Sunday, August 12, 2018

2018 FALL Cleveland Theater Calendar




Here’s a list of some of the offerings of local theatres for the fall season (September-December, 2018).  SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL THEATRES! 

You can track my reviews on http://www.royberko.info or contact me to get on my direct review list.  You can see a synopsis of the members of the Cleveland Critics Circle comments about the plays they see at http://www.clevelandtheaterreviews.com/




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

(September 14-October 7) AN ACT OF GOD—A comedy which attempts to give a new meaning to the phrase divine intervention.

(October 5-November 4) WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF—Edward Albee’s masterpiece of mind games and devastation.

(December 7-January 6, 2019) SHREK THE MUSICAL—The musical tale of a social outcast who takes an exciting journey to find out the real meaning of life.

BLANK CANVAS  

440-941-0458 or http://www.blankcanvastheatre.com/
Thursday, Friday and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm

(October 5-27) CANNIBAL THE MUSICAL—From the co-creator of “South Park” and “The Book of Mormon,” comes the “All Singing! All Dancing! All Flesh-Eating” true story of the only person ever convicted of cannibalism in America.  (Show will have a “splatter zone!)

(December 7-22) AVENUE Q--The Tony winning puppet-centric musical that addresses humorous adult issues.  A cult favorite!

CESEAR’S FORUM  
216-241-6000 or go to http://www.cesearsforum.com/
Kennedy’s Theatre—enter from the Ohio Theatre lobby

(September 21-29 @ 8 PM)) PLATH AND ORION--Two one-act plays by Lanford Wilson concerning a chance meeting between two women.  Their poignant, telling and poetic conversations reveal plainly their individual boundaries of hope and reality.
 


CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE  
216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org
7:30 Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 Saturday and Sunday

(September 15-October 7) THE WOMAN IN BLACK— Halloween comes early this year! Arthur Kipps never believed in the supernatural until he came face to face with evil!

(October 13-November 4) SWEAT A compelling portrait of pride and survival in the Rust Belt. To read my review of the Broadway production go to:  https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=3114387099896190039 - editor/target=post;postID=638743968349909341;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=3;src=postname

(November 23-December 23) A CHRISTMAS STORY—Ralph’s back!  One holiday wish.  And a world that seems to be conspiring to make certain it doesn’t come true.  “Be careful or you’ll shoot your eye out!”

CLEVELAND PUBLIC THEATRE
  216-631-2727 or go on line to http://www.cptonline.org/



(October 4 – 6) ¡OBRAS EN EVOLUCIÓN 2018! A FESTIVAL OF NEW PLAY READINGS--written & directed by Teatro Publico de Cleveland Ensemble Members. In English & Spanish with bilingual supertitles.
 

(October 11-27) YA MAMA! The autobiographical story of a young Afro-Creole girl losing a mother, gaining a stepmother, and becoming a mother—all while being an artist. (Originally developed and produced by CPT in 2011.) 

(October 20 – November 10) EVERYTHING IS OKAY (AND OTHER HELPFUL LIES)—the World Premiere of a hot mess musical, in which a group of close friends struggle to navigate the tragedies of life.
 

(November 8 – 11) Y-HAVEN THEATRE PROJECT--Created & Performed by the men of Y-Haven, a branch of the Greater Cleveland YMCA, a transitional housing facility for formerly homeless men recovering from substance abuse and mental health challenges.  The Y-Haven Theatre Project captures an authenticity and emotional power as the cast shares their true-to-life experiences often hidden from the world.
 

(November 23-24) PINCH AND SQUEAL’S WIZBANG!--Two spectacular nights of absolute holiday madness filled with ridiculous acts, local circus performers, and professional misbehavers!
 

(November 29-December 22) CONNI’S AVANT GARDE RESTAURANT: A SNOWBALL’S CHANCE--This hilarious musical performance includes crazy cabaret, comedy, dancing, game show competitions, violence, and a five-course meal. The performers cook and serve the feast, using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. World Premiere.

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

(October 12-November 3)—THIS MUCH (OR AN ACT OF VIOLENCE TOWARD THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE)—Gar can’t decide between the man who plays games and the man on one knee with a ring.  Everyone wants answers, but nothing lives up to the image he has in his head.  Ohio premiere.
 

(November 30-December 15)—RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN—an unflinching look at gender politics.



DOBAMA
 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org
check the theatre’s blog for performance time
 

(September 7-30) SUNSET BABY—Ohio premiere of Dominique Morisseau’s tale of a tough, independent woman in Brooklyn, who is visited by her estranged father, a former revolutionary in the Black Liberation movement, who seeks to mend their broken relationship.

(October 9-November 11) JOHN—A young couple struggling to stay together, stop at a bed and breakfast.  They encounter a cheerful innkeeper, her blind friend and an eerie world crammed with toys and one very odd American Girl doll.

November 30-December 30) ELLA ENCHANTED—Based on the best-selling novel, this modern Cinderella story is filled with delightful music, beautiful puppets, high adventure and plenty of girl power.
 


ENSEMBLE THEATRE
  216-321-2930 or http://www.ensemble-theatre.com
Fridays and Saturdays @ 8, Sundays @ 2

(September 7-30) ALABAMA STORY--A black rabbit marries a white rabbit! — stirs the passions of a segregationist State Senator and a no-nonsense State Librarian in 1959 Montgomery, Alabama, just as the civil rights movement is flowering. Another story of childhood friends — an African-American man and a white woman, reunited in adulthood in Montgomery that same year — provides private counterpoint to the public events of the play.

(October 19-Noveber 11) EAST OF EDEN—A staging of John Steinbeck’s tale of Adam Trask, who is determined to make a new start in California’s Salinas Valley.  But family history, sibling rivalry, and the impending danger of World War I will threaten their little piece of paradise.

(November 30-December 16) AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS—A world premiere staging of Jules Verne’s tale of Phileas Fogg, and his new French valet, attempt to circumnavigate the world in 80 days. 



GREAT LAKES THEATER
  http://www.greatlakestheater.org or 216-241-6000
Wednesday-Saturday @ 7:30, Saturdays @ 1:30, Sundays @ 3

(September 28-November 11) MAMMA MIA! —ABBA’s music set into a tale of love, laughter, family and friendship.  Hanna Theatre

(October 5-Novemer 4) PRIDE AND PREJUDICE –Jane Austin’s classic novel comes to the stage.  Hanna Theatre

(November 30-December 23) A CHRISTMAS CAROL—Charles Dickens’ classic tale of one man’s ultimate redemption.  Ohio Theatre


INTERPLAY JEWISH THEATRE   interplayjewishtheatre@gmail.com or 216-393-PLAY
(Play readings at Dobama are free, but reservations are required.  Presentations at the Maltz Museum are fee based)

(September 16 @ 7 PM) Jazz violinist AARON WEINSTEIN presents
V I O L I N S P I R A T I O N! --Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Hts.
A dessert reception follows the performance.
A minimum $10 donation per person will be collected at the door.
RESERVATIONS are required, including all names in your party. Contact interplayjewishtheatre@gmail.com; or call 216 393-PLAY and leave a message.

KARAMU HOUSE  216-795-707) or www.karamuhouse.org

(September 20-October 14)—SASSY MAMAS—back by popular demand we relieve the experiences of three longtime girlfriends who find themselves single and ready to ensnare much younger suitors. 

(October 25-November 18)—DAY OF ABSENCE—A one-act satire about an imaginary Southern town where all black people suddenly disappeared.

(November 29-December 30)—BLACK NATIVITY—Langston Hughes’ famed retelling of the Nativity story with an entirely African-American cast, performed in gospel style!



LAKELAND CIVIC THEATRE  440-525-7134 or http://lakelandcc.edu/academic/arts/theatre/index.asp
Performances at Lakeland Community College

(September 7-28) LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC—Stephen Sondheim’s Tony award winning musical about unrequited love, beautiful melodies and a total lack of misunderstanding amongst all the characters.  Musical highlights include “A Weekend in the Country.”




NEAR WEST THEATRE   216-961-6391 or nearwestheatre.org
(September 21-30) NEWSIES—Youth cast, ages 9-15—a musical based on the Disney film.

(November 16-December 9) CARNIVAL—Intergenerational cast, ages 7 and up—The “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round” musical in which Lili, a lonely orphan, is enchanted with a traveling carnival. She gets to join the troupe and ends up working with the puppet act and two men fall in love with her. 


none-too-fragile theatre   330-671-4563 or http://www.nonetoofragile.com
Thursday, Friday and Saturday @ 8, select Sundays @2 and select Mondays at 8

(September 28-October 13) FREAK STORM--Mark Pelfrey’s macabre comedy tells the tale of a young couple who get a visit from two old friends who tell them that someone, or something from their past is coming for them all!

(November 16-December 1) BOOGIBA--Explores the lasting effects of war upon two soldiers of different eras.



OHIO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL  www.ohioshakespearefestival.com
(Winter and Spring Home: Greystone Hall, Akron) Thursdays-Saturdays @ 8, Sundays @ 2

(September 28-October 14)—TREASURE ISLAND:  AN ADVENTURE WITH MUSIC—a new play by Terry Burlger, based on the novel by Robert Lewis Stevenson.   World Premiere.

(November 30-December 16)—SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE—Young Will Shakespeare has writer's block... the deadline for his new play is fast approaching but he's in desperate need of inspiration. That is, until he finds his muse – Viola. This beautiful young woman is Will’s greatest admirer and will stop at nothing (including breaking the law) to appear in his next play.



PLAYHOUSESQUARE
   216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org
See the website for specific dates and times

(October 2-21) HELLO DOLLY—The national tour starts here!  Betty Buckley stars as Dolly in the Tony Award winning musical based on Thornton Wilder’s THE MATCHMAKER.  Songs include: “It Takes a Woman,” “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” “Hello Dolly” and “It Only Takes a Moment.”  Connor Palace

(October 30-November 18) LES MISÉRABLES--“Les Miz” is born again.  A new staging of Boubilil and Schonberg’s Tony Award-winning musical phenomenon, based on the Victor Hugo novel.  Songs include: “One Day More” and “I Dreamed a Dream.”  Connor Palace

(November 27-December)—CHICAGO--Huntington Bank presents a touring production of one of the longest running American musicals in Broadway history.    Connor Palace

BROADWAY BUZZ--Get the inside scoop on Key Bank Broadway shows from host, Joe Garry, one hour before performances. Please check event schedule for exact dates and times. Broadway Buzz Pre-Show Talks are held in the Upper Allen, accessible through the Allen Theatre lobby.

PLAYHOUSE SQUARE TOURS—Nearly 100 years after our historic theaters first opened, Playhouse Square has become the largest performing arts center outside of New York City and hosts nearly 1,000,000 guests and 1,000 curtains each year. Each of the theaters has its own story to tell. Our tours are a great way to learn about the history and community impact of one of Cleveland’s most important cultural institutions.  1 st Saturday of each month, 10-11:30 AM, every 15 minutes a 90-minute tour leaves from Key Bank State Lobby.  No reservations needed for groups of 10 or fewer.




THE MUSICAL THEATER PROJECT
http://www.MusicalTheaterProject.org or 1-800-838-3006 for tickets and information
(productions staged in review format with narration)


(September 17-- The Music Box Supper Club @ 6:30 PM)—MARVELOUS PARTIES—The songs that make shindig sizzle—featuring Eric Fancher, Laura Lindauer, Nancy Maier and Bill Rudman.  12:18 PM  Tickets—800-838-3006

(October 19--First Baptist Church of Cleveland @ 7 PM) (October 21—Mixon Hall, Cleveland Institute of Music @ 3 PM)—SILVER LININGS, THE SONGS OF JEROME KERN—a lecture/performance of the melodies of the human heart.

(November 14—Solon Center for the Arts @ 7 PM) (November 18—Hanna Theatre, Playhouse Square @ 3 PM)—JUST FOR LAUGHS—A celebration, through explanation, live performance and video clips of what makes us laugh at a song in a musical featuring Bill Rudman, Nancy Maier, Douglas F. Bailey II, Ursula Cataan and Sherri Gross.

(December 14 @ 8 PM, December 15 @ 2 PM—Stocker Arts Center) (December 16 @ 7 PM and December 17 @ 7 PM—Nighttown)—A CHRISTMAS CABARET--“Winter Wonderland,” “White Christmas,” “Let It Snow” and about every other holiday song from Irving Berlin.  Featuring Bridie Carroll, Nancy Maier, Joe Monaghan and Bill Rudman.


Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Topically important “Spring Awakening” impressively staged at Near West Theatre


This past season, NBC aired “Rise.”  The television show spotlighted a high school in a conservative working class neighborhood.  The school’s new drama teacher, portrayed by Josh Rado, decided rather than staging a traditional, escapist musical, that the students and community would grow from doing “Spring Awakening,” an exploration of “young people navigating a world full of pain, frustration, growing up and peopled with not only teens, but adults who often don’t have the best intentions.”

The musical includes incidents of sex, nudity, incest, teen pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality, suicide and abuse.

On the unfortunately now-cancelled “Rise,” the town was galvanized on whether the show should go on as liberal and conservative factions put pressure on the school board to win favor of their point of view.  As is, the musical had one showing and then was closed down.

Fortunately, Near West Theatre, which is now staging “Spring Awakening,” has a board and production staff who, unlike the community on “Rise,” are supportive of exposing their casts and audiences to the realities of life.

“Spring Awakening” is based on an 1891 German play written by Frank Wedekind in response to the author’s belief that his society was stifling and hypocritical toward sexuality and their treatment of youth.

The story centers mainly on Wendla Bergmann, Moritz Stiefel and Melchoir Gabor.  Denied proper teaching about puberty, sex, and existence, they flounder through life with repercussions of their suffocating adolescence, and are forced to live with the consequences of the actions of their misguided parents and sadistic teachers. 

Musician Duncan Sheik and lyricist Steven Sater took Wedekind’s material and transformed the tale into a vivid and moving musical, which, on Broadway, starred Lea Michele as Wendla, Jonathan Groff as Melchior, and John Gallagher Jr. as Moritz.  The staging won eight 2007 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.  Its original cast album received a Grammy Award.

In the story, angst prevails. 

Wendla asks her mother for an explanation of where babies come from.  Her mother avoids the issue so the girl doesn’t realize that her love affair with Melchoire could lead to pregnancy. 

Moritz, whose father is verbally abusive, has high anxiety.  When he misquotes a Latin line, his over-bearing teacher chastises him harshly, sending the boy on a tailspin toward suicide. 

One of the school girls, Martha, accidentally admits to her friends that her father abuses her physically and sexually and that her mother is either oblivious or uncaring.  Martha makes the girls promise not to tell anyone, lest she end up like Ilse, a friend from childhood, who now wanders homeless after her similarly abusive parents kicked her out of their home. 

Two schoolboys, Hänschen and Earnst, meet, talk, kiss and reveal their forbidden love for each other.

Melchoire, in an attempt to educate his friend about the sex act, writes a paper which illustrates the deed.  He is sent to reform school for his indiscretion.

The Near West production under the generally sensitive and creative direction of Kelcie Nicole Dugger is compelling, clearly showcasing societal hypocrisy and its consequences.

Robert Kowalewski is character perfect as the rebellious Melchior.  He has a grasp of not only the character, but that he is acting as the fulcrum around which the plot revolves.  His vocalizations are strong.

Sarah Farris is properly naïve and tender as Wendla.  Zack Palumbo creates a sensitive and realistic character as Moritz.  Antonio DeJesus (Hänschen) and Matthew Brightbill (Earnst) are believable as the homosexual couple.

Mike Obertacz properly textures his various adult male roles as does Amanda Bender in the adult female roles, but one must wonder why she used the ridiculous accent as the female teacher…causing laughter in a play which is anything but humorous.

The music under the direction of Scott Pyle rocks!

Based on their goal that “Near West Theatre builds loving relationships and engages diverse people in strengthening their sense of identity, passion, and purpose, individually and in community, through transformational theatre arts experiences,” the venue uses mass casts in order to include as many youths as possible.  This often creates over-crowded stages and meaningless characters.  Though this cast is huge, they are well used due to creative staging and blocking.

Capsule judgment:  Near West Theatre’s “Spring Awakening” is a masterful production that well fulfills the philosophy and production excellence of the venue.  The script is powerful, as is the show.  Congrats on a job well done!


"Spring Awakening" runs through August 12.  For tickets 216-961-6391or go to http://www.nearwesttheatre.org/tickets

Monday, August 06, 2018

Clevelanders invade Canada for the Shaw Festival—2018


The Shaw Festival, located in Niagara-on-the Lake, is often like being in downtown Cleveland on game day.   Lots of 216/440 residents migrate North for a day, days or a week to visit “the most beautiful little city in Canada,” as Niagara-on-the Lake is often called.  They purchase peaches, cherries, and nectarines, tour the wine country and attend plays at The Shaw.  It also doesn't hurt that the present exchange rate is $ .77 American for the Canadian dollar.  (For the non- mathematical—Americans get a little over 20-cents back for every dollar they spend. Use credit cards to get the highest exchange rate.)


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

 


It’s a good idea to make both theatre and lodging reservations early, especially with the B&Bs on weekends. Our home away from home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (http://www.wellington.house@sympatico.ca), directly across the street from The Festival Theatre, within easy walking distance of all the theatres, where the breakfasts are great and the furnishings lovely. For information on other B&Bs go to www.niagaraonthelake.com/showbedandbreakfasts





There are some wonderful restaurants.  My in-town favorites are The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King Street) and Niagara’s Finest Thai (905-468-1224, 88 Picton Street), with Old Winery, (905-468-8900, 2228 Niagara Stone Road), a worth-while five-minute ride from downtown.



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

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR-- “Oh What a Lovely War” is not only a compelling stage production, it is a fine history lesson and one of the few real highlights of The Shaw’s 1918 season.  This is a must see!


GRAND HOTEL--“Grand Hotel, the Musical” is a pleasant evening of theatre.  The plot is overdrawn, unrealistic, and typical of musicals where dance, singing and melodrama reign.  This is a musical, like “42nd Street” and “Anything Goes,” filled with dancing and meaningless dialogue and shtick.


THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW--“The Magician’s Nephew” is a visual wonder.  Whether you buy into the story’s religious implications, or not, it’s worth attending, just to see the stage illusions in action.  This is one of this year’s Shaw highlight productions!


STAGE KISS-- Most audience members should find “Stage Kiss” cute, even delightful, but as this production proves, farce is hard to do.  In fact, it is the most difficult of all acting/performance forms.  The performances and the results are not bad, just missing the special quality that makes Ruhl’s plays shine.  


OF MARRIAGE AND MEN-- One must wonder, with all the great Shaw scripts available, why Artistic Director Tim Carroll selected this tandem of one-acts to perform.  In program notes he claims that the world is in a state of distraction and needs to “reclaim our attention.”  Though “Of Marriage and Men” is not a distraction, it is not great theater that will not “waste our time,” it is not the quality of script that will make us want to “switch off our phone.”  


O’FLAHERTY V.C.-- As is often the case at The Shaw, the lunch time play is one of the Festival’s highlights. ”O’Flaherty V.C.” is no exception!  It is a delightful and revealing lesson on his writing and the Shavian attitudes and ability to make his points with wit and satire!  Hurrah!


To read the complete reviews of the shows I saw, go to:  http://www.royberko.info
Other season shows are: “The Orchard (After Chekhov),” “Mythos:  A Trilogy,” ”The Hound of the Baskervilles,” “A Christmas Carol,” “The Baroness and the Pig,” and “Henry V.”



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



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

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

“O’FLAHERTY V.C.” delights and instructs at The Shaw


“Nations are like bees; they cannot kill except at the cost of their own lives.”

Satirist and playwright George Bernard Shaw is noted for skewing the English, their class governmental and educational systems, their treatment of the Irish and women, as well as religion and any form of government other than socialism.  His “O’Flaherty V.C.” is a classic one-act example of Shaw at his best. 

The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest of the British military award system.  It was first presented by Queen Victoria during the Crimean War.  In its 162-year history it has on been granted only 1,358 times. 

“O’Flaherty V.C.” the Shavian comic/satire, centers on a young World War I Irish soldier, Dennis O’Flaherty, who, while serving in the British army, exhibited such bravery that he was awarded the VC.   Under the banner “Boys! Come along.  You’re wanted,” he has been returned to his Irish village to recruit for the armed services.  (It should be known that, at the time, Irish republicans were opposed to a war to defend the British Empire.)

The return home is not only an issue of politics, but, O’Flaherty had not told his mother that he would be fighting on the British side in the war, not against it.   He also admits, in a conversation with General Sir Pearce Madigan, a local landowner, he had no idea why the war was being fought.  He just joined up to get away from home.

When his mother appears, all hell breaks loose when she discovers he's been fighting for the British.  He also reveals that he is sick of life in provincial Ireland and since he's experienced France, he never wants to come back and hopes he can get a French wife.

An Irish brough-ha-ha breaks out between mother and girlfriend, Teresa, when she appears and reveals that Dennis gave her a valuable gold watch.

Dennis says he can't wait to get back to the peace and quiet of the trenches. General Madigan sympathizes, commenting, "Do you think that we should have got an army without conscription if domestic life had been as happy as people say it is?"

In the play’s preface, Shaw argues that “most soldiers do not enlist for patriotic reasons, but through a desire for adventure, or to get away from a restricted life.  This is especially true of the Irish, since an Irishman's hopes and opportunities depend on getting out of Ireland.”

The acting is top-notch.  Ben Sanders creates reality as O’Flaherty.  Tara Rosling delights as the opinionated, controlling Irish mother. Patrick McManus is properly stuffy and military-like as General Madigan, and Gabriella Sundar Singh gives a nice imitation of a put-upon Irish lass.

Director Kimberley Rampersad keeps the action moving swiftly along!


Capsule judgment:  As is often the case at The Shaw, the lunch time play is one of the Festival’s highlights. ”O’Flaherty V.C.” is no exception!  It is a delightful and revealing lesson on his writing and the Shavian attitudes and ability to make his points with wit and satire!  Hurrah!

Shaw’s “Of Marriage and Men” two one-acts dedicated to women, and the men around them






“The test of a man’s or woman’s breeding is how they behave in  quarrel.  Anybody can behave well when things are going smoothly.” (G. Bernard Shaw)

Showcasing the complex nature of marriage and relationships, George Bernard Shaw’s attitudes about the superiority of women, attacks on the British class system, the French-English war of words, definition of desire and the role of heart versus needs is on display in his two slight scripts, ”How He Lied to Her Husband” and “The Man of Destiny,” being performed at The Shaw as “Of Marriage and Men.”

Supposedly written over a period of four days while he was vacationing in Scotland in 1904, the satirical commentary is a takeoff on Shaw’s “Candida.”

Of the play, Shaw stated, "Nothing in the theatre is staler than the situation of husband, wife and lover in which assumptions and false points of honor are made."  And that is exactly what “How He Lied to Her Husband” is about.

A handsome young man (Her Lover/Henry) writes poems to a young beautiful young lady (Herself, in fact, named Aurora), expressing his undying love.  Herself is married to an elderly man (Teddy) who plies her with diamonds and beautiful clothes.

What will happen if her husband finds out about the poetry and the affair?  Henry to confesses his love for Aurora, which pleases Teddy so much he proposes having the poems published as a tribute to his wife.  What should the volume be called?  Henry replies, "I should call it ‘How He Lied to Her Husband.’"

The play is slight, as is the production, under the direction of Philip Akin. 

A very cleverly choreographed set change transformed the stage from an English  drawing-room to an Italian inn and garden!

The Man of Destiny,” the second half of the program, is an 1897 play by Shaw.   It is set during the early career of Napoleon, shortly after his victory at the Battle of Lodi. 

While eating, Napoleon receives news that some dispatches that a courier had been carrying were stolen by a devious youth.  The youth turns out to be a woman, dressed like a man.  A convoluted tale follows in which a battle of wits between the great leader and the woman takes place, which includes the possibility of an affair by Napoleon’s wife, Josephine and a possible scandal.

As with “How He Lied to Her Husband,” ‘The Man of Destiny” is not a major work in Shaw’s cannon.   A pastiche, it is neither compelling nor overly entertaining.   And, as was the curtain raiser, it gets an acceptable production.   

Capsule judgment:  One must wonder, with all the great Shaw scripts available, why Artistic Director Tim Carroll selected this tandem of one-acts to perform.  In program notes he claims that the world is in a state of distraction and needs to “reclaim our attention.”  Though “Of Marriage and Men” is not a distraction, it is not great theatre that will not “waste our time,” it is not the quality of script that will make us want to “switch off our phone.”  

Farcical “Stage Kiss” entertains a little at The Shaw



“I am an advocate for state illusion; stage realism is a contradiction in terms (G. Bernard Shaw)

Sarah Ruhl, an American playwright and essayist, and a two-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is noted for creating vivid theatrical works.  She tends to center on the mundane aspects of daily life, with side trips into love and war.

She is noted for setting up plot lines and using a nonlinear form of realism, throw in “curve balls,” surprises, plot twists and complications.  She once said of her writing, "Everyone has a great, horrible opera inside him. I feel that my plays, in a way, are very old-fashioned. They're pre-Freudian in the sense that the Greeks and Shakespeare worked with similar assumptions. Catharsis isn't a wound being excavated from childhood.”


“Stage Kiss,” a farcical tale of what happens when two actors (He and She), who were former lovers, are forced to share a stage kiss, with unforeseen consequences.  The line between reality and stage pretense soon blur.  It is a play within a play and is typical Ruhl.   


The story concerns He and She, who meet again, after many years of separation, to perform in a badly written 1930s melodrama.  They take up where they left off decades earlier with life-changing consequences.  Or, what could be life changing consequences.  She leaves her husband and surly daughter.  He dumps his kindergarten-teacher girlfriend, who moves in with She’s husband.  The reality of the past hits as the duo rehearse yet another bad play, this one about a hooker and an IRS operative.  He and She realize that their past history was probably right and they move beyond their “stage kiss” and face reality!


The show, under the directorship of Anita Rochon, is quite adequate, but misses being the hysterically funny illusion that it could be.  Part of the issue is that the farcical aspects of Ruhl’s are not fully developed.


The cast, (Fiona Byrne (She), Neil Barclay (Director), Jeff meadows (Kevin), Martin Happer (He), Sanjay Talwar (Husband), Sarena Parmar (Millie), and Rong Fu (Millicent) just doesn’t ever get the needed realistic, over-done aspects that make farce work.  The ridiculous has to come from the difficult balance of being overly sincere, realistically false, and making the characters bigger than life while not making them over-blown.  


Capsule judgment:  Most audience members should find “Stage Kiss” cute, even delightful, but as this production proves, farce is hard to do.  In fact, it is the most difficult of all acting/performance forms.  The performances and the results are not bad, just missing the special quality that makes Ruhl’s plays shine. 

Creatively staged “The Magician’s Nephew” captures the imagination with cardboard boxes and electronic graphics


“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing (G. Bernard Shaw)

“The Chronicles of Narnia” is a series of seven fantasy novels by C. S. Lewis.  Many consider that this series, and Lewis’s writing style, changed the very nature of children’s literature.

The series, which has sold over 100 million copies, takes place in the mythical land of Narnia, where magic, mythical beasts and talking animals interact with children. 

The series includes such titles as “Prince Caspian:  The Return to Narnia,” “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” “The Silver Chair,” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which have been transformed into a stage play, as has “The Magician’s Nephew.”

The books are not without controversy.  Taking his themes from Greek and Roman mythology, as well as British and Irish fairy tales, the stories overlay Christian themes.  The latter causes difficulties for those who do not subscribe to religious teachings.

Lewis has suggested that he did not directly intend to write his Narnia stories as Christian tales, but that these aspects appeared subconsciously as he wrote.  In ‘The Magician’s Nephew,’ for example, the story explores a number of themes, including “atonement, original sin, temptation and the order of nature.”

“The Magician’s Nephew,” was published in 1955 and is a prequel to the series, tells the tale of how Narnia was created and how evil first entered it.  It relates how “Digory Kirke and his friend, Polly Plummer, stumble into different worlds by experimenting with magic rings made by Digory's uncle. 

In the dying world of Charn they awaken Queen Jadis, and they witness the creation of a Narnian world (where Jadis later becomes the White Witch).  Many long-standing questions about the world are answered as a result.”

The Shaw production, under the very creative touch of director, Tim Carroll, set designer Douglas Paraschuk and projections designer Cameron Davis is visually and aesthetically compelling, easily transferring us from London, at the turn of the twentieth century to the worlds beyond.

Magically, brown cardboard boxes become walls, thrones, rocks, trees and so much more.  Perfectly choreographed moves the objects, and the appearance of images on them.  Use of masks and puppets add to the illusions, as do the well-conceived costumes designed by Jennifer Goodman.

The acting is top notch.  Vanessa Sears (Polly) and Travis Seetoo (Digory) convincingly transform themselves into tweens.  Their enthusiasm and joyousness easily convey the curiosity, fear and adventuresomeness of youth.

Special note:  Backstage tours of the Festival Theatre are available to allow participants to not only see the stage, dressing rooms, costume production areas and make-up areas, but to participate in mask making and reproducing the stage actions of “The Magician’s Nephew.”  It is a great experience for both kids and adults.

Capsule judgment: “The Magician’s Nephew” is a visual wonder.  Whether you buy into the story’s religious implications, or not, it’s worth attending, just to see the stage illusions in action.  This is one of this year’s Shaw highlight productions!
 

"Grand Hotel' a minor musical treat at The Shaw


“The great advantage of a hotel is that it’s a refuge from home (G. Bernard Shaw)

“Grand Hotel, Berlin. Always the same – people come, people go – One life ends while another begins – one heart breaks while another beats faster – one man goes to jail while another goes to Paris – always the same. ... I'll stay – one more day."  Thus, one of the lead characters in the Luther Davis (book) and Robert Wright (music and lyrics) conceived “Grand Hotel, The Musical” summarizes life in the center-piece of the musical.

Based on Vicki Baum’s novel and play, “Menschen im Hotel” (“People in a Hotel”) and the 1932 feature film, the story focuses on a 1928 weekend in the elegant facility.  A weekend in which a multitude of guests come and go in pleasure, frustration and chaos.

 
The show was Broadway bound in 1958, but bad reviews out of town, and the illness of one of the lead actors, caused the New York opening to be cancelled.


Thirty years later, much due to the creative efforts of Tommy Tune, who demanded new songs and a story rewrite, the show’s 1989 production received 12 Tony Award nominations, including a well-deserved one for direction and choreography for Tune.  It became one of the select group of Broadway shows to top 1,000 performance on the Great White Way.


It’s 1928.  The roaring ‘20s are at its height.  Decadence, outrageous extravagance, gangsters, high living and low morals, jazz and uninhibited dancing are the vogue.  


Using a series of overlapping tales, the plot showcases “a fading prima ballerina; a fatally ill Jewish bookkeeper, who wants to spend his final days living in luxury; a young, handsome, but destitute Baron; a cynical doctor; an honest businessman gone bad, and a typist dreaming of Hollywood success.”


Lots of plot twists and turns are in high gear.   A morphine addict as a result of his World War I injury, loosely narrates as the front desk clerk waits for the birth of his son, a young good-looking and broke Baron uses his charisma to charm the women while trying to get out of the clutches of a gangster, a past her prime prima ballerina is scheduled to make her last attempt at pleasing an audience, her dresser tries to hide her love-feelings for the dancer, a fatally ill bookkeeper tries to live a weekend of splendor, a textile mill manager tries to fake his way through an ill-conceived business deal, and . . . . . .


The production, under the directorship of Eda Holmes, gets what it can from the material.  Parker Esse’s choreography is creative and era correct.  The vocals are good.  The acting fits the material.


Deborah Hay is diva correct as the ballerina, matinee-idol handsome James Daly charms as Baron von Gaigern, Michael Therriault is appealing as Otto Kringelein, Vanessa Sears is character correct as Flaemmchen.


The music, which is continuous throughout the show, is well interpreted by Paul Sportelli and his orchestra.  The show’s set is well-designed by Judith Bowden.


Capsule judgment: “Grand Hotel, the Musical” is a pleasant evening of theater.  The plot is overdrawn, unrealistic, and typical of musicals where dance, singing and melodrama reign.  This is a musical, like “42nd Street” and “Anything Goes,” filled with dancing and meaningless dialogue and shtick.

Creative, history exposing “Oh What a Lovely War, compels at The Shaw


“You’ll never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race.”  (G. Bernard Shaw)


World War I, “the war to end all wars,” lasted in Europe from July 1914 to November 1918.  Yes, this November marks the 100th anniversary of the end of that horrific and senseless conflict. 

“Over nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a result of the war (including the victims of a number of genocides), a casualty rate exacerbated by the belligerents' technological and industrial sophistication [gas, airplanes, cannons, tanks] and the tactical stalemate caused by grueling trench warfare. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in history and precipitated major political change.” 

About 67,000 Canadians were killed in the battles and numerous others suffered from psychological issues, which, today, are called Post Traumatic Stress Disorders.

It is therefore appropriate that The Shaw dedicate at least part of its season to examining the conflict between the Central Powers—Germany, Austria-Hungry and Turkey and The Allies—France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, Japan and from 1917 on—The USA.

“Oh What a Lovely War” was conceived as a radio play which was transferred to the stage in 1963 under the foresighted direction of Joan Littlewood.  It was her creativity that makes it possible to adapt each production to the venue in which it its produced. 

It is a juke box musical in which previously written songs are shoe-boxed into a story line (think “Jersey Boys” and “Mamma Mia”).  Song order and selection can be adjusted as to the perception of the director.

Other Littlewood theatrical practices include the use of Commedia dell’arte which encourages actors to improvise and be larger-than life regarding gestures, dance and acrobatics.  Clowns playing various characters, music hall song, dance, slapstick and drama is also present.  Actors switch roles.

Following Littlewood’s concept of “Fun Palaces,” the creation of spaces where local people could come together, designer Teresa Przybylski and director Peter Hinton, have the audience using The Royal George theatre, as it was in 1918.  The time of play jumps from then to today, with speeches given both from the stage and the auditorium to envelop the audience in the production.

The staging includes numerous film clips and projections to create visual war and anti-war feelings.

Using “Tommy Tunes,” a book of 1917 songs written in the trenches, well-known songs of the era, hymns and songs from west end shows, the production is a critique of the great war.

The title comes from one of those songs. 
“Who wouldn't join the army?
That's what we all inquire,
Don't we pity the poor civilians sitting beside the fire.
Chorus
Oh! Oh! Oh! it's a lovely war,
Who wouldn't be a soldier eh?”

Hinton’s direction of the very long show, 2 hours and 50 minutes including intermission, grabs and holds the attention.

Using pianos to not only be played, but to create trenches, horses and walls, the ever changing sets are choreographed nicely to make for smooth transitions from one scene to another.

The dialogue has been adjusted to include the difficult role of the Indigenous people, blacks and women to actively participate in the war.  Numerous references to the Niagara area are also incorporated.

Song highlights include “Row, Row, Row,” “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kitbag,” “Roses of Picardy,” “And When I Die,” “I Want to Go Home,” and “Keep the Home Fires Burning.”

The ensemble cast is universally strong, switching roles, accents and even genders, with ease.  The singing and acting are top notch.

Capsule judgment: “Oh What a Lovely War” is not only a compelling stage production, it is a fine history lesson and one of the few real highlights of The Shaw’s 1918 season.  This is a must see!

Clevelanders invade Canada for the Shaw Festival—2018


The Shaw Festival, located in Niagara-on-the Lake, is often like being in downtown Cleveland on game day.   Lots of 216/440 residents migrate North for a day, days or a week to visit “the most beautiful little city in Canada,” as Niagara-on-the Lake is often called.  They purchase peaches, cherries, and nectarines, tour the wine country and attend plays at The Shaw.  It also doesn't hurt that the present exchange rate is $ .77 American for the Canadian dollar.  (For the non- mathematical—Americans get a little over 20-cents back for every dollar they spend. Use credit cards to get the highest exchange rate.)



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


 

It’s a good idea to make both theatre and lodging reservations early, especially with the B&Bs on weekends. Our home away from home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (http://www.wellington.house@sympatico.ca), directly across the street from The Festival Theatre, within easy walking distance of all the theatres, where the breakfasts are great and the furnishings lovely. For information on other B&Bs go to www.niagaraonthelake.com/showbedandbreakfasts




There are some wonderful restaurants.  My in-town favorites are The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King Street) and Niagara’s Finest Thai (905-468-1224, 88 Picton Street), with Old Winery, (905-468-8900, 2228 Niagara Stone Road), a worth-while five-minute ride from downtown.


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

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR-- “Oh What a Lovely War” is not only a compelling stage production, it is a fine history lesson and one of the few real highlights of The Shaw’s 1918 season.  This is a must see! 


GRAND HOTEL--“Grand Hotel, the Musical” is a pleasant evening of theatre.  The plot is overdrawn, unrealistic, and typical of musicals where dance, singing and melodrama reign.  This is a musical, like “42nd Street” and “Anything Goes,” filled with dancing and meaningless dialogue and shtick.


THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW--“The Magician’s Nephew” is a visual wonder.  Whether you buy into the story’s religious implications, or not, it’s worth attending, just to see the stage illusions in action.  This is one of this year’s Shaw highlight productions!


STAGE KISS-- Most audience members should find “Stage Kiss” cute, even delightful, but as this production proves, farce is hard to do.  In fact, it is the most difficult of all acting/performance forms.  The performances and the results are not bad, just missing the special quality that makes Ruhl’s plays shine.

 
OF MARRIAGE AND MEN-- One must wonder, with all the great Shaw scripts available, why Artistic Director Tim Carroll selected this tandem of one-acts to perform.  In program notes he claims that the world is in a state of distraction and needs to “reclaim our attention.”  Though “Of Marriage and Men” is not a distraction, it is not great theater that will not “waste our time,” it is not the quality of script that will make us want to “switch off our phone.”  


O’FLAHERTY V.C.-- As is often the case at The Shaw, the lunch time play is one of the Festival’s highlights. ”O’Flaherty V.C.” is no exception!  It is a delightful and revealing lesson on his writing and the Shavian attitudes and ability to make his points with wit and satire!  Hurrah!


To read the complete reviews of the shows I saw, go to:  http://www.royberko.info


Other season shows are: “The Orchard (After Chekhov),” “Mythos:  A Trilogy,” ”The Hound of the Baskervilles,” “A Christmas Carol,” “The Baroness and the Pig,” and “Henry V.”



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

 

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

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

Saturday, August 04, 2018

AUDRA MCDONALD delights and captivates Blossom audience


From the opening, the stirring gay anthem, “I Am What I Am,” from “La Cage aux Folles” to the universally beloved “Over the Rainbow” from “Wizard of Oz,” the beautiful and multi-talented Audra McDonald held the capacity crowd at Blossom Music Festival captive with her marvelous singing and humorous narrations.

The multi-Tony, Emmy and Grammy winner has the charm and charisma to reach across the footlights and hold an audience spellbound whether singing the soaring “Summertime” from “Showboat” or plaintiff “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady,” or the advice-giving “Children Will Listen” from “Into the Woods,” or the delightful “Dear Friend” from She Loves Me.”

Weaving songs from Broadway hits and flops, encased with a tribute to 911 and tales of her youngest daughter’s disdain for the singer’s musical talents, there wasn’t a moment during the show that she wasn’t emotionally present.  She is the consummate entertainer in the mold of Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand, Liza Minnelli and Bette Midler.

Known for her starring roles in “110 in the Shade,” “Carousel,” “Ragtime,” “Master Class,” “Porgy and Bess” and “Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill” she was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama and has been inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.

Upcoming Blossom programs include: 





*RACHMANINOFF’S RHAPSODY, Saturday, August 11, 2018, at 8:00 p.m.
*YO-YO MA PLAYS BACH, Sunday, August 12, 2018, at 7:00 p.m., and
*SIBELIUS SECOND SYMPHONY, Saturday, August 18, 2018, at 8:00 p.m. 
*The season ends with STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE IN CONCERT, Friday, August 31, 2018, at 8:30 p.m., Saturday, September 1, 2018, at 8:30 p.m., Sunday, September 2, 2018, at 8:30 p.m.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

History changing “Oklahoma!” charmingly ends Pothouse’s 50th season


March 31, 1943 was a pivotal day in theatre. “Oklahoma!,” the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s musical opened.  The American musical theater was never the same.

For many years the “musical” was vaudeville, reviews, star vehicles, and attempts at telling stories with music and dance thrown in. 

Using Lynn Riggs’s book, “Green Grow the Lilacs,” about young love in the of Oklahoma territories, the area’s desire for statehood, and the conflict between the cowboys and the farmers for control of the land, Rodgers and Hammerstein developed a format to be dubbed “the book musical,” which set a pattern for the Golden Age of the American Musical (1943-1968).

“Oklahoma!” had a cohesive plot, the songs furthered the action of the story, the spoken words seamlessly segued into the songs, the lyrics and dancing advanced the plot and developed the characters, the first act curtain, rather than displaying a bevy of chorus girls, started with an off-stage voice singing words that forecast what was to happen, the first act ended with a conflict that needed to be resolved in the second act, the language and pronunciation fit the setting.

The results?  Not only was it the first theatrical blockbuster Broadway show, which ran 2,212 performances, but it set the pattern for all musical shows to come. 

It gave musical creators the idea to develop themes.  Rogers and Hammerstein went on to preach social issues including the need to build community.  Lerner and Loewe centered many of their scripts on describing the ideal time, ideal place and ideal love story (e.g., “Camelot,” “My Fair Lady,” “Gigi.”)   It allowed Stephen Sondheim the latitude to examine the grittier sides of life (e.g., “Sweeney Todd” and “Assassins.”)

“Oklahoma!” takes place outside Claremore, in the Oklahoma Territory, in 1906.  It tells the tale of a farm girl, Laurey, and her courtship by two rivals, the wholesome, clean-cut Curly and the sinister, frightening farmhand, Jud Fry.  As is the case in the Rogers and Hammerstein book musical mode, there is a secondary plot, in this case, impetuous cowboy Will Parker and flirtatious (“I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No”) Ado Annie.

Of course, before the obvious happy ending, there are complications, humor and lots of singing and dancing.

“Oklahoma!” is the kind of show that Porthouse audiences love and artistic director Terri Kent, stages so well. 

Kent has taken an interesting tack with this production.  She has cast “young.”  While most stagings use mature performers for the leading roles, this production has age-appropriate actors.  This gives the show an authenic, rather than a theatrical look and feel.

Matthew Gittins is natural and charming as the love struck Curly.  Rather than playing the role “macho” and “conceited,” Gittins is somewhat awkward and real.  He uses his excellent voice to develop ideas, rather than singing just words.  “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” sets the right tone for the entire show and his duet “People Will Say We’re in Love” and its reprise, sung with Rebecca Rand, delightfully developed their characters.

Lenne Snively didn’t portray Aunt Eller, she was Aunt Eller.  She had just the right levels of love and gumption.

Though she has a beautiful singing voice, on opening night pretty Rebecca Rand showed little of the underlying tenderness needed to make Laurey appealing.  Maybe opening night jitters caused some overacting.  Hopefully, she will show more depth than the one dimensional “ornery” as the show runs.

Samantha Russell, though delightful as Ado Annie, screamed her way through her opening scene, and didn’t visually and orally play enough with the usually delightful “I Cain’t Say No.”  She relaxed in the second act and was much more playful in “All Er Nuthin.”

Christopher Tuck was endearing as Will Parker.  He showed talent as a singer, dancer and comedian.  ‘Kansas City” and “All Er Nuthin” were show highlights.

Joey Fontana delighted as Ali Hakim, and Sam Johnson was so menacing as Jud Fry, that during his curtain call bow, he actually got “boos,” one of the greatest compliments that can be given to a villain.  His “Lonely Room” was well interpreted.

Jennifer Korecki’s large orchestra played well, Cynthia Stillings’ lighting and Nolan O’Dell’s creative set added to the production quality. 

John Crawford-Spinelli’s choreography was creative.  Though the dances of Agnes DeMille, the cornerstone of the original “Oklahoma!” were brilliant, new approaches are welcome if they are appropriate for the storyline and develop the proper mood.  Crawford-Spinelli’s well-conceived ballet and his enthusiastic “The Farmer and the Cowman” were welcome creations.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  Porthouse ended its fiftieth season on a high note with the well-conceived “Oklahoma!.”  The Kent State professional summer theater should look forward to more years of audience-pleasing shows under the stewardship of Producing Artistic Director Terri Kent and Executive Producer Eric VanBaars.

 
Side-note:  Before the opening night performance a representative of Actors’ Equity presented the theatre with a proclamation in honor of their 50th anniversary which included praise for not only Porthouse and Kent State University, but for Terri Kent, who has been leading the endeavor for 18 successful years.  The words praised the venue for not only setting high professional theatrical goals, but for being a place where support, encouragement and respect is stressed.

“Oklahoma!” runs at Porthouse Theatre through August 12.  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to http://www.porthousetheatre.com/.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Creative “Hamilton” is a master class in contemporary musical theater


The story goes that while on vacation from performing in his hit Broadway show “In the Heights,” Lin-Manuel Miranda read a copy of the biography, “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow.
Miranda perceived the story as a musical and started to write what was then entitled “The Hamilton Mixtape.”  


An Obama White House invitation led to him performing what would later be the first song of the opening number of “Hamilton.” 
 

Thus was laid the foundation for what is one of the most successful musicals in theatrical history.
The sung and rapped “Hamilton” centers on the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers.  The musical styles include R&B, pop, rap and traditional style show tunes.

 “Hamilton” is not the first musical based on American history or political figures.  “1776,” like “Hamilton” is set in Revolutionary times, specifically, showcasing the Continental Congress during the summer of 1776, and reveals the founding fathers’ lively debates. 

“Benjamin Franklin in Paris” gives an account of Franklin arriving in Paris in an attempt to raise money for the colonial revolution against England. 

“Fiorello!,” one of nine musicals to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama, showcased the life of Fiorello LaGuardia, the colorful mayor of New York.

Each of those shows, follows the format of the well-conceived book musical, as modeled by Rogers and Hammerstein in “Oklahoma” and used by most shows from the mid-1940s until “Hamilton.”

They had a format that included dialogue leading into songs, often leading into dancing.  The first acts ended with a conflict that needed to be resolved in the second act.  The language was grammatical English prose.

From a stylistic standpoint, “Hamilton” gives us something new.  It’s a contemporary rap musical which tells the story in a series of scenes in which the movements are choreographed to not only develop visual ideas, but to help create characterizations and move set pieces, and songs that seamlessly tell the tale and give clear insight into each of the characters who sing them. 

The casting includes a racial mixture of actors as the Founding Fathers and other historical figures.

Even the conclusion is different.  Most modern day musicals end with a splashy showstopper that brings the audience to its feet for a resounding curtain call.  Not “Hamilton.”  An low-key composition closes the show, emotionally wrapping up the story of a man and his quest.  Wow!

The touring production is brilliantly directed by Thomas Kail.  The impressive choreography, which adds new vocabulary to the world of Broadway dance, is by Andy Blankenbuehler.  The music supervision and orchestration is the impeccable work of Alex Lacamoire.

Some potential attendees worry that they will be unable to grasp the words because they are mainly in rap form.  Not true.  A discussion with audience members in varying parts of the auditorium at intermission and after the show indicated that if the listener didn’t gain ever word, they shouldn’t be concerned.  The structure of the scenes, the movement, and the reinforced ideas will allow the understanding. 

(Listening to the show’s score while reading the libretto before going to the show can help as will watching some of the “Hamilton” sources on YouTube.)

The functional stage set is a duplicate of that on Broadway.

The cast is excellent.  Nik Walker sparkles as Aaron Burr.  Marcus Choi commands as George Washington.  Joseph Morales is totally believable as Alexander Hamilton.  Kyle Scatliffe adds humor to his joint roles as Thomas Jefferson and Marquis De Lafayette.  Jon Patrick Walker delights as the pompous put-upon King George.  The sub-leads and the Ensemble are all on target.

To read my review of the Broadway show go to:
https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=3114387099896190039 - editor/target=post;postID=3373828163004437926;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=21;src=postname

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Hamilton” is a special theatrical event and experience.  The script is riveting, the music involving, the choreography creative, the production superb.  The touring production is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to participate in one of those special once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  This is one show that definitely deserves its standing ovation.  Bravo!
“Hamilton” runs through August 28, 2018 at the Key Bank State Theatre.  There are tickets available for select performances as well as lottery tickets available for each performance.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org/.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Production of “And All the Dead Lie Down” better than script at con-con


“The purpose of a workshop production is to provide a preview staging of a new work in order to gauge audience and critical reaction, following which some parts of the work may be adjusted or rewritten before the work's official premiere.” 

Seeing Harrison David Rivers’, “And All the Dead Lie Down,” which is getting its local premiere before the scripts national world premiere later this year, resulted in an interesting conundrum.  The script, which is getting its third workshop here, actually gets a better production than the work, itself, seemingly deserves.

In publicity, the story is described as “Alvin and Foss spend Saturdays together. That’s the rule. That’s the routine – no work, no phone calls and no leaving the apartment. But when an unexpected call from Foss’s delinquent brother upsets the couples’ usual balance, the day becomes a minefield of long suppressed resentments and hurt feelings. The fact that one of them is HIV+ and the other is negative, just exacerbates the situation.  “And All the Dead Lie Down” is a portrait of a couple at a crossroads, a couple pondering the questions – Is love enough to sustain us… And is it worth the risk?”

The tryout material describes the lead characters as: 


“Alvin, male, 30’s-Mid-40’s, gay man in a committed, long-term relationship with Foss; he is HIV-. A playwright. Cerebral. From a wealthy family, he grew up with privilege. Experiencing block – both in writing and in his relationship. They’re trying to figure out how to make it work. There is nudity.” 


Foss, male. 20’s-30’s. African American, Gay man in a committed, long-term relationship with Alvin; he is HIV+. A teacher. Playful, fun – a counter to Alvin’s sometimes stuffed shirt. Raised more blue collar and poor – wrong side of the tracks. Close to his brother – who he bails out financially. There is nudity.” 


In addition, there is Danny, Foss’s elder brother.  He is a “player” who drifts, seemingly without purpose.  He has an air of menace about him.   


Usually, at a workshop, the author is present so that they can judge audience reaction and have an opportunity for some feedback.  In this case, Rivers was not in attendance, so the idea of the play being workshopped seems like an oxymoron.  Why workshop a play when the very purpose of doing so, improvement of the script by the writer getting feedback, is eliminated?

If Rivers were here, he probably would have been exposed to comments such as, “the play is too long, especially the first act, which is filled with redundancy and too much exposition.”  “The upbringing tale of brothers Alvin and Danny and their overbearing father unnecessarily gets repeated over and over.”  “Alvin’s numerous statements of endearment get clawing after a while.”  “The language is often unnatural and doesn’t always give the actors a chance to develop meaningful feelings and reaction.”  On the other hand, “though the unnatural language continues, the second act is more focused and purpose driven.”

The con-con production exceeds the script.  Ismael Lara’s direction milks everything it can.  The show is well-paced, the cast (MJ Mihalic, Brenton Sullivan and Anthony Lanier) are focused, and the actors nicely texture their lines. 

Clyde Simon’s contemporary set fits the lines of the play’s description and becomes a fourth character.



Capsule Judgment:  If you’d like to see a play in the process of development, then “And All the Dead Lie Down,” could be your thing.  It is not a well-crafted script, but the directing and acting are excellent.



“And All the Dead Lie Down” runs through July 28, 2018, at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or go to http://www.convergence-continuum.org/




Next up at con-con: “The Casual Tree Ward,” a world premiere of local actor and playwright Robert Hawkes’s look at The goddess Freyja (or is she?) is tending Yggdrasil, the World Ash Tree (or is it?) Trying to protect it from increasing drought.  Does the world really depend on this single tree?  Hmmm.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Beck’s “Gypsy” not everything it should or could be


“Gypsy” is a 1959 musical with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents, which starred Ethel Merman on Broadway. 

The script is loosely based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous striptease artist, and focuses on her mother, Rose, whose name has become synonymous with the ultimate intrusive show business mother.

The show’s legendary score includes: “Let Me Entertain You,” “Some People,” “Small World,” “You’ll Never Get Away From Me,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” and “Together Wherever We Go,”  

Every once in a while, a theatre stages a script that allows it to showcase that it is, hopefully, a quality venue.  “Gypsy” was a chance for Beck Center for the Arts to spotlight that it deserves to be the professional theatre that it has recently become.  Yes, Beck is now playing with the “big boys,” rivaling Cleveland Play House, Great Lakes Theatre and Dobama, all equity houses, for a display of excellence.

“Gypsy” is considered by many American musical theater experts to be one of the most perfectly structured scripts.  It has a strong human story, vocal lyrics flow out of the spoken lines, the dance numbers aren’t thrown in to be show-stoppers but to enhance the story, the humor is generated by the human condition, the characters are real, and the conflicts caused by human needs and wants. 

One thing that makes “Gypsy” stand out for any theatre aficionados is “Rose’s Turn,” the closing number which, like the brilliant “Soliloquy” in Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” reveals the “I Want,” “I Am,” and the “Realization” of a central character. 

In the case of Mama Rose, this is the moment that she recognizes that instead of her having been the fierce stage mother for her girls, she was doing it for herself, trying to live her desired life as a performer through her daughter’s stage presentations.  Ideally, at the play’s closing, as she stands alone in a single spotlight, we should see Rose, both defeated and aware, realizing she, like Willy Loman, in “Death of a Salesman,” has lived her life as a failed dream. (Pause…slow fade to black!  Pause.  Tumultuous applause.)

Was Beck up to the “Gypsy” challenge?   On the positive side, Martin Céspedes’ choreography was spot on.  He did the original Broadway choreographer, Jerome Robbins, proud by keeping the intent of the great Robbins’ dance numbers present, but not imitating or restaging them. 

Larry Goodpaster’s orchestra and musical direction generally developed the needed dynamics and mood changes, though at times some members of the cast sang lyrics rather than the meaning of those lyrics. 

Aaron Benson’s set design and Trad Burns lighting helped enhance the story.  And, always an unexpected treat at Beck, the sound system worked well.   Congrats to Angie Hayes.

On the other hand, the cast, which was generally strong, needed guidance on how to develop the subtleties of some of the characterizations and how to effortlessly segue from spoken word to sung lyrics.  As is, there were often awkward pauses, breaking the mood and idea development. 

Strong performances were turned in by Allen O’Reilly as Herbie, Rose’s long frustrated suitor and Emmy Brett as Louise.   Enrique Miguel (Tulsa), June’s eventual boyfriend, was the dance sensation of the cast, displaying a confidence of movement and stage-commanding appeal.

Natalie Bialock’s Rose, an Ethel Merman reincarnation…big and brassy, worked well for most of the show.  Merman was a great personality and songsmith, but not a fine actress.  Her “Rose’s Turn” left much to be desired, as did Bialock’s.  The final Beck scene was not helped by Rose and Gypsy’s arm and arm exit, wiping out the meaning of Rose’s realization.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Gypsy” is one of the classic scripts in the lexicon of American Musical Theater.  It gets an acceptable, but definitely not a great staging at Beck.  The show’s highlight was the choreography.  The production will entertain some people, but could have been so much more.

“Gypsy” is scheduled to run at Beck Center for the Arts through August 12, 2018.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go online to http://www.beckcenter.org

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Pulitzer Prize and Tony winning musical “Next to Normal” compelling at Porthouse



On April 15, 2009, “Next to Normal” opened on Broadway.  It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, the Tony for Best Musical and to become part of a small group of musicals including “Rent,” “Spring Awakening,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Come From Away,” “The Band’s Visit” and “Hamilton” which would change the nature of the American musical from pure entertainment to “message musicals,” which tell tales of significant social relevance including examining such topics as mental and physical illness, rape, political intrigue, historical conflicts and suicide.

The Broadway production starred Kent State grad, Alice Ripley, who won the Tony Award for her portrayal of a woman with bipolar disorder.  Ripley also starred in the show’s national tour which had a CLE stop.

“Next to Normal” is not typical Porthouse escapist summer fare.  There are no sprightly songs, dynamic dancing, nor escapist plot.  What there is, is a well written, dramatic tale, filled with angst.  The music helps carry the thought-provoking mood, and the lyrics and dialogue tell a powerful tale which “addresses the issues of grief, suicide, drug abuse, ethics in modern psychiatry and the underbelly of suburban life.”

The script, which many theater experts rank among of the greatest of American musicals, has had numerous international productions, has been the topic for mental health conferences and workshops on the treatment of bipolar disorder, including the use of drugs, psychotherapy, and ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy), as well as discussions regarding the classification of the disease Diane displays.

In general, mental health experts agree, “Bipolar I is a mood disorder that is characterized by alternating periods of depression [lows] with episodes of mania [highs].”

The show’s song list is extensive and impressive.  Almost 40 songs carry the message, including “Just Another Day,” “Who’s Crazy,” “It’s Gonna Be Good,” “I’m Alive,” “Wish I Were Here,” “You Don’t Know,” “Maybe (Next to Normal)” and “Light.”   This is not a score which the audience goes out of the theatre humming, but melds into a cacophony of sounds and words that build a long remembered message.

How did the audience respond to this thought-provoking musical?  The Porthouse production easily passed the “C-W-R test. When viewing a show, if the participants aren’t totally involved there will be a series of Coughs, lots of Wiggling and be Restless (leaving mid-show to go to the lavatory or run for the exits as soon as the final curtain drops).  This crowd was absorbed, rising as a whole at the conclusion to cheer the production.  (This, in spite of the fact that on opening night a sold-out audience was screaming its way through a rock-rap concert at the Blossom Pavilion, within easy hearing distance.)

The response was not only a tribute to the script itself, but to the quality of the production. 

Jim Weaver’s direction was intelligent, developing every nuance of the writer’s intent.  The cast was superb.  Each actor developed a clear characterization.  They did not play characters; they were the people.  They each sang meanings, not simply words, in well-trained voices. 

Jonathan Swoboda’s musicians (Wanda Sobieska, Linda Atherton, Jeremey Poparad, Don T. Day and Mell Csicsila) balanced the singers so that the lyrics were easy to understand and set the proper, ever-changing moods of the psychological swings. 

Patrick Ulrich’s contemporary set was functional, while the technical aspects each helped develop the writer’s concept.

Amy Fritsche (Diana) created a mentally delusional Diana who was totally believable.  Her mood swings had clear transitions, her suffering was crystal clear, her attempts at reality well-displayed.  This was a masterful portrayal.

Thom Christopher Warren (Dan), as Diana’s well-meaning but shell-shocked husband, displayed a clear vision of hurt, confusion and frustration.  

Andy Donnelly (Henry) and Madelaine Vandenberg (Natalie) played well off each other as the angst-driven teens who needed each other for support as the rest of the world had seemingly abandoned them. 

Madison Adams Hagler was appealing as the “ghost” of Gabe.  It was fascinating to observe as the cast, except for Frische, looked through him, as he was only present and real for his grieving mother.

Jim Bray gave nicely textured performances as both psychiatrists who were treating Diana.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Next to Normal” is one of the great scripts in the lexicon of American Musical theater.  It gets a superb staging at Porthouse.  The direction, performances and technical aspects are all right on target.  This is a must see production that should not be missed!
“Next to Normal” runs at Porthouse Theatre through July 21.  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to http://www.porthousetheatre.com/.

NEXT UP AT PORTHOUSE: “Oklahoma,” which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, closes out Porthouse’s 50th season.   The Rogers and Hammerstein classic will be on stage from July 26-August 12, 2018.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Hyper-realistic must see “On the Grill” compels at Dobama



Last summer Dobama presented Greg Vovos’s “How to Be a Respectable Junkie,” which starred Christopher Bohan, in what was praised by local critics as “absolutely must see theater,” “nearly perfect,” and “powerful.”

This summer, Cleveland’s professional Off-Broadway theatre is showcasing the equally compelling “On the Grill” in its American premiere. 

Dror Keren, author of “On the Grill,” which is on stage with support from the Cleveland Israel Arts Connection and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, is a noted Israeli performer.  He is a 3-time winner of the Israeli Academy of Film and Television prize for best actor. 

Israeli born, he is a graduate of the Mountview Academy of Theatre of London and is an important performer at the dynamic Carmeri Theatre of Tel Aviv, one of many prospering venues in arts-supporting Israel.

The play, entitled “Grilling” in its Hebrew language version, has been authentically translated into English by Michael Ezrachi, complete with a language cadence which is authentically Hebraic.  It lends itself beautifully to the slight Israeli-English accents of the cast, and easily creates a Sabra-like presence of the hard-on-the-outside, soft-on-the inside reputation of the people of the promised land.

Keren gives the actors vivid, clearly stated, compelling language to use for developing his realistic tale which provides American audiences with a new view of present day Israelis, and adds to the historical perspective of the immigrants who inherited a land of dust, poverty and conflict and through pure guts and will-power created a land of milk and honey.  A people who have fought war-after-war to create a sliver of land, surrounded by enemies, into a modern democracy where the dessert blooms, the health and scientific achievements astound, and is a destination for Jews who wish to “return” home.

Keren’s characters are both those who founded Israel and the newer generation.  The former appears to accept that the angst and conflict have been on-going and will continue to be so.  The “newbies” want things to change.  Obviously, this conflict means that the country is no longer unified and the generations “aren’t together anymore.”

It’s Memorial Day and Independence Day when the play takes place, a time for reflection and visiting the graves of those fallen in battle as well as a celebration of the creation of the State of Israel. 

We find ourselves in the backyard of a kibbutz home of a veteran and his wife, whose son, as required by law, served his army duty, returned with PTSD, and has escaped to Germany, the birth place of his beloved grandmother.  Grandmother Gizela, a Holocaust survivor who was smuggled ashore just before the UN’s mandate creating Israel, and who lives out her life with memories of meeting her now-deceased husband is wracked by thoughts of what happened in her life time.  She is present with Raja, her Sri Lankan aide.

Her daughter, Rochale, her son-in-law, Zvika, and neighbor, Avinoam, wait for grandson, Mordi and his non-Jewish German girlfriend, Johanna, to wake up after their flight from Berlin.  Also present is Tirtza, a neighbor, whose son, Gilad, is in the army and could be in the forces that may be going into combat.  Soon to arrive is Alona, who, along with Mordi and Gilad are childhood friends.    

As the tension builds, as jets roar above, and fireworks explode, they watch TV and wait for phones to ring, and family conflicts, neighborly resentments and generational differences collide.

Leighann Delorenzo’s meticulous directing keeps the action real and involving, and the quality of the performances by the entire cast (Dorothy Silver, David Vegh, Juliette Regnier, Andrew Gombas, Arif Silverman, Emily Viancourt, Rocky Encalada, Nicholas Chokan, Michael Regnier and Olivia Scicolone) is so real that it seems we are eavesdropping, not sitting in a theatre watching a play.

“Grilling,” which was selected as the Best Israeli Play of 2015, is still running.  It is a play of exploration, tension, angst and hyper-realism.  It is a look at Israel not usually presented in plays about that country. 

As revealed in the talkback with the author, following an opening weekend staging, it was developed, much like the American musical, “A Chorus Line,” by collecting stories from the original cast of 10 actors regarding real personal and family experiences, which were then melded together by Keren, to produce this, his first play!

Capsule judgement: “On the Grill” takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster. It is a superb script which gets a superb performance.  This eye-opening delving into Israel, its joys, fears and projections into the future of the Jewish homeland, is an evening of theatre not to be missed.  It can only be hoped that the show will be presented in other venues, including a New York production.  This is theater at its finest!

“On the Grill” runs through July 8, 2018 at Dobama, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.

For Dorothy Silver groupies:  Annie Baker’s “John” will feature Dorothy, the first woman of Cleveland theater, from October 1-November 11, 2018 on the Dobama stage.