Sunday, October 01, 2023

Spectacular NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 mesmerizes at GLT

  


When I saw the show in its Broadway run, I wrote in my review: “The total effect of NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 is breathtaking.  The traditional music, dress, stylized acting, and Josh Groban’s booming voice add to the over-arching effect. Yes, this is more than a musical, it is a spectacle of enormous proportions.” 
 
There is no Josh Groban on stage at Great Lakes Theater, where the show is now running, but my rave comments are the same for the local creative Vicki Bussert directed spectacular.
 
As the tale goes, in the nineteenth century, a comet officially known as C/1811 F1 was visible to the naked eye for a record 260 days.  The huge spatial phenomena, which is often called the Comet of 1812, became a fascination for artist and writers who painted it and wrote stories with it as the focus.  One of the best-known literature usage was in Leo Tolstoy’s epic, “War and Peace.”
 
In the Tolstoy novel, he describes Pierre observing this “enormous and brilliant comet.”  He went on to indicate it “was said to portend all kinds of woes and the end of the world.”  From the standpoint of the Russians, the prognostication became true as the invasion of Russia by Napoleon (Patriotic War of 1812) took place.
 
C1811 F1 has appeared again.  This time it is justifiably shaking up Playhouse Square.  (It is ironic that the famous CLE theatre mecca introduced its new theatre electronic marques and enhanced lighting displays during the run of this show.)
 
The bold, imaginative electropop opera is from award-winning composer (and Lakewood, OH native!) Dave Malloy. 
 
When asked why the comet made it into the title of the show, Malloy stated, “for cosmic epicness.”  
 
Yes, the show is proving itself to be an epic as evidenced by the fact that it became the most Tony-nominated show of the 2017 season, garnering 12 recognitions including that for best score, book and orchestration, as well as best direction, choreography, actor, actress, featured actor, scenic, costume and lighting design.
 
The power and grandeur of the show hits the audience upon entering the theatre.  Though the Hanna was not totally redone, as was the Imperial theater on Broadway when it was totally transposed for the production. The proscenium stage was replaced by a raked series of platforms that extended to the theatre’s back wall and ceiling.
 
Weaving staircases allowed the actors to wander from one level to another, attenders were seated in nooks and crannies on stage, and musicians were placed in varying places, including a depressed circle in the middle of the stage area which contained a grand piano.  (Seated on stage, I was up-close and personal with Josh Groban and numerous actors in several scenes.)
 
The entire theatre became a performance space as the orchestra, mezzanine and balcony had platforms and seats that allowed for performance pieces to be done immediately next to audience members.
 
The theatre’s walls had been draped with heavy maroon material, with varying antique framed photos and decorative art pieces hung on them.  It was as if one was in a grand Russian villa of old.
 
Not to be out-done, the local production has a huge red-flocked backwall, table seating on the edge of the thrust stage, empty seats in the orchestra area of the theatre, into which actors flop and sit and talk to their seat neighbors.  Actors cavort up and down the aisles and appear in the side boxes.  The whole theatre is their playground.
 
The Malloy well-written music combines traditionally played ethnic, folk, classical, and indie rock with EDM.  The sound of accordions, violins, tambourines, balalaika, and wood blocks, as well as piano and synthesizer, give the score a unique, not often heard musical theater sound.  
 
Don’t be surprised if you are sitting in the front rows if an actor hands you a pair of shakers and teaches you how to use them at appropriate segments of the show.  If you ever wanted to appear in a live stage show, here is your chance! “Nostrovia!”
 
Malloy’s book and lyrics, like Russian literature, is filled with great angst, over-exaggerated emotion and melodrama.  Wisely, the author has avoided the Russian tradition of each person having numerous full names plus diminutives.  But, you still may get lost in the singing narrative.  
 
As a friend said after seeing the show…as with reading Russian literature, you need to be exposed to the materical at least twice to really understand it.  
 
The tale is set in Moscow in 1812.   Pierre (Alex Syiek) a middle-aged aristocrat, is living an existential life, often influenced by an over-abundance of vodka.  Into his sphere of life comes Natasha (Jessi Kirtley), a beautiful young lady, who is visiting the Russian capital, while her fiancé, Andrey (Cole Burden) is at war.  She is seduced by Anatole (Chris McCarrell), an attractive and manipulating married man.  Her social standing is ruined.  Her only hope lies with Pierre using his influence to save her reputation.
 
As can be expected in a Russian saga, Pierre dramatically helps Natasha gain her sense of self.  Afterwards, almost as a payment for his good deed, he experiences a moment of enlightenment as he sees the Comet of 1812 in the night sky.
 
The physical setting is impressive, even though I would have liked a more vividly exciting comet.  The musical presentation, grand.  The vocalizations, compelling.  The stylized acting, character correct.
 
The Baldwin Wallace Musical Theatre grads and present students, who inhabit most roles, have voices that one would expect from the uber-talented performers, trained in one of the nation’s finest musical theatre programs.  
 
Cleveland Critics Circle award winning Syiek (2017--THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME at GLT), is powerful in his “Pierre.” His aria “Dust and Ashes” captivates.  His duet “Pierre & Anatole,” with Chris McCarrell, is compelling as is his “Pierre & Natasha,” a duet with Jessi Kirtley.
 
The beautiful Kirtley is charming as Natasha who not only sings well, but creates a vulnerable young woman who is charmed into a seduction by the uber-talented and multi-Broadway leading man, Chris McCarrell, the evil villain, who takes away Natasha’s innocence.  He moves with arrogant ease, smiling with manipulative pleasure, while displaying no remorse.  
 
The rest of the cast is talented and never wavering in their character involvement, a tribute not only Bussert, the director, but “Vicky” the mother-superior of the BW musical theatre program and her staff.
 
Matthew Webb leads the perfectly tuned musicians.  Jeff Hermann creates the impressive setting, Tesia Dugan Benson’s era-right costumes glisten, Trad A Burns has created a sumptuous lighting design and Jaclyn Miller’s choreography is glorious.
 
Capsule judgement:  When I reviewed the Broadway production of NP&TGC1812 I said it was “breathtaking.”  I continued, “this is more than a musical, it is a spectacle of enormous proportions.”  I repeat the same for the GLT production and add that I doubt if there is another director on the local scene who could create such a quality staging of this script!
 
Next up At GLT-DRACULA:  THE BLOODY TRUTH, October 20-November 5, 2023.
 
For tickets to GLT shows go to https://www.greatlakestheater.org/or call (216) 241-6000

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Angst-inducing CAT’S-PAW effectively performed and staged at Beck

 


 
William Mastrosimone, the author of CAT’S-PAW, now on stage in the Studio Theatre at Beck Center, states, “In the early 80s I was shocked by the questionable methods of some activists who called themselves environmentalists. At a protest in the Northwest, so-called environmentalists drove 12-inch nails in trees scheduled to be felled so that a logger’s chainsaw would be snagged and the logger injured. That nasty tactic cost a man his arm. A good cause was vitiated. When a car bomb exploded by mistake under misguided activists in California, I saw a clear demarcation between passionate activism and criminality. That was the inspiration for the play.  The ends never justify the means— or do they?”
 
Director Bill Roudebush in his program notes relates, “CAT’S-PAW, written in 1984, is a play conceived forty years ahead of its time. We weren’t listening back then. Today, even with the most recent events in Flint, Michigan, and East Palestine, Ohio, surrounding our consciousness, so many are still denying the reality of pumping poisons into our environment.”
 
He adds, “This play, unnoticed in its own time, predicts . . . our present dilemma, as well as the toxic politics, threats and media that engulf and amplify our continued lack of action to address the problems we still continue to ignore…Of course I want to direct one of the most impactful plays I have ever read!!”
 
The play focuses on Victor, the head of a group called Earth Now!, responsible for a bomb attack at the EPA in which 27 people have been killed. He, along with a confederate, has kidnapped an EPA official and is holding him hostage in a DC warehouse. He has a television news reporter led to his lair so she can tell the world why he has done what he has done.
 
“Victor's obsession is the destruction of the world's water supply and, with it, the final destruction of the human race by pollution.  When the reporter asks if he feels any guilt about the death of the 27 innocent people, he replies that hundreds of innocent people die every hour because of what mankind is doing to its water supply and do the people responsible feel guilt for this?”


The Beck casts includes local talents.   Christ Richards plays Victor Lara Mielcarek, as the reporter, Jessica, Michael Dempsey is Darling, who is being held hostage, and Grace Favarro who portrays Cathy, Victor's naive loyalist.

Each is excellent in developing a realistic character.  Richards, especially. He is spooky.  His eyes glint, he is maniac in his obsession to his convictions.  His nervous twitches and intense body language are downright scary, as is his explosive temper.  I would not like to meet him in a dark alley or have a disagreement with him!  

Director William Roudebush displays laser-focus instincts.  The pace is fast, the stress-inducing action is intense.  He creates a drama with high angst.
 
(Note the theatre recommended CAT’S-PAW for ages 16 and older due to subject matter, onstage violence, and substantial adult language.
 
Capsule judgment:  CAT’S PAW is a powerful script, filled with tension and angst.  It gets a very well-conceived and developed production at Beck.  It’s definitely a “go see!”
 
Dates:  September 22 to October 22, 2023.  For tickets call 216-521-2540 or go to beckcenter.org 



Sunday, September 24, 2023

CLYDE'S @ KARAMU

 

Lynn Nottage, the author of CLYDE’S, now in production at Karamu, is the first woman to win two Pulitzer Prizes for works of drama.  

She tends to write about people trapped in abusive type relationships. 

As the director’s program notes state, “[Nottage] gives voice to the voiceless and overlooked. . . creating relatable humans to draw you in while offering a mirror for reflection.”  

In her play RUINED, the women were the target of terrorists in the Congolese civil war. 

In SWEAT, steelworkers resisting their union-busting management inexorably wind up busting one another.

CLYDE’S finds former incarnated kitchen staff members working at a truck-stop sandwich shop in Reading, Pennsylvania, attempting to rebuild their lives but, but their tough-as-nails boss Clyde enjoys pointing out, she’s the only employer in the area who will hire “morons” like them. She does so not because she too was once incarcerated. (Of the crime that landed her in prison the only thing she says is that the last man who tried to hurt her “isn’t around to try again, I made damn sure of that.”)  She is a woman who appears to have an unsatisfying life and finds great pleasure in making life miserable for others.

In order to make life bearable, each staff member is encouraged by the chef to indulge in imagining, then creating their perfect sandwich, thus, he believes, that they can transcend their mistakes and reconnect with the world.
 
Each has tale, which gradually unfolds. 
 
Letitia “got greedy” and stole “some oxy and addy to sell on the side” after breaking into a pharmacy to obtain “seizure medication” for her daughter. 
 
Rafael held up a bank but with a BB gun, because he wanted to buy his girlfriend a Cavalier King Charles spaniel. 
 
We don’t at first get the story of how Montrellous wound up behind bars, but he is so saintly that Letitia believes it must have been elective.
 
CLYDE’S is about dark things, including prison, drugs, homelessness and poverty, yet it has many comic moments.
 
The 90-minute play without an intermission, under the direction of Treva Offutt, is satisfying in some aspects, frustrating in others.
 
For the play to work, because of the realism of the writing, the people on stage must be real, not acting.  Jaren Hodgson (Jason), Maxx (Letitia), Prophet Seay (Montrellous) and Jonathan Rodriguez (Raphael) are all spot on.  Unfortunately, whether directed to do so, or having created the role herself, Dayshawnda Ash (Clyde), though she has some fine moments, generally acts, poses and creates a caricature rather than the necessary authentic person.
 
Richard H. Morris, Jr.’s realistic set design works well and Dred Gelb must have cleaned out a local restaurant for all the authentic utensils and other props which add to the authenticity of the prep room.  Too bad same cannot be said as to the preparation of the food served.  A pita with a couple of pieces of vegetables in it does not a sandwich make.  Where were the sides in serving baskets?  Where is the realistic prepping and serving of food?  If we don’t see real, we cannot believe in real.
 
Capsule judgment: Though very talky, with little to no action, CLYDE’S, with its many laughs, makes for an interesting evening of theatre. Fortunately, it ends with a positive, though some might think, unrealistic message.
 
For tickets call Karamu, 216-795-7077 or go to karamuhouse.org

Next up:  12/1-16/2023—Langston Hughes’ BLACK NATIVITY (presented at Cleveland Play House)—The soulful, heartwarming story, gospel celebration.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Dramatic, humorous and wonderfully performed, CPH’s THURGOOD, is a marvelous theatrical experience

 


Thurgood Marshall, the subject of THURGOOD, now on stage at Cleveland Play House’s Allen Theatre, was the grandson of slaves.  He was born in segregated Baltimore and attended all-Black schools.  
 
After high school he enrolled at Lincoln University, the oldest college for African Americans in the United States. Marshall desired to go to law school but was not allowed into the all-white University of Maryland. Instead, he attended Howard University Law School.
 
When asked about why he wanted to go to law school, he said that his father, who was an important influence in his life, "he never told me to become a lawyer, but he turned me into one ... He taught me how to argue, challenged my logic on every point, by making me prove every statement I made, even if we were discussing the weather."
 
And what a lawyer he was.  Often referred to as “Mr. Civil Rights,” he devoted his life to championing justice and equality for all people.
 
Prior to his judicial service, he was an attorney who fought for civil rights, leading the NAACP’S Legal and Education Fund.   He won 29 of the 32 civil rights cases he argued before the Supreme Court, culminating in the Court's landmark 1954 decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, which rejected the separate but equal doctrine and held segregation in public education to be unconstitutional.  
 
Though many think only of Martin Luther King, Jr. as the central lynch point of the civil rights movement, the role of Marshall cannot be overlooked.  King fought outside the system to make his strides, Marshall worked within the system to change laws and legally make change.  
 
Marshall’s motivation was often credited to his education at Howard, where he was taught to be a "social engineer," willing to use the law to fight for civil rights.
 
He was appointed by Lyndon Johnson to be the Supreme Court's first African-American justice.  Marshall served as an associate justice from 1967 until 1991.  A staunch liberal, he frequently dissented as the Court became an increasingly conservative court.
 
THURGOOD, his biographical play, as written by George Stevens, Jr., spans his remarkable 58-year career while highlighting his warmth and sharp wit.  
 
THE CPH production stars film, TV, and regional theatre veteran Lester Purry.  He has performed this script at Geva Theatre center, Portland Playhouse and Penumbra Theatre.
 
Purry doesn’t act the role, he emerges himself so into the character, that there is no doubt we are sharing the two-hour, two-act play with Marshal, himself.  His asides to the audience are Marshall’s asides.  His sorrows become our real sorrows.  His joys, our joys.  What a pleasure to see this marvelous actor on stage.
 
Purry’s lines were often interrupted by applause.  This was not only a tribute to the actor’s performance, but to the knowledge and power of Marshal’s ideas and stances.
 
Award winning Clevelander Greg White understudies Purry and may perform at some stagings.
 
The action takes place on one-set, but is visually enhanced by Rasean Davonte Johnson’s compelling projections.
 
Capsule judgement:  THURGOOD is not only is a fine historical epic, but is wonderful entertainment.  Dramatic, humorous, well performed and clever….it makes for a marvelous must-see theatrical experience.
 
THURGOOD runs through October 1, 2023. For tickets call Cleveland Play House @ 216-400-7000 or go to https://www.clevelandplayhouse.com/
 
Next up at CPH---10/21-11/12—MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN—A gritty yet highly theatrical tale that brings what’s buried back to life.

 

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

LUNGS




 
As a counselor, I have often shared with clients the need to talk-out issues in their relationships.  It’s one of the central techniques of mental health practitions.
 
Duncan Macmillan, in his two-person play LUNGS, which is now in production at Ensemble Theater, illustrates this talking-out process.  
 
Unfortunately, in his oft-praised script, he seems to give us a model of when talking out becomes an issue, when people excessively talk and analyze their relationships.  In fact, he seems to illustrate how to talk a relationship to its death.
 
A review of LUNGS, which debuted in 2011 at the Studio Theatre in Washington DC, praised the play as "original and striking", but slighted the characters as "cliche".  Another review stated, "Duncan Macmillan's distinctive, off-kilter love story is brutally honest, funny, edgy and current. It gives voice to a generation for whom uncertainty is a way of life through two flawed, but deeply human, people who you don't always like but start to feel you might love. It's bravely written, startlingly structured.”  
 
The nameless characters, the script identifies them as M and W, find themselves examining the scope of their lives together, and the world around them, when they begin considering starting a family.
 
“In a time of global anxiety, terrorism, erratic weather and political unrest, a young couple want a child but are running out of time. If they over think it, they'll never do it. But if they rush, it could be a disaster.  They want to have a child for the right reasons. Except, what exactly are the right reasons? And what will be the first to destruct – the planet or the relationship?”
 
And so it goes, on and on, when every possible issue about the world, their lives, whether they are “good people,” are dissected, trisected, examined and reexamined again.  
 
After a while it seems like the duo needs to just shut up!  Finally, as can be expected, they do and go their separate ways, childless, until they accidentally run into each other.  
 
He is now engaged.   And, she has a secret that she carries into their conversation.  Where will this talkfest go next???
 
Ensemble’s production, under the focused direction of Becca Moseley, stars Katie Simón Atkinson and Robert Grant III.  
 
Stars is the perfect word to describe this excellent cast.  They are totally natural.  Being, not acting.  There is not a moment of pretense during the production.  
 
The production, with no intermission, even with all the talk, talk, talk, flows right along.
 
Capsule judgment:  The script, with its strong language and themes, is a thinking person’s play.  This is not a production for those who go to theatre to escape, to be “entertained.”  Many people will not “like” this play.  “To be liked” is not its purpose.  The author wants you to think about the role of communication in a relationship.  To think about the world in which we live.  To think about what “good” people are.  To think, about…maybe even overthink!  The production succeeds in developing the intent and purpose of the author!
 
LUNGS runs at Ensemble, which performs on the Notre Dame College campus on Green Road in South Euclid, from September 8 through the 24th.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go to tickets@ensembletheatrecle.org




Saturday, August 26, 2023

2024 Fall CLE-area Theater Calendar



 
Here’s a list of some of the offerings of CLE professional theaters 2024 fall (September-December).  

You can track my reviews on http://www.royberko.info/, or contact me to get on my direct review list.  You can see a synopsis of the local reviewers’ comments about the plays at http://www.clevelandtheaterreviews.com/
 
BECK CENTER   216-521-2540 or http://www.beckcenter.org
8 p.m. evenings, 3 p.m. matinees
 
10/22-11/22—CATS-PAW (Studio Theater)—A cat-and-mouse game between a young reporter and a terrorist leader leads to a shocking conclusion.
 
12/1-30—JOSEPH & THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT (Senney Theater)—Family friendly which tells the tale of how Joseph is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and how he becomes the nations and family hero!
 
BLANK CANVAS  440-941-0458 or http://www.blankcanvastheatre.com/
 
8/25-9/9—PETER AND THE STAR CATCHER—The tale of how an orphan became Peter Pan!
 
10/20-11/4—ZOMBIE PROM—The girl-loves-ghoul rock ‘n’ roll off Broadway hit is set in a high school in which the law is laid down by a zany, tyrannical principal.  Filled with lots of 1950’s hit songs!
 
12/1-16—ROCKY---A musical based on the Academy Award Best Picture film, with equal parts or grit and heart, and tells the tale of the triumph of spirit, strength and love.  A Cleveland area premere.
 
CESEAR’S FORUM  216-241-6000 or go to http://www.cesearsforum.com/
Kennedy’s Theatre, Playhouse Square, 1501 Euclid Avenue
 
9/29-10/28—A FUGITIVE’S LESSON---Two absurdist one-act plays (Eugene Ionesco’s THE LESSON and Ugo Bettis THE FUGITIVE).  

CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE  
216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org
7:30 Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 Saturday and Sunday
 
9-9/10/1—THURGOOD—A tribute to a real American hero who embodied courage, integrity, and determination.           Featuring Lester Purry.
 
10/21-11/12—MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN—A gritty yet highly theatrical tale that brings what’s buried back to life.
 
12/1-16—LANGSTON HUIGHES’ BLACK NATIVITY (presented by Karamu House)—The soulful, heartwarming story, gospel celebration.
 
CLEVELAND PUBLIC THEATRE
  216-631-2727 or go on line to http://www.cptonline.org/
 
9/22-23--REVERIE ORACLE (Gordon Square Theatre) -- A collective dream of performers, who are engaged in a rigorous game where imaginary landscapes are embodied.  Poetry is given voice and songs are shared.
 
10/19-11/04--OUR LADY OF COMMON SORROWS--(James Levin Theatre) --The assumed immaculate conception of a 15-year-old honor student incites a crisis of faith for her family.  A psychedelic ride where reality dances with fantasy, everyone is suspect, and big questions are asked about God, faith, and value of life.
 
11/15-19 THE OUTSTRETCHED HAND--(Gordon Square Theatre) --Three young adults push against and pull towards their heritage, communities, and families, as they work towards becoming their full selves.
 
congruence continuum. convergence-continuum.org or 216-687-0074
Thursday-Saturday @ 8
 
10/13-11/4—THE GROWN UP—Kai is given a magical door-knob by his grandfather that enable him to travel through space and time to see future events in his life.
 
12/1-23—WONDERLAND WIVES — (Intended for mature audience with very immature tastes) -- Cinderella’s Prince Charming is serving ten years in the pen, Belle’s house is overrun with little monsters, Alice has been hitting the caterpillar’s pipe a little too hard lately, and Snow White’s husband has shacked up with the three little pigs.
 
DOBAMA
 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org
check the theatre’s blog for performance times 
 
9/6-29--MAKE BELIEVE--In the attic of one family’s home, four young siblings recreate their everyday lives in a game of make-believe. Meanwhile, the world beneath them holds a more ominous reality. 
 
12/1-31--LITTLE WOMEN--Four girls come of age in a journey of self-discovery learning that while families change and grow, the ones we love are always close at heart.
 
ENSEMBLE THEATRE
  216-321-2930 or http://www.ensembletheatrecle.org
Fridays and Saturdays @ 7:30, Sundays @ 2. New home:  Performing Arts Center on the campus of Notre Dame College, South Euclid
9/8-24—LUNGS---Follows a couple through the surprising lifecycle of their relationship, as they grapple with questions of family and change, hope, betrayal, happenstance, and the terrible pain that you can only cause the people you love.
 
10/27-11/12—THE ISLAND--A profile on the depth of human resilience on the face of unspeakable injustice and racism.

GREAT LAKES THEATER
  http://www.greatlakestheater.org or 216-241-6000
Wednesday-Saturday @ 7:30, Saturdays @ 1:30, Sundays @ 3 @ Hanna Theatre
 
9/22-10/8—NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812-- A sensational slice of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace lends inspiration to this bold, imaginative electropop opera from award-winning composer (and Lakewood native!) Dave Malloy. 
 
10/25-11/05—DRACULA: THE BLOODY TRUTH--With four spirited actors playing forty characters, this breakneck adaptation takes you from spooky Transylvania to the charming English coast. A wild, zany, (almost) authentic adaptation that provides a spooktacular evening full of campy horror fun!
 
11/24-12/23--A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Mimi Ohio Theatre) --Open your heart to Charles Dickens’ classic tale of one man’s ultimate redemption.

INTERPLAY JEWISH THEATRE   interplayjewishtheatre@gmail.com or 216-393-PLAY
(Play readings at Dobama are free, but reservations are required.  Presentations at the Maltz Museum are fee based)
 
TBA
 
KARAMU HOUSE  216-795-707) or www.karamuhouse.org
(Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday)
 
9/22-10/15--CLYDE’S—Lynn Nottage’s tale of a truck stop restaurant where they are in search of the perfect sandwich.
 
12/1-16—LANGSTON HUIGHES’ BLACK NATIVITY (presented at Cleveland Play House)—The soulful, heartwarming story, gospel celebration.
LAKELAND CIVIC THEATRE  440-525-7134 or http://lakelandcc.edu/academic/arts/theatre/index.asp
9/29-30—KING LEER (staged reading/Equity Showcase)-- Mitchell Fields (Lear), Tom Fulton (Kent), Brian Bartels (Albany), Lara Mielcarek (Goneril), Sibohan Carroll (Regan), Jon Loya (Edgar), Dan Hendrock (Edmund), Kennedi Hobbs (Cordelia), Cody Swanson (Fool), Mark Moritz (Gloucester) and Aaron Elersich (Oswald).   All the proceeds are being donated to our theatre program.
 
none-too-fragile theatre   330-671-4563 or http://www.nonetoofragile.com
 
9/29-10/14—AMERICAN BUFFALO—David Mamet’s tale of three small-time hustlers who want a bigger cut of the American Dream.
 
12/1-16--TBA

OHIO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL  http://www.ohioshakespearefestival.com/
(Winter and Spring Home:  Greystone Hall, Akron).  Shows Thursday-Saturday at 8:00, Sunday matinees at 2:00.
 
10/5-22—DRACULA--Johnathan Harker travels to Transylvania on real estate business to meet a polite, yet mysterious, count. Little does he know that this journey will set into motion a horror that he, and his family, have never dreamed possible.
 
11/30-12/7—SHAKESPEARE IN HOLLYWOOD—It's 1934, the Golden Age of Hollywood, and Shakespeare's famous fairies, Oberon and Puck, have magically materialized on the Warner Bros. Hollywood set of Max Reinhardt's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.
 
PLAYHOUSESQUARE
   216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org
See the website for specific dates and times
 
10/3-22—THE WIZ— (Connor Palace) --This groundbreaking twist on The Wizard of Oz changed the face of Broadway—from its iconic score packed with soul, gospel, rock, and finger-snapping 70s funk to its tale of Dorothy’s journey to find her place in a contemporary world.
10/17-18 — (E.J. Thomas Hall) –PRETTY WOMAN--“If you love the movie, you’ll love the musical!”
 
10/24-29—THE BOOK OF MORMON— (Key Bank State) -- This outrageous musical comedy follows the adventures of a mismatched pair of missionaries, sent halfway across the world to spread the Good Word.
 
10/31-11/19—GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY — (Connor Palace) -- Reimagines 20 legendary songs of Bob Dylan as they’ve never been heard before, including “Forever Young,” “All Along The Watchtower,” “Hurricane,” “Slow Train Coming,” and “Like A Rolling Stone.” 
 
11/13-14 — (E.J. Thomas Hall)—MEAN GIRLS--The story of a naïve newbie who falls prey to a trio of lionized frenemies.
 
12/5-10—HAIRSPRAY— — (Connor Palace) -- You can’t stop the beat!   Can a girl with big dreams (and even bigger hair) change the world?  
 
BROADWAY BUZZ--Get the inside scoop from host Joe Garry one hour before each Key Bank performance. Held in the Upper Allen, accessible through the Allen Theatre lobby. Admission is free and all are welcome!
 
RUBBER CITY THEATRE EQUITY MAINSTAGE  234-252-0272 or http://www.rubbercitytheatre.com/
The University of Akron
 
9/8-18 – THE BARON OF BROWN STREET -- Lenny King, a homeless man living alone in a tent under an Ohio bridge, becomes an overnight celebrity after a newspaper story details Lenny’s kind heart in forgiving three teens who set him on fire and laughed at his pain as he burned.
 
10/6-14 – HYDE -- This feminist retelling of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson will receive its premier at RCT.
 
10/27-11/4 – HAMLET -- The ghost of the King of Denmark tells his son Hamlet to avenge his murder by killing the new king, Hamlet's uncle. Hamlet feigns madness, contemplates life and death, and seeks revenge. His uncle, fearing for his life, also devises plots to kill Hamlet.
 
12/21-23 – WHITE CHRISTMAS -- With a dazzling score, with lyrics and score by Irving Berlin which features such well-known standards as “Blue Skies,” “I Love A Piano,” “How Deep Is the Ocean” and the perennial title song.
 
SEAT OF THE PANTS ENSEMBLE  https://seatofthepants.org
Friday and Saturdays at 8 PM/Sundays at 2 PM
 
11/3-19 -- TROUBLE IN MIND – Alice Childress’ play focuses on racism and sexism in American theatre. 
 
THE MUSICAL THEATER PROJECT https://musicaltheaterproject.org/
 
                  TBA


 

Monday, August 21, 2023

Cleveland Orchestra and Audra McDonald...who could ask for anything more?


 




The sky was clear, the temperature ideal, the Cleveland Orchestra was in perfect pitch, conductor Andy Einhorn was enthusiastic, and Audra McDonald was Audra McDonald---witty, relaxed, filled with wonderful stories, and in full-voice.  Even her floor-length multi-shaded blue gown was occasion right!  Yes, AN EVENING WITH AUDRA McDONALD, the August 13, 2023 Blossom Music Festival program, was a night to remember.
 
I was first exposed to Audra McDonald in 1995 when she debuted in a pre-Broadway production of Terrence McNally’s MASTER CLASS.  It was love at first exposure.  
 
Since then I have had the pleasure of seeing the six-time Tony winner, that’s more performance wins than any other actor,  on Broadway in CAROUSEL, RAGTIMEPORGY AND BESS, LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR AND GRILL and FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNEon television (National Medal of Arts telecast and RAISIN IN THE SUN), and in an earlier concert at the Blossom Center.  
 
It was my honor, as a member of the American Theater Critics Association, to vote for her for induction into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2017. 
 
I even had the tenacity to walk up to her restaurant lunch table the day I saw PORGY AND BESS and talk to her.  She was as charming in person as she is on the concert stage.
 
McDonald, who is not shy about stating her philosophical views, as evidenced in her Blossom concert comments, is known for defying prejudice and racial typecasting.  Her performances as Carrie in the 1994 revival of CAROUSEL and Lizzie Curry in the 2007 revival of 110 IN THE SHADE made her the first black woman to portray those traditionally white roles in a major Broadway production. 
 
AN EVENING WITH AUDRA McDONALD showcased musical theatre songs from her career, from shows in which she hasn’t appeared, as well as jazz favorites and personal revelations.  The between songs commentary included charming self-deprecating insights, family stories and personal revelations.  She knows how to charm an audience!
 
The evening opened with an enchanting version of “The Carousel Waltz,” from Rodger and Hammerstein’s epic CAROUSEL.  The selection is the opening of the musical.  It exposes the major characters and sets the mood for the tale.
 
Her opening number was the stirring “I Am What I Am,” from LA CAGES AUX FOLLES, often referred to as the gay national anthem.  
 
Other songs in the evening’s program included a jazzy version of “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing,” the swing Duke Ellington classic, “I Could Have Danced All Night” from THE KING AND I, PORGY AND BESS’s “Summertime,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” from HELLO DOLLY, Kermit the Muffet’s “It’s Not Easy Being Green” a tribute to self-pride and knowing who you are, and “Some Where”- (”There’s a Place for Us”) from WEST SIDE STORY.

Carrying out further the evident theme of the evening, McDonald sang a mash-up of “You Have to Be Carefully Taught” from SOUTH PACIFIC and “Children Will Listen” from Steven Sondheim’s INTO THE WOODS.  The applause was deafening!
 
Capsule judgment:  AN EVENING with AUDRA McDONALD was an emotional and artistic evening of song, narration and orchestral music.  It was a night to remember!  BRAVO!!!
 
The Blossom Music Festival ends its 2023 season with “DISNEY IN CONCERT: THE SOUND OF MAGIC,” with music from PETER PAN, MOANA, ALADIN, THE JUNGLE BOOK, FROZEN, THE LION KING, FANTASIA, and ENCANTO (September 1-3) and “DISTANT WORLDS: MUSIC FROM FINAL FANTASY, which showcases the music used throughout the Final Fantasy game series.

 




Monday, August 14, 2023

EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR

 



 
Perhaps one of the most famous, or infamous of Shakespeare’s stage directions, ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’ in Act III of THE WINTER’S TALE, sees Antigonus meet death in the most unlikely of ways: at the hands – or rather the claws – of a bear.
 
Unsurprisingly this stage direction frequently mystifies modern readers. But bears entered and exited the lives of Elizabethan and Jacobean Londoners on a daily basis. Kept in kennels on the south bank of the Thames, captive bears provided ‘amusement’ by being chained to a post and attacked by packs of dogs – spectators would bet on the outcome of this very unequal fight. 
 
It is not surprising that a playwright like Lauren Gunderson, who is little known to the general public, but is among the most produced playwrights in America, would be driven to write a play about the bear quote.  Her works include: ADA AND THE ENGINE, ARTEMISA, THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF DR. WONDERFUL AND HER DOG! and THE BOOK OF WILL, plus many, many more.
 
EXIT . . . BEAR is a comedy, a dark comedy to be more precise, about abuse.  (Sounds promising!)
 
Gunderson subtitled her play, “A Revenge Comedy.”  (One might wonder, with the questionable quality of the writing, I wonder if the revenge is making the audience sit through 90-minutes of words in search of a well-crafted play.)
 
The never-to-be-classified as an epic script, is now on-stage at convergence-continuum theatre located in the Tremont neighborhood.
 
The plays premise (I use the term in its broadest sense) is that Nan has decided to teach her abusive husband Kyle a lesson. “With the help of her friend Simon (acting as her emotional—and actual—cheerleader), a stripper named Sweetheart, and the words of William Shakespeare, she tapes Kyle to a chair and forces him to watch as they reenact scenes from the couple’s painful past. In the piece de resistance, our heroes cover the room in meat and honey so Kyle will be mauled by a bear.” (How the bear will find him, or why a bear would enter into the residence is not dealt with, but that is only one of the missing links in this work.)
 
In spite of a gallant effort from the cast (Amanda Rowe-Van Allen, Casey McCann, Hayley Johnson, Zavier McLean) and director (Kate Smith), and the technicians, it turns out to be a most irrelevant and frustrating evening of theatre.
 
A series of questions arise. Why did the powers that be at con-con, which is noted for selecting plays that often intellectually challenge its audience, choose this inane work?  Did the author have a clear image of what she would like the audience to take away from their theatrical experience (other than the wasting of 90-minutes)?  How frustrating is it for a generally talented cast to be bogged down for a long rehearsal period run of show that got tepid to no reaction from most of the audience on opening night? 
 
The inquiries could go on and on, and this review could dissect the script, and analyzing the acting, but for what purpose?
 
Capsule judgment:  I am a strong advocate for theatre.  But, I have to be honest. The best I can say is, if you’d like to suffer through 90-minutes of an absolutely poorly written theatrical concept, EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR is the play for you!
 
EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR is scheduled to run through September 2, 2023 at convergence-continuum.



Saturday, August 12, 2023

FUN HOME

 


 

Alison Bechdel is a cartoonist who came to national attention via her long-running comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For.” 
 
She combined her life story and her comic strip style in the graphic memoir, FUN HOME.  It is the adoption of this book that went on to become the musical which was nominated for twelve Tony Awards, winning five, including Best Musical. 
 
The original book was controversial.  In October, 2006, an attempt was made to have FUN HOME removed from the Marshall, Missouri Public Library due to its “graphic” content. 
 
In 2008, an instructor at University of Utah made the book a reading in her course. This was followed by an attempt by a student group to have the book removed from the course’s syllabus.  
 
In 2013 a conservative group challenged the inclusion of the book as a reading selection for freshmen at the College of Charleston.  The issue became so heated that the South Carolina legislature attempted to cut the college’s funding because “this book trampled on freedom of conservatives.”  The issue was only resolved when the state Senate voted to restore the funding, but redirect the funds towards the study of the United States Constitution and The Federalist Papers.  
 
As lately as 2015, several students at Duke University objected to the book on moral and/or religious grounds.
 
In FUN HOME, now on stage at Cain Park, we follow the path of Alison Bechdel of Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, as she goes from being a tween, through her experiences at Oberlin College, where her realization of her homosexuality evolves, to her becoming aware of her father’s life as a closeted homosexual, to his ultimate suicide and her full acknowledgement that, as the closing song of the musical states, “Every so often there was a rare moment of perfect balance when I soared above him.” 
 
Joanna May Cullinan, the show’s director, says of the script, “I feel very strongly in theater and musical theater.  There are a lot of stories to be told and this was told from the perspective of someone not seen before.  There have been other musicals with gay themes but not with these family dynamics. It’s a great show for young adults to take their parents to if they want their parents to understand them a bit more.”
 
FUN HOME was the first mainstream musical with a lesbian protagonist.
 
Jeanine Tesori’s music and Lisa Kron’s lyrics are is the guts of the tale.  
 
Poignant songs such as “Welcome to Our House on Maple, Street,” (a visit to the family home/funeral home by a visitor from the local historical society), “Come to Fun Home” (Young Alison and her brothers, John and Christian, act out a commercial for the family funeral home while playing in a casket), and “Raincoat of Love,” (small Alison fantasizing about what it would be like if her family was as happy as TV’s Partridge Family), expose the frustration of the family’s life.  
 
In the song “Not Too Bad,” Alison illustrates her anxiety about starting college, while in “Changing My Major,” Alison expresses her falling for Joan, her lesbian lover.   It is a key song of the score as it serves as both the comic relief and center fulcrum on which Alison later understands herself.  
 
Alison’s mother attempts to cope with her ostrich-with-head-in-the-sand existence by escaping from reality through her piano playing as illustrated by “Helen’s Étude.”
 
We watch as her father, Bruce, has contact with a series of young men, is arrested, but continues to pursue these fleeting contacts.  Each is a band aid to patch up frustration with his life.  Depression which finally results in his suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming bus (“Edges of the World”).  Alison, in the finale, reminisces about her past in “Flying Away.”
 
In New York the show was staged in the round, with the audience on all sides of the stage.  The local production is done on a proscenium stage.  Having seen both versions, I believe that the proscenium staging is much better.  The scenery helped give a visual quality to many of the scenes, and words were not lost as the actors faced one section of the audience but not others.   The intimate show becomes up-close and personal on the intimate Alma Theatre stage.
 
The production, under the able direction of Joanna May Cullinan, is of the highest quality. 
 
Some may find the three Alisons confusing at the start.  But quickly it becomes apparent that adult Alison (Tasha Brandt), Small Alison (Juliana Shumaker) and Medium Alison (Gabi Ilg) are the same person at different stages of life.   All three Alison’s have fine singing voices.
 
I wish Gabi Ilg had been more enthusiastic in her rendition of “Changing My Major” as it would have added the needed humor to lighten the heavy tale, and showed how her transition into her new found lesbianism was a positive experience.
 
Scott Esposito, one of the area’s best actors (Broadwayworld and Cleveland Critics Circle recognitions), is properly conflicted as the troubled Bruce.  He allows viewers to feel pity for this man who is a victim of society’s attitude toward gay men and feeling the need to hide who he really is.  His lasting effect on the members of his family, especially Alison, are readily apparent due to Esposito’s clear angst-driven character development.
 
Natalie Green empathically develops a wife and mother who finds herself having to decide how to be a supportive spouse and good parent, while being unable to take the action she probably should have early in the marriage.
 
 Zoë Lewis-McLean (Joan, Alison’s lover) develops a realistic and consistent characterization.  Though probably a little too old for the role, Danny Simpson nicely portrays the young men Bruce pursues. 
 
Simon Keating and Jaiden Shauf-Dressman (Alison’s younger brothers) are believable in their roles, handling both the comic and singing nicely.
 
The lighting and costumes work to enhance sensitive and focused directing.   Trad Burns‘ set-design perfectly captures the Victorian nature of the house and Sara May’s furnishings and props are all era-correct.  The orchestra, under the direction of Rachel Woods is excellent.
 
CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  This is a dramatic message musical which deserves the accolades which it has won.  It gets a must-see production, with the caveat that audience members be aware of the subject matter.
 
FUN HOME runs August 10–27. Showtimes are: Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm. For more tickets call 216-371-3000 or go to: https://www.cainpark.com/148/Buy-Tickets.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

SIX THE MUSICAL: a history lesson that rocks the Palace!

 








SIX THE MUSICAL, now on stage at the Palace Theatre, had an unusual journey to the Great White Way.  Conceived by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, the script had been a student project presented at Scotland’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  Next it was staged in London’s West End, then in Chicago, for a pre-Broadway out-of-town residence, and then at sea aboard three Norwegian Cruise Lines ships.

Even its Broadway premiere was different.  On March 12, 2020, the day SIX THE MUSICAL was scheduled for its Broadway opening (and, for which I had tickets), all Broadway theatres were closed due to Covid.  Over a year later it became the first new musical to open on Broadway since the beginning of the pandemic (unfortunately, no tickets for this one).
 
The opening was met with smash reviews ("dynamic,” "a blast", “wickedly smart,” “carries out [a] joyful and anachronistic takedown of the patriarchy," "brilliant"), as well as enthusiastic audience response.  That combination resulted in a box office gross of more than $1 million per week.  It is still running to generally sold-out houses.
 
The musical, which is an exploration of Henry the VIII’s maniac drive for a male heir and the resulting consequences to the women he married, is a pop concert more than a traditional Broadway offering. 

The highly stylized and glitzy production begins with stage smoke, a royal purple set, and lighting which silhouettes of six figures--the stars of the show--introduced, one by one, according to the manner of their relationship with the big guy: Divorced--Catherin of Aragon, Beheaded--Anne Boleyn, Died--Jane Seymour, Divorced--Anna of Cleves, Beheaded--Katherine Howard and Survived--Catherin Parr.  

“Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived,” yes, the mnemonic taught in English history classes to assist students to remember Henry’s numerous wives and their life paths.

The concept is that the six ex-wives of Henry have been brought on stage to allow them to compete and allow the audience to determine who had the roughest royal reign.

As is the style with newer musicals, it has no overture. 
 
Besides two group songs, each of the queens has her own signature solo song, which oftentimes has backup vocals and supporting choreography from the other queens.

The dynamic music is provided by The Ladies in Waiting:  Sterlyn Termine (bass), Liz Faure (guitars), Caroline Moore (drums) with Katie Coleman conducting and on keyboards who are on-stage during the performance.
Is SIX historically correct?  Kind ‘of.  It’s a work based on real historical events and figures, but it does take artistic liberties in its portrayal of these characters. 

Catherine of Aragon tells how Henry wished to annul their marriage and place her in a nunnery when he began chasing after Anne Boleyn despite her being loyal to him during their marriage ("No Way"). 

In turn, Anne talks about how Henry wanted her instead of Catherine, then complains of the infidelity Henry partook in, which led to Anne flirting with other men to make him jealous and ending up dead/beheaded, all while covering her trauma and feelings with jokes and silly faces ("Don't Lose Ur Head"). 

Jane Seymour steps up to take her turn, but is ridiculed for having had an easy time with Henry. However, while admitting she may have been the only wife Henry truly loved, Jane claims that his love was conditional on her having produced a male heir, and that she stood by him despite his many faults ("Heart of Stone").

Themes relating to ideas of female beauty are explored in Hans Holbein's portrait studio. The Queens parody a dating app by presenting a choice of potential brides ("Haus of Holbein"). He chooses Anna of Cleves, but soon rejects her and annuls the marriage, suggesting she failed to resemble her profile picture.  

She makes a show of complaining about living in a beautiful palace in Richmond, with an enormous fortune and no man to tell her what to do, but in reality, ends up bragging about it ("Get Down"). The Queens question this, and Anna admits her lavish lifestyle lacked actual tragedy and drops out of the competition. 

The Queens then belittle Katherine Howard for being the least relevant Catherine, but in retaliation she enumerates flaws in the others' claims to winning. She then recounts her romantic history, having had many suitors even as a child, and at first relishes her attractiveness; however, she soon reveals the emotional trama and abuse she faced in each of these relationships as it is symbolized in the choreography with all the queens holding a hand on her ("All You Wanna Do").

As the Queens continue to fight over who is the true winner, Catherine Parr questions the point of the competition, which defines them by their connection to Henry rather than as individuals. The Queens nonetheless continue to argue. Frustrated, Parr recalls her separation from her lover, Sir Thomas Seymour, and arranged marriage with Henry, but instead of lamenting, she acknowledges her accomplishments independent of Henry ("I Don't Need Your Love"). 

The other Queens, realizing they have been robbed of their individuality, abandon the contest and declare that they don't need Henry's love to feel validated as people. They use their remaining moments onstage to rewrite their stories, singing together as a group rather than as solo artists, and writing their own 'hsppily ever-afters', had Henry never been involved ("Six").” 

As a curtain call they perform a mashup of many of the songs from the show.  Stay around to the very end and become part of the mash!
The cast (Gerianne Pérez, Zan Berube, Amina Faye, Terica Marie, Aline Mayagoitia and Sydney Parra) is uniformly excellent.  These ladies have large and well-trained voices.  They dance and act with total believability.  They command and control the stage!
 
Jamie Armitage creatively directed the production along co-creator Lucy Moss. The dynamic and inventive choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille is spectacular as is the impressive lighting design (Tim Deiling) and sound design (Paul Gatehouse).  Gabriella Slade’s impressive costuming is an important part of the mix with styles that might be worn by the likes of J-Lo or Beyoncé in a Las Vegas concert.

Capsule judgment:   Younger audience members will be turned on by the musical style which is pop and hip-hop and literally invites them to yell, clap, sing and jump out of their seats as if at a rave.  Those of a certain age and/or of conservative political/social attitudes may want to cover their ears from the beating sounds and “course” language.  All in all, the clever concept of the show and the talented ensemble will enchant many more audience members than those who might be turned off.  Me?  I loved it!!  More please, I want some more.

SIX THE MUSICAL is part of our KeyBank Broadway Series, and is here at Connor Palace for five weeks, through Sunday, September 10th, 2023. Remaining tickets for the run can be purchased on playhousesquare.org or by calling 216-241-6000.  (Tip: best seating availability is in the weeks of August 28 and September 4.)

Added info:
Want a visual preview of the show?  
Go to 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egqqtAo8WSI 
 

Want to hear the score?  
Go to 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgEJK6Vk8Ro&list=PLF4ij7xFI0e9RIXcIFplbEVxqvwHC1VlL

Want to read the lyrics to get ready for understanding all the words?  
Go
to: 
https://www.allmusicals.com/lyrics/six/six.htm