Tuesday, June 28, 2011

FAT CAMP (a preview)

A chance to see a Broadway show develop before your eyes!

Have you ever wondered how a potential Broadway show goes from script to stage? Have you been curious about what goes on during the rehearsals of a professional play? Have you ever wanted your voice to be heard about what you like and dislike about a musical? Well, if the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you are about to get your chance. And, you don’t have to go to New York. The process is going to take place right here, in Cleveland.

PAGE TO STAGE is a new PlayhouseSquare project whose purpose is to invite theatre writers to develop Broadway-aimed productions, while allowing local audiences to provide response and feedback as the creators hone the work.

From July 13-24, the Hanna Theatre will be the center of historical theatrical activity, as FAT CAMP, a musical about a group of plus-sized teens at a sleep-away camp, is developed. The process started in 2009 when the script was showcased as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival and was awarded “The Best of the Fest.” It also received a 2010 workshop. Now, it’s ready for the Cleveland intervention. It’s a work-in-progress and, hopefully, by the end of the PAGE TO STAGE experiment, it will be closer to stage ready.

FAT CAMP features a book by Randy Blair and Timothy Michael Drucker and music by Matthew roi Berger, with lyrics by Blair. The show will be directed by Casey Hushion (whose credits include Assistant Direction THE DROWSY CHAPERONE and IN THE HEIGHTS on Broadway). The cast are professional actors who have been selected in New York tryouts. The show will be staged with minimal costumes and sets.


Tony-winning Dodger co-founder, Michael David, recently said, "We are most excited to be back in Cleveland at PlayhouseSquare, participating in their inaugural PAGE TO STAGE.” He went on to say, "The Dodgers have had a long history developing shows at PlayhouseSquare and we are most appreciative for the opportunity to nurture this young, new production; to get it up on stage and to experiment, to refine, to try to find our feet with the support of the Playhouse staff, and the audiences of Cleveland."

Gina Vernaci, Vice President of Theatricals at PlayhouseSquare, states, “Audience feedback is not only encouraged it is crucial to the success of both PAGE TO STAGE and FAT CAMP.

How do you get involved? From July 13 through the 24th, audiences will be able to sit in on a series of performances, creative conversations with cast members and the production team, listen to curtain speeches, chat one-on-one with the cast, and fill out comments cards that will be used to hone the show. Tickets for each show will begin as low as $10. Half-price bar drinks will be sold and there will be special performances for teens on July 13 and 20th (use code TEEN). For a complete rundown of what’s going on, go to www.playhousesquare.org/pageto stage. For tickets call 216-241-6000.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


PIPPIN tries hard, but misses the message at Weathervane

To many people, Stephen Schwartz’s musical, PIPPIN, which is now in production at Weathervane Theatre, is a slight musical that is cute, harmless and a little bit naughty. To me, it is a story of meaning and significance. We observe as Pippin, a young prince, searches for purpose in his life. A life he wishes to be “something more than long.”

Schwartz’s music and lyrics paint a clear tale of Pippin as he searches for his “corner of the sky.” He doesn’t understand why, “I don't fit in anywhere I go?” He has daydreams, and perceives that “thunderclouds have their lightening” and “eagles belong where they can fly,” but he can’t seem to find purpose for his existence. He wants to go where his “spirit can run free.” This is heady stuff. And, if interpreted correctly by a director and a cast, there is a reverent, almost spiritual underbelly to the goings-on.

I agree with musical theatre scholar Scott Miller who, in From Assassins to West Side Story, stated, "PIPPIN is a largely under-appreciated musical with a great deal more substance to it than many people realize.”

The musical uses the premise of an acting troupe, led by a Leading Player, who tells the story of characters, based on real-life people who lived in the middle ages. Yes, there was a Pippin and a Charlemagne, but the images in Schwartz’s tale don’t have much historical accuracy.

The show opened on Broadway in 1972, played almost 2000 performances, and at present ranks as the 30th longest-running Big Apple show, exceeding SOUTH PACIFIC, MARY POPPINS and HAIR. It starred Ben Vereen as the Leading Player, Jonathan Rubenstein as Pippin, Jill Clayburgh as Catherine (the female love interest), and Irene Ryan as Berthe (Pippin’s outlandish grandmother).

The wonderful score includes: Corner of the Sky, Glory, Simple Joys, With You, Morning Glow and Love Song.

The Weathervane Playhouse’s production, under the direction of Eric van Baars, is slight on theme development and long on fun. Characters are broadly portrayed, with much feigning and surface performances. The choreography is nicely conceived, the music well performed, the singing often quite good.

Connor Simpson, who doesn’t fit the usual physical image of the actor who plays the role of Pippin, has a nice singing voice and has some fine moments.

Jayson Kolbicz, who dances well and has a pleasant vocal tones, but overacts, feigns emotion and is too flamboyant as the Leading Player. He overshadows and loses the importance of the character with an overdrawn fey characterization.

Samantha Rickard makes for a lovely and believable Catherine, while Maria Work never quite found a consistent identity for Fastrata.

Karen Wood needed to have more fun as Berthe, especially in Simple Joys. Henry Bishop was a fine Charlemagne. Cody Hernandez played at being Lewis, rather than being Lewis, often substituting pseudo-feminine gestures and over-extended facial expressions for meaningful actions.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Weathervane’s production of PIPPIN is long on glitz and short on meaning. It’s not bad, just, in my opinion, misses the opportunity to use the story and wonderful music to tell a purposeful message.

Jersey Boys (2011)

JERSEY BOYS back at the State…Again, ”Oh What a Night”!

There is a special aura about New Jersey, excuse me, “Nujoisy.” “De joisy fowks” talk different. “Dey” have an “addetude dat” reeks of testosterone (even the women), and find glee in being “in-ya face.” They live by “der own ruhls.” This combination of being and doing flows onto the stage in JERSEY BOYS.

The buzz of the audience before the curtain went up indicated that they were expecting something special. And, did they get it! At the end of the show they were on their feet screaming for more. (In this instance, this was not an automatic Cleveland standing ovation given for anything from good to bad to very bad productions. This was a deserved standing O!)

As Alex, the 15 year-old kid reviewer, said after the show, “Wow, that was special!” The award winning composer went on to rave not only about the music, both the writing and the playing, but the quality of the voices, the acting, and the choreography.

Yes, as one of the show’s songs rocks out, “Oh, What a Night.”

JERSEY BOYS is a story about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons: Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi. It supposedly is the story of how a group of blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks became one of the America’s biggest pop music sensations. They supposedly wrote their own songs. They invented their own sound and sold 175 million records worldwide - all before they were thirty.

You’ll note in the last paragraph I said “it supposedly is the story” and they “supposedly wrote their own songs.” There is some controversy over how much the script’s writers, Marshal Brickman and Rick Elice, deviated from the real story. There is also some question about whether Bob Gaudio did write all of the songs. Be that as it may, there is no question about the entertainment value of the Four Seasons or the production. As one of the songs states, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” You won’t be able to take your eyes off the stage and keep your feet still as the beat goes on and on and on.

The show opened in November of 2005 in New York. It won four 2006 Tony Awards including Best Musical and continues to break box office records on Broadway.

This production includes Matt Bailey as Tommy DeVito, the founder of the group. DeVito’s wild way of living, his spending and gambling, caused the quartet problems and eventually was the reason for its break up. Bailey is appropriately ego-centered in the role. He sings and moves well.

Steve Gouveia portrays Nick, Tommy’s older brother, who was basically along for the ride. Aubrey fits well his part and sings effectively.

Quinn VanAntwerp, not only looks like the real Bob Gaudio, but has the same boyish charm. Portraying the “intellect” of the group, VanAntwerp wraps himself in the role and is completely believable.

The star of the evening is Joseph Leo Bwarie as Frankie Valli. Bwarie was here in the previous tour and, if anything, reaches even higher levels this time. Earlier this week he released his debut album Nothin' But Love which is for sale in the State Theatre lobby. (Be aware that John Michael Dias portrays Valli on Wednesday and Thursday matinees and some Sunday evenings.)

Everything about this production is professional. The sets, the orchestrations and the costumes all work.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Go, go, go see ‘JERSEY BOYS.’ You will have one hell of a time and feel like “The Big Man [or Woman] In Town” as you go out of the theatre humming, “My Eyes Adored You.”

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Five Course Love

FIVE COURSE LOVE, a pleasant musical review at Actors’ Summit

Neil Thackaberry and MaryJo Alexander, the producers at Actors’ Summit, know their clientele. Mature, somewhat conservative and loyal describes the group. The loyalty has been built on years of the producers picking the right shows to appeal to this demographic. Musical reviews, light comedies, and non-controversial scripts are the norm. Their latest offering, FIVE COURSE LOVE fits the bill well.

In 90 minutes, with no intermission, 3 actors play 15 different characters in 5 different restaurants, on the hunt for true love. Scene 1 takes place in Dean s Old-Fashioned All-American Down Home Bar-B-Que Texas Eats, where a blind date goes wrong. At the Trattoria Pericolo, a mob wife has a secret rendezvous behind her husband’s back with devastating results. In the scene at Der Schlupfwinkel Speiseplatz, a waiter, a sexy German siren, and her kept man discover that they are all dating each other. Yes, gasp, a ménage à trois. In Ernesto’s Cantina, a Mexican restaurant, a bandit and his rival battle for the hand of the beautiful Rosalinda, a hot salsa-woman. And at the Star-Lite Diner, a romance novel reading waitress pines for her true love and gets a little help from Cupid in making her dreams come true as the jilted blind dater from Scene 1 finally comes full circle to find love. Throughout the evening, “There is trouble in the kitchen.”

FIVE COURSE LOVE is slight summer fun. The little bit of tantalizing double entendre humor brought giggles, the finding of true love resulted in “aws” of glee, and all in attendance seemed to have a good time.

Gregg Coffin’s serviceable score combines pop, light rock, and ethnic musical sounds. None of the songs are well known and have such titles as Morning Light, Risk Love, The Ballad of Me, and Hey Cupid. These are names not likely to appear on Billboard’s top ten list.

The show, which is co-directed by Thackaberry and Alexander, moves along quite well, but needed more exaggerated farce to get across the intended ridiculousness of various scenes. This was especially true in Der Bumsen Kratzentanz and If Knicky Knew.

The three person cast is highlighted by Keith Stevens, whose premiere number is A Very Single Man, concerning a lonely geek who really wants to find love. His facial and body reactions on Nicky Knows were delightful. The pretty Aubrey Caldwell, has a nice voice and was delightful in I Loved You When I Thought Your Name was Ken. Stephen Brockway performed several nice duets, but struggled with various characterizations and accents.

Marcia Snavely’s musical execution was well done.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: FIVE COURSE LOVE is a musical review which gets an acceptable production at Actors’ Summit. It’s the kind of show that should please their targeted audience.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dr. Doolittle

DR. DOOLITTLE, long on special effects at Mercury Summerstock

What happens to a man, a doctor, in fact, who can’t relate to people? What happens to a person who doesn’t know how to communicate with people—only animals? Of course, he becomes best friends with Polynesia (a parrot), Gub-Gub (a pig), Jip (a dog), Dab-Dab (a duck), Chee-Chee (a monkey), Too-Too (an owl), and the Pushmi-pullyu. Make sense? Well, it’s really not supposed to make sense in the traditional sense, but it does make for a smile-inducing story.

DOCTOR DOOLITTLE, now in production at Mercury SummerStock, tells the tale of a doctor, who lives in the small town of Puddleby, England. He finds himself on trial for murder for supposedly throwing a woman over a cliff. As it turns out, the woman is really a seal, who told Doolittle that she wants to be set free from the circus where she is performing, and meet up with her seal husband in the North Pole. Dolittle obliges by dressing her up as a woman, sneaks her out of the circus, and thrusts her into the sea. Insisting that he can actually talk to the animals, the doctor defends himself in court by telling the tale with the help of his talking parrot (the finest animal linguist in the world), a devoted friend, Matthew Mugg, a young boy, Tommy, a menagerie of animals, and the judge’s niece. (Of course there has to be a love interest thrown into the mix.) Eventually the entire assemblage goes off in search of the Pink Snail, with delightful results.

Doctor John Doolittle is the central character in a series of beloved children's books by Hugh Lofting, whose first efforts were illustrated letters to children during World War I. Eventually they were published as a series of books, all set in Victorian England.

The stories found stage life in a British stage production with music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse (Jekyll & Hyde; Stop the World — I Want to Get Off; The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd and Victor/Victoria). It was also transformed into a film staring Rex Harrison and Anthony Newley. A production of the stage version toured Cleveland several years ago with the good doctor being played by Tommy Tune.

Mercury Summerstock, now in its 13th season, presents three shows a summer. There is a naïve Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney, “let’s put on a play” attitude about their productions.

The company is the brainchild of Pierre-Jacques Brault and Brian Marshall who met while students at Baldwin-Wallace College. They thought there was a need for a summer theatre that gave an outlet to the talents of both local professionals and amateurs, with an emphasis on the latter. The theatre is like the wandering minstrels, finding performance spaces where they may. Presently, they are in the Brooks Theatre of the Cleveland Playhouse. What’s next? Who knows, but this tenacious group, will find a way, find a place, and present plays to their loyal audiences.

Mercury’s production is delightful on many fronts, wanting on others. Director/choreographer Brault, doesn’t let simple things like a postage-stamp sized stage, a limited budget and moderately experienced performers get in his way. He just goes on presenting mini-extravaganzas. (This season ends with SHOW BOAT.) The present production is no exception. There are grand costumes, more gorgeous puppets than a major theatre would put on stage, big dance numbers and lots of scenery being dropped form the fly space and shoved around the stage.

On many levels DR. DOOLLITLE is a delight. Brault, not only directs and choreographs, but he plays the lead role. And performs it well. He’s been off the stage for many years and, based on this performance, he deserves to be back where he belongs. He sings, dances and smiles with glee.

His life-partner and stage buddy, Brian Marshall, after a slow start, glows in the second act as Matthew Mugg, an Irish imp. Kelvette Beacham delights as Straight Arrow. Her “Save the Animals” is a fine appeal for animal protectionism. Jennifer Myor has a nice singing voice and makes for a convincing Emma, who finally makes Dolittle realize that people may be as acceptable as animals. Lynette Turner is fun as Polynesia, the smart-mouthed parrot.

All is not perfect with the production. There is some weak acting and character development, some of the dancers aren’t up to Brault’s movements, and the vocal blends don’t always work. The single piano sounds of Ryan Neal, though well played, sound thin as the single musical accompaniment. The first act pacing is slow and performers often cut off applause and laughs by making physical and verbal entrances too early.

Though the show may appear to be ideal for children, some little ones will probably get restless, while adults will be more prone to appreciate the staging devices.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: DR. DOOLITTLE gets a pleasing, but not spectacular production, at Mercury Summerstock. The puppets, hummable music and Pierre-Jacques Brault’s staging and performance all are positive aspects of the production.

Friday, June 17, 2011


CHICAGO jazzes it up at Porthouse

In a good production, CHICAGO, the musical, sizzles with creative dancing exciting music and fun characterizations. The Porthouse Theatre production sizzles, and is creative and fun! ‘Nuf said.

In the words of my 15 year-old “kid reviewer” grandson, Alex, “That was great!” The award winning composer enthused, “The music was not only well written, but well played. The acting is right on. The singers sang meanings, not just words. The dancing was creative, and except for some unity problems in a couple of the numbers, was well done! The vocal blendings were excellent. Grandpa totally agreed with him.

CHICAGO, which is set in Prohibition era Chicago, is a satire on the Windy City’s well known police and judicial corruption. The mayhem gave birth to celebrity criminals whose fame came and went as newer and more outlandish crimes and payoffs came forth.
The musical is based on a play of the same name written by Maurine Dallas Watkins, a Chicago Tribune reporter who was assigned to cover the 1924 trials of murderesses Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner.
Annan, who was acquitted of murder through a reported series of payoffs, became the model for the Roxie Hart. Velma is based on Gaertner, a cabaret singer who was also conveniently acquitted of murder. Billy Flynn, the lawyer character, is a composite of the two lawyers in the real cases.

The musical’s path to production started in the 1960s. Superstar Gwen Verdon read the play and asked her husband, the great Broadway choreographer, Bob Fosse, about creating a musical adaptation. Fosse approached playwright Watkins numerous times to buy the rights, but Watkins, who had become a born-again Christian, refused as she believed her play glamorized a scandalous way of living. Upon her death the rights were obtained and Fred Ebb began work on the musical score. Ebb and Fosse penned the book and Fosse directed and choreographed. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

The original Broadway production ran for 936 performances and starred Chita Rivera as Velma, Gwen Verdon as Roxie and Jerry Orbach as Billy. The script was revived in 1996 and holds the record for the longest-running musical revival on Broadway, now clocking over 6,000 performances. The 2002 film version, which starred Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly and Queen Latifah, won the Academy Award for best picture.

Porthouse’s production, under the direction of Terri Kent, is excellent. The show moves along at a fast pace, building on the vaudeville motif by having musical director Jonathan Swoboda serve not only as the orchestra leader, but as the narrator. It’s a clever technique which adds to the show’s whimsy.

Choregrapher Mary Ann Black’s has modified the original Fosse choreography to fit the talents of the dancers and the thrust stage venue. Though I would have liked the dancers to get lower to the ground and have more definitive hand and arm gestures, ala Fosse style, the enthusiasm and effect comes through loud and clear.

Swoboda’s band is excellent. The musical sounds don’t drown out the singing and fills the space with the right jazz beat.

Black, who not only choreographed, but plays the cute, conniving Roxie, is terrific in the role. She dances, mugs, feigns innocence and creates a delightful killer. Her solos Funny Honey and Roxie, were show highlights.

Sandra Emerick, Velma, sings, acts and dances well. Her All That Jazz lights up the stage. Her duets with Black, My Own Best Friend, Nowadays and I Know a Girl/Me and My Baby brought gales of applause.

Eric van Baars is fine as Billy. His singing and dancing are solid. He may have added to the role with a little more swagger and arrogance.

Timothy Culver, who portrays Roxie’s nebbish husband, brought down the house with Mister Cellophane.

Dylan Ratell confounds as the cross-dressing Mary Sunshine. He sings with a castrato voice that is outstanding. (Castrato is a male with a singing voice equivalent to that of soprano or mezzo-soprano.) Wow!

Melissa Owens’ Matron Mama Morton, lacks the hard edge and commanding presence needed for the role. Her When You’re Good to Mama lacked the needed power, presence and conniving tone.

Stick around for the song and dance routine after the closing lines. Black and Emerick delight.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: CHICAGO, Porthouse style, sizzles and delights. It makes for a perfect summer treat. Go! See! Enjoy!

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Cain Park’s DREAMGIRLS, audience pleasing, but needs emotional texturing

DREAMGIRLS has a dynamic musical score and story. These elements turn out to be both the boon and problem with Cain Park’s production of the script.

The DREAMGIRL story centers on a trio of female R & B (rhythm and blues) singers who strive for stardom. Think The Supremes. In fact, some believe that the plot is a disguised version of the story of Diana Ross, her emergence from being the backup singer in the original group, and her rise to fame. There is also enough similarity to the stories of James Brown and Jackie Wilson to lead to the conclusion that several of the male characters are based on these men.

We follow "The Dreams" as they rise from amateur talent show losers to becoming backup singers and then superstars, and those who played roles in their lives.

The musical opened on Broadway in 1981 and was nominated for thirteen Tony Awards. It was directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett and was mainly responsible for making Jennifer Holliday a major star.

A 2006 film adaptation starred Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover and former AMERICAN IDOL contestant Jennifer Hudson. Hudson won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the movie.

Henry Krieger’s music is hard-driving and compelling. Tom Euyen’s story is full of conflicts that help the storyline move along. To make the complexities work, the actors must not only get across the intense meaning, but understand the need to texture the spoken and sung lines. Unfortunately, Director Victoria Bussert has allowed her actors to start screaming from the outset, which leaves them no place to go to develop the needed emotional variances as the story develops.

After a while the screaming got so intense that an audience member sitting next to me mumbled, “Stop all the yelling.” He was right on. Actors need to realize that once you’ve screamed there is no place to up-the-ante when the intensity is really needed. Because of all the bellowing, many of the lines were lost in explosions of air.

Adrianna Cleveland as Effie, the member of the group who is dropped because of her domineering personality and hefty size, wails. This lady has one impressive voice. Her (And I’m Telling You) I’m Not Going was the show’s emotional and musical highpoint. It would have been even more impressive if the first act lines and music leading up to it had been more subtle, as the entire act leads up to that song. I Am Changing, under-sung with strong emotion, was beautiful and showed what happens when underplaying rather than excessive power is used. Cleveland could have made the character more dimensional by texturing the verbal expression of her spoken speeches.

The beautiful Ciara Renée has a very pleasant singing voice and developed a clear characterization as Deena, who is thrust into the lead singing role against her desires.

Kyle Primous as Jimmy, an emerging superstar, got lots of laughs and strong positive reactions for his superb dancing. At times he went overboard and lost the character because of too much affect. His Baby, Baby was a show stopper.

Antwaun Holley as C. C. White, displayed excellent dynamics and was consistent throughout.

Rod Lawrence was disappointing as the wheeling-dealing Curtis. He spoke and yelled words rather than meanings and never quite made the character real. The usually proficient Darryl Lewis screamed his way through the role of Marty, as did David Robbins in various parts.

Song and production highlights included Fake Your Way to the Top, Steppin’ to the Bad Side, and the reprise of Dreamgirls.

Gregory Daniels’ choreography was creative. Unfortunately, at times it was too ambitious for the cast, causing mistiming on group movements.

Russ Borski’s costume designs were fabulous. The amount of fabric used on this show was unbelievable.

Rob Kovacs’s musicians were excellent, though the volume and dynamics needed variance. The sound needed to be big, but, in the small venue, had to be tempered. Loud is not always better!

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: DREAMGIRLS is quite good on many levels and will please many. However, it could have been so much better if restraint, texturing of moods, and less pounding and screaming of musical and spoken sounds had been achieved.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Next to Normal

Mind blowing, must see NEXT TO NORMAL at Palace/PhSquare

When I first saw the New York production of NEXT TO NORMAL, the Brian Yorkey (books and lyrics) and Tom Kitt (music) musical, which was the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner, I had a set of questions.

As a theatre reviewer I was, of course, curious about the value and production quality of the show. As a mental health counselor, I wondered how a musical was going to grapple with the subject of mental illness without a simplistic, mocking or evasive approach. My answers to both questions were quickly answered.

NEXT TO NORMAL is a well-crafted and outstanding script. It is an emotional and accurate depiction of the problems of coping with bipolar disorder and situationally-induced depression.

The Pulitzer Prize Board called the show "a powerful rock musical that grapples with mental illness in a suburban family and expands the scope of subject matter for musicals." From my perspective, and as evidenced by the screaming standing ovation at the opening night of the show at the Palace Theatre, they were right on. Remember, the reaction was for a serious-themed musical, not a light escapist piece of fluff.

NEXT TO NORMAL, which in its early development was entitled, FEELING ELECTRIC, due to the use of ECT (electric convulsive therapy), commonly known as shock therapy, concerns a mother who struggles with a worsening bipolar disorder and the effect that her illness has on her family. The musical also addresses such issues as grieving a loss, the difficulty of maintaining a marriage in the wake of psychological problems, drug abuse, ethics in modern psychiatry and teenage angst.

Sounds like a downer. No way! Yes, it showcases disturbing issues, but it does so in a probing way that adds humor and illuminates truth. It is realistic and shares the fact that 1 in 17 American adults suffer a serious degree of mental illness which not only affects them, but their families.

The play starts as no other musical has. Suburban mother Diana Goodman waits up late for her curfew-challenged son, comforts her anxious and overachieving daughter, hurries off for some sex with her husband, then rises to help prepare her family for Just Another Day. But when her lunch-making takes a turn for the bizarre with sandwiches covering the table, chairs, and floor, the family realizes something is not right. From here, the story unfolds. The goings on get more and more out of sync and we watch in ever expanding awareness that this is a family in crisis.

The score is infectious, the lyrics compelling. The songs are so integrated into the story that there is no separation between the spoken and sung word. This is not a speech, song, dance, speech script. It is a perfectly integrated message. The song titles develop a clear idea of the show’s content, Let There Be Light, Perfect, More…More…and More, and Who’s Crazy/My Psychopharmacologist and I.

The musical opened on Broadway in April 2009 to rave reviews, and ran for over 700 performances. It was nominated for eleven 2009 Tony Awards with the Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical going to Alice Ripley.

Ripley, a Rocky River native and BFA musical theatre graduate from Kent State, stars in the touring production. She is amazing. The role requires her literally to have a nervous breakdown every night. In spite of all the times she has played the role, tears flow, she transitions from mood to mood with astonishing ease. This is a performance not to be missed!

The rest of the cast is up to Ripley’s high level. Several are reprising roles they played or understudied in the Big Apple production.

Asa Somers (Dan, the husband) develops a characterization that make us wonder how he can confront the issues and stay on course. He is outstanding.

Curt Hansen, as Gage, the son, flows around the stage like a shadow. He is physically compelling, has a great voice and inhabits the role.

Emma Hunton as Natalie, the daughter, shows clearly the effect of being the survivor child who has been pushed aside due to parental grief and psychological issues.

Preston Sadleir gives a focused performance as Natalie’s druggie boyfriend. And, Jeremy Kushnier, who starred in JERSEY BOYS (which ironically will run June 22 to July 17 at the State Theatre), is professionally correct, as the two psychiatrists who attempt to treat Diana.

Though there was some instances when the band drowned out the actors, in general the music was well performed. The set creatively allows for multi-illusions as the see-through screens slide to reveal and conceal the goings-on and the three levels of scaffold encourage seeing the many angles of the action.

Capsule judgement: NEXT TO NORMAL is the highlight production of this year’s Broadway Series. This is an absolutely must see, production. Go, learn, experience a compelling script and a finely tuned production!!