Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Verb Ballet and Blue Water Orchestra combine for compelling music and dance performanc


In this pandemic era, where the best we can hope for are performances in Brady family-like shadow boxes, it is exciting to find arts companies going beyond the norm to bring about entertainment while still following the Covid protocols.
Compelling entertainment was certainly the result when Verb Ballets and BlueWater Chamber Orchestra joined forces to create Building Bridges Together, a collaboration designed, performed, and filmed specifically for virtual performance on November 21, 2020.
Verb Ballets, which was founded in 1987, is one of Northeast Ohio’s most respected dance companies. Verb Ballets has gained a reputation for artistic excellence and exemplary community engagement since 1987.  “Under the leadership of Dr. Margaret Carlson, former principal dancer for Cleveland Ballet, and Richard Dickinson, MFA, former Ohio Ballet dancer, the company is committed to the creation and mounting of dance works of the highest caliber. The company strives to act as a catalyst to promote learning, nurture wellness, and encourage dialogue about the dance art form. As a contemporary ballet company, the dancers combine classical ballet training with strong artistry.” 

Under the Artistic Directorship of native Clevelander, Daniel Meyer, the Blue Water Chamber Orchestra “is a cooperative, professional chamber orchestra serving the NE Ohio region. Performance of great music, outreach program and educational endeavors are equal in their mission statement.  The musical ensemble is committed to expanding the boundaries of what a chamber orchestra can be.”

The forty-five-minute program, presented without intermission, opened with Heinz Poll’s Adagio for Two Dancers set to Albinoni’s “Adagio.”
The lush, slow, sensual neo-Baroque composition, is a gentle and ethereal work.  It was well interpreted by the orchestra.  
The ballet was originally choreographed in 1973 for Ohio Ballet and remounted with permission of Jane Startzman.

Kelly Korfhage and Benjamin Shepard, both in masks, danced in traditional balletic form.  Her toe-work and his strong partnering and flowing leaps, seamlessly flowed together.  The number was beautifully lit, accenting the duos shimmering costumes.
Anton Webern's “Langsamer Satz” is presumed to be a “musical love-letter, born of a relationship between the composer and Wilhelmine Mörtl.”  It is a romantic composition, with rich harmonies.  It well deserves its reputation as a fine example of how elegantly and unabashedly music can emerge from a compact format. 
The lush piece was beautifully performed by the all-string orchestra under the baton of Daniel Meyer. 

The program concluded with Broken Bridges, choreographed by former company dancer and choreographer, Michael Escovedo. It was set to the haunting sounds of Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony in C minor Op. 110A.
According to program notes, “Escovedo choreographed this piece as a tribute to his grandmother, Bridgett Escovedo, who passed away in 2017. In the ballet, he honors his late grandmother who suffered from mental illness, which left the relationships in the family strained, especially the relationship between Escovedo and his mother after he became her caregiver when she developed Alzheimer's disease later in life. Broken Bridges explores this family dynamic.  
The introspective, emotionally-draining modern ballet piece, featured the masterful dancing and story-telling of Kate Webb and Lieneke Matte and showcased Robert Carter, Daniel Cho, Kelly Korfhage, Antonio Morillo, Noe Iwamatsu and Julie Russel, all masked. 

The emotions of the story were well told though impressive stage pictures, dramatic acting, powerful hand and body movements and impressive dance skills.
Capsule judgment:  Kudos to Verb Ballet and Blue Water Chamber Orchestra for creating a unique and fulfilling cinematic experience that was, indeed, “an evening of connecting to the heart; a perfect respite for those emotionally challenging times.”

Sunday, November 22, 2020

BWU’s SPRING AWAKENING confronts not only a powerful script, but the challenge of producing “live” theatre in a world-wide plague

In 2012, when Baldwin Wallace’s number one nationally ranked musical theater program, in conjunction with Beck Center for the Arts, produced SPRING AWAKENING, my capsule judgement read: “SPRING AWAKENING is an emotionally stirring, relevant, and well-staged production.”

My comments about the two Broadway productions of the show, and the Key Bank Touring version of the script also were peppered with positive comments.
This is a powerful piece of dramatic musical theater!
SPRING AWAKENING, the dramatic Steven Sater (book and lyrics)-Duncan Sheik (music), folk-infused rock music drama, is based on an 1892 play by German author Frank Wedekind.  

The subject matter, which centers on teenagers on the road to self-discovery, portrays abortion, homosexuality, rape, child abuse and suicide.  It was so controversial that its original source was banned for public view for over one-hundred years.

The play is an indictment of late 19th century Germany, where strict rules regarding right and wrong, and wide-spread hypocrisy were rampant.  Sex wasn't discussed, the reasons for actions weren't revealed, and adults held strict control.  It is relevant to modern day Americans where the religious and political right parallels the machinations of the adults and attitudes toward modernity in Wedekind's script.

The play consists mainly of spoken and sung dialogues among the children, with an interspersing of verbalizations of the adults.  

The author has given the voices the ability to open our eyes, in gripping ways, to the joys and sorrows, hopes and despair, and struggles and the resulting tragedies.  Tragedies in which the most promising children are sacrificed due to a lack of appreciation and understanding from their teachers and parents, and the closed-minded attitudes brought about by unthinking and unbending people.

We meet Melchior, intelligent and charismatic, who sees the corruption around him, but is powerless to change the events. 
There is Moritz, physically strong but psychologically frail.  He's the product of a harsh father, and is pushed to near insanity when he fails a rigged exam and eventually is led to suicide.  

Wendla is in love with Melchior, and naively becomes pregnant by him.  Her fall from grace is based on her lack of knowledge about human sexuality, still believing that "children are brought by storks" and are only the product of the married.  She, too, becomes a tragic product of her culture's rules regarding abortion and the absolute control by parents. 
We also view Ilse, who runs away from a sexually abusive home, another throw-away product of adult rules of the game of life.

We are left at the end of the epic with Melchior, his friends all destroyed, needing to find a reason to go on with his life.

This is a relevant play that should open the eyes of the hypocritically blind to the need for sex education, understanding of the teenage mind, religious and political hypocrisy, and the idiocy of developing unbending rules for the sake of tradition.

Victoria Bussert, the multi award-winning director of Baldwin Wallace’s musical theatre program, has in the past been confronted with many problems in producing plays—snow storms, cast members illnesses that stopped them from going on for a performance, parents pulling their son out of a play because they didn’t agree with the role he was playing, to name a few.  But probably none of the barriers were as daunting as putting on this edition of SPRING AWAKENING in the midst of a pandemic.

As brilliantly described by Andrea Simakis, in her “Masked and Raging, Ohio Students Make a ‘Spring Awakening’” (https://www.americantheatre.org/2020/11/16/masked-and-raging-ohio-students-make-a-spring-awakening/), Bussert, and her staff—Matthew Webb (Music Director and photographer) and Gregg Daniels (choreographer)--had to follow all the Covid-19 health regulations, find over 40 different settings for the staging, overcome calls to the police by a citizen who reported seeing “a boy with purple hair, in a mask, in a park, holding a gun,” as well as dealing with how to produce scenes containing kissing, hand-holding and sex acts without allowing the actors to unmask and remain six-feet part. 

Added to the complexity was the need to double-cast each major part so that the students could satisfy the staff’s obligation to give each of the evolving thespians a chance to hone their skills.

(Note:  The following comments are made about the Moritz Cast, which I saw streamed on November 20.  They were again seen on the 22nd.  The Wendla Cast performed on 11/19 and 21st.)

From Wendla’s opening song (Audrey Hare’s “Mamma Who Bore Me”), the concept of the script and the quality of the performances, are exposed.  The petite and lovely Hare exhibits a strong voice and a tenderness that makes her impending destruction heart breaking.  Her rendition of “Whispering” is haunting.  
Wendla’s mother, and all of the adult female roles are well-performed by Laura Welsh Berg, a BW grad and the Great Lakes Theater’s Artistic Associate.

We find Melchior (Eric Siegle), Moritz (Steven Huynh), Hanschen (Nick Cortazzo), Ernst (Andrew Nelin) and the boys of the town in class, powerless and cowed by a tyrannical teacher (Lynn Robert Berg, of Great Lakes Theater, who effectively plays all of the adult males).  

The plight of these young men is pictured as one in which they will have little control over their lives or thoughts.   They will be verbally and physically beaten and harassed into becoming “productive” and obedient citizens of society.  Choice, option and personal ideas are of no value here, which is clearly expressed in the powerful proclamation, “The Bitch of Living.”  It is creatively staged, as are all of the dance numbers, by choreographer Greg Daniels.

Melchior, bright and determined, is nicely portrayed by Siegle, whose strong voice is well displayed in “Totally Fucked” and the haunting “Left Behind.”
The sexual aspects of the play include not only the drive for heterosexual sexual acting-out, but also homosexual pent-up frustration in Henchen and Ernst’s coming of awareness.  The scene is nicely developed by the handsome Cortazzo and the shy Andrew Nelin.

One of the strongest portrayals is that by Allison Winkel, as Ilse, the product of incest, whose “Blue Wind” and the show’s closing number, “The Song of Purple Summer,” were vocally and emotionally well-interpreted.

The BW production is not without issues.  The actors, who are faced with doing interactive scenes without their partners not in the same environment, sometimes do not interact, just act as if they are doing solos.  Scenes which require intimacy, such as the sex scene between Melchior and Wendla, is somewhat sterile as the duo are divided by a visual screen line.  What should be a revealing scene of homosexual “seduction” is marred by the participants limited to finger touching at a six-foot distance and no kissing or body contact.  These are problems mainly caused by technology, not lack of talent.

Capsule Judgment:  Victoria Bussert and her BWU crew and cast avoided, as one of the songs from “SPRING AWAKENING” states, being “Totally Fucked” and took on the Covid-19 challenge, developing a thought-provoking production which turned out to be the first collegiate pandemic production of the script and further recognition of the college’s program.  Bravo!

Saturday, November 14, 2020




Becky Mode, the co-creator of Fully Committed, the one-person play which was selected by Time Magazine as one of the top plays of 2000, is a producer, actor and playwright.  The play’s co-creator, Mark Setlock, is a native Clevelander and graduate of Kent State, who won the 2000 Outer Critics Circle Award for his solo performance in the off-Broadway production of their script.  


The show, which is now being streamed by Beck Center, under the direction of Scott Spence, was reviewed as being “…immensely entertaining, “…hilarious and touching, gallops along at a swift, almost frantic pace,” “…[a] sparkling one-man tour de force…very funny and very believable…” in its New York run.


Besides the original production, the script is noted for starring Jesse Tyler Ferguson, of Modern Family fame, in a 2016 off-Broadway revival.  Ferguson was awarded a Drama Desk Award for his Solo Performance.


Fully Committed centers on the life of Sam Peliczowki, an out-of-work actor who has trouble getting roles for which he auditions. As a result, he is forced to take the stressful job as a Reservationist in a top-tier Manhattan restaurant.  


We watch as Sam gets harassed by his coworkers, management, and numerous customers.  Life is made even more frustrating by the success of his friend who keeps getting cast in commercials and plays and the pressure put on him by his recently widowed father for him to come visit.

The show is a wonderful acting challenge as the solo performer has to create forty wildly diverse characters, complete with differenct accents, genders, personalities and idiosyncrasies, as well as memorizing hundreds of lines.   


Nick Koesters, who has had a 25-year relationship with Beck Center, including performances in such shows as Hair, The Greater Tuna, and Is He Dead?, is more than capable of handling the roll.  Koesters gives an award-winning performance.


He faithfully creates the threats, bribes, coercion, and histrionics of the desperate callers who will stop at nothing to get prime reservations and the right table, but he perfectly displays the angst of doing a job he doesn’t want, but has to have to pay the bills.


Capsule judgment: A funny one-man show, Fully Committed, which leaves the viewer exhausted from Koester’s near frenetic un-hinged tour-de-force performance. It is a wonderful way to spend an hour getting away from pandemic stress and the world of angst.  


FULLY COMMITTED runs November 13-29, 2020 (once you start the virtual production you have 48 hours to complete it).  Patrons are invited to enjoy this virtual production in the comfort of their homes for $20 for an individual viewer, $30 for two or more viewers and $40 for two or more viewers who want to donate $10 for additional support to the Beck Center.  


Click on this tab to order tickets. TICKETS

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

...OR DOES IT EXPLODE? @ Cleveland Public Theatre

Cleveland Public Theatre’s …OR DOES IT EXPLODE! provokes audience response to Black Lives Matter 

Roy Berko


In this age of Black Lives Matter movement and other civil rights unrest, a performance piece such as, …OR DOES IT EXPLODE?, is both relevant and fulfills the obligation of the arts to produce works that reflect that era from which is comes.


A theatrical piece, which uses poetry, prose and other contemporary theatre forms, the script explores questions of what it means to be Black, male, and young in 21st century America.


Written by John Dayo-Aliya, an Akron based Kent State University graduate, playwright, actor, and musician, the piece reflects the author’s writing goal of exploring various aspects of the Black experience.  He looks at “modern Black lives and the questions arising out of the challenge of holding on to faith, love, community, and familial ties while living against a backdrop of structural racism.” 


He aims to “provoke audiences to call out to their higher humanity in order to face social and cultural issues with intelligence, clarity, and empathy.”


The piece, which is performed in a Zoom format, features Austin Sasser, Benjamin Black, De Andre Hairston-Karim, & Dar'Jon Bentley.  Each of them gives portrayals of the anger, hurt and joy of real reactions of age 16 to 35 Akron Black men in order to “display social conditions and contradictions, and what it means to do justice to one another.”


Some of the language, including excessive use of the “N” word and profanities, are often difficult to listen to, especially for those not used to the “in your face” words and vocal styles of the young men.  That direct startling directness is part of the purpose of the piece.  If not for this confrontative manner, the message would not be presented, the effect sanitized and watered down.  


If presented in a theater, the words and ideas would probably have evoked vocal reaction from audience members, much like the words of preachers and speakers do with African American audiences.   Unfortunately, with that missing element, some of the emotional effect is lost watching in a home environment on an electronic device.  


The mechanics of the presentation also cause problems as the microphones, and the physical settings of the actors, are uneven, sometimes causing words to be lost and images to be blurred and out of focus.  Whatever, the anger, frustration and powerlessness of the speakers is clear.


Several vignettes stand out.  Among them is one that centers on the ridiculousness of the academic community, usually researchers who are white men, who analyze Black young men as if they are lab animals, making pronouncements that are irrelevant to the subjects they are trying to describe.  


Another talks about television shows that don’t reflect the real lives and experiences of Black youth, but models for them a type of fake reality, that they can never achieve or characterizations that make fun of or demonize them.  


$10 dollars an hour is the pay afforded by the “good” jobs available to these men who are often castigated because they aren’t interested in taking those jobs.  The piece asks, in reality, what can be purchased with that less than $500 a week, minus taxes, health care, and the cost of getting to work?


Capsule judgment:  The script and the performances were often compelling, sometimes off-putting, and will offend some and empower others.  Both the script and the performances are uneven in their clarity and professionalism.  With that said, ...Or Does it Explode? Is well worth the time watching…it is an eye opening experience, especially for those who are not part of the community who are unaware of the motivations behind Black Lives Matter.


...Or Does it Explode? Will be performed live on Zoom at 7:00pm (ET) on November 6, 7, 12, 13, 19, and 21. The run time is 60 minutes, and the virtual "house" is limited to 35 "seats".

Tickets:  suggested donation $1 to $99. Patrons must use Zoom to see this work and will receive an email 1-2 hours before showtime with the meeting login information. Please note online sales for each performance will close at 5:00pm (ET).  TICKETS

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

BERKO HERE AND THERE: CPH LOOSES MANAGING DIRECTOR, KEVIN MOORE, Managing Director of CPH, has died, Theatre in the Circle, TMTP and Beck go virtual, Dorothy Silver to brighten the small screen and more…..

BERKO HERE AND THERE:  CPH LOOSES MANAGING DIRECTOR, KEVIN MOORE, Managing Director of CPH, has died, Theatre in the Circle, TMTP and Beck  go virtual, Dorothy Silver to brighten the small screen and more…..


Passing of Kevin Moore of Cleveland Play House


It is with great shock and sadness that Cleveland Play House shared the news of the passing of Managing Director Kevin Moore.  On Saturday, October 24th, Kevin tragically died possibly due to a pulmonary embolism or heart attack. He was 59 years old.


(Side comment:  Kevin was a warm and caring person.  I, personally, will miss him, as will the entire CLE theater community.)






Theatre in the Circle presents STEERING INTO THE SKID, a free online theatrical event that helps family members, caregivers, local businesses, and the broader community be in a conversation around the subject of dementia.


In 12 short, clever scenes the audience comes to know a loving couple and bear witness to the early progression of dementia. 


“Our goal,” said Theatre in the Circle’s Mark Corcoran “is to assist community members and leaders consider new ways to think about memory loss and to become aware of local resources that support families who are dealing with a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. 


Presented by Theatre in the Circle, the program is co-hosted by Judson Services, Judson Foundation and the Alzheimer’s Association Cleveland Area. 


To learn more or register (starting November 2) for the free event go to https:skid-cleveland-112420.eventbrite.com Reservations are required. Attendance is limited. 




TMTP's First VIRTUAL Cabaret!


Imagine being a songwriter who must tell an entire story in song--and pull it off in 3 minutes! But our songwriters are great storytellers. Think of Frank Loesser's "The Ugly Duckling" from Hans Christian Andersen. Or Hamlisch & Kleban's "Nothing" from A Chorus Line


Concert will be available ON DEMAND November 5-8, 2020. Pay as you can.

Once you register, a personalized link will be emailed to you along with instructions and you'll have access to the show for 48 hours. Links are for single screen use only and cannot be shared.






Pay-What-You-Can and receive a private link!

As part of the 2020/21 season, Dobama Theatre presents The Soliloquy Project, a series of short films featuring memorable monologues from Dobama productions and notable contemporary playwrights. To watch part one, simply click on the red button above and Pay-What-You-Can to view.

This world premiere short film, the first in the series, features a performance by Dorothy Silver of the opening monologue from On the Grill, a play which had its American/English language premiere at Dobama Theatre.

To read the recent article in American Theatre magazine about Dobama's alternate programming for this unconventional 20/21 season and future plans, 
click here.




Verb Ballets and BlueWater Chamber Orchestra have joined forces to create, Building Bridges Together, a captivating collaboration designed, performed, and filmed specifically for virtual performance. 


Featured repertory includes Heinz Poll’s Adagio for Two Dancers set to Albinoni’s Adagio and Broken Bridges by Michael Escovedo set to Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony


BlueWater will also play Anton Webern's Langsamer Satz in a stand-alone performance.


Building Bridges Together




FULLY COMMITTED streamed by Beck Center starring Nick Koesters

Fully Committed, by Becky Mode, is a hilarious one-person comedy. Ideally suited for a virtual production, this theater piece solves the issue of how to keep a performer, crew, and the audience safe during a pandemic, all the while delivering great laughs. For the safety of the star, Nick Koesters, the crew, director, and audience members, this production will be filmed and distributed online. 

Opening November 13 and running until November 29, 2020, patrons are invited to enjoy this virtual production in the comfort of their homes for $20 for an individual viewer, or $30 for two or more viewers, or a super fan price of $40.  View this production during November 13 to November 29, at your convenience.

Some adult language. 




Ever wonder where your ‘muse’ is when you most need them? If you search hard enough you can find all nine of them at their monthly, family gripe sessions, which can occur almost anywhere…this fall they’ll be holding court to vent, compare notes, act out, and share their histories in the Tressel Street parking lot, on the Baldwin Wallace University campus. Grab a ticket and ‘drive-in’ to join the nine muses as they reflect, dance, and share their most memorable ‘inspirations’!!!


Thursday-Sunday, October 29 – 31, 2020 at 7:00 PM and 8:30 PM

November 1, 2020 at 2:00 and 3:30pm


Ticket Information:

Tickets are free but reservations and an ID that identifies you as the ticket-holder are required (one ticket per vehicle) for entry. There will be space for eight vehicles per show, each vehicle may have up to four passengers who must be masked. The performance is 40 minutes long with no intermission. Audience vehicles must arrive at the venue at least ten minutes before the show begins (absolutely no late parking permitted) and will be required to exit the venue as soon as the show is over. Audience must stay in their vehicles at all times.


See ticket website for full details and information on attending.

www.bw.edu/tickets  (440) 826-2240






Due to an uncertain weather forecast, and out of an abundance of caution for the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases, Radio on the Lake Theatre’s presentation of the radio play version of The Birds has been moved online. The performance will now take place via Zoom on Friday, October 30 at 7 pm.


Adapted from the Daphne DuMaurier short story, that served as the source material for the iconic Hitchcock film, this performance will feature one of the radio play genre’s richest sound designs, brought to life to ROTLT’s Artistic Director John Watts. 


To receive a link to the October 30 performance, please email Caroline Breder-Watts at caroline@radioonthelaketheatre.org. To learn more about the company, visit https://radioonthelaketheatre.org/