Saturday, June 28, 2003

Scott Miller reviews the reviewer


I sent your review of the Shakesphere Festival on to my cousin Scott. Thought you might like to know how he answered me. Can you ad one more name to your list of "subscribers"?


Dear Marcia,
Thank you so much for sending the Berko reviews. He is indeed a thoughtful
reviewer, one of the few. I get a real sense that he loves the theater and
wishes that everything he saw was marvelous. When he's critical he's
gracious, when he's positive he's generous and clear in terms of what he
likes. He knows the work he's reviewing, it's plot, history and themes and
sees his job in part to educate his readers which in turn motivates them to
attend the shows he reviews since they would come knowing more about the
them. It's nice to read reviews that don't put the reviewer first but
rather feature the work with a sense of respect and endearment. Thanks!


Friday, June 27, 2003

Die Fledermaus (Lyric Opera)

Poorly conceived 'DIE FLEDERMAUS' at Lyric Opera

In the 1860s the Parisian operettas were a tremendous vogue in Vienna. The central figure in this movement was Offenbach whose works delighted and provided escapist entertainment.

Offenbach was succeeded by Johann Strauss, the composer of the popular “Blue Danube” waltz. Strauss wrote fifteen operettas which included the incomparable ‘DIE FLEDERMAUS.’ Strauss' association with the dance band naturally resulted in his operettas containing the rhythms of the dance. In order for ‘DIE FLEDERMAUS.’ to be effective the singing, the acting and the dancing must all by joyous and proficient. Unfortunately, under the stiff direction of Jonathon Field, Lyric Opera Cleveland’s production, is proficient in none of these.

As with all operettas, ‘DIE FLEDERMAUS’ is an exaggeration of life. Gabriel von Eisenstein has been sentenced to prison for insulting an official. Before embarking on his sentence he attends a costume ball. He has lied to his wife about where he is going. A series of mistaken identifies including the wife, the parlor maid and numerous other characters leads to some delightful incidents. Well, should be delightful. In this production, poor acting, poorly executed dancing, and some moderately successful singing, are the rule.

One of the traditional problems with Lyric Operas productions has been the poor acoustics. This has been taken care of with the move to the wonderful Drury Theatre in the Cleveland Play House complex. Other problem have been the often poor acting, questionable casting and stilted staging of their productions. Unfortunately, as ‘DIE FLEDERMAUS’ proves, these conditions have not been altered.

The only real highlight of the show is a brief, but joyously delicious pas de deux danced with professional grace and spirit by Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriguez, formerly of the Cleveland-San Jose Ballet Company. Too bad the whole evening could not have been their dancing. (If you’d like to see them in performance their company, Point of Departure will be performing at Cain Park on July 31.)

Kudos go to Glen Cortese who has done a fine job with the orchestra and Michael Grube whose set design is attractive and functional.

Risa Renee Harman sang and acted the role of the maid with delightful enthusiasm and has a fine singing voice. Christian Elser, as von Eisenstein, displayed nice vocal abilities but his characterization was unconvincing. Scott Guinn also has a nice singing voice, but he was both physically wrong for the role of Dr. Falke, and displayed shallow acting skills. Michael Bragg was totally unconvincing as the lawyer. Elizabeth Sutton’s portrayal of Ida was delightful. Leodigario B. del Rosario was difficult to understand and was unconvincing as Alfred, the wife’s suitor. Terese Cullen’s wife lacked acting texture.

Capsule judgement: A line in ‘DIE FLEDERMAUS’ states, “bribe only the very best critics.” Not even a bribe would have brought this weak production a positive review.”

Fiddler on the Roof (Cain Park)

'FIDDLER ON THE ROOF' is audience pleaser at Cain Park

September 22, 1964 is a significant date. ‘FIDDLER ON THE ROOF’ opened, and forever after, the term musical comedy was changed. With Fiddler’s emphasis on music and dance sequences to extended and perfectly integrate into the story, the art form moved into a new era. Without Fiddler there would have been no modern concept musicals such as ‘CABARET’, ‘COMPANY,’ or ‘A CHORUS LINE.’

Jerry Bock’s score, reeking of Jewish harmonies and prayer-like intonations, and the sensitive lyrics of Sheldon Harnick, resulted in a show that ran 3242 performances in its first Broadway showing. They proved that art, universality and popularity can all come together.

Based on the stories of Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichem’s description of life in the shtelle’s (small villages) of eastern Europe, especially on “Tevye and His Daughter,” the musical has been staged in such far reaching places as Japan and Argentina with equal success. It’s major reason for success? It has emotional heart power. Audiences come back again and again to “qvell”--a Yiddish word meaning to laugh and cry with delight.

The original sets were modeled after the works of Jewish Russian painter Marc Chagall. One of his most famous pieces pictures a fiddler on a roof. It laid the foundation for Harnick's’ opening musical statement, “In our little village of Anatevka you might say everyone of us is a fiddler on a roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking our back.” The story is a metaphoric history of the Jewish people..traditions broken, violated and changed.

There have been thousands of amateur and professional productions of the show. Some are good. Some, especially the amateur versions, are bad. Cain Park’s rendition, based on the strong staging by Fred Sternfeld, proficient musical direction by Larry Hartzell, wonderful reproduction of the original choreography by Eric van Baars, and Jeff Herrmann’s fine scenic and lighting designs, is one of the better versions.

Tom Fulton makes Tevya his own. This is not a Zero Mostel or Topol imitation. His Tevya is strong, yet sensitive. He plays for drama, and gets both laughs and emotional responses. His voice is strong, his acting right on-key. Sean Szaller is delightful as Motel the Tailor. He vocally and acting-wise matches with Kari Kandel, who portrays Tzeitel, the eldest daughter. Their “Miracle of Miracles” enchants. Jennifer Zappola gives a well-developed and musically solid portrayal as Hodel. Hannah DelMonte finely engenders daughter Shprintze’s with the right emotional highs and lows. Elaine Rembrandt has some nice moments as Yente, the Matchmaker. Unfortunately, Paula Duesing does not give Tevya’s wife Golda the right emotional shadings. This is a one dimensional characterization. The same can be said for Noah Budin’s Lazar Wolf, the Butcher. The men’s chorus is extremely strong as is the vocal power and blending of the cast. The dancing is well-tuned.

The production is blessed with violinist Michael Winer. His playing enhanced the production. The mini-concert he performed at intermission was outstanding. Too bad some members of the audience found their need for conversation more important than listening to his music.

Wisely, director Sternfeld, eliminated the often poorly done accents, and was very sensitive to the religious traditions that help make for an authentic portrayal.

The show’s highlights include the beautifully staged “Sabbath Prayer,” the creatively developed “The Dream,” and “Tradition,” the opening number which lays the foundation for the play.

Capsule judgement: If you have never seen ‘FIDDLER ON THE ROOF,’ or if you have seen it and want to renew acquaintances with this wonderful story, go to Cain Park. You will experience one of the better amateur productions! The show runs through July 6 in the Evans outdoor covered ampitheater.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

A Chorus Line (Porthouse)


In 1975 I went to New York to see Lorain County Community College graduate Chrissy Wilczak in the Broadway production of ‘A CHORUS LINE.’ The Elyrian had been in the off-Broadway rendition of the show whose book was also written by an Elyrian--James Kirkwood. That production was a seminal theatrical experience.

Each time I see a production of the musical I wonder if my emotional illusion will be broken. Oft times it is. This is a hard show to stage, especially for a non-professional cast. I need not have worried about The Porthouse Theatre production. Under the able direction of Victoria Bussert, with choreography by the gifted MaryAnn Black, “A CHORUS LINE’ kicks high. It is a wonderful experience.

Based on true stories of the original off-Broadway cast, which Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante wove into a compelling story, and augmented with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban, the show tells the tale of trying out for a musical. The show is an audition--an audition of dancers to be in the chorus. It is filled with humor, pathos, and explosive visual images.

The elements of the musical score are legends. Songs like the opening number, “I Hope I Get It,” “At the Ballet,” and “One” have become classics. The visual images of a line of dancers, dressed in white spangled tuxedos doing high kicks is etched in the minds of all theatre junkies. The use of a wall of mirrors to reflect the images of the dancers’ inner souls to the audience is a touch of staging genius.

The winner of nine Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the show has all the elements that make for an exciting and entertaining evening of theatre. The elements are there, but in weak hands, the show can seem laborious. Laborious is not the word to describe the high powered Porthouse staging.

This is not to say that this is a perfect production. It isn’t. But the weaknesses--some questionable characterizations and some uneven singing and dancing--get lost in the excitement of this young cast that has a clear idea of how to wow an audience.

An ensemble piece, there are no real stars in the show. Certain people, do, however stand out. As he has proven time after time, Kristopher Thompson-Bolden explodes onto a stage. He captivates an audience with his enthusiasm, fine singing and electric dancing. Kaitlyn Black’s rendition of “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” was a show stopper. Lisa Kuchmen, Kelly Meneer, and Lauren Champlin melded perfectly in “At the Ballet.” Kuchnen’s portrayal of Sheila was right on. Jessica Cope has a powerful and compelling voice, as was displayed in both “Nothing” and the poignant, “What I Did For Love.” Too bad her acting doesn’t quite match her singing abilities. Matt Lillo’s “I Can Do That” was an audience pleaser, but he could have toned down the mincing in other scenes. Eli Zoller did a delightful segment on the trama of coming of age.

The highlight acting scene was Gary Walker’s long soliloquy. He brought tears while recounting his character’s self-perceived shameful life. Kelly Simmons and Joshua Gordon did an engaging rendition of “Sing.” Gordon has a strong singing voice. Daniel Puck’s mimed striptease pleased those looking for eye candy.

Capsule judgment: Combine a talented cast, focused directing, creative choreography by a professional who performed one of the roles in the Broadway production. Mix those elements with a fine orchestra, a precise conductor, a well conceived set, well-conceived lighting and well-designed costumes. The results? Porthouse Theatre’s must see production of “A CHORUS LINE.”