Sunday, July 30, 2017
“Newsies” is the Disney produced musical that was inspired by the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in which a group of ragtag ruffian youth, who were the breadwinners for their impoverished immigrant families, stood up to the powerful Joseph Pulitzer, the owner of New York’s major newspaper. The show is now on stage at Porthouse Theatre, in its area premiere, on the grounds of Blossom Center.
Though the musical embellishes the facts of the real strike, it makes for an entertaining show, which gives us good guys to root for, evil ones a chance to receive jeers, and in the present shadow of political angst, it highlights how the upright can triumph over the hateful, who find self-ego more important than the needs and necessities of those on the fringes of society.
“Newsies” has catchy, toe-tapping music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and a hooky book by Harvey Fierstein that gives director Terri Kent a chance to do creative staging and play for both laughs and pathos.
In the mold of the traditional musical, the songs are melodic, the two-act format ends with the first act leaving the audience with a cliff hanger regarding whether good guy Jack or the bad guy Joseph Pulitzer will prevail, and offers an obvious and audience pleasing ending.
The score includes ballads, marches, and tap dancing inducing sounds. “Santa Fe” is a song of longing, the show-stopping “Seize the Day” is a choreographic explosion of determination, and the tap dancing dynamic “King of New York” stops the show. “The Bottom Line” illustrates greed and corruption, “Brooklyn’s Here” shows the power of solidarity of purpose and how enemies can form a bond when it comes to forging change.
“Newsies” is a hard show to cast and produce. It requires at least a dozen male dancers, who must also sing and act with precision. Any theater, other than on Broadway venue, will find difficulty in finding the needed male performers.
The Porthouse production does a decent job of filling the roles.
MaryAnn Black has done an excellent job of choreographing the dance-centric show, especially considering the limited stage size. Flips, somersaults, line-dancing, contemporary moves and balletic moves explode on the stage. Especially strong dancers are: Ryan Borgo, Nick Johnson, Matthew Smetana and Jake Rosko.
Matt Gittins lacks some of the dynamism of Jeremy Jordan who was the original Jack Kelly on Broadway. However, he is believable as Jack, the leader of the Newsies, the tough guy with a tender underbelly. He has a strong singing voice.
Beautiful Katelyn Cassidy charms as Jacks’ love interest and defiant daughter of Joseph Pulitzer. Gittins and Cassidy’s rendition of “Something to Believe In” is one of the show’s musical highlights.
Morgan Thomas-Mills nicely textures the role of Crutchie. His “Letter from the Refuge” had the right vocal and longing sound.
Bryce Baxter was character right as Davey, Jack’s right hand man, the brains of the Newsies.
The small thrust stage gave Scenic Designer Nolan O’Dell a special challenge. He needed to leave room for dancing and still be able to fulfill the requirement of numerous settings. He basically accomplished this by using two large scaffold formats, with some additional set pieces. After a while all the moving of stuff around became a bit much, but, in general the concept worked.
Jonathan Swoboda’s 11-piece orchestra played extremely well and kept the upscale pace dynamic without drowning out the singers, which is often a major problem in local theatres.
Capsule judgement: “Newsies,” which is based on a real tale of good versus evil, and a love connection of opposites attracting, has a multi-textured melodic score. The Porthouse production contains dynamic choreography and strong musical and vocal sounds, which adds up to a very pleasant evening of theater!
“Newsies” runs until August 13, 2017, at Porthouse Theatre (3143 O'Neil Rd., Cuyahoga Falls, OH, on the ground of Blossom Music Center). For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to www.porthousetheatre.com. Curtain times are 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Porthouse open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.
Friday, July 21, 2017
A massive Blossom crowd, a nearly full amphitheater and a lawn in which not a blade of grass was not the covered with blankets, table cloths, lawn chairs and people, came out to hear the “Best of Broadway,” a series of groovy music, jive, jazz, tin pan alley and ballads from the golden years of musicals performed on the Great White Way.
America is noted for many things: democracy, hotdogs, apple pie, baseball, and the musical. Yes, the art form known as musical theater was given birth in this country.
The date: September 12, 1866. The place: Niblo’s Garden, a 3200-seat theatre on Broadway in New York City. The situation: A Parisian ballet troupe found itself without a place to perform when their venue, the New York Academy of Music, burned down. The manager of Niblo’s Garden invited them to participate as part of a Faustian play that was running in his theatre.
Named “The Black Crook, “the production is considered a prototype of the modern musical in that its songs and dances were interspersed throughout a story and performed by the actors who spoke lines, sang and danced. The show ran for a record-breaking 474 performances and then toured the country. Thus, the American musical format was born.
On July 16, The Cleveland Orchestra, under the baton of conductor Jack Everly, presented compositions from Broadway musicals which spanned the Golden Age of the American Musical, the era after World War II, through the British Invasion of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and onward to more recent productions.
Act One opened with a sprightly rendition of the overture to “Annie Get Your Gun,” by Irving Berlin. Next up was a somewhat disappointing rendition of “Man of La Mancha,” from the Mitch Leigh/Joe Darion musical by the same name, which featured vocalist Ron Remke who has a fine voice, but sang words, rather than stressing the meaning of the words. He acquitted himself later in the program with a marvelous rendition of “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)” from Jesus Christ, Superstar.
Act One continued with fine renderings of “Maria” from “West Side Story” and “This is the Moment” from “Jekyll & Hyde.”
The Blossom Festival Chorus then sang an emotion-laden rendition of “Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler on the Roof.” A stirring “Oklahoma,” from the show of the same name was presented by Richard Todd Adams.
The act ended with Christian DeCicco, dressed in a classic white gown, leaving the audience spellbound with “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from “Evita,” the orchestra finely playing selections from “Miss Saigon,” and the three male vocalists blending their voices for a meaningful version of “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of LaMancha.”
Act Two started with a stirring orchestral rendition of “Seventy-Six Trombones” from Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” followed by Richard Todd Adam’s crowd-pleasing “Trouble” which received a standing ovation.
It may be hard to say and spell, but Christina DeCicco and Ron Remke stopped the show with their fun-filled “Supercalifragillisticexpialidocious” from “Mary Poppins.”
Then came what must be considered the program’s highlights: orchestral selections from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” Ms. DeCicco’s “I Dreamed a Dream” and Mr. Keegan’s “Bring Me Home” from “Les Miz.”
“Make Our Garden Grow,” from Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide,” though well sung by the company, seemed like an unneeded tag on following the impressive Lloyd Webber compositions.
Capsule judgment: From their appreciative reaction, the large Blossom audience had no “Trouble” finding “The Music of the Night” to fill “The Impossible Dream” of hearing “The Best Broadway” played and sung by the Cleveland Orchestra, under the baton of Jack Everly, and Blossom Festival Chorus and guest singers (Christina DeCicco, Ted Keegan, Ron Remke and Richard Todd Adams). Next season we hopefully will have a similar program consisting of songs from musicals of the 2000s.
Next up Blossom:
July 22— “Today and Tomorrow—Vim, Verve & Virtuosity” --Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra at 7:00 PM present compositions by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Felix Mendelssohn, followed at 8:00 PM by The Cleveland Orchestra playing works by Rossini, Paganini and Dvorak.
July 23— “Fire and Rain: Folk Anthems of the 1970s,” featuring the guitars and vocals of AJ Swearingten and Jayne Kelli and the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Rob Fisher.
Next up at Porthouse:
Disney’s “NEWSIES” from July 27 to August 11.
For tickets to these and other Blossom concerts call 216-231-1111 or 800-686-1141, or go the Severance Hall Ticket Office, or Blossom Box Office, or go online to http://www.clevelandorchestra.com
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
As a reviewer who often goes to the theatre three or four times a week, I’m often asked, “How can you see the same show time after time?” It’s a good inquiry.
Yes, seeing Tevya and his town folks “schlep” out of Anatevka in “Fiddler on the Roof,” yet once again, watching for the umpteenth time the final kick sequence of “Chorus Line,” pulling out a hankie while viewing as Maria kneels over his body because Tony just got done-in once again in “West Side Story,” and observing Joseph get sold off by his brothers to a bunch of Canaanites because his father bought him an amazing technicolor dreamcoat, may not seem like a productive way for a mature male to spend his time.
But, hey, it’s my job, and my passion, so there I was in the fifth row of the Connor Palace, having a cute little blond girl sitting behind me say, “I love ‘The Sound of Music.’ I’ve seen the movie twice. Have you seen it before?”
Yes, my lovely lass, I’m about to see Maria make her bedroom curtains into ugly clothes for the von Trapp kids, charm the lederhosen off their father, climb every mountain, fool the German army and hear the Mother Abbess sing one of my favorite lines in any musical, “How do you hold a moon beam in your hand?” for the umpteenth time.
For those who have spent all their time watching the Browns lose games, the Cavs win a championship, and the Indians almost go all the way, “The Sound of Music, unravels the tale of Maria, who wants to be a nun, but has too much spirit to keep her emotions under control. A letter to the Abby prompts the Mother Superior to send Maria to be a governess for a widowed naval captain. She goes to the estate and finds that she is the latest in a long line of governesses run off by the children who wish to be loved, not disciplined. Her exuberance wins over the children and their grieving father. It’s just before World War II. The duo marries, but their life is threatened by the Nazis taking over Austria, who give the Captain a commission in the German army which he refuses to take, and the family climbs every mountain as they escape to Switzerland. (And, incidentally come to the US, open a resort in Stowe, Vermont, and…but that’s another story!)
A traveling company of the “The Sound of Music,” with music by Richard Rogers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, and based on the book, “The Trapp Family Singer” by Maria Augusta Trapp, is now in a short run at the Connor Palace.
And, though I can sing (not exactly on key), dance (ha) and recite (now, that I can do) every note and line after seeing them over and over, there are many for whom the script on stage is a new experience. That’s why the theatre is nicely filled and the rest of the run has a good pre-sale.
To make things even better, this production is quite good. Much better than the 2013 television with the miscast Carrie Underwood of “American Idol” fame as Maria. While her vocal performance was praised, her acting performance was described as being "amateur," "lifeless" and” lacking emotion” by critics.
The same negatives cannot be said of the pretty, tall University of Michigan grad Charlotte Maltby, who creates a Maria who has spirit, charm and is totally delightful. The actress’s slight hint of child-like awkwardness and a relaxed, well-trained voice adds to her being a perfect image of the Maria all fans of the show can love.
Though Nicholas Rodriguez has no physical resemblance of an austere Aryan, which is the accepted image for Captain Georg von Trapp, he has the charm and singing voice needed to be a match for Maltby’s Maria.
The kids are all charming, the supporting characters nicely conceived, the sets well enough put together to make the show look like a Broadway “wanna be” rather than a community theatre staging, and the orchestra is large enough to sound somewhat lush.
Capsule judgement: The little girl sitting behind me was on the edge of her seat throughout the show and, at the end, sleepily said to her mother, “I loved it!” Yes, the touring production of “The Sound of Music,” is a very pleasant experience. “So long, Farewell,” How long will it be before I have to “Climb Every Mountain” again? Guess as long as I’m a reviewer, “There is No Way to Stop It.”
Tickets for “The Sound of Music,” which runs through July 23, 2017 at the Connor Palace, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or by going to www.playhousesquare.org.
As such television programs as “So You Think You Can Dance” and “World of Dance” convince more and more people to appreciate dance as an art form, they also create a higher barrier for local companies to leap. With such superb choreographers as Tony winning Mia Michaels, Travis Wall, Sonya Tayeh and Tyce Diorio creating visual marvels, and national and world-wide dancers modeling what is “good” in dance, expectations for local companies rise.
Groundworks Dance Theater, David Shimotakahara’s Cleveland-based company, was founded in 1989 and “is a vibrant and sustainable organization, nationally recognized for making a unique contribution to the art form and enriching human experiences through the creation of original contemporary dance.” It is noted for being innovative, collaborative, unique and “creating meaningful and intimate experiences and exchanges.”
These qualities were clearly on display as, on a hot and sticky evening at the Alma Theatre in Cain Park, an enthusiastic audience saw the company, complete with two new members, present three outstanding compositions, which were in the form and performance level of those which flash across the television screens.
The program opened with the World Premiere of guest choreographer Monica Bill Barnes’ “Untitled.” Danced to a mélange of such musical selections as Louis Prima’s “Oh Marie,” “Goldberg Variations J. S. Bach, BWV 966, ‘Aria’” as performed by Glenn Gould, and Joan Osborne’s “Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends,” the blend of humor, “the stress on celebration of individuality and chronicling of the innate theatricality of everyday life,” the piece was encompassing and audience pleasing.
“Inamorata,” as choreographed by Kate Weare and restaged by Douglas Gillespie, is a non-stop exhausting dance featuring the entire company (Felise Bagley, Gemma Freitas Bender, Annika Sheaff, Damien Highfield and Tyler Ring).
Encompassing a full display of human emotions, the feelings of longing, hope, doubt and mystery were highlighted through a pastiche of various dance styles.
The final selection, the audience pleasing “Chromatic,” found the entire company dancing to musical selections played on player pianos and was conceived by Shimotakahara in collaboration with past and present company members.
Groundworks’ two newest company members are Tyler Ring and Gemma Freitas Bender. Ring, an Indiana native, is a tall-lanky Tommy Tune-looking dancer. He displayed excellent flexibility, athleticism and an engaging personality, which blended well with the rest of the troupe. He is a nice addition.
The attractive Bender, who is from Buffalo, New York, was a 2014-2015 Recipient of the Princess Grace USA Award and is a graduate of Julliard. Her style of dance fits well with the gymnastic/Pilobolus form of Annika Sheaff, also a Julliard grad, and the elegant movements of the elegant Felise Bagley.
Capsule judgment: Groundworks continues to be the premiere small dance company of the Cleveland area. Their opening night Cain Park program was well received by the near capacity audience at the Alma Theatre.
Next up for Groundworks: Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, August 4 & 5, 2017 @ 8:45 in Goodyear Park in Akron. They next appear in Cleveland with their Fall Performance Series featuring a world premiere of former company member Amy Miller on October 13 & 14, 2017 @ The Allen Theatre in Playhouse Square.
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Last year, Dobama Theater’s production of Brenden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “An Octoroon” was selected as Best Non-musical Production by the Cleveland Critics Circle.
The play was a flash back to the mid-1800s, and mirrored the bigotry, violence, racial profiling, work and housing discrimination, xenophobia and prejudice rampant in the political, business and social landscape of the United States, which has carried over into today’s America.
“Neighbors,” also penned by Jacobs-Jenkins, is now on stage at convergence-continuum.
As is the case with the multi-award winning Princeton grad, and African-American author’s works, “Neighbors,” Jacobs-Jenkins’ first play, probes the complicated issue of race, family, class and self-identity. It also uses a historical perspective, the Coon play, as a device to satirize and comment on modern culture. And, as is his custom, Jacobs-Jenkins uses visual and verbal images, such as sex acts and explicit sexual language, to provoke the audience. He is an advocate of shocking and creating unsettling feelings to enhance his story telling.
Richard (Prophet D. Seay), who is black, his white wife, Jean (Kim Woodward), along with their angst-filled bi-racial teenage daughter, Melody (Shannon Ashley Sharkey), have just moved from California to an unnamed city, for Richard to be an adjunct professor at the local college. They have rented a house in an area which appears to be populated by conservative whites.
Richard has attempted to separate himself from black stereotypes by going to a prestigious college, majored in the classics and married a white woman. He shows animosity for members of his fellow race, and refers to them as “niggers.”
Much to the consternation of Richard, a black family has moved into the house next door. The new residents have a long history of performing in Coon shows and are always in costume and makeup.
Coon show entertainers were blacks who, instead of whites in blackface, as in minstrel shows, were made up in blackface and made fun of themselves in racially charged skits complete with dancing, singing, watermelon and chicken eating, references to their males’ enormous penis sizes and females’ large breasts, portraying negroes as ignorant, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, joyous, and musical.
As the tale unfolds, Richard displays anxiety about his teaching abilities, Jean starts to question why she married Richard and turns to Zip Coon (A. Harris Brown), the patriarch of The Crows, and Melody develops a relationship with Jim (Anthony X), a nephew of the next door neighbors, who doesn’t fit in with his relatives. Conflict, angst and chaos develop, leading to an unsettling ending.
Interludes, sidebars showing Coon production segments, are interspersed into the story line by the family members including Jeannine Gaskin (Mammy), Joshua McElroy (Sambo) and Kennetha Martin (Topsy). Some are gross, others edifying.
“Neighbors” is not as well written as its sister play, “An Octoroon.” The plot does not flow as clearly and the Coon Show interludes are difficult to perform by those not well-versed in the genre. The script also needs drastic cutting.
Director Terrence Spivey and his cast put out full effort, but the over-all effect is not positive.
Capsule Judgement: “Neighbors” is a disturbing play with a well-intentioned message, but, as is often the case with first plays by an author, it lacks a strong center, is too long, and often shocks more than presents awareness reactions. It is definitely not a play that will be appreciated by everyone.
“Neighbors” runs through July 29, 2017, at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s gentrifying Tremont neighborhood. For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or go to http://www.convergence-continuum.org/
Coming up at con-con: “Collaborator,” a one-person show, by Yussef El Guindi, as performed by Hillary Wheelock, August 10-12, 2017. “Rhinoceros,” an absurdist play by Eugene Ionesco, which, in many ways, examines this country under a Trump administration.
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Near the end of her delightful concert at Jacobs Pavilion located in the Flats, multi-award winner Idina Menzel told the story of how, when some South Africans meet, they look directly at each other. One says, “I can see you.” The other, after making solid eye contact, repeats the phrase. Menzel, demonstrated clearly, as the concert proceeded that she, in fact, was seeing her audience, taking them in, and appreciating their presence. The audience vocally and with extended applause responded by letting her know that they, too, could see her!
The concert, presented with seven musicians and a back-up singer, all of whom did solos and were recognized by the headliner, was presented before an ever-changing mélange of electronic media which paralleled the song choices.
The talented songstress, songwriter, Broadway, television and movie star, was relaxed and charming in interacting with the audience, recognizing not only those in the high priced seats who were up close and personal, but those seated in the bleachers.
She invited a young girl, who was carrying an “I love you Idina” sign, on stage to get her poster autographed, graciously accepted a pony-tail band from another child and asked her hair-dresser on stage to redo her hairstyle so that he could braid some of the star’s hair and added the jeweled stretchy, and also invited all the kids in attendance to come onto the steps and the edge of the stage to individually and jointly sing “Let It Go” from the hit film “Frozen.”
The concert not only included songs from her newest album and old time favorites, but selections from her Broadway shows “Rent” and “Wicked,” as well as “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from “Funny Girl” and “Wind Beneath My Wings” from “Beaches.”
Many talented stars appear in the concert venues of CLE, but few have the warmth and authenticity of Idina Menzel! This lady is a true “mench” (Yiddish for “a true human being, a good person.”)
Menzel’s openness to the audience, her kid-inclusiveness, courtesy to her joint performers and fine singing voice, made for a fine evening of entertainment. Applause, applause!
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
“City of Angels," a version of which is now on stage at Beck Center, opened on Broadway in December of 1989 and ran through January, 1992, in a healthy run of almost 900 performances. Lakewood’s Dee Hoty, a three-time Tony nominee, played a leading role in the Great White Way run.
A musical comedy, it weaves two plots together making for a movie within a play format. A “reel” world and a “real” world.
It’s Hollywood, late 1940, Stine (Jamie Koeth) has written a detective mystery which has been purchased by a Hollywood studio. It will be produced and directed by Buddy (Greg Violand). In spite of the book being a best seller, Buddy wants many, many rewrites, based on his perceptions of what makes a great movie. Obviously, the meek Stine and the ego-centric Buddy clash.
The movie is a tale of decadence complete with a hard-boiled detective, femmes fatale, murders, plot twists, beatings, robbery, incest, intrigue, ego, ego and more ego. The real story has a book writer who conflicts with the film’s producer/director, a marriage, an affair, and ego, ego, and more ego.
As Stine pounds away on his typewriter, the film’s melodramatic scenes are acted out. Alaura Kingsley (Sonia Perez) is ushered into the inner office of PI Stone (Rob Albrecht). Alaura reveals that she wants to hire Stone to solve the disappearance of her step-daughter, Mallory Kingsley (Madeline Krucek). The voice-over, a common 40s movie device informs us, “Only the floor kept her legs from going on forever.” (Yes, that’s the actual line!) To make matters even more intriging, when Stone returns to his apartment, a few scenes later, Mallory is lounging naked in his bed.
In the main, the “movie” viewer will experience: Stone getting a beating from a couple of hoodlums, Alaura’s husband, a sick elderly man encased in an iron lung whose inheritance is of great interest to his family, Kingsley getting accused of murder, a possible poisoning, hanky-panky, more hanky-panky, and yet more hanky-panky…you get the idea.
Meanwhile, in “real” life, Buddy is making changes in the script, Stine tries to keep his writing integrity while having an affair with Buddy’s secretary. He has a confrontation with his alter ego (Stone, the detective in the film). They sing, “You’re Nothing Without Me,” and reality and fantasy collide. They later sing, “I’m Nothing Without You,” and the show ends with a happy ending, actually two happy endings. (Ta-da!)
In spite of the fact that “City of Angels” won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score, it is seldom staged. The reason for this probably centers on the technical and acting challenges, as well as audience confusion in following the dual plots.
Technically, the stage must be shrouded in various shades of black-gray-white for all movie scenes, giving it a film noir quality, with full color scenery for the reality scenes. Fortunately, Beck invested in an expensive projection system for their lush production of “Little Mermaid” last year and having this allows them to accomplish the shading requirements. Bravo to Adam Zeek for his outstanding projection design.
The illumination necessities are well-developed by lighting guru Trad A Burns.
Another aspect of the technical requirements is the necessity for the clothing to follow the monocolor/technicolor pattern, as well as having era-correct clothing. In general, Aimee Kluiber, the costume designer, has achieved the needed level of differentiation.
The biggest performance challenges are to get the accurate separation of the film acting style from the 1940s realism, and the differentiation between the dance and song stylings of the eras and medias.
The film actors should use stylized, exaggerated performance techniques, while the “other” cast must be totally believable and realistic.
Reviews of the show constantly talk of the non-stop laughter brought about by film actor-centered exaggeration, caused by verbal and physical melodrama. It takes master actors to pull this off. Unfortunately, some in this production don’t have the acting chops and/or the extensive training to get the necessary effect. The result is few laughs and film/reality confusion.
Fortunately, Martin Céspedes has delineated the jazz era movements, including jazz hands, body tilts, exaggerated facial expressions, stutter steps and freezes, from the smoother modern era movements.
The musical has parallel musical scores, with the singers and musicians required to change sounds according to the forms of the two competing media, basically a mellow sound versus a jazzy movie tinny background resonance.
Larry Goodpaster’s large orchestra plays very well, but the dual musical sounds often flow together, missing the shading that helps clear separation of the film noire from reality. This is especially obvious in the singing.
As is often the case at Beck’s Mackey Theater, the sound system squealed on occasion and the voices faded in and out.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Though it is inconsistent in performance quality, the Beck production of “City of Angels,” gives theater buffs an opportunity to see this seldom-done musical with a fine display of technical effects.
“City of Angels” runs at Beck Center for the Arts until, August 13, 2017. For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to http://www.beckcenter.org
Next up at Beck: The classic “One Few Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” from September 15-October 8, 2017.
Saturday, July 08, 2017
“Ain’t Misbehavin’,” now on stage at Porthouse Theatre, is a musical tribute to the black musicians of the 1920s and 30s who were part of the Harlem Renaissance. It was an era of black ethnic pride and creativity related to Negro literature, art, poetry, and music.
The show owes its title to the 1919 Fats Waller song, “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” which was a stabile offering at the Cotton Club and Savoy Ballroom, where whites and blacks of New York society paid tribute to the vocal divas and piano players who showcased swing music.
“Ain’t Misbehavin'’’ is a musical-review, a series of songs by various composers and lyricists, presented one after another with no verbal bridges in between the numbers.
The review format requires top quality performers and musicians who are capable of performing number-after-number, at top quality, to grab and hold the audience’s attention. In general, this format has faded from popularity, replaced by the jukebox musical in which songs, written before the idea of putting them together in a stage show, are blended into a story line (e.g., “Mama Mia,” “Jersey Boys”).
The Porthouse production has a talented cast of singers and performers: Chantrell Lewis, Aveena Sawyer, Tina Stump, Eugene Sumlin and Jim Weaver.
Show highlights include “The Viper’s Drag”/”The Reefer Song,” “Squeeze Me,” as well as the jitterbug dance number, “How Ya Baby,” the vaudeville flashback tune, “The Ladies Who Sing with the Band,” and the stride piano-centered “Handful of Keys.”
The audience exploded with applause, often singing along, to the show’s closing unit of Fats Waller-made hits, ‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter,” “Two Sleepy People,” I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed,” “I Can’t Give You Anything Else But Love,” and “It’s A Sin To Tell a Lie.”
To make the show really work, the band must be exceptional. Music Director/pianist Edward Ripley, Jr., drummer James Alexander II and bass player Jeremy Poparad, who are on a stage in full view of the audience are exceptionally good musicians, but showed little physical or facial enthusiasm during their playing, putting a damper on the needed musical enthusiasm and causing a disconnect between them and the performers.
Director Eric van Baars kept the pace rapid, varied the choreographic movements, and created interesting stage pictures. He might have considered cutting some of the over 30 songs as, after a while, the all-too-much similar musical sounds became somewhat tedious.
Patrick Ulrich’s dual leveled stage, complete with an edging of black and white painted piano keys, worked well. Susan J. Williams’ costume designs were era correct.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Ain’t Misbehavin’” is a musical-review which will be of interest to those who like 1920 and 30’s Harlem Renaissance swing music. Be aware that the show, though nicely performed, has over 30 songs and no story line.
"Ain’t Misbehavin'"runs until July 27, 2017, at Porthouse Theatre (3143 O'Neil Rd., Cuyahoga Falls, OH, on the grounds of Blossom Music Center). For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to www.porthousetheatre.com. Curtain times are 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Porthouse open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.
NEXT UP: “Disney’s Newsies” from July 27-August 13. It’s a dance-centric musical filled with great music and a family-friendly story.