Monday, May 22, 2006

Sean Cercone, Artistic Director of Carousel Dinner Theatre

Spotlight on Sean Cercone, Carousel Artistic Director

Usually when one thinks of the Artistic Director of a theatre with a more than two million dollar budget one envisions an older, seasoned person with years of theatrical experience in producing, selecting plays, casting and choosing directors and technical staff. This is definitely not the case with Sean Cercone, the Artistic Director at Carousel Dinner Theatre.

Cercone is young, and a relative newcomer to the theatrical scene. His background includes only one administrative theatrical position, founder of the West Virginia Shakespeare Festival. He has a Master of Fine Arts in acting from West Virginia University, not in either theatre or arts management.

So, why would a venue, which invests between $300,000 to $500,000 on each production, place their fate in the hands of such a neophyte? And how was he selected? In a word, the New York born and raised Cercone has “chutspah” (the Yiddish word for “nerve”).

He saw an ad for the Carousel position on a website. Most people with his background would not see “newbie” and “Artistic Director of one of the major dinner theatres in the country” as being synonymous. This, of course, was not Cercone’s view. He saw the job as an opportunity to parallel his outgoing personality, self-avowed “awesome self-confidence,” desire to educate audiences, develop an image for the dinner show industry, and create a positive national portrait for the theatre. He perceived it as “a challenge, an opportunity.” He obviously was able to convince the new owners of the facility that he was the right person for the job as they turned over to him, the entire artistic operation of the theatre.

Cercone set for himself the task of learning everything he could about the business. He believed that there needed to be a change in the financial and artistic structure. He set budgets for each play where there had not been financial accountability in the past. He developed job descriptions for employees. He set in motion a philosophy that each season should have a set purpose. He envisioned changing the demographics of the audience to lower the average age of the attenders, while not ignoring the venue’s base which includes bus and senior tours (25% of the attenders), as well as subscribers (one-third of the audience). The remainder are individual ticket purchasers. He set out to eliminate the attitude that dinner theatres are often regarded as the trailer park of the theatre world by casting shows with professionals, many of whom are selected in New York tryouts, but not overlooking local area equity performers, while hiring top quality professional directors and choreographers.

Cercone, because of his involvement with the National Alliance of Musical Theatre’s New Works Committee, a national group which seeks out new scripts, envisions Carousel as a player in the creation of musicals. The first step in this process came to fruition when early this season ‘JOHN DOE’ received a staged reading at the theatre. The show’s creators were present, as were producers from various theatres around the country and theatrical agents. The staging of ‘JOHN DOE’ cost Carousel $16,000, with little financial income from the invitation-only event. However, the theatre received much publicity for the staging and all future productions of the show will masthead that the first staging was done at Carousel Dinner Theatre in Akron, Ohio. The “JOHN DOE” staging was also part of Cercone’s “subscriber appreciation days” which have the purpose of teaching audience members about the facility and how plays are developed and staged.

Cercone went out on a limb with his selection of ‘URINETOWN’ for this season. It is a departure from the safe musicals of the past. He chose the script because he “has a responsibility to stretch the audience and hopefully, can aid them to develop new attitudes toward theatre.”

Considering that the audience tends to be conservative and gasp at any swear word or sexual connotation, ‘URINETOWN” should be a challenge. Interestingly, the musical, which is about corporate greed and is basically a love story, doesn’t have the “yuck” factor, but the title may be enough to keep those with “red state” attitudes away. Only box office receipts will tell the tale.

Carousel productions are usually mounted in 10 seven-to-ten hour days. As a comparison, musicals produced by such theatres as Beck Center, usually have a five-to-eight week rehearsal period. The fact that Carousel’s directors are seasoned professionals and the performers are equity actors allows for the “speeding up” process. Even so, the first week or so of the productions often illustrate signs of still being rehearsal periods. The shows tend to run 10 weeks. The out-of-the-area performers are housed in Carousel’s home-away-from home, a residence with 8 apartments. Actors are provided with cars and gym memberships.

The future? Cercone hopes to mount some new scripts to intertwine with old favorites, further fulfilling his vision of making Carousel into a major player in not only the local world of theatre, but expanding its national image. If that happens, Carousel is going to have to fight to keep the young man who is working hard to become the “wunderkindt” of the dinner theatre circuit.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Night Bloomers (Dobama)

Thought provoking ‘NIGHT BLOOMERS’ at DOBAMA

As a crisis counselor I’m aware of the trauma caused by real or perceived tragedies. The results of fires, deaths, threats and natural and man-inspired catastrophes can be psychologically devastating. Psychological distractions such as nightmares, depression, hysteria and fear of personal destruction often result. Add reality to the repeated railing by leaders, such as President Bush stating over and over “9-11, ” “9-11” to reinforce the horror of the attacks on the World Trade Center, and people become primed for upset and fail to have time to heal.

Sarah Morton, the author of ‘NIGHT BLOOMERS’ now in production by Dobama Theatre, imagines our country following a terrorist attack termed “The Incident.” The result is a chilling expose of raw nerves and how calamity affects“survivors.”

In Morton’s story, Lilia, a mature woman, has decided that “The Incident” is not going to stop her from her two passions...traveling and searching for the nocturnal blooming rare persinnium plant. Since public airlines are out of business, she hires Nathan, a private pilot, to assist her in her search. Their adventure involves contact with sky marshals, bandits, border patrolmen, an Avon saleswoman, newlyweds, and a family in search of the daughter they lost.

Nathan, who was assigned to recover debris following “The Incident,” turns out to be debris himself. Tortured, he is devoid of emotions. Devoid until an incident forces him to experience Primal Scream, where, much like others with post-traumatic stress syndrome and/or survivor guilt, Nathan cracks.

The play asks many questions: Can fear insight panic? Can reality be hidden as the ranters and reminders of doom re-enforce their techniques to control others? (Think the political implications of Bush’s campaign to continue to tie all presidential decisions, including taking away individual rights, invasion of privacy, setting up a self proclaimed set of rules which do an end-run around the Constitution.) What drives some people, in spite of the odds, to search out truth and beauty? What happens to an individual when the strong defenses he has set up are confronted by traumatic reality?

Morton’s play, though not always clear in explicit concept, and which waivers off course creating some illogical sequence patterns, is a very strong piece of theatre.

Dobama’s productions, as has been the case in recent history--’GOAT OR, WHO IS SYLVIA’ and ‘A NUMBER’--is quality theatre. Director Eric Schmiedl has paced the piece well, has finely honed his performers, and understands the underlying motivations of the script.

Nicholas Koesters gives his finest performance as the emotionally wounded Nathan. In his final scene, he bares the character’s entire physical and psychological core as he stands center stage, bathed in a harsh white spotlight, and wails as his emotions finally overcome his logical control. It’s worth seeing the play just to experience this theatrical highlight!

Nan Wray performs with her usual excellence as Lilia. The character’s pluck and determinism shine clearly. Courtney Schloss, David Hansen, Samuel Holloway, Rachel Appelbaum and Teresa McDonough are all excellent in a variety of roles.

Scenic designer Russ Broski’s blacktopped world is chilling. Maureen Patterson’s lighting design adds much to the emotional effect as does Richard Ingraham’s sound and music.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Dobama’s production of Sarah Morton’s ‘NIGHT BLOOMERS’ is a scary reminder of what is or could be. Though the script has some flaws, the production values are excellent, making for a performance worth seeing.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

‘GREASE’ is an audience pleaser at Carousel

‘GREASE,’ which is now on stage at Carousel Dinner Theatre, is one of the most oft- produced musicals. It has achieved almost cult status, but few realize that it was not an instant hit on Broadway and had a checkered history.

The show opened off-Broadway on February 14, 1972 with Barry Bostwick as Danny Zuko, and Carole Demas as Sandy Dumbrowski. The critics were generally unimpressed, but the public found it satisfying and through word-of-mouth its popularity spread. The result was a run of 3,388 performances. It closed in 1980 and it held, at that time, the record for the longest run for a musical.

Interestingly, the Tony Awards committee ruled the show was ineligible for nominations as the theatre in which it was playing was several blocks away from Broadway. After the producers threatened to sue, the Tony committee backed off and the show was nominated for 9 awards, including best musical.

The show became even more popular when, in 1978, the movie version starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John opened. The movie version sugar-coated the class aspects of the original, and subsequent stage productions have played down that aspect of the story even further and emphasized the nostalgia aspects.

Another little know fact is that when the show opened in London, the role of Danny was taken by an unknown actor named Richard Gere.

A Broadway revival in 1994 ran for four years and starred Ricky Goldin as Danny, Susan Wood as Sandy, Rosie O'Donnell as Rizzo, and a pre-‘WILL AND GRACE’ Megan Mullally as Marty.

The show is set in the 1950s, in-and-around Rydell High School, as the students return from summer vacation. The guys are members of the "Burger Palace Boys" and the girls form the "Pink Ladies."

Danny, the quasi-leader of the Burger Boys, returns to school with a tale of the girl he met during the summer, only to find that the girl in question, Sandy, has transferred to Rydell High from the more innocent surroundings of a strict Catholic school. The complications of teen angst play out including a possible pregnancy, going steady, a high school drop out, ear piercing, a personality change-over and the purchase of a clunker of a car entitled “greased lightning.”

The show has a memorable score which includes, "Summer Nights, "Look at Me I'm Sandra Dee," "It's Raining on Prom Night" and "We Go Together."

Several songs--"You're The One That I Want" and "Hopelessly Devoted To You"--were written for the film version, but have been incorporated into many stagings, including the one at Carousel.

Carousel’s production is fine on many levels. The singing, the choreography, the staging, and the technical aspects (except for the overly-amped voices) work well. On the other hand, the cast is generally too old to be playing teenagers. Because they are clean- scrubbed college graduate twenty-somethings, they seem to have difficulty identifying with the greaser guys and unsophisticated young ladies. Thus, caricatures rather than characters resulted.

Highlights of the show included “Shakin at the High School Hop” and “Born to Hand Jive,” production number show-stoppers. The gospel version of “Beauty School Dropout” was delightful. “Mooning” was an audience favorite.

Brunswick High School and recent Baldwin Wallace graduate, Hannah Laird (Jan), Megan Nicole Arnoldy (Sandy), Kevin Smith Kirkwood (Johnny Casino), Jacqueline Colomer (Rizzo), Jason Shuffler (Kenickie) and Kristofer Stock (Rump) gave highlight performances.

The music was well played, but at times was so over-amplified that it drowned out the singers.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Carousel’s ‘GREASE’ is well staged. Audiences will be entertained. Too bad the same quality of singing and dancing couldn’t have been accomplished with a more age-appropriate cast and one that had a better level of identification with the era and its teens.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Little Women (Playhouse Square Center)

‘LITTLE WOMEN’ is a pleasant musical, but....

It’s rather amazing to realize that Louisa May Alcott's book ‘LITTLE WOMEN,’ which was published in 1868, has never been out of print and is still selling thousands of copies every year. Changing the format of a classic is a daunting task. How many times have you heard the phrase, “It’s not as good as the book?”

Allan Knee, who wrote the book for the show, had to be careful not to offend people who have set images about what each of the characters not only looks like, but how their very persona operates. Mindi Dickstein, in writing the lyrics, had to keep the correct Alcott tone of verbal sound and idea development in mind as she wrote what the performers would sing. Jason Howland’s music needed to develop not only the right tone for the era but also for helping develop the highs and lows of the lives of the March family. Each basically succeeded.

‘LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL,’ which is now on stage at the Palace Theatre examines the saga of the March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy—as they grow up in Civil War America.

The musical received mixed reviews when it opened on Broadway. It played 55 previews and only137 regular performances, making it far from a smash in spite of having superstar Maureen McGovern in the cast.

One reviewer stated, "Little Women isn't the most sophisticated or rapturously melodic show you'll find on Broadway. But this chamber-size musical pulses with a generous affection for its source material and a refreshing realization that Broadway audiences don't always need to be wowed. It is a comfortable, honest, highly satisfying night at the theater."

The musical gained a Tony award nomination for Sutton Foster for her portrayal of Jo, who dreams of becoming a writer and finds unexpected love. The production did receive seven 2005 Audience Award nominations.

‘LITTLE WOMEN’ is not a wonderful theatre script. It will never be compared with the likes of ‘MY FAIR LADY’ and ‘WEST SIDE STORY’ which are based on material from another source. This does not mean it is bad, it just isn’t a great. It is much in the vein of ‘SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS,’ ‘SHE LOVES ME,’ ‘THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG’ and ‘PLAIN AND FANCY.’ They aren’t splashy musicals, just pleasant experiences. They are the kind of scripts that make for successful community theatre productions.

The touring presentation brings everything necessary to the stage. It is well directed, well acted, is fully-orchestrated, and has all the technical aspects needed for a professional production.

Based on the publicity for the show one might think the lead character was Maureen McGovern, who for over 30 years has had a career which spans recordings, concerts, composing, theatre, film television and radio. That is not so. Susan Spencer, who plays Jo is the fulcrum around which the play turns. Spencer, has a wonderful voice and basically develops the role, though she might have shown a little more “tom-boyish” qualities. Her duet, “Some Things Are Meant to Be,” sung with Autumn Hurlbert (Beth) was poignant.

As Marmee (Mother), McGovern is endearing. Her voice is strong and vibrant. Her renditions of “Here Alone” and “”Days of Plenty” were show-stoppers.

Gwen Hollander (Amy) and Renee Brna (Meg) were both excellent. Stephen Patterson, who portrayed Laurie, the neighbor who loves one of the sisters but marries another, was superb. He lights up a stage. His “Take a Chance on Me” was delightful.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Anyone who has or is going to see ‘LITTLE WOMEN’ will probably leave satisfied, but not exhilarated. It is a pleasant experience. The cast is good and the production gets a full, quality level staging.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

From Door to Door (Jewish Community Center)

‘FROM DOOR TO DOOR’ fits JCC mission

James Sherman, whose play ‘DOOR TO DOOR,’ is presently being produced by the Jewish Community Center, is also the author of ‘’BEAU JEST, the off-Broadway hit.

The title of the play, ‘DOOR TO DOOR, is based on a phrase in the Hebrew prayer book, "l'dor v'dor," which means "from generation to generation." And, from generation to generation is exactly what the play illustrates. The plot focuses on three generations of the same family." Sherman explains, "There's no secret this play is inspired by my mother. She knows it, she's seen it. The play is to honor her and the women of her generation." He continues, "One woman of my grandmother's generation, one woman of my mother's generation and one woman of our generation.” To accomplish the task, the play covers 65 years, from 1935 to just about the present.

It is written in memory format. It begins in the present. Mary, who represents Sherman’s mother, is sitting shiva for her husband. (Shiva is the seven-day mourning period which begins after burial. Survivors concentrate on their inner feelings to begin the healing process and take the first step into re-entering normal life without the deceased.) She is there with her daughter and, as the play develops, we flashback to various incidents in Mary’s life.

Sherman has used the script as a means of personal awareness. "When I was working on the play, it gave me an excuse for my mother to sit down and talk about herself, which is not something she loves to do," Sherman said. "I also talked to a number of women of her generation, and women like my sister, and what started to interest me about these mothers and daughters is how we take what we get from our parents and then make choices about what we will pass on to our children and not pass onto our children."

The play, which premiered in Chicago in 1999, showed regionally and then was produced off-Broadway in 2004 . It played nine previews and had a respectable 110 performance run in the Big Apple.

‘FROM DOOR TO DOOR’ fits well into the JCC’s arts mission of showcasing plays about Jewish topics and/or by Jewish authors. This concentration allows members of the Jewish and non-Jewish community alike to be exposed to ethnic shows that might not otherwise be produced on local stages.

The JCC production is nicely paced by director Fred Sternfeld. The flashbacks and flash forwards could get confusing as Sherman’s writing stratagem has left little time for costume changes. Sternfeld has handled this potential problem very well and the time eras are clear.

The production generally works, but a miscasting makes for some lack of believability. While Jeanne Task (Mary) and Liz Conway (Deborah, the daughter) fit their roles well, Barbara Haas just doesn’t create the right sound or illusion as the Jewish grandmother. Her accent, her demeanor, her presence, lack the needed “tam,” (the taste) and the “yiddishkeit,” (the Jewishness). There is a cadence that makes for a believability to the Jewish sound. It is not something that one can act, it is almost something which someone must acquire from being around, living with, experiencing European Jewish women of that era. Haas lacked that quality. She is not the first actress who has had trouble with this. Valerie Harper didn’t have it in her recent Cleveland appearance as Golda Meir. Jessica Tandy lacked the right feel in the film, “DRIVING MISS DAISY.’ This is a role which is a much better fit for such local actresses as Elaine Rembrandt and Dorothy Silver.

Jeanne Task developed the nuances of Mary. She clearly understands the role of mother and wife. She was real, natural, convincing. Liz Conway, for the most part, was excellent. She was at her strength as the young Deborah, who was willing to defy her lack of Jewish upbringing by marrying a non-Jew (a “shaygetz”). She was excellent as the daughter who has transformed into the mother to her mother. There were some instances in the transitional scenes, however, in which she lost some of the characterization.

Ben Needham’s creative set design, which consisted of a series of interlocking doors on various levels, was excellent. The symbolism of the multi-doors which could have been opened in Mary’s life, but of which only a few were actually opened, expanded the script’s imagery.

Richard Ingraham selected excellent music, including a vocal version of the play’s title, ‘L’dor V’dor,” to tie the sound to the plot.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: JCC’s ‘FROM DOOR TO DOOR’ is a perfect fit into the theatre’s mission. The production is quite acceptable, but could have been better with more appropriate casting.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Varla Jean, I'm not going to pay for this (Cleveland Public Theatre)

VARLA JEAN appears once again at CPT

For the fifth time, Varla Jean Merman is back at Cleveland Public Theatre, playing to her loyal fans. Her new show, ‘I’M NOT PAYING FOR THIS!’ centers on her exploring her moral code.

Originally, according to Varla Jean, she was going to use the ten commandments to develop the plot, but since she is lazy she chose instead, the 7 deadly sins as it required her to write three less songs. Along with the new musical material, there are new videos and, to the consternation of her regulars, she has eliminated her famous singing high notes while inhaling cheese whiz.

Varla Jean Merman, supposedly the love child of Ernest Borgnine and Ethel Merman, is the creation of Jeffery Roberson. Roberson, a tall 200-pounder, came to New York from New Orleans in 1994 and immediately became a fixture in the Big Apple club scene. In 1995, he wrote and starred in ‘VARLA AND THE MAN WHO GOT AWAY.’ This production was her open door to national success. Since then she has toured the country, and has become a fixture in the gay meccas of San Francisco to Provincetown.

Her new movie, "’GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS,’ is a campy romp in which all the girls are played by men. The cast includes such legendary female impersonators as Jack Plotnick and Clinton Leupp, as well as Roberson.

In the CPT show, Roberson repeats most of Varla Jean’s usual shticks. She taunts the audience, plays up her “macho” size, sings songs with dirty lyrics and double entendres, and uses videos which often aren’t very funny. Even she admitted that the videos were “stupid and make no sense.” Roberson does have an excellent singing voice.

Her act appeals mainly to gays and lesbians, though there were straight couples in the audience.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you’ve seen Varla Jean before, you’ll be seeing much of the same in her new show. If you liked her in the past, you’ll like her again. If you haven’t seen her and are curious about this type of entertainment, she’s your ticket to being exposed.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Verb Ballets (Fusion Fest, Cleveland Play House)

VERB BALLETS at Fusion Fest and the summer season dance calendar

Fusion Fest, the creation of Michael Bloom, Artistic Director of the Cleveland Play House, has wrapped up. He indicated on closing night that financially the event is projected to reach its hoped for receipts. A special tribute must be accorded to Philanthropist Roe Green whose financial support made Fusionfest 2006 possible.

It was exciting to feel excitement in the Cleveland Play House facility where all four of the theatres were simultaneously in use.

According to Bloom, he was very pleased with this project which brought together many of the area’s theatre, dance and music performers offering new works. Included were Dobama, CPH, Cleveland School of the Arts, Opera Cleveland, MOCA and Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theater, Karamu House, Shaker Heights High School, Cleveland Museum of Art and Verb Ballets.

Verb Ballets, which has quickly established itself as one of the area’s best dance companies, presented ‘CELEBRATING CLEVELAND COMPOSERS,’ a program consisting of four pieces, including a world premiere. The divesity of the program added to the evening’s value.

‘SIX EASY PIECES,’ which the company added to its repertoire in March of this year, was danced to the music of Jonathan Sheffer and played by pianist Michael Schneider. It was a melange of moods in both music and dance movements. As is always the case with Hernando Cortez’s choreography, the dancing perfectly fit the music. The energy, lifts, carries, intertwining and partnering were all on target. Highlights included “Tango” which featured Kallie Marie Bokal and Mark Tomasic and “Prelude After Chopin” featuring Catherine Meredith and Anna Roberts.

‘BACKLASH,’ with music by Eric Ziolek, featured Saxophonist John Perrine and Percussionist Benjamin Winters. The tone for the number, which featured contemporary mylar sets and costumes, was laid by Perrine who meandered down the theatre’s aisle playing the jazzy music on his sax. Displaying signature Cortez concepts of excellent body control, strong arm reaches, slanting bodies and clear moves, the piece was aesthetically dynamic. Jordan Katz and Studio Sangha and Gina Dudik’s costumes and Trad Burns’ lights all perfectly melded together.

‘SHADOW OF NES-MIN’ is based on The Book Of The Dead, a collection of prayers and spells believed to provide aid for the spirit of the deceased. In this world premiere, the women were garbed in flowing yellow gowns, while the bare-chested men wore black leotards. The choreography consisted of slow-paced stylistic moves and freezes. There were no traditional dance lifts or partnering. The flow of human bodies which formed varying patterns was often mesmerizing.

The evening ended with the dynamic ‘PLANET SOUP,’ Cortez’s tribute to ethnic globalization featuring folk and vernacular dances ranging from Indian traditional to African ritual to Irish reels. Cortez terms the work “cross-cultural fusion.” It displayed the virtuosity of the company as they mixed styles of dance. The highlight was the Filipino pole dance with clapping poles featuring the dynamic Jason Ignacio.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Verbs Ballets continues to develop a strong following of loyal patrons as it grows and grows in developing its own repertoire of dances while stressing creativity and consistency.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Custody of the Eyes (Cleveland Play House)

CPH’s ‘CUSTODY OF THE EYES’ is interesting, but not compelling

The title of Anthony Giardina’s play, ‘CUSTODY OF THE EYES’ is based on the concept that Priests and others who are supposed to be thinking moral thoughts are taught that ”you do not look in the eyes of what may tempt you.”

A recent discussion on a Catholic forum website centered on, “How is one to keep custody of the eyes"? Does it depend on your intentions? If one's thoughts are sexual in nature, surely one should avert his eyes. But what if one is merely admiring? Or is it good to admire and thank God for such beauty?” A responder stated, “Here is a simple rule: look once and you’re okay, look twice and you are in danger of sin.”

A play of temptation, ‘CUSTODY OF THE EYES’ centers on the disappearance of a parish priest from a remote island off the coast of Maine. What made him vanish? What is the connection between his disappearance and his relationship with a woman and her ill son? Was the vanishing stimulated by his need to search for a view of the world through a different set of eyes than those focused by church dictates?

A Bishop and another priest come to the island to investigate the disappearance. These men, who have histories in which their eyes also searched and found what they shouldn’t, are forced to dig beyond the disappearance and into their own lives.

‘CUSTODY OF THE EYES’ examines multi-issues including that “Priests were not meant to feel,” the evolving public awareness of homosexuality within the church, the covering up of discretions, the requirement of celibacy for priests, and the dwindling number of “loyal believers.”

The script is interesting, but not intriguing. It is too formulaic in places, but does make one think. The writing creates subtle conflict, rather than strong emotional highs and lows. Some of the language lacks verbal flow, creating static moments. It does not compare in intensity to the present smash Broadway hit, ‘DOUBT’ which also investigates church issues.

The CPH production, which is very slowly paced by director Michael Butler, features some excellent acting. Joseph Collins (Father LeBlanc) plays the tortured young priest with clarity. The character’s conflict between strict morality, uptight obedience, and his underlying understanding of the need for human emotional reactions, is nicely etched.

Kenneth Tigar, as an older priest who gave up his parish because of his inability to act correctly according to the rules of the custody of the eyes, is excellent as the tortured soul. His long monologue, which reveals his trespasses, was compelling.

Paula Duesing is right on target as the islander who volunteers at the local church. J. R. Horne properly underplays the role of the Bishop.

On the other hand, Jan Leslie Harding gives a surface level performance as the woman who causes LeBlanc to have trouble in averting his eyes. She feigns emotions, doesn’t experience them. Mark Mayo, in a dual role, is also not completely convincing in his characterizations. It often sounds like he is reciting words, not creating the meanings of the words.

Russell Parkman’s design does little to create the proper setting. Though the wooden walls, which are referred to in the script, are necessary, their sliding up and down stage did little to help imagery. Because the set does not fill up the entire stage, those sitting stage right were regularly distracted by viewing actors and stage hands in the wings.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘CUSTODY OF THE EYES’ is a play worth seeing as it investigates concepts that are not commonly discussed within or outside of the Church. One could have hoped, however, that the issues had been more vividly textured.

Monday, May 01, 2006

110 in The Shade (Kalliope Stage)

Kalliope’s ‘110 IN THE SHADE’ pleases in spite of obstacles

Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones are masters of writing the “small” musical. Best known for ‘THE FANTASTICS,’ the longest running off-Broadway musical, ‘I DO, I DO’ and the seldom done ‘CELEBRATION,’ the duo writes lovely music with lyrics that help develop the plot. Though ‘110 IN THE SHADE,’ which is now being produced by Kalliope Theatre, is not up to the level of ‘THE FANTASTICS,’ it is quite charming.

The musical opened on Broadway in 1963 and ran for 331 performances. It starred Robert Horton and Inga Swenson. Songs include, "Love, Don't Turn Away," "Poker Polka," "Everything Beautiful Happens at Night," "You Ain't Fooling Me," "Old Maid," "Raunchy," and "Is It Really Me?".

‘110 IN THE SHADE’ is based on N. Richard Nash’s play ‘THE RAINMAKER,’ which was also turned into a film which starred Burt Lancaster and Katherine Hepburn.

It’s the middle of a heat wave in 1930's Texas. Everyone is longing for rain. Lizzie Curry, in spite of wit, intelligence and skills as a homemaker can’t find a husband. Even the bachelor town sheriff, for whom she harbors a secret yen, won't take a chance. Suddenly, Starbuck, a con man, passing himself off as a rainmaker, appears. (Think ‘MUSIC MAN’ and Dr. Harold Hill, the slick salesman of dreams but this time with a divining rod.) Lizzie's world is turned upside down and, as in all good fairy tale musicals, there is a happy ending, but with an unusual twist.

Kalliope’s production, under the direction of Paul F. Gurgol, is generally effective, in spite of some weakness in character development.

Joan Ellison was totally believable as Lizzie. Unfortunately, on the night I saw the production, she lost her voice and talked the song lyrics during the second act. She did it very effectively.

Daniel Henning was delightful as Lizzie’s youngest brother. He, along with Elizabeth Kelly (Snookie) displayed excellent dancing ability in the show’s only really choreographed number, “Little Red Hat.” Justin Tatum was properly up tight as Lizzie’s older brother and Leslie Feagan was endearing as Lizzie’s dad.

Don Circle, Jr. had some excellent moments as the sheriff. He has a good singing voice, but seemed somewhat stiff in the role.

Allan Snyder (Starbuck) is lead-male handsome and has an excellent singing voice, but his acting was all on the surface. He entered with too much vocal dynamics and was hyper throughout, making for audience discomfort in the intimate theatre.

Many members of the supporting company were too automatic in their actions.

Though effective, the slight musical accompaniment did not do justice to Schmidt’s music.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Kallliope’s production of ‘110 IN THE SHADE’ makes for a pleasant evening of musical theatre.