Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Beck Center does national search for their Billy

The multi-award winning Billy Elliot The Musical tells the historically tale of a community in strife caused by a miners’ strike in County Durham, in North Eastern England, balanced against the fictional tale of a lad named Billy. 

The strike, took place in 1984-85 as part of the Margaret Thatcher-led government’s attempt to bust the coal union.  Billy is a tween who finds a love for dancing and is thrust into a competition to get into the Royal Ballet School of London.

The strikers are rough, blunt speaking, action-oriented men.  Billy does not fit into their mold of what a boy should be.  The community expects him to be a boxer, not a ballet dancer.

When artistic director Scott Spence, choreographer Martin Céspedes, and musical director Larry Goodpaster, decided to stage Billy Elliot The Musical as Beck Center’s highlight summer musical, they knew they were undertaking a major series of high hurdles.

The casting required two boys, Billy and his friend Michael, to be not only acceptable dancers, but proficient ones, youth who can do ballet, tap and modern dance.  Billy must also be an exceptional actor and singer.  The casting must also include an older Billy who has grown into a star ballet dancer and a cast who can produce the difficult North Eastern English speech sound.  And, the score for the musical, which is by Elton John, requires a large-sized pit orchestra.

Since no local boys could reach the performance levels needed for the roles of Billy and Michael, a national search was undertaken.  From the many recommendations by agents and submission of video tapes and interviews, Houston native, 12 year-old Seth Judice (Billy), and 13 year-old Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada’s Maurice Kimball (Michael) were selected.

An interview with Seth and his mother (Robin) revealed that the youngster started dance lessons at the ripe-old age of 17-months.  His mother, who teaches dance, and his aunt, who is also a dance instructor and runs a performance studio, were his first teachers. 

Seth stated, “I really liked dancing.  I don’t like sports, don’t like to get dirty.  Dancing was the cleanest thing I could do!” 

He not only wanted to do it, but showed early high levels of proficiency, winning Houston’s Petite Mr. Star Quest, a performance competition.  He followed that by winning the Junior level competition.  (To view his performances go to You Tube and search for:  Fabulous Feet - Seth Judice - Petite Mr. StarQuest, Select Top Score Petite Solo - Houston, TX 2012 and Wanna Be Like You - Seth Judice - Junior Mr. StarQuest - Houston, TX 2014).

Because of his performance and lesson schedules, being the subject of bullying, and having Irlen Syndrome, a perceptual disorder which centers on the brain’s ability to process visual information (some may think of it as dyslexia), Seth is home schooled by his mother.  He reads with special glasses, but generally he learns his lines by oral drill with his mother reading him his lines.  Fortunately, his high functioning intelligence allows him to quickly grasp both the lines and dance routines.

Does this dynamic young man miss not being a “regular” kid due to his time-consuming regime of ballet, tap, contemporary dance, acrobatics and tumbling lessons and not being in the social environment of a traditional school?  “No,” states Seth, “doing theatre makes me realize how much I don’t want to be a regular kid.”  He does have cyber friends and has social contacts with dance and theater acquaintances.  Fortunately, the parents of the only child agree with his assessment.

He recognizes the financial commitment his parents have made for him, as well as the time his mother and father spend to support his dreams.  (His mother accompanied him to Cleveland, transports him and is present at all rehearsals.)

Seth was in a Memphis production of Billy Elliot, playing the part of Michael.  He was also in the national tour of A Christmas Story, The Musical, portraying Grover Dill, bully Skut Farkas’s side-kick. 

Eddie Rabon, a bi-coastal agent with Take 3 Talent’s Theatrical Department signed Seth as his client based on a showcase in which the youngster appeared.

Seth, who is not yet a member of Equity, said he is “having a lot of fun” working at Beck.  He was especially enamored with going onto the set for the first time.  The downsides?  “Not many, other than I’m on stage almost the entire time so it’s difficult to be able to drink water and stay hydrated.”

He strongly identifies with the “Billy” of the play, as “we both really want what we do and do what we want.  My philosophy is, if we want to do it, we will do it!”

In Cleveland, where he is living in a house provided by Beck for the duration of the Billy Elliot run, which he shares with his mother, he “goes to rehearsals, works out, does ballet, plays video games, and sleeps.”  He indicated that after the show opens, he’ll have time to explore the city.  He is especially looking forward to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his father, when his dad comes to town to see the show.  He also has been with Maurice a lot, and has gone to the movies with him.

Though he’s not into sports, he did get caught up in the Cavalier’s championship excitement, “thanks to members of the cast.”

And how does his mother, Robin, view her son’s quest for stardom?  As a dance instructor who performed professionally and was a Houston Texan cheerleader, she understands Seth’s drive, and is happy that she and her husband can support him. 

What advice would she give the parents of other kids who see “entertainment stars in their  eyes?” She sensitively stated, “Let them pursue their dreams.  Let them do it.  Do what you can to help them grow, as people and performers.  Give them the necessary tools.” 

You can see Seth, Maurice and the rest of the Billy Elliot The Musical cast from July 7 through August 14 at Beck Center.  For tickets call 216-521-2540 or go on line to

Monday, June 20, 2016

Sister Act delights as the opening show of the 2016 Porthouse season

What happens when a new musical opens at the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse in California and becomes the highest grossing show ever at that venue? Obviously, it is grabbed up by a Broadway producer who opens it on the Great White Way.  Right?  Wrong!

The tale of the success of the musical, Sister Act, has a strange path from California to Broadway.  After the Pasadena success in 2006, the show played in Atlanta.  Then, in 2009, it went across the pond and opened in London to mixed reviews, including one which, with British subtleness, referred to it as “a brainless show.”

After a sidetrack in Hamburg, yes, Germany, Sister Act finally opened on Broadway in 2011.   It was a newly revised adaptation, which included a slightly different song list than the Brit or Pasadena versions. 

Strongly praising the tunes of songwriter Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater, which has the harkenings of Motown with a blend of soul and funk, and a little disco thrown in, the show was praised for its ability to “switch up the mood and tempo.” 

The results?  Five Tony nominations, a successful run, and a much praised North American Tour, which graced the State Theatre stage in March of 2013.   Now the script has been released for local productions.  Its regional premiere is gracing the Porthouse stage.

The musical is based on the 1992 comedy film of the same name, which starred Whoopi Goldberg, who, interestingly enough, was the producer of the Broadway production.  

The musical, like the movie, concerns Deloris Van Cartier, a street-smart African American singer “wanna be,” who sees Curtis, her boyfriend shoot a man.  She goes to the police and reunites with Sgt. “Sweaty Eddie,” who had a crush on her when they were in high school.  Fearing for her life he places Deloris in protective custody in a broke, soon to be closed church/convent. 

The Mother Superior (perfectly portrayed by Tracee Patterson), comes from the mold of nuns of old.  Yes, those fearsome enforcers of strict rules, who wielded punishing yardsticks, and gave lesser human beings the evil eye.  The purveyors of such wisdom as “don’t wear patent leather shoes because they reflect up,” “don’t go on a date to a restaurant with white tablecloths because it will remind the boy of bed sheets,” “red clothing incites passion,” and “don’t wear makeup as it entices the devil.” 

When Deloris arrives at the mother house, she and Mother Superior are immediately placed in a battle of wills. 

Of course, Deloris stirs up the cloistered place, makes the quiet nuns into singing rebels, saves the convent,  becomes wimple-buddies with the Mother Superior, and wins Eddie in the process. 

Songs such as “It’s Good to Be a Nun,” “When I Find My Baby,” “Raise Your Voice,” and “Take Me to Heaven,” while not classics, are good Broadway fare. The cast can really sing well.  The choreography is fun. 

Though she could have “copped” a little more attitude, Colleen Longshaw is “Fabulous, Baby!” as Deloris.  Tyrell Reggins wails as Eddie, displaying a strong singing voice and a charming attitude, especially in “I Could Be That Guy.”

There are some nice characterizations, including Katelyn Langwith as Sister Mary Robert, a young novice who isn’t yet “sold on the program” who is influenced by Deloris.  Langwith’s presentation of “The Life I Never Led” is a tender probe into what happens when life limits your options.

Hannah Quinn is delightful as the uninhibited Sister Mary Patrick.  Terri Kent, yes, the Artistic Director of Porthouse, is amusing and has a great time as the straight-laced Sister Mary Lazarus.  Bernadette Hisey is a hoot as Sister Mary Martin-of–Tours, the totally “out of it” member of the sisterhood.  Rohn Tomas does a nice turn as Monsignor O’Hara.

Of course, as in any good escapist musical, there have to be showstoppers.  Sister Act is full of them.  “Sunday Morning Fever,” “Raise Your Voice,” “Fabulous Baby,” and the title song, “Sister Act” all get the audience excited.

Yes, there are flaws.  The gangsters aren’t “gangsta” enough.   The plot is full of plausible holes.  But, in the end, the show is fun, it’s a perfect choice for summer entertainment in the lovely Porthouse Theatre, on the grounds of the magnificent Blossom Center.

The supporting cast is all excellent.  Many play multiple roles with ease.

Jennifer Korecki has her musicians in good tune and support rather than drown out the performers.

The technical aspects of the show, including the abundance of costumes, are all done well.

Oh, be aware that due to a wonderful fund-raising effort by Terri Kent, the entire washroom building has been redone.  Yes, ladies…no long standing in a long line at intermission! 

Well, almost wonderful fund-raising effort.  There is still a need for  more funds.  Besides dropping in donations when the “altar-boys” come around during one of the show’s “church services,” donations can be sent on line at (designate the gift to “Porthouse Theatre 50th Anniversary Fund 18802” or send a check to College of the Arts, Attn:  Pam Hutson, P.O. Box 5190, Taylor Hall, Kent, OH 44242.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Sister Act is a perfect slice of summer entertainment placed in a lovely get-away setting!  Director Eric van Baars has put together a smooth running production which gets all the necessary laughs, develops the story line as well as one can with something as fluffy as he has been given, and paces the show so that it moves smoothly along.  See it!

Sister Act  runs until July 2, 2016 at Porthouse Theatre.  For reasonably priced tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to

NEXT UP AT PORTHOUSE: RING OF FIRE, in which music legend Johnny Cash comes to life, from July 7-23, 2016 and FOOTLOOSE, which proves that dancing is a fun part of life, from July 28-August 14, 2016.  Curtain times are 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Blossom open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.

Reimagined Phantom of the Opera impressive at the State Theatre, but . .

It’s been seen by over 140-million people in 30 countries and 151 cities.  It’s been translated into 14 languages.  It’s Broadway’s longest running show. What is it?   Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, which is now on stage at the State Theatre, in a reimagined form. 

The present touring version has a new set, staging, choreography and costumes.   There are new special effects, including computer generated graphics, fire bolts (much like the scoreboard at The Q for Cavs games).   Even some of the characterizations and the emotional level have been altered.

Be assured, however, that in spite of the changes, the well-known story line and the sumptuous music remain intact.

The tale takes place in the Paris Opera House more than a century ago, centering on a  disfigured musical genius who is obsessed with a talented member of the chorus, who he trains to be the leading lady in his new musical, with dire consequences.

And, yes, the sounds of “Think of Me,” “Angel of Music,” “The Music of the Night,” “All I Ask of You,” and ”Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” fill every nook and cranny of the theatre.

The changes have resulted in a staging which appears smaller and less impressive. This, in spite of the cast and orchestra of 52, making it one of the largest productions now on tour.

Though still opulent, this Phantom doesn’t appear to be as “grande” as the original.   The always anticipated chandelier crashing to the stage has been replaced by an unspectacular vertical drop of the large fixture straight down above the heads of the audience seated in the first ten or so rows.  There were sound pops and lighting sparks, but the effect was disappointing, thus no screams of terror or ducking from the people seated in the expensive seats. 

Some will consider the elimination of the crashing chandelier parallel to doing Miss Saigon without the requisite helicopter, Wish You Were Here minus the real swimming pool or American Psycho without a blood splatter zone.

Director Laurence Connor has decided to go with a youthful Phantom, more realism, some less exaggerated characterizations of some roles, and a large cylinder on a turntable placed stage center, which makes for smooth transitions, and enhances the journey of Christine and the Phantom into the bowels of the Paris opera house, but takes away some of the eerie darkness of the original set. 

In other words, the menace of the Phantom is watered down.   This may well have been Connor’s intent as his version places more stress on the intimacy of Christine and Raoul, which adds to the conflict of the romantic triangle.   This version also  stresses the romantic realism of the story, down-pedaling some of the spectacle and melodrama.  

One can only wonder if this less grandiose, reserved, story-line clearer version had been the original, would the show have achieved its level of greatness?   My guess…probably not.

As for this cast, Chris Mann, best known for being a finalist on NBC-TV’s “The Voice,” has a fine Billboard voice.  It does not translate into the powerful Broadway sound needed for The Phantom.  Nor does he have the physical and emotional power to transform a mere human into a maniacally obsessed, bigger-than-life menace.   He definitely is not in the same class as Michael Crawford (the original Broadway Phantom), Mark Jacoby, or Thomas James O’Leary, who also performed the role.  (The part, in this touring edition, is exchanged between four actors, so attendees may see a different Phantom then was on stage opening night.)

Katie Travis has the looks and voice for Christine, but she, like Mann, doesn’t exude the necessary hyper-emotional level.  Hers is a good, but not great interpretation of the role.  (Three actresses trade off the part.)

There are local connections between the cast and this area.  Price Waldman (Monsieur André) was an Oberlin attendee,  Stephen Mitchell Brown (Jeweler) won a Cleveland Critics Circle Best Actor award for his portrayal of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, and Kathryn McCreary (Wild Woman) is a College of Wooster and Ohio State grad.

Cleveland native and Baldwin Wallace University Musical Theatre grad, Trista Moldovan, won raves for her portrayal of Christine on Broadway several years ago. 

The orchestra was full and lush, as befits the score, but sometimes, the lack of sound balance caused lyrics and words to be drowned out.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Phantom of the Opera newbies will undoubtedly be wowed by the reconfigured production.  Those who have seen the Broadway, or one of the early touring company editions, may be less impressed. 

Tickets for The Phantom of the Opera, which runs through July 10, 2016 at the State Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

2016 Blossom Music Festival is a potpourri of treats!

What do the “1812 Overture,” “An American In Paris,” Pinchas Zukerman, and viewing of film Raiders Of The Lost Ark and playing it’s score all have in common?  They are all part of the 2016 Blossom Music Festival.

Yes, there is something for everyone, no matter your musical tastes, in the July 4-September 4, 2016 season at the beautiful Blossom Music Center.  Sit in the pavilion or lounge on the lawn, but take advantage of northern Ohio music under the stars.

In an interview with Ilya Gidalevich, the Cleveland Orchestra’s assistant artistic administrator, who was hired in January to aid Franz Welser-Möst in the conception and execution of programs at Severance Hall and Blossom Music Center, he revealed that the organization followed the “same programming philosophy of earlier seasons centering on the knowledge that audiences at Blossom were of different age groups and backgrounds than at Severance.”  Therefore, “effort was made to bring in new names as well as those with whom the orchestra has a relationship that would appeal to the Blossom audience demographics.”

The selection of programs are a collaborative process where the history and reputations of the guest artists, the orchestra’s background, the conductors, various selections, and the musicians are considered.    The objective is to “find what will cast the best possible light and make for success.”

Gidalevich, indicated that, “all of the artists are at the top of their field.”  He added, “if you think Broadway, you think Michael Feinstein,” who had a strong performance last year at Blossom.  This year, he will be appearing with the orchestra, itself.  (“Michael Feinstein’s Broadway,” Sunday, July 31 @ 7 p.m.)


Celebrated and award winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma “brings together musicians from all over the world with the thread of the Silk Road.”  (“Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma ,” Saturday, August 13 @ 8 p.m.)

Randy Jackson, best known as the front man for the band, Zebra, will sing selections from the Led Zeppelin repertoire accompanied by the Blossom Festival Orchestra.  (“The Music of Led Zeppelin: A Rock Symphony,” Saturday,
August 20 @ 8 p.m.)

Other highlights of the 2016 Blossom Season include: 
•”1812 Overture,” Saturday July 2 @ 8 p.m. and Sunday July 3, 8 p.m., with fireworks.
•”Beethoven’s Heroic Symphony,” Saturday, July 9 @ 8 p.m., conducted by Welser-Möst, with fireworks.
•”Thibaudet Plays Grieg,” Saturday, July 23, 8 p.m., Jean-Yves Thibaudet plays piano, Jahja Ling, conducts.
•”Magic of the Movies,” Sunday, July 24, 7 p.m., Blossom Festival Chorus, Capathia Jenkins, vocalist, Michael Krajewski, conductor.
•Pinchas Zukerman plays Mozart,” Saturday, July 30 @ 7 p.m.

•Zukerman, violin, and The Cleveland Orchestra, with the Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra performing a side-by-side performance of the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 (“Pathétique”), Hans Graf, conductor.
•Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Plays Bach (Brandenburg Concertos #3, 5, 6 & 2), Saturday, August 27, 8 p.m., (Blossom Music Festival debut).

For a complete schedule, times and dates, go to

Tickets:  Individual pavilion and lawn tickets, starting at $24, are now on sale by telephone (216-231-1111), in person at the Severance Hall ticket office or online at

“Under 18’s Free” offers free tickets to those 17 and under.  Over 90,000 youth have attended Blossom concerts under the support of the Maltz family Foundation.

See you under the stars at Blossom!  Come early, bring a picnic, enjoy the beauty of the grounds.   

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Must see LINES IN THE DUST, a play about Apartheid Schools in U.S. is riveting, edifying and upsetting @ CPT

What will a parent do to insure that her child gets a quality education? 

In 2011, Kelly Williams-Bolar served a 10-day jail sentence for illegally sending her children to a suburban school outside of her Akron, Ohio district.  The sentence disqualified Williams-Bolar from getting her accreditation as a teacher.  A storm of protests, both pro and con, quickly followed the sentence and a later pardon by the governor.

Why did Williams-Bolar feel compelled to get her child out of the ill-performing Akron schools?

As director Beth Woods, whose production of Nikkole Salter’s edifying and upsetting Lines in the Dust is now running at Cleveland Public Theatre, states in her program notes, “Our education system is broken and an entire generation of children has suffered for it.”  These students attend Apartheid Schools, “institutions where 99% of the attendees are black or Latino.” “Schools where courses such as Algebra II and chemistry aren’t offered.”  Schools where, even if Advanced Placement (AP) classes are presented, most students can’t pass the national tests, so they receive no credit for their class work.   Schools where “fewer than 60% of teachers meet all state certification and licensure requirements.”

Wait, this is 2016.  Over 60-years ago, the Supreme Court in Brown V. Board of Education, desegregate the schools.  But either by neighborhood design, attendance zones, controlled choice programs, poverty patterns, or municipal decree, segregated schools still exist.   Cleveland Schools several weeks ago, yes, that’s weeks ago, by court decree, integrated its schools.  Cleveland, Tennessee, that is.

But Cleveland, Ohio and such other metropolitan areas as Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, New York and St. Louis also have mainly Apartheid Schools.  The results?  In Cleveland (Ohio), which remains one of the most segregated cities in the nation, “66% of adults are functionally illiterate (read at or below a 4th grade level).  In some neighborhoods the rate is 95%.

Nikkole Salter is on a campaign to educate all of us, not only of the existence, but the financial cost and waste of human potential caused by Apartheid Schools. 

She also places a spotlight on people like Michael DiMaggio, one of the lead characters in Lines in the Dust, who believes, as do many Donald Trump followers, that “we need to return to the good old days and make America what it was.”  An America dominated by the thinking of Nationalists, who want “America for the Americans,” meaning the white, English speaking population, where women and other minorities know “their place.”   

Salter’s fictional play, with factual interludes, starts as we meet Beverly Long, the African American acting-Principal of the upper-class Essex County, Millburn, New Jersey schools, where houses each sell for around one-million dollars.  She is attending an open house of a home for sale in the community, where she meets Denitra Morgan, also African American.  The two talk about the community, their employment, and what their expectations are for their teen-aged children.

Long is unaware that Denitra is not a lawyer as she claims, does not live in the community, and is scouting out an address to use so that she can district-jump her daughter from the ill-performing inner city school to Millburn. 

What follows is a compelling exposé of the politics and operation of the educational system, the opportunity gaps between the “haves” and the “have nots,” the attitudes of people like Mr. DiMaggio, a member of a group who wants to keep their community as is, making sure that blacks, Jews and other “outsiders” don’t’ take away what the “good people of Millburn” have. 

Salter writes well.  The dialogue is compelling, the ideas crystal clear, the characters well etched.  It’s obvious why her 6 full-length plays have been produced on 3 continents and have received numerous awards.

The Cleveland Public Theatre’s production, under the focused direction of Beth Woods, grabs and holds attention.  The pacing is pitch perfect.  The acting is excellent, the author’s intent and purpose crystal clear.  

Nicole Sumlin gives a stellar performance as Denitra, a mother who wants only the best for her daughter, and is willing to do everything, including giving up custody of her child, in order to get her a prime education.  Bravo!

Kimberly Sias gives a” humanness” to Principal Long, which makes the production even more frustrating as we watch someone who has nothing but the best of intentions attempt to do an end-run around reality.

Skip Corris inhabits the body of Michael DiMaggio.  He is so effective that several “boos” were heard from the audience during the curtain call due to the hateful attitudes of the character. 

The chain link fence that surrounds Douglas Puskas’s set, is truly emblematic of the situation in which many people in this country find themselves able to see into what can be, but living a “can’t be part of that” existence. 

Daniel McNamara’s musical compositions and sound effects help set the proper moods.

Capsule judgement:  If you only see one play this year, it should be Lines in the Dust.  Because of its well-crafted writing that clearly develops Nikkole Salter’s fervent thoughts and feelings about Apartheid Schools and the people who make them happen, the play is often excruciating to watch.  The truth is painful!  The frustration of a problem with no seeming solution, and the possibility of a country operating on a Nationalistic philosophy, become truly scary!   As said, if you only see one play this year, it should be Lines in the Dust.

Lines in the Dust runs @ 7 p.m., Thurs/Fri/Sat/Mon in the newly refurbished James Levin Theatre, through June 18, 2016 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit, just east of W. 65th Street.  Free parking is available within a two-minute walk from the theatre.   For tickets and information call 216-631-2727 or go to

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Cain Park’s anti-pollution The Toxic Avenger will delight many!

There seems to be a trend in the choices theaters are making regarding musicals they produce.  Maybe it’s a desire to attract younger audiences, or it’s the popularity of comic book heroes as the subject of television shows and movies, but like it or not, the age of “unusual” protagonists is here.

Broadway has a serial killer in AMERICAN PSYCHO, Beck is running THE HEATHERS, about mean girls, Cleveland Play House showcased LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and a human-eating plant, and Blank Canvas staged THE WILD PARTY, which was filled with drugs, “offing” people, and rock and roll.  All contained murderers, weirdos and/or perverts.  Ah, for the likes of OKLAHOMA and FINIAN’S RAINBOW.  Even the gun toting female in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN would do.

Now Cain Park, that leafy little oasis in the middle of Cleveland Heights, has transformed the stage of  its intimate Alma Theatre into a New Jersey toxic waste dump and is staging THE TOXIC AVENGER.

Yes, THE TOXIC AVENGER, a rock musical based on Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman’s 1984 cult-film about the attempt of a sweet young man to clean up a New Jersey town, with death-filled results.

The musical, written by Joe DiPietro (who was born in Teaneck, New Jersey and was responsible for MEMPHIS, ALL SHOOK UP and I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE), with music by David Bryan, and lyrics by the same duo, contains songs with titles such as, “Get the Geek,” “Kick Your Ass,” “Thank God She’s Blind” and the ever popular, “Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore.”  Really!  (Could I make this up?)

Before the conclusion is reached that THE TOXIC AVENGER is a definite “do not see,” be aware that it’s impossible for anyone with a sense of humor, who likes outrageous slapstick, cross-dressing, soft rock music, and an affinity for the bizarre, not to enjoy themselves.  (The young lady sitting next to me at opening night, mid first-act, leaned over and whispered to her equally hard giggling friend, “I just wet my pants from laughing.”

So, what’s all the fun about? 

Once upon a time in Tromaville, New Jersey, there was a corrupt Mayor-lady (who resembles Governor Chris Christy in many ways and has a Donald Trump hair-do), who with her henchmen (bullies, mobsters and crooked politicians) controlled the city and used it as their personal piggybank, caring little for the environment or the population. 

In the same town was Melvin Ferd, the third, a geeky aspiring scientist, who loves Sarah, the blind librarian.  Melvin wants to clean up the town’s toxic waste dump and also dump the mayor.  For his troubles he is thrown into a vat of sludge and comes out a hulking green monster named “Toxie.”  Toxie becomes a superhero to many as he fights city hall and sleazy politicians and businessmen whose greed have made the correctly named Tromaville unfit for human inhabitation.   

In the process, the hysteria is flamed by the blind librarian tripping over every pebble and crack, an old lady being stuffed into a washing machine, lots of men dressed in drag who sing and dance, as both good and bad guys.  Also on stage is Oprah doing her interviewing “thang”, animal puppets, men with “acne on their soul,” a battle of hairspray cans, a singing and dancing nun, hairdos from hell, and, of course, Toxie, running wild.  The political-infused ending is timing-perfect during this election year.

Add a wailing, but subtle rock score, several nice ballads, fun attempts at coordinated dancing, extended farce, and lots of slapstick, and you have THE TOXIC AVENGER.

The cast is outstanding.  BW musical theatre grad Ellis C. Dawson III is Toxie-right!   He is a hero’s hero, complete with green warts, a dangling right eye, glued on muscles, a charming personality and a nice voice.  His “Kiss Your Ass” and “I Promise” were nicely presented.

Natalie Green is wonderful as the cute and well-meaning blind Sarah.  Her duet, “Hot Toxic Love,” sung with Dawson III,  is delightful. 

Zaftig, big-voiced Kate Leigh Michalski does triple duty as the big-haired Mayor, Toxie’s mother and the singing Nun.  At one point she appears simultaneously as both the Mayor and the mom, with hysterical results.  (The wig designer, who gets no credit in the program, outdid her/himself on that visual allusion.)

Malik Akil, another BW musical theatre grad, has impressive stage presence and a good sense of comic timing, whether he was playing a black dude or in drag.  Trey Gilpin was Akil’s match in “Get the Chick.” 

Mariah Burks and Codie Higer were also excellent in multi-roles.

Jordan Cooper and his band rocked it right and wisely didn’t drown out the singers.

P. J. Toomey’s special effects, which it can be assumed included the makeup that transformed Melvin to Toxie, was impressive.

Though the set changes were a little cumbersome, the off-time was filled with clever actions and lighting effects.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Under Nathan Motta’s creative direction, and a cast of talented and uninhibited performers, THE TOXIC AVENGER is a total hoot!  If you are in the mood for an evening of extended farce and ridiculousness, this is a must see. 

The show runs through  June 26, 2016 in the Alma Theatre in Cleveland Heights’ Cain Park.   For tickets call 216-371-3000 or go to