Tuesday, March 29, 2011

2011-2012 KeyBank Broadway Series

2011-2012 KeyBank Broadway Series Announced!

Supplemented by visual segments of Broadway productions, Gina Vernaci, the Vice President of Theatricals, announced to a full-house in the Idea Center, the 2011-2012 KeyBank Broadway Series at PlayhouseSquare.

Gernaci stated, “This is a season that is certain to keep PlayhouseSquare at the forefront of engaging entertainment.” She went on to indicate that the season will offer “some of the most iconic American music, high octane choreography and dramatic storytelling.”

The seven-show series includes:

October 11-23, 2011
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is based on the famed recording session that brought together rock 'n' roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins for the first and only time. Musical numbers include: “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Fever,” “That's All Right,” “Sixteen Tons,” and “Great Balls of Fire.” PlayhouseSquare will launch the show's national tour with promotional and educational cooperation from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

November 8-20, 2011
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, which won three 2010 Tony Awards including the award for Best Musical Revival, is a tuneful and touching tale of one family's struggle to stay together... stay fabulous... and above all else, stay true to themselves! Think “I Am What I Am” and you have the emotional center of the show.

January 17-29, 2012
HAIR, the show that changed Broadway forever, is back with a new Tony-winning production. Featuring “Aquarius,” “Let the Sun Shine In,” and "Good Morning, Starshine,” this anthem to political and social change is as relevant today as when it opened in 1968. And, yes, it will be staged with the infamous nude scene!

February 28 - March 11, 2012
MEMPHIS, the story of the love between a white radio DJ and a black singer that bursts with explosive dancing, irresistible songs, is a tale of fame and forbidden love. Winner of four 2010 Tony Awards including Best Musical, it gained opening night Broadway reviews which stated that the show was, “The very essence of what a Broadway musical should be.”

April 10-22, 2012
THE ADDAMS FAMILY brings the weird comic characters Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester, Lurch, Grandmama, Wednesday and Pugsley to life in a production that is definitely not the same old song and dance musical. (Are you humming the television show's iconic theme song?)

May 8-20, 2012
COME FLY AWAY brings together the legendary music of Frank Sinatra and the creative vision of Tony Award-winning choreographer Twyla Tharp. Fifteen dancers tell the story of four couples falling in and out of love, as an on-stage big band plays, and recordings of Old Blue Eyes himself sings, “Fly Me to the Moon,” “My Way,” “New York, New York” and “Makin' Whoopee.”

May 30 - July 22, 2012
SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM gives a close-up and personal look at Tony Award-winning composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim by fusing interview footage and live musical numbers. Included are songs from West Side Story, Gypsy, Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George, Sweeney Todd, Company, A Little Night Music, and Follies. The show, which will be directed by Victoria Bussert, is being produced by the Great Lakes Theater Festival as part of their 50th anniversary season and will be presented in the Hanna Theatre.

Subscriptions to the KeyBank Broadway Series at PlayhouseSquare are now available by calling 216-830-7221 or online at www.playhousesquare.org. The seven-show packages range from $70 to $505 per seat with a limited number of Smart Seats Time Warner Cable subscription packages available at $70.

Monday, March 28, 2011


VAPARAISO…quite a trip at convergence continuum

VALPARAISO, convergence continuum's newest production, asks, “What happens in this age of instant and continual news when a minor incident goes viral?”

Due to the sudden illness of a fellow employee, Michael Majeski, a corporate manager, embarks on a business trip to Valparaiso, Indiana. But, due to a series of serendipity events, he finds himself flying to Valparaiso, Florida, then on to Valparaiso, Chile. That's the entire plot! And, for many that would be the end of things. However, due to the need for news agencies to find “THE” story, Majeski's journey becomes big news. He appears on international radio and television explaining his plight over and over and over.

The convergence-continuum production intertwines live performance, video and vocal sounds, to create an on-going look at how modern media operates. The show climaxes in a bizarre conclusion, which if revealed here would spoil the experience for theatre-goers. So, it is enough to conclude with a play on Shakespeare--“alls not well that ends not well.”

Don DeLilillo's script is a series of short snippets of media interviews interspersed with dialogue. Questions, often answered with questions, repetitions of key phrases, and word play, highlight the writing format. The absurdity of the media and each person's fifteen minutes of fame, are all highlighted.

This is a typical con-con play, a challenge to the imagination and sensibilities of their niche audience.

Though there are many highlights, including wonderful performances by Lucy Bredeson-Smith as a talk show host, and Curt Arnold as her sidekick and several very, very funny commercial interludes, the production fails to fully ignite. Stumbling over lines and failing develop a clear character, Clint Elston (Majeski) gives the production a flawed underbelly. In addition, the playing time is too long. This would have made a good one-act, but two full acts, with an intermission, is just too long to develop the fragile concept.

Capsule Judgement: VALPARAISO is an interesting script which will evoke reactions in those tired of the protracted coverage of “the royal wedding,” “the death of Michael Jackson” and all the events that get media overkill. In spite of some excellent performances, the show needed cutting and a stronger leading male.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse

GOD'S TROMBONES welcomes in holy season at Karamu

James Weldon Johnson is noted for his fervent poetic writings, many of which center on biblical stories. His GOD'S TROMBONES: SEVEN NEGRO SERMONS IN VERSE, which has been adapted by Karamu Artistic Director Terrence Spivey, is now on stage at Karamu, the “feel at home in the house” theatre.

If you have never been to Karamu, the entire experience is one to relish. The theatre's public relations director, the charming Vivian Wilson, is often at the front door welcoming audience members. As the play develops, the African American custom of call and response, the oral tradition of when something is said in a speech, sermon, or, in the this case, the play, instigates strong emotional feelings, members of the audience shout out their agreement with the words. Following the production, members of the cast form a meet-and-greet line and individually thank theatre-goers for attending.

God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons In Verse is a 1927 book of poems by author, poet and civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson, who lived from 1871 to 1938. He patterned the book after traditional African-American religious oratory with the preacher telling folk stories to the congregation. Using punctuation and line arrangements, Johnson captures the fervor of the congregation and underlines the importance of these sermons in the development of Black culture through an oral history. The author explains the title's use of the trombone by indicating that of all the musical instruments, the trombone most resembles the range and sound of the human voice.

After a brief invocation, the play continues with what is probably Johnson's most quoted poem, The Creation, with the invocation setting line, “And God stepped out on space, looked around, and said, 'I'm lonely, I think I'll make me a world'.” From there, through poetry, sermon and music, the tales of the prodigal son, a funeral sermon, the exodus from Egypt, the crucifixion, the building of the ark, the tale of Adam and Eve and judgement day, are highlighted.

The Karamu production, under the direction of Terrence Spivey, has many high points. The singing outshines the acting with strong vocals by Durand Ferebee (“I'm Coming Home”) and Karen Jones (”I Know I've Been Changed”). Another vocal highlight was “Soulful Hallelujah.” Jonathon Jackson did an excellent narration in the segment entitled, “Praise Him” and Kenny Charles has all the makings of a minister with his deep and resonant voice.

In general, the choreography did not parallel the moods of the music or the words being sung. There was often a lack of cohesion between the dancers.

The vast number of students from the Cleveland School of the Arts who were in the production, added an all-inclusive community feel to staging.

Some of the effect of vocal presentations was lost due to the overly loud volume of the microphones, which also sometimes caused screeching feedback. Why amplification was even needed in the intimate Jelliffe Theatre is a question.

Don't expect the typical gospel wailing that is often found in musicals at Karamu. The voices, in the main, are good, but compelling dynamics are somewhat muted, except in the final song.

Musical Director Sharolyn Malvin Ferebee and her orchestra did a nice job of developing the right moods and backing up the singers.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: This is the time of year that many turn to religion for reassurance with the Easter and Passover seasons upon us. If you need a little “down home” ministering, seeing GOD'S TROMBONES at Karamu is a nice place to experience the glory.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Present Laughter

PRESENT LAUGHTER misses the mark at CWRU/CPH Graduate Ensemble

Noel Coward is the crown prince of mid-twentieth century British farce. The good news is the Case Western Reserve University-Cleveland Play House Graduate Ensemble chose to produce Coward’s wonderful script, PRESENT LAUGHTER. The bad news is that, with the exception of a few performances, the ill-directed production doesn’t live up to the writing.

The script, which was written in 1939, was described by Coward as a “a series of semi-autobiographical pyrotechnics,” starred Coward in its original production, basically playing himself. The underlying double entendres, hints at homosexuality and the intimation of scandal, made the play an instant hit in England, and has been revived and revived on both sides of the pond.

The story centers on the self-absorbed, self-obsessed, self-centered Garry Essendine, a light weight British actor who is about to embark on a theatrical tour of Africa. He finds himself dealing with women who want to seduce him, placating both his long-suffering secretary and his estranged wife, being stalked by a crazed young playwright, and his own obsession with oncoming middle age.

In a good production the play is a total delight. The caveat is that British farce is hard to do. But it can be done. It requires a director who understands that this is not melodrama or broad comedy. It is farce. It requires perfect timing, actors who understand that reality, not overdone gestures and feigning characterizations. That is what makes this type of script work.

Some of the cast do well. Kelli Ruttle as Essendine’s wife, Liz, is delightful. She creates a real person. Kim Krane, as the secretary, shows a flair for sarcasm and uses her face and voice well to convey clear meanings. The talented Andrew Gorell has excellent comic timing and is a hoot as a bizarre writer with an obsession for Essendine. TJ Gainley, as Fred the butler, flits in and out with a nice flair.

On the other hand, shouting and wandering accents summarize the performances of Yan Tual (Morris Dixon) and Michael Herbert (Hugo Lyppiatt) as Essendine’s friends. Erin Bunting, with a fake electric cigarette clinched between her teeth and an accent that was indiscernible, overdid the role of Miss Erickson, the housekeeper. Caroline Santa, as a young ingĂ©nue and Eva Gil, as Hugo’s philandering wife, never did seem to find their characterizations.

And then there was Dan Hendrock as Essendine. He feigned facial and vocal expressions and overdid the character to the degree that instead of real, he became surreal.

To add to the problems, set designer Jill Davis so overstocked the tiny Brooks Theatre stage that there was little room for the actors to walk around. Huge furniture, though it was period correct, was everywhere, everywhere, everywhere!

Kristine Davies’ costumes were era correct and fit the mood of the script as did the musical interludes.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Case Western Reserve University-Cleveland Play House Graduate Ensemble has done some excellent work. PRESENT LAUGHTER isn’t one of the good ones. This is a graduate acting program, with professional staff. The audience should expect and get high level theatre, not a sub-quality production.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring 2011 Theatre Calendar

Go to the theatre--a list of spring theatre offerings

The calendar says it’s spring. Cleveland area theatres assume that eventually the weather will get nice and people will leave the warm safety of their warm homes and go forth. They have their offerings scheduled! Here’s a partial list of what’s on the boards:


LAST CALL CLEVELAND brings the company’s unique mix of live and taped sketches, songs and audience interaction to PlayhouseSquare for the first time.

April 1 AND 2, 14th Street Theatre

LES MISERABLES is in its new 25th anniversary production with new staging and spectacular re-imagined scenery. Part of the Key Bank Broadway Series.

April 5-17, Palace Theatre

AN EVENING WITH LUCILLE BALL: THANK YOU FOR ASKING is a touching, funny one-woman play directed by Ball’s daughter.

April 6-17, 14th Street Theatre

A JEW GROWS IN BROOKLYN is a funny multimedia musical comedy which takes the audience from the Catskills to a family’s survival of the holocaust.

April 27-MAY 1, Hanna Theatre

PASSING STRANGE Baldwin-Wallace students perform a musical about a young bohemian who charts a course for a world of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

April 29-May 1, 14th Street Theatre

WEST SIDE STORY, the musical that changed theater forever. Experience the songs and lines in English and Spanish. Part of the Key Bank Broadway Series.

May 3-15, Palace Theatre

GIRLS NIGHT: THE MUSICAL is a “tell-it-like-it-is” that looks at five female friends, with songs like, “I Will Survive” and “We Are Family.”

May11-22, 14th Street Theatre

For PlayhouseSquare tickets go to www.playhousesquare.org, call 216-241-6000 or go to the box office in the lobby of the State Theatre (M-Sun, 11 am-6pm).


Hanna Theatre 2067 East 14th Street, Cleveland

THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA is a comic Shakespearean epic which tests friendship between two males when a woman enters into their lives.

April 8-23

For tickets go to www.greatlakestheater.org, call 216-241-6000 or go to the playhousesquare box office in the lobby of the State Theatre (M-Sun, 11 am-6pm).


8500 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland

LEGACY OF LIGHT is a time-traveling comedy that contrasts two female scientists in their forties, one, in the age of Enlightenment, one in the present.

April 8 - May 1, Drury Theatre

MARIGOLD WARS fuses together sculpture, puppetry, music and multiple forms of dance to examine the struggle to find reason, peace and beauty.

April 14 - April 17, Baxter Stage

To obtain tickets for MARIGOLD WARS and obtain a list of other FUSION FEST offerings go to www.clevelandplayhouse.com or call 216-795-7000.


2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights

CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION follows five Vermonters as they take an acting class with self and other revealing effects.

April 22-May 15

For tickets call 216-932-3396 or go to http:Dobama.org


103 South High Street, 6th Floor Akron

SOME ENCHANTED EVENING—THE SONGS OF RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN features the classic showstoppers from the R & H repertoire.

April 21-May 22

For tickets call 330-374-7568 or go to http://actorssummit.org


17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood

THE UNDERPANTS is Steve Martin’s comedy about a puritanical bureaucrat and his wife, who becomes a celebrity when her underpants fall down.

April 1-23

For tickets: http:www.beckcenter.org or call 216-521-2540


6415 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland

FEVER/DREAM asks the question: if someone made you CEO of your father’s multi-national corporation for a day, would you go crazy?

April 7-23

I HATE THIS AND THEN YOU DIE is a performance of two solo shows featuring David Hanson about loss and recovery and obsession and victory.

April 7-23

INSOMNIA: THE WAKING OF HERSELVES is a new work about a woman on the brink of some kind of change—death, mental collapse or self-discovery.

April 21-May 7

MY BARKING DOG is Clevelander Eric Coble’s play about two lonely people whose lives change when a starving coyote starts appearing at their doorsteps.

May 12-May 28

CUT TO PIECES is a haunting multi-media solo show which begins as a classic “who done it” and turns into a deep dive into a woman’s psyche.

May 26-June 4

For tickets to CPT shows call 216-631-2727 or go to http://cptonline.org


COMPANY, Stephen Schwartz’s musical about a commitment-phobic bachelor and his married friends. Songs include The Ladies Who Lunch and Being Alive.

April 28-May 15—6622 Wilson Mills Road, Mayfield

For tickets call 440-338-3171 or go to www.fairmountcenter.org


HUCK AND HOLDEN, a coming-of-age tale of an immigrant Indian student who meets an alluring African American woman, by Rejiv Joseph, a Cleveland playwright who is nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

May 6-29—Studio One, Cleveland Play House

For tickets call 216-321-2930


VALPARAISO is a dark and comic probe into media celebrity in our tell-all culture.

March 18-April 16—The Litmus, 2440 Scranton Road, Cleveland

 is an absurdist romp about what happens when the mastodons escape and a friend steps in who has the wonderful bones.

May 13 - June 4

For tickets call 216-687-0074 or go to http://converence-continuum.org

Saturday, March 19, 2011


STOMP lives up to its reputation as the Most Unique Theatre Experience

How is it possible to take a bunch of broomsticks, pots and pans, garbage cans, kitchen sinks, water, plastic bags, Zippo lighters, brooms, dustpans, drums, and car parts, combine them with a troop of performers who don't sing, say lines or do any form of traditional dancing, and create a show that has toured the world for twenty years to sold out audiences. Audiences who come back time and time again to experience the goings on? If you are Steve McNicholas and Luke Cresswell you find a way…and you name it STOMP.

The sounds, which really can't be called music in the traditional sense, focus on percussive beats, rhythm and patterns.

How does the audience react? At the end of the production they screamed, and then screamed for more.

On the way out, Alex, my 15 year-old grandson, shouted over the audience excitement, “That was really, really good!” Musically, he should know. A pianist and composer, he was recently informed that he was the second place winner in the 2011 National Federation Of Music Clubs/The Ohio Federation Of Music Clubs Junior Composers Contest.

Alex enjoyed the combination of musical creation and humor. As he said, “It's pretty hard to hold an audience's attention with just percussion, but they did it. They also had a theme that carried throughout, including each performer having a unique role.” He was so enamored by their sound that as he was listening, he was composing a percussion composition. My only wish is that he use drums, bells, and shakers instead of my hubcaps and his grandmother's soup pots.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The New York Drama Desk gave STOMP its award for Most Unique Theatre Experience. They were right on with that designation. It's a performance well worth seeing!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

SHAKESPEARE ABRIDGED not all that riotous at GLTF

The advertisement for Great Lakes Theater Festival's THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) reads,”3 GUYS. 37 PLAYS. 1 RIOTOUS ROMP.” Yes, there are 3 guys, and 37 plays, well, actually 36 plus HAMLET done 4 times. But, this is not a riotous romp. It is more an uneven production with some very humorous segments, which is often difficult to hear, and gets boring due to the repetition of duplicate shticks and allusions.

The play, whose alternate title is COMPLEAT WRKS OF WLLM SHKSPR (ABRIDGED), was written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, the founding members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. It was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1987 and has become one of the most produced scripts.

As the writers explain the birth of the production, “We decided to do the complete works of Shakespeare in less than two hours. Bill was a pretty good playwright, but he used too many words.”

Though it is a scripted show, much of what happens is ad-libbed by the actors according to the audience reactions. While some audience members are actually brought on stage, and others are addressed by the cast, the whole audience becomes cheering sections. (Warning: if you don't want to become an actual part of the action, avoid sitting in the first few rows, and definitely not in the seats added where the thrust stage usually is place, which is referred to by the cast as the “vomitorium.”)

In sum, the production is a parody of the plays written by William Shakespeare. All of the Bard's comedies, history plays and tragedies are performed, or at least alluded in the two-acts.

As is the case with many of the script's productions, references to local topics of the day are included. The GLTF creation includes visual and verbal comments to LeBron (the traitor of Cleveland), the Browns, SPIDERMAN, THE MUSICAL, Parma and Tom Hanks (did you know he has a favorite urinal in the men's room and the Hanna Theatre bar is named after him?)

GLTF's production is directed by Charles Fee, the king of farce, double-takes and broad interpretations. There are many humorous, downright funny parts of the show, but Fee's seeming obsession to anal references and kicks to the groin become tedious after a while. And, no matter how much you like and admire the guy, how many Tom Hanks references have to be made? After the first ten uses of his name, his urinal and his bar, the impact gets lost.)

The cast, Paul Hurley, Jason O'Connell and M. A. Taylor, who are basically classically trained actors, don't' seem to have the comic timing to pull off all the broad and physical humor. O'Connell does a fun stand-up comedy bit at the start of Act II. Hurley has some fun moments, especially as Hamlet. M. A. Taylor, garbed out in Indians' paraphernalia, is fun at the start of the show, but in other places he doesn't project well. This is especially true when he goes into falsetto when portraying the many women's roles. If we can't hear the lines, we can't laugh at them!

The most entertaining parts of the production centered on the free form segments.

Do you have to know all of the Shakespeare portfolio to appreciate the goings on, to even understand the show? No, but some knowledge helps.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: I've seen CWOWS(A) done before, and done well. Unfortunately, though humorous at times, the GLTF production is long on shticks and short on riotousness.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Asher Lev

Thought provoking ASHER LEV examines family and tradition at CPH

At the start of MY NAME IS ASHER LEV, which is now in production at the Cleveland Play House, a bearded, dark suited young man stands center stage in a spot of light. All attention is focused on him as he states that he is an observant Jew who is also an artist. He is a controversial artist, who has challenged the customs and dictates of his pious Orthodoxy by not only being a painter, but having conceived a blasphemous duo of paintings. Paintings, named Brooklyn Crucifixions, which show his mother as a martyr being crucified on a cross created by the window frame in their Brooklyn apartment from which she watched the world. A martyr for her role as the peace maker between the boy and his father.

Asher, our narrator, takes us on a journey through his life. Age 12…he discovers art when his mother takes him to the Art Museum; age 6…we view his art abilities starting to develop; age 7, his exposure to Chagall and Picasso and the sale of his first painting; the death of his mother's beloved brother, which sends her into a psychological tail spin and causes Asher to stop painting. The tale goes on, carrying the audience through a non-linear emotional roller coaster which ends in a series of events which changes Asher and the family forever.

MY NAME IS ASHER LEV is a play adapted by Aaron Posner from the best selling book by Chaim Potok.

Chaim Potok, an ordained rabbi, writes from the perspective of a man brought up in an Orthodox branch of Judaism which adheres to a strict interpretation of the Talmud and the Torah. In his writing he examines the conflict between secular, religious and individualistic interests. He probes the concept of aesthetic blindness as it relates to moral blindness. His books THE CHOSEN and THE PROMISE brought him world wide fame. MY NAME IS ASHER LEV and a sequel, THE GIFT OF ASHER LEV, continued his exploration of the difficulty of living a strictly religious life in a secular world and the problems it can create in a family.

The CPH production, under the direction of Laura Kepley, is well conceived. Kepley had many decisions to make regarding the staging. She went with minimalism in order to force the audience to become artists. There is no actual art work shown…all the papers and canvases are blank…forcing the viewer to imagine what is there…it stimulates literal visions from imagination. Asher, at all ages, is played by one bearded actor with no costume or makeup changes. We are challenged to imagine Asher from ages 6 to adulthood, while seeing the same physical being. We see the father transitioning into the Rebbe, Asher's uncle and Asher's art teacher. The mother also portrays a nude model and an art gallery owner.

Noel Joseph Allain gives a nicely textured performance as Asher. Elizabeth Raetz, is believable in her roles as mother, art gallery owner and model. Tom Alan Robbins gives fidelity to each of his multiple portrayals.

The simple set, the underscored music, effective lighting and authentic costumes all help create the illusions and carry us on our journey.

One of the questions must be, “Will a person who is not Jewish be able to both understand and feel empathy?” Following the opening night production I talked to A. Grace Lee Mims, the area's well known African American radio show host, who assured me that the message of family and cultural rituals were universal, and she thoroughly enjoyed the production. She shared that reading the program Glossary, which lists the Yiddish and Hebrew terms used in the play, aided in her understanding the Jewish specific vocabulary.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: MY NAME IS ASHER LEV is a well written script which gets a finely conceived production at the Cleveland Play House. Mazel Tov (congratulations) to the director and cast!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Shaw Festival--2011

It's the time of year to start thinking…..THE SHAW FESTIVAL

The brochure has arrived. The season is set. It's time to start thinking about spending some time this spring, summer or fall at the SHAW FESTIVAL.

The Shaw Festival is conducted in four theatres in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, an easy four-hour trip from Cleveland. Once you arrive, you will be entranced by the “most beautiful city in Canada.” Lovely flowers, classical home architecture and unusual shops make for an inviting experience.

This season's theatre offerings are: MY FAIR LADY (“The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves but how she is treated”)…Lerner and Loewe's enchanting “I could have danced all night” musical; THE ADMIRABLE CRICHTON (“There must always, my lady be one to command and others to obey”)…J. M. Barrie's delightful subversive comic fantasy; DRAMA AT INISH-A COMEDY (“We were all more or less happy and comfortable, good tempered and jolly-until these plays began to put ideas into our heads”)-Lennox Robinson's Irish comedy gem; ON THE ROCKS (“So much for the carrot, here comes the stick”)…G. B. Shaw's provocative tale about whether the prime minister has lost his sanity; MARIA SEVERA (“I am flesh and blood, I am heart and mind, and I am song”) Jay Turvey and Paul Sportelli's romantic musical; CANDIDA (“We all go about longing for love; it is the first need of our natures, the loudest cry of our hearts.”)…GB Shaw's charming comedy about the classic love triangle; CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (“What is the victory of the cat on a hot tine roof? Just staying on it, I guess, as long as she can”)…Tennessee Williams' sultry Pulitzer Prize winning play about respect, sex and maybe, somewhere, love; THE PRESIDENT (“It must be very wonderful, sir, to have almost all mankind at your disposal.”)…a return engagement of Ferenc Molnar's fast-paced comedy which was a 2008 Festival smash hit; TOPDOG/UNDERDOG (“You pick that card that's the loser, you pick that card you pick a winner, follow that card, and you gotta chase that card”)…Suzan-Lori Parks harsh and humane tale of Lincoln and Booth, two brothers who fight for survival after being abandoned by their parents; WHEN THE RAIN STOPS FALLING (“The past is a mystery, and yet, perhaps it will be easier to explain than the fish.”)…Australian Andrew Bovell's tale of a father who gets an unexpected phone call from his long lost son just as a fish falls from the sky.

Besides the plays themselves, the Festival includes a play reading series, pre-cast chats, Tuesday Q&A, Saturday conversations, Sunday coffee concerts and backstage tours. Also check out the Shaw Workshops for Adults and the Teen Workshops. On July 23 and 24, join a debate and discussion of provocative ideas with Tony Kushner (ANGELS IN AMERICA), Michael Billington, the theatre critic of The Guardian, and Suzan-Lori Parks (TOPDOG/UNDERDOG).

The area itself is filled with activities ranging from a golf course within the city limits; an art park (www.artpark.net), The Good Earth Cooking School (www.goodearthcooking.com), an international chamber music festival (www.niagramusicfest.com), learning vacations at Niagara College (www.niagaralearning vacations.com), bike paths, Mystery on the Lake (www.motl.ca), and a Niagara river jet boat trip.

The Niagara area is dotted with wineries, many of which, besides offering wine tastings and sales, have fine dining facilities.

There are some wonderful restaurants including Queenston Heights Restaurant (www.queenstonheights.com). It is located in a park just over the US-Canadian border and has a breathtaking view of the Niagara River gorge. (Make a reservation and ask for a window table.) A real find is the restaurant at the Niagara Culinary Institute (www.niagaracollege.ca/dining), at which student chefs hone their skills. And my new favorite, is The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King St.)

The area has many excellent hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. Our home away from home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (www.wellington.house@sympatico.ca), directly across the street from The Festival Theatre. For information on other B&Bs go to www.niagaraonthelake.com/showbedandbreakfasts.

For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to www.shawfest.com. Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets. Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets and senior matinee prices.

Helpful hint: A passport is a border crossing requirement!

Go to the Shaw Festival! Find out what lovely hosts Canadians are, and see some great theatre!

Stratford Festival of Canada 2011 season

It's that time…plan for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival of Canada

Want to get away this spring, summer or fall? How about a drive to Canada for great theatre, good food, and nice scenery? Where? The Stratford Festival of Canada which takes place in Stratford, Ontario.

This season's productions are: THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (A would-be seducer, a jealous husband and two resourceful housewives in a ballet of wits and wiles…Shakespeare), CAMELOT (A gorgeous musical score gilds a legendary tale of idealism, passion and betrayal…Lerner and Loewe), TWELFTH NIGHT (a riot of mischief-making and misplaced desire, considered the greatest romantic comedy of all time, starring Brian Dennehy…Shakespeare), THE MISANTHROPE (social critic meets social butterfly in a comedy of manners which is widely hailed as Moliere's masterpiece, starring Brian Bedford), THE GRAPES OF WRATH (Tony Award-winning drama based on the book by John Steinbeck, tells a story of endurance and hope), JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (The rock opera that reinvented musical theatre for the modern age…Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber), THE HOMECOMING (The family is the ultimate combat zone in this darkly witty drama by Harold Pinter which stars Brian Dennehy), RICHARD III (a serial killer who wears a crown, with Ms. Seana McKenna as Richard!…Shakespeare), TITUS ANDRONICUS (considered the most shocking of Shakespeare's plays, Roman general Titus brings home his captive Queen Tamora, which results in a cycle of grotesque revenge…Shakespeare), SHAKESPEARE'S WILL (a portrait of Anne Hathaway, one of history's most famous women…Vern Thiessen), THE LITTLE YEARS (an inspiring look at an uncommon woman who is denied her role in life because of her sex…John Mighton), HOSANINA (a raw, tragic and outrageously fun Canadian classic, which examines the political and the personal…Michel Tremblay, in translation).

Besides their regularly scheduled plays, the Festival offers stage-side chats, the Celebrated Writers Series, Night Music, Table Talks, pre-show lectures, lobby talks, public lectures, the teaching Shakespeare School and The Teachers' Conference.

What's the lodging like? Hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts abound to fit any wallet. I like a b & b. You get to meet new people and there is a nice friendly feel of being a guest. I'm trying a new one this year. I'll let you know if it passes the test in my mid-summer review about the Festival.

Hungry? For moderate cost and high quality, try The Annex Cafe (38 Albert Street). For a relaxed and fairly inexpensive breakfast treat try Demetre's Family Eatery (1100 Ontario Street). Cleveland theatrical legends Dorothy and Reuben Silver, who are Stratford regulars, recommend The Waterlot Restaurant and Inn (17 Huron Street behind the Royal Bank) in New Hamburg, which is about 20 minutes away “and well worth the trip.”(www.waterlot.com) Also on their favorites list is The Keystone Alley Cafe (34 Brunswick Street) in Stratford (www.keystonealley.com) which has an outdoor patio.

Packages can be arranged by www.theatrevacations.com. Stratford Escapes (theatrevacations.com), is an efficient way to make reservations. For individual tickets call 800-567-1600 or go on-line to www.stratfordfestival.ca.

Helpful hints: The ride from Cleveland is about six hours through Buffalo. Go on-line to the festival to get directions. The routings offered by both the AAA and Yahoo maps are confusing and miles longer. And, to satisfy border requirements carry your passport. Nothing else will do).

Go to Stratford, Canada! Find out what lovely hosts Canadians are, and see some great theatre!

Sunday, March 06, 2011


DARWINNII, fascinating theatre at CPT

The place is the Storefront Studio at Cleveland Public Theatre. The visual setting is a red carpet, approximately 20 by 3 feet with a trunk at one end and a shrine-like stand at the other, with two rows of tightly packed chairs on each side of the runway. The vehicle is Glen Berger's DARWINNI, THE COMUPPANCE OF MAN. The performer is Brett Keyser, who has collaborated frequently with CPT's Artistic Director Raymond Bobgan. Their local presentations include CPT's award winning BLUE SKY TRANSMISSION: A TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD.

Darwinii is a Latin word referring to English naturalist Charles Darwin, thus the title of the play. Darwinii is also a species of the barberry plant family. a native of southern Chile and Argentina, which is the physical setting of the play, but other than that has nothing to do with the plot. Well, maybe not.

The name Glen Berger may sound familiar. He is the author of several Best Play award winning scripts, and is presently in the news as the co-writer, with Julie Taymor, of the much hyped SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK. Yes, that SPIDER-MAN! The long previewed, but still officially unopened fate-filled Broadway production. But, as problematic as the musical is, DARWINNI is not troublesome. Well, that is unless you like your plays to be unencumbered by having to imagine what's going on, to create worlds in your mind, and to force you to play with concepts that lead you in one direction, suddenly take you on a sidetrack, and then take you down a dead end to another idea.

DARWINNI is fascinating theatre. Brett Keyser is a fascinating performer. The entire experience is therefore, fascinating. And, a laugh hoot and educational experience, to top it off.

DARWINNI is, according to Bobgan, “a journey of discovery into where we come from, with a strong sense that if we can learn this, then we may come to a better understanding of ourselves.”

The journey is lead by a delightful, illiterate con man who takes us on a mind glide that includes Charles Darwin's discoveries, the character's questionable parenthood, a path of discovery to ascertain whether our guide is really the great-great-great-great grandson of the man who gave us the Theory of Evolution, what is the real meaning of a scrap of paper hidden beneath the cover of a family Bible, and where in hell is Ushuaia. Actually, I know the answer to that one…I've travelled to Patagonia, the tip of Argentina, where the lighthouse at the end of the world is located in Ushuaia, but I have no clear idea of any of the truth of rest of the goings on.

Though the whole experience sounds abstract, it isn't. It's great theatre, creative literary invention, and a fun experience.

Don't be surprised, since you are basically sitting on stage, if you are asked questions, requested to read aloud from secret documents, and politely confronted by the maniacal performer.
Capsule judgement: DARWINNI is one of those fascinating pieces of theatricality that is a delight to behold. It's not theatre for everyone, but if you are the type of person who likes fringe festival offerings, you'll run to the telephone now and make an appointment to be taken on a special journey.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Shrek the Musical

SHREK THE MUSICAL delights at Palace

Ian, my 11 year old grandson, one of the kid reviewers who I take to shows which are billed as tween and teen friendly to ascertain how younger audience members will like the offering, leaned over following the curtain call of SHREK THE MUSICAL, and smilingly said, “I really liked that!” Complete with ogre ears on his head, he went on to say that he thought the talking Donkey was “hysterical” and filled me in on how the 30-foot dragon was operated by four puppeteers. He thought that “kids and adults of all ages would have fun at the show,” but should know that “it is very long” (about 2 and a half hours).

I agree with Ian. SHREK, part of the Broadway series, is lighting up the stage at the Palace. It is delightful.

This is not an almost-like Broadway production. The sets, costumes and special effects are all there. According to Gina Vernaci, the Vice President of Theatricals for Playhousesquare, Eric Peterson, who portrays Shrek, gets to the theatre two hours before curtain to get into makeup. It takes 10 trailers, each 53 feet long, to transport the show on each of its moves. This compares to the seven trucks that brought in last month's SOUTH PACIFIC. There are 33 containers of costumes. The typical musical travels with 12. This is not a cheapie production! There is even a full, if sometimes overloud, orchestra.

SHREK has music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire. It is based on the 1990 book SHREK! by William Steig, as well as the 2001 DreamWorks film. It opened in New York in December of 2008, after much rewriting and many cast changes, and ran for 441 performances. The touring production has been altered from the original Broadway show with the addition and deletion of songs, a new opening and improved illusions. The biggest alteration is the size and operation of the dragon. It is spectacular, and Carrie Compere, its voice, wailes a new song, “Forever.”

The story concerns a swamp-dwelling ogre who, as a child, was sent away by his parents to find his own path. Big, green and ugly, the belching, gas passer, goes on a life-changing adventure when his land is invaded by a slew of fairy tale characters (e.g., Pinocchio, Wicked Witch, Sugar Plum Fairy, the 3 Bears, Peter Pan, Ugly Ducking and Big Bad Wolf) and by the mean, vertically challenged Lord Farquaad. In order to get his land back, Shrek must rescue Fiona, a cursed lovely princess, fight a dragon, and figure out what to do with a smart-mouthed talking donkey, who becomes his “best friend.” Hey, this is a fairy tale, remember? All in all, the ridiculousness works, and works well. And, yes, there is a happy ending.

The music is infectious. I defy anyone to sit through “I'm a Believer” and not rock and roll in your seat. Other highlights include: “I Know It's Today,” “Who I'd Be,” “Morning Person,” and the hysterical “Don't Let Me Go.”

The cast is outstanding. Eric Peterson (Shrek) has a big voice, a nice touch with comedy, and burps with the best of them. Holly Ann Butler is delightful as Princess Fiona. She lights up the stage and equals Peterson in burping and gas passing. Alan Mingo, Jr. is donkey perfect! Blakely Slaybaugh, complete with growing nose, makes Pinocchio live. David E. M. Vaughn is wonderful as Lord Farquaad.

The choreography and costumes add to the overall delight.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Okay, I'm a sucker for a well staged, fun musical. SHREK fits the bill. I left humming the songs and smiling as many of the kids and adults walked out wearing their ogre ears, proudly stating that they had became believers!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Inlet, Verb Ballets

Dance, dance, dance, dance

Roy Berko

(Member, Dance Critics Association)

Over the past few weeks the dance scene in the area has exploded. Four major concerts were scheduled…. Groundworks, Inlet Dance, Verb Ballets and Ohio Dance Theatre were all on stage. Unfortunately, due to the horrific weather, I only got to see two of the programs.


Inlet's SURPISING. INSPIRING. COLORFUL!, staged at the Chagrin Falls Performing Arts Center, featured revivals of past programs. The company is blessed with a strong corps. Joshua Brown and Justin Stentz are two of the most talented male dancers in the area. The duo exudes physical power and movement skills. Wisely, the ever-creative choreographer, Bill Wade, builds pieces around his testosterone duo. Inlet's females, Makaela Clark, Mackenzie Clevenger and Elizabeth Pollert are equally proficient. Since the company is an educational as well as performance troop, the regular dancers are often blended with young emerging talents. When this happens, as was obvious in ASCENSION, there is an obvious difference between the quality of the movements between the company members and the students. But with their company mission, this is acceptable.

The highlights of the Chagrin program were: SNOW, which found the dancers twirling, floating, doing smooth lifts and powerful moves, forming visual images of snow falling and moving; A CLOSE SHAVE, which has emerged into a signature piece, was delightful as Brown and Stentz displayed gymnastic moves with power and physical control as they mirrored each other while performing morning rituals. WONDEROUS BEASTS found the dancers transformed into creatures who hopped, jumped and made head thrusts while dressed in Kristin Wade's glorious costumes. The three and five year olds sitting behind me expressed awe and wonder during this segment of the program. IMPAIRED, a piece developed to illustrate life without sight, in which Brown and Mackenzie Clevenger perform the entire number while wearing blindfolds, brought positive audience reactions.

I can only wonder why Wade chose to end the program with BEAUTY IN TENSION, which finds the dancers covered over by stretch material trying to escape from the anxiety ridden times in which we live, thus leaving the audience on a downer, a well-done performance, but a downer just the same, rather than with the cartoon pop art romp BALListic in which the dancers proficiently frolic with huge red exercise balls to the delight of viewers.


Performing before a sold-out house at the Breen Center, Verb Ballets's OPEN YOUR IMAGINATION was an evening of premieres.

Danced to throbbing sounds, TO HAVE AND TO HOLD, which was choreographed by Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith, was dedicated to those who have loved and lost but are not forgotten. It featured the cast flipping and vaulting over, sliding on and under three benches while they intertwined in symmetrical and asymmetrical groupings. Unfortunately, the male dancers were not always in sync, which weakened the overall effect.

NOUNEMON MOBILUS, danced to atonal percussion music, found three dancers encased in stretch sacks of material creating visual images. BREATH, choreographed by the talented Terence Greene, featured the entire company, plus students from Greene's classes at the Cleveland School of the Arts. A powerful segment featured Brian Murphy and Terrence Greene. AMBIGIUOUS DRIVES, choreographed by Tommie-Waheed Evans, which featured the wonderful Katie Gnagy, was a fine creation consisting of balletic movements and some compelling lifts.

I believe that Verb Ballets is at a crossroads. The largest of the local dance companies, it continues to attract big audiences, but, if the comments I heard following the latest program are an indication, the sheen is wearing off. The company membership remains stagnant. They have an excellent corps of females dancers. Brian Murphy is the only male dancer who has the finite ability to do both quality solo and corps work. More effort needs to be made to attract proficient males. A quality company cannot continue with dancers who are over the hill, or are not well trained and lacking in experience, or fill in with apprentices. Verb's purpose is not as a training school. It bills itself as Cleveland's National Repertory Dance Company. Yes, proficient male dancers are hard to find, but if Groundworks and Inlet can succeed in finding them, why can't Verb?