Saturday, June 27, 2015

A preview: DANCECleveland and Cain Park Co-Sponsor David Parsons Dance to Celebrate National Day of Dance

New York City based David Parsons Dance will kick off DANCECleveland’s 60th Anniversary Season with dancing for the whole family.  The summer performance, co–sponsored by DANCECleveland and Cain Park will
take place at Cain Park’s Evans Amphitheater on July 25 at 8 p.m.

Events on schedule for The National Day of Dance include picnic options,
wine tastings, free ballroom and line dance classes, and the chance to see local dance students perform before the show.

Advanced dancers over 16 years of age can participate in a free dance master class in the morning with David Parsons himself at 11 a.m. on the Evans Amphitheater stage. RSVP is required by emailing sarah@dancecleveland.org. Limited space is available.

Performance tickets range from $20- $25 and are now on sale at www.dancecleveland.org, or call 216-371-3000. Tickets can also be purchased in person at the Cain Park Ticket Office, or by visiting www.cainpark.com. Discounts for groups of five or more are also available by calling DANCECleveland at 216-991-9000. For more information on the David Parsons Dance, visit: http://www.parsonsdance.org

Abstract “The Train Play” confounds at convergence continuum

Liz Duffy Adams, whose play, “The Reckless Ruthless Brutal Charge Of It, or The Train Play” is now on stage at convergence continuum is noted for being an American abstract writer.  The word “abstract” may be the key to confronting “The Train Play.”

The play may well represent “the derailment of American dreams and apocalyptic nightmares,” as it was described by a San Francisco reviewer, or it may be, “a meditation on time, history and apocalyptic anxiety during an all-night journey to the end of the world,” as explained by another reviewer. 

Or, it might just be an attempt by the writer to convince intellectuals that she is actually saying something of great philosophical sense and purpose, when the whole effort is to try and duplicate the concept developed in television’s “Twilight Zone,” and tease the viewer into believing that what is being said is greatly profound, when, in fact it is nothing but a device to confound.  

So, what’s it all about?  We find ourselves observing a group of people entering and becoming seated on a train to some unannounced place.  The announcer abstractly and humorously, announces that we are about to go on a journey. 

We are in the company of Gabriel Angelfood, who appears to be a deranged young man who babbles incessantly about angels and other topics as he scribbles away in his notebook.

There is Leopard-Girl, a twelve-year old who goes through life reliving antics of comic book characters.  She seemingly believes that she can make herself invisible, freeze time, and look into the future.    There is a female Scientist who is running from something or escaping to something.

Paul is writing a travel book, and is also in a flight to or from.  Gaia is an older woman who is in a flight of fancy and trying to avoid the boredom in which she lives, and there are three Russian brothers who are touring the United States in search of something, who sing of their former lives.

Yes, these are lost souls who appear to be on an absurd journey, searching the cruel world, trying to “outrace their creative confusion, festering memories, delusions of grandeur, and dogged compulsions.”  They eventually confront a metaphorical apocalypse.   Sound abstract?  It is!  Sound like the work of a playwright who could have spent her time in a better pursuit?  It is!

The con-con production, under the guidance of Clyde Simon, gets what it can from the abstract script.  Wonder what would have happened if the director had overdone the acting and pushed a farcical approach.  Marcia Mandell, noted for doing ditzy women, is the comic relief of the production.  She has some wonderful over-blown moments as Gaia.  Maybe an entire cast of overblown characterizations would have at least made the play worth sitting through by infusing laughter into the goings on.

As is, Cody Zak was properly possessed as Gabriel Angelfood.  Sweating, red cheeked, mumbling to himself, he clearly displayed signs of both craziness and guilt.

Taylor Tucker, though a little to old to be playing a twelve-year old, effectively emerged herself into portraying characters from her fantasy comic book world.  

Lauren B. Smith was uptight as the Scientist.  Her sex scene with Beau Reinker (Sergei) was well done.

Tim Coles did a nice job of creating Paul, a man in conflict with himself and the world. 

The three Russians, Mikhail, Sergei and Dmitri are well played by Robert Branch, as the older and “wiser” brother, Beau Reinker as the cute, seductive, musical Sergei and Jack Matuszewski as the poet Dmitri, who has a nice make-out scene with Cody Zak (Gabriel Angelfood). 

Capsule Judgement:   “The Reckless Ruthless Brutal Charge Of It, Or The Train Play,” should appeal to con-con audiences who attend in their search for off-beat theatre.  If you are looking for a play with a message, it should be easy to use your imagination and conjure up a lesson to be learned from the abstractions and pseudo-philosophical pontifications which flow from the mouths of the actors. 
“The Reckless Ruthless Brutal Charge Of It, Or The Train Play,” runs through July  18 2015 at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Opinions differ on TRIASSIC PARQ THE MUSICAL at Blank Canvas

--> As I sat shaking my head in disbelief of what I was seeing and hearing on the Blank Canvas Theatre stage, those around me were howling with uncontrollable laughter.  What I was seeing was ridiculous, unbelievable, and basically poorly performed.  I’m not sure what was making my audience-mates laugh so hard,  but I heard one of the young ladies behind me confide that she had just wet her pants and then I got sprayed by a shower of beer that came forth from her companion’s nose as he exploded in laughter.

We are all being exposed to TRIASSIC PARQ, THE MUSICAL (“a musical 65 million years in the making”), winner of the best musical at the 2010 New York Fringe Festival.  That’s TRIASSIC PARQ, not JURASSIC PARK, the 1993 movie or its 2015 sequel. 

We had been told at the start of this epic that the authors of the musical, (book and lyrics by Marshall Palet, Bryce Norbitz and Steve Wargo), even though this story, as does the movie, takes place at a theme park centering on dinosaurs, they  couldn’t use the “other name” because they would get sued. 

Believe me, from my perspective, the developers of the musical could well be sued for unusual and cruel punishment to my psyche and fractured ear drums, but, that’s just my opinion.  An opinion obviously not shared by most of the rest of the audience.  Maybe it’s a generational thing.  “They” were all in their upper-teens and twenties, not a gray head in the place.  I, on the other hand, was around when the dinosaurs roamed the earth.

The advance billing indicates that TRIASSIC PARQ follows a group of cloned dinosaurs as they unearth the very foundations of their existence.  Morality, faith, science, gender identity, and interspecies fornication are all explored, and sung about by the narrator who talks of love, loss, and resurrected reptiles.  The only thing missing from that explanation is the indication that right before our eyes two of the female dinosaurs grew penises, and there is lots of high decibel rock music blaring and simplistically rhyming lyrics sung at full volume, often off-key. (Music by Marshall Palet).

Why the blaring music had to be amplified in the tiny Blank Canvas Theatre, I’ll never know.  It overrides the singing voices, so the actors could be intoning nonsense syllables, for all the meaning that they projected.

It’s the next day, and my ears are still ringing.  My daughter, an audiologist, is ministering to more and more twenty and thirty year-olds who are basically deaf due to attending loud concerts and blasting their iPods into their fragile ear area, and going to venues like this that think more volume is better.

The show tells the story of the film JURRASIC PARK from the stand point of the dinosaurs.  As one of the authors states, "It is completely bonkers. We all know what happened to the humans in the movie, but in TRIASSIC PARQ we find out what the dinosaurs in the movie were so pissed off about."  The “what” behind the dinosaur revolt is spontaneous sex change.  The author continues, “It’s not supposed to be a parody. It's a genuine attempt to create a parallel story about science, faith and acceptance with anthropomorphized singing-and-dancing dinosaurs in a glam/punk rock setting.”

We are informed that the dinosaurs in the Parq were created all female so they wouldn’t breed, but do have a small percentage of frog DNA which means they can switch gender.  Suddenly, the Parq’s inhabitants become confused when a T. rex develops a mysterious new front appendage and a strong compulsion to mate with young velociraptor.  From here on, all hell breaks loose as dinosaur’s try to escape, are killed, and mate.  (I swear.  I couldn’t make this stuff up.)

The Blank Canvas cast works exceedingly hard.  The fact that the theatre only has three rows which wrap around the thrust stage allows for up-close and personal views of the sweat flowing off the performers.  The voices go all the way from Kate Leigh Michalski’s full blown diva power to several cast members who are constantly vocally flat.  The highpoint numbers are ‘Love Me As A Friend,’ by Michalski (T-Rex 1) and Neely Gevaart (T-Rex 2), and the rap number “Science” intoned by Eryn Reynolds.

The acting, like the singing ranges from excellent to bland.  Michael Crowley did a nice job as the narrator. 

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: As evidenced by the response of the audience present when I saw the production, it’s obvious that director, Pat Ciamacco succeeded in pulling out all the shticks to make this absurdity work.  His targeted audience of young, hip, lovers of off-beat stuff should love TRIASSIC PARQ.  The rest of us will have to try and remember what it was like to be young and naïve about what good story plots with music that backed up, rather than drowned out the singers, and singers who sang lyrics that helped move the plot along, were all about.

Blank Canvas’s  TRIASSIC PARQ runs through June 27, 2015 in its west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.  Get directions to the theatre on the website.  (My GPS was of little help).  Once you arrive at the site, go around the first building to find the entrance and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space.  It’s an adventurous battle. For tickets and directions go to www.blankcanvasthetre.com

Blank Canvas’s next show is Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN, the script that many believe is the greatest of all American plays.  Ciamacco has assured me that this production will be true to the author’s intent and purpose.

“Prepare Ye”--Updated musical arrangements and script ,“All for the Best” in Cain Park’s GODSPELL

The story goes that in 1970, while attending college in Pittsburgh, John-Michael Tebelak went to church on Easter Sunday.  A theology student before he decided he wanted to be a theatrical director, he found the service to be devoid of feeling. 

Afterward, the long-haired Tebelak was stopped by a policeman and searched for drugs.  (Remember, this was the era of student protests, hippies, draft card burning, and “dangerous” peaceniks.)   Tebelak confided that this experience provided him the inspiration for GODSPELL, which he developed as a series of parables, mostly based on the “Gospel of Matthew.” He produced the show as his senior project at Carnegie Mellon University.

John Michael left school without graduating.  The show was eventually staged at the off-Broadway Cafe La Mama Theatre.  A producer saw the production and said he would finance it if it had a new score. 

Enter Stephen Schwartz, who wrote the songs in 5 weeks.  (The only tune remaining from the original production is "By My Side"). The newly conceived show opened Off-Broadway on May 17, 1971.  Tebelak was 22 years of age!  GODSPELL then moved onto Broadway where it ran for 2,124 performances.  Hundreds of professional and amateur productions of the show continue to be done, making it one of the most produced scripts.

Tebelak was a Berea product.  As related by Bill Allman, the former producing director of Berea Summer Theatre, “John-Michael cut his theatrical teeth at Berea Summer Theatre where he acted, designed scenery and directed.  In 1980 he returned to his roots when he directed a revival production of GODSPELL.” 

The show’s other connection to the area is that in August of 1971, before it became a mega-hit, GODSPELL was produced at Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, the predecessor to Great Lakes Theatre, which, at the time was housed in Lakewood High School’s auditorium.  The show’s director was non-other than Tebelak.   

The show is not without controversy.  It has been called “blasphemous.”  Religious leaders have stated, “Surely no Christian who believes the Bible would approve of the perversion of GODSPELL.”  The Wexford Pennsylvania School Board banned a production of it after “complaints about its religious message.”

Any director of GODSPELL has a number of choices to make.  First, there is no traditional script.  There is a score and no stage directions.  It has been done as a series of segments in which comic characters are the center of attention.  It was staged as children in a Sunday school class.  It has been done as a religious sermon in a church setting.  It has been done as a dream sequence.  It has been staged as a circus.

Another issue is the tone of the piece.  Should the production center on the religious message, forsaking the humor, or take Tebelak to heart and make this a production of joy?

Cain Park’s GODSPELL, under the co-direction of Ian Wolfgang Hinz and Joanna May Hunkins, takes a literal approach.  Though there have been new and interesting musical arrangements, and the language and nonverbal gestures have been brought up to date, Tebelak’s message of elation, with preaching overtones, is present.

The staging is creative.  The choreography by Katie Nabors Strong is inventive and well executed.  The singing is exceedingly strong.  The solos well done and the choral sounds nicely blended.  There is a nice spontaneity to the spoken lines and interactions.  The humor is well timed, the dramatic scenes clearly developed. 

Jordan Cooper’s band plays well, but at times gets a little too exuberant and drowns out the singers.   It’s difficult to hear well in the open sided venue to start with, so the musical overplaying rather than underscoring often blocked out song meanings.’’

The directors have chosen to start the production with speeches by various philosophers, followed by “Tower of Babble,” thus setting a preaching tone.  Many productions simply start with “Prepare Ye.”   (My preference is for the latter approach, which gives an immediate uplifting concept.)  The director’s have chosen to included the oft omitted “[We can build a] Beautiful City,” which many consider Schwartz’s most enthralling composition. (I’m on board with that choice.)

The inclusion of a Pictionary and charades segment got the audience involved in the action.

The cast is universally strong.  Standouts are Scott Esposito, whose Judas was well developed and became the fulcrum for the production, Jade McGee who sparkles on stage, and Douglas F. Bailey II, who has a special talent for comedy. 

Warren E. Franklin III, as Jesus, displayed a strong singing voice and excellent dancing skills, but failed to develop a charismatic Jesus.  His lines were often lost due to rapid delivery.

Highlight songs were “All Good Gifts” (Ellis C. Dawson III), “Light of the World” (Bailey), “By My Side” (Treva Offutt), “Beautiful City” (Franklin), and “We Beseech Thee” (Eric Fancher).  

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Cain Park’s GODSPELL is a creatively conceived and generally well performed production which will keep the audience rocking and laughing, while imparting the philosophical message of the “Book of Mathew.”  You don’t have to be a believer to be entertained by the high spirited songs and the clever staging.  “We Beseech Thee,”---go, see, enjoy---“You’ll Learn Your Lesson Well!” 

(Thanks to John Nolan, theatre buff extraordinaire and a member of the 1980 Berea Summer Theatre “GODSPELL” cast, for background material used in this review.  His contributions were also used several years ago in writing another review of “Godspell.”)

The show runs through  June 28, 2015 in the Alma Theatre in Cleveland Heights’ Cain Park.   For tickets call 216-371-3000 or go to http://www.cainpark.com/

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC opens 2015 season at Porthous

What do “West Side Story,” “Gypsy,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Company,” “Follies,” “Sweeney Todd” “Sunday in the Park with George,” and “Into the Woods,” all have in common?  Yes, they are shows which have music written by Steven Sondheim. 

Steven Sondheim is considered by many to be the greatest composer of the American musical theatre.  Sondheim, who has won more Tony Awards than any other composer; Sondheim who is also the winner of eight Grammy Awards and a Pulitzer Prize and has a Broadway theatre named after him.  Not bad for a man who has been accused of writing pompous shows with music that is impossible to sing.

Sondheim, who is 85 years old, became friends with James Hammerstein, the son of lyricist and playwright Oscar Hammerstein II, when the boys were ten.  Hammerstein became surrogate father and musical theater tutor for the young Sondheim, whose parents were divorced, and, as the story goes, the rest is history.

Since its original 1973 opening, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, which is now in production at Porthouse Theatre, has been a staple in the repertoire of professional, collegiate and community theatres.

With music by Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, the story was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film “Smiles of a Summer Night.”  The title is the English translation of Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik.”  It is not surprising, therefore, that allusions to Mozart’s “Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major” are heard throughout the score.

The soap-opera story is set in 1900 Sweden.  It examines the tangled web of relationships of Desirée Armfeldt, a famous but fading actress, her wise-beyond her year’s precocious daughter whose paternity has been kept a secret, her opinionated advice-giving mother, her former lover, Fredrik Egerman, and her present lover, Count Carol-Magnus Malcom. 

As the tale unravels, we meet Egerman’s “new” wife, the very young and virginal Anne, and Henrik, his frustrated and overly dramatic son, who is in love with his step-mother. Into the mix, is thrown the Count’s wife, Charlotte, and Petra, Henrik’s lover and Anne’s maid.

Take the entire group, put them together for a weekend in the country, and the stage is set for infinite possibilities, illicit liaisons, open warfare, and endless, but obvious surprises.

The format of the show, as is often the case with Sondheim’s creations, is  unusual.  Instead of an overture, The Quintet enters singing fragments of “Remember,” “Soon,” “ and “The Glamorous Life,” leading into the “Night Waltz.”  The five singers morph into a Greek chorus, which musically comments on the machinations, as the play unfolds. 

As is also the case with Sondheim, the music is intricate.  “Complex meters, pitch changes, polyphony, and high notes for both males and females” abound.  “The  score contains patter songs, contrapuntal duets and trios, a quartet, and even a dramatic double quintet.”  The musical accompaniment consists only of piano, violins, viola and cello, which makes for a lush sound.

The original Broadway production opened in 1973 and ran for over 600 performances, winning the Tony and New York Drama Critics’ Circle awards for Best Musical.  Hermione Gingold’s caustic performance as Madame Armfeldt and Glynis Johns’ interpretation of “Send In the Clowns” were two the production’s high notes. 

Interestingly, it was Johns being a “non-singer” that led Sondheim to write the song in short phrases, with no long musical holds.  As he said, “by ending lines with consonants that made for a short cut-off, the phrases could be acted, rather than sung.”  This structural format makes the composition unique in the annals of well-known Broadway hit songs.

The Porthouse production, as directed and choreographed by Sean T. Morrissey, is slowly paced, and lacks some of the potential humor.  The production would have been helped if the over-stylization present in the Quintet and the servants was duplicated by all of the leading cast.  These aren’t real people, they are exaggerated characterizations. 

Lenne Snively as Madame Armfeldt has the right tone, as does charming Julian Kazenas as the over-wrought Henrik Egerman.  Jim Weaver, as the count, gives hints of the needed melodramatic tone, as does Amy Fritsche as his put-upon wife.  Adorable Talia Cosentino is correctly wise beyond her years as Fredrika.

Musical conductor Jonathan Swoboda has his musicians underscoring the singers, thus allowing for ease in hearing the clever Sondheim lyrics of “The Glamorous Life,” “Remember,” “You Must Meet My Wife,” “In Praise of Women,” ‘A Weekend in the Country,” and “It Would Have Been Wonderful.”  Shamara Costas’ rendition of “The Miller’s Son,” was delightful.   The individual voices and choral blends were consistently excellent.

The musical highlight was Terri Kent’s rendition of the show’s memorable, “Send in the Clowns.”  Acting the words with musical intonations, Kent was able, in contrast to the many pop versions of the composition, to tell the story of the song by singing/saying meanings, not just words.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC is a melodramatic story, with memorable music, that gets a nice production.  It would have been aided by stressing the story’s soap-opera aspects to garner the humor built into the script, thus sending in the clowns.  As is, as represented by the opening night assemblage, audiences will enjoy this evening of musical theatre on the Blossom grounds.

“Little Night Music” runs until June 27, 2015 at Porthouse Theatre For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to www.porthousetheatre.com.

NEXT UP AT PORTHOUSE:  VIOLET from July 9-25 and HAIRSPRAY from July 30-August 16.  Curtain times are 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Blossom open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Chris Howey reveals all in the funny, often sad, always compelling EXACT CHANGE

In her book, “Dress Codes: of three girlhoods—my mother’s, my father’s and mine,” Noelle Howey writes, “I have a dad who is a woman much like me, but with better legs.  And when he was still male, I had a dad possibly like yours: sullen, sporadically hostile, frequently vacant.  I had a dad who became a woman in order to be nice.”  Noelle goes on to say, “I have a family that survived a life in the closet . . . a traditional family . . . that would probably be the right wing’s worst nightmare.”

Noelle is writing about her father, Richard Howey, historically a leading actor in the Cleveland area noted for his starring roles as a bearded, balding, macho male in many Dobama Theatre shows. 

Howey is known today to many Clevelanders as Christine Howey,  one of the area’s leading theatre critics. 

“Exact Change,” is a one-woman play about Chris’s transition, and is now being staged at The Helen, in the Cleveland Play House complex in PlayhouseSquare.

Christine reflects on her motivation for bringing her story to the stage, and its importance in 2015:  “For people to understand and feel positively towards [transgender people], they first have to see  us…For many years I wanted to live my life - my new life – and not call attention to it.  But the continuing assaults on transgender people have bolstered my resolve to be a part of the solution.  If telling my story, warts and all, is what is required, then it is a small price to pay.”

The effect of the story may have somewhat softened by the recent announcement of Olympic superstar, Bruce Jenner’s, “coming out.” But, in contrast to Jenner’s dependence of media sensationalism, Howey’s story is told with the use of her brilliant poetry.  Personal complete with the voices of his demons [“The Enforcer”], his mother, wife, daughter, and various people who were and are part of “his,” then “her” life. 

Richard, early in life, became aware of his internal message, “IWTBAG” (I Want To Be A Girl.)   Through such poems as, “1957 Puberty,” “The Pickle Coke,” “Sick Day,” “Beowulf and Dinah at Breakfast,” ”Dolly,” “The Family Way,” “The Crowded Chair,” “”Potholder,” “Mom’s Pro and Con List,” “Outing 1999),” “And One More Thing,” “Major Pelvic Event,” “They Didn’t Notice Me,” and “Coming Out Party,” we are taken on the journey from frustrated male to full functioning female.

We see the character from outward appearance to inner thoughts, from actions to perceptions.  Sometimes Richard and Christine are in the open, center stage.  At other times one or the other is behind or peeking through three sets of venetian blinds, which act as both the characters’ shields and openings into the world.

Electronic visuals aid, personal pictures, titles of the poems, help us on the journey.  Part of the story is backed up by music intended to intensify the spoken words.  At times, the music, especially that which contains sung words, is distracting.  This is one of few production hitches in the staging.

The production in the Helen is not the first presentation of the script.  It has gone through a number of productions and recreations.  The tale of 22 years of transformation was first a series of poems, then took on a play format entitled, “Like a Doberman on a Quarter Pounder,” the title of a poem in the original conception. 

The play  premiered in early 2013 at Cleveland Public Theatre in the “Big Box New Work Development Series.”   A year and many revisions later, it appeared in CPT’s main stage season as “Exact Change.”  It was subsequently performed in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and at none too fragile theatre in Akron.  The production has been accepted into the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival for several late August performances.

During the process of development, the focused direction and advice of Scott Plate has been evident.  From a series of poems scattered on a card table at Baldwin Wallace University, the ideas have been arranged and rearranged. Chris and Scott have sparred over the format, the staging, and the special effects.  The end result shows all the work, which included a major change being made the day before the latest staging opened.  Yes, in their march toward perfection, theatre scripts are an evolving art.

The journey of the production has been helped by local producers, including Raymond Bobgan (Cleveland Public Theatre), Gina Vernaci (PlayhouseSquare) and Sean Derry (none too fragile).

This is a real tale that clearly explains the concept of a boy born in the wrong body and the real tale of how he morphed into the “she” “he” had to become.

Capsule judgement:  Those of us who have followed the development of the staged tale from Richard to Christine, from idea to the compelling piece of theater, have been privileged to watch the piece evolve through the diligence of Chris Howey and Scott Plate.   You now can see the results of many, many hours of extremely hard work, toil that resulted in a compelling, funny, emotionally charged experience that is a must see experience.  Do yourself and Chris a favor by attending one of the remaining performances.  (Since The Helen is a small space, get tickets early as the show should sell out.)

For tickets to “Exact Change,” which runs June 11 through 13, 2015  and June 25-27, with performances at 8 on Thursday and Fridays and 5 and 8:30 on Saturday, go to playhousesquare.org or call 16-241-6000. 

[Personal reveal:  Chris is a friend.  I acted with Richard at Dobama. I serve with Chris as a member of the Cleveland Critics Circle.  She has aided me in my role as counselor and life coach to better understand and help my gender conflicted clients.  Thanks to Chris for her bravery in making her life’s path public as a source of information and entertainment.]

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Honky Tonk, Nashville, and pop music invades Actors’ Summit

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ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE, now on stage at Actors’ Summit, is a well formed musical review in which a Patsy Cline-imitator wails away Cline’s signature songs, including “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “She’s Got You,” “Anytime,” “Stupid Cupid,” “Lovesick Blues, “Faded Love,” and “Crazy.” The songs are interspersed with comments by a Cline fan and Cline, “herself.”

Born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932, she became the signature voice of the Nashville sound, a subgenre of American country music, which was noted for substituting the honky tonk previous style of country music which used fiddles and a nasal sound by the lead vocals, with strings, background music, and crooning lead vocalists. 

Cline’s success, more than anything else, was probably brought about by her appearance in 1957 on the “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” radio show. 

Cline proved to be one of the few country stars of her day who could make the crossover to pop music.

Cline’s sound was distinctive.  She had a rich tone, unusual phrasing, a hitch in her voice that is the key to any singer duplicating her sound, as well as an ability to pronounce words in a way that often made single syllable words into three or four parts. 

She died in a plane crash at age 30.  Ten years after her death, she became the first female solo artist inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Her induction plaque read, “Her heritage of timeless recordings is testimony to her artistic capacity.” And even today, she is recognized as one of the greatest women in country music and rock and roll.

The script and song order for ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE was created by Ted Swindley.

The Actor’s Summit production, under the direction of MaryJo Alexander, is very entertaining.

The two-person show features Jennifer Browning as Cline and Chanda K. Porter as Louise, an avid Cline fan.  The duo is backed up by a wonderful group of musical artists consisting of JT Buck, Musical Director and pianist, Patrick Altmire as percussionist and drummer, Brian Del Bianco on bass, and a set of guitarists who alternate nights.

Porter steals the show as the dynamic, funny, “in your face” Louise.  She has a wonderful sense of comic timing, is totally uninhibited on stage, connects well with the audience, and has a great singing voice.  She is a delight to watch.

Jennifer Browning a has a VERY strong singing voice and has mastered the “Cline” sound and pronunciation.   She fails, however to display the “dynamic” presence for which Cline was noted.  She acts Cline, rather than being Cline. Thus, she becomes a caricature of the great singer rather than Cline.

The bandstand stage design works well.

Capsule judgement: ALWAYS PATSY CLINE makes for a pleasant evening of songs, humor and musical delight.  If you appreciate country music or are an avid fan of Patsy Cline, you will have a wonderful time.

For tickets to ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE, which runs through June 21, 2015, call 330-374-7568 or go to www.actorssummit.org

Actor’s Summit’s 2015-2016 season includes:  QUILTERS, (Oct. 8-Nov. 1), GUYS ON ICE (Nov. 25-Dec. 22), SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR (Jan. 21-Feb. 7), CHIAPATTI (Feb. 25-Mar. 13), TALLY’S FOLLY (April 14-May 1), TINTYPES (May 19-June 19).


Roy Berko's commentaries and reviews appear on coolcleveland.com, artsamerica.org, with selected reviews posted on broadwayworld.com and BWWdanceworld.com  To subscribe to his blog go to and follow the directions in the right hand column:  www.royberko.info 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Pulitzer Prize winning THE YOUNG MAN FROM ATLANTA @ Beck Center

On the surface, Horton Foote’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, THE YOUNG MAN FROM ATLANTA, now in production at Beck Center, tells the tale of the Kidders (Will and Lily Dale), a Houston, Texas couple who, in 1950, take different paths in coping with the death of Bill, their only son. 

Beyond the surface tale, the script probes into the consequences of false dreams, misguided values, the southern tradition of pride, the covering of reality with illusion, elected ignorance, racism, conspiracy theories, the changing business environment, ageism, and possible homosexuality.

Bill, whose relationship with his father centered on incidental emotional attachment, moved to Atlanta, lives in a rooming house, and shares his space and resources with Randy a younger man.  One day, Bill, who has never learned to swim, while traveling in Florida on business, stops his car, walks into a small lake, and drowns. 

Lily Dale believes the death was accidental, and desperately turns to religion as her means of escape.  She believes that Bill was pious and couldn’t have killed himself.  Her beliefs are backed up by Randy, who attended Bill’s funeral, grieves mightily, and has become Lily Dale’s emotional prop. 

Lily Dale who is childish and lonely, with no one but her religious beliefs, her bible, and the maid to turn to, has given Randy, often referred to as the “young man from Atlanta,”  large sums of money to supposedly aid him in his job search and the needs of his family. 

Will knows information which he has not shared with Lily Dale, such as Bill gave Randy over $100,000 and has been told by Carson, his father-in-law’s nephew who lived in the same Atlanta rooming house as Bill, that Randy was a liar and had a bad reputation. 

Will, who believes that he must work hard to have “the best of everything,” suddenly finds himself, in his waning years, with a dead son, an emotionally vacant wife, let loose from his high paying job, replaced by a younger man who he hired and trained, ill with a heart condition, and disillusioned over his beliefs.

Though he never appears on stage, much of the angst of the story centers on Randy, who may or may not be a charlatan, and may or may not have been Bill’s kept lover.

As the play comes to its bleak conclusion, Will states, “Everything will be all right, the best and biggest is as empty as the young man’s lies.”

After being produced off-Broadway, THE YOUNG MAN FROM ATLANTA received the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  A 1998 Broadway run lasted only 84 performances, but was nominated for, but did not win a Tony Award for Best Play.

One might ask why this play received the Pulitzer Prize.  It is definitely not a play which has or will become an American theatre classic.  It is not in the class of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, DEATH OF A SALESMAN, OUR TOWN, or LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT.  There are, however, other winners who were recognized for being a “play for its time”  and are not stage classics.  Remember, this was a script about the 1950s.  It was in the forefront of dealing, even indirectly, with homosexuality.   One of the only major plays to take on that subject was TEA AND SYMPATHY.  It also dealt with the topical subject of the roles of blacks in the South,  the status of women in Southern society,  changing business philosophies, the shifting population, the 1900 mid-century work ethic, conspiracy theory, and ageism.

The characters in THE YOUNG MAN FROM ATLANTA may be familiar to the avid theatre-goer and script reader as Foote revived most of them from his THE ORPHAN’S HOME CYCLE, a series of plays often referred to as “the story of a family,” the Foote family.

Horton Foote, who wrote over sixty plays and numerous screen plays and television productions, is probably best known for writing the screen play for the 1962 film TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  Though most of his plays have been performed in community theatres, with several having off-Broadway showings, his THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL did have a Broadway run.  

The Beck production, under the direction of Eric Schmiedl, is generally faithful to Foote’s writing and the setting of the script.  Paced in a leisurely southern manner, the play unfolds slowly.  Even in strong emotional scenes, there is sometimes a “dragging” pace, which may lose the audience’s attention. 

Foote is known for writing in the language of the time and place of the story.  This, again, provides a good reflection of the personality of the character’s but does not always make for attention demanding interactions.

Dudley Swetland rants well as Will.  As the character becomes more fatigued and defeated, the actor nicely textures his pace and dynamism.  His final speech, which is presented in a near whisper, is compelling.

Anne McEvoy gives a clear illusion of Lily Dale’s lack of being in touch with reality.  She is a traditional southern lady who lives in dreams and fantasy.  She clearly develops an almost child-like Lily Dale, with no friends, who refuses to face the facts, obsesses about rumors, half-truths and religion.

Michael Regnier clearly develops Pete, Lily Dale’s step-father, into a real person.  Tina D. Stump creates Clara into a stereotype of the well-mannered Black southern woman who knows her role in the household.

Aaron Benson’s scene design creates the correct atmosphere for the upscale nature and the time of the play, incorporating a Frank Lloyd Wright feel to the dwelling appointed with the clean-lined modern furniture of the era.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Though THE YOUNG MAN FROM ATLANTA was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, potential viewers should not expect to see an epic play.  The tale is a 1950s tale which reflects the era and southern attitudes of the day.  The production values reflect Foote’s writing style and gets his message across.

THE  YOUNG MAN FROM ATLANTA is scheduled to run through June 28, 2015 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to http://www.beckcenter.org

Next at Beck:  Green Day’s musical AMERICAN IDIOT (July 10-August 16). 

Monday, May 25, 2015

A preview: EXACT CHANGE @ PlayhouseSquare/Helen--original play by local critic, writer and actor, explores his/her transgender journey

Before transitioning in 1990, Christine Howey was Richard Howey, a celebrated stage actor in Cleveland, known for playing such heavy-hitting male roles as Lucifer, Goebbels, “Terrible Jim Fitch,” Richard Nixon, and God. 

Exact Change explores Howey’s gender transition from many angles in a one-woman tour-de-force spiked with political rants, historical reflections and an incisive wit that packs a punch. Described as “rewarding and life-changing theatre” (Fran Heller, Cleveland Jewish News), 

Exact Change combines spoken word poetry, monologue and dialogue in a deeply personal show that is as amusing as it is poignant. Exact Change is written and performed by Howey, with direction by Scott Plate.



The content is best described by its creator and subject:
“I feel a strong need to communicate the challenging issues and deep satisfaction that comes from finding one’s true gender. I know the idea of a gender change is a very foreign one for most people…so I wanted to make the feelings and aspirations of a transgender person accessible and as understandable as possible.“
– Christine Howey




The show has received endorsing reviews in its development including:

"One of the most compelling and fascinating one-person shows I've ever seen!  The writing and performance are enthralling, the ending is startling!  This is a must see!"


--Roy Berko, broadwayworld.com, artsamerica.com, coolcleveland.com, www.royberko.info

 “The writing is funny, fierce, bawdy, and smart. Howey commands the stage, hurling lightning strikes of emotion and insight.”

 – Dee Perry, Senior Host/Producer, 90.3 WCPN/Ideastream/NE Ohio Public Radio

 About the Playwright:


A native of Northeast Ohio, Howey is a graduate of Brecksville High School and Kent State University. She taught English in the Cleveland Public School system, followed by a 35 year career in advertising. In 1999, she began work on a solo show dealing with her transgender journey, which was performed in New York and Cleveland.


Exact Change takes the stage for two weeks only, Thursday, June 11 – Saturday, June 13 and Thursday June 25 – Saturday, June 27, 2015, in Playhouse Square’s intimate Helen Rosenfeld Lewis Bialosky Lab Theatre. 

Performance times are Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 5:00pm and 8:30pm. General admission tickets are $29.50 and available at playhousesquare.org, 216-241-6000 or the Playhouse Square Ticket Office. Discounts are available for groups of 10+ by calling 216-640-8600.


For additional information, visit www.ExactChangeThePlay.com

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Disappointing DONTRELL, WHO KISSED THE SEA @ Cleveland Public Theatre


About fifteen years ago, an African American student on a Semester at Sea around the world educational cruise jumped overboard.  The ship was sailing toward the Suez Canal, with Africa on the port side.  The ship turned in the Gulf of Suez, and miraculously found the college student.  The young man, after arriving back, stated that he had jumped overboard because he “wanted to touch the water, that touched the land from which his forefathers were taken into slavery.  He wanted to be reunited with his history.” 

Whether Ethan Davis, the author of DONTRELL, WHO KISSED THE SEA, which is now in production at Cleveland Public Theatre, was exposed to the true tale of the Semester at Sea student is unknown, but there is an eerie parallel.  Dontrell Jones III, an 18-year old honor student dreams of an ancestor (his great-grandfather) who dove off a slave ship, and dedicates his life to “kiss” the sea and meet the man.  The student who dove off the ship, seemed to have an analogous purpose. 

There are similarities and differences.  The student who jumped from the ship was a championship swimmer and kept himself afloat until help arrived. Dontrell, who began his quest by unrealistically diving into a pool, could not swim, and was saved by a lifeguard.  

The student had given no prior evidence of any desire for a historical connection. Dontrell, on the other hand, spends the entire play leaving messages for “future generations” in a mini cassette recorder.

Dontrell, an honor student with a scholarship to the prestigious Johns Hopkins University, puts aside his future in an attempt to find the truth of his dream.  With the help of Erika, the lifeguard, who supplies a boat, Dontrell sails off in pursuit of his goal.  The student was expelled from Semester at Sea and sent home minus academic credits. 

Questions arise: what will a person do to satisfy his dreams, what are the consequences of pursuing a goal, and is either Dontrell or the student’s desires realistic or reasonable?

The CPT production was disappointing.  It failed to develop, in a compelling manner, the winner of the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association’s new play award.  The oft-poetic language often was lost due to poor projection and articulation. The blocking on the thrust stage, which found the audience on three sides of the action, was not well conceived, with much sound being lost due to poor planning of stage movements. 

So much time is spent changing scenes, dragging props on and off the stage, that the momentum of the play is disrupted.  And, much of the acting is on a surface level.

Young Kalim Hill gives a reasonable interpretation of Dontrell III, but lacks the depth of acting experience and training to dig into the young man and create a full character.  On the other hand, Sheffia Randall Dooley fleshes out the role of Dantell’s mother, into a realistic woman.  The rest of the cast stays close to the surface in their character development.

Todd Krispinski’s set, which transforms itself into a living room, aquarium swimming pool and boat, is creatively and impressively conceived.

DONTRELL, WHO KISSED THE SEA is Cleveland Public Theatre’s 2nd production in their affiliation with NNPN (National New Play Network), an organization of theatres dedicated to new theatre.  “Rolling World Premieres,” a project of NNPN, supports the idea that a play often needs more than one reading or production to fully flesh out storylines and dialogue. Over the course of a year, four to six different theatres across the US will produce the same play, with the author in attendance to work with each production.  Besides CPT DONTRELL is or will be staged at Skylight Theatre (LS), Phoenix Theatre (Indianapolis), Theatre Alliance (D.C.), and Oregon Contemporary Theatre (Eugene)

Capsule judgement: After writing this review I read the reactions of critics from other cities where DONTRELL, WHO KISSED THE SEA has been presented.  It appears that Cleveland got short-changed by director Megan Sanderg-Zakian.  Other reviews recount much laughter, vivid visualizations and the line interpretation that was “poetically transfixing.”  These  weren’t present in the local production. I wish I had seen that quality at CPT.  Unfortunately, I didn’t.

DONTRELL, WHO KISSED THE SEA, runs from May 21 through June 6 at 7:00 p.m. in the James Levin Theatre at Cleveland Public Theatre.  For tickets ($12-28) call 216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org.

(Side note:  I was a faculty member and a psychological support staff on the Semester on Sea voyage noted.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

2015 Summer Cleveland Theater Calendar

Some theatres such as Cleveland Play House, Dobama, Great Lakes Theatre and Ensemble are dark for the summer season, but there are lots of other great venues operating.  Here’s a list of some of the offerings of the summer season (May through August).  SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL THEATRES!

ACTOR’S SUMMIT

330-374-7568 or go to www.actorssummit.org
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sundays @ 2 PM

 ALWAYS PATSY CLINE (May 28-June 21, 2015)—A musical tribute to Patsy Cline’s spirit and a celebration of her music—“Crazy,” “Sweet Dreams,” “Walkin’ After Midnight” and 17 more.

BECK CENTER

216-521-2540 or http://www.beckcenter.org
8 p.m. evenings, 3 p.m. matinees

AMERICAN IDIOT (July 10-August 16 2015)—Two-time Tony winner tells the story of three lifelong friends, forced to choose between their dreams and the safety of suburbia.

BLANK CANVAS




440-941-0458 or www.blankcanvastheatre.com

TRIASSIC PARK THE MUSICAL (June 12-27)—Religion, identity, sex and raptors!  Chaos is unleashed upon the not-so-prehistoric world when one dinosaur in a clan of females turns out to be male!

OUR TOWN (August 14-29)—Thornton Wilder’s beloved,  Pulitzer Prize-winning classic depicts life, love and death in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire while exploring life’s meaning and purpose.

CAIN PARK
14591 Superior Road at Lee, Cleveland Heights
216-371-3000 (Box office opens May 23--Cleveland Heights residents/May 30-- general public)
Information: http://www.cainpark.com/

GODSPELL (June 11-28)—Alma Theatre—Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak’s “hippie” musical with such pop songs as “Day by Day,” “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” and “Learn Your Lessons,” contains a series of parables based on the Gospel of Matthew.

CLEVELAND PUBLIC THEATRE


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

DONTRELL, WHO KISSED THE SEA (May 21-June 6, 2015)
It’s a month before his first day of college and Dontrell Jones III wakes up from a dream that will change his life.

JOHANNA:  FACING FORWARD (May 28-June 13)—7:30 Gordon Square Theatre--Based on the true story of Johanna Orozco, a Cleveland teen who survived a gunshot wound to the face by her boyfriend in 2007 and whose story sparked a nation-wide movement against teen domestic violence.

CLEVELAND SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL
Free outdoor performances
For sites and times go to: http://www.cleveshakes.com/

THE LIFE OF TIMON OF ATHENS (June 5-28, 2015)—Set in 1970, against a backdrop of unpopular war and student unrest, TIMON is a hilarious history of his hypocrisy.

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (July 17-August 2, 2015)-- Filled with contrasts and controversy, containing comic elements mixed with trenchant comment on the nature of intolerance, justice and forgiveness.

convergence continuum

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

THE RECKLESS RUTHLESS BRUTAL CHARGE OF IT, OR THE TRAIN PLAY (June 26-July 18, 2015)—A “comi-threnody musical” about a 12-year old heroine who is on a comic-poetic collision course with time, history and a supernatural climax.

TEAR IT OFF (August 14-September 5, 2015)—A world premiere of Cleveland playwright Mike Geither’s play about two sisters who pass their time by writing a romance novel.

OBERLIN SUMMER THEATRE FESTIVAL

Free family classics in rotating rep
check blog  for dates of individual productions:     http://www.oberlinsummertheaterfestival.com/current-season/

TREASURE ISLAND (July 3-August 8, 2015)—Ken Ludwig’s play about 14-year old Jim Hawkins who finds a treasure map and embarks on an unforgettable voyage of treachery and mayhem.

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL (July 10-August 8, 2015)—Shakespeare’s bawdy comedy which asks, “all ends well. Or does it?”

CRUMBS FROM THE TABLE OF JOY (July 17-August 7, 2015)—17-year-old Ernestine questions conflicting ideas and tolerance needed to live in a changing world when her African American family moves from Florida to Brooklyn.

OHIO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL

Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens
714 N. Portage Path, Akron, Ohio 44303
For tickets go tohttp://www.ohioshakespearefestival.com/ or call 1-888-71-tickets

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (July 2-19, 2015)—Considered Shakespeare’s finest comedy, it examines honor, shame, and politics.

KING HENRY (July 30-August 16, 2015)—A Shakespeare history play based on the life of Henry VIII of England.

OLMSTED PERFORMING ARTS

6941 Columbia Road  Olmsted Falls
For tickets call 440-235-6722 or go to http://www.olmstedperformingarts.com/
Performances at 7:30 Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 on Sunday)

GUYS AND DOLLS (August 7-9, 14-16, 2015)—A musical that takes us from the heart of Times Square to the cafes of Havana, Cuba, and even into the sewers of New York City, but eventually everyone ends up right where they belong.

PLAYHOUSESQUARE


For tickets:  216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org
See the website for specific dates, times and details of each show

JOSHUA SETH’S BEYOND BELIEF (June 6, 2015)--Hanna Theatre—Combines thought reading, magic, hypnotism and some good old fashioned showmanship to create an atmosphere of mystery and laughter.

EXACT CHANGE (June 11-27, 2015)—The Helen--Christine Howey’s personal story is a tour-de-force spiced with political rants, historical reflections, and personal stories about her transitioning from being Dick Howey.

DOG POUNDED (July 17-August 8, 2015)—Kennedy’s Theatre—Tim Tyler’s comedic production returns for its second season to tell the tale of the tortured history of Cleveland Browns’ fans through words and music.

RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN’S CINDERELLA (July 21-August 2, 2015)—Connor Palace--Part of the Key Bank Series, this Tony Award winning musical, is a contemporary take on the classic tale.

THE BOOK OF MORMAN (August 25-30, 2015)—State Theatre--The nine-time Tony winner returns for another visit!   If you hurry, you might be able to get tickets this time!

PORTHOUSE

Kent State University’s professional theatre
Located on the grounds of Blossom Center
For tickets:  330-672-3884 or http://www.kent.edu/porthouse/tickets
(Tickets go on sale May 26th)

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (June 11-27, 2015)—Porthouse’s Artistic Director Terri Kent stars  in Stephen Sondheim’s musical about a tangled web of romantic affairs.  Libretto includes “Send in the Clowns.”

VIOLET (July 9-25, 2015)—Tells the musical tale of self-discovery by a young lady with a disfigured face who is seeking out an Evangelical minister.

HAIRSPRAY (July 30-August 16, 2015)—With her bouffant hair and social activist attitudes, plus-sized teen Tracy Turnblad advocates for racial integration in her hometown of Baltimore in this family friendly treat. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A VIEW OF BROADWAY FROM THE NORTH COAST




New York is about 500 miles from Cleveland.  Several times a year I wander forth to see the bright lights of Broadway and venture into some theatres.  This spring, during a period of a rash of show openings, I had the chance to see some excellent offerings.

Of course, seeing local talent on stages on the Big White Way adds to the excitement.  As has been the case recently, Baldwin Wallace University Music Theatre majors trod the stages.  Most prominent in the new shows is Jill Paice, who proudly states her BW affiliation in the Playbill of the smash hit AN AMERICAN IN PARIS.  Chris McCarrell, another BWU grad recently took over the role of Marius in LES MISÉRABLE and recent grad, Kyle Jean Baptiste has been cast as Jean Valjean’s understudy.

Here are capsule judgments of three new shows.  To read the whole review of each, go to http://www.royberkinfo.blogspot.com/, scroll down the right hand column to “Broadway Theatre,” and click on the link.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS: A New Musical, is a gorgeous symphony of dance, song, sets and graphics.  From its opening expository dance sequence, to the enveloping concluding ballet, it seamlessly unfolds as a visually compelling production that is breathtaking to watch.

Capsule judgement:  AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, A New Musical, is a visual, dance-driven Broadway story-telling creation that is gorgeous, enchanting, seamless and sophisticated.   It is a tribute not only to the music of George and Ira Gershwin, but to the genius of director Christopher Wheeldon, and the performance abilities of a stellar cast.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS:  A New Musical, is being performed in an open run, at The Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway, New York

HAND TO GOD

Tyrone is evil.  Tyrone, he of big, vacant eyes is both disturbing and funny.  Tyrone is vile, violent and demonic.  Tyrone is raunchy.   Tyrone is foul-mouthed.

Tyrone is a sock puppet who is the anti-hero of Robert Askins’ HAND TO GOD, a Broadway play that causes convulsive laughter while terrifying.

Capsule judgement:  HAND TO GOD is a compelling tale of two lost people, caught up in their own lack of ability to cope with the death of a major person in their lives, who are losing their fight to chart a course of healthy reality and turn to escapism to get through the angst.  The production is well conceived and performed and makes for a fascinating theatrical experience in which laughter acts as an escape from pain.

HAND TO GOD  is being performed in an open-ended run at the Booth Theatre, 22 West 45thStreet, New York.

SOMETHING ROTTEN

From its opening, the creative “Welcome to the Renaissance,” to the “Finale,” Broadway newbie book writers, Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, and music and lyric conceivers, Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, create laugh out-loud farcical material.

It’s classical theatre gone awry, complete with show-stoppers, encore after encore (whether the audience wants them or not), ridiculous sight gags, double entendres, sexual allusions, and male costumes with huge cod pieces.

Capsule judgment:  SOMETHING ROTTEN is a rare theatrical event…a wonderful musical farce.  Anyone who wants to go to the theatre and have a great time, unburdened by a complicated plot, listen to fun lyrics, and experience two acts of non-stop laughter…this “very new musical” should be their play of choice!  

SOMETHING ROTTEN is in an open run at the St. James Theatre, 26 West 44th Street, New York

Farcical SOMETHING ROTTEN! A VERY NEW MUSICAL delights!

Did you know that Shakespeare was an arrogant fop?  That he stole the ideas, as well as much of the text from his plays from others?  Are you aware that some of those who worked with Will actually hated him?  What about the fact that even he spouted about  how hard it was to be the Bard.  Did you know that because of him, the format for musicals was developed?  Are you aware that he was the rock star of his day?  Well, those are only some of the “facts” that are espoused in SOMETHING ROTTEN, a very new musical.

From its opening, the creative “Welcome to the Renaissance,” to the “Finale,” Broadway newbie book writers, Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, and music and lyric conceivers, Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, create laugh out-loud farcical material. 

SOMETHING ROTTEN is in the mold of SPAMALOT, THE PRODUCERS and THE BOOK OF MORMON.  It is filled with silliness and farcical actions. 

There are numerous references to the Bard’s plays and Broadway musicals. Someone not familiar with either of these topics might not get all the subtext.  But even they will find enough to laugh about.

How can a show with a score which contains such titles as “The Black Death,”  “Bottom’s Gonna Be on Top,” “Welcome to the Renaissance,” “It’s Eggs,” and ‘To Thine Own Self” be anything but delightful?

The story centers on Nick and Nigel Bottom, an actor and his playwright brother, who live in the theatrical shadow of the Bard of Avon.  They desire to take some of the attention away from Shakespeare.  How to do it?  They pay a Soothsayer to look into the future.  His findings?  Shakespeare’s greatest hit is going to be a play named, “Omelet” and the next big trend in theatre is going to be musicals, where the actors sing many of their lines.  (And you thought the American musical was a modern invention!)  So, obviously the duo starts to one-up Will by writing a musical play about eggs.

Their efforts result in a kick line of dancing omelets, a silly story line, and ridiculous farcical actions.  The musical number “It’s Eggs!” ranks with THE PRODUCERS’ “Springtime for Hitler” as one of the funniest dance numbers in a Broadway musical.

It’s classical theatre gone awry, complete with show-stoppers, encore after encore (whether the audience wants them or not), ridiculous sight gags, double entendres, sexual allusions, and male costumes with huge codpieces.

We observe Shakespeare as "a hack with a knack for stealing anything he can,” who actually swipes not only the title, but plot devices and lines which turn out to be “his” HAMLET. (Oh, HAMLET, not OMELET!  As the soothsayer says, “Well, I was close!”)

Farce is hard to perform well because of the need for broad realism where the audience laughs with the performers, not at them.  Under director Casey Nickolaw’s deft hand, the cast makes the difficult look easy. 

Brian d’Arcy James (Nick Bottom) and Christian Borle (Shakespeare), noted for their starring roles on NBC’s Broadway musical take-off, SMASH, have wonderful comic timing.  James, with his strong jaw tightly set, rails against Shakespeare. Borle, with his saucer-eyes shinning, schemes back.  “God, I Hate Shakespeare” is countered by “Will Power” and “Hard to Be the Bard.”  Both have strong singing voices and know how to play farce.

John Cariani as Nigel Bottom is charming.  His “I Love the Way,” sung with the beautiful Kate Reinders (Portia) is young love incarnate.

Heidi Blickenstaff is delightful as Nick’s wife, one of the world’s first feminists, the Betty Freidan of the Elizabethan era.  Her “Right Hand Man,” sung with Brian d’Arcy James, and then as a solo, were well done.

Gerry Vichi as Shylock and Brad Oscar as Nostradamus almost steal the show.  Both are masters of the double take and are Borscht Belt pros at playing “shtick.”

Capsule judgment:  SOMETHING ROTTEN is a rare theatrical event…a wonderful musical farce.  Anyone who wants to go to the theatre and have a great time, unburdened by a complicated plot, listen to fun lyrics, and experience two acts of non-stop laughter…this “very new musical” should be their play of choice!  

SOMETHING ROTTEN is in an open run at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street, New York.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Tyrone, the Satan of Broadway, stars in HAND TO GOD

Tyrone is evil.  Tyrone, he of big, vacant eyes is both disturbing and funny.  Tyrone is vile, violent and demonic.  Tyrone is raunchy.   Tyrone is foul-mouthed. 

Tyrone is a sock puppet who is the anti-hero of Robert Askins’ HAND TO GOD, a Broadway play that causes convulsive laughter while terrifying.

HAND TO GOD centers on Jason, who lives with his mother in Cypress, Texas, in the heart of the Bible belt.  His father has recently died and both he and his mother are searching for a reason to exist.  

His mother, Marjery, at the encouragement of young and handsome Pastor Greg, who is romantically interested in her,  has organized the Christian Puppet Ministry in order to creatively teach faith and morality to the “good” children of the town. 

The emotionally fragile Jason is victimized by Timothy, the class bully.  The over-sexed charismatic teen-aged Timothy lusts for Margery, who, in a moment of need, gives in to his machinations.  Meanwhile, Jason has a secret fondness for Jessica, a caring classmate.

Jason creates Tyrone, a hand puppet, as part of the ministry, and his whole life changes.  Tyrone, like many alter-egos, is everything Jason is not.  He is dangerous, commanding, and irreverent.   He is Satan’s hand who challenges Jason to fulfill his darkest desires by becoming the young man’s destructive dominant personality. As mental health professionals will attest, once created, getting rid of the likes of Tyrone is difficult.

HAND TO GOD has gone through three reincarnations in New York.  In 2012 it opened at a 99-seat theatre to strong reviews.  It moved to a 249-seat off-Broadway theatre and evolved into a major hit.  It is now being played in the intimate 783-seat on-Broadway Booth Theatre, a venue reserved for “finely-crafted dramas.”  HAND TO GOD well fits that criteria.

Actor Steven Boyer, who portrays both Jason and Tyrone, has an intimate relationship with the sock puppet.  He built the googly eyed “monster” with the small mop of red hair when the show had its first reading at Pace University and it has been his intimate companion since.

Boyer is compelling.  Jason and Tyrone become so blended that when Boyer is creating the voice of Tyrone, he makes little effort to be a ventriloquist. It matters little as the sock puppet becomes so real that when Tyrone speaks, all eyes are on him, not Jason.  Tyrone becomes a real being.

When Boyer tries to rid himself of Tyrone in a battle to the end, it parallels a victim of Dissociative Identity Disorder who must fight to destroy the psychological issues of trauma that brought about the need for the protective or deviant split-off.  It is excruciating to watch Jason’s struggle to be free of his Satanic “other self.”

The rest of the cast well supports Boyer.  Geneva Carr is believable as Margery, Jason’s depressed mother.  Michael Oberholtzer is appropriately aggressive as Timothy, the bully with teenage hopping hormones.  Sarah Stiles as Jessica, who attempts to aid Jason by being supportive of him, is character-right, as is Marc Kudisch as Pastor Greg.

Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel, who was recognized by the Drama League for his production of HAND OF GOD, is making his Broadway directing debut with this staging.  He has a long history of productions at both Ensemble Theatre and other venues.  His skill is clear in this production as he keeps the action moving along at an appropriate pace, building up to the painful conclusion.  

Capsule judgement:  HAND TO GOD is a compelling tale of two lost people, caught up in their own lack of ability to cope with the death of a major person in their lives, who are losing their fight to chart a course of healthy reality and turn to escapism to get through the angst.  The production is well conceived and performed and makes for a fascinating theatrical experience in which laughter acts as an escape from the pain.

HAND TO GOD  is being performed in an open-ended run at the Booth Theatre, 22 West 45thStreet, New York.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS builds a stairway to paradise on Broadway

The 1951 film AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, with music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin, is considered by many to be one of the  most successful movie musicals ever made.  It starred Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron and Oscar Levant.  The winner of six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, it was designated in 1993 for presentation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant.”

In 2014, a stage version, written by Craig Lucas, directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, opened in Paris for a two-month run.

In April of 2015 a somewhat reconceived version opened on Broadway for what should be a long, long run!

In many ways, AMERICAN IN PARIS is a traditional old fashioned Broadway musical.  Boy meets girl, boy falls in love, girl falls in love, problems cause them to be separated, they come together, and, of course, they will live happily ever after.  But few, if any, traditional musicals, to date, have resulted in such an elegant mélange of the music, dance and concept as this show.

The somewhat contrived story basically follows the plot of the film, centering on an American soldier (Jerry Mulligan), who, following World War II, decides to ply his artistic skills in Paris.  He falls in love with a girl (Lise Dassin) who he encounters on the street.  With the assistance of a fellow ex-pat, a talented musician (Adam Hochberg),  he reconnects with Lise.  He finds out she is already engaged to a Parisian aristocrat (Henri Baurel), but that doesn’t thwart Jerry’s quest for her.  Lisa, who has a secret to hide, and her trio of suitors, under-go a series of dance and song experiences that eventually wend their way to a happy ending.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS: A New Musical, is a gorgeous symphony of dance, song, sets and graphics.  From its opening expository dance sequence, to the enveloping concluding ballet, it seamlessly unfolds as a visually compelling production that is breathtaking to watch.

Director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, a noted luminary of the ballet world, has so well conceived the production that even the grand boulevards of Paris, a  combination of projections by 59 Productions, Natasha Katz’s lighting designs, and Bob Crowley’s attractively painted backdrops, virtually dance. Added to this, Rob Fisher has adapted and arranged the original music and the film’s score with incomparable finesse.

Wheeldon has created a dance-driven style of story telling that grabs, holds and induces emotional wonder.  He creatively uses modern and classical dance moves to create fine story telling.  He molds together the use of techniques such as “jazz hands” with ballet point grace to create a new style of stage movement.

The cast are all triple threat performers.  Many are well known ballet dancers who can sing and act with amazing skill.

New York Ballet principal, Robert Fairchild, who is Broadway leading-man handsome, commands the stage in every way.  He doesn’t perform that role of Jerry, he is Jerry.  He has charisma and believability.  He has a physical and emotional connection with Leanne Cope (Lise) that translates into their being believable lovers.  His vocalizations of “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck” and “Liza” are dazzling.  His “Fidgety Feet” make sitting calmly in a seat without tapping your toes impossible.

Broadway newcomer, Leanne Cope, with her Leslie Caron adorableness, creates a charming Lise.  Trained at the Royal Ballet School, she is not only a brilliant dancer but her singing voice is wonderful.  Her “The Man I Love” is note-on. 

Brandon Uranowitz has a wonderful sense of comic timing and acting skills that make Adam into an accessible and often sympathetic soul.  He has a fine singing voice.

Jill Paice effectively creates Milo as a sophisticated, yet emotionally fragile wealthy woman who tries to buy what she wants.  Her versions of “Shall We Dance” and duets such as “Who Cares?,” and “But Not For Me” are well sung.

Max von Essen is believable as Henri, Lise’s fiancée, who knows that she is Jewish and was hidden by his family during the war while he secretly was in the resistance.  He has a fine singing voice.

Capsule judgement:  AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, A New Musical, is a visual, dance-driven Broadway story-telling creation that is gorgeous, enchanting, seamless and sophisticated.   It is a tribute not only to the music of George and Ira Gershwin, but to the genius of director Christopher Wheeldon, and the performance abilities of a stellar cast.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS:  A New Musical, is being performed in an open run, at The Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway, New York.  Tickets are for sale at various sites including Ticketmaster.com or 877-250-2929.  For information about the show go to:  AnAmericaninParisBroadway.com



Sunday, May 10, 2015

WOLVES, a supposed modern fairy tale, a bewildering experience at convergence-continuum

Steve Yockey’s WOLVES:  AN URBAN FABLE, now on stage at convergence-continuum, centers on three people, Ben and Jack, ex-lovers who still live in the same apartment, and Wolf, a trick that Jack picks up one night at a bar.

Ben, who comes from a small town is xenophobic, agoraphobic and jealous.  He is afraid of strangers and everything that is foreign.  He fears leaving the confines of the small apartment he shares with Jack, his former lover.  Though the relationship is over, as far as Jack is concerned, Ben still tries to cling on.  He attempts to limit Jack’s contacts with the outer world so that Jack will not find someone else and leave Ben.

The haphazardly developed script leaves much to the audience’s imagination.

Questions arise.   Why did Ben leave his small town and move to the big (unnamed) city?  How did this psychologically fragile man/child acquire a handsome lover like Jack?  What does Ben do to make money for rent and pay for other necessities since he refuses to leave the apartment?

Why is Jack, who probably moved in with Ben because he was desperate for a place to stay, still living in the apartment with the smothering Ben?  What, if anything, does he do to earn his keep?  How did the duo meet since Ben doesn’t leave the apartment?  There is a single line, thrown in much like an afterthought, that they used to go out and have fun, but that idea is never developed.

What we do know is that Jack goes out one evening with a desire to meet someone.  The someone turns out to be Wolf, not his real name but so named by Jack because Ben refers to the world outside as a dangerous place, filled with wolves. 

Wolf makes it clear, when Jack brings him back to the apartment, that what he wants is sex.  After a series of “getting to know you” short conversations, Wolf and Jack start to make out.  Their actions quickly turn  aggressive, both stripping off their shirts, Jack apparently asking for and getting rough sex.  Ben enters, picks up an axe, and destroys Wolf.  (Why an ax is in the apartment is not explained.  I guess we are to assume that it is there to protect the residents from potential invaders.)  Wolf is chopped up, off stage, and the play ends with some inane conversation between the blood soaked Jack and Ben.

At the start of the play, the narrator tells us that we shouldn’t look for a moral in this so-called modern day deconstruction of the Red Riding Hood fairy tale.  She’s not exactly accurate.  There are topics from which morals can be drawn, for those interested in searching for them.  There is the issue of sex and fear in modern culture.  There is the subject of mental illness.  There is the clash between love and need.   And, there is the issue of the morality of lustful murder.

Yockey is noted for being a poetic playwright who pushes the boundaries.  In spite of some award nominations (“Out” magazine’s top-10-stage plays of 2012, and being a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for best LGBT Drama of 2014/15),  WOLF is not a well-written script.   What the award committees saw as quality in the script is a mystery.

Much of the required exposition is left out.  The tie to Red Riding Hood is shallow.  Jack does wear a red hoodie when he goes out to the bar where he picks up the appropriately named Wolf. The characters are quite one-dimensional.  The script just stops.  It doesn’t end in a conclusion of finality.  I guess we can conclude that monsters lurk not only in the streets, but also within.

The con-con production is uneven.  Director Cory Molner does keep the action moving.  There is a clever use of lighting.

Handsome Beau Reinker has the boyish charm that is character-correct for Jack.  He should be praised for making the most out of lines that often have no written motivation for action.  The rest of the cast are not as successful in developing their roles.  In their behalf, they are often given lines that simply don’t translate well into the meaningful spoken word.

Capsule Judgement:  WOLVES:  AN URBAN FABLE is not a well-written script, nor does it have a compelling story line.  Though some may find the experience of value, others will find the experience bewildering.

WOLVES runs through May 30, 2015, at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Road.  Leave yourself time for maneuvering, as much of Tremont is dug up due to the construction of the new bridge over the Cuyahoga.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074.