Sunday, March 29, 2015

Beck’s LEND ME A TENOR, farce at its funny best!

Some people go to the theatre to be educated.  Some go to see/listen to a pleasing combination of music and lyrics enclosed in a story.  Others go to just have a good time.  The latter group should run to their phones or computers right now and make reservations for LEND ME A TENOR.  Beck’s production is farce at its finest!

Ken Ludwig’s LEND ME A TENOR takes place in 1934 in a hotel suite in Cleveland.  The Cleveland Grand Opera Company is staging a celebratory event and has employed world famous Italian tenor, Tito Merelli, known as “Il Stupendo,” to sing Giuseppe Verdi’s OTELLO. 

Henry Saunders, the opera’s general manager, his much put-upon assistant, Max, and Maggie, Max’s girl friend and Saunders’ daughter, wait for his arrival in a plush art-déco suite.  Events unfold:  Morelli is late.  He arrives with his high strung and distraught wife who tags along to be sure that Morelli doesn’t get drunk and have affairs.  Morelli takes and is given too many tranquilizers in order to calm down, he passes out and is presumed to be dead.  Max agrees to substitute for Morelli. 

As Max admirably performs, Morelli awakes, puts on the same costume that Max is wearing, attempts to get into the opera house, has a confrontation with the police and returns to the hotel room about the same time as Max arrives back from his triumph.  The set doors keep opening and closing as a string of people, including a bellhop who wants to be discovered by Morelli, the opera’s soprano, who wants to have sex with him, and a member of the opera board, who is hero-struck, enter and exit. Two Otellos are charging around in costume, two women are running around in their undies, and chaos reigns.   (It’s SPAMALOT, and the skits of the CAROL BURNETT [TV] SHOW, and THE SHOW OF SHOWS relived.)

Farce, a light dramatic work with a highly improbable plot and exaggerated characters, is hard to both write and perform.   The writing must be so precise that the audience is led to laughter by the realism of the language imbedded in unbelievable situations.  The performances must be authentic, not beg for laughs, and the actions so broad that they require laughter.  Lots of door slamming, mistaken identifies, non-stop stage movements, and pure joy on the part of the audience are the keys to success. 

LEND ME A TENOR perfectly fits the bill.  It is one of modern America’s best farces.  It received nine Tony awards nominations, has appeared twice on Broadway, has been translated into sixteen languages and has produced in twenty-five countries.

The Beck production, under the adept direction of Scott Spence, is superb.  Laugh after laugh greets one improbable scene after another.  The cast has been melded into a unit that basically understands that, for farce to work, the actors must be totally real in their character development.  Their earnestness must come across.  These are “real” people caught in a series of ridiculous situations. 

Scott Esposito is wonderful as the put-upon Max.  His wide-eyed wonder look, his innocent demeanor and his great comic timing are enhanced by a marvelous tenor voice.  Yes, both Esposito and Matthew Wright do their own singing…no lip syncing here!  Bravo!

Matthew Wright is endearing as the drunken, hot-blooded Tito.  Wright’s singing voice is strong, his play with comedy excellent, and his consistency in character development admirable.  “Meraviglioso, come sempre!”

The pretty Emily Pucell Czarnota is charming as Maggie.  John Polk, as Saunders, is properly wrought. Leslie Andrews does a nice job of creating Diana, the company’s soprano who is hot for Tito, and Lissy Gulick is delightful as Julia, the chairperson of the Opera Guild.

Though Carla Petroski (Maria, Tito’s wife) and Zac Hudak (the bellhop) get lots of laughs, they both border on overdoing their roles, a cardinal “no-no” of good farce.  They could both step back a little and be more real and get even more laughs.  They need to be laughed with, not laughed at.

Welcome back Don McBride.  After a number of years of being away from Beck, McBride has designed a perfect art déco set consisting of two rooms, with numerous doors (that stand their ever continuing slamming).  The set is properly sophisticated and a perfect area for the farce staging.

If you like Ludwig’s writing you will shortly have a chance to experience it  again.  The Cleveland Play House will present Ludwig’s A COMEDY OF TENORS, the sequel to LEND ME A TENOR, as a reading as part of the New Ground Festival (May 9, 5-7 p.m.) and as the opening production of its 2015-2016 season.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  LEND ME A TENOR is one of the best modern day farces.  It gets a must-see production at Beck Center.  Farce is hard to do, but on the Beck stage, Scott Spence and his well-honed cast make it look exhausting, but easy.  Go, enjoy!

LEND ME A TENOR is scheduled to run through April 26, 2015 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sheri Gross to perform in Musical Theater Project’s “Behind the Musical: Hello, Dolly!”

Combine the talents of Bill Rudman, Artistic Director of The Musical Theater Project (TMTP), music director Nancy Maier, singers Ann Gilbert, Jared Leal, Jessica Cope Miller, Shane Patrick O’Neill, and the talents of Sheri Gross, with composer-lyricist Jerry Herman’s marvelous score.  The results?  “Behind the Musical:  Hello, Dolly!”  The production, co-sponsored by Chagrin Arts, will be staged on April 26 at 3 at Chagrin Falls High School Performing Arts Center.

As Rudman says, “We’ll be telling a darn good story,” which may surprise many because, in the words of Herman, “doing that musical [“Hello Dolly”]was the most difficult time in my career.”

Former New York actress Sheri Gross is the Artistic Director of Playmakers Youth Theatre, the award winning inclusive theater program sponsored by the Jewish Community Center.   The Rochester, New York native became involved in Playmakers in a serendipitous manner.  She came to the area when a fellow actor asked her to come with him while he did an acting gig at JCC.

She became friends with Elaine Rembrandt, then-JCC cultural arts director, who asked her to stay and help with the organization’s day camp.  Gross agreed, and the rest is history.  Now, almost twenty years later, married, with three children, she is “here to stay.”

Though noted locally as a director, she says, “My strength as a director is developing characters.  Staging was never my strength.”

She looks forward to her stint performing Dolly. “I haven’t done a lot of performing lately. Coming back to perform and also educate at the same time, is great!”

Gross, who has never performed as Dolly before, became involved in the project when Rudman called and offered her the role. 

Is she concerned that the audience will expect a Carol Channing characterization as Dolly?  In a recent interview she said, “hopefully audiences would understand that I am not Channing.”  In addition, she notes that this is not a fully blocked show, “it is a concert version and a testimony to some of the creative team.  There is talking about the show and its conceiver.”  “This is an opportunity to not only “see” the play, but to learn about it.”  “That somewhat takes the focus off Dolly.”

As for her favorite song in the score, “I really like ‘Before the Parade Passes By.’  It’s a great song for a belter.”  She also likes “Love is Only Love,” a ballad that was added to the movie version.

After so many years of being a director, is the switch to being a performer going to be a challenge for Gross?    She stated, “Bill uses multi-media, little staging, he stresses a lot of character development.  That lets me work on my own vocal and facial expression.”

If one of her students was playing the role of Dolly Levi, what advice would Gross give her?  “I think that the character has a lot of layers.  She’s not only comedic but filled with vulnerability.  She would have to dig for the emotions to play.  The character isn’t just a funny belter, there is a lot more to her.”

The Musical Theater Project is partnering with The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage which will offer a free screening of “Words & Music by Jerry Herman,” a PBS documentary on Sunday, March 29 at The Maltz.  (Call 216-595-0575 or visit for details.  The Mandel Jewish Community Center will present a free screening of the 1969 “Hello Dolly,” featuring Barbara Streisand on Sunday April 19 @ 2 pm in the Stonehill Auditorium.  Call 216-831-0700 X 1348 or email, for tickets.

To see Sheri Gross in “Behind the Musical:  Hello, Dolly!” on Sunday April 26 @ 3 call 216-245-8687 or go online to

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sir Isaac Newton wonderfully unmasked at convergence continuum; CPH 2015-16 season announced

One of the major issues in watching a historidrama is figuring out what is real, what is fiction, and what is fantasy.  This is especially the case in Lucas Hnath’s ISAAC’S EYE, now on stage at convergence-continuum.  Between the laughs and mumbles of “I didn’t know that,” “wow,” and, “no way,” it’s easy to get lost in  intrapersonal mumblings.

Before probing into Lucas Hnath’s play, there must be an understanding of what is meant by “scientific inquiry.”  The process starts with the development of a hypothesis which is a guess at what might be.  An experiment is carried out and a determination of validity is made.    Before being universally accepted as “fact” the experiment has to be replicated by other experts in the field.  If it can’t, it is not accepted by the scientific community.

In the early days of research, self-proclaimed “scientists” often came to conclusions with no controlled experimentation and lots of intuition.  Having a vivid imagination, and thoroughly convinced that his ideas were the direct messages from “God,” young Isaac Newton perceived “scientific” theories.   

Hnath's play is filled with “information” about Sir Isaac Newton.  Some of it may well be true, other narrations and statements are of questionable validity.  In fact, one may wonder if any of Hnath’s tale is valid.  But, in the end, that matters little, as the audience gets swept up in the mystery and the humor and takes it all in.

The play, developed in conversational twenty-first century language, tells a seventeenth century tale.  We are exposed to the height-challenged boyish Newton in his twenties before he became “Sir Isaac.” Yes, before he was credited with developing the theory of gravitation and the laws of motion.

The tale centers on Newton’s relationship with Catherine, a woman five years his elder, with whom he has had a life-long relationship.  Was there really a Catherine in his life?  We also are involved in an episode between Newton and Robert Hooke, curator of Experiments at the Royal Society.  Yes, the Robert Hooke of the “Hooke Law of Elasticity.” But, was he really part of Newton’s life? 

As the tale goes, Newton wants to get into the Royal Society.  Hooke is his latchkey for entrance.  If Newton can be convinced that Isaac’s theory of light particles is true, he’s in.  If not, he remains a dreamer on the outside.  Questions abound.  Did Newton really stick a needle in his eye and prove the theory? Will the blackmail that Newton has on Hooke be used to accomplish his goal?  What is Catherine’s role in all this?  Is all this truth or fantasy?

This is a cleverly written play filled with lots of meta-theatrical devices.  The language is filled with wit, humor and tension.  The tale is filled with “facts” and modern slang.  A well-conceived narrator keeps us apprised of the real versus the “it could be” or “it definitely is fantasy,” or “this is departing from the written record.”

We know for sure that Newton’s hair turned white at an early age, he invented calculus about the same time as a German did, and he did threaten to kill his parents and set their house on fire.  Hooke did discover combustion, petrifaction, the basic theories of mechanical engineering, and did experiments in which he made the lungs of dogs explode.  And then there is the other “stuff.”

The con-con production is cleverly staged by director Clyde Simon, with an emphasis on the humorous.  He well-paces the show, which keeps the audience‘s attention throughout. 

The cast is wonderful.   Jonathan Wilhelm is emphatic as the narrator, and does a fun side-track as a man dying of the plague.  (Remember this is 1765-66, when death stalked England.)  Wilhelm, writes everything we need to know in a meticulous handwriting on a series of blackboards, giving us a school room lesson of authenticity.

Bobby Coyne is a cherubic Newton.  He has the boyish charm, the uncontrolled enthusiasm, and the air of believability that twists us around his little pinky, and makes us believe.  He is the little kid who tells an obvious lie, but looks at you with innocent eyes and as says, “But it could be,” and you just have to believe him.   This is an endearing performance.

Robert Hooke creates a convincing and smarmy Robert Branch, a sexaholic, pedophile and a brilliant scientist. 

Amy Bistok Bunche lives the role of Catherine, the only character who seems like a reasonably mentally healthy person.

CJ Pierce’s lighting design effectively leads the audience through the actions.

Viewer alert:  The scientific uninformed need fear not, everything that is the least bit abstract is explained in plain English.

Capsule Judgement:  ISAAC’S EYE is one of those productions that if you don’t see it, you’ll be missing a very special theatrical experience.  Good job con-con!

ISAAC’S EYE runs through April 11 at 8 pm Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074.

Cleveland Play House 2015-2016 season

Cleveland Play House has announced its schedule of plays for the theatre’s 100th anniversary: 

Ken Ludwig’s A Comedy of Tenors
Sept 5-Oct 3, 2015 • Allen Theatre

The Crucible
Oct 10-Nov 8, 2015 • Outcalt Theatre

Little Shop of Horrors
Jan 9-Feb 7, 2016 • Allen Theatre

The Mountaintop
Jan 23-Feb 14, 2016 • Outcalt Theatre

Luna Gale
Feb 27-Mar 20, 2016 • Allen Theatre

Mr. Wolf
Apr 2-24, 2016 • Outcalt Theatre

Steel Magnolias
Coming May 2016

A Christmas Story
Nov 27-Dec 23, 2015 • Allen Theatre

For play descriptions and ticket information go to:

Monday, March 09, 2015

Plays about gay marriage have a successful return visit to Cleveland Public Theatre

In October of 2012, when Cleveland Public Theatre first staged, STANDING ON CEREMONY THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS, “same sex marriage was legal in nine states (Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington and the District of Columbia).”  At the same time, “30 states had added language to their constitutions banning same-sex marriage.”

On October 18, while the play was running, “The 2nd U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act, (DOMA), violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.”

On March 5, 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, when STANDING ON CEREMONY THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS, opened for a return visit to CPT, same-sex marriage “has been legalized in 37 states, the District of Columbia, and 22 Native American tribal jurisdictions.”  “More than 70% of the population lives in jurisdictions where same-sex couples can legally marry.”  In addition, on April 28, 2015, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments as to whether a state may refuse to license same-sex marriage or to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.  There is hope that before the end of the year,  marriage equality will an issue on the “to do” gay agenda.

As the old advertising statement declared, “We’ve come a long way baby.” 

As my review of the 2012 play stated, “Since theatre represents the era from which it comes, here in the United States, attitudes about the women’s movement were presented by feminist plays.  The Black movement found African American writers sending forth their messages.  Today, with the Gay rights movement in full swing, it is only logical that some of that community’s issues reach the forefront.”  STANDING ON CEREMONY is such a production.

“STANDING ON CEREMONY THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS, started in 2011 in Los Angeles as a series of fund raising events, when the issue of same sex marriage was in the news in an on-again, off-again legal fight for legalization in California. Money from the productions was donated to marriage equality organizations.   The battle was eventually won.

The 90-minute play, staged with an intermission, was conceived by Brain Shnipper.  

The offerings are not an attempt to provide a balanced viewpoint on the issue, but exposing humorous, touching, and controversial topics.

In LA and New York, it was presented as a staged reading with a rotating cast of celebrities taking the roles, reading parts while standing behind podiums.   At Cleveland Public Theatre, there is a set cast and the scenes are staged, with memorized lines, costumes, a set, and creative staging.

The script, which consists of nine playlets, is the work of writers whose accolades include the nominations and/or receipt of Pulitzer Prizes, Obies, Emmys, and Tonys.  Each presents his/her unique take on before, after and during the “I do,” and views of people for and opposed to marriage equality.

The first act consists of:
    •THE REVISION  Jordan Harrison’s amusing look at how two men go about writing their wedding vows to reflect the limited options available to a gay couple and the difficulty in or of finding the words to describe the process and the participants.
    •THIS FLIGHT TONIGHT  Wendy MacLeod asks if there can be any hope for happiness when a lesbian couple travels to Iowa to take their vows.
    •THE GAY AGENDA  Paul Rudnicks’ sad, yet hilarious appeal for restricting marriage to that between a man and a woman by an Ohio homemaker, who is a member of the extreme right wing religiously conservative, Focus on the Family and all the other organizations opposed to same sex union equality.
    •ON FACEBOOK  Doug Wright takes on social media by following an actual Facebook thread chronicling a discussion on the subject of gay marriage, which starts out innocently and ends up as an all-out assault.
    •STRANGE FRUIT  Neil LaBute’s story of two men who marry in California and go to Hotel Coronado on their honeymoon.   Tragedy strikes one of them when he goes out for cigarettes.

The second act centers on: 
    •A TRADITIONAL WEDDING  Mo Gaffney gives a glimpse of a fourteen year relationship.
    •MY HUSBAND  Paul Rudnick gives a delightful glimpse into the machinations of an ultra liberal Jewish mother who is desperate to find a husband for her gay son.
    •LONDON MOSQUITOES  Moisés Kaufman’s poignant story of a man who, at his husband’s funeral, tries to make sense of the loss.
    •PABLO AND ANDRE AT THE ALTAR OF WORDS  José Rivera’s snapshot of two men who use their wedding vows to say the things that people never really say to each other.

The CPT production, again under the creative and focused eye of Craig J. George, wrings out all of the humor and pathos of each of the scenes. The segments are melded together by creative choreography centering around rearranging the chairs, and appropriate music.

The cast, which includes Molly Andrews-Hinders, Maryann Elder, Dana Hart, and Beth Wood from the 2012 cast, and newcomers Val Kozlenko, Matt O’Shea, and Wesley Allen, are universally excellent.

Highlight segments include MaryAnn Elder’s impassioned attempt, in THE GAY AGENDA, to explain the conservative view against same sex marriage.  Elder also excels IN MY HUSBAND as the Jewish mother/liberal professor’s attempt to find a husband for her son because, “what will my friends think if you aren’t married?”  Dana Hart induces impassioned sadness in LONDON MOSQUITOES as the husband left to grieve his long-time gay companion.  Beth Wood is properly hyper-hysterical over the thought of gay life in Iowa in THIS FLIGHT TONIGHT.  

The final segment, PABLO AND ANDREW AT THE ALTAR OF WORDS, is the weakest scene.  Weakly written, it seemed tacked on, rather than being a culminating segment.

T. Paul Lowry has adapted Russ Borski’s original set to include screens on which electronic media are played to represent locations as well as significant film footage of events.

Capsule judgement:   STANDING ON CEREMONY THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS is a must see production for anyone who has empathy toward  same sex marriage movement.  It should be required seeing for conservatives who don’t understand why there is a need for a “gay agenda.” It’s also of value to return attendees as a second viewing exposes subtle materials not previously grasped, the set is new, and there have been some positive cast changes.
STANDING ON CEREMONY THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS runs though March 21, 2015.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to

Sunday, March 08, 2015

BECKY SHAW, comedy of bad manners, marvelous at Dobama

Gina Gionfriddo, the author of BECKY SHAW, now on stage at Dobama Theatre, is one of the new breed of playwrights who reflect topics relevant to today, cleverly construct their writings, and uses language that shimmers with naturalism.  They don’t use stage language or formats like Arthur Miller or Eugene O’Neill, or the oft-present symbolism of Tennessee Williams, nor the existential philosophy of Edward Albee.  Gionfriddo, along with such modernists as Neil LaBute and Rajiv Joseph, push the envelope, using real people interacting to highlight their foibles and weaknesses.

Gionfriddo’s BECKY SHAW finds a group of people in a tangled tale of love, sex and ethics, in what might be called a comedy of manners, bad manners.  The play has been described as being “like a big box of fireworks, fizzing and crackling across the stage.” 

Four of the characters are self-centered, dysfunctional, disingenuous manipulators.  Each is determined to get what s/he wants by playing with the feelings of others in order to get personal gain, and not being concerned about how they may be destroying others. 

We quickly find in BECKY SHAW that Max Garrett, the “adopted” son in the Slater family, is a straight-talking, blunt, arrogant, power controlling, financially successful thirty-something.  Single, he seems emotionally attached to only one person, his “sister,” Lara.  He has little success in the dating world, having had only one relationship that lasted more than three months.

He has been set up on a blind date with Becky, by Lara and her husband, Andrew.  Becky, who works with Andrew, shows up overdressed for what is supposed to be a casual dinner, and immediately conflicts with Max.  Only angst can follow!  And, how it does!

Andrew, who seems to have a fetish for vulnerable women, has already “saved” Suzanna and is presently enabling Becky. 

Toss into the mix Susan Slater, Suzanna and Max’s needy mother, who is engaged in a “rent-a-boy” relationship and there are all the ingredients for a biting, entertaining evening of theatre.

Dobama’s production,  under the steady direction of Donald Carrier, is well paced, the characters clearly etched, the production totally effective.  Aided by the excellent dialogue, his believable characterizations key the audience to laugh at the pain of others, and then realize they should be embarrassed at that which is causing the laughter.

Geoff Knox’s Max is so realistically arrogant, complete with thrust out jaw, so clearly self-centered, that one can only admire his “chutzpa,” while wanting to hit him up-side his egotistical head.  Showing off his gym toned body in a skin tight latex shirt is as natural to Max as is his lack of realizing that his comments to others are mean-spirited and more destructive than constructive.

Lara Knox creates a Suzanna who is so needy that one only wonders what she has learned in her studies as a doctoral student in psychology.  Her emotional highs and lows could serve as a classic case study in bipolar behavior.

Laura Starnik is completely natural and real as the self-aware and self-centered Susan.  She believes she deserves her version of happiness, and nothing, including diminished wealth and MS, is going to stop her from having it.

Andrew Porter so perfectly creates Ryan, a person so good, so in emotional control that one can only wonder what the real Ryan must be like, when he is not on self-induced mental tranquilizers.

And then there is Becky Shaw!  Anjanette Hall doesn’t just portray the needy and manipulative, she is Becky.   She delivers lines with such ease that she sucks the audience in, makes us feel sorry for her, then slams us with reality statements that make us aware that we’ve been “had.”  What an adorable vixen Hall creates.

Scenic designer Cameron Caley Michalak created a play with numerous settings in basically a one-set space.  He creates different places through the use of well painted, framed illustrations of the specific places in which the scenes take place.  Thus we are transported from New York to Philadelphia to Richmond to a coffee shop by having a spotlight shine on the painting which illustrates where we are.   Clever!

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Ah, if only every night at the theater could be like this!
Gina Gionfriddo has written a play that is both fun and thought provoking.  It gets a marvelous production at Dobama.  This is theatre at its best.  The director, the cast, and the technical staff all deserve kudos!!!

BECKY SHAW runs through March 29 2015 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Compelling THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE at Cleveland Play House

It is the intent of theater to educate and entertain, and, in the case of some special offerings, enrapture.  Such a piece of theater is THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE, now on stage at Cleveland Play House.

THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE, adapted and directed by pianist and musicologist Hershey Felder, tells the tale of Lisa Jura, mother of renowned pianist Mona Golabek, and overcoming great trauma to achieve her artistic goals. 

Educate:   The Kindertransport was a rescue mission which, over a period of nine months, prior to the outbreak of the World War II, allowed about 10,000, mainly Jewish children from central Europe, to go to England and be housed in foster homes, hostels, schools and farms.  As it turned out, these youth were some of  the only members of their families to survive the Holocaust. 

Lisa Jura was denied continuing piano lessons under the tutelage of her piano professor when the Nazis declared that Jews should not be educated by non-Jews.  Deportation of “Juden” from Vienna was escalating, Jewish places of business, including Lisa’s father’s tailor shop, were destroyed.  While gambling to make money to feed and keep his family, her father won a ticket for the Kindertransport which allowed one of his three daughters to escape to freedom. 

At age 14, musically talented Lisa was the child chosen to leave. This action not not only gave her the opportunity to continue her musical journey, but saved her life.

Just before Lisa got on the train, her mother said, “You must promise me that you will hold onto your music.  It will be the best friend you ever have. I will be with you every step of the way when you’re playing that music.”  How prophetic she was!

Entertain:  Golabek, in a one-woman presentation, plays the piano and portrays not only herself but Lisa, who relates, in a first-person narrative, the tale of escape, adjustment to a new culture, and how she continued to develop her piano skills.  We share Lisa’s relationships, attempts to keep in contact with her parents, and pass on the family’s history, as she marries, has children, and not only teaches them to play the piano, but ties the music of the great composers to her life story.

Enrapture:  Mona Golabek’s ability to emotionally connect to the audience, to grab and hold attention, and to perform superbly, makes for a mesmerizing evening of theatre.  She masterfully incorporates the works of Chopin, Beethoven and Debussy into telling the tale of the lives of her mother and herself.  This is not only a play, but a fine concert.

Director/adapter Hershey Felder, has been seen on stage at CPH performing his one-man shows including GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE, BEETHOVEN, AS I KNEW HIM and MAESTRO BERNSTEIN, in which he combined acting and piano performance.  He has developed in THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE, a show that flows easily, is well paced, and fills the 90-minutes with fascinating tales and musicals delights.

Some advice:  You might be sure to bring some Kleenex along to wipe away the tears!

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE is a special theatrical and musical event.  An absolute “must see,” the script and the production educate, entertain and enrapture!  Kudos to  Mona Golabek and Hershey Felder for creating an experience that viewers will long remember.
THE PIANIST OF WILLESEN LANE runs through March 22, 2015, at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

Next up at CPH:  VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE, April 3-26.  To read my Broadway review of that show go to:, on the right side of the page scroll to Broadway shows, click on the link, scroll down to find VANYA, AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE.

Friday, March 06, 2015

DIRTY DANCING THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE disappoints at the Conner Palace Theatre

DIRTY DANCING, THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE, which is now in production at the Connor Palace transports the audience back to the summer of 1963.  As is the custom of many well-to-do Jewish New York City families of that time, the Housemans have escaped for the summer to the Catskill Mountains, home of the Borscht Belt.  It’s a summer away from the sweltering city.  It’s a time for fun and games, and summer romances.  

Frances “Baby” Houseman is planning to attend college, join the Peace Corps, and “save the world.”  In the course of the summer she grows up quickly when she falls in love with Johnny Castle, the camp’s dance instructor.  He’s a handsome, studly, smooth talker, from the other side of the tracks. 

As the summer flows along, Baby asks her father to give her money, as it turns out to pay for an abortion for Johnny’s dance mate, secretly becomes Johnny’s new partner, enters into a sexual relationship with Johnny, gets her father to aid in correcting the botched abortion, and finally, to the emotionally stirring, ”(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” the curtain falls on the tale.  

DIRTY DANCING was a movie destined for failure.  Made for about $6 million dollars, it opened to negative reviews.  Jennifer Grey was called “ugly,” Patrick Swayze was panned as too old for his role.  The story was perceived as too obvious.  But word of mouth, the sizzling connection between Grey and Swayze and their compelling dancing, resulted in first month sales of $24 million.  To date, the film has grossed nearly $214 million.

Locals should be proud of Grey’s Cleveland connection.  Mickey Katz, a native Clevelander who was a famous Yiddish musician/comedian, made appearances, among other places, in the Borscht Belt.  He was the father of Cleveland-born Joel Grey, who started his climb to fame as a Curtain Puller  at the Cleveland Play House, and became world famous as the Master of Ceremonies in both the Broadway and Hollywood versions of CABARET.  He is the father of Jennifer Grey.  Probably, her greatest role was opposite Patrick Swayze in DIRTY DANCING.  Her role as Baby, won her a Golden Globe nomination.

The stage version of the film follows closely the pattern of the movie, with some scenes and music added.  The usual musical theater format of the characters breaking into song to help push the plot along is not followed.  In fact, the leads don’t sing at all.   Yes, Baby and Johnny sing not a word. 

The songs, sung by a couple of on-stage performers, but mainly off stage or via recorded tracks, are basically a lexicon of the pop songs of the era.  An original song in the film, (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life, by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, won an Oscar.  Added songs for the stage version are, “Save the Last Dance” and “This Magic Moment.”

Eleanor Bergstein, the author of the script, is an outspoken liberal Democrat, who spent much of 2012 knocking on doors in Cleveland for Barack Obama.  She has freely taken ideological stands in the play, which spouts liberal politics of the time.  It’s the era of Martin Luther King, Freedom Marches, The Peace Corps, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and mounting troubles in Vietnam. 

The touring version, unfortunately, doesn’t have Grey or Swayze.  The leads on opening night, Josh Drake (Johnny), who was a fill-in for Samuel Pergande, who had injured his hand, and Gillian Abbott, who had just ascended to the role of Baby, had no emotional connection.  Both basically walked through their parts, sans charisma.  Their dancing lacked power and accomplishment.  What should have been the emotional climax, the famous silhouette lift scene, used to advertise the show, was slow and awkward.

Drake and Abbott weren’t the only fill-ins.  In baseball, there is an old expression that you can’t tell the players without a program.  The touring production’s opening night was about the same.  There were many understudies and “newbies,” which may have caused the lack of proper pacing, and community theater level performances.
The show’s highlights were provided by Jennlee Shallow and Scott McCreary.  Don’t get all excited, this is not The Scotty McCreary who won American Idol, but this kid does sing very well!

Many of the sets for the show are supplied by electronic media.  The effect is quite good. 

The orchestra is excellent.  Michelle Lynch’s choreographer is adequate, but not as compelling as should expected for what many consider to be a “dance” show.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you go to see DIRTY DANCING THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE expecting the emotional and sensual overload that many experienced from the film, you will be very disappointed.  The only way to watch this touring production is to sit back, take the unspectacular staging, the mediocre acting and dancing, and soap opera story for what it is.  The opening night audience slowly got to its feet as the curtain call proceeded.  Was the show that good?  No, but take into consideration this is Cleveland.  Cleveland, the home of  polite people who stand at the end of almost every show, deserving or not.

Tickets for DIRTY DANCING, which runs through March 22, 2015, at the Connor Palace Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to

Monday, March 02, 2015

DIAL “M” FOR MURDER, another exciting murder mystery at GLT

Mystery books are the second highest money-making genre in literature, only exceeded by Romance/Erotica.  They are the highest rated television demand topic. 

Building on the desire of readers and viewers, Great Lakes Theater has included a “who done-it” in each of their last two seasons.  Both DEATHTRAP and THE MOUSETRAP met with audience approval.  Their present offerings, DIAL “M” FOR MURDER, should do the same.  Finding a cash cow topic, the theater has announced that Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is being staged in the 2015-2016 season.

As explained in GLT’s excellent “Teacher Preparation Guide,” DIAL “M” FOR MURDER is filled with “Deception, betrayal, passion and greed.”

The plot centers around Tony Wendice, a recently retired British tennis player, his wife, Margot, who Tony married for her money, and Max Halliday, a New York mystery writer, who is visiting in London, and may or may not be having an affair with Margot. 

Tony, wanting to inherit Margot’s money, develops a “perfect crime” plot, which includes his hiring a hit man.  The problems start when Margot, during the attempt to kill her, accidentally kills her attacker and is sentenced to death.  Will Tony inherit the money?  Will Max be able to save his love?  Will Inspector Hubbard see through the charade and save Margot? 

DIAL “M” was originally created by Frederick Knott as a BBC television production.  Both the play and the screen script were also written by Knott.  The 1954 Warner Brother’s film starred Ray Milland and Grace Kelly, was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and was filmed in 3D, a new innovation in cinema filming.

Knott was noted for writing material that focused on women who innocently became victims of sinister plots.

Great Lakes production, under the focused eye of Charles Fee, is well paced, builds efectively to the creative and mind boggling conclusion, and grabs and holds attention.

The cast is universally excellent.  Beautiful Robyn Cohen makes for a believable Margot, the potential murdered wife.  She gives a convincing portrayal of a rich, perfectly coifed woman, who transitions into the potential victim.

Nick Steen, has become GLT’s choice for the handsome leading man in their murder mysteries.  He follows up his outstanding portrayal in DEATHTRAP with another believable characterization as Max, Margot’s lover.

Aled Davies, is accent and action perfect as Inspector Hubbard.  He seems born to play the wise policeperson who can and will solve all cases in a clever manner.

Jonathan Dyrud as Tony, has the lithe body need to make for a believable tennis player and the Iago good looks to give an air of innocence.

Dougfred Miller creates Captain Lesgate, Tony’s former college acquaintance,  as a perfect cad and a fine potential killer.

Russell Metheny’s fragmented set design allows for a clear view of the action, both on and off stage.  His incorporation of a large picture window on the second level, cleverly serves as a screen for Lucy Mackinnon’s projections.  The films of the receivers of telephone calls add to the visual dimension of the production, which is more effective than just hearing the voices of the participants, which is the standard way of staging the interactive scenes.

Rick Martin’s lighting design and Joe Court’s sound all aid in developing the mystery aspects of the script. 

Capsule judgement:  Great Lakes production of DIAL “M” FOR MURDER makes for a wonderful escapist evening of theatre.  Anyone liking murder mysteries, good acting, and good staging will enjoy this production.  As to the theatre’s evolving pattern of staging a mystery each season, as long as they continue in the vein of their DEATHTRAP, MOUSETRAP, and DIAL “M,” let’s have some more!

“Great Lakes Theater Teacher Preparation Guide for Dial ‘M’ for Murder, as prepared by Kelly Schaffer Florian and David Hansen, is a available from GLT’s Education Outreach program.

DIAL “M” FOR MURDER runs through March 22, 2015 at the Hanna Theatre.  For tickets: 216-664-6064 or