Sunday, September 29, 2019



We are in the midst of “The Music Man” blizzard.  In the last year, Porthouse Theatre and The Stratford Festival of Canada have done the show, and a Broadway production starring Hugh Jackman as Harold Hill, will begin performances on October 15, 2020.  Two-time Tony Award-winning superstar, Sutton Foster, will co-star as Marian the librarian. The production will be directed by four-time Tony Award winner, Jerry Zaks, with choreography by Tony Award winner Warren Carlyle. 

Don’t be upset if you won’t get to NY.  Great Lakes Theater is staging the show in what is a bright, exuberant production, under the artistic guidance of recent Cleveland Arts Prize winner, Victoria Bussert.

Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” is one of American musical theatre’s most produced shows.  The song and dance fest is considered by many to be one of the genre’s best combination of story and music.

As I reported in my Porthouse review, the show’s march to popularity was not an easy one.  After many years of trying to convert Willson and Franklin Lacey’s hokey story into a musical, trying to shoehorn almost 40 songs into the score (twenty-two were eventually cut), more than forty script drafts, and a change of producers, the show finally opened on Broadway on December 19, 1957. 

Opening night reviews were sensational, calling the production, “a marvelous show,” “rooted in wholesome and comic tradition,” and “a whopping hit.”  It went on to win five Tony Awards, including winning Best Musical recognition over “West Side Story.”  Praise was heaped on original cast members, Robert Preston, who reprised his title role in the 1962 screen adaptation, and Barbara Cook.

Willson wrote the book “But He Doesn’t Know the Territory” about the trials of getting the show to Broadway. 

Stories include that Wilson’s interest in the story was inspired by his boyhood experiences in Mason City, Iowa.  In addition, it is revealed that the song, “Ya Got Trouble,” was originally spoken dialogue about the serious woes facing River City parents, but during the developmental process it was realized the words had a sound that was ideal for a “patter song,” so music was written to underscore the cadence.   

We also become aware that in “the original production (and the film), the School Board was played by the Buffalo Bills, the 1950 International Quartet Champions of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA).” 

And, “Robert Preston claimed that he got the role of Harold Hill despite his limited singing range because, when he went to audition, they were having the men sing "Trouble." The producers felt it would be the most difficult song to sing, but with his acting background, it was the easy for Preston.”

As for the story, “the plot concerns con-man, Harold Hill, who poses as a kids' band organizer and leader, selling band instruments and uniforms to naive Midwestern townsfolk.  He promises to train the members of the new band.  Harold is no musician, however, and plans to skip town without giving any music lessons. Prim librarian and piano teacher Marian sees through him.  When Harold helps her younger brother overcome his lisp and social awkwardness, Madam Librarian changes her tune.  And, of course, as happens in all good musical comedy love stories, Marian falls in love and Harold risks being caught to win her hand. As the lights go out all are assured that the duo will live happily ever after.

The GLT production is fresh and encompassing.  Bussert, who heads Baldwin Wallace’s highly ranked Musical Theatre program, has brought along many of her present and past students to litter the stage with dynamic talent.

Both leads are BW grads.  Alex Syiek gives his own spin to Harold, adding a macho quality with an underbelly of sensitive softness.  Displaying a strong singing voice and well-developed acting chops, his scenes with Winthrop (Ian McLaughlin) are heartfelt and there is an obvious stage connection with Jillian Kates.

Kates, who was in the national touring company of “Wicked,” has a well-trained singing voice and nicely develops Marian in her trajectory from a frosty librarian to a love-struck woman.  

Other BW attendees and grads who give strong performances in major roles are Marcus Martin as the dynamic Marcellus Washburn and Jodi Dominick as the uptight Eulalie Shin.  

David Anthony “mumfers” his way delightfully as Mayor Shinn and Carole Healey charms as Mrs. Paroo.

The “Pick-A-Little” ladies and the Quartet are pitch perfect.

The technical aspects of the show are outstanding, as is Nancy Maier and her orchestra.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “The Music Man” is an apple pie, All American, feel good musical which gets a fresh, dynamic and engaging production at GLT under the creative direction of Victoria Bussert.

The Music Man” runs through November 10, 2019 at the Hanna Theatre.  Tickets can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to http://www.greatlakestheater.org/

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Intense, well-written and performed, thought provoking "Paradise Blue" at Karamu



Suzan-Lori Parks, Lynn Nottage and Tonya Barfield are noted as emerging African American playwrights.  Another member of that sorority is the award-winning Dominique Morisseau, the author of “The Detroit Project,” a 3-Play Cycle which includes “The Skeleton Crew,” “Detroit ’67,” and “Paradise Blue.”  The latter is now on stage at Karamu Theatre.

Called “haunting,” “vibrant,” and "...a juicy and resonant piece of writing, filled to the brim with complex, empathetic characters struggling and infighting as part of a community living under extreme duress,” the script centers on Blue, a gifted trumpeter, who contemplates selling his once-vibrant jazz club in Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood to shake free the demons of his past.

Black Bottom was a predominantly black neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan. It was famous for its music scene.  African American major blues singers, big bands, and jazz artists, such as Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine, Pearl Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, and Count Basie, regularly performed in the bars and clubs of neighborhood’s Paradise Valley entertainment district. 

In the early 1960s, the City of Detroit conducted a renewal program to combat what it called "Urban Blight." The program razed the entire Black Bottom district and replaced it with a mixed-income development designed as a model neighborhood combining residential townhouses, apartments and high-rises with commercial areas.

One of the buildings that went the way of regentrification was the Paradise Club, a bar owned by Blue’s father, filled with both good and bad memories.

Questions arise as Blue considers whether to sell the establishment and move to Chicago.    What happens to Pumpkin, his lover and sweet, poetry-quoting woman, who has dreams of her own?  What does it mean for the club’s resident band?  Why has a mysterious woman, with a walk that drives men mad, come to town and renting a room above the bar?

Karamu is a perfect venue in which to experience the musically-infused drama.  The mostly African American audience reacts to the highs and lows, protagonists and antagonist, with emotional verbalizations.  Based on the long tradition of church and meeting hall “call and response,” in which talking and reacting during the service is allowed, even encouraged, spontaneous responses and shouts from attendees ring out. There is no doubt that the audience is into the action!  And the well-directed and talented cast react to the encouragement.

Dyrell Barnett appropriately seethes and lashes out, verbally and physically, as the frustrated Blue.  

Latecia Delores Wilson, she of beautiful face and tender demeanor, is spot-on as Pumpkin, the oft-target of Blue’s physical and verbal torments.  

Handsome Drew Pope creates a realistic P. Sam, a talented drummer, who finds himself frustrated by the lack of opportunities for a young Black man.  

As Corn, a piano player who is also the prop on which Blue depends, Darryl Tatum, shines.  

Multi Cleveland Critics Circle and Brodwayworld.com award winner, Nina Domingue, saunters sexually, speaks with authority, wields a mean gun, and fleshes out a Silver who is both an enigma and a woman to be dealt with.

Scenic designer Richard H. Morris, Jr.’s mult-level set well-fits the action, but seems a little too high-grade and polished for the Black Bottom neighborhood.  Daniel Spearman’s trumpet recording showcases the sounds of a high-quality musician.  India Blatch-Geib has designed era-correct costumes. 

Justin Emeka’s direction keeps the pace intense while building the tension to the shocking conclusion.

Capsule judgment: “Paradise Blue” gets a solid, high quality, thought-inducing, drama and laugh-inducing production.  It’s Karamu at its best!

The play is being presented, from September 26 through October 20, 2019, in the renovated Jelliffe Theater, located in Karamu House, 2355 East 89th Street.  There is a no-fee, guarded, fenced, lighted parking lot adjacent to the theatre.  For tickets call 216-795-7077 or go to http://www.karamuhouse.org/

Friday, September 27, 2019

Spotlight: What you always wanted to know about the Musical Theatre Project




Roy Berko

On October 12 at 8PM in the Ohio Theatre and October 13 at 3 PM at Fairmount Temple, The Musical Theater Project (TMTP) will present “BLUE SKIES—IRVING BERLIN AND THE AMERICAN DREAM” with Bill Rudman, Paul Ferguson, Trev Offult and Michael Shirtz, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and Joe Hunter Trio.  It is a tribute to Irving Berlin.

The program is part of “The Song Is You! Series,” which celebrates the songs and artists that give the musical theater art form its passion and significance.   It, as all of the series programs (“docu–concerts” or live documentaries), explores remarkable words and music that speak to our lives, create memories along the way.

“The Musical Theater Project was formed in 2000 to foster a deep appreciation of the American musical -- and the social and cultural history surrounding it -- by producing concerts, in-school residency programs, radio broadcasts and recordings that:
  • Create personal connections with the songs, characters and themes of the American musical.
  • Document the lives of important American musical theater artists.
  • Explore the connections between the musical and the rich diversity of the American experience.
  • Examine the relevance of musical theater in contemporary society.”
An on-line interview with Bill Rudman, the founder and artistic director of TMTP, revealed a great deal about Bill and the program. 

What was the basis for your idea to develop TMTP?
“I had been doing my radio show on WCLV, “Footlight Parade,” for 15 years. In 1998, I decided to try to syndicate it, but I knew that would mean forming a nonprofit to provide support. I also knew that there was plenty more I wanted to do: The radio show is educational, and I wanted to create more of that in other forms. I was trained as an English teacher!  So, I wanted to develop concerts and a school program and heaven knows what else.”

What roadblocks, if any, did you encounter in developing TMTP or the radio show?
“It always comes down to money, doesn’t it? I needed to develop a base of support, and the challenge was to build this brick by brick — first by forming a board of trustees, and then 11 years later, bringing on Heather Meeker as a partner and going through serious strategic planning, which we’ve been doing every year since then. We believe we’ve done all this in a very smart way. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have lasted.”

How did the radio show go from local to national?
“By my talking to my friend Bob Conrad at WCLV, which had carried the show since 1983. Once we had some funding in place, they syndicated the program to public stations; we’re now carried by about 100. And 10 years ago, we pitched the show under a different title — “On the Aisle” — to SiriusXM Satellite Radio. They’ve been carrying it ever since. It’s the only show on their Broadway Channel that’s not generated in New York.”

What in your training/education best equipped you to develop and carry forth TMTP?
“BA in English with a lot of theater at Hiram College, and I taught English in the Catskills.  So, first and foremost, I’m an educator. Plus, I worked for many years as the associator in charge of educational programming at Great Lakes Theater, and I’ve consulted for arts organizations all over the country. Plus, I’ve been teaching musical history in one form or another since the first full-credit course I offered as a student at Hiram in 1971. Plus, I fell in love with this art form when I was five and began studying it when I was 11. Plus, I’ve co-directed a national record label on musical theater since 1983. It’s now part of TMTP. Hope that’s enough! The point is, I’m a man obsessed. It’s a calling, pure and simple.”

You sing in some of the programs. Do you have any formal music training?
“Yes, all the way through high school and college. But I don’t consider myself a ‘singer.’ I’m an educator who uses singing as a teaching tool. I know what I can do and what I can’t. Let’s put it this way: You’ll never hear me attempt ‘Some Enchanted Evening.’ But ‘Lydia, the Tattooed Lady?’ Sure!”

What are two of your favorite experiences regarding your work with TMTP and/or the radio show?
“Gotta do three! Watching the concert audience grow from 38 for the first one to hundreds these days. Seeing the school program grow by leaps and bounds. Winning a national audience for the radio show that puts our community on the map.”

Who was the subject of the best interview you have done?
“The composer John Kander (“CABARET,” “CHICAGO”). He told me he was shy and hated interviews, but our conversation became very warm and very personal. It was a three-part, three-hour documentary.”

What one thing you would like me to include in the article that is not listed here.
Just that when theater people talk about their “journeys” as artists, that’s been true in spades for me as educator and artist since teaching my first class and doing my first radio show in college nearly 50 years ago. I believe that my colleagues and I in this organization are constantly growing intellectually, emotionally and even spiritually in terms of the work we do in our community — and the nation. And in turn, what we’re getting from them through the human, often truly deep connections we make. It’s a real and exhilarating conversation. What could be more fun — or thrilling — than that?”

Want more than the live production?  The radio shows, “Footlight Parade” and “On the Aisle” pull back the curtain to reveal information about the songwriters and performers who create musical theatre, as well as the universal themes and historic productions that make it a social and cultural touchstone.  The shows are heard locally on WCLV 104.9 Saturdays at 6 and On Sirius, it’s heard on Channel 72 Saturdays at 3 PM and Tuesdays at 9 PM.

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For tickets to productions and information about TMTP go to http://www.MusicalTheaterProject.org or call 216-529-9411.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Cesear’s Forum’s “Copenhagen” asks whether a meeting between two physicists changed world history





Did a meeting between two world-famous Jewish physicists have an effect on Germany not developing an atomic bomb?  Did that same meeting lead to the evacuation of Denmark’s Jewish population before a planned mass extermination by the Nazis?  Did that same get-together lead to a major physicist leaving Europe and coming to the US to help in this country’s nuclear program?  

These, and other questions are at the center of “Copenhagen, Michael Frayn’s Tony Award winning play, now being staged by Cesear’s Forum. 

The story is told in a non-linear pattern in which physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, and Borh’s wife, Margrethe, all now dead, look back at a meeting held in the Bohr’s Copenhagen home in September, 1941.  

The spirits of the three attempt to answer the question that Margrethe poses in the first line of the play: "Why did he [Heisenberg] come to Copenhagen?"  Unfortunately, though the meeting did take place, there is no written or oral record of exactly what happened.  

What playwright Frayn has done, is to invent a “what might have been said and what did happen marriage of ideas and suppositions.”  We spend two-and-a-half hours reliving the experience which presents, debates, accepts and rejects theories that may answer that question.

Frayn feels confident in claiming that "The actual words spoken by [the] characters are entirely their own."

The core of the play is based on a speech by Heisenberg who says, "No one understands my trip to Copenhagen. Time and time again I’ve explained it. To Bohr himself, and Margrethe. To interrogators and intelligence officers, to journalists and historians. The more I've explained, the deeper the uncertainty has become."

Along the way, Frayn has Heisenberg and Bohr draft several versions of their 1941 exchange.  In these flashback discussions, “they argue about the ramifications of each potential version of their meeting and the motives behind it.  They discuss the idea of nuclear power and its control, the rationale behind building or not building an atomic bomb, the uncertainty of the past and the inevitability of the future as embodiments of themselves acting as particles drifting through the atom that is Copenhagen.”

Heisenberg grew up in an environment with an intense emphasis on academics, but was exposed to the destruction of World War II. He is best known for his "Uncertainty Principle."  During the Second World War, despite being Jewish, he worked for Germany, researching atomic technology and heading their nuclear reactor program. 

After the war, Heisenberg’s involvement with the Nazis earned him certain notoriety in the world of physicists, mainly due to the fact it is speculated that he could have given Hitler the means to produce and use nuclear arms, but intentionally or through the lack of insight into the nuclear process, did not do so.

There is supposition that Heisenberg was also instrumental in sharing knowledge of the secret expulsion of the Danish Jews, so that they could be taken out of the country and hidden.

It is known that most of the world's great theoretical physicists spent periods of their lives at Bohr's Institute. Before the war, his research was instrumental in nuclear research, some of which led to the building of the bomb. During the war, however, Bohr was living in occupied Denmark and somewhat restricted in his research.  He escaped to Sweden in 1943, came to America and worked on the atomic bomb until the end of the war. 

Proving the value of the theatre, Frayn’s play inspired numerous scholarly and media debates over the 1941 meeting.  The Niels Bohr Archive in Copenhagen released to the public all sealed documents related to the meeting, a move intended mostly to settle historical arguments over what they contained. 

The Cesear’s Forum production, under the adept direction of the theater’s artistic director, Greg Cesear, though fascinating in content and idea development, is very long.  The script could have used some heavy red-lining.  Fortunately, the author has “dumbed down” many of the scientific concepts so that the ideas are listener friendly, even for the non-physics informed.

The cast, who each had hundreds-upon-hundreds of lines to memorize, make the interactions conversational and realistic.  Mary Alice Beck (Margrethe), Brian Bowers (Heisenberg) and Dana Hart (Bohr) each nicely texture their performances and create real people. 

Kennedy’s Down Under Theatre creates a perfect setting for this script.  Sitting up-close and enclosed in the natural brick façade makes the experience a personal revelation.

 CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Copenhagen” continues Cesear’s Forum for doing small cast, high quality, thought provoking plays, that draw in a thinking crowd.  Though a long sit, the play is an idea-expanding experience that is well-worth seeing.

Copenhagen,” which runs about two-and-a-half hours, with an intermission, can be seen in Kennedy’s Down Under, in the Playhouse Square complex, on Friday and Saturdays at 8 pm through October 26, 2019.  There are 3 pm Sunday performances on October 6 & 13.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org

Finely written, creatively directed, well-acted, funny, “Into the Breeches!” at CPH



As the lights come up on the Tony Winning Cleveland Play House’s opening production of its 104thseason, it’s 1942 and the Oberon Play House (a stand-in name for CPH), is about to open its season. There is a major problem, however. The plays scheduled are all Shakespeare, the company’s males are all off fighting in World War II, and the director is in the service of his country.

Determined not to close the theatre, the director’s wife, Maggie, sets out to produce an all-female version of “Henry V,” with a group of quickly assembled women, most of whom have little theater experience.

The situation described in the play was not unusual.  Most regional theatres closed down during that war.  CPH was the exception.  And, though the story is not the same as in this script, there are enough similarities to bring about unreserved respect for Artistic Director Frederic McConnell, who kept CPH in operation. 

As McConnell once said, “The theatre speaks best in periods of momentous living.  The theatre finds strength in the presence of popular need.  We should keep it strong and prepare now for the continuance of that strength in the dubious years that lie in wait.”  

Based on the axiom, “The play must go on,” the script, by award-winning Cleveland playwright George Brant, husband of CPH’s Artistic Director and the production’s director, Laura Kepley, turns out to be a hilarious, heartwarming, audience-moving comedy with a purpose. In fact, many causes and purposes, as it takes on male chauvinism, class status, equal pay for males and females, and prejudice against African Americans and homosexuals.  

Maggie has her husband’s notes and long-distance cooperation, and a great deal of determination. She is more than ready to take on the naysayers who think it just can’t be done, especially the ultra-conservative board member Ellsworth Snow, a businessman who opposes her from step one and predicts disaster for the project.  His prediction is “people will throw tomatoes.”  (A reference harking back to the days of vaudeville when bad acts were greeted by theater-goers with a barrage of rotten vegetables.)
Determined Maggie also has to confront Celeste, the company’s over-wrought diva, who can’t accept that she is too old to play young Prince Hal. In addition, since she is going to play a male role, Celeste demands to be paid.  Yes, none of the women in the company have ever been paid, while all the men, no matter how small a part, have.  
Eventually, after casting his wife to play Falstaff, Maggie gains June and Grace, who show up for auditions and though they have no theater experience turn out to be gems in the rough.  
When gay stage manager Stuart Lasker, volunteers to take on a role, and African American costume designer Ida Green is enlisted as well, Maggie has a few more glitches to contend with as neither a gay actor or a black one has ever been on stage at the Oberon.  (Remember, this is 1942).
Will Maggie succeed?  Will Celeste, who has quit to take over the role of Cinderella in a Parma children’s theatre production, return to play the King?  Will the hysterical “masculine walking workshop” make the actresses into believable males?  Will . . . (the questions could just keep on, but why take away the joys of your self-discovering the wonders of “Into the Breeches”? (BTW--the title a is pun referring to the oft-quoted “Henry V” line “Once more unto the breach, dear friends.”)
George Brandt’s script is well constructed, filled with high and low comedy, has well sculpted characters, and has enough twists and turns to keep audience interest.  This is comedy script-writing at its highest level.  Even the ending is meant to get a strong emotional audience-reaction.
Creative directing by Laura Kepley keeps the play zipping right along and the laughs coming.  Brandt and Kepley proved once again to be the dynamic duo.
Peggy Roeder steals the show as Winifred, the sweet air-headed society matron. Her scenes as Groucho Marx are hilarious, as are her facial expressions as she discovers the wonders of Shakespeare. She is rivaled by Tina Stafford as Celeste, the age-centric, diva, who can find no line she can’t over-act.
Nisi Sturgis forms the glue around whom the play develops.  She doesn’t portray Maggie, she is Maggie, complete with tearful scenes and humorous interludes.
Brian Sills creates in Stuart a sensitive soul who, in that age of high homophobia, finds humanity in being who and what he is.  
Jeff Talbott is perfection as the up-tight, wealthy, privileged, white-man.  His drag appearance is a show highlight.
The cast is rounded out by three CWRU-CPH MFA Acting Program students.  Their top-notch performances show the value of the cooperation between the two institutions.  Comfort Dolo (Ida), Courtney Stennett (June) and Elisabeth Yancey (Grace) all create nicely textured performances.
The sets, era correct clothing and hair styles, mood music and lighting all enhance the production.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Into the Breeches!”is the most fun I’ve had in a theater in a long time.  It’s an absolutely must see, and opens CPH’s season on a very, very high note!  Go! Laugh-out-loud!  

Into the Breeches” can be seen in CPH’s Allen Theatre through October 6, 2019. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

Next up at CPH: (October 12-November 3) PIPELINE
Dominique Morisseau’s tale of a dedicated inner-city school teacher who sends her own son to a private school with questionable outcomes. (Outcalt Theatre)

Saturday, September 14, 2019

“By the Bog of Cats,” a tale of Irish angst on stage at Ensemble





As “By the Bog of Cats” opens, “we see Hester, dragging a dead black swan across the snow and ice at the Bog of Cats. The Ghost Fancier has come to collect her but realizes that he is early as Hester is still alive. The Ghost Fancier exits and says that he will return at a later time.”  And, after an enveloping several hours, he returns.  By then, mystical and mythical elements, ghosts, curses, the role of motherhood, abandonment, betrayal and ethnic prejudice, and death have been revealed.

Ensemble Theater has chosen to start this, its 40thseason, with Mariana Carr’s play, By the Bog of Cats,” which is loosely based on Greek myth and Euripides’s tragic play, “Medea.”

Carr is generally recognized as being the greatest living Irish playwright.

In “Medea,” the female anti-hero, who has been cast aside by her husband, Jason, for a younger woman, seeks revenge.  To get back at him, she kills their two sons and his new bride, leaving Jason bereft.

Though the ending is quite different, there are “Medea” parallels in Carr’s script.  But the writing and performance elements are pure Irish, especially as it takes on the themes of displacement and disposition, elements not present in Greece of old, or that of its tales.

The play, which takes place in the Bog of Cats, a bleak, foreboding and frozen rural landscape in the Irish midlands, touches on Irish myth, but adds the well-known characteristics of Irish alcoholism, depression, greed and the outcome of living in a land of constant rain, clouds, gloom and doom.

By the Bog of Cats” is as much a character-study as it is a plot-driven script.

Hester Swaineis a forty-year-old woman who has lived on the bog her entire life. When she was seven years old, her mother, Josie, abandoned her. Hester has been waiting there for her mother ever since.  

Hester has a daughter, Josie, with Carthage Kilbride, a much younger man.  She is very resentful that Carthage has left her to marry Caroline, the daughter of wealthy landowner, Xavier Cassidy, so that he can inherit the Cassidy farm. 

During their relationship, Hester encouraged Carthage to have ambitions beyond his social class as a laborer's son, even giving Carthage the money to buy his first land.  

Josie is the same age that Hester was when her mother left her.  The girl is caring and loving.  She fore-shadow’s the horrific conclusion to the play by singing sad songs her mother has taught her.  

Carthage's mother looks down on Hester because Hester belongs to the “tinker class,” people, who, much like European gypsys, wander in search of odd jobs to make money, by using trickery and sexual favors.  Mrs. Kilbride, a self-centered, greedy person, constantly focuses on issues of social class and money and calls her granddaughter a “little bastard” because she was born out of wedlock.  

Xavier Cassidy is a wealthy landowner and father of Caroline, who “stole” Carthage from Hester.  In order to ensure his daughter’s happiness, and to rid himself of the guilt of having been responsible for driving off Hester’s mother, who he used for sexual pleasure, is determined to also rid the bog of Hester.

The cast is solid.  

Multi-Cleveland Critics Circle and Broadwayworld award winner, Derdriu Ring, gives another accolade worthy performance as Hester.  Ring, who was born in Ireland, and trained at The Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin, personally knows the ways of the Irish.  She doesn’t have to portray Irish angst; she lives it on-stage.  Her accent and realistic character development add a special quality to the production.

Though he can’t reach Ring’s levels, Daniel Telford gives a very credible performance as Carthage.

Julia Kolibab is properly repugnant as Mrs. Kilbride. She gives the kind of performance that encourages an audience to “boo” her character in the curtain call, while cheering the portrayal.

The fragmentary set and lighting, does little to really take us to the bog.  The significance of the up-stage knotted cloth streams seems unclear.

Celeste Cosentino nicely paces the work, tutoring the cast well on keeping the characters real, even in the fantasy scenes.

Capsule judgment:  Much in the tradition of Brian Friel and James Joyce, “By the Bog of Cats” is one of those Irish angst plays that shares the customs and folkways of the Emerald Isle.  The Ensemble production is nicely conceived, with a master class in performance skills by Derdriu Ring. 


By the Bog of Cats” runs through September 29, 2019 on Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 pm and Sundays @ 2.  Ensemble is housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to http://www.ensemble-theatre.org

Sunday, September 08, 2019

“Hello!” “BOOK OF MORMON” delights once again in its return to Connor Palace


How many times can you see “Book of Mormon” and continue to be delighted?  I’m at #8 and counting! Yes, the Huntington Bank Series touring production of the irreverent look at religion, racism, Mormon up-tight piety and all things ridiculous, is back again, and, if you can believe it, better than ever.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the long-time writers of “South Park,” are satirical comics extraordinaire.  Their writing marriage to Robert Lopez, the co-creator of the Tony Award winning “Avenue Q,” is a union made in heaven (or at least in the Broadway version of heaven). 
 

“The Book of Mormon” is a satirical musical filled with lots of explicit language.  It lampoons organized religion and, in its own way, mocks traditional musical theater. 
 
The script tells the story of two naïve and optimistic Mormon missionaries (Elder Price and Elder Cunningham) who are sent to a remote village in northern Uganda to spread the Mormon religion.  

While the duo is trying to sell the locals on Mormon scripture, the people are more concerned with famine, poverty, female circumcision, war and AIDS, and a brutal warlord who is threatening the locals. 
 

Oh, what to do, what to do?  Do the more-pious-than-you have the answer?  

How did the duo get to Uganda? 


Elder Price (Liam Tobin) is the poster boy for the tall, hunky, Ken doll, clean cut, perfect teeth, face beautiful, striving for perfection, Mormon missionary.  His powerful singing voice makes the image of “sublime” even better.


Elder Cunningham (Jordan Matthew Brown, Cleveland area native who has a load of supportive relatives in the area) is a rotund, friendless nerd, who relies on half-truths and a vivid imagination to get by.  This is one talented kid who has a totally joyous time playing the comic role!
 
They were cast as a duo through total serendipity, an act of heaven, and some clever comic writers, to go out and ring the doorbells of the world.


As Elder Cunningham, who admits never having read the mythical Book, makes up fantastic tales, which, in reality, aren’t far from the actual imaginative tales of Adam Smith, Brigham Young, the golden tablets, and the migration of the Mormons from upstate New York to Salt Lake City, he wins over converts.  


After he baptizes the entire town, the church’s elders come to witness the miraculous success. 


The villagers share their understanding of the Cunningham version of their new religion in a reenactment, which parallels to “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” from the “King and I,” with illusions to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from “The Sound of Music.”  


Of course chaos results, but, as must happen in a take-no-prisoner’s musical comedy, everything turns out fine, and, after a standing ovation, the audience leaves the theatre singing, “I Believe.”


The touring show is spectacular.  It plays visually and emotionally on all the senses.  From its giddy opening number (think the “Telephone Hour” at the start of “Bye, Bye, Birdie,” to its mocking use of four letter words, to its bigger than life melodrama, to the over-the-top mythology (often paralleling the belief system to “Star Wars”), we are sucked into the idea that, as one of the words to the many delightful songs states, “tomorrow is a doper, phatter latter day.”  (I won’t even go into the concept of the song “Ma Ha Nei Bu, Eebowai!” [“F _ _ _You Heavenly Father”], you just have to experience it to experience it!) 


The settings, music, costumes, lighting effects, perfect comic timing of the cast, and creative choreography all work.


Alyah Chanelle Scott) is enchanting as Nabulungi.  Cory Jones is both hysterically funny and evil incarnate, as General Butt-F _ _ king Naked, the war lord.  Andy Huntington Jones excels as the “closeted Mormon with the door more than slightly cracked open, Elder McKinley). The rest of the cast also shines, with special recognition to the young Mormon missionaries, who sing, dance and overplay with the right levels of glee.)


Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker’s direction is spot on.  Farce, especially musical farce, is hard to accomplish due to its required spoken and sung controlled abandonment, but these guys guide their cast with laser perfection.  Nicholaw’s choreography is fun and well-executed.  Ever thought you’d see a dancing kick line of Mormons?


CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you haven’t seen “The Book of Mormon,” or need a new shot of irreverent satire which skewers anyone and everyone, this is an absolute go see production. If you are a language prude, religious fanatic, or aren’t in the mood for ridiculous delight, too bad, as you are going to miss one hell of a good show!  It’s everything a modern musical that is meant for pure entertainment, with a sip of philosophy, should be! 


Tickets for “The Book of Mormon,” which runs through September 15, 2019, at the State Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or by going to www.playhousesquare.org.