Sunday, February 21, 2016

MR BURNS: the post-apocalyptic future according to The Simpsons @ CPT

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen Anne Washburn’s MR. BURNS A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY, now in production at Cleveland Public Theatre, that when the show opened in Washington, DC in 2012 and then in New York in 2013, it received mixed reviews that ranged from “passionate dissent” to raves.  

Comments varied from, “you’re likely to feel both exhausted and exhilarated from all the layers of time and thoughts you’ve traveled through” to “a talky deep think,”  and “the piece loses sight of its humanity with an overproduced pop-rap-operetta third act and an under plotted second act.” 

It’s that kind of script…you’re probably either going to love it or hate it.  The gaggle of twenty-something young women sitting next to me on opening night laughed hysterically through most of the play, giving it a standing ovation at the conclusion.  On the other hand, the middle-aged couple that sat in the row in front of me left their seats after the first act, never to return.

As the play opens, we are confronted by a group of survivors from the collapse of civilization.  They may have experienced a plague, or radioactivity, or mass failure of the power grid…all are mentioned by the participants.  They sit by a campfire and piece together the plot of “The Simpsons” episode of “Cape Feare.”  Much like the “Seinfeld” sitcom fanatics, these people flow “Simpson-talk” with comparative ease.  They recount the episode in which Bart is confronted by the evil Sideshow Bob.   (The television episode is a take off on Martin Scorsese’s movie “Cape Fear,” which was a remake of the 1962 film.)

Skip forward 7 years for Act Two.  A comedy/drama group is enacting Simpsons episodes, complete with commercials.  As a television show and commercials are being made using television show plots, commercials, jingles and pop songs from the past, now part of the post-apocalyptic society are recreated.  It’s an attempt to cling to what was in order to create a what is. 

Act III, takes place 75 years later.  Using a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta approach, with the actors wearing masks that depict the various Simpson characters, the troupe repeats the “Cape Feare” tale. 

Yes, Bart Simpson, and his family, we are told to believe, has become the catalyst for the myths and legends from which our society is to be remembered.

Being a Simpson aficionado, and being-up-to-date on modern pop culture, aren’t necessary to gain a general understanding of what’s going on, but it sure helps to quickly decode and find the humor and references to many of the lines. 

CPT’s production, a regional premiere, under the adept directing by Matthew Wright, is nicely paced, creative and develops Washburn’s intent.  The cast is universally strong. Trey Gilpin has Homer Simpson’s actions and sound down pat and displays a strong singing voice.  Nicole Sumlin shows off her comic chops as the devilish Bart Simpson.  Evan Thompson is evil incarnate as Mr. Burns, while Megan Elk uses her well-trained operatic voice to narrate the third act. 

Cathleen O’Malley, Beth Wood, Tim Keo and Abigail Anika Svigelj are all believable in their role development.

Challa Geib-Fenske & Inda Blatch-Geib’s masks are outstanding additions to the production, as is Brad Wyner and Ryan McDermott’s music.  (Joe Parker replaces McDermott from 2/22 through 3/5).   

Director Wright states in his program notes, “MR. BURNS is about everything.  In a very real sense.”  He continues, “To parse out meaning and attempt to guide the viewer to any particular interpretation would run counter to the nature of the play, which really invites a kind of contemplative awe at the wonder of human ingenuity.”  He concludes, “After enjoying the gem that is MR. BURNS, take some time to appreciate everyone around you.”

Capsule judgement: MR. BURNS A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY is not a production that will please everyone, nor is it meant to be.  It can be obtuse, is overly long, and too reference specific.  If you are a “The Simpsons” fan, it will help you to understand the images to which the author is referring.  For the rest, it could be the basis for a discussion, an attempt to determine what Anne Washburn is trying to tell, and an adventure into the post-apocalyptic future.

MR. BURNS A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY runs through March 5, 2016, at Cleveland Public Theatre.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

IN THE HEIGHTS explodes with Latino verve @ Beck Center

At the start of IN THE HEIGHTS, now in its locally produced premiere at Beck Center, Usnavi chases away Graffiti Pete, a graffiti artist, from in front of his Washington Heights “bodega” (Spanish for a small neighbor grocery store).   As the young owner raps, the lyrics and music set the mood for what is a three-day visit to the largely Hispanic/Latino neighborhood on the brink of change.  It’s a place where families bond, neighborhood ties are strong, and the George Washington Bridge casts its shadow across the hopes and dreams of the residents.

Nina, the bright, precocious daughter of the owner of a car service, has just returned from her Freshman year at Stanford.  The scholarship student has  secrets.  She left Stanford because in spite of a scholarship and meager help from her family, the work load she needed in order to pay for books and other expenses, had taken away time from her studies and she flunked out.  Matters are not helped by her relationship with Benny, a non-Latino who works for her father. 

A winning lottery ticket, a buy-out offer for the car service, the death of the neighborhood’s Abuela (grandmother), and a power outage affect Washington Heights, resulting in the residents not only finding out about themselves, but the place they call home.

IN THE HEIGHTS, with music and lyrics  by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, opened on Broadway in March, 2008 to mixed reviews.  In spite of the press, it went on to get thirteen Academy Award nominations and won in four categories, including Best Musical.

The Beck production, mostly populated by the much revered Baldwin Wallace Musical Theatre program’s present and past students, and directed by multi-award winning Victoria Bussert, explodes with enthusiasm.  It is exciting, flashy, tender, and emotional.  Miranda’s rap, steamy ballads, and Latin-toned music makes it hard to sit and not want to dance and clap in time to the ever pounding beat.

The dynamics of the band, which was positive, was also problematic.  Coupled with a weak sound system, the music often overshadows the singers and the  hip-hop and the Spanish-infused lyrics are hard to hear.   While the audience gets the general feeling, comments at intermission and after the show, indicated that the actual words were lost.

Greg Daniels’ choreography had an appropriate Latino flavor and fit the mood and tone of the music. “Carnaval del Barrio” was a dynamic production number.

Jordan Janota’s set had the right feel, aided by the bright lights as designed by Jeff Herrmann, it created a cramped and hot-humid atmosphere. 

The cast was excellent. 

Jessie Cope Miller was convincing as the tender-hearted Abuela Claudia, the neighborhood’s “grandmother.”  Her well sung “Paciencia y Fe: (“Patience and Faith”) was one of the production’s emotional highlights. 

Livvy Marcus created in Nina a clear picture of a young lady conflicted, frustrated and loyal.  She carries the burden of being the “one who made it out,” with nice sensitivity.  Her “When You’re Home,” sung with Malik Victorian (who developed a nicely textured Benny) was a fine duet as was their “When the Sun Goes Down.”

Michael Canada was a dynamic as the spontaneous Sonny.  He has wonderful sense of comic timing.

Isabel Plana was delightful as Daniela the gossip queen owner of the beauty salon next door to Usnavi’s bodega.

Ellis C. Dawson III created Usnavi, who was named after one of the first sights his parents saw then they arrived in America: a U.S. Navy ship, into an authentic person. Unfortunately, some of his rapping was muted by slack articulation.

The beautiful Christiana Perrault sang, acted, and danced well as Vanessa, Usnavi’s love interest, who wants to escape the neighborhood by moving into an apartment downtown, but can’t afford it until a special person co-signs for her.

Jared Leal authentically develops Kevin, into a father and husband, with dreams for his family.  His interpretation of “Atencion” was very effective as was “Inutil.”  He was nicely balanced by Kelsey Baehrens as Camila, Nina’s mother. 

Warren Egypt Franklin (Graffiti Pete) displayed strong dancing skills.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  The multi-Tony winning IN THE HEIGHTS gets an exciting and well-developed production through creative direction by Victoria Bussert and fine acting, singing and dancing by a cast mainly composed of Baldwin Wallace University past and present students.  If you like Latino music enfolded into a nicely developed story, this should be on your “go to” list.

IN THE HEIGHTS is scheduled to run through February 12, 2016 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to 

Next at Beck: The regional premiere of SHINING CITY, Conor McPherson’s 2006 Tony Award winning play about a guilt ridden man who reaches out to his therapist after seeing the ghost of his recently deceased wife.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Director Ian Wolfgang Hinz’s program notes state, “GOLDEN LEAF RAG TIME BLUES is an exploration of prejudice and humanism.”  He continues, “Their prejudice blinds them to the humanity in each other and the potential shared love of music, comedy and the need to have someone listen.”  He further states, “GLTRF asks us to confront our human capacity for seeing the ‘content of character’ present in all of us.”

Oh, if only playwright Charles Smith had, indeed, written the play that Hinz’s creative writing expresses. 

As is, GOLDEN LEAF RAG TIME BLUES, which is getting its world premiere at Ensemble Theatre, is the kind of play you see and quickly forget.  During the entire production I kept asking, “What does the author want me to understand, do, believe, from this theatrical experience.

I am still asking the same question. 

Yes, there is racism, ageism, prejudice, loneliness, and desperation exposed.  But the dialogue simply exposes us to those topics.  There is little real conflict or depth of character development to engender any high level emotional involvement or reaction.  There is little to like, dislike, or feel any depth of empathy for any of the characters or the situation in which they find themselves.

This is not the fault of the director or the actors.  They put out effort, but there is not much meat on the bones of the play to gnaw upon.

Pompey is an old man, living in a filthy apartment, who is depressed.  He has recently lost his best friend, Ollie, his comedy routine partner for many years.  He has recurring delusions, reenacting his Borscht Belt comedy routine with Ollie.

Marsha, his daughter, finds him sitting in his underwear, hungry, and without much will to live.  She is accompanied by Jet, a black teenager who she has befriended as part of a support program for teens who are living in a youth home.  She leaves Jet and her father together while she goes to the store to buy some food. 

The unmatched set are suspicious of each other, spar a bit, and eventually lightly bond.  When Jet is caught attempting to steal some silverware, Pompey feigns calling the police.  When Jet assumes that the police are about to enter the apartment, he jumps from the window and flees. 

The play comes to an end with no real resolution.  Lonely Marsha, who has had little luck in her attempts to befriend her charges, is crestfallen by another failed effort.  Pompey seems to realize his role in the quick exit by Jet.  But, what has either really learned? What should we, the audience, take away for our hour experience?

The cast (Paul Slimak--Pompey, Allen Branstein--Ollie, Brycen Hunt--Jet and Mary Alice Beck--Marsha) is generally competent and the staging as interesting as possible due to the script’s limitations regarding humor and emotional content.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  GOLDEN LEAF RAG TIME BLUES is, at best, a work in progress.  The writing fails to grab and hold attention, leaving the cast with little opportunity to develop much in the way of depth of character.  The production team and cast give all they can in staging, but are left with little reward.  Ensemble should be praised for attempting to give life to a new play.

GOLDEN LEAF RAG TIME BLUES runs Thursdays through Sundays through February 28, 2016 at the Playground performing space in Ensemble 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 full staged production is Jez Butterworth’s JERUSALEM in its Main Stage Theatre from April 29-May 11th.

To see the views of other Cleveland area theatre reviewers go to:

Friday, February 12, 2016

IF/THEN, in spite of a wonderful score, confuses some at Conner Palace

I happened to be in D.C. on November 5, 2013 when IF/THEN opened its preview run.  I was fortunate enough to get tickets to opening night. 

My reaction to the show was that Idina Menzel, the star of RENT and WICKED, who was playing the leading role in IF/THEN, was mesmerizing.  I found the music beautiful, the sets creative, and the electronic visuals attention-getting. Anthony Rapp, of RENT and YOU’RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN fame, played dual roles with musical and dramatic strength, and the rest of the cast was excellent.

However, the production was too long.  It was also hard to keep the separate storylines in focus as a woman leads parallel lives simultaneously, surrounded by a group of friends who play a part in each of her lives.

Having seen the previews, before the script and music adjustments were made, I went to the Connor Palace, with high anticipation, to see the road tour.

Interestingly, though Menzel is not in this cast, my opinions of the performances, the production and the script haven’t changed much.

IF/THEN is a musical with score by Tom Kitt and libretto by Brian Yorkey who also collaborated on the multi-award winning NEXT TO NORMAL.

It opened on Broadway to mixed reviews on March 5, 2014.  In spite of the reviews the show ran 401 performances and stayed open almost a year.  The box office surge was credited to Menzel and Rapp being in the cast. 

The production was named by “Entertainment Weekly” as one of the hits of the 2013-14 season and its cast album debuted at number 19 on the “Billboard” charts.  It became the largest selling cast album since BOOK OF MORMAN in 2011.

The story centers on newly divorced 38-year old Elizabeth, an urban planner who moves back to New York for a fresh start.  As the musical starts, she meets with her friends in Madison Square Park.  Lucas is a community organizer and Kate is a kindergarten teacher.  A guitarist, who plays a key role in the plot, is playing and singing.  Kate suggests that the “new” Elizabeth start over by using the name “Liz.”  Lucas urges her to go back to being called “Beth,” which she used in college.  This is the first of the choices that Elizabeth has to make regarding the two paths she might choose to follow. 

As we watch, the parallel lives of Liz and Beth develop.  (Spoiler alert:  Normally reviewers don’t go into detail about plots.  However, because of comments overheard at intermission and after the play, I think that a plot line exposition will help in watching the production.  If you don’t want to know what happens, skip the next three paragraphs.)

Liz, while listening to the guitarist in the park, is approached by Josh, an Army doctor returning from his second tour of duty.  She rebuffs him, but “accidentally” they meet several times again, and love is in the air.  The question of where choice and chance collide becomes a major factor in the plot development.  A professorship, relationship, pregnancy, marriage, redeployment, death, and more life decisions follow.

Beth, on the other hand, meets up with Stephen, an old friend and colleague, who offers her a job.  Beth and Stephen work together, become close friends, but part because he is married.  Beth calls Lucas, and they spend the night together.  Beth gets pregnant, doesn’t tell Lucas, and has an abortion.  She dedicates herself to work and wins planning awards and becomes a noted activist.  After a near death experience while on a business trip, she rekindles her relationship with Lucas.  Stephen gets divorced and comes to her to express regrets that he didn’t pursue a relationship and offers her a job in state government. Beth refuses and decides that she must go on without him.

As the play comes to a close, Beth, Lucas and Kate are having coffee in the park, Josh returns home from his third tour of duty, he approaches her and she lets him buy her some coffee.

Michael Greif’s direction keeps the show moving along, but can’t overcome the excessive length.

The large orchestra nicely underscores the strong voices of the singers, allowing the lyrics to be heard.

The traveling production is staged in an excellent fragmented set designed by Mark Wendland.  Electronic graphics of speeding subway cars and street scenes add visual realism to the action.  Larry Keigwin’s choreography fits the music and moods of the score.  The costumes and lighting also help enhance the production.  As for the sound, I overheard complaints about the lack of clarity of the sound expressed by people in the side and back sections.

The cast is universally strong.  Though she doesn’t have the magnetism of Idina Menzel, Jackie Burns, who played Elphaba in WICKED on tour and on Broadway, is excellent as Elizabeth/Beth/Liz.  She has a powerful singing voice, does a nice job of singing meanings, not just words, and creates a real person.  Her “Always Starting Over” is compelling.

Anthony Rapp, who also portrayed the role of Lucas on Broadway, sings and performs with conviction.  His “You Don’t Have to Love Me” was gripping.

 Leading man-handsome Matthew Hydzik is charmingly boyish as Josh.  His “Hey Kid” creates wonderful images.  “I Hate You,” a duet with Liz, is endearing.

Tamyra Gray (Kate), Daren A. Herbert (Stephen), Janine DiVita (Anne) and Marc Delacruz (David) are all convincing in their characterizations.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: IF/THEN has a wonderful score. The touring production has a strong cast and is nicely staged.  Too bad somewhere in the show’s development the sometimes confusing plot and excessive length weren’t dealt with.

Tickets for IF/THEN, which runs through February 21, 2016 at the Connor Palace Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to

Next up in the Key Bank series is BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROL KING MUSICAL on stage from April 5-17, 2016.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

DETROIT ’67 @ Karamu looks at the riots in the Motor City

February 1, 1960--North Carolina State University students protested when the administration wouldn’t let a black male’s name appear on the ballot for student body president.  May 15, 1962—Students at the University of Mississippi rioted over the lack of equal rights for black students.  April 13, 1964—Riots erupted in Los Angeles regarding discriminatory ways of how police treated African Americans.

March 13, 1965—Watts Riot because of cruel and unusual punishment by police toward African Americans.  July 18-23, 1966--Hough riots in Cleveland fanned by rumors, poor living conditions, scorching heat, and excessive politician intrusion and police over-reaction.  May 15, 1967—Detroit riots caused by police brutality and discrimination. August 4, 1967—Additional Motor City riots.  April 6, 1968—Rioting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Yes, the 1960s was an era of riots connected to the perceived or real treatment of African Americans.  Civil unrest continues until today.

What is more appropriate than for Karamu, the country’s oldest continuously performing Black Theatre, which is celebrating its 100 th birthday, to highlight Black History month, with Dominque Marisseau’s DETROIT ’67?   The script was awarded the Edward Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History. 

Morisseau looks back at Detroit, Michigan in 1967.  Motown music is just getting started, the eight-track is replacing 45 records, and Chelle and her brother Lank are making ends meet by turning their basement into an after-hours joint. 

The city around them erupts and they are caught in the midst of the first of two Detroit riots of the year.  The period of time pictured in the play represented the most violent and brutal uprising in the 1960s. 

DETROIT ’67 is the first in a three-play cycle by Marriseau about Detroit, her hometown.   It examines sibling rivalry, interracial romance, and social history packaged in the world of Motown hits by the likes of The Temptations, Four Tops and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

Chelle and Lank (named for Karamu alumni Langston Hughes) have recently inherited the family home.  He wants to open a “real” bar.  She, the more conservative and practical of the two, is leery about losing what they have. 

One night Lank and his best friend, Sly, come upon Caroline, a badly beaten white woman who is wandering the streets.  Afraid of the repercussions of two black men bringing a white woman to a hospital, they take her back to Chelle and Lank’s home. 

As she recovers, Caroline, refuses to say much about herself or what happened.  Eventually, Caroline becomes a major help in the illegal after-hours joint, and she and Lank start an affair.  Also present during much of the action is wisecracking Bunny. To tell much more about the plot would be a “spoiler alert.”

As for the play, itself, it lacks the depth and quality of such African American playwrights as the works of August Wilson (THE PIANO LESSON), Lorraine Hansberry (RAISIN THE SUN), Suzan-Lori Parks (TOPDOG-UNDERDOG), or James Baldwin (BLUES FOR MISTER CHARLIE). 

The dialogue is natural, carrying all the “right” sounds and word choices, but the plot lacks sparkle, high level conflict, and illumination.  Though it represents an important incident in black history, it doesn’t emotionally integrate the riots into the storyline.  Even with filmed interjections of the fires and bloodbath, and the tragedy that effects the characters, the horror remains emotionally “outside,” an arm’s distance away, not a present reality.

The Karamu production, under the direction of Oberlin College faculty member Justin Emeka, is well-paced and gets what it can from the script.  As is usually the case, Richard Morris’s set design helps give the right feel for the author’s intent, as does the lighting.  The sound design is less successful as the volume of the films of the riots is often hard to understand.  The film is not edited well.  The sounds of the riot are distant, not close enough to incite the feeling of potential danger.

The cast does a good job of developing their roles.  Phillia makes Chelle into a real person.  Unfortunately, she sometimes goes into an extremely high pitch, making for difficulty in hearing her words. 

Jameka Terri (Bunny) has a nice sense of comic idea development.  Ananias J. Dixon’s Lank, much like Walter Lee in RAISIN IN THE SUN, is a young black male who feels emasculated by the women in his life.  Dixon does a nice job of presenting the frustrated man. 

Brandon Brown creates a Sly who is nicely textured.  He has an excellent feel for comic timing.  Joelle Sostheim (Caroline) displays an understanding of her character.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  DETROIT ’67 lacks the plot and writing dynamics that make for great plays. It gets a better production at Karamu than the script probably is due.  For this, the director and cast get a great deal of credit.

DETROIT ’67 continues through February 28, 2016 at Karamu, 2355 East 89th Street, which has a fenced, guarded and lighted parking lot adjacent to the theatre, and provides free parking.  For ticket information call 216-795-7077.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Lakeland Civic Theatre journeys INTO THE WOODS for wishes, choices and consequences

Most fairy tales start with “Once upon a time,” and end with “And they lived happily ever after.”  Ever wonder if “happily ever after” is really true? 

What really happened to Cinderella after she was whisked away from her wicked step-mother and became the wife of the prince?  Does Jack, of beanstalk fame, live a life of pleasure and riches after he climbed the stalk, stole the hen who laid golden eggs and the precious harp?  Was life a lark for Rapunzel after she was freed from her tower of imprisonment by her prince? 

Leave it to Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Lapine (book), who penned SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, MERRILY WE ROLE ALONG and PASSION to take audiences deep into the woods to find the “truth” of what happens to those “happily ever after stories,” and alerts that there are consequences for the wishes and choices we make.

The creators have interwoven the plots of many fairy tales, and incorporated the wishes of the characters into a thought-provoking musical, INTO THE WOODS.  Cinderella wishes to escape from the clutches of her wicked step-mother and go to the fair.  Jack wishes for wealth so his mother won’t make him sell his “best friend,” his cow, Milky White.  The baker and his wife want to have a child, but are thwarted in their desire by a curse placed upon them by their neighbor, a witch.

Through the first act, all of the wishes become reality.

The second act finds each of the character’s hopes rendering consequences.  Cinderella, now a princess, finds life in the castle, especially with the philandering prince, less than pleasurable.  Jack, who has climbed the beanstalk and found the Giant’s treasure trove, is seemingly happy after chopping down the stalk and killing the Giant, but now is being pursued by the Giant’s angry wife.  The baker finds that the much wanted child cries each time he is touched and the dynamics of the once happy relationship with his wife has changed. 

Destruction, death, and chaos.  Ecstasy, “Agony!, Misery! Woe!”

After finally killing off the Giant’s Wife, the survivors band together and rebuild their world.  The Baker’s Wife, who was killed by a falling tree, appears to comfort her grief-stricken husband, advising him to tell their child their story, but the Witch appears to remind him, “Careful the things you say. Children will listen.” 

The moral:  We all must venture into the woods but must remember that the things we wish for, and the choices we make, have consequences.

The memorable score includes “I Guess This is Goodbye,” “I Know Things Now,” “A Very Nice Prince,” “Agony,” “It Takes Two,” “On the Steps of the Palace,” Any Moment,” ”No More,” and “No One Is Alone.”

INTO THE WOODS opened on Broadway in 1987 to positive reviews and won several Tony Awards.  It has been revived several times, is one of the most produced musicals,  and  was made into an award-winning musical in 2014.

Martin Friedman, the Artistic Director of Lakeland Community College Civic Theatre, is a Sondheim aficionado.  He has directed many Sondheim scripts and has a depth of knowledge about the man and his writing. 

In general, the staging works.  However, there should have been a more sprightly pace and playfulness in the first act, with more emphasis on the humor, leading to a transition to the darker, serious tone of the second act.   Wisely, Trad Burns and Benjamin Gantose’s lighting, was brighter in the first act, more solemn in the second.  Too bad the pacing didn’t follow that lead.

The cast sings well, the musical vocal blends are nicely developed.  Musical director Jordan Cooper and his orchestra are well-tuned.

The cast was generally excellent.  Standout performers included Trinidad Snider as the Baker’s Wife.  She has a wonderful sense of dramatic and comic timing, a nice singing voice, and nicely textured the characterization. 

Neely Gevaart (Cinderella) followed her award winning performance in Lakeland’s VIOLET with another stellar portrayal.  Her “On the Steps of the Palace” was delightful and “No One is Alone,” sung with several other cast members, was emotionally moving.

Brian Altman nicely developed the Baker, showing changes in character as needed.  Jade McGee was cute as “Little Red Ridinghood.”  Amiee Collier’s final version of “Children Will Listen” was emotionally moving.  Frank Ivancic (Jack) did nice vocal interpretations of “I Guess This is Goodbye” and “Giants in the Sky.”

Trad Burns scenic design is creatively unique.  The play is about ideas, descriptions, and emotions, so Burns has created a “woods” composed of large black cutout words that convey the various emotions, descriptions and desires of the characters.  These include:  “scary,” “charming,” “dark,” “happy,” “agony,” and “wish.”  As the show progresses, the “word-trees” of the woods are moved.  The concept is excellent.  Too bad the movements didn’t parallel to the thoughts of the speakers or the intent of the scene to come.  As is, after a while, all the moving became a distraction.

Eric Simna’s sound design was problematic.  The Narrator was generally difficult to hear and anyone sitting in the side sections had difficulty hearing much of the dialogue.

Capsule judgment: INTO THE WOODS, which is yet another of Stephen Sondheim’s creative and challenging shows, gets a very credible performance at Lakeland Civic Theatre.  A lighter and more playful first act would have helped make the deep and thought-provoking second act more meaningful.  As is, the production should please those who like Sondheim’s works and appreciate the difficulty of staging one of his creations.

INTO THE WOODS runs Friday through Sunday from February 5-28, 2016, at Lakeland Community College, 7700 Clocktower Drive, Kirtland. For tickets call 440-525-7134.