Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Times Tributes--2003


Greater Cleveland is blessed with a vital theatre scene. It is the purpose of the TIMES THEATRE TRIBUTES to recognize theatrical experiences that, in the mind of this reviewer, were excellent.

No attempt is made to name the best in each classification. Actors were not separated by gender or leading or supporting roles. It is also recognized that I did not see all of the productions in the area, so only shows performed in 2003 that I reviewed were considered. Selections are limited to locally produced performances, so none of the professional touring shows are recognized, though actors, directors and technicians who were imported by local theatres were considered.

Thanks to the following for making the theatre scene in the Cleveland area vital and exciting.

‘ARMS AND THE MAN’--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
‘BAT BOY’--Cain Park
‘DIRTY BLONDE’--Cleveland Play House
‘IN THE BLOOD’--Dobama
‘THE FIX’---Beck

Victoria Bussert--ANYTHING GOES--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Victoria Bussert--BAT BOY--Cain Park
Joyce Casey--THE DOMINO HEART--Dobama
Charles Fee--ARMS AND THE MAN--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Seth Gordon--PROOF--Cleveland Play House
Peter Hackett--DIRTY BLONDE--Cleveland Play House
Sarah May--BOY GETS GIRL--Beck
Sonya Robbins--IN THE BLOOD--Dobama
Dorothy Silver---THE CHOSEN--Halle/JCC
Reuben Silver--CHERRY DOCS--Halle/JCC
Clyde Simon--SINCERELY YOURS--convergence-continuum
Scott Spence--THE FIX--Beck
Fred Sternfeld--FIDDLER ON THE ROOF--Cain Park

MaryAnn Black--OKLAHOMA--Porthouse
Adina Bloom--BAT BOY--Cain Park
Sean Booker--SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION--Charenton Theatre
Lucy Bredeson-Smith--PICNIC--Actors’ Summit
Sherri Britton--THE CREDEAUX CANVAS--Ensemble
Toni Cervino--INTO THE WOODS--Lakeland College
Meg Chamberlain--MRS. BOB CRATCHIT’S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE--Cleveland Public Theatre
Glenn Colerider--THE DOMINO HEART--Dobama
Rosario Costanzo--OKLAHOMA--Porthouse
Nina Domingue--SINCERELY YOURS--convergence-continuum
Cody Dove--Second City-Cleveland
Carla Dunlavey--THE DOMINO HEART--Dobama
Sean Fitzgerald--KIMBERLY AKIMBO--Dobama
Paul Floriano--THE FIX--Beck
Dan Folino--THE FIX--Beck
Margaret Ford-Taylor--FOREST CITY--Cleveland Play House
Tom Frey--DIRTY BLONDE--Cleveland Play House
Tom Fulton----TARTUFFE--Actors’ Summit
Tom Fulton--FIDDLER ON THE ROOF--Cain Park
Paul Kaiser--BOY GETS GIRL--Beck
Kayce L. Cummings--OKLAHOMA--Porthouse
Andrew May--TARTUFFE--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Rasheryl McCreary--IN THE BLOOD--Dobama
Elizabeth Meadows Rouse--DIRTY BLONDE--Cleveland Play House
Lara Mielcarek--EACH DAY DIES WITH SLEEP--convergence-continuum
Mitch McCarrel--BAT BOY--Cain Park
Laura Perrotta--ARMS AND THE MAN--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Scott Plate--CHERRY DOCS--Halle/JCC
Derdriu Ring--PROOF--Cleveland Play House
Trinidad Rosado--RAGTIME--Cassidy Theatre
Rhoda Rosen--V-E DAY--Dobama
Steve Routman--ANYTHING GOES--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Geoffrey Short--RAGTIME--Cassidy
Reuben Silver--THE CHOSEN--Halle/JCC
Sean Szaller--THE CHOSEN--Halle/JCC
Kristopher Thompson-Bolden--A CHORUS LINE--Porthouse
Elizabeth Ann Townsend--BOY GETS GIRL--Beck
Wayne Turney--HAMLET--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Eric van Baars--OKLAHOMA--Porthouse
Greg Violand--1776--Beck
Greg Violand--LA CAGES AUX FOILES--Beck
Gary Walker--A CHORUS LINE--Porthouse
Gary Walker--BAT BOY--Cain Park
Ensemble performance--Rasheryl McCreary, Victor Dickerson, Anthony Elfonzia, Renee Matthews-Jackson, Kevin Brewer and Cassandra Vincent--IN THE BLOOD--Dobama
Ensemble Performance--Gary Walker, Adina Bloom, Scott Plate, Emily Krieger, Patrick Janson, Phillip Carroll, Alana Simone Purvis, Hannah Laird, Fabio Polanco and Mitch McCarrell--BAT BOY--Cain Park

Michael Ganio--scenic design--PROOF--Cleveland Play House
Larry Gorjup--sound design--THE CHOSEN--Halle/JCC
Corby Grubb’s sound design--FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE-- Ensemble
Jeff Herrmann--lighting design--FIDDLER ON THE ROOF--Cain Park
Jeff Herrmann--scenic design--FIDDLER ON THE ROOF--Cain Park
Jeff Herrmann--scenic design--THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST’S WIFE --Dobama
Andrew Kaletta--lighting design--IN THE BLOOD--Dobama
Tony Kovacic-- scenic design--CHERRY DOCS--Halle/JCC
Todd Krispinsky--scenic design--IN THE BLOOD-Dobama
Don McBride--scenic design--BOY GETS GIRL--Beck
Don McBride--scenic design--THE FIX--Beck
Vincent Polowy--lighting design--THE CREDEAUX CANVAS--Ensemble

Leonard DiCosimo--musical direction--BAT BOY--Cain Park
Larry Goodpaster--musical direction--THE FIX--Beck
Steven Gross--musical direction--ANYTHING GOES--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Larry Hartzell--musical direction--FIDDLER ON THE ROOF--Cain Park

MaryAnn Black--choreography--A CHORUS LINE--Porthouse
Martin Cepedes--choreography--JOSEPH--Beck
John R. Crawford--choreography--OKLAHOMA--Porthouse
Janiece Kelley-Kiteley--choreography--BAT BOY--Cain Park
Janet Watson--choreography--ANYTHING GOES--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Eric van Baars--choreography--FIDDLER ON THE ROOF--Cain Park

Wayne S. Turney--Script adaptation--TARTUFFE--Actors’ Summit
Beck Center--outstanding variety of productions
Cleveland Public Theatre--Black Box Theatre--creative use of performance space
Bill Ransom--original music--IN THE BLOOD--Dobama

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Rhoda Rosen reviews the reviewer

Dear Roy,

I am truly honored to have been listed in the TIMES THEATRE TRIBUTES--2003! Your review of VE Day had already been laminated and placed in my Memory Book...Mah Nishtanah; but now to read that you have listed me among those whose work I've so admired, I am really 'fahklempt'!
Thank you for your support through the years. It is much appreciated.

Rhoda Rosen

Tom Fulton reviews the reviewer


Once again, thank you for your kind attention and for recognizing so many talented people in Northeast Ohio. Of course I appreciate your mention of my work - but mostly I am glad to see the inclusion of such fine actors,director, designers... I have always felt that an awards program can do much to bring the theatre community together - It's not about winning awards, but rather acknowledging that there is a vibrant creative life in Cleveland.

Many of us don't get a chance to see each other's work - and most of us are so busy we don't take a moment to pause and reflect on the cultural impact the work may be making. Thanks for taking that moment to do it for us...

Happy New Year,

Thomas Q. Fulton, Jr.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Why for art though Cleveland Play House?--Revisited

Why for art though Cleveland Play House?--Revisited!

A short time ago I wrote a commentary entitled, “Why for art thou Cleveland Play House?” I indicated that though the Cleveland Play House advertises itself as America’s oldest professional theatre, I thought there were areas of concern about the operation of the organization.

Among other things, I questioned the use of the facilities, the plays selected, the lack of use of local actors, and the viability of the facility if it continues on its present track. The response to my views was long and loud. Almost everyone who sent e-mails and spoke to me inperson agreed with much of what was put forth. Of course, that is not unexpected as individuals who react to commentaries do so because of strong beliefs, positive or negative.

Shortly after the publication and my comments on “Action Talent Live,” the WERE-AM radio show on which I appear regularly, I was contacted by CPH’s Artistic Director Peter Hackett requesting a meeting. He wanted to discuss my comments. The meeting was very amicable. He presented his views. I listened, asked questions and requested some additional information. With that background, I’d like to both explain Hackett’s view and reexamine my stand.

Hackett believes that “the Play House is a nationally recognized theatre company.” He backs up his claims by the reviews of ‘LOST HIGHWAY’, the Hank Williams inspired musical, which appeared at CPH and has received positive reviews in New York. CPH is in the show’s program for its role in the development of the production. He also alludes to the success of ‘LOVE JANIS’ in the Big Apple and its forthcoming national tour. He further states, that the CPH developed ‘SMELL OF THE KILL’ which is “on the rosters for theatres across America.”

Julie Fogel, the Public Relations Manager of CPH, was kind enough to supply information regarding matters about which I needed more information. For example, a Baxter Stage survey , which was based on audience feedback forms placed in the programs of the 2001-2002 season opener, ‘FRANK LANGELLA’S CYRANO’, were returned by about 36% of those who attended. As she indicated, the nature of the survey did not allow for a reaction of pleasure or displeasure with the facility, but based on the information received Fogel states, “we added floor mics to amplify the actors; we also re-recorded the pre-curtain announcement to indicate the theatre’s two fire exits. We improved the appearance of the entryway to the Baxter, as well as added rope lights to increase visibility and better illuminate the walkway into the theatre.”

As for the number of local actors/designers/directors hired by CPH she states, “During the 2001-2002 season, we had 60 Equity roles and 7 non-Equity roles available for a total of 67 roles. Overall, 27 local actors were contracted last season--i.e. 40% of available roles went to local actors. Furthermore, 20 of the Equity roles went to local actors, i.e., 33% ; all non-Equity roles were filled by local actors, i.e., 100%.” She went on to say, “Of the 2001-2002’s 8-show season, local directors were used to stage 6 shows (75%). Of the 32 design positions available during the 2001-2002 season 8 were Cleveland-based. (25%).” She explained “Cleveland-based refers to those who call Cleveland home/consider Cleveland their main residence for more than one year.”

Fogel indicates that the number of subscription seats sold has dropped from 62,508 in 1995/96 to 44, 739 in 2001/2002. But, according to Fogel, the seating usage has increased from 66% in 1997/1998 to 78% in 2001/2002.

CPH has increased its use of performance space by inviting Ohio Dance Theatre to be a resident company and the Lyric Opera Cleveland to use some of the facilities in the summer.

I commend Peter Hackett and Julie Fogel for their openness in discussing the matters, subjecting themselves to my questions, and supplying answers to my questions.

With this said, though some of my views have changed for the better, I still contend that CPH’s productions are not of the high quality that local audiences deserve. So far, of the regular season’s productions, I have found only ‘PROOF’ to attain what should be the script and production quality.

I still find the Baxter Theatre a problematic performance space. Does the configuration cause concerns for safety, whether perceived or real? Is the lack of ease of access for those with walkers and wheelchairs, the lack of intimacy for those who are sitting in the upper rows of the center section, and the elimination of the use of a theatre while the Baxter is in use, equate to the expenditure of sparse dollars? Was it worth the money to get a less than desirable facility? Has it allowed CPH to chose scripts that it ordinarily couldn’t produce? Has it equated to an increase of audience size becauseot is a facility that demands attendance?

I still think more of the space could be used on an on-going basis. However, applause for decisions regarding Ohio Dance Theatre and Lyric Opera Cleveland. Another excellent use of space is the “Next Stage Festival” which has given birth to some thought-provoking and fine play scripts. It could only be hoped that additional performances of these productions could be added. Now, before the word can get out, the stagings and educational opportunities are gone.

I can only wish that the Cleveland Play House will find ways to add to its audience base, attract younger attenders, reach out even more to Hispanic and African American audiences, fill its space with exciting and quality scripts and productions, and bring to Cleveland the fame and glory of The Cleveland Orchestra and The Cleveland Museum of Art.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Starlight Express (Playhouse Square Center)

‘STARLIGHT EXPRESS’ falls of its tracks at the State

As I approached a friend at intermission of ‘STARLIGHT EXPRESS’ he said, “So what’s the big deal?” His wife said, “I really don’t like this.” Their comments seemed to be echoing all around the lobby. The flow toward the exit doors was considerable. Okay, I thought, it will get better in the second act. Nope!

The local reaction to ‘STARLIGHT EXPRESS’ isn’t universal. Second only to ‘CATS’ as the longest running musical in British theatre history, the London production of the show ran over 6000 performances. The Broadway production ran for 761 performances. Part of the attraction to the show was its sheer marvel. In London, a theatre was totally redone to accommodate the show. The hi-tech spectacle on roller skates featured a 5.5 ton steel suspension bridge and a gigantic set constructed of 6 miles of timber, 2.5 acres of sheetwood and 60 tons of steel. The cast encircled the stage and the audience as they skated and raced. The show cost 2.25 million British pounds when originally mounted in London. This was not the set or the show seen in Cleveland.

The spectacular flying leaps and gravity game excitement was not present on the State theatre’s single center stage ramp. Substituted were a series of films in which the audience was instructed to wear their safety goggles. In reality, they were 3-D glasses handed out with the programs. The first race scene might have been fun with this gimmick. By the time we got to the third viewing, it was a tired gimmick.

Because of the set and the small stage size, the spectacular effect of dancing and moving quickly on skates was lost. Not lost was the use of smoke, pyrotechnics, laser lights, the over 1400 colored lights, and a few very spectacular high-flying skating flips.

‘STARLIGHT EXPRESS’ was originally conceived by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1973 as an animated television series loosely based on the children’s story “The Little Engine That Could.” The story revolves around a battered steam engine named Rusty who is encouraged to race a flashy diesel locomotive. In the story the little engine wins against all odds and encourages children to set high goals, no matter their perceived weakness and be to steady to the task.

The present production was supposedly a “new” version with additional songs by Webber and Tony Award winner John Napier, his new lyricist. The additional songs added little. The score itself lacks any great music, though there is good variety. Rock, do-wop, ballads, blues, rap, country, and gospel are all present. The strong song is the theme music, “Starlight Sequence,” commonly called “Only You.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘STARLIGHT EXPRESS’ is a disappointing part of the McDonald Financial Group’s Broadway Series at Playhouse Square Center.

Joseph and his amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Beck Center)

‘JOSEPH’ pleases audience at Beck

Way, way back, many years ago, Beck Center did a production of ‘JOSEPH AND HIS AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT’ starring Rob Gibb. The production was one of the script’s first amateur mountings. It was outstanding. Since then I’ve seen many, many productions of the show, and the Gibb as Joseph version is still one of the very best.

If you have been in lunar orbit and haven’t seen or heard about the musical, it is a light version of the biblical story of Jacob and his sons “many centuries ago.” Joseph, Jacob’s favorite, is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, becomes the pride-and-joy of the Pharaoh, and is reunited with his brothers when they come to Egypt during a famine. It is filled with all sorts of musical treats ranging from western to calypso, to laments, to ballads and includes such great songs as “Any Dream Will Do,” “Poor, Poor Joseph,” “Close Every Door,” and “Go Go Joseph.”

The script for ‘Joseph’ has an unusual history. It was originally conceived by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber to be a short school skit. Eventually it grew into a series of songs that were sung as a concert. It was never intended to be a staged musical. In fact, there is no actual script, just a series of songs. There are no spoken lines and the authors have given no directions for its staging. Because of this, every staging of the play has a personality all its own.

About every five years Beck Center, knowing that the show will draw new and return audiences stages ‘JOSEPH.’ The last two productions have been directed by Kevin Joseph Kelly. Beck’s present production, lacks some of the interpretative creativity found in other stagings. Kelly’s concept for the show centers on a school group’s tour of a museum in which a tableau of the Joseph story comes to life. It was a clever way of incorporating lots of young children into the cast. Unfortunately, the words sung by the narrator at the start of the show don’t really parallel to this interpretation. The same problem appears almost throughout the show. Kelly doesn’t always pay careful attention to studying song lyrics. For instance, in one segment there are lyrics which relate that when the Pharaoh told a joke the listeners chortled for days. There is no one on stage to mime this concept. This seems like a minor issue, but over and over McLaughlin missed opportunities for delightful reactions. Creative staging of Joseph’s trek to Israel, getting auctioned off, and even Jacob buying Joseph’s magnificent coat are all overlooked. Kelly also never gets us back into the museum concept at the end.

Does this mean this is a bad show? No. The audience reaction was extremely positive. And Kelley had a secret weapon going for him in the person of Martin Cespedes, the choreographer. Cespedes’ work was wonderful. He created a coherent ensemble out of a cast ranging from those aged 5 on up. Many of the cast were obviously not dancers, but under Cespedes’ creative touch, they moved with youthful enthusiasm and carried it off well. Using hand movements and repetitive dance steps, Cespedes was able to create what looked like complicated variations to fit the mood of each change in musical style. Very impressive!!!

The cast was good. Sandra Emerick as the narrator displayed a big voice. Pierre-Jacques Brault, though he lacked the youthful boyishness of Joseph, has strong stage presence and a good singing voice. When Max Kantor as the Young Joseph opened his mouth to sing, many were surprised by the youth’s fine deep and resonant voice. Curtis L. Young did a wonderful Elvis interpretation, though he really milked the encore to “Song of the King.” The brothers varied in their abilities. Outstanding was Sean Szaller, who belted out a mean version of “Benjamin Calypso.”

Don’t get up to leave when you think the show is over and the curtain call starts. The strongest part of the production, besides the choreography was in the “Super Finale.” The audience was on its feet clapping and dancing.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck Center’s ‘JOSEPH’ will delight audiences of all ages. This is a chance to take young kids to see a wholesome show filled with wonderful singing and dancing. By the way, when THE LION KING was in town I had my grandsons, Alex (8) and Noah (6 1/2) review it. The reactions were so positive that they will be doing a review of ‘JOSEPH’ later this month.

‘JOSEPH’ runs through January 4 at the Beck Center for the Arts. For tickets, call 216-521-2540 or go on line to

Monday, December 08, 2003

Journey: The Story of Umoja (Ohio Dance Theatre)

'JOURNEY' a good lesson in African-American History

Ohio Dance Theatre, under the able guidance of Artistic Director Denise Gula, is noted for its
dancing. That’s what they do best. The company decided to broaden its mission and develop a
presentation that would serve as a staged educational experience. Gula, who has a strong background as a theatrical director and actress as well as choreographer, chose the topic of the plight of the African American. Appropriately, JOURNEY: THE STORY OF UMOJA is being presented in area venues during Black history month.

Much like Martin Duberman’s play IN WHITE AMERICA, JOURNEY exposes the audience to a trip from slavery to the civil rights movement and beyond. This is done through words, dance and song. Unfortunately, the singing and dancing are much to brief and often the words are much too much. There are several long periods where only words are present. Normally, this
would not be a bad thing, but the dancing and singing were so well done, so powerful, that when words were used alone, the production slowed down.

As is, students who see the production, and there are many who will see the show at both the Cleveland Play House and Lorain County Community College’s Stocker Center, will gain an insight into the plight of African Americans, and be exposed to the thrill of live theatrics. It’s too bad that Gula was not able to incorporate dancing throughout, even when the speeches of such historical figures as Martin Luther King, Barbara Jordan. and Medgar Evers were being presented. It would have made the experience even more powerful.

Capsule judgement: The cast is excellent. The visual images are generally engrossing. The study guide that accompanies the performances should help teachers and students learn history in an interesting manner.

Stone in His Pockets (Playhouse Square Foundation_

'STONES IN HIS POCKETS' disappoints at Palace

In London, STONES IN HIS POCKETS was called "'a comic masterpiece." It received three Tony Award Nominations. It was the winner of London’s Olivier Award for Best Comedy.

The play is partly based on Marie Jones' experiences of acting in films shot in Ireland. It relates what happens when a major Hollywood film studio descends on a village in County Kerry. The story is told from the viewpoint of Charlie and Jake, two locally hired extras employed to look downtrodden and oppressed on demand. The quirk is that two actors not only play Charlie and Jake, but 15 different male and female roles, including a spoiled starlet, the harassed director and a host of local characters. All this is done without costume changes.

The show has been hyped as hyperkinetic, hysterical, and satirical. Unfortunately, the touring show, starring Bronson Pinchot, best know for his role in TV’s PERFECT STRANGERS, and Tim Ruddy, an Irish actor who has a solid list of credentials, doesn’t fulfill the hype. The exit of a great number of audience members at intermission, and the mild applause at the curtain call, attests to the lack of viewer pleasure.

With all the positives, why didn’t the show work at the Palace Theatre?

First, this is an intimate play. It gets lost in the cavernous space of Playhouse Square’s Palace Theatre. Attenders who sat beyond the middle of the main floor complained that they could not hear nor see some of the subtle characterization changes.

Second, Pinchot and Ruddy simply didn’t let loose. The hysterical humor that might have emanated from the lines was often lost due to a lack of dynamic, playful presentation. Part of this may have been caused because of Pinchot’s reported recent illness.

Third, the advertisements for the show got the audience ready for hysteria. This, at least as
presented is not a hysterical show. This is another of those Irish bleak tales of Gallic woe and

Capsule judgement: Are there funny moments? Absolutely. Are there some delightful characters? Yes. But, a hysterical play? I think not. That is, unless in the hands of a more adept set of actors it might have been given a different slant. That’s what I’ve been told was the case from those who saw the show in New York and London. But this is the Cleveland production, and it was disappointing.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge (Cleveland Public Theatre)


On stage there is Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of Christmas Present, Ghost of Christmas Future. It’s obvious that you’re seeing Dicken’s ‘CHRISTMAS CAROL.’ Wait, there are scenes from ‘OLIVER TWIST,’ ‘IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE’ AND ‘THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP.’ Throw in references to ‘PETER PAN’ and ‘MY FRIEND FLICKA.’ No, this is definitely not ‘CHRISTMAS CAROL.’

Let’s look at this a little closer. The ghost who visits Scrooge just can’t get things right. Mrs. Bob Cratchit (did you know her name was Gladys?) is unhappy with everyone and everything in her life. Her breaking point comes when Bob arrives with their 21st foundling. She wants to go to a bar, down a few Tequila Surprises and jump off the London Bridge. Imagine her relief to find that she is simply placed in the wrong time period and is Scrooge's soul mate. In playwright Christopher Durang’s hands, Scrooge’s famous line “Bah Humbug” isn’t just a casual dismissal of Christmas joy, it’s seasonal Tourette’s Syndrome. Eventually everything is eventually rectified by the Ghost of all three Christmases.

The CPT production, under the direction of Randy Rollison, is often funny, often hilarious, but also misses some of the laughs due to poor line interpretation. The singing also covers the broad realm of possibilities...some of the voices are wonderful, others are off-key.

Meg Chamberlain is outstanding as Gladys Cratchit. Dan Kilbane is a delightful 6-foot Tiny Tim who trips and falls with ease while looking like a grinning idiot who is in an advertisement for laser tooth polishing. David Hansen is properly clueless as Bob Cratchit. Nina Dominque is inconsistent as The Ghosts. Her singing voice lacks polish and her line interpretation varies from excellent to unbelievable. The children in the cast needed more directoral assistance to aid them to stay in character.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: If you aren’t in the right mood...silly; aren’t willing to set aside some amateur production qualities; and think that Christmas is a sincere holiday, then you’ll be turned off by ‘MRS. BOB CRATCHIT’S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE.’ On the other hand, if you've seen one too many productions of ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ and, upon hearing Tiny Tim optimistically proclaim "God bless us every one!’" you wish someone would expose him for the attention-grabbing urchin he is, get in your sleigh and go see the Cleveland Public Theatre’s production of ‘MRS. BOB CRATCHIT’S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE.’

The Nutcracker--Pennsylvania Ballet (Playhouse Square Center)

Pennsylvania Ballet's ‘THE NUTCRACKER’ disappoints

When the Cleveland-San Jose Ballet fled the North Coast for the warmer climes of California, it took with it their version of ‘THE NUTCRACKER,’ one of the area’s long time holiday traditions. Playhouse Square Center, in need of a holiday offering, for several seasons brought in the delightful Radio City Rockettes and their holiday program. This year, as part of their Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital Ballet Season 2003-2004, the decision was made to bring in the highly touted Pennsylvania Ballet with their ‘NUTCRACKER.’

No one who saw the CSJB version will ever mistake what the Pennsylvania Ballet presented as its equal. Yes, the sets, the costumes and the music were wonderful, but there was a lack of magic on stage.

This production, with a cast mainly made up of children and youth, lacked the delight and the compelling charm necessary to truly bring to life George Balanchine’s wonderful choreography. Because of the abilities of the youth, there was a lot of walking and little real dancing.

Rather than having the likes of Raymond Rodriquez and Karen Gabay dancing the Little Prince and Princess, we had two pre-teens walking around the stage. In the second act, in place of the Little Prince’s wonderful dance solo we had a young boy standing in the middle of the stage pantomiming the story that enfolded in the first act. As the little girl seated next to me asked aloud, “What’s he doing?”

The fight sequences between the mice and the wooden soldiers, which usually brings squeals of delight from the children in the audience, lacked creativity. The children who played wooden soldiers walked, they didn’t march or dance and the huge mice were less than entertaining.

Even the adult dancers were no more than competent. The Snowflake sequence lacked enchantment, even though the lighting and the falling snow cast the right spell.

There is a wonderful dance sequence near the end of the ballet in which we see the Sugarplum Fair and her Cavalier cavort. Dede Barfield and Alexei Borovik showed no emotional connection. Borovik’s flying leaps, which, if properly done usually bring gasps of joy from an audience were met with mild applause. He failed to get much lift or execute the movements parallel to the speed of the music. Barfield’s toe-work, especially in the sequence when she was pulled across the stage by her partner to imitate an ice-skating effect was fine, but there was a lack of fire in her moves.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Pennsylvania Ballet’s ‘THE NUTCRACKER’ lacked magic. Kids are cute, but ballet requires dancers, proficient dancers. As the ballet ended, I glanced over at the velvet dressed young lady next to me, now fast asleep in her father’s arms. All I could think was, “Dennis Nahat and the Cleveland San Jose Ballet, where are you now that we need you?”

Cricket on the Hearth (Actors' Summit)

World premiere production at Actors' Summit

It’s that time of year when theatres try to pull holiday entertainment out of the bag. Ensemble is running ‘THE GIFT OF THE MAGI,’ The Cleveland Play House has shipped in ‘PLAID TIDINGS,’ Great Lakes Theatre Festival has once again resurrected ‘THE CHRISTMAS CAROL,’ and Cleveland Public Theatre is featuring the farcical ‘MRS. BOB CRATCHET’S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE.’ Actors’ Summit, rather than do the tried and true, has ventured off into trying to create its own holiday gift to give and give again in the form of Wayne Turney’s attempt to adapt Charles Dickens’ ‘CRICKET ON THE HEARTH’ into a musical.

Transforming the novel ‘CRICKET ON THE HEARTH’ into a play is not a new task. It’s been attempted before. In most instances, the transformation hasn’t worked. Though Turney, musical creator Sebastian Anthony Birch and director MaryJo Alexander give it their all, the show’s world premiere doesn’t quite work either.

The book itself presents complexities not easily overcome. It has an obvious conclusion and lacks the multi-level texturing that has made Dickens’ ‘OLIVER TWIST’ work as the musical ‘OLIVER.’ It lacks humor or great drama.

Alexander has paced the show well, creates attractive stage pictures, and has the cast basically on target in their portrayals. The problem isn’t hers.

The problem is not Turney’s either. Rather than create new conceptual songs, Turney has relied on an operatic technique for the lyrics. He uses dialogue set to music. This allows the plot’s ideas to flow along, but doesn’t give the audience the sound it is used to hearing in musicals. Most modern musicals have songs which have verses followed by a chorus. This allows for familiarity with the repeated sounds and words. Think “Food, Glorious Food” from the musical ‘OLIVER’ based on Dickens’ “OLIVER TWIST.” In addition, the show’s songs don’t allow for ease of listening. Birch’s music is also sometimes hard to warm up to. Much of the music is atonal, and the singers often appear to be singing one tune while the musical accompaniment sounds like it is playing a different melody. A repeated bell sound, a musical thread running through most of the music fits the time of the year, but becomes piercing after hearing it over and over again.

The cast is generally acceptable. The characterizations were clear. Especially effective were Greg Violand as the older love-struck husband, Wayne Turney as Dickens, who narrates the show; Neil Thackaberry, as the mean Tackleton who eventually, as does Scrooge in ‘CHRISTMAS CAROL,’ softens into a nice guy. The singing voices aren’t all strong. This is especially obvious in the choral segments. Several of the cast had trouble in the higher ranges.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: ‘CRICKET ON THE HEARTH’ is a work-in-progress. Whether it will ever turn into a holiday favorite is questionable, but Actors’ Summit deserves credit for trying something new rather than giving us one more repeat of tired traditional holiday material.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Each Day Dies With Sleep (convergence-continuum)

The question at convergence-continuum: What's this all about?

As the patrons filed into the lobby during the intermission at convergence-continuum Theatre’s production of Jose Rivera’s ‘EACH DAY DIES WITH SLEEP’ a male voice boomed out, “Does anyone know what this is all about?” A woman said, “Beats me.” Another said, “It’s about I, I, I, want, want, want.” Most people just shook their heads. A group of four, who were contemplating leaving, were stopped by one of their number who said, “The actors are working hard, we owe it to them to go back in.”

Rivera, the play’s author, was born in Puerto Rico . He recounts that when he was a boy, he loved to sit on his mother's knee and listen to stories of his Puerto Rican ancestors. There were chronicles of inflamed passions and family betrayals, of lovers crossed and disasters scarcely averted. He once said, "The stories were just outrageous. There were elements of the fantastical, of the dream, and these things become interchangeable."

This lack of a divide between the real world and the realm of dreams and nightmares, fantasy and folklore are at the heart of his plays. Its been called “mad realism."

‘EACH DAY DIES WITH SLEEP’ was written in 1990...its subject is supposedly the primitive human struggle between animal instincts and civilized order. A London reviewer capsulized the play by stating, “its conception of the human condition as a psychic battleground--lively, funny, erotic, tragic--has a rare force." That may well be, but judging by the audience who saw the convergence-continuum production, the intent and purpose of the playwright was not clear.

The production is generally well performed. Lara Mielcarek is outstanding as Nelly, the psychologically deprived daughter. She matures from animal to a productive woman before our eyes. Hers is a focused portrayal, but the script doesn’t tell us how she develops the abilities to mature in the way she does. Does just getting away from her monster of a father bring miraculous healing? In the world of fantasy, maybe, but psychologist would say, “no.”

As the role requires, Geoff Hoffman is attractive, and but he fails to give texture to Johnny, Nelly’s ego-centered husband. At times his lines are flat and sometimes his motivations are unclear. This could have been the fault of the script which rarely gives him the motivations for the build-up needed.

Clyde Simon is properly offensive as the father. But, again, the impetus for his character’s actions are not clear. Why is he the person he is? He says to his daughter, “There is no escaping my house. It is always with you.” He is right, but why was the house the way it was? The author gives us no real clues. Animal instincts? Really?

Director Joshua Spencer frustrates at least part of the audience by placing the father’s wheel chair in the corner of the L-shaped stage. This placement blocks the view of at least one-third of the viewers from seeing the action. He also needed to temper the sound effects which often drowned out the dialogue.

There are a group of theatre-goers who like to attend mind-bending theatrical productions. Though a trend in the late 60s and 70s, that audience segment has waned. If their play selections to date are any indication, Clyde Simon, convergence continuum’s Artistic Director and Brian Breth, its Executive Director, have decided to appeal to that audience. Theirs is a brave task. They are providing the type of theatre for that fringe group, but they must realize that plays like ‘EACH DAY DIES WITH SLEEP’ may not get the positive word of mouth needed to financially sustain their venue. Should they do the likes of Neil Simon. Absolutely not, but there are plays that will appeal to a broader audience and still advance the art form.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Rivera may be a word master, but he has created in ‘EACH DAY DIES WITH SLEEP’ characters we care little about. He enfolds them in a story with no focus. His words lack clarity and focus. Therefore, we care little about the play.