Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Preservation Hall Band jazzes up Blossom
New Orleans’ Preservation Hall is a small weathered music venue in the heart of the French Quarter. Its jazz band was founded in 1961 by Allan and Sandra Jaffe. Since its inception the group has travelled world wide spreading the New Orleans sound, which centers on creating a joyful spirit.

In its own intimate setting the band fits like an old shoe, with the players creating sounds which seems informal, almost like a jam session without structure. In fact, the talented collection of marvelous musicians start out with a preset head, which introduces the tune. Then the players embellish on that theme, and return to conclude the leitmotif.

Blossom is not an intimate venue. It mattered little to the Preservation group. They created intimacy by speaking to the audience, getting the listeners’ involved through cues for cadence clapping, dancing in place, and encouraging applause for instrumental solos. The players yelled encouragement to each other, made comments, and generally enjoyed themselves while creating a joyous audience experience.

The band is headed by Ben Jaffe, the son of the group’s founders. An Oberlin graduate, he introduced one of his college professors and invited the audience to visit the new jazz building on the Oberlin campus.

Song choices included Bourbon Street Parade, Tailgate Ramble, Old Man Mose,
Ice Cream, Tootie Ma, and I'll Fly Away.

The group’s version of Ain’t She Sweet took the audience on a trip to the true joys of jazz.

Mark Braud on trumpet, Freddie Lonzo, trombone, Rickie Monie, piano, Clint Madgen, tenor sax, Ronell Johnson, tuba, and Joseph Lastie Jr, drums, gave a lesson on what it’s like to be in the presence of musical greatness. Eighty-year old Charlie Gabriel, danced as he played his clarinet, and let loose with mello sounds as he sang. He was an obvious audience favorite.

Alex, my sixteen year-old, award winning composing grandson, who has just returned from a summer studying composition and jazz piano at Interlochen, the renowned arts camp in Michigan, was overjoyed with the program. He commented on the group’s ability to build and bound off each other, and capture the audience’s attention. I think nothing would have made him happier than to have been able to slide onto the piano bench and jam with those guys.

Capsule judgement: The exciting and involving Preservation Hall Jazz Band, perfect weather, and the beautiful Blossom setting—what else could anyone want?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Spotlight on Kory of 102, theatre reviewer

Kory of 102 newest member of Cleveland Critics Circle

Members of the Cleveland Critics Circle, the official organization of area theater reviewers and critics, come from various backgrounds. Some are college professors and teachers, some are professional reporters and writers, others are public relations experts. There is even a life coach in the mix. But they have one thing in common, they all have strong theatre backgrounds as directors, actors, producers or have studied theatre history and playwrighting. That is, except for the newest member, Christopher Beale, known professionally as Kory.

Beale, was brought up in Apopka, Florida. He recounts that he was a kid with ADD, on Ritalin, who was a “dork.” In high school he was, in his words, “obnoxious, brave, insecure, and bullied.” He took several actions during that time that has set him on an interesting life path. In his freshman year he came out as gay. Part of the reason for his actions was his self-acknowledged “not afraid to be different.” Then, after his third freshman year, he decided that school wasn’t for him, and dropped out.

His path led to Disneyworld and eventually, because of his deep, resonant voice, to a job in radio. As he explains it, “I went to work at a little psychotic libertarian station connected to the Liberty Works Radio Network.” The job came about because he made a demo on a computer, contacted a number of stations on Friendster, and was hired as an intern. He moved to Maryland . After they found out he was gay, he was fired.

Not to be deterred, he moved back to Orlando, made another demo and got a job with Metro Traffic as their weekend traffic reporter and camera operator on a helicopter. Eventually he was hired as the overnight weekend dj at Y-100 Miami. Remember, this is a young kid, a high school dropout, competing in a world of many college trained and educated professionals. After a disastrous experience in Boston, he was offered a job in Colorado Springs. After three years there, the still twenty-something year old, wound up in Gainesville, then Orlando, and finally in Cleveland.

How did he get into theatre reviewing? The same serendipity that has followed him throughout his life reared its head. He went to see a production of ALTAR BOYZ and hung out with the cast. One of the cast members suggested, after hearing him comment on the show, that he write a review. Why not? He went into radio with no training or background, why not reviewing? He posted the critique on the station’s media list. It started to get hits. He was on his way to being a self-declared reviewer.

His commentaries don’t follow the usual approach of evaluating the production aspects of a show. Since he has never been in a play, except for one-line in kindergarten, never has directed nor read scripts, and has no formal theatre educational background, he writes from his gut.

Kory believes that the average theatergoer isn’t a theatre expert either. He states, “They are looking for entertainment and something that they have never done before. I write from that perspective.”

Why should someone pay any attention to his views? He says, “I don’t represent what I know about. I only know what I saw when I went to the theatre.” He seems to be learning on the job. His reviewing skills have increasingly had more depth. He admits that “since doing reviews and reading the writings of others, I’ve started to do research about the shows I see.”

He doesn’t actually read the reviews on air. He mentions a show a couple of times. He leads his listeners to his blog site, where the entire review resides. He often interviews cast and production members. “If there is a live interview, a segment is presented on air and my blog links to the interview.”

Some comments about his reviews include: “When I look at a show, I put it on a curve based on the kind of theatre I’m reviewing.” “I have the benefit of going into the theatre as an uneducated theatre-goer, so I go in fresh faced.” “I don’t claim to be an expert, but I know good entertainment when I see it.” “My bottom line is, if I had spent $90 to see this show would I have been feeling ripped off?”

Some might question whether Kory’s reviews have credibility. The answer depends on your viewpoint. If you are one who believes that there must be some educational and experiential basis for evaluation of any art form, whether it is painting, dance, music or theatre, then Kory’s background isn’t going to lead you to his blog. If, on the other hand, you want a gut level reaction to a show, Kory, is probably your man. There are many in town who seemingly buy into his perspective as the number of hits on his blog keep increasing!

To read a sampling of Kory and reviews of the other Cleveland Critics Circle members go to www.clevelandtheaterreivews.com

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

GroundWorks Dancetheater 8/12

Sold out GROUNDWORKS program varied and interesting

With the ever increasing popularity of reality television shows like SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE and DANCING WITH THE STARS, the interest in dance is expanding. Local evidence was the large enthusiastic audience at Doug Elkin’s ‘FRÄULEIN MARIA, recently presented by DanceCleveland at the Hanna Theatre and the sold out Cain Park run of the Groundworks DanceTheater’s at Cain Park.

With that increased interest, as was evidenced by the comments made at intermission and after the Groundworks’ performance, has come a higher awareness for the quality of the dance.

It’s impossible to watch SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE and not gain appreciation for both the dancers’ skills and the abilities of the choreographers like Mia Michaels to tell stories and create visual beauty. People in the Alma Theatre courtyard sounded like Nigel Lithgoe and Mary Murphy, the reality show’s judges, as they commented on the performance.

The opening number, BOOK OF WATER, choreographed by David Shimotakahara, the company’s artistic director, was a multi-sectioned piece which dramatized substance in its many forms, as a metaphor of the images of dance. In this selection, “each image is part of a journey touching on memory, chance legacy and ultimately the ways we are joined together.” Joining together is a Shimotakahara signature theme. Using gymnastic moves, flowing hands, and strong lifts, each segment mirrored the varied sounds of the music, which ranged from digital, to jazz, to atonal, to vocal. Though well performed, the piece was somewhat long.

SWEET, staged by Shimotakahara, was a compelling selection danced to the mellow sound of Bobby McFerrin’s Sweet in the Morning. The always precise and engaging Felise Bagley and the dependable Damien Highfield melded together, flowing to the musical sounds, in movements reminiscent of Heinz Poll’s poetic choreography.

CURRENT FRAME, getting its Cleveland Premiere, is the work of Amy Miller, former Groundworks dancer and its Artistic Associate. Miller was a powerful and athletic dancer. Her choreography mirrors her dance form. Exploring the dramatic interplay between the formal structure of Baroque composer Heinrich Biber’s Passacaglia violin solo, brilliantly performed by Hanne-Berit Hahnemann, and the emotional undercurrent found in the music’s themes and cadences, the piece mirrored intertwining sounds with intertwining bodies. Filled with strong lifts, no facial expression, and effective intensity, Kathryn Wells Taylor and Gary Lenington well carried out Miller’s design.

The highlight of the evening was BRUBECK, getting its Cleveland premiere. Dedicated to Jim Branagan, an active Groundworks supporter who recently died, the involving dance was everything Brubeck.

Combining seven of Brubecks’ lexicon of compositions, including, Take Five, Bluette, Pick Up Sticks and Unsquare Dance, Shimotakahara has given a snapshot of the sounds of the American jazz icon as physical movements.

Each section highlighted a different side of Brubecks’ experimentation with moods and time signatures. His style has been epitomized as “motion and commotion” as “creating infectious melodies and dynamic rhythms,” and this was well reflected in the dancing.

The dancers switched gears as the moods of the music changed from plaintive, to sassy, to happy, to sensual. Noelle Cotler added a special presence with her ever reflective appropriate facial expression.

Kristine Davies’ costume design was confusing. The female short shirt-waist pink dresses and then the varying styles of bathing suits didn’t parallel to the musical moods. Lenington’s white tank top and belted brief shorts accentuated his increased bulk and, as with the women’s costumes, did little to create the needed visual image.

Capsule judgement: Groundworks DanceTheater is one of the area’s finest small dance companies. Their recent tenth anniversary concert at Cain Park, again highlighted their versatility and proficiency.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Milk Milk Lemonade

MILK MILK LEMONADE, laugh filled, but message light at convergence continuum

Joshua Conkel’s MILK MILK LEMONADE, now in production at convergence continuum, is about milk, right? Wrong. It’s about lemonade, right? Wrong.  It’s about Katy Perry’s song MILK MILK LEMONADE. Also, wrong.

MILK MILK LEMONADE is about Emory, an effeminate 11-year-old boy who lives on a farm with his Nanna, his old friend who is a depressed chicken named Linda, who is about to be processed, and Elliot, the pyromaniac kid down the road who bullies Emory, but likes playing “house” with him. Emory dreams of appearing on Reach for the Stars, a reality tv show, winning, and becoming a Broadway star. Between choreographing ribbon dances, playing with his Barbie doll, talking to Linda, observing as the hen does a smut mouthed stand up comedy routine, and sneaking into the barn to have sex with Elliot, Emory is one busy little boy.

According to the author, “MILK MILK LEMONADE started as an experiment in memory. It’s a collage of images, ideas and memories, many of which are completely false, from my childhood.” The out gay playwright goes on to say, “I wanted to write a play about growing up queer that takes place in a nightmare landscape that expresses how terrifying life can be for gay kids in an expressive, rather than strictly literal way.”

What Conkel wound up with is a very dark, melancholy, yet funny piece of children’s theatre for adults, filled with questions of gender, life, death and what it means to be.

The con-con production, as staged by Cory Molner, leans a little much on comedy, and not enough on the depth of the tale, but, as staged, will delight many. It could only be wished that the dark underbelly had been more well exposed.

Scott Zolkowski’s design of the chicken costume, which used elements of Swan Lake, got howls of laughter on Linda’s first entrance. The molting as the show went on, whether preplanned or not, added to the glee.

Wes Shofner’s chicken-processing machine, into which chicken’s entered to come out as bagged or boxed Chick-fil-A tenders, is hysterical.

Zac Hudak, he of huge eyes and expressive face, well develops Emory, the pathetic man-child, yearning to be gay and uninhibited. He longs to live in a make-believe world where he isn’t bullied and controlled, but allowed to be himself.

Lisa Wiley is fine as the narrator who interprets chicken talk and is the evil influence on Elliot. Marcia Mandell is properly air-headed as Nanna. Sarah Kunckik was chicken right!

Brian Devers has some nice moments as the fire-obsessed Elliot, but there was a need for a stronger negative personality which would have textured his conflicted bi-polar swings with his sometimes tender moments with Emory.

Capsule Judgement: MILK MILK LEMONADE, is a thought provoking, laugh filled play that leans a little too much on comedy, and not enough on the depth of the tale. Though not for everyone, it is tailor-made for the typical off-the-wall con-con audience member.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Blossom Center

Wonderful experience at Blossom

Several weeks ago I spent a glorious evening at the Blossom Festival 2012. The evening started with Bartok’s popular Romanian Folk Dances, a brief set of six movements, was filled with varying styles and tempos.

Symphony No. 4 (“Tragic”) in c minor, D 41, was written when Franz Schubert was only nineteen. Despite this, the piece has continued to garner attention and praise. Played in a minor key, the symphony contains four movements, which vary from quiet to forceful.
Beethoven’s Coriolan Oveture, Opus 62, is one of the master’s Mid Period compositions. A musical drama, it is a portrait of Coriolanus, the Roman general who turned against his own city. It is filled with anger, gentleness, and finality.

Violin Concerto in D major, Opus 61, is Beethoven’s single violin concerto. It requires a master violinist, and, fortunately, American-Israeli Gil Shaham, well fits that description. The notes from the multi-award winner’s “Countess Polignac” Stradivarius thrilled the audience.

Beethoven’s Fifth, was conducted by the animated Jahja Ling. Considered by many to be one of the greatest symphonies ever written, the sounds of the fifth are familiar to almost everyone. The wonders of the composition were brilliantly performed by one of the world’s greatest orchestras. 

What more delightful experience can one have than sitting in the midst of the beautiful Blossom grounds on a perfect summer evening, listening to the glorious Cleveland Orchestra, playing some of the world’s greatest music?

Haven’t been to Blossom this summer? There is still time to make the journey. How about August 25 to hear the Preservation Hall Jazz Band? Or September 1 and 2 which offers Broadway’s Greatest Hits as played by the Blossom Festival Orchestra.

For a list of the season’s remaining concerts go to http://www.clevelandorchestra.com/about/blossom-festival.aspx

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fraulein Maria (Doug Elkins and Friends)

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

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

THE SOUND OF MUSIC is a stage musical based loosely on the von Trapp family who escaped Europe at the onset of World War II after being harassed by the Nazis. The musical is inspirational, fairly serious and contains Rogers and Hammerstein’s usual social message of what it means to be part of a community.

Elkins in noted for deconstructing and then reconstructing concepts. THE SOUND OF MUSIC is a perfect vehicle for him, for, in fact, the musical is about the various phases of construction. Maria, flees to the abbey in order to escape from her life and build a new persona. When she comes to the von Trapp she takes on a dysfunctional family, deconstructs it and then makes it anew. The same process happens when the family flees Austria to come to America.

You’ve seen the movie? You’ve seen the play? Now, picture the goings-on as envisioned by Elkins.

“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” You think attending a dance concert is a passive experience? Not in Elkins’ creative hands. You will--yes, you will--take part by singing “Do-Re-Mi,” in three-part harmony.

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

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

Then there is Maria, the singing nun turned nanny, turned dressmaker, turned mommy, who is simultaneously performed by three dancers, one a male, of course, in a dress.

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

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

Even the curtain call was fun.

Capsule judgement: . ‘FRÄULEIN MARIA’ was an evening of dance not to be missed! Too bad Elkins has announced that this is the last go around for this program. No, no, say it isn’t so. Let’s hope that Pam Young, Executive Director of DanceCleveland, can convince Elkins to change his mind and bring the production back again and again.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Pointe of Departure 8/12

Classic and modern ballet highlight POINTE OF DEPARTURE at Cain Park

When the Cleveland Browns snuck out of town in 1995, it left a void, but three years later the team was resurrected. When the Cleveland San Jose Ballet waltzed to San Jose in 2000, another void was left in the city’s psyche.

Unfortunately, there has been no resurrection, so the city is left with no professional ballet company.

The void is sometimes filled when Dance Cleveland brings in a touring company whose specialty is classic dance, but that doesn’t provide a consistent diet for ballet aficionados.
Locals had hoped that, due to their strong local ties, former Cleveland Ballet wunderkinds, Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriguez, would make Cleveland the permanent home for Pointe of Departure, their small nonprofit ballet company, and grow it into a local treasure.

Point of Departure originated here in 1998 as a collaboration between violinist Lev Polyakin, Assistant Concert Master for the Cleveland Orchestra, and Gabay. After sold-out performances at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Institute of Art, the collaboration got a name and a mission. It’s purpose is to “erase the stereotypical antiquated image of classical ballet and launch it into the 22nd century as an art form in demand!”

Though still “based” in Cleveland, the company appears in other venues, performing locally once a year. Next week, for example, they will be bringing their repertoire to the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts in the California south bay area. That performance will feature 16 Ballet San Jose dancers in contrast to the eight who recently performed at Cain Park.

The Cain Park concert consisted of seven pieces, four of which were Gabay’s choreography. The rest were “after Petipa.”

Marius Petipa was a French ballet teacher and choreographer who is considered the most influential ballet master of all time. Many of his creations are used as the basis for other choreographers to stage works “anew.” These are traditionally listed in dance programs as “after Petipa.”

Gabay’s own pieces were the highlights of the program.

The evening started with a delightful Z BLUES, in which Rodriguez spent most of the number dancing with his feet in the air as he stood on his head, in white face, while Gabay attempted to be the classic female tutu-costumed ballerina. The short piece delighted the audience as the duo proved that even though they are past their prime as featured dancers, they can still grab, hold, and delight an audience.

The rest of the first act were classical after Petipa selections. There was generally a lack of variety in the prescribed movements, making for little visual variance.

The young dancers sometime seemed overwhelmed by the complexity and required precision of the choreography. A late entrance, shallow pointe work, difficulty in freezing moves, uncertain lifts, and lack of confidence were sometimes evident. The most accomplished selection, LE CORSIRE, featured dynamic and talented Jing Zhang and proficient, high flying Damir Emric. The lovely Amy Marie Briones handled her role in Black Swan Pas De Deux with proficiency and appeal.

The second act, dedicated to modern balletic and contemporary dance pieces, was highlighted by RUSSIAN BLUE, in which the entire company displayed free form movement, well fitted to their skill levels, resulting in a dynamic connection to the audience.
Gabay and handsome gym toned Maykel Solas, combined to present a sensual selection which was both titillating and satisfying.

The wonderful live violin interpretations by Lev Polyakin and pianist Elizabeth DiMio were a highlight of the evening.

Capsule judgement: Cleveland needs a resident ballet company. Though not world class, Pointe of Departure would be a wonderful permanent addition to the local scene. It can only be wished that Gabay and her company will find the desire and financing to make their home here, permanent. For information about the company go to: www.pointofdeparture.com

Side note: Dennis Nahat, who served as the long time artistic director of the Cleveland Ballet and later the Cleveland San Jose Ballet, was dismissed as the Ballet San Jose’s artistic director earlier this year.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Theatre calendar, Fall '12

A calendar of Fall, 2012 Cleveland, Ohio theatre offerings

Here’s a partial list of what’s on the boards this fall in Cleveland’s professional theaters:

216-241-6000 or go to www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

September 14 - October 7
LOMBARDI is a play not only about Hall of Fame football coach Vince Lombardi, but a family drama about integrity, fathers and sons.

November 2 - 25
THE WHIPPING MAN, which is set at the end of the Civil War, the play upends all the clichés of that period, drawing the audience into a world they’ve never seen before.

November 23 - December 23
A CAROL FOR CLEVELAND, a world premiere play by Cleveland playwright, Eric Coble, is based on a story by Clevelander Les Roberts.. It is a modern take on the Dickens classic and is for the entire family.

216-932-3396 or dobama.org

September 14 - October 7
THE MOTHERF**KER WITH A HAT, which was nominated for 7 Tonys, is a dark comedy which centers on Jackie, a petty drug dealer, who is just out of prison and trying to stay clean with the help of Ralph, his AA sponsor.

October 26 - November 18
A BRIGHT NEW BOISE takes place in a corporate break room of a craft store in Idaho, where we find a disgraced Evangelical minister who has fled his rural hometown. It is a deeply empathetic comedy that won the 2011 OBIE AWARD.

December 7 - January 6
4000 MILES concerns 21 year-old Leon, who comes to his feisty 91 year old grandmother for solace. In a single month they infuriate, bewilder, and ultimately reach each other.


216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org.

October 2 - 14
ANYTHING GOES is the so delightful, so delicious, so de-lovely Tony Award winning musical with such songs as I Get A Kick Out of You and You’re the Top.

October 12 and 13
THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS! is C.S. Lewis’ funny, provocative and witty tale of spiritual warfare from a demon’s point of view.

October 16 - November 4
DIXIE’S TUPPERWARE PARTY returns to the 14th Street Theatre to throw Tupperware Parties filled with outrageous tales. (For a review of the previous showing go to www.royberko.info)

November 6 -18
DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is the classic musical story of Belle, a young woman in a provincial town, and the Beast, who is really a young prince trapped in a spell placed by an enchantress. Can Belle succeed in getting the Beast to love and be loved, so the curse will end?


216-521-2540 or http://www.beckcenter.org

September 24 - October 14
XANADU is a musical based on Greek muse, Cilio, who descends from Mt. Olympus to Venice Beach, California on a quest to inspire a struggle artist to achieve the greatest creation of his life—a roller disco.

October 5 - November 11
THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED is a farce that examines the scandalous world of celebrities.

December 7 - January 6
ANNIE is the comic book inspired story of a spunky Depression-era orphan determined to find the parents who abandoned her on the doorstep of a New York City orphanage.


330-374-7568 or go to www.actorssummit.org

October 4 - 28 (No performance October 19)
WILL ROGERS’ U.S.A. is a one-man play about one of America’s great folk humorists which uses Rogers’ actual quotes to comment on current events.

November 29 – December 23
MY MOTHER’S LESBIAN JEWISH WICCAN WEDDING is the answer to the question, “What do you do when you are a straight white male and discover your mother is a lesbian?” You write a musical based on a true story that celebrates love in all its forms.


216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org

October 4 – 20
STANDING ON CEREMONY: The Gay Marriage Plays is a new work by 8 of the nation’s best playwrights (Jordan Harrison, Moisés Kaufman, Mo Gaffney, Neil LaBute, Wendy McLeod, José Rivera, Paul Rudnick, Doug Wright), which is staged to promote gay marriage rights and explore our ever evolving (and sometimes not) society.

October 4 - 20
THE KARDIAC KID is a one-person show in which Cleveland playwright Eric Schmiedl shares his love of the Browns and his shared disgrace at their 1981 defeat after the fateful “Red Right 88” play.

October 11 – 21
SPRINGBOARD features staged readings (not actors standing at podiums) in which audience members give feedback and engage in post-show discussions to help local playwrights improve their work.

November 1 – 3
LEAP/CONCEIVE is a developmental series intended to support work that is at the midpoint in the creation process by featuring 15 minute segments from larger works-in-progress.



September 21-October 7
PROOF is a psychological mystery surrounding the authorship of a potentially revolutionary mathematical proof and the relationship between a father and his daughter.

September 28 - October 21

NORMAL HEART is Larry Kramer’s political play about a tight group of friends who won’t let doctors, politicians and the press bury the truth of an unspoken epidemic (AIDS).

November 15-December 2

MIRACLE AND WONDER, written by Clevelander Jonathan Wilhelm, is set three days before Christmas when a kindergarten teacher receives jarring news about missing relatives, a drag queen, broken hearts, a Bette Davis movie, mistaken identity and Midrashic parables.


http://www.greatlakestheater.org or 216-241-6000

September 28 - November 4
THE WINTER’S TALE, Shakespeare’s epic of romance and renewal tells the story of a royal family ripped apart by suspicions of infidelity and exile.

October 5 - November 3
THE IMAGINARY INVALID is Moliere’s comedy, with music, about a house-bound hypochondriac who fears he has every illness he can imagine.



October 5th - October 21st
NEXT FALL looks at faith, commitment and unconditional love through the actions of Adam who is older, neurotic and an atheist and Luke who is impulsive, a struggling actor and a devout Christian.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

All Shook Up!

Mercury Summer Stock closes its summer season with ALL SHOOK UP!

Jukebox musicals are a trend in modern American musical theater. The format force-feeds a story line around already created music. The sources are usually the works of groups (GOOD VIBRATIONS, the music of the Beach Boys, MAMMA MIA, the songs of ABBA) or singers (COME FLY WITH ME, the songs of Frank Sinatra and MOVIN’ OUT, the songs of Billy Joel).
ALL SHOOK UP, now on stage at Mercury SummerStock, takes the songs of Elvis Presley and tries to sandwich them into Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT. The story is credited to Joe DiPietro.

TWELFTH NIGHT, as do many of The Bard’s comedies, centers on mistaken identity. In the Shakespearean version, which takes place in the kingdom of Illyri, there are shipwrecks, storms, a dead or alive twin brother, sea captains, a girl dressed as a page to the Duke, and lots of plot twists. Almost none of that story is in ALL SHOOK UP! Yes, a girl dresses as a boy and there are lots of invented twists and turns, but that’s about it.

If, after hearing of the connection between TWELFTH NIGHT and ALL SHOOK UP!, you think are going to see something like the well-constructed WEST SIDE STORY, based on ROMEO OR JULIET or KISS ME KATE, based on the Bard’s TAMING OF THE SHREW, forget it.

ALL SHOOK UP! opened in March of 2005 in New York and closed after only 213 performances, after receiving very mixed reviews. Gotham’s leading paper stated, “Yet another synthetic jukebox musical opened last night on Broadway, fresh off the assembly line.” It went on to extol the shallowness of the plot.

The show has, however, proven to be a cult hit. In fact, it is one of the most produced musical reviews at regional theatres, colleges and high schools. It is the type of show, given the right production, that can please audience members familiar with Elvis, wanting an escapist evening of theatre, who aren’t interested in a well-constructed play, and are out to see their relatives and friends on stage.

The plot finds Chad, a motorcycling sex symbol, he of mobile pelvis, thrusting crotch, sneer, and sultry singing voice, dropping in on a small Midwestern town, supposedly because his bike broke down. The burg has a decency proclamation instituted by its uptight lady mayor. As can be expected, chaos reigns as hormones hop, love sweeps in, and the status quo is no longer status or quo.

In the course of singing the likes of Jailhouse Rock, Heartbreak Hotel, One Night With You, Blue Suede Shoes, Love Me Tender and Don’t Be Cruel, a young female garage mechanic, her widowed father, the mayor’s son, a waitress, and the town’s nerd, all fall into the throes of love. Don’t expect the songs to fit smoothly into or advance the story line. They most of them don’t.
Mercury SummerStock’s continued strength is director/choreographer Pierre-Jacques Brault’s dance designs. He continues his winning ways with this production. The highlight number is Can’t Help Falling in Love.

Conductor/pianist Eddie Carney’s orchestra performs well. Janet Conley’s scenic art works, especially on the Eisenhower era correct proscenium arch.

Performance highlights include Jesse Markowitz (Dean, the mayor’s son), who, as in his recent starring role in Cain Park’s AVENUE Q, lights up the stage with his effervescent smile, fine singing voice, let-loose dance style, and spot on character development. His scenes with the equally talented Lauryn Alexandria Hobbs (Lorraine) are charming. It’s Now or Never is one of the show’s highlights.

Brian Marshall is engaging as Dennis, the town’s love-sick nerd. He gets to show off his singing prowess in It Hurts Me.

Klevette Beacham, who has made high comedy her performance genre, does it again as Sylvia, she of hard outside and soft-hearted inside. Her There’s Always Me brought deserved “hurrahs.”
Dani Apple has one of the best trained and biggest voices on local stages. Though the Elvis songs don’t fit well into her power vocal sound, she does a nice job with the songs in her range. Forcing her to reign in her sound to fit into lower register songs takes away her usual ability to mesmerize audiences.

Dana Aber, one of the two Equity members in the cast, plays well the aloof Miss Sandra, the director of the art museum. Her Let Yourself Go, is well done and nicely staged.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you like Elvis’s songs, are in the mood for escapist theatre wrapped in a nearly non-existent plot, and want to see lots of high school and college kids have a good time performing, ALL SHOOK UP! could be your thing.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

One Night With Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin and the black blues divas are alive and well at CPH

There is a love-in going on at the Cleveland Play House’s Allen Theatre between Janis Joplin and the audience. Janis Joplin? She’s dead. She died in 1970 at the age of 27. You’d never know it from the happenings on the CPH stage. Mary Bridget Davies, who took over the role opening night, doesn’t imitate Janis, she is Janis!

Davies stepped in when Cat Stephani withdrew from the role for “personal reasons.” Davies, who was the understudy, captivated the audience. Don’t know what Stephani can do, but Davies, as one Joplin’s songs states, got a “Piece of My Heart.”

Joplin is remembered for her mass of flying hair, which she regularly ran her hands through, her unconventional appearance and off the wall clothing choices. Her 1960s beatnik lifestyle, and amazing voice, led to her being called, “The Queen of Rock and Roll” and “The Queen of Psychedelic Soul.”
Her rise to prominence came as the lead singer with the acid rock band, Big Brother and the Holding Company.

ONE NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN, which was created, written and directed by Randy Johnson, with the full support of the estate of Janis Joplin and Jeffrey Jampol for JAM, and the Joplin family, is a tribute to the great lady of rock and the blues.

Davies, or is it Janis (?), stands center stage and talks to the audience. She ad libs to fit the reactions of the enamored, many of whom were dressed in tie-dye shirts, head bands, and long haired wigs. The audience responded with peace signs, singing the words to the great one’s songs and imitating the performer’s gestures. Obviously they saw the “other” Janis in her “other” life.

Songs included: My Baby, Maybe, Down on Me, Piece of My Heart, Today I Sing the Blues, Try, Kozmic Blues, I Shall be Released, Mercedes Benz, and the finale, I’m Gonna Rock My Way to Heaven.

At various times during the performance the audience was clapping, singing and stomping. Yes, Cleveland is noted for freely give standing ovations, but has there ever been a play where there were seven standing “O’s” during the performance and jumping, screaming and flower-throwing for the curtain calls? Remember, this was a play, not a rock concert. Well, maybe a combination play and rock concert.

Not only does Davies wail, but there are the amazing vocal performances by Sabrina Elayne Carten, who sings the roles of the black blues divas who influenced Joplin. Carten sings the likes of Aretha Franklin, Bessie Smith, and Nina Simone.

The staging is as amazing as Davies and Carten. Scenic and lighting designer Justin Townsend, sound designer, Carl Casella and projection and video designer, Darrel Maloney, let out all the stops.

The stage is ablaze with psychedelic colors and lights, Janis’s paintings are flashed on electronic panels at the rear of the stage, the lights pulse to the beats of the music, smoky effects steam forth to add a surreal feel to the goings on. These production qualities could not have been possible in the old CPH venue.

Stephen Flakus and the band, which is ever present on stage, are rock concert perfect. The eight-instrument group is well-integrated into every aspect of the show.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: ONE NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN is musical play, rock concert and love-in, all mashed into one! Doesn’t matter if you are a blues, rock and roll, or Joplin fan or not, there is no way you aren’t going to leave this performance on an emotional high! Bravo. Yes, Bravo, bravo, bravo!

BTW---the show would have been better served by a more upbeat opening announcement. The staid “turn off the cell phones mantra” needed a rock exciting sound to get the assemblage in the mood! Come on CPH, get with it!

Review of Reviewer's reviews--Ken Allan

Your reviews are great. Glad we have someone like you.

All the best,

Ken Allan