Monday, May 24, 2010

Dark Ride

A ‘DARK RIDE’ at convergence continuum

You don’t go to convergence-continuum to see traditional theatre fare. You go to see what off-the-wall script Artistic Director Clyde Simon has pulled out of his theatrical hat. Simon’s motto seems to be, “The weirder, the better.” And, if that’s what draws you to con-con, you’ll be thrilled with his most recent find, ‘DARK RIDE.’

A dark ride or ghost train is the British term for an indoor amusement ride where the participants are guided through specially lit scenes that typically contain animation, sound, music, and special effects. The effect is surreal. This concept is the basis for Len Jenkin’s ‘DARK RIDE,’ in which peculiar actions increasingly create “convoluted disquisitions on the nature of coincidence.”

As one past reviewer of a production of the script stated, "’DARK RIDE’ offers quirky entertainment for an audience that is not terribly concerned about making sense of what is going on.” To which I say, “Right on!”

The cast of characters includes a book reading young woman whose boyfriend has disappeared, the boyfriend (a thief), a couple who from time to time appear to run a carnival, a would-be translator of what is possibly a fake third-century-B.C. Chinese document, a blustering soldier of fortune, a waitress, and a woman who is an expert on coincidence, and assures us that “Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and Jesus was entombed for three days. What a coincidence!”

Jenkin weaves the mélange together into a whole that he assumes the viewer will, somehow, be able to merge. But like a fun house ride, he also allows for the fact that the whole doesn’t have to blend together. By the end, as the young man sitting next to me stated, “I’m not interested in philosophy, just tell me how it ended and why.”

Geoffrey Hoffman has the task of directing the play. Despite that on opening night there were numerous line flubs, all in all, he does a nice job. There were many laughs from the sold out opening night audience, some because of the plot’s ridiculousness, some from actually funny lines.

Lucy Bredeson-Smith, she of tall angular body and “creative make-up,” fills the role of the laughing lady of coincidence at the amusement park, with her usual bizarre sense of humor and high quality acting. The rest of the cast fulfills their roles in blending together the ride, with various levels of success.

Capsule Judgement: ‘DARK RIDE’ isn’t for everyone. It takes a special person, with a strange sense of the ironic and flexible logic, to enjoy the machinations of Len Jenkin’s mind. If you are one of those, you’ll appreciate con-con’s latest offering.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Summer, 2010 theatre dance calendar

A list of Summer theatre and dance offerings

According to local weather forecasters, warm weather may be approaching, so it’s time to examine what’s going on this summer in theatre and dance. Here’s a partial list of what’s on the boards:

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee running June 10 – 26. This hilarious musical chronicles the experience of six adolescents vying for the spelling championship. Some audience members are picked to display their prowess as spellers.
The Foreigner by Larry Shue is a story about Charlie, a painfully shy Englishman, who, while on a vacation, concocts a plan to avoid speaking to others by posing as a mysterious foreigner who speaks no English. Running July 1 – 17.
Bye Bye Birdie, the Elvis goes to the army musical, with book by Michael Stewart, lyrics by Lee Adams and music by Charles Strouse. Running July 22 – August 7.
Curtain times are 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays.
Box Office--330-929-4416 or 800-304-2363.

The Elephant Man, July 8 – August 5. The true story of John Merrick, a man hideously deformed at birth, which questions the ideas of perception and what it means to be beautiful.
Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling so Sad by Arthur Kopit, July 9 – August 6. Madame Rosepettle is fabulously wealthy. She travels around the world according to her fancy, dragging along her neurotic son, an endless pile of luggage, and the body of her deceased husband.
Curtains, July 10 – August 8. A musical of murder mystery plots. Can a police detective who moonlights as a musical theater fan save the show, solve the case, and maybe even find love before the show opens, without getting killed himself?
All shows run Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00.

Dark Ride (May 21-June 19) Cross the threshold into a phantasmagoric carnival.
Hunter Gatherers (Jul 16 – Aug 14) Cross the threshold into a primal universe.
Say You Love Satan (Sep 3 - 25) Cross the threshold into a dating hell.

To make reservations: 216-687-0074 or go on-line to

The Phantom Of The Opera
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s International Award-Winning Musical returns to PlayhouseSquare in Cleveland in its FINAL Ohio Engagement, July 28 – August 22
Tickets: 216-241-6000 or www.playhousesquare.

The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland’s only for free outdoor Shakespearean theater, presents Titus Andronicus and The Merry Wives of Windsor in repertory on Saturdays and Sundays at various outdoor locations throughout Northeast Ohio. Audience members are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets and seat themselves prior to each outdoor performance.

For more information on The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival go to

Ingenuity is hosting Speakeasy 2.0 on Friday, July 23rd in the West Side subway tunnels and catacomb spaces of the Detroit-Superior Bridge.

This fundraiser begins at 6 PM with cabaret performances, classic cocktails, food, and drinks. Tickets for this portion of the evening will be $100. At 9 PM there’s a more casual party with DJs, drinks and dancing. Guests can enter for this part of the evening for $20, which includes two drink tickets. Details and ticket information at or by calling 216-589-9444.

Theatre and dance offerings at Cain Park are:

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Alma Theatre, June 10-27, Thursday through Saturday, 7 pm, Sat and Sunday, 2 pm. The award winning Sondheim musical tells the story of exiled Sweeney Todd, who returns to London to find his wife and daughter in the hands of evil Judge Turpin. Due to the subject matter no one under the age of 13 will be admitted without an adult.

Famous Son, Alma Theatre, June 22 @ 7 pm. A concert reading of a show with book and lyrics by John Paul Boukis which centers on John Quincy Adams’ quandary between defending his family’s place in history or taking another path. Free admission.

Groundworks Dancetheater, July 16 and 17 at 7 pm, Sunday at 2 pm, Alma Theater. Led by artistic director David Shimotakahara, the program includes a world premiere, a dramatic restaging and a mysterious and striking new collaboration.

Neos Dance Theatre, July 22, Evans Amphitheater @ 8 pm, and a children’s matinee on July 21 at 1 pm, the eclectic company performs ballet and contemporary movement and tap dance under the artistic direction of Robert Wesner.

Inlet Dance Theatre, July 29, 8 pm and a children’s matinee on July 28 at 1 pm, features a repertoire of original works alongside collaborative pieces from nationally recognized choreographers that address social issues and the human condition. Free admission.

Verb Ballets, August 6, 8 pm, Evans Amphitheater. Cleveland’s premiere dance repertory company celebrates the contributions of Jewish artists including Danial Shapiro, Woody Guthrie, and excerpts from other new works.

After June 5, tickets for all Cain Park offerings: 216-371-3000, or now at Ticketmaster outlets or by calling 800-745-3000.

Joseph And His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (June 11-26)
Li’l Abner (July 9-24)
The Scarlet Pimpernel (August 6-21)
New location: The Brooks Theatre in The Cleveland Play House. For reservations and more information call (216) 771-5862 or go to

The first season of Summer Theatre At Notre Dame will present:
Titus Andronicus directed by Allan Byrne, Friday and Saturday, June 18, 19 @ 7pm
The Merry Wives of Windsor directed by Tyson Rand, Friday and Saturday, June 25, 26 @7pm
Location: NDC Steps of the Administration Building, bring lawnchairs & a picnic! Rain space available. Free admission
The Fantasticks directed by Elizabeth Presley, Fridays and Saturdays, July 9, 10, 16, 17 @ 7pm
Location: NDC Performing Arts Center. Donations accepted, no charge

Monday, May 17, 2010

Wanderlust: A History of Walking


‘WANDERLUST: A HISTORY OF WALKING,’ which is getting its world premiere at Cleveland Public Theatre, is both a fascinating history of walking and a challenging piece of theatre.

Matthew Earnest has adapted Rebecca Solnit’s book into a play about bipedalists. It examines almost every aspect of walking -- from pilgrimages to modern protest marches, from the back-to-nature movement to street-walking, as well as the mentality of putting one foot in front of the other. The adaptation basically holds true to Solnit’s intellectual rigor and poet’s voice, while accepting her premise that 21st-century Americans are missing out by our obsessive reliance on the automobile.

At the start of ‘WANDERLUST,’ we are confronted with a large playbox filled with sand and a back wall consisting of large black panels. A Cleveland team of paleoanthropologists examines the bones of a recently discovered 3.2 million year-old hominid they have named Lucy. This unfolds into a series of vignettes which include a Greek modern tourist lecture while walking the Acropolis, a sequence on mountaineering, Martin Luther King's civil rights marches, an AIDS Walk and ultimately, to Solnit's symbol of a post-Walking America, Las Vegas. Sin City, the site which allows Americans to “walk” around the nation and the world, seeing the Eiffel Tower, New York, Venice and numerous other famous sights while driving around in an automobile. (This scene is absolutely hysterical and the show’s highlight.)

The challenge to Earnest, who is a very creative director, is how to stage what is basically a collection of instances, into a cohesive unit that will hold the audience’s attention. He succeeds on a high level.

Earnest choreographs much of the action. One very clever bit was having the cast reenact Lucy’s movements by manipulating the bones, while the “real” Lucy walks. He also helps the audience follow the actions by having the cast chalk the settings on the black back wall. It might have been helpful to put them in the order in which they were performed as, after a while, the markings overlapped and became confusing.

The 100-minute intermissionless piece is a little too long for a comfortable sit, but the well prepared cast is excellent. Nicole Perrone, Kevin Charnas, Trae Hicks, Jonathan Ramos, Pandora Robertson, and Adam Thatcher are all excellent. Alexis Generette Floyd stands out as the reincarnation of Lucy, walking and dancing with ease, and playing the violin with great proficiency.

I don’t know who dragged that ton of sand up to the second floor of CPT, but he, she, or they must not be looking forward to the end of the run when they have to drag it down all those stairs.

Capsule judgement: ‘WANDERLUST: A HISTORY OF WALKING’ is an interesting theatre piece, which may be too talky for some, but will be a fascinating theatrical experience for others. Whatever, if you see it, you’ll never take a step without thinking of the ease of your gait, while understanding the evolution of the act.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Open Mind Firmament

Compelling staging is highlight of ‘OPEN MIND FIRMAMENT’ at CPT

Raymond Bobgan, the artistic director at Cleveland Public Theatre, is at his best when he is confronted with material that requires innovative staging. Several seasons ago, his ‘BLUE SKY TRANSMISSION: A TIBETAN BOOK,’ was nothing short of brilliant.

For his banner offering this year, Bobgan has chosen to take an esoteric theatrical piece, ‘OPEN MIND FIRMAMENT,’ in which he stages a series of William Butler Yeats, “unstageable plays,” and creates a visually compelling piece of theatricality, poetry, singing, and dance. As someone said on the way out of the performance, “I didn’t understand much of what was going on, but I sure liked what I saw.” How’s that for parallel opposites?

Most people know Yeats as one of the greatest English-language poets of the 20th century, but he also wrote prose, plays and was a politician. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. He was one of the founders of the Irish National Theatre Society and in the early 1900s, worked as the theatre’s director, writing several plays which were staged there.

Several clues for understanding ‘OPEN MIND FIRMAMENT’ include an awareness that Yeats did not appreciate European realism of the prose, poetry and theatre of the late 19th and early 20th century. He wrote plays and poetry like impressionists and cubists painted…illuminating feelings with an eye for underlying thoughts and images, not reality. He had a strong interest in mysticism, which also rears its head in FIRMAMENT.

Yeats wrote a series of six plays about the Irish Heroic Age. At the center of the plays was Cuchulain, an Irish folk hero who had great strength, a raging temper and strong sexual urges. The style of the scripts centered on the Japanese Noh theatre, which encases much symbolism, rich poetry and stylized body movement. In writing these plays Yeats enhanced the Cuchulain stories by weaving in his own life experiences.
In ‘OPEN MIND FIRMAMENT,’ Barton Friedman, Yeats scholar and former faculty member at Cleveland State University, took the poet’s concept and refined it. Bobgan, in staging the script, further adapted it.

Viewing the production, which is dedicated to Friedman, is a fascinating experience. Bobgan’s imagination runs wild. He takes a complex story and makes it a visual cacophony of sounds, movements and sights. Ladders magically stand without support, and are used to weave actors and ideas through a flow of precarious movements. Water flies freely to anoint. Chants set moods. Every part of the theatre, which has been transformed into a series of platforms, levels and ramps, is used.
Actors sing and emote above the audience’s heads, besides them, and even verbally confronted the attendees. The story is told by a scholar (maybe Friedman, himself), the poet (Yeats) speaks, and Cuchulain’s life (and that of Yeats) is acted out.

Though the audience, most of whom probably do not know the Chuchulain legends, may be confounded by the avalanche of names, poetic illusions and immense amounts of material being presented, the general ideas do come forth and the staging is so fascinating that even without grasping the total meaning, the whole experience enfolds the participant in the journey.

This is a cast show. Though some individuals have more lines, the entire cast works as a unit. They are all an integral part of the complex movements and sounds. Bobgan has molded them into a cohesive one.

It is difficult to point fingers at any of the performers, but special recognition must be given to Rett Keyser who is mesmerizing as Poet (Yeats), Raymond McNiece who populates the personage of Cuchulain and John Stuehr who leads us on the journey as the Scholar.

Trad Burns’ lighting aids us on our journey. His set design, a massive undertaking which transformed the theatre from a proscenium to a theatre-in-the-square, is impressive and adds to the entire experience. Richard Ingraham’s sound design leads us through many scences.

Capsule judgement: ‘OPEN MIND FIRMAMENT, AN EVENING OF W. B. YEATS’ is a fascinating experience. Don’t’ be put off by what might appear to be an abstract creation. Clear and single-minded understanding was not Yeats purpose. Go and be swept up by Raymond Bogan’s fertile imagination which paints his expressionistic images of the conception of Nobel Prize winning W. B. Yeats and scholar Barton Friedman.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Review of the Reviewer's Reviews: Monica Olejko


I cannot express the way I felt when I read your review. For the first time in a long time, it was nice to be known as something other than "Dan Folino's mom". I am of course the proudest mother in the world of The Boy, but this means the world to me. A nice note on which to take my final bow. I thank you for your gracious review. I am so glad you made it.


-mo [Monica Olejko]

Friday, May 14, 2010


Brecksville’s ‘GYPSY’ exceeds expectations

‘GYPSY’ by Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents, is a musical theatre classic. It is based on Gypsy the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous striptease artist and her relationship with her mother, Rose, the aggressive show business mother, who appears to be using her daughters to achieve what she never could. In spite of, or maybe because of Rose, Gypsy became a star, and sister June Havoc also achieved acting fame.

I normally don’t review community theatre shows, but I made an exception when I found out that Monica Olejko was coming out of a self-imposed retirement to star as Mama Rose in Brecksville Theatre on the Square’s ‘GYPSY. ‘

I was not disappointed. In fact, the production turned out to be much better than I anticipated. Olejko controls a stage. When she’s on, all eyes are on her. It’s not that she is a scene stealer, it’s just that she is so talented that almost all her moves are right on point. Her versions of “Some People,” “Mr. Goldstone” and “Everything’s Comin’ Up Roses,” were all excellent. Her verbal and physical attack of “Rose’s Turn,” often called Rose’s Lament, was strong and clearly developed the message of Rose’s understanding of why she pushed her daughters to be what she couldn’t be. Wow!

Robb Gibb was excellent as Herbie. “You’ll Never Get Away From Me,” his duet
With Rose, was delightful.

Bridget Chebo was exceptional as Louise. She has an excellent voice and much stage presence.

A strong performance was turned in by Shane Joseph Siniscalchi as Tulsa.

Heather Hersh, Jeanette Stack Luli, Kimberly Bush, and the audience, had a wonderful time during the trio’s bump and grind routine, “You Gotta Get A Gimmick.”

Musical director Georgiann Bodle did an excellent job of making sure her musicians backed up, rather than overpowered the singers.

Director Geoffrey Short kept the show well paced. It would have been nice if he could have worked with some of the support cast to develop clearer and consistent characterizations, but this is community theatre, and that means the quality of the talent can’t be expected to be consistently top drawer.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Thanks to Monica Olejko, Rob Gibb and Bridget Chebo , Brecksville Theatre on the Square’s ‘GYPSY’ was better than most community theatre productions of this show. Nice job!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


‘GREASE’ ends its tour at the Palace

‘GREASE,’ a version of which is now playing at the Palace Theatre, is the consummate 1950s rock and roll story.

It’s 1959, and at Rydell High School (loosely based on Chicago’s inner city William Howard Taft School), it’s time for a new year for the T-Birds and their Pink Ladies. Though often perceived as a slight musical, "GREASE" actually probes into the issues of the era. It confronts teenage pregnancy, gang violence, love, friendship, teenage rebellion, sexual exploration, and class consciousness/class conflict.

‘GREASE,’ the creation of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, opened in 1971. It follows the adventures of the 1950s United States working-class youth subculture known as the greasers. The score re-creates the sounds of early rock and roll.

When it opened on Broadway, much in the tradition of such shows to follow as ‘HAIR’ and ‘RENT,’ it was regarded as a raunchy, raw, aggressive, and vulgar show. Oh, times have changed, and the Cleveland opening night audience was healthily populated by children, tweens and teens, as well as adults.

When the show closed its initial run in 1980, its 3,388-performance run was the longest yet in Broadway history. It was surpassed a of couple years later by ‘A CHORUS LINE.’ It presently holds the thirteenth position for lengthiest run. It went on to be a hugely successful film, a popular 1994 Broadway revival, and a staple of regional theatre, summer stock, community theatre, and high schools.

The present touring production, which ends its run here in Cleveland, highlights American Idol winner Taylor Hicks portraying Teen Angel. He makes a cameo appearance singing one song. Co-author Jacobs says of Hicks’ portrayal, “He's hilarious, because he's not an actor, he's a singer. He does all the stuff like a basic, beginning actor would do, which means he really overplays it and hams it up. But for that character, it's gold." Despite his corny performance, the audience cheered loudly at Hicks’ entrance and loved the post-curtain call rendition of his newest single.

The touring production is acceptable. Maybe the cast has been on the road too long, or they are looking forward to their last paycheck in a couple of weeks when the show drops its curtain in Cleveland, and they return to New York to join the ranks of the 90 or so percent of the members of Actors’ Equity who are unemployed. Whatever, it lacked the necessary spirit to make the show work well. They go through all the motions, but there is a less than real enthusiastic prime time spirit.

The age of the cast members is off-setting. These are definitely not high school students, edging more to the upper twenties and thirties.

Highlight performances include that of the amusing Will Blum, who plays the chubby Roger, otherwise known as “Rump” because of his signature habit of mooning. Bridie Carroll gives a fun performance as Jan, Will’s girlfriend. Their “Mooning,” is delightful. Lauren Ashley Zakrin makes for a sweet Sandy. Her “Hopelessly Devoted to You” is well done. Josh Franklin’s Danny is too suburban clean. He lacks the conceited greaser quality, but his version of “Sandy” was spot on. Kate Morgan Chadwick adds an interesting touch to Frenchy, making her very vulnerable. Both David Ruffin’s Kenickie and Laura D’Andre’s Rizzo lack the underlying hard-edge attitude necessary to develop those parts.

Kathleen Marshall’s choreography was excellent. Highlights were “Shakin’ at the High School Hop,” “Greased Lightnin’,” and “We Go Together.”

The sets for the show, rather than being Broadway level, are rather tired, even somewhat tacky.

Alex, one of the “kid” reviewers who I take to hear a teen’s version of the goings on, gave the show an 8 1/2 out of 10. He thought Will Green (Roger) was “great,” that Lauren Zakrin (Sandy) “had a really good singing voice,” that “there needed to be more greaser attitude by the cast, especially the members of the T-birds.” Of course he loved Bridie Carroll, with whom he had his picture taken after she gave a backstage tour to him and a friend. He also is “definitely going to steal some of the moves of Josh Franklin (Danny),” when he sings “Sandy” in his Solon Junior High School choir’s Spring concert.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The touring production of ‘GREASE’ is an acceptable, but not extremely high quality version of the show. The audience sensed this as was displayed by the fact that the ever-present Cleveland screaming standing ovation, was muted. If you haven’t previously seen ‘GREASE,’ or if you are a ‘GREASE’ fanatic, seeing the show should be a treat.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Corbian--A Glow in the Dark Adventure


‘CORBAN, A GLOW IN THE DARK ADVENTURE’ was presented as part of Playhouse Square’s International Children’s Festival. Corban is an hour of fantasy. It is a play without words in which 30 different characters are enacted by five live actors who are dressed in black clothing on which high-tech electroluminescent paint has been adhered. The results are glow-in-the-dark crayon-like creatures who perform on a lightless stage. Dinosaurs, flowers, frogs, turtles, and a human all invade the world of fantasy.

I took Ian, the youngest of the “kid reviewers,” and a friend of his to see the show on order to get a kid’s view of the goings on. The boys, both 10, gave the show an 8 out of 10 for audience interest, creativity and “fun.” Their favorite part, of course, was “the fight between the bad red dinosaur and the good white creature, complete with luminous swords. When asked what the story was about, they both admitted not knowing. But, to be truthful, based on my conversation with a woman sitting behind me, neither did the adults. It mattered little. The kids all seemed to love the goings on, even the 4 and 6 year olds sitting behind me who yelled directions and responses at the characters as the show progressed.

Humble Boy

Must see production of ‘HUMBLE BOY’ at Dobama

What happens when you combine a well-written script, a superb cast and an excellent director? In this instance you get ‘HUMBLE BOY’ at Dobama Theatre.

From the moment you enter Dobama’s curtainless theatre, and see the Ron Newell’s beautifully designed set of flagstone, flowers English garden, and Tudor home, you know that you are in for a “so” English play.

And, English it is. ‘HUMBLE BOY’ opened in London’s Royal National Theatre and won the 2001 Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best New Play. On the surface it’s a comedy which blends astrophysics, bumblebees, and shadings of Hamlet. If this sounds like heavy material, the opposite is in fact true as there is much to laugh about.
It is a character based, rather than a plot based play. As the writer states, “All my characters have a journey. I am obsessed with character, and that's where I begin every play."

The story centers on a mother (Flora) and son (Felix) who have a love-hate relationship. The plot unfolds as Felix Humble returns to his family home after his father’s sudden death. Felix, a high strung young man who develops a stutter when around his domineering mother, discovers that she has gotten rid of all of her husband’s belongings, including the bees which he kept. He also becomes aware that his mother has been having a long term affair with and intends to marry George Pye, a man who is a complete opposite of her intellectual husband and son. Throughout the summer, the distance between Flora and Felix grows, with a final dénouement taking place at a backyard picnic in which more hidden truths are revealed.

The Hamlet-plot concept centers on Jones’ use of The “Freytag Pyramid,” a writing device in which a state of equilibrium becomes destroyed by an inciting incident that disturbs the balance. The main character confronts an issue and struggles with it. When the conflict is resolved, it sends the play off on a new direction and a state of equilibrium is restored. This is the device that Shakespeare often used in his tragedies and history plays, including ‘HAMLET.’

The play is rich in metaphor. There is a symbolic likeness of the characters to a society of bees. Flora is the Queen Bee. When she first appears with huge sunglasses she looks like a large eyed insect and throughout, she is the focus of the action. The other characters fall into drones or worker bee roles.

Dobama’s production is nearly flawless. Director Joel Hammer has paced the show with the British attitude of movements. accents and postures. He is blessed with a very talented cast.

Maryann Nagel (Flora) develops a character that is the perfect aloof and snobbish Brit whose world centers on her physical beauty, perfect flowers and obedience to her views. Nagel’s flawless portrayal is amazing considering that her mother died during the play’s technical rehearsal, and, in spite of a week of burial and mourning, she did not miss a rehearsal and doesn’t miss being the “proper” queen bee.

Andrew Cruse (Felix), complete with fat suit, develops a consistent characterization. He walks the fine line between being pathetic and appealing, with ease. His slouched posture, hair pulling and stutter all flesh out the emotions that give life to the character.

Greg Violand is correctly obnoxious as George. He is so believable, that one can only ask why Flora would be attracted to this loud mouthed uncouth lout.

Brian Zoldessy, as Jim, the “gardener”—the quote marks will be significant to those who see the show--gives just the right illusion to the characterization.

Laura Starnik is properly pathetic as Flora’s hanger-on acquaintance. Her second-act speech, when she finally accepts that she is being emotionally abused and manipulated by Flora, received scene-stopping applause from the opening night audience.

Laurel Johnson nicely portrays George’s daughter and Felix’s former lover.

All of the technical aspects of the show are well conceived.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Dobama’s ‘HUMBLE BOY’ is one of this season’s theatrical highlights. Go….go…..go….see ‘HUMBLE BOY!’

Thursday, May 06, 2010


Hudson’s BRIDIE CARROLL stars in ‘GREASE’

Bridie Carroll, who is playing the role of Jan in the touring company of the Broadway hit, ‘GREASE,’ has been hailed by reviewers as “especially amusing,” “near perfection,” “having obvious chemistry with Will Blum (Roger) her stage love interest,” and “giving a hilarious performance as the awkward and slightly overweight Jan.” Not bad for a 2000 Hudson High School grad in her first Broadway touched performance.

Bridie, whose parents still live in Hudson, attended the Hudson schools from 7th through 12th grades. She was President of the High School’s Choir and performed locally with Weathervane Playhouse and Hudson Players and attended the Coventry Performing Arts Academy. She went on to the Boston Conservatory and received a BFA in Musical Theatre. Next step was appearing in such shows as ‘DISNEY’S HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL’ and ‘HAIRSPRAY’ at North Shore Music Theatre. She also trod the boards at Arundel Barn Playhouse and New London Barn Playhouse.

She credits much of her success to her parents. Maryann Black, with whom she studied dance, Amy Foulk, the choir teacher at Hudson High, and Basil Kochan, who was head of the Coventry Conservatory program, helped hone her skills.

Her breakout role was playing Tracy in ‘HAIRSPRAY.’ After being cast it was decided that she wasn’t heavy enough to portray the “zaftig” Baltimore teen, so it was decided, with a “fat suit,” she was right for the role. Bridie recounts that when she put on the suit, shortly before the show opened, she felt like she was waddling around. But the waddling obviously worked as she was given the Irne Award (The Independent Reviewers of New England Award) as best actress in a musical.

‘GREASE,’ set in 1959 at fictional Rydell High School, follows ten working-class kids as they navigate the complexities of love, cars, being “cool” and drive-ins. It opened on Broadway in 1971. By the time it closed in 1980, its 3,388 performances made it the longest running show in Broadway history at that time.

A Broadway revival, directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, opened in 2007 with leads chosen via viewer votes cast during the run of the NBC reality series Grease: You're the One that I Want!. The rewrite is a mixture of the songs from the original musical and the movie. It ran until 2009. It is this version which is touring

The First Broadway National Tour of ‘GREASE,’ which features American Idol winner Taylor Hicks as Teen Angel, opens locally on May 11, at the Palace Theatre in Playhouse Square. Bridie is pleased that “we’ve made it ours.” She states, “Sometimes when you take a show on the road you have to maintain all original blocking, etc... and we were very fortunate that we were able to find out what worked for us!”

Bridie plays Jan, who is funny, loud, overweight, and awkward. A member of the Pink Ladies, she sings the character’s signature, “It’s Raining on Prom Night.” Though the song has been presented in different ways in various productions, in this version of the show she wins a singing contest and gets to sing on the radio at the dance.

One aspect of the show Bridie really enjoys is that she is playing opposite her best friend, Will Blum.

What advice does she have for star-struck high school kids? She urges them to “get involved in every phase of the theatre, wherever they can. Audition for everything. You need to taste what its like. It is a vulnerable job and the best way to feel strong and confident is to be as prepared as possible. Focus on training yourself in every aspect of the theater and honing your skills. Remember, 97% of Equity actors are generally out of work at any one time.”

What’s in her future? After the 'GREASE' drops its last curtain, ironically, in Cleveland, she is going “home to Hudson” for a while. Then back to New York to find a new apartment. She did a workshop of ‘PURE COUNTRY,’ a musical about a country superstar who finds that fame and fortune aren’t enough, and has a contract with the show which is seemingly headed for a Broadway opening. As she says, ”So no matter what, if it goes [has a Broadway run] I will be going with it.”

She summarized our interview with the thought, “I guess my future is to just get back to NYC and audition hoping to continue to be blessed to work doing what I love.”

Locals will, of course, be watching for Bridie Carroll’s name on marquees on the Great White Way.

Monday, May 03, 2010


Game of ‘CHESS’ played out by BW students at 14th Street Theatre

For the last several years Baldwin Wallace College and Playhouse Square have combined to give us such shows as ‘BROOKLYN THE MUSICAL’ and ‘title of show.’ This year they showcased ‘CHESS, the London Stage Version.’ The staging, which ran just three productions in the 14th Street Theatre was, in the tradition of this series, excellent. It’s a shame that it wasn’t scheduled for a longer run, as it would have provided a chance for more people to see the show.

The BW/PHSquare collaboration gives the music theatre students an opportunity to showcase their talents in a professional theatre, and the arts management majors an opportunity to hone their skills while working with the PHSquare staff. It also provides audiences with a chance to gain an appreciation of the performance skills of a group from one of the most respected musical theatre programs in the country.

‘CHESS,’ with lyrics by Tim Rice, and music by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, formerly of ABBA, concerns a series of matches between American and Russian chess champions. The matches mirror the Reagan-era Cold War struggle between the US and the Soviet Union, the major military powers of the time. Although the protagonists in the story were not supposedly representing any specific individuals, the character of the American seems loosely based on chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer, while elements of the story may have been inspired by the chess careers of several Russian grandmasters.
The first theatrical production of ‘CHESS’ opened in London's West End in 1986 and played for three years. A much-altered US version premièred on Broadway in 1988, but survived only two months. Recently, a concert form was staged in London, which is the basis for the recent local production.

This is not a musical in the format of ‘MY FAIR LADY’ or ‘WEST SIDE STORY.’ There are no show stoppers and the visual elements are restricted. As reviews from the show’s short lived Broadway production stated, “It is far too long" and "it is a shallow, improbable story masquerading as a serious musical."

In spite of those observations, ‘CHESS,’ at least in the BW production, was well worth the sit time.

In watching this, and previous BW 14th Street productions, one always has to be amazed at the talent and presence of these barely twenty year olds. They are amateurs who, in many cases, perform as professionals.

The staging by director Victoria Bussert is functional. It is the dance and movement, as conceived by Anna Maria D’Antonio and Martin Céspedes ,that provides visual impact. Working on a postage-sized stage, with a fairly large cast, the duo has developed chess moves into dance steps that help make this more than a staged concert.

The show was dual-cast. I saw the “American” cast, so my comments will be limited to those performers.

Hilare C. Smith gave a strong Russian presence to her well sung and acted performance of Svetlana, the wife of Anatoly, the Russian champion. Theresa Kloos displayed excellent vocal prowess as Florence, who was romantically connected to both players. Some of her character development needed honing. Corey Mach’s Anatoly was sincere and sensitive. Mach has a fine singing voice and good stage presence. Danny Henning, he of impish face, dynamic personality and nice singing voice, may have been a little too playful as Freddie. There was more Pippin here than American grandmaster.

Arthur Wise was strong as Molokov, the prototype Russian wheeler-dealer, but why was he the only one with an accent?

Maggie Roach, as the American Chess Queen and Natalia Lepore Hagan, as the Russian Queen, both displayed some nice dance techniques.

The musicians played their instruments well. However, why, oh why, can’t musicians realize that when they play as support, note the word support for a musical, they are not the center of attention. This is not a rock concert. If, as happened in ‘CHESS,’ the musical director, in this case Ryan Garrett, doesn’t reign in the drums and guitars, the audience can’t hear the singers. Small space, hard surfaces, singers needing to be heard! “Cool it!”

Capsule judgement: ‘CHESS The London Stage Version’ was an excellent experience, both for the audience and the performers. Maybe the next time around BW and PHSq will extend the run of the show so that more people can get an opportunity to experience the talents of these students!

Crimes of the Heart

‘CRIMES OF THE HEART’--southern angst on display at Actors’ Summit

‘CRIMES OF THE HEART,’ Beth Henley’s play which is now in production at Actors’ Summit, can be classified, along with the works of such writers as Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor, as "Southern Gothic.'' Writers from this genre look compassionately at “good ole’ southern country folk” whose lives have gone off course. Some might classify the writing as “chick flick- southern,” plays that contain excessive piles of tragedy and turn on the sympathy taps of women viewers.
At the core of Henley’s 1981 Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama are the three Magrath sisters. Meg, Babe, and Lenny reunite at Old Granddaddy's home in Hazlehurst, Mississippi after Babe shoots her husband. Obviously the products of a dysfunctional family in which the mother committed suicide, there is a great deal of acting out. As often is the case in stories of this sort, each sister is eventually forced to face the consequences of the "crimes of the heart" that she has committed.

There is lots of angst. Grandaddy is near death in the hospital, Lenny’s horse died after being hit by lightning, Babe’s abusive husband is in the hospital as result of her shooting him because “she didn’t like the way he looks,” the family cat was hung when mamma committed suicide, the lawyer hired to defend Babe has a personal vendetta against her husband, Babe is having an affair, and Meg’s old boyfriend still appears to have the hots for her. And, it goes on and on. Yep, Southern Gothic.

The script was named co-winner of the Great American Play Contest at the Actors Theatre of Louisville in 1979. In 1981, the show opened on Broadway and ran for 535 performances. A 1986 film adaptation starred Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard.
The time is 1974, this is the South, where social standing in the community is paramount, family gossip runs rampant, prejudice is at its peak and the conflict between actions and reality are not always the same. The Magrath sisters are perfect examples of the women of that era and area. They are isolated from one another and, even when they are well meaning, are incapable of constructive action. This is enforced by their overbearing cousin Chick, who sticks her smug attitudes constantly into the sisters’ lives, causing as much additional conflict as possible.

Actors’ Summit’s production, under the direction of MaryJo Alexander, is quite acceptable. The characterizations, in general, are not probed deeply, but deeply enough to make each person credible. Accents come and go. Overacting emerges and wanes. As evidenced by the appreciative sold-out house on the first Sunday performance of opening week, there is enough fidelity to Henley’s intent to please the mostly older attendees who frequent the theatre for this type of production.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘CRIMES OF THE HEART’ will appeal to those who like a southern tragedy, in its most angst-filled form. And, depending on your point of view, it will provoke laughter, sighs or rolling eyes.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

A Midsummer Night's Dream


‘A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM,’ a comedy by William Shakespeare, is one of the Bard’s most popular works and one of the English language’s most performed scripts. It concerns the adventures of four young Athenian lovers, a group of amateur actors, some fairies, and Greek gods.

Though a comedy, it is widely believed that the play develops at least two themes: the dark side of love and the blurring of fantasy and reality. As for love, Shakespeare makes light of love by having Puck, the forest’s fairy-in-resident, mistakenly mismatch various couples, including a goddess with an ass.

The plot also makes the fairies such an integral part of the plot that we accept the fantastic reality of the fairy world, and its magical happenings, as natural.

As locals who attend Great Lakes Theatre Festival are aware, Charlie Fee, the theatre’s Artistic Director, has never failed to grasp any and all farcical opportunities. In his vision of ‘A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM,’ his dervish mind flows overboard. This version is set not in Greek times, but in London in the 1960s. And, much like the 1590s, the time of Shakespeare’s life and writing, it’s the time of a flowering youth movement. The Bard used the slang of the day to reflect the times just as Fee uses the voice of youth represented by the music of The Beatles.

Fee has dressed the cast in 1960s clothing, updated Shakespeare’s language and, as he explains in the program, his image included “Lysander and Demetrius as Paul and John, and the Mechanicals (Bottom, Flute, Quince and Company) as Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. You have to give Fee credit. His imagination runs deep.

Since MIDSUMMER is a comedy, without real depth of message, why not play around with the concept, as long as the audience has fun and the cast and director bring the audience a fun filled evening? Remember, that was Shakespeare’s purpose in his comedies.

The first act is draggy, but all heck lets loose in the second act, especially the scenes of mistaken identity, the romps through the fields, and the play within the play.

Aled Davies is fun as Theseus, Gisela Chipe is cute as Hermia, Kevin Crouch is delightful as Lysander, David Anthony Smith is a hoot as Bottom and the Donkey, and Lina Chambers is charming as the lovesick Helena. On the other hand, Eduardo Placer feigns Puck…practically begging for laughs with his surface level portrayal and Dane Agostinis is not on track as Demetrius.

Choreographer Martin Céspedes makes classical actors move like they actually don’t have two left feet. He has a nice touch with the movements of the 70s and inserts hand, feet and body actions that well fit the mood of The Beatle’s sound.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you are a Shakespearean purist, you’ll run for the exits as soon as the lights go up, you see the costumes and hear the first Beatle song inserted into the script. For the rest of us, we’ll just let Fee have fun and take us along as we rock to Shakespeare.