Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Delightful ELF tours into the Connor Palace

Last month the Cleveland area played host to what was a hoped for new Christmas musical that would go to Broadway and be holiday entertainment.  Unfortunately, KRIS KRINGLE, with book by Maria Ciampi and music by Tim Janis, lacked clear structure, emotional-generating glee, and joyous songs.  It’s lead character was charming, but not endearing. 

What KRIS KRINGLE needed was to be more of what ELF, which is now in a short residence at the Connor Palace Theatre, does so well.  There is a joyous zaniness to the nicely textured story, enough fun for the youngsters to identify with and enjoy, and a wonderful score.  It is also well directed by Sam Scalamoni, who has been so successful with his ELF national tours that they launched the 6 th and 7th company this year with two tours criss-crossing the US.

ELF THE BROADWAY MUSICAL, the story is the tale of Buddy, an orphan whose mother died in childbirth.  When Santa was visiting the orphanage into which Elf was placed, the toddler crawled into Santa’s bag of gifts.  Transported to the North Pole, the boy is adopted by the elves.  Buddy of large size and poor toy-making skills, eventually is “outed” as being human, and with Santa’s blessing, embarks on a journey to New York City to find his biological father.   The reunion between Buddy and his children’s book editor “dad” does not go well, nor does his entrance into “human” society due to his elf clothing and lack of social skills.  Eventually, after a series of farcical incidents, Buddy finds a family and love and, as is true of all escapist fables, “lives happily ever after.”

The tale (book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin) is filled with farcical interludes, visual delights, including a growing Christmas tree, views of Radio City Music Hall, action on the building’s famous ice rink, and terrific dancing (choreography by Connor Gallagher). 

Filled with musical showstoppers such as “Sparklejollytwinklejingley,” “There Is a Santa Claus” and “The Story of Buddy the Elf,” and pretty songs, including “I’ll Believe in You” and “Never Fall in Love,” the lyrics by Chad Beguelin and music by Matthew Sklar grab and hold attention.

The production is visually delightful, well-staged and well-acted.

Daniel Patrick Smith is a perfect, enthusiastic, unbridled male-child as Elf. He lights up the stage with his whimsical smile, flashing eyes and mobile face and body.  He has a fine singing voice and dances well.   He is endearing!

As Santa, Ken Clement is cherubic, has some great audience asides, and is everything one would want in a “real” Saint Nick.

Harper Brady, as twelve-year old Michael, Elf’s step-brother, is compelling.  The talented tween has a pure singing voice, acts with confidence, dances well, and creates a real person.  (Nicky Torcia alternates the role with Harper Brady)

Gabrielle Mirabella and D. Scott Withers are believable as Elf’s step-mother and father and Maggie Anderson performs well as Jovie, Elf’s love interest.

The ensemble sings and dances well, portraying everything from elves to real people.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ELF THE MUSICAL is a total holiday delight.  The story line is nicely developed, the visual elements of the production pleasing, the music nicely textured, the choreography sparkles, and the acting is top-notch.  This definitely makes for a delightful experience for youngsters and adults.  

Tickets for ELF, which runs through January 3, 2016  at the Connor Palace Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Greater Cleveland is blessed with a vital theatre scene.  It is the purpose of the TIMES THEATRE TRIBUTES to recognize theatrical experiences that, in the subjective view of this reviewer, were excellent and deserve recognition.

Only shows performed in 2015 which I reviewed were considered.  With the exception of Outstanding National Touring Production, selections were limited to local presentations though actors, directors and technicians who were imported by local theatres for their productions were considered.  No community theatre recognitions are included.  Actors are separated by gender, but not equity or lack of union affiliation, or leading or supporting roles.  Names are listed in alphabetical order, not in rank order.  Nominees designated by a * indicates my recognition as the most proficient in that category.
EINSTEIN, Actors’ Summit
ISAAC’S EYE, convergence continuum
LEND ME A TENOR, Beck Center
OUR TOWN, Blank Canvas
THE CALL, Dobama

HAIRSPRAY, Porthouse
VIOLET, Porthouse*

Beth Wood, IN A WORD, CPT
Celeste Consentino, DEATH OF A SALESMAN, Ensemble
Clyde Simon, ISAAC’S EYE, convergence continuum
Don Carrier, BECK SHAW, Dobama
Exact Change, Scott Plate, CPT/PHSQ
Joseph Hanreddy, KING LEAR, GLT
Laura Kepley, FAIRFIELD, CPH
Laura Kepley, THE CRUCIBLE, CPH*
Leighann Delorenzo, SLOWGIRL, Dobama
Mathew Wright, THE CALL, Dobama
Nathan Motta, SUPERIOR DONUTS, Dobama
Neil Thackaberry, EINSTEIN, Actors’ Summit
Patrick Camaccio, OUR TOWN, Blank Canvas
Scott Simon, LEND ME A TENOR, Beck
Stephen Wadsworth, A COMEDY OF TENORS, CPH

Ian Wolfgang Hinz and Joanna May Hunkins, GODSPELL, 
     Cain Park
Steven C. Anderson, VIOLET, Porthouse*
Terri Kent, HAIRSPRAY, Porthouse
Victoria Bussert, THE SECRET GARDEN, GLT

John Crawford, HAIRSPRAY, Porthouse
Katie Nabors Strong, GODSPELL, Cain Park
Martin Céspedes, AMERICAN IDIOT, Beck*

Aled Davies, KING LEAR, GLT
Bobby Coyne, ISAAC’S EYE, convergence continuum
Brian Zoldessy, EINSTEIN, Actors’ Summit*
Esau Pritchett, THE CRUCIBLE, CPH
Geoff Knox, OR, Dobama
Greg White, DEATH OF A SALESMAN, Ensemble
Joel Hammer, SUPERIOR DONUTS, Dobama
Keith Stevens, DEATH OF A SALESMAN, Ensemble
Matt O’Shea, IN A WORD, CPT
Nate Miller, FARRAGOT NORTH, Ensemble
Robert Hunter, SUPERIOR DONUTS, Dobama
Scott Esposito, LEND ME A TENOR, Beck Center

Catherine Albers, MOTHERS AND SONS, Beck
Lara Mielcarek, OR, Dobama
Liz Conway, IN A WORD, CPT*
Miranda Leann Scholl, SLOWGIRL, Dobama
     SPIKE @ CPH

Jared Dixon, HAIRSPRAY, Porthouse
Jared Dixon, VIOLET, Porthouse
Pat Miller, BAT BOY THE MUSICAL, Blank Canvas*
Stephen Mitchell Brown, THE SECRET GARDEN, GLT

Amy Fritsche, VIOLET, Porthouse*
Neely Gevaart, THE SPITFIRE GRILL, Beck

Benjamin Gantose and Beth Wood, IN A WORD, CPT
Cameron Caley Michalak. BECKY SHAW, Dobama
Charlie Corcoran, A COMEDY OF TENORS, CPH
Don McBride, LEND ME A TENOR, Beck Center
Nolan O'Dell, HAIRSPRAY, Porthouse
Laura Carlson, SLOW GIRL,  Dobama
Linda Buchanan, KING LEAR, GLT
Scott Bradley, THE CRUCIBLE, CPH*

Jennifer Korecki, VIOLET, Porthouse
Jonathan Swoboda, HAIRSPRAY, Porthouse*

Beau Reinker, TEAR IT OFF, convergence-continuum
Jeremy Dobbins, SLOWGIRL, Dobama*
Rob Milburn, Michael Bodeen, KING LEAR, GLT

Charlotte Yetman, THE SECRET GARDEN, GLT
Martha Hally, KING LEAR, GLT
S. Q. Campbell, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, Porthouse
William Ivey Long, A COMEDY OF TENORS, CPH*

Beth Wood, Benjamin Gatose, Sam Fish, IN A WORD, CPT
CJ Pierce, ISAAC’S EYE, convergence continuum
Paul Miller, KING LEAR, GLT*
Trad Burns, AMERICAN IDIOT, Beck

Ian Hinz in THURGOOD, Ensemble
Mike Tutaj—MARY POPPINS—Beck*



Kent State University’s School of Theatre and Dance for staging the first full-production of MY HEART IS A DRUM.

Cleveland Public Theatre for their affiliation with National New Play Network, giving the Cleveland Theatre audiences availability to new play development.

Christine Howey and Scott Plate for their development and production of EXACT CHANGE, which not only appeared in local productions, but was selected as one of the top ten plays at the New York Fringe Festival

Cleveland Play House for its receipt of the 2015 Tony Award for Regional Theatres

If any names are spelled incorrectly, or there are errors in identifications, please let me know so I can change the permanent record on

If you would like to read any of my reviews for the year, please go to, enter the blog and click on “2015 Reviews” or click on the name of the producing theatre and scroll through their performances. Reviews from previous years may also be accessed.

Monday, December 21, 2015

A new area professional musical theatre and training program

“The Cleveland Musical Theatre” and “Making It on Broadway” may not mean much to many in the local community, but soon, if Sean Patrick and Miles Sternfeld have their way, those organizations will become a regular part of the Cleveland theater agenda.

Patrick is the Managing Director and Sternfeld is the Artistic Director of “Cleveland Musical Theatre.”  The native Clevelanders, Patrick from North Olmsted and Sternfeld from Moreland Hills, revealed in an interview from New York, where they now live, founded the organization because, “Cleveland has an incredibly rich source of professional theater talent, many of whom go on to national careers.  We want to create the highest quality musical theater in the Cleveland area by fusing Broadway talent with local talent.”

The duo combined to produce “Tommy” several seasons ago as a charity fundraiser and “Aida” this past summer as a showcase for what is to come. The model is based on successful programs around the country.  For example, Pittsburgh has such an endeavor.   “The productions give local talent the opportunity to work with national talent and national talent to work with Cleveland talent.”

In both “Aida” and “Tommy,” the principals were from New York but most of the cast were locals.  Some were Equity, others were young talent hoping to work toward their Equity membership. 

“The financial model centers on the talent paid salaries with competitive contacts as required by Equity.”

The production aspects are parallel to what John Kenley did in his early days with the Kenley Players, and Carousel Dinner Theatre did in Akron in its waning years.    The major difference will be that both Kenley and Carousel “did true summer stock, about five days rehearsals, followed by the productions.”  Patrick and Sternfeld see CMT (Cleveland Musical Theatre) doing more fleshed out stagings, with higher production values.

The long-term plans are for three productions each summer and a year-round educational program.

The educational program, “Making It on Broadway” will find CMT working with the well-established New York organization of the same name, “which allows for training in the realities of what it means to be a modern Broadway professional.” 

The classes will be taught by Broadway professionals.  For example, the recent intensive, which was held on the campus of Cuyahoga Community College-East,  was staffed by  Jamibeth Margolis, the NY casting director of “The Golden Bride,” Jodie Langel  who appeared on the Great White Way in “Les Misérables,” Martin Céspedes, multi-award winning choreographer who toured in “Man of LaMancha,” Natalie Weiss of Broadway’s “Wicked,” Bob Cline, a Broadway casting director, and Jackie Lowey, college drama professor who appeared on Broadway in “Oh, Calcutta.”  Master classes were taught by Natalie Weiss, who appeared in the 25 th anniversary tour of “Les Miserables” & Patina Miller, the 2013 Tony Winner for PIPPIN 2013. 

Courses included:  “Broadway Master class,” “Acting Your Song,” “Building Your Audition Book,” “Acting,” “Vocal Technique,” “The Business of Theatre,” “Audition Technique,” “Dance,” and “Business for Parents.”

Last summer’s class of 40 consisted of 16 out-of-towners and 24 locals.  This fall’s group of 30 had 6 from away and 24 locals.  “The summer class had 5 participants who received interested from Telsey + Co., Broadway’s largest casting office.”

Space is still available for the January 10, 2016 Master class that will be taught by Tony Award winner and Kent State graduate, Alice Ripley. 

On January 11, “Dream:  The Inaugural Gala” will be held in the newly redesigned Simon and Rose Mandel Theatre at CCC-East. 

The event is open to the public.  The cost is $55 for the stage show, which will feature former Clevelanders who have “made it on Broadway,” including Alice Ripley (Tony Award Winner for “Next To Normal”), Corey Cott (“Newsies”--Chagrin Falls), Corey Mach (“Godspell,” “Hands On A Hard Body,” and “Flashdance”--Strongsville), Timothy Warmen (“Spider-Man”—Willowick/Bratenahl).

Sponsor prices are:  $195 for the show and a preshow reception including a meet and chat with the performers; $495—on stage seat with dinner with the guest artists with wine service; 10 person tables are $6000 which include 2 complimentary tickets for each person for the up-coming season and full page ads in the season programs.

For further information about CMT, “Making It on Broadway, ”Master class with Alice Ripley,” or “Dream:  The Inaugural Gala” go to:

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Delightful REEFER MADNESS at Blank Canvas induces giggles and munchies

Even though the movement may have been slowed down by the recent Ohio election, the march toward legalization of marijuana seems on its way in this country. 

Leave it to Patrick Ciamacco, the curmudgeon of glee, to find REEFER MADNESS, a script that mocks the campaign against the product that, if we believed the script, makes you have to pee, become pudgy, kills old men, hypnotizes white women, makes you pathological, gives you a potty mouth, and creates liars!

Yep, that’s what REEFER MADNESS, the musical satire stage play, based on the cult classic movie of the same name, tells us.  Would the theatre or the news media lie? 

With book and lyrics by Kevin Murphy, and book and music by Dan Studney, REEFER MADNESS takes us back to 1938.  The Lecturer, a stern authority figure, informs that a new drug menace “marihuana” (whispered with a large voice) threatens the American way of life.  (Hmm, wonder why the Blank Canvas audience got the giggles on that line?)  Oh, yeah, two of the other things that using “grass” does, according to the script, is give you the giggles and creates the munchies!  (The two young twenty-somethings sitting next to me just kept laughing during the entire goings on, ran for the exit at intermission and came back smelling of a lingering sweetness, then gorged on popcorn.  Hmmm!)

The plot centers on the nerdy, straight-laced goody-two shoes, Jimmy, who falls in with a bad crowd and becomes prey to marijuana, leading to a downward spiral into new behaviors which include drugs and sex. (Sorry, no rock and roll). 

The entire goings on are done with farcical hysteria.  The cast, as is a requirement for developing farce, plays their roles straight, making the whole thing delightful as we laugh at the outrageous lines and circumstances which include a visit from Jesus, cross-dressing males, simulated abuse, clothed nudism, sexless sex, bad driving, selling of babies and murder, rather than at the actors overdone characterizations!

The musical started in Los Angeles in 1998 and moved off-Broadway in 2001 for a short run.  The film adaptation was made in 2005.

The Blank Canvas production, with one exception, is delightful.  Let’s get the “bad” out of the way before going on to extol the many virtues of the director and cast.

Blank Canvas is a small theatre, no bigger than a large living room.  Why the powers that be continue to mic the bands for their musicals is a mystery.  In REEFER MADNESS, not only are all the lyrics to the songs drowned out by musical director Lawrence Wallace’s overly enthusiastic and electrified band, but, since the music underscores most of the spoken lines, it was impossible for either the lyrics or the dialogue to be heard.  This is not a rock-concert, it is play that has dialogue and lyrics for a reason.  Boo!

Yeah stuff?   Derrick Winger schooled and scolded well as The Lecturer.  Cory Zukoski was geek-right as Jimmy, the good-boy turned bad.  Cute Neely Gevaart was delightfully on target as Mary, Jimmy’s girl friend.  Kate Leigh Michalski, she of big eyes and over-done gestures, was terrific as Mae, the kindhearted abused partner of Jack, the hoodlum.  Michael Crowley was evil incarnate as bad guy Jack. 

Trey Gilpin morphed into a perfect perv as Ralph, the drug pushing “college” guy, while Aaron Patterson was hilarious as Jesus.  (Christians beware, this is not a Passion play and is intended to offend devout viewers.)  Domenic Farinelli and Zac Hudak flounce around with delight as fey-females.  

Katie Zarecki’s choreography was fun and frenetic.  Especially amusing were  “Reefer Madness,” the show’s opening number, “Down at the Ol’ Five and Dime,” and “The Orgy.”

The play ends with a  “message” for the audience that summarizes the dangers of “bammy,” “funk,” “mary jane,” “funny stuff,” “vipe”:

“When danger's near
Exploit their fear -
The end will justify the means!”

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  In spite of over-zealous musical sounds, REEFER MADNESS is a farcical delight that is a tongue-in-cheek examination of the “dangers” of marijuana.  The production elements are aptly overdone, resulting in a fun experience for an open minded audience or one that is “toked” out.

Blank Canvas’s REEFER MADNESS runs though December 19, 2015 in its west side theatre, 1305 West 78 th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland. Once you arrive at the site, go around the first building to find the entrance and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space.  For tickets and directions go to



Capsule judgment:  Ensemble Theatre’s THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE is a delightful staging of one of the books in THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA series where we visit the land of talking animals and mythical creatures and the White Witch has ruled for 100 years of deep winter.  The intergenerational cast is excellent, the costumes and special effects pleasing, and the overall effect makes for a charming theater experience.  It is hoped that Ensemble continues the concept of having family shows like this during future holiday seasons.

THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE runs December 4-13, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 PM, Saturdays at 3 PM and Sunday @ 2 PM through Sundays through February 22 at Ensemble Theatre, housed in the former  Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to

Thursday, December 10, 2015

KRIS KRINGLE THE MUSICAL—a work in progress

KRIS KRINGLE THE MUSICAL, based on Maria Ciampi’s screenplay and book, KRIS KRINGLE, tells the tale of what happens when an evil toy company CEO crosses paths with a jobless toy maker whose family name carries a curse with the power to destroy Christmas.  In the process of the tale, Christmas Spirit, Kris Kringle, Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, a group of Elves, and magical toys sing and dance some new holiday tunes.

The script has been showcased in New York, Washington, D.C. and, is in its world premiere staging at Olmsted Performing Arts Center, in what the producers are hoping will lead to a Broadway run.

Evaluating a new show requires an examination of the writing and format of the script (Maria Ciampi) and the music (Tim Janis), as well as such production elements as the staging, script shaping, and performances as conceived by director Pierre Brault, as well as the singing and musical performances as guided by musical director Charles Eversole.

 Andrew Lloyd Webber once said, “A well structured musical is one in which the songs and dancing flow smoothly into a well-developed story.” Think of MY FAIR LADY, FIDDLE ON THE ROOF or OKLAHOMA.  All are recognized as well-developed musicals.  The songs, the script and the dancing meld together into a single purpose-based unit.

Unfortunately, Ciampi’s script and Janis’s music don’t always mesh.  The musical numbers seem to have been dropped into the story.  Few push the plot along.  The music itself, though often quite pretty, was not memorable, nor was there a dynamic concluding song which usually sends the audience out of the theatre humming and excited.

Some of the choreographic numbers flowed nicely into the story, others begged to be eliminated as they seemed to be present only to give all the kids in the cast something to do.  There was much redundancy in the steps, weakness of creativity, and chaos in some numbers due to the plethora of dancers.

At almost an hour and a half, the show’s opening act is longer than the total stage time of many new plays.  The second act, fortunately, is shorter, and works much better than the opening stanza in both story and song development. 

If this is a show which is aimed at  children, as evidenced by the squirming little bodies on opening night, the sitting time is too long and the story line didn’t hold attention.

As for the production itself.  The actors playing and singing major roles are all excellent.  Mark Shirilla was very appealing as Kris Kringle, creating not only a real person, but displaying strong singing, comedy and dancing abilities.  The adorable Natalie Green was charming as Evelyn Noel, Kris’s “girl friend.”

Greg Violand, he of big voice, flowing white beard and confident stage presence, was Santa-perfect. (The little boy sitting in front of me wanted to know if he could sit on Santa’s lap.) Kristin Netzband was endearing as Mrs. Claus. 

Michael Mauldin made for an acceptable “bad guy” as R. G. Reedy.  Maryann Nagel led us nicely through the tale as Christmas Spirit, a type of Greek Chorus.  Amy Fritsche was real as Ms. Horn.   Brian Marshall as Elmer, the trouble making head-elf, does what Brian does best--develop a harassable, charming and over-exaggerated character. 

The large supporting cast often made the staging look like a chaotic flow of traffic…purposeless as to the plot.  The numerous parents, grandparents and assorted relatives and friends were probably thrilled to see their kids on stage, and the producers must be happy with the revenue that was produced, but that should not have been their purpose in appearing in the show.  In addition, realistically, if this was a show heading for Broadway, the very number of bodies would mean an excessive payroll if they were all going to be paid Equity salaries (a Great White Way requirement). 

Visually, Frankie Teuber’s set design was attractive and practical.  Scott Chapman’s lighting design was hampered by errant spotlight operators and the constantly changing snow flake designs on the proscenium curtains which distracted from the action on stage and did little to highlight plot ideas.  PJs Puppets were well-crafted. 

Musical Director Eversole did a yeoman’s job of polishing the sounds of the chorus and individual vocalists, as well as insuring that the well-tuned orchestra supported rather drowned out the singers.

Capsule judgment: Though the intentions were pure, KRIS KRINGLE THE MUSICAL is not a polished product.  It is a script in process.  It needs cutting, reshaping and focusing in order for it to fill the void for a much needed holiday play for community and professional theatres.  The score needs to be reevaluated with the addition of some signature songs and a rousing finale. The staging, though showcasing excellent talent among the lead performers, was often visually chaotic due to an over-large cast and unfocused blocking. An excess of dance numbers, some of which did not advance the plot, slowed down the production and added unneeded time to the show.

Tickets for KRIS KRINGLE, THE MUSICAL, which runs through December 13, 2015, can be purchased through the Olmsted Performing Arts Center by calling 440-235-6722.  To see the schedule of performances go to
The theatre is located at 6941 Columbia Road, Olmsted Falls.

Sunday, December 06, 2015


Mention author J. M. Barrie, and the immediate thought is Peter Pan.  Peter Pan, the tale of a boy who refused to grow up, has become a cottage industry.   Dolls, movies, a musical play, coloring books, cartoons, Halloween costumes, a non-musical play, and books are all available.   There is even a psychological condition, “The Peter Pan Syndrome,” which puts the spotlight on men who refuse to assume responsibility for their boyish actions.

Did you know that there was a prequel written about Peter and the boys?  Yes, a subsidiary of Disney published, PETER AND THE STARCATCHERS, a 2004 book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, which provides a back story, their explanation of what happened before the J. M. Barrie popular tale, PETER PAN.  The initial Starcatchers book was so well received that it spawned a series of novels.

A play with music, PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (no “s”), with book by Rick Elice and music by Wayne Barker, was adapted from the prequel book.   It debuted in 2009 at La Jolla Playhouse.  It was restaged in 2011 as an Off-Broadway production, and opened on Broadway in 2012.   It is now on stage at Dobama Theatre, with direction by Nathan Motta.

Act 1 takes place at sea.  We sail on ships which evolve before our eyes.  Act Two finds us on an island.  

The tale allows finding out how an orphan called “Boy” evolves into a lad named “Peter.”  The story reveals how he and two friends meet Molly, confront a band of pirates led by Black Stache, and how a crocodile got a taste for the pirate leader.  We share with the cast how Peter protects a trunk of “star stuff,” and the mischievous Tinker Belle comes to be.   The action ends as Molly and her father return to the real world, while Peter and the Lost Boys remain on the island of Neverland, with a promise by Peter to visit Molly sometime in the future.  

Those in the know, realize that Peter will use the “star stuff” to fly to a home in England, where Molly (Darling) now lives with her children, Wendy, John and Michael.  And, of course, Peter will take the trio on a flight to Neverland where Wendy will become, at least for a short time, the “mother” of the Lost Boys and have an adventure which includes a croc, Captain Hook (Black Stache), a band of pirates, some Indians, Tiger Lilly, and, well….you get the idea!

The farce is performed with imaginative staging that enhances the fantasy nature of the work.   The production elements are creative.  Filled with ropes which become waves of water, doorways which move all over the stage, devices for levitation and Peter’s near drowning and flight, the effects, work well.  Hanging sheets of filmy gauze create sails, but are also used as devices for a mermaid to hang from and swim through the sea.  All that has to be supplied is a little imagination from the viewer and a little effort not to be overwhelmed.

Molly Israel is delightful as tomboy, Molly, with enough lady-like characteristics to imagine her as a future “proper” mother.   Luke Wehner, he of eyes of light blue pools of water and boyish face and mannerisms, delights as Peter, the orphan boy who doesn’t want to grow up.

Ryan Thurman (Ted) and Kyle Adam (Prentiss) take on the roles of Peter’s orphan friends with boyish hellion qualities.  They both have mobile faces and do their comedy “shticks” well! 

Christopher Bohan has wonderful farce timing and creates a “fiercesome” Black Stache, a pussy cat of a pirate who tries to put on a bad-guy veneer.  His “oh, My God” scene, when he cuts off his hand, is hysterically funny, milking much from repeating the phrase for multi-laughs.

Andrew Gorell morphs into Smee, Black Stache’s bumbling henchman, with a nice farcical tone.  James Rankin’s drag interpretation of Mrs. Bumbrake, Wendy’s nanny, is delicious.

To put the oft-overdone and frenetic first act into perspective, you have to realize that it was the writers intention to have their tale be “deliriously foolish.”  In this staging, the interpretation of the authors’ intention may have been taken to literally.  It is hoped that as the production receives additional performances the pirates will control their over-acting and decrease the decibel level of their incessant screaming, which makes their speeches often difficult to understand, and the franticness of the movements will calm down a might.

Scenic Designer Aaron Benson has created an impressive massive raised platform stage that totally fills the theatre’s acting area and allows for trapdoors to be used for props and actors to use for popping into and out of scenes.

Marcus Dana’s lighting and Richard Ingraham’s sound designs enhance the production, as do Tesia Dugan Benson’s costumes.  Benson Theatricals did a yeoman’s job in creating and obtaining the numerous props.

To add to the experience, Jonathan Wilhelm, Dobama’s Associate Managing Director, and the staff of the Heights (Lee Road) Library, have created a wonderful pictorial history lesson about Peter Pan which can be viewed in the gallery just off the upper lobby of the theatre. 

Capsule judgement:  PETER AND THE STARCATCHER gets a farcical, creative and generally enjoyable production under the direction of Nathan Motta.  Though the first act often seemed exceedingly frenetic, the second act successfully developed the meaning of the story and made for an evening well spent.  It’s a chance for children and adults to let their imaginations run wild and, like Peter, never grow up.

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER runs through January 3, 2016 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

It’s back…A CHRISTMAS STORY at the Cleveland Play House

Yes, A CHRISTMAS STORY is again lighting up the stage at the Cleveland Play House.   It’s a new production, which incites new comments, but the history and my unexpected involvement in the tale is still the same!

Little did I realize as I stood many years ago, as an extra, in front of Higbee’s Department Store in downtown Cleveland at 3 AM, that I was participating in the filming of what would become one of the most popular winter holiday movies of all times. 

The filming was done in the middle of the night because in daytime, the Erieview Tower and Federal Building were visible from Public Square, as was the shell of the BP Tower that was under construction.

I also didn’t know, as I stood on the stoop of a house a couple of doors down from 3159 West 11th Street, in the heart of Tremont, that the single sentence I spoke on camera, would wind up on the cutting room floor, eliminating my actual role in “A Christmas Story.” Ah, show business, cruel show business!

Many locals think of “A Christmas Story” as “our” movie, a film made in Cleveland.  They are only partially right.  Our fair city was selected as the place to film the low budget flick because Cleveland, in the winter, has lots of snow.  Right?  Wrong!  A freak of nature caused 1982 to be mild.  Little snow.  The movie mavens had to flood the scenes with fake snow.  Finally, frustration set in and the powers that be moved the filming to Canada.

Before the flight across the lake took place, the now dubbed “The Official Christmas Story House” was used for external shots, including the footage of the stocking lamp in the front window.  Interior scenes were shot on a sound stage.  The actual house, after falling into disrepair, was bought and turned into a museum which displays rooms rebuilt to duplicate the images on the sound stage decorated with props from the film, as well as hundreds of rare, behind-the-scenes photos, which are now on display.

Nope, though I posed for pictures, and interviewed Peter Billingsley (the film’s Ralphie) and Scott Schwartz (Flick) for a local TV station, I’m not on display there either. 

The house gets about 50,000 visitors a year.  Across the street there is a gift store that sells such goodies as Lifebuoy soap,  pink bunny suits and leg lamps.

Tipoff…the rifle used in the film was actually one of 6 specifically made for the movie as there was no actual Red Rider bb gun as described in the script.  Author Jean Shepard combined the elements of other Daisy rifles to imagine the “Holy Grail” of Christmas presents.  To make the whole idea more interesting, the models made for the film were designed to be used by a leftie, as Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie, was a southpaw.  One of those rifles, thanks to a $10,000 eBay purchase by Brian Jones, who owns Christmas Story House and Museum, is now on display there!   Also, you, and three other people of your choosing, can stay in the house for Christmas Eve and Christmas day if you win the auction on eBay! Last year’s high bid was $6016.40.  The proceeds go to charity.

The interior of the beautiful Higbee’s Department Store, now the home of the Horseshoe Casino, was actually used for “the visit to Santa” scene.  Santa’s house and slide, where Ralphie and his friends went to sit on the lap of the great-giver-of-gifts, which was built for the movie, was left in the store after the film crew departed.  The slide was used every Christmas season from that time until the store closed in 2002.

The film, “A Christmas Story,” was released in 1983.  It takes place on Cleveland Street in Hohman, Indiana, in the 1940s.  It centers on Ralphie, a 9 year-old boy whose goal in life is to have Santa bring him “an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.”

Ralphie and his best friends, Flick and Schwartz, try to negotiate life as tweens. A life filled with sophomoric wishes, eluding Scut Farkas, the neighborhood bully, putting up with Randy, Ralphie’s younger brother, escaping the grasps of Esther Jane, who has a crush on our hero, and the need to convince every one in his life that he won’t shoot out his eye with the sought after bb gun.

The tale is narrated through remembrances relayed by Ralph, the adult Ralphie.  (In the film Ralph’s voice was supplied by Jean Shepherd, the film’s co-author.)

The play, adapted by Philip Grecian, is based on Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark’s film script and Shepherd’s book, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.”

The stage version is filled with memorable lines from the film, including, “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine,” “Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie!,” “Only I didn’t say ‘Fudge.’  I said the WORD, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the ‘F-dash-dash-dash’ word!,” “Some men are Baptists, others Catholics, my father was an Oldsmobile man!,” “Scut Farkus staring out at us with his yellow eyes.  He had yellow eyes!  SO HELP ME GOD, YELLOW EYES,” “Aha, aha, it’s a clinkerrrr!!! That blasted, stupid furnace. Dadgummit!.”  And, the never to be forgotten epithet by Flick before he succumbed to the “I TRIPLE-dog-dare you!”  Yes, “Stick my tongue to that stupid pole, that’s stupid.”

Again this year, the Play House production is directed by John McCluggage.  He follows the pattern he established in the past, so the pace, the images and the character development are basically parallel to former productions.  So, as McCluggage states in his program notes, “I hope [it] is a show that is familiar and welcome.”

Back are Christopher Gerson as the kind-hearted but harassable The Old Man, Madeleine Maby as the “June Cleaver” wise mother, Laura Perrotta as Miss Shields, the teacher whose alter ego is the Wicked Witch of the West, and the talented Jeff Talbott as the adult Ralph.  Talbott gives a special appropriate child-like enthusiasm and sound of nostalgia to the role.

Standouts among the “new” kids in the cast are Willie Rose as the put-upon Flick, the victim of Scut Farkas, the neighborhood’s yellow-eyed, evil bully and Miles Pierce, as Randy, Ralphie’s younger brother whose plaintive wails of “I have to go wee-wee,” are one of the show’s highlights.  Carter Sindelar is very believable as Ralphie whose longing for a bb gun that will surely shoot out his eye is heart-felt. 

The other kids, Howey Nock (Schwartz), Henry Harte (Scut Farkas), Sun-Hee Smith(Helen) and Maela Mazzone (Esther Jane) are also fine, though projection is a problem as they aren’t miked and don’t have the big voices needed to project throughout the Allen auditorium.  

Robert Mark Morgan’s turntable set design worked well, but the Higbee’s Santa house and slide, once again, are still flimsy and underwhelming.  It looks nothing like the real Higbee’s slide.  If the show is done again, Morgan should do some homework, find a picture of the original, and duplicate it on stage.

James C. Swonger’s sound design was outstanding.  The audio special effects, especially the “clinkers” and “Bumpuses’s dogs” were terrific. 

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  It’s back!  Once again CPH is presenting “A Christmas Story.”  This production, as has become the tradition, is a charming reenactment of the Jean Shepard story.
“A Christmas Story” runs through December 23, 2015 in the Allen Theatre at PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Wonderful reimagined WIZARD OF OZ at State Theatre

Little did Frank Baum realize in 1900 when he wrote the book, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, that he was creating a cottage industry.   “Chachkas” such as snow globes, stuffed Toto dogs and figurines of the characters dot many a household.  Clothing, including red crystal shoes, checkered gingham “Dorothy” dresses and Halloween costumes galore, relate aspects of the tale.  

Quotations from the dialogue have become American language staples including “We aren’t in Kansas anymore,” “Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable,” “If we walk far enough we shall sometime come to someplace,” “True courage is facing danger when you are afraid,” and, of course, “Close your eyes and tap your heels together three times, and think to yourself, there’s no place like home.” 

The success of the first book and the film inspired Baum to write thirteen Oz sequels.

In spite of favorable reviews, the 1939 film of the story was a box office disappointment.  It soon, however, developed a cult following and appears continually on the “best movies list,” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which won the Oscar for best song, ranks as one of the favorite tunes of all time.

The gay community so closely identifies with the musical that group meetings, such as on-board cruise ships, are identified as being “friends of Dorothy.” 

Besides the comedy-drama fantasy film, there have been a number of theatre pieces based on the Wizard concept including THE WIZ, WICKED, and THE WIZARD OF OZ, a 2011 musical which used the Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg songs from the film and added some new songs and additional music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice.  It is a reimagining of the stage musical that is now on the boards at the State Theatre.

The much repeated story tells the tale of Dorothy, a young orphan farm girl who is whisked out of Kansas by a cyclone and finds herself in the magical land of Oz.  The munchkin residents declare her a good witch because the house in which she travelled landed on and killed one of the bad witches.  Dorothy wants to return home so she goes in search of the  “all powerful” Wizard.  Along the way she encounters a scarecrow who needs a mind, a lion who needs courage and a tin man who desires a heart.  In order to get their needs met, they must destroy the Wicked Witch of the West.  Of course, as in all good fairy tales, good triumphs over evil.

Besides “Over the Rainbow,” the memorable musical score includes “Follow The Yellow Brick Road,” “If I Only Had a Brain,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” “The Merry Old Land of Oz,” “If We Only Had a Plan,” and “Hail-Hail The Witch is Dead.”

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice have written nine new songs and transitions which help flesh out the story.  “Nobody Understands Me” starts the action by explaining Dorothy’s feeling of being ignored and sets up the concept of how much she later regrets her feelings and wants to come “home” from Oz.  “Wonders of the World” adds universality to the story.  “Bring Me The Broomstick” puts Dorothy, the Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin man on the path to destroy the Wicked Witch. “Already Home,” relates Baum’s moral of how the value of family and security are often taken for granted or overlooked.  

Other new songs include, “Red Shoes Blues” and “Farewell to Oz.”

The touring production has all the elements of a top class production.  The acting, the orchestrations, the singing and the staging are all excellent. 

Jon Driscoll’s video/projection designs are enthralling.  The cyclone, the movements of the clouds, the appearance of the Wizard all take on a life of their own.  Hugh Vanstone’s lighting effects and Mick Potter’s sound design help create reality and excitement.  Arlene Phillips’ choreography and Jeremy Sams’ focused and creative direction, make the production special. 

The cast, most of whom are touring production novices with little or no Broadway experience, is outstanding.  Their acting, singing and dancing are too-notch.  This is not a second-rate group of performers.

Sarah Lasko gives her own interpretation to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  No Judy Garland imitation here.  She is charming and convincing as Dorothy.  Morgan Reynolds moves with scarecrow limberness and has a fine singing voice.  Jay McGill has a nice swagger and creates a macho Tin Man.  Aaron Fried is adorable as the cowardly Lion. 

A little girl sitting behind me commented after the Wicked Witch of the West’s threatening of Dorothy scene, “She isn’t very scary.”  Yes, Shani Hadjian could have been a little more menacing. 

Speaking of menacing is the production okay for young children?  A quick survey of about ten pre-tweens resulted in a thumbs up for both the production and the “I wasn’t afraid” factor.  One little girl, dressed as Dorothy, complete with blue gingham dress and red sparkling shoes, squealed, “I loved it.”  She then turned to her father and pleaded, “Can we come back again and again?”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Yes, Dorothy, I’d love to come back again and again to see you and the rest of the cast of THE WIZARD OF OZ.  This was a very special production that showed the value of new electronic media techniques used to their highest level of creativity to help reinvent a well-loved story.  Yes, the show takes us “Over the Rainbow,” and is filled with “Wonders of the World,” as we “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” through “The Merry Old Land of Oz,” and come to appreciate that there is no place like home.  Too bad the show only stays here for a very short run.  Go!  Enjoy!

Tickets for THE WIZARD OF OZ, which runs through December 6, at the State Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

GUYS ON ICE: THE ICE FISHING MUSICAL drops bait at Actors’ Summit

The American Folklore Theatre (AFT), located in Door County, Wisconsin, is a theater company that creates musicals and plays which are based on the populist culture and heritage of the United States.  They have developed such works as MULE FOR BREAKFAST AGAIN, LUMBERJACKS IN LOVE, LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS, and GUYS ON ICE.  The latter is now being staged by Actors Summit.

The script, with book and lyrics by Fred Alley and music composed by James Kaplan, tells the tale of a day in the life of Marvin and Lloyd, two ice fisherman and their arch pain-in-the-neck, Ernie the Moocher.

The show tends to play to sold-out houses in the Sturgeon Bay area of Minnesota where little wooden shanties sit on winter lake ice with puffs of smoke rising from their chimney pipes.  Marvin and Lloyd, long-time fishing buddies, philosophize and sing such ditties as “The Wishing Hole,” “Ode to a Snowmobile Suit,” “Things Aint Like They Used to Be,” and the stirring, “Fish Is the Miracle Food.”

Every once in a while, Ernie the Moocher pops in to “borrow” beer, food and whatever else he can get from the duo who are so desperate to get rid of him that they hand over whatever he wants.

Why is Actors’ Summit showcasing this Green Bay Packer, Wisconsin-centric tale?  As director MaryJo Alexander, who finds the script “endearing,” states in her program notes, “I love this show!  No it’s not Shakespeare, or Sondheim. . . It’s dressed up with quirky music, Packers jokes, and beer references.”  She also reveals that her parents were from Wisconsin and her grandparents are listed in the history books of beer making. 

For those of us not from Wisconsin, and who don’t have relatives who brew beer, the goings on may be a little cheesy.  That’s not to say the show is bad.  It just isn’t much.  The music isn’t catchy, the lyrics are rather sophomoric, and the story is almost non-existent.

Frank Jackman is familiar to Actor Summit audiences for his 30 productions with the theatre company.  He also is noted for his commercials, print ads and voice-overs.   He does a nice job of developing Marvin into a believable Wisconsinite (though a little more of the sing-song Scandinavian-sound, the area is noted for, would have helped). 

Bob Keefe displays a nice sense of humor as Lloyd, as well as a nice singing voice. 

Shawn Galligan does what he can with the poorly conceived role of Ernie the Moocher.  He is also given the unenviable task of adding minutes to what should have been a one-act, by conducting an audience participation quiz between the acts, which garnered few participants.

Capsule judgement:   As a couple said in the elevator while exiting the theatre,  “It was kinda cute.”  Yep, all righty, if you are in the right mood, and don’t expect Shakespeare or Sondheim, GUYS ON ICE is kind of cute. 

For tickets to GUYS ON ICE which runs through December 20, 2015, call 330-374-7568 or go to

Actor’s Summit’s 2016 shows are:  SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR (Jan. 21-Feb. 7), CHIAPATTI (Feb. 25-Mar. 13), TALLY’S FOLLY (April 14-May 1), and TINTYPES (May 19-June 19).