Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Compelling A DOLL’S HOUSE: PART II impressively asks questions about life and the choices we make

 



Western culture was struck by numerous changes in the late twentieth century.  Many monarchs fell, Socialism, Communism and Democracy made in-roads, the social sciences developed the concepts of psychology and sociology, the industrial revolution changed manufacturing, and the way the middle class would live was drastically altered.  
 
In the theatre, escapist and melodramatic plays were replaced by dramas that reflected the issues of the era.  The modernists, such as Anton Chekov, illustrated the flailing role of the aristocracy and was a voice in the prediction of Russian Revolution.  George Bernard Shaw challenged the influences of education and the role of religion.  Henrik Ibsen championed the cause against women being considered second class citizens.
 
One of Ibsen's classic works is A DOLL’S HOUSE.  “The play concerns the fate of a married woman, who lacked reasonable opportunities for self-fulfillment in a male-dominated world. Despite the fact that Ibsen denied it was his intent to write a feminist play, it was a great sensation at the time and caused a storm of outraged controversy.” 
 
At the conclusion of the epic, Nora tells her husband, Torvald, that she is leaving him and, in a confrontational scene, expresses her sense of betrayal and disillusionment.  She says that she has been treated like a doll to play with, first by her father and then by him.
 
Leaving her keys and wedding ring, Nora walks out of their home.  Leaving behind her husband and children and a way of life she doesn’t want.
 
At the start of A DOLLS HOUSE--PART TWO, which is now on-stage at Beck Center, a knock is heard at the door — the same door that Nora slammed behind her fifteen years earlier when she exited at the end of Ibsen’s play.   The door closing which has been termed by theatrical experts and feminists as “the door slam heard around the world.”
 
Nora is now a woman who has become a free-thinking human being!  It is this “new” Nora who is knocking.   
 
After leaving her husband and children, she has become a successful feminist novelist. The reason for her return is to finalize the divorce which she thought had been executed many years before, but which she has recently found out, Torvald had never signed the papers.
 
Thus, we are thrown into a series of scenes in which both Nora and the audience are forced to examine what it is that she/we want from life.  Questions arise as to what does it mean to have developed one’s own voice and what is the price we each pay for the decisions we make.
 
The 2028 Broadway production of Part 2, which was to have a limited 16-week run, was extended well-beyond its limited engagement as the production won numerous awards and audiences continued flowing into the theatre. 
 
As Beck’s director, Don Carrier, wrote in his program notes, “Lucas Hnath (the playwright) is one of our most creative contemporary writers and wisely chose to explore the character and subject matter though a comedic lens.  But even that comedic lens can’t help but pick away at the scabs of the past and get to the roots of why Nora left.  It’s a play with a lot of questions and hopefully answers that allow closure.”
 
Anjanette Hall is superb as the conflicted Nora.  She creates a character that is so real it is hard to believe that she is only portraying a person, and is not the person, herself.
 
Nanna Ingvaresson breaths Anne Marie, the housekeeper who was left with the task of caretaker and child-raiser when Nora left.
 
Tabitha Raithel effectively develops the role of Emmy, Nora’s abandoned daughter.
 
David Vegh endows an honesty into Torvald which leaves the feeling that he is, under the surface, a person who understands the conflict between Nora and himself, but is powerless to do anything about it.
 
Jill Davis’s stark set, Adam Ditzel’s lighting and Angie Hays’ sound effects add to create an appropriate space for the production.  Jenniver Sparano’s women’s costumes are both era-correct and beautifully designed and executed.
 
Capsule judgment:  Beck’s production, under the focused direction of Don Carrier, is a model of the right play, the right cast and the right presentation.  It is a perfect model of the “thinking person’s play.”  Though filled with ironic humor, it is the drama of the script that makes it work so well.
 
A DOLL’S HOUSE-PART 2 runs through June 30, 2024 in the Senney Theater of Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets go to beckcenter.org or call 216-521-2540.



Friday, June 07, 2024

THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE delights at Cain Park


 

It is only appropriate, since the National Spelling Bee wound down last week, that Cain Park, the Cleveland Heights outdoor entertainment venue, has mounted THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE.
 
As Patrick Ciamacco, the show’s director states of the show in his program notes, “The spelling bee serves as a microcosm for the intricacies and pressures we face as adults. From the pressure to be perfect to the frustration of constantly being underestimated or the desire to be supported by people you care about, this show addresses these situations with humor, charm and more importantly …heart.”
 
How would you do if asked to spell: “syzygy,” “capybara,” “cystitis,” “pandemonium,” and “qaymaqam?”  How about “crepuscule?”  And, then there is “cow!”  (The latter, as attenders of the show find out, is a very important word in the script, as is “erection.”) 
 
C-r-e-p-u-s-c-u-l-e, which means twilight, and, ironically, is the original name of the musical now known as THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE.  (The name was probably changed so that reviewers, like myself, who are spelling handicapped wouldn’t embarrass ourselves if spell-check didn’t catch our errors.)
 
The play created by Rebecca Feldman for her New York based improvisational comedy group, was transitioned into the present script by Rachel Sheinkin with the addition of music and lyrics by William Finn.
 
The 2005 Broadway production was a hit, garnering six Tony Award nominations, including Best Book.  
 
The fun-filled romp centers on a fictional spelling bee conducted at the Putnam Valley Middle School, which finds six quirky kids, joined by four culled-from-the-audience “volunteers,” who vie for the coveted large blue and gold trophy and the pride that goes with it.  (The losers are awarded juice boxes.)
 
We meet the nerdy group of “r-e-a-l” spellers who are competing for our laughs, hearts, the trophy and a cash prize.
 
There’s Chip Tolentino (Gabriel Hill), hunky Eagle Scout and last year’s winner, who, unfortunately, gets distracted by a pretty young lady in the audience and his resulting erection throws him off and, though he spells the word correctly, he is eliminated by Vice Principal Panch (Brian Altman) because of a rule infraction.  As is, we find out that he is a master of rule infractions!
 
Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere (Sophie Ruiz), is an elementary school lesbian, who is accompanied by her over-attentive gay fathers. The girl of many causes also falls by the wayside.
 
Leaf Coneybear (Andres Martinez), an adorable geek who makes his own “unique” clothes, is considered dumb by his family.  He’s only in the competition because the winner has her bat mitzvah on the day of the competition, and her best friend, the runner-up, is also at the religious event.  Much to his surprise Leaf sails through the early rounds.  Unfortunately, he stumbles on the word “chinchilla” but walks away head held high, singing “I’m Not That Smart,” having proven to himself, despite his elimination, that he is okay.
 
William Barfee (Seth Crawford), an obnoxious know-it-all, demonstrates his very successful “magic” foot spelling routine, in which he spells out the word on the ground with his shoe.
 
Marcy Park (Kayla Peterson), an up-tight young lady, the product of “tiger parents” has obviously been put under high pressure to succeed, whizzes through words until she makes a life-changing decision and intentionally spells an easy word incorrectly.
 
Olive Ostrovsky (Kate Day Magocsi) is able to break through Barfee’s curtain of insecurity and nastiness by doing a kind deed when he is threatened by Chip with peanuts, one of many things to which Barfee is allergic.
 
The cast, which also includes Rona Lisa Peretti (the multi-talented Bridie Carroll), former bee winner, who has made a career out of coordinating contests and Mitch Mahoney (Geoffrey Short), the contest’s gruff/lovable bouncer and counselor-in-residence.
 
The cast, as can be expected from a group who are mainly products of Baldwin Wallace’s national recognized Musical Theatre program, sing and dance as future Broadway stars should.  They each create consistent characterizations.
 
Add Ciamacco’s focused directing, Rachel Woods finely tuned musical directing and Katie Gibson’s limited choreography, and the result is a fine evening of summer theater!.
 
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Sometimes it’s fun to just sit in the theatre, smile and admire the talent of the cast.  If that is your kind of entertainment, THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE is your thing and will spell “d-e-l-i-g-h-t.”
 
Sidenote:  The street construction on Lee Road is complete, so there is parking in the handicapped lot at the Park’s east entrance.  Also be aware that the golf-cart transportation provided for the handicapped is inconsistent.  I had to walk both ways to and from the Alma, quite a distance, along with a man with two canes and a pair of ladies that needed to stop several times to catch their breath.
 
THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE runs through June 9, 2024 at the Alma Theatre of Cain Park.  For tickets call 216-371-3000 or go to www.cainpark.com



Monday, May 27, 2024

Compelling world premiere of THE PROSPECT OF EQUALITY, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg story, at Ensemble


 


In her book, “I Dissent--Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark,” author Debbie Levy states that one of the guiding principles of the former Supreme Court Justice was, “Disagreeing does not make a person disagreeable.  In fact, it can change the world!”  And, with that message, “R.B.G. made a big difference…one disagreement at a time.”
 
In watching Rachel Zake’s play, THE PROSPECT OF EQUALITY, a live-action revelation about Ginsburg, which is having its world premiere at Ensemble Theatre, the viewer soon realizes that the brilliant and gifted “Notorious R.B.G.,” as she was popularly called by her many admirers, was a wonder.  
 
As Celeste Cosentino, Ensemble’s Executive Artistic Director and director of THE PROSPECT OF EQUALITY states in the program notes, “What an amazing woman to write about and what unique approach Rachel has taken with this new work!  Although many of us look at Ruth as an “Icon,” I think Rachel really wanted to try and understand her as a human being, who, like all of us, experiences loss, what seems like insurmountable challenges, and uncertainty, but who also feels passion, compassion, and above all, love.  This is very much a love story about her love, and in turn about our love for her and what she has done for us.”

The play’s author shares that, “Writing THE PROSPECT OF EQUALITY gave me deeper insight into Ruth Bader Ginsburg not only as a judge, which we know quite a lot about, but also as a Jewish woman, mother and wife. It was particularly important for me to focus on and highlight her struggles and successes, and shed brighter light on the relationships that helped move her forward, along with her own determination and grit.

R.B.G., was a woman, wife, mother, lawyer, jurist, associate justice of the Supreme Court, consensus-builder, and advocate for all persons, no matter their gender, sexual preference or political views.  She accomplished all those tasks, with strength, humor and intelligence.
 
She was the first Jewish woman and the second woman to serve on the Court.  During her tenure on the courts, she authored not only well-reasoned majority opinions, but equally clarifying minority statements.
 
We watch in wonder as this determined woman navigates prejudice against her for being a woman, a Jew, and an advocate against male perceived rules.  She is a woman who fought the odds to get into Harvard Law School, study in the restricted Harvard Law Library, graduate first in her class at Columbia Law, yet after graduation, not get a single job offer, while male’s, far her inferiors, were offered stellar positions.

She was wise in her approaches to legal success.  “Rather than asking the [Supreme] Court to end all gender discrimination at once, Ginsburg charted a strategic course, taking aim at specific discriminatory statutes and building on each successive victory. She chose plaintiffs carefully, at times picking male plaintiffs to demonstrate that gender discrimination was harmful to both men and women.

During her life she had many fine muses—her mother, husband, father-in-law.  Each of these acted as a stimulant for reaching beyond the expected to achieve the seemingly impossible.  

Ensemble’s production, under the focused concepts developed by Celeste Cosentino, is engulfing, encompasses both drama and humor, and stresses not only the history of the amazing woman, but her sense of humor and love and respect for humanity.



Erin Moran shines as the Young Ruth.  She fleshes out a Ruth that has depth of character and purpose.  She portrays a real person, driven by high ideals, superior intelligence and a grasp of what it means to be a real “mensch”—Yiddish for “a good and honest person.”

Cleveland Critic Circle and Broadwayworld.com best actress award winner, Laura Perrotta, portrays RBG as a mature woman, as well as being a psychological guide for the younger Ruth, with clear character understanding.  

Both Nicholas Chokan, as Young Martin and Doug Sutherland, as the mature Martin Ginsberg, Ruth’s supportive life-partner, clearly create a man of compassion, strength and support.
Dan Zalevsky adds both humor and a view of Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court Justice and long-time RBG friend and philosophical opposite, that adds an added dimension to the story.

The rest of the cast, Samantha Cocco, Keenan Carosielli and Claudia Lief Zalevsky, who each play multi-roles, are all excellent.

The electronic graphics strongly enhance the production.
Capsule judgment:  Though the script could use a little more dramatic tension, and possibly some additional humor, and the staging would be aided by eliminating the excessive movement of furniture to create different settings, the general quality of the writing and the acting excellence makes for an evening of highly satisfying theatre and added appreciation and admiration for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a woman who optimizes the phrase, “A life well lived!”  See this!

THE PROSPECT OF EQUALITY continues at Ensemble Theatre, which is doing its final show on the campus of Notre Dame College, through June 9.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go to www.ensembletheatrecle.org

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Angst-filled, laugh-centric SIGNIFICANT OTHER gets outstanding production at Dobama


 

Artistic Director Nathan Motta says of Joshua Harmon’s SIGNIFICANT OTHER, which is having its regional premiere at Dobama, “This play is both a fun night out at the theatre to share with friends and a thought-provoking examination of adult relationships, emotional wellness, and the ways we connect with the people in the world around us.”
 
Dobama bills itself as Cleveland’s Off-Broadway Theatre, with the goal of examining our contemporary world.  Their plays may not appeal to the older, more traditional based theater-goer, but it does give snapshots of the world in which we presently live.  Their script choice is thinking-people’s theater which is often filled not only with angst, but dark humor.
 
SIGNIFICANT OTHER is a perfect script for Dobama!  
 
The story was written by Joshua Harmon, the author of BAD JEWS.  As was the case of in that script, SIGNIFICANT OTHER centers on companionship, loneliness and love.
 
The play centers on Jordan, a gay, Jewish, twenty-something who has a strong loyalty to his near end-of-life Boobie (grandmother) and who is the best friend of three females.  His life besides some joyous moments, is filled with the angst of not being able to find a boyfriend with whom to have a long relationship, marriage and children. 
 
The angst increases as one-by-one his friend-girls, each finds a mate.  Jordan attends and participates in showers, bachelorette parties and weddings.  Everyone’s, but his own!
 
Crush after crush, even ones that seem promising, lead to frustration and increased insecurity.
 
Jordan, increasingly “discovers that the only thing harder than finding love is supporting the loved ones around you when they do.”
 
The play has received critical acclaim ever since it was first produced in 2015.  The “New York Times” called SIGNIFICANT OTHER, “A tenderly unromantic romantic comedy, as richly funny as it is ultimately heart-stirring.”
 
The play highlights the adage, “We enter relationships for a season, a reason or forever.  Jordan wants forever from his connections, an unrealistic expectation, which often leads to intrapersonal conflicts.
 
Dobama’s production, under the clearly focused directing of Colin Anderson, is filled with fine acting, clearly-focused characterizations and well-tuned humor countered by seriousness.
 
Broadwayworld and Cleveland Critics Circle acting award winning Scott Esposito, is superb as Jordan.  He swings in his manic angst-ridden reactions to his life with clarity and consistency.  This is another award-winning worthy performance!
 
He is well supported by his friend-girls, Mary-Francis R. Miller (Vanessa), Kat Shy (Kiki), Katherine Nash (Laura) as well as Michael Glavan and Adam Rawlings, who excellent portray multi-male roles.  
 
One of the area’s finest vintage actors, Catherine Albers, portrays Jordan’s Boobie with humor and warmth.  
 
The technical aspects of the show: scenic design by Richard Morris Jr., lighting design by Adam Ditzel, sound design by Jim Swonger, costume design by Suwatana Rockland and props design by Andy Zicari all enhance the staging.   Hurrah to the crew, who do a fine job of moving set pieces at a rapid and accurate pace! 
 
Dobama’s Full Circle program actively engages members from communities represented in the scripts the theater produces.  For this production, the theater’s partner is the LGBT Community Center.
 
Capsule judgment.  SIGNIFICANT OTHER is a significant contemporary play that gets an outstanding production.  Go experience the fine performance of Scott Esposito, and the rest of the cast, and be exposed to a must-see production!
 
SIGNIFICANT OTHER runs through May 19, 2024.  For tickets: 216-932-3396 or visit: https://www.dobama.org/significant-other



Friday, May 03, 2024

Reimagined COMPANY lights up Connor Palace as part of Key Bank Broadway Series




Stephen Sondheim is generally considered the most important composer/lyricist of the 20th century American musical theater.  Many consider him to be the person who reinvented the genre.
 
His musicals introduced the “darker elements” of human experiences.  “His music and lyrics were tinged with complexity, sophistication, and ambivalence about various aspects of life.”
 
He opened the door to “serious” topics that emerged in such musicals as RENT, NEXT TO NORMAL, DEAR EVAN HANSEN and HAMILTON.
 
He won eight Tony Awards, an Academy Award, eight Grammy Awards and the Pulitzer Prize.
“A theater is named after him both on Broadway and in the West End of London.” 
 
His works include GYPSY,  A LITTLE NIGHT MUSICSWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREETINTO THE WOODS and WEST SIDE STORY. 
 
Included in his lexicon is COMPANY, an adaptation of which is now on stage at the Connor Palace, as part of the Key Bank Broadway Series.  He wrote the music and lyrics, with a book by George Furth, which deals with “contemporary dating, marriage, and divorce.”  

As Sondheim wrote, COMPANY is about "the challenge of maintaining relationships in a society becoming increasingly depersonalized.  As the musical points out, it is the key to "being alive."
 
The original 1970 production was nominated for a record-setting 14 Tony Awards, winning six. 
 
In the early 1990s, Furth and Sondheim revised the libretto, cutting and altering dialogue that had become dated and rewriting the end of act one.   
 
COMPANY tells the story of Robbie, a confirmed bachelor who, on the night of his 35th birthday, contemplates his unmarried status with the “help” of his married, divorced, happy, frustrated, gay and straight friends.  
 
In 2020 there was a 3rd Broadway revival of the show, based on the 2018 West End production.  It opened December 9, 2021, to broad acclaim.  It featured a Bobbie who was a female, rather than the original male lead character.  In addition, the very delightful, “Getting married today,” sung by a prospective bride who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown caused by pre-marriage fears, is now sung by a gay male.

“Five days before he died, Sondheim discussed the revival's change of the lead character's gender. He expressed how theater is distinguished from film and video because "you can do it in different ways from generation to generation…What keeps theater alive is the chance always to do it differently, with not only fresh casts, but fresh viewpoints. It's not just a matter of changing pronouns, but attitudes." 

The newest version became the most nominated musical revival of the season, receiving nine Tony Award nominations and winning five including Best Revival of a Musical.  It is this version of the script that is in on tour in Cleveland.

The production well-develops the original, along with the adjusted story changes.  The female Bobbie has the additional angst of her ticking body clock, as well as taking a more assertive gender role.  

The technical approach is modern, using many electronic graphics rather than traditional set pieces.  The orchestrations have also been modernized, as have been the costumes and the language.

The score, filled with musical theater classics including the title song, “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” “Another Hundred People,” “Marry Me A Little,” “Side by Side,” “Barcelona,” and “Being Alive,” are all well-presented.  

Matt Rodin (Jamie), gives a show-stopping, rapid patter delightful dynamism to “Getting Married Today,” while, Judy McLane (Joanne), hits all the emotional levels in “Ladies Who Lunch.”

Though well-versed theater-goers, who have grown-up with a male Bobbie, may have some trouble adjusting to a female Bobbie, Britney Coleman should be able to win most of them over.  She develops a clear character, sings well, and is generally convincing.

The show is well-conceived and staged by director Marianne Elliot. 

Capsule judgment:  The “new” gender-bender, reconceptualized COMPANY, nicely displays how a script can grow and become relevant, once again, in the hands of the right writing and production crew.  It makes for a feeling of “Being Alive” while you are “Side by Side by Side” with other joyous theater-goers.
 
COMPANY runs through May 19, 2024 at the Connor Palace.  For tickets: 216-241-6000 or www.playhousesquare.org

 

Monday, April 29, 2024

ALWAYS...PATSY CLINE


 


Juke box musicals are stage theatrical presentations in which a majority of the compositions were written before the presentation was conceived, rather than being original music conceived for that show.  They tend to be long on songs and short on a well-conceived plot.

Shows in this classification are MAMA MIA, MOULIN ROUGE, JERSEY BOYS and ROCK OF AGES.  Each of these has a score composed of well-known songs, shoe-horned into a plot, which may be real, fictional, or a combination of reality and make-believe.

ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE, now on stage at the Hanna Theatre, where it is being produced by Great Lakes Theater, as part of its Kulas Musical Theater Series, is an example of the Juke box musical genre.

Created, and originally directed by Ted Swindley, the GLT production is competently directed by Victoria Bussert.  
It tells the “truish” story of “Patsy Cline’s friendship with a fan, Louise Seger, which started in 1961, when Cline was in her late 20s, and continued until her death in a plane crash, at age 30. 

Told through Cline’s music, the tribute features 27 songs and many of her hits such as “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Sweet Dreams” and “Walking After Midnight.”

In spite of having only an eight-year career, Cline, whose given name was Virginia Hensley, is considered to be one of the influential vocalists of the 20th century.  She was “one of the first country music artists to cross over into pop music.”

She was a member of the Grand OIe Opry.  The 1961 single, “I Fall to Pieces” was her first song to top the “Billboard” country chart.  This was followed by the smash hit “Crazy,” recorded after she recovered from the effects of a car accident.
 
In 1973, she became the first female performer to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.”  Her version of "Always" made the Billboard country chart in 1980.
 
Don’t expect any of these facts to be presented in ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE.  With the slight storyline, centering on her short-termed friendship with Louise Seger, who heard her on a television show and became infatuated with her, the musical is more concert than play.  
 
“The pair met while Cline was performing at the Esquire Ballroom in Houston, Texas. Seger brought Cline home following the show and they spent the night together. The pair would remain in contact through letters before Cline's death. Much of the script relied on the letters exchanged between the two during the course of several years. Seger acts as the show's narrator and revisits memories she shared with Cline through their letter exchanges.”
 
After an off-Broadway production, the musical went on to become a smash hit In Chicago and repeated its success in Virginia and Denver.  All three were blessed with extended runs.  
 
The GLT production, as evidenced by the joyous reaction of the audience the afternoon I saw the show, was peopled by fans of Cline.  Many sang out or did lip-sinks to the presentations by Christina Rose Hall, who portrayed the country star.  
 
I must admit not to be either a country music fan, nor a follower of Cline, so I can only react from a dramaturgy and staging perspective.  
 
I found the script shallow, underdeveloped, often trite in parts.  I don’t think all the intricacies and interesting aspects of her life, which I found in researching Ms. Cline, were developed.  I don’t think the “play” told us the “real” story of the woman, who was a leader in her field and obviously, very talented.  It centered on a quick segment of her life, leaving me frustrated, wanting to know more of her and less emotional manipulation.
 
From a musical standpoint.  Musical director Mathew Webb, as we have become accustomed to expect of this talented musician, did a fine job of developing the right musical sounds and had his musicians underscoring, rather than playing full out, thus allowing the audience to hear the lyrics to the songs.  Lyrics which carried meaning and told important messages about Cline.
 
Both Christina Rose Hall (Patsy) and Harmony France (Louise) have fine singing voices.
 
France has a nice touch with comic timing.  



 
Hall facially resembles Cline, but It is difficult to accept her as being the right age image for the role.  As the man sitting next to me, who was obviously well-versed in his “Patsy Cline,” emphatically stated, “She’s too long-in-tooth for the role!”  I also wish she had emotionally “let loose” in some of her songs.  After a while, they all sounded the same.
 
Capsule judgment: Hey, “Stupid Cupid,” if you have “True Love” for country music, you’ll have “Sweet Dreams” and feel “True Love” when you think back to having seen ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE.  For the rest of us, “Come on In and Make Yourself at Home” and realize that you are not “Crazy” for being a semi-fan and not echoing the Patsyites yelling, “How Great Thou Art.”
 
ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE runs at Great Lakes Theater from April 26 through May 19, 2024.  For tickets go to  https://www.greatlakestheater.org  or call (216) 241-6000.

 



Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Audience-pleasing 9 to 5: The Musical at CVLT

 



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

 

Monday, March 25, 2024

Seat Of The Pants Productions examines BACH AT LEIPZIG


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Franklin Circle Christian Church
1688 Fulton Road
Cleveland, OH 44113

For tickets go to www.seatofthepants.org.

 

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




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

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

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

Every aspect of the GLT production is sublime.  

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

For tickets https://www.greatlakestheater.org  (216) 241-6000. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Existential REQUIEM probes the meaning of life at Cleveland Public Theatre

 





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


 




Monday, March 18, 2024

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


  

Sunday, March 10, 2024

SOMETHING CLEAN is compelling in its Regional Premiere at Dobama!

 




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