Thursday, February 22, 2024

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

The interpretation makes for a serious feeling to the show.

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

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

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

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

The sets are mainly drops.

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tuesday, February 20, 2024

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

  


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

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

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

Saturday, February 17, 2024

MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN

 



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

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

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

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

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



Tuesday, February 13, 2024

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

 



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Monday, February 12, 2024

Murder, mystery, farcical humor…AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS @ GLT

 



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


Friday, February 02, 2024

Karamu stages the world premiere of THE BREAKFAST AT THE BOOKSTORE

 



 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



Monday, January 29, 2024

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


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

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

The duos relationship is full of love and heartbreak. 

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

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

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

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Rob McClure makes it look “Easy Peasy” as he shines in MRS. DOUBTFIRE at Connor Palace

 






Every once in a while a theater-goer sees a production in which it becomes apparent that the lead actor was born to play a role.  Julie Andrews as Eliza in MY FAIR LADY, Zero Mostel in FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM and Marlon Brando in STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, come to mind.  





Rob McClure was born to play Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire.  Others will play the role, but McClure owns the part!  I thought that in New York, I believed that at the Key Bank touring production, now at the Connor Palace.

MRS. DOUBTFIRE is a musical based on the 1993 film of the same name, which in turn is based on the 1987 novel “Alias Madame Doubtfire.” The musical, which has music and lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick and a book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell, was directed on Broadway, and on tour by Jerry Zaks, with choreography by Lorin Latarro.

Rob McClure played the role of Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire on the Great White Way and is now inhabiting the part on tour.  He was nominated as best actor by Drama Desk Awards, Outer Critic’s Circle Awards and the Tony Awards.  

The show was scheduled to open in April, 2020, but was postponed due to COVID when all Broadway productions were suspended.  It finally opened, to mixed reviews, with raves for McClure, but ran only 83 performances.  
It is not the custom of the lead actor in the Broadway show to tour, but, in an unprecedented turn of events, McClure is traveling with the show.
 
The score, which was negatively evaluated on Broadway has been expanded for the tour and the London production.  So, this isn’t what appeared on the Great White Way, but is a much-improved version!
 
What’s it all about?  Daniel Hillard, a struggling, out-of-work actor, will do anything for his kids.
The recently unemployed voice actor, following a messy divorce, which came about as his wife Miranda divorced him after coming to the realization that her husband was an extremely immature father to their children, as well as an unfit husband to herself.
 
 After losing custody, when the judge declares he needs to get a job, a place to live, and become an adult rather than playful man-child, he creates the kindly alter ego of Scottish nanny Euphegenia Doubtfire, who will take care of his kids, in a desperate attempt to stay in their lives.  Of course, lots of pratfalls and humorous incidents allow McClure to shine, with a happy ending a must!   Yes, as the last song states, “As Long as There is Love.”

Interestingly, Anne Fine, the author of the book on which the musical is based, named the novel on a 1970s-era second-hand store, "Madame Doubtfire," located at the corner of Howe Street and South East Circus Place in Edinburgh.  And, “while William's legendary character was certainly made up, it wasn't a complete work of fiction - Mrs. Doubtfire, it turns out, was actually based on an eccentric, and, reportedly foul-mouthed, Aberdeen-born shopkeeper.”
 
The touring production, with the exception of a less than clearly tuned sound system, is a delight.  
 
Maggie Lakis, Mrs. Rob McClure, in real life, sings well and develops an appropriate frustrated mother and wife.  The kids, Giselle Gutierrez, Cody Braverman and Emerson Mae Chan, on the night I saw the show, are wonderful.  Both Braverman and Chan had a keen sense of comic timing and got lots of laughs as well as displaying strong real-felt emotional reactions.
 
Aaron Kaburick, as Daniel’s brother Frank, and Nik Alexander, Frank’s lover, are great at performing schtick.  The chorus sings and dances with professional verve and Leo Roberts flexes with a muscular flair!
 
If there is unusually loud audience reaction when Mr. Jolly, delightfully played by Canton native David Hibbard (who also appears as the Judge and the doctor) makes his appearance, be aware that the Ohio State grad has many followers in the Cleveland area. 
 
Capsule judgment:  As the much-reprised song, “I Want to Be There” states, you will want to be there…at the Connor Palace…to join Rob McClure, and the rest of the cast, and enjoy the wonderful, fun-filled Mrs. Doubtfire!  Go! Enjoy!
 
MRS. DOUBTFIRE continues at the Connor Palace through January 28, 2024.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to playhousesquare.org



Sunday, January 07, 2024

BROADWAYWORLD-Cleveland 2023 THEATER AWARDS



Roy Berko

 

Broadwayworld-Cleveland each year recognizes local theaters, performances, writers, performers and technicians of plays staged by area professional theaters during the January 1-December 31 year.  Only plays which this reviewer saw, and were locally produced, are included in the citations.   Shows and individuals are listed in alphabetical order, with no intention of ranking.

 

Best Musical Productions  

BLACK NATIVITY, KARMAU HOUSE THEATRE/CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE

            CABARET, KENT STATE UNIVERSITY

            FUN HOME, CAIN PARK

            GHOST, BALDWIN WALLACE/BECK CENTER

            NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812, GREAT LAKES THEATER

            ONCE ON THIS ISLANDBECK CENTER  

            RENT, CAIN PARK


Best Non-Musical Productions

DOUBT: A PARABLE, BECK CENTER

LITTLE WOMEN, DOBAMA THEATRE

LUNGSENSEMBLE THEATRE

SENSE AND SENSILITY, GREAT LAKES THEATER

STEW, DOBAMA THEATER    

THE ISLAND, ENSEMBLE THEATRE

THE LIGHT, ENSEMBLE THEATRE

THE OTHER PLACE, DOBAMA THEATER

TROUBLE IN MIND, SEAT OF PANTS ENSEMBLE


Best Actors – Musical

            ALEX SYIEKNATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812, GREAT    LAKES THEATER

            MARK DOYLE, GHOST, BALDWIN WALLACE/BECK CENTER

            SCOTT ESPOSITO, FUN HOME, CAIN PARK THEATER

 TIM CULVER, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, PORTHOUSE


Best Actors – Non-Musical

ANANIAS DIXON, THE LIGHT, ENSEMBLE THEATRE

CHRIS RICHARDS, CAT’S PAWS, BECK CENTER

CHRISTOPHER BOHAN, DOUBT: A PARABLE, BECK CENTER

           DOUG SUTHERLAND, THE OTHER PLACE, DOBAMA THEATRE

KOYDÉ SOYEMI, MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN, CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE

NICHOLAS BRADLEY, CABARET, KENT STATE UNIVERSITY

NNAMDI OKPALA, THE ISLAND, ENSEMBLE THEATRE

ROBERT WILLIAMS, THE ISLAND, ENSEMBLE THEATRE

TOM WOODWARD, TROUBLE IN MIND, SEAT OF PANTS ENSEMBLE


Best Actresses – Musical 

            COLLEEN LONGSHAW, GHOST, BALDWIN WALLACE/BECK CENTER           

            ISRAELJAH REIGNONCE ON THIS ISLAND, BECK CENTER

            LANE LA VONNE, THE PROM, PORTHOUSE

            JESSIE KIRTLEY, NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812, GREAT LAKES THEATERGREAT LAKES THEATER

MADISON SHANNON, CABARET, KENT STATE UNIVERSITY

           JULIA MARTIN, PIPPIN, BALDWIN WALLACE UNIVERSITY


Best Actresses – Non-Musical

           CHRISTINA JOHNSON, STEW, DOBAMA THEATRE

DERDRIU RING, DOUBT: A PARABLE, BECK CENTER

GABRIELLLOA O’FALLON, DOUBT: A PARABLE, BECK CENTER

KATIE SIMÓN, LUNGS, ENSEMBLE THEATRE

           MARGIE KETTERING, SENSE AND SENSILITY, GREAT LAKES THEATER        

NATALIE GREEN, LITTLE WOMEN, DOBAMA THEATRE

NICOLE SUMLIN, THE LIGHT, ENSEMBLE THEATRE

NICOLE SUMLIN, TROUBLE IN MIND, SEAT OF PANTS ENSEMBLE

           TRACEE PATTERSON, THE OTHER PLACE, DOBAMA THEATRE


Best Directors – Musical

            CHRISTOPHER CHASE CARTER, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, BECK CENTER

            JOANNA MAY CULLINAN, FUN HOME, CAIN PARK

            NATHAN HENRY, RENT, CAIN PARK

            TERRI KENT, CABARET, KENT STATE UNIVERSITY

            VICTORIA BUSSERT, GHOST, BALDWIN WALLACE/BECK CENTER

            VICTORIA BUSSERT, NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812GREAT LAKES THEATER


Best Directors – Non-Musical

BECKY MOSLEY, LUNGS, ENSEMBLE THEATRE

DONALD CARRIER, DOUBT: A PARABLE, BECK CENTER

JEANNINE GASKIN, THE LIGHT, ENSEMBLE THEATRE

JEANNINE GASKIN, TROUBLE IN MIND, SEAT OF PANTS ENSEMBLE

MELISSA CRUM, LITTLE WOMEN, DOBAMA THEATER

NATHAN MOTTA, THE OTHER PLACE, DOBAMA THEATRE

SARA BRUNER & JACKLYN MILLER, SENSE AND SENSILITY, GREAT LAKES THEATER

SARAH MAY, THE ISLAND, ENSEMBLE THEATRE     


Best Choreographers

            CHRISTOPHER CHASE CARTER, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, BECK CENTER

            ERRIN WEAVER, BLACK NAIVITY, KARAMU/CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE

            GREG DANIELS, PIPPIN, BALDWIN WALLACE

            JACLYN MILLER, NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812, GREAT LAKES THEATER

            KENYA WOODS, RENT, CAIN PARK

 LAUREN TIDMORE, GHOSTBALDWIN WALLACE/BECK CENTER

 MARTIN CÉSPEDES, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, PORTHOUSE

            MARTIN CÉSPEDES, CABARET, KENT STATE UNIVERSITY


Best Musical Directors

            BRADLEY WYNER, RENT, CAIN PARK

 DAVID M. THOMAS, BLACK NAITVITY, KARAMU HOUSE THEATRE/CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE

            EDWARD RIDLEY, JR., BUBBLY BROWN GIRL, KARAMU HOUSE THEATRE

            JEANINE TERSORI, FUN HOME, CAIN PARK

            JENNIFER KORECKI, CABARET, KENT STATE UNIVERSITY

            LARRY GOODPASTER, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, BECK CENTER

 MATTHEW WEBB, GHOST, BALDWIN WALLACE/BECK CENTER

            MATTHEW WEBB, NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812, GREAT LAKES THEATER


Best Scenic Designers

CHERI PROUGH-DEVOL, ONCE ON THIS ISLANDBECK CENTER

           COURTNEY O’NEILLSENSE AND SENSILITY, GREAT LAKES THEATER         

GENNIE NEUMAN-LAMBERT, CABARET, KENT STATE UNIVERSITY

JEFF HERMANN, NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812, GREAT  LAKES THEATER

 JILL DAVIS, DOUBTA PARABLE, BECK CENTER       

            JORDAN JANOTA, GHOST, BALDWIN WALLACE/BECK CENTER

            LAURA CARLSON TARANTOWSKI, STEW, DOBAMA THEATER

 TRAD A BURNS/SARA MAY, FUN HOME, CAIN PARK


Best Lighting Designers

           RUSS BORSKI, GHOST, BALDWIN WALLACE/BECK CENTER

ADAM DITZEL, DOUBT: A PARABLE, BECK CENTER

COLLEEN ALBRECHT, RENT, CAIN PARK

EMMA HANSEN, ONCE ON THIS ISLANDBECK CENTER

TRAD A BURNS, NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812, GREAT  LAKES THEATER

JALYUNG C. SEO, MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEINCLEVELAND PLAY                 HOUSE 

DAVID BRUNS, CABARET, KENT STATE UNIVERSITY


Best Projection Designers

            KASUMO, GHOST, BALDWIN WALLACE/BECK CENTER

            JEREMY PAUL, THE OTHER PLACE, DOBAMA THEATER

 JOE BURKE, BUBBLY BROWN GIRL, KARAMU HOUSE THEATRE

 T. PAUL LOWRY, BLACK NAIVITY, KARAMU HOUSE THEATRE/CLEVELAND      PLAY HOUSE


Best Costume Designers

            ABBIE HAGEN, THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES, PORTHOUSE

            INDA BLATCH GEIB, BLACK NAIVITY, KARAMU HOUSE THEATRE/CLEVELAND   PLAY HOUSE

            INDA BLATCH-GEIB, ONCE ON THIS ISLANDBECK CENTER

 LEX LIANG, MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEINCLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE 

            MEIKA VAN PLOEG, SENSE AND SENSILITY, GREAT LAKES THEATER

 MICHELLE HUNT SOUZA, CABARET, KENT STATE UNIVERSITY

 TESIA DUGAN BENSON, NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812,   GREAT LAKES THEATER


Best Sound Designers

ANGIE HAYES, DOUBT: A PARABLE, BECK CENTER

           CARLTON GUC, ONCE ON THIS ISLANDBECK CENTER        

MEGAN CULLEY, STEW, DOBAMA THEATER

           PAUL JAMES PRENDERBAST, SENSE AND SENSILITY, GREAT LAKES THEATER

SHARATH PATEL, MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEINCLEVELAND PLAY              HOUSE