Saturday, January 22, 2022

Dobama’s HURRICANE DIANE may inspire you to rip out your manicured lawn!

 



HURRICANE DIANE, a 90-minute play without intermission, now on stage at Dobama, has been described as “An astonishing new play which whirls ancient myth, lesbian pulp, ecological thriller and The Real Housewives of Monmouth County into a perfect storm of timely tragicomedy.” 
 
The play opens with a delightful monologue in which Diane, a permaculture gardener, with supernatural powers, since she is, in fact, the Greek god Dionysus, explains that she has come for an earthly visit to try and alert the modern world of the needed climate change.  She plans to start this by restoring the Earth to its natural state.
 
Where-or-where does Diane decide to start her daunting task?  Why, of course by convincing four New Jersey suburban housewives of the need to get rid of the their well mowed grass, eliminate their formal gardens and go natural.  (“Yeh, shuw, in N’wjoisey.  Wha-kind-a nutsy ideur.”)
 
Her tools of persuasion?  Seduction, conjuring up a hurricane complete with blackouts and home destruction, and pitting the women against each other.
 
HURRICANE DIANE’S author, Madeleine George, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2014 and she won the 2016 Whiting Award for Drama.   She has been described as "a playwright at home in the messiness of us. She writes rigorously about love and its great sacrifices, and we are pulled to her scenes and words because she will not compromise how complicated we truly are."
 
She says of her script, “The question that I was groping towards in this play is I feel like nobody wants to deal with climate change.”  She goes on, “My partner was telling me that when she was at the Women’s March, some people got up at the rally, after the rally was kind of cooking, and started talking about climate change and the place emptied out. Everybody is just like, ‘Nope, nope. Can’t.’ Nobody wants to think about it, nobody wants to talk about it. It feels like it’s just going to be like somebody hitting you with a slab of concrete and there’s nothing you can do.”
 
She has developed a script which may confound many who want to dig beyond the obvious topic of the need to be aware and do something about climate change.  It is full of laughs, elicits gasps and carries an important message.  
 
As Nathan Motta, Dobama’s Artistic Director states in his program notes, “Climate change is no joke.  The devastating effects of drought and flood, fires and storms, threaten human lives now and in the future.  It’s an epic problem now and in the future.”  He goes on to state that it is hard to get people to listen to the message, but Madeleine George has found a way to get the audience involved by using laughter to put the audience at ease and make the experience wildly enjoyable, so that we let our guard down.
 
Dobama’s production is compelling.  It is well-conceived, well-cast and technically masterful.
 
The ensemble cast is flawless.  Each character is well-conceived.  



 
Aimee Collier, who has received recognition by both the Cleveland Critics Circle and Broadwayworld.com for her performance excellence, is other-world perfect as Diane.  She has a keen sense of comic timing and is bigger than life in transforming herself into a real “dyke” god.
 
Lara Melcarei (Pam Annunziata) is nothing short of perfect “Nujoisee-centric.” Complete with lots of jewelry, over-done makeup, ostentatious clothing, and a stereotypical loud whine, she screams “lady of the garden state.”  
 
Natalie Green showcases her talent for getting into the mind of the characters she portrays by accurately creating Beth Wann as a woman who lacks self-pride and an understanding of her personal worth.  Green allows us to see, hear and feel Beth’s pain.
 
Renee Shapiro-Epps is written as a strong, black, successful woman.  As created by Coleen Longshaw, Renee’s vulnerability also becomes clear. It is obvious why Longshaw has had a successful career in professional theatre. 
 
Lana Sugarman has perfectly nailed the persona of the up-tight, “what will the neighbors think,” insecure Carol Fleischer. 
 
Director, Shannon Sindelar, again displays her creativity and ability to take the written word and create a living entity of the script.  She has selected a well-balanced cast and molded the performers and technical aspects into a play worth seeing. 
 
The one thing Sindelar was not able to conquer is Dobama’s newly conformed performance space.  The soccer field length stage makes it impossible for everyone to consistently hear and connect with the performers.  The former arrangement, which was a three-quarter round configuration, left those seated on the extreme sides isolated and not hearing clearly.  This new configuration is probably worse as no one is in a consistent hear-and-react zone.  Motta and his staff need to go back to the drawing board!
 
Jill David has created a good set design.  The upscale kitchen, in front of a long wall of painted duplicate cul-de-sacs, is a perfect image of New Jersey suburbs.
 
Kevin Duchon’s light design carries us from warm and comfortable suburban kitchen to a hurricane-like atmosphere and isolation.
 
Megan Culley’s sound design is astounding.  It creates music and sounds that carry us through the emotional segments of the performance.
 
CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  HURRICANE DIANE is a well-written script which gets a top-notch production at Dobama.  Sit back, appreciate fine acting and top-notch tech work, as you hopefully learn about the need for all of us to work to curb climate change.  You might also conjure up a more audience-friendly configuration for the Dobama performance space.
 
HURRICANE DIANE runs January 21-February 13, 2022.  For tickets go to dobama.org or call (216) 932-3396.

 

 


Wednesday, December 08, 2021

CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE PRESENTS A HOLLY-JOLLY MUSICAL OF HOLIDAY CHEER




It’s that time of year again.  Yes, stores are all decked out in holiday decorations, the Allen Theatre lobby is filled with Christmas Trees, and local theatres are strutting their stuff doing holiday productions. Many of the venues have run out of fresh material so they are remounting scripts from the past or trying to conceive some new holiday cheer and eliminate mid-Covid angst.

An enterprising composer/writer could make a fortune writing some quality holiday shows.  The theatres could sure use them.  

The Cleveland Play House, after years of reprising THE CHRISTMAS STORY finally gave in this year and is trying LIGHT IT UP! which their advertising states is “a holly-jolly musical event that features original pop, rock, gospel, and jazz holiday tunes and new arrangements of traditional Christmas carols.” 

Co-creator Lelund Durond Thompson states, “Coming out of the last year with the pandemic where we have been isolated and where we’ve not had the opportunity to feel, inspire, connect – we really wanted to create a piece that spoke to the need for us to really enjoy living life.” 

Director Christopher Windom adds, “Where we are at this time in this moment in this year, I can’t think of anything that would be more meaningful than a dose of delight during the holiday season.”

The evening is a blend of new and old holiday songs sung by a very talented cast (Florrie Bagel, Kristina Gabriela, Matt Gittins, Brennyn Lark, Terica Marie, Gustavo Márquez, Benjamin H. Moore, Christopher B. Portley, Helen Marla White, Mariama Whyte).

The staging included “Light It Up” a rousing singing and dancing show opener, a joyous “Joy to the World,” a moving Yiddish version of “Maoz Tzurz” (“Rock of Ages”), and an inspiring “Santa Lucia,” among others.

The musicians were excellent, both as backups to the singers, as well as when they came center-stage and showcased their talents.

One might question why the decision was made to break up the wonderful singing with such trite devices as adding the Tinselville Players, playing unfunny audience participation games and faking a storyline.  Musical reviews, composed of only songs and some dancing have entertained for years.  There doesn’t have to be a story line, especially one that is so trite.  

Capsule judgment:  The cast sings well…let them sing!!!  The audience was lite up when the singing and dancing were being performed!  Cut out the trite tale and accent the positive! 

LIGHT IT UP!, which plays through December 22, 2021 at the Allen Theatre, was developed with support of the Roe Green Fund for New American Plays.

For ticket, which range from $15 to $95, call 216.241.6000 or go on line to  www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

 

Monday, December 06, 2021

Convergence-Continuum exposes gay entrapment in THE 20TH CENTURY

 



Convergence-Continuum exposes gay entrapment in THE 20TH CENTURY WAY

 

Roy Berko

(Cleveland Critics Circle & American Theater Critics Association)

 

California is noted as the home of liberal beliefs and a relaxed attitude toward sex.  That wasn’t always the case. 

 

In 1914, men were arrested during a raid of the 606 Club and the 96 Club, two gay spaces that had been on the police force’s radar for some time. The bust was huge, and one of the first entrapment schemes that garnered wide press. 

 

The Los Angeles Times and oth­er sen­sa­tion­al­ist news­pa­pers prin­ted the names of the ar­res­ted men.  The results of the arrests and trials were devastating.  Many lives were ruined and at least one life was lost.  John Lamb, a prom­in­ent Long Beach banker and Epis­copal Church of­ficer, killed him­self soon after he was ar­res­ted.

 

The scandal, among other things, led to an ordinance against “oral sodomy” in California.  That law was followed by similar laws in other states.



That tale of entrapment, and how it came about, is the basis for Tom Jacobson’s THE 20TH CENTURY WAY, now on stage at convergence-continuum, Cleveland’s “we don’t do plays that any other local theater stages.” 

 

Yes, the artistic director of con-con, as it is referred to by its followers, prides himself on shocking his audience with his play choices. And, this play is definitely shocking.

 

The script tells the tale of how two out-of-work actors hired themselves out to the Long Beach Police Department.  Their goal was to entrap “social vagrants” (homosexuals) in public restrooms. Their motivation?  They got a fee for every “pervert” they exposed, as well as being able to play “real” policemen.

Jacobson uses a play within a play format in which the two characters are portraying trying out the entrapment roles they are to play as well as how the entrapments will take place. 

The author approaches the exposition using a Pirandello type concept in which each of the characters walks the fine line between “reality, sanity and identity.” 

In the script, Jacobson challenges the meaning of morality, explores sexual identity, and if it is possible to be honest and true to oneself.

The performers are required to quickly switch from being the actors who are going to do the entrapments, to being the many men who are being entrapped.  Their only devices are a few costume parts, vocal changes, non-verbal alterations and lighting changes. 

To make the play work requires the actors to seamlessly slip in and out of the characters.  They must be totally believable and the staging must be meticulous, leaving no doubt of the realness of these men.

Con-con’s production, unfortunately, proves to be too much of a stretch for both the actors and the director. 

The many line flubs broke the character development and did havoc on a lighting device that was intended to separate reality from role play.   Costume changes were often awkward.  The improvisational techniques, a requirement for this script, were seemingly not part of the tool chest of the cast.

Previous productions of the script have called the stagings “intriguing,” “fast-paced,” “a display of sexual tension,” “fun” and “a piece that makes us think.”  

Con-con’s staging lacked in being both intriguing and fast-paced.  The ninety minutes dragged into what seemed like hours.  Fun?  There wasn’t an audible laugh heard from the attenders.  There was no sexual tension between the performers.   The script did make one think.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  The topic of THE 20TH CENTURY WAY, if, not the play’s production, should please con-con regulars.  The theme is intriguing and spotlights an important moment in US history that led to many bad laws being passed, gay men being persecuted and prosecuted, and great angst.  It took a late 20th century Supreme Court decision to undue the horror.

THE 20TH CENTURY WAY plays through December 18, 2021.  For tickets go to www.convergence-contnuum.org

Next up at con-con:  The Cleveland premiere of DOG ACT by Liz Duffy-Adams (March 25-April 16).

Sunday, December 05, 2021

ELF the musical


 Yes, Beck’s ELF “is tinseled in synthetic sentiment and instantly forgettable. 

Each holiday season Beck Center presents a child-centric show.  The scripts are the likes of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, THE LITTLE MERMAID, and SHREK.  These are selections that have audience involving stories, well-known music and lyrics, show-stoppers, farcical humor or dramatic intrigue, and the opportunity for choreographic creativity. 
 
This year’s offering is ELF, the tale of Buddy Hobbs, a young orphan who, one Christmas Eve, crawls into Santa Claus’ bag of gifts while the jolly old man is delivering presents.
 
When he gets back to the North Pole, Santa and the elves decide that Buddy, as they have named him, should be raised as an elf.  That would have been no problem, but the wee-little baby grows into a tall gangling man.  When Buddy realizes, after overhearing a discussion, that he is a human, and though his mother is dead, he does have a living father, he heads off to New York City in search of Walter Hobbs, his dad.
 
Dressed in his Elf clothing, Buddy runs into all sorts of conflicts with reality.  His father isn’t interested in another son as he already has one who he basically ignores. Buddy falls in love with a beautiful woman who isn’t interested in his affection.  The department store Santas don’t like Buddy exposing them as frauds.  But…in the end, of course, Buddy finds love and love and more love.
 
Sounds like it could be fun.  The movie version of the tale was a total farcical delight. 
 
Unfortunately, the pencil thin plot by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan sketched from the film, and the unremarkable music by Matthew Sklar, and bland words by Chad Beguelin, simply aren’t memorable enough to hold attention and get the audience fascinated in poor Buddy’s journey.  
 
As a reviewer of one of the short runs the script had on Broadway stated, “the production 
is tinseled in synthetic sentiment and is instantly forgettable. ”  
 
That review did say that the show was “performed with a cheer that borders on mania.”  If only the Beck staging was farcical, over-done, or filled with the slapstick of the movie or even the ill-fated Great White Way show, it might have some saving grace.  
 
The staging overlooked so many chances to go beyond the inane script and add some farcical fun to the goings on.  This show could be a hoot, or at least, fun-filled.
 
Martin Céspedes is one of the area’s most creative choreographers.  He can make almost any script shine. Unfortunately, because of the one-tone music, he doesn’t have the opportunity to reach into his bag of tricks and create fascinating visual delights.  The bland pacing of the show also limits him as the production numbers have to take their cues from the philosophy of the staging.  He can’t have razzle dazzle dancing while the rest of the production lacks pizzazz.  
 
That’s not to say that the cast didn’t put out full effort.  It did.  Lanky Tim Allen tries hard to make Buddy charming and likeable.  Unfortunately, he isn’t given enough “schtick” to have a holly, jolly time playing the role.  Young Owen Hill (Michael Hobbs), has a great singing voice, but the quality of the songs he is given to sing just doesn’t match his vocal qualities.  Merrie Drees (Jovie) and Lily Warner (Deb) have nice singing voices.    
 
The highlight of the show is Brittany Merenda’s creative visual projections in which the stage’s proscenium and inner prosceniums are a constantly changing display of holiday gift-wrapping designs.  
 
Larry Goodpasture’s large orchestra plays well and Beck’s finicky sound system is nicely tamed by Carlton Guc.  Steve Shack’s lighting design adds a warm comic quality to the stage.
 
CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  Beck’s ELF lacks the farcical quality and creativity of the movie on which it is based.  Part of the problem is the poor quality of the script.  The rest is the lack of creativity in the staging.   It may be a pleasant sit for some, but for others it will be a quickly forgettable experience.  
 
ELF runs though January 2, 2021 at the Senney Theater of the Beck Center for Performing Arts.  For tickets call 216-521-2540 X10.
 
Next up at Beck:  LIZZIE, a sexy, bloody American mythology set to a blistering score of hard rock. Produced in collaboration with Baldwin Wallace University Music Theatre Program. It runs Feb 4-26. 

Friday, November 12, 2021

BW’s INTO THE WOODS offers a path out of Covid angst



INTO THE WOODS is a musical with a book by James Lapine and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. 

Yes, that Stephen Sondheim, the man who is credited with reinventing the American musical with shows that tackle unexpected themes, music and lyrics of such complexity and sophistication that they challenge performers and musicians who are responsible for taking “Sondheim” off the page and into the world of production.  

Sondheim, the man who ignores the genre’s traditional subjects and writes instead of assassins (ASSASSINS), unmarried men (COMPANY), has-been performers (FOLLIES), revenge (SWEENEY TODD), artists (SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE), isolationism (PACIFIC OVERTURES) and the foibles of fables. 
 
Foibles of fables is the focus of INTO THE WOODS, now on stage at Baldwin Wallace University.  

The musical intertwines the plots of several Grimm fairy tales by exploring the consequences of the characters' wishes and desires. The main characters are taken from “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and “Cinderella,” with guest performances by Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.  

The musical is tied together by a story involving a childless baker and his wife and their quest to have a child, which is actually the original beginning of “Rapunzel,” their confronting the witch who placed a curse on them, and their interaction with storybook characters during their journey searching for things the witch requires to withdraw the curse.

The first act ends with “happily ever after,” while the second act illustrates that life is not a fairy tale, but that there is a price to be paid for our wishes. 

The show’s themes include the angst of growing up, the relationship between parents and children, the difficulties of accepting responsibility, morality and, most importantly, wish fulfillment and its consequences.  
 
Theatre experts have opined that, since the show was conceived in the 1980s, the height of the AIDS crisis, the show is a parable about the disease.  They perceived that “the Giant's Wife serves as a metaphor for HIV/AIDS, killing good and bad characters indiscriminately and forcing the survivors to band together to stop the threat and move on from the devastation.”   The modern day parallel would be the implications of the COVID crisis.

“Sondheim drew on parts of his troubled childhood when writing the show. In 1987, he told Time Magazine that the ‘father uncomfortable with babies [was] his father, and [the] mother who regrets having had children [was] his mother.”

INTO THE WOODS had a 1987-89 Broadway run of 765 performances and was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning three.

The BW production, under the creative direction of Victoria Bussert, is not only well-conceived and compelling, but is also a tribute to the quality of the students and faculty of one of the best collegiate musical theatre programs.

After almost two years of education via zoom, the cast emerged to face the daunting task of performing a very complex show filled with challenging Sondheim music and daunting acting hurdles.  To make matters even more difficult, because of the need to give the many students in the Musical Theatre program an opportunity to perform before a live audience, the show is double cast and there is a full set of understudies.

The task of getting the horde of students ready for the return to live theater, fell on the shoulders of not only Bussert, but choreographer Greg Daniels and musical director Matthew Webb.  The well-honed production is a tribute to their abilities.

The performance comments are based on my having seen the “Prince” cast, which is on stage November 10, 12, 14, 18 and 20.  The “Cinderella” cast is on stage the other performances of the run.

Dario Alvarez well creates a Baker who is focused on his task and is a loving husband and father.  “It Takes Two,” his duet with his wife, the charming, Amelia Beckham, is delightful.

Claire Marie Miller (Cinderella) displays a wonderful comic-timing sense, especially in doing prat-falls.  Her “On the Steps of the Palace,” illustrates not only her strong singing voice but her music story telling abilities.  She shines, as does Amelia Beckham, in “A Very Nice Prince.”

Nicholas Hermick (Jack) displays a wonderful child-sensitive quality, which is well-expressed in “Giants in the Sky.”

Eileen Brady skips and sprightly dances in creating a delightful Little Red Riding hood. “Hello, Little Girl,” co-sung with Jack Borenstein, the wolf, is a show highlight.

“Agony” is a fun-bit nicely sung by Cinderella’s Prince (Jack Hale) and Rapunzel’s Prince (Makay Johnson).

The “star” of the show was RhonniRose Mantilla, the witch, who made “Children Will Listen” one of the greatest songs in the Broadway musical lexicon, a meaningful show closer.  She has a lot of the qualities of BW grad Ciara Renée, who has appeared on the Great White Way in BIG FISH, PIPPIN, FROZEN, and will take the stage shortly in Broadway’s WAITRESS.

The rest of the leading players and chorus were excellent. 

Jeff Herrmann’s set design which cleverly used the entire proscenium stage, Tesia Dugan Benson’s costumes, Angela Baughman’s sound design, and David Allen Stoughton’s lighting, all added to the over-all positive effect.

Capsule Judgment:  Sprightly, fresh, well done, all involving INTO THE WOODS is a must see!

For tickets to INTO THE WOODS, which runs from November 10-21, 2021 in BW’s Kleist Center for Art and Drama go to bw.edu/tickets or call 440-826-2369.
 
Upcoming BW/Musical Theater events:
December 4, 7 p.m.—SENIOR CELEBRATION—Each music theatre senior will perform one number from their virtual senior recital.  Tickets required.
 
February 4-27, 2022—LIZZIE THE MUSICAL—Beck Center for the Arts, Lakewood--BW Musical Theatre students, as directed by Victoria Bussert, present the Lizzie Borden tale of did she or didn’t she ax-out her parents.  Tickets required. 


April 22 & 23, 2022—LIGHTNING THIEF—Playhouse Square-Helen Theatre—BW grad Chris McCarrell, who starred in the off-Broadway production, will direct present BW students.  The musical tale centers on Percy Jackson, a dyslexic twelve-year old with ADHD.  While on a school trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the chaperones attacks him.  Percy's favorite teacher, Mr. Brunner, lends Percy a magical sword-pen to defeat her.  And, thus, the mythical tale begins.  Tickets required.

Thursday, November 04, 2021



Entertaining THE PROM, a musical with a social message, gets a deserved standing “O” at the Connor Palace 


Roy Berko
 
In 2010 a gay Mississippi high school student was banned from coming to her senior prom by the school’s Board of Education because she wanted to bring her girlfriend as her date.  She challenged the ruling, which resulted in the cancellation of the prom.  The student and the ACLU sued the district.  The federal court found the school district guilty of violating the student’s first amendment rights and said the prom must be held.  

The board reinstated the prom, but local parents organized an alternative event to be held on the same night, but kept the event and its location a secret so the gay student and the media would not know.  
 
Celebrities, such as Green Day and Lance Bass rallied together via social media to show support for the student and sponsored a “Second-Chance” prom, where students could attend without homophobic backlash.
 
That event was the impetuous for Jack Viertel’s concept musical, THE PROM, which is starting its national tour with Cleveland performances as part of Key Bank’s Broadway series.  The show features music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin and book co-authored by Beguelin and Bob Martin.
 
The story centers on four frustrated Broadway actors, at a failure crossroad in their careers, who contrive a way to get attention by traveling to the conservative town of Edgewater, Indiana, to help Emma, a lesbian student banned from bringing her girlfriend to the high school prom.
 
The Broadway production was critically greeted with such comments as, "such a joyful hoot,” “with its kinetic dancing, broad mugging and belting anthems, it makes you believe in musical comedy again," and “with a tuneful score, a playful book, and performances that remind you what Broadway heart and chutzpah are all about, this cause cerebra of a show turns out to be a joyous, funny, and sweet production that should appeal to several generations of musical fans." 
 
The touring production, which rehearsed in Cleveland, was met with smiles, laughs, cheers, resounding applause and a well-deserved standing ovation on opening night.
 
The story, though possessing the quality of a TV sitcom tale, has a meaningful purpose, is tightly written and keeps attention throughout.  This is not CHORUS LINE or MAN OF LA MANCHA, but proves to be a delight to a Covid-experiencing audience, that is in need of a relief from angst.
 
The show follows the tried-and-true pattern of American musicals since OKLAHOMA, the first book musical.  The opening number sets the pattern for the humor, sprightly dancing, and the over-done performances that follow.  The first act ends with a cliff-hanger that the audience must come back for act two, or not know whether the heroine’s problem is resolved, and ends with a joyous audience-invigorating finale. There are several show stoppers, a tender song that is reprised, and an obvious moral. 
 
“The musical opens on Broadway, where 
Eleanor!: The Eleanor Roosevelt Story is celebrating its opening night with its lead cast members Dee Dee Allen and Barry Glickman.  The musical is bashed by The New York Times because Dee Dee and Barry do not understand their characters since they are self-absorbed narcissists, resulting in the show closing on opening night. To improve their image, the actors decide to take up "a cause" to appear selfless After searching on Twitter, they find Emma, a teenager from Indiana whose prom was cancelled by the PTA because she wanted to bring her girlfriend. Seeing the opportunity, and some personal connection, the actors decide to go to Indiana to help.”

Of course, there are stumbles and conflict and love affairs along the way, but, as is the case with all “fairy tales,” there is a happy ever-after ending.

Don’t be surprised to hear Broadway songs that sound familiar.  The writers have snuck in references to GODSPELL (“The Acceptance Song”) and CHICAGO (Zazz”)

The cast for the touring show is top notch.  Patrick Wetzel delights as the “over the top” gay Barry Glickman.  Kaden Kearney is appealing as Emma, the lesbian who only wants to “Dance with You.”  Her heartfelt rendition of that song is the vocal highlight of the show.  Courtney Batan finely walks the tightrope of not going overboard and creating ridiculous, as diva Dee Dee Allen.  She is quite the effective vocal belter.  



 
Emily Borromeo’s Fosse jazz dancing aficionado is marvelous in “Zazz.”  The real Julliard might be either delighted or abashed to have obsessive Bud Weber (Trent) as a grad, but the audience was enthusiastic with his performance.  The rest of the cast and chorus were excellent.
 
Kudos to choreographer and director Casey Nicholaw and music conductor Chris Gurr for jobs well done.
 
CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  THE PROM is an old-fashioned musical which tells a contemporary tale with a moral.  The touring company gives a fresh, dynamic, fun and tune-filled performance that delighted the audience and got a well-deserved standing ovation.  Applause, Applause!
 
THE PROM will be on the Connor Palace stage through November 21, 2021.  For tickets go to 
https://www.playhousesquare.org/events/detail/the-prom or call 216-241-6000.

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Thought-provoking AIRNESS brings back live performance to Dobama

 



Air guitar is a form of dance and movement in which performers pretend to play an imaginary electric guitar.  Performances include exaggerated strumming motions and recorded rock music often coupled with loud singing or lip-synching.

 

On the surface, AIRNESS, Chelsea Marcantel’s play now on stage at Dobama, is a spoof on air guitar competitions and the people who participate in what many think of as a frivolous activity. 

 

The story centers on Nina (Maria Burks), a band guitarist, who enters her first air guitar competition, supposedly to compete.  In reality she is searching for her boy-friend, D Vicious (Michael Glavan), the reigning national air guitar champion, who broke off their relationship, leaving with no notice or reason.

 

She meets contenders Cannibal Queen (Eric Scerbak), Shreddy Eddy (Lue Brett), Golden Thunder (Corin B. Self) and Facebender (Tim Keo), all who are conflicted and in a search for personal purpose.  Instead of finding meaningless, she finds friendships, and discovers what it means to find airness, both on stage and in life.

 

Airness is the state of a person so absorbed in something that they lose their inhibitions and transcend the lack of self-worth, thus setting themselves free to be in a state of pure joy.

 

The play helps one to realize that the angst of living, especially in these days of Covid, conflicting realities, and political and philosophical strife, has unleashed a need for escapes from reality.  It illustrates that angst can present itself in physical and verbal aggression, as has been displayed on commercial airlines, in attacking school board members due to misunderstanding the teaching of racial and ethnic awareness, participating in the Black Lives Matter and/or Me-Too rallies, or acting out negatively at athletic events. 

 

The script seems to proport that maybe a little more air guitar participation might be the way to get rid of stress in a non-aggressive way.

 

Marcantel, who is presently developing new plays at the Cleveland Play House through a commission from the Roe Green Fund for New American Plays, won the American Theatre Critics Association Osborn New Play Award in 2018 for AIRNESS.  She recently won the Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theatre from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for her new musical THE MONSTER.

 

Reviews of other productions of AIRNESS posit that, “If you are looking for an amazing piece of theatre that will get you on your feet tapping, wailing and clapping in mid-air – while also moving you to reflect on and care for yourself – look no further; this bad boy is for you” and

“An all-out comedy that’s fricking funny, hella heartfelt, and badass brilliant.” 

 

I wish I could use the same platitudes as those reviews for Dobama’s production.

 

Though the performance, under the directorship of Nathan Motto, is entertaining and develops the play’s theme, it lacks the dynamism needed to get the audience wailing and clapping.  The drawback is not the fault of the actors’ character development or line presentations, it is their lack of charisma during the air guitar presentations.  It is difficult, based on the generally weak routines of the Dobama cast, to believe that thousands of people attend the national and international air guitar competitions.

 

Weak that is, with the exception of Trey Gilpin, the show’s uninhibited, compelling, rad, heartfelt, rockin’, narrator.  The rest of the cast could take some lessons from him on really getting into the music and being uninhibited.

 

Some may argue that the lack of talent of the guitar performances aids in drawing the attention to the play’s purpose, but, these are supposed to be people who make the national finals, and those in the real-world are dynamic, compelling and emotionally involving. (If you have never seen a well-performed air guitar playing go onto You Tube and watch.  Try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMIws86ZLyk)

 

The hour and a half production is performed without intermission.

 

As per Equity rules, those in attendance must show proof that they are totally vaccinated and wearing of a mask during the entire production.

 

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  AIRNESS is a fine play to attend if you are feeling angst and need an escape.  Though much of the air guitar playing could have been more dynamic and involving, the message of the author stands out. 

 

AIRNESS continues at Dobama through November 21, 2021.  For tickets go to:  Tickets — Dobama Theatre or call 216-932-3396



Sunday, October 31, 2021

WHERE DO WE SIT ON THE BUS? Is a trip centering on Latinx-American culture at CPH

 



For the last several years more and more attention has been placed on The Black Lives Matter and Me-Too movements, woke language, micro-aggression, radical feminism, transgenderism, Critical Race Theory and aggression against Asians.  They have become issues for laws, politics, education, media and the arts.

 

After almost two-years of non-live production, the Tony winning Cleveland Play House opened its 106th season with Brian Quijada’s solo show, WHERE DID WE SIT ON THE BUS?”

 

During a third-grade lesson on the Civil Rights movement and Rosa Parks, a Latina child raises her hand to ask, “Where did we sit on the bus?” Her teacher can’t answer the question.

 

“This autobiographical solo show follows that kid from her childhood to adulthood as she explores her family’s history, her identity as a first-generation American, and what the world will be like for her future children. Featuring live music that brings together Latin beats, hip-hop, and looping, WHERE DID WE SIT ON THE BUS?  examines what it means to be Latinx [and a lesbian] in America.”

 

Brian Quijada, the play’s author, explains that he felt alone growing up as a first-generation Salvadorian-American in a basically all white Chicago suburb, where his friends were almost all Jewish. 

 

He wrote the autobiographic, WHERE DID WE SIT ON THE BUS, in an attempt to put his thoughts in order.  As the play has been performed around the country, he “was delighted to find that many people from diverse backgrounds felt a deep kinship with the themes of the show.” 

 

Quijada’s retelling reminds us that we are each the product of not only our heredity, but our environment (our family, theological experiences, school, community, media, and the era in which we lived, among others).  They are the formation blocks for our attitudes and beliefs and the language(s) spoken.

 

In Quijada’s case, he was “heavily influenced by his upbringing, his immigrant parents, and his continued search for identity.”  Because of this background his writing is infused with Latin rhythms, hip-hop, R&B, ‘70s and ‘80s rock, finger drumming, slam poetry, and looping (the repetition of small musical phrases that are edited together back-to-back), as well as the spoken word.

 

It is this multi-dimensional-approach, that should have made the production extra-ordinary.  Unfortunately, the fact that the approach is overdone, and also some decisions by director Matt Dickson that detract from the story and instead overly draw attention to the staging devices, the experience, though positive, is not compelling.

 

Constant sounds, both on-stage produced by the Satya Chávez, as Bee Quijada, and off-stage, drown out the words.  Chavez’s constant moving around, with no purpose other than to step on the multi-number of looping pedals, picking up and strumming a guitar for a couple of chords and putting them down without really playing them, and adjusting electronic instruments, often becomes overwhelming.   They distract rather than add purpose. 

 

Maybe those who are used to music played loudly with no emphasis on the words spoken, or being constantly stimulated with multi-sources of outputs, the cacophony of sounds and actions would add to the experience, but to the theatre-goer interested in words having meanings, and movements being motivated to stress the understanding and build the action, the sensory overload is not helpful.  The oft-random movements also slowed down the action and broke audience involvement.

 

The script was written by and originally performed by a male.  In the CPH production Bee is played by Satya Chávez, an out-lesbian.  Adjustments have been made in the script to add the gay spotlight as well as the Latina experience.  One must also wonder if, in other productions, the ever touched, but seldomly actually played guitars, were actually used to accompany the songs.

 

One of the productions highlights was a piano/singing solo by Chávez.

 

The author served as the music supervisor for the CPH production.  He provided additional music looping compositions and played multiple instruments through the reimagined production.

 

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  WHERE DID WE SIT ON THE BUS tells the angst of being Latino and gay in modern day America.  The CPH production, due to the play’s format and staging, is somewhat frustrating.  Since the piece, according to the author, was intended to be a collection of original poems and songs, it might work best in a concert format, where the huge Allen stage would not have to be traversed and the attention would be just on the performer and the relevant material.

 

WHERE DID WE SIT ON THE BUS, runs from October 23 through November 14, 2021 in the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square. Tickets can be purchased by calling 216.241.6000 or by visiting www.clevelandplayhouse.com



Sunday, October 17, 2021

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, October 16, 2021

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



Appreciative audience welcomes Cleveland Orchestra back to Severance Music Center

 

Roy Berko

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

www.Clevelandorchestra.com

 

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