Sunday, June 25, 2006

Lies and Legends: The Music of Harry Chapin (Beck Center)

Lies and Legends: The Music of Harry Chapin is another gem at Beck

Beck Center is on a roll! Right on the heels of the outstanding ‘A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE,’ which ran to sold out audiences, the theatre has another surefire hit on its hands: ‘‘LIES AND LEGENDS: THE MUSIC OF HARRY CHAPIN.’

Harry Chapin told stories through song, and his music has been an integral part of American culture for decades. Creations like “Cats in the Cradle,” “Circle,” and “Tax” are classics that tell stories. These are not just songs, each writing is a tale in-and-of itself.

Born into a wealthy family, Chapin, like fellow born-with-a-silver-spoon-in-the-mouth John F. Kennedy, understood the plight of the American lower and middle classes. He had a keenly developed social conscience. He helped establish the Hungerthon and threw much of his energy into helping the poor and dispossessed. He had an eye and an ear for the lonely and disappointed. He expressed awareness as regret and anxiety in his compositions.

Chapin was killed in an auto accident in July of 1981 at the age of 38. An obituary in Rolling Stone stated that Chapin often described himself as a third-rate folk singer. “Yet Harry Chapin was something more than that. For many who knew him, he was a legitimate hero, not so much for his music as for his consistent and conscientious willingness to fight the right battles, to stand up for a just cause, no matter how hopeless.”

‘Lies and Legends’ is not a musical written by Chapin. It is a review of some of his compositions that was developed after his death. The show opened in New York in April, 1985, ran 79 performances, and has had numerous performances around the country.

Beck Center presented the show 15 years ago. It was directed by William Roudebush, as his first production as Beck’s Artistic Director. The cast consisted of Paul Allesandro, Mickey Houlahan, Monica Olejko, Tracee Patterson and Kent Benz. It was present-day Artistic Director Scott Spence who decided to revive the production. Fortunately, Roudebush and all of the original cast, with the exception of Kent Benz, who died in 1994 at the age of 37, were available, though all but Patterson and Olejko have left the area. Benz’s songs were assigned to Beck Center favorite Dan Folino (who, incidentally is the son of cast member Monica Olejko).

The production is as close to flawless as you will see. Roudebush keeps the scenes moving right along, the stage pictures are ever-changing and interesting, Olejko’s choreography is meaningful and well executed, Nancy Maiers musical direction is note perfect. Don McBride’s multi-level set and Trad Burns lighting enhance the production. The cast’s singing, song interpretation and movement are superlative. Highlights abound.

Monica and Mickey sing dual stories in “Mr. Tanner,” with such precision that both tales can be clearly understood. Tracee’s “Old College Avenue” is poignant. Monica and the boys do a do-op version of “Winter Song,” which is a show stopper. Paul and Monica’s rendition of “Get on With It” is charming. “Dance Band on the Titanic” is a hoot. Dan’s “Odd Job Man” is just out-and-out fun, as is Mickey’s “Six String Orchestra.” I could go on and on and mention every song in the show as a highlight, but you get the point.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The Beck Center’s ‘LIES AND LEGENDS: THE MUSIC OF HARRY CHAPIN’ is a gem. If you love Chapin’s stories and music, if you love good singing, if you love creative staging....GET YOURSELF TO BECK....NOW!!!!!!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Kiss Me Kate (Cain Park)

‘KISS ME KATE’ off-mark at Cain Park

Cole Porter, who wrote the music and lyrics for ‘KISS ME KATE,’ now on stage at Cain Park, is noted for his witty, sophisticated and barbed words. He takes ordinary language and makes it extra-ordinary.

His shows contain hit song after hit song. For example, his musical ‘OUT OF THIS WORLD’ included "From This Moment On" and "I Am Loved." ‘CAN-CAN’ rendered, "I Am In Love" and "I Love Paris." The score of ‘SILK STOCKINGS’ included ’"All Of You" and "Paris Loves Lovers."

The score for ‘KISS ME, KATE’ includes such standards as, "Another Openin’, Another Show", "Brush Up Your Shakespeare", "I Hate Men", "So In Love" and "Too Darn Hot."

The show, which opened in 1948, ran for 1,077 performances on Broadway, and was made into a popular 1953 MGM film.

It tells the tale of two once-married, now-divorced musical theater actors who are performing opposite each other in a Broadway-bound musical version of William Shakespeare's ‘THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.’ The duo develops an emotional war mid-performance. The only thing keeping the show together are threats from a pair of gangsters who are intent on collecting a debt which is to be paid for by box office receipts. In classic escapist musical comedy fashion, madness ensues, and the lovers ultimately reconcile.

To be successful, a production of ‘KISS ME KATE’ must be able to create the intense zaniness of the characters, stress Porter’s wonderfully witty lyrics, make the characters so real that they become bigger than life, and create a visual illusion that sparkles. Unfortunately, the Cain Park production generally fails on all of these levels.

The very young cast simply doesn’t look or sound right. Characters, such as a military general, can’t be portrayed by an early twenty year-old. Especially one who attempts a General Douglas MacArthur imitation without the slightest sense of who the General was other than a stereotype of his visual appearance.

The staging must create appealing and realistic stage pictures. Standing in straight lines, singing directly to the audience (ignoring that love songs are sung by the lovers to each other, not directed at the audience) does not create the right setting for Porter.

The most surprising thing about the production is that it is directed by the very talented Carol Dunne. Last season Dunne directed Cain Park’s smash hit, ‘SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD,’ which I thought was one of the very best musicals in the local area. Somehow Dunne seems to have gotten side-tracked. Maybe it was the use of such a young cast, but that was her casting choice. In productions of such shows as ‘HAIR,’ ‘GREASE’ or ‘RENT’ the age of cast members might not have been a problem, but in KISS ME KATE it is. The age of the characters is basically written into the script. They can’t be fudged.

As usual, Martin Cespedes’s choreography was excellent, but the execution was left wanting. Part of the problem was Russ Borski’s set which pushed the entire set close to the apron of the stage, giving the dancers little space to move. This created a cramped look which led to visual chaos as performers were squashed together, sometimes even running into each other.

In the lead roles, Steel Burkhardt (Fred Graham/Petruchio) displayed a nice singing voice, but like his counterpart Emily Krieger (Lilli Vanessi/Katharine Minola) there were places where they off-key. They both, as did most of the cast, sang words, ignoring the meanings behind the words.

Burkhardt’s other problem was his surface level character development. He just was not believable in the role. It may have been the difficulty in portraying someone of the character’s age or it may have been a lack of understanding of the nuances of the role.

Krieger fared better in her acting, though her characterization lacked the consistency of the necessary real and feigned shrewness. The duo did have a wonderful moment during the scene where Petruchio tames Katherine.

Katie Greiner (Lois Lane/Bianca) and Cornelius Bethea (Bill Calhoun/Lucentio) never developed clear characterizations. Ms. Greiner’s “Always True to You in My Fashion,” usually one of the show’s highlights, illustrated little understanding of Porter’s rhythm and rhyme pattern. Bethea did not have the vocal or personality dynamics needed for the razzle-dazzle cad.

The highlights of the show were Paul Floriano (one of the few adults in the show) and Andrew Schmidt’s delightful “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” and the creative “Tom, Dick, or Harry.”

Musical Director Larry Hartzell did an excellent job with the orchestra, but not so well with the chorus numbers which sometimes found the singers out of sync.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Cain Park’s ‘KISS ME KATE’ was less than a satisfying theatrical experience. The youthful cast tried hard, but was not able to create the proper mood or meaning for this Cole Porter gem.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Canadian Shakespeare Festival--2003

The highlights and lowlights of this season's Canadian Shakespeare Festival


I have seen many productions of Rogers and Hammerstein’s ‘THE KING AND I’. I have never seen a more sumptuous, gorgeous, effective version than that being presented this summer at the Statford Festival of Canada.

Rogers and Hammerstein laid the foundation for what is now dubbed “the book musical.” Starting in the 1950s they transformed what had been basically songs surrounded by meaningless dialogue into a concept of adding music to a story in order to develop the plot. Based on a true story, ‘THE KING AND I’ shows the clash between East and West and what happens when traditions are questioned and destroyed. This is a delightful musical with a definite purpose.

In all of their scripts the duo had a key song which highlighted their play’s message. In ‘THE KING AND I,’ “A Puzzlement” illustrates the frustration caused by the conflict between culture biases and the realities of a changing world.

The score includes such classics as, “Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello Young Lovers,” and “Something Wonderful.” This production showcases the enchanting “Shall We Dance?,” the powerful, “I Have Dreamed,” and the charming “Getting to Know You.” “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” is very creatively and effectively staged.

The cast is wonderful. Victor Talmade makes the role of the King his own. This is not a Yul Brenner caricature. Lucy Peacock has a strong singing voice and her Anna is visually correct and a flawless character. Helen Yu is ethnic perfect and sings powerfully as Lady Thiang. Anne Marie Ramos has a radiant voice and her Tuptim matches impeccably with Charles Zulay as Lun Tha. There is not a shallow performance in the entire cast. Even the little children have been honed to believability.

Few theatrical productions fall into the range of perfect. “THE KING AND I” at the Stratford Festival is as perfect as a theatrical production can be! Costume Designer Roger Kirk and Set Designer Debra Hanson have gone all out to assist Director Susan Schulman and choreographer Michael Lichtefeld to put together this rendition of the classic story. Their sets and costumes far outshine even the Broadway production. The show features fine acting, beautiful voices and a clear development of the authors’ theme with visually startling aesthetics. What more could any theatre-attender ask for?


Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe are two of the world’s most well-known musical theatre writers. Their central theme was to illuminate the perfect time, the perfect place and the perfect love story. Think ‘MY FAIR LADY’, ‘BRIGADON’ and ’ CAMELOT.’ Or, as did the Stratford Festival of Canada, think ‘GIGI.’

‘GIGI’ was developed in a different pattern than most musicals. It was born as a movie in 1958 and later became a staged show. The film went on to be named Best Picture of the Year, as well as being awarded eight other Academy Awards. The stage version opened on Broadway in 1973. It played only four months after mediocre reviews.

The story-line was adopted from a 1944 novella by Colette. It is a charming story set during the Belle Epoque period in France that follows the adventures of Gigi, a girl woman, her doting grandmother, and her plotting aunt. As with Eliza in ‘MY FAIR LADY’ Gigi is shaped into an idealized image for male approval. Each finds herself winning over a man who doesn’t want to be won over, but who falls under her spell.

Unlike most Lerner and Loewe scripts, few restagings of “GIGI” are done. Why it is not is a mystery. The show has an engaging story and contains wonderful music such as “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” “It’s a Bore,” “I Remember it Well,” and “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore.”

The production seemed to delight most of the audience. Unfortunately, much of the delight came due to misdirecting by Richard Monette. He took a charming story and made it into a farce. He lost the warmth because of all the gimmicks. Rather than letting the natural flow of the music and story prevail, he resorted to prat falls, over acting and affectations. A lovely pastiche became an over-layered cake. It was good to look at, but the true flavor was missing.

Highlights of the production were “The Night They Invented Champagne” and the winsome “I Remember It Well.” These, along with the wonderful costumes, visually appealing sets and fine orchestrations, aided the overall effect.

Jennifer Gould was a charming Gigi. Dan Chameroy has a very nice voice, but was directed into a one-dimensional interpretation of Gaston, Gigi’s eventual suitor. Patricia Collins was overly effected as Aunt Alicia, who teaches Gigi how to trap the right man. Domini Blythe was wonderful as Mamita, Gigi’s grandmother. James Blendick did a veneer version of Honore, the part played so stylishly by Maurice Chevalier in the movie. He displayed no true emotional involvement. What should have been charm turned out to be surface show.

Statford’s version of ‘GIGI’ will please many, even if it misses the original intent of the authors.


Critics have argued for years whether Shakespeare actually wrote ‘THE ADVENTURES OF PERICLES.’ It appears, because of the style and problematic text that Shakespeare probably had a collaborator on the project.

Whoever the author, the Stratford Festival of Canada does the scribe proud. This is a meticulous, visually glorious presentation. Every aspect of the complex play is purposeful. The supernatural visions, the arcane ceremonies, the use of a chorus are all there.

The story concerns the travels of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, as he seeks a bride, finds trouble, flees, becomes shipwrecked, marries the daughter of a king, has a child, attempts to return to Tyre, is caught in a storm, “loses”his wife, entrusts his baby daughter to a devious duo, wanders the seas, and finally finds total happiness.

Jonathan Goad is Pericles incarnate. His is a superb performance. Thom Marriott, as Gower, the narrator and chorus, captures the stage whenever he is present. Michael Therriault is delightful as the Boult. Karen Anceta is lovely as Thaisa, Pericles’s wife. Nazneen Contractor enraptures as Marian, daughter to Pericles and Thaisa.

As the program states, “Pericles challenges not only the creativity of directors and actors, but also the openness and imagination of contemporary audiences.” Leon Rubin, the director, succeeded admirably. The actors are consistently superb. Designer John Pennoyer has given the production a visual grandeur seen on few stages. The Stratford Festival of Canada version of ‘THE ADVENTURES OF PERICLES,, is an absolute, must see production!


Shakespeare’s ‘ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA’ has been dubbed by some scholars as “probably the greatest play in the English language...the most comprehensive and universal of Shakespeare’s tragedies.” It may well be, but the production at the Stratford Festival of Canada was anything but great.

This is not an easy play to stage. It contains 42 scenes shifting to numerous settings, from Italy to Egypt, from land to sea. The play’s sprawling structure places a burden on the director and cast, causing the focus to be entirely on the performances to keep us on course. Director Martha Henry keeps us on course. The play is not difficult to follow. Unfortunately, she has failed to texture the performances. The pace is too slow, the separation of characters not clear, and the full-bodiedness of the play lost. The dramatic action, instead of being grand, grinds along.

The story concerns a period in history following the assassination of Julius Caesar when Rome was ruled by a triumvirate consisting of Octavius Caesar, Lepidus and Mark Antony. Conflict ensues when Mark Antony takes up with Cleopatra, the voluptuous queen of Egypt. A truce, followed by betrayal, battles, and subterfuge leads to the ultimate destruction of both Mark Antony and Cleopatra.

The acting is uneven. Peter Donaldson, as Mark Antony, lacks the needed charisma. He shouts and pouts, but fails to convince of his great leadership. Diana D’Aquila’s Cleopatra is less than a grand and powerful woman. Paul Dunn’s Caesar is a whining, non-heroic wimp. Wayne Best is right on character as Enobarbus. Tim Askew delighted in the small role as the messenger, who becomes Cleopatra’s foil when he reports Antony’s marriage of convenience to Octavius Caesar’s sister.

The production of ‘ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA’ is less than entrancing. Audience members were overheard using phrases like, “dull” and “boring” to describe their experience.


‘THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME’ is a play about outcasts. Quasimodo was abandoned as an infant on the steps of Notre Dame. He is hideously deformed but saved from drowning and then raised by Archdeacon Frollo, himself a depraved man. Quasimodo becomes the cathedral’s bell ringer and is made deaf by his constant contact with the loud pealing. Esmeralda is beautiful, but a member of a despised group of gypsies. Gringoire is a misguided.poet. Their paths all cross when Frollo tries to act upon his lust for Esmeralda. She is saved by Gringoire, who falls in love with her. She is later accused of killing him, but is again saved, this time by Quasimodo. A surprising revelation and tragedy mark the conclusion of this tale of misguided love and the lack of compassion for the outsiders of the world.

Victor Hugo’s ‘HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME’ is a sprawling novel. It was made into a moderately successful animated film. Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate to stage very well, at least not in its production at the Statford Festival of Canada. Whether it is playwright Rick Whelan’s inability to write a smoothly transitioned play with a meaningful flow of lines and action, or director Dennis Garnhum’s uninspired and static directing, the production just doesn’t work. Even scenic designer Alexander Dodge’s set doesn’t help. It is visually ponderous and cumbersome.

None of the performers fared completely well. Peter van Gestel, standing in for Nicolas Van Burek, who normally plays Quasimodo, was basically fine, but lacked the physical grotesque disformaty needed to bring about the revulsion feigned by the acting company at the sight of the hunchback. Stephen Russell’s Frollo, lacked the needed depth of villainy. Dan Chameroy made an acceptable Gringoire, but did not truly convince of his undying love for Esmeralda. Jennifer Gould looks the role of Esmeralda but, at times, loses the characterization.

Word on the streets of Stratford is that the play has been universally ill-received. It’s too bad, for there is a fine tale here to tell.


One of the problems facing any director of Shakespeare’s ‘THE TAMING OF THE SHREW’ is how to handle the ending of the play. If interpreted one way, it pleases the women’s liberation viewers. Played the other, it could bring feminist wrath. As director Miles Potter states in his program notes, “I trust Shakesepare. I no longer feel the need to filter what he is doing at the end of the play.”

What’s the fuss? The story-line of Shrew centers on the loves and wills of two women of Padua. Biancha is demure and popular. Kate is sharp-tongued and ill-tempered. We observe as each is wooed and wed. In the traditional version Kate is tamed and becomes obedient to her husband. Some modern interpretations have Kate saying the closing lines with satirical undercurrent, thus allowing the audience to believe that she has not changed and, in truth, has tamed her man.

Whatever your political views, it will be hard not to fall in love with this production. Almost everything works. The setting, which has been transformed from ancient Italy to the American west, enhances the understanding. The added music, the wonderful costumes, the fun sets, and the enhanced character interpretations all work!

Seana McKenna sparkles as Kate, the hellcat who is transformed into a tamed tiger. Deborah Hay’s Bianca is cute though a little overacted. At times her voice becames shrieking and grating. Graham Abbey is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful as Kate’s husband Petruchio. His is a purposeful and well-developed character. Though sometimes hard to understand, Wayne Best’s Grumio, Petruchio’s sidekick, becomes a delightful Gabby Hayes sound-and-look-alike.

Director Potter has woven a wonderful tale. This is one of the season’s highlight shows.

SUMMARY JUDGEMENT OF THE SEASON, SO FAR: In general, so far, this is an excellent season for the Stratford Festival of Canada. Four out of the six productions reviewed were positive, three of those rated raves. That’s better odds than that of most production companies.

Wicked (Play House Square Center)

Wonderful ‘WICKED’ wows audience at the State Theatre

In a great injustice, ‘WICKED’ was not selected as the best musical in the 2004 Tony Awards competition. The recognition went to ‘AVENUE Q,’ an X-rated puppet show. As evidenced by the screaming, standing ovations the touring production of ‘WICKED,’ now on stage at Playhouse Square’s State Theatre is receiving, and you’ll know the audience’s feelings about what should have been the prize winner.

The show has everything to make for a hit! Great music, fine performances, creative staging, and a delightful yet philosophical story line with an important message which includes comments which can be applied to the Bush administration’s diminishing of the population’s personal rights and what happens when a small group of zealots determines what is “best for everyone.”

‘WICKED,’ which is the “behind the story” tale of two young women, Glinda and Elphaba in the ‘WIZARD OF OZ’ story. You know them better as the good and the wicked witches.

Think you know who is really the good and who is the wicked witch? Are you aware of how the tin woodsman came to be? How about the cowardly lion or the scarecrow? Think that the wicked witch really was melted by a bucket of water? All of these questions are answered in the Stephen Schwartz, Winnie Holzman musical which is based on the novel by Gregory Maguire.

The show’s music, by award winner Stephen Schwartz, known for ‘PIPPIN,’ ‘THE MAGIC SHOW,’ and ‘GODSPELL,’ is typical Schwartz. There are lovely ballads (“I’m Not That Girl”), delightful ditties (“Popular” and “Wonderful”), large scale production (“Dancing Through Life” and “March of the Witch Hunters”), and light rock (“As Long As You’re Mine”).

Touring productions can be of questionable levels. Worry not if you are lucky enough to have tickets for the three-week sold out run of the show. This is Broadway at its very best! The sets are amazing. They include a dragon whose wingspan is the same as a Cessna 172. There is enough electrical current on stage, according to the show’s press release, to supply twelve houses with power. Monkeys fly, Glenda descends in a magical bubble, large gears grind, 250 pounds of dry ice produce the haze and magical poofs, bubble machines spray rainbows and 175,000 pounds of scenery cover the stage. The costuming is magical. The musical sound is good. But, most importantly, the show is well directed and superbly performed.

Julie Murney, made up in green makeup throughout the show, gives a lustrous performance as Elphaba, generally known as the Bad Witch. Bad, as we find out, she isn’t. Her voice is glorious, her character development clear. She radiates.

Kendra Kassebaum as Glinda, the blond, air-headed Good Witch, is also superb. She glows on stage. Murney and Kassebaum blend beautifully in several songs.

Kirk McDonald, makes for a charming Boq, the munchkin. K. Todd Freeman (Doctor Dillamond) is appealing as the goat who loses his human voice. Sebastian Arcelus has a wonderful singing voice and effectively develops the role of Fiyero, the playboy whose goodness shines through. PJ Benjamin is fine as the Wizard, as is Alma Cuervo as the evil Madame Morrible.

The show has a strong Cleveland connection. Matthew Rego, Michael Rego and Hank Unger are ARACA Group, one of the shows producers. The young trio, who are from the Western Cleveland suburbs, besides producing ‘WICKED’ have been represented on Broadway by ‘NIGHT, MOTHER,’ ‘THE GOOD BODY,’ ‘URINETOWN THE MUSICAL,’ ‘FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE’ and ‘MATCH.’ Their off-Broadway shows have been: ‘DEBBIE DOES DALLAS,’ ‘THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES,’ ‘THE LARAMIE PROJECT’ and ‘SKYSCRAPER.’ Forthcoming are the film versions of ‘URINETOWN’ and “DEBBIE DOES DALLAS.’

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Icarus (convergence-continuum)

‘ICARUS’ attempts to fly at convergence-continuum

“Sometimes beauty is a curse.” “Sometimes hope is disguised.” “Sometimes with love you can touch the sun.” These three lines summarize the concepts stressed in Edwin Sanchez’s play, ‘ICARUS,’ now on stage at convergence-continuum.

As with most of the theatre’s productions, Artistic Director Clyde Simon and Executive Director Brian Breth have found a script which challenges the audience to think. The dynamic duo seeks scripts which other local theatres can’t or won’t produce because they are too controversial, too abstract, or not appealing to general audiences.

Sanchez, is among the new breed of elite contemporary playwrights. His plays, from his breakout script, ‘TRAFFICKING IN BROKEN HEARTS’ concern chance meetings, impossible love, and the cold realities that get in the way of dreams. His plays take a group of oddball characters--all searching, all damaged--and have them affect each other’s lives.

In ‘ICARUS,’ as one play analyst states, “Like the Greek myth from which the play takes its name, ‘ICARUS’ is about super-charged dreamers whose wax wings melt when they fly too close to the sun. ‘ICARUS’ plays out like an inverted ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’ fairy tale, though there's no magic to whip up a happy ending. But there are moments of grace that fill the play's one hundred minutes when the characters are momentarily released from their own traumas and attempt to help one another in unassuming but meaningful an enchanted setting, dreamers almost win, lovers nearly find happiness, and beauty kisses those who most deserve its fleeting glory. Reality ultimately kills the fairy tale."

The story concerns the facially disfigured Altagracia who who has found a beach house, apparently abandoned for the off-season, into which she moves her wheelchair-bound brother, Primitivo. Setting a goal for Primitivo to swim until he reaches the sun, Altagracia encourages him by stoking his dreams of fame and fortune. Mr. Ellis accompanies the duo with a stuffed cat named Betty. He also carries a valise filled with "dreams" which he taunts others to try and reach for. Beau, a friend of the owner of the house, arrives wearing a ski mask supposedly to hide the effects of a terrible accident. He is surprised to find the house occupied and wants the invaders to leave. After some negotiating everyone remains. Instead of the solitude he was expecting, Beau ends up getting, and giving, some vigorous lessons. In the house next door lives "the Gloria," a faded Hollywood legend who occupies a world of illusions about her now faded beauty.

Sanchez’s poetic writing, the abstractness of the storytelling, the use of the name Icarus yet not stressing the parallel to the actual Icarus tale, makes for abstraction which the audience may not easily grasp. Sanchez uses the myth as a point of reference, but this is not a modern retelling of it.

Convergence-continuum’s production is good, but not great. It is overly slow and needed some visual effects to induce the audience to create reality. Director Caleb Sekeres needed to pick up the pace and highlight the eccentricity of the characters even more than he did. As is, the play makes for a somewhat long sit.

Jovana Batkovic is generally effective as Altagracia, though more anguished pain needed to be obvious as she fights for normalcy while dealing with her crippled brother and her personal disfiguration. Brin Metzendorf is often on the surface as Primitivo. He needed to be more anguished until he finally finds a real purpose in life and tries to “fly” in order to free his world (his sister) from her constraints.

Clyde Simon is perfect as Mr. Ellis. He is a wonderful blend of the eccentric and the wise, in the costume of a fool. Lucy Bredeson-Smith was born to play the role of the Gloria. She creates a pathetic and vulnerable blond Gloria Swanson with ease and eerie realism.

Geoffrey Hoffman is excellent as the psychologically destroyed yet physically beautiful Beau. Hoffman, as he has proven in numerous convergence productions, seems to have the knack to take any role and make it his own.

The performance space both works for and against the performers. The limited size allows for emotional closeness to the actors. On the other hand, running through curtains as an exit to the sea ruins the illusion. Fading the lights on the main stage while the sun spot shines brightly as a visual image, as each of the characters runs into the ocean, may have made the exits more palatable.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: For those who like convergence-continuum’s selection of though provoking pieces, the script of ‘ICARUS’ will satisfy their desires. In a slightly better paced and conceived production, the experience would have satisfied the entire audience’s wants.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Stratford Festival of Canada, 2006 review

Stratford Festival not up to its expected excellence

The Stratford Festival of Canada, in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, is considered to be one of the best repertory companies. In past years, I have never left the venue without seeing several outstanding productions.
This year, of the five productions I saw, none was outstanding, two were good (‘THE BLONDE, THE BRUNETTE AND THE VENGEFUL REDHEAD’ and ‘HENRY IV PART I’). One, (‘OLIVER’), which was an audience pleaser, was a lesser production than I had expected. Several others (‘MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING’ and ‘CORIOLANUS’) were sub-par. The latter two were surprising, as they are Shakespeare scripts which Stratford specializes in and should be finely staged.

To be fair, I didn’t see all of the shows offered. Canadian friends, whose evaluations I trust, saw ‘HARLEM DUET’ and were very impressed, and “enjoyed” ‘SOUTH PACIFIC.’ Local reviewer Tony Brown of the Plain Dealer, who I met while at the Festival, saw ‘DUCHESS OF MALFI’ and commented favorably on the creative staging. Additional shows, which will open later this summer include, ‘’TWELFTH NIGHT,’ ‘DON JUAN,’ ‘GHOSTS,’ ‘FANNY KIMBLE,’ and ‘THE LIAR.’


Australian playwright Robert Hewett’s ‘THE BLONDE, THE BRUNETTE AND THE VENGEFUL REDHEAD’ is a one-women show. The actress must portray 7 uniquely different characters aided only by costume and wigs changes. The persons range from a revenge driven woman, to a young boy, to a cheating husband, to an elderly lady.

In order for the play to work, an outstanding actress must take on the role. Fortunately, Stratford has such an actress in the person of Lucy Peacock. Peacock is nothing short of outstanding in clearly developing each of the characters.

The story, which is a little preposterous and unhinged in parts, concerns a suburban housewife whose husband leaves her for another woman. Rhonda, the wronged wife, turns her angst against a woman who she perceives is her husband’s mistress. Unfortunately, through a series of quirky events, she attacks and kills the wrong person. The story is woven together so that we hear from the husband, a neighbor, the jilted woman’s best friend, the murdered woman, her lesbian partner and their son, as well as the woman herself.

Anyone who appreciates superior acting should enjoy this production.


‘HENRY THE IV, PART I’ is one of Shakespeare’s historical plays. Richard II has been overthrown by King Henry IV. He faces a rebellion. His son, Prince Hal, is more playboy then heir-apparent, much to Richard’s dismay. In cahoots with Falstaff, an overweight scoundrel, Hal sows his wild oats until it becomes time for him to act as a leader in a battle to keep the throne. We see, in his growth into manhood, that Prince Hal, who eventually becomes Henry V, has the potential for greatness.

The play has many delightful moments as well as many dramatic ones. Unfortunately, Richard Monette’s direction is inconsistent. Oft-times the play soars. At other points it drags.

David Snelgrove makes for a good Prince Hall. He is both physically and performance believable. James Blendick is delightful as Sir John Falstaff. Adam O’Byrne, is nicely caustic as Henry Percy. On the other hand, Scott Wentworth does not clearly develop a believable King Henry IV and some of the other characters are often hard to understand and fail to create clear characterizations.

The costumes and the music, which was specifically written for the production, are excellent.

In spite of the strength of some of the parts, as a whole, ‘HENRY THE IV, PART I’ is not a quality production.


On June 30, 1960 I had one of my most memorable theatrical experiences when, while visiting London, England, I saw the world premiere performance of Lionel Bart’s ‘OLIVER!’ I screamed and applauded at curtain call after curtain call for the performances of Ron Moody (Fagan), Georgia Brown (Nancy) and David Jones (Artful Dodger) who went on to fame as one of the pop group, The Monkees.

The musical is based on Charles Dickens’ ‘OLIVER TWIST.’ It is the story of a boy who, along with other castoffs, endures the miseries of the orphanages of England. In the case of Oliver, however, as happens in all good musical comedies, he is saved by a wealthy man who turns out to be his grandfather. Filled with such wonderful songs as “Who Will Buy?,” “Consider Yourself at Home,” “Where Is Love” and such show stoppers as “I’ll Do Anything” and “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two,” audiences leave the show humming the score.

Because of my amazing first-nighter experience, I hold productions of ‘OLIVER!’ to a high standard. Though an obvious audience pleaser, as witnessed by shrieks of joy and a standing ovation, I did not think the Stratford production, under the choreographic and directing lead of Donna Feore, is as good a production as should be done at the Stratford Festival.

On the positive side, Blythe Wilson was excellent as Nancy. Her rendition of “As Long As He Needs Me” was powerful. Brad Rudy was a menacing Bill Sikes. Mary Ellen Mahoney was a delightful Widow Corney and Bruce Dow was fun as Mr. Bumble. The vocal chorus was excellent, as was the orchestra.

In his first-ever theatrical role, Tyler Pearse, has a fine singing voice and the innocent look for the lead role of Oliver, but fails give the character any dimension. His expressionless face, and uncertain stage presence, lessened the effect of the character. (Yes, he is only 10 and this is his virgin role, but his performance must be evaluated against others who have played Oliver and his falls short of many.) Scott Beaudin has a nice singing voice and moves well, but didn’t have the pizzazz needed for the role of the Artful Dodger.

The acceptable choreography was often not well executed. The biggest disappointment, however, was the performance of Colm Feore as Fagin. One of Canada’s best known actors, his interpretation of the cunning rogue just didn’t’ have the dimension needed for the multi-faceted character. The always delightful “Reviewing the Situation” fell flat.


‘CORNIOLANUS,’ which was the last tragedy written by Shakespeare, is another of his plays that illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of heroes. In this case, Caius Martius is a successful warrior, but an individual who can’t put aside his high personal and ethical standards and understand that not all can live by his ideals. As a result of his perceived arrogance, and because of the fear of church leaders that his rise to power will diminish their influence, crowds of commoners, who were at first loyal followers, are persuaded through treachery to turn on Martius. Underlying the political issues is the role of family, especially the roles of son and father, which, again, is a common Shakespeare topic (think Hamlet and his father). In the end, as happens in all of the Bard’s tragedies, the fatal flaw of the hero turns out to the be the cause of his final destruction.

Many, including writer T. S. Elliot, consider ‘CORIOLANUS’ to be Shakespeare’s greatest achievement.

The Stratford production is visually spectacular. Burning fires, metal statues, meaningful musical bridges, period correct costumes and well conceived supporting props and scenery help create the right mood. Unfortunately, some of the performances do not support the technical efforts.

Director Antoni Cimolino has sacrificed effect for affect. Shouting substitutes for meaning. Overacting and feigned characterizations buried many of Shakespeare’s ideas.

Unfortunately, Colm Feore, as he did in his portrayal of Fagin in ‘OLIVER!,’ misses the mark as Coriolanus. He shouts his way through the first act making many of his speeches unintelligible. He creates no empathy for the character so, when he is threatened by the deceitful church leaders, we care little for him or about him. The screaming creates an illusion of someone out of control. This is not a man out of control. This is a man of deep conviction. He knows he is right and therefore dedicates himself to his personal cause. If only Feore had taken the lead of Graham Abbey, who, as Tulus Aufidus, Coriolanus’s near warrior equal, underplayed his role, thus creating a person who is real rather than an overacted image.

The second and third acts of the play were much better than the first as Feore ceased screaming and became more intelligible and developed a somewhat more believable character.

Paul Soles, in the key role of Meneius, was unbelievable in his role. On the other hand, Martha Henry, as Martius’s mother, was excellent as were Don Carrier and Bernard Hopkins as the conniving church leaders.


‘MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING’ is one of Shakespeare’s most oft-done comedies. Having some of the same caustic dialogue as “TAMING OF THE SHREW,’ the play centers on the battle of the sexes as Beatrice and Benedick wage a merry war of words and insults as they move toward their inevitable mating.

An underlying subplot is one of supposed betrayal as the beautiful Hero is accused of having an affair by Claudio, her betrothed, because of rumors thrust forward by a shunned suitor. The entire conflict comes to a happy ending when the bumbling Malaprop-speaking Constable Dogberry, and his merry band of keystone cops, accidentally foil the plot against Hero.

The Stratford Festival’s production is acceptable, but not what it should be. There is some shallow acting, the pace is quite slow and some of the delight of the script is missing. On the other hand, the costumes are beautiful and the musical interludes are fine.

Robert Persichini is delightful as Dogberry. He beautifully bumbles through his lines. Diane D’Aquila is quite humorous as Hero’s maid. Though they are very acceptable, Lucy Peacock (Beatrice) and Peter Donaldson (Benedick) aren’t as sharp-tongued as they could be so that their accepting their joined destiny doesn’t bring about the fully delightful wrap-up that might be expected.

Part of the problem with the staging may have been caused by the departure of the show’s original director, Stephen Quimette, to be replaced by Marti Maraden. The change of directors may have caused the lack of a unified concept.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: All in all, from the productions I saw, I would have to declare that this is not a stellar year for the Stratford Festival. There are just too many weak productions to balance off the several good ones.

If I was going to the Stratford Festival later this summer or fall, and I enjoyed superb acting, I’d see Lucy Peacock’s performance in ‘THE BLONDE, THE BRUNETTE AND THE VENGEFUL REDHEAD. In spite of its weaknesses, ‘OLIVER’ will entertain most viewers. If you decide to do a Shakespeare, the production of ‘MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING’ should entertain all except the most sophisticated theatre-goer..

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Dames at Sea (Porthouse)

‘DAMES AT SEA’ floats happily into dock at Porthouse

Unless your are a theatre buff, while viewing the Porthouse Theatre production of ‘DAMES AT SEA,’ you’ll probably assume that the George Haimsohn, Robin Miller and Jim Wise show was written in the 1930s. The show is filled with depression day references, and celebrity names of that era pepper both the song lyrics and the dialogue.

Don’t be fooled. The show was written in 1969 and is actually a spoof on the 30s style escapist Hollywood and Broadway musicals which had one production number follow another and a slight story line that loosely hooks the songs and dances together.

Another little know fact is that the original show starred 17 year-old Bernadette Peters in the leading role. Peters went on to become a major Broadway star (‘THE MOST HAPPY FELLA’, ‘SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE,’ ‘INTO THE WOODS,’ GYPSY,’ ANNIE GET YOUR GUN,’ and ‘THE GOODBYE GIRL.’

The campy, musical is a small cast tongue-in-cheek tribute to the large cast Busby Berkeley film musicals. Pithy lyrics, staging that mainly consists of stylized over-acting, lots of shticks and gimmicks, tap dancing, kick-lines, and contrived events complete the picture.

The story (?) concerns Ruby, a just-off-the-bus showbiz hopeful who rockets to stardom by stepping in for a Broadway star. Ruby, named for Warner Brothers' film dancer Ruby Keeler, falls in love with hometown boy Dick, named for Dick Powell. This happens as Dick goes from wide-eyed swabby to celebrated Broadway composer in the same lickety-split time span. Also on hand are the good-natured Joan, named for Joan Blondell, and Lucky, who represents every sidekick who ever sang and/or tapped alongside a leading man (think Donald O’Connor, the sidekick to Gene Kelly). (I told you this wasn’t a great story line.)

The lines are often stilted, which is part of the writing style, but that doesn’t matter as you may not hear much of the spoken words as they are often drowned out by the production’s overly loud musical accompaniment.

The show is filled with hummable tunes, some of which have become minor Broadway classics. The score includes: “It’s You,” “Broadway Baby,” “”Good Times are Here to Stay,” “Star Tar,” and the finale, “Let’s Have a Simple Wedding.” Most of the songs are show-stopper dance numbers, with a few pretty ballads snuck in.

To work, the show has to be in the right hands. In general, Porthouse’s production is on target. Director Eric van Baars (who ironically starred in this show some years ago on the Porthouse stage with Terri Kent, the theatre’s Artistic Director), has a nice feel for the show, but is often too restrained in giving his cast the green light to really ham it up. That is, with the exception of Mary Ann Black, who dominates the goings-on with her appropriately over-done Mona Kent, the drama queen of drama queens. Black is nothing short of wonderful in “The Beguine” in which she makes a scarf into a major performance piece. Her “That Mister Man of Mine” is another delightful interlude.

Emily Leonard is picture perfect as Ruby. She is tiny, adorable and compelling. She lights up the stage. Her “The Sailor of My Dreams” was charming, as was her “Raining in My Heart, which featured umbrellas with twinkling lights on the ribs.

Though he physically fills the role of Dick, Ruby’s beau, Alex Jorth’s “aw shucks” Iowa sound becomes a bit grating after a while. He sounds like he is holding back air as he speaks. He has a very pleasant, but slight singing voice.

Jodi Beck is delightful as the outspoken Joan. She looks and sounds like Bette Midler, in the very best of ways. She is brash, brassy and sings and acts and dances well.

Erik Floor should have been given freer reign to really let loose as Lucky, Dicks’ happy go-luck side-kick. At times he sparkled, especially in some of his antics, but he needed to be more the male counterpart of Joan. His dancing was easy and loose and well done.

Sean Morrissey’s choreography was good. There were times, however, when some more razzle dazzle could have been added. Strongest numbers were “Star Tar” and “Good Times are Here to Stay.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you like dancing and singing and don’t give a darn about a believable story line, you’ll go away from ‘DAMES AT SEA’ a happy theatre goer.000000

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Fefu and Her Friends (Cleveland Public Theatre)

‘FEFU AND HER FRIENDS’ is theatre at its best at CPT

Maria Irene Fornes, the author of ‘FEFU AND HER FRIENDS,’ now being creatively and impressively staged at Cleveland Public Theatre, is generally recognized as one of the most important feminist writers of the day. When asked to explain her style and what playwriting is Fornes stated, "You are in heaven. It's like a love affair. And everybody else can disapprove of it and think you're an idiot, but when you had it, you never forget it, and that is really what lives inside you..."

Fornes, a poet/playwright of Cuban-American stock, writes poetically, often with an absurdist bent. She makes things appear out of kilter by the use of the ridiculous, the overblown, the abstract. She allows the audience to come to their own conclusions as she asks questions and creates scenes which often have an abstract quality.

‘FEFU AND HER FRIENDS” concerns eight bright, unique women who gather to plan a program for the educational society to which they belong. Along the way, they explore with humor and anguish their relationships with men, other women, and, most importantly, each other. The year is 1935, long before the era of feminism.

The play, as conceived by Fornes, has a fascinating staging concept. The first act takes place in the performance theatre space which is mounted as a living room in an upper class New England home. As the act develops, the women arrive. For the second act, the audience is divided into four groups and is led by a docent to varying parts of the Cleveland Public Theatre complex. The audience finds themselves sequentially in a garden, a study, a bedroom and a kitchen. As each segment is acted, the sounds of the other scenes can be heard in muted tones. It makes for a fascinating’s as though you are eavesdropping on others while experiencing your part of the world. The third act returns us to the living room set.

The staging device was not created by CPT director Raymond Bobgan. When the play was first written it was staged in a New York loft Fornes took advantage of the rooms in the space by dividing the audience and moving them from place-to-place. The device gets the audience involved in the process of the play and makes the attender an active part of the experience.

What does the play mean? A Fornes’ expert states, “Though written in 1977, the message of ‘FEFU AND HER FRIENDS’ remains ever the same: women don't know what to do with feminism. Or rather, they don't know what to do with themselves. It's a strange, unsettling play, not least because the strong women characters are at a loss with each other and with themselves. Without a man to center around, they disintegrate into cattiness and then madness.” That’s one person’s view. Yours might be quite different and that’s what makes the piece so fascinating. You see the actions, you hear the words, you then get to think for yourself about the meaning.

CPT’s production, under Raymond Bobgan, the venue’s new artistic director, is superb. The cast is flawless, the pacing perfect, the devices all work. As in his past CPT works, ‘BLUE SKY TRANSMISSION: A TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD’ and ‘THE CONFESSIONS OF PUNCH AND JUDY,’ this is an impressive production. Theatre goers can only look forward to more and more of his creativity in plays to come.

The actors are a unity cast. No one stands out, they all stand out. Jill Levin, (Fefu), Chris Seibert, Elizabeth Wood, Holly Holsinger, Anne McEvoy, Denise Astorino, Christine McBurney and Maggie Arndt each develops a unique and complete image. Each clearly achieves the character’s self-definition. They don’t act, they are.

The sets all work well. No set designer is listed in the program, but he or she deserves praise. Joan Horvitz’s costumes and Donald Wasson’s hats help set a perfect era-correct feel. Trad Burns lighting aids the illusion.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: CPT’s ‘FEFU AND HER FRIENDS’ is one of the best local productions of the season. Be warned, however, that if you are an advocate of escapist comedy or light musicals, this may not be your cup of tea. The play requires a probing mind to allow the attender to achieve the maximum effect. Those who come to the theatre with that curiosity will be overjoyed by the experience!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Stratford Festival of Canada, a preview (Stratford-on-Avon, Canada)


The Stratford Festival of Canada takes place in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. The ride from Cleveland is about six hours through Buffalo. Go on-line to the festival to get directions. (The routings offered by both the AAA and Yahoo maps are confusing and miles longer.)

Stratford plays are done in four theatres. This season’s productions are: ‘CORIOLANUS’ (William Shakespeare)--now through September 23; ‘MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING ((William Shakespeare)--now through October 22; ‘OLIVER! (music, lyrics and book by Lionel Bart)--now through October 29; ‘TWELFTH NIGHT’ ((William Shakespeare)--July 30-October 28; ‘THE GLASS MENAGERIE’ (Tennessee Williams)- now through October 22; ‘SOUTH PACIFIC’ (music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II)--now through October 28; ‘LONDON ASSURANCE’ (Dion Boucicault)--now through October 21; ‘DON JUAN’ (Moliere)--English performances from August 1-October 10, French performances from October 12 to 20; ‘HENRY IV, PART I’ ((William Shakespeare)--now through September 24; ‘GHOSTS’ (Henrik Ibsen) -July 25-September 23; ‘THE DUCHESS OF MALFI’ (John Webster)--now through September 23’ ‘HARLEM DUET’ (Djanet Sears)--June 20-September 22; ‘THE BLONDE, THE BRUNETTE, AND THE VENGEFUL REDHEAD’ (Robert Hewett), June 27 September 24; ‘FANNY KEMBLE’ (Peter Hinton)--July 18-September 23; ‘THE LIAR’ (Pierre Corneille)--August 9-September 23.

Besides the regularly scheduled plays the Festival offers public readings, Monday night music, a Celebrated Writers Series, buffet lunch and dinner table talks, special lectures, stage side chats, backstage and costume warehouse tours, and garden tours. The Family Explorer series offers events and activities for the entire family including song and dance workshops and dress rehearsals with the actors.

What’s the lodging like? Hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts abound to fit any wallet. I enjoy the B&Bs where you get to meet local people who operate the facilities and fellow travelers from around the world. My favorite is “The Jennie Forbes Cottage” a charming regency cottage erected in 1857 ( Owners Don and Kathy Spiers are wonderful hosts.

As for shopping, I 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.

Hungry? For moderate cost and high quality, try The Annex Room (38 Albert Street). For a relaxed and fairly inexpensive breakfast treat try Demetre’s Family Eatery (1100 Ontario Street). Cleveland theatrical legends Dorothy and Reuben Silver, who are Statford regulars, recommend The Waterlot Restaurant and Inn (17 Huron Street behind the Royal Bank) in New Hamburg, which is about 20 minutes away “and well worth the trip.”( Also on their favorites list is The Keystone Alley Cafe (34 Brunswick Street) in Stratford ( which has an outdoor patio.

Stratford Escapes, a division of Niagara Falls Tours, is an efficient way to make reservations. For information call 877-356-6385 or go on line to For individual tickets call 800-567-1600 or go on-line to

Helpful hint: To satisfy board requirements carry some official form of identification (passport, or driver’s license with a picture).

Go to Canada, find out what lovely hosts these people are, and see some great theatre!

Shaw Festival (Niagara-on-the Lake, Canada)


The Shaw Festival is conducted in three theatres in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, an easy four-hour trip from Cleveland. You travel through the wine countries of Ohio, New York and Canada enroute. Once you arrive, you will be entranced by the lovely city. It is called the most beautiful city in Canada, and it is! Lovely flowers, classical home architecture and inviting well-stocked shops make for an inviting experience.

This season’s productions are: ‘ARMS AND THE MAN’ (G. Bernard Shaw)--now through October 29; ‘HIGH SOCIETY’ (music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Arthur Kopit)--now through November 19; ‘THE CRUCIBLE’ (Arthur Miller)--now through October 14; ‘TOO TRUE TO BE GOOD’ (G. Bernard Shaw)--now through October 7; ‘THE MAGIC FIRE’ (Lillian Groag), now through October 8; ‘ROSMERSHOLM’ (Henrik Ibsen)--July 5-October 7; ‘LOVE AMONG THE RUSSIANS’ (Anton Chekhov)--now through September 24).

Besides the plays themselves, the Festival includes a reading series, Sunday coffee concerts, a Village Fair and Fete, seminars, backstage tours, pre-show chats, Tuesday Questions and Answers and Saturday Conversations.

The area itself is filled with activities ranging from a golf course within the city limits; an art park (, The Good Earth Cooking School (, the Jordan Village, a diverse blending of fine shopping, dining and antique treasures (, an international chamber music festival (, learning vacations at Niagara College (www.niagaralearning, bike paths, and you can zoom into the whirlpool of the Niagara river on a jet boat.

The Niagara area is dotted with wineries, many of which, besides offering wine tastings and sales, have fine dining restaurants. Our (my wife, the gourmet cook, and me, the eater) dining favorite among the vineyards is Hillebrand Estates Winery, though several others have received positive comments from friends whose palates I trust. We’ll be trying some of these on our visit this July, and I’ll report on those with the reviews of the plays.

There are some wonderful restaurants including our favorites, The Inn on the Twenty (, located in historic Jordan Village about forty minutes from Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Queenston Heights Restaurant ( The latter is located in a park just over the US-Canadian border and has a breathtaking view of the Niagara River gorge.

Greaves Jams and Marmalades is famous for its products since 1927. A Niagara tradition is the Maple Leaf Fudge store. Also, don’t miss out on the several stores that sell yogurt which is blended before your eyes with Niagara fruits.

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 keeps an immaculate home, 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 Don’t wait. Several of my readers have run into “no rooms at the inn” and an apology from Margaret. However, if she doesn’t have room, she’ll find a friend who has space.

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

Tired of waiting for a casino in Cleveland? For those so-inclined, Niagara Falls has a brand-new gambling casino. 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. There is also a large outlet store complex for the bargain shopper. If you are taking kids be aware that a huge new indoor water park has been constructed which connects to several hotels as well as a new entertainment ‘CIRQUE NIAGARA: AVALA ( And, of course, not to be overlooked are the attractions connected to the magnificent falls.

Nocturne (Ensemble)

‘NOCTURNE’ hits wrong notes at ENSEMBLE

‘NOCTURNE’, Paul Zachary’s play, with music by Jonathan Markow, is getting its world premiere at Ensemble Theatre. The show, which is a mix of live jazz music and spoken words, is the story of a sax player who gave up his career in music to become a “successful” married man. His wife, who longs for the exciting days of music and struggle, finds a former jazz great panhandling and becomes his “patron.” She visits the elderly blind African-American man regularly, gives him money and cooks his meals. The husband, thinking she is having an affair, follows her, meets her “lover,” and the husband is transformed back into the man he and his wife want him to be.

In an interview done by Michael Gallucci earlier this year, Licia Colombi indicated that her love affair with the script started 25 years ago when she held a staged reading while living in New York. Columbi indicated that over time, the project gathered dust as its creators moved on to other jobs. Last year, Zachary decided to revive the work, contacted Colombi, reconnected with Markow, and thus, Ensemble got its chance to produce the play.

Columbi states, “The play is a dream and jazz fuels the dream. Underlying the spoken lines, and in scene transitions, jazz music reigns. The music becomes part of the dialogue.”

And, that’s the rub....the music should underlay. It should underscore, set the tone and feel of the play. It should highlight the calm and accent the turbulent moments. Unfortunately, under Colombi’s misguided direction, it doesn’t. The musical sounds and vocal tones don’t parallel each other. Though an excellent musician, Rob Williams’ sax is often too loud, drowning out the actors. The vocal tones of the actors don’t parallel Williams’ sounds. The soulfulness becomes soulless.

It’s the combination of music played without its needed dramatic sound, a stilted writing style, off-centered acting and poor direction that makes the Ensemble production discordant.

The usual dependable Jeff Grover seems overwhelmed with the part of Eldon, the musician gone awry. His acting is all on the surface, he fails to experience the lines, thus he sounds and looks unbelievable.

Valerie Young, another consistently good actress, doesn’t fare much better as Eldon’s wife. Again, the lines don’t give her much to work with, and Colombi hasn’t given her much guidance in how to be the frustrated woman.

Only Robert Williams, as the blind former Jazz great, rises above the script and direction. He has a good touch with the character’s underpinnings and makes the most of each of his scenes.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘NOCTURNE’ needed a dramaturg to help guide the writer’s touch because the concept is good, but the end product is weak. It also needed a director who could get the most out of her actors and blend the music and the voices to their best effect. Unfortunately, Ensemble’s production fails to hit its required high notes.

Friday, June 02, 2006

A Man of No Importance (Beck Center)

‘A Man Of No Importance’--little gem of a musical at BECK

" Your Common Sense Tells You, Best Not Begin, But Your Fool Heart Cannot Help Plungin' In And Nothing and No One Can Stand in Your Way You Just Have to Love Who You Love"
This musical line from, ‘A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE,’ which is now on stage at Beck Center, is the central theme of the 2003 Outer Critics Circle Award winner for Best Off Broadway musical. The script probes the question, “What do you do when your feelings drive you in one direction and your culture pushes you to subvert those feelings for fear of the consequences?”

Written by ‘RAGTIME’ creators Terrence McNally, Lynn Ahrens, and Stephen Flaherty the musical is based on the 1994 Albert Finney movie of the same name. The group also authored ‘ONCE ON THIS ISLAND’ and ‘SEUSSICAL.’

Set in early-1960s Dublin, ‘A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE’ tells the story of Alfie Byrne, an aging gay bus conductor who has never acted on his sexual drives. He shares a sheltered home life with his sister who thinks she can't marry until her brother, who she has loved and protected since childhood, has a wife to take care of him. Alfie's yearnings for a meaningful life finds release in reciting poetry to the bus passengers (despite constant complaints from his supervisor about the bus running late), and directing plays for a group of amateur thespians at the local church. His favorite poet and playwright is Oscar Wilde, a well known “poof,” who paid dearly for his sexual orientation, including being jailed for his love of men.

Alfie thinks his life lacks import, but in reality he has added much to the existence of many. His reading of poetry to his bus rider has, added verse and verve to their humdrum commutes, and his play directing, no matter how bad the end product, adds much to the lives of others. And, in the end, all of us, including Alfie, recognize his significance. "He starts speaking the truth about who he is and how he feels." And, it appears that he will heed the words of Oscar Wilde who stated, “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”

This is not a blockbuster musical. It is a small quiet chamber-sized piece. It fits perfectly into Beck’s intimate studio theatre space. Except for the venue’s poor acoustics and a sometimes overly loud orchestra, the blend of play and space work well.

Even the score is underwritten. None of the sixteen songs is a top 40-hit or has the makings of a classic. In spite of this, there is a nice blending of Irish folk song and musical theatre pop. Key among the offerings is “Princess,” “The Cuddles Mary Gave,” and “Tell Me Why.”

The Beck production, though a little long, is well-paced by director Scott Spence. He has blended the cast into a believable ensemble. Each cast member develops a clear characterization.

As he has proven over-and-over, multi-Times Tribute Award winner Matthew Wright (Alfie), is marvelous. Among the area’s very best musical theatre performers (Beck’s ‘URINETOWN.’ ‘THE IMAGINARY INVALID,’ and ‘THE FIX’), Wright develops a tender, emotionally wracked character who draws great empathy from the audience. His renditions of “Love Who You Love” and “Welcome to the World” are impassioned gems.

Lenne Snively is wonderful as Lily, Alfie’s sister. She has a glorious singing voice and develops both nagging and empathy with equal effectiveness. Her rendition of “The Burden of Life” is the production’s comic showstopper.

Rob Mayes, who successfully portrayed the Stripper in Beck’s ‘THE FULL MONTY,’ proves he is more than a sculpted body. His Robbie, the bus driver who Alfie lusts after, is well-acted and Mayes displays a fine singing voice. His “The Streets of Dublin” is compelling.

Patty Lohr, effectively develops the role of the unwed yet pregnant Adele. Her well performed “Love Who You Love,” clearly carries the script’s message.

Though all the other members of the cast are excellent, Rhoda Rosen, Leslie Feagan and George Roth standout.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE’ is one of those small gems of a musical, which if performed by a proficient cast and molded by a sensitive director, can be an audience pleaser. Beck’s production has the cast and the director to make this a winner!