Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Audience-pleasing 9 to 5: The Musical at CVLT


9 to 5:  The Musical is a theatre piece based on the 1980 hit film, with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and a book by Patricia Resnick.  It is now on stage at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre. 
In spite of many awards, and positive audience reaction, the show’s Broadway production was brief.  After 24 previews, it only ran for 148 performances.  The 2010 national tour, in spite of a very shallow and predictable story, was generally well received.
The rock musical tells the story of three women, who have finally had it with their overbearing, sexual abusive and egotistical boss.  They kidnap him, reform their office, and, as in all good farcical fantasies, revenge the male-dominated business, and, much to the delight of the women’s lib movement lovers, take over the operation. 
At the end of the “regular” storytelling, The characters deliver epilogues about what happened after the events of the story.  The boss, Hart, we are told, “was captured by natives in the jungles of Bolivia and was never seen or heard from again.”  One of our heroines, Roz, found a new love - Hart's wife.  Violet and Joe, the plays young lovers, “have been together for the past 30 years and are very happy together.”  Doralee, the second of our winners, went to Nashville and became a successful country and western singer. Judy, the remaining female avenger, stayed single and became a regular guest on “The View” after writing a bestselling book, Life Without Dick.
Though there are no songs from the score, besides the title tune, which became hits, several get strong performances in the CVT production.  “I Just Might” gets a fine interpretation by Violet (Tara Corkery), Judy (Stephanie Malfara), Doralee (Marybeth Knode) and the Ensemble.  “Portion Notion” is cutely presented by Corkery, while “Let Love Grow” is presented as a fine duet by Joe (Isaac Siemer) and, Violet, his lady love.  “Get Out and Stay Out” is a fine solo by Stephanie Malfara.
Director Brenton Cochran, seems to know his audience well, stressing the comic aspects of the show and giving the amateur performers the opportunity to over-act, pull-off many overdone double-takes, play with the audience and perform over-done actions, to the delight of those in attendance.  There are few shticks and gimmicks that Cochran doesn’t pull of out his bag of tricks.
Music Director David W. Coxe has his musicians well-tuned.  Jennifer Justice’s often over-enthusiastic choreography, which mainly consisting of straight line, synchronized movements, is a challenge for some of the cast.  In spite of that, the audience met every dance number with enthusiastic applause.
The crew deserves a special hurrah for their smoothly moving set pieces and furniture so smoothy and effectively.
Capsule judgment:  9 to 5 is not a great script nor does it have sublime music, but it is a fine vehicle for a community theatre.  It has many opportunities for actors to let loose and delight the audience, and, delight the audience is exactly what the CVLT cast, crew and musicians do!  
9 to 5 runs through April 13, 2024 at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre, 40 River Street, Chagrin Falls.  For tickets go to or call 440-247-8955.


Monday, March 25, 2024

Seat Of The Pants Productions examines BACH AT LEIPZIG

Itamar Moses, the American playwright, author and of BACH AT LEIZIG, now being staged by Seat of the Pants Productions, is best known for his 2018 Tony Award winning book for the Broadway musical THE BAND’S VISIT.

BACH AT LEIPZIG, which was first presented at Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, NY, in 2002, was subsequently presented Off Broadway.  It is a tale of aging, betrayal, death, politics, and religion.  

The two-act, over two-hour long historical comedy is, according to the author, based on a 1722 true story, set in Leipzig, Germany, precipitated by the death of Johannn Kuhnau, the local cathedral’s revered organist. This is a prestigious position and questions arise as to not only who will replace him and but the kind of antics the candidates will undertake, including blackmail, bribery, and lying, to win the position.

Written in a fugue-like, structured format, though he never speaks a line, and we never see him, per se, Bach is the play’s central character.  

Interestingly, though he was finally hired, in an interview the play’s author, states, “Absurd that anyone was hired over Bach for a musician’s job, but, in reality, he was the 3rd choice.”  Some of this may be due to the fact that “Bach's St. John Passion was considered controversial and rarely performed because its libretto — the words Bach set to music — come from Martin Luther's idiosyncratic translation of the Gospel of John, which characterizes Jews as enemies of Jesus (conveniently overlooking that Jesus was a Jew).”

The Seat of the Pants production has moments of humor, though not as fun-filled as reviews from other productions advertise.  Filled with some overacting, and farce rather than comedic line interpretations, the cast at times didn’t seem completely sure how to interpret some of the lines.

Though written for an all-male cast, this production is composed of five females and 2 males.  

Interestingly, the word “he” is used to describe all the candidates in dialogue.  In reality, though by societal prescription of the time required it, there would be no reason for all the candidates be male.  

The cast, Heidi Harris, (Cleveland Critics Circle and Outstanding Actor) Scott Esposito, Kadijah Wingo, Luke Wehner, Molly McFadden and Carolyn Demanelis each develops a consistent character. 

Director Michael Glavan has added some creative staging touches.  George McCarty II’s costumes are era correct.  

Franklin Circle Christian Church’s facility adds an intimacy and “holy” presence to the production.

Capsule judgment:  Seat of the Pants Productions has a purpose of “selecting plays which raise potent questions - some specific to today and others that speak to human nature across the ages.” BACH AT LEIPZIG fulfills that mission. Though it makes for a long sit, the play will be of interest for those interested in historical biographies, classic music and unusual play scripts. 

March 22 - April 7, 2024
Fridays and Saturdays--7:30 PM / Sundays-2:30 PM
NO PERFORMANCE on Sunday, March 31st Additional 2:30 PM Matinee on April 6th

Franklin Circle Christian Church
1688 Fulton Road
Cleveland, OH 44113

For tickets go to


THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR is a farcical delight at Great Lakes Theater

Sir John Falstaff is at it again!  Yes, the chubby delightful bumbler, who was in the Bard’s HENRY IV, Parts 1 and 2, is now lighting up the stage in Great Lakes Theater’s THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, thanks to Elizabeth I.  The Queen was so infatuated with the character that, according to rumor, she asked Shakespeare to write another play with Falstaff, this time depicting the rogue in love.  
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR was first published in 1602.  It takes place in the town of Windsor, the location of the famed Windsor Castle in Berkshire, England, thus the title.    
“Key themes of Merry Wives include love and marriage, jealousy and revenge, social class and wealth.”

In brief, we watch as “Falstaff arrives in Windsor very short on money. He decides that, to obtain financial advantage, he will court two wealthy married women, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. Falstaff decides to send the women identical love letters and asks his servants to deliver them to the wives. When they refuse, Falstaff sacks them, and, in revenge, the men tell the husbands Ford and Page of Falstaff's intentions. Page is not concerned, but the jealous Ford persuades the Host of the Garter Inn to introduce him to Falstaff as a 'Master Brook' so that he can find out Falstaff's plans.”

Thus, we are off on a merry farce with lots of pratfalls, double-takes, over-acting, bad accents, misguided love, jealousy, revenge, blackmail, mayhem and a happy ending!

Every aspect of the GLT production is sublime.  

Farce is hard to perform…the timing, the controlled overacting, the unrealistic realism must be precise.  In this production, it is!

The playful set (a Jeff Hermann conception) of lime green outlined houses of Tudor design, creative costumes (Daniele Tyler Mathews creations) with hand-painted flower patterns that mimic the vertical stage curtains, sprightly music (Matthew Webb compositions) and attempts at dancing, all add to this smile-along.

GLT newcomer, Daniel T. Parker, was seemingly born to play Falstaff, the knight of mischief.  He is delightful and perfectly villain-light, making us cheer each time he gets embarrassed and maimed!

Jessie Cope Miller (Mrs. Ford) and Jodi Dominick (Mrs. Page) cavort with glee as Falstaff’s tormentors.  

Jeffrey C. Hawkins, over-acts with positive effect as the up-tight Mr. Ford.  Anthony Michael Martinez (Dr. Caius) and Nick Steen (Sir Hugh Evans), use overdone accents to enhance their over-blown characterizations.

The rest of the cast walks the difficult rail of being farcical without over doing it.

Congrats to director Terri McMahon for keeping the whole production light and fun and engaging.
Capsule judgment:  Though generally described as a lesser work, with the right production, the tale of Falstaff, the rotund rascal who attempts, unsuccessfully, to woo and con the two wealthiest married ladies in the town of Windsor, can be a delight.  GLT’s staging, with its glorious set, entrancing costumes, and wonderful acting is so good, that even if you aren’t a Bardophile, it’s a must-see 
Next up at GLT:  ALWAYS PATSY CLINE, a musical celebration of the country legend, April 26-May 19, 2024.

For tickets  (216) 241-6000. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Existential REQUIEM probes the meaning of life at Cleveland Public Theatre


Hanoch Levin is considered by many to be the most successful of Israeli playwrights. 
REQUIEM, which is now on stage at Cleveland Public Theatre, with support from Cleveland-Israel Arts Connection and the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation, is one of the most well-known of Levin’s plays.  He wrote the script after receiving a diagnosis of terminal cancer.  
The work premiered at the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv in 1999 and is the longest running play for adults in Israel.
Based on three short stories by Anton Chekhov, REQUIEM (“ASHKAVA” in Hebrew) was woven by Levin into one story.   As is true of existential plays, yes, Levin, as was Edward Albee, Samuel Becket and Jean-Paul Sartre, a question-asker.  His play asks such questions as why do we exist?, what is the purpose of life?, and what is the best way to live that life?
As perceived by Levin, the tale centers on an elderly couple, a mother trying to save her dying baby, as well as wagon drivers, drunks and prostitutes, all of whom are seeking answers to the reasons for their existence.  Ironically, that is probably the same question that Levin asked himself when he received his death sentence diagnosis.
Shimrit Ron, the Director of the Hanoch Levin Institute of Israeli Drama, in his CPT program notes, indicates that the script has been translated into twenty-seven languages, toured all over the world, yet this is the first production of REQUIEM in the US.  As excited as it is to have a national premiere of an important script, the question as to why has it taken almost 25 years for this masterpiece to land in America, must be asked.
Ron states, regarding this era and this production, “I hope that all the elderly couple, all the mothers who carried their babies and all who have traveled on life’s wagons (including the 134 hostages who were transported in white pickup trucks on October 7 [the date the Hamas terrorists invaded Israel] will return safely to their homes very soon.”
The CPT production, under the adept direction of Raymond Bobgan, the theatre’s Executive Artistic Director, is creatively staged.  
Using the philosophical view that Levin’s “plays spring from a wild imagination and prioritized theatricality over realism,” Bobgan demands the audience use their imaginations to not only understand the play’s inner message, but accept that what is taking place is symbolic, not realistic.  
Bobgan comes to the play well prepared. He travelled to Israeli to research the project and availed himself of the Cleveland Israel Arts Connection and the Cleveland Jewish Community Federation to gain understanding of the playwright, as well as the religious and ethnic foundation on which the script was written.
The cast, headed by Peter Lawson Jones as the Old Man, the fulcrum of the story, is excellent.  It is difficult to create characters whose lines are not always not easily understood by the audience, and which are often symbolic, not literal in meaning.   
Lawson clearly develops a character struggling to understand life and death.  He confronts his wives and his impending death asking questions, getting no answers, yet continuing on.  He is aptly accompanied on the journey by Venetia Whatley, as the Old Lady.
Underlying meanings have been keyed by Ryan Charles Ramer’s original compositions. Catherine Anne Pace’s video scenery help create the proper moods.  Cameron Caley Michalak has created scenery that allows for the breaking of the realistic third wall centering on a center-stage turntable and abstract set pieces.
Capsule judgment:  REQUIEM is a play that is neither easy to understand nor to immediately grasp its meaning.  It takes a while of after-thought and some mulling over what one has just experienced to gain self-awareness.  It is not a play for anyone who goes to the theatre for pure entertainment.  This script and production are not entertaining in the normal sense.  As with all existential theatrical experiences, it takes work to not only sit through the production, but allow yourself time to gain its message.
REQUIEM continues at CPT, in the Gordon Square neighborhood, through April 6, 2024.  For tickets call 216.631.2727 ext. 501 or go to
For other Cleveland-Israel Arts Connection activities go to


Monday, March 18, 2024

ORDINARY DAYS--Creative script, inventive staging and impressive performances

Adam Gwon, who wrote the music and lyrics for ORDINARY DAYS, which recently finished its run as part of the Playhouse Square/Baldwin Wallace annual collaboration, was in attendance at the brief 3-day run.  In fact, he has been a part of the production since an early rehearsal when he visited with the cast and creative team.  He also did a talkback after the Saturday evening performance. 

Gwon was selected as one of The Dramatist magazine's "50 to Watch" and praised by The New York Timesas "a promising newcomer to our talent-hungry musical theater with songs that are funny, urbane, with a sweetness that doesn't cloy." 

ORDINARY DAYS is a 1 hour 25-minute original musical, that “follows the contemporary and intimate experiences of four young New Yorkers as they navigate the complexities of love, loss, and self-discovery in the bustling city.  The characters grapple with personal challenges, relationships, and the pursuit of meaning and love, creating a touching and relatable narrative.”
The play, much like the new trend in dramatic musicals, doesn’t follow the traditional format of two-act, Golden Age of the American scripts.  It is a series of interconnected scenes, in which the characters and plot unfold through songs and no dialogue.  Think of it as an opera without the arias, overblown characters or overly dramatic plots. 
In ORDINARY DAYS we meet two young New York couples, Warren and Deb and Jason and Claire.  The former become acquainted when Claire, a college student loses her diary, which contains notes for her dissertation.  Jason, a free-spirited artist, with a secret to hide, who distributes square pieces of colored-paper adorned with affirmation phrases on the streets of the Big Apple.
After an exhausting search through the galleries of the New York Museum of Art, the duo finally gets-together to exchange the diary.  The meeting is in front of Warren’s favorite painting, a piece of art that Deb doesn’t appreciate.  Conflictual attraction takes place.  We all know where this storyline is going to go!
Danny BÓ, he of owl eyes, mobile face and Shirley Temple curls, is delightful as Warren.  The diminutive BW senior, who has been seen on-stage at such venues as Great Lakes Theater, Beck Center and The Idaho Shakespeare Center, has a wonderful touch for comedy and farce, and his magnetism lights up the stage.  He is definitely Broadway ready and we should see him on NY stages in a short time.
Jaedynn Latter, who portrays Deb, is a charming Southern California BW Musical Arts student, and a perfect match for BÓ.  She, too, knows how to play comedy and captivate an audience.  She has a fine singing voice, as evidenced in “Calm,” one of the shows highlights.  “Beautiful,” a Warren and Deb duo was captivating.
In contrast to the quirky Warren and Deb, Jason (Dario Alvarez) and Claire (Maggie Solimine) are the tales serious duo.  He is in love and carries an engagement ring, just waiting for the opportune moment to pop the question.  She has a deep secret that is stopping her from making a complete commitment to Jason or, as it turns out, anyone.  Their “Fine” is cute and a score standout.  
Both Alvarez and Solimine, as should be expected from students enrolled in one of the finest musical theater programs in the country and being trained by the likes of Victoria Bussert, the multi-Cleveland Critics Circle and BroadwayWorld-Cleveland best director awards winner and the Director of the BW Musical Theatre program, have fine singing voices and performed well. 
The Helen’s black box intimate theatre, Matthew Webb’s music (though I would have preferred a small orchestra to soften sound of the harshness of a single piano), and Russ Borski’s scenic, costume and lighting designs, all added to the quality of the production.
Gwon, says of Bussert and Baldwin Wallace, “I've always admired Vicky, for being really invested and investing her students in the process of new of the things I love about writing shows is that you're really you…let other people bring their point of view and put their own stamp on it, and that to me is something that's so exciting about theatre is that every production is going to be different, because every team of people is bringing something new to the piece.

He continues, “The show is built to have that kind of openness to interpretation. It's not meant to be replicated exactly the same way every time. The script is the same, the songs are the same, but the interpretation is always so different, so, I'm particularly excited to see how Vicky's interpretation and my reaction to it will have evolved as we've evolved as people since the show came into our lives.”
He also stated, “One of the reasons I find Baldwin Wallace's Music Theater program so exciting is that they are…invested in what's coming down the pike, the new writers, the new musicals, which I think is such a vital part of not only the theatre community that the students are going to enter…but just the lifeblood of theatre as an art form. If we're not introducing audiences and introducing new artists to new work, we're just recycling the same old thing, and that's not how art moves forward.”

Capsule judgement:  It’s a shame that the show only ran four performances.  It is the type of production that develops a cult following and could have run on and on in an open-ended -format.  Personally, I was enamored by the script, found the members of the Downtown cast wonderful (the show is double cast, with Anthony Maja, Kenna Wilson, Luke Henson and Jessi Kirtey being the Uptown cast), and not only would I have liked to see that cast, but would have excitedly encouraged everyone to see the show!

To experience the BW Musical Theatre program students, consider attending:

Baldwin Wallace Music Theatre –A benefit in memory of Kyle Jean Baptiste
Thursday March 21, 7:30 pm
$20 Tickets HERE
Baldwin Wallace Music Theatre - Junior Class—A Sondheim Celebration!!
Thursday March 28 @ 7:30 pm
$20 Tickets HERE
Both of these programs will be @ Market Garden Brewery
1947 W. 25th Street. (In Ohio City immediately north of West Side Market)

Baldwin Wallace Music Theatre - Senior Showcase (the performances that students did in New Yorkfor casting directors and agents)
Monday April 29@ 7:00 pm
$20 Tickets HERE
@ Beaumont School Theater in Cleveland Heights



Sunday, March 10, 2024

SOMETHING CLEAN is compelling in its Regional Premiere at Dobama!


Northwestern grad, Selina Fillinger, was the first Judith Barlow Prize winner, an annual student award given to work inspired by a historic female playwright.  “In 2019, her play SOMETHING CLEAN received the Laurents/Hatcher Award.”  “Her play POTUS: OR, BEHIND EVERY GREAT DUMBASS ARE SEVEN WOMEN TRYING TO KEEP HIM  ALIVE,  premiered on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre in 2022, making Fillinger, at 28, one of the youngest playwrights to be produced on Broadway.”  She is one of the new bright lights in the world of contemporary playwriting.
In his well-written program notes Dobama’s Artistic Director Nathan Motta states, in regard to female and male rape, that the spotlight is usually placed on the victim or perpetuator.  But, “what are the ripple effects on the families of both the survivor and perpetrator? What warning signs or behavior did those close to the offender miss? While it might be natural to worry about an act of violence happening to someone you love, how often do we consider the thought of someone we’re close to committing such an appalling act?”
At the start of SOMETHING CLEAN, now on stage at Dobama, we find Charlotte (Derdriu Ring) and Doug (Robert Ellis) center stage in a pin-spot light.  They stand emotionless.  Doug reaches tentatively to hold Charlotte’s hand.  She pulls away.  
As we find out through a number of quick-enfolding scenes, the respectable lives of Charlotte and Doug have been in free-fall due to the emotional fallout caused by their college-age son’s imprisonment for a sex crime.  It appears, from the reaction of their friends and the community, that this will forever taint them.
To add to the angst, a recent trial and conviction of a black young man resulted in a prison sentence much longer than that assigned to their white son, is causing public outcry.
As the play speeds through scenes of Charlotte and Doug’s strained bedroom routines, Doug’s long absences to be “at work,” her volunteering at an inner-city sexual assault counseling center, where she is reluctant to reveal her name and qualifications other than that she is “really good at tackling stains … any stains,” to her developing into a mother figure for gay employee Joey, to his revealing that he was a survivor of assault by a neighbor beginning when he was 9 years old, to her finally telling Joey who she is, to her attempts to clean the dumpster, near the fraternity house, where her son’s crime occurred, we are taken on a speeding train heading for either a possible safe arrival at the station of resolve or a resounding crash destined to destroy the lives or two people.
Fillinger has etched clear characters, in a focused plot, interspersed with dark ideas and even darker comic dialogue.  She well deserves the awards the script has garnered.
Sindelar’s directing is laser-sharp.  The pace, the character development, the humor and the angst, is clearly developed.
Derdriu Ring, the four-time award winner for best local actress from The Cleveland Critics Circle and BroadwayWorld-Cleveland, gives another superb performance as Charlotte, a woman struggling to make sense of her own grief and culpability.  She doesn’t portray the role, she is Charlotte.  Her pain, is our pain.  Her angst is our angst.  Bravo!
Robert Ellis matches Ring as Doug, a suffering father trying to both confront his role in his son’s fall and his failure to be emotionally present when his wife needs him. 
Isaiah Betts makes his Dobama premier in fine fashion as Joey.  He has a nice touch for both drama and comedy, and displays solid acting chops.  
It is always difficult to design a set in Dobama’s long narrow stage space.  Naoko Skala has succeeded in fitting three unique settings into the space.  Jeremy Paul’s lighting and Angie Hayes’ sound designs helps the rapid-fire scenes in perspective.  
Capsule judgment:  Combine the fine writing by Selina Fillinger, with the focused directing of Shannon Sindelar, add in the excellent technical aspects of the Dobama staff, and three finely-etched realistic portrayals, and the result is a superb evening of must-see theatre.
SOMETHING CLEAN runs through March 30, 2024 at Dobama on Lee road in Cleveland Heights.  For tickets: call 216.932.3396 or go to

Thursday, February 22, 2024

People who enjoy musicals may love FUNNY GIRL at Connor Palace!


Fania Borch was one of early 20th century vaudeville’s greatest stars.  Fania??  Oh, Fanny Brice, as she was known on the Ziegfeld Follies circuit, and is the nominal subject of FUNNY GIRL, now on stage at the Connor Palace as part of the Key Bank Broadway Series. 
Brice was born on the Lower East Side of New York in 1891. 
Her tale of stardom and a life of both fame and sorrow, started when, in 1908, she dropped out of school to work in a burlesque revue.  She made her mark by singing Irving Berlin’s “Sadie Salome, Go Home,” with a put-on Yiddish accent, (she didn’t speak Yiddish) while performing a parody of the veil dance from Richard Strauss’ opera SALOME.
Several years later, because of her comedic skills, and having “chutzpah” (Yiddish for audacity) to stand up to him, she was made a headliner-act by Flo Ziegfeld in his FOLLIES.

Brice is noted for her “goofy elasticity” and “spoofing the grand pretensions of the middle-class arts—ballet, the Barrymore acting style, ragtime and even herself.”
Brice, whose farce skills were the forerunner for the likes of Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett, was also noted for her emotional vocal delivery of her theme song, “My Man” and her delightful “Second Hand Rose” and “Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long.”  (None of these are in the score of FUNNY GIRL.) These songs, are also credited to Barbra Streisand, who played the role of Fanny in the original Broadway and then movie version or of the show.

FUNNY GIRL introduces not only Fanny’s rise to fame, but her love affair and later marriage and life with Nicky Arnstein, a ne’er do well gambler and con-man, who served time in both Sing Sing and Leavenworth jails. 

Don’t go to see the touring production expecting to see imitations of Streisand or Leah Michelle (who starred in the 2022 revival of FUNNY GIRL).  Katherina McCrimmon who is portraying Fanny, has her own version of the role.  She acts, performs and sings the role with her own persona.  No heavy accent, no attempt at broad exaggerated farce, and no imitation of the Brice vocal sounds.   

Maybe it’s McCrimmon’s non-New York background, but it is Brice, without Brice.

The interpretation makes for a serious feeling to the show.

Fanny’s mother and her card playing neighbors, are delightfully portrayed by Barbara Tirrell, Eileen T’Kaye and Cindy Change.  

Stephen Mark Lukas, who is matinee idol handsome, with a cut gym body that, when he appeared in an open bathrobe, got whistles and cat-calls, is properly conniving as Nick Arnstein. 

Izaiah Montaque Harris, he of talented tap-dancing feet, is compelling as Eddie Ryan, Fanny’s friend and neighbor.

The touring show has a small chorus which becomes obvious in the Follies scenes where few dancers portray being many.  

The sets are mainly drops.

The small orchestra often sounds electronic, but plays the music well.

The sound system is, as is often the case at the Connor Palace, adequate.  

The show is directed by Michael Mayer, with choreography by Ellenore Scott and tap choreography by Ayodele Casel.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  FUNNY GIRL is a throwback to the traditional musical.  From the sprightly overture, to the sequential story line, to an I want song (“Who are You Now!), that sets the show’s storyline in action, to the big score which is nicely woven into the storyline, to several hit songs (“People” and Don’t Rain on My Parade”), it is meant to entertain audiences and, in spite of what some will think is a misinterpretation of the role of Fanny, entertain it does.  

FUNNY GIRL, an offering of the Key Bank Broadway Series runs at the Connor Palace through March 10, 2024. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

Next up:  Huntington Feature Performance of ANNIE, March 19-22, 2024.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

ALTER—impressive new play gets strong production at Cleveland Public Theatre


Developing an original new play script is a daunting task.  The writer must have an idea, topic, or belief that they want to present in dramatic form.  The script gets written, usually rewritten and then rewritten a number of times.  Table readings or workshops allow the writer to “hear” the effect of the language choice and whether the intent of the script is achieved.  Ideally, this “tryout” process continues until the writer is satisfied that they have achieved their intent.
ALTER, which is now in production at Cleveland Public Theatre has had extensive vetting.  It’s journey to its present state started in 2017, when as author Tania Benites relates in her program notes, that she “started to explore playwriting in a workshop offered by Teatro Püblico de Cleveland. “ 
In 2018 the manuscript had a staged reading.  An excerpt was performed in 2019 and in 2023 the play, as a whole, was presented as part of Test Flight.  This led, as Benites states, “allowed me to deepen my understanding of my own story and prepare for this main stage production. “
All that work was worth the effort!  
The play examines what happens when our wishes for what we want to be takes form as we work to achieve our supposed goals.  Sometimes, as Benites shares with us, what we wish for alters us so much that we lose who we are and it is replaced by a “new” person.  The end result may not be what we had envisioned.
As the author also states, “While I believe self-improvement is important and good, the self-help world can often become toxic and encourage the myth that you must always be optimizing and leveling up to be successful, no matter what.”
The official description calls ALTER a workplace dramedy, but the playwright sees it as more of a dark comedy with thriller and horror elements.
For the viewer this can be both a cautionary tale and a lesson in the adage “be careful what you wish for.”
The story, which is told in English with Spanish supertitles, centers on customer service representative Maria, who, using a self-help book entitled Hypnosis for Self Confidence, follows the dictates of the book in her attempt to succeed in the corporate world, as well as in her personal and family relationships.  She becomes wildly successful in her job, but destroys the life of a co-worker, sends a dating relationship into a tail-spin, stumbles in her role as daughter and, eventually, eliminates her sense of self.
Director Kari Barclay keeps the actions moving along so smoothly that the 90-minute production, with no intermission, speeds right by.  
The scenes are well staged, the character development clear, and the humor and tensions well honed.
Andrea de la Fuenta doesn’t act Maria, she understands the motivations of the character and develops them.  She is Maria. 
She is nicely balanced by Rajah Morales, M/Figure, Maria’s “alter” self.
The rest of cast, Alisha Caraballo, Mónica A. Cerpa Zúñiga, Sylka Edmonson, Lionel Morales, David L. Munnell give excellent supporting performances.
Benjamin Gantose’s set and light designs work well.

Capsule judgment: It is always interesting to see a new script in its first full production.  With ALTER, the viewer not only gets to see the birth, but also experience a fine staging values.  Congrats to Tania Benites for developing a meaningful play and to Cleveland Public Theatre for giving the audience a fine experience. 

ALTER is playing at Cleveland Public Theatre’s James Levin Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., February 8-24. Tickets are choose-what-you-pay with a suggested price of $1 to $80. Visit for more information and to purchase.

Saturday, February 17, 2024



Bertolt Brecht was one of the most influential writers and theatrical theorist in the history of Western theatre.  His major concept, which he identified as Epic Theatre, was based on the theory, as he stated, “that a play should not cause the spectator to identify emotionally with the characters or action before him or her, but should instead provoke rational self-reflection and a critical view of the action on the stage.”  
This Epic Theatre concept is the basis for understanding, appreciating and gaining from his play MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN, now on stage at Ensemble Theatre.  
This concept is further understood by realizing that Brecht also believed that, “Art is not a mirror to hold up to reality, rather a hammer to shape it.”  That a writer needs to not only reflect what is happening in the society, but also to take a stand as to what to do about it.
MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN was written by Brecht, but has been translated and reinterpreted by modern playwright Tony Kushner, noted for such influential and prize-winning ANGELS IN AMERICA which is built on the Epic concept.
In this writings and Brecht’s other writings, such as THE THREEPENNY OPERA (1928) and THE LIFE OF GALILEO (1943), he set forth to criticize the flaws of capitalism, rant against the futility and ridiculousness of war, and propose courses of action to change our flawed world.
MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN was Brecht’s reaction to the rise of Hitler.
His social and political views forced him to flee Germany during the Nazi years, go to and from various European countries, and eventually come and then leave the United States, when he found himself under surveillance by the FBI.
Many of his beliefs were handed down from his devout Protestant grandmother and mother, who not only taught him the ways of the Bible, but that of the "dangerous image of the self-denying woman."  This tenant is a recuring theme in his drama, especially in MOTHER COURAGE.
MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN, which many theatrical scholars believe is Brecht’s greatest work, centers on personal survival, the role of motherhood, the evils of profiteering, the cruelty and futility of war, religious hypocrisy, and the dangers of capitalism.
The plot centers on Mother Courage who follows the troops during the thirty years war, selling goods and services, often putting her livelihood above the needs and wants of her three children, all of whom become the casualties of war and profiteering.
The Ensemble production is creatively co-directed by Rebecca Moseley & Ian Wolfgang Hinz. 
The duo chose to stage the play in a runway configuration, in which the audience is on both sides of the stage, forcing attenders to not only see the action of the actors, but the reactions others viewers.  This carries out Brecht’s concept of insuring that audience members be aware that they are watching a play, and that they have an obligation to use the information that is being shared with them to go back into the world and take action.

The cast of local performers, who are on-stage for the entire performance, often sitting within the audience or perched on various parts of the set, are headed by Laura Rauh, as Mother Courage.  She gives a mesmerizing performance.  She controls the stage with her emotional involvement in creating a self-denying strong woman who knows what must be done to survive, and does it.

Strong performances are also given by Dan Zalevsky, as the The Chaplain and Leah Paige Smith as Yvette, a prostitute who, like Mother Courage, also knows how to survive.

As her children, Kierstan Kathleen Conway is convincingly pathetic as Katrin, the disfigured daughter, Michael J. Montanus well-develops the role of mentally challenged Swiss Cheese, and Santino Montanez (Eilif) who is effectively strong as the son who goes off to war.
Others in the well-honed cast are Joseph Milan, Kyle Huff, Emily Terry, Arianna Starkman, Kelly Dunn, Mattie Blick, Jabri Little, & Kennan Carosielli. 
Katie Wells and Rebecca Moseley’s costumes, Ian Hinz’s lighting and Rebeca Moseley’s props and sound all add positively to the production.
Capsule judgment:   Theatre lovers, rejoice!  At 2 hours and 30 minutes MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN is a long sit, but a well-worth investment of time when realizing that you are seeing one of the epics of Western culture’s theatrical cannon which is getting an impressive staging.
The show runs February 9-25, 2024 at Notre Dame College’s Performing Arts Center, 4545 College Road, South Euclid.  There is lots of free parking next to the building. 
For tickets go to for more information!

Content Advisory: This production contains strong language and themes.
Next up at Ensemble:  The world premiere of THE PROSPECT OF EQUALITY by Rachel Zake.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s story!

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Baldwin Wallace students shine brightly in RIDE THE CYCLONE at Beck Center


Theater, as all of the arts, represents the era from which it comes.  We live in a period of confusion, conflict, uncertainty, changing customs and practices.   Present day dramas and musicals reflect today’s political, racial, religious, technical, cultural, language, and gender/sexual issues.
RIDE THE CYCLONE, with music, lyrics and book by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell, which is now being produced, in its regional premiere at the Beck Center, is a case in point.

The show opened Off-Broadway in November, 2016 and ran until December 18 of that year.  

CYCLONE centers on the fictional St. Cassian High School chamber choir from Uranium City, Saskatchewan, Canada.  While on a trip, which includes a visit to a carnival, the members die on The Cyclone, a roller coaster that malfunctioned.
The spirits of five choir members, before they go to the “after life,” are told, by The Amazing Karnak, a mechanical fortune teller, that one of them will get a chance to return to life.  The fortunate “winner” will be selected by the unanimous votes of the group after hearing from each as to why they should be allowed to live. 

There is a sixth victim of the malfunction, Jane Doe, who was so named because no family came to claim her body.  Her real identity is unknown to herself or anyone else.  She is wearing the same school uniform as the others, but none of them remember her.

Karnak reads a prophecy: "Whoever wants to win it the most shall redeem the loser in order to complete the whole."

Each “contestant” tells and sings a song themed around themself. 
Presentations vary. One young lady recounts her self-importance and that others fall far short compared to her.

Others follow relating the tale of their lives and the influence of varying things including reality television shows, living a life of tragedy, having feelings of isolation, the role of rap/hip-hop music, posts on YouTube, online dating, existing with a degenerative disease, the effect of fantasy, the function of animals on one’s life, the lose of virginity, and the diminishment of respect for parents.

Rather than singing about her past and her hopes, dreams, and fantasies, Jane Doe sings about her own despair as her spirit has no memory of who she was. 

At last, it is time for the final vote.  It is here that the “moral” of the script comes forth-- “that at the end of the day life is not a game to be won, but a ride to be enjoyed through all its ups and downs.”

The show, which is expertly directed by Victoria Bussert, is partially double cast. 

The Raptor Cast, which I saw, was universally excellent.  The singing, acting and dancing, as should be expected from students of the highly respected BW Musical Theatre Program, was of the highest quality. 

Matt Koenig, an Assistant Professor of Theatre at Baldwin-Wallace is totally mesmerizing as Karnak.  His mechanical movement and voice are amazingly accurate.

Other members of the stellar Raptor Cast are Joë Lewis-McLean, Alexa Lopez, Izzy Baker, Elliot 
Block, Danny Bó and Benjamin Michael Hall.

The scenic design Trad A Burns’ is outstanding, as are his lighting effects. Carlton Guc’s sound design, Jack-Anthony Ina’s projection designs, Matthew Webb’s musical direction and Lauren Tidmore Marousek’s choreography all add to the over-all positive effect of the production.

Capsule Judgment:  The strong directing, performances and production qualities of RIDE THE CYCLONE THE MUSICAL overcome the less than stellar book and music to make this is definitely worthy of a trip to Beck Center where the audience gets to appreciate and wonder at the talents of the students enrolled in the BW Musical Theatre program.

RIDE THE CYCLONE THE MUSICAL runs through February 25 at the Senney Theater in the Beck Center for the Arts complex.  For tickets call 216-521-2540 or go to

Monday, February 12, 2024



Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie was an English writer known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, particularly those revolving around fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.  
Known as “The Duchess of Death", the "Mistress of Mystery", and the "Queen of Crime,’” her popularity was based on her plots being possible and logical.  As a literary critic once wrote, "At the start of each novel, she shows us an apparently impossible situation and we go mad wondering ‘How can this be happening?'. Then, slowly, she reveals how the impossible is not only possible but the only thing that could have happened.”
Though she is best known for her novels, she also wrote the world's longest-running play, THE MOUSETRAP which has been performed continually in London since 1952.  An interesting bit of theater history is that Christie gave the rights, and therefore all of the royalties to THE MOUSETRAP, to her grandson Mathew Prichard as his 9th birthday present.
Because Dame Christie wrote plays, be aware that MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, which is now on stage at Great Lakes Theater, don’t assume that she was the script’s author.  The playscript was adopted by Ken Ludwig, from the Christie book.
Ludwig is a well-known writer who specializes in farcical works.  His LEND ME A TENOR, MOON OVER BUFFALO, SHAKESPEARE IN HOLLYWOOD, THE GAMES AFOOT and A COMEDY OF TENORS have had local productions.  In fact, THE THREE MUSKETEERS is now on stage at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre.  His LEADING LADIES, received its world premiere at Houston’s Alley Theatre, in co-production with the Cleveland Play House.
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is widely regarded as one of Agatha Christie’s greatest literary achievements.  First published in 1934, the play version had its world premiere in 2017.
“It's 1934.  Passengers aboard the opulent Orient Express awake to frightful news: Overnight, the American business mogul among them was stabbed to death behind locked doors. Thankfully, debonair detective Hercule Poirot is on the train and on the case. He promptly begins interviewing suspects, securing alibis and forming theories about the killer, who remains at large and could be closing in on the next victim. As the plot thickens and the travelers grow restless, Poirot presents scenarios about who murdered the mogul and why, taking the audience on a wildly glamorous crime-solving ride.”
It helps, in watching the play to know that the novel is a meditation on revenge and justice. In addition, Ludwig’s adaptation for the stage streamlines the plot, which was inspired by the famous kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby.  Be aware that the ending is unlike any that Christie ever wrote as two different conclusions can logically be induced.  Also, that the GLT production is directed by the theater’s Artistic Director, Charles Fee.
Fee, as the director makes a great difference in how the play is staged.  He loves farce.  There is no slammed door, double-entendre, pratfall, absurdity, ridiculous situation, reversal of expectations and mistaken identity, that the man does not like, and he feels obligated to use as many as possible in his staging.  
Given that Ludwig is a master at writing farce, and Fee is accomplished in staging them, the audience gets a delight filled “Christie” experience.
Fee is supported by a superb set of technicians.  Rick Martin’s opulent, art-deco revolving “moving” train set is ingenious.  His lighting design and Patrick John Kiernam’s sound design underscore the tension and action.  There is even a snow storm on stage.
The large cast, is headed by David Anthony Smith, and his marvelous mustache, as Hercule Poirot.  The actors all know how to perform the difficult task of performing farce.  Every one of them is believable as the perpetuator of the crime.   And, who knows, maybe they are!!!  Hmm…who did it…the conductor or the actress or the secretary or . . .?
Capsule judgment:  Agatha Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS gets a wonderful staging at GLT.  It challenges the imagination, it delights, it makes for a special evening of theatre.  Yes, if you want a couple of hours out of the time we are all spending in this stressful world, this is an absolute GO SEE!
Agatha Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS runs through March 3, 2024.  For tickets go to  (216) 241-6000.
Next up:  March 22-April 7, 2024:  THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.

Friday, February 02, 2024

Karamu stages the world premiere of THE BREAKFAST AT THE BOOKSTORE



Lisa Langford, the author of THE BREAKFAST AT THE BOOKSTORE, which is getting its world premiere at Karamu, the nation’s oldest African American theater, is a Cleveland based actress and playwright.  

This script won the Pittsburgh Public Theatre’s 2022 New Play Contest.  

The play, which contains adult language, sexual suggestiveness, and descriptions of violence, is set in a Glenville storefront in 1973. 
The tale centers on Dot, who wants to be an activist and support the Black liberation movement by opening a revolutionary bookstore which will serve free breakfasts to the local people.  A conflict centers on the opposition of her common-law husband and a former Black nationalist, who is opposed to the idea.

Why Dot had this strong drive to give out free breakfasts is not clearly developed in the script, which is divided into 12 scenes, and is often short on clarity and references which might clarify for the viewer.  

The play also lacks meaning, for example, if the viewer does not know, as the program indicates, that “UFO traditions are closely related to Black supernatural traditions.  For African Americans, generally, the supernatural isn’t spooky:  ancestors hang around, they help us.   [The supernatural] gives them a sense of meaning in the concrete world in a way that allows them to re-envision who they are to empower themselves in a world they see as against them.”  
Though long-term locals may know, but newbies or those not from the area will not be aware, is that in 1968 the Glenville Uprising took place.
As the program notes indicate: “For several hours, gunfire engulfed the Black neighborhood of Glenville [located along the East 105th corridor between Euclid and St. Clair Avenues]. The Black Nationalists of New Libya exchanged shots with the Cleveland Police Department from the apartments and homes.  By the end of the night, seven men had been killed, including three police officers, three black nationalists, and one civilian.  Several houses in the Glenville neighborhood were on fire and at least 15 individuals were injured.” 
Nina Dominque, the play’s director, in her “Director’s Note” states: “Dot represents all the young people trying to find their place in activist spaces.” 
The cast, Dar’Jon Bentley (Haywood), Mariah Burks (Dot on the night I saw the show), Carolyn Demanelis (Fran) and Prophet Seay (Sharpe) were excellent in developing the characters they were given to play.  

The set, lights, costumes and sound all aided in developing the production.

Capsule judgment:  According to the program notes, Dot, the fulcrum around which the plot circulates, “represents the next generation of freedom fighters who refuse to be restricted by binaries and demand that we acknowledge their full humanity in all its complexity.”  Oh, if that were only true, and the playwright made this clearer in her writing.  As is, I doubt whether that erudite message was what many in the audience garnered from the presentation.

THE BREAKFAST AT THE BOOKSTORE runs January 26-February 18, 2024 at Karamu.  For tickets call 216-795-7077 or go to

Next up: March 8-31, 2024, IT HAPPENED IN ATLANTA--—As four college friends from Cleveland come together for their 20th college reunion weekend they are forced to wrestle with what happened in Atlanta.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Dobama’s AT THE WAKE OF A DEAD DRAG QUEEN fulfills theater’s mission, but isn’t for everyone!

Dobama bills itself as the area’s Off-Broadway theatre.  It is “dedicated to premiering important new plays by established and emerging playwrights in professional productions of the highest quality. Through theatrical production, community engagement, and education programming, Dobama nurtures the development of theatre artists and builds new audiences for the arts while provoking an examination of our contemporary world.”

The theater’s production, AT THE WAKE OF A DEAD DRAG QUEEN, fulfills the venues mission, especially since Dobama has added “Full Circle Program” to its objectives.  That objective “connects audiences with organizations relevant to each production.” 
To fully understand how the offering satisfies the objective, it is necessary to know that AT THE WAKE OF A DEAD DRAG QUEEN follows the complicated lives and the relationship of two drag queens. Courtney Berringers (given name: Anthony Knighton) welcomes guests to her wake. She has recently died from complications due to AIDS. In a series of flash backs we are exposed to Courtney’s life and complex relationship with Vickie (Hunter), her fellow drag queen.

The duos relationship is full of love and heartbreak. 

To fully appreciate the script, it is helpful to know, as Terry Guest, the play’s author explains “when he was 15, his uncle…sat me down and said, ‘I am gay and I have AIDS’ literally in the same conversation. I was in the closet, but was queer but was really conflicted by that. I was barely out of the closet to myself.” 
His uncle died about a year after that conversation.   He recounts, “That was tough for me. It shoved me further in the closet and further into religion for a couple years, but I still had this interest in exploring his life and honoring him in some way, but I didn’t know how.” 
Guest felt that someday he would want to explore those complex feelings of inner turmoil, confusion and fear, which led him to write AT THE WAKE OF A DEAD DRAG QUEEN
As part of the Full Circle Program, Dobama has employed well-known Queer local Black drag queen “Onya Nurve as a consultant on the show, to help ensure that the production is rehearsed and performed with cultural competency.  Nurve has been present in rehearsals and is assisting on choreography, make-up, costume, and dramaturgy.” 
“Because this play deals heavily with the health disparities facing BIPOC LGBTQ+ people living with HIV, Dobama is partnering with the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland to provide free HIV testing, resources and information to audiences. There will be pre- and post-show discussions throughout the run with representatives from the AIDS Task Force, area Drag performers, and Dobama Artists involved with the production. Also being planned in collaboration with area organizations is a Drag Story Hour and a Drag Cabaret Show. Visit for details about these events as they become available.”
The Dobama production is directed by Preston Crowder, an Oberlin grad, who is a playwright-actor-director-songwriter with a passion for telling stories surrounding the vast experiences of being Black and Queer in the United States.
The two-person show stars Jason Eno (Courtney/Anthony) and Dan Hendrock (Vickie/Hunter). 

The roles require vulnerability and strength in addition to a keen awareness of the scars that each carry, probing the inner depths of each to truly tap into the emotions that should be every-present.
Though they give full effort in the ever-present costume/wig/emotion-changing roles, neither actor totally grabs and holds their character, as a person or as a drag performer.  
There is a “stagey” quality to their performances that doesn’t quite allow us to believe they are real people or are emotionally hooked on each other.  Neither their kissing or sex scenes are totally believable. And, in spite of their tutoring by Onya Nurve, neither reaches the RuPaul level of “fabulousness” when performing in drag.
Suwatana Rockland’s costumes are grand, as appropriately grand as they should be for a backwoods Georgia drag show.  
The creative team for the production includes Scenic Design by Ben Needham, Lighting Design by Ben Gantose, Sound Design by Megan “Deets” Culley, Props Design by Vanessa Cook, Intimacy Direction by Casey Venema & Colin Anderson, Assistant Direction by Ananias J. Dixon, and Technical Direction by Jeremy Paul. 
Capsule judgment:  The show, which gets an acceptable performance, isn't for everyone. However, it should make audience members think and expose the average person to people and a way-of-life beyond their norm experience. It’s worth a go-see!

For tickets to AT THE WAKE OF A DEAD DRAG QUEEN, which runs through February 18, 2024, call 216.932.3396 or go to Dobama Theatre
Next up:  March 8-30—SOMETHING CLEAN—The line between love and complicity isn’t clean as is revealed in one woman’s struggle to make sense of her own grief, love, and culpability.