Monday, February 19, 2018

He’s Back…Andrew May returns in a shocker at GLT



When Great Lakes Theater Festival announced in June, 2009, that it’s Associate Artistic Director, Andrew May, was no longer going to be part of the company, many CLE theatre-goers were shocked. 

Yes, our Andrew May, who had been an artistic associate at Cleveland Play House, and starred in 40 productions, before moving down Euclid Avenue to be part of GLTF.  The multi-talented Andrew May, who played farce, comedy, drama and tragedy with equal skill.

May had no choice but to flee.  The divorced father of two teenagers needed a gig that payed a regular salary.  CLE had only two professional theatres at the time and he couldn’t make enough free-lancing to remain.  In addition, as May said in an interview, “I think it might be about time to take the next step in my career.  He continued, "It's a gamble to just suck it up and do it, move to New York or Los Angeles, but this whole stupid career is a gamble."

So, gamble he did.

He went out into the big wide scary world and achieved.  Maybe not to the degree he wanted.  He never became the leading Hollywood actor or a household name on Broadway, but he had a leading role in the touring production of the award-winning WAR HORSE, which, ironically, had a run in Cleveland. 

His film and television credits included "Big Love" for HBO, "Duet" and "227" for FOX, “Striking Distance,” Columbia Pictures, and "Shades of Gray" and "The Babe Ruth Story," both for NBC.  He received the Joseph Jefferson Citation in Chicago for his portrayal of William Shakespeare in "A Cry of Players."

But fortunately for locals, May has decided to return and is now starring in GLT’s “Misery.”  He will also will be in “Macbeth” in March, and word is out that he will also be around for the fall repertoire productions later this year. 

For the sake of his many fans, it is hoped that he will again become a regular on local stages.

As for “Misery,” it’s a psychological horror thriller based on Stephen King’s 1988 novel, which was made into a 1990 film credited with being one of the most recognized “scare” flicks of all time, and for which Kathy Bates won an Academy Award as best actress.

The book was also made into a London performed play and a “feel bad” musical.

The American stage production, by William Goldman, was performed in New York in 2015 as a limited run production.  It starred Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf and ran about four months.  Metcalf was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play, while Willis’s performance was termed by one Big Apple critic, as being “vacant.”

The story centers on Paul Sheldon, a noted writer of Victorian-era romance novels involving Misery Chastain. 

Sheldon, a man of habit, always finished his novels at a quaint, out-of-the-way inn in Colorado, smoking one cigarette and having a glass of Dom Perignon.

Unfortunately for Sheldon, he decides to take a drive, runs into a snow storm, loses control of his car and winds up in an off-the road crash.  He is “saved” by Annie Wilkes, a local who is the writer’s “number one fan.” 

One can only wonder if Wilkes forced him off the road so she could claim him to be her own, or whether it was an accident.

Whatever, Annie, a former nurse, pries open the car door, brings Sheldon back to her isolated home, sets his broken legs, plies him with pain killers, nurses him back to health and makes him a captive. 

When Annie finds out that Sheldon has killed off Misery Chastain, Annie’s favorite character in the just released book, she goes ballistic, demanding that he write a follow-up and bring Misery back to life. 

In the process of his confinement Sheldon realizes that psychotic Annie has no intention of letting him go.

What follows, which includes the famous crippling of Sheldon by a sludge-hammer wielding Annie, is an exciting ending which leaves the audience unnerved.

The acting quality of the GLT production, under the direction of Charles Fee, is outstanding.  Kathleen Pirkl Tague is deranged-perfect as the Annie.  You would not want to find yourself in a dark alley with Tague.  She is one crazy, scary, nut-case.  In other words, Tague is terrific!!

Nick Steen is believable as Buster, the local sheriff, who pays dearly for being too inquisitive.

It’s wonderful to see Andrew May on a local stage.  He is totally believable as the hobbled, pain-ridden Paul Sheldon.  He nicely textures the performance, even getting a few painful laughs in the process.  Welcome home Andrew!

The staging itself has some production issues.  Gage Williams’ set well fits the visual requirements of the story, but it creates practical issues.  One wonders how Sheldon manages to move from the upper to the lower level and visa-versa in a wheel chair.  Also, since we are told over and over about the vast amount of snow, the outside area of the house is void of any of the white stuff during the entire show.  As for the sound and lights…the sound of thunder is aptly terrifying, but lightning and thunder during a snowstorm?  The sound of the cars’ arrivals and exits are not consistent.  Then there is the questionable trajectory of the blood following the gun shot.

Capsule judgement:  In spite of some technical issues, “Misery” is well worth seeing!  The acting is of the highest level and it’s nice to see Andrew May on a CLE stage once again.
“Misery” runs through March 11, 2018 at the Hanna Theatre.  For tickets: 216-664-6064 or www.greatlakestheater.org

Saturday, February 17, 2018

“Sassy Mamas” -- laughs, laughs and more laughs @ Karamu



Sometimes theater is high drama.  At other times it’s for learning about history or philosophy.  “Sassy Mamas,” now on stage at Karamu, is on stage for one purpose only…to create outlandish laughter.  

If you are lucky enough to get a ticket to “Sassy Mamas,” yes, “lucky enough” because even though the show just opened, ducats are tough to obtain, you are in for a great time.

A sold-out house, mainly populated by African American women “of a certain age,” found much to entertain them.  From the first laugh, which hit about two lines into the show, until the screaming standing ovation ending, the ladies and the cast were part of a love/laugh in.

Celeste Bedford Walker’s script centers on three successful single friends who decide that, “why should males have all the fun.”

The trio are Jo Billie, a widow trying to break out of the doldrums after her husband, the love of her life, died; Wilhemina, a member of the President’s cabinet and a confirmed “single” (think Condoleezza Rice); and a divorcee, Mary, who was blind-sided by her husband leaving her for a younger woman.  Each is attractive and financially comfortable. 

They decide that maybe the “cougar” life might not be so bad.

Multi-award winning playwright, Celeste Bedford Walker, knows women, especially African American women.  She creates characters who are believable, not stereotypes, have emotional depth, and whom we love from start to finish.


Kimbely Sias is character-perfect as Jo Billie who covers up her grieving with wisecracks and sensuous moves.  Jeanne Madison nicely creates Wilhemina as a self-conceived ice cube who purportedly doesn’t need or want a man in her life.  Mary, Rebecca Morris’s alter-ego, is an up-tight-woman who has turned to HGTV buying as an emotional outlet for her reaction to her husband’s abandonment. 

These are three wonderful actresses who have a wonderful time playing wonderfully-written roles.

Walker matches each woman with a different kind of guy, adding to the fun.  


Jo Billie’s hunk of choice is LaDonte, with a body covered with tattoos, thrusting hips that make Elvis’s moves amateur by comparison, and is totally without scruples.  He’s perfect for a-renta-toy to use and throw away when he’s no longer needed.  The totally uninhibited Cameron Woods plays “sexy, sexy” with ease.  One of the audience of uninhibited audience-ladies wished out loud that she had a dollar to shove into his tight fitting jeans.  


Classy Wilhemina gets involved with Wes, a journalist assigned to do a story on her, who turns out to be charming, tall, dark and handsome.  When Michael Head, who plays Wes, appeared on stage shirtless, a steamed up woman sitting behind me bellowed, “That is one hunky piece of guy man,” to the delight of her high-fiving “gal” friends.


Up-tight Mary lights upon Colby, a gardener who has come to help her groom her African greenhouse garden.  Very young Bryon Tobin turned on the “mommy instincts” of the ladies in the audience, one of whom moaned, “That is one damn pretty child,” with the word pretty divided into five syllables, with the first held for a five count, followed by a “u-hmm.”


Yes, the audience was having fun!  (At times it was as much fun listening to the audience as the actors.)


Not only does Walker know her characters and her audience, and Karamu’s sassy mammas know how to ply their acting trade, but director Tony Sias knows how to pace a comedy, build hysteria through double takes and extended pauses, and tickle the audience’s funny bones.


Costumer Inda Blatch-Geib creates a fashion show of high fashion, African designed patterns, and marvelous hats.  Her set design of three different rooms also carries out her strong aesthetic talents.


CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Karamu’s “Sassy Mamas” has the right balance of laughs, pathos, visual excitement and empathy to delight.  It’s a fluffy romantic comedy that fully satisfies!  Huzzahs!
“Sassy Mamas” continues through March 4, 2018 at Karamu, 2355 East 89th Street, which has a fenced, lighted parking lot adjacent to the theatre, and provides free parking.  For ticket information call 216-795-7077.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

“RIVERDANCE 20” delights with its blend of dance, music, and telling of tales



Mention the name “Riverdance” and the general thought of many is Michael Flatley.  Yes, Flatley, the Irish dance champion and the theatrical show consisting of mainly Irish music and dance, are synonymous. 

Flatley and his partner, Jean Butler, were featured as an interval performance during the 1994 Eurovision contest and immediately became sensations. 

The seven-minute act became a full-length show with some signature elements.  Even today, 20 years later, most of the songs have not changed since that original production.  Once you’ve seen a staging, you will get an opening of a foggy stage and haunting flute solo, the telling of Irish tales, Gaelic musical interludes, and traditional Irish and international dancing. 

The show can be credited for transforming what was a chaste, reserved, traditional dance, with its own specific movement vocabulary, into an international favorite and identifiable performance form.

Rooted in baroque-influenced music, rock rhythms, Irish legends, and Irish “jig” dancing, the production has reached the level of being a legend.

No, Flatley is no longer a member of the show, having left in 1995 after a contract dispute.  Maybe because of that there have been some adjustments in the program, especially featuring more of the dancers, with less emphasis on it being a one-man show. 

The concert has become more international.  A Russian Folk Troupe, Flamenco soloist, and American Tappers are part of the goings-on.

In fact, the highlight of “Riverdance 20” was “Trading Taps,” a competition between two African American tappers and three of the company’s principle male dancers. 

Other audience favorites were “The Russian Dervish,” highlighted by high kicking Soviets and “American Wake,” a square dance with Irish dance steps.

Will you miss the flamboyant Flately?  Opening night the lead male dancer was handsome, charismatic Callum Spencer.  He danced with high proficiency and, as demonstrated by the screaming at curtain call, he won the admiration of the crowd.  His dance partner was the talented Maggie Darlington.

Capsule judgment: “Riverdance 20” is an innovative and exciting blend of dance, music, and telling of tales that well-deserves the large audiences flowing into the Key Bank State Theatre. 

The show runs through February 18.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org.

UPCOMING DANCE OFFERINGS IN THE CLEVELAND AREA

Dance Cleveland and Tri-C
March 17, 2018, 7:30 PM, Ohio Theatre
“Che Malambo,” 14 powerful Argentine Gauchos stomping, drumming and dancing.
Tickets:  Call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org


Danceworks 2018 @ Cleveland Public Theatre
Inlet Dance Theatre—April 10-12
Double-Edge Dance and Travesty Dance Group—April 17-19
Anateus Dance and Bones Performance Group-- April 24-26
Verb Ballet—May 1-3
Info:  http://www.cptonline.org/

Cleveland Ballet
“Alice in Wonderland”
May 11 (1 pm & 11 pm), May 12 (11 am)
Ohio Theatre
Tickets:  https://cleveland-ballet-alice-in-wonderland.ticketsw.com/?lbl=bing-ex

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Fascinating investigation of a world that many don’t know at Ensemble




The South Side of Chicago is noted for its gritty streets, drug dealers, drive by shootings and pressure for Black men and boys to not only protect their turf, but be “prideful” and not allow themselves to be slave to the ways of the “massa” (the white bosses).

Charles Smith, the Distinguished Professor of Playwriting at Ohio University, where he also heads the Professional Playwriting Program, writes gritty poetic language with a black man’s soul.

In “Jelly Belly,” Smith’s script which is in performance at Ensemble Theatre as part of Black History month, the author offers an “unremittingly bleak portrait of inner-city life and the enormous pressure on working-class black men to be gangstas.”


We meet Jelly Belly, the drug kingpin of the neighborhood, who is just out of jail.  He obviously doesn’t have much fear of returning to prison for his first task is to entice Kenny, a young man who was a former “salesman” to return to working for him.  The youth is caught between his hopes for prosperity through hard “legit”work and the opportunistic life of a drug pusher.


Jelly Belly also tries to convince Mike, a married man with a child, who has been working construction to “be a man” and not work to become a tool of the white establishment. 


Smith depicts his tale of complex issues in a single afternoon presented on a plain front porch.  He makes clear the difficult path of someone like Mike, with no education but lots of work experience, who has recently been passed over for a supervisor’s job by a young white college graduate.  A “boy” who Mike is going to have to train to do the job.


The production, under the steady hand of Ian Wolfgang Hinz, is well-cast and justifiably can be a shock to audience members who are not used to the everyday pressure of drugs, guns and the underbelly of society.

Greg White is properly slimy as Jelly Belly.  He makes the character easy to hate through his smooth presentation and confident ways.  White continues to impress as one of the area’s top actors.


Lashawn Little (Mike) gives a nicely textured performance as the family man whose wife and family have given him a reason to persevere against the pressures of his neighborhood and societal patterns.

Mary Francis Renee Miller is rock solid as Barbara, a no-nonsense woman whose purpose in life is to make a strong stand for family, husband and son.

Last year Jabri Little was selected by both the Cleveland Critic’s Circle and BroadwayWorld-Cleveland as a “RISING STAR” (a promising newcomer).  His portrayal of Kenny proves the critics were correct.  This is one talented young man.

Robert Hunter’s portrayal of the drug-zoned-out Bruce, brings laughter, laughter which brings tears as a symbol of everything bad that can happen to a black, uneducated man who has been manipulated into walking through life as a dead, worthless soul.

Walt Boswell’s simple set design works well.

Capsule judgment: The 90-minute play sends out chilling messages on the grim reality of drugs, guns, and the plight of the American Black man in the modern world. This is a production which commands to be seen!  It’s not a pleasant sit, but it is definitely one worth the effort!


“JELLY BELLY” runs through February 25, 2018 on Thursdays through Sundays at Ensemble’s Theatre, housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to http://www.ensemble-theatre.org

Ensemble’s next production is The 2018 Colombi New Play Festival, March 9-25, followed by “Angels in America Part Two:  Perestroika,” April 27-May 20.

“Boy” -- truth is stranger than fiction at none too fragile



Truth can often be stranger and more compelling than fiction.  Such is the case of David (Bruce) Reimer and his identical twin brother, Brian, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

In 1966 the boys were analyzed with a minor medical problem involving their urination.  A urologist decided that the best way to fix the issue of the eight-month boys would be circumcision.  He worked on David first.  The doctor botched the operation, accidentally cutting off virtually all of the boy’s penis.

Dr. John Money of Johns’ Hopkins University, a psychologist, sexologist and one of the world’s most recognized authors on sexual identity and biology of gender “believed a person’s gender identity was determined by an interaction between biological factors and upbringing.  That represented a break from past thinking, in which gender identity was largely believed to be caused only by biological factors.”

Money proposed to the Reimer family that they “bring David up a girl as, at that time, constructing a penis was almost impossible, but surgically, and with the aid of hormones and psychological treatment, Bruce as ‘Brenda,’ would live a “normal” life.”  It was planned that “Brenda” would never be told he had been biologically been born a male.

Money would work with the family, cover financial costs, and would be given rights to publish his findings. 

Bruce underwent an operation to surgically remove his testicles, and it was planned that later the “girl” would go through a procedure to create an artificial vagina. 

Money wrote a number of professional papers on how well the process was going.  However, “David’s case came to international attention in 1997 when an academic sexologist started to probe into what appeared to be some questionable conclusions.  Later research by others in the field brought even more questions about the “validity” of Money’s claims.  

In addition, reports of questionable ethical practices including Money’s encouraging “sexual rehearsal play” between Brenda and Brian emerged. 

The “John/Joan case,” as the situation would eventually be known, questioning sex reassignment and surgical reconstruction and Money’s methods and reported results, emerged.  It was determined that “Money was lying. He knew Brenda was never happy as a girl.”  

Academic sexologist, Milton Diamond, later reported that Bruce/Brenda's realization he was not a girl crystallized between the ages of 9 and 11, and he transitioned to living as a male at age 15.

On July 1, 2002, Brian was found dead from an overdose of antidepressants.  On May 4, 2004, David committed suicide by shooting himself.  “The boy’s parents stated that Money’s methodology was responsible for the deaths of both of their sons.”

Sounds like a tale which would make for a compelling play?  A production of “Boy” by Anna Ziegler, a fictionalized version of the tale, with names and some of the details altered, is now in production at none too fragile.

Ziegler’s play stays close to the surface.  The motivations of “Dr. Wendell Barnes” [paralleling Dr. John Money] are not well developed and give an impression that the man may have been a pedophile, which is not reality.  In addition, the parents seem to be so easily led by Barnes that they are almost unreal.  In spite of this the story holds interest.

Director Sean Derry has selected an excellent cast and keeps the action moving quickly along. 

Young David Lenahan (Adam/Samantha) masterfully develops the dual role…switching nicely between the male and female enactments, as well as the age progression.  It’s worth seeing the play just to see the emergence of this fine young actor.

Natalie Green is believable as Jenny, who eventually turns out to be adult- Adam’s girlfriend.  Marc Moritz nicely textures Dr. Barnes within the parameters of the author’s writing.  Pamela Harwood and Andrew Narten, again restricted by the script, do a good job of portraying the parents.

Capsule judgment:  The script is not as gripping as it might be.  In spite of that, the topic and the production are compelling.  For many, unaware of the true “Joan/John case,” the play probably seems like unreal fiction, but, in reality, the story on which Ziegler’s script was based is real…very real!  This is a production well-worth seeing.

Personal disclosure
:  While living in Baltimore in the early 1990s I was a counselor at a center whose mission was the evaluation, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental, emotional and behavioral health issues, specifically those dealing with “evaluation and treatment of sexual and gender identity concerns in children, adolescents and adults.” “Research and theory on the nature of human sexuality, love maps, sexual orientations and gender identities,” were a major part of the practice.  Some of the staff had worked with Dr. Money, were his former students, and he served as their mentor.  His influence hung heavy on the center.

For tickets for “Boy,” which runs through February 17, 2018, call 330-671-4563 or go to nonetoofragile.com

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Talent- filled “HAIR” rocks at Beck

  

In December, 1968, about 50 Lorain County Community College students flew to New York.  Some in the clean-scrubbed conservative group, coming from a campus void of political turmoil, had never traveled as far-a-field as downtown Cleveland.

The first play they saw on their Big Apple adventure was “Hair:  The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical.” 

Yes, “Hair,” the James Rado, Gerome Ragni, Galt MacDermot hippie, counterculture, sexual revolution musical that introduced rock and roll to Broadway, and shocked many theatre-goers with nudity, swearing, anti-Vietnam protest, sexuality, drug usage, and irreverence for the American flag. 

The students were seated in the first couple of rows of the theatre and received lots of attention from the young actors and were invited onto the stage for the “Be-In” finale, which found them dancing on a Broadway stage.

When the tour of the show came to Cleveland, some of the students were at the April 25, 1971 performance of the show when a bomb exploded in front of Cleveland's Hanna Theatre.  Yes, “Hair” was a controversial show.

“Hair” is often referred to as the ending bookend of the era known as the Golden Age of Broadway.  The first true book musical, “Oklahoma” (1943) set the format for what is known as the American Musical, and the Age of Aquarius musical (1968) ushered in major changes to that format, showcased by a racially integrated cast, taking on a serious topic, and adding rock music to the genre’s lexicon. 

The script was time-specific, furthering the concept that theatre is representative of the era from which it comes.  “Hair” is the 1960s, a time of political activity, flower children, drugs, long-haired hippies, bohemian life style, free love, tie-dyed shirts and polyester bell bottom pants, rebellion against tradition family values and conservative beliefs, and the preaching of making love/not war. 

“Hair” tells the tale of friends Claude, Berger and Sheila and their “tribe” as they struggle to balance their youthful lives, with rebellion against the Vietnamese War and draft conscription.  It is also a reflection of the tidal waves of change that were ripping the country apart.

Even the theatrical staging was a change from tradition with caffolds to climb, nudity, breaking of the third wall with cast members flowing over the apron of the stage to interact with the audience, and dance and sing down the aisles.  A Be-In with cast and audience dancing together on and off-stage were nightly occurrences.  This was definitely not “Oklahoma,” “My Fair Lady,” or “Annie Get Your Gun.”

The score was eclectic and electric.  “Aquarius” placed the “world” in a dream-like/flower power state.  “Sodomy” gave words to free love. “Hashish” introduced the topic of drugs.  “Colored Spade,” Black Boys” and “White Boys” put black oppression front and center.  “Hare Krishna” assaulted western organized religion.  “Where Do I Go” showcases the angst of growing up in the era.  “The War” shocks reality, while “Good Morning Sunshine” opens new paths. And, on and on, it goes…selling its ideas, confronting realities, challenging what was, and making a case for what might be.

The Beck Center/Baldwin Wallace Music Theatre Program production, is vital, dynamic, and has talent overload. 

It is well directed by Victoria Bussert. 

Choreographer Martin Céspedes wisely has the large cast mostly moving, rather than doing complex coordinated choreography.  His visual creations fit the music and create the desired effects.  It’s so exciting to see real dancers on stage, well instructed.

The vocalizations are outstanding.  The chorus sounds full and engulfing.  Impressive is that the entire cast stayed in character throughout the production, creating the needed reality.

Sam Columbus (Woof) nails “Sodomy,” Chandler Smith (Claude) plays “Manchester, England” for appropriate tongue-in-cheek laughs.  He, Olivia Kaufmann (Sheila), Veronica Otim (Dionne) and the chorus put the right emotion into “Eyes Look Your Last.” MacKenzie Wright (Jeanie) nicely interprets “Air,” singing meanings not just words.  Courtney Hausman (Crissy) is “geek” delightful in her rendition of “Frank Mills.”

At times there are some strays from the show being era correct. “Fu*k Trump,” “Black Lives Matter,” “No Way Sanctuary,” and “Build Kindness Not Walls” signs, videos and chants may be an attempt to make the issues, issues of today, but modernization is not the purpose of “Hair.”  The high-energy music interpretation, more 2018 than 1960, sometimes takes over and sets a jumping up and down, rather than an intense, flower power rock sound.  Not using 60s clothing and hair styles distracts, but aren’t major issues.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT See “Hair?”  Of course! The overall effect will leave you “Walking on Air,” asking “What a Piece of Work is Man!” and cause you to exit humming, “I Believe in Love.”  Bravo!

“Hair” is scheduled to run at Beck Center for the Arts through February 25, 2018.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go online to http://www.beckcenter.org  




Saturday, February 10, 2018

Charming “Love Letters” @ Theatre in the Circle



What happens when you present a charming script and add two of Cleveland’s most beloved actors?  You get five sold out houses and calls with attempted bribes to get in the door.

The play, A. R. Gurney’s “Love Letters.”  The performers, Cleveland’s first lady of the theater, Dorothy Silver and much lauded and awarded actor, George Roth.

Oh, what a special night it was!

George Roth sits at a desk.  Beside him, Dorothy Silver sits at a companion desk.  They are seated in front of a large, beautifully painted canvas of what looks like a wealthy, refined woman, in the recently redecorated ballroom in the Judson Manor, home of Theatre in the Circle, where Mark and Bill Corcoran’s  Theatre in the Circle performs.

They read letters written by Andrew Makepeace Ladd III (Roth) and Melissa Gardner (Silver), wealthy and positioned childhood friends.  Their lifelong correspondence began with required birthday party thank-you notes and then summer camp postcards.  Their parents thought they were likely candidates for a life-long romantic commitment.

Through many years we follow the duo through boarding school and college years.  Andy goes off to Yale and great success.  Melissa flunks out of a series of private schools.  Alex goes off to war.  Melissa marries, but Andy still remains as her first and only real love. 

He marries, becomes a lawyer.  She becomes a semi-successful artist.  The letters continue.  He gets involved in politics.  She gets divorced and becomes estranged from her children and turns to alcohol.  She and Andy have a brief affair, but it’s too late for either of them to commit to one another.     

“Andy's last letter, written to her mother after Melissa's untimely death, makes it eloquently clear how much they really meant and gave to each other over the years—physically apart, perhaps, but spiritually as close as only true lovers can be.”

This is a unique piece of theater.  As the author states, “it needs no theatre, no lengthy rehearsal, no special set, no memorization of lines, and no commitment from its two actors beyond the night of performance."

Capsule judgement:  Silver and Roth are spirited, evocative, humorous, touching, and, of course brilliant in milking meaning for Gurney’s words and grabbing and holding the audience’s attention.  If you didn’t get a chance to experience this special evening of “must see” theater, it’s a shame!
“Love Letters’ played from February 8-11, 2018 at Judson Manor in Cleveland.






 


Next up at Theatre in the Circle:  ”Nunsense A-Men:  The little Sisters of Hoboken grow a pair,” from May 10-13, 2018 (Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 and Saturday and Sunday at 2).  For tickets go to theatreinthecircle.com or call 216-282-9424.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

“Celebrating Black History” by Verb Ballets a study of two choreographic styles


Verb Ballets chose to highlight two young Black choreographers for its “Celebrating Black History” recent program at the Breen Center before a near sold-out performance.

Using the same company of dancers, Antonio Brown, Cleveland native and former Cleveland School of the Arts student was paired with Tommie-Waheed Evans to create the program.  Though none of the selections was particularly Black in story or music, the evening did show a difference in choreographic styles.

“Continuum (2011)” and “Passing By (2012),” both created by Brown, were upbeat, high energy pieces, danced to the choreographer’s remix, with lighting by Trad A Burns.  Both were like abstract modern paintings, had no unifying themes, storyline or a consistent dance vocabulary.  The dancers were constantly moving with energetic explosions.  Because of the pace, the performers were not always in sync, lines were sometimes staggered and movements not always precise.  The overall effect was acceptable, but not exceptional.

Evans’ pieces, both theme centered, were coherent and audience pleasing.  “Surge, Capacity, Force (2017)” based on the cry “But why, I just want to be here,” offered “a reflection on the human dimensions and increasing complexity of national security, including the physical and psychological borders we create, protect and cross in its name.” 

Evens created a vocabulary of modern dance, superimposed on balletic and gymnastic movements which translated into a dynamic explosion of creative yet disciplined movement, danced to patriotic and folk music and a webfeed of spoken words.

“Dark Matter,” the program’s highlight, told the philosophical ode of “love is not so much lost when it was never found for it to be love you must be willing to fight for it and not let it pass you by otherwise it is just a fantasy a yearning of your heart for what you’re not ready to grasp for.” 

A powerful piece, with disciplined moves, with compelling effects created by Trad A Burns lighting, it brought the audience to its feet for an extended curtain call.  Especially appreciated was the dynamic solo dancing of Omar Humphrey.

Next up for Verb:
“Havana Nights,” Friday, April 20, 2018, a benefit gala celebrating the company’s return from its residency in Cuba. 

“Spring Series,” April 27, 2018, 8 PM, E.J. Thomas Hall, Akron University.

“Dance Works 2018,” May 17-19, 2018, 7:30pm, Cleveland Public Theatre

For information and tickets go to:  verbballets.org or call 216-397-3757.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

“Merrily” proves a flop can become a hit @ Lakeland Civic Theatre


In its initial run on Broadway, Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along” was met with negative reactions.  Fortunately, that hasn’t discouraged some theatrical artistic directors to shun producing the musical.  A case in point is Lakeland Civic Theatre’s staging the script with wonderful results.

 “Merrily We Roll Along” is a musical adaptation of legendary George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s comedy of the same name.   The book is by George Furth and the lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the same duo who gave us “Company.”

The story centers around Franklin Shepard, a talented composer of Broadway musicals, who, through egotism, greed, and a series of bad choices in relationships, has abandoned his friends and profession to become a shallow Hollywood producer.

The musical, like the play, is presented in a backwards order.  This initially confused many a critic and audience member.  The score also uses the unusual device of the chorus singing reprises of the title song to transition the scenes (and remind us of the year of the segment).  The musical sound of these reprises mirrors the moods of Shepard’s life, a creative device which some construed as making the song redundant and over-used. 

After 52 preview performances, the Broadway show ran only 16 performances, thus creating one of few Sondheim “flops.”

The initial production had problems from the start.  The cast consisted of unknown teenagers with little performance experience. Changes in the choreographer, the leading man, moving back of the opening night and the backward to forward plot line resulted in audience members walking out and bad reviews.

The story of the problems encountered in the original production is related in a documentary, “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened.” It is directed by Lonny Price, who played a major role in the original musical.

Fortunately, for local audiences, Lakeland director, Martin Friedman, a Sondheim expert and devotee, has chosen a talented cast and staged an engaging production.

Handsome Eric Fancher charms as Franklin.  His strong vocalizations and effective acting make the character live.  Trey Gilpin gives the right balance to his portrayal of Charley, Franklin’s best friend and writing partner.  He does comedy and “put-upon” with nice ease and balance.  Amiee Collier, Franklin and Charley’s closet female friend, is convincing as a woman with a life-long crush on Franklin. In spite of becoming a successful writer, she turns to alcohol as an escape from her emotionally pain from unrequited love.

Highlight musical numbers include “Old Friends,” “Franklin Shepard, Inc.,” and such classics as “Not a Day Goes By,” “Good Thing Going” and “Our Time.”

From Austin Kilpatrick’s setting, consisting of a back wall of crumpled sheets of play scripts and movable set pieces, to lighting designer Adam Ditzel’s mood setting lighting, to Jordan Cooper’s musical direction, almost everything works.  The exceptions are the uncreative choreography and confusing costume designs where some performers wear the same clothing during all the transitional years, while others are in and out of numerous costumes.

Capsule judgment:  It may have been a flop on Broadway, but “Merrily We Roll Along” is a hit at Lakeland Civic Theatre.  It’s definitely a must see!!!

“Merrily We Roll Along” runs Friday and Saturdays at 7:30 and 2 on Sundays through February 18 at Lakeland Community College, 7700 Clocktower Drive, Kirtland. For tickets call 440-525-7134.  (The college is only 10 minutes from the 90-271 split and worth the short drive!)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Fascinating “How to End Poverty” @ Cleveland Public Theatre


One of the purposes of theater is to educate.  Another is to get the audience involved psychologically in the process.  The ultimate end of many theatrical experiences is for the attenders to leave with a new understanding of life and to carry that message out of the theatre.

“How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes (with 199 People You May or May Not Know),” which recently ended a four performance run at Cleveland Public Theatre, was educational theatre at its best.

The “End Poverty” production was created after a year of research and community-partner-building.  Its first presentation was in May 2013 at Northwestern University.   Productions have been presented around the country and over $40,000 has been given to community-specific poverty reduction programs.

As the program’s website states, “This is not a play; it is not a lecture; it is not an interactive workshop; it is not a physical theatre piece; it is not a public conversation.”

It goes on to say, “Most significantly, it’s an opportunity to challenge a different audience every show with the question: how do you attack the problem of poverty in America, with a lens specifically focused on your community? Over the course of 90 minutes, the audience will listen, explore and ultimately choose how to spend $1,000 cash from ticket sales sitting onstage at each performance. The show is an experiment in dialogue, in collective decision-making, in shared responsibility, and in the potential for art to help us make our world a better place. It is spectacularly eclectic in form, often delightful and occasionally uncomfortable.”

If you had the opportunity to give $1000 to an agency which satisfies the daily needs of its clients, works for system change, or is involved in the field of education, helps making new opportunities or gives direct financial aid, which would you chose.  That was the task of the 199 other people who I worked with had as its goal.

We spent an hour and a half, hearing from legislatures, community workers, those in need.  We observed short skits acting out the needs of people, heard statistics on where the needs were, listened to appeals, investigated which local areas were the hardest hit.  Then, after discussing our thoughts with our “team mates,” who included the county commissioner, the Artistic Director of the Cleveland Play House, the minister for religious services for the county jails, several college professors, local performers, lawyers, a newspaper reporter and some who identified themselves as “average citizens,” we made our individual decisions.



With our five dollars in hand, we told our group leader on which clothes line to hang our bills.  After all the money was attached by clothespins, the money was counted, and our night, Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, which provides permanent supportive housing, transitional housing treatment, housing vouchers and apartment searching to homeless men, received that night’s money.

Our drive home was filled with a lively discussion about what we learned, how the experience had opened out eyes, how wonderful if sociology, community planning and civics classes could be taught with a method such as this theatrical experience a truly practical life-educational experience.

Capsule judgement: If Cleveland Public Theatre ever brings “How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes (with 199 People You May or May Not Know),” back, and they should, make every effort to participate in this theatrical extraordinary learning experience.

Next up at CPT:   You are invited into the live studio audience of the World Premiere of Leila Buck’s “American Dreams,” where you will decide which of three contestants will receive the ultimate prize: citizenship in “the greatest nation on earth.” Weaving playful audience engagement with up-to-the-moment questions about immigration and more, this participatory performance explores how we navigate between fear, security, and freedom; who and what we choose to believe—and how those choices come to shape who we are.  (February 08, 2018 - March 03, 2018 7:00pm, Thu/Fri/Sat/Mon, James Levin Theatre. Previews February 8 – 10 & 15--No show February 12).   For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

CPH’s “Marie and Rosetta,” points the spotlight on future-inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame


When Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s name appeared on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ballot, there were many who thought, Sister who?  Little did those not familiar with the history of the genre, know that “she was wailing on the guitar before Chuck Berry, shouting call and response before Little Richard, and swaying rhythmically to the music long before Elvis shook his hips.”  In fact, Elvis may have learned his slim hip swiveling from the Sister Rosetta’s pelvis thrusts.

For the uninformed, the swinging gospel music and fierce guitar playing Sister Rosetta was a 1930s and 40s veritable legend who sang gospel music in the morning and performed swing music for the white audiences at the famous Cotton Club in New York’s Harlem.  She justly deserved her selection to this year’s Rock and Roll Museum class as one of rock ‘n’ roll’s earliest icons.

Cleveland Heights’ award winning playwright, George Brant’s “Marie and Rosetta,” now on stage at Cleveland Play House, takes us to 1946 Mississippi where Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Miche Braden) has “plucked prim and proper Marie Knight (Chaz Hodges) from a small-time quartet to join her comeback tour.” 

In their first rehearsal together, which makes up the sum of the 90-minute without intermission show, we find that Marie isn’t as innocent as she looks—she is married, has two children and is older than her teenage image.  We also learn of Rosetta’s life stories and her failed marriages to men she refers to as “squirrels.” 

Why are they rehearsing in a Black-run funeral home surrounded by a number of caskets draped in Rosetta’s costumes, and the place they will sleep after the concert?  This is the segregated South, where Black performers, no matter their status in the music world, are not welcome in public accommodations.  As Sister states, “We step off stage and got to disappear.”  Yes, Whites will flock to their shows, but won’t treat them as equals.

Brant lets us in the on the secrets and life of a woman of firm faith, but who finds it acceptable to shake her abundant hips, spout earthy humor, and make fun of her chief rival, Mahalia Jackson.

She gradually brings the “holier than thou,” rule-bound Marie around to start whaling on the piano and let loose of her rigid body.

Rosetta entertains with “This Train,” a traditional African American gospel song, “I Looked Down the Line (and I Wondered),” another gospel song.”  Marie sings the spiritual, “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)? And Mahalia Jackson’s anthem, “Peace in the Valley.”  Their numerous duets include, “Rock Me,” “Lord, Search My Heart,” “Four or Five Times,” and “Strange Things Happening Every Day.”

Though interesting in content, and filled with humor, the script often bogs down in repeated themes, and lots of talk and limited action.  Part of this is the writing, part Neil Pepe’s static direction. 

Rosetta doesn’t work the audience and display her dynamic presence.  Since she doesn’t actually play the guitar (the sounds are masterfully produced backstage by KJ Denhert) Braden is angled on stage faking the guitar riffs, confining what would be her sexual and dynamic movements.

Chaz Hodges (Marie Knight) doesn’t play her instrument either (her alter-ego is Katreese Barnes, who is off-stage playing a mean piano), adding to the pseudo musical effect of really talented people portraying, rather than being the performers.  One must wonder why, with the vast number of talented performers available in this country, the casting directors couldn’t find two actresses who can fulfil the total requirements of the roles.

In addition, though Miche Braden is a wonderful actress and singer, Miss Knight had some vocal issues on opening night, though she was believable in her acting.

Brandt pulls an abrupt plot switch near the end of the play, which brings the tale to a conclusion, but the transition into that ending was so rapid, it may have slipped past the awareness of the viewer and somewhat leaves the ending unnerving.  (No more here...it would be unfair to future viewers to reveal the conclusion.)

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: George Brant’s “Marie and Rosetta” exposes the personality and vast talent of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, which is a service to the woman and a public which may have been unaware of her effect on the music industry.  Though the play is interesting, and the music is dynamic, it is also a little static in language and staging. 
“Marie and Rosetta” runs through February 11, 2018 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

Next up at CPH: February 17-March 11, 2018.  Ayad Akhtar’s “The Invisible Hand,” a suspenseful narrative in which an American banker specializing in the Pakistani market is kidnapped by Islamic revolutionaries.

Monday, January 22, 2018

GRUPO CORPO leaves them standing at the Ohio Theatre; area dance previews


From the moment patrons entered the lobby of the Ohio Theatre, they knew they were in for a “different” evening of dance.  The Tri-C Jazz group was loudly playing as an invitation to GRUPO CORPO, the world respected Brazilian 
Body Group,” which has created its own theatrical language and choreography.

The dance company is noted for bridging nature and culture, highlighting “all facets of Brazil, past and future, erudite and popular, foreign influence and local color and the urban and the suburban into art.  Brazilian art.”

Founded in 1975 by Paulo Pederneiras, he became the driving force behind the company’s success.  A glance at the program shows the strong Pederneiras influence.  Paulo is Artistic Director, Rodrigo is the choreographer, Pedro is the technical director and Gabriel is the technical coordinator.

The Dance Cleveland/Cuyahoga Community College co-sponsored performance consisted of two pieces, the 32-minute “suíte branca” and the 42-minute “dançe sinfônica.”

Each program segment was made up of mini-units highlighting the company’s erudite repertoire and unique dance vocabulary, combining classical technique with a contemporary interpretation of Brazilian dance forms.

The over-arching concept of the company is clearly seen as each dancer’s physical shape and presence is unique.  In contrast to many dance companies, no body- type dominates, no race stands out, diversity reigns. Each individual form is an instrument to be played in its own way.

The synchronization of movements, body bends, high kicks, same and opposite gender partnering, waves, gymnastics, kips, rolling across the stage, enmeshing, stepping over other dancers, sensual hip movements, unusual lifts, and flailing hands are all incorporated into the moves which parallel the musical sounds.  Humor and high drama are present.
 



“suíte branca” found the company found the company dressed in all white, on a white floor and cyclorama.  “dançe sinfônica” was highlighted by the women in scarlet while the men were in black.  They danced before a wall of over a thousand informal photographic snapshots made into a backdrop panel, establishing the over-arching mood for the piece.

The effect of the choreography, dancing, setting and music was emotionally moving.  This is an exciting company with a clear mission to expand the world of Brazilian dancing to be more than the expected Samba, and to combine traditional story-telling and Brazilian history with contemporary moves. 
 

Capsule judgment: “Viva,” (hurray) “admirável,” (marvelous) and a “ovaçäo de pé” (standing ovation) to Grupo Corpo!   Dance Cleveland’s Pam Young chased after the company for ten years until she got them to come to Cleveland.  It was worth the effort.

Next up for Dance Cleveland and Tri-C is CHE MALAMBO, 14 powerful Argentine Gauchos stomping, drumming and dancing on March 17, 2018, 7:30 PM, Ohio Theatre.

DANCE OFFERINGS IN THE CLEVELAND AREA

Verb Ballets

“Celebrating Black History Month”
February 3, 2018—8 pm
Breen Center, 2008 W. 30th St., Cleveland
Tickets:  https://www.verbballets.org/blackhistory/

Danceworks 2018


Inlet Dance Theatre—April 10-12
Double-Edge Dance and Travesty Dance Group—April 17-19
Anateus Dance and Bones Performance Group-- April 24-26
Verb Ballet—May 1-3

Info:  http://www.cptonline.org/

Cleveland Ballet

“Alice in Wonderland”
May 11 (1 pm & 11 pm)
May 12 (11 am)
Ohio Theatre
Tickets:  https://cleveland-ballet-alice-in-wonderland.ticketsw.com/?lbl=bing-ex

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Compelling “Grounded” @ Dobama

 

An unnamed woman (Anjanette Hall), in an Air Force jump suit, confidently stalks the stage telling us, with eyes flashing and intense verbalizations, the thrill she gets from being in the blue, flying missions over enemy territory, and getting together after her missions with the guys to “throw back a few.”  This is obviously a person who is excited about life, as she is living it.

Thus starts Cleveland Heights’ playwright George Brant’s award winning, one-woman show, “Grounded,” now in production at Dobama.   The script was previously given a local staged reading as part of Cleveland Play House’s Fringe Festival.

After the play’s opening exposition scene, we find that the woman falls in love with a man named Eric, gets pregnant, decides to keep the child in-spite of the Air Force rule that women pilots can’t fly while they are pregnant, moves with her family to Las Vegas where she has been reassigned to continue her career, not as a pilot of “real” planes, but of drones who hover over the enemy many miles away from the action. 

Yes, she has become a member of the “Chair Force, the Bermuda Triangle for fighter pilots, as no one ever comes back.”  A satirical, but fortuitous name.

Seated in a windowless trailer, isolated from almost everyone, she spends her time looking at a gray screen, occasionally finding a terrorist and blowing him up, many thousands of miles away. 

She is safe, no danger of crashing her plane or getting shot down, and comes home each night.  But, with the routine of long shifts, repeated similar family time, little personal contact with her former “comrades,” no “blue time,” and little self-fulfillment, our protagonist goes through serious personality changes.  Seemingly, her purpose for life is gone and she spirals out of control, with tragic results.

The play won the 2012 Smith Prize for works about American politics and asks questions about whether the advances in technology have positively or negatively affected the psychological well-being of our armed forces, whether the removal of being actively involved in the “purpose of war” has resulted in PTSD for some former combatants, whether there has to be a rethinking of who should be in the armed forces, and with the changed nature of war, are we more or less safe?

The pilot’s last speech is eerie and maybe scarily true, “You who watch me and think you are safe, know this, know that you are not safe.” 

Think this.  With a quick mood-swinging ego-centric President, who some psychologists declare to be mentally unstable, having access to the red button that could release nuclear missiles that could start World War III or destroy the world, how “safe” are we?

Dobama’s production, under the focused direction of Alice Reagan and the superb tour-de-force performance of Baldwin Wallace professor, Anjanette Hall, is compelling.  No time, during the 85-minute show, does Hall allow the audience’s attention to waver.

Tesia Dugan Benson’s aesthetically pleasing set, though it does little to actually create a visual base for much of the script, is well used by Hall.  Marcus Dana’s light design and Megan Cully’s sound help underscore and enhance the moods and transitions. 

Capsule judgement: “Grounded” is the kind of script and staging on which Dobama fulfills its goal of presenting the best contemporary plays in a professional production of the high quality.  Don Bianchi, the theater’s founder, would have been proud of this must-see production.

“Grounded” runs through February 11, 2018 at Dobama, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.

Next up: “The Effect” by Lucy Prebble.  The setting is a drugs-trial unit at Rauschen Pharmaceuticals, where volunteers are taking an experimental antidepressant called RLU37. A psychiatrist is tracking their behavior, but we in the audience are the ones really keeping watch and being watched.  March 2-25, 2018.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Pulitzer Prize winning “Angels in America, Part 1” is compelling at Ensemble



On February 23, the Broadway previews for Tony’s Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, “Angels in America:  A Gay Fantasia On National Themes,” which won 7 Tony Awards in its original production, will begin.  It will be directed by Marianne Elliott who was responsible for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time” and “War Horse,” and star Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane. 

Lucky you.  It is unnecessary to go to New York to see a production of this epic.  It is now running at Ensemble Theatre as part of their “We The People” 2017-2018 season.  The first segment, subtitled “Angels in America, Part One:  Millennium Approaches,” is running until January 28.  In April, “Angels in America, Part Two:  Perestroika,” will be staged at the theatre.

The play is thought-provoking, character-driven, and complex. 

Centering on church and societal attitudes toward homosexuality, AIDS in America in the 1980s, psychological illness, relationships, political power and supernatural beings (angels and ghosts), it has metaphorical overtones while probing real issues, real people (e.g., Roy Cohen, the legal counsel for the McCarthy Un-American Activities committee) and unnerving ideas.

Set in New York City at the end of October, 1985, the story basically centers on a gay couple (Prior Walter and Louis Ironson) who seem to have a solid relationship until Prior is diagnosed with AIDS.  In panic, Louis abandons Prior. Also showcased are Mormons Joseph Pitt, a closeted homosexual and his wife Harper, who is paranoid and agoraphobic.   Joseph is encouraged by Roy Cohn, a political heavy-weight, to take a position in the Justice Department.  Cohn’s offer is not without purpose, as he expects Joseph to protect him from possible recriminations for bribery and legal manipulation. 

In a state of delusion, Prior begins to receive “visits” from a pair of ghosts who claim to be his own ancestors, and hears an angelic voice telling him to prepare for her arrival.  Meanwhile, Harper retreats into a drug-fueled escapist fantasy, including a dream where she and Prior meet, even though the two of them have never met in the real world.  Joe begins an affair with Louis.

Though he contends he is not gay, but does admits to having sex with men, Cohn is diagnosed with AIDS.  He says he is suffering from cancer, and uses his political connections to get a supply of the newly discovered, experimental drug AZT.  In his delirium he is confronted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, who, along with her husband, were convicted of espionage when Cohn was the prosecutor at their trial.

The Ensemble production, under the adept direction of Celeste Cosentino, is excellent.  

Scott Esposito gives a sensitive portrayal as Prior Walter.  Esposito has the ability to play gay men (e.g., “The Normal Heart”) with sensitivity and no hint of making the character “fey” and false.  He is, he doesn’t act.

Broadwayworld.com and Cleveland Critics Circle acclaimed performer, Jeffrey Grover, creates a clear picture of the egotistical, nasty, manipulative Roy Cohn, as man who is easy to hate.

Craig Joseph’s Louis Ironson is a “schlemiel,” without a backbone or principals, who can’t cope when a situation becomes difficult.  Kelly Strand is properly pathetic as Harper Pitt and James Alexander Rankin, as Harper’s husband, Joe, nicely develops the character’s internal struggle to be true to his Mormon faith, while fighting his homosexuality.

Robert Hunter is excellent as Belize, Prior’s ex-lover and Cohn’s nurse. Inés Joris and Derdriu Ring are very effective in multiple roles.

Ian Hinz’s projection design helps give the visual emphasis needed to flesh out the story.  His set and light designs help create meaning, as do Hinz and Celeste Cosentino’s sound and music selections.

Capsule judgment:  Combine a brilliantly written play that has a compelling purpose, with an adept director, a well-conceived set, sound and lighting, and an excellent cast, and you have a first class theater experience.  Yes, it’s over three hours in length, but if you are interested in history, an exploration of social causes and fine staging, this is a must see!

“Angels in America, Part One, Millennium Approaches” runs January 5-January 28, 2018 on Thursdays through Sundays at Ensemble’s Theatre, housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to http://www.ensemble-theatre.org

Ensemble’s next production is Charles Smith’s “Jelly Belly, “a story of a convict returning from a brief prison stay to resume his position as the neighborhood kingpin.  It offers an unremittingly bleak portrait of inner-city life and the enormous pressure on working-class black men to be gangsters.”

Monday, January 08, 2018

The Musical Theatre Project presents “The Gershwins in Hollywood”


George and Ira Gershwin penned some of the best popular songs of the 1900s and many film hits including the Academy Award winning, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” and the classic, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”  Their Hollywood scores included the songs and underscoring for “Shall We Dance,” “A Damsel in Distress,” “The Goldwyn Follies” and “The Shocking Miss Pilgrim.”

Unfortunately, George Gershwin died of a brain tumor at age 38, leaving us to wonder what he might have composed. 

The Musical Theatre Project’s lecture-concert, “The Gershwins in Hollywood,” tells the story of George’s last years.

The program features Bill Rudman and Paul Ferguson, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, the Joe Hunter Trio, Vince Mastro and Treva Offutt.

Paul Ferguson, who is the Artistic Director of The Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, is a graduate of the University of Akron and Eastman School of Music.  He is a well-known trombonist who toured with Glenn Miller’s and Tommy Dorsey’s orchestras, playing classic swing arrangements from the 1930s and 40s.

Presently, Ferguson is the director of Jazz Studies at Case Western Reserve University, a position he has held since 1988.  He is an active composer and often plays in the pit when Broadway musicals come to Cleveland.

He has collaborated with The Musical Theatre Project for the past four years, including last year’s Cy Coleman tribute. 

He looks forward to doing the Gershwin program as he thinks that George, though not a jazz composer, “had jazz sensibilities.” 

The concert will also feature Vince Mastro, referred to as the “Dean of Cleveland vocalists” and singer, songwriter, actress, dancer, teacher, musical theater director and visual artist, Treva Offutt.

Performance and ticket information:
Playhouse Square, Hanna Theatre
Saturday, January 27, 2018 | 8:00 PM
Tickets available through Playhouse Square
Call:  216-241-6000
For more information or to purchase  tickets:  http://www.playhousesquare.org/
​


Temple-Tifereth Israel
Sunday, January 28, 2018 | 3:00 PM
Tickets available 24 hours a day through Brown Paper Tickets
To purchase tickets by phone:  1-800-838-3006
To purchase online, visit http://www.musicaltheaterproject.org/

Friday, January 05, 2018


THEATER AND DANCE PREVIEW—January 2018—Cleveland

Roy Berko

January in Cleveland is cold!  There are usually a limited number of theatre and dance events.  Right?  Cold, yes.  But, you may be surprised by the number of venues which have events.  Go!  Enjoy!

Rx
Sunday, Jan. 28 at 2 p.m.
Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage
2929 Richmond Road, Beachwood
Kate Fodor’s PHARMACOLOGY: THE NEXT FRONTIER! Testing a new drug that will make us happy to go to work. What could possibly go wrong?
(Designed to accompany the current museum exhibition Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews & Medicine in America.)

Tickets: 216 593-0575 or at www.maltzmuseum.org
(Your museum admission ($12.00 non-members) includes your ticket to the reading. Members are asked for a $6 donation.)
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Grupo Corpo
January 20 (7:30 p.m.) and January 21 (3 p.m.)
Ohio Theatre/Playhouse Square

DANCECleveland and Tri-C present the Brazilian sensational dance group, known for their “fizzy, high-voltage dance,” will perform “Suite Branca” and Dança Sinfônica.

Tickets:  Starting at $25, call 216-241-6000 or visit http://www.playhousesquare.org/
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MARIE AND ROSETTA
January 20-February11
Cleveland Play House
Check schedule for curtain times

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

Tickets:  216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org
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HOW TO END POVERTY IN 90 MINUTES

January 24-28 (7:30)
Cleveland Public Theatre

Over the course of 90 minutes, audiences list, explore and ultimately decide how to spend $1,000 from that evening’s box office sales.

Tickets:  216-631-2727 or go on line to http://www.cptonline.org/
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GROUNDED
January 19-30
Dobama

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

Tickets:  216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org
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ANGELS IN AMERICA PART ONE:  MILLENNIUM APPROACHES

January 5-25
Ensemble Theatre

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

Tickets:  216-321-2930 or http://www.ensemble-theatre/
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LOVE NEVER DIES
January 9-29
State Theatre/PlayhouseSquare

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, picks up the tale 10 years after the Phantom’s disappearance from the Paris Opera House and has escaped to New York where he lives in Coney Island.  Christine, who is now a famous opera singer, is lured to America by the Phantom in a last attempt to win her love.

Tickets:  216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org
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The Musical Theatre Project presents--THE GERSHWINS IN HOLLYWOOD
January 27—Hanna Theatre, 28—Temple Tifereth Israel

George and Ira penned some of the best popular songs of the decade. This is the story of George’s last years, capped by the brothers’ iconic “Love Is Here to Stay.”  Featuring Bill Rudman and Paul Ferguson, Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, the Joe Hunter Trio, Vince Mastro and Treva Offutt.

Tickets:  http://www.MusicalTheaterProject.org or 216-529-9411

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Entertaining “Champions of Magic” at Connor Palace



Say the words “magician” or “illusionist” and the names usually conjured are David Copperfield, Harry Houdini, Uri Geller, Doug Henning, David Blaine, and The Amazing Johnathan.  These are entertainers noted for tricks and actions shrouded in secrecy and mystery.

“The secrets of the world's greatest magic tricks are known by few, revered by many, and shared by almost no one.”  The major goal of a proficient magician is to encourage the audience to ask, "how'd they do that?"

“Champions of Magic,” which is now on stage at the Connor Palace, is a troop of four Brits and an American (a woman), who are world class illusionists.  Their acts consist of mind reading, small scale illusions, disappearances, teleportation, spectacular lighting effects, pyrotechnics, exploding confetti and the on-going joke about red and green flashing lights.

No, they don’t make airplanes disappear, bend spoons through mental manipulation or escape from chains while submerged in water.  They do the usual stuff--saw a lovely lady in half, conjure up information, do card tricks, use audience members as willing subjects, and tell stories and jokes to entertain.

“Champions of Magic” appeared for the first time in October, 2013, and has since completed 5 UK tours and an extended run in London.  This fall they started a North American tour.  The show has been seen by over 250,000 people and received generally positive reviews.

The production features mostly original magic that was created or devised by the performers and production designers. The show is known for its production qualities including original music, a large lighting rig and pyrotechnic effects.

The first act contains lots of small illusions, lots of talking, and leaves the audience wanting more.  The second act, when they try to make their act bigger and more spectacular so they can appear in Las Vegas, hold most of the intriguing actions.

Worry not where you are seated.  A large television screen shows close-ups of the slight-of-hand and intricate illusions.

Capsule judgement:  Though “Champions of Magic” is billed as “a perfect show for the whole family,” it may not appeal to the younger ones.  A five-year old seated next to me several times said to her mother, “When is there going to be fun?” The older kids and adults seemed to be well-entertained and enthusiastic, but not ecstatic.

Due to ticket demand, the run of “Champions of Magic” has been extended to include a New Year’s Eve 7:30 pm and a Saturday, January 6, 3:00 pm show.
Tickets can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to www.playhousesquare.org.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

BWW-CLE Professional Theater Tributes--2017



Roy Berko
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)


Greater Cleveland is blessed with a vital theater scene.  It the purpose of BROADWAY WORLD.COM-CLEVELAND PROFESSIONAL THEATER TRIBUTES (BWW-CLE Theater Tributes), to recognize theatrical experiences that, in the subjective view of this reviewer, were excellent and deserve recognition.

Only shows performed in 2017 which I reviewed were considered.  With the exception of Outstanding National Touring Production, selections were limited to local professional presentations though actors, directors and technicians who were imported by local theatres for their productions were considered.  Actors are separated by gender, but not equity or lack of union affiliation, or leading or supporting roles. 

Designees are listed in alphabetical, not in rank order.
   
OUTSTANDING NON-MUSICAL PRODUCTIONS
EQUUS, Blank Canvas Theatre
HANDS TO GOD, Dobama Theatre
HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE, Cleveland Play House
HOW TO BE A RESPECTABLE JUNKIE, Dobama Theatre
MARJORIE PRIME, Dobama Theatre
SALVAGE, none-too-fragile
THE FLICK, Dobama Theatre
WELL, Ensemble Theatre

OUTSTANDING MUSICAL THEATER PRODUCTIONS

FLOYD COLLINS, Blank Canvas Theatre
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, Great Lakes Theater
NEWSIES, Porthouse Theatre
ROCK OF AGES, Cain Park Theatre
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, Lakeland Civic Theatre

OUTSTANDING DIRECTORS OF A NON-MUSICAL

Celeste Cosentino, WELL, Ensemble Theatre
Laura Kepley, HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE, Cleveland Play House
Mathew Wright, HAND TO GOD, Dobama Theatre
Nathan Motta, THE FLICK, Dobama Theatre
Pat Ciamacco, EQUUS, Blank Canvas Theatre
Sean Derry, SALVAGE, none-too-fragile
Shannon Sindelar, MARJORIE PRIME, Dobama Theatre

OUTSTANDING DIRECTORS OF A MUSICAL

Joanne May Hunkins, ROCK OF AGES, Cain Park Theater
Martin Friedman, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, Lakeland Civic
    Theatre
Pat Ciamacco, FLOYD COLLINS, Blank Canvas Theatre
Terri Kent, NEWSIES, Porthouse Theatre
Victoria Bussert, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, Great Lakes Theater

OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHY IN A THEATER PRODUCTION

Kevin D. Marr II, ROCK OF AGES, Cain Park Theater
Martin Céspedes (with Mary Sheridan), BRING IT ON:  THE MUSICAL, Beck
 Center/Baldwin Wallace University
MaryAnn Black, NEWSIES, Porthouse Theatre

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES BY A MALE IN A NON-MUSICAL

Abraham Adams, OCCUPATION DAD, Ensemble Theatre
Antonio DeJesus, EQUUS, Blank Canvas Theatre
Christopher M. Bohan, HOW TO BE A RESPECTABLE JUNKIE, Dobama
    Theatre
David Lenahan, IN THE CLOSET, convergence-continuum
David Peacock, A SKULL IN CONNEMARA, none-too-fragile
Gordon Hinchen, THE FLICK, Dobama Theatre
Luke Wehner, HANDS TO GOD, Dobama Theatre

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE IN A NON-MUSICAL
Derdriu Ring, SALVAGE, none-too-fragile
Dorothy Silver, MARJORIE PRIME, Dobama Theatre
Kelly Strand, SALVAGE, none-too-fragile
Laura Starnick, WELL, Ensemble Theatre
Lisa Louise Langford, brownsville song (b-side for tray), Dobama Theatre
Madeline Lambert, HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE, Cleveland Play House

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE IN A MUSICAL

Alex
Syiek, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, Great Lakes Theater
Corey Moch, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, Great Lakes Theater
Douglas F. Bailey, ROCK OF AGES, Cain Park Theatre
Michael Snider, FLOYD COLLINS, Blank Canvas Theatre
Shane Patrick O’Neill, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, Lakeland Civic
    Theatre

RISING STAR (PROMISING NEWCOMER)

Antonio DeJesus, EQUUS, Blank Canvas Theatre
Colin Frothingham, SHERLOCK HOLMES:  THE BAKER STREET
        IRREGULARS, Dobama Theatre
Jabri Little, brownsville song (b-side for tray), Dobama Theatre

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES BY A FEMALE IN A MUSICAL

Katelyn Cassidy, NEWSIES, Porthouse Theatre
Keri Rene Fuller, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, Great Lakes Theater
Trinidad Snider, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, Lakeland Civic
    Theatre

OUTSTANDING SCENIC DESIGN OF NON-MUSICALS or MUSICALS

Collette Pollard, HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE, Cleveland Play House
Cory Molner, IN THE CLOSET, convergence-continuum
Laura Carlson Tarantowski, brownsville song (b-side for tray), Dobama Theatre
Trad A Burns, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, Lakeland Civic Theatre
Wilson Chin, BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY, Cleveland Play House

OUTSTANDING MUSICAL DIRECTION

Jonathan Swoboda, NEWSIES, Porthouse Theatre
Jordan Cooper, ROCK OF AGES, Cain Park Theatre
Jordan Cooper, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, Lakeland Civic Theatre

OUTSTANDING SOUND DESIGN IN A NON-MUSICAL OR MUSICAL

Cyrus O. Taylor, brownsville song (b-side for tray), Dobama Theatre
Cyrus O. Taylor, HOW TO BE A RESPECTABLE JUNKIE, Dobama Theatre
Daniel Perelstein, THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, Cleveland Play House
Erick T. Lawson, MARJORIE PRIME, Dobama Theatre
Victoria Deiorio, BASKERVILLE, Cleveland Play House

OUTSTANDING COSTUME DESIGN IN A NON-MUSICAL OR MUSICAL

Aimee Kluiber, CITY OF ANGELS, Beck Center
Kim Krumm Sorenson, HAMLET, Great Lakes Theater
Lex Liang, BASKERVILLE, Cleveland Play House
Lex Liang, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, Cleveland Play House

OUTSTANDING LIGHTING DESIGN IN A NON-MUSICAL OR MUSICAL
Bryanna Bauman, WELL, Ensemble Theatre
Marcus Dana, brownsville song (b-side for tray), Dobama Theatre
Marcus Dana, HOW TO BE A RESPECTABLE JUNKIE, Dobama Theatre
Peter Maradudin, BASKERVILLE, Cleveland Play House
Rick Martin, HAMLET, Great Lakes Theater

OUTSTANDING ELECTRONIC MEDIA IN A NON-MUSICAL OR MUSICAL

Caite Hevner, HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE, Cleveland Play House
Pat Ciamacco, FLOYD COLLINS, Blank Canvas Theatre
T. Paul Lowry, brownsville song (b-side for tray), Dobama Theatre
T. Paul Lowry, THINGS AS THEY ARE, Playwrights Local

OUTSTANDING NATIONAL TOURING PRODUCTION

ON YOUR FEET, Playhouse Square
SOMETHING ROTTEN, Playhouse Square

LIFE TIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

Dorothy Silver for her years of leadership service to the Jewish Community Center and Karamu and many impressive performances in Cleveland area theatres and national films.

SPECIAL RECOGNITION


•Bill Rudman, Musical Theater Project, for bringing musical theater exposure and knowledge to a variety of audiences who might otherwise not become theater patrons.

•Faye Sholiton for stoking and keeping the ember of Jewish theater alive in the Cleveland area.

•Gina Vernaci for her persistence and creativity in making Play House Square a major national center for touring theater.

•Patrick Ciamacco (Blank Canvas), Sean Derry and Ilana Alanna Romansky (none –too-fragile), Clyde Simon (convergence-continuum), Greg Caeser (Caeser’s Forum) and Celeste Cosentino (Ensemble)--for being the financial and energy sources of “mom and pop” professional theater in Northeastern Ohio.

If any names are spelled incorrectly, or there are errors in identifications, please let me know so I can change the permanent record on www.royberko.info.

If you would like to read any of my reviews for the year, please go to www.royberko.info, enter the blog and click on “2017 Reviews” or click on the name of the producing theatre and scroll through their performances. Reviews from previous years may also be accessed.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The show runs two hours, with intermission.

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

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