Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Roy Berko
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association and Cleveland Critics Circle)

The Cleveland area has a full schedule of professional summer entertainment. But, instead of examining the traditional city offerings, let’s look at some non-traditional suggestions.


The fabled Oberlin College is within easy driving distance of the Cleveland area. The Oberlin Summer Theater Festival’s 2012 season will include: William Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” William Inge’s romantic comedy, “Bus Stop,” and Marc Blitzstein’s hard-hitting musical, “The Cradle Will Rock.” The productions will feature professional Equity actors in leading roles and will run in rotating repertory from July 6 through August 4 in Oberlin’s Hall Auditorium, state Route 58 between the Oberlin Inn and the Allen Memorial Art Museum. Tickets are free, but reservations are recommended. For tickets call 440-775-8169.


Bannered as, “SEE A LITTLE HEAVEN AND RAISE A LITTLE HELL!,” Kent State University’s summer theatre, performed on the grounds of the Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, will perform Damn Yankees, from June 14-30. It will star the dynamic duo of Eric van Baars and MaryAnn Black. Kander and Ebb’s The World Goes ‘Round, with songs from Chicago, Cabaret, Funny Lady, Kiss of the Spider Woman and New York, New York, coupled with witty comic numbers, follows from July 5-21. The season ends with the most beloved sing-along musical, The Sound of Music and star Kayce Cummings Green, being staged from July 26 through August 12.

Curtain time is 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds open 90 minutes prior to curtain time. For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to http://dept.kent.edu/theatre/porthouse/index.html


In its thirty-third year, the resident professional company of the College of Wooster performs from June 16 through August 11 in the campus’s Freedlander Theatre. This year’s offering, which are performed in repertoire are: GUYS AND DOLLS, A CONNECTICUT YANKEE, THE MIKADO, THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER, BLOSSOM TIME, UTOPIA LIMITED and MISS SPRINGTIME. For tickets and show descriptions go to www.ohiolightopera.org or call 330-263-2345.


Though its been in existence since 1998, in an itinerate existence, Mercury Summer Theatre has finally found a home. They will be performing at Notre Dame College in South Euclid.

Headed by Artistic Director Pierre-Jacques Brault and his life partner, managing director Brian Marshall, the professionally-based, not for profit stock company, performs popular, but rarely done scripts.

This season’s offerings are: CATS, June 15-30, ONCE UPON A MATTRESS, July 6-21 and ALL SHOOK UP, August 3-18. Performances start at 7:30.

For tickets go online to http://www.mercurysummerstock.com or call 216-771-5862.


Noted as a venue for music concerts and dance programs, Cain Park, located in Cleveland Heights, produces a musical play each season. This year’s offering is AVENUE Q. The show previews on June 14, opens on June 15 and runs through July 1 in the Alma Theatre. For the $15 tickets call 216-371-3000 or go to www.cainpark.com

Clybourne Park

CLYBOURNE PARK…a fascinating view of neighborhood integration and gentrification

Have you ever wondered, after seeing a play, what might have happened to the characters or even the physical structure in which the story is set, before the play began or after it ended? Bruce Norris’s CLYBOURNE PARK does exactly that.

Flash back to 1959, where, at the conclusion of Lorraine Hansberry’s A RAISIN THE SUN, the black Younger family is about to move into the all-white Clyborune Park area of Chicago. Before the move, fearing the lowering of housing costs and white flight, the neighbors sent Karl Lindner, a bigoted community leader, to offer the Youngers money for not finalizing the deal. As it turned out, Lena, the matriarch of the family, refused the offer and the Youngers moved to a house numbered 406.

(Side note: the story parallels the plight of Hansberry’s family. In 1937, her father bought a home in Chicago’s segregated Washington Park area. The restricted covenants were challenged, resulting in a legal case (Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S. 32). The Hansberrys won, moved in and the house now has National Landmark Preservation status.)

(Enter Norris) CLYBOURNE PARK takes us into 406, several days before the Youngers were to move in. Bev and Russ, the owners of the property, are grief stricken. Their son, Kenneth, who was accused of war crimes in the Korea, had committed suicide in his bedroom. The family, which has been ostracized, decided to sell the house. We are never sure whether they sold to a black family to get back at their neighbors, or, as they state, were “unaware of the race of the new owners.” Lindner, the character from RAISIN, comes to plead with Bev and Russ to withdraw from the deal. After an emotional confrontation in front of a group of neighbors, the sellers refuse. (Exit Norris.)

(Re-enter Norris). The second act of CLYBOURNE PARK takes place in 2009. The same actors as in Act 1, playing different characters, are present. There is conflict as to whether the house, in what is now becoming a gentrified community, will be sold, leveled and a new structure built by a white family. African American Lena and her husband represent the local neighborhood association, and mention that her Great-Aunt moved her family to that house in 1959. (It is probably not by chance that the young lady has the same name as her Great-Aunt.) Racism enters as the blacks, who have rebuilt the neighborhood, don’t want white suburbanites to buy and change the character of the houses, many of which have been rebuilt to mirror their historical past.

Does the viewer have to know all of the intertwining stories in order to appreciate the Norris play? No, but it does add a psychological jolt to realize that we are watching the blending the ideas of two great playwrights. It is also eye-opening to realize that Hansberry, whose RAISIN IN THE SUN is considered the seminal black civil rights play, did not win a Pulitzer Prize for her script, but Norris did for his. One can only wonder if gender and race, subjects of both scripts, was a factor in Hansberry’s denial decision.

The play, under the adept direction of Pam MacKinnon, is spell binding. The pacing is excellent, the characters clearly developed, the settings are era correct and work well to convey the passage of time and neighborhood change.

Norris, an actor as well as a playwright, writes characters that live. This is a unified cast production, in which each participant carries equal weight for the success of the production. Fortunately, the cast, Crystal Dickinson, Brendan Griffin, Damon Gupton, Christina Kirk, Annie Parisse, Jeremy Shamos and Frank Wood each effectively textures his/her dual roles.

Capsule Judgement: Pulitzer Prize winning CLAYBOURNE PARK is an emotionally moving script that effectively highlights the still present distrust between members of different races. It gets an impressive production under Pam MacKinnon’s direction. It’s a significant play worth seeing.

(The on-Broadway production opened April 26, 2012 in the Walter Kerr Theatre for a 16-week limited engagement. )

End of the Rainbow

Tracie Bennett inhabits Judy Garland in END OF THE RAINBOW

Judy Garland, who was born Ethel Gumm, started in show business at the age of two-and-a-half. She later was coupled with her older siblings as the Gumm Sisters to become a well known vaudeville act.

Renamed Judy Garland, she was signed to a Hollywood contract and, in the late 1930s starred in the Andy Hardy movies with Mickey Rooney. She became America’s sweetheart in such films as The Wizard of Oz, Strike Up the Band, Babes on Broadway, For Me and My Gal and Meet Me In Saint Louis. Songs such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “The Trolley Song,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” became synonymous with her name.

As was the case with many child stars, in adulthood, she was deeply troubled. She became known as being unreliable and unstable and her career ebbed and waned.

She married for the first time at age 19 to bandleader David Rose. It was a short-lived union. She went on to marry Vincent Minnelli, bore daughter Liza, and soon was again divorced. And so the pattern of her life was set. Short-term relationships were ever present.

On June 22, 1969, at age 47, she died from an overdose of pills. She left behind a legacy of great performances, special memories, and a number of fanatic fans. Her popularity, over fifty years after her demise, is still strong.

Peter Quilter’s END OF THE RAINBOW, which is loosely based on the book, WEEP NO MORE MY LADY by Mickey Deans, Garland’s fifth and final husband, focuses on the latter stages of her life.

In the play, Garland is scheduled to appear at The Talk of the Town, in London. She is financially broke, helplessly addicted to drugs and booze, and has had an affair with the much younger Deans, thus bringing to an end her marriage to Mark Herron.

The drama with music makes it appear that Deans, who is portrayed as having an abusive personality, was attempting to save Judy from herself by restricting her addiction consumption. Some sources allude to Deans using Garland for his own advantages, such as making money from the tell-all book, which followed her death. Whatever the truth, the power of the play comes out loud and clear.

This is a well written script, with many emotional highs and lows, some laughs, and, of course, some glorious vocal sounds. As the program notes indicated, we are exposed to the elegant Judy (The Man Who Got Away), the befuddled Judy (When You’re Smiling), the out-of-control Judy (Come Rain or Come Shine). And, of course, there is Judy saying goodbye emotionally emoting Over the Rainbow.

The production, under the eye of Terry Johnson, is mesmerizing.

The cast is strong. Michael Cumpsty, as Judy’s gay long-time accompanist, is compelling as the only person in Judy’s later life who appears to have her best interests at heart. Cumpsty is totally believable in the role and is an excellent pianist.

Tom Pelphrey (Mickey) walks the fine line between caring and manipulative, giving just enough smarminess to make us question whether he is a good or bad guy. Jay Russell is fine in multiple minor roles.

The star of the show is the amazing Tracie Bennett as Garland. Bennett, who is making her Broadway debut after an impressive theater, film and television, career, claims to be “an actress by definition and not a singer.” She is compelling in both capacities. She doesn’t do a Garland imitation; she inhabits the persona and soul of Judy. She compels us to believe, to accept that the real Judy is on stage. This is a fine performance, worthy of standing ovations and awards!

The on-stage musicians are excellent. They play well and support rather than draw away attention from the action.

The technical aspects of the production are top notch. William Dudley’s scene and costume designs and Christopher Akerlind’s lighting enhance the style and mood.

Capsule judgement: END OF THE RAINBOW is a compelling script that gets a top-notch production under the guidance of Terry Johnson. Tracie Bennett is superlative, inhabiting the living presence of Judy Garland. Bravo!

(In an open-ended run at the Belasco Theatre.)

Ghosts, The Musical

GHOST THE MUSICAL…there are a lot of illusions going on!

There’s an adage in the theatre…the audience should not leave of the theatre mainly talking about the special effects and sets. GHOST THE MUSICAL proves that wrong. After the final curtain, the audience was excitedly raving about the on-stage special illusions, commenting about the comic level of Bruce Joel Rubin’s script, while humming the pleasant, if not memorable score, by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard.

The production is based on the 1990 box office smash movie, GHOST, also written by Rubin. It starred Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg, who won the Academy Award as best supporting actress.

The musical closely follows the film’s story line. Sam, a young successful banker, who has recently moved in with Molly, discovers that there is manipulation of finances at the bank at which he worked. While returning from a restaurant, in which, once again Sam has difficulty verbalizing his love for Molly, the duo is robbed. Sam is killed.

He finds himself in the nether world, frustrated over his lack of truly communicating his feelings to Molly and concerned for her safety because of the awareness that Carl, his best friend and fellow bank employee, is the source of the financial manipulation. He enlists the help of Oda Ma Brown, a con artist and fake medium, to channel his thoughts to Molly. The results are amusing, and the plot twist open the door to numerous ghostly effects. Of course, as in all such stories, all ends well.

While some may be turned off by the unrealistic plot, this is an old fashioned two-Kleenex “chick flick,” meant as escapist entertainment. To appreciate all the positive aspects of the show, requires a suspension of literal belief.

The cast is excellent. Foremost are the comic talents of Da’vine Joy Randolph, who hilariously channels the medium, Oda Mae Brown. Brown doesn’t imitate Goldberg’s film antics, but develops a set of her own moves and sounds. Her Are You a Believer? is a show stopper, as is the scene in which she finds herself the short term possessor of 10 million dollars.

Richard Fleeshman (Sam) is the Broadway musical theatre matinee idol prototype...tall, handsome, gym sculpted body, good acting chops, and a great singing voice. His Unchanged Melody is well presented. He and Caissie Levy (Molly) have a realistic emotional connection, creating a believable relationship.

Levy, like Fleeshman, is natural and emotionally acceptable in the role. She has a nice singing voice, which she uses well in With You and Nothing Stops Another Day.

Bryce Pinkham’s vocals are musically on target, and he is effectively snarly as the friend turned bad.

Lance Roberts (Hospital Ghost), creates a poignant moment as he sings You Gotta Let Go.

Ashley Wallen’s well-executed choreography combines creative staging action and dance movements that enhance the story.

Jon Driscoll and his crew’s video and projection designs and execution are beyond impressive. The overall effect of street movements, ghost appearances and disappearances, and visual explosions, are visually awesome. Hugh Vanstone’s lighting, Paul Kieve’s illusions, and Bobby Aitken’s sound effects, all add significantly to the overall positive effect.

Capsule judgement: GHOST THE MUSICAL may not be a great musical, but it is a production that entertains, is filled with emotional tenderness and humor, and makes for a nice escapist theatre experience.

(In an open-ended run at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.)

Monday, May 14, 2012


Life examined through the eyes of a cabbie at Blank Canvas

Blank Canvas, the area’s newest professional theatre, has done it again. Will Kern’s HELLCAB is the company’s third production. It’s another winner.

HELLCAB takes the audience on a seventy-minute ride through twenty-two different fares a Chicago cabbie has in a single day.

The story is a social and moral commentary on the lives of people as it probes religion, race, urban life, prejudice, normalcy and desperation. The cabbie endures a trio of druggies, a bragging wealthy man who has little regard for women, a numbed rape victim, a smug lawyer, a frustrated middle-aged woman, a couple of loud-mouthed New York Yankee fanatics who yell obscene comments at Chicago Cubs fans, a woman about to give birth, an architect, a potential robber, and a Pakistani. It’s all capped off by a touching final scene.

The entire show is staged on a turntable in the middle of Blank Canvas’s theatre-in-a-square stage on which is placed a replica of a yellow cab. As the play proceeds, the auto turns so the audience gets to see the scenes from various viewpoints. The small size of the theatre, in which no one is more than four rows away from the action, adds to the intimacy and realism.

Mark Moritz’s directing is right on course. The scenes are well paced and flows nicely. The six actors who play over 25 different roles switch and hold their characters well. The use of costume and wig changes, as well as vocal variations and pronunciations, help create the various people.

The star of the show is the talented Patrick Ciamacco who never leaves the stage throughout the production. Ciamacco textures the role of the cabbie with emotions that range from being tired, to irritation, to rage, to fear, to empathy. His mobile face changes from blank stares to grimaces, rolling eyes, disgust, and fear, with purposeful ease. What makes his performance even more impressive is that Ciamacco stepped into the role less than 24 hours before opening night.

The rest of the cast, Sonya Barnes, Kenneth Bryant, Joe Dunn, Doug Kusak, Katie Nabors and Carla Petroski, are all excellent. There is not a weak link in the acting chain.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: HELLCAB is a thought provoking, sometimes humorous glimpse into life in a big city which exposes the foibles and lives of people who use a cab as their means of transportation. It’s na evening of impressive performances and well worth seeing.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change

I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE: a nice escape at Actors’ Summit

Every once in a while it’s nice to go to a theatre, relax, hear some pleasant music, enjoy stories of love and life, and smile. That’s the situation at Actor’s Summit with their present offering, I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE.

ILY,YP, NC is a review by Joe DiPietro (book) and Jimmy Roberts (music) which takes a journey from dating and waiting to fall in love, to marriage. Then it lightly probes into the agonies and triumphs of newborns, children, and the pick-up attempts of geriatrics. Not mind blowing, not even mind bending, just a series of songs, some light hearted vignettes, and an occasional emotional twist.

The music is nice. Not memorable, but pleasant. No top ten hits on the play list here, but also nothing grating, ear splitting, or heavy bass.

The Actors’ Summit cast have nice voices, interpret the songs well, hit the right emotional levels and make the ideas flow right along. Stephen Brockway, Aubrey Caldwell, Abigail Allwein, and Keith Stevens play multi-roles with comfort.

It is ironic that Stevens does a charming song, complete with baby talk about the joys of fatherhood, since he is a very, very recent new daddy!

New grandpa Neil Thackaberry’s directing keeps the show moving at a pleasant pace. And, new grandma MaryJo Alexander does a great job with the costumes and props.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE makes for a pleasant afternoon/evening of theatre.

Devil Boys from Beyond

Farcical romp at convergence continuum doesn’t quite romp enough

Convergence-continuum, known among the local theatre folk as cc, has as its purpose a request to the audience to, “leave behind the conventional reality of everyday life and cross the threshold into an experience of the alternate reality.” The theatre goes out of its way to find off-beat, often mind blowing scripts. Their loyal audience knows what to expect, and usually gets it.

Buddy Thomas and Kenneth Eilliott’s script, DEVIL BOYS FROM BEYOND, has Artistic Director Clyde Simon’s “produce me-stamp” embossed all over it. Picture this: aliens from outer space, cross dressing, 1950 space age television characters come to life, men with their shirts off, lots of special effects needed…come on, this is a cc dream script.

DEVIL BOYS FROM BEYOND is a campy spoof of the 1950’s sci-fi movies with a drag show twist. It won the 2009 NY Fringe Overall Excellence Award for Outstanding Play and was a nominee for the 2010 GLAAD Award for Outstanding New York Off-Off Broadway production.

The story centers on a Pulitzer prize-winning woman journalist flying off to Lizard Lick, Florida, the hickiest hick-town in all of America, to investigate the sighting and landing of men from Pluto. The script is filled with flying saucers, backstabbing reporters, hissy-fits, muscle hunks, and men with fake boobs in pumps!

The New York production was called: “Hilarious,” “One of the funniest shows in a long time” and “A honey of a laugh riot.”

As can be expected, there is lots of ridiculous. But, and I thought I’d never write of a Simon staging: the production needed more romp. It also needed a more consistent 1950 black-and-white television approach. It’s not that the audience, at least the typical cc audience won’t enjoy themselves. They will. But there could have been hysteria, rather than bursts of giggles.

Amy Bistok-Bunce, as Mattie Van Buren, has the perfect cadence and sound to create Lois Lane, of TV’s Superman fame, come to life. Her enunciation and vocal pattern harks back to early ’50 shows. She even has the staccato moves down pat.

Zac Hudak, as the cross dressing Lucinda Marsh, Mattie’s rival, hisses and cat fights well, but shows inconsistency in character development. Jonathan Wilhelm, as the bouncing-bosomed Dotty Primrose, one of the locals, whose pot-bellied husband has been whisked away by the aliens and replaced by studly Geoffrey Hoffman (Tattoo), has some fine moments. Clint Elston (Gort) flexes well as another of the aliens who replaces a hapless Lizard Lick resident.

Tim Coles doesn’t get the Perry White editor of Superman down pat. He’s much too real. The rest of the cast needed some time watching videos of early television drama to figure out how to create the characters alluded to in the script. Oh, for true creation of characters as seen in FRONT PAGE DETECTIVE, SPACE PATROL and CASEY, CRIME PHOTOGRAPHER.

Capsule Judgement: DEVIL BOYS FROM BEYOND is fun. It could have been hysterical with a more farcical, 1950’s stylistic performance approach.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Come Fly With Me

COME FLY AWAY takes audience on a song and dance trip of romance

Combine the vocal sounds of Frank Sinatra, the king of sophisticated mellow sounds, the master of “cool,” with the creative energies of choreographer Twyla Tharp, queen of unique dance interpretations, and the result is an evening of masterful joy.

COME FLY AWAY was greeted on Broadway with tepid reviews. Taking note of the negatives, and building on the positives, the touring production is half an hour shorter, some songs were dropped, the intermission eliminated. Now, about 80 minutes long, it is tighter, less repetitive and holds the audience’s attention with the feeling that Sinatra is in the house.

The sound design gives the illusion that Sinatra is standing in the wings while the wonderful on-stage big band (reeds, trumpets, trombones, bass, drums and piano) supplement the fine signature recorded musical arrangements of the boss. No one sings Sinatra, the vocals are his! In fact, it’s so well done that it was almost expected that the man would appear on stage during the curtain call. Well, in fact, he does…the result of visual electronics. And the audience reaction was the same as if he had returned from the dead.

The setting is a night club. We watch as four couples flirt, conflict, fall in and out of love, while dancing to the crooner’s seductive vocals. The dancers move with ease, invading each other’s space, overlapping in vignettes, change and shed clothing to display their superbly toned bodies. The dance style is modern dance with ballet overtones, not ballroom movements. There are traditional balletic lifts, partner coupling, hand extensions, flowing moves on and off stage, coupled with modern dance, gymnastics, flips, jive, and lots of enthusiasm.

Don’t expect a story line. That isn’t part of this format. Tharp doesn’t usually tell stories. She shapes characters, each unique, who repeat their strongest dance abilities, keeping true to their designated form. As the show is fluid in casting, the lineup seen one night may not be what is seen the next. This gives a freshness to each performance.

On opening night Ramona Kelley and Christopher Vo danced as a cute young couple who shyly meet and by the end of the show, are in love. They were both superb, with Vo getting laughs for his awkward attempts to impress Kelley.

Ron Todorowski displayed strong abilities with body abandonment in his flips, cartwheels and gymnastic skills. Beautiful Meredith Miles displayed fine balletic dancing talent. Toned Stephen Hanna’s strong balletic skills, which was also highlighted in the musical BILLY ELLIOT, was well showcased.

The rest of the opening night lead dancers, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Tanairi Sade Vazquez and Anthony Burrell all displayed excellent dance skills. The corps was strong.

The on stage band, which supplemented the recorded music, was superb. Strong solos performances aided in the overall quality of the musical sounds.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you’re a Sinatra fan, you’ll have an evening of nostalgia with old blue eyes. If you’re a dance aficionado, you’ll experience an evening filled with the visual delights of Twyla Tharp. If you are a lover of musical theatre filled with a strong story line and message, this isn’t going to be your thing. Me? I really, really enjoyed myself.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Alvin Ailey-2012


How many superlatives are there in the English language that can be used to describe Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s May 4 performance at the State Theatre? I could start with superlative, then transition into exciting, mesmerizing, compelling, creative, and then add powerful and dynamic. I could go on from there, but the point has been made.

The Alvin Ailey company brought the crowd to its feet several times during the production and had them standing, clapping, and dancing in the rows and aisles at the end. This was not an automatic Cleveland standing “O,” this was a well deserved tribute to one outstanding evening of dance!

Since the numbers aren’t necessarily going to be repeated in the other two presentations this weekend, going into detail about each segment isn’t necessary. It’s enough to make some general comments.

In 1958 Alvin Ailey and a group of young African-American modern dancers came onto the scene and captivated the dance world. They became legends who have performed before an estimated 23 million people in 71 countries.

When Ailey died in 1989, Judith Jamison, Ailey’s personal choice for the position, took over as Artistic Director. The question of whether the company would retain its high quality was raised. The query was answered when, in 2008, the company was recognized by a U.S. Congressional resolution for their being “a vital American cultural ambassador to the world which celebrates the African-American cultural experience.”

When Robert Battle become Artistic Director on July 1, 2011, again one of the questions was whether he could duplicate the fabled performances. Fear not dance aficionados. If the State Theatre presentation is any indication, the company is not only in good hands with Battle, but it seems to have gained a new presence.

The dancers are well-trained, skilled in dance techniques. There are no leads, no feature dancers, they are a melded unit. My notes reveal such words as powerful, gymnastic, motionless freezes, well supported lifts, torrid pace, fine interactions, lighting enhanced movements and sounds, flowing, total abandonment, strong hip thrusts, total body control, gorgeous visualizations, beautiful integration of music and movements, well selected musical pieces.

Though the entire evening was exciting, the best was saved for last, Ailey’s 1960 signature piece, REVELATIONS. Danced to traditional gospel music, highlighted by Rocka my Soul, the ten-segment composition bursts off the stage, leaving the audience standing, clapping and screaming. It’s an experience not to be missed. That number will close all three local performances.

Capsule judgement: It can only be hoped that it isn’t too long before the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returns to the area. This is a world class dance company that deserves to be seen over and over! Hallelujah!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Blank Canvas/Patrick Ciamacco

Welcome to BLANK CANVAS: The evolution of a new theatre
The story sounds right out of a 1930s Andy Hardy movie: with the cry, “Let’s put on a play,”Patrick Ciamacco and his merry band of henchman, decided, about 6 years ago to create a new theatre. At first they thought of the title Ghostlight Theatre, but since the name was already taken, and not wanting to tempt a lawsuit, the decision was made to call it Blank Canvas. Yes, a space void of substance, opening up the possibility to design and formulate what they wanted,with no restrictions.

After making a splash as the Laughter League, housed in Medina, Blank Canvas was offered a space in The 78th Street Studios. The owner wanted a permanent theatre tenant, the group wanted a space to do what they wanted without having restrictions placed on them such as union requirements. It was a match made in heaven. Well, almost. The owner cut a great deal, but the creative team had toinvent on the run as they needed to quickly mount a show.

Their opening production, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MUSICAL, an adult rock musical coming of age story about a 1970s handsome serial killer,played to half-filled houses through the first weekend, then, as the word spread, the 85 seat theatre was sold out for the rest of the run.

The writers of CHAINSAW came, loved it, and incorporated thechanges that director Ciamacco made into their Las Vegas edition of theshow.

Their second production, OF MICE AND MEN, based on John Steinbeck’s epic tale of two farmhand drifters, received rave reviews, and also did well at the box office.

Ciamacco indicates that “a lot of people responded favorably to the differences in the types of the first two shows, as well as the theatre space which is an intimate, right there space, with no audience member more than 15 feet from the stage.”

How is it financed? Ciamacco and some friends donated the start up costs. The income from the Laughter League helps. The Near West Theatre donated the BLANK CANVAS’s seats. Relationships with other theatres helped get a lighting board, and sound instruments were borrowed or rented at low costs. Some of the area’s best technicians volunteered their time free, and the actors were cooperative and helpful, building and painting scenery. Yes, it’s Andy Rooney comes to Cleveland.

What should audiences expect from Blank Canvas? Ciamacco admits the philosophy isevolving, changes have already been made in the description of who the audience is and what will be the final production, but right now, he wants low tickets prices for a quality show, a season with something for everyone, possibly someOhio premiers, and a place where non-traditional theatre-goers will feel welcome.

Their next production is Will Kern’s HELL CAB. It consists of 70 minutes of vignettes about modern city life and the people we meet for a brief moment but who touch us long afterwards. Six actors play 25 roles, while a cabbie, seated in a real yellow cab on stage, acts as the audience’s guide. The show runs May 4-20.

Ciamacco, who is young, creative, idealistic, and probably a little naïve, has great plans for the Blank Canvas. Based on the first two productions, this dynamo may be on the path to developing another fine area venue.
The theatre is located in the 78th StreetStudios, 1301 West 78th Street, Suite 211. For tickets, which are $15, or other information call 440-941-0458 or go to www.blankcanvastheatre.com