Sunday, December 31, 2006
Times Theatre Tributes--2006
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 and deserve special recognition.
Only shows performed in 2006 which I reviewed were considered. Selections were limited to locally produced stagings, so none of the professional touring shows are recognized, though actors, directors and technicians who were imported by local theatres were considered. Actors are not separated by gender or leading or supporting roles.
If you would like to read any of my reviews for the year, please go to www.royberko.info, enter the blog and click on “2006 Reviews.” Reviews from previous years may also be accessed.
Thanks to the following for making the 2006 theatre scene in the Cleveland area stimulating and memorable:
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (GLTF)
A NUMBER (Dobama)
A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE (Beck)
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Beck)
BUDDY: THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (Carousel)
CHARLOTTE’S WEB (CPH)—Alex and Noah Berko’s special children’s recognition
DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (Beck)
FEFU AND HER FRIENDS (CPT)
LIES AND LEGENDS: THE MUSIC OF HARRY CHAPIN (Beck)
MO PAS CONNIN OR TORMENT (CPT)
MY FAIR LADY (CPH)
NIGHT BLOOMERS (Dobama)
OUR TOWN (Porthouse)
RABBIT HOLE (CPH)
SORROWS AND REJOICINGS (Ensemble)
SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (Lakeland Theatre)
THE PILLOWMAN (Dobama)
Michael Bloom, WELL (CPH)
Raymond Bobgan, FEFU AND HER FRIENDS (CPT)
Michael Brown, RABBIT HOLE (CPH)
Vicki Bussert, BUDDY, THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (Carousel)
Victoria Bussert, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM
Licia Colombi, SORROWS AND REJOICINGS (Ensemble)
Amanda Dehnert, MY FAIR LADY (CPH)
Matthew Earnest, OUR TOWN (Porthouse)
Martin Friedman, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (Lakeland Theatre)
Craig J. George, M4M (CPT)
Mark Alan Gordon, CHARLOTTE’S WEB (CPH)
Sarah May, DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (Beck)
Sonya Robbins, A NUMBER (Dobama)
William Roudebush, LIES AND LEGENDS: THE MUSIC OF HARRY CHAPIN,
Eric Schmiedl, NIGHT BLOOMERS (Dobama)
Scott Spence, A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE (Beck)
Fred Sternfeld, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Beck)
Denise Astorino, AND BABY MAKES 7 (convergence)
Starla Benford, STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (CPH)
Sonia Bishop, SORROWS AND REJOICINGS (Ensemble)
Mary Ann Black, DAMES AT SEA (Porthouse)
Lucy Bredeson-Smith, A MURDER OF CROWS (covergence)
Lucy Bredeson-Smith, ICARUS (convergence)
Jodi Brinkman, THE PARTY (Kalliope Stage)
Michael Butler, CUSTODY OF THE EYES, (CPH)
Lucas Caleb , STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (CPH)
Bernadette Clements, MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION (BECK)
Glenn Colerider, WHEN THE WORLD WAS GREEN (Cesear’s Forum)
Aimee Collier, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (Lakeland Theatre)
Liz Conway, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (Lakeland Theatre)
Timothy Crowe, MY FAIR LADY (CPH)
Troy Deutsch, RABBIT HOLE (CPH)
Denny Dillon, WELL, (CPH)
Nina Domingue, MO PAS CONNIN OR TORMENT (CPT)
Keith Faris, THE FULL MONTY (Beck)
Heather Farr, DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (Beck)
Dan Folino, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Beck)
Tom Ford, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM
Natalie Green, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Beck)
Joel Hammer, A NUMBER (Dobama)
Jeffrey C. Hawkins, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY FORUM
Geoffrey Hoffman, POONA, THE ****DOG, (continuence)
Holly Holsinger, FEFU AND HER FRIENDS (CPT)
Alicia Kahn, ARMS AND THE MAN (Actors’ Summit)
Geoff Knox, M4M (CPT)
Nick Koesters, NIGHT BLOOMERS (Dobama)
Nick Koesters, GREATER TUNA (Beck)
Julia Kolibab, PACK OF LIES (Cesear’s Forum)
Todd Krispinski, A NUMBER (Dobama)
Todd Krispinski, THE PILLOWMAN (Dobama)
Emily Leonard, DAMES AT SEA (Porthouse)
Kelly Mares, STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (CPH)
William Clarence Marshall, PORGY AND BESS (Beck)
Renee Mathews-Jackson, SORROWS AND REJOICINGS (Ensemble)
Michael Mauldin, M4M (CPT)
Mitch McCarrell, HAIR (Cain Park)
Pat McRoberts, BUDDY: THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (Carousel)
Jason Miller, CHARLOTTE’S WEB (CPH)
Melodie Moore, THE PARTY (Kalliope Stage)
Sarah Portz, SPITFIRE GRILL (Clague Playhouse)
Angela Reed, RABBIT HOLE (CPH)
Alicia Roper, WELL (CPH)
George Roth, DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (Beck)
Wes Shofner POONA, THE ****DOG, (continuence)
Dorothy Silver, MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION (Beck)
Clyde Simon, ICARUS (convergence)
Lenne Snively, A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE (Beck)
Lenne Snively, THE FULL MONTY (Beck)
Richard Strimer, SINGING IN THE RAIN (Carousel)
Jeanne Task, FROM DOOR TO DOOR (JCC)
Lelund Durond Thompson, CHARLOTTE’S WEB (CPH)
Rachel Warren, MY FAIR LADY (CPH)
John Woodson, OUR TOWN (Porthouse)
Matthew Wright, A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE (Beck)
FEFU AND HER FRIENDS (BECK)
LIES AND LEGENDS: THE MUSIC OF HARRY CHAPIN (Beck)
Russ Broski, set design, NIGHT BLOOMERS, (Dobama)
Kim Brown, costume design, NITE CLUB CONFIDENTIAL (Kalliope)
Kim Brown, costume design, WILD PARTY (Kalliope)
Trad Burns, lighting design, PORGY AND BESS (Beck)
Nicole Franchiseur, costume design, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE
WAY TO THE FORUM (GLTF)
Richard Gould, set design, DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (Beck)
Joan Horvitz, costume design, FEFU AND HER FRIENDS (CPT)
Richard Ingraham, sound design, HAMLET (Beck)
Richard Ingraham, sound design, DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (Beck)
Richard Ingraham. sound design, NIGHT BLOOMERS (Dobama)
Aimee Kluiber, costume design, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Beck)
Todd Krispinski, scenic design, A NUMBER, (Dobama)
Jeff Lockshine, lighting design, DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (Beck)
Don McBride, scenic design, HAMLET (Beck)
Ben Needham, scenic design, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Beck)
Devon Painter, costume design, MY FAIR LADY (CPH)
Russell Parkman, scenic design, RABBIT HOLE (CPH)
Neil Patel, set design, RFK (CPH)
Maureen Patterson, lighting design, NIGHT BLOOMERS (Dobama)
Steven Shultz, projections, LET FREEDOM RING! (Ensemble)
Jenniver Sparano, costume design, MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION (Beck)
Jenniver Sparano, costume design, M4M (CPT)
Nicole Franchiseur, costumes design, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE
WAY TO THE FORUM (GLTF)
Don Wadsworth, dialects, MY FAIR LADY (CPH)
Donald Wasson, costume design/hats, FEFU AND HER FRIENDS (CPT)
John Jay Espino, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (GLTF)
John Franks, SPITFIRE GRILL (Clague Playhouse)
Larry Goodpaster, A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE (Beck)
Larry Goodpaster, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Beck)
Larry Goodpaster, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (Lakeland Theatre)
Larry Goodpaster, THE FULL MONTY (Beck)
Nancy Maier, LIES AND LEGENDS: THE MUSIC OF HARRY CHAPIN (Beck)
Nancy Maier, LET FREEDOM RING! (Ensemble)
Michael P. Hamilton, THE WILD PARTY (Kalliope)
Steve Parson, BUDDY: BUDDY HOLLY STORE (Carousel)
Tim Robertson, vocal supervision, MY FAIR LADY (CPH)
Matthew Webb. HAIR (Cain Park)
Martin Cespedes, THE FULL MONTY (Beck)
Martin Cespedes, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Beck)
Janeice Kelley-Kitely, HAIR (Cain Park)
Janet Louer, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM
Michael Medcalf, WILD PARTY (Kalliope)
Sean Morrissey , DAMES AT SEA (Porthouse)
Monica Olejko, LIES AND LEGENDS: THE MUSIC OF HARRY CHAPIN (Beck)
David Shimotakahara and Pandora Robertson, LET FREEDOM RING (Ensemble)
Dean Gladden. For service to the Cleveland Play House and the Cleveland
Julie Fogel. For outstanding public relations services at the Cleveland Play House
THE BEST OF THE BEST
I have been asked why I don’t select my “best of the best” for each season. So, to satisfy those requests, I present my selections:
2006 BEST OF THE BEST DRAMAS: DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (Beck), A NUMBER (Dobama), M4M (CPT)
2006 BEST OF THE BEST MUSICALS: A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE (Beck), MY FAIR LADY (CPH), BUDDY, THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (Carousel)
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Ted Neeley, Corey Glover and SUPERSTAR all rise to the occasion at the Palace
It is appropriate that at this time of the year Playhouse Square Center has brought in a touring production of ‘JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.’ And quite a production it is.
Superstar opened on Broadway in 1971. Jeff Fenholt played Jesus. In 1972 Neeley was cast in the lead role for the touring production which seemingly has run forever. He also played the role in the 1973 movie version.
Every once in while a play and a performer became synonymous. Think Carol Channing and ‘HELLO DOLLY’ and Zero Mostel and ‘FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.’ When ‘JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR’ is mentioned Neeley and Jesus have become parallel elements.
Touring productions, especially those that have been on the road for a long time, often aren’t fresh. This can’t be said for this touring show. It sizzles. It is vital. It is fresh. It is exciting. The singing, the dancing and the story interpretation are all on-key.
Much of the excitement is mustered by the excellent chorus who play the apostles and numerous other roles. However, Corey Glover, best known as a member of the rock band “Living Color,” makes the production special. He is dynamic as Judas. Glover has a full voice and becomes so involved in the role that he sucks the audience right into the action.
Neeley never seems to age or go into automatic pilot as some performers do after playing a role for a long time-span. I’ve seen him do this role several times, and, if anything, he has deepened his Jesus-like presence. No matter what your religious orientation, Neeley makes you believe, as he floats upward on the cross at the end of the play, that he is on his way to a special place, and that his presence will long be felt.
Christina Rea-Briskin makes the role of Mary Magdalene hers. She sings well, interprets songs proficiently and acts the role with conviction. “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” her duet with Neeley, is compelling. “Could We Start Again, Please,”her duet with Chris Gleim (Peter) brought screaming appreciation from the audience.
Aaron Fuksa’s “King Herod’s Song,” was a sight and sound show-stopping delight.
Capsule judgment:. This, the 2006 national tour of Superstar, is supposedly Neeley’s swan song. Supposedly it is his final appearance in the role. So, if the public relations is true, you’d better get down to the Palace and see him now. It’s worth the trip
Monday, December 04, 2006
‘ROCKY HORROR’ very rocky at CPT
In 1973, while on a trip to England, I saw the ‘ROCKY HORROR SHOW’ during its first week of production. It was a wild and wonderful experience. The creativity, vitality, and breaking down traditional theatre walls (literally and figuratively) are forever etched in my brain.
Many are surprised to know that the Richard O’Brien script began as a play, not as a film. O’Brien had a life-long passion for schlocky horror movies. He also had a flare for writing. While appearing in a production of ‘JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR’ in London, he produced a 3-chord rock musical entitled ‘THEY CAME FROM DENTON HIGH’ in a small space above the theatre where Superstar was playing. Redubbed ‘THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW,’ the play is based on a combination of grade B Horror movies, Steve Reeve’s muscle flicks and fifties rock 'n' roll. It starred Tim Curry, who had appeared with O’Brien in a production of ‘HAIR,’ as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a kinky scientist who creates "Rocky Horror", his personal Adonis.
The play, which opened as a six-week workshop project, got fantastic reviews and packed houses. It was named Best Musical of 1973 in the London Evening Standard's annual poll of drama critics.
But, all was not success. A Broadway version of the play flopped, running only forty five performances. A film, which had been made shortly before the New York opening, also bombed except in New York and LA.
But all was not lost. A marketing director came up with the idea of running it as a midnight movie. The film was reformatted, became a cult hit complete with audience members showing up dressed like the film’s characters and making sound effects and yelling out lines and doing the film’s famous “Time Warp” dance as the movie rolled. The rest, including a 2000 Broadway revival, is cult history.
Cleveland Public Theatre has decided to take on this cult-rock musical. Based on its past history of staging edgy shows such as ‘HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY ITCH,’ ‘VARLA JEAN,’ and ‘CONFESSIONS OF PUNCH AND JUDY,’ it would seem CPT would be the logical place for the staging.
Unfortunately, their production is off the mark. Though it seems like a romp, this is not an easy script to stage. The characters must be clearly etched and done with exaggerated realism. There has to be a total over-the-top staging within a well thought-out concept.
The production has lots of gimmicks, many of which are misguided (e.g., the gross yelling out by the band and others off stage which, I assume, were intended to be clever, but did little but distract from the on-stage action.) The performances go from good to bad. The poor sound system and the size of the venue makes for difficult hearing and echos that mute the lyrics and spoken dialogue. But, mainly, the production lacks focus.
Scott Plate is one of the area’s best actors and his previous directing forays were excellent. In spite of his fine director’s comments in the program, he seemed overwhelmed with this script. He made several questionable decisions, including deciding to gender bend the casting. This technique often works. For example, CPT’s ‘M4M’ did it with great success. In this case, however, it didn’t work and seemed like a gimmick for gimmick’s sake. Sometimes the gender references in songs made for confusion when applied to the “wrong” sex such as having Rocky, the supposedly perfectly formed male specimen played by a woman. In other cases, the result was blatantly homoerotic which rather than enhancing the decadence of the already decadent piece, seemed forced.
Andrew Marikis and Liz Conway were excellent as the naive, nerdy Brad and Janet. They both sing well and could be understood, a quality not present with some of the other cast members. Alison Garigan, who seems to have been born with an edge, didn’t reek with her usual sexuality. If anything, she was too restrained.
Carlos Antonio Cruz and James Ronald Jones II as Magenta and Riff Raff, were almost unintelligible. Very few of their lines or lyrics could be understood. Amy Bistok’s Narrator lacked character. She often sounded like she was reading blandly from a phone book. Amy Pawlukiewicz didn’t have the necessary physical presence needed for the role of Rocky. On the other hand, Elizabeth Wood was Shirley Temple adorable as Columbia.
The highlight of the production was The Phantoms, Brad Wyner’s rock group. I wish that these talented guys had just played a concert of the show’s score. That would have been worth sitting through in the very cold, cavernous, near-empty theatre.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: In my long history of theatre commentary, I have never walked out of a show that I have reviewed before it was over. I left the CPT production of ‘THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW’ at intermission. ‘Nuff said.
‘THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW’ runs through December 23 at CPT’. For tickets call 216 631-2727.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Groundworks continues to impress
Now in its eighth season, Groundworks Dancetheater continues to impress. Artistic Director David Shimotakahara has built a solid company which breaks outside traditional dance descriptions. The philosophy of combining the arts by having musicians create new works, which are then choreographed to both fit the venue and the dancers’ skills, while incorporating various electronic and theatrical devices, makes for exciting performance evenings.
In the company’s latest presentation, part of their Landmark Series, which places the dancers in various venues, they chose to perform in Trinity Cathedral. The combination of the glory of the gothic cathedral and the exciting choreography of Shimotakahara, Art Bridgman, Myrna Packer and Amy Miller, melded with the original music of Ryan Lott and Gustavo Aguilar and traditional music of J. S. Bach, brought about sustained applause from the near sold-out audience. Added to the over-all effect were costumes by Ray Zander and Janet Bolick which perfectly fit the mood of the dance and the creative lighting of Dennis Dugan.
The evening’s pieces, “Before With After,” “eleveneleven,” and “Through the Lens,” were each well-crafted.
Shimotakahara’s ‘Before With After,” examines life’s encounters and the intersection of joy and sorrow which reflected Bach’s keyboard tones. A piece which used the exceptional talents of Amy Miller, Felise Bagley, Jennifer Lott, Mark Otloski and Shimotakahara, consisted of flowing jumps, powerful gymnastics and controlled arm and body movements. The result was a compelling segment of dance.
Company member Amy Miller explored the implications of interconnectedness in choreographing “eleveneleven.” Ryan Lott’s original contemporary score was filled with energy and power that lent itself to Miller’s creative take on the moods and sounds. Bagley, Jennifer Lott, Damien Highfield and Otloski worked well together to create an interactive blend of carries, lifts and writhing movements on the floor, that was enveloping.
The highlight of the evening was ‘Through the Lens,” choreographers Bridgman and Packer’s break-through concept. Almost defying description, the piece was performed in front of and behind a massive opaque curtain. The dancers dove and rolled under the material, danced behind the screen, displaying configurations in varying degrees of large and small shadows, as well as realistically appearing before the curtain. This was a “WOW!” presentation.
In past reviews of the company I have recounted that newcomer Jennifer Lott had not yet matured to the level of the rest of the dancers. Shimotakahara’s choreography requires total body control and perfection in execution. Anyone who wavers from that weakens the over-all effect. It is a pleasure to announced that Lott, in this program, displayed tremendous growth in becoming an equal to the rest of the company.
Capsule judgement: Groundworks next, not to be missed presentation, will be at the Cleveland Botanical Garden on January 26, 27 and 28. For tickets call 216-721-1600 or visit the company’s website at www.notsoobvious.com.
Noah and Alex agree with grandpa, ‘Beauty And The Beast’ is a beaut at Beck!
‘DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST,’ which is now on stage at Beck Center, tells a "tale as old as time." It was originally conceived in 1740 as a dark and scary fable. In 1992 Disney released a lighter version which became the first animated feature to be nominated for the Academy Award’s Best Picture. In 1994 Disney transformed the script into an award winning Broadway musical.
Last year Beck offered the show as an option to the usual holiday fare. It was a good idea. I called the production “a delightful experience,” and advised “see it!”
Fred Sternfeld has proven that he is a master at directing mass crowd musicals and scripts of high quality (e.g., ‘MAN OF LAMANCHA’ and ‘RAGTIME’). He has a knack for involving the entire cast, working with the leads to fine-tune the show, and getting audiences emotionally involved.
‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’ concerns a prince who, because he has no love in his heart, is transformed into a beast by an enchantress. To break the spell, the Beast must learn to love another and earn her love in return. If not, he will be doomed to remain a beast for all time.
Into the Beast’s life comes Belle, a beautiful young woman who lives with her eccentric father in a small town near the Beast’s castle. Belle longs for a life of adventure like those she reads of in books. Her father gets lost in the woods and wanders into the Beast’s castle, where he is imprisoned. Upon finding her father in the Beast's clutches, Belle offers herself as a captive in return for her father’s release. And...you can guess the rest. Yes, the Beast learns kindness and love, it is reciprocated by Belle, and we all go out of the theatre singing the likes of “If I Can’t Love Her,” “Be Our Guest,” and the title song, “Beauty and the Beast.”
Natalie Green again is glorious as Belle. She is beautiful, lights up the stage with her smile, sings like an angel and dances with ease. Her version of “A Change in Me” is enchanting.
Dan Folino, one of my very favorite local actors, has a full and powerful voice and gives a vulnerable texture to the role of the Beast that adds much to the characterization. His “If I Can’t Love her” is captivating. He and Green make the perfect fairy tale prince and princess. Two tween girls seated behind me, who couldn’t control themselves (giggle, giggle, giggle) during the show, squealed with delight at the end when the beast became a “real” person and then kissed Belle. They simultaneously shrieked, “He is so cute, I bet they really are in love” (giggle, giggle, giggle).
I still don’t buy Josh Noble as Gaston. In spite of his good singing voice and pearly white teeth, he feigns bravado, it doesn’t come naturally. He also doesn’t have the muscle-tone that is referred to in the score. Obviously, my view is in the minority, as he got a screaming ovation during the opening night curtain call.
Zac Hudak (Lefou) makes for the perfect punching bag for Gaston. He needs to be careful, however, as he is telegraphing the “shticks” and has become so automatic that he is losing laughs. And, getting laughs is the reason for his being in the show.
Doug Collier as Cogsworth (the clock), and Larry Nehring, who gives a Danny Kaye quality to Lumiere, are both delightful. Tracee Patterson, who played Madame de la Grande Bouche (the dresser) last year, is charming as Mrs. Potts.
Martin Cespedes is a master of choreography. It is amazing what he can do with a group of performers who, in general, are not proficient dancers. “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston” were absolute show stoppers!
Larry Goodpaster’s orchestra is excellent, remembering the rule that the orchestra in a musical plays backup to the singers and are not giving a concert.
Ben Needham’s scenic design is excellent. It is amazing how he used every inch of space on the small stage area to allow for ease of movement.
Since the show is aimed at kids of all ages, I took my trusty “kid’s viewpoint experts”-- my grandsons--Alex and Noah Berko to see the show. Their capsule judgements: “The music was great, the singing and dancing were great. I really liked it, except for the kissing!” (What can you expect, he’s anb 11-year old boy!) And, “I really liked the funny guy (Zac Hudak), and it was really creative, especially the costumes and the sets, but the kissing...blech!” (I guess 9 year-old males aren’t into the smoochy stuff either.) The boys were alert and paid attention throughout, and were a great audience, hysterically falling for all of Sternfeld’s gimmicks. They were especially impressed by the ending. “How did they get the beast out of the makeup and make him real so fast?” Hmm...only Sternfeld knows.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck’s “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” is a delightful production. It is appropriate for kids over 8. Younger ones may be scared by the beast and the wolves. Oh, please tell the tween-aged girls that relating the whole story out loud throughout the production is not good theatre etiquette. And, as the boys said, “All the giggling, yuck!”
For tickets to ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’ which runs through December 31 at the Beck Center for the Arts, call 216-521-2540.