Monday, May 26, 2008
Fourth Wall’s ‘THE BANK GUARDS’ less than hoped for
Fourth Wall Productions, which is now staging the world premiere of Mathew Sprosty’s ‘THE BANK GUARDS,’ is one of those new small theatre companies whose dreams often exceed their results.
Sprosty, a promising playwright, is the author of one of last year’s top local plays, ‘MALICIOUS BUNNY.’ I recognized the author and the play with a Times Theatre Award. He has a “hip” way of writing, a new wave attitude, and comes up with clever plot twists. The hip, the new wave and the plot twists are present in his newest work, ‘THE BANK GUARDS;’ but, they don’t work as well this time.
The play is filled with too many improbables and the staging leaves much to be desired.
The story centers on a group of bank guards who plot to hold up their own bank. They, of course, have no, or at best, a vague plan. A teenager, who has pulled off a series of bank robberies, finds out about the plot and tries to weasel in on the heist. There is in-fighting and counter-plotting. And, a “surprise” ending.
Sounds like an interesting premise. It is, kind of. The problem is that there are just too many improbables. Why are the guards, who say several times that they are not allowed to thwart robberies in the bank, wearing guns while off-duty? Since this takes place in Cleveland, which has a law against carrying unconcealed weapons, why would these guys be walking around with exposed, holstered guns? Why are the guards so concerned about wiping fingerprints off door knobs after “the” murder (I don’t want to give too much of the plot away here), but are oblivious to the blood in the middle of the floor? (By the way, even though the blood is referred to, we never see it.) How does the teenager find out where the “meeting” is being held? Are these guys really that stupid that they would go into this plot without a plot? The over use of calling one character “old” and another “kid” becomes tedious after a while. I could go on, but hopefully you get the point.
The production, under the directorship of Rebacca Cole, is as uneven as the play. Several of the performances, however, are quite good. Michael Riffle (Ben), as the Iraq vet, has some nice moments, especially after he loses his faked attitude and becomes the real Ben. Ric Barr, as the “old” man is believable in his portrayal. The rest of the cast is inconsistent in character development, going in and out of character…alternating feigning anger and control and angst and more control. I didn’t believe any of them was a real person with real motives. It may be the writing, it may be the directing. The over-lapping of spoken lines, the mumbling, the use of obscenity for no purpose than to sound “hip,” all add up to a lack of smooth ebb and flow of ideas and reality.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: I really want Fourth Wall Productions to succeed. It is dedicated to doing shows that appeal to and should draw in younger audiences, which local theatre desperately needs. However, their productions are so inconsistent that it will be hard to build a loyal audience. In addition, their location, on E. 105th Street in Cleveland, though there is a lighted parking lot, may turn off the less secure from attending.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
CPT: ‘TWO PLAY BY GAO XINGJIAN,’ well staged, but not for everyone
Anyone seeing ‘TWO PLAYS BY GAO XINGJIAN,’ which is now on stage at Cleveland Public Theatre, will immediately be drawn into a strange world, a world of abstract, almost absurdist dimensions, which echoes the works of Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco. Yes, this is not theatre for anyone looking for clear messages, traditional staging, or scripts that allow you to leave the theatre feeling good.
The author, Gao Xingjian was born in 1940. He is a Chinese writer and artist. He was the first of his countrymen to win the Nobel Prize for literature. In contrast to most winners who become national heroes, the 2000 victor was denounced and his plays banned in China.
In 1966, during the Cultural Revolution, Gao was one of many Chinese artists and intellectuals who were sent to “reeducation” camps to perform manual labor. During this time he was compelled to burn a suitcase of his writings. When the Revolution ended in 1976, Gao gradually started to produce his plays which combine experimental forms with traditional Chinese styles. Though his stagings were popular, they drew the condemnation of Chinese government ministers, who shut productions as part of their campaign against “intellectual pollution.” Harassed by the government, he left the country and settled in France.
Gao’s plays combine Zen philosophy and a modern worldview, stressing the gritty realities of life, death, sex, loneliness, and exile. As Gao says, his plays are “manifestations of the idea of the tripartite actor, a process by which the actor neutralizes himself and achieves a disinterested observation of his self in performance.” Abstract? Yes, and that’s exactly what his plays are. Interpretation is left to the individual, which is part of an absurdist’s goal.
Both plays are about journeying onward, much like China and Gao have both done.
‘BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH’ is basically a one-woman monologue which concerns the space between life and death, between reality and imagination. It appears to examine the journey of China as it was and is being transformed. In the words of the script, is that “history,” “story,” “fable,” “joke,” riddle” or “empty words?” Is it all an illusion? “The me you see is not me.”
The show is well directed by Holly Holsinger. Anne McEvoy is brilliant as The Woman. She is well assisted by Mark Cipra and Melissa Crum in non-speaking roles. The use of video (designed by Neil Sapienza and Dred Geib) is enveloping. The use of authentic Chinese string and flute music helps create the proper moods.
‘THE OTHER SIDE’ showcases director Raymond Bobgan’s ability to creatively stage dramatic pieces. He has a knack for involving the audience’s imagination through clever visual images. In this case he used blue ropes, paper, candles and choreographed movements to generate vivid visuals.
The play asks the question, “Why do we want go to the other shore?” It seems to examine the killing of China, the China before the Communists took over, in order to get to the new place. It echoes the need of the Communists to create a unity of “all in it together.” Creating a “common language,” a “wisdom” and a “vision.”
The large cast molds together well. Nick Koesters, as the narrator and center focus, is excellent.
Capsule judgement: ‘TWO PLAYS BY GAO XINGJIAN’ is not for everyone. It is an unnerving and abstract evening of theatre which will be appreciate by those who like absurdist and mind-bending drama, but may be of little interest to others.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Dobama has nice idea, but script by committee doesn’t work
Cleveland is in the doldrums. The Cavs didn’t win the championship; the Indians can’t hit; foreclosures keep piling up; schools are in chaos; flight from the “Best Location in the Nation” continues, the on-again, off convention center/medical mart seems to be on hold.” My oh my, how can we perk the place up? I know, let’s put on a show!
And, that’s what Dobama decided to do, put on a show to build some pride in the city. Not one show, but a series is planned with the encompassing title of, ‘THE CLEVELAND PLAYS.’ They are now presenting ‘PART I: MIGRATION.’ Good idea. Unfortunately, like a lot of things in Cleveland town, the dreams worked better than the execution.
The script goes in too many directions and lacks a unified voice. Eric Coble, Nina Domingue and Eric Schmiedl are award winning playwrights. They know this city well. All of them have the best intentions, but never developed a thread to wind its way through the concept. Note, I did not use the word story, because there really isn’t a story.
There are a lot of local places mentioned: Solon, Slavic Village, Cleveland Heights, Mt Pleasant, Lakewood, Rocky River, Hough, Beachwood, Buckeye, East Cleveland, Euclid. There are Cleveland landmarks noted like Malley’s and Shaker Square. Even people’s names are thrown in, such as Manny Barenholtz, the developer of Walden in Aurora. There is a good general overview of how we got here, thanks to the confused Moses Cleaveland, who comes back to “lead us out of here” and complains because we misspelled his name.
Wait, why is Clevealand, who lead us into this area, leading us out? That’s never made clear. Also not made clear is why Lenny (George Roth) is spray painting the city. And, why is pregnant Nisha (Nina Domingue) so intent on photographing people and places in the area, with no means of support, refusing to move to Columbus, where her husband has been offered a job?
There are some good performances. Courtney Schloss takes on many roles with great success. George Roth looks and acts totally confused (is this great acting or the lack of coherent lines?), Nina Domingue is the usually competent Nina. On the other hand, Robert Williams (as Domingue’s husband) presents flat lines and Michael Regnier keeps changing accents and doesn’t really develop a clear characterization as Moses Cleaveland.
Steve Schultz’s projection design gives us some interesting views of the city and a lot of porches to observe.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Nice idea Dobama. Good attempt to get us out of our doldrums. Too bad it didn’t work…the Cavs still lost, the Indians still can’t hit, and the mortgage crunch continues. Maybe Part II will be better.
Monday, May 19, 2008
‘MY FAVORITE YEAR’—dated script is misdirected
I can’t fathom why Beck Center, which has been on a positive role for picking good scripts and staging strong productions, decided to stage the very dated and poorly written ‘MY FAVORITE YEAR.’ I also can’t grasp how William Roudebush, who last year directed the outstanding ‘EQUUS’ got so off course with his interpretation of this musical.
‘MY FAVORITE YEAR,’ with a book by Joseph Dougherty, music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, centers on the experiences of Benjy Stone, a young comedy writer who works on “The King Kaiser Show,” a program much like the classic “Show of Shows” which starred Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.
When Alan Swann, an Errol Flynn-like movie star is signed to make a guest appearance on the King Kaiser Show, all hell breaks lose. Swann is an alcoholic, in a state of depression over his failed role as a father, and a womanizer. It becomes Benjy’s duty to “baby sit” the star and make sure he stays sober until show time. Of course, many stumbling blocks must be jumped over.
The script has a troubled past. After 45 previews in which there were constant rewrites, the show opened on December 10, 1992 and ran only 36 performances, in spite of a cast that included Tim Curry, Josh Mostel and Lainie Kazan. It generally got negative reviews, including one that called it a “barren Broadway musical.” Many of the references are dated, only understood by those around in the early days of television. The show was rewritten in 2007 with an eye to a Broadway opening.
If the Beck production is anything of what the future holds, the Big Apple isn’t going to like this version any better than the last one.
Maybe Beck chose the script because of their successes with ‘A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE’ and ‘RAGTIME,’ which had music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Maybe they chose it because no other theatre in the area has staged it. Whatever, it was a big mistake. The script is bad and the music unmemorable.
Roudebush misdirected the show. It is a farce! It needed lots of shtick. It needed fast pacing. It needed a Sid Caesar, bigger-than-life attitude. It had none of these.
And, then there was the set. Richard Gould went over the top. There were so many massive set pieces that the cast spent more time schlepping and pushing set pieces than they did singing, dancing and acting. Roudebush seemingly spent more time figuring out how to get the sets on stage than in directing the cast.
Several of the leading actors were quite good. Shawn Galligan (Benjy), has a nice Mathew Broderick look and quality, and he sings better than Broderick. Unfortunately, he proved in the dance numbers, that he is not a hoofer.
Matthew Wright was right-on as Alan Swann. Wright, as usual, is a delight to watch on stage. The guy can act, sing, dance and carry on a great sword fight. (Thanks to John Davis the fight director!) It’s almost worth going to see the rest of this train wreck just to see Wright.
Jean Zarzour was fun as Benjy’s mother, but even she couldn’t get out from under Roudebush’s heavy hand. This lady is funny…let her loose to do her thing! The same goes for Rachel Spence (who played Alice Miller, aka Imogene Coca). She has the right look, but was way too restrained.
John Polk was either miscast or misdirected as King Kaiser. He was absolutely not funny. Funny was a requirement for the role.
Choreographer Martin Cespedes tried valiantly to produce some creative dance numbers, but was hindered by a cast which appeared not to have a single accomplished dancer. He also had to figure out how to work around all those set pieces which came rolling in and out. I’m surprised no one has gotten maimed from all that stuff.
I took my grandsons—Alex (12) and Noah Berko (11)—the kid reviewers--to see the show as I had expected it to be a farcical laugh riot. They were basically bored. They liked the sword fighting scenes. Noah kept getting confused with who was who because “the same people were playing lots of parts.” Alex, a talented musician, thought the band was too loud at the start but settled in and Shawn Galligan had a nice singing voice though he flatted in several songs.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: In spite of a wonderful performance by Matthew Wright, ‘MY FAVORITE YEAR’ was a major disappointment. With a weak script and a poor directing vision, the show just never took off!
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
LEINE ROEBANA, a brilliant offering by DanceCleveland
LEINE ROEBANA, which was recently presented at the Ohio Theatre in Playhouse Square by DanceCleveland, has a unique style that defies a traditional description. The Dutch company gets its creativity from not being bound by the traditional dance language of Loie Fuller and Isadora Duncan, the conceivers of contemporary/modern dance. Its dance style is not contemporary nor modern. It does not tell stories or have themes. It is purely a company which interprets music through bodily movement.
This Dutch dance form has no long history. It is a movement that developed following World War II. It is not bound by tradition. It repelled German dance concepts because of the strong hatred of all things German after the war and was little influenced by the long flourishing movement in the United States. It struck out on its own.
The results? It is totally kinesic, based on bodies forming connections with each other. It is organic in nature. Maybe it should be dubbed, Organic Dance. The choreographers, like composers, take the music, the sounds, the moods and create visual energy and synchrony. They “dissect the body into its constituent parts, put it back together and invite it to dance.”
The dancers sometimes move in unity, though almost never touching each other. There are no lifts, no carries, just melding of bodies together in space. The short pieces are blended together by the next set of dancers moving into the preceding piece and then being left on the stage as the original dancers leave. There is little time for audience applause between segments as the sections blend together. There are no mid-performance curtain calls as there are no “lead” dancers, no stars, no specialty numbers. The flow is organic, with music, light or sound transitions.
The dance is symbolic of the Dutch people. In contrast to the US, in which much of the arts is considered high brow and is attended by only the intellectual elite, “In the Netherlands, participation in the arts and culture is considered a basic right of citizens along with housing, education and health care. The Dutch government, through its culture funds and agencies, channels this support to ensure that everyone in the Netherlands, no matter their age, ethnicity or education can enjoy this right.” Quite a difference from this country, where federal funds are almost invisible and the only local government support is through taxing smokers and arts organizations are left to beg for corporate money.
Several program specifics stood out. The lighting was so incorporated into the dance that the spots became additional performers. The simple setting, with a large panel of woven cloth hung mid-center of the back wall, changed colors to enhance the musical moods. The music, specifically composed for the company, and its execution by two violists and a pianist, was encompassing. A counter tenor added a surreal atmosphere to the proceedings. The special sound effects added to the emotional level and tied to the modernism of the company by adding the dimension of the mediated world.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: BRAVO! Dance Cleveland plays a vital role in exposing Clevelanders to unique dance experiences. Thanks to Pamela Young, the Executive Director of DanceCleveland, for bringing LEINE ROEBANA to the area. Also praise to her for insisting the live musicians accompany the group as most of this company’s performances use recorded music.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
How do you spell fun? SPELLING BEE at Palace Theatre
‘THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAN COUNTY SPELLING BEE,’ which for the rest of this column will be referred to as THE BEE, is presently on-stage at the Palace Theatre. It is one of those cute, fun pieces of theatre. Though there is a little attempt to make the whole thing present a message about kindness and understanding, it is, at least the first two-thirds of it, a delightful romp where we laugh both with and at the contestants.
THE BEE is a one-act musical which centers on six quirky teens competing for the title of “Spelling Champion.” They are overseen by grown-ups who have barely managed to escape childhood themselves. In the process we all supposedly learn that “winning isn’t everything and that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser.” Yeah, sure!
The script is based upon ‘C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E,’ an original play created by Rebecca Feldman. It was originally an improv piece and it still retains some of that same energy and creativity, especially when members of the audience are placed on stage as spellers and they don’t necessarily follow the cues they’ve been given. On opening night, a tween named Jack Michaels threw a monkey wrench into the proceedings when he correctly spelled a very difficult word, causing the announcer to madly ad lib and find a word to get rid of the kid so the “scripted” show could continue.
After a successful off-Broadway run, THE BEE opened on-Broadway to good reviews and box-office success. It was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning two, including Best Book.
The touring production is true to the show I saw in New York. In fact,
several of the cast are transfers from the recently closed Broadway production.
Each role in the production is well-performed. From the audience reactions the favorites included Cleveland native Eric Roediger, a former local theatre youth director, who plays the over-weight, nut-allergic, allergy prone William Barfee who spells words by use of a unique foot-sketching method. His song, “Magic Feet” was delightful.
Leaf Coneybear, who makes his own clothes, wears a helmet as he keeps falling down and bumping into things, and has been convinced by his family that he is not exactly a whiz kid, enchants the audience with “I’m Not That Smart.” Andrew Keenan-Bolger’s portrayal is so endearing that when he finally spelled out, his exit was met with a series of moans from the audience.
Dana Steingold as Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (she has two dads and uses both of their last names connected by an “and), who is the President of her elementary school’s Gay, Lesbian Transgender and Questioning Organization, is a total delight.
As is the case with shows that I perceive as being kid-friendly, I took my 12 year-old grandson, Alex with me.. He gave the show an 8 out of 10. He stated, “I thought lots of it was funny, but some it was not exactly for youngsters.” (He was slouched down in his seat and giggled through the “My Unfortunate Erection,” which was well sung by Justin Keyes; but, I’m not sure sitting next to grandpa during that number was totally relaxing, even if he has had “the sex talk with Daddy.”) He thought the first part of the show was “really funny,” but thought the last half “dragged a little.” Being a talented pianist, he did question some of the vocal blendings. His favorite character was Barfee (the foot speller). His final comment? “I’d like to have gone up on stage and been a contestant, like that kid.”
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE” is a fun show. Since it is rather intimate, I’m not sure how well it played to the back of the front floor or in the balcony. I’d not recommend it for anyone less than in their mid-teens.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
‘A HANDSOME WOMAN RETREATS’
Kim Wyans’ one woman dramedy, ‘A HANDSOME WOMAN RETREATS,’ is a biographical story of a panic-plagued woman who attends a ten-day silent meditation retreat to root out the sources of her crisis-centered life. It is an emotional, yet funny investigation.
We watch as Kim introduces many of the unique characters of her life, including her parents and her siblings (The Wyans Brothers of “In Living Color” fame).
Wyans is a better actress than writer. The script is choppy. The situations are not always well developed. Her written comedy is stronger than her dramatic words.
The most emotional highlight centers on a failed birthday of her childhood, when none of her friends show up for her “Hawaiian-themed” party.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘A HANDSOME WOMAN RETREATS’ was a pleasant, if uneven production. The quality of the performance far exceeded the effectiveness of the script.
‘RUNT OF THE LITTER’
Bo Eason, the author and sole performer of ‘RUNT OF THE LITTER,’ spent five years as a professional football player with the Houston Oilers.
‘RUNT OF THE LITTER,’ which is supposedly semi-autobiographical, looks at what happens to two brothers in their life paths. One is expected to be a super-star. He does so with supposedly little real effort. The other, the younger and smaller of the duo, is inspired to succeed in spite of his physical and talent limitations and becomes almost maniacal in his quest to play in the Super Bowl as a defensive safety.
As we find out, though Jack Henry (the named used by Bo in the play) thrived on the excitement and financial rewards, he often wondered -- even while standing in a huddle -- "What am I doing out here?" Especially when he compared himself, and others compared him to his brother (in reality, former New England Patriot’s superstar quarterback, Tony Eason).
‘RUNT OF THE LITTER’ is set in a locker room just before the “big game,” where Eason is psyching himself to play against a team that includes his brother. The script examines his struggle to be the best, and the sacrifices, victories, and tragedies that surround achieving the ultimate goal in sports.
Eason is an excellent performer. He appears to be at ease with the audience, seemingly at ease with himself. He exhausts both himself and us with his passion.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘RUNT OF THE LITTER’ was an intense experience. It was an eye-opener which allowed the audience to get an inside look at what it takes to be a success in competitive sports, especially when the odds are against that success.
Saturday, May 03, 2008
Carousel lets Indians win pennant in ‘DAMN YANKEES’
Knowing the disdain that locals have for the New York Yankees baseball team, the staff at Carousel Dinner, which is now producing ‘DAMN YANKEES,’ adapted the script to ensure that our beloved Cleveland Indians beat their dreaded rivals for the American League pennant.
“DAMN YANKEES,’ a musical comedy with a book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, and music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, is a modern retelling of the Faust legend, with a baseball twist. It is based on Wallop's novel, The Year The Yankees Lost The Pennant.
The story centers on Joe Boyd, a middle-aged baseball fanatic who sells his soul to the devil (Mr. Applegate) for a chance to lead the Cleveland Indians, his favorite team, to a pennant. Reinvented as Joe Hardy, Boyd transforms the hopeless Indians into a super team. In the process, with the help of Lola, Applegate’s assistant, he outsmarts the devil.
‘DAMN YANKEES, which opened in 1955 with a cast that included Gwenn Verdon and Ray Walston, won the Tony Award for best musical of the year. It ran over one thousand productions, was made into a movie staring Tab Hunter, and has had many revivals. It was choreographer Bob Fosse’s first Broadway hit.
The basically unspectacular score does include “Whatever Lola Wants,” and “Heart.”
It should be noted that I saw a preview production of the show, so much may have changed as the cast settles into their roles.
Jerry Coyle (Joe Boyd) and Jan Leigh Herndon (Meg, his wife) have nice singing voices and developed clear characters. Nathaniel Shaw (Joe Hardy) both physically and vocally fits the role of the reluctant star baseball player.
Ashlee Fife, she of long legs and high kicks, dances the role of Lola with the finesse and movements of a former Radio City Rockette. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate into seductive, which the role requires. Her “Whatever Lola Wants” lacked the necessary sizzle.
It’s pretty hard to evaluate Mark Kaplan, who portrayed the devil, as he was a last minute replacement in the role, after an injury to Jim Corti who was scheduled to portray Mr. Applegate. As is, he just wasn’t as smarmy or manipulative as the role requires.
Buddy Reeder, the dance captain, stood out among the male dancers who were not always in sync. (The timing should improve with practice.)
“Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo” and “Two Lost Souls” were well choreographed.
A wonderful backdrop of the old Cleveland Stadium and a portrait gallery of former Indians players was well received.
Costumer Dale DiBernardo hit a homer with his Indians’ uniforms. During the era of the show, the Tribe home uniforms were white pinstripes, had the numbers on the back with no names and the caps had an odd shaped “C” instead of the script “I” or Chief Yahoo head of the present day. DiBernardo got all that right! He even had the Larry Doby-like character in his famous number 14!
The musical sound was rather tinny. The two keyboards and percussionist didn’t produce the big brassy sound that the music required.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘DAMN YANKEES’ is not a great script and it doesn’t have a great score. It is one of those 1950s “nice” shows. Carousel’s production, under the direction of Marc Robin, is not memorable, doesn’t hit a homer, but it doesn’t strike out either.
Audience pleasing BROOKLYN, THE MUSICAL
Combine a wonderful score, a terrific cast, creative staging, on-target musical direction and the result is the audience pleasing ‘BROOKLYN, THE MUSICAL,’ a production of the Playhouse Square in collaboration with the Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory of Music.
‘BROOKLYN, THE MUSCIAL,’ with its infectious pop and soul music, has the feel of a combination of ‘RENT,’ ‘HAIR,’ and ‘GODSPELL.’
The less than plausible story concerns a band of five ragtag soulful street-corner singers and storytellers, known as the City Weeds, who relate a sidewalk fairytale about a girl searching for the father she never knew. The quest goes on in spite of her having just one clue. She knows he lives in the city that bears her name, Brooklyn.
The play within the play, is about a Parisian singer who was orphaned when her depressed mother hangs herself over the despair of being abandoned by the man she loved. The girl is sent to a convent where she discovers her vocal talents, becomes a star, performs at Carnegie Hall, sets out in search of her father (who she discovers is a drug-addicted Vietnam War vet), and engages in a competition with a diva at Madison Square Garden. (I told you the story was improbable, but it’s a fairy tale, so we have to give it some latitude.)
With a book, lyrics, and music by Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson, the show opened in October, 2004 in New York, where it ran for 284 performances. A 2006 national tour starred American Idol finalist Diana DeGarmo and Melba Moore.
In a coup for Victoria Bussert, the nationally acclaimed leader of BW’s musical theatre program, the college was granted the rights to put on the show’s first regional production.
The local staging has an advantage over both the New York and touring shows. Playhouse Square’s 14th Street Theatre is an intimate venue. The closeness of the audience to performers allows for an electric current to leap from the stage to the viewers and ignite strong emotional responses.
The PHS/BW production is excellent. This is a perfect script for Bussert, who is a master at staging the quirky, small cast, emotional laden production. Think of her mountings of ‘BAT BOY,’ ‘SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD’ and ‘NINE’ at Cain Park. This is also an excellent script choice for students, especially the quality of students that are in BW’s musical theatre program. The show is populated by characters of the right demographics….young, dynamic and searching.
There were numerous vocal show stoppers. Especially strong were “Once Upon a Time,” “Superlover,” “Raven,” and Love Me Where I Live.”
Since the show is double cast, I can only comment on the student performers I saw. That cast was generally on target.
Stephen DiBlasi who plays the narrator (StreetSinger), captured the stage each time he sang. He also displayed an excellent sense of comic timing. Malika Petty, was perfectly cast as the sassy, up-from-the ghetto, on to stardom, Paradice. This young lady can wail and “cop-attitude” with the best of them.
Though her characterization wavered at times, Cassie Okenka, sang the role of Brooklyn well. Mike Russo, who has a nice singing voice, was quite acceptable as Taylor, the father Brooklyn never knew. Beautiful Cathy Prince displayed a nice singing range and gave fidelity to the role of Faith, Brooklyn’s mother. The pit singers, Jillian Bumpas, Paige Shlosky and Kyle Szen added a special dimension to the show with both their singing and active physical involvement, even when not vocalizing.
Nancy Maier and her band were excellent, from the pre-show jam session to generally underscoring rather than drowning out the singers. This is a difficult task when playing rock songs in such a small space.
Janiece Kelley-Kiteley’s choreography, Jeff Herrmann’s set design which found the entire theatre being painted serving as a palate for graffiti and Charlotte Yetman’s thrift story costumes all enhanced the performance.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: It’s too bad that there are only eight performances of ‘BROOKLYN, THE MUSICAL.’ It is the kind of script and production, that could be successful in an open-ended run at the 14th Street Theatre. It’s the stuff from which cult followings are made.