Monday, October 03, 2022

 


THE CURIOUS INCIDENT is well-conceived at Beck, but…
 
Roy Berko
 (Member:  American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)
 
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, which is now on stage in the Senney Theater in the Beck Center complex, is a play by Simon Stephens which is based on British writer Mark Haddon’s book of the same name, which, in turn was based on the 1892 short story ‘The Adventure of Silver Blaze.” 

The story centers on Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old autistic math prodigy.  Although Christopher's condition is not stated, per se, a blurb in the book refers to Asperger syndrome, which today would be described as a physical/psychological disorder.   

In July 2009, Haddon wrote on his blog that "The Curious Incident is not a book about Asperger's...if anything it's a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way, and that he, Haddon, is not an expert on the autism spectrum or Asperger syndrome.”

Christopher lives in Swindon, England, with Ed, his “widowed” father.  The boy was told that his mother, Judy, died of a heart attack two years prior to the events of the story. 

One day, Christopher discovers that his neighbor Mrs. Shears’ dog, Wellington, of whom Christopher was fond, has been fatally speared with a garden fork. 

As Christopher mourns over Wellington’s body, Mrs. Shears calls the police, thinking he is the murderer. 

A policeman, unaware of Christopher’s condition, grabs Christopher by the arm.  (Note: Many of those on the autism spectrum abhor being touched.)  Christopher panics and hits the Bobby, resulting in him being arrested for assaulting a police officer. 

After being released, Christopher decides to investigate the dog's death.  As is the case with those on the spectrum, he is obsessive with his task.  He chronicles all the information he receives in a notebook, which eventually forms the basis for this play.

During his investigation, he meets the elderly Mrs. Alexander, who informs Christopher that his mother had an affair with Mr. Shears, a neighbor, and the two moved from the area.

Thus, we enter into an adventure of Christopher’s obsessive search for his mother, discovering who killed Wellington, deciding whether to take his mathematics A-level, and whether he can again have a relationship with his father.

The play gained high praise in professional productions. It ran for over 5 years in London, winning the Oliver Award.  It won the 2015 Tony Award for its Broadway staging.

The Beck production, under the direction of William Roudebush is effective, but missing some of the elements that made it so compelling in its professional productions. 
 
The cast is universally strong.  Maurice Kimball IV, a nondivergent actor, adds authenticity to the role of Christopher.  


The director states, “Working with this gifted Neuro-diverse actor, Maurice Kimball, has been an unfolding, surprising revelation for me, as a director. He continues, “Maurice quietly teaches me more and more each day of rehearsal. He informs the telling of this bountiful story. The rehearsal process challenges me every day and I'm as intimidated as I am excited to walk into that rehearsal tonight and learn how to tell this story of surviving life from his uniquely different, deeply human perspective.”

The rest of the large cast, some of whom play multiple roles, create believable people.  Kudos to Khaki Hermann (Siobhan), Terence Cranendonk (Ed), Katherine DeBoer (Judy).

The pacing holds the attention.    

On the other-hand, Joe Burke’s projection designs and the supporting sounds are interesting, but fail, as those in the London and New York productions did to truly get the viewer into Christopher’s head so we experience what it is like to be autistic.  

Dialect Coach Chuck Richie has done an excellent job of teaching the cast a creditable and consistent British-English pronunciation pattern.  The only issue is that the American ear is not used to the sound and there are times when the word meanings are lost.

And, the decision not to use the short scene after the curtain call, in which Christopher reappears to brilliantly solve his "favourite question" from the mathematics exam, eliminates one of the best and endearing play endings.

Capsule judgment:  THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME is a brilliantly written play.  Neuro-divergent actor, Maurice Kimball IV is compelling in the lead role.  The Beck production catches most of the script’s effectiveness, but stumbles on some technical and directing decisions.  Even with those issues, this is a production well-worth seeing. 
 
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT runs September 23-October 16, 2022 in the Senney Theatre @ Beck Center.  For tickets:  Beckcenter.org or call 216-521-2540.
 






Monday, September 26, 2022

Compelling and relevant Clybourne Park by Ensemble Theatre

 


 
 
Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park is now on stage as the opening play in Ensemble Theatre’s debut year in its residency at Notre Dame College.  The play highlights racial, sexual and gender attitudes.  It won both the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play.
 
Clybourne Park is a follow-up to Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun, which looks at a house in a fictional Chicago urban area, before and after the Younger family moved in to it.  
 
Hansberry’s play, titled after Cleveland poet Langston Hughes’ “Dream Deferred,” was the first script by a Black woman to be produced on Broadway.  It starred Sidney Poitier, Cleveland native Ruby Dee, Louis Gassett, and Claudia McNeil as Lena “Mama” Younger, the woman of the family, who decides to invest the payment from her dead husband’s insurance into the purchase of a house in Chicago’s all-white Clybourne Park neighborhood in order to allow the family to have a better life.  The play won the 1969 Tony Award for best play.
 
Raisin in the Sun was based, in part, on Hansberry v. Lee (1940), a real court case that centered on a class action suit by Lorraine’s father and the NAACP against Chicago’s restrictive covenants against Blacks living in certain areas of the city.
 
Hansberry wrote of the situation and the lawsuit: “That fight also required our family to occupy disputed property in a hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood’ in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house. ... My memories of this ‘correct’ way of fighting white supremacy in America include being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school. And I also remember my desperate and courageous mother, patrolling our household all night with a loaded German Luger (pistol), doggedly guarding her four children, while my father fought the respectable part of the battle in the Washington court."
 
Norris, who is white, portrays fictional events, based on his imagination of what happened when, after the Clybourne Park neighborhood became almost all black due to white flight, and then later became an “in-place” for young white “liberal” families to buy and restore, or wreck and replace properties in the now gentrified area, complete with a Whole Foods. 
 
Clybourne Park introduces Bev and Russ, who are in the process of packing to move out of their recently sold home in Chicago’s Clybourne Park neighborhood in September, 1959.  
 
The house is filled with negative memories.  Kenneth, their son, a depressed Korean War vet, who was accused of slaughtering civilians, hung himself in the home’s attic.  The neighbors, rather than befriending the couple, shuns them.
 
In Raisin in the Sun, when the neighborhood association finds out that the house at 406 Clybourne Street has been sold to “negroes,” in order to “save the community’s property values” because of extrapolated Black in-flight, the association sends Karl Lindner to attempt to bribe the Youngers to not move into “their” neighborhood.  The pay-off is rejected. 
 
In Clybourne Park, about an hour after Lindner went to the Younger family’s apartment, he comes to the Clybourne Street house to plead with Bev and Russ to consider the neighbors and the property values and cancel the sale.  
 
Conversations reveal that Bev and Russ turned over the sale to a realty company, so they did not know anything about who bought the house.  They refuse to revoke the sale to the Youngers.
 
Arguments, the history of Bev and Russ’s conflicts with the neighbors and their need to move, ensue.  
 
Their black housekeeper and her husband, who has come to take her home from work, become involved, when a trunk containing Kenneth’s mementos, which was buried in the backyard, are unearthed.  This lays the foundation for the riveting second act.
 
The setting for the second act of the play is exactly fifty years later in the same 406 Clybourne Street house as the first act.  Now it is dilapidated.  Present are an African American couple, the wife, who we find out is the great niece of Lena “Mama” Younger, a young white couple who are planning to demolish the house and building a grand new house on the property, and several lawyers.
 
There is underlying tension.  The planned replacement house doesn’t fit the building code requirements, and there are problems over the wording of the deed, but, most importantly, there are unspoken issues.  
 
After much running around in verbal circles, racial, gender and sexual orientation issues emerge, full blast.  Offensive jokes, accusations, and insults abound. What hasn’t been said, is now vividly addressed.  
 
During the mayhem, a workman, who is preparing the ground for the excavation for the new house’s foundation, enters.  He brings in the buried trunk, which is eventually opened.  The contents lead to the emotional climax of the play.
 
The play’s humor and pathos are nicely refined.  The cast (Brian Pedaci, Mary Werntz, Jailyn Sherell Harris, Christian Achkar, Nnamdi Okpala, Dan Zalevsky and Hannah Storch), except for some projection issues by several performers, are on target.  They generally don’t act; they realistically are the person they are representing.  
 
In the past, Ensemble has been noted, and received awards for their use of electronic media to create proper illusions.  It is too bad that they didn’t use their skills to better represent the house as it transforms from a nice facility in act one to a run-down hovel seen in act two.  We needed to see the ripped wallpaper, boarded up windows and wooden floor streaked with water stains, not a map of the area.  That visual effect would have helped complement and complete this strong production.
 
CAPSULE JUDGMENT:   Clybourne Park is a unique evening of theater.  The Pulitzer Prize play is well written and relevant.  The production is basically well-conceived by director Celeste Consentino.  This is a go see production!
 
Clybourne Park runs through October 9.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go to https://www.ensembletheatrecle.org/
 
Special note:  After many years in the former Coventry Elementary School in Cleveland Heights, has emerged from the pandemic as the resident theatre partner of Notre Dame College, located in the Performer Arts Center of the campus located at 4545 College Road in South Euclid.  There is free parking in a lighted lot, adjacent to the theatre entrance.



Sunday, September 25, 2022

AMERICAN MARIACHI @ Cleveland Play House

 



Music, humor, empathy--AMERICAN MARIACHI hits all the right notes @ CPH
 
Roy Berko
 
“Mariachi is a genre of regional Mexican music that dates back to at least the 18th century.  It is usually played by a male group who play violins, trumpets and a guitar.  All of the players take turns singing lead and do backup vocals.”  The songs they sing celebrate their struggles, joys and growth.
 
A telenovela is a Mexican Soap opera.  The scripts are filled with overly-dramatic and stereotypical characters, obvious and transparent plots, and melodramatic acting. (Think television’s “Ugly Betty,” which not only followed the formula format, but was presented as a telenovela within a telenovela.)
 
Mariachi and telenovela are central to the present Cleveland Play House’s 20222-23 season opener, AMERICAN MARIACHI.
 
Lucha spends her days caring for her ailing mother, but longs to shake up her home life. When a forgotten record album sparks her mother’s memory, Lucha and her cousin strike upon a radical idea: to create an all-female mariachi band.  But it’s the 1970s, and girls can’t be mariachis … or can they?  
 
Lucha and her spunky cousin hunt for bandmates, uncover the strong machismo attitudes of Hispanic men, reveal wife battering, run into disapproving relatives, and expose a hidden family story, while dealing with her mother’s Alzheimer’s disease.  
 
Will the band come together? Will an odd-combination of women overcome societal attitudes and their personal angst?  Will they get help from unexpected sources?
 
Sound like a melodramatic epic?  Yes, it is a one hour, forty-minute telenovela, filled with mariachi music!
 
In comments of other productions, the reviews stated, “A vibrant ode to music and memory!”  “It is all about familia, amor and tradición.” “What we come away with, after laughter and even tears, is a warm feeling of familia and a greater appreciation of Mexican American pride, culture, and music!” “It's that rare show that brings tears and laughter, while using musical tradition to deal with modern issues.”
 
The live Mariachi music is well played and infectious.  It is expertly performed by Diego Lucero (guitarrón), Daniel Ochoa (vihuela), Ayan “Yaha” Vasquez-Lopez (violin) and Ricardo Vejar (trumpet).
 
Two of the songs were written by José Cruiz González, the script’s author.
  
There are original musical arrangements by Cynthia Reifler Flores.
 
The production is creatively directed by Henry Godine.  The use of Spanish at various times, adds a touch of authenticity.
 
Many members of the proficient cast performed in productions of the script at the Goodman Theatre Center, Alabama Festival and Dallas Theater Center.
 
Capsule judgment:  AMERICAN MARIACHI allows audiences to experience a telenovela, a Hispanic story-telling technique, and be exposed to mariachi music, while sharing a tale of universal angst.  The CPH production is well staged and performed.  This is a fine evening of theatre. 
 
AMERICAN MARIAHI runs through October 9 at the Allen Theatre. For tickets 216-400-7000 or go on-line to clevelandplayhouse.com

 



Monday, September 19, 2022

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS cult followers will be devoured by Great Lakes production



 “The Reluctant Orchid,” a tale of a humble florist who uses a man-eating plant to get rid of his enemies and raise his own status was transformed into a low-budget 1960 black comedy film named LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.  Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics and book) transformed it into a musical, which is now on stage at The Great Lakes Theater.

The film, and later the off-Broadway musical, developed cult followings.  It was so popular that when it moved from off-off Broadway to off-Broadway, it had a five-year run. 
When it closed, it was the highest-grossing production in Off-Broadway history.

Since then, it has had many, many reincarnations including a 2019 smash revival which starred Jonathan Groff, who appeared in Great White Way’s SPRING AWAKENING and HAMILTON, as well as TV’s smash hit GLEE.

Filled with rock and roll, doo-wop and early Motown, the musical’s catchy score, which includes “Skid Row” “Somewhere That’s Green, and “Suddenly Seymour” often evoke singing from those in attendance, and cult followers sometimes bellow out imitations of the “Feed Me” sounds of Audrey II, the blood thirsty plant who plays a major part in the story’s warped plot.  In its full glory, attending it is a lot like going to a staging or screening of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW. (Side note: the staid GLT audience displayed few of the cult-followers tenacity.)

Howard Ashman, who wrote the lyrics and book, in the introduction to the acting edition of the libretto, states that the show "satirizes many things: science fiction, "B-movies, musical comedy itself, and even the Faust legend."

The musical opens with a trio of street urchins named Crystal, Ronette, and Chiffon setting the 1960’s mood and foreshadow the tale, singing the title song and then acting as our Greek chorus, explaining the plot.  

We meet Seymour Krelborn, a geeky young man who was taken as a child from an orphanage by Mr. Mushnik, the owner of a failing florist shop located on skid row.  Also present are cranky Mr. Mushnik and Audrey, a pretty blonde who is in an abusive relationship with Orin Scrivello, a sadistic dentist. 

Seymour buys a mysterious plant that looks like a large Venus flytrap.  Since Seymour is secretly in love with Audrey, he names the plant Audrey II.

Though Seymour takes very good care of it, the plant does not thrive in its new environment. He accidentally pricks his finger on a rose thorn, which draws blood, and Audrey II's pod opens thirstily. Seymour realizes that Audrey II requires blood to survive.

Thus starts the farcical tale of how Audrey II’s blood-needs are met.  The florist shop becomes famous because of Audrey II, the abuser gets “done-in,” Seymour finds a way to be with Audrey, and a lot of other weird “stuff” happens.  Unless you are into “sadistic,” you’ll probably go home and toss out all your greenery.

The GLT production, under the spot-on direction by Victoria Bussert, Baldwin Wallace University’s Director of Music Theatre, and who has served for 36 years at Great Lakes, will delight the many LITTLE SHOP cult-nerds.  

Andrew Faria is geek perfect as Seymour.  He squeaks, physically stumbles, acts nerdy and endears himself in the process.  His “Grow for Me,” charms.  His scenes with the air-brained Audrey, delightfully performed by Sara Masterson, are comic classics.  Her rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green” evokes endearing sympathy for the character. 

Aled Davies fully develops the role of Mr. Mushnik.  Alex Syiek, a former Cleveland Critics Circle Best Actor in a Musical winner, is properly obnoxious as the sadist dentist.  Sydney Alexandra Whittenburg, Savannah Cooper and Kris Lyons sing, swing and dance with outright glee as the street urchins. 

Elijah Dawson steals the show as the voice of Audrey II.  Chad Ethan Shohet, the puppeteer, makes Audrey II scarily real.

Nancy Maier’s musicians, Jaclyn Miller’s choreography, and Jeff Herman’s scene design, Trad A Burns lighting design, and Danae Iris McQueen’s costumes all added to the quality of the production.  Too bad David Gotwold was not capable of balancing the voices with each other and the singing voices with the orchestra so that each voice could be clearly heard.  Many lyrics were lost due to sound problems.

Capsule Judgment:  LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is the kind of show that many love to hate while others love it.  The topics of abuse and drug use, which are not in the wheelhouse of musicals, sometimes turn people off, as does the phy-sci-centered plot.  The GLT production is as good as you are going to get.  It solidly hits all the comic and horror notes.  It’s a must see for the script’s fans!

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS runs through October 2, 2002 at the Hanna Theatre.  For tickets https://www.greatlakestheater.org/or call (216) 241-6000


Monday, September 12, 2022

BUYER AND CELLAR puts Beck at the delightful center of the gay world




Barbra Streisand’s career started in the gay nightclub, The Lion, located in New York’s Greenwich Village.  Her films and music have amassed huge support, especially from the gay community.  She, and her works, are larger than life, leading to her being selected by “Out Magazine” as one of the “12 Greatest Female Gay Icons of All Time.”  

 
Many drag and gay entertainers have taken on the Streisand persona, singing her songs and acting out their idealization of her.  None, probably has placed a more interesting spotlight on Barbra than Jonathan Tolins in his one-man comedy, BUYER AND CELLAR, now on stage at Beck Center for the Arts.
 
The play premiered on April 2, 2013 at the Rattlestick Playwrights in NYC. The production starred out gay actor, Michael Urie, best known known for his performances on television’s UGLY BETTY and YOUNGER.
 
The play follows Alex More, a struggling gay actor who is down on his luck after being fired from Disneyland because of his impatience with the annoying kids at the Magic Kingdom.  He lands a job keeping the basement shopping mall in Barbra Streisand’s Malibu home clean, organized, as well as servicing the customers – of whom there is only one – Ms. Streisand, herself. “He comes to learn there are few bigger or more spoiled kids in the world than those with privilege and money.”

In the play, after assuring the audience that the entire play is about a fictional person, working in a fictional location, for a celebrity so popular she is almost fictional herself, we are introduced to Barbra’s secretary, who administers the shopping center and its one employee.  More fantasizes about meeting the real icon.  At first he does not meet her, but eventually Streisand comes to peruse her collection, and the two strike up a friendly relationship. 

Side comments:  Streisand did construct a series of Main Street storefronts beneath the barn on her Malibu property, inspired by the Winterhur Museum in Delaware, where she houses her dolls and “tchotchkes” (brick-a-bracs), which are written about in Streisand’s 2010 coffee table book “My Passion for Design.” 
 
Also be aware that the script is liberally laced with Yiddish words and phrases.  Though not a requirement, “farshteyn” (understanding) Yiddish helps in grasping some of the humor. 
 
Winner of the 2014–2015 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Solo Show, the playwright “ruminates with delicious wit and perspicacity on the solitude of celebrity, the love-hate attraction between gay men and divas, and the melancholy that lurks beneath narcissism.” 


This seriously funny slice of absurdist whimsy creates the illusion of a stage filled with multiple people, all of them with their own droll point of view
 
Reviews for productions of the 90-minute play state: “Hilarious!” “Beyond brilliant.” “This show will go down like butta'!” and “Fantastically funny.”
 
Beck’s production features multi-talented Scott Esposito, who has received recognition for his acting skills by Cleveland Critics Circle and Broadwayworld.com.  He has been seen locally in productions at Seat of the Pants Productions, Cain Park, Ensemble Theatre, French Creek Theatre, Lakeland Civic Theatre, Blank Canvas, Beck Center and Dobama.
 
Esposito has memorized and speaks hundreds of lines as the sole performer, portraying not only Alex More, but More’s boyfriend, Streisand, Sadie (Streisand’s alter-ego), and the great one’s secretary.
 
He handles all of the characters with consistency of sound and mannerisms.  He has a nice approach to comedy and his timing is excellent.
 
What is really impressive is not only Esposito’s grasp of all of the lines in this production, but that several weeks ago he portrayed the leading role in OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD at Seat of the Pants Productions, in which he also had many, many lines to memorize.
 
The show was creatively staged by director Jamie Koeth.
 
CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  BUYER AND CELLAR is a show that will delight gay audiences who will be able to laugh at themselves, as well as appreciate their perceived hero-worship of the world of divas, but should be a fun experience for the uninitiated into all things gay.  Scott Esposito gives a finely tuned performance in this well-conceived play. So, “bubalah,” If you want to escape from the world of covid and political stress, go see B&C, you may get “verklempt.”  
 
BUYER & CELLLAR runs September 9-October 9 in the Studio Theater of the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood. For tickets call 216-521-2540 or go on line to beckcenter.org

Monday, August 15, 2022

FROZEN--Key Bank Broadway Series

 


As I exited the opening night of FROZEN, part of the Broadway Series, which is now on stage at the Key Bank State Theatre, I was surrounded by hundreds of little girls in their “princess” dresses and tiaras, happily dragging their parents, grandparents and reluctant brothers toward the counters selling the show’s memorabilia.  Listening to their conversations, they were less interested in the story, the score and the lyrics then in “How did they make it snow on-stage?” “How did they make all those icicles?, and “How did Elsa’s dress change so fast?”  
 
There is an old theatre adage that states, “When you see a musical, you should come out humming the music, not commenting on the sets and costumes.”  Disney, the producers of FROZEN, obviously hadn’t heard that concept.
 
Well, maybe they did.  In transferring the show from film (the 2013 flick of the same name which, to date, is the top grossing animated film of all time), to the stage version (2018), as “30% of the show was rewritten between the tryout and the Broadway opening.  As the writers indicated, “with the musical taking a deeper dive into the characters psyches and aimed at a more adult audience.”
 
So, grandparents and parents, be aware that this musical, whose underlying message of being true to yourself and fully embracing who we are, may not enchant your “princesses.” 
 
FROZEN, the musical with music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez and book by Jennifer Lee, premiered on Broadway in March 2018 to very mixed reviews. Typical of the professional evaluations is, ‘FROZEN doesn’t entirely go wrong, but it does evidence signs of the struggle to establish a consistent, unifying tone and to settle on a center in a story inherently bifurcated by having two heroines kept apart for most of the action. It ends up being merely adequate, a bland facsimile when it should have been something memorable in its own right.” Others stated, "fun but not transporting, and "rousing, often dull, alternately dopey.”
 
Is the stage version the same as the film?  In transferring it, the writers augmented their score for the original film, which featured just eight songs to 20 songs in the stage version.  It is also probably why, both the two young boys in front of me and the trio of female tweens sitting behind, all were over-heard saying, “This isn’t like the film.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Broadway production closed on March 11, 2020, after 825 regular performances.  When pandemic restrictions were eliminated, it was decided that the show would not open again on Broadway, but tour instead.
Locals were not thrilled by the Broadway no-up, as Baldwin Wallace University Musical Theatre grad Ciara Renée had assumed the lead role of Elsa, less than a month before the covid shutdown.  
 
So, what’s it all about?
 
A Greek Chorus introduces serious Princess Elsa of Arendelle and her high-spirited younger sister, Princess Anna.  While the family knows about Elsa's magical powers, it is kept a secret from the people of Arendelle. One night, Elsa and Anna build a magical snowman and name it Olaf.  In their excitement, Elsa accidentally injures Anna in an icy magic rage. Their parents, call for the aid of a colony of hidden folk.  For their own protection, The King isolates the princesses within the castle.”

Years pass. The king dies.  The day before Elsa's coronation as Queen of Arendelle, Anna asks if there is anything she can do for her sister. Elsa, her room coated in ice, refuses to open her door out of fear of hurting Anna again.  

The day of the coronation Anna meets and falls in love with Hans.  He asks to marry her. (As we find out later he has a sinister reason for the proposal.) The couple asks for Elsa's blessing. She objects because the two have only known each other for a day. 

After intense questioning from Anna about shutting her out of her life, Elsa accidentally unleashes her icy powers before the court.
 
Elsa flees to the North Mountain without realizing that her magic has engulfed Arendelle in an eternal winter.

Thus, we enter into a world of ice, a compassionate reindeer, Olaf becoming a living snowman, Anna falling in love again, a revelation about Hans, and, of course, a happy ending.

During the goings on, we hear a rather uninspiring score consisting of such songs as “Hans of the Southern Isles,” “Dangerous to Dream,” “Reindeers are Better than People,” “Hygee” and “Colder by the Minute.”  On the other hand, “Love Is an Open Door” is cute and catchy.

The visual effects are astounding.  Anna’s costumes are breathtaking.  The lighting effects, which help create Elsa’s magic, are confounding.  The full-body costume to represent the reindeer, Sven, (Colin Baja inside holding stilts in his hands and walking on tiptoe) is impressive, as is the puppet of Olaf (F. Michael Haynie) the snowman.  They are much in the realm of the compelling horses in WARHORSE.

The entire cast has impressive voices.  Lauren Nicole Chapman delights as Princess Anna.  She displays a wonderful sense of comic timing.  Beautiful Caroline Bowman, is perfect as Elsa, the Ice Princess/Queen. Her “Let It Go” is the show’s musical highlight.  Handsome Ryan McCartan is both charming and evil as Hans.  Zach Trimmer is macho-right as Kristoff, Anna’s nice-guy second love.  

Capsule judgment:  Disney has created some of Broadway’s most memorable musicals including THE LION KING, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, MARY POPPINS and NEWSIES THE MUSICAL.  FROZEN, unfortunately, does not deserve to join that exalted list. It’s not terrible, but kids will probably not be enchanted, adults should be adequately interested, and  all will be awed by the special effects and lighting.  

FROZEN runs through September 11 at the Key Bank State Theatre.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to 
www.playhousesquare.org

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Kent and Céspedes join forces for exceptional WEST SIDE STORY at Porthouse

  


In the fall of 1957, I had a mind-blowing experience.  I saw the newly opened Broadway production of WEST SIDE STORY.  At the time, all I knew about the show was that it was based on ROMEO AND JULIET and it had opened to positive reviews two days before.  
 
I left the show with aching hands from clapping and clapping and clapping during the extended curtain calls.  I became a WEST SIDE STORY junkie, seeing the show time-after-time on the Great White Way before it closed, then the revival, and many other performances since.  
 
WEST SIDE STORY had an interesting road from concept to Broadway.  
 
In 1974 Jerome Robbins conceived the idea of a contemporary musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET.  His concept was to center the focus on the conflict between an Irish Catholic family and Jewish family living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan set during the Easter-Passover season.  The Catholic “Jets” and the Jewish “Emeralds” were “gangs” in conflict.  
 
Originally titled, EAST SIDE STORY, Bernstein proposed an operatic musical score.  Difficulty with the book, music and lyrics eventually caused the idea to be dropped.  
 
A number of years later, the idea re-emerged as WEST SIDE STORY. The story is set in New York in the mid 1950s.   Sharks came from Puerto Rico, and the Jets, are a collection of white working-class hoodlums. Tony, one of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, the sister of the leader of the Sharks, with disastrous results.  
 
As the score and script developed, tension and comic relief increased, leading to the powerful impact of the play’s tragic ending.   Effort was made to ensure that the show would be a musical drama, not a musical comedy, thus making it different from the Broadway shows of the day. 
 
It is a musical with a serious theme, sophisticated music, extensive dancing and an investigation of social problems.  The memorable score includes Something's Coming, Maria, America, Somewhere, Tonight, I Feel Pretty, and A Boy Like That.
 
Cast members, especially the dancers, were treated as actors and singers, not just as bodies to be choreographed, which opened a new way for chorus members to be treated, and laid the foundation for such shows as A CHORUS LINE.  
 
In 2007, Arthur Laurents decided it was time to adjust the script. His “new” WSS opened on March 19, 2009.  The production wove Spanish lyrics and dialogue into the English libretto. The show had an attitude adjustment, more serious, with some of the lightness eliminated.  The characters were made more authentic.  

The Porthouse production, under the adept direction of Terri Kent, is filled with the right attitudes, especially the emotionally wracked ending.

The right tone to the music, which is a highlight to Bernstein’s brilliance, was well performed by Jonathan Swoboda and his large orchestra.  The sounds are full and lush where they should be and powerful when appropriate.  It also underscored the performers, allowing Sondheim’s lyrics to be heard clearly.  The vocals were generally strong.

The choreography of Martin Céspedes, as has become expected from this multi-award winner, is the cement that holds the show together.  The dancers are well-honed and show a discipline not often displayed on any but Broadway stages.  

Céspedes avoids copying the Broadway dance patterns and invented new ways to stage the numbers, centering on the abilities of his performers.  Especially effective were “The Dance at the Gym,” “America,” and “Ballet Sequence.”  

Strong performances are given by Alexa Lopez (Maria), Victoria Mesa (Anita), Maya Galipeau (Anybodys), Zachary Mackiewicz (Riff), Rasario Guillen (Bernardo), Kirstin Angelina Henry (Rosalia), Steven Scionti (Schrank) and Rohn Thomas (Doc).  Each developed a clear character.  Impressive vocals include: “America,” “I Feel Pretty,” “A Boy Like That,” “One Hand, One Heart,” and “Jet Song.”  
 
I wish that the dialogue between the Puerto Ricans was in Spanish, but it isn’t.  The difficulty of finding the number actors needed to do that is great, so this void is understandable.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  WEST SIDE STORY is near the top of my list of all-time great musicals. The creative choreography and solid character development of the Porthouse production did nothing to dissuade my love for the show.  Bravo!!!  I look forward to more shows produced by the Terri Kent and Martin Céspedes dynamic duo!
 
The show runs through August 13.  Due to a week of covid cancellations there may be additional performances added.  Check the theatre’s website https://www.kent.edu/porthouse/west-side-story.  Call 330-672-3884.

Monday, August 08, 2022

OUR COUNTRY'S GOOD @ Seat of the Pants Productions

 

The Seat of the Pants Productions’ mission states that “Our hope is to create theater that challenges minds, moves hearts, and mobilizes hands and feet - in both performers and patrons.”

 
Its choice of British playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker’s OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD, based on Thomas Keneally’s novel THE PLAYMAKER, well fulfills the company’s goal.  
 
OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD, which won the 1988 Laurence Olivier Award for Play of the Year, was nominated as Best Play for the 1991 Tony Award, and won the 1991 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for the Best Foreign Play, concerns a group of Royal Marines and convicts in a penal colony in New South Wales in the 1780s.
 
“The convicts and Royal Marines were sent to Australia to set up the first penal colony in what we now know as Australia. The area was selected as it was far from England, the convicts would no longer be a menace to the ‘civilized’ people of the isle, and the territory would become yet another possession in the far-reaching British Empire.”
 
“The play shows the class system in the convict camp and discusses themes such as sexuality, punishment, the Georgian judicial system, and the idea that it is possible for ‘theatre to be a humanizing force’.”
 
Most of the characters in the play are based on real people who sailed with the First Fleet though some have had their names changed. 
 
As the play evolves, we find a lieutenant being tasked with putting on a play to celebrate the king's birthday. The catch? His cast members are the English convicts. Few of them can read, let alone act, and the play is being produced against a background of food shortages and barbaric punishments. Some of the convicts are violent, some are prostitutes banned from England because of their immoral life styles, others are petty criminals sent away for pick-pocketing or speaking against the crown, while others are mentally ill.  They, of course, continue to act out while incarcerated.
 
To make matters worse, several of the soldiers are masochistic sadists, bent on punishing the convicts through starvation and beatings. Others soldiers have compassion for the convicts.  The factions conflict.
 
The cast of ten, Abraham Adams, Scott Esposito, Jeannine Gaskin, Benjamin Gregg, Natalie Sander Kern, Daniel McKinnon, Brett Radke, James Rankin, Meriah Sage, and Lana Sugarman, portray 22 different characters, some playing both convicts and officers. 
Esposito, alone, develops a single character, the pivotal, 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Clark, a compassionate soul who directs the play within the play, and finds a humanness in each of the convicts who take roles in the production.
 
Craig Joseph effectively directs, with scenic design by Micah Harvey, costume design by George McCarty II, lighting design by Ayron Lord, sound design by Megan Slabach, and properties design by Lisa L. Wiley. Intimacy direction is by Casey Venema and fight direction is guided by Ryan Zarecki. Voice and dialect coaching is by Chuck Richie. 
 
While a captivating topic, exposing the viewers to a part of history to which few Americans have been exposed, the experience is generally positive, but not without problems.  
 
While the cast is excellent, most of the portrayals are believable, and the staging creative, the constant moving of the boxes which made up the set pieces, became very distracting and dragged out the play’s length.
 
The script, as written, is over 2-and-a-half hours, with an intermission.  Heavy script cutting not only would have shortened the sit, but brought a clearer focus. 
 
The director is to be praised for insisting on authenticity in accents, but the unfamiliar sounds were often impossible to understand.  As is often done in Shakespeare plays intended for American audiences, it might have been wise to lighten the intonations.  
 
Be warned: Reinberger Auditorium, at least the night I saw the show, was like a frozen tundra. The wearing of warm clothing would have been helpful.   
 
The pre-publicity and program warn: “OUR COUNTRY'S GOOD contains several instances of physical violence and menace related to incarceration, colonialism, and corporal punishment, including discussion of - but no portrayal of - death by hanging. There is also discussion of - but no portrayal of - non-consensual sexual intimacy.”  Don’t let that detour you. There are “horrors,” but not vivid enough to cause strong reaction.
 
Capsule judgment:  OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD exposes the viewer to a part of history not well known to many.   The overly-long script gets a creditable staging by Seats of the Pants Productions.  It is worth the sit for anyone interested in probing theater.
 
OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD runs Friday and Saturday nights @ 8 and Sundays @ 2 through August 21 at Reinberger Auditorium, 5209 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland.  For tickets:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/our-countrys-good-by-timberlake-wertenbaker-tickets-373024525397

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Cain Park’s SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM is a visual and lyrical love song to the “Father of the modern American Musical”

 



 
Stephen Sondheim is generally credited with being the “father of the modern American musical.”  
 
His recent death has encouraged theatres to do commemorative productions of his plays.  Locally, Lakeland Theatre will do FOLLIES this fall, Porthouse is now presenting WEST SIDE STORY, and Cain Park is staging SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM in its intimate Alma Theatre.
 
Stephen Joshua Sondheim was an isolated and emotionally neglected child.  His parents d
ivorced when he was about ten.  He detested his mother who blamed him for her failed marriage and once wrote him a letter saying that the only regret she ever had was giving birth to h
im.  His animosity was so strong that when she died in the spring of 1992, Sondheim did not attend her funeral.  It is said that one of his most poignant songs, “Children Will Listen,” was his message to the world about the effect his mother’s words had on him.  

 
His saving grace was forming a close friendship with James Hammerstein, son of lyricist and playwright Oscar Hammerstein. (Yes, that Oscar Hammerstein, the co-author of such block-buster musicals as OKLAHOMA, CAROUSEL, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, and THE KING AND I.)  The elder Hammerstein became Sondheim's surrogate father, influencing him profoundly and developing his love for musical theater.
 
It was at the Hammerstein’s that Sondheim was introduced to Arthur Laurents, who told him he was working on a musical version of ROMEO AND JULIET with Leonard Bernstein.  Laurents indicated that they needed a lyricist.  Sondheim held a degree in composing and was reluctant.  He turned to Hammerstein who supposedly said, "Look, you have a chance to work with very gifted professionals on a show that sounds interesting, and you could always write your own music eventually. My advice would be to take the job.”  
 
Sondheim took the job and wrote the words to WEST SIDE STORY.  He fulfilled Hammerstein’s forecast, when in 1962 he wrote both words and music for A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.  The show ran 964 performances and won six Tony awards.  And, as the trite saying goes, “The rest is history.”  
 
SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM is a revue which incorporates both visual clips of media and journalistic segments of actual interviews with Sondheim, interwoven with songs from all 19 of his musicals which appeared on Broadway stages. These range from the beloved to the obscure including “Something’s Coming” from WEST SIDE STORY, "Finishing the Hat" from SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, "Being Alive" from COMPANY, and "Send in the Clowns" from A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC to “The Gun Song” from ASSASSINS and “Opening Doors” from MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG.

The show enforces the composer/lyricist’s role as having reinvented the American musical with shows that tackled "unexpected themes that range far beyond the [genre's] traditional subjects" with "music and lyrics of unprecedented complexity and sophistication.” His shows often addressed the darker, more harrowing elements of the human experience, with songs often tinged with ambivalence about life.
His songs reveal that Sondheim used “angular harmonies and intricate melodies.” And that he rejected the traditional image of the Western world typically presented in Broadway productions, and instead depicted it as "predatory and alienating."

It also illustrates that his works acquired a cult following with gay audiences.  This gay connection is somewhat misleading as Sondheim, who was often described as introverted and solitary, didn’t open up about his homosexuality until he was in his 40s, didn’t enter a relationship until he was in his 60s, and didn’t get married to Jeffrey Scott Roley, a digital technologist, until 2017.
As a kind of thank you to his being mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II,  Sondheim returned the favor, saying that he loved "passing on what Oscar passed on to me.”  Included in the stable of those he aided were Adan Guettel, grandson of Richard Rodgers, Jonathan Larson, who wrote TICK, TICK… BOOM! and RENT, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who Sondheim asked to work with him on a planned Spanish version of WEST SIDE STORY. Miranda, in turn, approached Sondheim to aid with his HAMILTON. 

Cain Park's production, which was directed by Joanna May Cullinan, has music direction by Jordan Cooper and choreography by Monica Olejko.   It features Amiee Collier, Mario Clopton-Zymler, Andrea de la Fuente, Trey Gilpin, Frank Ivancic, Kate Klika, Connor Stout, and Nicole Sumlin with Cameron Olin, Adam Rawlings, Danny Simpson, and Amanda Tidwell. 
 
The excellent production featured prime singing, well-conceived song interpretations and creative staging.
 
Capsule judgment:  SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM is a theatre-lovers dream.  It is an in-depth look at one of America’s musical theatre greats presented in his spoken words, his musical sounds, and creative lyrics.  It is a must see for anyone who admires his work or is interested in finding out more about Sondheim!
 
For tickets, to the show, which runs until August 13, call (216) 371-3000 or visit https://tinyurl.com/ye2b2zzu
 




Friday, August 05, 2022

The Musical Theatre Project goes live with FOR GOOD: THE NEW GENERATION OF MUSICALS


After a two-year COVID hiatus, The Musical Theater Project returns to live performances, “For Good:  The New Generation of Musicals.”   The August 20, 21 and 27 offerings will feature narrators Nancy Maier and Sheri Gross and vocals by Jessica Cope Miller and Eric Fancher. 

 

Long time TMTP followers are used to hearing stories and songs from the Golden Era of the American musical.  In contrast, the material in the “For Good,” offerings will generally be picked from the scores from contemporary American musicals.  

 

The Golden Age lasted from the early 1940s through the end of that century.  The seminal OKLAHOMA, Rogers and Hammerstein’s ground breaking musical, set a template for most of the musicals that followed it. 

 

Keynotes of those offerings were a story line, usually developed via a double set of tales, one featuring the major love interests, the second, a comedy relationship.  Think Julie and Billie and Carrie and Mr. Snow in CAROUSEL or Annie and Frank and Winnie and Tommy in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN.  

 

Identifying parts of the format included two acts, the first ending with a problem, the solution to which would only be revealed if the audience came back for act two. For example, at the end of the initial act in THE KING AND I, the British are coming to Siam to determine the fate the country.  The issue:  Will Anna be able to aid the King to thwart off the potential take-over? 

 

Another stylistic factor of the Golden Age musical was the “I Want” song in which the lead character tells of their needs and desires.  “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from MY FAIR LADY fulfills that requirement.

 

Among other key stylistic factors were an overture, show stopping production numbers and dance interludes.

 

The modern/contemporary era of musicals, which is the key to TMTP’s FOR GOOD series, was basically ushered in by Jonathan Larson’s RENT.  It broke most of the formulaic patterns and took on more of a story with music.  The songs are part of the dialogue, not a break from it.  The shows often contain no dancing.  The topics are more serious, for example, mental illness is probed in NEXT TO NORMAL.  Race is the keynote in CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, teen angst is the fulcrum of DEAR EVAN HANSEN and lesbian and gay coming out highlight FUN HOME. 

 

In a recent interview with Sheri Gross, who in real life serves as the Director of Arts, Culture, and Creative Programming at Gross Schechter School, is the theatre reviewer for the Cleveland Jewish News, and is serving as both a narrator and script developer for THE NEW GENERATION OF MUSICALS, it was revealed that this was the sixth TMTP show in which she has been involved.  She originally sang in productions, then started to write and then narrate.  

 

For this program, shows to be covered were agreed upon, songs selected from each, and the performers rehearsed their songs with music director Nancy Meier.

 

The format will center on behind the scenes info of the shows and the singing of lyrics.  Productions, from which songs have been selected, include MOULIN ROUGE, MR. SATURDAY NIGHT, A STRANGE LOOP, CAROLYN, OR CHANGE, SIX, GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY, FLYING OVER SUNSET, FUN HOME, and the revival of FUNNY GIRL.

 

Gross indicated that, as a performer and director of shows from the Golden Era, much of the material to be presented was new to her.  She finds that the present-day musicals show greater risk taking in topic selection, many of the songs have harmonies and musical patterns that are edgier, and that the story-lines reflect the issues in modern society.  She thinks much of this is thanks to Stephen Sondheim and this willingness to challenge tradition and be creative and edgy.  The program will include a special tribute to Sondheim.

 

The music from at least one of her favorite scripts, THE MUSIC MAN, will be included in this program.  Other favorite shows include FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.

 

FOR GOOD will be staged at the BOP STOP, 2920 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland, on Saturday, August 20th (7:30 PM) and 21st (2 PM) and on Saturday, August 27th (7:30) at French Creek Theatre, 4540 French Creek Road, Sheffield).  Tickets are $35 and can be ordered online at MusicalTheaterProject.org or by phone 216-860-1518 ext. 710.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Lead-up to unexpected ending makes ANGRY FAGS worth seeing at con-con


A catalog description of ANGRY FAGS, the Topher Payne play, now on stage at convergence- continuum, cautions that the script contains “alcohol, gunshots, intense adult themes, strong language, nudity/partial nudity and smoking.”  What it doesn’t alert you to is the unexpected and shocking ending!

Payne explained of his writing, "If you can make someone laugh, they listen. And they lean in and they want to hear more. And once you have that level of engagement, then you can start layering in a message that you want them to take away.”
 
ANGRY FAGS originally premiered at 7 Stages in Atlanta, GA in February.  A revised version of the work was developed.  It is this version that is on stage at con-con.

A review of an earlier production of ANGRY FAGS bannered the show as an “uncompromising Oscar Wilde-meets-Fight Club fantasia."  Another stated, "A gay gentleman's guide to love and murder [...] Filled with tension but laced with moments of black humor and rigged with unexpected twists and turns."  Still another writer indicated, “Vicious, deliciously subversive, brutal and breathtakingly funny, this dystopian revenge tragedy pushes every button.”

So, what’s the show about?  
 
“An out lesbian state senator is up for re-election. Her female opponent is an [African American] moderate conservative who’s aligned herself with right-wing extremists. They’re locked in a tight race in which each side dog-whistles to its base and any event can become instantaneously politicized.
 
When a gay man is bashed with a baseball bat and left to die, his ex-boyfriend, a campaign aide for the incumbent senator, is enraged. But it’s the unwillingness of his boss to label it a hate-crime that tips him over the edge. Teaming up with his best friend, the two men embark on a vendetta of sabotage and assassinations, reasoning that if gays aren’t respected enough to win equal justice and rights, fear will achieve what good intentions and politics cannot.”
 
The con-con production, under the direction of Scott Zolkowski, is compelling at times, missing its humor, pace and dynamics at others.  Greatly missing is the author’s promise of the “moments of black humor. “
 
The story line is nicely developed and effectively sneaks up on its surprising, even shocking ending.   
 
The cast is uneven in their talents and abilities to develop clear and consistent characters.  Some of this is the lack of theatrical experience of some of the performers, some due to the director’s inability to get the actors to project and understand the motivation behind their actions.
 
Handsome, sensual Adam Harry swings from calm to hysterical, from clothed to unclothed, with scary ease.  His Cooper Harlow effectively shows tendencies of a drama queen, while also being a dedicated, if unhinged, friend.
 
His “partner in crime,” slight David Lenahan, as the easily manipulated Bennett Riggs, has some difficulty walking a consistent line between showing the character’s desires and his actions.  
 
Valerie Young, as she has proven in the past, does a creditable job of developing the role of Dierdre Preston, an on-air newscaster.
 
Joan Jankowski (Senator Allison Haines) and Amanda Rowe-Van Allen (Kimberly Phillips, Senator Haines’ Assistant) are believable in their role developments.
 
Jack Matuszewsk (Adam Lowell, Senator Haines’ Campaign Director, Bennett’s lover and XXX...can’t reveal this or it blows the plot open) makes the character’s swing of personas with surprising ease, though some of his lines sound read rather than spoken.
 
Natalya Duncan puts out full effort, but never makes a real person of Peggy Musgrove, the Republican senatorial candidate.
 
Neil Sudhakaran’s projections aid to clarify the multiple settings needed to flesh out the show.
 
The floor design, bannering the issues of the day, were creatively conceived and executed by Cory Molner and Scott Zolkowski.
 
Don’t get all worked up by the fact that the program lists an Intimacy Director as part of the production staff. Yes, there are some male-male kisses, and Adam Harry flounces around in nothing but a pair of black bikini-briefs, and two of the guys appear in towels wrapped only around the lower parts of their nude bods, but sex is not on the docket.
 
Capsule judgement:  Con-cons cult audience will be pleased by the presence of lots of male partial nudity, a non-traditional story, and the gay theme.  Others will be intrigued by the author’s ability to lead down one path and throw a curve ball into the action and then surprise with a startling ending.  All in all, even with some of the weak performances, this is a production worth seeing.
 
The show runs from July 8-30 at Cleveland’s up-close and OUT there Theatre.  For tickets go to www.convergence-continuum.org
 
Up next:  NEIGHBORHOOD 3:  REQUISION OF DOOM by Jennifer Haley from August 26-September 17.  “Haley’s suspenseful play displays cautionary messages about inattentive parents of teenagers addicted to online video games.”

Thursday, July 14, 2022

If you love The Temptations, you’ll be on “Cloud Nine” and “Shout” about AIN’T TOO PROUD


AIN’T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS
, which is now on stage at the State Theatre as part of the Key Bank Broadway Series, is a 2018 jukebox musical with music and lyrics by The Temptations and book by Dominique Morisseau.  

Jukebox musicals are stage shows in which songs were written with no preconceived connection to the script.  The genre includes JERSEY BOYS, BEAUTIFUL---THE CAROL KING STORY and BUDDY-- THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY, which follow the life experiences of a well-known performer.  Other jukebox musicals, such as MAMA MIA, ROCK OF AGES and PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT, have pre-written music, but are not a real story.  The tale is concocted and the songs are dropped into the script.

AIN’T TOO PROUD is based on the history of the musical group known by many names in their development, but once they became part of Motown, and finally developed a persona, their signature dance moves and unmistakable harmonies, they were named The Temptations and took off on a career which included 42 top ten hits with 14 reaching number one and were named, in 2017, as the greatest R&B group of all time by Billboard Magazine.

The group was noted for pioneering psychedelic soul music and was significant in the evolution of R&B and soul music.  Distinct harmonies, creative choreography and their stylish clothing were imitated by many groups.

The musical illuminates how and why the group was founded, the ever-changing membership, the group’s interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts, their role in the civil rights movement and the nation’s politics and war, the stress on individual performers which resulted in life and marriage problems.  This is a tale of brotherhood and loyalty, as well as betrayal.

Do The Temptations still exist?  The musical doesn’t answer this question, but the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”  In the Fall of 2021, they released two singles, "Is It Gonna Be Yes or No," featuring Smokey Robinson, and "When We Were Kings," as part of their upcoming album, “Temptations 60.” So the history goes on.

AIN’T TOO PROUD is the opportunity to hear over thirty of the group’s greatest hits including “Just My Imagination,” “Get Ready,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” ‘Gloria,” “Shout,” and “For Once in My Life.”

The musical was first staged at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California, then was presented in a series of regional venues.  Songs were added and dropped, and story threads adjusted.  In March, 2019 the production opened on Broadway.  It was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, but only got a statue for its choreography.

The touring company tells the tale well.  Though too long, it is nicely staged by director Des McAnuff and choreographer Sergio Trujillo.  Cutting several songs, which were not integral to the story, would have helped the tedium factor that became evident as the show went on and on.  (Side comment:  I would assume if I were a fanatic follower of the group, which I am not, I wouldn’t have minded the extra songs.)

The local staging was somewhat hampered, on opening night, by the absence of Marcus Paul James, who usually portrays the lead role of Otis Williams, the founder and central cog of The Temptations.  Michael Andreaus, one of his understudies stepped in. 

Andreaus was quite good, but he was sometimes slightly out of sync in the complicated dance movements and lacked some of the needed charisma needed for the role.  Also added to this production was Antwan Holley, who stepped in as Barry Gordy, the role that Andreaus usually plays.

The cast was excellent, often playing more than one role. 

The costuming was impressive.  Each performer wore multi high-styled and fashioned colored costumes. 

The stage band was loud and rocking, which was to be expected.

Capsule judgment:  It is always interesting, whether or not you are a fan of a person or a group, to see and hear their story in a juke box musical.  AIN’T TOO PROUD gives the viewer an inside view of how The Temptations were founded, developed and performed.  The touring show did the history proud.  If you love the Temptations, you’ll be on “Cloud Nine” and “Shout” about AIN’T TOO PROUD.  If not a fanatic, it is still worth seeing it

The show is at the KeyBank State Theatre at Playhouse Square through Sunday, July 31st. Tickets are available for all performances, and can be purchased by clicking here.