Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Sound of Music

SOUND OF MUSIC climbs ev’ry mountain at Porthouse

Many consider THE SOUND OF MUSIC the greatest American musical. Others think of it as a sentimental piece of fluff. Whatever their view, few can sit and listen passively to the likes of such songs as My Favorite Things, Climb Ev’ry Mountain, Do-Re-Mi, and Maria. This is Rogers and Hammerstein at their best.

The musical centers on Maria, a young Austrian who is studying to be a nun. She is sent to be a governess for the children of Captain von Trapp, a widower who was a naval commander. Maria falls in love with the children, and the children return the love that they do not get from their overbearing father. von Trapp plans to marry a baroness, but their views of the upcoming Anschluss get in the way. Love blossoms between Maria and the Captain. The duo marries. In order to avoid Nazi rule, the family flees the country.

Interestingly, there are facts about the von Trapp family and the show itself that have been lost as viewers assume that the musical is a factual story.

The idea for the script was based on the 1956 West German film, THE TRAPP FAMILY, and its 1958 sequel. Originally it was to be made into a non-musical, written by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, that would feature songs from the repertoire of the Trapp Family Singers. Several additional songs were to be written by Rodgers(music) and Hammerstein (lyrics). Then the full-blown Rodgers and Hammerstein show was proposed. The rest is history.

An award winning Broadway show, it ran 1443 performances with Theodore Bikel and Mary Martin in the lead roles. Then it was transformed into an award winning film with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, which is generally regarded as one of the most popular films of all time.

For dramatic purposes, the actual family’s life was altered. In reality, Maria was only hired to tutor one of the children, the names and ages of the children were altered, the family spent years in Austria after Maria and the Captain were married, and, no there was no escape over the mountains. The family went by train to Italy, then to London and then to the United States.
Another misconception is that Edelweiss, the song that the von Trapp’s sing at the Salzburg Music Festival, is the Austrian national anthem. It isn’t. It is simply a song that Rogers and Hammerstein wrote as a plot device.

If you are a SOUND OF MUSIC aficionado, you’ll know that the Porthouse production includes two songs, I Have Confidence and Something Good, which were not in the Broadway production, but which Rogers wrote for the film version.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC was the last show written by Rogers and Hammerstein. Hammerstein died of cancer nine months after the Broadway premiere.

The Porthouse production, under the direction of Terri Kent, is joyous. It’s impossible not to smile your way through the show. It is the kind of happy big cast production, that Kent does so well.

The show is fleshed out by the creative choreography of MaryAnn Black. Jonathan Swoboda’s musical direction is good, but his brass section sometimes goes astray. Nolan O’Dell’s scenic designs are creative, but the many set changes become tiresome after a while.

The lovely Kayce Cummings, who has been on the Porthouse stage many times, is glorious as Maria. She exudes warmth and love. Marla Berg, she of big voice and strong vibrato, wails as the Mother Abbess. Lenne Snively is properly uptight as Sister Berthe, and Lissy Gulick is adorable as the cherubic Sister Margaretta.

Larry Nehring is fine as Captain von Trapp, though he could have been a little more strict at the start, so his transition to the nurturing father would be obvious later. Kyle Kemph sings and dances well as Rolph, Louisa’s boyfriend. He and Louisa do an excellent rendition of Sixteen Going on Seventeen. All of the children are charming, with Cameron Nelson a standout as the precocious Brigitta. Eric van Baars hits the right comic notes as Max, as the Captain’s friend.

Capsule judgement: Porthouse’s THE SOUND OF MUSIC is a crowd pleaser that brings out the best of the script through good pacing, fine singing, dancing and line interpretation.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Trouble in Tahiti

TROUBLE IN TAHITI, with words and music by Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein is noted for his wonderful musical scores. To the surprise of some, he did pen lyrics. TROUBLE IN TAHITI is a Bernstein one-act opera, with both words and music by the great one.

The story depicts the life of one couple, Dinah and Sam, in their attempt to cope with different points of view as they live life in the suburbs. The area might well be Levittown, the mid-nineteenth century mass-produced suburb, which was the rage about the time that Bernstein wrote the piece.

The 1952 work, which runs about 45 minutes, is filled with musical themes that give hints of Bernstein works including WEST SIDE STORY, ON THE TOWN, WONDERFUL TOWN and CANDIDE. The piece was later incorporated into Bernstein’s 1983 opera, A QUIET PLACE.

The young Bernstein tried to make TROUBLE IN TAHITI as real as possible. He stated that he wanted everything to be believable. The language is everyday speech, set to a typical American cadence and syncopation, almost a slurred quality.

The script harks of realism. It appears to be a snapshot in time of Bernstein and his wife, Felicia Monteleagre.

The story centers on one day in the life of a couple who appear to be unhappy. Nothing much happens plot wise, so at the end of the production, the duo is at the same crossroads as at the beginning.

THE PHILANDERER George Bernard Shaw wrote, “The test of a man or woman’s breeding is how they behave in a quarrel.” Sam and Dinah fight civilly, in control, and with little effect. Their breeding shows, but their styles don’t help them solve their issues.

Shaw’s production showcases Bernstein’s script. Nothing much shines, nothing much falters. The music sounds a little shallow as played by the five piece orchestra, the singing is adequate, the vocal projection sometimes makes hearing a little difficult.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Bernstein’s TROUBLE IN TAHITI is one of those scripts that is pleasing to watch and listen to as it is being seen, but quickly evaporates from memory.


Captivating RAGTIME lights up the stage at the Shaw Festival

The early 20th century was the time of great change in America. Exploding population growth, creation of the nation’s industrial philosophy, a determination of the political system, the growth of the union movement, and changing attitudes toward minorities, all filled the era.

E. L. Doctorow’s inventive 1975 novel, RAGTIME, tells the story of three groups of Americans during that time.

The upper-class is epitomized by Papa, an industrialist and adventurer.

Coalhouse Walker, Jr., a Harlem musician, who finds himself being marginalized by a group of white bullies, represents African-Americans.

Tateh, a new Jewish Latvian arrival in the country, showcases the burden of the immigrants who must find a place for themselves in the great American tossed salad.

Terrance McNally has taken the Doctorow volume and written the book for a musical drama. When coupled with Lynn Ahrens lyrics and Stephen Flaherty’s gospel, ragtime and cakewalk music, the results are compelling theatre.

Both the book and the musical use invented characters, combined with well-known real people of the day, including Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Booker T. Washington, Henry Ford, Admiral Perry and Emma Goldman. This gives an air of historically accurate illusion to the story. In reality, though many of the incidents are real, others are fictionalized to add drama to the historama format.

The musical, which opened in New York in 1998 and went on to be a major Broadway hit, premiered in Toronto in 1996. The Broadway production showcased Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald and Lea Michele.

The story develops on multiple levels, but all blend together as the characters accidentally interact.

It’s 1902 in New Rochelle, New York, home of Father, who is leaving for a voyage with Admiral Peary (Goodbye, My Love). His ship passes a vessel bringing European immigrants to the country. He marvels that these people would give up so much to come to America. Immigrant Tateh can only wonder why Father would be leaving, while Mother yearns for adventure (Journey On).

Mother’s young brother becomes enchanted with Evelyn Nesbit, a showgirl whose life and romances become the focus of attention (Crime of the Century), later becoming entranced by union organizer Emma Goldman (The Night That Goldman Spoke at Union Square) and then Coalhouse Walker’s crusade (He Wanted to Say).

In Harlem, Coalhouse Walker, a well known ragtime musician (His Name is Coalhouse Walker), finds that his girlfriend, Sarah, has run. Sarah, who is pregnant, has the child away (Your Daddy’s Son), and in desperation leaves him outside the house in New Rochelle. Mother finds the baby and eventually, the baby and Sarah are taken in. Coalhouse, learning the whereabouts of Sarah and the baby, buys a new Ford (Henry Ford) as a way to travel to Sarah.

Tateh, in need of employment and safety for his daughter, escapes from New York’s slums, and travels by railway as far as his meager savings can carry them. He changes trains in New Rochelle, accidentally meeting and talking briefly to Mother (Nothing Like the City).

The three plot symbols intersect when Mother takes in Sarah and her newborn son, Coalhouse comes to the house in New Rochelle to try and convince Sarah to reconnect. Mother meets Tateh in Atlantic City and the two become a couple on a path to self fulfillment (Our Children).

The play steams along toward an emotional climax (Make Them Hear You), that alters everyone’s lives and reflects on the changing society, a society like a ragtime beat that is often out of sync.

This is a well-integrated script that intertwines the songs, spoken lines, music, and dancing in such a way that one cannot operate without the other.

Shaw’s production is enveloping. Maxwell has a clear idea of Doctorow’s intended message and delivers it. The show is well-paced and the actors develop clear characterizations.

Maxwell is helped by Paul Sportelli’s musical direction. He is careful to have his actors sing the meanings to the songs, not just words. Sue LePage’s costumes and sets create the right visual and era images. Choreographer Valerie Moore effectively adapts the movements to showcase the ever-changing musical sounds and moods.

Thom Allison clearly creates a prideful Coalhouse Walker, Jr. with deep convictions. He has an excellent singing voice and inhabits the role. Alana Hibbert has wonderful vocal abilities and makes for a believable Sarah.

In a highlight performance, Patty Jamieson creates a Mother who is multi-faceted and a real person. Kate Henning is convincing as Emma Goldman. Evan Alexander’s Younger Brother is a real person, no acting here. Julie Martell delights as Evelyn Nesbit.

Only Jay Turvey and Aadin Church disappoint. Turvey’s Tateh is an unreal, surface-level stereotype of the Jewish immigrant, complete with a mocking accent. Church’s Booker T. Washington is almost unintelligible in articulation and volume, and flat in affect.

Capsule judgement: Shaw’s RAGTIME is a must see for anyone who loves a well-staged, integrated musical drama, with superlative music and meaningful lyrics.

Present Laughter

Noel Coward’s PRESENT LAUGHTER delights at The Shaw

Noel Coward is the type of playwright who is the darling of those theatre-goers who love escapist, humor-filled productions. In PRESENT LAUGHTER, now being staged in The Shaw’s Festival Theatre, as Coward once said, “There is nothing which helps people or makes them think. This is not a thought provoking play.” It is pure audience pleasing comedy.

The play was written by Coward in 1939. It was first staged in 1942. The title comes from a song in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which illuminates “present mirth hath present laughter.”

The story centers on Garry Essendine, whose mode of operation centers on his drama queen self-obsessed life and dramatic career. The play, which fringes on broad farce, showcases Essendine’s dealing with women who he wants to seduce and who want to seduce him. There is also his long-suffering secretary, his estranged wife, a crazed playwright, and dealing with his ego-centered obsession during a mid-life crisis.

Much of the story and action mimics Coward’s own life. It is so him that Coward played the role on show’s original tour.

The Shaw production, under the adept directing of David Schurmann, is delightful. William Schmuck’s art deco set enhances the broad interpretation of Coward’s writing, as do the era correct costumes.

Steven Sutcliffe delights as the Coward inspired Garry Essendine. He walks the fine line between comedy and farce with razor sharp technique. This is a delightful performance.

Jonathan Tan nearly steals the show as the hyperactive Roland Maule, a young and obsessed playwright. He zooms around the stage, jumping on furniture and creating chaos like a kid with ADHD. Mary Haney is on target as Monica, Garry’s level headed secretary. James Pendarves is believable as the butler, as is Claire Jullien as Garry’s estranged wife.

At times, the vocal projection of the actors is weak. This results in lines and laughs being lost. This is especially true with Corrine Koslo, who plays the role of the maid with an unnecessary cigarette clench tightly in her mouth, cutting off articulation and projection.

Capsule judgement: Shaw’s PRESENT LAUGHTER is a total delight which features fine acting, good pacing, visual delights and high energy. There’s nothing much to learn, but there is a lot of laughter from this classic play.


MISALLIANCE delights as Shaw pontificates!

George Bernard Shaw was a writer with a purpose, in fact, many purposes. Each of his scripts showcases one or more of the master playwright’s views. Depending on the show, Shaw, the Socialist, took on government, the education system, the diminishment of women, stuffy propriety, parent-child relationships, Victorian standards of helplessness, and the British social class system.

In MISALLIANCE, subtitled A DEBATE IN ONE SITTING, the author uses a single conversation in a large country house in Hindhead, Surrey, to expound on his views. Of course, this is Shaw, so exaggerated personalities, less than subtle illusions, and lots of words comprise the script.

MISALLIANCE is one of Shaw’s “discussion” plays, a genre which he fathered. The style stresses interactive dialogue and verbal conflict over plot or action.

Shaw examines the role of women, the mating instincts of humans, romanticism, and social class by showcasing Hypatia, the daughter of a wealthy man who has made his fortune producing men’s underwear. She is engaged to the bright, but boring aristocrat Bentley Summerhays, but longs for adventure. And, based on the saying, “be careful what you wish for,” excitement falls into her life, when a plane crashes into the roof of her home.

The handsome pilot, Joey Percival, and his passenger, Lina Szcepanowska, a female circus acrobat, emerge from the wreckage and introduce havoc. Unhappy Gunner, who blames John Tarleton, Hypatia’s father, for his problems due to a romantic dalliance that John had with Gunner’s mother, also shows up to further complicate the goings on.

In the chaos, eight marriage proposals are offered by various people with the overriding question of whether any of them would be an auspicious alliance or a misalliance.

One of Shaw’s highlight quotes appears in MISALLIANCE: “If marriage were made by putting all the men’s names into one sack and the women’s names into another, and having them taken out by a blindfolded child like lottery numbers, there would be just as high a percentage of happy marriages as we have now.”

The Shaw’s production is delightful. The action is kept flowing by director Eda Holmes. The costumes and sets are era correct. The lighting is effective, the original music by John Gzowski enhances the play’s moods.

Pretty Krista Colosimo breathes life into Hypatia, while Ben Sandres makes for a perfect spoiled brat as her fiancé Bentley. Handsome Joey Percival is character correct as Joey, Craig Pike is believable as Gunner, and androgynous Tara Rosling steals the show as assertive Lina.

Capsule judgement: MISALLIANCE is Shaw at his humorous best. The production’s staging is excellent and the acting first class, leading to an evening of Shavian awareness and audience pleasure. This is what the Shaw Festival is all about!

His Girl Friday

Poor writing and directing highlight HIS GIRL FRIDAY at The Shaw

Ben Hecht and Charles McArthur’s THE FRONT PAGE was a witty satirical farce about political corruption and the role that newspapermen played in fanning the fires of gossip and sensationalism. The play was made into a movie which starred Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.

John Guare has transformed the movie into a play which attempts to mock amoral and immoral media and politicians. It is the Guare version of the script that the Festival decided to stage.

The movie and original play were delightful. Guare’s version, though filled with laughter, adds world political references and anti-Semitic comments in an attempt to insert a message into the goings on. Director Jim Mezon has, for some reason, ignored Guare’s inserts and went for just the farce. If getting laughs was his vision, why didn’t he just direct THE FRONT PAGE.

Guare has changed the time of the play from the 1920s so that we are experiencing Chicago and the world on the day that Germany accused Poland of inciting what would eventually turn out to be World War II. History proved that it was Germany, in fact, which faked the incident, and used it as an excuse for the invasion. Only intense listening to the lines allows one to grasp this idea, since the lines carrying this message are thrown away.

The story concerns Walter Burns, a hard-boiled editor who learns his ex-wife and former start reporter, Hildy Johnson, is about to marry insurance man and mamma’s boy, Bruce Baldwin, and settle down in Albany, New York. Walter sabotages these plans by getting Hildy to cover just one more case, the upcoming execution of Earl Holub, an anarchist who accidentally shot a policeman.

Holub escapes. The reporters, who are hanging out in the press room of Chicago’s Criminal Courts Building, all want to get a scoop on the story.

Holub’s girlfriend leaps to her death through an open window. Horror? No! Reporters acting much like the Keystone Kops charge around, slamming doors, leaving to view the body on the sidewalk below. As for the implications of the impending war, they are basically ignored, both in the physical and verbal stress of the actors. To make matters even more confounding, anti-Semitic comments flow as “comic” relief.

Guare is noted for his “mixing of comic invention with an acute sense of the failure of human relations.” Normally, his style works. However, a combination of his writing and Meon’s misguided direction, causes frustration. Instead of being aware of the underlying horror ahead, we are led to laughing at displays of cruelty with a lack of compassion. Don’t blame the audience for laughing at the horrific. The director has set in motion farcical actions and broad humor which destroys any semblance of message, and the writer has tried to add a depth of ideas into a slight escapist comedy.

Poor writing. Poor directing!

As for the cast, the Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell charm and sophistication are missing. The lines simply don’t give Nicole Underhay (Hildy) and Benedict Campbell (Walter) the latitude to develop meaningful characters. To add to the problems, the duo does not have any emotional connection to each other.

The production does get laughs, especially in the first act. There are exaggerated, farce characterizations, physical and vocal energy. But the question is, for what purpose?

Capsule judgement: Why John Guare didn’t leave well enough alone, or why the powers that be at The Shaw didn’t just produce the original delightful play, is a mystery. Why is the production rudderless under the direction of Jim Mezon? This is one of the most frustrating and irritating productions the Festival has produced.

Come Back Little Sheba

COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA explores playwright’s hidden fears

The 1950s gave birth to a new movement in American theatre. Modernism used psychological concepts to look at a real world. Three writers emerged as the flag bearers of the movement….Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and William Inge.

The sophisticated Easterner, Miller, asked, “Is this the best way to live?” Think THE CRUCIBLE, DEATH OF A SALESMAN, and ALL MY SONS.

Williams, a Southerner, using much personal experience, developed emotionally loaded instances of women caught in situations that they didn’t understand, surrounded by people who didn’t understand them. Think Blanche in STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, Maggie in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, and Amanda in GLASS MENAGERIE.

Inge, a Midwesterner, was brought up with extreme Christian morality. He was a sensitive man, filled with self-doubt, who was haunted by his fear of exposure as a homosexual. He took his own life when he could no longer live with his intrapersonal conflicts. His life and writing can best be described by the title of one of his most potent plays, THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS.

The Shaw is staging Inge’s COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA. It is a play filled with people trapped in lives of fear and forced consequences, purposelessness, and unfulfilled desires, who are searching for that which has disappeared, run away or never really was.

The play’s setting is a cramped and cluttered house in an unnamed Midwestern city. Doc Delaney, a once promising medical student, impregnated and married the airheaded Lola out of forced necessity, thus throwing away a career and settling for a life of rage and drunkenness.
Lola, lost the baby, and wanders aimlessly through a purposeless life. In order to make ends meet they take in Marie, a college art student. Lola dotes on her as the child she never had. Overweight and slovenly, Lola engages in flirtations with the milkman and mailman in order to allow herself some contact with the semblance of the beauty she once was.

Doc is filled with lustful desire, jealous of the attention the sensual Lola gets from a college athlete. Eventually, his one-year of sobriety is lost when he finds out the boarder is not the pure young thing he fantasizes her to be, thus allowing him to return to a state of rage and regrets.

Sheba is a dog which represents the little happiness that Doc and Lola had, but which, like their lives, has run away. Sheba disappeared like any hope for a happy life for these lost people who are stuck in a circle of prior deeds, societal rules, and the inability to break from their patterns.
It’s a tale that mimics the pattern of Inge’s own life.

The Shaw production is excellent. Under the fine-tuned direction of Jackie Maxwell, the action is well paced, focused, and clearly portrays Inge’s intent and purpose. The action is enhanced by Christina Poddubiuk’s cramped set, with it’s illusion of the walls and surrounding buildings sucking the very breath out of the dwelling.

Corrine Koslo inhabits the role of Lola. This is a confused woman, caught in the trap of life, not possessing the knowledge or instincts to do anything except exist. She is as good as Shirley Booth who portrayed Lola in the original Broadway production and the fine film version of COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA.

Ric Reid plays Doc with the right balance of compassion and wrath. We clearly observe his internal fight for doing “the right thing,” while rage boils. This is a man trapped, but like the play’s author, not having the ability to fulfill his needs.

Julia Course (Marie), Kevin McGarry (Turk, the athlete), Sharry Flett (Mrs. Coffman, the next door neighbor), and Andrew Bunker (Marie’s boyfriend) all help to clearly flesh out the action.

Capsule judgement: Shaw’s COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA is theatre and Inge at their finest. Maxwell has honed a production that demands to be seen!

A Man and Some Women

A MAN AND SOME WOMEN, a liberating experience at The Shaw

At the turn of twentieth century, England was operating on Victorian principles, with the debate on women’s roles in society was becoming a trigger issue. With the publication of Olive Schreiner’s Woman and Labour, which became the “Bible of the Women’s Movement”, such issues as suffrage, women’s education, marriage, motherhood and women’s employment came further to the fore.

It is entirely appropriate that the Shaw Festival produce Githa Sowerby’s A MAN AND SOME WOMEN. The script carries forward a Shavian message of the liberated woman’s role in society.

The play centers on Richard Shannon (“the man” in the title) and his relationship with his wife, sisters and cousin (the, “and some women”). As had been the custom in England, “the man” was defined by obligation and financial requirement to provide for “his women.”

We watch as Hilda, Shannon’s controlling wife, his manipulative and gossipy spinster sister Rose, and his more gracious sister, Elizabeth, each feed off his feelings of obligation to play the required role, at the expense of his desires and interests. It is only his cousin, Jessica, who, as an independent woman, allows her love for Richard to encourage his becoming an emotionally fulfilled man.

Sowerby’s concise, well written script has a precise message. Alisa Palmer’s razor clean directing develops the author’s intentions. The cast is universally excellent. Leslie Frankish’s sets are era and attitude correct. (Stick around at intermission to see the destruction and reconstruction of settings.) The costumes help delineate the characters and their attitudes. The overall result is an enveloping experience.

Kate Henning is correctly beastly as the frustrated shrewish Rose. It is a wonder that the audience didn’t boo her at the curtain call. Hers is a fierce and powerful performance.

Sharry Flett is properly tender and understanding as Elizabeth, the sister who, when faced with the necessity to take care of herself, is willing to step forward.

Jenny L. Wright weaves Richard’s wife, Hilda, into a boorish, controlling woman, only out for herself. She brought appropriate disdain to the character.

Marla McLean creates in Jessica a compassion that allows for a glimpse into what an independent woman should be in the era to come. This is a fine portrayal.

Graeme Somerville inhabits the role of Richard. It is a joy to watch both his body language and voice mature as he grows from emasculated to independent man.

Though sometimes a little hard to hear, Jordan Hillier does a nice job of making meaningful sense of his lines as Jack, Richard’s young ward.

Capsule judgement: A MAN AND SOME WOMEN is a well-written, meaningful script, which gets an excellent production at The Shaw. It is a wonderful examination of the changing role of women.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

WANDERLUST—poetic, clever, magical

The musical CATS was a compilation of the poetry of T. S. Eliot. The material was very loosely held together with a thin plot line. The musical score was invented to fit the poetry. Though CATS is one of the longest running plays in Broadway history, many find it nothing but a musical review with gimmicks.

In WANDERLUST, Morris Panych (book) and Marek Norman (music) accomplished something that Andrew Lloyd Weber didn’t do in CATS. The duo blended the poetry of Robert Service into a seamless story line, much like the music of ABBA entwined in MAMMA MIA!

WANDERLUST, a Festival commissioned musical play, is in its world premiere at the Tom Patterson Theatre.

Not familiar with the folksy poem stories of Service? His name is not as well known as Eliot, or Robert Frost, or e. e. Cummings, but his poetry may well be. A review of some of WANDERLUST’s song titles may awaken the awareness: The Men That Don’t Fit In, The Ordinary Man, The Land Beyond, and Unforgotten. Still not aware of the author? Let’s try, The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee. Oh, yes, that’s Robert Service.

Set in Victoria, British Columbia, at the beginning of the 20th century, WANDERLUST imagines a story based on the life of Service, who was referred to as the “Bard of the Yukon.” We follow as a bank clerk dreams about romance and escape, to a life of adventure in the gold rush of the Great Canadian North. But his lady love is engaged to another man, his plans are more poetic illusion than actuality, and his dreams are unfulfilled. He is a dreamer whose inner most thoughts and desires are that of a poet, not a realist.

The script is filled with clever lines, much humor, and creative illusions. While not a bioplay, it shows Service, himself, as eccentric, a shaper of illusions and stories, and an envisioner of places he had never visited. He fills the head of the listener with wonder and imagery.

The production, under the astute direction of Morris Panych, like Service’s poetry, is filled with creative illusions. Bank clerks become sled dogs, ledgers become swinging bar doors, and space becomes snow storms. The action is well paced, the humor finely keyed, the characterizations clearly etched.

Tom Rooney is compelling as Service. He is so believable that Rooney becomes Service. He does not portray Service, he is Service. Randy Hughson is delightful as the owner of the bank. Ken James Stewart makes for the perfect foil as Noah, the young bank employee who is the brunt of jokes and dismissal. Robin Hutton is convincing as the conniving Louise, Service’s infatuation. Dan Chameroy is believable as Louise’s nasty fiancée and Lucy Peacock is wonderful as Mrs. Munsch, Service’s landlady. Her drunken “a world of men” speech is a production highlights.

The staging of The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee are mesmerizing and enjoyable.

Diana Coatsworth’s choreography, Marek Norman’s musical direction, Ken MacDonald’s creative sets, and Alan Brodie’s lighting effects, all add greatly to the joy of the production.

Capsule judgement: WANDERLUST, receiving its world premiere in the Tom Patterson Theatre at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, is a totally enjoyable experience. It is a creative production that examines the poetry of a dreamer with humor and music.

The Best Brothers

THE BEST BROTHERS probes sibling rivalry and self-understand

It is generally assumed that when a playwright scribes a play it is done with a purpose in mind. That objective can range from entertaining to horrifying, from philosophical to escapistic.

In Daniel MacIvor’s THE BEST BROTHERS, which is now getting its world premiere at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, there are numerous themes, but the play’s overriding purpose is hard to pinpoint. Yes, there is such a thing as sibling rivalry, parents do have favorites, there is loneliness in life, serendipity instances occur, and we see things through our own perceptual filter. But, in the end, what does MacIvor want us to take from his play?

In an interview MacIvor stated, “I don’t like to talk too much about what a play means; the play knows more than I do….it just needs to be uncovered.” How is the audience expected to uncover that which the playwright has not clearly set forth?

The script relates the tale of Ardith “Bunny” Best who, while watching the annual Gay Rights parade, was killed when a 300-pound drag queen fell off a float and killed her. Her “bereaved” sons are Hamilton, a heterosexual uptight architect, and Kyle, a gay, troubled, free spirit, real estate salesman. Each brother struggles to understand his mother, himself and his sibling. Each of their personal lonelinesses, decisions made, and paths taken, play out as the duo deals with the death, planning of the funeral, the eulogies to be given, and the division of spoils, including disposing of their mother’s dog.

The script is both compelling and confounding. The characters are clearly etched. Humor abounds in the planning for the funeral, the eulogy and the post funeral scenes.

The reasoning for some references are not as clear. What is the significance of the death by a 300-pound drag queen? How can a small dog destroy a $250,000 kitchen? Why are these factors stressed over and over?

The production, under the direction of John Tiggeloven, is excellent. The characterizations are nicely etched. Both John Beal as Kyle and Daniel MacIvor as Hamilton clearly inhabit their roles. The scene changes are effectively done. The set works well. The incidental music aids in mood development.

Capsule judgement: Your reaction to THE BEST BROTHERS will be based on whether you accept the production on its face value and enjoy what is on stage, or you think about what has transpired and need a clear purpose and path to that outcome.

BTW…Stratford’s programs usually contain excellent clarifying messages about the playwright and the play itself. It’s worth getting to the theatre early to read the materials. This, however, is not the case with THE BEST BROTHERS program. Vicki Stroich, the Artistic Associate of the Festival of Arts Theatre Projects, contributes a self-indulgent piece about her awe of Daniel MacIvor. It adds little in helping the reader understand either MacIvor or the play.

The Pirates of Pinzance

Schizophrenic PIRATES OF PENZANCE partly pleases at Avon Theatre

THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, subtitled THE SLAVE OF DUTY, is a two-act comic operetta by Arthur Sullivan and W. S. Gilbert. It was the only one of the duos’ shows that premiered in the US.

For many years, Gilbert and Sullivan scripts were presented in the United States in pirated versions, in which the writing team received no royalties as there was no copyright protection to foreigners. Over one-hundred American acting companies produced H.M.S. PINAFORE, for which the duo received no compensation. Staging the show’s opening the show 1879 in New York protected against copyright piracy.

The slight plot concerns young Frederic, who, since he has supposedly reached his 21st year, is released from an apprenticeship to a band of tender-hearted pirates. In a series of misadventures he meets Mabel, one of the daughters of Major-General Stanley. They fall in love, but are thwarted in their romance when it is discovered that since he was born on February 29, a leap year, he is only 4 years old, not 21. He therefore, must continue his apprenticeship and can’t be with his love. Battles between the keystone cops like police, the ineffective pirates, and the Major-General’s daughters ensue. Of course, as happens in all these silly escapist plots, all is happily resolved.

The show contains some wonderful music including, Poor Wandering One, Sighing Softly to the River, Away, Away! My Heart’s on Fire, and Yes, I’ll Be Brave.

The first act is a total delight. Ethan McSweeney’s directing is spot on. The pacing is brisk, the farce nicely highlighted, the characterizations clear. Marco Santana’s choreography is enjoyable. Franklin Brasz has the orchestra enthusiastically creating the correct musical images.

For some reason, after the intermission, the air seemed to leak out of the soaring balloon. It’s like someone decided that the audience was having way too much fun, and yelled, “Slow down, lose the energy, lose the creativity.” What a shame. I wish they had called it quits after the first act while they were ahead, had the required wedding, and let the audience go home happy.

With one exception, the cast is excellent. Youthful, handsome and endearing Kyle Blaire sings, dances, and acts his way smoothly through the role of Frederick, the indentured apprentice. Sean Arbuckle, makes for a fine tender-hearted Thomas, the Pirate King. Amy Wallis is adorable and sings the role of Mabel with great appeal. Gabrielle Jones is delightful as Ruth, Frederic’s love-struck nursemaid. Only C. David Johnson, as the Major-General disappoints. His pronunciation and diction made the lyrics to the script’s musical highlight, the much parodied I Am A Model of a Modern Major-General, almost unintelligible. Thankfully, the chorus made the echo of the words clear, saving the song.

Capsule judgement: The first act of PIRATES was a total delight. Consider leaving at intermission and assume that the rest is going to live up to the wonderful first stanza. As is, the show is a generally enjoyable experience, but it could have been completely wonderful.


HIRSCH, a compelling study of a man in torment

John Hirsch, was Jewish, gay, Hungarian, Holocaust survivor. Born in 1930, he was a man tormented by having seen his entire family killed while he was a teen, experienced sexually molestation, and, after the war, being a man without country.

It was by sheer serendipity that he wound up being accepted into the country known as “True North Strong and Free.” He was among 1000 refuge children who was brought to Canada as an act of good faith. He settled Winnipeg because he thought it was centrally located and would that would make it safe from potential invasions.

Hirsch, as becomes vividly obvious in Alon Nashman and Paul Thompson’s name sake play HIRSCH, which is getting its world premiere in the Stratford’s Studio Theatre, was a brilliant director and organizer. He was also abrasive, vindictive and tyrannical. To get his desired level of excellence, he would berate actors, stare down Board members, and speak without considering consequences.

Hirsch’s mother once said, “Life is a roller coaster.” Much to the parallel of that phrase, the man’s life had many highs and lows.

He founded the famous Manitoba Theatre Centre. Later in life he worked for CBC-television. In both of those environments he was successful, but continued to conflict with his contemporaries due to his artistic temperament.

For five seasons Hirsch was the Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival. He took over at a time when the very existence of the Festival was in doubt. Financial and personnel problems were the highlights of the theatre. Gossip and infighting held sway. Hirsch, though very unpopular, changed all that. In spite of his saving the institution, he was eventually forced to resign.

Hirsch’s, who is recognized as one of the most important figures of Canadian theatre history, succumbed to AIDS in 1989.

Nashman and Thompson’s script is both fascinating and frustrating. By the end of the play we think we know Hirsch well. At least as well as the author’s want us to know him. The crafting style of the show, in which time shifts back and forth, can become confusing. The fact that there is only one actor on stage, who is portraying multiple roles, makes for some bewilderment. Some of the transitional bridges are not clear. In spite of these script flaws, the overall effect is enveloping.

Nashman, is not only one of the co-author, but portrays Hirsch. He does not act as Hirsch, he becomes Hirsch, is Hirsch. Nashman explodes with rage, shows inward struggles, displays signs of depression and self-pity. He is a canvas of driven desires, much success, yet, little joy. He speaks English and Yiddish with ease and intensity. The portrayal is impressive.

As the program says, “John Hirsch was many things—a great artist, a passionate patriot, a self-absorbed drama queen and a visionary in many ways--but without doubt, he was a very special soul.” A viewing of HIRSCH will clearly confirm that image.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: HIRSCH is an impressive story and staging which should be seen at The Festival, as it is the only physical venue where setting and person will clearly merge.


Delightful 42nd STREET lights up the Festival Theater stage

Michael Stewart, Mark Bramble, Al Dubin and Harry Warren’s 42ND STREET harkens back to the days of the Ziegfeld Follies and the review shows of the 1930s. It is not, as many people think, a show that was actually produced in that era. The script came to life on Broadway in 1980 in a production directed by Gower Champion, which went on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical. That production ran almost 3500 performances.

The Broadway opening night excitement was dimmed when the show’s producer, David Merrick, following the curtain call and a lengthy standing ovation, went on stage to announce that “It is tragic…Gower Champion died this afternoon.”

The pop hit tuneful score includes such memorable songs as Young and Healthy, You’re Getting to Be A Habit With Me, We’re in the Money, About A Quarter to Nine, Shuffle Off to Buffalo, and the title song, 42nd Street. This is the kind of script which encourages almost every song to be a production number, with Lullaby of Broadway, the showstopper of showstoppers.

From the very first scene, when a line of dancing feet appears below a partially raised curtain, it is obvious this is going to be a fun, often raucous show, filled with faced paced singing and dynamic dancing. Yes, dancing of every variety. There’s waltz, slow dance, contemporary movements, but mostly tapping, tapping and more tapping. This is a choreographer’s dream and Stratford’s Alex Sanchez does a smashing job of recreating much of Gower Champion’s enveloping movements.

Conductor Michael Barber helps the cause by keeping his fine orchestra in the right pace and sounds.

The paper thin plot, which is based on a novel by Bradford Ropes, which had been converted into a 1933 film, is the tale of how a Broadway extravaganza was created during depression days by legendary dictatorial director, Julian Marsh. The plot is enhanced by the legend of a chorus girl becoming a star as she steps into the leading role at the last minute. (There is much of the feel of last season’s TV show, SMASH.)

In reality, the story is only there to hold together the great songs, the wonderful dancing, the lush costumes and the creative staging.

The Stratford production is well directed by Gary Griffin. The show is nicely paced, gets the request of laughs, sticks to the needed 1930 stylizations, and is a delight. Even the set changes are creative.

The cast is universally excellent. Handsome Kyle Blair sings and shines as Billy, the boy ingénue. Adorable Jennifer Rider-Shaw sparkles as Peggy Sawyer, the small town show business newbie who steps out of the chorus to become a star. Sean Arbuckle gives the right nasty but nice quality to Julian Marsh.

The chorus, “the kids of PRETTY LADY” (the show within the show), astound with their high quality dancing and singing.

Capsule judgement: Stratford’s 42nd STREET is a total delight. Anyone who loves great dancing, fine singing, and creative staging should be enchanted by this production.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mama Mia! (2012 tour)

MAMMA MIA!, back again and totally entertaining

When a touring production of a hit Broadway show returns to the area for yet another visit, the question asked is, “Is this as good as not only the original production, but of the last edition that hit town?”

Just to make this clear at the start, Yes, the newest incarnation of MAMMA MIA!, now on stage at the Palace Theatre, is a thoroughly entertaining theatrical experience. The quality of the acting is excellent, the show is nicely mounted, and except for an overly loud sound system, which had some squeals and which projected the music so loudly that the woman in front of me took out her hearing aid, things went well. The audience was on its feet for the extended curtain call, dancing, clapping, and singing.

BTW…don’t run for the exits as soon as you think the show is over. It’s not. There is a remix of lots of the songs, some new dance moves, and an interactive love affair between the dynamic cast and the audience.

MAMMA MIA! is a unique script. Most story-line shows have a lyricist, composer and book writer who work together to develop the script. This show didn’t follow that pattern. The songs were all developed before there was any thought of a musical play.

The music and lyrics, by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, with additional songs by Stig Anderson, were all performed by ABBA, the Swedish pop-rock group, in their concerts and albums. Catharine Johnson loosely wove a story around the songs. The result is a delightful, basically well-integrated musical. The songs and spoken lines generally flow together to develop a cute chick-flick story.

It’s an unnamed island in Greece. Sophie, a twenty year-old, is about to get married to Sky. Her single mom, Donna, who owns a small island resort, has never revealed the identity of Sophie’s father. Sophie unearths her mother’s diary from the year before Sophie’s birthday. Romances with three different men are revealed. Any of them could be “daddy.” Sophie wants to be given away by her dad, so, without her mother’s knowledge, she invites all three to the wedding, hoping to find out the sperm donor. Other wedding guests include Tanya and Rosie, Donna’s former 60s girls group members, and Ali and Lisa, Sophie’s buds.

Through humorous twists, pseudo dramatic instances, and some great music, The Winner Takes All. Along the line the audience is rocked with such songs and production numbers as Dancing Queen, Does Your Mother Know, I Have a Dream, Our Last Summer, Super Trouper, and Voulez-Vous, leaving the audience shouting, Thank You for the Music. There is no way you aren’t going to leave the theatre without singing one or more of the score’s great songs on the way to your car.

Director Phyllida Lloyd has added some line and story interpretations that enhance the story, such as having Kaye Tuckerman, who plays Donna, interpret the role with a slightly hard edge, instead of the cutesy interpretation that is so common. It makes Donna into a real person.

Choreographer Anthony VanLaast does a nice job of reinterpreting the dance numbers. Martin Koch’s musical interpretation marred by the overly loud sound system. The songs are well sung, with word meanings being stressed.

The cast is excellent. Cloe Tucker sings well and is adorable as the conflicted Sophie. Happy Mahaney is a dynamic dancer, and well interprets and sings the role of Sky, Sophie’s husband to be. Alison Ewing is delightful as the swinging Tanya. Mary Callanan steals the show as the husband seeking (Take A Chance on Me) Rosie.

Studly Christian Whelan (Sam), Crocodile Dundee-like John-Michael Zuerlein (Bill) and Paul Deboy, as gay Brit, Harry, are excellent as the three candidates for “who’s my dad?” They are especially delightful in the curtain call.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The newest revival of MAMA MIA! is once again an audience pleasing delight. If you haven’t seen it before, go! If you have, go again! This is an excellent touring company!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Review of Reviewer's reviews--Barbara Stuckey


You may remember from a past conversation that I always admire and enjoy your writing and can hardly wait to see what you say after an opening.

To me, Martin's (Martin Cepedes) genius takes many unexpected turns now, always solid, and astonishingly surprising.

Your take moves me further, both back to your knowledge of the theater and forward to thoughts which would have occurred to me. Thank you for that.

Best and warm wishes,
Barbara Stuckey

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The World Goes Around

Delightful THE WORLD GOES ROUND at Porthouse

Musical revues are a collection of songs which are performed as a single production. They usually contain no story-line, per se, but highlight either a theme such as patriotism (e.g., WELCOME HOME: A PATRIOTIC MUSICAL), a person (e.g., WILL RODGERS FOLLIES), a body of work by a performer (e.g., COME FLY WITH ME, the songs of Frank Sinatra), or the writings of a particular song writer or writing team (e.g., SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM).

THE WORLD GOES ROUND is one of the latter, an evening of songs conceived by John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics), which were written for their Broadway shows. The duo wrote such hits as CHICAGO, CABARET, FUNNY LADY, and KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN.

For a review to be more than escapist enjoyment, requires a talented cast who can both sing and dance, a fine musical director who can develop strong musical arrangements, and a creative director and choreographer. Fortunately, Porthouse has such a team.

The cast for THE WORLD GOES ROUND, composed entirely of college students, is generally fine. Lauren Culver, who has an excellent singing voice, well interprets And the World Goes ‘Round and Maybe This Time. She, like so many in the cast, sing meanings, not just words, thus making the songs purposeful, even out of the context of the script for which they were written.

Lisa Kuhnen makes Cabaret into a life affirming anthem, while creating a clear story in Colored Lights. Jennie Nasser’s A Quiet Thing and World Goes ‘Round were well sung. Jack O’Brien showcases a fine voice in Sometimes a Day Goes By and displays the right amount of pathetic appeal in Mr. Cellophane.

Sam Rohloff and Nathan Mohebbi display excellent dancing skills. Anastasia Arnold and Lisa Kuhnen are delightful in The Grass is Always Greener. Rohloff, Culver and MacKenzie Duan create a well-blended and compelling medley of We Can Make It, Maybe This Time, and Isn’t This Better. Kyle Kempf showcases a fine sense of humor and timing in Sara Lee.

Other highlights were Yes, All That Jazz, and Me and My Baby.

Musical director Kevin Long not only has his orchestra in good tune, but his arrangements are enveloping.

The star of the show, however, is not seen on stage. The highlight is Sean Morrissey’s creative directing and choreography. Each segment has its own approach. He doesn’t repeat dance moves or styles. The staging is casual yet well honed. The cast interprets songs well in form and word meaning.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Musical revues tend not to be my favorite form of theatre. I prefer storylines. But, more productions like THE WORLD GOES ROUND, as directed and choreographed by Sean Morrissey, could make a review lover out of me. Go to Porthouse. Sit back and relax, and let the talented and well directed cast carry you away on a fine musical trip to Kanter and Ebb’s Broadway.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Legally Blonde

OMG…LEGALLY BLONDE delights at Beck

It’s been quite a year at the Beck Center! Earlier in the season the startlingly good SPRING AWAKENING captivated audiences. Dorothy Silver, the grand dame of Cleveland theatre, spun her web of talent over THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN. BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON with Dan Folino is rocking the complex’s Studio Theater in an extended run, and now LEGALLY BLONDE opened with an eye focused on audiences in the Mackey Theatre.

With music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, and book by Heather Hach, LEGALLY BLONDE THE MUSICAL is based on Amanda Brown’s novel and the 2001 film of the same name.

This is one of those feel good, sit back and enjoy yourself musicals. It takes you on a journey with Ella, a “dumb blonde” Barbie-type Malibu, CA, sorority girl (Omigod You Guys) who enrolls at Harvard Law School (The Harvard Variations). Why Harvard? To get a degree, right? Wrong. She is pursuing Warner, her former boy friend, who has abandoned her as he chases after not only a legal degree, but the perfect wife for a future political career.

In the process Elle discovers that she is more than just a dumb blonde, and can use her newly discovered knowledge to both help others and prove that instincts (Gay or European?), as well as intelligence (Scene of the Crime), go a long way toward finding happiness.

Though it sounds like a light-weight offering, the show earned seven Tony Award nominations and numerous Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle recognitions. It has a delightful and well-developed score, clearly etched characters, and, in the hands of the right production team and actors, can light up the stage.

Beck has all the elements that make this a top notch production. Scott Spence’s directing is spot on. The characterizations are generally clear and the pacing excellent. Larry Goodpaster’s musical direction works the score to perfection and his orchestra is well tuned. The star of the evening is Martin Céspedes’s choreography. The dancing weaves in and out the scenes, making the show flow. His crew of dancers are not necessarily Broadway bound, but he gets the best from them using varying dance modes that well fit the rock/pop/contemporary music.

David Glowe’s costumes are generally good, but sometimes his pinks, a signature requirement for the show, wander off into strange shades that don’t always work together. Ben Needham’s fragmented multi-level set design works nicely and unites the scenes. The set crew makes the changes fluid. Trad Burns’ lighting enhances the moods.

One of the few problems with the show, the afternoon I saw it, was the shrill level of the sound system at the start of the show. This, when added to the opening number’s high pitched singing, made for an ear-piercing experience.

Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly adds a dimension to Elle I’ve not seen in other productions of the show. Reilly starts Elle off as a ditz, but nicely transitions her into a blonde with brains. Not only her acting transitions, but her singing changes as the character gains a strong sense of self.

Jamie Koeth makes Emmett, Elle’s mentor, a real person, with honest motivations. Chip on My Shoulder, sung with Elle, was nicely done.

Kimberly Bush almost steals the show as Paulette, Elle’s hair stylist and friend. Her Ireland was delightful, as was Bend and Snap, which was a show stopper.

Caitlin Rose, (Enid) and Katie Zarecki (Vivienne) were excellent.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck’s LEGALLY BLONDE THE MUSICAL makes for a delightful evening/afternoon of entertainment. The cast is generally excellent, the script fun, the score good, and the chorography outstanding! Go see this one!

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Once Upon A Mattress

Farcical ONCE UPON A MATTRESS at Mercury Summer Stock

What do Carol Burnett, Jack Gilford, Dody Goodman, Imogene Coca, Buster Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jane Krakowski, Bernadette Peters, Wally Cox, and Elliot Gould all have in common? They all have been in professional productions of ONCE UPON A MATTRESS.

ONCE UPON A MATTRESS is a musical farce based on the Hans Christian Anderson short story, THE PRINCESS AND THE PEA. It opened off-Broadway in 1959, and despite mixed reviews moved onto Broadway later that year. Much to the surprise of many, it was nominated for Best Musical, but to the surprise of none, Burnett, in her Broadway debut, was nominated for Best Leading Actress.

It went on to become a television special in 1964, again in 1972 and 2005, all of which starred Burnett. There was a Broadway revival in 1996. It’s now on stage at Mercury SummerStock.

The fairy tale takes place in a fictional kingdom ruled by the overbearing, control freak, Queen Aggravain, and her mute husband, King Sextimus the Silent. The king can’t speak because of a curse placed on him. Prince Dauntless the Drab, their son, is in search of a wife. The Queen doesn’t want to lose her nebbish off-spring, so she devises all sorts of tests to insure that none of the possible princesses who are recruited for the role passes, and wins Dauntless’s hand in marriage.

When Princess Winnifred swims the palace moat to get into the competition, Aggravain meets her match. The free-spirited Winnifred wins the heart of the prince and his court, and with the help of the Minstrel, Jester and the King, passes the royal test. Of course, the King gets his voice back, Winnifred and Dauntless get togetherness, and everyone, except the evil Queen, lives happily ever. (Come on now, this is a fairy tale.)

ONCE UPON A MATTRESS is a musical farce. Of all types of theatre, farce is undoubtedly the hardest to perform. It takes perfect timing, the right control over exaggeration, and outlandish believability. Think Lucille Ball, Tim Conway and Harvey Korman.

The Mercury cast, under the direction of Pierre-Jacques Brault, gets a lot of the farce correct thanks to some good portrayals by dynamic, uninhibitted Kelvette Beacham as Princess Winnifred, Dan DiCello as Prince Dauntless, and Brault, who cross-dresses as Queen Aggravain. Eddie Carney, the musical director/pianist, gets laughs as the silent, but, “dirty-old-man” King Sextimus.

Brian Marshall sings, winks, and smiles his way through the role of the Minstrel, adding ad libs about John Travolta, the Kardashians, Bambi, acid reflux and the unzipped fly of his pants. He even throws in an audience pleasing negative aside about the reviewer whose article you are now reading. (The fact that the script can be tampered with shows the lack of depth of the storyline development. Believe me, this is not a great epic, but it is fun.)

Highlight numbers include Shy, Song Of Love and Man To Man Talk.

Brault adds visual elements including puppets, takes on the LION KING, and costuming that relates to many other fairy tales, including dressing the ladies and gentlemen of the court in identifiable character garb. Kaitlyn Dessoffy is adorable as Tinkerbelle, Aubrey Fink makes for a fine Belle (from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) and Anne Bakan is a vision of Snow White. Tasha Brandt (Jester) sings well, as does Brittany Lynne Eckstrom (Lady Larkin).

On the other hand, some of the cast just isn’t up to the acting level needed to pull off farce, overdoing their affectations or totally missing the creation of a character.

Jonathan Anderson’s costume designs are excellent. The set, consisting of suspended gold picture frames works well. The piano accompaniment by Eddie Carney is well played, but gets lost in the large auditorium.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If your purpose for going to the theatre, as the program suggests, is to” escape, laugh and let your imagination soar,” then you’ll enjoy ONCE UPON A MATTRESS. It’s filled with much cleverness, laughs and visual pleasure, but misses out on more due to some misguided performances.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Legally Addicted

Fairmount Center for the Arts takes on the realities of prescription drug abuse

Two years ago, Fairmount Center for the Arts presented EAT IT’S NOT ABOUT FOOD. The production examined the dangerous world of eating disorders for tween and teen girls and boys. Using theatre rather than lecturing, the emotional impact was raw and unapologetic, making the pain of these eating disorders obvious.

The production was so powerful that the Cleveland Center for Eating Disorders signed on as a lead sponsor and twelve community productions were presented.

This year, Fairmount Center for the Arts’ Committee for Social Relevancy, in coordination with Recovery Resources, will present and tour LEGALLY ADDICTED, a program aimed at exposing high school students, their teachers, families, and community members, to the epidemic of prescription drug abuse and its pathway to street drugs. The sessions are aimed at inner city, suburban and rural audiences.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Ohio Department of Health, in 2010, prescription drug overdoses killed 1,544 Ohioans. From 1999 to 2010, Ohio’s death rate due to unintentional drug overdoses increased 372%, driven largely by prescription drugs.

The FCA program is part of an effort by the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities, which has partnered with the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services and Cardinal Health, to battle the opiate epidemic.

LEGALLY ADDICTED is a 35-minute script written by Notre Dame College Theatre and Communication professor, Jacqi Loewy. The play will be coupled with a post-play dialogue in which experts on substance abuse and recovery from Recovery Resources and other programming partners, will lead discussions adapted to fit the audience being addressed. Advanced content materials have been prepared to help prepare students and parents for the performance. The entire approach is to speak with, not at the students and parents.

LEGALLY ADDICTED will be directed by Dustin Welch. The actors, who will be mainly teenagers, will be selected through open auditions. The show’s staging requires little in the way of technical support, as the setting is minimal.

An anonymous private funder has given a grant to help underwrite the cost of script preparation. Support of foundations and companies interested in supporting either performances or production expenses are still being sought.

Each showing costs $1000, but subsidization may be available to schools and organizations who want to present LEGALLY ADDICTED. The programs are available Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1 pm and Monday evenings from September through May.

After a series of staged readings, a full-production and discussion will be held on September 10 at the Fairmount Center. There will also be a showing at the large opiate summit to be held in the area on September 28. Segments of the production will be available on You Tube and other social media.

For more information about the production go to, For booking performances contact Lindsay Gips at 440-338-3171.