Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Heathers the musical@ Beck Center…rockin’ music, teen-aged angst and great choreography!

A teenaged girl snarls at another, “I know who I’m sitting with at lunch, do you?”  Yes, high school can be a time of great angst or hellish glee.  Depends on which clique you are in!  Jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, drama-kids, brains…what was your place in the high school hierarchy?

Veronica, seventeen-year-old teenage misfit at Westerburg [Ohio] High School, yearns to be a Heather, the in-group!  The Heathers...head cheerleader Heather McNamara, the sullen Heather Duke and the “bitch Queen,” Heather Chandler. Yes, the Heathers….3 blond bombshells who run the high school for their own enjoyment.  Harassment, bullying and degrading, allowed.

Veronica hangs with over-weight, nice kid, Martha Dunstock, better known as Martha Dumptruck, until one “glorious day.  That day Veronica’s talents as a forger are discovered and the creation of hall passes  and absence excuses flow forth and detentions disappear.  Through forgery, Veronica becomes a Heather. 

Will Veronica now become miss popular?  Will she, after achieving her goal, turn on Martha?  Will she fall for J.D., new school bad boy and become, like him, a psychopathic killer?   Will idiot jocks Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelly be knocked from their stud pedestals?  Will J.D. satisfy the longings for revenge of every high school outsider who was the victim of character assassination and bullying by the likes of the Heathers?  Will the audience cheer when they vicariously get their settling of scores?

Yes, high school can be hell, and Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, conceivers of Heathers the musical, now in production at Beck Center for the Arts, have found the key to a fun, but often sadistic way of making bullying into a means of entertainment.

Heathers has a bizarre history.  A Daniel Waters-written, non-musical version was filmed in 1988 and became a cult hit.  It made instant celbs of Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty.  Though not a critical hit, the film was named one of the “Best High School Movies” and Ranked #412 on the list of “The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.”

The musical’s start came on September 13, 2010, via a concert/reading in a pub.  The script languished until 2013 when it showed for a limited engagement at Hudson Backstage Theatre in Los Angeles.  And then it hit the big time when, in February, 2014, it opened off-Broadway for a moderate run.  Since then, the script has become a favorite of community theatres looking for a device to attract younger audiences.

Beck’s production, under the direction of Scott Spencer, which is being staged in the intimate Studio Theatre, fills the space with rock sound, great singing and good acting.  The star of the show, however, is Martin Céspedes’ choreography. 

One dynamic dance routine after another explodes.  The opening “Beautiful” sets the mood and is followed by such other showstoppers as “Blue” and “Shine a Light.”  This is Céspedes at his finest and it makes the production a special event.

Madeline Krucek, gives just the right tone to kind, Veronica, who has a strong sense of right and wrong, even if she gets waylaid for a while by bad boy JD (Shane Lonergan).  She has a fine singing voice and nice stage presence.  Her duets “Dead Girl Walking” and “Seventeen,” sung with Lonergan, are compelling.

Logan, dressed in the appropriate “Columbine” black trench coat, doesn’t look like a deadly psychopath (do they ever?), but he portrays killer to the core.  His well sung “Freeze Your Brain” gives a clue into what is going to come.  

Kayla Heichel was born a “high school mean girl!”  This lass portrays evil, power and control with ease as the hateful H. Chandler, leader of the Heathers.  She is well backed up by the other “Heathers,” (McNamara) Amy Kohmescher and (Duke) Tia Karaplis.    They all have strong singing voices and their solos are well done.

Molly Millsaps creates a Martha (Dumptruck), she of beautiful soul, with charm and pathos, in spite of teasing and rejection.  Her version of “Kindergarten Boyfriend” is a wonderful ballad which gets a lovely rendition.

Riley Ewing (Ram Sweeney) and Jonathan Walker White (Kurt Kelly) are right out of the playbook…walking six-packs with no brains and lots of unbridled testosterone.  The duo can actually dance, sing and act.

Matthew Wright (Ram’s Dad) and Paul Floriano (Kurt’s Dad) almost steal the show with their rendition of “My Dead Gay Son.” 

Multi-award winning Trad A. Burns shows his usual creativity in designing a visually and functionally perfect mock-locker filled set.  His lighting design, along with Aimee Kluiber’s costumes, helps in creating the right illusions.

Musical Director Larry Goodpaster and his band do a great job of hitting all the right notes and supporting instead of drowning out the singers.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Heathers the musical continues the Beck trend of staging dynamic, small, cult appealing shows (e.g., Evil Dead, Reefer Madness, and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) in its Studio Theatre.  With dynamic choreography, a well-played rock-infused-with-ballads score, and enough blood, gore and simulated sex to grab and hold an audience, Heathers should be awarded with a sold out run! 

Heathers the musical
is scheduled to run through July 2, 2016 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to http://www.beckcenter.org 

Next at Beck: The regional premiere of Billy Elliot the musical with music by Elton John from July 8 through August 14, 2016.

Monday, May 30, 2016

New theatre, Playwrights Local 4181, to produce local writers’ scripts

The Cleveland-Akron area has many, many theatres.   They each fulfill a missions 

Dobama states its purpose is “to premiere the best contemporary plays by established and emerging playwrights in professional productions of the highest quality.”  The Tony Award winning Cleveland Play House, the first professional regional theatre, states its goal is “to inspire, stimulate and entertain diverse audiences in Northeast Ohio by producing plays and theatre education of the highest professional standards.”  Ensemble’s function is “producing American classics.”

David Todd, Artistic Director of Playwrights Local 4181, recognizes that some theatres have writer’s units which work on the development of new plays, and, on occasion, stage or do staged-readings of original play scripts.  He, however, states, “no local organization is dedicated to solely producing new scripts.” 

Todd and his supporting group present themselves as “a playwrights’ center,” which means they will “develop  plays (and playwrights), produce plays, and otherwise provide our dramatists with a long-needed home.”  They also intend to “offer classes, host projects in the community, and arrange special events.”  They intend to “provide a style of playwright-driven theater” similar to those “found in New York and Chicago.”

The theatre’s battle cry seems to be, “all-new, all-locally created work.”

Those unfamiliar with how a play gets on stage should be aware that the starting point is usually a script.  It may be the sole creation of a writer or writers, inspired by an idea, an incident or some source such as a book or poem or even a work of art that has inspired the writing of a script with the intention of getting it presented on a stage. 

On the other hand, a writer may be hired by someone, usually a producer, who engages the writer to create a script. 

In some instances an organization may encourage or employ someone to produce a document which places the spotlight on the organization’s purpose or some cause they wish to place in the public’s attention.

Once the script is written, it is common to have others read and comment upon the material.  Sometimes an expert, a dramaturge, is hired to work with the writer on developing the project.  Often, in order for the playwright to hear what the script sounds like, a group of actors read the material aloud and breath life into the characters.   The writer may find that the script holds up well or, that it needs rewriting. 

Often, the next stage in the production process is to have a staged reading where actors, usually using scripts and podiums prepare an oral presentation, usually under the guidance of a director.  That reading is usually done before an audience.  A discussion often follows which allows for additional evaluation of the material.  The play may also receive a staging.  This process may be repeated again and again until the script is “set,” vetted to the place that the playwright is satisfied that it has jelled into a final product, ready for staging, with no expected changes to be made.

In rare instances a writer prepares a script and, without any evaluations or readings, it is staged.  This is rare, but does happen.

Playwrights Local 4181’s first staged production is Les Hunter’s To the Orchard.  According to a representative of the organization, Mr. Hunter’s play is set…”in its final form.”

To The Orchard, according to Kelsey Angel Baehrens, who plays Rachel Bergman, the central character, who is a young gay Orthodox Jewish writing student at Brooklyn College,  is “about seeking the courage to live your own truth.” “It’s a sad show.”

Author Les Hunter adds, “All of the characters are wrestling with their pasts and who they are, and looking for ways to go forward.”

Dale Heinen, the play’s director says, “the play deals with the aftermath of the death of Rachel’s mother and what it means to her husband and her daughter.”  She adds, “there’s an element of magical realism to the play, and a lot of humor.” 

As for the production, itself, Heinen indicated she needed to understand the world that the author, Hunter, constructed.  “There is a lot we didn’t know, that we had to learn in order to give the world its proper dimensions.”  “The life of this community [Orthodox Jewish in Brooklyn], the life of this family [who recently lost their female lynchpin], the way the religion is practiced [often turning to their rabbi, their religious leader, for guidance and wisdom], the set of beliefs that go with it [how to honor the dead, what foods to eat, what the philosophy of Orthodox Judaism is regarding homosexuality], the history of the religion [the theory of the wandering Jews, the Eastern European roots of this particular family and religious leader].”

As a former dramaturge, professor of theatre, director, actor, playwright and theatre critic, I found the script to be wanting, in need of further refinement. 

The script is mainly a dialogue.  There is little to no action.  The way the script was staged, or since I didn’t see the script, it may have been the way the writer formatted the material, the staging was static.  Scene stage right, scene stage left, often simultaneous stage left and right staging.  It often felt like we were watching a tennis match. 

The was much movement of stage furniture, breaking the flow of the action.  Much of that was seemingly unnecessary.  Use of spotlights to accent certain areas would have fulfilled the same purpose.  In fact, this is a script which doesn’t appear to need a staged production.  A reading would have done just fine as this is a word play, a closet drama.  Very little of the stage action added much, if anything.

The script contains many concepts of Orthodox Judaism with which many in the audience were probably unfamiliar.  Even myself, who was brought up in a tradition almost identical to that of the characters in the play, found myself confused as to some of the speeches and actions.  Giving the audience a list of vocabulary words did little to help.  It is the responsibility of the author to invent ways of writing dialogue to take care of this problem. 

The staging left much to be desired.  The use of electronic graphics to create the set was interesting, but often disconcerting as the actors often were absorbed by the visuals or cast shadows on the “scenery.”  The actors (Kelsey Angel Baehrens, Andrea Belser, Robert Branch, Michael Regnier), though they clearly knew their lines and put out full effort, didn’t always stay in character or texture their parts to the point of making the people real.

Some of the dialogue seemed forced, unnatural, a written rather than an oral style.  Whether this was the script, the director or the actors’ fault, is unclear.

One might ask, who is the audience for this script?  To whom does it speak?  For whom does it speak?

Capsule judgment:
  Playwrights Local 4181 should be lauded for filling a void in the Cleveland theatre world.  Their goal of producing locally written and developed scripts is admirable.  Their initial production, To the Orchard, was a valiant try.  Though the final outcome left much to be desired, every new undertaking has to have a place from which to grow.  The organization has laid its foundation and it should be encouraged to showcase what hopefully will be a successful and fruitful future.

Playwrights Local 4181’s next production will be Objectively/Reasonable:  A Documentary Play on the Shooting of Tamir Rice.  It will be directed by Terrence Spivey, the former Artistic Director of Karamu in August, 2016.  For information go to:  http://playwrightslocal.org/

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Must see Steel Magnolias filled with pathos and comedy at Cleveland Play House

Steel Magnolias is now in an extended run at the Allen Theatre, as part of the Key Bank Broadway series.  It is based on author Robert Harling’s sister’s 1985 death from diabetic complications following the birth of his name-sake nephew. 

The script, which is one of the most produced in the American theater catalog, originally was a short story.  According to Harling, it was converted into a play in ten days. 

The author selected the title as he felt that Southern women are often considered to be “delicate as magnolias, but [are really] as tough as steel.”

Steel Magnolias is an old-fashioned, well-written play that is filled with pathos and comedy.  The playwright doesn’t obscure his purpose in why he wrote the script.   It is obvious that he unashamedly wants to tell the tale of a group of women who, in the comfort and security of “their” beauty shop, spend every Saturday morning as an informal support group, being for each other what women need…a sense of security and unconditional love.

The setting is Truvy’s Beauty Shop, where the motto is, “There is no such thing as natural beauty.”  The business is located in a converted car port, in the fictional small “twangy” northwest Louisiana parish of Chinquapin.

Truvy Jones, along with Annelle, her newly hired mysterious and anxious assistant, wash, comb-out, poof and hairspray the locks of the locals. 

The Saturday morning crowd includes Clairee, the former first lady of the town, who is now a wealthy widow and owner of the local radio station.  Also present is the ornery Ouiser, whose bark is worse than her bite, and insists, “I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a bad mood for forty years.”   M’Lynn, an earth mother, is often accompanied by her diabetic daughter, Shelby, the prettiest girl in town. 

The year is 1987.  Over three years (four scenes), the audience eavesdrops on Shelby having a diabetic crash, a risky pregnancy, a medical emergency and complications.  Annelle, grows from a timid outsider to a member of the in-group, gets married and transforms into a born-again Christian.  Ouiser continues to gripe, Clairee travels and shares her new-found knowledge, while M’Lynn goes through an event that mothers should not have to experience.

Through it all, there is a growing awareness of the intertwining love and caring each of these women has for each other and the important role that the beauty shop has in their lives.  As M’Lynn states to the women at the play’s conclusion, “You have no idea how wonderful you are.” Truvy responds, “Of course we do.”

Not a male shows his face on stage, though many are discussed.  Husbands, some dead, some living, past and present lovers and suitors, beaus, and a fiancé are all open for investigating, skewering, appreciating and/or rejecting.

The Cleveland Play House and PlayhouseSquare, co-produced this mostly women-conceived show (director Laura Kepley, scenic designer Vicki Smith, costume designer Jen Caprio, lighting designer Jennifer Schriever and sound designer Jane Shaw).  They have created an audience-pleasing production. 

The concept of bringing the two-major production houses together, under the banner of a production as part of the Key Bank Broadway series, is unique.  Usually PlayhouseSquare trucks in successful Broadway touring shows as part of the series.  CPH tends to stage previously produced scripts, adding some locally written works, and hires nationally known, as well as local actors, to populate their shows. 

To blend the two entities together was a bold, but natural move, something made possible by the creative forces of Gina Vernaci, Executive Producer of PHSq and Laura Kepley, Artistic Director of CPH.  They were aided by the physical proximity of the organizations, being in the same downtown block of buildings.

It is obvious that Kepley knows and has a connection with Steel Magnolias.  She adds the right amounts of pathos and comedy to keep and hold the audience’s attention.  The pacing is right on…languid, as fits the Southern setting, while focused, to bring about the levels needed for texturing the tale.

The introduction of talented musician/singers Emily Casey and Maggie Lakis to set the mood before the show starts, and then bridge the various scenes together, added much to the overall effect.

The cast is universally excellent.  Each character is clearly drawn.  The drawls, though present, are not so overdone that they become caricatures.  There is no mocking of these women, their life styles or the way they speak.  This is authentic as shrimp and grits, hush puppies and helmet-sprayed hair.

Elizabeth Meadows Rouse presides with pride and effectiveness as Truvy, proprietor and den mother.  Devon Caraway gives Annelle the right levels of panic and religious fervor.  Erika Rolfsrud is completely believable as M’Lynn,  the caring mother who experiences high grief.  Beautiful Allison Layman doesn’t play Shelby, she is Shelby.  Mary Stout steals the show as the obstinate and opinionated Ouiser.  Charlotte Booker transforms herself into Clairee with ease and surety.

The set, lighting, music (Nathan Motta, the “guy” in the production team) and costumes all come together to make for a flawless staging.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  There was some complaining when it was announced that one of the offerings of the Key Bank Broadway series was going to be a local staging of a script that has been done by many community theatres. After seeing the CPH/PHSq production there should be little upset.  Steel Magnolias is a must see production that tells a life story with comedy and pathos!  Bravo!

Steel Magnolias has an extended run from May 21 to August 21, 2016 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Blank Canvas’s WILD PARTY, not a musical for everyone

THE WILD PARTY is a musical by Andrew Lippa, based on Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 narrative poem of the same name.

THE WILD PARTY is a musical by Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe based on the same poem.

Both versions of THE WILD PARTY opened during the 1999-2000 season, one on Broadway (the LaChiusa/Wolfe creation), the other off-Broadway (the Lippa conception).

The versions differ in format, but still contain the same story line of decadence, bathtub gin, uninhibited sexual behavior, and people who engender little reason to be liked.  The LaChiusa/Wolfe version is presented as a series of vaudeville acts.  Each segment is introduced by signs with titles of what each “act” will be performed.  The Lippa version is a more conventional theatrical story with a beginning, middle and end.

The Lippa version is now on stage at Blank Canvas.

The poem was a sensation.  It was considered so lascivious that it was banned in many places when it was published in 1928.  In spite of the shunning the poem was a success.  Ironically, the only success of March’s writing career.

The story centers on Queenie, a well known party giver and purveyor of bathtub gin and drugs, and her relationship with Burrs, a “clown” with a violent streak.  They live a decadent life style that March indicates was the way the “in” Hollywood crowd lived during the swinging 1920s, the era of prohibition, speakeasies, uninhibited sex, orgies, eccentricism, acceptance of various sexual life styles, and wild parties. 

During one of the parties, Mr. Black, a well-dressed, handsome, suave, seemingly wealthy man of impeccable manners appears.  Queenie falls hard for him, incites Burrs into a jealous rage, with a tragic outcome.

Broad characters fill the stage.  Besides Queenie (Trinidad Snider), Burrs (Patrick Ciamacco) and Mr. Black (Nathan Tolliver), there’s Kate (Neely Gevaart), Queenie’s supposed best friend who is having an affair with Burrs, Jackie  (Richie Gagen), an ambisextrous kid who has no gender preference for his sexual partners, Oscar (Justin Woody) and Phil (Kevin Kelly), gay brothers who are also lovers, Madelaine True (Kim Eskut), a lesbian stripper, and Eddie (Zac Hudak), a punch-drunk prizefighter.

According to the writer, the story is “about the masks we wear culturally and the removal of those masks over the course of the party [life].   Unfortunately, the characters illicit no reason to be liked.  They lead unproductive, rudderless lives, with seemingly no redemptive qualities.  They are self-centered to the degree that we really don’t care what happens to them.  There are no “good guys” to root for, no protagonists, only antagonists. 

The strength of the script lies in the jazz, soul and gospel music and the opportunity to incorporate some big dance and show-stopping numbers.   Unfortunately, due to the postage stamp size of the Blank Canvas stage, and the huge size of the cast, choreographer Katie Zarecki’s dance numbers often appear to be chaotic mash-ups.  Maybe sitting some of the cast down, and having fewer participate in the numbers, would have allowed for a better appreciation of the choreography.  Strong dancing was displayed in the show-stopping “Juggernaut” and “A Wild, Wild Party.”

Many of the cast have excellent singing voices.  Neely Gevaart, a Liza Minelli knock-off, does a great version of “Look at Me Now.”  She, along with Nathan Tolliver, Trinidad Snider and Patrick Ciamacco, blend well in “Poor Child.”  Ciamacco does a strong gospel/jazz version of “Let Me Drown.”  Kim Eskut effectively belted “An Old-Fashioned Love Story.” 

Many of the cast, as is often the case in a mainly neophyte group, feigns characterizations.  Acting what they think the person they are portraying would be, rather than being the person.  Actions are often fake, overdone, non-realistic.  To make the script work, the audience must buy into real people, in real ego-centric stress.

Patrick Ciamacco, he of well-tuned singing voice, created a Burr that was appropriately scary.  Nathan Tolliver is a fine vocalist, but in some instances pre-planned gestures and surface-level acting, distracted from his creating a real person out of Mr. Black.  Trinidad Snider was inconsistent in her vocal presentations, though she created a clear characterization as Queenie.

Personal Sidebar:  Hung on one of the walls of Burr’s apartment is a poster advertising one of his performances at “The Berko Theatre.”  Little does the set designer know that he has satisfied one of the few remaining items on my life’s bucket list, “having a theatre named after me.”  Thanks, Patrick! 

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  If watching decadence is your thing, you’ll probably be turned on by THE WILD PARTY.  If you prefer being in the presence of characters who have redeeming values so you can feel empathy, this is not going to be your show.  The cast, though some give surface level performances, generally display good singing voices and put out full effort.

Blank Canvas’s THE WILD PARTY runs though June 4, 2016 in its west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.  Get directions to the theatre on the website. 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 www.blankcanvasthetre.com

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Albee exorcises his demons in THREE TALL WOMEN at convergence continuum

Edward Albee’s THREE TALL WOMEN, a version of which is now on stage at convergence-continuum, has quite a pedigree.  In 1994 it won Best Play recognition from the Drama Critics Circle and the Outer Critics Circle, the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

THREE TALL WOMEN is classic Edward Albee.  The one-time wunderkind  of American existential theatre, his Theatre of the Absurd plays were the toast of the 1960s and 70s.  Besides asking, “why do we exist?,” and writing about the off-kilter ways that people operate, many of his personal topics and references were the center-point of his scripts.  He was at his best when he was exorcising his own demons.

Edward Albee was the adopted son of a wealthy movie/vaudeville theatre magnet.  What is now the Connor Palace, in Cleveland’s PlayhouseSquare, was one of his father’s film palaces.  Edward was raised with very conservative New England values.  When he came out to his parents as being gay, he was basically rejected. 

At eighteen, like the son in THREE TALL WOMEN, he left the Albee home, much in the same way that Beau does in the play, which has many of Edward’s  personal experiences chronicled in it. 

Albee is quoted as saying that the play “was a kind of exorcism.”  Unfortunately, he also admits, “I didn’t end up any more fond of the women after I finished it than when I started.”  Obviously, he wasn’t any fonder of his parents as a result of the exorcism, but it did put him back on track for recognition by the critics, many of whom had thought he had flamed out as his more recent plays were exercises in frustration, getting little praise.

The plot centers on the protagonist, a woman of more than 90-years-of-age, who reflects on her life.  A life that is filled with dealing with a mother who was controlling, of going off to the “city” and living with her sister, dating many men who desired her for being a tall attractive women, an explanation of her sexual pleasures, marrying a man for his money, and now living in a body which she has lost the ability to control.

She recalls the wonders of early marriage, her “penguin” husband’s affairs and death, and her banning and resulting estrangement from her son.

In the first act we meet A, the tall, thin, autocratic, wealthy old woman who appears to be in early stage-Alzheimer’s,  B, her mid-fifties caretaker,  and C, a younger woman, who has been sent in by the law firm hired to take care of A’s financial affairs.  A has not been paying bills, contends everyone is stealing from her, and is managing her estate in a state of psychological chaos. 

In the second act, as A lies inert, in bed, after suffering a stroke, we overhear a conversation with herself at three different ages.  The appearance of the shadow of the son, hovering over his dying mother, overlooks the interaction.

THREE TALL WOMEN premiered interestingly enough in Vienna, Austria in June, 1991.  It played off-Broadway for three months in 1994, then moved on-Broadway for a year-and-a-half run.

The script is a difficult one to produce.  Totally conversation, with will little stage movement or visual excitement, it requires three superb actress to grab and hold the audience’s attention.   It also requires a director who can create interest out of just a flow of words.

The con-con director (Tom Kondilas)  and cast give it a valiant try.  The end product is an acceptable, but not an exceptional staging. 

To make the play live the women must create finely textured performances that dig into each character’s motivations.  Of the three actresses, Lucy Bredeson-Smith creates the most consistent characterization as A.  Teresa McDonough (B) and Sarah Kunchik (C) are acceptable in their role development.

Beau Reinker (The Young Man), who is video recorded, and appears throughout the second act as a background image, hovering near or next to his comatose mother, becomes a distraction after a while.  The video loops the same actions and image, pausing at various points and then starting again.  Two other conundrums are the light and sound.  The illumination levels vary at times, with no seeming consistent purpose.  The background music adds nothing to setting mood or cue meaning.

Capsule Judgement:   For those who like the writing of Edward Albee, Theatre of the Absurd, and existentialism, this is an opportunity to experience one of his three Pulitzer Prize winning scripts.   They should be aware that the convergence continuum production of THREE TALL WOMEN is an acceptable, but not an exceptional staging of the work.

THREE TALL WOMEN runs through June 11, 2016, 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 or go to http://www.convergence-continuum.org

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

GLT’s THE FANTASTICKS is a pleasant experience

THE FANTASTICKS, the Tom Jones (book and lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music) musical holds the honor of being “the only Off-Broadway show to have won a Tony.”  In addition, the show, which has been playing in New York for 56 years, is also the longest running theatrical production in American theater history.

“During its original run at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village, THE FANTASTICKS logged a record breaking 17,162 performances.”  In 2002 a New York revival opened at The Theater Center and continues to run.

The musical even has had a Cleveland connection.  In 1991, native Clevelander and Baldwin Wallace University grad Rex Nockengust, played one of the leading roles (Matt) in the New York production.

The memorable score includes such classics as, “Try to Remember,” “I Can See It,” “They Were You,” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain.”  The popularity of the music was obvious during a recent production of the show at Great Lakes Theater when audience members were heard humming along with the on-stage performers.

THE FANTASTICKS tells the story of a young man, Matt, and Luisa, the girl next door, whose fathers have built a wall to keep them apart. The youngsters nevertheless contrive to meet and fall in love. Their fathers, meanwhile, are congratulating themselves, for they have staged a feud in order to achieve, by negation, a marriage between their willfully disobedient children.  Add some comic actors (Henry and Mortimer) and The Mute, an omnipresent character who sets props and plays the wall, and you have the ingredients of a charming musical with a message about life.

The script asks the audience to use their imagination and try to remember such things as falling in love, enjoying a night filled with moonlight and romance, to understand disillusionment and romance, to realize that love can be false, and to gain the insight that through understanding the harshness of the world, individuals can come to understand themselves and each other.

GLT’s production, under the directorship of Victoria Bussert, is a pleasant evening of theater.   I wish that the “Round and Round” segment of the show, which develops Jones and Schmidt’s plea for self-understanding, had been more dramatically presented.  Part of the problem was the set design which placed the scene far from the apron of the stage and high above the audience, so that the tension was not evident.  The various segments need to shock Louisa more so that the intent of Matt’s suffering emotionally shakes her.

Clare Howes Eisentrout was charming as Louisa, the typical teenage girl, in love with love and chasing unrealistic dreams.  She has a lovely singing voice.  Her duets with Pedar Benson Bate (Matt) are nicely presented.  Especially endearing is “They Were You.”  Bate lacked some of the charm needed for Matt, but nicely  developed the basics of the character. 

Matt and Louisa’s fathers, (Hucklebee) Lynn Robert Berg and (Mortimer) Jeffrey C. Hawkins, delightfully sang and acted their roles and were properly klutzy in their dancing.   Their duets, “Never Say No” and “Plant a Radish” were endearing.

Jeffrey C. Hawkins stole the show as Mortimer.  His extended “dying” scenes were amusing.  Aled Davies was wonderfully pompous as Henry, the over-the-hill Shakespearean actor who couldn’t remember his lines, while over-doing their presentation.

Meredith Lark carried out the duties of the Mute with meaningful purposefulness.

Michael Padgett has a fine singing voice, but lacked the needed charisma and sexual presence to develop the sensual El Gallo.  His duet with Pedar Bate, “”I Can See It,” was well done.

Musical director Matthew Webb and Sara Smith proficiently played the piano score, but the sound system made the instrument sound shrill and pounding.

Capsule judgement:  THE FANTASTICKS is a charming show with a fine score which has a meaningful message.  It is a script which looks easy to direct and stage, but its depth is deceiving.  The Great Lakes Theater’s production should be well received by audiences.

THE FANTASTICKS runs through May 29, 2016 at the Hanna Theatre.  For tickets: 216-664-6064 or www.greatlakestheater.org

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

2016 Summer Cleveland Theater Calendar

Though it seems like it will never be here, there will be summer and the Cleveland theater scene will heat up.  Here’s a list of some of the offerings that are being staged. 

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

TINTYPES, May 19-June 19—The great American songbook comes to life in this musical review of popular songs from 1890 to 1917, including “Meet Me In St. Louis” and “Yankee Doodle Boy.”

216-521-2540 or http://www.beckcenter.org
8 p.m. evenings, 3 p.m. matinees

HEATHERS THE MUSICAL, May 27-July 2—Based on the 1989 film, it’s the musical tale of a teenage misfit who hustles her way into The Heathers, the most powerful clique in her high school, and falls in love with a dangerously sexy new kid.

BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL, July 8-August 14—Based on the 2000 Academy Award nominated film and the 2009 winner of 10 Tony Awards, it’s the story of a young boy in a depressed mining town in England, who discovers his extraordinary gift for ballet, and gets admitted to the prestigious Royal Ballet School.


440-941-0458 or www.blankcanvastheatre.com

THE WILD PARTY, May 20-June 4—A decadent musical filled with jazz blues, gospel and Tin Pan Alley, which remind us that no party lasts forever.

216-371-3000 or http://www.cainpark.com

THE TOXIC AVENGER, June 2-26—(Alma Theater)—Thursdays-Saturday @ 7, Sundays @ 2—A charming but toxic love story, with an environmental twist, which won the Award for Best Off-Broadway musical, about New Jersey’s first superhero (a seven-foot mutant freak with superhuman strength and a heart as big as Newark.

OPEN A NEW WINDOW:  THE SONGS OF JERRY HERMAN, July 21, 7 PM, presented by the Musical Theatre Project.

FOR GOOD:  THE NEW GENERATION OF MUSICALS, August 4, 2016, 7 PM, presented by the Musical Theatre Project.


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

LINES IN THE DUST, June 2-18, 7 PM--Thu/Fri/Sat/Mon in the refurbished James Levin Theatre, is a new work centering on a mother who is determined to find a way for her teenage daughter to escape their impoverished inner city school and get the education she deserves.


Free admission. 

KING RICHARD THE SECOND—presented at numerous settings, the adapted Shakespeare classic opens on June 17 at Peace Park, Coventry Park Neighborhood, Cleveland Heights.  For additional times and places go to http://www.cleveshakes.com

THE TEMPEST, an adapted version of the Shakespeare comedy, opens Friday July 22 at Peace Park and runs through August 7 at various locations.  For additional times and places go to http://www.cleveshakes.com

convergence continuum

convergence-continiuum.org or 216-687-0074
Thursday-Saturday @ 8

HARBOR, July 8-30, the story of two newlyweds, Kevin and Ted, living in tranquil affluent domesticity, until Kent’s vagabond, pothead sister and her 15-year-old daughter show up.

SELFIES AT THE CLOWN MOTEL, August 26-September 26, clowns can be funny, sad and sometimes scary, and in this world-premiere production, they can also be human.

Hall Auditorium, 67 N. Main Street, Oberlin
Free admission, reservations requested—440-775-8169
For details and dates go to  www.oberlinsummertheaterfestival.com

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, June 24-July 31—An aging brother and sister request an orphanage send a boy to help on theie farm.  A mix-up results and a romantic, hot-headed 11-year-old girl is sent.  The results are startling and charming.

MACBETH, July 1-30—A Shakespeare classic which chronicles the moral descent of a notable Scottish warrior driven by ambition.

INHERIT THE WIND, July 8-30—A gripping award-winning script by Cleveland Height’s native Jerome Lawrence and Elyria’s Robert Edwin Lee, that follows the events surrounding a young high-school teacher who is arrested for teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. 


Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens (outdoor performances)
714 N. Portage Path, Akron

THE TEMPEST, Shakespeare’s magical comedy about a wizard and his daughter exiled onto an enchanted desert island filled with air spirits and mutant monsters.
July 1-17, for performance information go to: http://www.ohioshakespearefestival.com/

ROBIN HOOD:  AN ADVENTURE, WITH MUSIC, an original musical family show about Robin, Marian and the Merry Men.
July 21-24 for performance information go to: http://www.ohioshakespearefestival.com/

MACBETH, considered one of Shakespeare’s best tragedies, it tells the fictional story of a Scottish lord who might be king but the price he must pay is dreadful.  Filled with witches and war.
August 5-21, for performance information go to: http://www.ohioshakespearefestival.com/


216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org
See the website for specific dates and times

STEEL MAGNOLIAS, Allen Theatre, May 29-August 21, it’s the 1980s in Louisiana at Truvy’s Beauty Shop where “There is no such thing as natural beauty.”  A story of love, loss and enduring friendship produced by the Cleveland Play House as part of the Key Bank Broadway Series.

PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, June 15-July 10, the return of the longest running Broadway musical in a new production featuring reconceived special effects, scenery and lighting designs, but the same marvelous story and musical score.

KINKY BOOTS, August 23-28, winner of six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, it’s the inspirational story of a struggling shoe factory owner, who, with the help of the fabulous Lola, changes the world of shoes and lives of many.  Music by Cyndi Lauper.

TAKE A HIKE TOURS, FREE--every Thursday at 6 PM, from May 19-September 15,  90-minute walking tours of the Playhouse Square District, with actors portraying important historic Clevelanders from the neighborhood.

Broadway Buzz—One-hour before each major Broadway touring show, host Joe Garry gives the inside scoop about each show in the Idea Center @ Playhouse Square (1375 Euclid).  Free admission.  For the complete schedule go to  http://www.playhousesquare.org


http://www.porthousetheatre.com or 330-929-4416 or 330-672-3884

SISTER ACT, June 16-July 2—When nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier witnesses a murder, she ends up in protective custody, posing as a nun!  What follows is a musical delight!

RING OF FIRE, July 7-23—The music legend Johnny Cash comes to life in this Jukebox musical that weaves a story of some of America’s best know songs.

FOOTLOOSE, July 28-August 14—Based on the hit movie with Kevin Bacon, finds high school student Ren moving from Chicago to a rural town.  That place will never be the same!

 (productions staged in review format with narration)
see:  CAIN PARK listing

Monday, May 16, 2016

The bright lights of Broadway as seen by a Cleveland reviewer

Several times a year I go to review what’s on stage on Broadway.  This spring, right at the time the Tony Award nominations were being announced, I had the chance to see some excellent offerings. 

Of course, seeing local talent on stages on the Big White Way adds to the excitement.   During the last season about twenty Baldwin Wallace University grads, which recently was named as the second best musical theatre program in the country, were appearing in the Big Apple.  The shows I saw included Anthony Sagarha in AMERICAN PSYCHO and Cassie Okenka in SCHOOL OF ROCK.  Not to be outdone, Kent State grad Alice Ripley was in AMERICAN PSYCHO.

Here are capsule judgments of four new shows.  To read the whole review of each, go to http://www.royberkinfo.blogspot.com/, scroll down to find the individual columns.

Where:  Winter Garden, 1634 Broadway
When:  Open run

Capsule judgment:  SCHOOL OF ROCK is a fun-filled show with a nice moral.  The music rocks.  The cast entertains.  It’s the kind of show that audiences love, will do well as it tours the country, and should have a long Broadway life!

What:  AMERICAN PSYCHO, the musical
Where:  Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street
When:  Open run

Capsule judgment:  AMERICAN PSYCHO the musical, like the book and film, will incite waves of avid fans, as well as naysayers.  It’s going to get standing ovations and intermission walk-outs.  Whatever the attitude, it’s clear that Benjamin Walker’s portrayal of Bateman is top notch, the rocking score is enervating, and the multiple hard bodies on the stage are works of art in their own way. And, the question stands…is what goes on on the stage, fact or fiction, allegory or reality?  Is it a statement on America or just an excuse for gore and fun?

Where:  Manhattan Theatre Club, Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
    261 W. 47th Street
When:  Through June 11, 2016

Capsule judgment:  Florian Zeller’s THE FATHER is a compelling and heart-breaking script that exposes two sides of the mental aging and deterioration process.  The production is exceptionally well-conceived and performed.  In spite of humorous interludes, some may find the play almost too emotionally charged.  That being said, the production is a must see for anyone, as sooner or later they may well be the caretaker of an André, or an André, themselves.

What:  TUCK EVERLASTING, the musical
Where:  Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street
When:  Open run

Capsule judgment:  TUCK EVERYLASTING is a fable of Americana that may be too gentle for New York critics and audiences, but should be a major hit with the family-oriented audiences that make up the Broadway series tours in the hinterlands.  This is a well-conceived production, with hummable folk music, and a charming tale.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Broadway’s SCHOOL OF ROCK is a fun-filled rocking show with a moral!

What happens when a musical film earns over $131-million on a $35-million dollar investment?  If you are Andrew Lloyd Webber, you buy the rights and turn it into the Broadway musical SCHOOL OF ROCK with lyrics by Glenn Slater and book by Julian Fellowes.  Yes, the same Julian Fellows, Baron Fellowes of West Stafford, to be exact, who wrote, created and produced the television mega-hit “Downton Abbey.”

What happens when you take a dynamic, totally uninhibited actor who uses the stage as his playroom, add a bunch of adorably geeky fifth-graders who are singing, dancing and musical instrument playing phenoms, and add to the mix the rock musical sounds of Andrew Lloyd Webber?  The combination becomes SCHOOL OF ROCK.

In contrast to his usual scheme of things, Britain’s Webber opened the show in New York rather than in London.  Why?  Child labor laws are more relaxed in the United States than in England.  In addition, the subject matter better fit Broadway than London’s West End.  But, most importantly, the American schools “produce the sort of kids required to actually perform the show.” 

The task of finding the 13 kids and their understudies and standbys was daunting.  The search for the nine-to-fifteen year olds, started in January, 2015, eleven months before the show opened on Broadway.  Recruitment took place at the various School of Rock after-school educational programs which sprung up after the film’s success.  Open calls were also held in New York, as well as Chicago and Los Angeles.  The result is a dynamic and talented stage full of awesome child performers.

So, what’s it all about?  As was the film, the plot centers on rock singer/guitarist Dewey Finn. There is, however, a lot more emphasis on the kids and their parents, than in the film, which was basically a vehicle for comedian Jack Black.

The musical starts with a performance by the No Vacancy band.  Finn, who has an ADD-type personality, has difficulty pulling back his exuberance and keeps upstaging the lead performer.  Enough is enough, and he is kicked out of the group.

With no income, he moves in with and mooches off Ned, his long-time easily manipulated college band buddy, and part-time teacher, much to the irritation of Patty, Ned’s domineering girl friend. 

When a call comes for Ned to substitute at Horace Green, a prestigious prep school, Dewey sees a chance for some much needed money by posing as Ned. Despite the doubts of Rosalie, the uptight principal, he gets the gig.

The kids are wary of him, especially the uber-organized, brainiac Summer.  He also has to confront the problems of Tomika, the extremely shy daughter of gay men, who turns out to be a superstar singer; Zack, the son of an uptight businessman who doesn’t realize his son is a musical prodigy; Lawrence, who has no confidence, but is a keyboard wizard; Freddy, who everyone thinks is intellectually slow, but once he gets a pair of drum sticks in his hand, he shows how talented he really is; Billy, who is flamboyant, has an interest in fashion design, but is not appreciated by his macho father.  Each of the other kids has untapped talent which the creative Dewey brings out through non-traditional means.

Dewey decides to enter them in the Battle of the Bands.  They get to the tryouts after sneaking out of school, but they are too late to play.  Summer tells the casting director that all the children have “stickittothemanis,” pleads for some mercy, and the heartbroken manager lets the kids perform.  Of course, they get into the competition.

What follows is a series of manipulations, implausible coincidences, and some out and out stretching of dramatic license.  The result?  Farce and hysteria run wild and the audience has one heck of a good time.

Do they win the Battle of the Bands?  That’s not important.  What is significant, is that Dewey and the kids find love and self-respect.

The musical score, though it includes iconic songs from the film, adds many well-crafted additional theatrical melodies.  Among the show stoppers are, “You’re in the Band,” “Stick it to the Man,” “In the End of Time,” “Math is a Wonderful Time,” and “School of Rock.”  Throw in “If Only You Would Listen” and “Time to Play,” and you have the makings of a great score.

The cast is excellent.  Among the adults, Alex Brightman lights up the stage each time he opens his mouth or jumps, slides or leaps.  His uninhibited, tender-at-times performance, is wonderful.  Sierra Boggess is properly uptight as Principal Mullins.  Spencer Moses nicely creates an awkward, hen-pecked Ned, yearning to put on skin-tight banger-leather pants and let loose.  

Cleveland area alert:  Baldwin Wallace University grad, Cassie Okenka is in the adult ensemble and understudies the role of Patty, Ned’s bad-tempered girl friend.

All of the kids are excellent, with special bows to Isabella Russo (Summer), Raghav Mehrotra (Freddy), a stand-in at the performance I saw, and Luca Padovan (Billy).  Bobbi Mackenzie’s belting rendition of “Amazing Grace” stopped the show.

Director Laurence Connor has molded together a cast of kids and adults, created the right attitude for the farcical staging, and hit the right emotional notes. 

JoAnn M. Hunter’s choreography is creative.  Ethan Popp’s music supervision, incorporating the kids on-stage musical performances with the pit orchestra, was well done.

Capsule judgment:  SCHOOL OF ROCK is a fun-filled show with a nice moral base.  The music rocks.  The cast entertains.  It’s the kind of show that audiences love, will do well as it tours the country, and should have a long Broadway life!
Where:  Winter Garden, 1634 Broadway
When:  Open run

AMERICAN PSYCHO, a statement about present day America or an excuse for gore and fun?

As the lights come up on AMERICAN PSYCHO, THE MUSICAL, standing center stage is Benjamin Walker, who introduces himself as Patrick Bateman. The time is the late 1980s, during the Wall Street boom. 

Walker, stands in a pair of tightie-whities, his zero-fat, sculpted body on display.  (To the pleasure of many, the exposure will continue through much of the show.)

Bateman explains that he can do 1000 stomach crunches, uses deep pore cleanser lotion, water activated shower gel, honey almond scrub and an exfoliating gel scrub, and never uses alcohol on his face as it dries it out.  He finishes his daily personal routine with a moisturizer and an anti-aging eye balm. 

Yes, this is Patrick Bateman, wealthy New York banker, whose life centers on high fashioned suits. (We are advised in a full-page ad in the show’s “Playbill”  that Walker’s are by MR PORTER, “the men’s style destination.” Ditto for all the male cast’s wardrobes.) 

Also important for Bateman is being able to get a reservation at the “in” restaurant.  He has to have the perfect business card and gets upset when a co-worker’s card is “better” than his (e.g., the cards of Paul Allen.  But, more of him later). 

He has an eye candy, wealthy fiancé whom he dislikes, but who fulfills the requirement of being the desirable image he requires. 

His luxury apartment has all the “right” furniture, art and accessories. 

Bateman is “blood, flesh, skin, hair, but has not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust.” 

He also is a man with  inexplicable needs, including a nightly bloodlust.  He’s a psycho, an American psycho.  Or, is he???

Bateman lures people, such as Paul Allen, to his apartment, downs a clear high-end plastic raincoat, and proceeds to decapitate Allen with an ax, produced by the “best” tool company.  Or, did he use an electric sword?  So many instruments of destruction are used to kill off prostitutes and errant others that, after a while, who can remember.

Oh, back to Paul Allen.  Bateman disposes of his body, goes to Paul’s apartment to stage a plausible exit scenario including recording a message on the answering machine (a machine of the highest quality, of course) indicating that the occupant has gone off to London.

After killing off his prey, while partying, Bateman, an espoused social liberal, raves that apartheid needs to end, that there needs to be a slowing down of the nuclear arms race, that terrorism has to stop, and world hunger must be eradicated.  Food and shelter must be provided for the homeless, racial discrimination needs to be ended and civil rights must be promoted, as well as gay rights and women’s equality.  And, of course, there must be promotion of general social concern and less materialism in young people.  Yes, less materialism.  All said with a straight face.  (Oh, come on now.)

Bateman explains that “there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our life styles are probably comparable:  I simply am not here.”

Bateman, in confessing his “crimes” to a detective in a recorded phone message, states, “All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference toward it, I have now surpassed. I still, though, hold on to one single bleak truth: no one is safe, nothing is redeemed. Yet I am blameless. Each model of human behavior must be assumed to have some validity. Is evil something you are? Or is it something you do?”

The bottom line in this gory, yet illuminating musical, is whether Bateman, and his Wall Street ilk are an illusion, a delusion, an allegory, a fable, a metaphor, or a true story.  The writer doesn’t give an answer.  He only presents the tale.  He leaves it up to the audience to decide whether the horror is real, a figment of our imaginations, or a series of symbols of the decadence and value system of the American world in which we find ourselves.

The beating hard rock musical score is filled with symbolic songs such as, “Selling Out,” “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “You Are What You Wear,” “True Faith,” “Hardbody,” “Hip to be Square,” “This Is Not an Exit.”

Benjamin Walker is the stereotype of the tall, dark, handsome, perfectly coiffed Broadway leading man.  He has a strong singing voice, moves with ease, and acts very convincingly.  He is spooky in his Bateman creation!

Kent State University graduate, Alice Ripley, portrays three roles…Svetlana, Mrs. Bateman and Mrs. Wolfe, but the very talented Tony Winner for NEXT TO NORMAL, is basically wasted in the roles.

Also in the cast is Anthony Sagarha, a graduate of Baldwin Wallace University’s Musical Theatre program which was recently recognized as the number two program of its kind in the country.

The cast, which appears to have been picked at tryouts at the New York Athletic Club, all have four-pack abs, some 6- or 8-packs, and surprisingly, can all perform with high level proficiency.  This is probably the most studly assembly of talented singers, dancers and actors ever brought together on a Broadway stage. 

Es Devlin’s ultra-modern scenic design is attitude correct and deserves kudos for the creative way it protects the audience from blood spatters during Bateman’s attack-mode escapades.  Finn Ross’s projections help add to the visual horror.

AMERICAN PSYCHO the musical originally opened in London in 2013, with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik and book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, based on Bret Easton Ellis’s controversial 1991 novel of the same name.  A 2000 cult film devised from the book starred Christian Bale.

Capsule judgment:  AMERICAN PSYCHO the musical, like the book and film, will incite waves of avid fans, as well as naysayers.  It’s going to get standing ovations and intermission walk-outs.  Whatever the attitude, it’s clear that Benjamin Walker’s portrayal of Bateman is top notch, the rocking score is enervating, and the multiple hard bodies on the stage are works of art in their own way. And, the question stands…is what goes on on the stage, fact or fiction, allegory or reality?  Is it a statement on America or just an excuse for gore and fun?
What:  AMERICAN PSYCHO, the musical
Where:  Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street
Run:  Open


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Broadway’s THE FATHER—beautifully conceived, unnerving drama at its finest

Any of us who work in mental health, or those who live with individuals who suffer from dementia, early on-set or advanced Alzheimer’s, know the horrors of the disease.   Watching someone whose cognition fades in and out, and then is functionally gone, is an emotionally gripping experience. 

No one really knows what it is like to be inside the head of a person who is losing and then has lost cognition.  THE FATHER is an attempt to experience the disease from that perspective!

Florian Zeller has fashioned THE FATHER into a work of art of the highest form.  The Broadway production, with translation by Christopher Hampton from the original French, is the stuff of which great theater is made.  Add the focused direction of Doug Hughes, and the superb acting of Frank Langella, and the result is drama at its finest.

The 37-year old Zeller is a multi-award winning French novelist and playwright.  Among his honors is the receipt of the Moliere for Best Play, considered to be his country’s highest theatrical writing honor.  One of the most exciting new theatre writers of our era, he is a master of writing easily understood language and tends to explore relationships in his literary creations. 

His black comedy, THE FATHER, entices the audience to laugh at that which is terrifyingly sad, the deterioration of a strong willed, brilliant mind.  Yet, in spite of the horror, we are enticed to laugh.  The audience sees what André sees, hears what André hears, and is never quite sure if what we are seeing or hearing is accurate.  There is always the danger that, like André, we will miss something, lose something, be unaware of what is going on.  It’s terrifying.

Wandering around much of the play in pajamas, splitting time between an apartment which may or may not be his, or that of his daughter or his daughter’s lover, and then in a place with only a hospital bed in the void of a room, André plods through life. 

André is sweetly eccentric, also frustrated and violent, confused, unclear about why his youngest daughter, who is his favorite, never comes to visit.  He is offensive to Anne, his care-taker daughter, who may or may not, be putting her life on hold for him.  He verbally and physically attacks caretakers, who quit in frustration and exasperation. 

André tap dances for a potential caretaker who he also flirts with, yet can’t remember who she is the next day when she appears for work.  He hides his watch to protect it from being “stolen,” can’t find it, then accuses people of stealing it.  He contends that everyone is losing their “marbles” except himself.

Frank Langella gives us an André who is absorbing, arresting, and compelling.  He is so much André that there isn’t a hint of acting.  Langella is André, André is Langella, and we are the captives, living in a dark world of the auditorium, who must observe André’s few moments of lucidness and many minutes of confusion and disbelief.

The rest of the cast, Kathryn Erbe as his daughter Anne, Charles Borland (Man), Kathleen McNenny (Woman), Hannah Cabell (Laura) and Brian Avers (Pierre), are all completely real in their characterizations.

Performed without an intermission, the ninety absorbing minutes zoom right by.  There is no time for minds to wander or ask what is going on.  Director Doug Hughes assures that the journey from start to finish is absorbing.

Scott Pask’s high end condo set is detail perfect.  Donald Holder’s startling lighting and Fitz Patton’s mood creating original music add to the over-all quality of the production.

Capsule judgment:  Florian Zeller’s THE FATHER is a compelling and heart-breaking script that exposes two sides of the mental aging and deterioration process.  The production is exceptionally well-conceived and performed.  In spite of humorous interludes, some may find the play almost too emotionally charged.  That being said, the production is a must see for anyone, as sooner or later they may well be the caretaker of an André, or an André, themselves.

Where:  Manhattan Theatre Club, Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
    261 W. 47th Street
Run:  Through June 11, 2016

Broadway's TUCK EVERLASTING, a charming fantasy with a lovely score

The matinee performance of TUCK EVERLASTING was mainly populated by middle school students on graduation trips, as evidenced by their “class of 2016” matching t-shirts.  Based on their reactions, they were quite familiar with Natalie Babbitt’s children’s novel, on which the Chris Miller (music), Nathan Tysen (lyrics) and Claudia Shear and Tim Federle (book) is based.

The tale centers mainly on eleven year-old Winnie Foster, who lives with her recently widowed mother and grandmother in the rural town of Treegap.   Winnie is frustrated with the restrictions placed on her by her hovering mother.  She isn’t even allowed to go to the town’s carnival. 

She decides to run away from home.  Well, at least wander in the wooded area her family owns.  While there, she sees a boy who appears to be about 17 drinking from a spring.  He reveals that he is Jesse Tuck, and accidentally reveals that when his parents and brother, Miles, came to the area many, many years ago, they each drank from that very spring, and turned into the Tucks, everlasting.  The Tucks had been blessed, or cursed, with eternal life. 

In order to avoid drawing suspicion, Jesse and Miles go away from Treegap and return every ten years to see their parents and drink again from the spring. 

Jesse bring Winnie to the Tuck home.  Winnie falls in love with Jesse and comes to think of Angus, Jesse’s father, as a substitute for her dad.

Jesse takes Winnie to the fair, where a man in a yellow suit overhears them discussing the miracle of everlasting life, finds that the girl is staying at the Tuck homestead, goes to her home and makes a deal with Winnie’s mother that for revealing the whereabouts of her daughter, he will be given the deed to the area where the spring is located.

Questions abound.  Will the man in the yellow suit get his desire for eternal life and riches from selling the spring water?  Will Angus be reunited with his son, who was taken away from him by his wife?  Will Jesse and Winnie join together forever?  And, what will become of the toad who was given some of the magic spring water by Winnie? 

The teen-filled audience knew the answers, but, besides them, only those who see the musical or read Babbitt’s novel will know the outcome of TUCK EVERLASTING.

The gentle musical is filled with pretty music, an obvious but satisfying tale, and a glorious extended end-of-production ballet, which wordlessly conveys the circle of life.

The cast is universally strong.  Eleven year-old Sarah Charles Lewis enchants as Winnie.  She has a strong singing voice, remarkable stage presence for one so young, and commands the stage with her spunk. 

Andrew Keenan-Bolger has an old-man presence contained in his young man looks.  It perfectly fits the role of the impish Jesse.  He has a fine singing voice and is totally realistic in his portrayal.

Carolee Carmello creates the right motherly image as Mae Tuck, while Michael Park is fatherly humorous as Angus.  Robert Lenzi has the right tortured sound and look as Jesse’s brother, who has lost both the love of his life and his child because of the curse/miracle of everlasting life.

Christopher Gurr skillfully stood in as the villainous Man in the Yellow Suit at the performance I attended.  He was so proficient that when he came out for the curtain call, the audience actually booed him.

The recently announced Tony nominations recognized the production with only one citation, that for Gregg Barnes for his costume design.  It is surprising that Sarah Charles Lewis, in her Broadway debut in the role of Winnie, and director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw, for creating an enchanting extended ballet, was not recognized.  Chris Miller’s gentle folk music score also was worth acknowledgment.

Part of the problem with the Tony voters and this show is that they may not have appreciated an “old fashioned” staging that doesn’t have pounding mod music, an outlandish story, startling electronics, and overblown sets. 

Though the production may not have an extremely long Broadway run, the show would do well in the hinterlands.  It can only be hoped that the producers of TUCK EVERLASTING will recognize the potential of touring the show as there are millions of tweens who will adore the production, as they did the Babbitt’s original book.

Capsule judgment:  TUCK EVERYLASTING is a fable of Americana that may be too gentle for New York critics and audiences, but should be a major hit with the family-oriented audiences that make up the Broadway series tours in the hinterlands.  This is a well-conceived production, with hummable folk music, and a charming tale.

What:  TUCK EVERLASTING, the musical
Where:  Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street
When:  Open run

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Insightful, thought stimulating WRESTLING JERUSALEM captivates at CPT

Shortly into WRESTLING JERUSALEM, Aaron Davidman’s self-written and performed one-man play, now on stage at the newly remodeled James Levin Theatre at Cleveland Public Theatre, Davidman tells a joke.  A joke which is, in actuality, not funny, but very sad and prophetic.

A Rabbi and a bartender are having a conversation.  The bartender says, “Rabbi, where’ve you been this morning?”  The Rabbi replies, “Where I go every morning.  To pray at the Western Wall.”  The bartender asks, “How long have you been praying in the morning at the Wall?”  The response, “Every day for forty years.”  The next question, “Rabbi, what do you pray for every day for forty years?”  The reply, “I pray that there should be peace between the Jews and the Arabs.  That all the fighting should stop.  And that our children should grow up in safety and friendship.”  The bartender states, “Rabbi, I’m impressed by your dedication and commitment, but I have to ask, after 40 years of these prayers, how do you feel?”  The response:  “How do I feel?  I feel like I’m talking to a fucking wall!”

Yes, after forty years of attempted negotiations, cease fires, rocket attacks, army curfews, building a wall, thwarted peace talks, arrests, rock throwing, prisoner exchanges, and the giving of land for peace, there is no peace in Israel/Palestine.   And, to make it worse, there is seemingly no chance or any hope that “our children will grow up in safety and friendship.”

Both sides are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The Jews, many who suffered the horrors of concentration camps and displacement, who finally came to “the land of milk and honey,” only to be involved in a conflict when the United Nations voted for the establishment of the State of Israel and the Arab nations attacked, are still involved in stress and possible death, and their children, who, never having lived in a time of peace, are shell shocked.   This is no way to live!

The Arabs were displaced from what they consider their “homes” and basically ignored by most of their brethren in the Arab world.  They, too, have known no peace and live with frustration, constant surveillance, and the lack of ability to govern themselves.  This is no way to live!

Throughout WRESTLING JERUSALEM, Davidman, who plays 17 parts, males and females, Jews and Palestinians, Americans and Brits, probes into the causes confronted in hammering out a lasting peace, or at least acceptance of one for another.

Performed before an abstract painted backdrop, textures suggesting the layered landscape of the Middle East, accented by golden sunlight, blood red slashes of light, storm clouds and a few moments of quiet calm, the bare stage takes on various places and fields of feeling. 

The use of music and light help designate who is speaking, and spans time and space.  Vocal inflections and accents, dialect and language, dance and song all incorporate to create a tableau of meaning, challenges, conflicts, and people.

A social science principle states that, “we are the sum total of our cultures.”  Our cultures—nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and race, all form the tableau of each of us.  The us of us. 

Throughout WRESTLING JERUSALEM, Davidman highlights how our similarities and difference create the tapestry of our “us.”  And the “us,” in Israel/Palestine, leads to stress, disagreement, perceptual differences and conflict!

Sadly, the play is built on divisiveness and though it sheds light on the issues, it cannot give us a solution to the “tzuras,” the pain and suffering, that is caused by the cultural differences between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Muslims.  And, for this, the whole world suffers.

Davidman is brilliant in his portrayals.  He prays, sings, dances, mimes and creates real beings.  Unfortunately, at times, he gets so conversationally quiet and turns his back to the audience, that he can’t be heard by those in the rear of the theatre.

Aaron Davidman is touring the country doing WRESTLING JERUSALEM.  According to the program notes, he will possibly be making additional presentations in the Cleveland area.  It might be suggested, if that happens, that following the production, a short panel discussion, featuring both Jewish and Palestinian participants, be assembled to discuss the play and its implications.

Capsule judgement: Raymond Bobgan, the Executive Artistic Director of CPT states in his program notes, “Here at CPT, we truly believe art has a role to play in raising consciousness and nurturing compassion, in reckoning with some of the most challenging, personal and complex issues of our time.”  His selection of WRESTLING JERUSALEM, a thought-provoking, well written, compelling and well-performed piece of theater fulfills his beliefs.  This is a must see experience for people, no matter their cultural backgrounds.

WRESTLING JERUSALEM runs through May 22, 2016 at Cleveland Public Theatre Thu/Fri/Sat/Mon @ 7pm,  Sun @3.  (The show runs 90 minutes without an intermission.)  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org.

Friday, May 06, 2016

MATILDA, not everything it is cracked up to be at the State Theatre

Matilda Wormwood is a precocious five-year old who loves to read and has the ability to perform telekinesis.  She also likes to meet life’s obstacles.  She comes from a family in which her father wanted a male child, so he calls her “boy,” has a mother who didn’t know she was pregnant and when Matilda came along was irritated because it interfered with Mrs. Wormwood entering dancing competitions and carrying on an affair with her dance instructor, and whose fellow students think she is odd because she likes school and knows all the answers.

Matilda is the central character in the children’s novel by Roald Dahl, which carries her name, and is the basis for MATILDA, THE MUSICAL, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and book by Dennis Kelly.

The musical has a charming young heroine, a bunch of adorable kids, three villains, (mom, dad and Miss Trunchbull, the nasty principal), a charming teacher (Miss Honey), a fun librarian (Mrs. Phelps) and lots of singing and dancing.  What’s not to like?

Listening to conversations in the lobby of the State Theatre at intermission on the second night of the local run, it became obvious that there was a lot to not like!  Comments overheard included, “I can’t understand the kids.”  “The accents are overdone.”  “The sound system makes everything sound like high-pitched mush.”  “The band drowned out the actors.”  “I don’t remember a single song from the first act.”  “There are no big showstoppers.”  These comments were made by those who stayed.  There’s no accounting for the motives of those who ran for the exits at the interval, never to return.  (Our row and that in front, had lost about a third of its occupants when the curtain rose for the second act.)

If those who left would have stuck around they would have experienced the dynamic song and dance number, “Revolting Children,” and the tender, “My House” sung by Jennifer Blood (Miss Honey.)  But, for many, it was much too late.

When I saw MATILDA, THE MUSICAL in London, I left with somewhat the same feeling as I did this time.  I simply don’t know what the British, and then the Broadway reviewers saw in this show that garnered it such widespread critical acclaim.  The show holds the record for the most Olivier Awards (the English equivalent of the Tony) for a musical.  The production was awarded five 2013 Tony Awards, including Best Book for a Musical.  (I can’t believe it won over KINKY BOOTS.)

The story follows Matilda, from birth, as an unwanted and unloved child, to age five.  By this time she had learned to escape her existence by reading books and making up stories which she shares with Mrs. Phelps, the local librarian.  She goes off to school expecting better things, but the kids are put off by her “know it all presence.”  Her teacher, Miss Honey, loves her.  The school principal, Miss Trunchbull, a former Olympian athlete, hates her for being everything she is not.  (Well, to be exact, “everything he is not” as the role is played by cross-dressing David Abeles.)

But, true to all happy ever-after children’s tales, in the end, Miss Honey, who has been swindled out of her inheritance, gets her well-deserved house and possessions back, Matilda gets to live with Miss Honey, and all is well in the world.

Sarah McKinley Austin, who portrayed Matilda the night I saw the show (there are three girls who trade the role) was delightful.  She looked and had the right attitude for Matilda.  She has a nice singing voice and excellent stage presence.

Jennifer Blood was properly compassionate as Miss Honey.  Her rendition of “My House” was emotionally charged.

Cassie Silva and Quinn Mattfeld were properly obnoxious as Matilda’s parents.

David Abeles could have been even more expansive as the dislikable Miss Trunchbull, which would have added much needed humor to the production.

Ryan Christopher Dever was adorable as the troublemaking Bruce.

BTW…there were many very young kids at the production.  This is really not a kids show…much too talky, not enough farcical stuff, and a story line that may be too complicated for the young ‘uns.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The touring production of MATILDA,THE MUSICAL follows the production and staging of the London and Broadway productions.  If only the sound system was better, the kids weren’t screeching in high pitched overly accented British pronunciation, and the orchestra didn’t drown out the speeches of the actors, maybe the results would have been better.  As is, MATILDA, THE MUSICAL, now on tour and housed at the State Theatre, is less than a wonderful theatrical experience. 

Tickets for MATILDA THE MUSICAL, which runs through May 22, 2016 at the State Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to www.playhousesquare.org.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Superb THE BEAUTY QUEENOF LEENANE at none too fragile

The Irish are a unique brand of people.  Living in a land of rocks, hills, harsh weather, poverty and isolation, they have developed attitudes toward life that lend themselves to dark thoughts and bleak tales. 

Modern and contemporary Irish playwrights like Brian Friel, Tom Murphy, Marina Carr and Martin McDonagh, write of the people’s passion for land, fixation on weather, drinking, morbidity, family ties, mythmaking, tangled relationships, dreamers, misanthropes and lonely souls.

McDonagh’s THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE, which is now on stage at none too fragile theater, could serve as a master plate for well-written modern Irish plays.  The black comedy, with tragic undertones, contains almost all of the traditional things-Irish.

The story centers on Maureen, a 40-year old spinster who lives in the Irish village of Leenane, where she acts as a caretaker for her hypochondriac mother.  Maureen wants to get married, get out of Leenane, and especially away from her bitter mother.

The chance comes for Maureen to seemingly get her wishes when she becomes reacquainted with Parto, a construction worker, who thinks of her as “the beauty queen of Leenane.” But, in true Irish spirit, the tangled relationship with her mother gets in the way as the old lady hides important information. 

McDonagh’s play reminds us that Ireland is a place with few options, with little hope of happiness or escape.  Compassion, true love, human warmth and self respect, are not part of the formula practiced by the people of “the wearing of the green.” 

The Irish don’t suffer because they are bad people, they just inhabit a corner of the world in which their universe is limited.  Some escape, but many either go mad, become alcoholics, or learn to live with monotonous cycle of life repeating and then repeating itself.  This is the stuff that soap operas and black comedies, are made of.

The multi-award winning THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE gets a superb production at none too fragile.  Sean Derry shows a keen understanding of the script and its production requirements.  Though the material is talky and lacks physical action, the staging keeps the audience alert.

The cast is flawless.  Derdriu Ring gives an award winning performance as Maureen.   She textures the role with frustration, irritation and even some unbridled happiness when it appears that Maureen may finally get to escape.  She doesn’t portray Maureen, she is Maureen.  Bravo!

Anne McEvoy conveys in her Mag a true bitterness toward a life that has given her no happiness.  She has little control over her personal existence, and exerts what small dignity she might muster by demanding she be taken care of.  McEvoy masterfully portrays the miserable woman.

Tom Woodward effectively creates Pato, the play’s only character who seems to have a way out of the Irish morass.  He nicely develops a man, who within his emotional stiltedness, expresses caring for Maureen and his desire to take her to America for a better life.

Nate Miller as Ray Dooley, Pato’s brother, creates a nicely textured snapshot of the typical Irishman who is willing to settle for what he can get…watching Australian soap operas, accepting that he is, what he is, and asking for little more.    

Capsule judgement:  THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE is a first-class Irish play, by a very talented modern “Mick” writer.  The none too fragile production is finely-directed and performed.  This is one of the top area productions of the season and is a definite must see!

For tickets to THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE which runs through May 7 at none too fragile theater in Akron, call 330-671-4563 or go to nonetoofragile.com

The next none too fragile show is SANS MERCI a powerful piece of theater by Johanna Adams, from April 22-May 7, which centers on Kelly, a survivor of rape and attempted murder by South American Revolutionaries, who, three years after the incident, is confronted by the mother of a woman who was killed during the incident.