Saturday, December 26, 2009

Times Theatre Tributes--2009


Greater Cleveland is blessed with a vital theatre scene. It is the purpose of the TIMES THEATRE TRIBUTES to recognize theatrical experiences that, in the mind of this reviewer, were excellent and deserve special recognition.

Only shows performed in 2009 which I reviewed were considered. Selections were limited to locally produced stagings, so none of the professional touring shows are recognized, though actors, directors and technicians who were imported by local theatres were considered. Actors are not separated by gender or leading or supporting roles.

If there are any spelling errors on the list please let me know so I can change the permanent record on my blog.

If you would like to read any of my reviews for the year, please go to, enter the blog and click on “2009 Reviews” or click on the name of the producing theatre and scroll through their performances. Reviews from previous years may also be accessed.


CRAVE (Theatre Ninjas)
no CHILD (Cleveland Public Theatre)

I LOVE YOU BECAUSE (Playhouse Square)
PIPPIN (Cain Park)

Dominguez, Nina, no CHILD (CPT)
Folino, Dan, SWEENEY TODD (Lakeland)
Hammer, Joel, BLACKBIRD (Dobama)
Little, Kristi, YELLOWMAN (Karamu)
Mach, Corey, PIPPIN (Cain Park)
Primous, Kyle, YELLOWMAN (Karamu)

Also, thanks to the following for making the 2009 theatre scene in the Cleveland area stimulating and memorable:

CRAVE (Theatre Ninjas)
FOR BETTER (Actors’ Summit)
I LOVE YOU BECAUSE (Playhouse Square)
no CHILD (Cleveland Public Theatre)
PIPPIN (Cain Park)

Bussert, Victoria, A LOVE YOU BECAUSE (Playhouse Square)
Bussert, Victoria, PIPPIN (Cain Park)
Maudlin, Michael, RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET (CSU-Summer Stages)
Messina, Jenna, OPTIMUM FOR PRESIDENT (Fourth Wall)
Ortenzi, Lisa, no CHILD (Cleveland Public Theatre)
Paul, Jeremy, CRAVE (Theatre Ninjas)
Plate, Scott, BLACKBIRD (Dobama)
Robbins, Sonya, DREAM/HOME (Dobama)
Spence, Scott, EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL (Beck)
Sternfeld, Fred, YELLOWMAN (Karamu)
Thackaberry, A. Neil, FOR BETTER (Actors’ Summit)
Thomas, Rohn, ODD COUPLE, Porthouse
Verciglio, Joe, H.R. (Dobama)

Bredeson-Smith, Lucy, CRAVE (Theatre Ninjas)
Bredeson-Smith, Lucy, BIG LOVE (convergence-continuum)
Bruno, J. R., [title of show], (BW/PLAYHOUSE SQUARE)
Busser, John, THE GOOD DOCTOR (Ensemble)
Cataan, Ursula, THE SHADOW BOX (CSU-Summer Stages)
Chanenka, Lydia, THE SHADOW BOX (CSU-Summer Stages)
Cranendonk, Terence, CRAVE (Theatre Ninjas)
Crouch, Kevin, THE SEAGULL (GLTF)
Cummins, Jackie, THE ALICE SEED (CPT)
Domingue, Nina, no CHILD (CPT)
Folino, Dan, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY ITCH (Hi Fi Concert Club)
Folino, Dan, SWEENEY TODD (Lakeland)
Garrigan, Alison, SWEENEY TODD (Lakeland)
Hammer, Joel, BLACKBIRD (Dobama)
Harper, Ciara, THE WILD PARTY (BW)
Koester, Nick, BLASTED (B&C)
Kozlenko, Val, CRAVE (Theatre Ninjas)
Little, Kristi, YELLOWMAN (Karamu)
Mach, Corey, I LOVE YOU BECAUSE (Playhouse Square)
Mach, Corey, PIPPIN (Cain Park)
Myor, Jennifer, ME AND MY GIRL (Mercury)
Nagel, Maryann, GREY GARDENS (Beck)
Patterson, Tracee, RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET (CSU-Summer Stages)
Prentice, Christian, OUROBOROS (convergence-continuum)
Primous, Kyle, YELLOWMAN (Karamu)
Rosenfeld, Ethan, PANGS OF THE MESSIAH (JCC)
Roth, George, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (Beck Center)
Schwartz, Layla, CRAVE (Theatre Ninjas)
Seman, Larry, FOR BETTER (Actors’ Summit)
Smith Kelly, PETER PAN (Beck)
Smith, David Anthony, TWELFTH NIGHT (GLTF)
Stewart, Paul Anthony, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (CPH)
Van Baars, Eric, 14 (Kent State University Theatre)
Van Baars, Eric, ODD COUPLE (Porthouse)
Violand, Greg, THE SHADOW BOX (CSU-Summer Stages)
Weldon, Alyssa, BLACKBIRD (Dobama)
Williams, Natasha Yvette, MAHLIA (CPH)
Zoldessy, Brian, THE ODD COUPLE (Fairmount)

Composite cast
CRAVE (Theatre Ninjas)
FOR BETTER (Actors’ Summit)
HEAVEN’S MY DESTINATION (Cleveland Play House)
I LOVE YOU BECAUSE (Playhouse Square)
LADY (Bang and Clatter)
ODD COUPLE (Porthouse)

Borski, Russ, set and costume design, GREY GARDENS (BECK)
Borski, Russ, set design, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (Beck Center)
Burns, Trad, scenic and lighting design, THE FARNSWORTH INVENTION (Beck)
Couture, Francois-Pierre, BEETHOVEN, A I KNEW HIM (CPH)
Davis, Jeff, lighting design, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (CPH)
Davis, Jill, set design, ALL’S WELL THAT END’S WELL, CWRU MFA Acting Company
Folino, Dan and PJ Toomey, special effects, EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL (Beck)
Gould, Richard, set design, MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (BECK)
Herrmann, Jeff, set design, THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (GLTF)
Herrmann, Jeff, set design, THE WILD PARTY (BW)
Hu, Tiffany, costume design, CINDERELLA, Mercury Summerstock
Karpinski, Todd, set design, DREAM/HOME (Dobama)
Kata, Takeshi, set design, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (CPH)
Kondilas, Tom, video designer, BIG LOVE, convergence-continuum
McBride, Don, set design, EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL (Beck)
Metheny, Russell, THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, (GLTF)
Michalak, Amber, painting of the set, PANGS OF THE MESSIAH (JCC)
Middleton, Rayna, costume design, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (Porthouse)
Needhanm, Ben, scenic design, PETER PAN (Beck)
Roech, Michael, scenic design, THE RECEPTIONIST & H.R. (Dobama)
Savage, Lee, set design, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (CPH)
Smith, Jim, set design, BIG LOVE, convergence-continuum
Sparano, Jenniver, costume design, EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL (Beck)
Tarantowski, Laura Carlson, set design, PANGS OF THE MESSIAH (JCC)
VanCurtis, Jeffrey, costume design, ALL’S WELL THAT END’S WELL, CWRU MFA Acting Company
Williams,, Gage, set design, TWELFTH NIGHT (GLTF)
Yetman, Charlotte, costume design, THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROO (GLTF)
Yetman, Charlotte, costumes, THE WILD PARTY (BW)

Carney, Eddie, GOODSPELL (Mercury Summer Stock)
Carney, Eddie, ME AND MY GIRL (Mercury Summer Stock)
Garrett, Ryan, musical accompaniment, [title of show] (BW, PLAYHOUSE SQ)
Goodpaster, Larry, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (Beck Center)
Goodpaster, Larry, PETER PAN (Beck)
Maier, Nancy, PIPPIN (Cain Park)
Taylor, Brian, THE WILD PARTY (BW)
Webb, Matthew, I LOVE YOU BECAUSE (Playhouse Square)
Yurich, Dennis, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (Hi Fi Concert Club)

Brault, Pierre-Jacques, CINDERELLA (Mercury Summer Stock)
Brault, Pierre-Jacques, GODSPELL (Mercury Summer Stock)
Céspedes, Martin PETER PAN (Beck)
Céspedes, Martin, EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL (Beck)
Céspedes, Martin, I LOVE YOU BECAUSE (Playhouse Square)
Céspedes, Martin, PIPPIN (Cain Park)
Céspedes, Martin, THE WILD PARTY (BW)

Michael Bloom, Fusion Fest, CPH
Jewish Community Center for their good intentions in commissioning a play that would commemorate the Cleveland Jewish Community
Eric Coble for his authorship of ‘H.R.’ and ‘FOR BETTER’
Margi Herwald Zitelli for her authorship of ‘OPTIMUS PRIME FOR PRESIDENT’
Sarah Morton for her authorship of ‘DREAM/HOME’
Mercury Summerstock for the initiation of “My First Musical Program,” a program which makes available performances to children who would otherwise not have the opportunity to attend live theatre.
Roe Green, for her financial backing of the JCC Arts program, as well as her contributions to the Kent State University Theatre and Dance programs
John Cameron for his authorship of ‘14’

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

January 2010 Theatre/Dance Calendar

January is coming and the theatre and dance season looks promising!

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association and Dance Critics Association)


Lorain County Times--Westlaker Times--Lakewood News Times--Olmsted-Fairview Times


January in Cleveland is normally dark and dreary, but attending a dance or theatre offering can be a good break from the overcast skies. Here’s a list of offerings that you can experience.


Box Office:
January 29-February 21
Left alone by his wife, an African American math professor is forced to face the ghosts of his ancestors as they shatter the silence of his insomnia.

January 23-February 15
Box Office: 216-795-7070
The grounds of George Washington’s presidential home erupt into an emotional minefield when two opposing African-American politicos weigh in on how to honor both American liberty and the memory of the nine slaves who lived in the eight-by-eight foot square quarters on site. Based on real events, the play exposes a modern challenge of successful African-Americans while revealing still-hidden prejudices.

Box Office: 330-342-0800
January 7-January 24
An evening with baseball legend Yogi Berra, the man who said: "I didn't really say everything I said."

Box Office for all Playhouse Square Center shows: 216-241-6000

Palace Theatre
January 12- 24
Broadway's hit musical, the recipient of six Tony Awards, two Olivier Awards and a Grammy, is a tale of sin, corruption and all that jazz. If you loved the Academy Award-winning film, nothing beats the live show, and if you are already intimately acquainted with the musical, experience that sizzle again.

Hanna Theatre
January 16
Jon Leiken and Friends relate the untold story of the greatest city on the earth through speech and song. Special guests: Michelle Federer (WICKED), David Wain (THE STATE), Larry Marrow, and students from Mercer School and Shaker Heights High School. This performance a benefit for the Great Lakes Theatre Festival.

Ohio Theatre
January 30
Presented by Dance Cleveland and Cuyahoga Community College
Bill T. Jones’s newest work, FONDLY DO WE HOPE…FERVENTLY DO WE PRAY, examines the legacy of Abraham Lincoln.

Breen Center opposite St. Ignatius High School
Tickets: 216-961-2560
January 17

January 8-31
Tickets: 216-795-7000
Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning comedy which is set in Yonkers, New York, in 1942, focuses on two young brothers, Arty and Jay, left in the care of their feuding relatives, Grandma Kurnitz (played by Broadway veteran Rosemary Prinz) and Aunt Bella.

Groundworks at the new Breen Center
2008 W. 30th Street, Cleveland
Tickets: 216-961-2560
January 22 and 23, 2010 at 8 p.m.
Program: World Premiere of a commissioned work by choreographer Dianne McIntyre with composer Olu Dara; DELAYED by Zvi Gotheiner; POLARITY by David Shimotakahara

January 8-24
4530 Colorado Avenue in Sheffield Village, Ohio
Tickets: 440-949-5200
Jason Robert Brown’s play about Jamie, who is an up-and-coming Jewish writer and Cathy an up-and coming summer stock actress. Mirroring their self-absorbed identities, Jamie and Cathy sing the story of their marriage from differing perspectives: Jamie from beginning to end, Cathy from ending to beginning. And never the two shall meet?

January 28 - February 13
Anna Bella Eema
Tickets: 216-631-2727 x501
Written by Lisa D'Amour
Anna Bella Eema is a dark comedy about a woman, her daughter, and a strange girl in a trailer park. Written by Obie Award Winning playwright Lisa D'Amour, it combines creepy campfire stories, music, sound and fairy tales in an original, highly stylized one-act.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Peter Pan

‘PETER PAN’ flies into the hearts of kids at Beck

Just before the conclusion of Beck Center’s ‘PETER PAN’ a short scene was needed to give time to change the sets. So Peter (John Paul Soto) and Tiger Lilly (Alexis Generette Floyd) stood in front of the closed front curtain, and asked some children in the audience to come on stage and “crow.” Three little ones, a shy girl and two vocal boys, bounded up. One of the boys, probably having been Peter for Halloween, came forth in a total Peter Pan costume, making him look like a clone of Soto. The kids on stage crowed, the kids in the audience crowed, and the entire experience was charming. And so was most of the rest of the production.

Beck’s Artistic Director Scott Spence decided to bring back ‘PETER PAN’ for yet another holiday season. But this time, he took over as director, whacked away at the overly long script, brought in a new Hook (George Roth), and supported him with many of last year’s strong cast and production team.

‘PETER PAN’ is a musical adaptation of J. M. Barrie's 1904 play. The music is mostly by Mark Charlap, with additional music by Jule Styne. Most of the lyrics were written by Carolyn Leigh, with additional words by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
The 1954 Broadway musical production, which starred Mary Martin as Peter and Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook, earned Tony Awards for both stars. The show has enjoyed many revivals and has become a holiday staple at many theatres.

The story centers on Peter, a boy who ran away from his parents because he heard them discussing what he would be when he grew up. Peter didn’t want to grow up. He desires to be a boy forever. Missing a mother for himself and the other Lost Boys, he talks Wendy, a young British girl, into coming to Neverland and being the troupe’s mother. She flies away, with her brothers, John and Michael, to find a world of Indians, pirates and a crocodile. It’s a fantasy with a strong underlying message.

The highlight of the Beck production is Martin Céspedes’ choreography. He is a master at taking a group of semi-talented movers and making them appear to be dancing with ease and delight. His restaging of last year’s choreography, with a few new tricks, works again, especially in “Ugg-a-Wugg,” and “Indians.”

In contrast to the usual productions of the show, Peter is played by a male rather than a female. This gives a totally different dimension to the role. In the hands of Soto, Peter is not delicate and charming, but all boy. In fact, he may be too manly to being portraying a kid who doesn’t want to grow up, but in general the interpretation works. He is softer this year than last, but he still has trouble in the higher song registers.

Kelly Smith, as in the past, is engaging as Wendy. This is one talented young lady. She sings and acts well and is totally believable.

Brothers Lincoln and Stephen Sandham (there are four Sandham brothers in this production) are British-correct as John and Michael. Stephen is a little scene stealer, and lights up the stage with his antics.

Floyd is delightful as Tiger Lily, the leader of a group of the nicely performing tribe of female Indians. She dances and sings with vigor.

Some of the lost boys are a disappointment. Often their lines are flat, lacking meaning and there is tendency for several to look at the audience during scenes, breaking continuity rather than staying focused on the action and reacting to what is going on.

The pirates are acceptable, but generally lack the dynamics that should make them outrageously funny bumblers, rather than ruthless cutthroats.

George Roth is the new Father and Captain Hook. It appears that he decided to underplay the Hook role, so he loses some of the fun that is usually inherent in the overblown version of the role. He’s not bad, just a little lacking in dynamics. Often, in other productions, when Hook meets his doom, the kids applaud. Nothing here.

The fight scene, which should be swashbuckling and a hoot, lacks energy. It is very plotted and is almost slow motion. Maybe a strobe light would have helped.

Do you believe in fairies? The kids on the night I saw the show sure did. They seemed primed and ready for the scene where Peter informs the audience
that Tinker Belle, his personal fairy, will die if children don’t clap and yell that they believe. Several of the children around me yelled and clapped and jumped around so much that I’m sure they went home hoarse. Yes, they believed!

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck’s ‘PETER PAN’ is generally a delight and should be loved by the kids of all ages who see the show. It’s a nice holiday break from the usual Christmas plays.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Underwhelmaing ‘NUTCRACKER’ by Winnipeg Ballet at Allen

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ‘NUTCRACKER’ is a musical score that lends itself to a dynamic ballet. It is musically filled with passion and lyrical texturing. In the hands of a creative choreographer and the proper lead dancers, the stage explodes with excitement and delight.

Unfortunately, though they presented a ballet that was proficiently danced, the overall effect of the Winnipeg Ballet’s presentation of the Christmas time classic was a lack of passion. It was bland. Maybe those north of the border would say, “Canadian sensibility” prevailed.

Traditionally, ‘NUTCRACKER’ is set at Christmas time in Tchaikovsky’s Russia in the late 1800s or a British Victorian home. This version is set in Canada in 1913. The plot revolves around 12-year old Clara, whose family is hosting a large holiday party. Clara receives nutcracker from Drosselmeier, her Godfather. She takes the doll to bed with her and spends the night dreaming of various adventures including a fight with mice and a magical swan sleigh ride.

On the positive side, the usual excessive amount of walking often found in ‘NUTCRACKER’ stagings is eliminated, the sets are gorgeous, the costumes era correct, the orchestrations work well. A cute bit with a Canadian bear, the delightful young corps of local children, and a charming snow ballet complete with falling snow, add to the positives. A clever device of having hockey players cavort during the overture, which shows guests arriving for the party, is definitely a Canadian addition.

Anyone who saw Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriguez, of the late Cleveland Ballet, dance Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, know how enthralling the performance of those roles can be. On Thursday night, Vanessa Lawson danced the role of Clara. Lawson is a fine dancer, but lacked the necessary enchanting presence. Gael Lambiotte, who performed as the Nutcracker Prince opposite Lawson, was also competent, but lacked the needed prince charming charm. Alexander Gamayunov didn’t radiate the dynamism usually inhabited by Drosselmeier. The battle between The Mouse King and the Nutcracker Prince lacked excitement.

Positive performances were mounted by Maureya Lebowitz, who was delightful in the Chinese segment of the Kingdom sequence, as were Jo-Ann Sundermeier, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Robert Pleschke and Liam Caines in the Arabian segment.

Not once during the presentation were the cries of “bravo,” so common at well-performed ballets, heard. There was no traditional Cleveland standing ovation during the curtain call. The children sitting around me were not entranced. Not an “ooh” or “wow” came from their lips. Their eyes were not twinkling with wonder.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: At the conclusion of the performance of Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s ‘NUTCRACKER,’ the adorable nine-year old girl sitting behind me was asked by her mother, “Did you like it?” Her response was a perfect review of the evening. She sighed and said, “It was okay.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gutenberg! The Musical

‘GUTENBERG!’, a slapstick musical spoof at Dobama

This is the time of year when theatres go in three directions: serious scripts with moral messages (think ‘A CHIRSTMAS CAROL’ at Great Lakes Theatre Festival and ‘GODS TROMBONES’ at Karamu); family warm and fuzzy (‘A CHRISTMAS STORY’ at Cleveland Play House and ‘A LITTLE HOUSE CHRISTMAS’ at Magical Theatre), or just plain out and out goofy (‘THE SANTALAND DIARIES’ and ‘BROWNS RULES’ both at Cleveland Public Theatre).

Dobama, now settled in its new home on Lee Road, has chosen to go goofy with ‘GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL.’ The script by Scott Brown and Anthony King, was the winner of the 2006 New York Theatre Festival Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre Writing.

It is billed as a two-man musical spoof about a pair of aspiring playwrights auditioning their new project, a big, splashy musical about printing press inventor Johann Gutenberg. Quickly we discover that their dreams are ill-advised and those in attendance aren’t really “producers” but theatre attendees.

Using a multiple number of blue baseball caps adorned with the name of the character being portrayed, such as Gutenberg, The Anti-Semite, Beef Fat Trimmer, Helvetica, Monk, Young Monk, Rats, and Feces, the duo play all 30 or so parts.

The music from the show is basically unmemorable, and consists of such ditties as “I Can’t Read,” “The Press Song,” “What’s the Word?” and “Tomorrow is Tonight.” There is a charming ballad entitled “Biscuits,” and “Words, Words, Words” is a show highlight. The sound is rock, rap, ballad and show tunes.

Critical reviews of the NY festival and the off-Broadway production called the production, “A gleefully goofy affair that is loaded with laughs” and “Riotously funny.”

The Dobama production, under the direction of Marc Moritz and musical director Brad Wyner, who also plays the piano to accompany the goings on, is fun, but not of the level of praise applied to it in New York.

Dane Castle, who is a BFA Music Theatre major at Kent State, and Chris Richards, a recent graduate of KSU, are full of youthful enthusiasm. They put out total effort, to the effect that the audience is as exhausted as they are by the end of the show. Their comic timing is basically good. Their singing voices are acceptable for the musical requirements of the score. They are, however, pretty hard to accept as being the authors and that may be why what locals see is not what was experienced in New York. Would the whole thing work with veteran actors who know how to milk an audience? As is, too much of what goes on is just too “staged” for it to be spontaneous. Maybe as the show runs, the boys will learn to make the goings on look and feel more adlibbed, which is needed to pull in the audience.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Don’t go to Dobama expecting to learn about how Gutenberg invented the printing press, or gain any mind bending message. ‘GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL’ is a slight piece of ridiculousness that is good for some laughs, if you are in the right mood and just let your sensibilities flow away and appreciate the efforts of the two enthusiastic young performers.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

A Christmas Story

‘A CHRISTMAS STORY on stage’ is soon to be a memory at CPH

It’s that time of year when theatres roll out their holiday cash cows, yearly offerings which fill the seats and help make the rest of the schedule possible. Great Lakes is offering ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL,’ Cleveland Public Theatre is showcasing, ‘THE SANTALAND DIARIES,’ Karamu welcomes “GOD’S TROMBONES,’ Beck flies in ‘PETER PAN,’ Magical Theatre Company takes us to the prairie in, ‘A LITTLE HOUSE CHRISTMAS’ and for the fifth year Cleveland Play House brings up the curtain on ‘A CHRISTMAS STORY.’ Unfortunately, it’s the last showing of the script.

Though ‘A CHRISTMAS STORY’ takes place in Hohman, Indiana in 1938, most Clevelanders consider the movie and the play to be ours. Yes, part of the movie was made here, using a house at 3159 West 11th Street, which is now the official “A Christmas Story House,” and which you can tour to see many of the now famous visual images including the leg lamp. And, yes, Higbee’s decorated holiday windows and the welcome to Santa parade were centerpieces for the movie. But, to be honest, most of the film was shot in Toronto because the usual Cleveland “bad weather” refused to cooperate and there was no real snow for the outdoor shoots.

The film, as directed by Bob Clark, is a semi-fictional series of anecdotes of author, story teller and radio personality Jean Shepherd. It includes material from his books, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey's story Night of Golden Memories. ,

Though not a box office hit, the movie has become a holiday tradition through numerous television viewings. The film stared Peter Billingsley as Ralphie, Darren McGavin as The Old Man (Ralphie’s father) and Scott Schwartz as Flick, the kid gets his tongue stuck on a metal light pole. The play, as written by Philip Grecian, parallels the film.

A charming light comedy, the story centers on 9-year-old Ralphie Parker whose Christmas want-list includes only one thing: "an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time."

It’s a snapshot of life pre-television, Nintendo Wii, and gas furnaces. The days when the major trauma in Ralphie’s life centered on putting up with his weird younger brother, Randy, confronting school bully, Scut Farkus, and hanging out with his sidekicks, Flick and Schwartz. He feels the pangs of first love, in the form of Esther Jane. There is also his punishment of sucking on Lifeboy soap for swearing, waiting with impatience for his Secret Decoder pin from Little Orphan Annie, and his “watch the margins” teacher. There are the annual trip to visit Santa Claus at Higbee’s, the next door neighbor’s dogs who hated “The Old Man,” and the wars with the clinkers in the coal furnace. Oh, for the return to those days of innocence.

The CPH production, under the direction of Seth Gordon, is delightful. All the elements are there for enjoyment.

The adorable and talented Joey Stefanko is Ralphie, Charles Kartali is the bigger than life “Old Man,” Elizabeth Ann Townsend is the always right-on mother, Matthew Taylor is the “I have to go wee-wee” Randy (probably the best of all the kids who played this role at CPH), charming Olivia Doria is Esther Jane, Courtney Anne Nelson is the smart and feared Helen, Christian Flaherty, is the “if there is trouble I’m going to get into it’ Flick, Daniel Sovich acts well but is actually too handsome to be the menacing Scut Farkas, Christopher Burns is the reminiscing older Ralph and Pat Nesbit is the up-tight teacher.

The set is visually appealing, especially Santa’s home at Higbee’s.

Alex, “the kid reviewer,’” my 14 year old grandson who I take along to see if shows are kid friendly, loved the show, giving it an 8.5 on a ten point scale. He delighted in the farcical elements, liked the characterizations and, though he warned that there were “old time” references, like clinkers in the furnace, Little Orphan Annie and Lifeboy soap, he assured me, “kids will like this show.”

BTW….As much as I like to encourage parents to bring their children to the theatre, there were some younger kids on reviewer’s night who should not have been there. One child screamed his way through most of the first act and, at intermission, proceeded to almost wreck a Christmas tree in the lobby. Some discretion needs to be made in bringing young kids to any theatre production and a little discipline, other than smacking a child, which only encouraged more crying, is in order.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: So long to Cleveland Play House’s ‘A CHRISTMAS STORY on stage.’ It’s been a good run. For those who haven’t seen in it, go! For those who have, go again, and have a sweet memory of life as it was!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ouroboros: The Priest's Tale

‘OUROBOROS’ makes for challenging viewing at convergence continuum

'OUROBOROS,’ the name of the duo of plays now being staged at convergence continuum, is based on a snake, a Greek mythological creature. A being that, according to legend, is eternally devouring it's own tail, replenishing while destroying.

Tom Jacobson’s play also replenishes while it destroys as it examines the intersecting quest of two American couples as they travel Italy. The odd thing about what’s going on is that both couples are traveling the same route, but in opposite directions. How then do we continue to observe them as there paths continually intersect?

The play is actually two plays. One, ‘THE NUN’S TALE,’ the other ‘THE PRIEST’S TALE.’ One is a comedy, the other a tragedy. Each is being staged separately, but in tandem.

The quartet consists of a Lutheran minister and his mentally fragile wife who is in Italy to examine Limoges enamels, and a would-be Episcopalian nun traveling with her gay friend, who is trying to recover from the death of his lover. In the aftermath of a sexual encounter between the minister and the nun, a series of “miracles” occur.

The author sees himself as a combination of the two main male characters— he's gay and Lutheran. And the two women in the play are based on his friend who is an Episcopalian nun.

According to Jacobson, his characters are searching for love, faith and meaning. He therefore structured "THE NUN'S TALE" so the nun and her gay friend find their lives transformed, while in "THE PRIEST'S TALE," it's the minister and his wife who are gradually transformed.

The congruence-continuum production, under the theatre’s artistic director Clyde Simon, is on track. He allows the viewer to understand the backward-forward concept, while holding our attention, even if we may not understand all of the nuances of the script.

The cast, Joe Schultz (Philip) is believable as the minister, Amy Bistok-Bunce (Catherine), though some of her lines lack meaning, is acceptable as Phillip’s wife. Sarah Kunchik (Margaret) is basically on-target as the nun. Geoffrey Hoffman goes a little overboard as the fey Tor, but has a nice touch with humor. Interestingly, Christian Prentice, who plays a series of roles, gives the best overall performance.

Simon’s Italy set is nicely done, especially considering the small size of The Limitus (the venue’s name).

For the ‘uptight,” be aware that in ‘THE PRIEST’S TALE,’ there are simulated sex scene’s including both female-male and male-male sex.

Capsule Judgement: ‘OURBOROS’ is a mixture of déjà vu meets “The Twilight Zone.” Both the structure and the topic challenge the imagination. It’s worth a visit to convergence-continuum if you are interested a convoluted yet challenging experience.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Browns Rules

Browns not only fumble at stadium, but at CPT

As evidenced in the world premiere of ‘BROWNS RULES’ by local playwright Eric Schmiedl, our local football team doesn’t come out much better on stage than on the field. The script, like the team’s play book, is weak in many parts, and though the cast tries hard, the final product doesn’t score enough to be a winner. Director Bill Hoffman’s lack of clarity of purpose simply doesn’t give the actors the needed guidance, seemingly paralleling the actions of the Browns’ coach Eric Mangini (Boo!).

Staged on a creative brown and orange locker room set designed by Curtis Young, the script attempts to deal with the history of the modern Browns, starting with the 1945 team headed by Paul Brown. How did the team get its name? In a contest, the moniker Browns was selected, but the coach, Paul Brown objected, so the name Panthers was chosen. That identification was dropped because a local businessman already owned that name of an earlier failed local football team. So, Browns was the moniker and the Brownie Elf the logo. It remained so until Art Modell (Boo!) did away with the Brownie in the mid-1960s, believing it to be too childish. Its use has been revived under the current ownership. (Hurrah!)

The team became a success and dominated the All-America Football Conference. There were ups and downs, mostly ups with championships, and the eras of Jim Brown, Brian Sipe, The Kardiac Kids and Bernie Kosar. Then the worst of the worst happened. Team owner Art Modell (Boo!) announced on November 6, 1995, that he had signed a deal to relocate the Browns to Baltimore (Boo!). However, in February 1996, the National Football League caved in to media and litigation pressures by announcing that the team would merely be 'deactivated' for three years, and that a new stadium would be built for a new "reactivated" Cleveland Browns (Hurrah!). Unfortunately, the present team is a mere shadow of the “old” Browns.

The show’s title comes from a skit in which audience members are asked to submit the “rules” that must be followed to be a Browns’ fan. The entries are then read by the lighting/sound person amidst cheers and moans from the audience and the cast.

Schmiedl does a nice job of creating songs that highlight the highs and lows of the history of, and being a fan of, the brown and orange. If he had stuck to only that, he would have been fine. Unfortunately, he added an embarrassing interview with a senile old man, a lame section on Browns’ backers clubs around the world and a pathetic segment on superstitions. There was also some improv which often didn’t work. It’s not clear how much of that was actually in the script or was “actors gone wild.”

The show is too long. Maybe a ninety-minute, no intermission version might have worked. In fact, Schmiedl could probably get bookings at the many, many Browns backers clubs around the world if he went that route.

Clever songs included “Automatic Otto,” “With You,” and “All Night, All Day.” Others like, “Let’s Eat” and “That’s the Way It Is,” were weak. The music varied from rock, to polka, ballad and nationality music, echoing the ethnicity of the city.

The cast, which included Schmiedl, Nathan Lilly and Nick Koesters, put out full effort; however, Hoffman, seemed unable to clearly keep them on track and under control, especially Koesters. Koesters, one of my favorite local actors, was just too over the top in this production. He displayed no restraint. Energy is good, blatant overacting and “eating the scenery” is not.

Schmiedl has a nice charm, Lily has a wonderfully mobile face and an engaging singing voice. But, there seemed to be no clear motivation for some of their actions.

The band, Joe Milan, Eric Percherkiewicz and Bill Hoffman are good, but often get carried away and drown out the singers, who, because of the poor acoustics in the theatre are hard enough to hear, as is.

The audience on the night I saw the show was very vocal. They actually created a football game like atmosphere, making the material look better than it is. Was that caused by the beer sold before the show and during intermission, or just unbridled enthusiasm?

Capsule judgement: How can you not love a football team with an Elf for a logo? Well, the present Browns and ‘BROWNS RULES’ give reasons to not show much affection.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Doug Elkins and Friends delight in ‘THE SOUND OF MUSIC’ take-off

As evidenced by ‘FRÄULEIN MARIA,’ his take-off of the musical ‘THE SOUND OF MUSIC,’ which was recently presented by DanceCleveland at the Hanna Theatre, Doug Elkins may well be the crown prince of comic dance choreography.

‘THE SOUND OF MUSIC’ is a stage musical based losely on the von Trapp family who escaped Europe at the onset of World War II after being harasssed by the Nazis. The musical is inspirational, farily serious and contains Rogers and Hammerstein’s usual social message of the better way to live.

Now, picture the goings-on as envisioned by Elkins.

The evening is introduced by Richard Rogers. Well, its a spotlight on the center of the stage which represents the song wirter and is supplemented by a tape recording of the great man, who probably rolls over in his grave every time Elkins and Friends does a take off on his beloved musical score.

Since the story takes place in the hills of Austria, we need hills. These are created by dancers encased in and waving green and tan strips of fabric. A snow capped mountain is formed by Elkins (who not only choreographed the performance but dances in it as well) leaping off the stage, snatching a white shawl off the shoulders of a woman in the front row, running back onto the stage and tossing it on top of one of the hills. This is done while hip hop, classical ballet, contemporary and modern dance, martial arts moves and improvised maneuvers are exploding on stage to the entire score from the musical.

Then there is Maria the singing nun turned nanny, turned dressmaker, turned mommy, who is simultaneously performed by three different dancers, one an African American male.

You think attending a dance concert is a passive experience? Not in Elkins’ creative hands. You will--yes, you will--take part by singing “Do-Re-Mi,” in three-part harmony, lead by Elkins, himself.

Elkins is not your usual run of the mill choreographer. He started his performance life as a B-boy. A break dancer who toured the world with groups like the New York Dance Express and Magnificent Force. And, with that background, as you watch the madcap antics on stage, you will surely note that his work is inventive, eccentric and compelling.”

Even Elkins choice of dancers is not traditional. While most dance companies go for thin woman and muscle toned males, Elkins favors sturdy, often fleshy men and women, with lots of power. There's nothing exotic, about this company, but, they are talented. And, as can be expected, their backgrounds don’t fit the usual company description. One of the males just started dance training in January. He’s a gymnast and martial arts expert.

The company is reinforced by local professionals who were chosen via a tryout. They are Kelly Michael Brunk from Groundworks, Ellen Ressler Hoffman of Repertory Project and Footpath Dance, Amy Miller, Groundworks, Rebecca Nicklos, MegLousie Dance and Morrison Dance and Marie Zvosec, Ohio Dance Theatre. They perform in a fantastic hip-hop segment set to “Climb Every Mountain.”

Even the curtain call was fun.

Capsule judgement: . ‘FRÄULEIN MARIA’ was an evening of dance not to be missed! Too bad Elkins only performed twice because word of mouth would have filled additional stagings. Let’s hope that Pam Young, Executive Director of DanceCleveland, brings Elkins back in the very near future.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Wonderful ‘WICKED’ wows ‘em again at State

How good is the production of ‘WICKED’ which is now appearing at the State Theatre? My 14-year old grandson, known as the Kid Reviewer because I take him along to give the teen/tween view of shows, gave it a 9.5 out of 10 on his “rate the play scale.” Why only a 9.5? He said he’s reserving the 10 for the most unbelievable show he’s ever seen. But, he indicated “’WICKED’ was GREAT!” Why? “It had everything. Great story, outstanding production qualities…sets, costumes, lights, special effects. The music and the performances were awesome.” His advice: “Go see this show! It’s appropriate for kids and their parents.”

‘WICKED,’ an alternative view of the ‘WIZARD OF OZ,’ tells the “true” story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch, and her relationship with Glinda, the Good Witch. It has all the elements of the original story, but packages them in a different way. We find out about how the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin man came to be. How Dorothy got the red (in this version silver) slippers. And, most importantly, what really happened to Elphaba. (Ah, yes, in a quirky ending, there is a happily-ever after story.)

The music and lyrics, by one of my favorite theatre composers, Stephen Schwartz, includes such beautiful and delightful songs as “Popular,” “I’m Not That Girl,” “Defying Gravity,” “As Long as You’re Mine,” and Alex’s favorite, “For Good.”

The production qualities of this touring show, are outstanding and impressive. There is a dragon hanging over the proscenium arch that has a wingspan the same as a Cessna 172 airplane. They use 200 pounds of dry ice every show for smoke effects and enough power in a single production to supply twelve houses with electricity. There are 175,000 pounds of scenery. This is not a stripped-down touring show, it’s a full-blown Broadway extravaganza.

With the exception of Richard Kline, who seems to be sleep-walking through the role of the Wizard, the cast reaches Broadway levels. Donna Vivino glows gloriously green as Elphaba. She hits the vocal high notes with ease and creates a clear characterization. Chandra Lee Schwartz is properly air-headed as the “popular” Glinda. Richard Blake is excellent as the self-centered Fiyero, who falls in love with Elphaba. BTW…did you know that Adam Lambert, the “American Idol” runner-up (can you believe he didn’t win?) was the understudy for Fiyero in the Los Angeles production of ‘WICKED?’

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: As Alex said, with glee and enthusiasm, “Go see this show!” Grandpa totally agrees!!!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mamma Mia

‘MAMMA MIA’ entertains once again at Palace

The two middle-aged women sitting in front of me at the Palace Theatre’s production of ‘MAMMA MIA,’ could not sit still. As the music rolled off the stage, they were swaying in their first row seats, mouthing the words to the Abba songs, doing hand gestures, and bellowing their pleasure at the conclusion of each song. They did everything that takes place at a rock concert other than flick their cigarette lighter. They, like the rest of the audience, were into the performance!

When a show makes its fourth tour into an area, as is the case with ‘MAMMA MIA,’ there is fear that the production will be tired and the worse for wear. Fear not. As the ladies in front of me showed, this showing is fresh and full of energy.

‘MAMMA MIA’ came to the stage in a different way than most musicals. The usual path is to take a previously written piece of material and add music and lyrics, or create a script and meld in the songs. ‘MAMMA MIA,’ however, is a compilation of the songs of the singing group ABBA with a story written around them. What is amazing is how each song fits into the storyline, as if it were written specifically for the script.

The show has been playing to sold-out audiences on Broadway for over 7 years. The London production has done more than 4,000 performances. It’s been seen by over 40 million people worldwide, grossed over $2 billion dollars at the box office, and has been seen in over 200 major cities. It’s about to open in such locations as Oslo and Mexico City, and will soon tour in Spanish and Dutch versions. Yes, ‘MAMMA MIA’ is a gigantic hit!

The story concerns a single mother (Donna) who owns a small hotel on a Greek island. She has never told her daughter (Sophie), who is about to get married, the identify of her father. The daughter finds her mother’s diary and figures out that there are three possible “dads.” She invites each to the wedding. And, as in all good fairly tales, everyone lives happily ever after, and the audience has a swell time in the process.

It’s basically purposeless to evaluate the cast as opening night in Cleveland found five replacements, including Rachel Tyler (Donna) . It mattered little. This is a professional cast, and all but amateur acting Bradley Whitfield (portraying Sky, Sophie’s finance) were excellent.

I defy anyone to sit through the production and not be carried away by such wonder tunes as “Dancing Queen,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” ‘S.O.S.,” “Take a Chance on Me,” and “The Winner Takes It All.” As my wife says each time we see the show, “How can anyone not like a show that features three middle age women disco singing and dancing?”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: This excellent production of ‘MAMMA MIA,’ runs only through Sunday, November 15. If you haven’t seen the show before, go, you’ll have a blast. If you have seen it before, go, you’ll have a blast!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

For Better

A delightful look at romance in the cyber age at Actors’ Summit

Playwright Eric Coble, whose play ‘FOR BETTER’ is getting its regional premiere at Actors’ Summit, is a satirist whose weird sense of humor allows him to hone in on peculiar social phenomena and take them to the extremes of absurdity. Coble asks such questions as: are up-scale parents interested in getting their child into the “correct” school, willing to kill another kid for the institutions last opening (‘BRIGHT IDEA’)? Or, to what extremes will someone go on a reality show to win a million dollars, such as agreeing to commit suicide using a method decided upon by the viewers (‘THE DEAD GUY’)?

Building on the premise that an entire generation of thirty-somethings have been brought up on email, instant messaging, cell phones and texting, Coble ponders whether a woman can develop a relationship on-line, almost never meet the guy face-to-face, accept his proposal for marriage, get her wedding ring via a FedEx delivery, and . . . (you’ll have to go see the show to find out what the “and” is all about).

At the center of non-stop talking (mostly electronic, of course) is Karen, who spends time with her fiancé Max (a character who never appears on stage) via wireless media.

Her electronically-challenged father, Wally, can't understand how to operate his TiVo, let alone understand his daughter’s virtual on-again, off-again engagement.

Her older sister, Francine, criticizes her rashness, even though she met her husband through an online dating service and their relationship has about as much passion as the electronic instruments they constantly depend on.

Coble, who admits to having only one cell phone for his entire family, observed those around him and states that he found “people’s emotional lives were really coming to depend on our cell phones and emails to keep us connected and sane as we became new hunter/gatherers. And I wanted to write a sweet romantic comedy about that.” Coble succeeded.

Though the script looks easy to stage, it isn’t. A good production depends on a quick pick up of line cues, actors all talking at the same time while insuring each idea is understood, making the characters real even though they are ridiculous, and rapid pacing.

The Actor’s Summit production, under the direction of A. Neil Thackaberry, accomplishes all the “must does.”

Though at times she is a little shrill, Constance Thackaberry, is in a proper state of angst as Karen. As Francine, Karen’s sister, Sally Groth proves again that she is very good at being uptight, frustrated and bitchy. Larry Seman basically steals the show as the widowed father. Most of the “mature’ audience totally understood his frustrations of living in an electronic world with only a fleeting knowledge of the technical language, let alone having the skills to navigate the terrain. Keith Stevens as Francine’s husband, and Tony Zanoni, as the Verizon man who travels the world asking, “Can you hear me now?” are on the mark. Their cyber drunk scene is hysterical. Jen Walker, Francine’s friend Lizzie, develops her role well.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: FOR BETTER is a delightful script which is given a fun production at Actors’ Summit. If you want to thoroughly enjoy yourself, put down your cell, turn off the computer, jump into your hybrid Prius, and set your Garmin to get you to 86 Owen Brown Street in Hudson. Think of it this way…you can text your 500 best cyber friends at intermission and tell them what a good time you are having.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Woyzeck: A Proper Murder

‘A PROPER MURDER,’ a good production of a convoluted script at Theater Ninjas

In his program notes to ‘WOYZECK, A PROPER MURDER,’ director Jeremy Paul states, “’WOYZECK’ was the first play I ever wanted to direct.” To be honest, I have no idea why of all the great plays written, Paul would pick this abstract, convoluted script as his heart’s desire.

‘WOYZECK,’ was written in the mid-1860’s by Georg Büchner. The script, which was found in segments with no clear structure, was left unfinished when Büchner died. It was completed by a variety of other writers.

The script deals with the dehumanization of a human being caused by human jealousy. It parallels the true story of a Christian Woyzeck, a wigmaker and soldier, who murdered his live-in mistress.

‘WOYZECK’ is supposedly a commentary on social conditions as well as an exploration of poverty and how circumstances in one’s life ultimately can push a person over the edge.

The Theater Ninja production, in spite of creative staging by Paul and fine acting by the cast, is a hard sit-through. Sebastian Hawkes Orr is properly maniacal as Woyzeck. Emily Pucell develops effectively the role of Marie, the woman Woyzeck is living with. The rest of the cast, Val Kozlenko, Elaine Feagler, Katelyn Cornelius, and Adam Seeholzer compently carry out the director’s concept.

Doing the play in the Asterick Gallery in Tremont adds to the abstract quality of the action as the actors dart in and out of the gallery’s display walls.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘WOYZECK, A PROPER MURDER,’ gets a fine production at Ninjas, but there is a caveat. The script will appeal to those who like abstract, experimental theatre. For those interested in a standard format of beginning, middle and end, with a clear message, this isn’t going to be their thing.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Inherit the Wind

‘INHERIT THE WIND,” an onstage view

‘INHERIT THE WIND,’ which is now receiving an impressive production at the Cleveland Play House, opened on Broadway on April 21, 1955 with a cast that included Paul Muni, Ed Begley, and Tony Randall. Basically, it is the story of a situation which put John Thomas Scopes, a Dayton, Tennessee school teacher on trial for teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to his students. At the time, the state of Tennessee had a law on its books preventing the teaching of the evolution of man from lower orders of animals in place of the Biblical account. That state did not repeal the Butler Act, as the law was called, until 1967.

The Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee play was, according to the authors, an attempt to criticize the then current state of McCarthyism, the anti-Communist investigations of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Lawrence commented in an interview that, "we used the teaching of evolution as a parable, a metaphor for any kind of mind control. It's not about science versus religion. It's about the right to think." Arthur Miller used a similar device in his showcasing the Salem witch trials as the basis for his anti-McCarthy play, ‘THE CRUCIBLE.’

It’s interesting to note that Lawrence was from Cleveland and Lee from Elyria.

The play opens on a scorching July day in 1925. The trial pits two legal greats against each other, Mathew Harrison Brady (William Jennings Bryan) and Henry Drummond (Clarence Darrow). For twelve days, Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes (“The Monkey Trial”) captured the nation's attention as a media circus swept through Dayton, mainly fanned by the writing of liberal-leaning journalist E. K. Hornbeck (H. L. Mencken).
The script's title comes from Proverbs 11:29, which, in the King James Bible reads: “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.”

The CPH production, under the adept direction of Seth Gordon, hits all the right notes. It is well paced, cutting the script from the traditional three-acts to a more sitable two, and keeps interest high through stressing both the humor and the captivating dialogue.

Broadway and TV veterans, Ed Dixon (Brady) and Scott Jaeck (Drummond) are both compelling in their characterizations. Scott Plate adds just the right sarcasm to the comments of Hornbeck. Dudley Swetland as the Judge, Tom White (Cates), Sarah Nedwek (as Cates’ girlfriend), and Cameron McKendry (as Howard, one of the children who testified at the trial) all are believable in their portrayals. Though I would have liked Mark Alan Gordon, as Reverend Jeremiah Brown to be filled with more fanaticism, Rohn Thomas to be more believable, and a more consistent use of the Tennessee accent by the Dayton locals, but those are just nitpicking points.
It was nice to see the Play House using many local area performers in the production. I hope this is a trend toward the future as there are good home town actors who could use the stage-time.

The Play House added a clever gimmick, filling the jury box with local lawyers, actors and volunteers. I was included in that group, so I got to see the play from the stage, as well as from my traditional seat in the audience. It was not my first experience with either the stage at CPH or with the script. As a youth, I was a Curtain Puller, one of the young thespians who learned their acting skills from the CPH staff. While a student at the University of Michigan, I participated in a staged reading of the script, portraying E K. Hornbeck. It was very pleasant to revisit past life occurrences.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: ‘INHERIT THE WIND’ gets an excellent production at CPH. For those who saw the play in the past, a repeat visit is worth the time. For those who have not had the pleasure of viewing the Lawrence and Lee script, this is an excellent opportunity. Good job!

Saturday, October 31, 2009


‘YELLOWMAN’--well-conceived, superbly acted, eye-opening script

Every once in a while a theatre attendee gets the opportunity to experience an evening of wonder…..fine acting and well conceived directing of a thought-provoking script. Such an experience awaits you at Karamu, where Dael Orlandersmith’s ‘YELLOWMAN’ is being performed.

‘YELLOWMAN,’ a 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama, is a shocking, yet often humorous revelation of a long held but often painful tradition among blacks of the separation between members of their race based on the darkness or lightness of their skin. The playground ditty, "If you're white, you're right. If you're brown, stick around. If you're black, stay back," creates the core of the script.

As the playwright explained, “I wanted to look at the ramification of the hurtful insults used by lighter-skinned blacks against their darker-hued brethren: tar baby and ink spot and identifiers such as high yeller and redbone given to the lighter-skinned by the darker hued.”

The epithets, often spoken in South Carolina Gullah/Geechie, are the plot device that drives forward the views of prejudice, self-loathing and ghosts of childhood that the painful words leave behind.

On the surface, "YELLOWMAN" is the story of Alma, a dark-skinned African American, and her childhood friend, Eugene, a light-skinned black child. They transition from children to adults and fall in love. They face conflicts over their skin color and the resulting residue of family messages regarding “colorism.” But, the overall effects are much more than the storyline itself.

The emotionally wrenching ending reveals the horrific results of the intra-racial conflict and how it can result in the destruction of individual personalities and life, itself.

Karamu’s production, under the adept direction of Fred Sternfeld, is mesmerizing. Though the script is a little long, the emotionally charged and often humorous intermissionless production does not allow the viewer’s attention to waver. The theatre mood is energized by the interactional African American pattern of “call and response” in which the members of the audience give spontaneous oral reactions to the speeches of the actors. The experience tends only to be available at African American church services and in settings, such as a theatre, peopled by a Black audience.

Kyle Primous (Eugene) and Kristi Little (Alma), give two of the finest local performances of the season. They are both impeccable in their acting and character development. Playing numerous roles, each hits the sound and movement of every character, from childhood images to adults of various ages. If there were local Tony awards to be handed out, the duo should be preparing their acceptance speeches!

Richard Morris, Jr.’s scenic design, consisting of wooden levels, creates the necessary stark background needed for the multiple settings required of the script. Though the lighting sometimes leaves the performers in the dark, the overall effect sets the right moods.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Karamu‘s ‘YELLOWMAN’ is a must see production! The acting is superb, the directing spot on, the script reveals a part of the African American lifestyle of which many are unaware. Call now for tickets!!!!!!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Wild Party

‘WILD PARTY,’ a challenge for BW’s Musical Theatre Students

In 2006, the now defunct Kalliope Theatre presented a production of
‘WILD PARTY,’ which is now being staged at Baldwin Wallace College. During that excellent production, about halfway through the second act, an elderly man got up from his seat and exited the theatre, mumbling, “I’ve had enough of this depravity.” The man’s pronouncement was probably music to the cast and director’s collective ears. Yes, he hit on one of the play’s central cores...the debasement of some relationships and the depravity of some parts of society.

Moral...if you are like the offended man, are easily put off by semi-nudity, simulated sex acts and raunchy words, you might want to avoid BW’s Allman Theatre during the show’s run. If, on the other hand, you are interested in seeing passions out of control and investigating moral decadence, ‘THE WILD PARTY’ may be your thing.

Andrew Lippa, who wrote the book, music and lyrics for ‘THE WILD PARTY,’ is one of the new breed of musical theatre creators. He’s in the mold of Jonathan Larson, the conceiver of ‘RENT,’ Jason Robert Brown who developed ‘SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD,’ and Laurence O'Keefe, the creator of ‘BAT BOY.’ They see life and place it on the stage with all its realties, flaws and warts.

‘THE WILD PARTY’ won the Outer Critics Circle Award for best Off-Broadway musical of 2000. It was nominated for 13 Drama Desk Awards including best new musical.

Adapted from a book-length poem by Joseph Moncure March, the story takes place in the Roaring Twenties. It mainly centers on one wild night in the Manhattan apartment shared by Queenie, a dancer, and Burrs, a vaudeville clown. In a relationship marked by abuse, which mirrors the prohibition and gangster-controlled era in which they live, the duo throws a party to “end all parties.”

The event is attended by uninhibited guests including Black, a handsome and smooth operator, and Kate, who has a “thing” for Burrs. Queenie and Burrs set out to make each other jealous. After a long night of no-holds-barred sparing and tantalizing, Burrs' temper erupts and he is killed by Black. Queenie steals out, leaving in her wake chaos and frustration.

The music is a combination of jazz-era sounds, coupled with contemporary tones. Though none of the songs will be remembered for long, the overall effect of the music is excellent.

For a production of this show to be successful, the cast must be sensual, seductive, and filled with sexual angst. The leads must be superb. Burrs has to show his maniacal personality with emotional swings from slapstick comedian (think Dick Vandyke), to sexually stimulating (think Hugh Jackman) and also be psychotically dangerous (think Mickey Rourke). That’s a hard job for any performer, let alone for a college student. Queenie has to be sensual, sexual and manipulating. (Fill in your own actresses here). Again, a nearly impossible task for any actress, let alone a young 20 something, no matter the excellent training received as part of BW’s Musical Theatre program.

The odds are against the BW kids. They try valiantly, but simply can’t overcome their youth and lack of worldly experiences. They feign sexy. They act, not live the experiences. But, that doesn’t mean that director Vickie Bussert should not have picked the show. A great part of a good training program is to try and stretch the students to give them experiences that they normally wouldn’t get. Yes, they would probably do a better job with ‘GREASE” or ‘BYE BYE BIRDIE,’ but that wouldn’t give them the challenge they need to prepare for their desired futures, performances on Broadway stages and other professional venues.

The show has some excellent highlights. In spite of having few real dancers in the cast (ah, for the old BW days of Sue Strewe and Janice Kiteley-Kelly), Martin Céspedes again performed his magic by creating dance numbers that paralleled not only the beat and sounds of the music, but stylized the moves and body angles to mimic the swing, jazz, 20s silhouettes. Show stoppers included: "Let Me Drown," "After Raise the Roof," "A Wild, Wild Party" and "The Juggernaut."

Congrats to Antwaun Holley, who lit up the stage with his hoofing. The band, under the adept conducting of Brian Taylor, was mood perfect. There was a great trumpet solo by Kevin Johnson. Ciara Harper, who grasped the role of Kate, and Jessica Dyer displayed solid vocal abilities.

The chorus does an outstanding job of being present and involved in every scene. They have been well coached by Bussert and Céspedes to not just be on stage, but to be emotionally drawn in and react accordingly.

Charlotte Yetman’s costumes and Jeff Herrmann’s sets are excellent. The show is done with the audience on both sides of a runway stage. This creates an intimate playing area.

The show has two casts. I saw the blonde assemblage. I can’t speak for the effectiveness of the Brunette Cast.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘THE WILD PARTY’ is definitely not for everyone. For those who are willing to be challenged and view the unscrubbed version of how some lead their lives, and want to see college students do a production which challenges their abilities and sensibilities, and often stumbles in the attempt to create an era and life beyond the student’s comprehension, a trip to Berea may be worth your time.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why Torture Is Wrong and The People Who Love Them

Durang’s “TORTURE’…Cheney let loose at CPT

Christopher Durang, the author of ‘WHY TORTURE IS WRONG AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM,’ which is now in production at Cleveland Public Theatre, is the crown prince of the bizarre and controversial. He covers up deep messages with absurdist farce, leaving audiences confused as to whether they should be laughing or crying at the state of the world, or at least Durang’s view of the world.

The titles of Durang’s works are just a hint to what his plays are like. Consider such monikers as ‘Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You,’ ‘Baby With the Bathwater,’ ‘The Nature and Purpose of the Universe,’ ‘The Idiots Karamazov,’ and ‘The Vietnamization of New Jersey.’

‘TORTURE’ thrusts paranoia and anxiety to the forefront.

Take a daughter who, while in a drunken state, marries a man from “Ireland” who speaks with an Arabic accent, keeps threatening to kill her, and whose plan is for her father to support him and his “activities” the rest of his life. There is the father who collects “butterflies,” his euphemism for attack weapons. There is the ditzy mother who is enamored with the theatre. As she babbles on, and changes dresses to parallel the color of the terror alerts, one can only wonder if this lady is crazy or smart as a fox. Things snowball from there, and before long we find ourselves laughing at a man getting beaten up and having his fingers amputated by someone who beeps like The Road Runner and a woman whose panties keep falling down because of the poor quality of the elastic in the waistband of the Chinese made undies.

The CPT production, under the creative directing of Beth Wood, is on course. The pacing is right and the character development consistent. Most impressive is the fine tuning of farcical elements in the staging. Farce is very difficult to create. It is often overdone, not played with the needed realistic tone. ‘TORTURE’ succeeds in making it work.

Mary Jane Nottage is nothing short of hysterical perfection as the “air-headed” Luella, who is constantly confusing rreal life with the theatre and movies. Robert Hawkes does an on-target maniacal Dick Cheney characterization, seeing national disasters in every corner. Liz Conway, as the daughter, goes from calm resolve to hysteria with the right tonations. Scott Ackerman taunts us by making Zamir, the Irish-Arab-terrorist-con man-dishwasher wanna be, a living contradiction. Zac Hudak’s interludes as the scene stealing Narrator, are delightful. Doug Kusak’s Reverend Mike, the drug dealing minister who makes pornographic films, could have been a little more sleezy. Jenna Messina, she with the panties constantly around her ankles, had a nice feel for the comedy aspects of the role, but wasn’t quite believable as a “real” person.

Jenniver Sparano must have spent hours making all those varied colored identical dresses and dying matching shoes to aid Nottage’s visual illusion.

Beth Wood’s set design, while creative, caused many delays and distractions due to the number of times the set wagons had to be dragged around.

Capsule judgement: If you like the bizarre, if you are enamored by farce, if you like the writing style of Christopher Durang, you’ll really enjoy ‘WHY TORTURE IS WRONG AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM.’

Saturday, October 17, 2009


‘14’ a thought provoking offering at Kent State University

During the recent amendment fight in California, it was revealed that much of the money for the campaign to eliminate the state’s same-sex marriage legislature,was donated by the Morman Church. This was not the only time that the Morman’s have gained the wrath of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered (GLBT) community.

Reparative therapy attempts to change the sexual orientation of a person from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual. The so-called therapy is based on the religious belief that homosexuality is an illness and can be cured. Since both the American Psychological Association and the American Counseling Association, the official psychological organizations of those who practice in the field, have declared that being gay or lesbian is not an illness, they both recommend that ethical practitioners refrain from practicing reparative therapy or refer patients to those who practice this shame. That, of course, is of little interest to the Morman Church, whose active bigotry goes on.

John Cameron’s ‘14’ illuminates the work of Max Ford McBride, then a graduate student in psychology, who exposed gay male students to pornography and delivered shocks of up to 4.5 miliamperes of electricity in hopes of “curing” them of their “condition.” These procedures, are deemed today to be both ineffective and barbaric. Fourteen students completed the experiment, thus giving the title of the play.

John Cameron was one of the fourteen. When asked why it took him so long to speak out and write the play, he indicated that he had spent so much of his life trying to forget and minimize what he had done that he had somehow convinced myself that most people would find it more disgusting than interesting. Then, he stumbled onto the “Affirmation” website. He learned that his therapy was not an isolated event, but one of the more visible elements in a long history of abuse at BYU. He stated, “Writing the play was a way for me to work though my anger and isolation.”

The story centers on the psychological conflict between the main character, Ron, a BYU professor of English, who is cynical and bitter, and Aaron, a BYU student who is conflicted and confused. The shocking ending, reveals that, in fact, what we are seeing is the same person at two stages of his life, one of whom finally comes to terms with himself.

The Kent State production, under the direction of the play’s author, who graduated from KSU in 1986, was compelling. The night I saw the production, the sold out audience was in rapt attention throughout.

Eric van Baars, a member of the theatre and dance faculty at the university, portrayed Ron with the right amount of angst and sarcsim. His performance is even more impressive considering that he was a late replacement for graduate student Mark Moritz, who had to withdraw from the cast due to his father’s unexpected death. Tricia Bestic, a well know local equity actress portrayed Judy, who acted as the catalyst to get Ron to reveal the truth of the experiements. The rest of the cast was composed of students. Some were more proficient than others. Jason Leupold, as Ron’s lover, who eventually died to AIDS, was excellent. Aaron Schonover (Aaron) had some strong moments, but went in and out of character. The rest of the assemblage varied from excellent to acceptable.

‘14’ was presented as part of the Roe Green Visting Director Series, supported by a 10 year $25,000 a year donation by Ms. Green, a local arts patron and activist who recently made the largest donation capital gift ever given to KSU. It is being used to create the Roe Green Center, which will create new and renovate the present KSU theatre and dance facilities.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘14,’ which closed on October 18 was a play worth seeing. It’s the kind of script that Dobama or CPT does so well. Let’s hope that one of them will take on the project.

The Alice Seed

‘THE ALICE SEED’ at CPT, a conjure-wives tale

‘THE ALICE SEED,’ now in a world premiere production at Cleveland Public Theatre, is a perfect offering for the Halloween season. On the surface, as explained by local playwright Michael Sepesy, “the play is about the ferocity of a mother’s love for her child. On another level, it’s about the acceptance of loss and mortality.” In addition, there is a spooky element to the goings on.

It is a tale of loss and the powerful desire to hold on to our most cherished ones. In this case, a child who has died of cancer. A child who died in a hospital alone as her exhausted parents had gone home, after a long vigil, to get some rest. The feelings of guilt for abandoning the youngster weighs heavily on their hearts.
To gain a full understanding there are some factors that must be explored. The play takes place in the south. Some people of that section of the country, believe supernatural events affect the lives of real people. The term for these events is laid in the tradition of “conjure-wife” tales. Or, as it would be termed in other environs, “old wives tales.”

Questions arise. Can someone come back from the dead? What would drive a person to make a pact with the devil? Is the mother delusional? Can these people ever gain internal peace?

Sepesy has said, with a view to potential audience members, “If people like suspense, there’s suspense. If they like horror, there are elements of horror. If people like lyrical plays and metaphors, or weird, or humor, or family dramas, or philosophy, or emotional works — there’s something in the play for everyone.”

The CPT production, which is directed by Alison Garrigan, fulfills the requirements of the play. The acting is strong and the production well paced.

Jackie Cummins shows the right maniacal focus as the grief and guilt-ridden mother. Mark Mayo, as her husband, stays on course. Michael Andrews-Hinders, the local law-enforcement officer, who has endured the death of his wife, develops a clear characterization.

Trad Burns’ set design sometimes gets in the way of the action. Combining so many settings within a specific confine leads to some confusion. Maybe having a blank stage, with some suggestive setting pieces would have worked better.

Capsule judgement: ‘THE ALICE SEED’ is an interesting piece of theatre which will appeal to audiences who are willing to stretch their imaginations and accept the unexplainable.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


‘YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, a comedy of errors, some intentional, others not

The opening of this year’s Broadway series was slightly delayed. As the audience collected in the lobby on opening night, the technical crew of ‘THE MEL BROOKS MUSICAL YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN,’ was feverishly attempting to get the pieces parts of the stage scenery to cooperate. Assuming that they had everything under control, the audience was let in. We sat for a while, and then Gina Vernaci, the dynamo who serves as the Vice President of Theatricals and is responsible for booking the shows that appear on Play House Square stages, came on the stage to explain what was going on. About an hour after the original starting time, the curtain went up on Transylvania, circa 1934.

Yes, this is a musical version of ‘YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN,’ the Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder 1974 comedy movie. Brooks has supposedly stated that that film was his best movie. (I favor ‘BLAZZING SADDLES.”)

This version has a book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan with music and lyrics by Brooks. It is a parody of the horror film genre, especially the 1931 adaptation of Mary Shelley's ‘FRANKENSTEIN’ and its 1939 sequel, ‘SON OF FRANKENSTEIN.’

The musical opened on Broadway on November 8, 2007 to very mixed reviews. The New York production closed after 484 performances.

The plot, which is largely carried over from the movie, has some scenes that are expanded as musical numbers, and many gags have been added or updated. It concerns young Dr. Frankenstein (“that's Fronkensteen”) as he attempts to complete his grandfather's masterwork and bring a corpse to life. Together with his odd, but endearing helper Igor (“that's Eye-gor”), his curvaceous lab assistant Inga (“that’s Een-gu”), he succeeds, But, due to implanting the wrong brain (Igor dropped and stepped on the desired brain), Frankenstein succeeds in creating a monster who scares the bejeepers out of the Transylvanians, and sings, dances and seduces Frankenstein’s fiancé.

As is typical of Brooks, the double entendres, the sexual allusions and illusions, and the slapstick flow forth. The silliness convulsed my 13-year old grandson, who I took along to indicate if kids should attend (there were quite a few on opening night). Though many of the allusions went right past him, enough hit straight on, causing him, with a sly braces-filled smirk to conclude, “This is definitely NOT a show for young kids!”

The technical problems of the evening didn’t stop with the late opening curtain. About two-thirds of the way through the first act, as the audience watched in amusement, set pieces that came from the fly gallery, failed to mesh with pieces on the floor. The results? The curtain fell and Ms. Vernaci appeared again, this time with Roger Bart, who plays Frederick Frankenstein (“that’s Fronkensteen”). The duo did everything but a soft shoe routine to fill in time. Finally, Igor (“that’s Eye-gor”) ran on stage, grabbed Bart and dragged him off, leaving Vernaci to make a hasty exit as the curtain rose once again.

Fortunately, there were no other problems and the show concluded to a traditional Cleveland standing ovation, as the patrons fled down the aisle, probably going straight to work or to have breakfast, rather than home to bed. (Really, the show, with the interruptions ran a little over three hours. It just seemed longer.)

I saw the Broadway production, and was not enamored. I liked this version better, maybe because of all the funny things that happened outside of the script, and the ad-libbing that Igor (“that’s Eye-gor”) did, stating that the mechanical problems were not caused by him. In spite of those plusses, I still don’t love the show.

Roger Bart, as Frankenstein (“That’s Fran….,”enough…I’ve done that joke about as many times as Brooks wrote it into the script), was not fun enough. He needed more of a comic twist and a more farcical characterization. Bart, who played the role on Broadway, and who is probably best known to the audience as George, the scheming pharmacist in TVs ‘DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES,’ is likeable, but not laughable. Shuler Hensley (the monster) is a hoot in “Putting on the Ritz,” but could have played the part even broader in his other scenes. Cory English, who portrayed Igor on Broadway, was delightful. And, let’s not over-look the equines (Lawrence Alexander and Geo Seery), who upstaged the actors in the scene in which the horses appeared.

The show stoppers were “Join the Family Business” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you love schtick, if you love Mel Brooks’ silliness, you’ll probably appreciate ‘YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.’ However, if you are expecting to be as entertained as you were with Brooks’ ‘THE PRODUCERS,’ I think you’ll be disappointed. And though Alex, my grandson, gave the show an 8 out of 10 for the humor, dancing and singing, please follow his advice and think carefully before taking young children or tweens.

The Man Who Came to Dinner

Comedy goes askew at Ensemble

‘THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER,’ which is now on stage at Ensemble Theatre, was George Kaufman and Moss Hart’s comic tribute to their good friend, Alexander Woolcott, the sharp witted and sarcastic tongued theater critic and national radio broadcast star. It also includes famous character take-offs including that of playwright and actor Noel Coward and Harpo Marx of filmdom’s Marx Brothers.

The play debuted on October 16, 1939 at the Music Box Theatre in New York City and enjoyed long New York and London runs. It has many of the same bizarre characteristics that made the duos ‘YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU’ such a hit.
‘THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER’ is set in the fictional small town of Mesalia, Ohio in the weeks just before Christmas, 1930. We learn that the outlandish radio wit, Sheridan Whiteside, was invited to dine at the house of rich factory owner Ernest W. Stanley and his family. However, before Whiteside enters the house, he slips on a patch of ice outside the front door and injures his hip. He moves in to recuperate, and all hell breaks loose.

British actor and director, Sir Donald Wolfit’s deathbed quip, "Dying is easy, comedy is hard," captures so well the paradox that it seems so easy to make people laugh, but as many actors and directors find out, it is not easy at all. The secret to good comedy is impeccable timing and fidelity to reality, and that’s not easy to accomplish. There is subtlety and sarcasm needed, not screaming. There is the need to make the people real, so we laugh with them, not at them.

Though the cast tried hard, Ensemble’s ‘THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER’ proves how hard it is to do comedy well. Most of the performers missed out on the comic timing and creation of reality. So the production missed out on many of the laughs and failed to create all the joyousness of the script.

Now, to be fair, Ensemble is basically an amateur company. Yes, there were several equity members on stage in this production, but, for the most part, in spite of what appeared in the program notes to be a very experienced cast, most of the credits alluded to other amateur stages. Amateurs tend to make the same mistakes over and over since, in many instances, the quality of the directors they work with doesn’t allow them to learn the finesses of performance. This is not true of this production’s director, Brian Zoldessy, who is an excellent teacher, but he can’t undo bad habits in one show.

Presentation highlights include Greg Violand as Beverly (Noel Coward) whose comic timing and singing are character correct. Brian Zoldessy has some delightful moments as Banjo (Oscar Wilde), though he could have been even broader in his characterization. James Kisicki is generally on target as Whiteside (Woolcott), but fumbles some lines and doesn’t always build to the harassable levels for which Woolcott was famous. In smaller parts, Sharmon Sollitto as the nurse, Stuart Hoffman as the son and Jeanne Task, as the mystery lady, do a nice job.

Much of the rest of the cast fails to create consistent or believable characterizations causing the humor to be limited. The was a lot of acting, and not a lot of reacting to the other characters and to the lines.

If you want to see this script in a wonderful version rent the film which stars Monte Wooley, Billie Burke and Betty Davis.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER’ is a 1930s comedy which has a tone and style that is hard to interpret by any but the best of actors. The cast at Ensemble puts out effort, but misses too many marks to make their staging effective.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Verb Ballets--80 Years of Contemporary Dance

Varied Verb program on pointe!

For its latest offering Verb Ballets, Cleveland’s “National Repertory Dance Company,” celebrated 80 years of contemporary dance. The results, showcased at the new Breen Center for the Performing Arts on the St. Ignatius High School campus, were very positive.

The program was introduced with a mini-lecture by Dr. Margaret Carlson, Verbs’ Chief Executive and Artistic Officer, concerning the development of contemporary dance and the founders of the movement.

Following the well-presented introduction, the dance segment opened with a fascinating interpretation of ‘LAMENTATION,’ Martha Graham’s 1930 ballet, which finds a solo dancer seated on a bench, enclosed in a long tube of material stretching and pushing the textile to its boundaries of elasticity. Katie Gnagy, emotionally moved within the boundaries of the fabric to show the frustration of the confinement and its resulting grief and emotion.

‘CROSS CURRENTS,’ a company premiere of a 1964 Merce Cunningham dance, was danced to the atonal piano music of Conlon Nancarrow. Using stylistic moves, in a robotic pattern, the controlled bodies of the dancers were a vision of pure abstraction. The overall effect was excellent, thanks to Ashley Cohen and Katie Gnagy who were in total control of their moves. Unfortunately, Antwon Duncan seemed uncomfortable, tentative and had difficulty holding the necessary freezes.

Ian Horvath was the cofounder of Cleveland Ballet. One of his high point choreographic creations is the 1975 ‘LAURA’S WOMEN,’ based on the music of Laura Nyro’s “Poverty Train.” An excerpt from the ballet was presented with a restaging by Carlson. Erin Conway Lewis gave an absorbing interpretation to an exploration of Schizophrenia.

A company standard, Heinz Poll’s ‘DUET,’ was again danced by the company’s strong male dancer, Brain Murphy, but with a new partner. Due to an injury, Andrea Blankstein, a member of the Ballet Theatre of Ohio, stepped in. The result was a different, but charming interpretation. Blankstein added a delicate presence. Her toe work, smooth movements and partnering skills were all on pointe. The lifts and carries were well executed. Blankstein and Murphy made the work look effortless and were in perfect sync with each other and the music.

‘SLEEP STUDY,’ David Parson’s 1987 choreographed piece to the music “High Wire,” was restaged by Carlson. Costumed in pajamas, the dancers rolled on the floor, sometimes along side each other, sometimes onto someone, sometimes in tandem with other sleepers. The overall effect of everyday sleeping movements, well-timed to music, was totally enjoyable.

Heinz Poll’s brilliant 1996 creation, ‘BOLERO,’ was mesmerizing. The enveloping Maurice Ravel score lends itself to a well-disciplined corps of dancers. And, in the main, Amy Miller’s restaging developed the needed patterned movements. A fusion of Indian and Spanish movements, the precision piece concluded to screams of pleasure from the audience.

Combine martial arts with music and the results can be compelling, as demonstrated by ‘TAI-QI KUNG FU FAN FORM,’ a piece developed for the 2008 Chinese-hosted Olympics. Having been in China shortly before those games, I saw groups of people in the parks in various cities doing this “routine.” Little did I realize that it would some day be included in a contemporary dance program. Using fans to create both visual illusions and a strong snapping sound, the piece required precision. In general, most of the company was capable of creating the right illusions.

‘THE GATHERING,’ choreographed by Terence Green, who, among other credits, has worked with students at the Cleveland School of the Arts, received its world premiere as the closing number on Verbs’ program. The four movement composition about vision of community and belonging, centered its movements around, on and under ten chairs and a table. The dancers often vaulted off and balanced on the set pieces, to enthusiastic reaction.

Verbs’ evening of dance was audience pleasing. However, they still need to find male dancers to accompany the always excellent Brian Murphy. Their latest applicants don’t totally fill their needs. Antwon Duncan often moves without enthusiasm and precision. Gary Lenington seems well disciplined, but his fullback build seems to limit his freedom of movement. Nehemia Spencer and Lloyd Amir Boyd III, both students at the Cleveland School of the Arts, have great potential, but need more training and experience. So, the search should go on for males to balance the excellent females in the company.

Capsule judgement: Verbs’ ’80 YEARS OF CONTEMPORARY DANCE,’ was a bravo evening of dance. It passed the difficult test of holding the rapt attention of a large contingent of students from the Cleveland School of the Arts, who even stopped texting long enough to be an appreciative audience. Well done!