, generally, more effective than the material.

" Chess" runs through August 4, 2019.  For tickets 216-961-6391or go to http://www.nearwesttheatre.org/tickets

Saturday, July 20, 2019


“Tom at the Farm,” now on stage at convergence continuum, unfolds with blurred boundaries between lust and brutality, truth and fiction.  It blends psychological-thriller elements as it moves toward an unsettling plunge into a nightmare of fear, intolerance and fantasy.


Written by Michel Marc Bouchard, a Canadian playwright, the 2011 script was adapted into film in 2013.
 

The tale centers on Tom.  Following the death of Guillame, his lover, who was killed in an accident, Tom goes from Montreal to the Quebec countryside for the funeral.  He knows little of the family, and they know nothing of him.

The late boyfriend’s mother thought Guillame had a girlfriend in the big city.  When happening upon Tom, who lets himself into their house, she’s displeased that it is not the “girlfriend” who is there to go to the funeral.
 

The mother is unaware of Guillame’s homosexuality, but it is not a secret to his older brother, who killed his sibling’s high school lover rather than let the word get out about their relationship.  Word, that, in this small religious town, would have been scandalous.

Francis, the brother, taunts and tortures Tom, while showing sexual interest.  The arrival of Guillame’s “girl-friend,” in an unexplainable plot twist, adds to the obtuseness of the story line.  The ending, which is out of right-field, adds yet another level of both intrigue and preposterousness to the tale.
   
The con con production is strong. The directing by Tom Kondilas fulfills the writer’s desires.  The acting is of high quality. 

Kudos to Mike Frye (Tom), Daniel McElhaney (Francis) and Madelyn Voltz (Sara) for nicely texturing their performances.  Laura Starnik is exceptional as Agatha, Guillame’s mother.

Be aware that the set, which consists of three different acting spaces, spreads the entire length of the acting space, making clear-seeing difficult for anyone except those who sit in the center section facing the stage. 

Capsule Judgment: “Tom at the Farm” fulfills the theatre’s mission of “expanding human imagination and extends the conventional boundaries of language, structure, space and performance.”  This is the kind of play with sexual overtones and the bizarre that turns on the typical con-con loyalist.  Overall, in spite of strong production, the play leaves us wanting since we don’t develop strong feelings of connection with any of the characters and the contrived nature of the plot.
 

“Tom at the Farm” runs through August 3, 2019, 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: Two by Pinter: “A Slight Ache” and “Landscape” (August 8-10) followed by “Shakespeare’s R&J,” a play set in a boys boarding school.  Four students discover a forbidden text of a Shakespeare play and secretly enact the script in a deluge of adolescent agitation, terror, and fierce desires that parallel their own lives.  (August 30-September 21, 2019)

Monday, July 15, 2019

Kids and choreography enhance MATILDA @ Beck Center



What do “James and the Giant Peach,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “George’s Marvelous Medicine” all have in common?  They were all written by Roald Dahl. 

The British author’s short stories, many of which were written for children, are known for their unexpected endings, dark comic mood, and villainous adult enemies of the child characters.

His 1988 “Matilda” has been adopted by Dennis Kelly, as a stage musical.  It has music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, and is now on stage at Beck Center. 

“Matilda The Musical” is the story of a 5-year-old girl with extraordinary powers.   She is the daughter of a self-centered father who calls her “boy” because he didn’t want a girl, and a ditzy mother whose life centers on dance contests and an infatuation with her Latino dance partner. Matilda finds refuge in books.  She reads the books and acts them out for the school’s librarian.
   
School is a nightmare for the child.  Between the students who resent her superior intellectual abilities and Miss Trunchbull, the hunchback sex-neutral head mistress who believes “Children are maggots,” her only refuge is her kind and caring teacher, Miss Honey and the school librarian.

We watch with pleasure as Matilda stands up against the adults in her world, and in doing so, discovers her own remarkable powers.

Matilda’s bravery teaches Miss Honey and her classmates an important lesson -- that even though life can be hard, “nobody but me is going to change my story” so “sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.”

The musical script is a compilation of various Matilda stories, which I found out from the adorable pre-tween brother and sister sitting behind me opening night.  They knew all the stories and delighted each other by whispering, “Do you know what is going to happen next?”  And, then, of course, relating the happenings.  Ah, the joys of children and children-oriented theater.

“Matlida The Musical” opened on the West End in London in 2011, winning the prestigious Olivier Award for best new musical in 2012.  The show won the 2013 award for best musical on Broadway, where the show ran for 1,555 performances.

Having seen both the London and Broadway productions, and not being particularly enamored by either, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by the Beck Center production. I enjoyed the nicely paced second act, the marvelous kids, and Martin Céspedes’ choreography.  



Nine-year-old Sophia Tsenekos was delightful as Matilda.  (She trades off the role with Ella Stec, who I did not see portray the role.)  Sophia lights up the stage whenever she appears.  This is a triple-threat little Thespian who can sing, dance and act at high levels.  Watch for her name to appear in local, and possibly national playbills.  Yes, she is that good!

Finn O’Hara captivates as the awkward Bruce.  His “eat the whole cake” scene was a total delight as were his physical education class hijinks.

Samantha Lucas has a fine singing voice and was totally realistic as Miss Honey.  Her “My House” was lovely.

Neda Spears shines as Mrs. Phelps, the librarian.  Her interplay with Matilda was endearing.

Grace Mackin delights as Lavendar, Matilda’s friend.

Portraying Miss Trunchbull, Trey Gilpin made the wise decision to tone-down the overacting which was present in both the London and Broadway productions.  The character is evil enough as-is and overdoing the role makes him ridiculous rather than pathetic. 

Timothy Allen’s Mr. Wormwood displayed the typical Brit bar-pub exaggeration.  His between-acts routine, however, needed better farcical timing.  Maybe even elimination as Americans don’t often understand or go in for that kind of “entertainment.” 

Olivia Billings and Joey Carmello were a big over-the-top, as the mother and Rudolpho, though their dancing, especially Carmello’s hip movements, were well-conceived.
   
The kids (both the young ones and the more mature variety) were universally outstanding.  They acted and sang with high quality results.  Their stage movement/dancing was very impressive. 

Choreographer Martin Céspedes proved once again that he has a knack for being able to get anyone to look like talented dancers.  He appears to be a master in difficult task of working with children.  I thought this show’s choreography was, in some ways, more impressive and creative than the professional productions I saw. 

Unfortunately, the decision was made for the cast to use British accents.  It’s hard enough for American ears to understand Brits who speak the language naturally.  But, with Beck’s terrible sound system, which makes echoes out of spoken and sung words, adding the accents made understanding the words almost impossible.  Thank goodness I had the kids behind me telling the tale, or I would have been totally lost.

(Side note:  Beck has spent a great deal of money on a projection system that has paid off in wonderful effects in not only this show, but in recent musicals.  Why the powers that be do not realize that good efforts is being under-mined with bad acoustics and a malfunctioning sound system is beyond comprehension!  (Don’t blame the sound people.  They do the best with what they have been given.)

Musical Director Larry Goodpaster honed his singers and musicians well, Trad Burns scenic designs enhanced the production as did Burns and Jason Taylor’s projections.

Huzzah to Scott Spence on directing his 100th show at the Beck Center.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Matilda The Musical” is the kind of show that many will like, especially kids who have read the book.  Wonderful performances by the kids in the cast and creative choreography make the show a pleasant sit, in spite of not being able to understand much of the dialogue due to the poor sound system and English accents.
   
“Matilda The Musical” is scheduled to run at Beck Center for the Arts through, 2019.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go online to http://www.beckcenter.org  

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Toxic Avenger--a slapstick, double entendre farcical delight at Blank Canvas


Blank Canvas has a niche audience.  They love slasher, off-the-wall, ridiculous plotted plays, especially musicals.

The nerdy group that calls this theatre their home away from home, will find “The Toxic Avenger” well within their scope. 

Yeah, this is “The Toxic Avenger,” the rock musical based on Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman’s 1984 cult-film about the attempt of a sweet young man to clean up a New Jersey town, with death-filled results.

The musical, written by Joe DiPietro (who was born in Teaneck, New Jersey and was responsible for “Memphis,” “All Shook Up” and “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”), with music by David Bryan, and lyrics by the same duo, contains songs with titles such as, “Get the Geek,” “Kick Your Ass,” “Thank God She’s Blind” and the ever popular, “Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore.”  Really!  (Could I make this up?)

If you are not a regular BC attender, before you come to the conclusion that “The Toxic Avenger” is a definite “do not see,” be aware that it’s impossible for anyone with a sense of humor, who likes outrageous slapstick, cross-dressing, soft rock music, and has an affinity for the bizarre, not to enjoy themselves. 

So, what’s all the fun about? 

Once upon a time in Tromaville, New Jersey, there was a corrupt Mayor-lady (who resembles former-Governor Chris Christy in many ways), who with her henchmen (bullies, mobsters and crooked politicians) controlled the city and used it as their personal piggybank, caring little for the environment or the population. 

In the same town was Melvin Ferd the Third, a geeky aspiring scientist, who loves Sarah, the blind librarian.  Melvin wants to clean up the town’s toxic waste dump and also dump the mayor.  For his troubles he is thrown into a vat of sludge and comes out a hulking green monster named “Toxie.” 

Toxie becomes a superhero to many as he fights city hall and sleazy politicians and businessmen whose greed have made the correctly named Tromaville unfit for human inhabitation.   

In the process, the hysteria is flamed by the blind librarian tripping over every pebble and crack, men and women dressing in drag, lots of quick costume changes, and some bad puns.  Also on stage is a singing and dancing nun, water cannons squirting the audience, a splatter zone where audience members get sprayed with water and other substances and, of course, Toxie, running wild.  Oh, and there are some good zingers aimed at POTUS.

Add a wailing, but subtle rock score, several nice ballads, fun attempts at coordinated dancing, extended farce, and lots of slapstick, and you have “The Toxic Avenger.”

Patrick Ciamacco, the one-man crew at Blank Canvas--he directs, designs and builds sets, does special effects, makes the popcorn sold before and at intermission, while personally financing the whole shebang, adds to his chores for this show.  He admirably plays Toxie, the lead role.  The hulking hulk, he of green and molting skin and a hanging eyeball, has a powerful singing voice and great comic timing. 


For this production Ciamacco relinquishes the directorial reigns to Molly Claassen, who does a smash up job keeping the mayhem constantly moving and the creative juices flowing.  It is amazing to see what the BC thespians do with little space, littler money, “chutzpah,” and a lot of imagination. 

Musical Director Rachel Woods generally controls her players so that most of the dialogue and lyrics can be heard.

Noah Hrbek (White Dude) and Sydney Smith (Black Dudette) are a hoot as they change sexual orientations, accents and costumes with ease.  “Hey, waddya tink,” dis is ‘posed to be fun an’ dees two helps-uh-lot.”

Leslie Andrews, she of “zaftig” cleavage, makes the most of her assets (the physical and vocal ones) to create a nasty Mayor Babs.  She also hits the stage as Ma Ferd and the nun.  She even plays two people at once.  Talk about being multi-talented.

Pat Miller is adorable as the love-struck Melvin, a man with a mission to save New Jersey from itself.

Pretty Madeline Krucek stumbles around the stage as the blind Sarah, singing with a fine voice and nicely developing her role.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “The Toxic Avenger” isn’t great theater, but it is lots of fun for those inclined to enjoy the bizarre and are willing to laugh at the slapstick shticks that make this production a wonderful summer escape. 


 
“The Toxic Avenger “runs through July 25, 2019 at Blank Canvas, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.   For tickets and directions go to http://www.blankcanvastheatre.com/

Next up at Blank Canvas is “Lobby Hero,” which asks what happens when emotions come in conflict with principles.  The script was written by the 2017 Oscar-winning author of “Manchester by The Sea.”

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Emotional, humorous, heroic “Come From Away” is a must see at the Connor Palace



When I saw “Come From Away” on Broadway I was totally blown away!  As the lights faded on the last scene I shot out of my seat to give a standing, yelling salute.  Yes, me, the person who doesn’t believe in standing ovations unless the show is an A+ was totally “in” on awarding this exceptional musical drama and its immersing experience.

And, yes, I was on my feet again at the ending of the Key Bank Broadway version of the show, now on stage at the Connor Palace. 

“Come From Away” is from the new genre of musical dramas, that seamlessly integrates music and story together so that the spoken words and lyrics are one and the same. “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Next to Normal” are prime examples of this genre.  These musicals don’t have dance interludes.  The staging incorporates movement and what would normally be termed as dance, together.  No show stoppers here, just story telling.

“Come from Away” is a Canadian musical with book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. 

The musical, which is the result of visits by the authors to Newfoundland and numerous interviews with local and international participants, spotlights the true stories of the generosity and kindness of the people of Canada following the 9/11 tragic events as it relates to thousands of people of various nationalities and religions.


The action takes place on the island of Newfoundland — thousands of miles away from New York City’s World Trade Center, Washington D.C.’s Pentagon, and Pennsylvania’s Somerset County, where on that iconic day three terrorists hijacked and crashed planes, thus changing the course of modern world history.


The Federal Aviation Agency immediately closed the United States’ airspace following the attack and Canadian air traffic control stepped in to help planes coming to the US.


As part of “Operation Yellow Ribbon,” they landed 38 jumbo jets and four military flights at Newfoundland’s Gander International Airport — the nearest sizable available airport on the continent.
As a result of the detour, 6,759 passengers and airline crew members, plus 9 cats, 11 dogs, and a pair of endangered apes, arrived at the small northeastern town and nearly doubled its population of 9,651.


(To put the mind-boggling event in perspective, realize that Gander is about the physical size and population of Vermillion, Ohio!)


The musical drama opened to rave reviews when it was first produced at Sheridan College in Ontario, Canada.  It went on to record-breaking runs at four other venues in the United States and Canada before it opened in New York in 2017, to extremely positive critical reviews and resounding box office success.  The show has been playing to standing-room-only audiences on the Great White Way ever since.

The Key Bank Broadway touring show is meticulously directed by Broadway’s Christopher Ashley with creative staging by Kelly Devine and scenic design by Beowulf Boritt.  The staging centers use of just a dozen or so chairs, a couple of tables and a lot of imagination, creating visual depictions of airplanes, buses, a bar, a school, a skating rink and the great outdoors.

The compelling music for the tour is supervised by Ian Isendrath.

Starting with the powerful “Welcome to the Rock” through “38 Planes” and “I Am Here,” to “Me and the Sky” and “Stop the World” to “Somethings Missing” there is not one moment of let-down.  Humor, pathos, empathy and drama reign supreme.


The cast is universally outstanding.  Each takes on numerous roles, changing accents and personas, with ease and conviction.  Each gives a textured, believable performance, displaying humor and dramatic depth-of-character development.  


Special hurrahs to soloists Andrew Samonsky (“Prayer”), Danielle K. Thomas (“I Am Here”), Kevin Carolan (“Screech In”), Becky Gulsvig (“Me and the Sky”) and Chamblee Ferguson and Christine Toy Johnson (“Stop the World”).


Don’t plan to run for your vehicle at the conclusion.  The Canadian hoe-down that is part of the curtain call is, by itself, worth the price of admission.  (I dare you not to stomp, hoot and clap your way through that experience.)


CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Come From Away” is a special musical that creatively tells a heart-wrenching story of compassion, caring and a display of the best of humanity with humor and pathos.  It makes for one of those special moments in the theater.  The touring production is beyond excellent and is an absolutely must see!!  

 
 
“Come From Away” runs through July 28, 2019 as part of the Key Bank Broadway Series.  To purchase tickets, visit playhousesquare.org, call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Cannons, fireworks, a bird @ Blossom & previews of "different" upcoming events


Where can you sit in a covered amphitheater, with near-perfect acoustics, surrounded by the wonders of nature, be startled by cannon shots and see a wonderful fireworks show while listening to one of the greatest orchestras in the world?  The answer:  Blossom Musical Festival!

The venue’s July 5 and 6 program, RHAPSODY IN BLUE, showcased the extraordinary conducting skills of Roderick Cox and featured SYMPHONIC SUITE from “On the Waterfront,” RHAPSODY IN BLUE, the SUITE from THE FIREBIRD (1919 revision) and FESTIVAL OVERTURE:  THE YEAR 1812.

Written by Leonard Bernstein, the score for “On the Waterfront” has the gritty sounds of conflict and an intensity of tension.  It’s the world of prize fighters and dockworkers, the violence of gangs with the underbelly of a love story. 

Strains of Bernstein’s “On The Town” and “West Side Story” pepper the audience engaging score.

Handsome young conductor Roderick Cox became so physically engaged in the music to the degree that the intensity of score emanated from his tall muscled body.

RHAPSODY IN BLUE, a jazz-style concerto, a work for piano solo and jazz band plus strings, was beautifully interpreted by the orchestra and award-winning pianist Aaron Diehl, whose delicate touch and emotionally involving playing brought a deep depth of feeling to the piece. 

Barely caressing the keys, the light fingering of the difficult score, brought about strong audience response. He rewarded the assemblage’s extended standing ovation with a very seldom seen mid-concert encore.

Just before the piece started, a yelp from the stage and sudden movement revealed that a bird had tried to land on the shoulder of a violinist.  She jumped ,the bird tumbled to the ground, rolled to the lip of the stage, was quickly scooped up by a patron in the front row, eliciting cheers from the audience.  The quick thinker carried the avian over to an usher who gained more applause when he set the bird in flight.  Only at Blossom!

The program ended with the enthralling SUITE from the FIREBIRD, Igor Stravinsky’s ballet score, based on a Russian folk tale, which had been arranged as an orchestral suite to be performed without dancers.


The program ended with cannons firing, fireworks shooting into the air during and after Tchaikovsky’s FESTIVAL OVERTURE:  THE YEAR 1812, and the audience shrieking well-earned approval. 

Tchaikovsky once said of the piece, a musical commemoration of the victory of Russian forces over Napoleon at the gates of Moscow, “It will be loud.”  And he was absolutely right!  Loud, in the best sense of the word.

Capsule judgment:  Cleveland Orchestra’s July 5 and 6 concert was an encompassing delight.  The orchestra performed masterfully under the disciplined baton of Roderick Cox.  Aaron Diehl brilliantly interpreted Gershwin’s RHAPSODY IN BLUE and the cannons and fireworks ended an evening of memorable music.

ENTERTAINMENT OFF-THE-BEATEN PATH

Besides the more traditional theatres, there are offerings that should be considered for your summer enjoyment.  How about . . .

BLOSSOM MUSIC FESTIVAL
800-1141 or clevelandorchestra.com

SOUTH PACIFIC (August 25—8 PM) – Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic Broadway show presented in concert in collaboration with Baldwin Wallace University’s Music Theatre Program.  Performed by the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by Andy Einhorn and staged by Victoria Bussert.

CAIN PARK

FOR GOOD:  THE NEW GENERATION OF MUSCIALS, VOL.4 (July 17 Alma Theatre) -- In partnership with The Musical Theater Project--From the cutting edge BE MORE CHILL to the contemporary KINKY BOOTS, musicals produced since 2000 have awakened audiences to new possibilities for America's great art form.  Hosted by Nancy Maier and Sheri Gross the production features singers Bridie Carroll and Eric Fancher.

THE LAST FIVE YEARS (July 25-27 Alma Theatre) -- Jason Robert Brown’s classic musical about love, loss and the moments we wish we could do over. (Presented by The Passion Project.)

IMMERSIVE THEATRE

SHADOW OF THE RUN Chapter 1:  WanderLust (July 25-28 and Aug 1,3,4 show times begin at 6pm and starting every 20 mins with the last group starting at 10pm)

A 90-minute immersive experience in which audience members are put in the middle of the action where their experience is determined by the choices they make. With 19 Actors and only 14 audience members per show it's a very unique approach.
Takes place in and around historic downtown Bedford (meet at 50 South Park Street)
Length: 90 minutes.  Restrictions: 18+ (16+ if accompanied by a parent)
Note:  The performance takes place over multiple buildings that require standing, walking and use of staircases.
Cost: $40  Tickets must be purchased in advance online at www.shadowoftherun.com.  There will be no door sales.

CLEVELAND SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL
Free admission
For times and places go to http://www.cleveshakes.com

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (July 19-August 4) -- A respectable nobleman lives in the idyllic Italian town of Messina.  He shares his house with his lovely young daughter, his playful, clever niece, and his elderly brother. What ensues is Shakespeare at his creative best!

OHIO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL
Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens (outdoor performances)
714 N. Portage Path, Akron
ohioshakespearefestival.com or 1-888-718-4253 opt.1

MEASURE FOR MEASURE (July 26-August 11) -- Intrigues, disguises, and amorous plots propel this twisted, comedic adventure to its unexpected conclusion.

PORTHOUSE
On the grounds of Blossom
http://www.porthousetheatre.com or 330-929-4416 or 330-672-3884



THE MUSIC MAN (July 25-August 11)— The “Seventy-Six Trombones” musical story of a fast-talking salesman who arrives in River City, Iowa to con the townspeople and hurry off with their money, but he doesn't count on falling for the town librarian in the process.  (See this classic at Porthouse before its scheduled fall Broadway revival.)

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


TOM AT THE FARM (Jul 12-Aug 3) -- After the sudden death of his lover, Tom travels from the city to a remote farm for the funeral, and finds a religious family who know nothing of his existence. Tom is threatened by the deceased’s brother and is drawn into a brutal, sexually-charged game.