Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Rat Pack Live At The Sands

RAT PACK’ imitation pleases the fans of the originals at the Palace

Walking into the Palace Theatre in Playhouse Square to see ‘THE RAT PACK LIVE AT THE SANDS,” was like being in a time warp back to the 1960s. The older crowd was dressed in the polyester style of the vintage Vegas. Yes, men in open collared colorful shirts, with crosses nestled in their chest hair and women with “big” hair and plunging necklines.

Why were they at the Palace? They came to see Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., who, along with Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, were the most popular entertainers from the mid-1950s to the 1960s in Vegas. Of course, these weren’t the “real” pack, but that mattered little.

An interesting fact, that few probably know, especially based on his late-in-life conservative leanings, is that Sinatra refused to perform in any establishments that would not give full service to African Americans. As a result Las Vegas properties were forced to abandon their segregation-based policies.

The friends faded from popularity with the rise of the counter culture of the 1960s. Well, they lost popularity with some, but their loyal fans, like those who were at the opening night of ‘THE RAT PACK LIVE AT THE SANDS,’ remained loyal. It didn’t matter that these weren’t the real thing, they represented the real thing, and that appeared to be enough as the audience sang along, laughed at the corny jokes, and were willing to accept this was the closest that they were going to get to their favorite entertainers of the past.

Do not go expect a story line, there is none. What you’ll see is a review that attempts to duplicate an authentic night with the Rat Pack at the Sands Hotel. A night full of Davis clowning and dancing, Dean playing the drunk, and Sinatra playing like Mafioso and singing his favorite songs.

Don’t expect to see duplicates of Sinatra, Davis and Martin. The performers, Stephen Triffitt (Sinatra), David Hayes (Sammy Davis Jr.), and Nigel Casey (Dean Martin) generally look and sound like the originals, but none of them has the dynamism to grab and hold an audience like the men they are portraying. Yes, portraying, not being!

The big band, under the direction of Andy Rumble is excellent. Their versions of “Luck Be a lady,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” “New York, New York,” “Volare,” “What Kind of Fool Am I?,” and “My Way” were excellent.

Capsule judgment: This isn’t a performance for everyone. If you are into the music of the 50s and 60s, and are fans of Sinatra, Davis and Martin, then you’ll enjoy ‘THE RAT PACK LIVE AT THE SANDS.” Otherwise, it might not be your thing.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


WOW! Mesmerizing LUNACY presented by Dobama at CPH

Every once in a while a theatre-goer sees a play and a performance so stunning that the only word that describes it is mesmerizing. That is the case with Dobama Theatre’s world premiere production of Sandra Perlman’s ‘LUNACY.’

Perlman, a Cleveland playwright, who is a member of the Cleveland Play House’s Playwright’s Unit, and a professor of play writing at Case Western University, has penned a short one and a-half hour play (including a brief intermission), which grabs and holds the audience’s attention. This is a fine script!

Perlman is fortunate that director Mark Alan Gordon has a clear grasp of the necessary mood and pacing the script needs, and a cast that gives flawless performances. With a lesser production, the excellence of the script might not come through as strongly as it does.

‘LUNACY’ takes place in 1827, but its implications are timeless. As written, it concerns Edwin Forrest, a twenty-one year old rising star. His acting specialty is Shakespeare. As he is rehearsing ‘KING LEAR,’ Cornelia Lamb, a young Quaker woman, enters the theatre. As a result of her challenge, Forrest becomes wrapped up in the mystery of why Benjamin, Cornelia’s father, not only thinks he is, but is the perfect Lear.

Questions abound. What makes for a perfect performance of a fictional character? Who is crazy, the person who attempts to portray something he is not, or someone who believes and feels that he is the character? What can we learn about reality from those who are, in fact, lunatics? Is our role in life to seek out the perfect role and then live it until we complete the very last line of the character’s play?

Michael Regnier gives a career high performance as Benjamin Lamb. He doesn’t perform Benjamin, Regnier is Benjamin, and, therefore, the perfect Lear. This is a mind blowing enactment. Wow!!! I only wish I could experience Regnier doing a full-length production of ‘KING LEAR.’

Dan Hammond (Edwin) is Regnier’s near match as an actor. Edwin, early in the play, is trying to learn Lear’s lines. He fights to make the character both real and flawless. As the play develops, so does Edwin’s understanding of Lear. Hammond is wonderful while allowing us to experience his awakening to what a real character development is all about. Another Wow!

The third Wow! is Bernadette Clemens’ sensitive portrayal of Cornelia, Benjamin’s daughter. She gives nuance and texture to the role, thus creating a real person who experiences rather than acts feelings.

Director Mark Alan Gordon has created a near-perfect theatrical image. He is sensitive to the characters’ needs to underplay certain segments and rant in others. He has masterfully worked with the actors to key ideas, and correctly pace scenes.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘LUNACY’ has to be ranked near the very top of shows in this area’s local season of fine productions (‘EQUUS’ at Beck, ‘FAT PIG’ at Bang and Clatter, ‘THE PRICE’ at Ensemble, ‘HAY FEVER’ at GLTF .) ‘LUNACY’ is a go see, a must see, an absolutely don’t miss!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

West Side Story

Inconsistent ‘WEST SIDE STORY’ at Carousel

In the program for ‘WEST SIDE STORY,’ now on stage at Carousel Dinner Theatre, the show’s director, Marc Robin, states, “‘WEST SIDE STORY’ is one of the most remarkable shows in the musical theatre catalogue. It has everything: great story, challenging dance sequences, unforgettable music and characters and enough conflict to span five musicals.”

Robin is right on the mark. Often appearing on most musical theatre aficionado’s top five list of great shows, in a good production, the script is a sure-fire audience pleaser.

Carousel’s production has many strong elements, but fails to reach its potential because of an uninspired male corps, dancing which feigned intensity, and a shallow performance by one of the major cast members. The result was polite, if not prolonged applause at the curtain call.

‘WEST SIDE STORY’ uses Shakespeare’s ‘ROMEO AND JULIET’ as its base. In this version two opposing cultural groups conflict over the right to mark off their psychological and physical territory. Set in the west side of New York, the Jets, a gang composed of second generation “Americans” of various ethnicities, conflict with the Sharks, new immigrants from Puerto Rico. The ridiculousness of their warring comes to a head when Tony, a former member of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, whose brother is the leader of the Sharks. A series of killings spells disaster for all.

Set to Leonard Bernstein’s amazing music and Stephen Sondheim’s poignant lyrics, the perfectly integrated book by Arthur Laurents has the story unfold in emotional detail through not only song, but dance. The original choreography by Jerome Robins was some of the finest ever conceived for the theatre.

The show’s score includes such classics as “Something’s Comin,’” “Maria,” “America,” “One Hand, One Heart,” “I Feel Pretty” and “Somewhere.”

Carousel’s production is blessed with some strong performances. Stephanie Iannarino is glorious as Maria. She sings, acts and dances exceptionally well. She makes the play’s final scene compelling due to her well-crafted intensity.

Nathan Scherich starts slowly as Tony, but builds into the role. At times his voice is powerful, hitting the high notes with ease. At other times he goes into a falsetto to achieve the needed sound and at times sings words rather than meanings. His acting is quite believable.

Julie Kotarides (Anita) displays the right Latin temperament, sings well and dances powerfully. As her lover, David Villella creates a believable Bernardo. Jonelle Margallo’s solo in “Somewhere” was emotionally on-target. The female corps, especially those portraying Puerto Ricans, were excellent.

However, in a very pivotal role, Matthew Steffens (Riff) is extremely weak. His acting is shallow, his singing off-key and his character development lacking. Much the same can be said for many of the male chorus. From the opening number where the stalking out of territory lacked reality and emotional tension, to the gym dance, through the rumble, the acceptable choreography was ruined by the lack of spontaneity and dynamism on the part of the male corps. The only male ensemble highlight was the delightful “Gee, Officer Krupke.” It is surprising that a professional theatre of Carousel’s repute, couldn’t find male dancers and actors of higher quality, especially to play major roles.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Carousel’s ‘WEST SIDE STORY,’ in spite of some strong performances, is less than it should be. The main problem lies in the hands of many of the male members of corps and a lack of fine honing by director Mark Robin.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Play House’s LINCOLNESQUE delights audience, especially those with blue state attitudes

With lines such as “Never was there a time when we needed Lincoln more than now,” John Strand’s play ‘LINCOLNESQUE,’ is both current and topical.

The show observes the machinations of the nations’ capital and its political inhabitants through the eyes of two brothers: Leo, a speech writer for a struggling, inept and boring congressional candidate; and Francis, an intelligent and passionate individual, who just happens to believe he's Abraham Lincoln. Well, maybe he believes he’s Lincoln and maybe he’s crafty at playing that he is Lincoln.

When Leo begins to use some of Lincoln’s historical words for inspiration, as supplied by Francis, the level of politics is raised to new ethical heights. There is actually a turn toward the truthful and the honest. Well, at least from the standpoint of the speeches being given. In the process, Strand’s pointed dagger digs deep into innuendos about the present inept leader in the White House and members of congress.

The term Lincolnesque is generally defined as “like or characteristic of Abraham Lincoln: a Lincolnesque compassion.” That’s the definition, but don’t get the idea that this is a play about the legacy of honest Abe. ‘LINCOLNESQUE’ is a comedy. It is a highly entertaining story of brothers who exasperate each other, adversaries who step on each other, and co-workers who spar—then sleep with—each other.

As delightful as many of the lines are, without superb casting and on-target directing, the play could fall flat. Fear not. CPH has a fine cast, and under the adept direction of Michael Bloom, the production is a pleasant exploration.

This is one of those rare productions where every actor seems well suited to and at ease in their roles. As a result, you have a chemistry between the players that allows for excellent comic timing. The result is that everyone, cast and audience, has a good time. (Of course if you are a member of those 70 or so percent who have no confidence in Bush and company, you’ll be totally delighted as the barbs pierce the facade of “compassion” and “honesty.”)

Donald Carrier, who plays Francis, doesn’t portray Lincoln, but is an obvious nut case who thinks he’s Lincoln. His fake beard and deadpan delivery are right on target.

Brian Carter, who looks and sounds like T. R. Knight of TV’S “GRAY’S ANATOMY,” perfectly creates the role of Leo, the insecure speech writer with enough self-esteem issues to make the word “neurotic” seem like an understatement in describing his psychological state.

Tracey Conyer Lee has the attitude edge that makes her a freight train, filled with blind ambition, who doesn’t have the slightest idea of what she is doing as a campaign manager. The play’s laugh highlight is her undressing the toady Leo as she seduces him.

Walter Charles is fine in the dual roles of Stanton, Francis’ indigent friend, and Daly, a brash political king maker.

Capsule judgement: ‘LINCOLNESQUE’ is well paced, well-conceived and well acted. It is a delightful way to start Fusionfest.

Special appreciation to Roe Green, the honorary producer of Fusionfest. Roe, who is a former student, does me proud each time she steps up to sponsor this and many other Cleveland area arts projects. Standing ovation to ROE!