Saturday, December 30, 2017

Entertaining “Champions of Magic” at Connor Palace



Say the words “magician” or “illusionist” and the names usually conjured are David Copperfield, Harry Houdini, Uri Geller, Doug Henning, David Blaine, and The Amazing Johnathan.  These are entertainers noted for tricks and actions shrouded in secrecy and mystery.

“The secrets of the world's greatest magic tricks are known by few, revered by many, and shared by almost no one.”  The major goal of a proficient magician is to encourage the audience to ask, "how'd they do that?"

“Champions of Magic,” which is now on stage at the Connor Palace, is a troop of four Brits and an American (a woman), who are world class illusionists.  Their acts consist of mind reading, small scale illusions, disappearances, teleportation, spectacular lighting effects, pyrotechnics, exploding confetti and the on-going joke about red and green flashing lights.

No, they don’t make airplanes disappear, bend spoons through mental manipulation or escape from chains while submerged in water.  They do the usual stuff--saw a lovely lady in half, conjure up information, do card tricks, use audience members as willing subjects, and tell stories and jokes to entertain.

“Champions of Magic” appeared for the first time in October, 2013, and has since completed 5 UK tours and an extended run in London.  This fall they started a North American tour.  The show has been seen by over 250,000 people and received generally positive reviews.

The production features mostly original magic that was created or devised by the performers and production designers. The show is known for its production qualities including original music, a large lighting rig and pyrotechnic effects.

The first act contains lots of small illusions, lots of talking, and leaves the audience wanting more.  The second act, when they try to make their act bigger and more spectacular so they can appear in Las Vegas, hold most of the intriguing actions.

Worry not where you are seated.  A large television screen shows close-ups of the slight-of-hand and intricate illusions.

Capsule judgement:  Though “Champions of Magic” is billed as “a perfect show for the whole family,” it may not appeal to the younger ones.  A five-year old seated next to me several times said to her mother, “When is there going to be fun?” The older kids and adults seemed to be well-entertained and enthusiastic, but not ecstatic.

Due to ticket demand, the run of “Champions of Magic” has been extended to include a New Year’s Eve 7:30 pm and a Saturday, January 6, 3:00 pm show.
Tickets can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to www.playhousesquare.org.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

BWW-CLE Professional Theater Tributes--2017



Roy Berko
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)


Greater Cleveland is blessed with a vital theater scene.  It the purpose of BROADWAY WORLD.COM-CLEVELAND PROFESSIONAL THEATER TRIBUTES (BWW-CLE Theater Tributes), to recognize theatrical experiences that, in the subjective view of this reviewer, were excellent and deserve recognition.

Only shows performed in 2017 which I reviewed were considered.  With the exception of Outstanding National Touring Production, selections were limited to local professional presentations though actors, directors and technicians who were imported by local theatres for their productions were considered.  Actors are separated by gender, but not equity or lack of union affiliation, or leading or supporting roles. 

Designees are listed in alphabetical, not in rank order.
   
OUTSTANDING NON-MUSICAL PRODUCTIONS
EQUUS, Blank Canvas Theatre
HANDS TO GOD, Dobama Theatre
HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE, Cleveland Play House
HOW TO BE A RESPECTABLE JUNKIE, Dobama Theatre
MARJORIE PRIME, Dobama Theatre
SALVAGE, none-too-fragile
THE FLICK, Dobama Theatre
WELL, Ensemble Theatre

OUTSTANDING MUSICAL THEATER PRODUCTIONS

FLOYD COLLINS, Blank Canvas Theatre
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, Great Lakes Theater
NEWSIES, Porthouse Theatre
ROCK OF AGES, Cain Park Theatre
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, Lakeland Civic Theatre

OUTSTANDING DIRECTORS OF A NON-MUSICAL

Celeste Cosentino, WELL, Ensemble Theatre
Laura Kepley, HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE, Cleveland Play House
Mathew Wright, HAND TO GOD, Dobama Theatre
Nathan Motta, THE FLICK, Dobama Theatre
Pat Ciamacco, EQUUS, Blank Canvas Theatre
Sean Derry, SALVAGE, none-too-fragile
Shannon Sindelar, MARJORIE PRIME, Dobama Theatre

OUTSTANDING DIRECTORS OF A MUSICAL

Joanne May Hunkins, ROCK OF AGES, Cain Park Theater
Martin Friedman, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, Lakeland Civic
    Theatre
Pat Ciamacco, FLOYD COLLINS, Blank Canvas Theatre
Terri Kent, NEWSIES, Porthouse Theatre
Victoria Bussert, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, Great Lakes Theater

OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHY IN A THEATER PRODUCTION

Kevin D. Marr II, ROCK OF AGES, Cain Park Theater
Martin Céspedes (with Mary Sheridan), BRING IT ON:  THE MUSICAL, Beck
 Center/Baldwin Wallace University
MaryAnn Black, NEWSIES, Porthouse Theatre

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES BY A MALE IN A NON-MUSICAL

Abraham Adams, OCCUPATION DAD, Ensemble Theatre
Antonio DeJesus, EQUUS, Blank Canvas Theatre
Christopher M. Bohan, HOW TO BE A RESPECTABLE JUNKIE, Dobama
    Theatre
David Lenahan, IN THE CLOSET, convergence-continuum
David Peacock, A SKULL IN CONNEMARA, none-too-fragile
Gordon Hinchen, THE FLICK, Dobama Theatre
Luke Wehner, HANDS TO GOD, Dobama Theatre

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE IN A NON-MUSICAL
Derdriu Ring, SALVAGE, none-too-fragile
Dorothy Silver, MARJORIE PRIME, Dobama Theatre
Kelly Strand, SALVAGE, none-too-fragile
Laura Starnick, WELL, Ensemble Theatre
Lisa Louise Langford, brownsville song (b-side for tray), Dobama Theatre
Madeline Lambert, HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE, Cleveland Play House

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE IN A MUSICAL

Alex
Syiek, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, Great Lakes Theater
Corey Moch, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, Great Lakes Theater
Douglas F. Bailey, ROCK OF AGES, Cain Park Theatre
Michael Snider, FLOYD COLLINS, Blank Canvas Theatre
Shane Patrick O’Neill, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, Lakeland Civic
    Theatre

RISING STAR (PROMISING NEWCOMER)

Antonio DeJesus, EQUUS, Blank Canvas Theatre
Colin Frothingham, SHERLOCK HOLMES:  THE BAKER STREET
        IRREGULARS, Dobama Theatre
Jabri Little, brownsville song (b-side for tray), Dobama Theatre

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES BY A FEMALE IN A MUSICAL

Katelyn Cassidy, NEWSIES, Porthouse Theatre
Keri Rene Fuller, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, Great Lakes Theater
Trinidad Snider, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, Lakeland Civic
    Theatre

OUTSTANDING SCENIC DESIGN OF NON-MUSICALS or MUSICALS

Collette Pollard, HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE, Cleveland Play House
Cory Molner, IN THE CLOSET, convergence-continuum
Laura Carlson Tarantowski, brownsville song (b-side for tray), Dobama Theatre
Trad A Burns, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, Lakeland Civic Theatre
Wilson Chin, BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY, Cleveland Play House

OUTSTANDING MUSICAL DIRECTION

Jonathan Swoboda, NEWSIES, Porthouse Theatre
Jordan Cooper, ROCK OF AGES, Cain Park Theatre
Jordan Cooper, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, Lakeland Civic Theatre

OUTSTANDING SOUND DESIGN IN A NON-MUSICAL OR MUSICAL

Cyrus O. Taylor, brownsville song (b-side for tray), Dobama Theatre
Cyrus O. Taylor, HOW TO BE A RESPECTABLE JUNKIE, Dobama Theatre
Daniel Perelstein, THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, Cleveland Play House
Erick T. Lawson, MARJORIE PRIME, Dobama Theatre
Victoria Deiorio, BASKERVILLE, Cleveland Play House

OUTSTANDING COSTUME DESIGN IN A NON-MUSICAL OR MUSICAL

Aimee Kluiber, CITY OF ANGELS, Beck Center
Kim Krumm Sorenson, HAMLET, Great Lakes Theater
Lex Liang, BASKERVILLE, Cleveland Play House
Lex Liang, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, Cleveland Play House

OUTSTANDING LIGHTING DESIGN IN A NON-MUSICAL OR MUSICAL
Bryanna Bauman, WELL, Ensemble Theatre
Marcus Dana, brownsville song (b-side for tray), Dobama Theatre
Marcus Dana, HOW TO BE A RESPECTABLE JUNKIE, Dobama Theatre
Peter Maradudin, BASKERVILLE, Cleveland Play House
Rick Martin, HAMLET, Great Lakes Theater

OUTSTANDING ELECTRONIC MEDIA IN A NON-MUSICAL OR MUSICAL

Caite Hevner, HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE, Cleveland Play House
Pat Ciamacco, FLOYD COLLINS, Blank Canvas Theatre
T. Paul Lowry, brownsville song (b-side for tray), Dobama Theatre
T. Paul Lowry, THINGS AS THEY ARE, Playwrights Local

OUTSTANDING NATIONAL TOURING PRODUCTION

ON YOUR FEET, Playhouse Square
SOMETHING ROTTEN, Playhouse Square

LIFE TIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

Dorothy Silver for her years of leadership service to the Jewish Community Center and Karamu and many impressive performances in Cleveland area theatres and national films.

SPECIAL RECOGNITION


•Bill Rudman, Musical Theater Project, for bringing musical theater exposure and knowledge to a variety of audiences who might otherwise not become theater patrons.

•Faye Sholiton for stoking and keeping the ember of Jewish theater alive in the Cleveland area.

•Gina Vernaci for her persistence and creativity in making Play House Square a major national center for touring theater.

•Patrick Ciamacco (Blank Canvas), Sean Derry and Ilana Alanna Romansky (none –too-fragile), Clyde Simon (convergence-continuum), Greg Caeser (Caeser’s Forum) and Celeste Cosentino (Ensemble)--for being the financial and energy sources of “mom and pop” professional theater in Northeastern Ohio.

If any names are spelled incorrectly, or there are errors in identifications, please let me know so I can change the permanent record on www.royberko.info.

If you would like to read any of my reviews for the year, please go to www.royberko.info, enter the blog and click on “2017 Reviews” or click on the name of the producing theatre and scroll through their performances. Reviews from previous years may also be accessed.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The LOUSH SISTERS are boozing and sexing it up again @ Cleveland Public Theatre


Yes, Holly (Beth Wood) and Jolly (Liz Conway) are back again.  This time in Cleveland Public Theatre’s world premiere of” The Loush Sisters Get Hard for the Holidays.” 

Having consumed only some mulled apple cider made me one of the few sober people among the massive crowd of “Yippie-Kai-Yay Mother-Loushers” who obviously arrived early and had consumed a fair amount of wine and beer (no hard liquor is sold) before the show started. 

They continued to imbibe as the girls told smutty stories, sang songs with lots of double-entendres, bragged about their sexual conquests, made comments about theirs and everyone else’s genitalia, and went on an adventure to counter the deeds of Krampus and Karla, the evil villains of this year’s Christmas tale. 

As the program reminds, the duo has been around since 2003.  They are poster children for what it’s like to look at life under a haze of alcohol.  Yes, they have substance abuse problems.  And yes, they are not politically correct.  What they are is very, very funny, especially when they are singing their songs, telling their jokes and reminiscing about their past experiences while reminding us that they are “just tramps from the Near West Side of CLE.”

They make references to present day goings on including choice comments about Matt Lauer, Donald Trump, and Louie K, encouraging “lock them up, lock them up, lock them up!”.

They sing pop songs, not always with the words we all know and love, including “Wing and A Prayer,” “Moving on Up,” “Our Way,” “Jingle Bells,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” “Forget Your Troubles,” “Happy Days,” “Clang, Clang, Clang Goes the Trolley” and their theme song, “That’s Why the Woman is a Tramp.”

The girls are less humorous when they are acting out the plot of a meaningless “story” line, supposedly a take-off on the ‘80s film, “Die Hard.”   No sense in writing a recap of the tale…no one is there for the plot…they are there to laugh at the not-for-prime-time material, often yelling comments to and about the girls.  (Depends on the night as to how raucous it gets.)

Multi-comments are made about Ambiance, “the Store for Lovers,” one of the show’s sponsors, who are “The home of Santa’s Naughty Sack” and appear to supply costumes and props for the show.

Sheffia Randall Dooley (sister, Butter Rum Loush) brings down the house as she gospel rocks her way through “Santa Baby” and other ditties. 


The Minions (Ryan Edlinger, Brian O. Jackson, Colleen McCaughey and Hillary Wheelock), are excellent.  Pianist Buck McDaniel provides not only the music, but some great ad libs from his hiding place behind the high-backed piano.  Brian Pedaci and Jennifer Woda try valiantly to create humor as Krampus and Karla, but the mood and script are against them.

The show runs two hours, with intermission.

Capsule judgement:  The Loush Sisters encourage the audience to “celebrate the love for friends and family, to sit back, relax and have an adult beverage and enjoy the crazy ride.”  Don’t go to this holiday show expecting great theater or a religious experience.  Go, enjoy the uninhibited rantings of two boozed-up broads who are having a hell of good time.  The drunker you are, the better you’ll appreciate what’s going on.  (Be sure to book the Uber in advance.)

“The Loush Sisters Get Hard for the Holidays” runs through December 23 at Cleveland Public Theatre.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

An interesting history lesson unfolds at convergence continuum


Early this year U. S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with the backing of President Trump, rescinded the mandate of the “National Commission of Forensic Sciences.”   It was the purpose of this group to “enhance the practice and improve the reliability of forensic science,” and “to promote scientific validity, reduce fragmentation, and improve federal coordination of forensic science.”

Why, in this day of ever-expanding scientific discoveries and the perilous state of the world, would the federal government do away with an independent agency responsible for promoting scientific validity?

To understand the situation, one must thinking of the duo who pushed the issue.  Both Sessions and Trump do not believe in global warming, they don’t believe in scientific proof.  They are among the group of intellectual “light-weights” who make observations, reach conclusions with little thought, are not concerned with separating fact from “intuition.”  In other words, why spend time and money in finding out “facts,” when facts don’t make money and are a waste of time.

Facts, according to that dynamic duo, are “false news.”  Or, put another way, building hotels and golf courses are of more value to society than scientific discovery.

For many years, scientific discovery was the result of companies investing in research (e.g., General Electric and Westinghouse in electricity, Ford in automobiles, Goodyear and Goodrich in rubber and polymer), or individuals using personal wealth or getting “backers” to finance their ideas to probe the unknown.

Nikola Tesla, a Serbian-American, was an inventor, engineer, physicist and futurist who laid the foundations for modern alternating current and the electrical supply system. 

“The Chaste Genius and His DeathRay Gun,” now on stage at congruence continuum, tells the tale of an obsessive, germ phobic genius who lived most of his life trying to get financial backing from the likes of JP Morgan, to develop his ideas. 

Many of his concepts went no-place, but some eventually allowed others to develop printers that don’t have to be connected to a computer, or headphones without the annoying chord connecting them to an I-phone, or the I-phone, itself.

No, his “Death Ray Gun,” which some in the military community predicted would shorten wars by allowing lasers or particle beams to destroy the enemy, didn’t work out, but it did lay the foundation for J. J. Thompson to discover the electron, which has been important in the fields of electricity, magnetism, chemistry, thermal conductivity, and atomic energy.   

Often thought of as the archetypal “mad scientist,” Tesla died penniless in New York City. 

He did not go unrecognized.  An American Rock band, electric car, intellectual society, song, airport, museum, power plant, 128 streets, moon crater, minor planet, and a STEM high school are named for him.

Playwright Christopher Johnson thought Tesla was interesting enough to center “The Chaste Genius and his Death Ray Gun” on the scientist’s life.  It is now in its world premiere at convergence continuum.

The production, under the direction of Geoffrey Hoffman, is not thrilling theatre.  The script is mostly talk, with interludes of some gimmickry in which some of Tesla’s inventions are supposedly demonstrated.  Unfortunately, though the effort is grand, the theatre-on-a-shoe-string doesn’t have the money and techies to produce the devices to create replicas of Tesla’s creations, so they often come off as magic tricks rather than scientific wonders.




The strength of the show is the acting.  Robert Hawkes as Tesla, and Robert Branch, Val Kozlenko and Nicole McLaughlin-Lublin, playing multi-roles (e.g., Mark Twain, J. P. Morgan and Teddy Roosevelt) are quite effective.

Capsule Judgement:  Though it’s more history lecture than theatrical production, “The Chaste Genius and his Death Ray Gun,” teaches an important lesson about the need for eccentric, out of the box thinkers, who need encouragement and the financial means to create theories, inventions and formulas that can have the capacity to change the world.  It’s worth the long, sometimes lifeless sit, to gain that understanding.



“The Chaste Genius and his Death Ray Gun” runs through December 16, 2017, at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or go to http://www.convergence-continuum.org

Next up at con-con:  THE NEOMFA (Northeast Ohio Maser of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Cleveland State University) PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL (February 8-18, 2018), followed by Paula Vogel’s “The Oldest Profession,” from March 23-April 14, 2018.

Friday, December 08, 2017

“On Your Feet!” leaves audience on their feet and dancing at Connor Palace


Last year, within a short time after getting off the plane in Havana, it became apparent that the Cuban people adore art, music, bright colors, personal style and family unity.  And, after long periods of dictatorships, revolution, communism, deprivation of food and other necessities of life, they have also developed survivor and “can do” attitudes.  

The Cubans who escaped from the island after the Castro regime gained control left their wealth, jobs and families behind, but carried with them their appreciations and outlooks.

These cultural displays can be examined by looking at the Cuban-American enclaves in Florida, where “Española Cubano” is thriving.  Going to the Versailles Restaurant in Miami’s “Little Cuba” is like eating in Havana (with an understanding that the American restaurant has food and seasoning supplies that are not available on “the island.”)

“The Cuban-way” is on display in the story, dance and music-centric “On Your Feet,” the tale of island born Emile Estefan, and wife, Gloria, who went on to create a new music sound and win 26-Grammy awards as ex-pats.

One of the trends in Broadway shows is the jukebox musical, scripts which are created by shoe-horning pre-written songs into a story.

As is the case with most jukebox bio-musicals (e.g., “Buddy—The Buddy Holly Story,” “Jersey Boys,” “All Shook Up,)” some liberties have been taken by adding drama and romantic sequences that may or may not be accurate.  This appears true in “On Your Feet.” 

With a book written by Alexander Dinelaris and music either written by or made famous by Gloria Estefan, “On Your Feet” sizzles with dynamic testosterone-driven Cuban-fusion pop melodies and beats as it tells the story of the couple’s meeting, Gloria Fajardo’s family opposition to her relationship with the older band leader Emilio, the changes she made in dropping out of college and touring with the band, the duo’s marriage, her career conflicts and an accident which almost ended her life.

On the journey, we are introduced to Gloria’s mother (Nancy Ticotin) “a could-have-been” Hollywood star who envies her daughter for doing what she didn’t have the nerve to do, Consuelo (Alma Cuervo), Gloria’s supportive “abuela” (grandmother), her adored father (Jason Martinez), and the others who had an influence on her life and career.

The core of the show is the music…the ballads, dynamic Cuban and Cuban-fusion sounds, and the resulting singing and dancing.

The sounds are infectious.  Listening to “1-2-3,” “Cuba Libra” “Everlasting Love,” “Party Time” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” “Turn Up the Beat,” and “Oye,” and not leaping out of your seat and dancing in the aisles, is a major effort.

 “On Your Feet!” opened on Broadway in late 2015 and closed last August after 746 performances. 

The touring production, under the direction of 2-time Tony Winner, Jerry Mitchell of “Kinky Boots” fame, and choreographer Sergio Trujillo literally and figuratively explodes off the stage. 

The stars, Christie Prades (Gloria) and Mauricio Martinez (Emilo) are so good that there is no time when the audience could perceive that they were not the actual couple, but a pair of actors portraying them.  The singing, the connective interactions are those of reality, not fantasy.

The supporting cast is also totally involved.  This is a highly skilled, mostly Hispanic/Latino assemblage.

The singing, the dancing, the energy, all make this a special evening of theatre.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  The Cuban-American success story is everything that Trump and his alt-right cronies say doesn’t and shouldn’t happen.  Long live immigrants and their success stories!  “On Your Feet” is a joyous must see journey, with an infectious musical beat!  I dare you not to be standing, clapping and singing during the curtain call.

Tickets for “On Your Feet”, which runs through December 23, 2017 at the Connor Palace Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to www.playhousesquare.org.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

URINETOWN, bad title, fun show, flushed with success @ Blank Canvas


 “Urinetown:  The Musical” opened on Broadway in 2001, but its path from lyricist Greg Kotis traveling Europe, encountering a pay toilet, getting an idea for a story, joining with Mark Hollman, writing the lyrics together, Hollman writing the music, previewing the show at the New York’s Fringe Festival, and getting it on Broadway, was filled with pitfalls.  Mainly, producers were turned off by the title. 

Eventually, the Bertolt Brecht-style musical, filled with parodies of Broadway shows, that satirizes capitalism, social irresponsibility, the legal system and populism, found The Araca Group. 

Araca, a New York company is composed of three young men from the west-side of Cleveland.  Brothers Matthew and Michael Rego met Hank Unger during a community theater production of the “Music Man” in 1985, which I directed.  And, in spite of my advice, have gone on to be theatrical wunderkinds.

The trio formed a production company, named it after the Italian town from which “grandpa” Rego (remember Rini-Rego Supermarkets?) came.  The trio had produced “Vagina Monologues” and were looking for their next show.  “Urinetown was it.  They have since produced such Broadway hits as “Wicked,” “’night Mother,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “Rock of Ages,” and the newly opened hit, “SpongeBob Square Pants.”

The musical opened off-Broadway, then moved on to the Great White Way in September, 2001, to strong positive reviews, gained back the initial investment in a record-breaking six weeks, and closed in early 2004, after 26 previews and 965 performances.  National tours and local performances have followed.

The tale centers on the idea that “In the not-so-distant future, a terrible water shortage and 20-year drought has led to a government ban on private toilets and a proliferation of paid public toilets, owned and operated by a single megalomaniac company: The Urine Good Company.  If the poor don’t obey the strict laws prohibiting free urination, they get sent to the dreaded and mysterious ‘Urinetown.’

After too long under the heel of the malevolent Caldwell B. Cladwell, the poor people stage a revolt led by a brave young hero [Bobby Strong].  They fight for the freedom to pee “wherever you like, whenever you like, for as long as you like, and with whomever you like.”



Sound preposterous?  Were you aware that every November 19, the United Nations sponsors “World Toilet Day,” a day set to raise awareness that 2.4 billion people do not have a toilet to use?  The reasons?  Draught, poverty, and government and business control over the flow of water.

“Urinetown:  The Musical” is fun, but it is more than escapism and catchy tunes.  This is a tale of greed, corruption, love and revolution in a city where water is worth its weight in gold. 

Messages pervade, such as what happens when big business is given the right to control our lives.  Think of the pharmaceutical and medical companies and their stranglehold over our health.  What happens when citizens have their rights taken?  What is it like to be lied to continually in an attempt to push a political and economic agenda?  Think Trump and his motley crew!

Think of the rape of the environment caused by loosening the clean air act, elimination of national monuments, and the attitude of “drill,” “drill” “drill” and “dig, dig, dig,” damn the environment. 


Patrick Ciamacco, Blank Canvas’s Artistic Director, loves farce.  He revels in scripts that are out of the norm.  Give him fake blood, sexual titillation, and social deviance, and he’s all in.  This becomes obvious when you consider that he has produced “Debbie Does Dallas” (incidentally, another Araca show), “The Rocky Horror Show,” “Silence! The Musical,” “Wild Party,” “Reefer Madness,” “Bat Boy,” and “Triassic Parq the Musical.” 


Ciamacco and his staff, as evidenced by the screaming, clapping, raucous opening night audience, have created another winner with “Urinetown.” 


It never ceases to amaze of can be created on the theatre’s postage stamp-sized stage.  How choreographer Katie Zarecki squeezes all those bodies on the platform, yet has them dance in a semblance of order, is a wonder.  


Not only did Ciamacco get the cast in character, make sense of the lines, and get lots of laughs, but he designed the lights and sound and built the sets.  Talk about being “all in.”


He is ably supported by musical director and keyboardist, Matthew Dolan, and his well-tuned band (Aaron T. Phillips, Jason Stebelton, Keith Turner and Marcus Greene).


The cast is strong.  Rob Albrecht as Office Lockstock, the narrator, has a wonderful voice filled with irony and satirical overtones.  Dayshawnda Ash comes close to stealing the show as Little Sally.  Stephanie Harden is believable as Hope Caldwell, the evil Caldwell B. Cladwell’s daughter and girl- friend of our hero, Bobby Strong.  Daryl Kelley could be a little more “boy next door”/ “awe shucks” as Bobby, but he does nicely with his solos.  


The chorus sings and dances with vigor.


CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Urinetown:  The Musical” is flushed with success and audiences will enjoy themselves, while gaining some insight into political and economic corruption.  Get tickets early as the Blank Canvas theatre is small and this show should be a big box office success!


“Urinetown:  The Musical” runs through December 16 in the company’s west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.   For tickets and directions go to www.blankcanvasthetre.com

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

2018 Winter/Spring CLE-area Theater Calendar



Here’s a list of some of the offerings of CLE professional theaters through the winter and spring seasons (January-May).  

You can track my reviews on http://www.royberko.info/, or contact me to get on my direct review list.  You can see a synopsis of the local reviewers’ comments about the plays at http://www.clevelandtheaterreviews.com/



BECK CENTER 
  216-521-2540 or http://www.beckcenter.org
 8 p.m. evenings, 3 p.m. matinees

 

February 9-February 25—HAIR--Beck Center and Baldwin Wallace University Music Theatre Program collaborate for the 50th anniversary of the ground-breaking musical that introduced rock and roll to Broadway.  It examines a group of 60s-era youth struggling to balance their lives, loves, and the sexual revolution with their rebellion against the Vietnam War and conservative parents and society.

March 30-April 29—MY FIRST TIME-- Before blogging technically began there was myfirsttime.com which allowed people to anonymously share their own true stories about their “first times.”  Ken Davenport’s script brings these true tales to life.

June 1-July 1—BENT—Few know about the persecution of gays in Nazi Germany.  Martin Sherman’s script follows a group of gay men finding ways to survive persecution before and after the Night of the Long Knives.

BLANK CANVAS
  

440-941-0458 or http://www.blankcanvastheatre.com/
Thursday, Friday and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm


February 23-March 10—SWEENEY TODD—Stephen Sondheim’s musical of vengeance, lechery, revenge and black humor!



April 13-28—SIDESHOW—A musical based on the true story of Violet and Daisy Hilton, Siamese twins who became side show “freaks” in England and America.



June -23—HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH—The musical tale of a “girlyboy” from East Berlin who becomes a famous entertainer after a botched sex change operation.

CESEAR’S FORUM
  
216-241-6000 or go to http://www.cesearsforum.com/

 

TBA

CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE  
216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org
7:30 Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 Saturday and Sunday

January 20-February 11—MARIE AND ROSETTA—Sister Rosetta Tharpe, "The Godmother of Rock n' Roll" who influenced performers from Elvis to Hendrix, plucks prim and proper Marie Knight from a rival gospel show, and the two challenge one another on music, life, and the Almighty.

February 17-March 11—THE INVISIBLE HAND—a tale of terrorism and capitalism, where greed and deceit prevail and no one escapes without blood on their hands.

April 14-May 6—THE 25 th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE--A coming-of-age Tony award winning musical comedy with a high-spirited, improvised spelling bee that gives new meaning to P-A-N-D-E-M-O-N-I-U-M.

May 5-27—THE ROYALE—It's 1910, and Negro Heavyweight Champion Jay "The Sport" Jackson is determined to prove he is equal to his white counterpart – in the ring and in life.  (Inspired by the life of sports legend Jack Johnson.)


CLEVELAND PUBLIC THEATRE

  216-631-2727 or go on line to http://www.cptonline.org/

January 24-28 (7:30) -- HOW TO END POVERTY IN 90 MINUTES—Over the course of 90 minutes, audiences list, explore and ultimately decide how to spend $1,000 from that evening’s box office sales.

February 8-March 3 (7:00)—You are invited to be in the studio audience of AMERICAN DREAMS where you will decide which of three contestants will receive the ultimate prize:  citizenship.

February 22-March 10 (7:30)—EN EL TIEMPO DE LAS MARIPOSAS/IN THE TIME OF THE BUTTERFLIES—A fictionalized account of the courageous Mirabal sister from the Dominican Republic who inspired resistance cells against the dictatorial regime of Rafael Trujillo.

March 29-April 21--BR’ER COTTON (7:30)—Ruffrino, a 14-year-old militant, incites riots in school and on-line.  (National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere)

convergence continuum
convergence-continuum.org or 216-687-0074
Thursday-Saturday @ 8

February 8-17—NEOMFA PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL-- For the seventh year, con-con will produce new plays by graduate students in the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing program.  It will include two full-length plays by final year students, and two short one-acts by second year students.

March 23-April 14: THE OLDEST PROFESSION by Paula Vogel.  As Ronald Reagan enters the White House, five aging practitioners of the oldest profession are faced with a diminishing clientele, increased competition for their niche market, and aching joints. 




DOBAMA
 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org
check the theatre’s blog for performance times

January 19-30—GROUNDED—Cleveland writer George Brant’s award winning poetic monologue about a hotshot fighter pilot sidelined by pregnancy and reassigned to manage drone strikes.

March 2-25—THE EFFECT—The UK Critics’ Circle Award for Best New Play is about a clinical trial for a new antidepressant – which might be a Viagra for the heart.

April 20-May 20—APPROPRIATE—the Obie Award winning provocative family drama from Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, the writer of AN OCTOROON.

ENSEMBLE THEATRE  216-321-2930 or http://www.ensemble-theatre.com
Fridays and Saturdays @ 8, Sundays @ 2

 

January 5-28—ANGELS IN AMERICA PART ONE:  MILLENNIUM APPROACHES—Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winning play--Set in 1980's New York City, a gay man is abandoned by his lover when he contracts the AIDS virus, and a closeted Mormon lawyer's marriage to his pill-popping wife stalls.  New Yorkers grapple with life and death, love and sex, heaven and hell.

February 9-25—JELLY BELLY-- A powerful story of a convict returning from a brief prison stay to resume his position as the neighborhood kingpin.

April 27-May 20--ANGELS IN AMERICA PART TWO: PERESTROIKA--The plague of AIDS worsens, relationships fall apart as new one’s form, and unexpected friendships roll-out. America in the mid-1980s. 



GREAT LAKES THEATER

  http://www.greatlakestheater.org or 216-241-6000
Wednesday-Saturday @ 7:30, Saturdays @ 1:30, Sundays @ 3

 

February 16-March 11—MISERY—Stephen King’s thriller, in which a successful romance novelist awakes in a secluded home, rescued from a car crash by his “number one fan.”  Fiction quickly becomes stark reality.  The production brings local favorite Andrew May back to the area.

March 29-April 15—MACBETH—Shakespeare's towering tragedy melds unforgettable characters and incomparable language in a fascinating drama of corruption and heroism.  (Note:  For this production, GLT will transform the Hanna into an Elizabethan theater, including seating sections on stage - surrounding the playing area and creating an immersive experience for audiences! Consider onstage seating when planning.)

May 4-20—BEEHIVE THE 60s MUSICAL—The groovy retro-musical-review, under the direction of Victoria Bussert, features hits that range from the Supremes’ melodies to Janis Joplin’s heart-rending rasp to Aretha Franklin’s soul.
 


INTERPLAY JEWISH THEATRE   interplayjewishtheatre@gmail.com or 216-393-PLAY
(Play readings at Dobama are free, but reservations are required.  Presentations at the Maltz Museum are fee based)

January 28 @ 2 PM (Maltz Museum, 2929 Richmond Road, Beachwood)--Rx--Kate Fodor's comedy which accompanies the museum's "Beyond Chicken Soup:  Jews & Medicine in America.")  Reservations:  216-503-0570 or www.maltzmuseum.org

KARAMU HOUSE  216-795-707) or www.karamuhouse.org
(Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday)

February 8-March 4—SASSY MAMAS—Three longtime girlfriends find themselves living single and ready to ensnare much younger male suitors.

March 22-April 15—ADVENTURES OF THE BLACK GIRL IN HER SEARCH FOR GOD—Based on G. B. Shaw’s short story, it follows a young African girl who is abandoned by a white missionary for asking too many questions about God. 

May 10-June 3—PASSING STRANGER--An edgy musical which follows a nameless African-American Youth who is on a quest to find “the real.”




LAKELAND CIVIC THEATRE  440-525-7134 or http://lakelandcc.edu/academic/arts/theatre/index.asp


February 2-18—MERRILY WE ROLE ALONG—Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s musical based on the 1934 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, which revolves around Franklin Shepard who, having once been a talented composer of Broadway musicals, has now abandoned his friends and songwriting career to become a producer of Hollywood movies.

NEW WORLD PERFORMANCE LAB
For details: https://nwplab.com/

February—Ma’Sue Productions stages a new play

May—DON QUIXOTE—a new version of the Cervantes play of a Knight in search of the impossible dream.

none-too-fragile theatre   330-671-4563 or http://www.nonetoofragile.com

 

February 2-17—BOY—Anna Ziegler’s tale of a little girl who wants to be good but is thwarted by the discomfort that comes from being born a boy, a fact of which she (he) is unaware.

March 16-31—THE LATE HENRY MOSS—Sam Shepard’s work about a father who has spun his dysfunctional American family web and then disappeared, leaving the fractured members to replay the past with longing, with resentment.

May 11-26—WHITE GUY ON THE BUS-- Tells the tale of the dynamics between low-income blacks and economically comfortable whites.
 


OHIO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL  www.ohioshakespearefestival.com
(Winter and Spring Home:  Greystone Hall, Akron).  Shows Thursday-Saturday at 8:00, Sunday matinees at 2:00.

January 24-28—THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE ABRIDGED—37 plays in 97 minutes!

March 2-18—SCAPIN—Molière’s tale of two young lovers who fall in love with two penniless and beautiful women who need to be helped by Scapin, the crafty servant, who can scheme his way into (and out of) any situation.

April 6-22—KING CHARLES III--Prince Charles has spent his entire life in a state of waiting.  But now, Queen Elizabeth II has passed away, and the erstwhile prince finally receives his chance to ascend the British throne. 

216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org
See the website for specific dates and times

PLAYHOUSE SQUARE CENTER
 
January 9-28—State Theatre—LOVE NEVER DIES, sequel to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, picks up the tale 10 years after the Phantom’s disappearance from the Paris Opera House and has escaped to New York where he lives in Coney Island.  Christine, who is now a famous opera singer, is lured to America by the Phantom in a last attempt to win her love.

February 6-11—Connor Palace—STOMP-- a percussion group, originating in Brighton, United Kingdom that uses the body and ordinary objects to create a physical theatre performance using rhythms, acrobatics and pantomime.

March 6-25—Connor Palace—RENT—In the late 1980s and early 1900s, a group in NY ‘s East Village face pennilessness, drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, social tension and political unrest as they make personal self-discoveries about what matters in life.  (1996 Tony Winner for Best Musical)

April 10-29—Connor Palace—THE HUMANS—2016 Tony Award winner for Best Play, showcases the Blake family, gathering at the run-down Manhattan apartment to have dinner and deal with aging, illness, and a changing economy.

May 2-27—State Theatre—ALADDIN—The musical tale of Princess Jasmine and her search for a royal groom with the aid of a magic lamp and a Genie.

It’s coming—Lin-Manuel Miranda’s HAMILTON arrives on July 17 for a six-week run!

RUBBER CITY THEATRE--2207 Romig Road, Akron
234-252-0272 or http://www.rubbercitytheatre.com/

February 9-25—TWELFTH NIGHT—The Shakespeare play centers on the twins, Viola and Sebastian, who are separated in a shipwreck.  Viola (who is disguised as a boy) falls in love with the Duke, who in turn is in love with the Countess Olivia.  Mayhem ensues.

April 6-15—EQUIVOCATION-- a play about telling the truth in difficult times. It proposes the question: what if the government commissioned William Shakespeare to write the definitive history of a national crisis.



THE MUSICAL THEATER PROJECT
 

http://www.MusicalTheaterProject.org or 216-529-9411 for tickets and information
(productions staged in review format with narration)

January 27—Hanna Theatre, 28—Temple Tifereth Israel—THE GERSHWINS IN HOLLYWOOD—George and Ira penned some of the best popular songs of the decade. This is the story of George’s last years, capped by the brothers’ iconic “Love Is Here to Stay.”  Featuring Bill Rudman and Paul Ferguson, Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, the Joe Hunter Trio, Vince Mastro and Treva Offutt.

March 1-- 3 PM -- ​OLD FRIENDS: AN AFTERNOON WITH CRYER & FORD—GRETCHEN CRYER AND NANCY FORD were the first female writing team to be produced in New York (I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road (1978), Now Is the Time for All Good Men (1967).  With Bill Rudman, special guests Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford, Music direction by Nancy Maier, and featuring Katherine DeBoer and Eric Fancher.

April 15 (Kent State University), April 16—Breen Center for the Performing Arts) --Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ALLEGRO: In-Concert Musical—The musical journey of Joe Taylor, Jr., from his birth in small-town America to the big city and back again to his roots--directed by Terri Kent, music direction by Nancy Maier, new arrangements by Ty Alan Emerson, featuring Joe Monaghan and members of Kent State University’s Musical Theatre Program.

May 6 –3 PM Cuyahoga Community College—East Campus) -- LET’S NOT WASTE A MOMENT: THE IMPACT OF MILK AND HONEY-- The 1961 musical MILK AND HONEY, with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, placed spotlight on the state of Israel, then just 13 years old.

THEATRE NINJAS
 

February 22-24—BRICOLAGE--an explosion of new fusion works created by randomly assigned teams of artists and craftspeople from all over the creative spectrum.

April 6-7--POSITIVE REINFORCEMENTS--a two-night showcase of short-form performance/time-based art, such as theater pieces, dance, sketch/comedy, music, opera, radio plays, performance art and poetry readings, along with representatives from visual and spacial art.

May 31- June. 2—MYSTERY BOX--Behind this door there is a perfectly ordinary room, and in that room there is a perfectly ordinary box. The secrets this box contains and the story of the person who made it are at the heart of a mystery that spans hundreds of years, digital and analogue worlds, and touches the very fabric of the universe

Monday, December 04, 2017

“THE LITTLE MERMAID” goes under the sea again @ Beck Center


Yes, Beck Center has decided to recycle “The Little Mermaid,” last year’s holiday production so that more children of all ages can follow Ariel, the daughter of King Triton, the master of the sea, in her search for “a world in which I feel truly realized on my own terms.”

 “The Little Mermaid” is based on the 1989 Disney film of the same name, which brought to the big screen Hans Christian Anderson’s magical tale.

The script made its Broadway debut in January of 2008 and ran 685 performances and fifty previews.   The Beck show is an interpretation developed in 2012 which stresses Ariel’s ambitions are bigger than the search for a man to complete her.

For those of you who are new to the story, as the tale starts, Ariel, her side-kick, Flounder, her sisters, the fish and crustations of the sea frolic.  Meanwhile, Prince Eric and his adviser, Grimsby, are aboard a ship at sea and hear a lovely voice.  The Prince is immediately captivated by the sound, thus laying the groundwork for his eventual pursuit of the source of the music.  It is, of course, Ariel.

A storm, Eric being saved by his yet unrecognized lady love, Ariel, who is fascinated by the “real” world, and the plotting by Ariel’s evil Aunt Ursula to get revenge on Triton for taking away her “deserved” inheritance as the equal controller of the seas, all advance the plot. 

Ursula makes a deal with Ariel in which the young beauty exchanges her singing voice for legs to replace her mermaid tail, thus becoming a human. Ariel and Eric spending time together, (spoiler alert!) a conflict between Ariel, Triton and Ursula in which the magic seashell is broken and the bad aunt is destroyed, Eric proposing marriage, the declaration of peace between humans and the merfolk, and, as in all good fairy tales, the royal joining in marriage of Ariel and Eric, wrap up the tale. 

For this year’s production, Martin Céspedes reinvisons some of his award winning creative and stimulating choreography which covers calypso, ballroom, soft-shoe, line dancing, and some balletic moments.  Alan Menken’s music is again lushly played by Larry Goodpaster and his large orchestra, and we get to swim above and below the sea thanks to Adam Zeek’s creative projections. 

Also back are the lovely Kathleen Rooney as Ariel and handsome Shane Patrick O’Neil as her prince charming, as well as the 2016 Playhouse Square’s Dazzle Award winner, J. R. Heckman as Flounder, Natalie Blalock as the bad, bad Ursula, Darryl Lewis as King Triton, Zachary Vederman (Scuttle), Wesley Allen (Sebastian) and Robert Pierce (Chef Louis).

So, what could be wrong?  Though the outstanding vocals are present, the entire production, with the exception of the dancing, seems to be emotionally flat. 

The cast seems to be walking through their performances rather than enjoying themselves.  Their attitude is catchy as the young audience at a Saturday matinee wiggled, squirmed, and kept wandering up and down the aisles followed by their frantic mothers.  Not their fault.  The production needs a good dose of directorial induced enthusiasm!

Also, in spite of a valiant try by sound designer Carlton Guc, the sound system made understanding sung words difficult.  Why won’t the powers that be at Beck take the criticism of the theater reviewers and patrons, and finally do something about their outdated sound system?

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  I wish I could rave about this go-around of “The Little Mermaid” as I did last year, but I can’t.  This production is acceptable, but with all that talent on stage there needs to be an infusion of joy and enthusiasm to make it reach the high levels of which it is capable.

 
“The Little Mermaid” is scheduled to run through December 31, 2017 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to http://www.beckcenter.org

Sunday, December 03, 2017

“The game’s afoot” as “The Baker Street Irregulars” snoop @ Dobama



In October of 1978 Will Eisner published “A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories.”  The fictional tale ushered in a new venue, the graphic novel, using the drawing media to tell tales. 

In contrast to most “comics,” (e.g., “Peanuts,” “Mary Worth,” and “Little Orphan Annie”), which tend to be serialized, graphic novels are self-contained stories.

Tony Lee and Dan Boultwood wrote a quartet of these novels, aimed mainly at the tween audience, which are spin-offs on Sherlock Holmes stories centering on The Baker Street Irregulars, a bunch of street urchins led by teenaged Wiggins, whom Holmes paid to collect data for his investigations.

In the Lee and Boultwood series, “The Adventure of the Missing Detective,” “The Adventure of the Phantom of Drury Lane,” “The Adventure of the Charge of the Old Brigade” and “The Adventure of the Family Reunion,” Wiggins is joined by “Pockets” a female pickpocket, “Ash” an apprentice chimney sweep,” “Chen,” a boy-wonder Chinatown inventor, “Tiny” a plus-sized butcher’s assistant, and “Eliza,” the granddaughter of a famous London sleuth.

Cleveland Heights’ national award winning playwright, Eric Coble’s adaptation of “Sherlock Holmes:  The Baker Street Irregulars,” is a melodramatic, tween-centric “who done it” play with villains, cops, mistaken identities, subterfuge, heroic acts, dangerous situations, budding love stories and twists and turns.

Though the script has been produced by other theatres, Dobama’s staging is actually a “kind of” world premiere, as Coble sat in while the action evolved, making adaptations to the original work.

The tale?  It is December,1891, shortly after the “disappearance/death” of Sherlock Holmes, following a battle with Moriarty, his arch-nemesis.  The street urchins take up the challenge of defending the Victorian city against crimes.

They are aided by Inspector Lestrade, who questions the youths’ ability to solve crimes, the mysterious Irene Adler and the steadfast Doctor John Watson.

Director Nathan Motta keeps the action generally lively, has worked with his actors to let loose of reality and play the scenes with stylized acting, though a more comic book approach might have added some more audience involvement.  He also has planned with his technical staff to create visually interesting effects.  Though there is a somewhat excessive use of projections, sometimes causing an almost roller-coaster queasiness, the visuals generally work.
 



Christopher Bohan, gives yet another strong performance, following up his starring roles in Dobama’s “How to Be a Respectable Junkie” and “The Flick,” in his dual performance as Doctor Watson and Sherlock Holmes.  Ray Caspio is evil incarnate as both Morris Wiggins and Moriarty.  Ananias J. Dixon properly overplays as Inspector Lestrade.  Laura Starnik makes Mayhew live. Neda Spears is fine as Mrs. Hudson, Holmes’ landlady.


Tenth-grader Colin Frothingham, with a ton of stage experience in his background, excels as Wiggins.  This is a young man who has a promising future as a Thespian.

Elise Pakiela delights as Pockets.

Fortunately, Motta unearthed some performers who are young looking, while being adults.  Miranda Leeann (Eliza Mayhew) and David Gretchko (Tiny) are on target in their portrayals.
   
Undertaking a script such as “Sherlock Holmes:  The Baker Street Irregulars” by a professional theatre like Dobama has its challenges.  The show is child-actor dominant.  In contrast to community theatres, where parents and grandparents can imagine that their little ones as “better than Broadway,” equity theatres don’ t have the latitude of praising those who are young and cute, but not of professional quality. 

In the case of “Irregulars,” one younger cast members tended to stay in character when speaking lines, but when not emoting, eyes wandered the audience and there was a lack of reaction to the lines of others. Another is adorable, and gets laughs, but a high-pitched voice and rapid speech makes lines almost unintelligible.  Hopefully, as the show progresses, Motta will spend some time aiding these fledglings.

Coble’s script is ideal for community theatres, and should get lots of stagings.  The story can be of interest and has roles that are in the amateur theatre wheel house.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Sherlock Holmes:  The Baker Street Irregulars” gets a good staging at Dobama that will be of interest for parents and grandparents looking for a theatrical experience for their tweens and younger teens during this season.  It is a nice option for the much-done holidays shows that are staged again and again.  It is not great theater, but it could make for an entertaining evening of entertainment.

 
Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars” runs December 1 through December 30 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.

Next up at Dobama: “Grounded” by George Brant, another Cleveland award-winning playwright from January 19-February 11, 2018.