Sunday, August 17, 2003
The Stratford Festival of Canada: A Fall Wrap-up
The Stratford Festival of Canada takes place in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. The ride to Stratford from Cleveland is about six hours through Buffalo. Go on-line to the festival to get directions. (I found the directions offered by both the AAA and Yahoo maps to be confusing and miles longer.)
Productions run through November 9. Fall offerings include: ‘THE TAMING OF THE SHREW,’ ‘THE KING AND I,’ ‘PERICLES,’ ‘LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST,’ ‘GIGI,’ ‘THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME,’ ‘PRESENT LAUGHTER.’ The headlines of my previous reviews were: ‘KING AND I’ SUMPTUOUS; ‘GIGI’ IS AUDIENCE PLEASING BUT MISDIRECTED; ‘PERICLES’ TRIUMPHS!; ‘THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME’ RINGS WRONG BELLS. Shows carrying over only in September are: ‘ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA,’ ‘THE BIRDS,’ ‘’TROILUS AND CRESSIDA,’ ‘QUIET IN THE LAND,’ and ‘AGAMEMNON.’ Of these, on my late June visit I only saw ‘ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA’ which I found boring.
What’s the lodging like? I stayed at The Victorian Inn, which bills itself as “a place to rejuvenate your family and revel in the richness desired.” I found it little more than an older Holiday Inn. By the way, don’t spend the extra money to get a room with a view. Our additional investment garnered a view of the parking lot. I’d opt for one of the many bed and breakfasts. Sorry, I can’t recommend a specific choice as it’s been years since we stayed at one.
As for shopping, I strongly recommend Davis Canadian Arts (106 Ontario Street). This is a wonderful art gallery that offers Canadian traditional and contemporary sculptures, ceramics and paintings. For women’s quality clothing make sure to stop at The Touchmark Shop (137 Ontario Street). The establishment offers unique and one-of-a kind products at excellent prices.
Hungry? For moderate cost, high quality, try The Annex Room (38 Albert Street). For a slightly higher priced meal Bentley’s, a sister to The Annex, is good. I had a very negative dining experience at Carters on Downie. My expensive halibut main course consisted of a fish stick-sized piece of fish and four asparagus spears. It’s lunch portions at upscale dinner prices. And, unlike most Canadian restaurants, the service was poor. For a relaxed and fairly inexpensive breakfast treat try Demetre’s Family Eatery (1100 Ontario Street)..
Stratford Escapes, a division of Niagara Falls Tours, is an efficient way to make reservations. For information call 877-356-6385 or go on line to www.niagarafallstours.com. For individual tickets call 800-567-1600 or go on-line to www.stratfordfestival.ca.
THE SHAW FESTIVAL
The Shaw Festival is conducted in three lovely theatres in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada, an easy four-hour trip from Cleveland. You travel through the wine countries of Ohio, New York and Canada enroute.
Productions run through November 30. September through the end of season productions include: ‘THE ROYAL FAMILY,’ ‘THE CORONATION VOYAGE’, THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS,’ ‘BLOOD RELATIONS,’ ‘AFTERPLAY,’ ‘MISALLIANCE,’ ‘DIANA OF DOBSON’S,’ ‘HAPPY END,’ ‘WIDOWERS’ HOUSES,’ and ‘ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY.’ Of those that I saw, I’d strongly recommend ‘THE CORONATION VOYAGE,’ ‘AFTERPLAY,’ ‘DIANA OF DOBSON’S,’ and ‘WIDOWERS’ HOUSE.’
The Niagara area is dotted with wineries, many of which, besides offering wine tastings and sales, have restaurants . I have, in general, been disappointed in the winery restaurants with the exception of Inn on the Twenty, located in historic Jordan Village (www.innonthetwenty.com), about forty minutes from Niagara-on-the-Lake.. This ranks as one of my favorite restaurants in the world. The service is always wonderful, the facility is beautiful, the gardens behind the facility lovely, and the food is outstanding! This is a “must go-to.”
Also on the must do list is eating at The Queenston Heights Restaurant. Located in a park just over the Canadian line, the facility has a breathtaking view of the Niagara River gorge. I’ve been there a dozen times and never had a meal that was anything less than outstanding. Try and get seated at one of Christine’s tables. She’s a total delight and a wonderful server.
Disappointing for dinner was Epicurean, which is excellent for lunch. Service was poor and the dollar for value quotient weak. Fans Court Chinese Restaurant (135 Queen Street) is a much better buy. It has a very pleasant outdoor patio and the food is nice. Try the fruit chicken dish for a different taste treat.
Greaves Jams and Marmalades is famous for its products since 1927. A Niagara tradition is the Maple Leaf Fudge store. Also, don’t miss out on the several stores that sell yogurt which is blended before your eyes with Niagara fresh fruits.
The area has many excellent hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. We have found Abbotsford House Bed and Breakfast to be our home-away-from-home. Owner Margaret Currie is a total delight. Her breakfasts are scrumptious, she gives a new meaning to the word “clean,” and the antiques and decorations are impeccable. Return guests are the rule here. For reservations and/or information call 905-468-4646 or e mail AbbotsfordBandB.com.
For theatre information, lodging suggestions or tickets call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to www.shawfest.com. Ask about packages that include lodging, meal and tickets. Also be aware that the festival offers Sunday night specials, rush tickets and senior matinee prices.
For those so-inclined, Niagara Falls has an excellent gambling casino and there is a very large outlet store complex besides being able to take in the attractions connected to the magnificent falls.
This is a wonderful time of year to travel to our neighbor to the north. Friendly people, good value and wonderful theatre awaits you.
Sunday, August 10, 2003
Ohio Dance Theatre presents 'Midsummer Night's Dream: The Ballet'
Ohio Dance Theatre, which is housed in Oberlin, recently completed its inaugural summer series at the Cleveland Play House. Normally the company performs at Lorain County Community College and has developed a very large following there. According to Artistic Director Denise Gula the company attracted a new base while in residence at the nation’s oldest professional theatre. As always happens with groups new to an area it takes a while for the word to get out, so audience size was generally smaller than the company is used to getting in its “real” home. Cleveland’s economic woes, which have strongly affected other arts organizations, did not help the situation.
Founded in 1992 by Gula, the company’s mission is to “enhance the quality of life throughout the northeastern Ohio area by offering quality dance performances and educational programs.”
Due to Gula’s strong drama background as an actress and director, the company is one of the few in the country which incorporates theatricality into their program. For example, their recent production of ‘MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM’ consisted of a blend of dance and spoken dialogue.
A theatrical production in two acts, ODT’S ‘MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM’ uses as its theme the Shakespeare play of the same name. It is danced to the music of Felix Mendelssohn. Blending spoken dialogue with dance, it makes for an interesting evening of entertainment.
Allen Schissler and Jody Skye danced well as Oberon and Tatania, the king and queen of the fairies. Their closing duet was outstanding. Though he could have displayed a little more pixie quality, Alfiero Supan made a nice Puck. The Fairies formed a beautiful corps, with good point movement and excellent timing of the group movements.
Capsule judgement: Ohio Ballet Theatre is a small dance company which seems to be headed for a bright future.
Saturday, August 02, 2003
HOPEFULLY, THIS IS NOT GOOD BYE TO “MY” HALLE THEATRE
I made my local community theatre debut at the Jewish Community Center’s theatre. It was located in a store front on Lee Road and was headed by the noted former New York theatrical actor and director, Mark Feder. I was featured in ‘OUR TOWN’ and ‘COLD WIND AND THE WARM’ in that inviting setting. Later, after the theatre moved to the “brand new” JCC on Mayfield Road, I continued my theatrical career there. Joseph Buloff, of TV’s “The Untouchables” and Broadway fame, came to Cleveland to direct ‘THE FIFTH SEASON ‘ which playwright Betty Fields had written for him to star in on Broadway. A year later he returned and I had a major role in the first not-on-Broadway production of ‘THE WALL,‘ the story of Warsaw Ghetto uprising. It was a privilege to work with this great man. I learned much of my directing skills from him. Skills which I later shared with students at several local junior and senior high schools, Lorain County Community College, and casts at numerous community theatres.
It was, therefore, with much sadness that I learned that JCC’s Halle Theatre was going on sabbatical. The announced plan is to revive the program next year. The skepticism in the theatrical and lay community is running high. Activities put on hold often stay on hold forever. It will be a genuine shame if this community permanently loses the JCC theatre program. It is the only venue for plays specifically written about or by Jews.
With the great amount of funds donated by Jewish philanthropists in this town, it is a shame that someone has not stepped forward to save this treasure. Yes, lots of “little” guys have offered donations. It will, however, take some big giver to provide the needed funds to underwrite the program. Arts programs, in general, can’t be supported by ticket sales and small contributors. It takes major donors, whether it be a person, a city, a corporation, or a non-profit organization to float the funds to support the project.
I can only trust that Enid Baum Rosenberg, one of my former Beachwood students who benefitted from my JCC training, will lead the Board of JCC to find some way to breathe life back into this needed theatre program.
POINT OF DEPARTURE deserves standing “O”
Most local dance lovers know Karen Gabay as the long-time premiere female dancer with the Cleveland San Jose Ballet. Few realize, however, that she is also a very creative and talented choreographer. As her dance career comes to its climax she has segued into the role of dancer-choreographer. She is proficient in both roles.
She, along with her long-time talented partner, Raymond Rodriquez, followed the local dancers to California when financial problems, poor artistic choices, and a changing economy forced the CSJ Ballet to void its Cleveland ties. The duo loves the audiences in this area. They wanted to return and form their own company. Entitled Point of Departure the three year-old fledgling group is seeking financial means to create the kind of company that will again make Cleveland proud of its ballet tradition.
Point of Departure’s latest performance was staged at Cain Park. A near capacity audience was on it’s feet at the conclusion, applauding and screaming. The standing O was deserved as they had just seen a fine evening of dance.
This is not to say the performances were flawless. The ensemble, because of financial constraints, had only eight rehearsals to polish their dancing. Even making this more difficult was that Gabay had created “The Other Side of the Road.” a lengthy piece specifically for Rodriquez. It had its world premiere at this appearance. All of this led to some uncertainty at times. This did not, however, take away from the over-all wonder of the program.
Gabay’s “Nouveau Flamenco” danced to the music of Ottmar Liebert, found the cast in traditional flamenco costumes. Consisting of interesting couplings, often each pair doing different moves at the same time, the choreography showed creativity. The dancers executed stylized Spanish movements which nicely paralleled the moods of the guitar music. Gabay featured each of the dancers as soloists. The individual dancing and partnering were fine, but they were slightly off-sync when everyone was required to move as a unit.
“Meditation,” was a pas de deux displaying the fine partnering abilities of Rodriquez and Gabay. This was a selection using classical movements with modern overtones. The couple’s hand and arm use and their synchronization was superb. The dancers were accompanied by the excellent live piano fingering by Carolyn Warner and the fine bowmanship of violinist Lev Polyakin.
Sayaka Tai and Ivan Bielik were featured in the Pas de Deux from ‘DON QUIXOTE.’ After a mechanical start the duo’s confidence increased and shined brightly in their featured solo segments. Tai’s toe work and Bielik’s circle leaps were excellent.
Danced to a series of musical selections from Polyakin’s new jazz recording “The Other Side of the Road,” the ballet by the same name gave the youthful forty-something Rodriquez a chance to display his multi-talented abilities in classical ballet, modern dance, soft shoe, swing-dance, and theatrical movement. Gaby’s talent as a creative choreographer was showcased throughout. “Feast or Famine” which featured Rodriquez in a kick-line routine with four women was cheered loudly by the audience. He partnered effectively with Christine Schwaner in a pas de deux. Gabay and Rodriquez delighted as an exercise class duo in “Running out of Time.” The program’s highlight was the concluding segment. The entire company displayed fine style and message development in a reenactment of dancers trying out for a theatrical chorus line, portraying “Life is an Audition.”
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The Pointe of Departure company deserves financial and audience support to keep giving the area their high level of dance performance. Their recent Cain Park presentation showed again the quality and talent of Gabay and Rodriquez, not only as dancers, but as co-artistic directors.
BAT BOY, a fun-filled flight of fantasy at Cain Park
The headlines in the tabloids state, “Batboy Found In W.Virginia Cave ,”
“Batboy Escapes,” “New Wave Of Batboy Sightings!,” and “ Batboy Attacks Girl, 10!”.
What is this all about? According to the Weekly World News, the Bat Boy saga began in 1992 when the 19-pound mutant, described by scientists as half human and half bat, was captured in a cave in Virginia's Shenandoah Mountains. Supposedly, the strange creature had enormous amber eyes that enabled him to see in the dark and oversized ears that worked like radar! The feisty creature was taken to a secret federal laboratory near Wheeling, W.Va., where experts from all over the world came to study him. In 1993 and again in 1994, government officials denied rumors that Bat Boy had escaped from the lab and was on the loose. His present whereabouts are unknown.
And what does that have to do with the theatre? Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming decided to write the story into a stage production. Laurence O’Keefe added the music and lyrics. The results? ‘BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL’ made its Off Broadway debut in 2001. It developed an instant cult following and was selected as the Best Off-Broadway musical that year.
The musical ostensibly tells the tale of finding the Bat Boy and his struggle to assimilate and gain societal acceptance against great odds. It takes on a ‘MY FAIR LADY’ meets sci-fi horror aura as Bat Boy is taught how to behave like a respectable citizen and finds out the “real” story of his conception. The moral? Who cares! It’s the over-all effect of the production that matters. You go to see ‘BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL’ to be entertained. It’s the National Inquirer version of theatre.
Director Victoria Bussert, not only has the talent to unearth wonderful unknown scripts, like ‘AVENUE X’ and ‘SIDE SHOW,’ but also todirect them with ingenuity. She has done it again. Add the creative bat-in-action/townsfolk-in-panic choreography by Janiece Kelley-Kiteley, and the power-packed (but often ear shattering) music by Leonard DiCosimo, and you have a fun, fun show.
As for the music, you’ve never heard any of it. And that matters little. You’ll laugh your way through such ditties as “Another Dead Cow” and “Show You a Thing or Two.” “Inside Your Heart” is the strangest love song every written. “A Home For You” and “”Let Me Walk Among You” are beautiful ballads. “Children, Children” is a hysterically funny, raunchy number featuring stuffed animals. (You have to see it to believe it.)
The cast is wonderful. There is not a weak link in the group. The ten actors/singers play about a zillion different roles, changing wigs and costumes and characters with lightning speed, while singing with aplomb, displaying enough energy to set a rocket in flight, while dancing like maniacs, and having one heck of a good time.
Gary Walker is Bat Boy incarnate. He hangs from the rafters, sings with gusto, textures the role with pathos, and captivates the audience. Adina Bloom is wonderful as his ditzy “mother.” She hits and holds high notes that could shatter a glass. Scott Plate is obviously having a ball playing Dr. Parker, a true melodrama character. Emily Krieger is both funny and tender as Bat Boy’s “sister” and lover...don’t ask me to explain that combo! Patrick Janson, Phillip Carroll, Alana Simone Purvis, Hannah Laird, Fabio Polanco and Mitch McCarrrell all are terrific in their gender-bender switching and fast- change roles.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL’ is the kind of theatre that will appeal to only certain audience members. You have to go to fun, realizing that you are participating in a tabloid fantasy and be willing to set aside all your traditional beliefs about what theatre should be. You need to just let Bussert, Kelley-Kiteley, DiCosimo and the wonderful cast take you on a fun-filled flight of fantasy. If some local theatre has any brains it will sign up the cast and put the show in an open-ended run. The cult following will develop quickly. Hey, Hanna Theatre or Kennedy’s Down-Under, are you reading this?
Thanks to Cain Park for continuing to allow Bussert to use her creative genius to bring this type of theatre to the area. Few other local entertainment venues would financially back and encourage this show.