Sunday, August 29, 2004

La Turista (convergence-continuum)

'LA TURISTA' makes a strange visit at convergence-continuum

One of the area’s newest theatres, convergence-continuum was founded with the idea of “going against the grain” and doing “in-your-face style theatre.” It’s not theatre for everyone, but within a brief three years they have carved for themselves a slice of local audience that is fascinated by the avant garde and the plays that other local theatres won’t produce.

Yearly, they produce a Sam Shepard play. Shepard is considered by many to be a leader of the avant-garde in contemporary American theatre. He has been called the Eugene O'Neill of the Seventies. Others, including myself, disagree. They feel that he is much too willfully opaque, that he toys with viewers' minds and is a tease when it comes to meaning. I feel that he has never emerged from the era of the 60s in which “happenings” and plays that left meaning to the imagination of the viewers was in vogue, with morals and messages not a requisite for good theatre.

Shepard mixes fantastic settings and raw personal revelation with free-flowing language based on musical rock riffs and jazz improvisations. If his plays sound as if they were written at high speed and never revised, that's because they are. He is not big on rewriting. As he tells aspiring playwrights, “Writing is a journey of self discovery, but a good play is not an elaborate device to point our attention elsewhere. It exists in the world like anything else and must be confronted in all its three dimensional, multi-sensual, undeniable reality.”

In his plays, Shepard's characters shout a lot, and fight each other quite often. He admits that his work is violent because it is about America. "It's a tangible presence, you feel it every where in America. There's no need to be frightened of it. I find I can use it as a vehicle for other feelings." His plays set out to confront the audience with a view of America as a broken, fragmented, unhappy society...

‘LA TURISTA,’ this season’s convergence-continuum play, is an early Shepard work. Written when he was 23, it was Shepard's first foray into the two-act form. It opened March 4, 1967.

A surreal tragicomic ‘LA TURISTA’ finds Salem and Kent in Mexico. They are suffering from both sunburn and the famous “la turista” an intestinal malady of Americans who venture south of the border. In the first act, a native boy, a witch doctor and his son enter into their world. Whether this is delirium or reality is left to the imagination of the viewer. The second act finds the two back in America, but still ill. This time a “doctor” and his son are the “curers.” As the play progresses it becomes more and more surreal, more and more abstract.

The convergence-continuum production, under the directorship of Clyde Simon, is inconsistent. It often appears like the actors are not sure where the play is going, where they fit in, like they are saying lines, lines that have no meaning.

Geoffrey Hoffman, as Kent, does a herculean job. The first act, in which he appears clothed only in his tighty-whities, is dragged and thrown around like a rag doll. Most of the second act finds him climbing the small theatre’s ceiling pipes and bouncing along platforms above the heads of the audience. It’s an exhausting performance. As Salem, Jovana Batkovic doesn’t ever quite develop a consistent character. Brin Metzendorf is not very believable as the boy. His Mexican pronunciation is poor and he fails to clearly define himself. Cliff Bailey works hard as the Witch doctor and later the doctor. Brian Breth and Arthur Grothe who portray the son and Sonny expend much energy, but with little effect.

Sam Shepard has said, "I guess I'm always hoping for one play that will end my need to write plays. Sort of the definitive piece, but it never happens. There's always disappointment, something missing, some level that hasn't been touched, and the more you write the more you struggle, even if you are riding a wave of inspiration. And if the piece does touch something, you always know you haven't got to the depths of certain emotional territory. So you go out and try another one." His ideas well define ‘LA TURISTA.’ This is not his “one play that will end my need to write plays.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘LA TURISTA’ is not a play for everyone. If you are a Sam Shepard fan you might like it. If not, you probably will leave the theatre message frustrated and unfulfilled.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Stratford Festival of Canada--2004 Review

Stratford Festival okay, but not up to its usual excellence

Driving up to the Statford Festival is especially lovely in the fall. Depending on which routing you take, you either go up through Buffalo and pass through the Erie wine country or through Detroit/Windsor and meander through the Canadian countryside. If you want a stop along the way, both routes offer something special. The Buffalo route gets you into Niagara Falls where the attractions are not only the falling waters, but a new casino and excellent outlet malls. The Detroit Windsor overnight could include a visit to the revitalized Greektown area of the Motor City, where two casinos are situated, or the Windsor Casino. Visits in that area include the historically interesting Greenfield Village. Either route will take you about 5 1/2 hours from Cleveland to Stratford, Ontario, Canada.


This season’s productions center on the theme: “It’s the idea of a world beneath: a secret, subconscious or even supernatural counterpart of what we experience on the surface of things. There’s more to life than meets the eye.”

Capsule judgments of the shows I saw:

‘NOISES OFF’ by Michael Frayn is a farcical play within a play. Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. Chaos unfolds as we see the play both from the perspective of the audience and what goes on backstage. If properly done, the Canadians, with their abilities to do farce, should have been able to make this show a total hoot. Unfortunately, in spite of excellent performances, Brian Bedford’s directing is way too slow, causing more of a comic rather than a hysterical feel. This makes the play pleasant, not reaching its potential.

In Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux’s ‘THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE,’ love defies logic. Princes Leonide of Sparta attempts to win the heart of Agist, the rightful heir to the throne Leonide now occupies. Agist has been taught to reject love as a source of human weakness. This is not, by any turn of imagination, a great play. The plot is contrived, the show is too long, but the well-staged and well-acted production does hold the audience’s attention. Claire Jullien and Lucy Peacock give fine performances.

‘GUYS AND DOLLS’ is a combination of the tales of Nathan Detroit, a small time gambler who runs the “oldest established floating crap-game in New York” and Adelaide, his doll; the high roller Sky Masterson’s gambit of winning a bet by talking the up-tight missionary doll, Sarah Brown, into going to Havana with him; and the multiple character studies of the likes of Harry the Horse, Nicely-Nicely, Benny Southstreet, and Big Julie. These are the people of Damon Runyon. For the musical to work, there should be a New York cadence, a New York sound. That is, for those aware of the sound, the cadence, and Runyon’s characters. Interestingly, most Canadians aren’t familiar with those elements, so that becomes a mute point in their appreciation of the show. From my perspective the show missed its point but from the Canadians I talked to this was not an issue.

The musical contains such delightful songs as “I’ll Know,” “My Time of Day,” “If I Were a Bell.” The show’s highlights are Adelaide’s “Bushel and a Peck,” “Adelaide’s Lament,” and “Take Back Your Mink.” Sheila McCarthy was delightful as Adelaide. “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” a big production number, centers on the ability of the character Nicely-Nicely commanding the stage. Bruce Dow did exactly that! Most attenders will like this production

‘A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM’ was my favorite of this season’s Stratford productions. The play about spellbound lovers who chase each other through the woods by night, is one of Shakespeare’s best comedies. Creatively directed, beautifully acted, the humor well keyed, and the play perfectly paced, this was a fine, fine production. Complete with creative costuming and trapeze acrobats bungy jumping over the heads of the audience, the production let totally loose in every aspect of its staging. Thom Marriott was wonderful as Nick Bottom. Michelle Gioroux as Helena, Nazneen Contractor as Hermia, Jeffrey Wetsch as Lysander, and Haysm Hadri as Demetrius all were special. This is a fine, fine staging of a fine play.

Alexander Dumas is known for writing swashbuckling novels. One of his favorites is ‘THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO.’ The story concerns treason, a dashing young sailor, imprisonment, a daring escape and a quest for vengeance. The show opens with a thunderstorm, intensified in effect by swelling music and a moving boat. The sword fights are exciting, the costumes lush. In the end, this, like any good melodramatic play, can’t be taken seriously, but it can be a good time, if you are willing to put aside your definition of what “good” theatre is all about.

The most problematic production of the Stratford season was ‘MACBETH.’ Overplayed in many segments, the production lacked a consistent voice. The script probably has more famous speeches than any other Shakespeare play. “Is this a dagger” was given an effective underplayed interpretation. On the other hand, “Out, out damned spot,” was totally overdone, making the meaning secondary to the staging. This was not a shining version of a script by the company’s signature author.

Besides the performances there are post-performance discussions, warehouse, backstage and garden tours. Check these out. They add a great deal to the Stratford experience.

Lodging? I’d opt for one of the many bed and breakfasts. Our favorite is The Jennie Forbes Cottage, Kathy and Don Spiers’ charming 1857 regency cottage within walking distance of all the theatres and downtown. (website:

Though not as lovely a city as Niagara-on-the-Lake where the Shaw Festival operates, the shopping is better in Stratford. I strongly recommend Davis Canadian Arts (106 Ontario Street). This is a wonderful art gallery that offers Canadian traditional and contemporary sculptures, ceramics and paintings. For women’s quality clothing make sure to stop at The Touchmark Shop (137 Ontario Street). The establishment offers unique and one-of-a-kind products at excellent prices. Restaurants tend to be expensive, not always giving good value for the dollar. The exception is The Annex Room (38 Albert Street).

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The 2004 Stratford Festival of Canada is performing an adequate season. There is nothing in this season’s program to match last year’s perfect ‘THE KING AND I’ and the spectacular ‘THE ADVENTURES OF PERICLES.’ This is not to say that you shouldn’t attend. Several of the productions, including ‘A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM’ are quite good, but the offerings, at least those I saw, aren’t up to Stratford’s usual excellence.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Shaw Festival--2004 review

Late summer/fall, a perfect time to visit Shaw Festival

One of the loveliest little cities in the world, Niagara-on-the Lake, the home of the Shaw Festival, is snuggled in the Niagara region of Canada, an easy 4 hour ride from Cleveland. The trip takes you through the wine region of New York and past the wondrous Niagara Falls.

Those who not only love theatre, but natural beauty are in for a treat whether just wandering around the area which includes the Welland Canal, visiting Fort Niagara, stopping at an early Loyalist settlement which was part of the Underground Railway or zooming into the whirlpool of the Niagara river on a jet boat. An added attraction is the new Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort which features 3,000 slot machines, 150 gaming tables and overlooks the thunderous cascading water.

But the reason for theatre buffs to visit the area is to attend the Shaw Festival. The Festival is the only theatre in the world that specializes exclusively in plays by Bernard Shaw and plays about the period of Shaw’s lifetime. It also embraces a full-range of American classics.

This is a special year at Shaw. Jackie Maxwell is in her second year as the company’s Artistic Director, actually the first in which she has had total control over the season. She states, “In 2004, we’ll discover rich and vibrant new worlds, with wonderful plays that our brilliant acting ensemble will enter, explore and present to you.” And what a season it is. Every single play I saw on a recent trip was worth attending! It’s hard to beat that for sheer theatrical joy.

It’s a rainy evening in London in the early years of the twentieth century. An opera at Covent Garden has just let out and people are crowded together for shelter from the rain. A cockney girl tires to sell flowers to passers-by. Someone warns her that a gentleman is eavesdropping and writing down her every word. The girl is Eliza, the man is Henry Higgins, and yes, we are about to be enthralled by G. B. Shaw’s ‘PYGMALION.’ Many who have loved the musical ‘MY FAIR LADY’ may not know that it was based on a Shaw play, and the nonmusical is in many ways superior to the Lerner and Loewe version. The Festival production is marvelous in every aspect. Tara Rosling makes a letter-perfect Eliza. She balances that fine line between being both strong and vulnerable. Jim Mezon is such an unfeeling bully as Henry Higgins that there are times when you’d like to slap him aside the head. But in reality, the interpretation keynotes his total devotion to his linguistic profession and his obtuse devotion to Eliza. Patricia Hamilton is wonderful as Henry’s mother and Simon Bradbury is a hoot as Eliza’s father. This is a must see production.

Eugene O’Neill is widely regarded as one of America’s greatest playwrights.
‘AH WILDERNESS’ is O’Neill’s only comedy, his only foray into heartwarming nostalgia. Many of his admirers think the play represents the youth O’Neill wished he had had, with an idyllic family that faces their problems with love and understanding. Flowing beneath the warmth of the words of the script is a revelation of deep longing. This is a near flawless production highlighted by the most absolutely hysterically funny father-son “birds and the bees” talk ever performed on a stage. The play centers on Richard, the very serious 17-year-old with the weight of the world on his skinny shoulders. Every one of Richard’s overblown emotions is finely honed by the very talented Jared Brown. His father, portrayed by Norman Browning, an Art Carney look and act-alike, could not have been better. The same is true of William Vickers, a Danny DeVito duplicate, as Richard’s spinster aunt’s alcoholic “special friend.” What a wonderful evening of theatre director Joseph Ziegler has created.

In contrast to local Cleveland productions, where audience’s jump to their feet at the end of any production, good or bad, the theatre-wise Shaw audiences guard their praise. The standing ovation at the conclusion of ‘WAITING FOR THE PARADE’ was well earned and deserved. John Murrell’s play is a seldom performed piece. The story concerns the experiences of women left on the home front in wartime. The place is Calgary, Alberta, the episodes in the play cover most of the six-year period that Canada was involved in World War II. The five women in the play embody a cross-section of experiences and attitudes of the time. The production, under the watchful eye of director Linda Moore is both seamless and flawless. The ensemble cast of Donna Belleville, Kelli Fox, Laurie Paton, Helen Taylor and Jenny Wright are excellent. Each develops a clear and meaningful character. The play is well summarized by a quote from Shaw, “women know instinctively, even when they are echoing male glory stuff, that communities live not by slaughter and daring death, but by crating life and nursing it to its highest possibilities.” This is a unique theatre experience that if not seen in this venue, will probably be missed, and that would be a shame for this is a lesson worth learning.

The upper classes of Victorian England were taken aback by Oscar Wilde’s attacks on their frivolous way of life and meaningless existences. Since, as only Wilde could do, the plays were hysterically funny, he got away with it. Most critics agree that ‘THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST’ is Wilde at his best. His tongue is sharp and his quills piercing as he attacks French drama, the British upper-class, honesty, education, relatives and fiction. The play centers on a suitcase, two men named Earnest, who aren’t named Earnest at all, a cigarette case, and an imaginary brother. Director Christopher Newton does a creditable job of creating the mirth, but fails to pace the production quickly enough or draw the characters as completely as possible. Though enjoyable, this was the weakest of the Shaw productions I saw. Now, don’t take that as a “don’t see.” This is probably a better production of Earnest than you’ll see in most venues, but it is not of the high quality level of the rest of the productions in this season’s Shaw offerings.

‘THE TINKER’S WEDDING’ is a short J. S. Synge exploration into Irish class warfare. It centers on Michael, a tinker, who is a traveling handyman and vagabond. He lives on the road with his mother Mary and his companion, Sarah Casey. The play centers on a revelation about a local priest and questions the value of marriage and the methods and motives of the Catholic Church. Synge, in contrast to other Irish writers who portray their people through sentimental spectacles, is a realist. Because of the directness of his plays, and the riots which greeted the opening of his ‘THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD’ in Dublin, Tinker did not premiere until 1909, ten months after the playwright’s death. It was not performed again in Ireland until 1971. The Shaw production is excellent. The usual difficult to discern accents were held in check, allowing for clarity of message. The ensemble cast, consisting of David Leyshon, Trish Lindstrom, Nora McLellan and William Vickers were excellent.

Githa Sowerby’s ‘RUTHERFORD AND SON’ is a seldom done play. It takes place in an industrial town in the north of England a few years before World War I. Rutherford is a widower who lives with his spinster sister and three grown children, his son’s wife and their newborn baby. Rutherford is a tyrant. He dominates all. He is stubborn and won’t see the handwriting on the wall which will soon lead to financial doom for the family business and destroy his family unless he changes his ways of operation. When his son invents a method to increase production, Rutherford steals the idea and in the process destroys the son’s remaining emotional stability. He drives his daughter away after her life of frustration is relieved by an on-going affair with the firm’s employee. His other son flees. Only his daughter-in-law sees how to manipulate the old man to meet her needs. This is a full-frontal attack on a paternalistic society. As a 1912 reviewer stated, “No play has ever been written that in the truest, stronger sense was so really a ‘suffrage’ play, although the word is never uttered and the thought never enters the minds of the people portrayed. My favorite offering of the season, the performance values are excellent, the acting superb, the pacing perfect, the emotional twists and turns highly developed by director Jackie Maxwell.

Other offerings running from now to the end of the season are ‘THREE MEN ON A HORSE,’ ‘PAL JOEY,’ ‘MAN AND SUPERMAN,’ ‘NOTHING SACRED,’ ‘HARLEQUINADE,’ and ‘FLOYD COLLINS.’ The latter, is a small scale musical written by Richard Rodger’s grandson.

Places to eat and stay? My favorite restaurant is Inn on the Twenty, located in historic Jordan Village (, about forty minutes from Niagara-on-the Lake. The service is always wonderful, the facility is beautiful, the gardens behind the facility lovely, and the food is outstanding! The Queenston Heights Restaurant, located in a park just over the Canadian line, is another favorite. The facility has a breathtaking view of the Niagara River gorge. We also had an excellent meal at Hillebrand Estates Winery.

The area has many excellent hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. We have found Abbotsford House Bed and Breakfast to be our home-away-from-home. Owner Margaret Currie is a total delight. Her breakfasts are scrumptious, she gives a new meaning to the word “clean,” and the antiques and decorations are impeccable. Return guests are the rule here. For reservations and/or information call 905-468-4646 or e mail Splurge places include The Prince of Wales Hotel, Queen’s Landing Inn and The White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa.

Make sure you get to the theatre in advance to spend time reading the company’s programs. The program notes get you in exactly the right mental place to appreciate every aspect of the show. Also don’t overlook attending the many noon time lectures, tours of the facilities and Festival special events.

For theatre information, lodging suggestions or tickets call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to Ask about packages that include lodging, meals, tickets, spa escapes and golfing. Also be aware that the festival offers Sunday night specials, rush tickets and senior matinee prices.

Friendly people, good value and wonderful theatre awaits you hosted by our neighbors to the north.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)--(Great Lakes Theatre Festival)


What do rush week at Ohio State, wardrobe malfunctions, Lebron James, Brad Pitt’s movie ‘TROY,’ Arnold Schwartzennager, the Olson Twins and Red Bull all have in common? They are topics, along with 37 of Shakespeare’s plays, well, pieces-parts of those plays, and a zillion poop, vomit and penis references in ‘THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED).’ The show is now on stage at the Great Lakes Theater (Shakespeare) Festival.

Think you’ve seen Shakespeare? NOT LIKE THIS!

To put the show into perspective, picture this: The Shakespeare’s 17 comedies, 10 histories, and 10 tragedies performed in only 90 minutes. The trio of actors (Lynn Robert Berg, Jeffrey C. Hawkins and M. A. Taylor) present ‘OTHELLO’ as a rap song, ‘TITUS ANDRONICUS’ as a cooking show and ‘MACBETH’ as a conflict between McDonalds and Burger King. They perform HAMLET with a puppet show and audience participation, then in double time, and then backwards. Why? Because, as the trio explains, “Life is short and the complete works of William Shakespeare are long.”

The three overgrown pranksters, who appear to fully enjoy their descent into adolescence, include in their antics lots of slapstick, innuendoes and mindless banter. Their unassuming manner allows them to interact with the audience with ease. You cannot help but like these guys even if you don’t appreciate what they are doing with the world’s greatest theatrical literature. But, that’s the point.

The actors wear Shakespearean-style costumes with high-topped sneakers. There is the obligatory fog, lightning, doom and gloom, the three door-set, but also a mustached, heavy-set actor, who plays all the women’s roles, prancing around in dresses and curly wigs, with a goofy, blushing grin on his face and feigning barfing on audience members. Note: If you are sitting in the first couple of rows, be prepared to be picked on and “volunteered” into being a member of the cast.

The cast is universally good, but not as hysterically funny as Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, the Reduced Shakespeare Company, who conceived and performed the work for many years. And, though the script “localizing” and “updates” is often clever, it is also sometimes inane. Without intending to sound prudish, there are an awful lot of poop and penis jokes that appear to be unnecessary to achieve the intent of the piece.

‘THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED),’ is an irreverent romp through the Bard's plays. The show, which is in a very long run in London, and has been done in many US venues, has been praised as "wildly funny" and "the funniest show you are likely to see in your entire lifetime." The GLTF doesn’t exactly live up to that level of praise.

Capsule judgement: If you are willing to put aside your thoughts of what Shakespeare should be, and will yourself (pardon the pun) to be part of an assault on Shakespeare and lots of other topics, you will enjoy yourself. If you have no sense of humor, don’t like slapstick, and are a Shakespeare purist, stay home!

Saturday, August 07, 2004

tick, tick...Boom! (Cain Park)

‘‘tick, tick...BOOM!’ ’ is tick, tick terrific at Cain Park

In the history of theatre, specific productions are responsible for defining
a historical period of time or introducing a new movement into the art form. The musical ‘OKLAHOMA’ introduced the public to a new form of musical theatre. It was story based and all parts of the production were integrated into a seamless flow. ‘HAIR,’ was Broadway’s first successful rock musical aimed at unsettling the uptight community of musical theatre. It allowed middle-class audiences to watch America’s revolutionary sixties complete with hippies, flower children, nudity and drugs. ‘RENT’ was the seminal musical of the 90’s, mirroring the AIDS epidemic, the “I” generation and ear-piecing music.

The intriguing aspect of ‘RENT’ was that Jonathan Larson, it’s conceiver, after many years of struggling to “make it,” never saw a dream accomplished. Larson died just before the first preview of ‘RENT,” making the show his first and only hit.

Following Larson’s death, friends and other theatre people tried to conceive a way to continue his legend. Larson had several other scripts he had been working on, including ‘30/90’ a one-man show that he had performed to make financial ends meet and showcase his talent. They convinced David Auburn, the 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner for the play ‘PROOF’ to take on the project. Auburn took Larson’s musical monologue and turned it into a play for three actors. He added a song from Larson’s never produced ‘SUPERBIA,’ and developed a musical now entitled, ‘tick, tick...BOOM!’

The show tells the story of a young composer on the brink of turning 30 and falling into oblivion. His girlfriend wants to get married; his best friend is gainfully employed, and our hero is waiting tables trying to write the great American musical. Should the young writer continue his dreams or take an escape route? As we all now know, the young writer named Jonathan (obviously, Larson) did not give up, but kept plugging along and went on to posthumous fame.

It is ironic that a from ‘tick, tick...BOOM!’ was a prophecy of what was to come. Jonathan shouts, “I can’t do it. I’ll explode.” And explode he did, from an aortic aneurysm. Larson died at age 35.

Those who didn’t like ‘RENT’ because of the ear-piercing music, which caused problems in understanding song lyrics, and that it was difficult to feel empathy for people who seemed destined to self-destruct in their quest for doing their own thing, will find ‘tick, tick...BOOM!’ to be a different experience. Mixed in with the heavy rock sound are some beautiful ballads and even a twangy country-like piece. The characters are much more accessible and real.

Cain Park’s production of ‘tick, tick...BOOM!,’ under the adept direction of Victoria Bussert is excellent. All three of the actors can sing and act with great proficiency. The music, except in a few numbers where musical director Nancy Gantose-Maier cranks up the sound and forgets that the audience needs to hear the lyrics, is excellent. Jeff Herrmann’s multi-level set design works well and Cassandra Goldbach’s lighting sets the proper moods.

Bussert, Cain Park’s Theatre Artistic Director, has a knack for finding small shows that fit perfectly into the Alma Theatre venue. Once she locates them, she latches on and produces wonders. Think ‘BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL,’ ‘AVENUE X’ and ‘SIDE SHOW.’

Patrick Janson makes Jonathan a real person with whom we can empathize. He has a powerful singing voice and uses it effectively to interpret song lyrics.

Emily Krieger lights up the stage as Jonathan’s girl friend. Her voice is strong and her acting abilities are excellent.

Fabio Polanco, as Jonathan’s life-long friend, conveys a clear characterization and sings well.

Highlight numbers included “Johnny Can’t Decide,” a philosophical ballad; “Therapy,” a clever take-off on pop psychology; “Sugar,” an audience favorite about the need for sugar highs including sneaking Twinkies; “Come to Your Senses,” a pretty ballad that gets a wonderful rendition by Krieger; and “Why,” beautifully sung by Janson.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Cain Park’s ‘tick, tick...BOOM!’ is a wonderful evening of musical theatre. Combining excellent music, a palatable story, and high level production qualities, it is one of the area’s summer highlights. Go see ‘tick, tick...BOOM!’

Oliver (Playhouse Square Center)

‘OLIVER!’ is a major disappointment at the Palace

On my very first visit to London in 1960 I was told by the booker, from whom I ordered theatre tickets, that one of the shows I was supposed to see had been canceled. If it was all right, she stated, she could give me a free ticket to a musical based on a Charles Dicken’s novel that was opening that night.

Yes, I saw the world premiere of ‘OLIVER!,’ based on ‘OLIVER TWIST’ with book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. The amazing cast included Ron Moody as Fagin and Georgia Brown as Nancy. Moody was a delightful rogue and Brown’s “As Long As He Needs Me” was the most emotionally engaging song I had ever heard. After 18 curtain calls I left the theatre entranced.

I went to New York to see the show again after it transferred across the Atlantic, this time to see Clive Revill infuse the show with his wonderful version of Faigan, Georgia Brown revive her role of Nancy, and Davie Jones, who gained notoriety as a member of The Monkees, delight as The Artful Dodger.

I was not alone in my love of the show. A review of the New York production stated, “Oliver! came singing, bouncing and bubbling its way into the Imperial theatre last night, and if ever there was a musical to please everybody, that is it. Overflowing with singable tunes and a solid singing cast, it is a good clean joy of a show.” Another reviewer called it, “One of the smasheroo hits of recent seasons.”

As good as the London, Broadway and many local productions of the show, including a wonderful staging by Elyria Summer Theatre some seasons back, is as bad as the present staging of ‘OLIVER!’ at the Palace Theatre. To make the matter all the worse, this show is part of the Broadway Series. Believe me, Broadway quality this isn’t!

The present production is miscast and misdirected. The choreography is static and stale. The show is paced too slowly. The music is tinny sounding due to the tiny size of the touring orchestra and the cadence of the music is way too slow. The sets don’t work well. It’s hard to find anything right about the show. To go on with details would be worthless.

Suffice to say my love affair with the show will live on in spite of the bad taste in my eyes and ears from this embarrassing production. I’ll just pretend that I never saw this production and, as I’m doing as I write this review, just listen to the original Broadway cast recording.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Playhouse Square Foundation should be ashamed of itself to be charging Broadway rates for this amateur, misconceived production of ‘OLIVER!’.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Kathleen Kennedy reviews of the reviewer

I wanted to thank you for your reviews of the Ohio Ballet performances. I was fortunate enough to catch Ohio Ballet's performance of “Rite of Spring.” It totally knocked me out in every possible way. Unfortunately, the Cleveland and Akron reviews and audiences apparently did not agree. In my opinion, they were either so uncomfortable with the theme that they couldn't grasp the performance, or they were unable to objectively view the performance because of personal prejudices.

You, on the other hand, understood the level of performance. Yours was the only review that captured the essence of what happened that night. Yours was the only review that understood that the choreography and the performance must live up to the music.

I wanted to take a few minutes to thank you for your objectivity, your professionalism, and your high level of knowledge and understanding.


Kathleen Kennedy
Tucson, Arizona