Sunday, July 27, 2003

Those Seven Little Words (Playhouse Square Center)



‘THOSE SEVEN LITTLE WORDS’ entertains at Kennedy's

“If you’re here tonight you’re gay, know someone who is gay or are my family.” With that statement Cleveland comedian and diva, Greta Rothman, opened her one-woman show, ‘THOSE SEVEN LITTLE WORDS.” It recounts her dating and mating attempts on the local scene, as well as in New York. Rothman recently returned to the area after trying her hand at hooking a husband and starting an entertainment career in the Big Apple.

The seven little words? They are “I love you, so you’re probably gay.” They account for why Rothman is still unmarried. They also account for why she put together a show which consists of eleven songs and an equal number of funny comic shticks about her relational life.

Rothman was raised in University Heights. Her high school prom date was gay, the guys she feel in love with during her teen years were gay, her best friends in New York were gay. The Jewish Rothman even recounts that when she followed her mother’s advice and went to a synagogue on the upper west side in Manhattan, and found so many “gorgeous men” that she pined to return the next week, she found out that the men had only been there because it was gay pride weekend. Oi!

Rothman, who prefers that she be called a “flame dame” rather than a “fag hag” or a “fruit fly,” which are terms to describe straight woman who love gay men, has a fine singing voice. She sings with meaning rather than just mouthing words, which makes her songs both understandable and engulfing. Her voice was especially well used in the Cy Coleman song “No Man Left For Me.” The theme song was delightfully sung. “She Loves Me,” sung with backup singer Eric Alan, showed nice blending. “Sisters,” sung with her other backup, Mike Caraffi was a cute idea and nicely done. Both Alan and Caraffi need to loosen up on stage to match Rothman’s naturalness.

The musicians, Charles Eversole and Greta’s brother, Andrew Rothman, were excellent, though Eversole’s synthesizer was often too overpowering for the small size of the theatre. The duo also sang backup in several songs.

Most of the musical selections for the one-running -joke show were appropriate, fitting well with the comedy. “The Rose,” a Bette Middler song which was selected to end the show, however, seemed out of place. “Someday My Prince Will Come” would have been a more appropriate ending considering Ms. Rothman’s stated desire to continue her quest to find the right man.

Kennedy’s does not lend itself to the intimacy needed for this show, especially as the seating is configured. Rather than setting up the theatre so that the audience surrounded the performer the decision was made to run the seating the length of the bowling alley shaped space. Adding tables in front of the seats made for difficult viewing and pushed the audience even farther away. Consideration should be given to alerting the stage/seating arrangement.

Capsule Judgement: This is a show which will delight a certain theatre-going set. Someone with liberal leanings, those who are gay or know someone who is gay, or those wanting to hear of a fun search for “mister right,” that continues to garner “mister wrong,” will enjoy themselves.
P.S. If you know a nice STRAIGHT Jewish man, about 30-something, looking for a talented comedian and singer for a wife, Greta’s mother would love to hear from you.

Oklahoma (Porthouse Theatre/KSU)


Oh what a beautiful 'Oklahoma' at Porthouse

Based on ‘GREEN GROW THE LILACS,’ a stage play by Lynn Riggs, ‘OKLAHOMA!’ brought together for the first time composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist/librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The duo would go on to write nine Broadway musicals, but none would be as important for the development of American musical theatre as ‘OKLAHOMA!’ The show fused together story, song and dance in a way that had never been done before. This laid the foundation for the musicals that followed.

The plot is simple, revolving mainly around the question of who will take Laurey to the box social--the decent Curly or the sinister Jud Fry, and the ramifications of her decision.

Since its opening in March of 1943 ‘OKLAHOMA!’ has become one of the most oft done musicals, with productions ranging from professional theatres to high schools. The question, therefore, is, how many times can you see “that old play?” The answer? As many times as you can see a fine production of it. And, have no doubts about it, the Porthouse Theatre’s production of ‘OKLAHOMA,’ under the creative eye of talented director Teri Kent, is one fine production.

Kent, whose own warmth and charm come shining through in the production, has honed the cast and professional team into an audience-pleasing team. The humor, the pathos, the wonder of quality theatre are all present. A sign of a good musical production is often keyed by watching what the chorus is doing. In this production the chorus doesn’t just stand around and wait for their chance to sing or say an occasional line, each person is emotionally involved in every scene.

John R. Crawford’s choreography is not only creative, but is well executed by the dynamic cast. He makes the dances his own, not copying the style of the Agnes de Mille, the award winning choreographer of the original production. The dream ballet, which reveals the main characters’ hidden fears and desires is the finest I’ve ever seen. It is mesmerizing as danced by Kaitlyn Black and J. Cole Burden and the supporting cast.

The singers blend well and the orchestra, under the direction of Melissa Fucci, generally performs well. They wisely don’t drown out the singers. Nolan O’Dell’s sets, Kazuko Inoue’s costumes and Cynthia Stillings’ lighting design all work.

In each Roger and Hammerstein show, one song carries the authors’ message which is often a need for peace and harmony. In ‘OKLAHOMA’ the tune is “The Farmer and the Cowman.” It is given a rousing production number. Other highlights include “Kansas City,” “I Cain’t Say No,” “All or Nothin’” and “Oklahoma.”

Kayce L. Cummings is charming as Laurey. She gives a unique spin to the role. Instead of playing it “sweet and innocent,” she adds a level of spunkiness to the character. Her singing voice is superb. She is beautiful to top it off.

Eric van Baars as Will and MaryAnn Black as Ado Annie electrify the stage whenever they appear. It is impossible not to smile every time they sing, dance or speak a line. Each of their songs is a show stopper.

Lissy Gulick makes a delightful Aunt Eller. Rosario Costanzo does the best Ali Hakim since Joseph Buloff portrayed the role in the original Broadway production. Sarah Lyon’s giggling Gertie is delightfully grating. After a slow emotional start Michael Sherman grows into the role of the menacing Jud Fry. He has a nice singing voice and physically fits the role.

James Love as Curley, who is a trained opera singer, has a marvelous singing voice and physically fits the role. Unfortunately, his lines are generally delivered in a flat, emotionally-void manner. Because of this, there is very little of the needed spark between him and Laurey. His body is stiff and he appears out of his acting element in this fine cast.

A minor glitch in the emotional involvement takes place at the show’s climax when Jud falls on his knife and dies during a fight with Curley. For some inexplicable reason, Kent has the cast roll the body over so that we can clearly see that Jud wasn’t stabbed at all. It breaks the spell since the audience is so close to the action.

Capsule Judgement: Saddle up your trusty colt (or the SUV) and ride out to Porthouse to see what will probably be the best production of ‘OKLAHOMA’ “ya evur mite see.”

Monday, July 21, 2003

Dance Brazil (Cain Park)


Uneven Dance Brazil at Cain Park

For over 25 years, the celebrated dancers and musicians of DanceBrazil have been among the foremost interpreters of Afro-Brazilian culture. The company's signature qualities are power, precision, passion, and eye-popping virtuosity. Under the banner, “We've got movement! “ the company is now on an international tour. In between stops in Germany and such US sites as NY, Washington, DC and Chicago, they stopped for a single night at Cleveland Heights’s Cain Park.

The group’s purpose is to spread their cultural message by bringing the art of capoeira to audiences. Capoeira is the Afro-Brazilian martial art that has become a cultural phenomenon. It is music and movement blended into the elements native to the Brazilian traditions of the samba, candombl√©, and modern dance. It was originated with slaves who used to dance to hide their fighting techniques. It consists of twisting, turning, somersaulting, and posing.

If only the company had stuck to their capoeira task in the program at Cain Park. As is, though the capacity audience gave the troupe a standing ovation, the program was uneven. The very short first segment consisted mainly of singing by four musicians. Because the audience came to see dance, and the quartet was in the orchestra pit below the viewers, and the music was repetitious, the reception was not positive. Many patrons talked all through the musical interludes.

The second act exploded. It was exciting and enthralling. Here, we got to see true capoeira in action. Too bad the whole program didn’t hit that level.

The male dancers were superb, especially the capoeiristas--Francisco Braga, Francisco Dalforne Dos Santos, Danilo Portugal and Leandro Silva.

The printed program did little to help the evening. It gave no hint that what was to be viewed was a series of short dances. It also failed to explain the art of capoeira. It did not explain that there would be as much music as there was dancing. There was no list of the musical or dance offerings so trying to anticipate what was coming, or who was dancing in any segment was impossible. Whoever prepared the program needs to realize that the purpose of the printed words is to aid the audience to understand and appreciate the staged offerings.

In part because of the printed program, and the lack of clarity on the part of the performance programming, the audience was completely caught by surprise when intermission came. People sat, unsure of what to do. The same thing happened at the end when the audience was unaware that the curtain call was in progress.

Capsule Judgement: Segments of DANCE BRAZIL’s presentation were explosive, exciting and enthralling and met the viewer’s high expectations. As a whole, however, this was a somewhat unfulfilling presentation.

Into the Woods (Lakeland Theatre)


‘INTO THE WOODS’ strays off the path at Lakeland

The initial concept for the award winning musical ‘INTO THE WOODS’ was for writer James Lapine to devise an entirely original story. Instead, he hit upon the notion of uniting numerous characters from familiar literature: Cinderella, Little Red Ridinghood, Jack (of Beanstalk fame) and Rapunzel.

Lapine’s self-explained purpose was to show what happened in reality, in contrast to the “they lived happily-ever-after” endings purported in the fairy tales. A child psychologist explained the symbolism of the woods in these tales as "the place in which inner darkness is confronted and ...where uncertainty is resolved about who one is ... or who one wants to be." It is only when we see the light that we can really find our way and face our hidden fears.

Lapine's book is dark, wise and oft-times enchanting. When combined with the words and music of America’s most brilliant musical author Stephen Sondheim, the delightful first act was intended to be a sharp contrast to the lesson-teaching second segment.

Sondheim's score is gorgeous and witty, especially in the first act. The show contains such wonders as “Stay With Me” (often called “Children Will Listen” because of its key line), the poignant “No More,” and the lovely “No One is Alone.”

Unfortunately, instead of following the authors’ intent and purpose, Lakeland Theatre’s director Martin Friedman decided to stray from the path. As he states in his director’s notes, “With this production I have chosen to eliminate any of the sarcasm and excess cynical humor that the original production utilized.” With this change of emphasis, Lakeland’s production loses the play’s purpose. In contrast to words “delightful,” “wise,” “adorable,” and “meaningful” which were found in most of the reviews of the original 1987 Broadway show and its 2001 revival, words like “dreary,” “boring” and “gloomy” seem to better fit.

In the Lakeland production, Alex Wyse is delightful as Jack. This lad can sing and act. Sandra Emerick sings and interprets well the role of the Baker’s wife. Paul Floriano develops a believable character as the Baker. Emerick and Floriano’s rendition of “It Takes Two” is one of the show’s highlights. Toni Cervino is enchanting as Cinderella. She has a fine singing voice and gave a textured acting performance. As the witch, Maryann Nagel lets loose in the second act, after a too controlled first act. Her singing voice, as always, is radiant. Tiffany Gates sings the role of Rapunzel effectively. Donnie Long has a nice singing voice, but his portrayal of Cinderella’s Prince was shallow. Ryan Bergeron proficiently sings the role of Rapunzel’s Prince, but he overacts at times. Doug Farren was not believable as either the narrator or the mysterious man.

Some questionable blocking, awkward set changes, a good but over-loud orchestra which drowned out many of the spoken lines, boring choreography consisting mainly of cross-over steps and marching in place, mumbled lines, lack of articulation of song lyrics, some poor singing blends, and dark lighting spots on the stage, didn’t add to the festivities.

Capsule Judgement: This is not to say the show is to be avoided. That’s not the summary message. There are enough good moments to make the production enjoyable. But go realizing that instead of finding the clearing, the production gets lost in the woods.

Monday, July 14, 2003

1776 (Beck Center)


‘1776’ examines our country's birth at Beck

Are you aware that the New York delegation was the last of the 13 original colonies to vote in favor of the Declaration of Independence? Did you know that John Dickinson, a delegate from Pennsylvania, refused to sign the Declaration? Does the name James Wilson mean anything to you? If not, your American history teacher didn’t share that his not wanting to be noted as a historical figure resulted in the deciding vote regarding the passage of the document that declared the colonies in revolt. Did your history book explain that without John Adams’ nagging and tirades there might never have been a United State of America? If you didn’t know these facts you need to attend the Beck Center’s production of ‘1776’ and get a refresher course in the founding of this country.

‘1776’ is a musical based on the events surrounding the creation and adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and therefore, the birth of the United States. It is set in Philadelphia in the months of May, June, and July of 1776. The composer, Sherman Edwards, spent nine and one-half years researching and creating the show. The original Broadway production was nominated for 5 Tony Awards in 1969, winning four of them, including the best musical. A movie version was produced in 1972. A short time ago ‘1776’ was revived on Broadway.

‘1776’ is a difficult show for any theatre to produce. It requires 24 males who can act, sing and dance, as well as two talented females. The musical score is difficult to sing. The show does not contain the usual show-stopping song and dance numbers that often make musicals so entertaining. With this in mind, Beck Center deserves applause for even attempting the show.

The production, under the direction of Scott Spence, is entertaining and will fulfill the patriotic needs of many. It is, by no means, however, a polished presentation. The acting and singing are uneven and the choreography is wanting in parts.

The production is blessed with the very talented Greg Violand as the irasible John Adams. Violand has a strong singing voice, is an excellent actor who knows how to milk reactions from an audience, and obviously has a keen understanding of Adams. Unfortunately, Molly McGinnis, as Abigail Adams, did not match Violand’s singing or acting. She often had trouble maintaining her musical sounds and her line interpretations were often flat.

G. A. Taggett has a fine singing voice which was well displayed in “Molasses To Rum.” Jim Reilly was delightful as Stephen Hopkins, the elderly alcoholic representative from Rhode Island. Bill Kelly looks like Benjamin Franklin. His portrayal missed some of Franklin’s curmudgeon qualities, but had some fine moments. Rob Gibb was excellent as John Dickinson, the Pennsylvanian who did not believe in breaking from England. Gibb developed a clear character and has excellent vocal abilities. Ian Atwood had the right boyish charm for the studious Thomas Jefferson. He has a fine singing voice. Too bad he didn’t have any solo opportunities. Kevin Joseph Kelly appeared to have a wonderful time performing “The Lees of Old Virginia” the only song in the show with a built-in reprise. The male chorus had difficulties in blending musical sounds in many of their renditions.

Larry Goodpaster’s orchestra did a fine job of balancing off the performers and controlling the habit of many theatre orchestras of drowning out the singers. Don McBride’s scenic design worked well. The rented costumes were period perfect.

If you attend a performance be aware that the air conditioning is cranked way up as the actors are costumed in heavy clothing and wigs. Dress accordingly as many patrons were complaining about the frigid conditions.

Capsule judgment: The production, under the direction of Scott Spence, is entertaining and will fulfill the patriotic needs of many. It is, by no means, however, a polished presentation. The acting and singing are uneven and the choreography is wanting in parts.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Shaw Festival--2003 Wrap-up


2003 Shaw Festival Season filled with highlights

The Shaw Festival, which is performed from April through the end of November in lovely Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada is the only theatre in the world that specializes in the plays of Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries (1856-1950). These plays represent the beginning of what is known historically as “the modern world.” It also offers Greater Clevelanders a short drive through the wine country of both the Northern US and lower Canada to escape for a few days and view high quality theatre offerings, drop in at the casino in Niagara Falls, and stay in well-tended B&Bs or plush hotels. All of this is made even more appealing due to the very favorable exchange rate of the American dollar. At present the purchasing power of the dollar allows for savings of about 1/3 on Canadian prices.

This season Jackie Maxwell has assumed the role of Artistic Director. She follows the legendary Christopher Newton who did much to establish the festival’s wonderful reputation. She invites audiences, in her Shaw program book remarks, to “Join me, on the first step of what I intend to be a delightfully surprising journey.” If Maxwell’s direction of ‘THE CORONATION VOYAGE’ is any indication, the theatrical journey she wishes to take us on should be very successful.

‘THE CORONATION VOYAGE’

It is May 1953. The ship, Empress of France, sets sail from Montreal enroute to England. On the pretext of attending the celebrations marking the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, an important mafioso is on board. He secretly plans to live in exile with his two sons. Aboard this floating palace in the middle of the ocean, the lord of the Montreal underworld must face the most important decision of his dubious career: will he sacrifice his youngest son for a safe-conduct?

The script has an interesting construction. A biographer is on-board to write the “true” story of the mafioso leader. We hear what he writes, in tandem with what is really happening. We gain an understanding that history is made up of interpretations and its interpretators.

Jeff Lillico is captivating as the 14-year old son. Dylan Trowbridge, portraying Etienne, the older brother, a budding pianist whose hands were smashed by some of his father’s underworld opponents, is emotionally right on target. Jim Mezon is properly hateful as the mafia don. Peter Krantz completely captivates as the Diplomat who has ice in his blood and evil in his heart. George Dawson’s stylized speech as the Biographer helps make him stand apart from the goings-on, while allowing for clarity in his role as our guide to the happenings. Donna Belleville is wonderful as the wife of the Canadian minister who will represent the country at the coronation. Susie Burnett is the only weak cog. Her portrayal of the young love interest of Etienne is all surface.

This is a fine, well planned, finely acted and technically well developed production. The boat set, the sumptuous costumes, the lighting effects, all work well. The surprise ending brought gasps from the audience. If you have time for only one Shaw production this season, this should be it.


‘DIANA OF DOBSON’S’

The Shaw Festival is noted for finding selcom-produced scripts, plays like ‘DIANA OF DOBSON’S.’ This is the story of a young shopkeeper's assistant who inherits a modest sum of money and decides to spend it all on a lavish tour of the continent. While vacationing in the Swiss Alps, she meets a young aristocrat who, in reality, has only a little more money than she. If this were a made-for-TV movie, it is obvious where this story will go. But in the hands of feminist writer Cicely Hamilton the viewer is not sure.

It is appropriate that the play be staged at this festival. G. B. Shaw, who was known for his entertaining fiction, was also strong on social conscience. It could have been Shaw, not Hamilton who wrote, “Girls, have you ever grasped what money really is? It's power! Power to do what you like to do, to go where you like, say what you like.” The lead character, Diana Massingberd, is also in the best tradition of Shaw's heroines. She's a feisty, intelligent and impoverished young woman, the daughter of a deceased country doctor who left her to fend for herself as a shop girl at Dobson's Emporium.

As with many other Shaw productions ‘DIANA OF DOBSON’S’ teaches the audience historical lessons such as the concept of the "live-in" system common at employment establishments at the time. It created a class of indentured servitude, with the girls herded together in ill-equipped dormitories, dependent upon the whims of their employers. We also observe the contrast between classes and the unproductive role of the so-called ornamental class.

Director Alisa Palmer has a fine understanding of the play and has developed an effective production. Severn Thompson makes a fine Diana. Evan Buliung is splendid as Bretherton, Diana’s love interest. Goldie Semple, as always, delights as Mrs. Cantelupe, Bretherton’s conspiring aunt.

Fine costumes, effective set design and tone setting music all help to make this a polished and very seeable production.


‘MISALLIANCE’

History has it that during the first rehearsal of the first production of George Bernard Shaw’s ‘MISALLIANCE,’ the cast walked out because they couldn’t understand what the play was going on about. The cast was not alone. At intermission, many of the attenders of the Shaw Festival production also departed. One was heard mumbling, “What is this mess?”

Part of the problem with the play, and this production, was that Shaw, in his attempt to stay modern, wrote the script in a manner of alientation, a new theatre movement of his time.

It is the purpose of alienation to force the audience not to transfer their feelings to the characters in a play, but to be aware that the play is about them, their lives, their society. To achieve this writers and directors of the early twentieth century broke the action of the play, spoke directly to the audience, built in devices to insure that the audience was aware that this was a play, not a display of reality. In alienation staging it is common to have lights in full view, scenery changes made without dimming the lights, and non-real set pieces.

Some of these techniques were incorporated into the Shaw Festival production. Actors often went to lecterns on stage to read parts of the script. On a screen above the playing area a film of G. B. Shaw himself, commenting on the play and the ideas he was presenting, was shown. All of this added up to a confused audience who were used to traditional story development and presentation.

The story centers on John Tarleton, a self-made millionaire and manufacturer. He has built his business out of new products, new technologies, and new efficiencies. The Tarleton family occupies the new seat of power in the modern England of the day. The wealthy scions of commerce are now the only ones who can afford the best real estate and the best educations. The members of the hereditary aristocracy may no longer have the money to back up their social power, but they represent an old power base that still wields substantial power in government and high society. A marriage between the aristocracy and the merchant classes--the marriage proposed between Hypatia Tarleton and Bentley Summerhays--might be considered a "misalliance"; but it represents the consolidation of power between the classes that, for better or for worse, hold the reins of power.

The question that ‘MISALLIANCE ‘ poses is: "how do you live your life in the old world while waiting for the new world to come into existence?" Unfortunately, the audience, at least this Shaw, didn’t seem to care.

The production, under the seemingly misguided hand of Neil Munro, simply never captivated or sped along. The pacing was static, the delight muted, the clarity missing. There was too much talking and too little action. The characters were either too rigid or too overdrawn, but never the twain did meet. All in all, this was not a case of the Shaw Festival doing what it does best...Shaw!


‘THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS’

Neil Munro was also the director of Sean O’Casey’s ‘THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS.’ As with ‘MISALLIANCE’ the play missed its mark.

The almost 3-hour production centers on the 1916 Easter uprising in Ireland. It concerns bitter, disheartened people who illustrate Irish woe concerning their lack of independence from the British. It showcases their poverty and their frustrations.

Acts one and two look forward to the citizen-led liberation of Ireland, while acts three and four expose the reality of the suppression of that revolution. The myths of the past and fervent response to the leaders' rhetoric stirred the people to give their lives. Eventually, the events overtake them. In contrast to “hero” plays, the revolutionaries we see are not presented sympathetically. O'Casey argues that the defeat at the hands of the British was inevitable.

Events are presented in relation to many characters, with no central protagonist. This leaves the audience with no one to cheer for, to hate, or with whom to emphathize. We sit as outsiders observing, but not being involved.

The vivid colloquialism and regional accents of the script, and slurring of words often lead to difficulty in understanding. Munro needed to decide whether authenticity or understanding was his goal. From the standpoint of the audience, he unwisely chose the former.

Characters were generally not well developed. Concepts were not well articulated. The scenery was not well designed nor constructed.

The production, as a whole, was much less than what should be expected at the prestigious Shaw Festival.


WIDOWERS’ HOUSES

It’s a play about a slum landlord, an idealist who falls in love with the slumlord’s daughter but rejects her because of the source of her father’s income, and how the story resolves itself in a happy ending. Sound like an old fashioned melodrama? Not quite. It’s the plot of George Bernard Shaw’s very first play, ‘WIDOWERS’ HOUSES.’

The play foreshadows the messages of future Shavian plays including society as a villain, socialism as the answer, and morals versus greed. It includes lines that helped make Shaw famous including, “The love of money is the root of all evil” and “People who live in glass houses have no right to throw stones.”

This isn’t a play about widowers, so where does the title come from? Supposedly, it is based on an alteration of the biblical phrase 'widows' houses,' which suggests that the misfortunes which befall widows can also afflict widowers. Somehow, I’m guessing the average viewer will miss that point entirely.

As Harry Trench, Dylan Trowbridge follows up his fine performance in ‘THE CORONATION VOYAGE’ with another excellent portrayal. Patrick Galligan is delightful as Harry’s sidekick, the overly pompous William. Jim Mezon gives a polished performance as the slumlord. His lecturing speech about the need for slumlords is so convincingly presented that if you don’t listen closely, you’ll get conned into agreeing with him. Lisa Norton has some fine moments as Blanche, the daughter and fiancee.

In spite of the misleading title the Shaw production is quite good. The sets are lovely and functional, the costumes period correct, the comic timing excellent, a lover’s fight scene is wonderfully staged. All in all, director Joseph Ziegler did a competent job with a less than perfectly written script. ‘WIDOWERS’ HOUSES’ is not often done. This is a chance to see the initial Shaw effort in a fine production.


THREE SISTERS

Anton Chekhov is generally recognized as one of the Western world’s greatest dramatists. He, along with Henrik Ibsen, are credited with taking theatrical literature to new meaning as during the early twentieth century they transitioned western drama from escapism to examining realistic problems. Chekhov, in many of his writings, foretold of the Russian revolution.

Chekhov insisted that his plays were comedies. However, in most productions, the tragic elements are stressed. Chekhov described his purpose in writing as wanting to say to people, “Have a look at yourselves and see how bad and dreary your lives are. The important thing is that people should realize that, for when they do, they will most certainly create another and better life for themselves.”

It is Chekhov's examination of character that makes ‘THREE SISTERS’ a great play. We are less captured by the plot then by the characters. In an effective production we should feel for each of the people we encounter.

Considered to be his masterpiece, in ‘THREE SISTERS’ Chekhov examines the three Prozorov sisters who live in a small town with their brother, Andrei. They are bored with provincial life, and look forward to the day when they will move to Moscow, where all their unattainable dreams will take place. Eventually, the sisters' illusory hopes fade away.

The Shaw production does not captivate as it should. Part of the problem is the new translation by Susan Coyne. She has lost much of the Russian flavor of the play. The language is too North American. The angst, the heavy tones are gone. This missing element is further showcased by director Jackie Maxwell’s failure to texture the production with Chekhov overtones. As she did with last season’s misguided production of ‘PICNIC’ Maxwell does not stick to the writer’s intent, fails to showcase and reflect the place of origin of the material.

The performances are generally good. All three sisters develop separate and clear characters, though Tara Rosling’s Masha often stays on the surface of the role. Caroline Cave is vivacious early on as Irina and effectively transitions to the frustration of unfulfilled dreams. Kelli Fox leaves no doubt of sister Olga’s despair. Ben Carlson never quite creates a clear characterization for Andrei.

The production of ‘THREE SISTERS’ is not bad, it is just bland. Too bad, since Chekhov’s works are not commonly done and a good production of this “before his time” writer is usually an experience to look forward to.


AFTERPLAY

Have you ever exited a play and asked, “I wonder what happens to those people? What will their lives be like in ten or twenty years?” Irish writer Brian Friel obviously had those very reflections. In contrast to most of us who only think the thought, Friel did something about it.

It’s the 1920s. Two people come together in a deserted Moscow cafe. Both have stories to tell and only a single evening to share them. We are allowed to eavesdrop.

What is ironic about this meeting is that the two are characters from plays written by Anton Chekhov. Andrei Prozorov, is the lackadaisical brother from ‘THE THREE SISTERS’ and Sonya Serebriakova is from ‘UNCLE VANYA.’ Freil’s approach allows us to revisit the characters twenty years after the original plays ended.

‘AFTERPLAY’ premiered at the Gate Theatre in Dublin last year to great acclaim. The
Shaw production should also be hailed. This is a well directed effort by Daryl Cloran. The pacing is on key. The Russian feel is evident. He gets two fine performances from Simon Bradbury and Helen Taylor. Each is character perfect. We feel for both of them. We are concerned about them. We want to bridge forward another twenty years to see what their lives will be like then.

The 50-minute show is part of the lunch time series. It is a must see!

Only part of the Shaw season was reviewed here. The season also includes ‘THE ROYAL FAMILY,’ ‘ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY,’ ‘BLOOD RELATIONS,’ and ‘HAPPY END.’ Of what was seen I’d strongly recommend: ‘AFTERPLAY,’ ‘DIANA OF DOBSON’S,’ ‘WIDOWERS’ HOUSES,’ and ‘THE CORONATION VOYAGE.’

Friday, July 04, 2003

The Lion King--The Broadway Music (Playhoue Square Center)



'THE LION KING' gets glowing review from Alex and Noah

The major theme of ‘THE LION KING--THE BROADWAY MUSICAL’ centers on the circle of life. The show, through music, dance and the spoken word illustrates how each life has a beginning, an existence, and an ending, yet continues on through a new generation. What was more appropriate, therefore, than attending a production of the Disney spectacular with those who are the keys to my circle of life...with my grandsons Noah, age 6 and Alex, age 7 1/2 (not 7, but 7 and one-half). And, since youngsters are a major component of the audiences for the musical, what is more appropriate than looking at the show through the eyes of children.

For those of you who have been hiding outside the savanna and missed the movie, haven’t heard the sound track, been subjected to the commercialization which included everything from McDonald Happy Meal toys to lunch boxes and t-shirts, ‘THE LION KING: THE BROADWAY MUSICAL’ celebrated its world premiere in 1997. It has been playing to sold out audiences ever since.

Based on the Disney animated movie, ‘THE LION KING’ the play has drawn rave reviews for its dazzling special effects, staging and music. The spectacle uses masks and puppetry to combine with live acting to capture the audience’s imagination.

The show, which won almost every major theatrical award, broke new ground in theatrical technology, bringing to the stage such vast and sweeping elements as the rolling African savannah. The staging includes more than 200 puppets which represent 25 kinds of animals, birds, fish and insects. Eighteen-foot exotic giraffes and a 13’ long elephant march down the aisles. There are 125 ants, 39 hyenas, and 52 wildebeasts prancing before our eyes. The show’s original director said that she wanted a feeling of elegance. She succeeded!

The music by Tim Rice, Elton John, Hans Zimmer, and Lebo M. is a combination of African rhythms which collide with pop songs to create a memorable sound. The blended African-style choral arrangements engulf the viewer. That the show should be music-centered is entirely appropriate. In Africa, lives are permeated with music. Music has a function in society beyond simple entertainment -- songs are to teach, encourage, mourn and heal. Music serves a social function, helping to strengthen the circle of society.

The story? It is sunrise on the savanna. All the animals gather at Pride Rock to see Mufasa, the Lion King, and his queen introduce their newborn son, Simba. Simba grows into a cocky young cub. Mufasa tells Simba that everything lives together in a delicate balance called the Circle of Life. Life appears good for Simba’s future. But the plot thickens when Scar, Musafa’s evil brother, plans the deaths of Simba and Mufasa so that he, along with his evil henchmen, the hyenas, can rule the kingdom. Scar orchestrates a stampede and manages to kill Mufasa. He then convinces Simba that Mufasa's death was all Simba's fault. Scar tells Simba to leave the Pridelands and never return. The cub flees and life no longer appears good. Well...you get the idea.
Of course, through obvious twists and turns everything ends up happily. This is a Disney production...how else could it end?

So, what did Alex and Noah think? “It was great!” were their synchronized screams of joy.

What was the story about? Alex spent ten minutes giving a detail-by-detail recounting of the plot, with Noah adding details. Obviously the show clearly gets its idea across and, of course (as their grandfather knows), Alex and Noah are smart kids so they got the point.

Their favorite part? “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Close follow-up was “Hakuna Matata” the song which introduces us to Simba’s new friends, a warthog and a weasel.
What does “Hankuna Matata” mean? No problem for the dynamic duo...it means, (sung, of course) “no worries of the rest of your days.”

Who did you like the best? Noah’s face lit up immediately and giggled, “The funny guy...the green one.” He was referring to Rafiki, who acts as our narrator and visionary on what is to happen. The two boys then demonstrated the moves from “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” which includes a series of hip-wiggling gyrations. Hey, these kids did love this show!

What did you learn? Alex responded, “Be kind to animals.” Noah stated, “Be respectful.”

The unqualified dual opinion, “I want to see “Lion King” again!”

Don’t be surprised if some children, like the 5-year old sitting in front of us burst into tears at the death of Mufasa. This is a “real” person, not a movie cartoon character. He wailed, “I don’t like those bad-guy hyenas at another part of the action. It might be wise to avoid taking a very sensitive child to see the show. Also, be aware that this is a long production. Evening performances may be a “stay awake” problem. Things were not helped on opening night when the curtain went up 20 minutes late.

Taking the kids on-line to www.lionking.org would be a good introduction and playing the CD on the way to the theatre helps set the mood.

Capsule judgement: As for us, in the car the next day Alex and Noah both wanted to listen to “their” music...”THE LION KING--THE BROADWAY MUSIC.”