Wednesday, January 29, 2014
I love this. Bravo to you for writing about this fantastic stage manager [Lynda Lavin]. I will be sharing this with my (33) young students who work as stage managers here at Akron School for the Arts.
When those with musical know-how think Carl Topilow, they conjure--Cleveland Pops Orchestra, multi-hued clarinets, a virtuoso who is equally at home in both classical and popular music modes, Cleveland Institute of Music, guest conductor of over 110 orchestras in the US, and such countries as Canada, China, England, Korea, Mexico, Switzerland and Venezuela. Yes, Topilow is a very talented and renowned person in the field of music.
His reputation, in part, is based on his unique approach to pops programming. He is noted for his openness to such factors as audience involvement and approaching the selection of programs with an open mind to innovation.
His creativity will be on display when the Cleveland Pops Orchestra presents “THE LEGACY OF MARVIN HAMLISCH: ONE SINGULAR SENSATION” on February 21 at Severance Hall. The program will feature Broadway legends Donna McKechnie, Jodi Benson and Doug LaBrecque. The trio, along with Topilow will not only perform, but share their past experiences with the recently deceased Hamlisch.
In an interview, Topilow shared that the concert will contain a medley of the music of Scott Joplin, which Hamlisch incorporated when writing the music for the movie “THE STING.” Included will be “The Entertainer” and “Easy Winners,” which will feature Topilow as clarinet soloist, and “Solace,” which will be a piano solo.
Hamlisch is probably best known for composing the score for the legendary musical, “A CHORUS LINE,” including “What I Did for Love,” and “At the Ballet.” Hamlisch also wrote such memorable songs as “The Way We Were,” “Through the Eyes of Love,” “Nobody Does it Better” and “They’re Playing Our Song.” All of these will be heard at the concert.
Hamlisch, according to Topilow, wrote many lesser known songs which will be played in the concert, including such songs as “Ordinary Miracles,” “One Song,”, “Smile,” “Disneyland,” and “Dreamers.”
The conductor was fortunate to have met Hamlisch when Topilow served as his designated driver when he was in town for an engagement.
He also shared that, in contrast to most Cleveland Pops concerts, “The majority of the commentary and audience interaction will come from our guest vocalists, rather than from me.”
When probed about how he handles all of his assignments, he indicated that the major skill is “organizing, figuring out what to do.” “Most people think of the responsibility of the conductor to be standing in front of the orchestra and indicating what should be played and when. Not true,” shares Topilow. He “organizes the performances and all aspects of the programs….dancers, choruses, guest performers, video…working for balanced programs.”
To see Topilow and the Cleveland Pops in action: “MARVIN HAMLISCH: ONE SINGULAR SENSATION,” February 21, 2014 at 8 p.m. in Severance Hall. For tickets, which range in price from $2 to $82, go to the Severance Hall box office, or call 216-231-1111 or online at http://www.clevelandpops.com.
Saturday, January 25, 2014
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)
Annie Baker, the 33-year old multi award winning author of THE ALIENS, now in production at Dobama, is considered by many theatre and literary critics to be one of the freshest and most talented dramatists of this decade. Baker, whose style mirrors that of Anton Chekov, one of the leaders of 20th century modernism, writes realistic characters who emerge in lines that lend themselves to subtle and thoughtful presentation.
Her style is that of a slow pace, not choppy, but insightful, with pauses for thought, and silence for introspection. Lighting and smoking of a cigarette, sitting and looking at nothing, strumming a guitar, are all devices to allow for meaningful thought. She develops ideas through subtlety, not screaming or excessive drama.
Baker has written five praised plays in 6 years. She has won Obie and Drama Desk Awards.
THE ALIENS, like most of Baker’s works is more character study than plot driven. The concept centers on a pair of thirty-somethings who seem to exert little effort to move through life. KJ, who still lives with his mother, is a college dropout, has had psychological problems and needs to stay on his meds. Jasper graduated from high school and has been sliding along since then.
The duo are “slacker dudes,” who find little of society to their liking, but don’t seemingly have the energy to take action. Both are unshaven, probably because the act of shaving might require more energy and focus than they can expend. They aren’t lazy, just haven’t found anything to motivate them.
They sit on a park bench or old plastic patio chairs behind a coffee shop, choosing not to interact with the patrons inside, sharing random thoughts only with each other. The duo commiserate about music, philosophy and Charles Bukowski, a confessional poet, who is considered the father of Dirty Realism.
Like Bukowski, they think about writing, alcohol, relationships with women and the drudgery of work. KJ periodically scribbles ideas for a book. They formed a band, couldn’t agree on a name, kind of settling on the name, “The Aliens,’ but are still pondering that “almost” decision. Until they do so, they can’t act. They are aliens, not in the other world sense, but in their being alienated.
Into their private world enters Evan, a high school junior who is a new employee at the coffee shop. Evan, a shy, sexually and unworldly naïve youth with the teenage angst. Slowly, they decide to teach him all about the world from their perspective as they adopt him as their “club mascot.” He becomes so attached to them that they are labeled by him as, “my best friends.”
Dobama’s production, under the focused direction of Nathan Motta, is completely true to Baker’s script and insights.
As the Artistic Director of Dobama said in his opening night, before-curtain talk, “This is a delicate piece.” “Not a word is wasted.” “ It’s effect not only centers on what is said, but how it is said.” “This is a script filled with compassionate meditation.” “From one-third to one-half of the stage time is filled with silence.” “The audience has to work, you can’t just sit passively.” “These are two isolated outcast thirty-year olds that are identifiable to people their age…we [the Silent Generation, also referred to as Generation Z] all know guys like this.”
Alexander V. Thompson (KJ), Matt O’Shea (Jasper), and Joseph Dunn (Evan) are each superb. They create real people, not portraying the characters, but experiencing these guys. It would be difficult to cast a more perfect trio. They assume the needed pace with a fervor, making sure that each needed pause, each over-extended act of lighting a cigarette, each introspective glance, is perfectly perceived.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: In spite of the quality of writing and superb production, THE ALIENS is not a play for everyone. As Motta said, "experiencing this play takes work. It is not exciting." There is only one incident of high drama. The laughs are few. (It was interesting that on opening night, the only emotional reactions came from a scattering of Generation Z’ers.) If you attend, let the play simmer in your head and see what emerges. It’s worth the effort.
THE ALIENS runs through February 23, 2014 at Dobama Theatre. Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.
Lavin, who admits to being a “good organizer” and possessing “fine management skills” worked as the stage manager for the 1978 national tour of “ANNIE.” As she indicated in a recent interview, “I got hooked on being an off-stage star.”
What does a production stage manager do? According to Lavin, “I sit in on rehearsals, work with understudies, and watch each performance, keeping an eye on the production time and insure that the performances stay true to the vision of the story. My job is to maintain the artistic integrity. I’m a maintenance person, a jack of all trades. I work with the sound, lights, load in, manage the crew, coordinate all the departments. I’m a little bit of a psychologist and mentor.”
One of the highlights of the “ANNIE” tour was the show’s run at the Hanna Theatre. Coming “home” gave her an opportunity to visit her brother who lives in Geauga county, and to hook up with other family members who live in Ashland and Columbus.
A highlight of coming back to Cleveland with a show is “being able to work in the Playhousesquare complex.” As she said, “I was here when everything was all closed up. I’m thrilled to come back to see what has happened in the area. Its such a joy to have a city and community make it work. Actors and production people look forward to coming to the complex. These buildings are theatre palaces. Not many of those are left in this country.”
Spending months and months living out of a suitcase fits her personality and desired life style. “Touring, being away from home, is a way of life for me. I don’t need a lot of stuff. I’m not a collector of things, not a shopper. When I need a break, I go home to my place in Las Vegas. This life style isn’t good or bad, it’s just different. It’s opened opportunities to travel. I’ve been in every state in the U.S. and spent time in Japan, Australia, Mexico, Europe, and the Middle East.”
She was in Dubai just before she came to Cleveland with the touring company of “CHICAGO,” which recently played the Palace Theatre.
The challenge of a touring show is making sure that everything gets where it’s supposed to be in time to open the show. For Cleveland’s showing of “CHICAGO,” the cast had to fly16 hours. They arrived on Sunday afternoon for a Tuesday evening opening. Some replacement cast members had to be integrated into the show. The set and everything from post-it notes to computers to musical scores had to get here. It was Lavin’s responsibility to organize all of this and make sure the show remained fresh. (It was. For a review of the production, go to http://www.royberko.info
What’s the best way to learn the skills of stage managing? Lavin says that she gained her skills by contacting stage managers of touring shows, ask them for advice, and watch them call the shows. She says, “Education is important, but real life experience is necessary.”
How does she find her jobs? “I do a lot of networking. I meet other stage managers, follow the Broadway season, connect with production managers, let shows know that are going to tour to contact me. I go to NY once a year and put in bids.“ Fortunately 35 successful years in the business has made her a commodity who is sought after.
Her response to her being mistaken for the “other” Linda Lavin (Linda with an “i” rather than a “y”), the famous television and theatre star, included tales of gaining from the similarity of names. She laughed as she said, “I get nice hotel rooms, it helps in making dinner reservations in LA and NY, gets me through to deal with secretaries and theatre people.” Ah, what’s in a name.
Life is never dull for Lavin. She likes it that way!
For more information on this dynamic woman go to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Local youth showcase talent to benefit Cincinnati boy struck by lightning
Twelve-year-old Ethan Kadish was enjoying playing frisbee last summer at a camp in Indiana when he was struck by lightning with no warning. Ethan has suffered severe brain damage. He is now 13, and his situation is still very serious. His brain is struggling to make new connections, and he has a very long road ahead. He is fighting to regain the ability to walk and talk.
Friends who know Ethan and his family and many others touched by this random tragedy wanted to find a way to help. Alex Berko, a Solon High School senior who was born in Cincinnati and whose family has been friends with the Kadishes for many years; and Greg Davidson, a Solon High school freshman who has spent many summers at Goldman Union Camp Institute, the same camp Ethan attended, wanted to do something concrete to help Ethan's recovery.
Ethan loves music and theatre and was featured in MUSIC MAN last school year. The boys decided that they could honor Ethan's love of music and put their own talents to good use and engage many of their friends.
Ethan loves music and theatre and was featured in MUSIC MAN last school year. The boys decided that they could honor Ethan's love of music and put their own talents to good use and engage many of their friends.
Alex will be playing piano and singing in a quartet. Greg will be leading a sing-along of some of his camp favorites and singing a song from MUSIC MAN. Other friends who love the stage will also be lending their voices to this cause. These include: Ally Benjamin, Sam Benjamin, Jessie Pollak, Charlotte Fallick, Brett Castro, Elliot Lang, Kyle Fisher from Solon High School and Alexa Askari from Orange High School.
Many others friends will be joining the group to help orchestrate the program, including Dylan Seigler, a Solon resident and University School student who was a cabin mate of Ethan’s last summer; and Sara Schwalberg, an Ithaca College sophomore who was one of Ethan’s unit counselors at Goldman Union Camp Institute last summer. Cantor Laurel Barr will be providing accompaniment.
The event will take place Sunday, February 9, 2014at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, 23737 Fairmount Boulevard at 7:30pm. The concert is free to attend but donations are strongly encouraged.
Ethan’s family learned that his yearly medical expenses could top $1 million. To assist with the immense task of financing uninsured therapies, home modifications and other injury-related expenses, a fundraising campaign in Ethan's honor has been established with HelpHOPELive (http://www.helphopelive.org/.) All contributions are tax deductible and will support HelpHOPELive, part of the Great Lakes Catastrophic Injury Fund, a non-profit organization that is helping Ethan's family.
To learn more about Ethan, visithttp://jointeamethan.org.
Posted by Roy Berko at 1:17 PM
Monday, January 20, 2014
PHOTOGRAPH 51 is a bio-drama based on the life of Rosalind Franklin, a British biophysicist and crystallographer. Many think she should have been a Noble prize-recipient, but her standoffish personality, perfectionism, and some seemingly unethical actions by others, as well as the possibility of gender discrimination against her, got in the way.
Franklin, who was born into an affluent and influential British Jewish family, was responsible for making critical contributions to the understanding of the double helix, thus defining the molecular structures of DNA, RNA and viruses. Her brilliant career was brought to a close when she died at age 37 of ovarian cancer.
Anna Ziegler’s script was not developed in a traditional manner. The play, which was presented at the 2011 World Science Festival in New York, was originally developed by The Ensemble Studio Theatre under the sponsorship of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science and Technology Project. Yes, a play developed with the aid of an organization which is noted for sponsoring scientific achievement, not the arts.
Franklin’s tale is complex and shows a smart woman, operating in a field dominated by men. It highlights the 1953 era when Franklin and several male scientists are on the verge of discovering what they called, “the secret of life—the DNA double helix.”
We observe Franklin both trying and avoiding forming any type of relationship, professional or personal. We watch her struggle with her being concise, impatient, and directly confrontational, which irritates and unnerves her male co-workers.
We observe her being ahead of the pack in discovery, but not writing the needed journal articles or the building of models, which eventually leads to her ideas being usurped and published by Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins. This resulted in the trio winning the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine.
Supposedly, Franklin was omitted from Nobel recognition because she had died, and the deceased are not allowed to receive the award. In reality, she had been eliminated from consideration when the trio “stole” her work, tweaked the findings, and published it without noting her contributions.
The Actors’ Summit production is exceptionally well done. The one-hundred-ten minute play, under the focused direction of Neil Thackaberry, moves swiftly. The script is strong and, in spite the fact that this is a “talk” rather than an action play, the production grabs and holds attention. The acting is generally of a high level.
Sally Groth inhabits the role of Rosalind. We are caught up in her inner anguish, her obsessive personality, her struggle to move beyond her lack of social graces. This is a woman on a mission, but makes some tactical decisions that deny her deserved fame.
Keith Stevens creates in Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind’s supposed research partner, a clear person who has a love/hate relationship with her. Kenneth Leep is outstanding as Don Casper, the American who admires Rosalind’s work and has romantic feelings toward her, which she rejects. Zach Griffin is wonderful as Ray Gosling, Rosalind’s put-upon assistant, who provides some comic relief.
Capsule judgement: PHOTOGRAPH 51 is a well written script which gets a very strong production. The play is a must see for anyone who wants to be exposed to what, for most, will be a venture into the complex world of science that is presented in a meaningful way, by a cast that makes the lesson fascinating.
For tickets to PHOTOGRAPH 51, which runs through February 2, call 330-374-7568 or go to www.actorssummit.org
Posted by Roy Berko at 4:41 PM
Review of the Reviewer's review of YENTL: Joel Arndt
I have to agree with you on this one. You summed it up perfectly. We saw the production Saturday night and it was disappointing. Again, no Cleveland standing ovation along with only one curtain call which speaks volumes. My answer to someone who asked me how it was was "our dinner after the performance was more memorable". It's a shame because I feel the overall subject matter has a relevance to what's happening today. I'm just glad the tickets were a gift.
Friday, January 17, 2014
Cleveland Museum of Natural History
1 Wade Oval Drive, Cleveland
Inlet world premieres a work based on the Museum's newest exhibit, Nature's Mating Games: Beyond the Birds and the Bees in a concert of nature inspired works! Ticket information and time to be announced.
January 25-26 (Saturday 8pm, Sunday 3 pm)
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
Ohio Theatre -PlayhouseSquare
Making their Cleveland debut, 16 classically trained dancers integrate ballet with contemporary forms. $20-$50. Tickets: 216-241-6000 or www.playhousesquare.org
March 8—8 PM
Trisha Brown Dance Company
PlayhouseSquare - Ohio Theatre
Last chance to see the legendary Trisha Brown Dance as the company embarks on its final year of touring and public performances.
Tickets: $20 - $70 Tickets: 216-241-6000 or www.playhousesquare.org
April 12th--8:00 PM
Jessica Lang Dance
PlayhouseSquare - Ohio Theatre
The innovative company features contemporary dance that goes hand-in-hand with the music, opera and mixed media compositions that she collaborates with.
Tickets: $20 - $45 Tickets: 216-241-6000 or www.playhousesquare.org
OHIO BALLET THEATER
Dancing with The Stars Gala
Oberlin Inn, Oberlin, Ohio
May 9 &10
Hall Auditorium, Oberlin, Ohio
For information go to: http://ohiodancetheatre.org
The Breen Center
2008 W. 30th Street, Cleveland
The program includes a world premiere ballet by William Anthony of Denmark choreographed to Bach music. Then, the choreography is repeated to African drumming led by Linda Thomas Jones. Also, on the docket is the world premiere of a work by Richard Dickinson set to a country western theme. $28 and $23, student discount with ID. Tickets: 1-888-71-Tickets
JANUARY 31—8 PM
11400 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland
April 10 - May 3
Gordon Square Theatre--7:30pm
6415 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland
Four weeks of contemporary dance as companies premiere new works and revive celebrated performances at CPT's annual showcase.
April 10-12—Inlet Dance Theatre
April 17-19—Travesty and Double Edge
April 24-26—Anteaeus and Shen & Bones
May 1-3—Verb Ballets
Tickets: cptonline.org or by calling 216-631-2727
Thursday, January 16, 2014
The play had a short Broadway run in 1975, but the story is best known to the general public because of the film version, which was written, produced and directed by and starred Barbara Streisand.
The tale centers on Yentl, a girl whose father, a learned Orthodox Rabbi, defies religious custom and teaches his daughter to read and debate Jewish law and theology. When he dies, she is at a loss as to how to continue to learn, to achieve. She cuts off her hair, dresses as a young man, enters a “yeshiva” (a religious training school), and lives as a man.
Her unusual friendship with Avigdor, her study partner, and marriage to Hadass, Avigdor’s former fiancé, sets the story on a track of intrigue.
To truly understand “YENTL,” requires a knowledge of Orthodox Judaism as practiced in the shetls (villages) of pre-World War II eastern Europe, as well as Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Orthodox Judaism centers on the belief in one, all knowing God, and adherence to a strict interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah. The belief system in Eastern Europe, before the Holocaust, intertwined religious laws with traditions, mysticism and superstitions. These beliefs carried over into patterns of daily life and influenced such things as the foods eaten, the patterns for birth and marriage and death, the clothing worn, and the role of males and females.
Singer lived for much of his formative years in a Polish/Russian shtetl, and was well trained in all aspects of Orthodox Judaism.
The winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, Singer, like his greatest literary influences, Chekhov and Maupassant, is a realist and writer of personal morality. He is noted for his stark depictions of innocence crushed by circumstance. His characters often are traumatized, desperate and caught up in intra-familial strife. His writing often depicts Jews having personal religious conflicts.
His modern thoughts led to his writing about what he referred to as “female homosexuality” and “transvestism.” He considered the latter to be one of the driving forces in, “YENTL THE YESHIVA BOY.” Yentl’s assertions that she is “neither one sex nor another” and “has the soul of a man in the body of woman” leads to the assumption that she could well have transgendered tendencies. In addition, Yentl’s true love for both Avigdor and Hadass, and their returning of that love, blurs the lines between love of women for women, women for men and men for men.
In contrast to Sholem Aleichem, Singer’s rival for being the voice of the now gone life pattern of the Eastern European Jewish people, Singer was serious in his writing, seldom using, as Sholem Aleichem did, humor and playful irony to gain his point.
It is the consideration of this last issue, that leads to awareness of one of the weaknesses of the Cleveland Play House production. Director Michael Perlman shows a carefree hand in developing the script. From the onset, there seems to be a desire to lighten up the proceedings. The cast mingles with the audience before the production starts, joking, interacting. They are in costume, but ignore Jewish tradition of men not touching or hugging women, setting a confusing tone. The before curtain remarks are done jokingly in Yiddish and English. The idea is clever, but doesn’t set the right tone for this script. YENTL is not a comedy. If taken as such, much of the intended meaning disappears.
On the positive side, Therese Anderger as Hadass, Ben Melh as Avigdor and Rebecca Gibel, as Yentl are all excellent. They develop clear characterizations. Dorothy Silver adds the proper tone as Yachna. (BTW...for the uninitiated, Yachna, and the other women sometimes spit three times through forked fingers when they are discussing a positive action, such as a marriage or a birth. This is an old superstitious action to ward off the “meesa meshina,” the evil spirit.)
But, production questions abound.
Depending on which area a person comes from, pronunciations differ. But the Hebrew pronunciations should have been uniform to represent that these people are from the same place. Why the great variance of Hebraic sounds?
Most of the cast speaks in standard English, representing commonality of language, but one cast member uses an indefinable accent and overplays his part for laughs. Why?
A general air of superficiality invades the production. Why? Unless done with reality, the play loses its “tam” (Yiddish for taste), fringes on mockery of the way of life being depicted, and weakens the accomplishment of the author’s purpose.
Robin Vest’s scenic design, risers to depict multi-settings, with its symbolic “chuppah (a canopy, in this case covering the home of action for the play) generally works, but the set for the important “mikvah” (ritual bath) scene lacks clarity and realism.
Potential audience members should be aware that there is both male and female nudity in the production.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: The opening night audience for YENTL failed to give the standard Cleveland standing ovation. This might be construed as an omen that there was a disconnect between the viewers and the production. It’s too bad. YENTL is an important script, which tells a fascinating story of a writer, ahead of his time, who weaves Jewish history with modern issues. I wanted so much to really be swept away by the production. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
YENTL runs through February 2, 2014 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.
Yes, that about sums up the show, which centers on four women, wandering the many floors of Bloomingdale’s Department Store in New York, as they sing about menopause and its many manifestations.
The quartet sings 25 songs, all parodies of well known vocals, in the ninety-minute show which is staged without an intermission.
“My Guy” becomes “My Thighs,” a lament of the addition of heft to the upper legs as one ages. “Puff, the Magic Dragon” is transformed into “Puff, My God, I’m Draggin’.” “The Great Pretender” laments the loss of memory and how women come to fake that they can’t remember an acquaintance’s name. “A Sign of the Times” becomes “A Song of the Times” which recounts the startling fact that in middle age, a woman realizes she has become her mother.
Take-offs on “SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER,” Cher, girl groups of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and the popping of Prozac, a woman’s coping choice of that age, highlight the era of these women.
Complaints about stress, nerves, bladder control, wrinkles, flushing, not sleeping, chocolate binges, and night sweats, had the largely middle-aged female audience hysterical. (A quick count found about 10 men in the assemblage. Most males looked bemused by the howls of the women and confused by the references.)
“MENOPAUSE, THE MUSICAL” opened on March 28, 2001 in Orlando, Florida. An Off-Broadway production opened in 2002 and ran for 1500 performances. Then the show hit the road, not only in the US, but had companies in Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand and the U.K. It’s been seen by over eleven million people.
As the producers state, “MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL” encourages a healthy dialogue about issues of aging and women’s health and provide a unique opportunity to raise awareness with female audiences.”
This is the second production of the show in Cleveland. The first was staged in the now closed 14th Street Theatre. That venue, which found the audience up-close and personal with the performers, made for an intimate setting. The Hanna’s proscenium stage, where the show is now running, caused a slight disconnect between the audience and the singers. This was somewhat compensated for by having the cast wander into the audience for some of the numbers.
The cast, Dyan Bender (Iowa Housewife), Donna J. Huntley (Professional Woman), Paula Kline-Messner (Soap Star) and June Lang (Earth Mother) are all show veterans. Some were in the original Cleveland cast, some appeared in various other productions.
The entire cast was excellent. Zaftig June Lange, who handles most of the self-deprecating laugh lines, was an instant audience favorite. Huntley has the most trained voice and used her vocal sounds well. Each had at least one highlight song.
Capsule judgement: “MENOPAUSE, THE MUSICAL” is a delightful portrayal of the “Change, Change, Change” that women of a certain age go through, that consists of “Hot Flashes,” as they realize that “I’m No Babe,” and requires a “New Attitude.” Do you have to be a “mature” women to appreciate the goings on? No, but from observing the opening night audience, it helps! (Don’t forget to bring a fan if you are in the “change” age group.
Tickets for the show, which runs through February 2, 2014 can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to http://www.playhousesquare.org
Sunday, January 12, 2014
What is it like to live much of your life perceiving that you have been born in the wrong body and then going through the process to correct this mistake of birth? That’s the major issue exposed by Christine Howey in her one-woman, self-acted and self-written play, EXACT CHANGE, now on stage at Cleveland Public Theatre.
To understand Richard Howey’s dilemma (that was Christine’s name before he transitioned), requires an awareness of human sexuality. An individual’s gender is usually identified at birth by their biological sex--male or female. This determination is made by an examination of a person’s sexual paraphernalia (vagina or penis). As a person develops there is a personal growing awareness of sexual orientation (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual) and gender identity (the way a person perceives their biological sex).
In Howey’s case, the awareness of gender identity occurred early, probably around the age of three. Early on, he wanted to be a girl, dress like a girl, play with the girls, be called a girl’s name. What followed was a life of conflicted feelings, marriage, parenthood, and then an awareness of the need to be true to his/her needs and identification.
EXACT CHANGE, an adaptation of Howey’s earlier work, LIKE A DOBERMAN ON A QUARTER POUNDER, a one-act play presented at CPT during last year’s season, the new play is ninety-minutes of intense emotion, humor and revelation.
The evening begins with Howey’s poems, monologues and dialogues, all highlighting various levels of the human condition, but not necessarily leading up to Howey’s own emotional and physical conflicts. Howey expounds upon how Beowulf deals with breakfast, the dilemma of why the “k” is silent at the start of words when immediately followed by “n” (e.g., knife), and the thoughts and actions of William Randolph Hurst.
The second part of the presentation turns personal, as Howey shares her journey from Richard to Christine.
Howey is a master of words, and her talent is well illustrated in the beginning segment. She is a member of the Northeast Ohio Slam Poetry Team and has done many solo poetry readings, as well as being a multi-award-winning theatre reviewer.
The author, who for many years acted and directed at Dobama, is also a skillful actor. Those skills were recognized by her receipt of a 2012 Times Theatre Tribute award for performance excellence for LIKE A DOBERMAN.
Throughout, Howey grabs and holds audience attention with her compelling vocal and physical expressions. This is a tour-de-force performance well deserving of the heartfelt concluding standing ovation.
The script is a work in progress. The author might want to ask whether her tale of Richard to Christine is the major focus or whether it is the multi-talent of the writer/performer.
If the former, then elimination of the starting poetry and expansion of the life story would help. Questions abound. We know Richard was married. We know that he was the father of a daughter, Noelle, the author of DRESS CODES, a story of three girlhoods—her mother’s, father’s and hers. These facts are not well fleshed out in the staged version. We lose, to some degree, Richard’s expressed motivation to transition, the coming out process, and his desire to go through the sex change procedure.
This change of focus would flesh out the personal story and make it open to more productions, and hopefully an off-Broadway run.
Howey is supported by Scott Plate’s direction, Danny English’s original music, and Jeff Herrmann’s scenic design.
Capsule judgement: EXACT CHANGE is a fascinating evening of theatre, which is a must see for anyone interested in the real human condition, an awareness of gender dysphoria, fine writing and compelling acting. Bravo!
EXACT CHANGE runs through January 26, 2014 at Cleveland Public Theatre. For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org.
Thursday, January 09, 2014
Hi and happy new year! I was on the fence about seeing this show (again--saw it a few yrs ago), but after reading your review I want to see it again! Congrats on being "upgraded" in your reviewing theatre for the News-Herald.
Founder and Executive/Artistic Director
Inlet Dance Theatre
Wednesday, January 08, 2014
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)
A touring company of the multi-award winning musical ‘CHICAGO,’ is now appearing at the Palace Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.
‘CHICAGO,’ the John Kander (music), Fred Ebb (lyrics and book) and Bob Fosse (book) show, is set in the razzle-dazzle decadent era of the 1920s, when “gangstas” and corruption ran wild. It centers on a Windy City story of Roxie Hart, a married, free-love housewife and nightclub dancer, who murders her lover after he threatens to walk out on her. She, along with fellow inmate, Velma Kelly, both long for fame and turn to Billy Flynn, Chicago’s slickest criminal lawyer, to get them out of jail and into show business.
The original 1975 production highlighted the dynamic choreography of Bob Fosse. The 1996 revival starred Cleveland’s Joel Grey as Amos, Roxie’s husband. A version of the show is still running, making it the longest running on-Broadway American musical and has the third longest run in Big Apple history. (What is number one? It is PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, with THE FANTASTICS as the longest off-Broadway show.)
The wonderful jazz score lends itself to blockbuster production numbers. Outstanding are “All That Jazz,” “Roxie” and “Razzle Dazzle.”
The touring show is dynamic. The stage explodes with powerful dancing, strong choral singing, a well-tuned orchestra, and strong lead performances.
The buff male dance chorus, who also double as singers and actors, are outstanding. They know Fosse’s difficult signature moves, such as dipping shoulders, fey hands, single bent knee, spread fingers, turned ankles and head snaps, and carry them out to perfection.
Having the orchestra on stage adds to the flamboyance of the show as do the sensual costumes, creative lighting and minimal sets.
The freshness and energy of the production is enhanced by the knowledge that many in the cast just arrived on Sunday after a 14-hour flight from doing the show in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Bianca Marroquin, a youthful Mary Tyler Moore look-alike, is outstanding as Roxy. She sings, dances and acts with fidelity. Ron Orback wins the audience over as Roxie’s nebbish husband, whose rendition of “Mister Cellophane” is tenderly appealing. C. Newcomer, as the reporter, Mary Sunshine, does a fun gender-bender switch at the end of the show, that fooled many members of the audience.
Terra MacLeod, who has a well-trained singing voice and strong dancing abilities, was fine as Velma, but could have been a little more hard-edged. Carol Woods, makes for a first-rate Matron “Mama” Morton. Her “When You’re Good to Mama” was delightful. John O’Hurley could have been a little more snarly as Billy Flynn, the slick lawyer, but his singing voice and Silver Fox good looks made him an audience pleaser.
The show’s stage manager, Lynda Lavin, is a 1971 Mayfield High School graduate.
My award-winning composing 18 year-old grandson, Alex, formerly known as the “kid reviewer,” who had never seen the show before, was blown away by the music, the quality of the orchestra, the singing, the encompassing storyline, but most of all by the dancing. After the show, he, and a group of his theatre-smart friends, were all raving about the experience.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The touring company of ‘CHICAGO’ presents an audience pleasing production. It will “razzle dazzle you,” and give you a feeling that you’ve seen “all that jazz.”
Tickets, for the show that runs through January 12, 2014, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to www.playhousesquare.org.