Sunday, October 17, 2021

THE TEMPEST storms onto stage, bringing live performance back to Great Lakes Theater



THE TEMPEST, now on stage at Great Lakes Theatre, is thought to be Shakespeare’s last known play. 

The script almost defies classification as it contains both tragic and comic themes, as well as romance.  It explores many themes, including magic, betrayal, revenge, and family.

Twelve years after he and Miranda, his young daughter, were set adrift in exile, we find Prospero, a sorcerer, who was the Duke of Milan before his Kingdom was taken from him, living on an island with Miranda and his two servants—Caliban, a monster figure, and Ariel, a mischievous spirit.  

As in many of the Bard’s works, there is a storm and a vessel is shipwrecked. In this case, the storm is the creation of Prospero who sees his chance for revenge when those who sent him into exile are aboard the ship near his island.

The passengers are caught in the storm, and eventually were brought ashore by Ariel, included are Ferdinand (son to the Queen of Naples), a handsome young man, who eventually falls in love with Miranda, as well as Trinculo (the king’s jester) and Stephano (the king’s butler), Alonso (Queen of Naples), Sebastian (Alonso’s brother), Antonio (Prospero’s brother, the usurping Duke of Milan), and Gonzalo (an honest councilor). 

Prospero vows that once he achieves his goal of revenge, he will set Ariel free, and abandon his magic, saying:
     I’ll break my staff,
     Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
    And deeper than did ever plummet sound
     I’ll drown my book.

(Side note: Some Bard experts posit that the character of Prospero is the symbol of Shakespeare, and the character’s renunciation of magic signals the writer’s farewell to the stage.)

As is the case in Shakespearian comedies, there is a peaceful ending in which the sorcerer forgives his wrong-doers for past bad deeds.  As the group is ready to leaves the island, Ariel is told to provide good weather to guide the king's ship back to the royal fleet and then to Naples, where Ferdinand and Miranda will be married. After this, Ariel is set free. 
 
Traditionally, in an epilogue, Prospero requests that the audience set him free—with their applause.  In the GLT version, however, the director has omitted that action.
 
This is not the only alteration to the script.  Several roles usually portrayed by males are changed to female.
 
The GLT production is not as filled with outgoing slapstick and high drama as is normally the case with THE TEMPEST.  Maybe it was the long Covid-influenced layoff, but there was a seeming lack of concentration and bigger than life presence that the show requires. 
 
The farcical delight normally afforded by Trinculo and Stephano was not filled with the unbridled out-and-out slapstick, needed.  This is a shame, as those characters are written to be the comic escape from the tragic elements.
 
Aled Davies is properly Kingly and tortured as Prospero.  Joe Wegner was sprightly as Ariel, though a little more “Tinker Bell” would have added to the performance.  Nick Steen, in a counter-role for the actor who usually plays handsome leading men roles at GLT, was properly tortured as Caliban.  Pretty Angela Utera (Miranda) and dynamic Domonique Champion (Ferdinand) were charming as the young lovers.
 
The set design created by Efren Delgadillo, Jr. was overdone.  There were massive amounts of flowing parachute material, which not only enveloped the stage, but also the walls, the upper proscenium and stalls to the right and left of the stage.  It gave an overall illusion of massive ever-present oppressive clouds.  The attempt to imitate a Christo’s wrapping installation, did not work.
 
Rick Martin’s lighting designs helped add story-telling texture.
 
It is hard to figure out what effect Helen Q. Huang was trying to get with her “let’s go shopping at the local thrift store and find costumes as well as costume-pieces-parts which we can sew together.”  The cacophony of colors, styles and textures did little to set a meaningful visual tone.
 
Matthew Webb’s sound design and musical compositions enhanced the over-all effect.
 
CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  THE TEMPEST is not one of Shakespeare’s great plays, but, with the right production it can make for a positive classical theater experience.  Multi-award-winning Director Sara Bruner, who is a master of staging the Bard, unfortunately was not up to her usual superb level in guiding this production.
 
THE TEMPEST runs at The Hanna Theatre from October 15-November 7, 2021.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to GreatLakesTheater.org


Saturday, October 16, 2021

NEW BEGINNINGS @ Cleveland Orchestra 10/14 & 17, 2021



Appreciative audience welcomes Cleveland Orchestra back to Severance Music Center

 

Roy Berko

 

As I glanced around the gorgeous, newly renamed Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Concert Hall, in The Severance Music Center, my thoughts flashed back several years to a visit to New York City and a tour of Carnegie Hall.  

 

Upon entering the Stern Auditorium, the largest performance space of the prestigious entertainment mega center, a member of our group said, “This must be the most beautiful performance space in the country.”  Our tour guide, a typical outspoken New “Yawker” quickly said, “Nope, the best classically designed facility is Severance Hall in Cleveland.”  

 

Later in the tour, when the topic of best American orchestras was brought up, the guide stated, “The New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphonic are good, but the Cleveland Orchestra is better.”  

 

My goodness, we were in the presence of a Clevelandophile.  

 

Not only this docent, but The New York Times has declared “Cleveland [Orchestra] under Welser-Möst’s direction is America’s most brilliant orchestra.”  It went on to praise its “virtuosity, elegance of sound, variety of colors and chamber-like musical cohesion.”

 

Yes, there are many great music venues.  There are many fine orchestras.  A visit to the home and performance of “our” orchestra, only reenforces what a set of treasures CLE has.  How proud we should be of what this city’s philanthropists and citizens, and the on-going Boards of Directors, have created.

 

The return to a live performance program, “New Beginnings,” staged on October 14 and 17, just reinforced the orchestra’s masterful sound and ability to captivate an audience.

 

The program opened with Richard Strauss’s “Macbeth, Opus 23,” a tone poem based on Shakespeare’s tragedy.  

 

The epic sounding piece is credited with marking a turning point in Strauss’s career, was the first of his cannon of tone poems, and is considered to be the defining example of this type of music.

 

This playing was the first time that the orchestra has performed the powerful “Macbeth.”

 

The writing has a fascinating pattern.  Each major character is represented by a unique musical theme. King Duncan is signified by a striding musical sound.  “Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have their own themes that merge when their shared ambitions work to the same end.”   The swirling sounds of the duos demise is the piece’s climax.

 

This single movement composition was meticulously performed under the baton of Franz Welser-Möst, in his twentieth year of his much-praised tenure.

 

Joan Tower, the composer of “A New Day,” the second offering, was co-commissioned to write the piece by the Cleveland Orchestra for cellist Alisa Weilerstein.”  

 

Tower, who is credited with being a primary force in encouraging women classical composers says of the piece, which reflects on her marriage, “I realized that our long time together was getting shorter, becoming more and more precious with each new day.”

 

The composition’s four movements, each representing separate episodes in a day, runs about 25-minutes in length, and was being played for the first time before an audience.

 

After an encompassing first movement, the tonal contemporary sounds faded into two movements of rather static music, transitioning into a solid ending.  

 

Alisa Weilerstein, celloist ordinaire, clothed in a bright red gown, not only proved her musical skills, but also her showmanship.  Her facial expressions, both when she was playing or listening appreciatively to the orchestra, displayed animation, changing with the moods of the music.  She is deserving of her title as “one of the foremost cellists of our time.”

 

The piece ended with a standing ovation from the appreciative audience and three curtain calls for the orchestra, the composer, who was in attendance, and for the celloist.

 

Sergei Prokofiev’s “Symphony No. 5, in B-flat major, Opus 100,” is noted as “a personal reflection, showcasing the composer’s facility with melody and rhythmic invention.”  

 

The composer, though not considered as musically gifted as his fellow Russians, Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff, tends to write in more modern terms, often including sounds and melodic inventions not found in Russian or for that matter, other compositions of his time. 

 

Symphony No. 5 is tuneful, energetic and engaging.  There is a delightful quality to the composition that was evident in Welser-Möst’s energetic direction and the postures and facial expressions of the musicians.

 

During an intermission in the performance, Joela Jones, long-time primary keyboardist, who has announced her retirement, was awarded the Cleveland Orchestra Distinguished Service Award.

 

For information about future Cleveland Orchestra concerts and to purchase tickets go to:  

www.Clevelandorchestra.com

 

Be aware that everyone who enters Severance for concerts and events will be required to show proof of full Covid-19 vaccination.  Guests who are unable to be vaccinated or are ineligible will be required to provide proof of negative Covid PCR test taken within 72 hours of entry.  In addition, face masks are required.

 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Relevant MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM gets strong production at Karamu



August Wilson, the author of MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM, which is now in production at Karamu, America’s oldest African American producing theatre, is known as "theater's poet of Black America." 
 
Wilson is best noted for a series of ten plays, collectively called The Pittsburgh Cycle, which chronicle the experiences and heritage of the African-American community in the 20th century. Several of the plays in the series, including MA RAINEY, won Tony Awards.  

Written in 1982, the play is set in a recording studio in Chicago in 1920.  It deals with issues of race, the attitudes of Blacks regarding Whites, religion, and the historic exploitation of Black recording artists by white producers.
Ma Rainey was a real-life performer, known as “The Mother of the Blues.”  

Despite its title, which refers to one of Rainey’s signature songs, this is not a musical.  It is a play with incidental music.

“In a Chicago recording studio in 1927, Ma Rainey's band players Cutler, Toledo, Slow Drag, and Levee gather to record a new album of her songs. As they wait for her to arrive they tell stories, joke, philosophize, and argue. Tension is apparent between the young hot-headed trumpeter Levee, who dreams of having his own band, and veterans Cutler and Toledo.”  This tension culminates in a startling ending which mirrors the Black-Black self-destruction often seen on the streets of many major cities.

The Karamu production, under the direction of Justin Emeka, is framed by a wonderful set and era-correct costumes.
 
The cast is excellent.  
 
Jaris Owen is seething as Levee, a young trumpeter and composer, who mirrors the rage of the young black man, feeling he is being held back and psychologically abused by the white musical establishment, as well as by the “don’t make waves” older Black musicians.  His “rage” speeches and eventual acting out, vividly screams out as the voice of the real or perceived oppressed.
 
Cornell Hubert hits the right notes as Cutler, the older Black orchestra leader, brought up in the Negro-era of being subservient to the rules of White America.  He “shuffles” through life doing what he needs to do in order to not set off waves.
 
Christina Johnson presents a Ma Rainey who has learned that she has a talent that is needed by the White music producers, which gives her the ability to demand the Coca-Colas that she requires, sing the arrangements she wants, and drag along the entourage that she desires.  She both looks and sings like the living legend.
 
The show’s missing element is the use of recorded music rather than having the on-stage actors play their instruments.
 
Capsule judgment:  MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM is a well-written, well-performed play, that grabs and holds the attention.  The author, August Wilson, as is his usual manner, brings a strong spotlight onto the plight of the Black population in America.  This is a production well worth seeing!  (Side-note:  The theatre is chilly.  Be advised to bring along a sweater or jacket.) 
 
Special notice:  Be aware that masks are to be worn at all times at Karamu, regardless of vaccination status.  Upon entry all patrons must show proof of vaccination reflecting 14-days since the second/final dose or evidence of a negative PCR molecular or antigen COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of arrival.
 
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM runs October 7-31, 2021 in the Jelliffe Theatre.  For tickets go to:  https://karamuhouse.secure.force.com/ticket/#/events/a0S5G00000IRrzsUAD

 



Saturday, October 09, 2021

Eye-opening THE EXONERATED contains an important message at Beck, but doesn’t make for compelling theater

 


 

The death penalty carries the inherent risk of executing an innocent person. 

 

Since 1973, more than 186 people who have been sentenced to death have been exonerated. 

 

Research by the National Academy of Science indicates that about 4.1% of the people currently on death row are likely to be innocent. 

 

EXONERATED, now in production at Beck Center for the Arts, is a docu-drama based on over forty interviews of wrongfully convicted death row inmates across the United States by the script’s authors, Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen.

 

Colleen Longshaw Jackson, the show’s director, says of the work, “What drew me to this piece was the opportunity to showcase human resilience with an honest glimpse of the consequences and lasting effects trauma can have on a person.”

 

Jackson also states, “As some of us commit or recommit to social justice causes across the country we are challenged to ‘Say Their Names’ and ‘Never Forget’ until [there is] justice. The lives of the exonerated in this piece matter as well so we say their names and tell their stories, and my hope is that the audience will be inspired to act in some way to make our country a more just and equitable place to be. There are innocent people still suffering. Still waiting.”

 

The message of the script is powerful and meaningful.  We hear of prejudice, police intimidation, the wrong-doer blaming the innocent, and arrest for convenience. The fact that we are hearing the words of real people who, for various reasons, were convicted, makes the concept even more powerful than a fictionalized tale. 

 

Each of the tales of the convicted holds its own message of wrongful conviction.  Each is a tale whose conclusions of the person being released from prison leads of feeling of wanting to cheer, to want to praise the organization, the lawyers, the lay people who helped open the prison door for the individual to return to society.   Return, but in no way get the years of lost freedom returned.  As the released persons indicate, they are not the same person they were before being incarcerated.

 

The literal telling of the individual tales, which is the strength of the piece, is the also play’s weakness.  Listening to people telling what happened to them is interesting, but doesn’t make for gripping theater.  There is little action, no visual texturing of experiences, just lots of words…undeniable words, but just words.  Ninety-minutes of this can make for a long sit.

 

That’s not to say that the many awards given to the piece are not deserved.  It can be conceived that such organizations as the NAACP, Amnesty International, the American Bar Association and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers gave their praise and recognition because of the subject matter, not for the compelling staging.

 

The cast, Stuart Hoffman, Amy Fritsche, Greg White, Isaiah Betts, Keith Kornajcik, John Polk, Samantha Cocco, Andrea Belser, Mell-Vonti Bowens and Abraham McNeil Adams, many of whom play several parts, are all strong.  A special nod to Amy Fritsche whose textured portrayal of Sunny, who while in jail missed out on watching her children grow-up and the death of her husband, was compelling.

 

One can only wonder if the director could have gone beyond the words of the script and created some action, whether physical, vocal or visual, that could have added some element of altering speech after speech after speech.

 

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  THE EXONERATED has a strong and important message.  It is one that anyone interested in civil justice should hear.  The docu-drama methodology of one speech following another relayed the idea, but didn’t make for compelling theater.

 

THE EXONERATED runs at Beck Center for the Arts from October 8-November 7, 2021.  For tickets call 216-521-2540X10 or go on line to beckcenter.org

 

Next up at Beck:  ELF THE MUSICAL (December 3, 2021-January 2, 2022)




Thursday, October 07, 2021

THE LION KING, a gentle roar, at State Theatre

 



THE LION KING, whose North American touring company, which recently opened in CLE’s Playhouse Square’s Key Bank State Theatre, has an enviable record.  It is the third longest running show in Broadway history, clocking a little over 9,300 curtain raisers.  Only THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (12,370) and the revival of CHICAGO (9,692) have had longer Great White way runs.

 

The Julie Taymor inspired stage show, she was the Broadway show’s director, costume and mask co-designer, has had over 25 global productions and is the only show in history to generate six worldwide productions running 15 or more years. It has been performed in eight different languages (Japanese, German, Korean, French, Dutch, Spanish, Mandarin and Portuguese), and its worldwide gross exceeds that of any film, Broadway show or other entertainment title in box office history.

 

The original production won six 1998 Tony Awards and has earned more than 70 major arts awards.  

 

The score features Elton John and Tim Rice’s songs from THE LION KING animated film along with three new songs and additional musical material.  The resulting sound is a fusion of Western popular music and the sounds and rhythms of Africa.

 

The touring production, which was rehearsed in CLE, after its pause for the pandemic, was staged by Julie Taymor, the first woman to win a Tony Award for Direction of a Musical.  She supervises new productions of the show around the world.

 

With all the amazing performers available, especially since the Covid epidemic closed all the professional shows, and are only now making a slow comeback, it would be expected that the casting directors could have found a crème-de-la-crème cast.  Unfortunately, this is not true.

 

South African, Gugwana Diamini, who has appeared in both stage and film versions of THE LION KING, shines as the storytelling Rafiki.  Ben Lipitz (Pumbaa, the warthog) and Nick Cordileone (Timon, the meerkat) delight.  Their “Hakuna Matata” is a show highlight.

 

Darian Sanders (Adult Simba) and Kayla Cyphers (Adult Nala) have fine singing voices, but develop shallow characterizations.  Their “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” was lovely.

 

In other major roles, Spencer Plachy (Scar), lacks the menace and venom to create the script’s fearsome villain.  (This may be the production’s way of cutting down the violence which could scare children who are a primary audience demographic.). 

 

Mufasa (the King of the Jungle) lacks the needed regalness and physical power.   

 

While somewhat humorous, the hyenas are lacking in the needed Three-Stooges farcical presence.

 

Taymor’s puppets, whose entrance as they march down the aisles and fill the stage to participate in the “Circle of Life” opening, are breathtaking.  The opening number has to be one of the most encompassing and joyous moments in any musical.

 

The score is multi-textured, the songs memorable, but, in this production, the power and pacing of the music often seemed almost lackadaisical.  

 

CAPSUAL JUDGEMENT:  With its stellar credentials one would expect the Playhouse Square’s production to be spectacular.  The sets, costumes, puppets, and special effects are.  Unfortunately, the quality performances and dynamics needed to make the performance shine, are often in short supply.  This is THE LION KING light…a gentle roar, compared to previous dynamic stagings.

 

THE LION KING runs at the Key Bank State Theatre from October 1-15, 2021.  For tickets and information go to playhousesquare.org or call 216-640-8800.

 

The next major theatrical presentation in Playhouse Square is THE PROM, part of the Key 

Bank Broadway Series, playing from November 2-21, 2021.  WICKED tours in December 8, 2021 through January 2, 2022.


Saturday, September 25, 2021

BROADWAY BOUND @ BECK CENTER FOR THE ARTS




A native New Yorker, Neil Simon is recognized as Broadway’s King of Comedy.  Following his very successful 1961 production of COME BLOW YOUR HORN, Simon’s name on a script basically meant instant box office sell-outs during the era from 1960-1980, the Great White Way’s era of comic plays.

 

Simon wrote more than 30 plays and a duplicate number of movie screen plays.  He has received more combined Oscar and Tony Award nominations than any other writer.  He was so respected that in 1983 he became the only living playwright to have a New York theatre named in his honor.

 

His litany of plays includes such titles as BAREFOOT IN THE PARKTHE ODD COUPLECOME BLOW YOUR HORNLOST IN YONKERS and THE GOODBYE GIRL, as well as the book for such musicals as PROMISES, PROMISESLITTLE MESWEET CHARITY, and THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG.

 

He wrote a trio of semi-autobiographical plays, dubbed the Eugene Trilogy, which includes BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRSBILOXI BLUES, and BROADWAY BOUND, in which the central character of each story is “Eugene,” non-other than Neil Simon, himself.  

 

BROADWAY BOUND, one of his most serious dramatic comedies, is now in production at Beck Center for the Arts. It opened on Broadway on December 4, 1986, and closed on September 25, 1988 after 756 performances. 

 

A New York reviewer said of the script, " BROADWAY BOUND contains some of its author's most accomplished writing to date – passages that dramatize the timeless, unresolvable bloodlettings of familial existence as well as the humorous conflicts one expects.” 

 

The story centers on the Jerome family of Brighton Beach, a Brooklyn, New York neighborhood, and sons Eugene and Stanley’s entrance into the professional world of comedy writing.

 

As is true of many of Simon’s works, the stories tend to be character, rather than plot centered.

Eugene Morris Jerome (Zach Palumbo) is the play’s narrator and central character.  He is a witty, 23-year-old, who works in the stock room of a music company. Eugene cares deeply about everyone in his family, especially for his parents, but that does not stop him from making fun of them in his first big comedy sketch.  

Stanley Jerome (Daniel Telford) is Eugene's neurotic and OCD 28-year older brother. The duo constantly bickers, especially when they are writing their comedy sketches.  

Ben Epstein (Tony and Obie award winner Austin Pendelton) is Stanley and Eugene’s grandfather.  A devoted Socialist, though still married, he lives with his daughter and her family. He is one of Stan and Eugene’s humor heroes and the subject of much of their comic writing.   

Kate Jerome (Susan Stein) values family, and familial experiences and items, especially the inherited dining room table.  She is loyal to her husband in spite of his infidelity.

Jack Jerome (Alan Safier) has had an off-again, on-again affair. He becomes outraged when the radio program his sons wrote turns out to sound eerily similar to their own family situation and, in a huff, leaves Kate.

Blanche Morton (Anne McEvoy), Kate's well-to-do sister, lives on Park Avenue and is determined to make her father move to Florida to live with his semi-estranged wife, whom he avoids speaking with. He, on the other hand, can only focus on Blanche's giving in to capitalist society.

Beck’s cast, under the astute direction of Willian Roudebush, is near perfection.  Though one might like to have the born and bred-Brooklynites have “New Yawk” accents, the characterizations are so clearly etched and true to Simon’s writing, that their mid-Western pronunciations can almost be over-looked.  (Something that can’t be overlooked is the program’s lack of identification of the date and place of action, as this is so very vital to the tone and understanding of the script.)

This is one of Simon’s most dramatic scripts, along with being very funny, and the cast so hits the right tone of seriousness that the farcical door slamming, comedy timing and dramatic realism all make for a special evening of theatre.

Chei DeVol’s set is outstanding.  The wall colors and designs, furniture, and knickknacks are all era correct, as are Betty Pitcher’s costumes.  The only technical flaw is the theatre’s ever-present sound problem.  Some laugh lines were lost due to the lack of vocal clarity.  It can only be hoped that someday the Beck Board of Directors will see fit to replace the disastrous system.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  Humorous with a serious underbelly, Beck’s BROADWAY BOUND is a perfect way to reenter the world of live theater.  The script is well written, the cast is outstanding, and, except for the problems with the sound system, this is a special evening of theater!

BROADWAY BOUND runs through October 3, 2021, in the newly renamed Senney Theater at the Beck Center for the Arts, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood.  For tickets go to beckcenter.org or call 216-521-2540 X10.


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Production exceeds quality of script at convergence-continuum


 

Clyde Simon, the artistic director and one-man-band who founded convergence-continuum, CLE’s Tremont-housed theatre, has an affinity for choosing challenging shows.  Scripts that no other local performance venue will stage.

 

Based on the theatre’s mission, “to produce theater that expands human imagination and extends the conventional boundaries of language, structure, space and performance, and producing plays and experiences that challenge the conventional notion of what theatre is,” Simon’s choices are appropriate.

 

His choices often make the theatre not a place for everyone.  

 

Worry not, as Con-con, as it is commonly called, has developed a loyal group of fringe theatre followers that generally fill the small venue.

 

The theatre’s present offering, Elizabeth Meriwether’s OLIVER PARKER! is “off-the-wall” enough to satisfy the Con-con groupies.

 

Elizabeth Meriwether is a contemporary playwright with a bent toward the absurd and jagged boundaries.  Absurd meaning “ridiculous, wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate.”  And, jagged boundaries, “alluding to having a harsh, rough, or irregular quality.”  Yes, the script is both absurd and jagged in its form and message.

 

Set in a squalid New York apartment, the script unfolds the tale of an unlikely and uncomfortable friendship between Jasper, an old-man unkempt alcoholic, and Oliver Parker, a socially awkward 17-year-old. 

 

Oliver comes from a wealthy and influential family that ignores him.  The boy pays for the apartment and everything else Jasper needs.  

 

Jasper has been part of Oliver's life since the boy was about ten.  

 

There is some alluding to his having been sexually molested as a child.  Was Jasper, who served as the family’s chauffer, the culprit?  The true clue to their relationship might be seen from Jasper’s buying the boy the self-help book, Just Breathe-How to Survive a History of Abuse

 

Jasper provides what Oliver needs in the form of some semblance of family, bizarre as it is. 

 

The script, which has a sitcomic tone, is harsh, rough, and irregular in quality and has few realistic moments.  

 

That the writing is sitcomic in tone is totally understandable since Elizabeth Meriwether is a television showrunner who created the Fox sitcom, New Girl. She also was responsible for writing the romantic comedy film No Strings Attached and the ABC Single Parents and Bless This Mess.   

 

Con-Con’s production, under the direction of Tom Kondilas, is well staged and effectively acted.  The cast keeps us involved, despite the weaknesses and absurdity of the script.

 

Clyde Simon is properly nasty and obnoxious as the frustrated Jasper, whose life has little, if any meaning.  

 

Emelio Fernandez is properly conflicted as a teenager with hopping hormones, no family guidance and a need for an emotional connection.  

 

Valeria Young almost makes Willa, a grieving politician attempting to cope with the recent death of her son, into a real person, in spite of having been stuck with trite speeches and contrived situations.

 

Amanda Rowe tries hard to overcome an undeveloped character.

 

Capsule Judgment:  One critic stated of OLIVER PARKER!, “Elizabeth Meriwether’s comedy combines the crass vulgarity that passes for wit in teen-aimed Hollywood movies with a well-worn stage cliché, the dark story of family dysfunction.”  I would add, “it gets a better production at Con-con than the script deserves.”

 

OLIVER PARKER! runs through September 11, 2021 at convergence-continuum, 2438 Scranton Road, Cleveland (in Tremont).  For tickets call 216-687-0074 or go to https://www.convergence-continuum.org

 

Next up:  White by James Ijames, Oct 8-30, directed by Cory Molner

Gus is an artist. Vanessa is an actress. Gus wants to be presented in a major exhibition for artists of color, so he hires Vanessa to perform as a brash and political artist that will fit the museum’s desire for “new voices.”  The play spins out of control as it explores issues of race, gender, sexuality, and art.

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Praise the Lord, dancing saves Altar Boyz @ Porthouse



What do GODSPELL, BOOK OF MORMON, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT and ALTAR BOYZ have in common?   Yes.  They are all musical theater scripts.  Yes. They all have a religious theme.  But, they are not all of the same quality.

 

GODSPELL has some marvelous songs, fine opportunities for solos, and an emotionally wrenching ending. BOOK OF MORMON is outrageously funny and has many catchy songs.  JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is powerful, with captivating music.  JOSEPH AND THE TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT is charming, has a captivating score and many hummable songs.  ALTAR BOYZ, unfortunately, has a mundane score and a trite, often corny script, and a preposterous ending.

 

ALTAR BOYS is a “comedy” with music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker and book by Kevin Del Aguila, centers on a fictitious Christian boy band from Ohio.  (There are lots of local references in the dialogue.)

 

It intends to satirize the phenomenon of boy bands and the popularity of Christian-themed music.

 

We are supposedly watching as the boyz, Matthew (Elijah Lee King), Mark (Brandon Schumacker), Luke (Evan Waggoner), Juan (Antonio Emerson Brown) and Abraham (Devin Pfeiffer), with some help from G.O.D. (Rohn Thomas), perform “Raise the Praise,” the group’s last concert.  

 

As they introduce themselves, through songs and sidebars, each establishes their unique “persona.”  Juan, the Hispanic (complete often with an embarrassing Latino accent), air-headed Luke who appears to have forgotten to take his ADD meds, Matthew, the group’s “stud” who gay Mark lusts after, and Abraham, the Jewish member of the group, wearing a large Star of David necklace, a Star of David yarmulka [skull cap], T-shirt with a Star of David on both the front and back (a little over-sell ya think).  

 

We learn of the group’s history and that their goal is to “cure” the burdened souls in the audience.  They do this via the “Soul Sensor DX-12,” a machine that detects sinners present.  Their goal is to reduce the number on the machine to zero at the end of the concert.

 

Of course, after harassing several audience members and singing such non-classics as “Rhythm in Me,” “Church Rulez,” “The Miracle Song,” and “La Vida Eternal” for two acts, we are led to believe that the true sinners are the boyz, themselves.  (I told you this was no DEAR EVAN HANSON or even JERSEY BOYS.)

 

Fortunately for the Porthouse audiences, the production team that gave us the theatre’s MAN OF LA MANCHA, steers this production.  Yes, the trio who staged LA MANCHA, one of the best musicals ever performed in the area, are here to save the day.  

 

The show is well staged by Terri Kent.

 

Though the individual voices do not produce the best solos, (one exception is Brandon Schumacker’s “Epiphany”) and they sometimes hit wrong notes, the sound blends are on-key and the orchestra not only plays well but underscores rather than drowning out the performers.  Thanks, musical director Jonathan Swoboda.    

 

Martin Céspedes, considered by many to be the area’s premiere choreographer, outdoes himself in this show.  He has incorporated signature dance styles from many Broadway shows and “borrowed” numerous boy band moves to take the show to the next level.  

 

An umbrella (SINGING IN THE RAIN), a puppet (CHICAGO), and a line dance with extended and clasped hands (FIDDLER ON THE ROOF) are just a few of the images the creative man has incorporated into what could have been a bland evening.  Throw in some hip hop and dance gymnastics, mix in a little Soul Train, and, you might forget the bad script and inane lyrics.  “You, the man, Martin!”  Halleluiah!

 

Ben Needham’s steel scaffold set with lots of crosses, including a large multi-colored lighted one slanted from the ceiling added the perfect disco-ball effect.  Jason Potts lighting design, Parker Strong’s sound design and Michelle Hunt Souza’s costumes all added the over-all effect.

 

Capsule Judgment: ALTAR BOYZ has a weak script and score, but in the hands of the competent Kent/Cespedes/Swoboda combo, the Porthouse production is more than the material deserves.  It’s worth the drive to the grounds at Blossom to see how to make a near “something” from a near “nothing.”

 

ALTAR BOYZ runs at Porthouse Theatre through August 15.  For performance information and tickets 330-672-3884 or go to www.porthousetheatre.com 

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