Friday, July 21, 2017

“Best of Broadway’ brings out the best of the Cleveland Orchestra and Festival Chorus at Blossom



A massive Blossom crowd, a nearly full amphitheater and a lawn in which not a blade of grass was not the covered with blankets, table cloths, lawn chairs and people, came out to hear the “Best of Broadway,” a series of groovy music, jive, jazz, tin pan alley and ballads from the golden years of musicals performed on the Great White Way. 

America is noted for many things:  democracy, hotdogs, apple pie, baseball, and the musical.  Yes, the art form known as musical theater was given birth in this country. 

The date:  September 12, 1866.  The place: Niblo’s Garden, a 3200-seat theatre on Broadway in New York City.  The situation:  A Parisian ballet troupe found itself without a place to perform when their venue, the New York Academy of Music, burned down.  The manager of Niblo’s Garden invited them to participate as part of a Faustian play that was running in his theatre. 

Named “The Black Crook, “the production is considered a prototype of the modern musical in that its songs and dances were interspersed throughout a story and performed by the actors who spoke lines, sang and danced.  The show ran for a record-breaking 474 performances and then toured the country.  Thus, the American musical format was born.




On July 16, The Cleveland Orchestra, under the baton of conductor Jack Everly, presented compositions from Broadway musicals which spanned the Golden Age of the American Musical, the era after World War II, through the British Invasion of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and onward to more recent productions.

Act One opened with a sprightly rendition of the overture to “Annie Get Your Gun,” by Irving Berlin.  Next up was a somewhat disappointing rendition of “Man of La Mancha,” from the Mitch Leigh/Joe Darion musical by the same name, which featured vocalist Ron Remke who has a fine voice, but sang words, rather than stressing the meaning of the words.   He acquitted himself later in the program with a marvelous rendition of “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)” from Jesus Christ, Superstar.

Act One continued with fine renderings of “Maria” from “West Side Story” and “This is the Moment” from “Jekyll & Hyde.” 

The Blossom Festival Chorus then sang an emotion-laden rendition of “Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”  A stirring “Oklahoma,” from the show of the same name was presented by Richard Todd Adams. 

The act ended with Christian DeCicco, dressed in a classic white gown, leaving the audience spellbound with “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from “Evita,” the orchestra finely playing selections from “Miss Saigon,” and the three male vocalists blending their voices for a meaningful version of “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of LaMancha.”

Act Two started with a stirring orchestral rendition of “Seventy-Six Trombones” from Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” followed by Richard Todd Adam’s crowd-pleasing “Trouble” which received a standing ovation.

It may be hard to say and spell, but Christina DeCicco and Ron Remke stopped the show with their fun-filled “Supercalifragillisticexpialidocious” from “Mary Poppins.”

Then came what must be considered the program’s highlights:  orchestral selections from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” Ms. DeCicco’s “I Dreamed a Dream” and Mr. Keegan’s “Bring Me Home” from “Les Miz.” 

“Make Our Garden Grow,” from Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide,” though well sung by the company, seemed like an unneeded tag on following the impressive Lloyd Webber compositions.

Capsule judgment:  From their appreciative reaction, the large Blossom audience had no “Trouble” finding “The Music of the Night” to fill “The Impossible Dream” of hearing “The Best Broadway” played and sung by the Cleveland Orchestra, under the baton of Jack Everly, and Blossom Festival Chorus and guest singers (Christina DeCicco, Ted Keegan, Ron Remke and Richard Todd Adams). Next season we hopefully will have a similar program consisting of songs from musicals of the 2000s.

Next up Blossom:
July 22— “Today and Tomorrow—Vim, Verve & Virtuosity” --Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra at 7:00 PM present compositions by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Felix Mendelssohn, followed at 8:00 PM by The Cleveland Orchestra playing works by Rossini, Paganini and Dvorak.

July 23— “Fire and Rain:  Folk Anthems of the 1970s,” featuring the guitars and vocals of AJ Swearingten and Jayne Kelli and the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Rob Fisher.

Next up at Porthouse:
Disney’s “NEWSIES” from July 27 to August 11.

For tickets to these and other Blossom concerts call 216-231-1111 or 800-686-1141, or go the Severance Hall Ticket Office, or Blossom Box Office, or go online to http://www.clevelandorchestra.com

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The hills are alive, once again, with the “Sound of Music” courtesy of Playhouse Square


As a reviewer who often goes to the theatre three or four times a week, I’m often asked, “How can you see the same show time after time?”  It’s a good inquiry. 

Yes, seeing Tevya and his town folks “schlep” out of Anatevka in “Fiddler on the Roof,” yet once again, watching for the umpteenth time the final kick sequence of “Chorus Line,” pulling out a hankie while viewing as Maria kneels over his body because Tony just got done-in once again in “West Side Story,” and observing Joseph get sold off by his brothers to a bunch of Canaanites because his father bought him an amazing technicolor dreamcoat, may not seem like a productive way for a mature male to spend his time. 

But, hey, it’s my job, and my passion, so there I was in the fifth row of the Connor Palace, having a cute little blond girl sitting behind me say, “I love ‘The Sound of Music.’  I’ve seen the movie twice.  Have you seen it before?”

Yes, my lovely lass, I’m about to see Maria make her bedroom curtains into ugly clothes for the von Trapp kids, charm the lederhosen off their father, climb every mountain, fool the German army and hear the Mother Abbess sing one of my favorite lines in any musical, “How do you hold a moon beam in your hand?” for the umpteenth time.

For those who have spent all their time watching the Browns lose games, the Cavs win a championship, and the Indians almost go all the way, “The Sound of Music, unravels the tale of Maria, who wants to be a nun, but has too much spirit to keep her emotions under control.  A letter to the Abby prompts the Mother Superior to send Maria to be a governess for a widowed naval captain. She goes to the estate and finds that she is the latest in a long line of governesses run off by the children who wish to be loved, not disciplined.  Her exuberance wins over the children and their grieving father.  It’s just before World War II.  The duo marries, but their life is threatened by the Nazis taking over Austria, who give the Captain a commission in the German army which he refuses to take, and the family climbs every mountain as they escape to Switzerland. (And, incidentally come to the US, open a resort in Stowe, Vermont, and…but that’s another story!)
   
A traveling company of the “The Sound of Music,” with music by Richard Rogers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, and based on the book, “The Trapp Family Singer” by Maria Augusta Trapp, is now in a short run at the Connor Palace.

And, though I can sing (not exactly on key), dance (ha) and recite (now, that I can do) every note and line after seeing them over and over, there are many for whom the script on stage is a new experience.  That’s why the theatre is nicely filled and the rest of the run has a good pre-sale.

To make things even better, this production is quite good.  Much better than the 2013 television with the miscast Carrie Underwood of “American Idol” fame as Maria.  While her vocal performance was praised, her acting performance was described as being "amateur," "lifeless" and” lacking emotion” by critics.

The same negatives cannot be said of the pretty, tall University of Michigan grad Charlotte Maltby, who creates a Maria who has spirit, charm and is totally delightful.  The actress’s slight hint of child-like awkwardness and a relaxed, well-trained voice adds to her being a perfect image of the Maria all fans of the show can love.

Though Nicholas Rodriguez has no physical resemblance of an austere Aryan, which is the accepted image for Captain Georg von Trapp, he has the charm and singing voice needed to be a match for Maltby’s Maria.

The kids are all charming, the supporting characters nicely conceived, the sets well enough put together to make the show look like a Broadway “wanna be” rather than a community theatre staging, and the orchestra is large enough to sound somewhat lush.

Capsule judgement:   The little girl sitting behind me was on the edge of her seat throughout the show and, at the end, sleepily said to her mother, “I loved it!” Yes, the touring production of “The Sound of Music,” is a very pleasant experience. “So long, Farewell,” How long will it be before I have to “Climb Every Mountain” again?  Guess as long as I’m a reviewer, “There is No Way to Stop It.”

Tickets for “The Sound of Music,” which runs through July 23, 2017 at the Connor Palace, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or by going to www.playhousesquare.org.

GROUNDWORKS DANCE THEATER delights again at Cain Park concert



As such television programs as “So You Think You Can Dance” and “World of Dance” convince more and more people to appreciate dance as an art form, they also create a higher barrier for local companies to leap.  With such superb choreographers as Tony winning Mia Michaels, Travis Wall, Sonya Tayeh and Tyce Diorio creating visual marvels, and national and world-wide dancers modeling what is “good” in dance, expectations for local companies rise.

Groundworks Dance Theater, David Shimotakahara’s Cleveland-based company, was founded in 1989 and “is a vibrant and sustainable organization, nationally recognized for making a unique contribution to the art form and enriching human experiences through the creation of original contemporary dance.”  It is noted for being innovative, collaborative, unique and “creating meaningful and intimate experiences and exchanges.”

These qualities were clearly on display as, on a hot and sticky evening at the Alma Theatre in Cain Park, an enthusiastic audience saw the company, complete with two new members, present three outstanding compositions, which were in the form and performance level of those which flash across the television screens.

The program opened with the World Premiere of guest choreographer Monica Bill Barnes’ “Untitled.”  Danced to a mélange of such musical selections as Louis Prima’s “Oh Marie,” “Goldberg Variations J. S. Bach, BWV 966, ‘Aria’” as performed by Glenn Gould, and Joan Osborne’s “Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends,” the blend of humor, “the stress on celebration of individuality and chronicling of the innate theatricality of everyday life,” the piece was encompassing and audience pleasing.

 “Inamorata,” as choreographed by Kate Weare and restaged by Douglas Gillespie, is a non-stop exhausting dance featuring the entire company (Felise Bagley, Gemma Freitas Bender, Annika Sheaff, Damien Highfield and Tyler Ring).  

Encompassing a full display of human emotions, the feelings of longing, hope, doubt and mystery were highlighted through a pastiche of various dance styles.

The final selection, the audience pleasing “Chromatic,” found the entire company dancing to musical selections played on player pianos and was conceived by Shimotakahara in collaboration with past and present company members.

Groundworks’ two newest company members are Tyler Ring and Gemma Freitas Bender.  Ring, an Indiana native, is a tall-lanky Tommy Tune-looking dancer.  He displayed excellent flexibility, athleticism and an engaging personality, which blended well with the rest of the troupe.  He is a nice addition.

The attractive Bender, who is from Buffalo, New York, was a 2014-2015 Recipient of the Princess Grace USA Award and is a graduate of Julliard.  Her style of dance fits well with the gymnastic/Pilobolus form of Annika Sheaff, also a Julliard grad, and the elegant movements of the elegant Felise Bagley.

Capsule judgment:  Groundworks continues to be the premiere small dance company of the Cleveland area.  Their opening night Cain Park program was well received by the near capacity audience at the Alma Theatre.

Next up for Groundworks:  Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, August 4 & 5, 2017 @ 8:45 in Goodyear Park in Akron.  They next appear in Cleveland with their Fall Performance Series featuring a world premiere of former company member Amy Miller on October 13 & 14, 2017 @ The Allen Theatre in Playhouse Square.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Overly long, thought-provoking “Neighbors” at convergence continuum



Last year, Dobama Theater’s production of Brenden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “An Octoroon” was selected as Best Non-musical Production by the Cleveland Critics Circle. 

The play was a flash back to the mid-1800s, and mirrored the bigotry, violence, racial profiling, work and housing discrimination, xenophobia and prejudice rampant in the political, business and social landscape of the United States, which has carried over into today’s America.

“Neighbors,” also penned by Jacobs-Jenkins, is now on stage at convergence-continuum. 

As is the case with the multi-award winning Princeton grad, and African-American author’s works, “Neighbors,” Jacobs-Jenkins’ first play, probes the complicated issue of race, family, class and self-identity.  It also uses a historical perspective, the Coon play, as a device to satirize and comment on modern culture.  And, as is his custom, Jacobs-Jenkins uses visual and verbal images, such as sex acts and explicit sexual language, to provoke the audience.  He is an advocate of shocking and creating unsettling feelings to enhance his story telling.

Richard (Prophet D. Seay), who is black, his white wife, Jean (Kim Woodward), along with their angst-filled bi-racial teenage daughter, Melody (Shannon Ashley Sharkey), have just moved from California to an unnamed city, for Richard to be an adjunct professor at the local college.  They have rented a house in an area which appears to be populated by conservative whites.

Richard has attempted to separate himself from black stereotypes by going to a prestigious college, majored in the classics and married a white woman.  He shows animosity for members of his fellow race, and refers to them as “niggers.”

Much to the consternation of Richard, a black family has moved into the house next door.  The new residents have a long history of performing in Coon shows and are always in costume and makeup.  

Coon show entertainers were blacks who, instead of whites in blackface, as in minstrel shows, were made up in blackface and made fun of themselves in racially charged skits complete with dancing, singing, watermelon and chicken eating, references to their males’ enormous penis sizes and females’ large breasts, portraying negroes as ignorant, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, joyous, and musical.

As the tale unfolds, Richard displays anxiety about his teaching abilities, Jean starts to question why she married Richard and turns to Zip Coon (A. Harris Brown), the patriarch of The Crows, and Melody develops a relationship with Jim (Anthony X), a nephew of the next door neighbors, who doesn’t fit in with his relatives.  Conflict, angst and chaos develop, leading to an unsettling ending.

Interludes, sidebars showing Coon production segments, are interspersed into the story line by the family members including Jeannine Gaskin (Mammy), Joshua McElroy (Sambo) and Kennetha Martin (Topsy).  Some are gross, others edifying.

“Neighbors” is not as well written as its sister play, “An Octoroon.”  The plot does not flow as clearly and the Coon Show interludes are difficult to perform by those not well-versed in the genre.  The script also needs drastic cutting.

Director Terrence Spivey and his cast put out full effort, but the over-all effect is not positive.

Capsule Judgement: “Neighbors” is a disturbing play with a well-intentioned message, but, as is often the case with first plays by an author, it lacks a strong center, is too long, and often shocks more than presents awareness reactions.  It is definitely not a play that will be appreciated by everyone.

“Neighbors” runs through July 29, 2017, at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s gentrifying Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or go to http://www.convergence-continuum.org/

Coming up at con-con: “Collaborator,” a one-person show, by Yussef El Guindi, as performed by Hillary Wheelock, August 10-12, 2017.  “Rhinoceros,” an absurdist play by Eugene Ionesco, which, in many ways, examines this country under a Trump administration.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

I can see you…Idina Menzel delights at Jacobs Pavilion






Near the end of her delightful concert at Jacobs Pavilion located in the Flats, multi-award winner Idina Menzel told the story of how, when some South Africans meet, they look directly at each other.  One says, “I can see you.”  The other, after making solid eye contact, repeats the phrase.  Menzel, demonstrated clearly, as the concert proceeded that she, in fact, was seeing her audience, taking them in, and appreciating their presence.   The audience vocally and with extended applause responded by letting her know that they, too, could see her!

The concert, presented with seven musicians and a back-up singer, all of whom did solos and were recognized by the headliner, was presented before an ever-changing mélange of electronic media which paralleled the song choices.

The talented songstress, songwriter, Broadway, television and movie star, was relaxed and charming in interacting with the audience, recognizing not only those in the high priced seats who were up close and personal, but those seated in the bleachers. 

She invited a young girl, who was carrying an “I love you Idina” sign, on stage to get her poster autographed, graciously accepted a pony-tail band from another child and asked her hair-dresser on stage to redo her hairstyle so that he could braid some of the star’s hair and added the jeweled stretchy, and also invited all the kids in attendance to come onto the steps and the edge of the stage to individually and jointly sing “Let It Go” from the hit film “Frozen.”

The concert not only included songs from her newest album and old time favorites, but selections from her Broadway shows “Rent” and “Wicked,” as well as “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from “Funny Girl” and “Wind Beneath My Wings” from “Beaches.”

Many talented stars appear in the concert venues of CLE, but few have the warmth and authenticity of Idina Menzel!   This lady is a true “mench” (Yiddish for “a true human being, a good person.”) 

Menzel’s openness to the audience, her kid-inclusiveness, courtesy to her joint performers and fine singing voice, made for a fine evening of entertainment.  Applause, applause!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Seldom-staged “City of Angels” now at Beck Center for the Arts



“City of Angels," a version of which is now on stage at Beck Center, opened on Broadway in December of 1989 and ran through January, 1992, in a healthy run of almost 900 performances.   Lakewood’s Dee Hoty, a three-time Tony nominee, played a leading role in the Great White Way run.

A musical comedy, it weaves two plots together making for a movie within a play format.  A “reel” world and a “real” world.

It’s Hollywood, late 1940, Stine (Jamie Koeth) has written a detective mystery which has been purchased by a Hollywood studio.  It will be produced and directed by Buddy (Greg Violand).  In spite of the book being a best seller, Buddy wants many, many rewrites, based on his perceptions of what makes a great movie.  Obviously, the meek Stine and the ego-centric Buddy clash.

The movie is a tale of decadence complete with a hard-boiled detective, femmes fatale, murders, plot twists, beatings, robbery, incest, intrigue, ego, ego and more ego.  The real story has a book writer who conflicts with the film’s producer/director, a marriage, an affair, and ego, ego, and more ego.

As Stine pounds away on his typewriter, the film’s melodramatic scenes are acted out.  Alaura Kingsley (Sonia Perez) is ushered into the inner office of PI Stone (Rob Albrecht).  Alaura reveals that she wants to hire Stone to solve the disappearance of her step-daughter, Mallory Kingsley (Madeline Krucek).  The voice-over, a common 40s movie device informs us, “Only the floor kept her legs from going on forever.”  (Yes, that’s the actual line!)   To make matters even more intriging, when Stone returns to his apartment, a few scenes later, Mallory is lounging naked in his bed.

In the main, the “movie” viewer will experience:  Stone getting a beating from a couple of hoodlums, Alaura’s husband, a sick elderly man encased in an iron lung whose inheritance is of great interest to his family, Kingsley getting accused of murder, a possible poisoning, hanky-panky, more hanky-panky, and yet more hanky-panky…you get the idea.

Meanwhile, in “real” life, Buddy is making changes in the script, Stine tries to keep his writing integrity while having an affair with Buddy’s secretary.  He has a confrontation with his alter ego (Stone, the detective in the film).  They sing, “You’re Nothing Without Me,” and reality and fantasy collide.  They later sing, “I’m Nothing Without You,” and the show ends with a happy ending, actually two happy endings.  (Ta-da!)

In spite of the fact that “City of Angels” won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score, it is seldom staged.  The reason for this probably centers on the technical and acting challenges, as well as audience confusion in following the dual plots.

Technically, the stage must be shrouded in various shades of black-gray-white for all movie scenes, giving it a film noir quality, with full color scenery for the reality scenes. Fortunately, Beck invested in an expensive projection system for their lush production of “Little Mermaid” last year and having this allows them to accomplish the shading requirements.  Bravo to Adam Zeek for his outstanding projection design.

The illumination necessities are well-developed by lighting guru Trad A Burns.

Another aspect of the technical requirements is the necessity for the clothing to follow the monocolor/technicolor pattern, as well as having era-correct clothing.  In general, Aimee Kluiber, the costume designer, has achieved the needed level of differentiation.

The biggest performance challenges are to get the accurate separation of the film acting style from the 1940s realism, and the differentiation between the dance and song stylings of the eras and medias.

The film actors should use stylized, exaggerated performance techniques, while the “other” cast must be totally believable and realistic.  

Reviews of the show constantly talk of the non-stop laughter brought about by film actor-centered exaggeration, caused by verbal and physical melodrama.  It takes master actors to pull this off.  Unfortunately, some in this production don’t have the acting chops and/or the extensive training to get the necessary effect.  The result is few laughs and film/reality confusion.

Fortunately, Martin Céspedes has delineated the jazz era movements, including jazz hands, body tilts, exaggerated facial expressions, stutter steps and freezes, from the smoother modern era movements.

The musical has parallel musical scores, with the singers and musicians required to change sounds according to the forms of the two competing media, basically a mellow sound versus a jazzy movie tinny background resonance.

Larry Goodpaster’s large orchestra plays very well, but the dual musical sounds often flow together, missing the shading that helps clear separation of the film noire from reality.  This is especially obvious in the singing.

As is often the case at Beck’s Mackey Theater, the sound system squealed on occasion and the voices faded in and out.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Though it is inconsistent in performance quality, the Beck production of “City of Angels,” gives theater buffs an opportunity to see this seldom-done musical with a fine display of technical effects.

“City of Angels” runs at Beck Center for the Arts until,  August 13, 2017.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to http://www.beckcenter.org
Next up at Beck:  The classic “One Few Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” from September 15-October 8, 2017.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Jivin’ “Ain’t Misbehavin’” is all singing and dancing at Porthouse


“Ain’t Misbehavin’,” now on stage at Porthouse Theatre, is a musical tribute to the black musicians of the 1920s and 30s who were part of the Harlem Renaissance.  It was an era of black ethnic pride and creativity related to Negro literature, art, poetry, and music. 

The show owes its title to the 1919 Fats Waller song, “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” which was a stabile offering at the Cotton Club and Savoy Ballroom, where whites and blacks of New York society paid tribute to the vocal divas and piano players who showcased swing music.

Ain’t Misbehavin'’’ is a musical-review, a series of songs by various composers and lyricists, presented one after another with no verbal bridges in between the numbers.

The review format requires top quality performers and musicians who are capable of performing number-after-number, at top quality, to grab and hold the audience’s attention.  In general, this format has faded from popularity, replaced by the jukebox musical in which songs, written before the idea of putting them together in a stage show, are blended into a story line (e.g., “Mama Mia,” “Jersey Boys”).  

The Porthouse production has a talented cast of singers and performers:  Chantrell Lewis, Aveena Sawyer, Tina Stump, Eugene Sumlin and Jim Weaver.

Show highlights include “The Viper’s Drag”/”The Reefer Song,” “Squeeze Me,” as well as the jitterbug dance number, “How Ya Baby,” the vaudeville flashback tune, “The Ladies Who Sing with the Band,” and the stride piano-centered “Handful of Keys.” 

The audience exploded with applause, often singing along, to the show’s closing unit of Fats Waller-made hits, ‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter,” “Two Sleepy People,” I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed,” “I Can’t Give You Anything Else But Love,” and “It’s A Sin To Tell a Lie.”

To make the show really work, the band must be exceptional.  Music Director/pianist Edward Ripley, Jr., drummer James Alexander II and bass player Jeremy Poparad, who are on a stage in full view of the audience are exceptionally good musicians, but showed little physical or facial enthusiasm during their playing, putting a damper on the needed musical enthusiasm and causing a disconnect between them and the performers. 

Director Eric van Baars kept the pace rapid, varied the choreographic movements, and created interesting stage pictures.  He might have considered cutting some of the over 30 songs as, after a while, the all-too-much similar musical sounds became somewhat tedious.

Patrick Ulrich’s dual leveled stage, complete with an edging of black and white painted piano keys, worked well.  Susan J. Williams’ costume designs were era correct.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Ain’t Misbehavin’” is a musical-review which will be of interest to those who like 1920 and 30’s Harlem Renaissance swing music.  Be aware that the show, though nicely performed, has over 30 songs and no story line.

"Ain’t Misbehavin'"runs until July 27, 2017, at Porthouse Theatre (3143 O'Neil Rd., Cuyahoga Falls, OH, on the grounds of Blossom Music Center).  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to www.porthousetheatre.com.  Curtain times are 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Porthouse open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.

NEXT UP: “Disney’s Newsies” from July 27-August 13.  It’s a dance-centric musical filled with great music and a family-friendly story.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Preview: Cleveland Israel Arts Connection and Dobama present Israeli Actor Roy Horovitz


It is the purpose of the Cleveland Israel Arts Connection, a program of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, to share the beauty of Israel, deepen Jewish identity, and explore the human condition.  This is done by presenting programs of dance, film, music, literature, the visual arts and theater.

Cleveland Israel Arts Connection’s next offering, in collaboration with Dobama, will be two-one act plays starring Roy Horovitz, performed on the stage at Dobama Theatre from July 13 through 16. 

Horovitz, and excellence in Israeli theatre, have been become synonymous based on his work with Habima, the National Theatre of Israel, and his many appearances in the United States.  He was named “Best Actor” at the International Children and Youth Festival twice and “Best Director” at Cameri Theatre of Tel-Aviv.

The Cleveland Israel Arts Connection program will consist of “My First Sony,” a comedy based on an Israeli book of the same name, which centers on eleven-year old Yotam (Horovitz) who is obsessed with documentation, and records his family and their many conflicts on his tape recorder.  The boy finds himself trying to make sense of his world as it crumbled around him, which gives a glimpse of Israeli life not found in the headlines.


“The Timekeepers,” the other one-act on the program, is a script by American writer, Dan Clancy, that caught on in Israel and has since toured the world in Hebrew and English versions. 
The play gives a different view of the Holocaust.  It tells the story of a conservative elderly Jewish watchmaker and Hans, an outrageous gay German man imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp during World War II. The duo is assigned to repair watches for their Nazi overlords. As they work together, suspicion, prejudice and indifference slowly give way to a touching friendship.


Israel, in spite of its orthodox underpinnings, is the most gay-friendly nation in the Middle East.  Gays and lesbians are integrated in all levels of society from politics to business to the military.  Tel Aviv Gay Pride, attended by 200,000 participants in 2016, is a week-long series of events and is considered by many to be a national holiday. 

Horovitz, an out gay man, has benefited from that liberal attitude.  He has performed “The Timekeepers” at Out-In-Israel, as well as at Gay Pride celebrations in the United States.

Horovitz thinks “the play conveys the full spectrum of human emotions, despite its grim setting.”  He’s “pleased how the play shows that the pink triangle was worn side by side with the yellow star during the Holocaust.”

Horovitz says,” I simply love playing Hans.” His favorite moment in the play is the ending scene, “when we come to learn that there is so much more to him than meets the eye.  I hope it will be a reminder to keep our humanity and sense of humor, even in the darkest times and against all odds.”

“I never knew a play that mentions the gay holocaust,” Horovitz said.  “I thought it was important to remind people there were other minorities in the Holocaust.”  (Side note:  Martin Sherman’s “Bent,” which will be performed by Beck Center next June, is another play about homosexuality from that era.  It follows a group of gay men finding ways to survive Nazi persecution of homosexuals.)

Both “My First Sony” and “The Timkeepers” will be performed in English. 

Cleveland Israel Arts Connection is co-chaired by philanthropist Roe Green and Erica Hartman-Horvitz.  Green stated, “We are thrilled to bring a world-class Israeli artist to town to perform.”

The appearance of Roy Horovitz is the first collaboration between Dobama and the Cleveland Israel Arts Connection, which will be followed up in the summer of 2018 with a production of "On The Grill" by Dror Keren.  That script finds the author revisiting the landscape of his childhood, in the Jezreel Valley, evoking, like the last flickering embers of a fire, a way of life that has all but disappeared from Israeli culture: the kibbutz.

What: “An Evening with Roy Horovitz” @ Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights on July 13 (7:30 pm, 14 (8 pm), 15 (8 pm), 16 (2:30 pm).  Tickets:  $30 for general admission, $25 for Dobama members.  To purchase tickets, visit Dobama.org or call 216-932-3396.  For information on the Cleveland Israel Arts Connection, visit jewishcleveland.org

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Black comedy, “An Impending Rupture of The Belly,” insights at none-too-fragile


Matt Pelfrey is noted for inventing oddball concepts and writing sardonic dialogue. His “An Impending Rupture of the Belly,” now on stage at none-too-fragile, is Pelfrey at his “creative” black comedy best.

Clay Stilts is paranoid.  He constantly worries.  He obsesses about nuclear terrorism, earthquakes, riots, small pox, and impending fatherhood.  If something might happen, he marks it for fear incitement.

Clay is also blessed with a slacker brother, Ray, an unsuccessful musician, who believes that Clay has copped-out by living in the burbs and has a 9 to 5 job.  This, of course, doesn’t stop Ray from mooching off his brother.

Clay’s insecurities are fanned by his co-worker, Eugene, a Trumpite who proudly proclaims his chauvinistic, alpha-male attitudes including beliefs regarding the necessity of a white macho male dominated society, free of gays, blacks and other minorities. 

After numerous verbal confrontations with his neighbor whose dog likes to poop on Clay’s immaculately manicured front lawn, Clay follows Eugene’s advice, takes matters beyond the verbal and attacks the animal.  Of course he does!  That’s what any “macho” male should do to protect his territory.  What follows is an “actual threat” to Clay and his wife.

The script is a perfect metaphor for today’s explosive political climate.  And, though the audience laughs at Clay’s ridiculousness, it is the not taking the Eugenes of this country seriously, that may well have led to Trump’s election.

Sean Derry has pulled it off once again.  none-too-fragile’s production, as has become the trend at this venue, is of high quality.  The pace is enveloping, the laughs nicely keyed, and the ridiculousness kept under control causing a thinking rather than escapist reaction.

Filled with nervous ticks, stammering, darting eyes and rigid posture, Andrew Narten is paranoid-believable as Clay.  

Benjamin Gregorio steals the show as Clay’s doped-out brother, Ray, who appears in dirty tighty-whities, urinates on stage, and rants, while his crazed wide-eyes signal as out-of-control beacons, “danger here.”

Why the costumer didn’t perch a red Trump cap on Eugene is a surprise.  He is a Trump clone presenting message and attitude, complete alternate facts.

Kelly Strand nicely develops Terri, Clay’s wife, as an angel of strength for putting up with her husband’s rantings.

Much to the audience’s delight, Brian Jackson “feys” his way as Doug, the dog owner who has found Clay’s Achilles heel.

Capsule judgement: “An Impending Rupture of the Belly,” which gets a fine production, should be seen by anyone interested in experiencing outstanding acting coupled with a challenging and thought-provoking script.

ATTENTION:  July 7 and 8 @ 4, none too fragile will stage “Sea’s Night,” a special production of “An Impending Rupture of the Belly.”  The theatre is encouraging patrons, family and caregivers of special needs people, including Rett Syndrome, to attend the special performances.  All profits will benefit the Rett Syndrome Research Trust.  (Call the theatre for details.)

For tickets to “An Impending Rapture of the Belly,” which runs through July 8, 2017 at none too fragile theatre, located at 2835 Merriman Road in Akron, call 330-962-5547 or go to nonetoofragile.com

Next up:  none too fragile takes a summer break in its 2017 season for the months or July and August, returning on September 15 with “Last of the Boys,” Steven Dietz’s examination of identities and memories of the past, especially of the Vietnam War.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

“’S Wonderful’ “An American in Paris” at State Theatre



“9 to 5,” “Aladdin,” “Ghost,” “Groundhog Day,” “The Producers,” and “Hairspray” are all Hollywood films that were transformed into Broadway musicals.  Another of that ilk, “An American in Paris,” is on stage at the State Theatre.

Based on the 1951 Academy Award winning film, the stage version, with music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and book by Craig Lucas, opened on the Great White Way in April of 2015 and ran until mid-October of 2016.  It won Tony Awards for best choreography, lighting design, scenic design and orchestrations.

With the theme, “A time of hope. A city of dreams. A love story for the ages,” 
“American in Paris A New Musical” is a symphony of music, dance, and special effects.  The stage is a constant blur of ever-changing electronic media, mood enhancing lighting, visually pleasing costumes and artistic dance.  The choreography, created by the brilliant Christopher Wheeldon who also directed the epic, incorporates ballet, jazz and contemporary movements to create a new style and vocabulary of stage movement.
 
In many ways, “An American In Paris” is an old-fashioned Broadway musical.  Boy meets girl, boy falls in love, girl falls in love, problems cause them to be separated, they come together, and, of course, they will live happily ever after.  But few, if any, traditional musicals have resulted in such an elegant mélange of music, dance and concept as this show.

Jerry Mulligan, an American soldier, decides, following World War II, to stay in France and hone his skills as an artist. 

In Paris, he sees and is smitten by Lise Dassin, a ballet dancer.  He finds out that she is engaged to Henri Baurel, a Parisian aristocrat.  Both Lise and Henri have hidden stories that help form the underbelly of the tale.  To complicate the goings-on, Jerry’s friend, Adam Hochberg, an American who was injured in the war and has also decided to stay in Paris, who is the ballet’s accompanist, also has a crush on the lovely Lise.

Through many twists, turns, revelations and lots of singing and dancing, the tale comes to its logical end with Lise and Jerry coming to the conclusion that “For You, For Me, Forevermore,” “They Can’t Take that Away From Me.”

From its opening expository dance sequence, to the concluding ballet, “An American In Paris: A New Musical,” seamlessly unfolds as a visually compelling production that is breathtaking to watch.

The elegant, artsy projections by 59 Productions create a cityscape of Paris, that makes the smell of baguettes baking, the trickling sound of the meandering Seine River, and the illuminating gaslights of the city live.  The effect is aided by the lighting of Natasha Katz and the scenery and costumes by Bob Crowley.

The orchestrations are both lush and, at times, jazzy.  The musical sounds are full, enhancing the singing and dancing.
 



The triple threat cast is generally strong.  The petite, lovely, Sara Esty, a Leslie Caron look-alike, who was the understudy for the Broadway run, captivates as Lise. Her dancing, singing and acting are top-notch.  (BTW, her sister, Leigh-Ann plays the roll on Sunday evenings during the Cleveland run).  

Though he sings, dances and performs at a high level, handsome McGee Maddox, is missing the macho-presence that garnered Robert Fairchild a Tony nomination for best actor in a musical.  Maddox’s rendition of “Fidgety Feet” makes sitting calmly in a seat without tapping your toes impossible.

Etai Benson does a nice turn as the piano playing, wise-cracking Adam.  “But Not for Me, sung with Emily Ferranti (Milo) was a strong duet.

Nick Spangler is strong as the sexually conflicted Henri, Lise’s fiancée, who knows that she is Jewish and was hidden by his family during the war while he secretly was in the resistance.  He has a strong singing voice.

Capsule judgement: My Broadway review of “An American In Paris, A New Musical,” stated that it was “a visual, dance-driven Broadway story-telling creation that is gorgeous, enchanting, seamless and sophisticated.” Though I won’t go raise the banner as high for the touring production, I will say that it is a very, very pleasing and “’S Wonderful” evening of theater.

Tickets for An American In Paris A New Musical, which runs through July 9, 2017, at the State Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or by going to www.playhousesquare.org.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Slight “9 to 5” pleases sold-out Porthouse audience



“9 to 5 The Musical” is based on the 1980 comedy film which starred Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton.  After the success of the movie, which is credited with being the 20th highest grossing comedy film, Parton decided to add music and put the story on stage.

The Broadway production was not a smash success, running less than 150 performances.  After a touring production (which starred Lakewood’s Dee Hoyt), the script is now being performed in the summer and community theater circuit. 

The story line, with a strong women’s rights underbelly, concerns workers at Consolidated Industries who toil for the chauvinistic, ego-maniacal Franklin Hart, Jr. 

Three of the put-upon women are Violet (who has been passed over many times for management positions because she is a woman), Judy (a new employee with no office experience whose husband ran off with a much younger woman) and Doralee (a sexy, married woman, who is the office outcast as the other women assume she is Mr. Hart’s mistress).  Then there is Roz, who, with her hair in a school-marmish bun, owlish glasses and frumpy clothing, perceives she is having a romance with her misogynistic boss.

Violet accidentally puts rat poison in Hart’s coffee.  Hart doesn’t drink the coffee, but finds out what happened, threatens to call the police, the trio captures, kidnaps, and imprisons him in his own house, which has a sling attachment connected to the ceiling. 

While Hart is “away,” Violet takes over the leadership of the company, and much to the delight of the workers, relaxes lots of the rules. With the help of a member of the accounting office she uncovers Hart has been stealing company money.

Of course, as happens in over-blown musical farces, all comes out well in the end, and the company and the audience celebrate with a resounding performance-closing version of “9 to 5.”

The Porthouse production, under the sprightly direction of Terri Kent, is a nice escapist show for the theatre’s target audience.  It’s filled with lots of dancing (well-conceived by Kelly Meneer), fine singing and music (kudos to Jennifer Korecki) and is nicely paced.

Amy Fritsche delights as she creates Violet with the right amount of smartness, competence and sparkle. Her upbeat “Around Here” set a nice tone for showcasing her character.  “One of the Boys,” complete with “jazz hands,” gleefully sounded and looked like it was right out of Bob Fosse’s staging of “Chicago.”

Erin Diroll avoids making Doralee into a Dolly Parton clone and sings and sasses, making the character her own.  Her “Backwoods Barbie” was well performed.

Courtney Elizabeth Brown nicely transitioned from mouse to powerhouse with ease.  Her heartfelt rendition of “Get Out and Stay Out” brought down the house. 

Fabio Polanco was correctly smarmy as Mr. Hart.  He played the chauvinistic cad with over-done farcical glee.

Sandra Emerick (Roz) did what Emerick does so well...created an over the top, beyond-belief character.  Her rendition of “Heart to Hart” stopped the show!

The rest of the strong cast danced and sang with enthusiasm and polish.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “9 to 5,” which opened Porthouse Theatre’s 49 th season, has neither a great script, nor a wonderful score, but, never-the-less, is an audience pleaser.  The sold out opening night audience was on its feet at the end, screaming and clapping their delight proving once again that Artistic Director Terri Kent knows her intended audience.

“9 to 5” runs until July 1, 2017, at Porthouse Theatre (3143 O'Neil Rd., Cuyahoga Falls, OH, on the ground of Blossom Music Center).  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to www.porthousetheatre.com.  Curtain times are 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Porthouse open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.

NEXT UP: “Ain’t Misbehaving” a sassy, sultry musical celebration about the legendary jazz great, Fats Waller, from July 6-27.

Mesmerizing “How To Be A Respectable Junkie” in world premiere @ Dobama



Newspapers and television are filled with stories of drug overdoses, excessive prescriptions for opioids, and dependency on drugs due to PTSD, pain and depression.  Obituaries note an increasing number of young people dying because of overdosing.  Hands are wrung, mea culpas chanted, and social service centers pontificate, but the siege continues.

Playwright Greg Vovos has been collecting tales about heroin addiction for a number of years.  One story stood out from the narratives he heard.  This account, the experiences of Brian, has been translated into “How To Be A Respectable Junkie,” now being performed in its world premiere at Dobama.

In a one man 90-minute epic, Brian (Christopher M. Bohan), tells the audience his tale.  A story of a “normal” kid who gets exposed to the use of drugs through a friend, progresses to being a junkie, who seemingly cannot get a grasp on overcoming his habit, bounces from respectable white collar employee to going through numerous interventions and rehabs and winds up living in his mother’s basement, a helpless and hopeless shell of a man, contemplating suicide.

We know the complete experience because Brian has made a video of his “advice” to others so they, too, can become respectable junkies.

Bohan, who has given outstanding performances on the Dobama stage in “The Flick,” “Peter and the Starcatcher, “ Slowgirl,” and “The Lyons,” outdoes all his past successes with his portrayal of Brian.

Well-guided by director Nathan Motta, Bohan does not just portray Brian, he is Brian.  There is not a moment that he lets the audience off the emotional hook.  Through the use of humor, pathos, angst and tears, we are under a Bohan-spell.

Vovos’s script is well-conceived.  His narration is worded for clarity and realism.  There could, however, be some tightening in the script, and a shortening of the conclusion, especially the period of time where the actor changes his costume on stage, which causes a stutter in the action and segments the conclusion from the body of the play.

Capsule judgement: “How to Be A Respectable Junkie” is a special evening of theater.  Superb acting, within the confines of a meaningful script, it grabs and holds the audience’s attention.  This is absolute must be seen theater for anyone who goes to be informed, to share in a real experience, to see that there may be light at the end of a tunnel, while observing a master class in acting. 

“How to Be a Respectable Junkie” runs through July 2, 2017 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.

Next up on the Dobama stage

Jewish Cleveland/Israelarts presents Roy Horovitz, one of Israel’s foremost actors and directors, in his internationally-acclaimed, “My First Sony” and “The Timekeepers,” on July 13-16, 2017. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” less than it should be at Blank Canvas



Want to see a play that has been censored?  No, it’s not “Spamalot,” “The Vagina Monologues,” “Godspell,” or “The Laramie Project” (which, incidentally have all been banned, at one time or another, from the stage).   It’s comedian Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”  Yes, that Steve Martin, the standup comedian, actor, musician (he plays a mean banjo), teacher of comedy and playwright. 

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” Martin’s imaginative script about a fictitious meeting between artist Pablo Picasso and scientist Albert Einstein, whose basic topics are the similarities of art and science as a factor in society, anarchy, self-awareness, ego and the forces that will shape the world in the 20th century and beyond. 

In March of 2009, at LaGrande High School in La Grande, Oregon, 137 parents petitioned to have the play shut down before it opened, because of “some of the adult themes and content.”  Martin, while recognizing that some of the "questionable behavior sometimes evident in the play is not endorsed"
he compared the characterization that the play is about "people drinking in bars and treating women as sex objects" to summarizing Shakespeare's Hamlet as being "about a castle." Martin responded to the banning of the play at La Grande High School with an offer to underwrite a production of the play at an alternative location, stating he did not want the play to acquire "a reputation it does not deserve."

The play has another interesting sidebar.  It was not only the first full-length play written by Martin, but at its initial oral reading, which took place at the author’s Beverly Hills, CA home, Tom Hanks read Picasso and Chris Sarandon read Einstein.  How about that for a cast!

It’s October 8, 1904, before Einstein (Robert Kowalewski) is famous for his theory of relativity and Picasso (Roderick Cardwell II) has just started to transition into his cubistic style of painting. 

The setting is the Lapin Agile, a French neighborhood watering hole. 

The duo debate topics such as the values of genius and talent and the cultural influences of the coming century, in the company of an amateur barkeep/ philosopher (Freddy—John Busser), his wife (Germaine—Carla Petroski), a bizarre inventor (Charles Dabernow Schmendiman—Ronnie Thompson), a woman with whom Picasso had an affair (Suzanne--Becca Ciamacco), a bar hanger-on (Gaston—Rich Stimac), a Countess (Britt Will), and an art dealer (Sagot—Greg Mandryk).  The Singer/Elvis Presley (Evan Martin) appears to add another aspect by delving into a musical, unintellectual cultural dimension.

After a lively exchange, Picasso and Einstein come to the conclusion that their abilities are both of value, as is the worth of the entertainer.

The script inspires thought and is filled with humor.  Unfortunately, the production, under the direction of Jonathan Kronenberger doesn’t generate the emotional and logical reaction needed to inspire audience reaction.  The pacing is too languid, the accents confusing and often unnecessary, some performances are on the surface and substitute overdrawn affect for character development.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  Comedian Steve Martin has written a thought-provoking, clever script which gets a less than stellar production.  It’s not bad, just not what it could be.

Blank Canvas’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” runs through, June 24, 2017 in its near west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.  Get directions to the theatre on the website. Once you arrive at the site, go around the first building to find the entrance and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space.  For tickets and directions go to www.blankcanvastheatre.com

Next up at BC is “Equus” in which Dr. Martin Dysart, a psychiatrist, is confronted with a boy who has blinded six horses in a violent fit of passion. To Dysart it is a psychological puzzle that leads both doctor and patient to a complex and disturbingly dramatic confrontation.  (This show contains adult content and nudity.)  August 11-26, 2017.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

“Rock of Ages” rocks, really rocks, Cain Park



Cain Park’s Alma Theatre is rocking and rolling with the classic up-beat sounds of the ‘80s.  Yes, “Rock of Ages” features the likes of “The Final Countdown,” “Here I Go Again,” “I Wanna Rock,” “High Enough,” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”  That’s right, the songs of  Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Poison and Europe.

“Rock of Ages,” based on the 2012 film, is a juke box musical.  It takes songs written before the script was conceived and intersperses them into a less than well-put-together story.   Interestingly, for no apparent reason, the title song, as written by Def Leppard, is not included in the goings-on.

The original stage production, which ranks in the top 30 of the longest running shows in Broadway history, played 2,328 performances.

It’s 1987.  Sherrie Christian (the adorable, sweet-voiced Lauren Ashley Berry), a young, small-town virgin (what would you expect with a name like that?) gets off the bus in Los Angeles, ready to become the next great film star, and is immediately robbed.  Into her life comes her “hero,” the handsome Drew (Shane Lonergan), who works at the Bourbon Room, the fabled West Hollywood club, the home of rock and roll stardom. 

No, Drew is not an R&R star, just a busboy, with stars in his huge doe-like eyes, a guitar in his hands, and a stellar voice which hits long-held high notes and slips nicely into a cool falsetto. 

As happens in these fairy-tale tales, Drew is love-struck, gets Sherrie a job at the club, and it looks like we are headed for a “happily ever-after tale.” 

Oh, come on, we have an hour-and-a-half to fill with songs, so there has to be conflict, chaos, heartbreak and then, a happy ending.

The conflict comes in the form of Hertz Klinemann (the funny, over-the-top Kevin Kelly, complete with very bad accent), who dreams of designing formal wear for pets, but instead is planning on knocking down the Sunset Strip and building an upscale shopping center.  His sidekick is his fey son, Franz (David Turner who lisps and swishes his way through his stage-time).  The duo is eventually foiled by a group of activists, who picket to stop the destruction of the strip.

Meanwhile, our heroine, good girl Sherrie, who fight off of the advances of super-rock god Stacee Jaxx (Connor Bogart O’Brien, not quite reaching the sensual level needed for women to lose their undies over), gets Sherrie fired from the Bourbon Room.  She is taken in by Justice (Trinidad Snider, a wailing momma with a big voice, who almost steals the show).  She runs a strip club. 

In the meantime, the show’s MC (the hysterically funny Douglas F. Bailey, who knows his way around a laugh line and does steal the show), and bar owner Dennis Dupree (smarmy Phillip Michael Carroll) discover they are “in love” and delight while singing “Can’t Fight this Feeling.” 

Lots more goes on, but of course, in the end, our Sherrie hooks up again with the still love-struck Drew and, as is the case with all good juke box musicals, they know “The Search is Over,” kiss their way to “Heaven,” knowing that they will never say, “I Hate Myself for Lovin’ You,” and the entire cast and the audience claps, sings and dances to”Don’t Stop Believing.”

The band (Jesse Fishman, Jeremy Poparad, Tim Keo and Justin Hart), under the leadership of Jordan Cooper, rock.  Yeah, man, they really rock!  



Kevin D. Marr II's creative choreography, is spot on!

Director Joanna May Hunkins has the cast psyched, and, after a slow, often hard to hear first act, and lots of overacting, the assemblage gets focused and lets loose in Act II, earning a screaming final reception.



CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  If you are a fanatic for rock and roll, especially from the genre’s golden age, you will absolutely love “Rock of Ages.”  “Oh Sherrie,” “The Search is Over,” as you’ll think it’s “Just like Paradise” and believe that you are in “Heaven,” having “Nothin’ But a Good Time,“ which is pretty darn good!
The show runs through June 25, 2017 in the Alma Theatre in Cleveland Heights’ Cain Park.   For tickets call 216-371-3000 or go to http://www.cainpark.com/

Upcoming musical theater events at Cain Park:

August 5 & 6--“The Music Man in Concert,” with Eric Fancher, as Harold Hill, and Nicole Sumlin, as Marian Paroo, in Meredith Wilson’s classic musical.

July 20, 7 PM--The Musical Theater Project presents “For Good:  The New Generation of Musicals,” examines Broadway shows from 2000 until today in narration and song.  Hear selections from “Hamilton,” “1776,” Wicked,” “Book of Mormon” and “Dear Evan Hansen.”

August 10, 7 PM—The Musical Theater Project presents “Luck Be A Lady:  the Songs of Frank Loesser,” a multi-media concert featuring the music of “Guys and Dolls,” “Most Happy Fella,” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

Saturday, June 03, 2017

“Really, Really,” thought provoking, inciting, well-conceived at Beck


In this era where the nation’s leader has displayed chauvinistic attitudes, spoken disrespectfully about women, where sexting is part of the mode of operation of not only politicians but business people, and civil disregard is seemingly a daily incident on airlines and television news, it is not surprising, since art reflects the era from which it comes, that the play “Really Really,” is now gracing the stage at Beck Center.  It is a script and production that will insight much discussion.

To place the play’s spotlight in perspective, it might be helpful to recount the 2006 incident when the members of the Duke University lacrosse team were accused of raping a female student during a party.  Or, the 2012 Steubenville, Ohio situation when a high-school girl was sexually assaulted at a party by some of the school’s football players. 

Paul Downs Colaizzo’s play has similarities with these incidents as it concerns a party, a sexual incident, and an accusation of rape, but it also has a twist that the others didn’t have. 

We meet the remnants of a collegiate apartment party, the morning after.  Obviously, the well-heeled athletes and their guests consumed large amounts of alcohol.  Exact memories of what happened are sparse.  
 



Vague recollections evolve.  Davis (Daniel Scott Telford) seemingly got “lucky.”  Cooper (Chris Richards), the oldest of the teammates, one of the party’s hosts, who is a hanger-on delaying graduation until the “right” opportunity comes along, may have listened to the bedroom goings-on through a closed door.  Johnson (Jack Schmitt), who was present, wants to study for his up-coming exams and seems uncomfortable with the hijinks of the party. 

In another apartment, after some hesitation, Leigh (Molly Israel) shares with her roommate, Grace (Rachel Lee Kolis), that she was “raped” at the party.   Grace, a national leader of the Future Leaders of America, whose icons are political conservatives including Ted Cruz, Ronald Reagan and Phyllis Schlafly, supports Leigh’s reporting the incident to the University.

Jimmy (Randy Dierkes), Leigh’s wealthy boyfriend, who is on the same athletic team as the party holders, but was not at the get-together, finds out about the incident and goes to confront Davis.  Leigh’s sister, Hayley (Olivia Scicolone), arrives to supposedly support her sister.  

Questions abound, both about the story and the generation which these young people represent.

•Did Leigh try to fend off Davis?  •Did Cooper actually hear Leigh say, “No” and “Stop,” or is he an agreeable witness trying to insure a prize position in Jimmy’s dad’s business.  •Did Leigh set up the entire scenario?  •Was Leigh trying to get back at Davis for rejecting her when they were freshmen?  Was Jimmy her fallback guy to insure her dream of the perfect (wealthy) husband and perfect (financially abundant) life? Is the purpose of Haley’s “trailer-trash” character present to illustrate what Leigh is trying to escape from? 

•Do those of Generation-I (also referred to as GenZ, Gen Me, and Centennials), who are the first of citizenry born with the Internet and were taught to be individualistic, generally operate on the mind-set that it is their right and responsibility to impose their will and desires on others?  •Do Gen-I males believe that they can talk and bluster with no consequences?   •Do Gen-Iers, both male and female, think/feel it is their privilege to get what they want from life, no matter what they have to do to achieve their nirvana?  •Can there be more than one conclusion reached based on the same set of “facts” and observations?




“Really Really,” under the focused direction of Don Carrier, is fascinating.  The show is well-cast, nicely paced, gets the required laughs and gasps, and grabs and holds the audience’s attention.  There is no acting going on, just realistic portrayals of real people, speaking understandably in natural language.

Scenic designer Cameron Caley Michalak has effectively shoe-horned a multi-setting play into Beck’s compact Studio Theatre.  His use of a small turntable makes for efficient location changes.  Trad A Burns’ lighting design aids in setting the right moods. 

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Really Really” is “murder” mystery without a dead body, but still asks, “Who did it?”  The cast is well-selected and each person effectively textures their role.  The result is a production which sparks with intensity, sucking the viewer into an experience which is edgy, shocking and thought-provoking.  It’s a must see for anyone interested in thoughtful and well-conceived theater.

“Really, Really” runs at Beck Center for the Arts until July 2, 2017.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to http://www.beckcenter.org

Saturday, May 27, 2017

“Massacre (Sing to Your Children) challenges at convergence continuum



There is darkness.  Suddenly there is screaming and yelling from off-stage, the stage lights snap quickly up, bright red, casting eerie shadows.  A door bursts open, 7 people come stumbling through the doorframe, each covered with blood, and wielding an instrument of destruction…knives, screwdriver, rake, machete.  Someone wedges a chair under the doorknob.  They all look and sound energized, out of control, on a high. 

Thus starts Jose Rivera’s “Massacre (Sing to Your Children),” now on stage at convergence continuum

Jose Rivera, who was born in Puerto Rico, comes from a family of storytellers.  His family moved to mainland USA when he was 4.  He is noted for incorporating his life experiences into his plays with the spotlight on his Puerto Rican and small town New York experiences as well as focusing on family, sexuality, religion, spirituality and the occult.

He has written for the stage and television, but, he is probably best known for his adaptation of “The Motorcycle Diaries,” which led, in 2005, to his being the first Puerto Rican to be nominated for an Oscar in the category of” Best Adapted Screenplay.”

“Massacre (Sing to Your Children)” is said to be, “A Rorschach Tests-of-a-play whose narrative loopiness, supernatural meanings and political allegory will haunt and confound each audience member in a different way.”

Rivera exposes the audience to a group of “everyday” people, living in a small town, who appear to have their sights set on the revenge of Joe, an outsider who came to town, gained power and authority, and has, in the view of these citizens,  used it to control mistreat others.  

The blood-covered townsfolk are people who are filled with hatred and want retribution for the destruction of the society they had known.  They speak of having endured rape, child molestation, murder, blackmail, concentration camps, sacrifices, and bad faith.

All “these things” happened after Joe came to town five years ago.

Using abstract poetic language, which is often interlaced with swearing, Rivera veers off into undeveloped and underdeveloped ideas, causing confusion over what is real and what is made up.  

If the script hadn’t been given its first staging in 2007, it would be easy to assume that Rivera was writing an allegory, placing a focus on the Donald Trump and Fox News world of alternate facts.  Several times the line, “Did we deserve this?” is asked.  It is a question that those opposed to the present DC administration ask on a regular basis.

The con-con production, under the direction of the theater’s artistic director, Clyde Simon, is vivid, well-paced and often confusing. 

The cast varies in their acting depth.  Some lines sound flat, a memorized flow of words with little attempt to create meaning, and characterizations replace character development.  On the other hand, at times the speeches mesmerize. 

Brian Westerley immerses himself in Joe.  He nicely textures the role.  Lucy Bredeson-Smith’s hollow eyes, are the key to Vivy, a school teacher who is confused and lost.  Kelsey Rubenking is believable as a lost soul whose outlet to her feelings is in writing somewhat childish songs.  She displays a nice singing voice.

The rest of the cast consists of Wesley Allen, Dennis Burby, Jamal Davidson, Beau Reinker, and Hillary Wheelock.

Capsule Judgement: “Massacre (Sing to Your Children)” is an abstract play whose meaning will depend on an individual’s views of the world, and their willingness to search for the author’s intent and purpose.  This is a script and production for playgoers who like to probe for ideas with no need for clarity of ideas or outcomes.

“Massacre (Sing to Your Children)” runs through June 10, 2017, at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s gentrifying Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or go to http://www.convergence-continuum.org/

Coming up at con-con:
“Illuminated” a world premiere by Katie O’Keefe (June 22-23)
”Neighbors” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, directed by Terrence Spivey (July 7-29)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Cleveland reviewer goes to Broadway at Tony time, 2017 (capsule summaries)




Several times a year I go to review what’s on stage on Broadway.  This spring, at the time the Tony Award nominations were announced, I had the chance to see some excellent nominees. 

Seeing local talent on stages on the Big White Way adds to the excitement.   During this and last season about twenty Baldwin Wallace University grads (Berea, OH, a CLE suburb), which recently was named as the best musical theatre program in the country, were appearing in the Big Apple.  Many of them are still on stage, as well as some newbies. Included are Caitlin Houlihan, “Waitress,” Steel Burkhardt, “Aladdin,” Shannon O’Boyle and Kyle Post in “Kinky Boots,” Cassie Okenka, “School Of Rock,” and Colton Ryan, “Dear Evan Hansen.”

In addition, the talented Chagrin Falls native Corey Cott, A Carnegie Mellon grad, has the lead in the Cleveland-centric “Bandstand.”

On the business side, Matthew and Michael Rego and Hank Unger, of The Araca Group are one of the producers of Tony nominated “Groundhog Day.” They formed their very successful production team in 1997 and have been involved with such hit shows as “Urinetown,” “Wicked,” “’night mother,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” and “Rock of Ages.”   (Honesty disclosure:  Mike, Matt and Hank met when they were involved in a production of “The Music Man” which I directed some years ago.)

Here are capsule judgments of four new shows, all of which received Tony nominations.  To read the whole review of each, go to http://www.royberkinfo.blogspot.com/, scroll down to find show of choice.




What: “Groundhog Day”
Where:  August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd Street
Capsule judgment:  Though it doesn’t reach the comic levels of the film version of the tale, “Groundhog Day The Musical” delights.  It’s the kind of show that will entertain Broadway audiences and be a hit when the sure to come national tour hits the road. 



What: “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.”
Where:  Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street
Capsule judgment:  The total effect of “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812” is breathtaking.  The traditional music, dress, stylized acting, and Josh Groban’s booming voice add to the over-arching effect. Yes, this is more than a musical, it is a spectacle of enormous proportions. 

 


What: “Bandstand—The New American Musical”
Where:  Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th Street

Capsule judgment: “Bandstand” isn’t a great musical, but the well-conceived production has the music, story line, dancing and patriotism to make the show a touring company favorite when it hits the hinterlands.  In the meantime, it deserves a healthy run on the Great White Way.



What: “Sweat”
Where:  Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street
Capsule judgment: Theater represents the era from which it comes, and “Sweat” clearly and shockingly tells the depressing tale of what went on during the financial downturn of this country and the resulting hysteria and desperation by a group of people who felt they had been disenfranchised by big business, betrayed by their government, and sold out by their union and political leaders.  It is an important play which fulfills the educational obligation of the arts.  It’s a script that is sure to be produced by many theatres as soon as its Broadway run concludes.

The much Tony nominated “Falsettos” which opened last spring, opened too late for the 2016 recognitions, but you can read its review on my blog.

Other new multi-Tony nominated shows which I did not see, but deserve attention are: “Come From Away,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Oslo,” “Indecent,” “War Paint,” “Anastasia,” and “Doll’s House Part 2,” as well as the revival of “Hello Dolly” (starring Bette Midler) and “Miss Saigon.”

“Groundhog Day The Musical” delights on Broadway


“Groundhog Day The Musical” has had a somewhat rough path to Broadway.  The show, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, and book by Danny Rubin, which is based on the hit 1993 film by Rubin and Harold Ramis, opened in 2016 in London and all went well.  Reviews were good, attendance was solid, and it seemed like the legend of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog who holds the secret of whether those in the eastern US will have a short or long winter, was going to have smooth sailing into its Broadway burrow.

That prognosis was wrong!  The first scheduled preview in New York had to be stopped because of technical difficulties in getting the revolving stage to work.  Then, on the April 14 preview night, Andy Karl, who was reprising his leading man role from the English production, tore his anterior cruciate ligament during one of the show-stopping numbers.  He hobbled through the rest of that performance with the aid of a cane and was replaced by his understudy for the rest of the previews.  Rumors ran rampant that the show would close before it opened.  But, true to the old adage, “The show must go on,” Karl returned on opening night to positive reviews. 

Things seemed to right themselves after that and the musical, which has been praised as “So much fun it should be illegal,” has gone on to garner seven 2017 Tony Award nominations, including one for Karl as the Best Performance in a Musical, as well as recognition for best musical, book, direction, original score, choreography and scene design.

“Groundhog Day The Musical” basically follows the plot of the Bill Murry, Andie MacDowell hit movie which, in 2006, was added to the United States National Film Registry as the #8 in the top ten greatest films in the fantasy genre.

The story centers on weatherman Phil Connors (Andy Karl).   Phil, he of good looks, an attitude of self-importance and unbridled egotism, finds himself assigned, by his Pittsburgh based TV station, to go to Punxsutawney, PA to do a special report on the annual Groundhog Day Ceremony. 

He reluctantly arrives, checks into a B&B, and goes to bed.  From there on any semblance of normality in his life ends! 

Phil wakes up the next day, drinks some terrible coffee, goes to Gobbler’s Knob, where the ceremony is to take place, and meets Larry (Vishal Vaidya) the cameraman and Rita (Barrett Doss) his newbie producer.  He does his lack-luster recap of the event, goes to eat lunch, finds out that a snowstorm is blocking his return to Pittsburgh, and stays the night at the B&B.  The next day turns out to be a duplicate of yesterday, and the following day turns out to be the same as the day before, and the following day . . ..  Phil is caught in a time warp, with no escape.    

As happens in all romantic fantasy musical comedies, Phil and Rita fall into lust and love.  A transformation takes place when he becomes a nice guy helping townsfolk, does a positive promo about the town and its festival, and even though the route has finally cleared to return, he spends the day with Rita and watches the sun rise on the next day.  As one of the show’s songs states, “There Will Be Sun.”

The show, under the astute direction of Matthew Warchus, who has directed such Tony award winning shows as “Art,” “Boeing, Boeing” and “Matilda,” delights with imaginative staging.

One of the shows highlights is a car chase in which a car is built before the audience’s eyes, then transforms into a mini-remote control auto which dashes around the stage.  The audience reaction was explosive delight.

The cast is strong, singing and dancing and performing with great skill. 
 



Andy Karl lives up to his advance billing as Phil.  Still operating with a leg brace due to that rehearsal injury, he surprisingly moves and dances freely.  His voice is strong and sense of comic timing excellent.  His displays of self-love are hilarious, and his double takes, charming.  His Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical is well earned.
 



Barrett Doss inhabits the role of Rita.  She sings, dances and performs with certainty and believability. 

It’s always an added treat when, as a Cleveland-based reviewer, there is a CLE connection to a Broadway production.  In the case of “Groundhog Day,” the hook is Matthew and Michael Rego and Hank Unger, The Araca Group (www.araca.com).  They formed their production team in 1997, producing shows, selling theatrical merchandise and staging live entertainment and theatrical events on Broadway and around the world.  They have been involved with such hit shows as “Urinetown,” “Wicked,” “’night mother,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” and “Rock of Ages.”   (Honesty disclosure:  Mike, Matt and Hank met when they were involved in a production of “The Music Man” which I directed some years ago.)
Capsule judgement:  Though it doesn’t reach the comic levels of the film version of the tale, “Groundhog Day The Musical” delights.  It’s the kind of show that will entertain Broadway audiences and will be a hit when the sure to come national tour hits the road. 
THE FACTS:
What:  GROUNDHOG DAY THE MUSICAL
Where: August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd Street
Open ended run
Matinees: Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday
Evenings:  Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday