Sunday, October 31, 2004

Ragtime (Jewish Community Center)

‘RAGTIME’ hits right tune at JCC

‘RAGTIME, THE MUSICAL’ is an awesome undertaking. It
can’t be done for full effect without a heavy investment in costumes, sets and special effects. It requires a huge and talented cast. But, most importantly, it takes a director who has the insight, creativity and ability to blend all these elements together. Fortunately for the newly revived Jewish Community Center’s theatre program, their production of ‘RAGTIME’ has the talented cast, the expert technicians, and a quality director in the person of Fred Sternfeld.

‘RAGTIME’ is set in the early 1900s during the era of vast social changes. It was an era, much like ragtime did for music, that transformed the United States into a new country.

The play, based on the epic book “RAGTIME’ by E. L. Doctorow, chronicles the lifestyles of those blessed and not-so-blessed by weaving together the fictional stories of Coalhouse Walker, an educated African-American musician and Sarah, the love of his life; Tateh and his young daughter, Jewish immigrants seeking opportunity in America; and an upper-class
family clinging to the “good life” in the affluent and peaceful community of New Rochelle, New York. Further woven into the plot are real historical characters in the personages of Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Henry Ford, J. P. Morgan, and Emma Goldman.

The show was billed, on its New York opening as: “The number one theatrical event of the year.” Other comments included, “A brilliant work of musical storytelling, social comment that marks a glorious culmination for the American musical at the end of its first century.” Further, it was called “A powerful liberal statement at a moment when such statements are rare.” It was also declared that “’RAGTIME’ is one of those rare musicals that can be mentioned in the same

I’m not an easy sell, but I echo those reviews. I consider ‘RAGTIME’ to be one of the top ten musicals ever written.

With that said, I go into productions of the show with great fears. With the daunting production requirements, this is a musical, no matter the brilliance of the script and musical score, that can crash and burn with ease.

My fears evaporated early into the JCC‘s production, which is being staged in the theatre at Cuyahoga County Community College-Eastern Campus. It became apparent from the inspiring opening scene that Sternfeld had put the whole thing together with style and skill. Each person on stage was sure of what to do and how to do it. The chorus vocal blends were wonderful. Martin Cespedes’ choreography perfectly fit the multi-musical moods underscored by the ragtime sound. The costumes transport us back to the turn of century. And, in spite of the fact that the music was sometimes so loud it drowned out the spoken and sung words of the cast, the sound-feel was right.

Before us unfolded a large Victorian house in New Rochelle, New York. There is Harlem, with crowds dancing to the music of ragtime. There is a “rag ship” with a Lithuanian widower named Tateh (father) with his dreams of escaping with his daughter to America to be part of the “golden medina”—the country where the streets are paved with gold.

And as the play developed, the visual images continued to be crystal clear through both the development of the script and the interpretation of the music, music that carries us through the high and lows of the story. Songs like “Crime of the Century,” which tells of a murder which gained of nation-wide attention; “Goodbye, My Love” in which Mother bids farewell to Father who is joining Admiral Perry on an expedition to the North Pole; “Journey On” which gives
us our exposition to Tateh and the Little Girl as they enter America; and, “Getting Ready Rag” which introduces us to Coalhouse Walker, Jr.

Highlight production numbers include: “The Tempo Club in Harlem” with has some electrifying dancing, “Henry Ford’s Auto Factory” in which humans become cogs in the machinery for producing the Model T, “Courtship” a well-staged composite singing number, and “What a Game” which was an obvious audience favorite.

The JCC cast is generally excellent. Kyle Primous makes Coalhouse a living symbol. His version of “Coalhouse’s Soliloquy” was powerful. His dance numbers were equally good. Maggie Stahl Wirfel brought understanding and compassion to the role of Mother. She has a fine singing voice which was well showcased in “Goodbye, My Love,” “Back to Before” and
“What Kind of Woman.” “Our Children,” her duet with Marc Moritz (Tatah) was beautifully tender. Moritz’s Tatah was fine, except for the distracting accent which seemed inappropriate and kept coming and going.

Sean Szaller as Younger Brother perfectly captured the mood of the young man caught between his liberal ideals and WASP upbringing. As with all the cast, he displayed a fine singing voice which was used effectively in his segments of “He Wanted To Say.” Amiee Collier (Emma Goldman) and Primous helped make that song one of the emotional highlights of the evening.

Chris McCarrell (The Little Boy) and Emma Wahl (The Little Girl) both showed stage awareness beyond their youth. (Emma will leave shortly for NYC to join the original cast of the soon to open ‘CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG.’)

Yolanda Christine Davis (Sarah) has a beautiful voice but her facial expressions while she sung were sometimes distracting, creating looks of anguish rather than happiness. Kristin Netzband was not seductive and playful enough as Evelyn Nesbitt.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: As a line from the show says, “And we will ride on the wheels of a dream.” My recommendation: Go see this dream of a production!

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Far Away (Cleveland Play House)

“FAR AWAY” too far out for most audience members

Caryl Churchill, the author of Cleveland Play House’s ‘FAR AWAY’ is considered to be one of England's premier modern playwrights. She strives to make audiences question their world, their role in dealing with violence as well as political and sexual oppression.

Churchill’s plays are difficult to watch or understand. It is easy to get lost in her words, abstract ideas, and lack of linear play structure.

In most plays, the story line is important. In the 50-minute ‘FAR AWAY,’ which is about a descent into the dark ages, and that tells us Western civilization is slowly sliding into barbarism, the story line is less a straight line that a curve into nowhere. In light of the increase of terrorism and cruelty of recent times, she may be sending the message that no one is getting what they want, and there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel to get us there.

Unfortunately, the message isn’t very obvious. As a CPH audience member stated as he dazedly wandered in the parking lot following the show, “What in heck was that we just saw?” A British reviewer seemed to agree when, after seeing the 2000 opening of ‘FAR AWAY’ he stated, “it moves from the real to the surreal in ways I found less than convincing and was prepared to accept.” Another reviewer stated, “there is no disguising the fact that the drama's gloom-and-doom seems both glib and modish, nor is there enough detail in the writing to persuade us to care about the characters."

The CPH cast, Cat Maddox, Matthew Joslyn, Derdriu Ring and Angela Holecko, under the direction of Peter Hackett, were excellent. Scenographer Pavel Dobrusky’s set was outstanding. Robin Heath’s sound design was right on target, and Larry Delinger’s background music was effective.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘FAR AWAY’ is an abstract play which is hard to decipher and will leave most audience members frustrated though it is well presented at the Cleveland Play House. Churchill's response to the new century, it seems, is to stretch our belief to confusion point.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Balanchine and Sinatra Tribute (Miami City Ballet)

Miami City Ballet captivates State Theatre audience

Miami City Ballet is among the largest ballet companies in the United States. It has 48 dancers and a yearly budget of just under $10 million. Anyone seeing the program they presented at the State Theatre from October 21-24 would immediate know why MCB is also noted as being a world class production company.

MCB has four home counties in South Florida: Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Collier (on Florida's west coast).

Edward Villella, the company’s founding Artistic Director was the first American-born male star of the New York City Ballet . He is credited with establishing the male's role in classical dance in the U.S. Villella’s influence permeates the company...creativity, discipline, fine training and a balanced company which features dancers, not stars. Anyone seeing the company will be awed by the quality of the male dancers. Most companies are happy to have one or two fine males. Their local showing reflects the high quality of their large stable of male dancers .

Mr. Villella's vision and style for the company is based on the techniques established by choreographer George Balanchine who believed all the attention should be placed on the dancers and not on sets and other visually distractions. Two of the selections danced in MCB’s Cleveland program were Balanchine inspired.

The program opened with ‘BALLO DELLA REGINA’ a slight tale of a fisherman’s (Mikhail Ilyin) search for the perfect pearl (Mary Carmen Catoya). The corps of females, dressed in short aqua flowing dresses, were beautifully framed against an aqua-lit backdrop. The flowing movements and the light and airy music by Verdi were a perfect match. The piece was highlighted by a well-disciplined female corps whose timing was impeccable. Ilyin was light on his feet and his unusual bent knee leaps were done effortlessly. Catoya moved with grace and accomplished the difficult double toed point work with competence. The couple partnered beautifully, giving the illusion of a true emotional bonding. Demi-solos by Kristen Kramer, Callie Manning, Tricia Albertson and Patricia Delgado were well performed.

‘NINE SINATRA SONGS,’ the second offering, was choreographed by Twyla Tharp. Anyone who has seen a production of ‘MOVING OUT,’ which is soon to be seen in Cleveland as part of the Broadway Series, will again become aware of Tharp’s genius for blending pop music and modern ballet movements into a delectable dance experience. Be aware, as with ‘MOVING OUT,’ that the words to the song are not being interpreted in the movements. It’s the attitude of the music that holds court. Highlight segments of ‘NINE SINATRA SONGS,’ are “Somethin’ Stupid,” which featured Tricia Albertson and Luis Serrano (who is not only a wonderful dancer, but a rubber-faced comedian); “My Way” in both its renditions; and “All the Way” featuring Deanna Seay and Mikhail Nikitine. The segment’s conclusion evoked bravos from the audience.

“STRAVINSKY VIOLIN CONCERTO” was a hit on two levels. Gabriel Bolkosky’s violin solo rendition of “Violin Concerto in D” by Igor Stravinsky was superb. Balanchine’s choreography, as restaged by Bart Cook and Maria Calegari, was perfectly executed. Balanchine’s signature flipped wrists, angled heads, hip moves and pronounced gestures were all in place. The duet sections as performed by Deanna Seay, Isanusi Garcia-Rodriguez, Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra showed clearly what happens when finely trained and talented dancers and quality choreography combine. As was the case the entire evening, the male dancers, as well as the female performers, were excellent, especially in their execution of some very difficult leaps.

The only weakness of the program was pickup orchestra under the direction of Akira Endo. They were ragged in places, especially at the very start of the program when the players entered at different times, throwing off the timing of the dancers. There were also some jarring gaffs by individual instruments throughout the evening, especially by the brass and strings.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “BALANCHINE AND SINATRA TRIBUTE,’ as executed by the Miami City Ballet was a total audience pleaser. It would be wonderful if the company added our fair city as its fifth home. We could use such consistently wonderful programs as MCB stages. Or, at the least, it would be nice to know that MCB would become a permanent part of the Playhouse Square Center’s Ballet Series.

A Bright Room Called Day (Cleveland Public Theatre)

Overstated but relevant Tony Kushner play at CPT

One of the characters in Tony Kushner’s play, ‘A BRIGHT ROOM CALLED DAY,’ now being staged at Cleveland Public Theatre intones, “"Overstatement is your friend. Use it.” This is Kushner's writing device...overstating and continuing to overstate until the message is firmly implanted in the listener’s mind.

Kushner, the author of the epic ‘ANGELS IN AMERICA’ is noted for his poetic verbiage and his daunting soliloquies. Some viewers find him to be tedious and preachy, others hang on every word. No matter your view of his writing, one must admit that he takes on causes with directness and enthusiasm.

“A BRIGHT ROOM CALLED DAY’ is set in the New York City of now and Berlin of then. As the play opens we find Zillah Katz (Allison Hernan), a Long Island Jew who is disenchanted with the current American political scene, listening to television reports of the race for the 2004 Presidency. She is surrounded by masses of research. In a series of flash-forward and flashback scenes, we see what happened in 1932 and 1933 as Hitler came into power and Kushner’s view of how Hitler’s actions parallel to the US political situation.

When playwright Tony Kushner first put the words "We are perched at the brink of a great historical crime" in the mouth of one of his play’s characters, he was taking his stand against what he perceived to be international and domestic crimes committed by Reagan-era America in the mid-1980s.

As explained by David Templeton in a review of a California Bay area production of the play,“Today, in post-9-11 America, such comparisons seem ludicrously naive; at the same time, they manage to appear unnervingly prophetic. As daily reports appear in our newspapers revealing a parade of war crimes in Iraq; as the Supreme Court considers whether the U.S. government's state-sanctioned disappearing of its own citizens is constitutional; as Americans passively debate the efficacy of the Patriot Act, while hard-fought freedoms are eradicated beneath our very noses, the numerous social and political harms brought about during the Reagan years seem like a mere warm-up for what many see as the "great historical crimes" of the Bush era.”

To make the move into the present, with the permission of Kushner, the CPT production team has updated the play so that it contains the same message of warning and prediction of dire consequences if George W. Bush is re-elected as President.

The production qualities of the CPT staging are generally excellent. Trad Burns’ set thrusts itself out like a dagger into the audience. We are each “stabbed” by its presence. The fragmentation, which harks back to the theatrical movement entitled Alienation, makes the audience realize that we are seeing what was, but need to be aware of what is. The characters speak, but they are really representing each of us. Theatrical devices being used include projected titles to lead us through the maze of disconnected scenes, and a narrator, Zillah, sitting in a separate set installed in front of the playing area. Again, the disconnectedness doesn’t let the listener sit back and let the words wash over. The theatricalism means to alert that the words should be heeded.

Director Lester Thomas Shane has well staged the play, but needed to quicken the pace. And, since he had Kushner’s permission to alter the script, he needed to cut some of the extraneous characters and overly long speeches. The sit is very long. He also needed to work with the actors on projection. Lines were lost to the fly gallery and backstage due to the openness of the set and characters being placed with their backs to the audience.

Allison Hernan is excellent as the driven Zillah, filled with rage and angst. Jill Levin seemed tentative in her lines, but developed the fragility of the play’s central character. Randy Rollison is totally believable as a frustrated and revenge-filled Hungarian film maker. Tracee Patterson finely tunes the role of an apolitical actress who, in spite of her fame and connections, is forced to flee the country. Charles F. Kartali gives an enthralling portrayal of the devil. His sneering and smirking is unnerving, and whether intentional or not, makes one think of President Bush’s facial expressions during the first debate of this election season.

On the other side of the acting coin, Michael Seevers, Jr. is unbelievable as Baz, a homosexual who once had the gun and the opportunity to kill Hitler. Bernice Bolek never establishes a characterization as an old ghost-like woman who appears and vanishes throughout the production.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Kushner’s play will incite strong feelings depending on the viewer’s political viewpoints. It is very preachy, but as history demonstrates, and this production reminds us, whenever we find ourselves perched at the brink of great national calamity, a bit of preaching is maybe not only tolerable, but perhaps necessary.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

On the Record (Playhouse Square Center)

Disney's ‘ON THE RECORD’ a crowd pleaser at the Palace

When theatre-goers think Disney, they imagine amazing special effects (think the huge animal puppets in ‘LION KING’), lush sets and costumes (imagine ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’) and pageantry (consider ‘AIDA’). Well, none of these are present in the newest Disney stage creation, ‘ON THE RECORD.’ What is displayed are 64 of the most beloved songs ever written, music that has been showcased during the past 75 years in Disney created films and theatrical productions. Songs like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from ‘MARY POPPINS,’ “Colors of the Wind” found in the animated film ‘POCAHONTAS, “When I See an Elephant Fly” from ‘DUMBO,’ “You Got a Friend in Me” which was featured in ‘TOY STORY,’ and “When You Wish Upon a Star,” the wonderful message-oriented song from ‘PINOCCHIO.’

Those expecting a full-scale Disneyesque production might be disappointed, but once they switch their minds to accepting that this is a display of wonderful music and not a showcase for sets, costumes and lighting effects, they will undoubtedly enjoy themselves. This was evidenced by the thunderous applause that met many of the musical numbers and the roaring standing ovation at the conclusion of the show during opening night of the show. It was further evidenced by the comments by patrons as they excitedly left the theatre, comments such as “That was wonderful,” “I loved it” and “I’ve seen it three times already and I’m coming back on Sunday.” The latter was stated by one of the area’s premiere director of musicals.

Highlight numbers included a mesmerizing version of “Out There” (‘THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME’) sung by Andrew Samonsky, and the ensemble performed “Pink Elephants on Parade” (‘DUMBO’) and “Be Our Guest” (‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’). The latter was presented with film clips and sung in French, German, Japanese, Swedish and English. “Reflection” from the movie ‘MULAN’ received a gorgeous interpretation by Ashley Brown. “Minnie Yoo-Hoo” from the animated ‘THE SHINDIG’ featured creative choreography. And the duet of “HIGH-HO” and “THE WORKING SONG” from ‘SNOW WHITE’ brought roars of approval from the sold out audience. “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” (‘ARISTOCATS) was another choreographic and performance winner.

Robert Longbottom, who served as both director and choreographer not only displayed a strong creative bent, but also a wise selector of talent. The cast was outstanding. There wasn’t a weak link in the unit.

Ashley Brown is both beautiful and talented. She is a casting director’s dream. Think Belle in ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEST,’ think a living Snow White. She makes a presence each time she sings, smiles and lights up the stage. Remember her name, you’ll be hearing it again as she rises to the top of the Broadway heap.

Handsome, cocky, Andrew Samonsky was her equal. He of ripped body, dazzling smile, wonderful singing voice, and strong acting talents had the teenage girls in the front row screaming for more and, a female senior citizen behind me moaning, “He’s just adorable.” His version of “I Won’t Say” from ‘HERCULES’ was compelling.

Emily Skinner as the “mature” female in the cast, has a strong voice, much in the mode of Barbara Cook who has made singing Disney songs her career. She was nicely balanced by Brian Sutherland as the other senior member of the cast.

The supporting quartet of Meredith Inglesby, Andy Karl, Tyler Maynard and Keewa Nurulah are super dancers and singers.

With all this said, issues arise. The local production is the world premiere. Forever, it will be noted that on November 9 ‘ON THE RECORD’ previewed in Cleveland. Will that notation be met with a long run on Broadway, following an extended road trip? Will Broadway audiences be willing to pay big bucks to see a contrived plot show driven by strong singing and dancing, but no impressive set or visual gimmicks? Will the fact that ‘ON THE RECORD’ doesn’t fit past Disney molds be a detriment? Since the show is obviously not aimed at children, many of whom aren’t familiar with the songs and want “action,” can eight very talented singers and dancers be enough to hold their attention? Will the producers decide that they need to add more traditional Disney to the format and junk this version and rewrite and restage to give the audience what they expect? Only time will tell.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: ‘ON THE RECORD’ IS AN AUDIENCE PLEASER. Only a sour faced cynic wouldn’t be delighted by the talent and music of ‘ON THE RECORD.’ Only time will tell whether it can catch on to be another in the long line of Disney hits. Because of the format, the odds are against it, but whoever expected a show with the title of ‘URINETOWN’ to be a smash hit, or a musical about women going through menopause to light up theatres?

Oliver (Playhouse Square Center)

‘OLIVER!’ is a major disappointment at The Palace

On my very first visit to London in 1960 I was told by the booker, from whom I ordered theatre tickets, that one of the shows I was supposed to see had been canceled. If it was all right, she stated, she could give me a free ticket to a musical based on a Charles Dicken’s novel that was opening that night.

Yes, I saw the world premiere of ‘OLIVER!,’ based on ‘OLIVER TWIST’ with book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. The amazing cast included Ron Moody as Fagin and Georgia Brown as Nancy. Moody was a delightful rogue and Brown’s “As Long As He Needs Me” was the most emotionally engaging song I had ever heard. After 18 curtain calls I left the theatre entranced.

I went to New York to see the show again after it transferred across the Atlantic, this time to see Clive Revill infuse the show with his wonderful version of Faigan, Georgia Brown revive her role of Nancy, and Davie Jones, who gained notoriety as a member of The Monkees, delight as The Artful Dodger.

I was not alone in my love of the show. A review of the New York production stated, “Oliver! came singing, bouncing and bubbling its way into the Imperial theatre last night, and if ever there was a musical to please everybody, that is it. Overflowing with singable tunes and a solid singing cast, it is a good clean joy of a show.” Another reviewer called it, “One of the smasheroo hits of recent seasons.”

As good as the London, Broadway and many local productions of the show, including a wonderful staging by Elyria Summer Theatre some seasons back, is as bad as the present staging of ‘OLIVER!’ at the Palace Theatre. To make the matter all the worse, this show is part of the Broadway Series. Believe me, Broadway quality this isn’t!

The present production is miscast and misdirected. The choreography is static and stale. The show is paced too slowly. The music is tinny sounding due to the tiny size of the touring orchestra and the cadence of the music is way too slow. The sets don’t work well. It’s hard to find anything right about the show. To go on with details would be worthless.

Suffice to say my love affair with the show will live on in spite of the bad taste in my eyes and ears from this embarrassing production. I’ll just pretend that I never saw this production and, as I’m doing as I write this review, just listen to the original Broadway cast recording.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Playhouse Square Foundation should be ashamed of itself to be charging Broadway rates for this amateur, misconceived production of ‘OLIVER!’.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Crowns (Cleveland Play House)

'CROWNS' worn with pride and purpose at the Cleveland Play House

Based on the acclaimed book of photographs and interviews, Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats (Doubleday, 2000), the musical ‘CROWNS,” now on stage at the Cleveland Play House, lovingly evokes the lives and stories of 54 “hat queens.” These queens are African American who women range in age from 22 to 78. They were photographed in the hats they wear to church each Sunday, hats which serve as their crowns, their visual proof of their sovereignty.

The accomplished actor and writer Regina Taylor distilled the women represented in the book to six female characters (and one man) and created a new character — a young woman from Brooklyn who is sent to live with her grandmother in South Carolina after her brother is shot. Directed by Taylor, ‘CROWNS’ received its world premiere in October 2002.

The script is a Gospel music-driven piece, a crazy quilt of music and movement and storytelling that takes the audience through the rituals of a Sunday in the South with characters delivering arias and direct addresses to the audience. These segments start in the Sunday church service but jump off into memories of life experiences in different times and different places.

The play captures the cultural heritage of Black Americans that reaches from modern America through slavery in the United States back to Africa. Little by little, through down home stories and songs sung by her grandmother and women friends, all wearing hat creations that make them stand up tall and confident reach out to Yolanda (the young woman) who eventually shows her acceptance by embracing her grandmother’s world through a river baptism. The stories range from an undertaker figuring out how to accommodate a dead woman wearing her favorite hat in the coffin to the role of Black women’s hats in the civil rights movement.

Staging devices help carry us through the stories and songs. First appearing in white slips, the ladies use costume changes and many hats, glorious hats, to set each story in a context. The visual images are aided by the projection of scene titles such as Prologue, Morning, Morning Service, Jumpin’ the Broom, Funeral, and Recessional.

The cast is generally superlative. Especially appealing are Lavonda Elam, dancer extraordinare; Edwina Findley, who “cops the right attitude” as the modern rappin’ young lady; and Cleveland native Angela Gillespie Winborn, who not only is delightfully funny, but can vocally wail. Michael W. Howell, who plays multi-roles as “The Man” has a wonderful singing voice and displays a great sense of comedy and dramatic timing. Queen Esther Marrow, who is the most heralded member of the cast, was wearing an ankle boot when I saw the production. Whether she was in pain or uncomfortable because of an injury, her characterization wavered and her movements were sometimes restricted.

One thing does sully the evening. Since the playing time is just under two hours without an intermission, some cutting would benefit the overall enjoyment. After a while it just became too much of a good thing.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: It is especially enjoyable to see that the play is drawing a great racial cross-section of the community. For many reasons, ‘CROWNS’ is a must see. Oh, and make sure you take time to see the Millinery Arts Coalition’s “Hats ON!” exhibit and sale in the rotunda at CPH.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The Mercy Seat (Ensemble Theatre)

Thought provoking but flawed 'MERCY SEAT' at Ensemble

The attack on the World Trade Center on September 11 was an event which forever changed American’s attitudes about our lives. It is against that backdrop that Neil LaBute sets his play ‘THE MERCY SEAT,’ now on stage at Ensemble Theatre.

It’s September 12, and the day before young Ben Harcourt was scheduled to attend a morning meeting at the World Trade Center. Instead, he was having sex with his mistress and boss Abby, in her Manhattan department. He is still at Abby’s flat, watching the devastating events unfold on television and consciously choosing to ignore his mobile phone that is ringing in his hand. He seizes on the terrorist attack as an opportunity to start a new life with his mistress and to allow his wife and children to believe that he died in the terrorist attacks. Abby, on the other hand, wants Ben to call his wife and say he is leaving her and live an “honest” life.

Sounds like it could be intense, interesting. Well, it’s not. After the exposition, we spend an hour and forty minutes of dialogue in which we discover what a spineless, self-absorbed, self-deluded repugnant individual Ben is and how desperate his older mistress is to have him for herself. After a while all the dialogue, the self-pitying, the self-loathing become tedious.

The question is: why should we care about either of these people? On one hand, the characters represent those who manipulate situations for their own needs. On the other hand, the characters, as written, don’t seem to care about each other, so I found myself not caring about them. After a while I just wanted them to shut up and let me go home to the real world where I might find people who actually have joy and woes that are of relevance.

Neil LaBute has built a reputation for writing disquieting plays that center on despair. He stated in one interview that ‘Great good can come from showing great evil.’ If that’s what he is trying to say in ‘THE MERCY SEAT,’ he doesn’t succeed. In addition he indicated that the play's title is a Biblical reference. The Mercy Seat was the top of the Ark of the Covenant that in the temple was the one space where God could come and man or the priests could speak before him. As it relates to the script, it could be interpreted that the situation brought the characters to the real truth of their actions. That, however, if not completely clear.

In the Ensemble Theatre production the performers, John Kolibab and Meg Kelly Schroeder try hard, but aren’t capable of overcoming the tediousness of the script. In addition, the beautiful Schroeder appears to be too young to be 12 years older than Kolibab. Kolibab, on the other hand, doesn’t develop the intellect nor does he have the physical sensuality to have a successful businesswoman, who has smashed her way through the glass ceiling, to want to give it all up for the likes of him.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you are a fan of LaBute’s movie scripts, “THE SHAPE OF THINGS” or “IN THE COMPANY OF MEN,” you may like ‘THE MERCY SEAT.’ If not, you probably could find better ways to spend an evening.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Laughter in 3 Languages (Actors' Summit)

Fireworks greet Dorothy & Reuben at Actors' Summit

Okay, let’s start off with a confession. I am the self-appointed President of the Reuben and Dorothy Silver fan club. The rest of the world can have their Lunt and Fontaine, Tandy and Cronin. I’ll take OUR Reuben and Dorothy. When they perform or direct I’m there, clapping and qvelling (a Yiddish term meaning “beyond loving” that fits well into this review).

Several years ago the Silvers conceived a reader’s theatre style presentation which they could take on the road. Entitled ‘LAUGHTER IN 3 LANGUAGES’ its been performed in on the north coast, in the Sunshine state, and all the rest of the globe including performances in Russia for Refusniks (Jews who were being denied exit out of the Soviet Union). Their latest presentation is a two-week run at Hudson’s Actors’ Summit.

The opening night’s performance was delayed for half-an-hour due to a fireworks presentation. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t for the dynamic duo, it was for the opening of a new shopping center in downtown Hudson, about a quarter of a mile from the theatre. The Silver didn’t need the external fireworks, they sent off their own with wonderful performances.

The show centers on a series of personal story telling and the reading of writings by famous and not-so-famous Jewish writers. The show is performed in English, Yiddish (the Jewish “mother tongue”) spoken with simultaneous translations and “Yinglish” (a mixture of Yiddish and English, such as “Ya vant maybe a bowl mit panans [bananas]?”)

The script is both charming and heart-warming. Some of the most winning segments include the letters sent to the advice column which appeared in the Forward, the most popular of the Yiddish language newspapers. The column, which in English was entitled, “Packet of Letters” was the forerunner to Ann Landers and Dear Abby, two Jewish ladies who may well have borrowed the idea. The topics include sage advice on women’s right to vote, dimples in the chin, immigrant homesickness and arranged marriages. Reuben, who is fluent in Yiddish, reads. Dorothy does simultaneous and often hysterically funny English interpretations. It’s like being at an opera where you don’t understand the Italian being sung, but the billboard above the stage clarifies for you. The difference is that Dorothy adds facial expressions, pauses and intonations that add to the hilarity. It’s often fun just to listen to the audience. Those who understand Yiddish, laugh as Reuben is reading. The rest echo the hysteria when Dorothy finishes her translations. It’s a device that works very, very well.

The reading of a chapter from Leo Rosten’s ‘THE EDUCATION OF HYMAN KAPLAN’ is a total delight. Reuben was made to play Kaplan. I’d love to see him play the role in the play of the same name. “Dear Bella,” a story which includes a tender segment about of the relatives distributing the money mamma had in her piano is touching and a segment in which an immigrant places $20 in the bank is hysterical.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The year 2004 marks the 350th celebration of the founding of a permanent Jewish settlement in the United States. It seems only fitting that the Silvers use their extraordinary skills to help take some people on a trip through nostalgia and to introduce others to the joys of Yiddish literature and thought. Its a journey that is well worth taking.

Julius Caesar (Great Lakes Theatre Festival)

'JULIUS CAESAR' reigns at Great Lakes Theatre Festival

‘JULIUS CAESAR,’ now running at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival, deals with corrupt governments, one’s conscience, doing what will be good for everyone rather than thinking about one’s self, and the ability to change the populace’s minds. It also reaches into the area of grandness and becoming too ambitious.

The plot centers on Julius Caesar, who, after another of his successful battles, is encouraged by a worshiping crowd to become emperor. He refuses, though a number of Rome’s senators think he, in truth, wants to become the dictator. A group of conspirators, including Caesar’s friend Brutus, plot to murder him. Following the murder, Brutus ill-advisedly lets Mark Anthony give a funeral oration. With his “friends, Roman, countrymen” speech, Anthony stirs up the people and civil war ensues. Brutus commits suicide after it is apparent that his SIDE has lost. Still eloquent, Anthony delivers Brutus' funeral oration, calling him the noblest Roman of them all. This is the stuff of which Freshman English classes is made.

The play’s the thing, but, in reality, few people realize the effect of Shakespeare on our modern day perceptions. Yes, many of the Bard’s lines are quoted, many of his poems are memorized by unwilling teens, but the lasting effect of Shakespeare’s words are often ignored.

One of the major places where this picture of “what was” and “what you should believe” is displayed is in the Bard’s ‘JULIUS CAESAR.’ As one theorist states, “The play captures with remarkable fidelity the ethos and rhetorical style of late-republican Rome--so much so, indeed, that it may be said that Shakespeare's portraits of Caesar and his contemporaries have largely formed our impressions of how the ancient Romans thought and talked and conducted their civic affairs. Recent studies of the play's references to philosophy indicate, moreover, that Shakespeare knew a good deal about Roman Stoicism and perceived it as one of the characterizing traits that separate people, the rigid, from the flexible.

Interestingly, the concept of stoicism is one of key factors in our present-day Presidential election. A number of scholars have confirmed the validity of writer and critic Mark Van Doren's early century perception that in his portrayal of Brutus Shakespeare was drawing on a widely held tradition that regarded Stoicism as a philosophy that rendered its adherents so assured of their own virtue as to be largely incapable of recognizing or repenting of their faults. Hmm...sounds like a line right out of one of the present day Presidential candidate’s attacks on the other.

The GLTF production is excellent. The concept is well conceived by director Risa Brainin. Taking a modern approach, she has used Shakespearean language, but flattened out the tones to make it palatable to the American ear. Using scenic designer Russell Metheny’s modern set, and the contemporary Armani-type clothing styles of Kim Krumm Sorenson, she has given the audience a chance to realize the modern implications of the play.

Richard Klautsch develops an introspective Marcus Brutus with an excellent underplay development. Without raging and ranting, Klautsch clearly shows the inner turmoil that Brutus goes through in making his painful decisions. Douglas Frederick, who portrays a Cassius filled with rage, is also effective. Mark Alan Gordon is excellent as Decius Brutus. Laura Perrotta makes for a fine Portia, wife to Brutus.

On the other hand, Aled Davies is not nearly cunning enough as Julius Caesar. His feigned ambition doesn’t come through. As he did with his Lady Bracknell role in ‘THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST,’ Davies seems to miss the true characterization. Kelly Sullivan is unbelievable as Calphurnia, wife to Caesar. She, for some inexplicable reason, whines her way through the part. And, why David Anthony Smith decided to interpret Marcus Antonius as a fool is not clear.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘JULIUS CAESAR’ is an important Shakespearean play. It takes on additional meaning during this election year. The GLTF production is well worth seeing.

Phantom of the Opera (Playhouse Square Center)

'THE PHANTOM' gets deserved standing ovation at the Allen Theatre

Saw ‘THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA’ before? Afraid that the touring production might be one of those slapped together non-union actor productions? Well, fear not. The rendition of the show which is appearing at the Allen Theatre has a superb cast and all the spectacle of any edition of the show, including the Broadway production. Yes, the falling chandelier, Hannibal’s elephant, the sumptuous costumes, the boat which floats across the stage, they are all there. And the cast is outstanding!

“THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA” opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1986.
Since then, it has been seen in 110 cities in 20 countries by over 70 million people. Worldwide, the box office revenues are higher than any film or stage play in history, including “TITANIC”, “ET” and “STAR WARS.”

On February 4 of this year, PHANTOM became the 2nd longest-running show in Broadway history. That version has been running for 16 years.

In June of 1993 the show made its first appearance in Cleveland. Almost 200,000 people attended that run.

The musical, which has won over 50 major theatre awards, including seven Tonys, is scheduled to be released as a motion picture during this year’s holiday season.
The movie trailer can be accessed at:

As for the story line: It is 1911 and the contents of an Opera House are being auctioned off. Present are the auctioneer and bidders. As the auctioneer displays the Opera House chandelier, he explains that it is connected with the legend of The Phantom of the Opera. With a flash of light, the audience is flung back in time, when the Paris Opera was at its height.

We are in the middle of a rehearsal for the opera ‘HANNIBAL.’ The retiring manager of the Opera is showing the new managers the great stage. As the prima donna is singing, a backdrop falls to the floor, nearly killing her. The cry is raised, "It's The Phantom of the Opera!" And, the story of a young singer, her lover, and the phantom who loves her, play out before our eyes. As the plot deepens we discover the real story of the phantom and, in the end, the Phantom gives Christine (the young singer) a choice. She can stay with him forever, or he will kill Raoul (her lover). That decision brings an end to the story.

Don’t go to see the production thinking this is musical comedy. Comedy, it definitely is not. It is high drama. High dark drama. And, be warned, there are scenes that are not visually appropriate for young children...skeletons, murders, scary masks, hangings, gun shots, light flashes, and strong illusions. On opening night, a child exited screaming.

The Allen production is suburb. Gary Mauer, makes the Phantom his own. He does not do a Michael Crawford (the original Phantom) imitation. He makes the role softer, more vulnerable, more human. His voice is marvelous. His rendition of “The Music of the Night” is what musical theatre is all about...superb, enthralling. His “All I Ask” is emotionally draining.

Rebecca Pitcher who portrays Christine, gives a believable acting performance which graces her marvelous voice. She makes for a perfect Christine. The duets between Mauer and Pitcher, which include “The Phantom of the Opera,” “I Remember,” and “The Point of No Return” were production highlights.

Tim Martin Gleason effectively sings the role of Raoul, Christine’s lover. He physically fits the role of the handsome suitor. But he sometimes seems on the surface in his character development, not totally immersed in the role. “”All I Ask of You” his major duet with Pitcher, was riveting.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The production of ‘THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA’ now playing at the Allen Theatre, is as close to a perfect production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart, Richard Stilgoe musical as you will ever see. If you haven’t experienced the show before see this production. If you have seen it before, go again. You won’t be disappointed. As is the habit of Cleveland audiences, the opening night production received a standing ovation. This is one of the few shows that deserved it!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Lobby Hero (Beck Center)

‘LOBBY HERO’ gets a fine production at Beck Center

“How are you supposed to know if you’re right and everyone else is wrong?” “Do you stick by your feelings, no matter what?” These are two of the questions at the center of Kenneth Lonergan’s ‘LOBBY HERO,’ now on stage at Beck Center’s Studio Theatre.

Lonergan's play is presently one of the most popular plays in regional theatre. It is a serious comedy that had its off-Broadway premiere at Playwrights Horizons in New York during the spring of 2001. One publication called it the "best drama, best comedy and the best romance of the year, all rolled into one." After seeing the production you’ll understand why Lonergan is noted for excelling in the naturalistic conversational style of his characters.

Set in the lobby of a Manhattan high-rise, a security guard tries to make the most of the graveyard shift, cajoling, joking, and talking his way through the night. But when his boss's brother is implicated in a brutal murder and he is complicit in covering for him, the hapless lobby guard is confronted with a mind-bending problem: he wants to do the right thing, but he can't figure out what "the right thing" is. A rookie policewoman and her swarmy partner complete the cast.

Beck Center’s production is outstanding. In fact, the staging and acting outshine the script. That is not to say the writing is poor. It isn’t. It’s just that the play is overly long and lacks consistent emotional tension but the production makes the most of what it has to work with.

Director Seth Gordon has pulled out all the stops to make what could potentially be a talky evening, one of interest. He is aided by a terrific cast. The actors make the characters real enough so that we care about them and project what might happen to each in the future. That’s a tribute to the quality of the performances.

Matthew Joslyn, who portrays the lobby guard is wonderful. He makes hyper-hysteria and self-loathing a way of life. Joslyn alternates between being manic and depressed with ease. His confusion, his frustration, his desire to do the right thing, are finely conceived.

Jimmie D. Woody makes the supervisor believable, though his characterization isn’t always consistent. The conflict within isn’t always evident, but all in all, we empathize with his conflict.

As the policeman Paul Floriano makes being slimy look totally natural. The character isn’t as completely drawn as some of the others, but Floriano fills in all the writing gaps. We love to hate him.

Jennifer Clifford makes the novice policewoman appropriately, vulnerable yet manipulative. Her quick fade from innocent to viper is well developed.

Don McBride’s scenic design, Jeff Smart’s costumes and Jeff Lockshine’s lighting all work well.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck’s ‘LOBBY HERO’ gets an excellent production at Beck Center. Here is a production that takes a script to it highest level through wise directing and fine acting.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Triple Expresso (Playhouse Square Center)

‘TRIPLE ESPRESSO’ a bad cup of coffee

As the public relations release for ‘TRIPLE ESPRESSO,’ the show which recently opened at the Hanna Theatre relates, “Early in 1995, Bill Arnold, Michael Pearce Donley, and Bob Stromberg, three successful solo performers who admired each other's work, gathered over coffee, never knowing the full impact the caffeinated brew would have on their future. They decided to write something they could perform as a trio. Wanting to set a reasonable goal, they decided to write "the funniest show in America"; and booked a performance for three weeks later in a local church.”

Since then, the show has received welcoming arms. In San Diego the show has been running for five years. A Denver reviewer stated, “Triple Espresso is light, funny and family friendly. Yeah, it may not be all that sophisticated, but it sure is fun!” A St. Louis
commentary indicated, “Its good mood jumps down from the stage right into the audience - and so, sometimes, do the actors.”

I hate to rain on the parade, but I don’t know what those reviewers found so wonderful. Count me as one of those who wasn’t impressed. I found most of the show to be trite and begging for laughs.

"TRIPLE ESPRESSO" supposedly takes place at a coffeehouse where pianist Hugh Butternut (Michael Pearce Donley) is marking his silver anniversary at the keyboard. This is not exactly the career Hugh envisioned; he used to belong to a trio with big dreams of "The Mike Douglas Show" and appearances on Cable Zaire. (Honest, I didn’t make this up.) For the anniversary, he reunites with his old partners, magician Buzz Maxwell (George Tovar) and comedian Bobby Bean (Bob Stromberg). Sharing memories and renewing old squabbles, they go through a series of routines intended to show why their act didn’t work. Hmmm......

Donley and Stromberg are two of the original conceivers of the doings. Donley has a fine singing voice and is a wonderful pianist. Too bad he just didn’t spend the evening singing and playing, it would have been a treat. The segment where he took audience requests and played and sang the likes of Elton John and Billy Joel was great. His children’s song take-offs was also a treat.

Stromberg, who tries to be a combination of Dickie Smothers and Jerry VanDyke, elicited laughs from the audience who seemed to enjoy his over-the-top broad farce. I guess if you like to see the same goofy facial expressions, vocal sounds and prat falls over and over, you’d enjoy Stromberg. To his credit, a segment of shadow play using his hands was excellent.

Tovar is a delight. His static face, intentionally bad magic routines and droll comedy offered some of evenings best highlights.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: When I go to the theatre I want to leave with a feeling of having spent my time well. That was not the case with ‘TRIPLE ESPRESSO.’ The trite premise was just not to my liking. If you want to see a wonderful review, walk right past the Hanna and go into the 14th Street Playhouse and see ‘MENOPAUSE, THE MUSICAL’ a premise that works!

Sunday, October 03, 2004

The Confessions of Punch and Judy (Cleveland Public Theatre)

CPT presents ‘PUNCH AND JUDY’--a blow-by-blow look at love

Reaching back to 1742 there have been Punch and Judy puppet shows in the United States. If fact, it’s been recorded that George Washington bought tickets for a puppet play featuring Punch prior to the famous winter at Valley Forge.

It seems obvious that if someone wanted to write a play about relational conflict they could do no better than examine the lives of Punch and Judy since the puppets spend most of their time dishing out verbal and physical abuse. It’s taken a long time for that mission to be completed but Raymond Bobgan, Tannis Kowalchuk and Ker Wells have accomplished the task.

The conceivers began the development in what they have named, ‘THE CONFESSIONS OF PUNCH AND JUDY’ (subtitled ‘YOU ALWAYS HURT THE ONE YOU LOVE’) in 2001 in Toronto. In 2004 the present version of the script premiered on August 14, 2004 at the Catskill Festival of New Theatre. The show will play at Cleveland Public Theatre through October 9, move to New York for a February opening and then to Toronto in April, 2005.

In contrast to a traditional script which is developed by an author or authors working alone, ‘THE CONFESSIONS OF PUNCH AND JUDY’ is a collaboration, a movement in drama entitled “devised theatre.” It is generated by the director and actors all of whom function as the playwrights of the piece. A similar technique was used for developing the classic musical ‘A CHORUS LINE.’

‘THE CONFESSIONS OF PUNCH AND JUDY’ professes the concept that Mr. Punch is a chauvinist who believes in knocking trouble on the head. He is portrayed as the victim of a nagging wife, a crying child, personal attacks by the authorities, the restriction of laws and the fear of damnation. Though this was an acceptable pattern in the Victorian age, in the present age of woman’s liberation, attitudes are different. Mainly, Judy fights back. She refuses to be dominated.

The show is performed by two actors who leap between realism and surrealism, exposing the horror and beauty of a relationship. In the case of Cleveland Public Theatre, the very proficient actors are two of the show’s conceivers, Tannis Kowalchuk (Judy) and Ker Wells (Punch).

Telling the “sweet tale of love blow by blow” the two bicker about moon exploration, ballroom dancing classes, relational honesty, the secret codes of male and female language, and fighting techniques. The lines include such questions as “What are you doing?” which gets the retort. “Driving you crazy.” A hysterical scene portrays Judy cutting up vegetables, decapitating legumes and chopping up a head of cabbage, as the duo examines “love without possession.”

Raymond Bobgan, as he did in his direction of the Times Theatre Tribute award winning ‘BLUE SKY TRANSMISSION: A TIBETAN BOOK OF The DEAD’ shows he has a total grasp of script and how to get his actors to achieve the message.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The CPT production of ‘THE CONFESSIONS OF PUNCH AND JUDY’ is a total success. It should be must viewing for any married couple or anyone contemplating a long term relationship. The pacing is right on, the humor is high keyed, the lessons are clear.

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf' (Karamu)

Karamu opens season with thought-provoking production

They come on stage one at a time, each woman dressed in a different color. Each sings, dances, and recites poetry. Each tells tales of their experiences with men. Often men they loved far more than they loved themselves. These are men who have dominated, abused and taught them about life. Their words ring with passion, heartache, desire, rage and love. And, in the end, they come to the joint conclusion that “I found God in myself and I loved her!”

Ntozake Shange’s ‘FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF’ is a choreopoem, a format which allows a group to speak as individuals, and yet as one. Sometimes, they dialogue with one another, at other times take part in each other's tales.

The piece gives "colored girls" a chance to speak out. The material ranges from the evening when one woman lost her virginity to a group diatribe about the lousy excuses that men tend to give for their behavior. "It was the senior prom and I was the only virgin in the class" began one. "I used to live in the world but I moved to Harlem and now my universe is just six blocks" started another. The segments range from funny to sad to heartbreaking.

Since the play was written in 1976 some of the material seems slightly outdated. In the intervening years, black women have been given more venues in which to speak out and reveal themselves. But while many things have changed, others have stayed the same.

The women are identified by color, not of their skin but of their clothes, for example, the Lady in Red, Lady in Purple. This allows each actress to play different characters and weave in and out of stories without a character identification.

The Karamu production brings many of emotions to the fore. Unfortunately, the overall effect is one of uneveness. The play itself, though powerful, is not consistently well written and balanced. The first act tends to drag with less variety and fewer emotionally powerful scenes. The best material is in the second act. And, as often happens with amateur productions, the talent on the Karamu stage ranges from astounding to adequate which makes for lulls in the emotional effect.

Terrency Spivey, in his second year as Karamu’s Artistic Director, has done a good job of creating effective stage pictures. He clearly leads the viewer’s eye to the proper place on stage. His creative use of scarves helps develop a visual unity to the production. He is aided by an excellent light design by Richard Morris, Jr. Morris’s stage design also works well.

The amazing Nina Domingue (Lady in Red), a former recipient of a Times Theatre Tribute, again proves she is one of the area’s acting divas. Her portrayal of a mother whose husband returns from Vietnam with Post Tramatic Stress Syndrome and destroys her family, has to be one of the most emotionally draining scenes ever seen. It is worth attending just to see her in action.

Other strong performances were consistently given by Monte Escalante (Lady in Purple), Corene Woodford (Lady in Green). Sonia N. Bishop (Lady in Blue) and Kimberly Brown (Lady in Orange).

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you are interested in sharing what it is like to be a black woman from a black woman’s point of view, Karamu’s ‘FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF’ is well worth seeing. If you are interested in observing one of the area’s all time great performances, go see Nina Domingue weave her magic.

PS.....Take time before the show and during intermission to read the encounters of African American women who have thought of or accomplished in committing suicides. Materials from the likes of Oprha Winfrey, Dorothy Dandridge and Mia Angelou are posted in the lobby.

Summer of '42 (Kalliope Stage)

Tender, delightful 'SUMMER OF '42' opens Kalliope's 2nd season

Kalliope Stage, one of Cleveland’s newest theatres and the only area theatre dedicated to producing only musicals, has opened its second season with a wonderful production of ‘SUMMER OF ‘42.’

Does the show’s name sound familiar? It should. ‘SUMMER OF ‘42’ was the hit coming-of-age movie in 1971.

The plot concerns Hermie, an awkward, gawky, confused teenager whose summer of fun becomes a bittersweet lesson in love when he falls in love with a young war bride in a seaside town.

The play, which is based on the novel and screenplay by Herman Raucher, has words and music by David Kirschenbaum and a book by Hunter Foster. The duo has remained faithful to the film and even improved upon it. They have created a fully integrated work, where dialogue and songs interweave seamlessly, complementing each other with precision. The addition of the music adds a dimension of reality and tenderness to the story.

Kirshenbaum's score makes use of World War II-era music and incorporates self-perceptive and emotionally laden ballads which add more to the happenings than Michel LeGrand's Oscar-winning score for the movie, which centered on the song "The Summer Knows."

Kalliope Stage’s production, under the watchful eye of Paul Gurgol, is excellent. Gurgol gets all of the laughs, the tenderness and the reality out of the script. He allows the audience to become swallowed up in the era He is aided greatly by Russ Borski’s mood setting and workable set, Kim Brown’s period right costumes, Marcus Dana’s lighting design and Chad Helm’s sound design. The playing space also aids. This is a play that needs intimacy and since no viewer is more than 15-feet from the action in Kalliope’s small theatre, the personal tie to the performers is easily accomplished.

The Kalliope cast is excellent. Beachwood High School senior Alex Wyse was born to play Hermie. His skinny frame, which features flailing arms and weak-kneed legs, gives him a look which is perfect for the role. But more important is Wyse’s total control over the character. His small, yet well-pitched voice, is plaintive in the love songs, his yearnings perfectly revealed. It’s worth seeing the show just to share Hermie’s anguish and angst as Wyse lives them.

Jodi Brinkman is the perfect Broadway-leading lady. She is a wonderful actress, beautiful and possesses a compelling and big vocal sound. She makes for a perfect Dorothy. Wyse and Brinkman not only sing well together, but seem to have a powerful emotional connection.

Jay Strauss, a veteran New York actor, plays the drug store owner, Walter Winchell and the aged Hermie with total delight. He is a wonderful character actor.

Both Dan O’Neil (Benjie) and Aaron Dore (Oscy) portray Hermie’s teenage friends well. O’Neil hits the role of the bird-watching intellect right on. Dore would be more effective if he would let his natural personality carry him, rather than trying to act his role. He often appears to be trying too hard to be the hormone driven Oscy.

Jamie Finkenthal, Elizabeth Kelly and Julie Marx are fine as both as the younger version of Andrews Sisters-type singers and teenage girls.

Highlights of the show include the drugstore scene in which Hermie attempts to buy condoms, the hysterically funny movie scene in which the boys attempt to make their first “scores,” and the “unfinished business” scene in which the boys are getting ready for their first conquests. Cheat notes have never been so hilarious!

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The recent trends in American musicals are in your face offerings such as ‘RENT’ and ‘ASSASSINS.’ Sometimes it’s just nice to see a musical offering that is charming, full of smiles and laughs, and contains pleasant music. It also helps if the production is of high quality. If that’s what your looking for, Kalliope Stage’s second season opener, ‘SUMMER OF ‘42’ will delight you.