Sunday, October 22, 2017

Con-Con’s “In the Closet,” a thoughtful journey into whether anyone can ever emerge from hiding

Have you ever wondered if your life would have played out differently if, at a young age, you had been able to meet “yourself” a couple of years older, forty years older, and then you as a person near the end of your life?  Would the knowledge of the path you would follow, what pitfalls you would encounter, what decisions you made, make your life different?

That’s basically what happens to “John,” in Siegmund Fuchs’ literal and metaphorical closet in “In The Closet,” now on stage at convergence-continuum.

Siegmund Fuchs, a practicing lawyer who dabbles in play writing, is a native Clevelander.  His first play, “Never Turned Out To Be Four Months,” was first performed at John Carroll in 1998.  He has won recognition in several playwriting competitions with his “In The Closet” being a finalist in the 2015 Elitch Historical Theatre Playwriting Competition.

As the audience enters the small black box, Liminis Theatre, the home of convergence-continuum, they find themselves seated in an area entirely surrounded by men’s clothes.  The “closet” is well- organized.  There is a color—coded place for shirts, another for jackets and coats, another for sweaters and t-shirts.  Besides clarifying the setting, various pieces of apparel will be used as the play progresses to aid in character changes and plot development.

We find Old Man, then Middle-Aged Man and finally Young Man entering into the space for various reasons. 

Old Man is writing his autobiography, which includes comments about the long term cancer illness of his husband. 

Middle-Aged man, who was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown, is confronting his being “old” in a community of men who value youth. 

Young Man shows facial abrasions from his being raped by five men at a party which he was being paid to attend by his bar-owning boss.  He is in the process of a trial for the attackers.

In the midst of their revelations, youthful John enters.  He has just experienced his first gay sexual experience and is angst-filled. 

Why are these men here?  Why do they share information that only each would know if they had lived the same life?  Can they ever “leave the closet”?

The story’s exposition unfolds slowly, the speeches often filled with clichés, and obvious laugh lines, but settles into an interesting framework somewhere during the first act, maturing into a thought-provoking second act.

Director Cory Molner, who designed the clever set, also does a nice job of pacing the performances so that the audience becomes sucked into the swerves of the tale, wondering if any of these men will ever escape the safety of the closet…the place in their minds where they can feel safe, unencumbered by the attitudes, beliefs and criticism of the outside world.

In his con-con debut, handsome young David Lenahan impresses as John.  He has a natural presence and textures the character’s many emotional roller-coaster ride reactions to what he finds out about his present and future life.  This is a talented young man.

Mike Frye nicely develops the tale of his rape and trial experience as Young Man.  Jason Romer, though he sometimes becomes an actor rather than the person he is portraying, has some nice moments as Middle-Aged Man.  Clyde Simon is convincing as Old Man.

Capsule Judgement: “In the Closet” is not a great play, but it is a script that incites a great deal of thought.  It gets a very creditable production at con-con.

“In The Closet” runs through November 4, 2017, 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

Next up at con-con: Cleveland playwright Jonathan Wilhelm’s “Camp Beaucoup Congo” from November 16-18, followed by the World Premiere of “The Chaste Genius and His Deathray Gun,” a tale of Tesla, who developed alternating current, florescent bulbs, lasers and robotics as he wrestles with his friends and detractors.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Touring company of “Waitress” serves up sumptuous treat in premiere at Connor Palace

If you were a Broadway investor and someone approached you with the idea of producing a musical about a waitress who worked in a diner, was an expert pie maker, in an abusive marriage, who gets pregnant, has an affair with her gynecologist, and whose only way out of the mess of a life, was to win a pie-baking contest, how likely would you be to plunk down your money?  Oh, and the show will have an all-women development team.

Believe it or not, the money was raised, “Waitress” was mounted, and became a smash Big White Way musical.  Now, the show’s touring company, which rehearsed here, opened this week at the Connor Palace for a three-week run.  It will then tour the country spreading cheer, and the smell of pies throughout the land, forever marked with a “made in CLE” trademark.

As you enter the lobby of the Connor Palace your olfactory senses will be assaulted by the strong smell of cinnamon and sugar.  At every performance frozen apple pies are placed in convection ovens in fireproof boxes near the theatre’s entrance to put you in the right mood. 

According to Andrea Simakis, “Plain Dealer” writer extraordinaire, “A local Whole Foods, following Stacey Donnelly’s lead (she is the owner of Cute As Cake, the bakery which supplies 1500 to 2,000 pies a week to be sold at the New York production of “Waitress”) will provide 16 pies a week to trigger the olfactory fancies of Cleveland theater-goers.”

The smell will be Cleveland, but the pies you can buy in the Connor Palace lobby are products of the Big Apple. 

Simakis continues, “The day before "Waitress" kicks off its national tour in Cleveland, Donnelly will drive about 1,000 pies - Salted Chocolate Caramel and Key Lime - to Playhouse Square.  Apple Crumble, another fan favorite, might be added to the order in the second or third week.”

How is the pastry?  Can’t tell you.  The line was too long for me to get to taste the delicacies, but an overheard opinion was, “the pies are as good as the production…delicious!”

“Waitress” has music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, who achieved general attention when her 2007 hit single, “Love Song,” reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  She is listed on the “Top 100 Greatest Women in Music” and her memoir, “Sounds Like Me:  My Life (So Far) in Song” was published in 2015 and made the “New York Times” best seller list.  To add the meringue to the top of the creation, she played the lead role in “Waitress” for a short time during its Broadway run.

The show’s book is by Jessie Nelson.  The original production was choreographed by Lorin Latarro and directed by Diane Paulus, making it the first Broadway show in which the four top creative spots were filled by women.  (The same group is doing the touring production.)  The posts of costume design and musical direction were also occupied by women.  Talk about breaking the glass ceiling!

The musical is based on the film of the same name written by Adrienne Shelly.  The motion picture, which was a hit at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, was marked by tragedy as Shelly was murdered three months prior to its showing.

The touring production is wonderful in every way.  The well-chosen cast, the creatively designed fragmentary scenery which helps the staging smoothly move along, the right stress on humor and angst, the well-played pop and indie rock music created by the on-stage six-member orchestra, and the finely tuned pacing, all work well. 

Even the pre-curtain recording “turn off your cellphone” message, which was written by Bareilles, is special, setting a wonderful “smile” factor for the show.

Pert Desi Oakley sparkles as Jenna, the pie-maker superb and waitress extraordinaire.  She has a fine singing voice and textures the role of Jenna to elicit strong emotional feelings of empathy from the audience.

Her rendition of “What Baking Can Do” effectively introduces her character, and “She Used to Be Mine” helps in the exposition of her personage.

Charity Angel Dawson is “awesome-right-on” as Becky, the earth mother waitress with a sassy mouth and “zaftig” bosom.  Her voice wails and she compels in “I Didn’t Plan It.”

Lennie Klingaman is delightful as another waitress, Dawn, the geeky, Betsy Ross history-enactment specialist.  She adds just the right level of ditziness to make the character real, and not a caricature. 

Klingaman is matched by the scene-stealing, hysterically funny, Jeremy Morse, whose awkward Ogie appears to have forgotten to take his ADD meds.  Dawn and Ogie’s duet, “I Love You Like a Table” was the production’s musical delight highlight.

Nick Bailey was so successful in creating Earl, Jenna’s abusive husband, that when she said she was leaving him and wanted a divorce, there was protracted applause and cheers from the audience.  His solo curtain call was met with some “boos,” a tribute to his strong character portrayal.

Bryan Fenkart, Dr. Pomatter, Jenna’s gynecologist, Larry Marshall, Joe, a diner customer who plays a major role in Jenna’s ability to break from Earl, and, Maeisha McQueen, Dr. Pomatter’s smart-mouthed nurse, were all excellent.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  The quality of the music, the staging, the performances and the story line of “Waitress” assure that it will delight audiences as it traverses the country.  It’s a must see for anyone who loves musical theater at its creative best.

Tickets for “Waitress,” which runs through November 5, 2017, at the Connor Palace Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or by going to

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Cleveland Ballet now the resident ballet company of PlayhouseSquare

The “new” Cleveland Ballet, under the artistic leadership of Puerto Rico-born Gladisa Guadalupe, a former member of the “old” Cleveland Ballet, the Dennis Nahat-led company which left CLE for San Jose, California, has been officially named the Resident Ballet Company of Playhouse Square.   

Guadalupe, along with the ballet board’s CEO and Chair, Michael Krasnyansky, have developed a company which intends to “cultivate a world-class resident professional ballet company.”

If their recent Ohio Theatre “Les Sylphides,” the three-part program is any indication, they are well on their way.

The woman-dominated company displayed fine technique and clear purpose as they opened the program with “Les Sylphides,” a half-hour non-narrative ballet with original choreography by Michael Fokine and music by Frederic Chopin.   Danced in traditional costumes and classic moves, the dance was performed to live piano music played by Ralitsa Georgieva-Smith.  The piece was staged by Russian-born ballerina, Aygul Abougalieva.

Filled with lovely moves, nice toe-work and elegant freezes, the “romantic reverie” was filled with poetic meaning. 

“A Collage of Frank Sinatra Songs” took the dancers in another direction…contemporary ballet with an “old blue eyes” twist. 

While still on toe and using effective movements, the dancers took on a guise of relaxed body postures and modern dance freedom of form and flow.  The highlight segment was “Saturday Night” in which Rainer Diaz-Martin instantly became the audience’s favorite, with his floating turns, powerful leaps and complete body control. 

“Saturday Night,” which highlighted Luna Sayag and Victor Jarvis and ‘I’ve Got the World On a String,” were also crowd pleasers.

“Concerto,” the world premiere, choreographed by Gladisa Guadalupe, closed the program.  Danced to Johan Sebastian Bach’s Piano Concerto in D minor, with live music played on dual pianos by Ralitsa Georgieva-Smith and Sophie Van Der Westhuizen, the sound and dance form of the three-movement piece melded well. 

Cleveland Ballet is an up and coming company.  They need more strong male dancers to balance off their very proficient women’s corps de ballet.

Next up: “Nutcracker Suite and Nutcracker Tea Festivities” (with a special appearance of the Singing Angels), December 15-17, 2017.  (Tickets:

For information about the School of Cleveland Ballet which takes students 10-22 years of age call 216-320-9000 or go to

Sunday, October 15, 2017

“Marjorie Prime” is prime offering at Dobama

Local theater-goers are familiar with the outstanding performance work of Dorothy Silver, often called “the first lady of Cleveland theater.”  Many are also aware of the creative writings of Jordan Harrison from his script development of the television hit, “Orange is The New Black.”  The two merge in Dobama Theater’s masterful “Marjorie Prime.”

Eighty-six-year old Marjorie (Dorothy Silver) sits stage left in an overstuffed recliner chair, which appears out of place in the contemporary sleek living space.  It is a chair obviously placed there for Marjorie’s convenience.

Her grayish wispy hair neatly combed, dressed in a bathrobe and high Ugg-like slippers, she is in conversation with “Walter.”  Walter (Nicholas Chokan), her dead husband.  Walter appears to be in his young thirties.  Walter moves rather stiffly and his voice sounds somewhat mechanical. 

As we find out, Walter is a “prime,” a computerized version of her husband who has been programmed to help Marjorie uncover the intricacies of her past, a necessity, as the woman has started to slide into dementia. 

Marjorie’s memory state confounds her daughter, Tess (Derdriu Ring), with whom she seems to have a contentious relationship.  Marjorie now lives with Tess and her supportive husband, Jon (Steve Sawicki).

The tale takes audience on a twisting, thought-provoking journey, complete with exposure to artificial intelligence.   To reveal any more of the actual story would ruin the experience for those who will be seeing the play.

The ninety-minute intermission-less exploration is almost existentialistic in its pursuit of asking questions.  Queries like: What does it mean to be human in the digital age?  Can technology replace humans?  Is rebuilding past memories really advantageous or is moving forward void of the past better, less painful?  If we had choices, what would we remember and what would we chose to forget?   And, probably the most important inquiry--What are my attitudes toward memory, mortality and the prospect of future life and decline?

Yes, Jordan Harrison explores the mysteries of human identity and the limits, if any, of what technology can replace.

Dobama’s production, under the wise direction of Shannon Sindelar, is superlative.  The cast, the pace, the line interpretation, grab and hold the audience from the fraught, frustrated opening comments and movements of Marjorie, through the introduction of the concept of a prime, to the growing frustrations of Marjorie and Tess, to the heart breaking conclusion.  It’s quite a journey.

Dorothy Silver, as we have come to expect, gives a compelling performance as Marjorie.   Every move, every line, every frown, every flick of her wrist, is meaningful.  It’s such a privilege to be in the spell of this bright, talented and alert octogenarian.

Derdriu Ring again displays her well-honed acting chops.  She doesn’t portray Tess, she is Tess.  It’s hard to believe that Silver and Ring (both Cleveland Critic Circle and Best Actress award winners) aren’t really mother and daughter, simply presenting themselves in a public space.

CLE newcomer, Steve Sawicki, is a welcome addition to the local acting pool.  He gives a nicely textured performance as Jon.

Nicholas Chokan takes on the difficult task of portraying a “prime.”  He easily transfers from a motionless automaton to a life-like robot with amazing ease.

Jill Davis’ realistic contemporary set is playing area correct.  Sound Designer Erik T. Lawson has wisely placed a subtle “Twilight Zone” sound underlying the entire production, taking the audience into an other-world-like space.  (It’s either there, or I was transported to imagine the sound.)

Capsule judgment: “Marjorie Prime” is one of those special theatrical occurrences that allows the audience to experience both a thought-provoking script and a superbly acted and directed staging.  This is theater at its finest!  Go see!  Must see!

“Marjorie Prime” runs through November 12, 2017 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

Next up at Dobama: Local playwright Eric Coble’s adaptation of “Sherlock Holmes:  The Baker Street Irregulars,” from December 1-30, 2017.

Friday, October 13, 2017

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (MUSICAL) rings in at Great Lakes Theater

What do “Beauty and The Beast,” “The Lion King,” “Tarzan,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” and, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” have in common?  Yes, they are all animated Walt Disney Studio films.  The first five also transformed into Broadway hits.  Though “Hunchback” received Disneyfication, it never made it to the Great White Way.

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” which is now on stage at Great Lakes Theatre, which has music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Peter Parnell, is based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel of the same name which was transformed by Disney into an animated film in 1996.

The musical debuted at California’s LaJolla Playhouse in October of 2014.  In March of 2015 it played at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse.  Both venues have hosted shows on their way to Broadway.  However, after the Paper Mill production closed, it was decided that “Hunchback” was not Broadway material.

The question as to why the script has been released for non-Broadway theatres without getting a Big Apple trial has been a subject of conjecture.

Casting a crystal ball into the producers’ mind, here is some conjecture.

In contrast to most previous Disney tales transferring film to stage, Hunchback’s subject matter doesn’t center on princesses, animals or fairy book characters who end up with happy-ever-after lives.  Instead, the Hugo tale concerns physical and emotional malformation, negative observations about the church and its leadership, as well as prejudice about a cultural group, in this case, Gypsies. 

The ending is anything but happy.   The audience does not leave humming lovely ditties, they don’t joyfully exit with positive thoughts and feelings.  The subject doesn’t lend itself to joyous musical sounds and lyrics.

Then there is the case that “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is dark, both in staging and in message.  Its hero is not heroic in the traditional sense.  He does not reach a happy ending, problems solved.  He starts as a troubled, misshapen child and ends as a troubled, misshapen adult.

The script, with the play’s topics of gothic architecture, religion, politics and  immigration, are not exactly the subject of Disney musicals.

Successful Broadway musicals aren’t all sunshine and roses.  Think “Next to Normal,” “Ragtime,” and “Spring Awakening.”  But these didn’t start out as animated movies, products of Disney Studios.
So, what’s the tale? 

The story centers on Quasimodo, a bastard and deformed child who is being raised by his uncle, Dom Claude Frollo, the archdeacon of Notre Dame.  The youth grows to manhood hidden away in the church’s bell tower with only the gargoyles as friends.  Gargoyles who come to life only in Quasimodo’s presence.

One day Quasimodo overcomes his fears and, against Frollo’s commands, decides to go to a festival.  There he is humiliated when he is offered as a contestant in the “ugliest man competition” by Esmerelda, a well-meaning Gypsy.  He wins, but is attacked in the riot which follows.  A riot started by Frollo’s men mainly because of the archdeacon’s hatred of the Gypsies.  He is freed by Esmerelda, goes back to the tower, but pines for the gypsy girl.

What follows are a series of events which eventually lead to a heartbreaking ending.  An ending which leads to a curtain-closing speech about bodies found years later in a burial vault in Notre Dame, a vault in which “two skeletons, one of which held the other in a singular embrace.”  The spine of one of the skeletons was crooked, “the head depressed between the shoulders, and one leg was shorter than the other.”   When the skeletons were touched, they disintegrated into dust.

After a slow, often tedious first act filled with lots of exposition, the second act exploded into strong, often captivating theatre.  The second act also contained stronger music.

The music, most of it based on clerical, heavy sounds that fit in Notre Dame, but aren’t exactly Broadway riffs.   “Entr’acte,” the first song of the 2nd Act was mesmerizing.  Esmeralda and Phoebus’s “Someday” is one of Stephen Schwartz’s signature “message” songs, such as “Corner of the Sky” from “Pippin,” which creates memorable meaning for a character and their dreams and wishes.

The GLT production, under the direction of Victoria Bussert, gets a lot out of what the conceivers give her.  There are many meaningful and impressive segments and performances.

The cast has a definite Baldwin Wallace Musical Theatre program slant.  Among others, in name roles, Dan Hoy (Jehan Frollo, the Archdeacon’s younger brother), Alex Syiek (Clopin Trouillefou, King of the Gypsies), Olivia Kaufmann (Florika), Jon Loya (Phoebus De Martin), Corey Mach (Quasimodo) and Keri René Fuller (Esmeralda) are all BW grads or students.  Ironically, in both the LaJolla and Paper Mill productions, Esmeralda was performed by 2013 BW grad, Ciara Renee (who appeared on Broadway in “Big Fish” and the revival of “Pippin.”  
The cast was strong.  Alex Syiek, with his deep set dark eyes, sunken with makeup, was excellent as the swarthy King of the Gypsies.  He is a strong presence on stage.

Cory Mach’s strong singing voice and acting skills gave Quasimodo a sad but charming presence, though on occasion, he had some difficulty consistently maintaining the gimpy walk and stammering speech.  Mach has appeared on Broadway in “Hands On Hardbody,” and “Godspell,” and in the national tours of “Flashdance (The Musical),” “Wicked” And “Rent.”

Keri René Fuller sang Esmeralda beautifully.  She could have displayed a little more seductive fire as the beguiling Gypsy and center of Quasimodo’s infatuation. 

When Tom Ford came out for his solo curtain call he was soundly booed.  That’s quite a compliment for the believability of his nastiness in developing the maniacal archdeacon of Notre Dame.

The choral singing was beautifully executed by the Baldwin Wallace Choral Studies Program Choir and the orchestra was excellent under the conductorship of Joel Mercier.

Jeff Herrmann’s scenic design aided in setting the somber mood, as did Mary Jo Dondlinger’s somber lighting.  

Capsule judgement: “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is not a typical Disney stage creation.  It is a dark, brooding musical and probably not appropriate for children.  While the first act is rather slow, the second act is strong.  It is well worth seeing.

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” runs through November 4, 2017 at the Hanna Theatre in repertoire with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  For tickets: 216-664-6064 or

Monday, October 09, 2017

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” delights at Great Lakes Theater

In his program notes to Great Lakes Theater’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the show’s director states that the play allows the audience to “sympathize with the joy and pain of being in love; the mystery of attraction, the intoxication of loving fiercely and not having love returned and how deeply the anguish is felt when quick bright things come to confusion.” 

Believe it or not, he is describing one of Shakespeare’s “most joyous comedies.”

The fantasy story centers on three couples and six amateur actors, all unknowingly controlled by a group of fairies.

The settings are Athens and a nearby forest.  The major event is the impending marriage of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the former queen of the Amazons. 

While the festivities are being planned, Egeus, an Athenian nobleman, comes to court with his daughter, Hermia, and two young men, Demetrius and Lysander. Egeus wishes Hermia to marry Demetrius, but Hermia is in love with Lysander and refuses to comply.   

Theseus warns Hermia that disobeying her father’s wishes could result in her being sent to a convent or even executed.  

Young love is powerful and Hermia and Lysander plan to escape Athens the following night and marry. They confide in Hermia’s friend, Helena, who was once engaged to Demetrius and still loves him.  Hoping to regain his love, Helena tells Demetrius of the plot.  And, of course, chaos ensues.  Love potions, a man turning into an ass, hooking up of wrong lovers, and a terrible play within a play takes place.

Sound confusing?  It’s not.  The obvious tale of mixed love, the bumbling of the good intention of the fairies, and the final conclusion when all’s well that ends well, is all part of a delightful evening of Shakespeare and Great Lakes Theater at their very best.

“Dream” is filled with many of the Bard’s oft-repeated lines including “Lord, what fools these mortals be” and “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind."  Then, there is “The course of true love never did run smooth,” A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s most important theme.

Other themes are: The wonder of magic to embody the supernatural nature of love, and as a device to create a surreal world.  There is also a spotlight on the contemporary ideas of ambiguousness of sexuality, with some overtones of homoeroticism and lesbianism, as well as statements about feminism.  All this is a script written in the late 1500s.  A comedy, at that.

The GLT production, under the discerning direction of Joseph Hanreddy, is superb.  The laughter is primed just right, the farce is well-keyed and the slap-stick is held in check so that it is fun because it is well done, not over-done, as is the tendency in many of the stagings of the Bard’s comic works.

The cast is consistently excellent.  Corey Mach delights as the mod-hip, endearingly outrageous gum-chewing Lysander.   He is matched by Hermia, his lady love, in the personage of Michelle Pauker, who personifies well the Bard’s line, “And though she be little, she is fierce.”

Nick Steen reigns as both Theseus and the King of the Fairies.  Jillian Kates is regal as both Queen of the Amazons and Queen of the Fairies.  M. A. Taylor does himself proud as Puck, and Keri René Fuller delights as the much put-upon Helena.  David Anthony Smith almost steals the show as Nick Bottom, the weaver turned ass, turned weaver.

Scott Bradley has taken a traditional Globe theatre set and added shades of teal and netting to create a charming play area for the lovers.  Rachel Laritz’s modern-day costumes work well with the gentle updating of the Bard’s words and the mod interpretation. 

Capsule judgement:  Those who are afraid of seeing Shakespeare because of the oft abstract language and confusing plot twists should fear not.  This production is a total delight, with a nice mash-up of comedy and outlandish farce, mixed in with a little lover’s stardust.  It’s definite must see!

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs in repertoire with “The Hunchback of Notre Dame The Musical” through November 5, 2017 at the Hanna Theatre.  For tickets: 216-664-6064 or

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Farcical, slapstick “The Rocky Horror Show” fun at Blank Canvas

On June 20, 1973 I had one of my mind-blowing experiences in a theater.  I was in London, the theater broker couldn’t get a ticket for the show I wanted and offered a ducat for a newly opened show.

I knew nothing about the musical, but, upon arriving at the Royal Court Theatre, I realized that I was in for a wild ride.   Instead of entering the lobby, those with tickets were queued-up, single file.  One-by-one, we were ushered into a blackened auditorium, led by an usher with a narrow-beamed flashlight.  Some of the audience members were given rain ponchos.  He led me down the aisle, pointed to a seat, I sat.

Suddenly a spotlight on stage revealed an usherette who gave a short speech.  Then a spot appeared on a platform raised above the audience at the rear of the theatre and we watched as Brad proposed to Janet.  The duo got into a car, the motor was heard starting, along with deafening thunder.  Lightning flashed and a “roadway” was seen, “rain” started falling, splashing onto the rain-coated people sitting along the runway that ran down the center of the performance space toward the stage.  There was the sound of a tire blowing out, Janet and Brad, with rain falling on them ran down the ramp, the stage became illuminated with more lightning and we were looking at an old scary castle with massive doors.

Yes, I was about to experience the bizarre “The Rocky Horror Show.” 

Yes, that musical.  The phenom which would become the cult movie. 

Yes, the show that introduced the world to Riff Raff, the live-in butler, his sister Magenta, the maid, Eddie, an unlucky delivery boy who fell victim to unfortunate circumstances, Rocky, the super-stud creation of Dr. Frank N. Furter, a pansexual, cross-dressing mad scientist, who plaintively tells us, in song, that he is "a sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania."   Oh, and “The Time Warp,” the show's signature dance number.

During the ridiculousness, both nerdy Brad and virginal Janet are seduced by Frank "N"Furter, the mystery of aliens is revealed, Rocky turns out to be a sweet monster, Phantoms run wild, and poor Eddie gets mangled by an electric saw (relax, we only see the blood spattering). 

“The Rocky Horror Show” is a musical with music, lyrics and book by Richard O'Brien.   It is a bizarre tribute to the science fiction and horror B movies of the mid-1900s.

The original London, England showing was staged at the Royal Court Theatre (Upstairs) on 19 June 1973, and ran for a total of 2,960 performances.  

The 1975 Broadway debut at the Belasco Theatre was met with terrible reviews and ran only forty-five showings. (Yes, I saw that bomb as well.)

Fortunately (?) it was adapted into the also badly reviewed 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  In spite of the reviews, it became a cult hit, with Saturday night midnight showings.  Showings at which customers dress as story characters yelling out lines and follow-ups to the sexually suggestive lines, squirting each other with water during the rain storm and leaping from their seats to dance “The Time Warp.”  (Interested?  The Cedar Lee Theatre on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights has regular showings.)

You have to go into the 90-minute gag-fest with the right attitude.  This is over the top, farcical, slap-stick material presented with over-acting, audience involvement, and no semblance of purpose or message.

As the program states, “when sharing the Rocky experience, the idea is to have fun!’  participants are encouraged to: 
•DRESS UP: Everyone has a right to wear whatever you wish. We encourage you to come dressed as your favorite character or just come casual. It’s up to you!  

•CALLBACKS: Callbacks are encouraged and allowed. They should be used to add to the Rocky experience. Don’t try to shout down other people. They might know better lines than you do!   (A number of brave souls yelled out frequently.)
•THE TIME WARP: You can stand and dance with the cast. Just stay off the stage, please. Doing the “Time Warp” is essential, but it’s easy because they just tell you how to do the dance in the song! You’re set!
•PROPS: You can bring approved props or buy an audience bag at the theater. Some of the standard items are not required for the LIVE version of the show and others just are not allowed in our theater due to safety and cleanup.”

“The Rocky Horror Show” is a perfect script for Patrick Ciamacco, the “curmudgeon-in-charge” (Artistic Director) of Blank Canvas Theatre.  He loves shtick, he revels in slap-stick, he lives for the ridiculous.  He also knows his loyal audience, who have his same tastes, and has told his cast to let loose, and they do. 

Kevin Kelly camps to excess as Frank “N” Furter, Jonathan Kronenberger does a perfect Alfred Hitchcock as the Narrator, Danny Simpson makes us relive the glory days of Peter Loree as Riff Raff, and Amber Revelt is appropriately seductive as the alien Magenta. 

Mark Vandevender, he of gym-toned body, shows off his muscles clothed only in gold lamé short shorts, with a 9-inch appendage hanging out, while Ken-doll, Eric Fancher (Brad) and Gidget-cute, Meg Martinez (Janet) display vocal and acting skills (especially when reaching the heights of their sexual releases) as the star-crossed lovers.

The band (Zach Davis, Jason Stebelton, Keith Turner and Mark Bussinger), under the conducting of Bradley Wyner, gets a little out of hand at times, drowning out the singers, but neither the score nor the lyrics are Tony Award caliber, so the excess doesn’t get in the way.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  If you are in the right mood, and can let loose of your inhibitions, and take “The Rocky Horror Show,” for its intended purpose—a screwball musical comedy, you’ll have a blast!  This is not “Next to Normal” or “Bridges of Madison County,” just some” The Time Warp” fun!

Blank Canvas’s “The Rocky Horror Show” runs through October 28, 2017, in its near 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

Next up at BC: “Urinetown The Musical” from December 1-16, 2017.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Compelling, must see “Well” @ Ensemble

Lisa Kron, who is best known for writing the lyrics and book to the musical, “Fun Home,” for which she won both the Tony Award for Best Original Score and for Best Book for a Musical, says of her play, “Well,” which is now on stage at Ensemble Theatre as the opening show in its 38th consecutive season, “It is a theatrical exploration?  That is … it's a very hard play to describe."  

Yes, the script is hard to classify.  Comedy?  Drama?  Biography?  It is all of these. 

“Well” is ostensibly an investigation of relationships between mothers and daughters, and the meaning of the word, “wellness,” but, it is so much more.

The creative, captivating, inventive journey is based on the author’s real relationship with Ann, her mother, in the Lansing, Michigan neighborhood in which she grew up with her chronically unwell, hypochondriac, social activist- parent.

Kron says that she “felt like an outsider even in her own family because she, her parents and her brother David were the only Jews.  And, one of the few white families in the neighborhood, as her non-Jewish born mother insisted on living in an integrated environment.

As the play unfolds, Lisa tries to explain her past, but Ann keeps correcting the narrative and other characters talk with Ann about her life and themselves.

Part of the time Lisa is speaking to the audience in intense, often humorous, sometimes heart-wrenching monologues.  Part of the time she is speaking to her mother.   In other instances, she interacts with neighbors, hospital personnel and members of the cast who break out-of-character to express their opinions about Lisa, Ann, both the characters and the actors who are portraying the duo, as well as themselves.  The exposition follows no time line, jumping easily back and forth. 

Yes, definitely not the typical modality of a play.

All in all, though it sounds confusing, the concept and the production are brilliant and easy to follow.

Director Celeste Cosentino has a clear understanding of Kron’s intention and has been blessed with a superlative cast who make the entire production seem like a first-time conversational experience.  No acting here.  Just real people, speaking well-written, believable lines.

It is hard to conceive that Lara Mielcarek is not Lisa Kron.  She perfectly inhabits the role.  Incidentally, in the New York production of “Well,” the author played herself.

Laura Starnik is Mielcarek’s equal as Kron’s mother.  Old and addlepated one minute, charming and funny the next, Starnik is Ann-perfect.

The rest of the cast, April Needham, Maya Jones, Brian Kenneth Armour and Craig Joseph, playing various roles of people in Lisa’s life, as well as themselves, are all up to the task. 

Bryanna Bauman’s lighting design aids in assisting the audience to adjust to time lines and the “acted” versus the “live” scenes. 

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Well” is one of those special scripts and performances that showcases the message of what theater is all about.  It’s a must see experience.
“Well” runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 pm and Saturdays @ 2 pm and Sundays @ 2 pm through October 22, 2017 at Ensemble Theatre, housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  (BTW--there is no performance on 10/7 and an Industry Night on 10/9.)  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to

Ensemble’s next production is Eugene O’Neill’s socially relevant, “The Hairy Ape” being staged from November 17-December 10, 2017.

To see the views of other Cleveland area theater reviewers about this production, go to: