Sunday, August 30, 2015

The under-belly of politics well-explored at Ensemble Theatre; in memoriam

What could be more appropriate in this year, which leads up to a presidential election, than to examine the political hacks who run the campaigns.  Voilá,  for the start of its 36th season, Ensemble Theatre has chosen Beau  Willimon’s 2008 drama, FARRAGUT NORTH, which examines the lust for power among political hacks. 

The play is very loosely based on Willimon’s experiences with Howard Dean’s 2004 Democratic presidential primary election.

The plot centers on Stephen Bellamy, a wunderkind who entered the political fray as a teenager, and now in his mid-twenties, is recognized as one of the premiere speech writers and political operatives in the Democratic party.  He has hooked his wagon to an underdog presidential candidate who has due to the work of Bellamy, supposedly risen to the frontrunner just before the Iowa caucuses.  

Bellamy has used his charms to manipulate the likes of Ida, a reporter for the “Washington Times” newspaper, to place appropriate leaks into the press.   Things look rosy until he is contacted by Tom, the political operative for a rival candidate with an offer to switch candidates.  In the process Tom reveals that a manipulative plan in place that makes it appear that Bellamy’s candidate is in the lead, but, in fact, the opponent has used an underhanded scheme to make what appears to be true, not to be so. 

What does Bellamy do?  Out the scheme and tarnish the party?  Admit he met with Tom and show disloyalty?  Switch candidates?   Thus, the intrigue of FARRAGUT NORTH, is set.

The plot’s twists and turns are further developed by Ben, a political novice who wants Bellamy’s job, a couple of affairs centering on Molly, a smart and cute nineteen-year old intern, a drunken stupor, and a shot of underbelly political reality, which culminates with two revealing script quotes: “Don’t take this personally, it’s politics,” and “Trust over talent.”

If the plot sounds familiar, the play was retitled and became George Clooney’s 2011 Oscar-nominated film, THE IDES OF MARCH. 

Having been a public relations director and speech writer for successful congressional, county commissioner, and mayoral campaigns, as well as my own election to the Elyria Board of Education, I can assure that some of what appears to be dramatic manipulation in the play has strong validity.  The game of politics is often cut-throat, people with charlatans, and there are victims, sometimes even those who have the noblest of intentions.

The title refers to the Farragut North stop on Washington, DC’s Metro which is located near the White House.  For a year and a half I exited there to go to my position as the Public Relations Director for the Volunteer Office of the White House.  The short walk to the Presidential home was often filled with participating in and sometimes hearing conversations of politicians, interns, and staff workers exchanging gossip, campaign strategies and making “deals.” These were often people interested in satisfying their ravenous political appetites and search of power.

Ensemble’s production, under the direction of Kyle Huff, in spite of some languid set changes and lighting effects, was very effective.  The script and the nicely textured character developments grabbed and held the sold out audience’s attention.

Boyishly handsome Nate Miller has the right personal charisma to make his Stephen Bellamy believable.  His nicely textured characterization had just the right degrees of cockiness and vulnerability.

Olivia Scicolone, nicely developed Molly, the intern with seemingly good intentions, but maybe with some underlying ulterior motives.

Both Chris Bizub, as Paul, Bellamy’s boss, and Ian Hinz, as Tom, the political operative for the opposing candidate, were deviously-correct.  They were the essence of backroom politicians who would do anything to win.

Ashley Bossard created in Ida the image of a reporter who would do what had to be done to get the story.

Tim Young as a waiter and Andrew Keller as Ben, the young hotshot after Bellamy’s job, were believable in their roles.  Keller, however, might have shown more victor’s pride in his last speech, showing the self-accomplishment of having not only accomplished his goal, but exceeded his fondest wishes.

The play has numerous settings.  Using a turntable was creative and made the process easier, but many of the changes were not prompt.  Some of the lighting cues were also languid, leaving actors in spotlighted frozen positions.  Both the intermission and closing lighting needed a quicker take.   The men’s clothing was not what is normally seen and worn on the election trail.  Political operatives dress in Brooks Brother suits accompanied by power ties.   None of these stumbles, however, ruined the production, but correcting them could have helped to improve the show.

Capsule judgment:  FARRAGUT NORTH is a well written script that gives the electorate an often uncomfortable view of the reality of those who plan and plot election campaigns.  Willimon’s writing gets a good production at Ensemble that is well worth seeing.
Note:  This production is being performed in the 50-seat Playground Theatre, so tickets are limited.

FARRAGUT NORTH runs Thursdays through Sundays from August 28-September 6, 2015 at Ensemble’s Playground Theatre, housed in the former  Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to

Ensemble’s next production is Arthur Miller’s classic, DEATH OF A SALESMAN, starring Greg White as Willy Loman, from September 18-October 11.

IN MEMORIUM:  Kyle Jean-Baptist

Former BW Musical Theatre student dies at age 21

The Broadway and local theatre communities are in shocked mourning.  Kyle Jean-Baptist, a charismatic, talented Baldwin Wallace musical theater grad, who was the youngest and first Black person to sing Jean Valjean in LES MISERABLES on Broadway, and who was to open shortly in the revival of the THE COLOR PURPLE, died when he accidentally fell off the fourth floor fire escape of his mother’s Brooklyn, NY apartment building. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

TEAR IT OFF, a romance novel comes alive at convergence continuum

Book buyers spend an estimated $1.08 billion dollars each year purchasing romance novels.  Since 1972 when Avon printed Kathleen Woodiwiss’s “The Flame And The Flower,” supposedly the first U.S. published book of that genre, almost 55% of all paperbacks sold in the U.S. have centered on romantic relationships with optimistic endings, whose covers usually feature a handsome buff man saving a helpless woman.  These types of stories also dominate E-book downloads.

The main plot of a romance novel usually revolves around two people as they develop a love for each other and work on developing a relationship.  In general, these writings reward characters who are good people and penalize those who are evil.

Who reads these books with such titles as “Dancing on Coals,” “Playing it Close,” “Chained,”  “Hearts of Paradise,” “The Flirting Games,” “Utterly Sluttily,” and “Pale Stranger?”  They are mostly consumed by females (84%), aged 30-54.

Local playwright Mike Geither has built on the interest in romance novels by writing TEAR IT OFF, a “romantic novel” within a “romantic play.”  Part true formulaic page burner, part melodramatic farce, the script is now being produced by convergence-continuum.

Beth, a widow, and Bridget,  her younger sister, are two ladies with obviously too much time on their hands.  They fill their hours adlibbing tales of adventurous lovers, scorned lovers, scarred lovers, reunited lovers, secret lovers, sudden lovers, royal lovers, jilted lovers, and, eventually, a real lover.

The duo records their actions and words as they act out the stories. 

Into their lives comes, Charles, a mechanic and jack of all trades.  Of course, Charles has a back story centering on his younger brother, Tim, who has recently been released from jail.  So, all the elements of the romance novel are set…two lustful ladies, an eligible male, and a bad guy.

As the tale proceeds, we find out that Charles writes children’s novels.  Wow…he can join the ladies in crafting their book.  Of course, in the process of acting out the scenes, Charles is continually required to take off his shirt.  Tim, as per the format of these books, does a bad deed—he steals a family heirloom coin--is caught, and repents.  In the meantime, both ladies lust for Charles, he beds one.  Therefore, there is another conflict, as per genre requirements.   You get the point.

TEAR IT OFF proficiently directed by Karin Randoja.  She has a nice sense of comic timing and the overly-dramatic.  The laughs roll along, the overblown characters are well developed, and the whole thing works well.

Lucy Bredeson-Smith, her big saucer eyes gleaming, makes Beth into a willing participant in the over-exaggerated tale.  Lauren B. Smith, with her dyed red hair shining, develops nicely into a lustful vixen. 

Though he lacks the stud body or sultry looks of the stereotype romance novel leading man, Terrence Cranendonk is excellent as Charles. (Maybe Randoja cast him because he doesn’t fit the mold, thus making the whole thing even more ludicrous.)  Beau Reinker makes for a believable slick con artist and, as the sound designer, adds some great effects to enhance the slight setting. 

Capsule Judgement:  TEAR IT OFF is no great theatrical script, but the premise and the way it is developed makes for a fun evening of theatre, resulting in a get-away from the “real world,” where goings-on are a little less formulaic.

TEAR IT OFF runs through September 5, 2015 at 8 pm on 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.

Next up at con-con is the regional premiere of THE HAPPY SAD, a comedy with songs, by Ken Urban. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Classic ‘OUR TOWN’ gets nice traditional read at Blank Canvas

I consider OUR TOWN, which is now being performed at Blank Canvas, to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. It not only won the Pulitzer Prize in 1938, it has become one of the most performed and studied plays in the English language.  It, along with Arthur Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN, Eugene O’Neil’s LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, Tennessee Williams’ STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, and William Inge’s DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS, continue to be listed as the best written modern American plays by theatre experts.

On the surface, the play appears to be a rendition of the daily activities found in small town America in the first third of the twentieth century.  In reality, it is a tribute to basic humanistic views of life.  Wilder’s stated intent is to make each person “become a personal witness to the everyday activities that we have seen before, read about before, even lived before, but often taken for granted.”

Each time I see, direct, teach or have appeared in OUR TOWN, I bask in the after-glow and find myself trying to understand and appreciate the potential of life. 

Playwright Thornton Wilder, who was brought up in Hong Kong and China, was imbued with an Asian perfectionist attitude. His education at Oberlin and Yale centered on the classics. These influences are deeply imbedded into the ‘OUR TOWN’ script. The stage manager represents the classical Greek chorus and the guide in Asian theatrical forms. The direct speeches to the audience create a theatricalism that stops the viewers from transferring their thoughts to the play’s characters and focuses the spotlight on themselves. He is exact in his descriptions of the sun rising and setting and where stores and houses are placed on the stage.

Wilder tells exactly where things are on stage, but they aren’t there…no drug store, no horse, just oral references to them.  He states that Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, where the play takes place, is located at 42 degrees, 40 minutes latitude and 70 degrees, 37 minutes.  Exact?  Hardly. That would not place the town anywhere near New Hampshire.  In another scene, Mrs. Webb and Mrs. Gibbs are stringing beans that have just been picked from the garden. Sorry, but beans don’t grow in New Hampshire in May. Why does Wilder do this? He wants the play to carry a universal message. This is not about the existence of those in Grover’s Corners, it is about all of us, all of our lives.

Wilder writes exact stage directions in the script. No real scenery, he instructs.  Usually two trellises, two ladders, some chairs, and 2 tables are used. The New England dialect is another specific device. The “ay yehs” and other area sounds are on the printed page.  

It is here that you must be alerted to decisions made by Blank Canvas’s director, Pat Ciamacco, who has thrown many traditional Wilder devices to the wind. In this production, no ladders, no trellises, no New England accents. 

Ciamacco has given the show a universal appeal by using clothing which doesn’t represent the era.  Speech patterns are a mix of a little flatlander, Ohio twangs, and even a little southern drawl is heard.  The stage manager is more a commentator than a town spokesman.   The pantomiming is representational, not presentational.  Normally in pantomime, actors realize that objects have weight, drinking vessels have liquid in them, opening windows takes effort…not so in this production.  They feign what they are doing, no attempt at reality.  Ciamacco gives us an understandable interpretation, which anyone except a Wilder devotee should find quite easy to watch and easily gain Wilder’s message.

Wilder divided the play into three segments, each with a clear title: Act I: Daily Life, Act II: Love and Marriage, and Act III: Death.   When the late Frank Sinatra did a 1955 television play-with-music version of the script, he was the stage manager and opened each act with a song based on Wilder’s titles. 

The first act’s opening tune states, “You will lose your heart, I promise you in this, our two-by-four town, welcome-on-the-door-town, if you will make it your town too.”  This shares with the audience that the story is a universal tale, with personal implications.

Other songs in the television version were “Love and Marriage,” the preview to George and Emily’s love story.  (Paul Newman played George and Bowling Green grad, Eva Marie Saint, was Emily.)  “Look to Your Heart,” the show’s last song, highlighted that Wilder’s ideas were meant for each of us to consider.

Blank Canvas’s casts’ acting levels are inconsistent.  There are some very strong performances and some less proficient, but, because of Ciamacco’s directing approach, the production works without every cast member being exactly on target.

Strong performers are John J. Polk (Dr. Gibbs), Laura Starnik (Mrs. Gibbs), Lynna Metrisin (Mrs. Webb), Perren Hedderson (George), Makenna Weyburne (Rebecca), Becca Frick (Emily) and Lance King (Mr. Webb).

There are some excellent scene highlights.  The before the wedding breakfast conversation between Mr. Webb and George is delightful, as is the talk between Emily and her mother, when Emily inquires about whether she is pretty and finds out she is pretty enough for all “normal purposes.” 

The final act’s message segment when Emily’s request to return to earth after she dies, and the second act drug store scene are emotionally compelling.  Emily’s goodbye to earth speech evoked sobs from the woman sitting next to me.  It brings Wilder’s illuminating writing and his message when the now-dead Emily returns to earth to re-experience her twelfth birthday.  She quickly realizes that time goes so fast and people don’t look at each other and states, “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do human beings ever realize life while they live it?”

The drug-store scene is a warm moment in the play when true love is recognized and realized.  Wilder has written it with tenderness and is not false or overly sentimental and highlights that love comes out of daily life. 

Harlowe R. Hoyt, in his review of a production of ‘OUR TOWN’ at the Jewish Community Center, stated in the April 25, 1958 Plain Dealer, “The burgeoning of love at the soda fountain between Ilene Latter and Roy Berko is one of the most delightful scenes of the play.” About the Perren Hedderson and Becca Frick’s enactment of the same scene I say, “ditto!”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you haven’t seen the classic OUR TOWN before, or have seen it, but need a good shot of appreciation for life, go see the Blank Canvas production.  Director Patrick Ciamacco sets it out before you, plain and simple, doing nothing to get in the way of Wilder’s intent and purpose.  Nice job!
Up next at Blank Canvas….BAT BOY:  THE MUSICAL, which is horror-spoof and big-hearted satire on American prejudice.  It’s a love story with a wicked bite!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Cleveland Orchestra and Blossom make for a superb evening

There is probably no outdoor venue in the country that matches Blossom for sheer beauty and musical delight.  Wolf Trap in the Virginia countryside near DC, and Tanglewood, home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra are fine, but when you throw in the Blossom setting, and add the Cleveland Orchestra, nirvana has been reached.

Blossom, now in its 48 th season, was founded not only to act as a summer venue for audience entertainment, but to insure that the Cleveland Orchestra could attract some of the world’s great musicians by offering full-year, rather than seasonal contracts.  Obviously, both goals have been reached.

By Blossom also opening itself to not only classical concerts, but classic rock, country, pop, and Broadway concerts, and ballet performances, it has broadened its traditional mature audiences, to a younger attendance base.   Twenty percent of the Orchestra’s audience at Severance Hall and Blossom percent is age 25 and younger.  This is an achievement that is the envy of the world’s orchestras, many of which are facing financial problems.

The concert on August 8 delighted the large audience with a program consisting of Beethoven’s “Lenore Overture No. 2,  his “Piano Concerto No. 5” (“Emperor”), Opus 73, and Dvorak’s “Symphony No.  8.”

“Lenore” is a segment of Beethoven’s only opera, “Fidelio,” which highlights the writer’s belief in freedom from political oppression and the boundless power of human love.  The segment presented is one of three versions of the overture crafted by the writer.  The composition is so strong, some believe that it dwarfs the rest of the opera, thus making the remaining segments “superfluous.” 

The musicians flowed through the composition, with Gustavo Gimeno leading the assemblage with an extended hand and flipping wrist.  He highlighted emphasis by leaning forward and thrusting his baton at the appropriate instrumentalist(s). The finely crafted piece ended to extended applause.

The highlight offering was the forty-minute “Piano Concerto no. 5 in E-flat major, Opus 73,” commonly referred to as “The Emperor Concerto,”
because of its grand sound.  Consisting of three movements—the first with large orchestral chords and piano flourishes, the middle with melding the piano with the orchestra, and filled with lingering phrases, and the third, which included one of the most familiar tunes in classical music.

Pianist  Garrick Ohlsson, a Grammy Award recipient, was the winner of the Chopin International Piano Competition.  He has been hailed for his technical prowess and artistry.  The accolades were proven well deserved in this concert.  He blended well with the orchestra when that was required and also played compelling solo segments. 

“The Emperor Concerto” ended with a well-deserved standing ovation.

Though music during the 19 th century, moved from symphonic tones that were happy, toward sounds that had darker musical colors, Antonin Dvorák did not follow that trend.  He, much like Brahms, his friend and mentor, tended to avoid grappling with grave questions about fate and human life, and instead gave the audience happy feelings while still creating “serious” music.  “Opus 88,” the concert’s last piece, was a joyful music example of his style.

The Orchestra played with energy and successfully carried the audience to the piece’s masterfully strong abrupt finish. 

Beethoven once stated, “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.  It is the wine of new creation.”  Listening to the Cleveland Orchestra one quickly realizes what he meant!
Future pop Blossom presentations include:

Aug 15-8PM--TCHAIKOVSKY’S VIOLIN CONCERTO, James Feddeck, conductor, Simone Lamsa, violin, playing Weber, Tchaikovsky, & Sibelius.

Aug 16-7PM—THE BRITISH INVASION, Michael Krajewski, conductor, an evening of great British hits…the songs of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who and more.

Aug 22-8PM—BACH AND MOZART, Nicholas McGegan, conductor, Mark Kosower, cello—Back, Haydn, Mozart.

Aug 29—8PM—JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER ORCHESTRA WITH WYNTON MARSALIS, the noted NY Lincoln Center musical group joins the Cleveland Orchestra, for an evening of Jazz

Aug 30—7PM—GIL SHAHAM PLAYS BRUCH. Edo de Waart, conductor, Gil Shaham, violin, join to play Bruch and Mahler. 

Sept 5 & 6—8 PM—THE MUSIC OF JOHN WILLIAMS, Richard Kaufman, conductor, tribute to Hollywood’s most legendary composer…”Star Wars,” “E.T.,” “Harry Potter,” “Jaws,” and Schindler’s List.”

For tickets to these and other Blossom concerts call 216-231-1111 or 800-686-1141, go the Severance Hall Ticket Office, or Blossom Box Office, or go online to

Saturday, August 08, 2015

2015 Fall Cleveland Theater Calendar

Though the weather is still warm, soon the leaves will be turning and the Fall 2015 theatre season will be upon us.  Here’s a list of some of the offerings from September through December.

You can track my reviews on, or contact me to get on my direct review list.  You can see a synopsis of the local reviewers’ capsule comments about the plays they see at


330-374-7568 or go to
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sundays @ 2 PM

QUILTERS (Oct. 8-Nov. 1, 2015)—A play with music, in which frontier women share their love, warmth, and lively humor while facing a life of adversity.

GUYS ON ICE (Nov. 25-Dec. 22, 2015)—Lloyd and Marvin brave the cold as they dream about catching the big one, while enjoying the pleasure of a fishing-pole and a warm snowmobile suit.

216-521-2540 or
8 p.m. evenings, 3 p.m. matinees

SPITFIRE GRILL (Sept. 18-October 18, 2015)—A play with music and lyrics about a feisty parolee Percy Talbott, as she takes a job at Hannah’s Spitfire Grill in rural Wisconsin with startling results. 

MOTHERS AND SONS (Oct. 9-Nov. 15, 2015)—Terrence McNally’s play about what happens when a mother, whose son has died of AIDS, visits the home of her son’s ex-partner and is forced to come to terms with the life her son might have lived.

MARY  POPPINS (Dec. 4, 2015-Jan 3, 2016)—An encore production of the local and Broadway award winning show that broke all Beck Center box office records last year.  Again starring Rebecca Pitcher, with choreography by Martin Céspedes.


440-941-0458 or

BAT BOY THE MUSICAL (October 16-31, 2015)—A horror spook satire musical of a half boy/half bat discovered in a cave near fictional Hope Falls, Virginia, who is taught the “civilized” ways of society with disastrous results.

REEFER MADNESS (December 4-19, 2015)—a raucous musical comedy which takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the hysteria caused when clean-cut kids fall prey to marijuana, with the resulting outcome of listening to evil jazz music, and partaking in sex and violence.

Kennedy’s Theatre (entrance in the Ohio Theatre lobby)
216-241-6000 or go to

THE INVESTIGATION (Oct 16-Nov 14, 2015)—A documentary drama based on the verbatim testimonies from the Frankfurt Trials of 1963-1965, where survivors of Auschwitz face those in charge of the camp.

216-241-6000 or go to
7:30 Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 Saturday and Sunday

A COMEDY OF TENORS (Sept 5-Oct 3, 2015)--The Tony Award winning CPH kicks off its 100t th season with the world premiere of Ken Ludwig’s farcical play about three tenors, three egos, and one stage!

THE CRUCIBLE (Oct 10-Nov 8, 2015)—Arthur Miller’s classic that uses the Salem Witch trials to put the McCarthy House Un-American Activities Committee and the American society on trial.

 A CHRISTMAS STORY (Nov 27-Dec 23, 2015)—It’s back!  Yes, its all there--Ralphie wants a Red Ryder b-b gun, he has to wear that pink-bunny suit, his dad wins a glowing-leg lamp, his friend gets his tongue stuck on a steel pole because of a triple-dog-dare, and the entire family has fun watching this holiday classic.

216-631-2727 or go on line to

WHITE RABBIT RED RABBIT (Oct 8-25, 2015)—An absurdist adventure by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, with a performance by a different actor each night.

TEATRO PUBLICO DE CLEVELAND (title to be announced)—(Oct 15-24, 2015)—an original show created and performed by the ensemble.

THE LOUSH SISTERS LOVE DICK’NS (GREAT EXPECTATIONS)—(Nov 27-Dec 19, 2015)—Join Holly and Jolly Loush (aka—The Loush Sisters) for a bawdy, boozy, over-the-top holiday cabaret.

FEEFER RISING (Dec. 3-19, 2015)—A devised solo performance that explores emerging sexuality and selfhood through the eyes of an adolescent girl.

216-932-3396 or
check the theatre’s blog for performance times

OR (Sept 4-Oct 4, 2015)—Liz Duffy Adams’ bawdy farcical sex comedy.

THE CALL (Oct. 23-Nov 15, 2015)—A politically charged story about a white couple who decide to adopt a child from Africa.

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (Dec. 4, 2015-Jan 3, 2016)—A farcical musical  prequel to Barrie’s “Peter Pan” that is filled with madcap fun.

216-321-2930 or http://www.ensemble-theatre.comFridays and Saturdays @ 8, Sundays @ 2

FARRAGUT NORTH (Aug 27-Sept 6, 2015)—A timely story about the lust for power and the costs one will endure to achieve it.

DEATH OF A SALESMAN (Sept 18-October 11, 2015)—Considered one of Americas greatest plays, playwright Arthur Miller exposes the underside of success, happiness, and false dreams.

AGES OF THE MOON (Nov  3-Dec. 6, 2015—Sam Shepard’s gruff and funny play about the mutual desperation of two friends, which is put to a test at the barrel of a gun.

THE LION, THE WITCH, & THE WARDROBE (December 4-13, 2015)-- This new dramatization of C.S. Lewis’ classic, set in the land of Narnia, recreates the magic and mystery of Aslan, the great lion, his struggle with the White Witch, and the adventures of four children.

GREAT LAKES THEATER or 216-241-6000
Wednesday-Saturday @ 7:30, Saturdays @ 1:30, Sunday @ 3.

THE SECRET GARDEN (Sept 25-Oct 31, 2015)—Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon’s musical based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, tells the tale of 10-year-old Mary who returns to England to live with her melancholy uncle at his neglected estate.

KING LEAR (Oct 2-Nov 1, 2015)—Shakespeare’s classic brutal, exciting, terrifying tragedy.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Nov 28-Dec 23, 2015)—Great Lakes celebrates the holiday with its 27 th annual production of Gerald Freedman’s adaptation of Dickens’ classic tale.

mailto:interplayjewishtheatre@gmail.comor 216-393-PLAY
(staged readings are free at Dobama; performance cost at The Maltz Museum: members--$6, for non-members the performance is free with the purchase of an admission to the museum; reservations required.

HAPY ENDING (Oct 19-2 PM)—Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, 2929 Richmond Rd., Beachwood—A play about the power of denial by Iddo Netanyahu, playwright, author and physician.  Reservations at 216-593-0575 or visit

EXQUISITE POTENTIAL (Nov 8 & 9 @ 7 PM)—Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Hts—His dad thinks David Zuckerman, one of the characters in this play, is the messiah.  What do you think?  Playwright Stephen Kaplan, who will attend the Sunday staged reading of his show, will share his views in a talk back with the audience.

440-525-7134 or
evenings at 7:30, matinees at 2:00

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (September 18-October 4)—Edward Albee’s award winning drama examines the volatile marriage of George and Martha over one alcohol soaked evening…staring Gregory Violand and Molly McGuiness.

http://www.nonetoofragile.comor 330-671-4563
evenings at 7:30, matinees at 2:00

IN A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP (Aug 28-Sept 12, 2015)—Neil LaBute’s  110-minute fun, rug-snatching meditation on what is and is not true and the ease of rushing to misjudgment.

FIRST LOVE (Sept 9-24, 2015)—Charles Mee’s play about two people in their seventies who fall in love for the first time in their lives, but they work in fits and starts toward sabotaging their last chance for happiness.

TBA (Nov 6-21, 2015)

216-241-6000 or go to
See the website for specific dates and times

BULLETS OVER BROADWAY THE MUSICAL (Oct 6-18, 2015)—Musical comedy written by Woody Allen, with original direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, about a young playwright who, in desperate need of financial backing for his play, accepts an offer from a mobster looking to please his showgirl girlfriend.  (Connor Palace)

EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL (Oct 16-18, 2015)—Combines the cult films “Evil Dead,” “Evil Dead 2” and “Army of Darkness” to make a crazy theatrical experience that allows the audience to sit in the “Splatter Zone” and get drenched from the onstage mayhem.  (Ohio Theatre)

GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER (Nov 3-15, 2015)—A musical that tells the story of Monty Navarro, a distant heir to a family fortune, who sets out to jump the line of succession by eliminating the eight relatives (all played by one actor) who stand in his way.  (Connor Palace)

STEVE SOLOMON’S CANNOLI, LATKES, AND GUILT! (Nov 8, 2015)—The author/performer of “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m in Therapy” continues the tale with this, his newest project.  (Ohio Theatre)

SOULMATE?  A True Love Story (Nov 14, 2015)—About a quirky boy who falls in love with the most popular girl in school and tries everything to get her to notice him until he realizes all he has to do is be himself.  (Ohio Theatre)

THE DUMBASS (Nov 21, 2015)—Najee Mondalek’s play about an Arab American community that centers on Im Hussein, her know-it-all husband, which deals with divorce, infertility, drug abuse, conflict between generations, welfare fraud and more. (Hanna Theatre)

THE WIZARD OF OZ (Dec 1-6, 2015)—A new production which contains all the beloved songs from the Oscar winning movie score plus new songs by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. (Part of the Star Performance Series)  (State Theatre)

ELF (Dec 29, 2015-Jan 3, 2016)—A modern day Christmas classic about Buddy, a young orphan who mistakenly crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and is transported back to the North Pole. (Part of the Star Performance Series) (Connor Palace)

THE MUSICAL THEATER PROJECT or 216-529-9411 for tickets and information, except where indicated

PERFECTLY MARVELOUS:  THE SONGS OF JOHN KANDER (Oct. 31-Nov 1, 2015)—Oberlin Grad John Kander, who wrote the scores for “Cabaret,” “Chicago,” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” joins Karen Ziemba, who starred in three of Kander’s shows, join in this concert tribute to Kander and his writing partner, the late Fred Ebb.  (Allen Theatre)  For tickets to this Musical Theater Project show go to: 216-241-6000 or go to

Performance venues vary…see individual play listings

TALL SKINNY CRUEL CRUEL BOYS (Oct. 22-Nov 7, 2015)—This bold dark comedy about self-destruction, honesty, and finding what you really need centers on Brandy, a children’s entertainer, with some serious demons in her personal life.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

A Clevelander’s view of the Shaw Festival—2015

Jackie Maxwell, the Shaw Festival’s Artistic Director, states, “I have always found that theatre is at its best when the audience spans several generations – a guarantee that the story being told on stage is being taken in and reacted to in a variety of ways, enriching the experience for all.” 

Maxwell’s belief is well-developed in the Shaw Festival’s 2015 season.  “Peter and the Starcatcher” is a magical adventure for people of all ages.  “The Lady from the Sea,” invites the serious mature theater-goer to revel in one of the first realistic plays ever written.  Tony Kuschner’s “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures” is a provocative exploration of society and celebration of humanity.  And the list goes on.

The  Shaw is one of two major Canadian theatre celebrations, the other being The Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario.  Both are professional, high quality venues.

The Shaw Festival is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw, his writing contemporaries,  and contemporary plays that share Shaw’s provocative exploration of society and celebration of humanity.  

Many Clevelanders take the four-hour drive up to “The Shaw,” as it is called by locals, to participate in theatre, tour the “most beautiful little city in Canada,” shop, and eat at the many wonderful restaurants.

   You can even play golf and go on a rapid ride on the Niagara River.

It’s an especially good year to go, as I found out on my recent visit.   The U.S. dollar value is high against the Canadian currency, making the trip, at the time I went, about one-quarter lower than might be.  And, this season’s offerings are generally excellent.

It’s a good idea to make both theatre and lodging reservations early, especially with the B&Bs on weekends. Our home away from home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (, directly across the street from The Festival Theatre, within easy walking distance of all the theatres, where the breakfasts are great and the furnishings lovely.  For information on other B&Bs go to

There are some wonderful restaurants.  My in-town favorites are The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King Street) and Ginger Restaurant (905-468-3871, 390 Mary Street).

Having just returned from the Festival, I offer these capsule judgments of some of the shows:

“The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures”—runs through October 10--Director Eda Holmes has honed “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures” into a  well acted, well staged production that grabs and holds an audience’s attention.  This is a thinking person’s play, not aimed at the “I go to the theatre to have a good time and get away from my troubles and that of others” crowd.  (Be aware that it is a 4-hour show.)

“Light Up The Sky”--runs through October 11--Recognizing that at its best, the theatre can elevate and maybe even change the beliefs of an audience, “Light Up The Sky” is filled with farcical slapstick, ironic comedy, great character sketches, and funny twists and turns.  As a script it is moving as well as funny and to add to the mix, it gets a superlative production at The Shaw.

“Peter and the Starcatcher”—runs through November 1--“Peter and the Starcatcher” is a delightful fantasy of imagination and  growing up that gets a farcical, creative and wonderfully enjoyable production under the direction of Jackie Maxwell and scenic design by Judith Bowden.  It’s  a must see for anyone, child or adult, who can turn themselves over to experiencing the wonderment of imagination.

“Sweet Charity”—runs through October 31-- Most of the audience, who may be unaware of the style of Bob Fosse, of the brash New York attitude needed for shows like “Sweet Charity” and “Guys and Dolls,” will probably find the Shaw production a source of entertainment. For those in the “know,” the production is just too nice, too bland, lacking in “cheek.”

“The Divine”—runs through October 11--“The Divine” is a well-constructed and compelling play that gets a first rate production.  The cast is universally strong, the technical aspects well-conceived, the pacing attentio- grabbing and holding, which adds up to a must see, standing ovation, theatrical experience.

“The Lady from the Sea”—runs through September 13--“The Lady from the Sea” gets an extremely strong production at The Shaw.  For those who like serious thinking person’s theater, and are interested in seeing a show that is a forerunner of the  modern day contemporary realistic play, the staging is definitely worth seeing.

“You Never Can Tell”—runs through October 25--“You Never Can Tell” is a disappointing production which spends way too much time begging for laughs and too little time developing the social messages that Shaw alludes to in the script. Those who are interested in laughing at ridiculous will probably enjoy the show.  Those interested in fidelity to the intent and purpose of the author will be less than delighted.

“The Twelve-Pound Look”—runs through September 12--“The Twelve Pound Look” is a perfect device to prove that with a focused purpose and a clear outline, it doesn’t need to take hours to make a statement.  The meaningful script gets a delightful and well conceived production.  What a lovely way to spend a  35-minute lunch break.

To read the complete reviews of these shows go to:

Shows I didn’t see, but are part of the season are:  “Pygmalion”—May 31-October 24 and “Top Girls”—May 23-September 12.

For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets. Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets and senior matinee prices.

Go to the Shaw Festival!  Find out what lovely hosts Canadians are and see some great theatre! 

Don’t forget your passport as it’s the only form of identification that will be accepted for re-entry into the U.S.

Must see ‘Hairspray” leaves ‘em dancing in the aisles Porthouse Theatre

The farcical yet message-loaded “Hairspray” is the type of musical that in a bad production falls flat, but in a good production leaves the audience energized and dancing in the aisles.  Fortunately the must see production at Porthouse Theatre is dynamic, creative, full of joy!

The stage musical based on the 1988 John Walters movie with music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, and book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan is a cry for integration in 1960s segregated Baltimore. 

The story focuses on “zaftig” Tracey Turnblad, who has three desires in life:  dance on the “Corny Collin’s Show” (think Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand”), have “every day, Negro day,” and meet Link Larkin, the show’s “stud” male.

Tracey keeps getting sent to detention at her school because of her well-sprayed huge hair (the Jackie O signature style of the era) .  The detention room is populated by African Americans who expose the liberal-minded Tracy to “black” dancing.  After Tracy gets selected to be on the show, against the wishes of Velma von Tussle, the show’s prejudiced producer, she launches a campaign to integrate the show.  

Of course, all hell breaks loose including picketing, a riot, a jail lockup, a jail breakout, white kids singing and dancing in 'Balmur’s all black North side, the coming out of Tracy’s agoraphobic, plus-sized mother, love affairs between Link and Tracy as well as that of Penny, Tracy’s white best friend and Seaweed, the son of black dj and vocalist, Motormouth Maybelle. 

The 2002 Broadway production won eight Tony Awards, ran over 2500 performances, has had numerous foreign and community theatre productions, and was made into a film in 2007.

Director Terri Kent has molded a group of professional and college students into a mighty musical theatre force.  The audience was rockin’ and screamin’ from the first song, “Good Morning Baltimore,” through the closing infectious “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”  The reprise of that song found the sold out performance on their feet, dancing, singing, clapping and screaming for more.

Katey Sheehan, she of chunky cheeks, darlin’ dimples, big voice, and dancing feet, was Tracy-terrific.  She has an infectious stage presence that well fit the role.  Talia Cosentino, who has “a Broadway future star” written all over her, was “Gidget”-cute as Tracy’s best friend Penny.  Chuck Richie (in drag) was endearing as Tracy’s mother and Rohn Thomas was charming as Tracy’s dad.

Sandra Emerick was evil incarnate as the prejudiced, self-centered Velma von Tussle, and Lindsay Simon was mini-evil incarnate as Velma’s daughter, Amber.

On opening night, Colleen Longshaw (Motormouth Maybelle) almost achieved the impossible deed of stopping the show for a standing ovation after her wailing, infectious rendition of the gospel-rock “I Know Where I’ve Been.”  The ovation was cut short by too quick a light fade and musical interlude.  (I understand that this was adjusted by the second night and Longshaw was properly rewarded!)

Jimmy Ferko was appropriately affected as Link Larkin, but got a little too automatic at times.  Jared Dixon’s Seaweed was a dynamo of dancing and singing perfection.  Bria Neal was delightful as the full spirited dynamo, Little Inez.  Ian Benjamin was good, but could have been a little more over-the-top as Corny Collins.  Dance captain Kirk Lydell “killed” with his dancing skills!  Shamara Costa, Alex Echols, and Eveena Sawyer were song and style-right as a Supremes-like trio.

Song highlights were:  “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now,” “Velma’s Revenge,” ”Welcome to the ‘60s,” and “Big, Blonde & Beautiful.” 

In “I Can Hear the Bells,” the singing was fine, but I couldn’t hear the bell sounds, as instead of bells, lame special effect lights were used.

“Run and Tell That” displayed choreographer, John Crawford’s, creativity in using a small space with great effect.

Audience favorites were “You’re Timeless to Me,” which got a reprise, and “I Know Where I’ve Been.” 

Musical Director Jonathan Swoboda, and his band, Alex Berko, Jennifer Korecki, Dave Bans, Jean Wroblewski, Craig Wholschlager, Jim Lang, Ryan McDermott, Jeremey Poparad, Don Day and Bill Sallak rocked the sounds, but wisely underscored rather than drowned out the singers.   That is a difficult task as the music lends itself to be blasted.

The costumes were generally fine but the women’s wigs needed better selection and attention.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  Director Terri Kent pulled out all the stops, added tons of shticks and gimmicks, has a rocking band, creative and well performed choreography, and a focused cast, which  resulted in a wonderful, “this you must see” theatrical experience.  

“Hairspray” runs July 30-August 16, 2015 at Porthouse Theatre. Curtain times are 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Blossom open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to