Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Fascinating “How to End Poverty” @ Cleveland Public Theatre

One of the purposes of theater is to educate.  Another is to get the audience involved psychologically in the process.  The ultimate end of many theatrical experiences is for the attenders to leave with a new understanding of life and to carry that message out of the theatre.

“How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes (with 199 People You May or May Not Know),” which recently ended a four performance run at Cleveland Public Theatre, was educational theatre at its best.

The “End Poverty” production was created after a year of research and community-partner-building.  Its first presentation was in May 2013 at Northwestern University.   Productions have been presented around the country and over $40,000 has been given to community-specific poverty reduction programs.

As the program’s website states, “This is not a play; it is not a lecture; it is not an interactive workshop; it is not a physical theatre piece; it is not a public conversation.”

It goes on to say, “Most significantly, it’s an opportunity to challenge a different audience every show with the question: how do you attack the problem of poverty in America, with a lens specifically focused on your community? Over the course of 90 minutes, the audience will listen, explore and ultimately choose how to spend $1,000 cash from ticket sales sitting onstage at each performance. The show is an experiment in dialogue, in collective decision-making, in shared responsibility, and in the potential for art to help us make our world a better place. It is spectacularly eclectic in form, often delightful and occasionally uncomfortable.”

If you had the opportunity to give $1000 to an agency which satisfies the daily needs of its clients, works for system change, or is involved in the field of education, helps making new opportunities or gives direct financial aid, which would you chose.  That was the task of the 199 other people who I worked with had as its goal.

We spent an hour and a half, hearing from legislatures, community workers, those in need.  We observed short skits acting out the needs of people, heard statistics on where the needs were, listened to appeals, investigated which local areas were the hardest hit.  Then, after discussing our thoughts with our “team mates,” who included the county commissioner, the Artistic Director of the Cleveland Play House, the minister for religious services for the county jails, several college professors, local performers, lawyers, a newspaper reporter and some who identified themselves as “average citizens,” we made our individual decisions.

With our five dollars in hand, we told our group leader on which clothes line to hang our bills.  After all the money was attached by clothespins, the money was counted, and our night, Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, which provides permanent supportive housing, transitional housing treatment, housing vouchers and apartment searching to homeless men, received that night’s money.

Our drive home was filled with a lively discussion about what we learned, how the experience had opened out eyes, how wonderful if sociology, community planning and civics classes could be taught with a method such as this theatrical experience a truly practical life-educational experience.

Capsule judgement: If Cleveland Public Theatre ever brings “How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes (with 199 People You May or May Not Know),” back, and they should, make every effort to participate in this theatrical extraordinary learning experience.

Next up at CPT:   You are invited into the live studio audience of the World Premiere of Leila Buck’s “American Dreams,” where you will decide which of three contestants will receive the ultimate prize: citizenship in “the greatest nation on earth.” Weaving playful audience engagement with up-to-the-moment questions about immigration and more, this participatory performance explores how we navigate between fear, security, and freedom; who and what we choose to believe—and how those choices come to shape who we are.  (February 08, 2018 - March 03, 2018 7:00pm, Thu/Fri/Sat/Mon, James Levin Theatre. Previews February 8 – 10 & 15--No show February 12).   For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to

Saturday, January 27, 2018

CPH’s “Marie and Rosetta,” points the spotlight on future-inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

When Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s name appeared on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ballot, there were many who thought, Sister who?  Little did those not familiar with the history of the genre, know that “she was wailing on the guitar before Chuck Berry, shouting call and response before Little Richard, and swaying rhythmically to the music long before Elvis shook his hips.”  In fact, Elvis may have learned his slim hip swiveling from the Sister Rosetta’s pelvis thrusts.

For the uninformed, the swinging gospel music and fierce guitar playing Sister Rosetta was a 1930s and 40s veritable legend who sang gospel music in the morning and performed swing music for the white audiences at the famous Cotton Club in New York’s Harlem.  She justly deserved her selection to this year’s Rock and Roll Museum class as one of rock ‘n’ roll’s earliest icons.

Cleveland Heights’ award winning playwright, George Brant’s “Marie and Rosetta,” now on stage at Cleveland Play House, takes us to 1946 Mississippi where Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Miche Braden) has “plucked prim and proper Marie Knight (Chaz Hodges) from a small-time quartet to join her comeback tour.” 

In their first rehearsal together, which makes up the sum of the 90-minute without intermission show, we find that Marie isn’t as innocent as she looks—she is married, has two children and is older than her teenage image.  We also learn of Rosetta’s life stories and her failed marriages to men she refers to as “squirrels.” 

Why are they rehearsing in a Black-run funeral home surrounded by a number of caskets draped in Rosetta’s costumes, and the place they will sleep after the concert?  This is the segregated South, where Black performers, no matter their status in the music world, are not welcome in public accommodations.  As Sister states, “We step off stage and got to disappear.”  Yes, Whites will flock to their shows, but won’t treat them as equals.

Brant lets us in the on the secrets and life of a woman of firm faith, but who finds it acceptable to shake her abundant hips, spout earthy humor, and make fun of her chief rival, Mahalia Jackson.

She gradually brings the “holier than thou,” rule-bound Marie around to start whaling on the piano and let loose of her rigid body.

Rosetta entertains with “This Train,” a traditional African American gospel song, “I Looked Down the Line (and I Wondered),” another gospel song.”  Marie sings the spiritual, “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)? And Mahalia Jackson’s anthem, “Peace in the Valley.”  Their numerous duets include, “Rock Me,” “Lord, Search My Heart,” “Four or Five Times,” and “Strange Things Happening Every Day.”

Though interesting in content, and filled with humor, the script often bogs down in repeated themes, and lots of talk and limited action.  Part of this is the writing, part Neil Pepe’s static direction. 

Rosetta doesn’t work the audience and display her dynamic presence.  Since she doesn’t actually play the guitar (the sounds are masterfully produced backstage by KJ Denhert) Braden is angled on stage faking the guitar riffs, confining what would be her sexual and dynamic movements.

Chaz Hodges (Marie Knight) doesn’t play her instrument either (her alter-ego is Katreese Barnes, who is off-stage playing a mean piano), adding to the pseudo musical effect of really talented people portraying, rather than being the performers.  One must wonder why, with the vast number of talented performers available in this country, the casting directors couldn’t find two actresses who can fulfil the total requirements of the roles.

In addition, though Miche Braden is a wonderful actress and singer, Miss Knight had some vocal issues on opening night, though she was believable in her acting.

Brandt pulls an abrupt plot switch near the end of the play, which brings the tale to a conclusion, but the transition into that ending was so rapid, it may have slipped past the awareness of the viewer and somewhat leaves the ending unnerving.  (No more would be unfair to future viewers to reveal the conclusion.)

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: George Brant’s “Marie and Rosetta” exposes the personality and vast talent of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, which is a service to the woman and a public which may have been unaware of her effect on the music industry.  Though the play is interesting, and the music is dynamic, it is also a little static in language and staging. 
“Marie and Rosetta” runs through February 11, 2018 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

Next up at CPH: February 17-March 11, 2018.  Ayad Akhtar’s “The Invisible Hand,” a suspenseful narrative in which an American banker specializing in the Pakistani market is kidnapped by Islamic revolutionaries.

Monday, January 22, 2018

GRUPO CORPO leaves them standing at the Ohio Theatre; area dance previews

From the moment patrons entered the lobby of the Ohio Theatre, they knew they were in for a “different” evening of dance.  The Tri-C Jazz group was loudly playing as an invitation to GRUPO CORPO, the world respected Brazilian 
Body Group,” which has created its own theatrical language and choreography.

The dance company is noted for bridging nature and culture, highlighting “all facets of Brazil, past and future, erudite and popular, foreign influence and local color and the urban and the suburban into art.  Brazilian art.”

Founded in 1975 by Paulo Pederneiras, he became the driving force behind the company’s success.  A glance at the program shows the strong Pederneiras influence.  Paulo is Artistic Director, Rodrigo is the choreographer, Pedro is the technical director and Gabriel is the technical coordinator.

The Dance Cleveland/Cuyahoga Community College co-sponsored performance consisted of two pieces, the 32-minute “suíte branca” and the 42-minute “dançe sinfônica.”

Each program segment was made up of mini-units highlighting the company’s erudite repertoire and unique dance vocabulary, combining classical technique with a contemporary interpretation of Brazilian dance forms.

The over-arching concept of the company is clearly seen as each dancer’s physical shape and presence is unique.  In contrast to many dance companies, no body- type dominates, no race stands out, diversity reigns. Each individual form is an instrument to be played in its own way.

The synchronization of movements, body bends, high kicks, same and opposite gender partnering, waves, gymnastics, kips, rolling across the stage, enmeshing, stepping over other dancers, sensual hip movements, unusual lifts, and flailing hands are all incorporated into the moves which parallel the musical sounds.  Humor and high drama are present.

“suíte branca” found the company found the company dressed in all white, on a white floor and cyclorama.  “dançe sinfônica” was highlighted by the women in scarlet while the men were in black.  They danced before a wall of over a thousand informal photographic snapshots made into a backdrop panel, establishing the over-arching mood for the piece.

The effect of the choreography, dancing, setting and music was emotionally moving.  This is an exciting company with a clear mission to expand the world of Brazilian dancing to be more than the expected Samba, and to combine traditional story-telling and Brazilian history with contemporary moves. 

Capsule judgment: “Viva,” (hurray) “admirável,” (marvelous) and a “ovaçäo de pé” (standing ovation) to Grupo Corpo!   Dance Cleveland’s Pam Young chased after the company for ten years until she got them to come to Cleveland.  It was worth the effort.

Next up for Dance Cleveland and Tri-C is CHE MALAMBO, 14 powerful Argentine Gauchos stomping, drumming and dancing on March 17, 2018, 7:30 PM, Ohio Theatre.


Verb Ballets

“Celebrating Black History Month”
February 3, 2018—8 pm
Breen Center, 2008 W. 30th St., Cleveland

Danceworks 2018

Inlet Dance Theatre—April 10-12
Double-Edge Dance and Travesty Dance Group—April 17-19
Anateus Dance and Bones Performance Group-- April 24-26
Verb Ballet—May 1-3


Cleveland Ballet

“Alice in Wonderland”
May 11 (1 pm & 11 pm)
May 12 (11 am)
Ohio Theatre

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Compelling “Grounded” @ Dobama


An unnamed woman (Anjanette Hall), in an Air Force jump suit, confidently stalks the stage telling us, with eyes flashing and intense verbalizations, the thrill she gets from being in the blue, flying missions over enemy territory, and getting together after her missions with the guys to “throw back a few.”  This is obviously a person who is excited about life, as she is living it.

Thus starts Cleveland Heights’ playwright George Brant’s award winning, one-woman show, “Grounded,” now in production at Dobama.   The script was previously given a local staged reading as part of Cleveland Play House’s Fringe Festival.

After the play’s opening exposition scene, we find that the woman falls in love with a man named Eric, gets pregnant, decides to keep the child in-spite of the Air Force rule that women pilots can’t fly while they are pregnant, moves with her family to Las Vegas where she has been reassigned to continue her career, not as a pilot of “real” planes, but of drones who hover over the enemy many miles away from the action. 

Yes, she has become a member of the “Chair Force, the Bermuda Triangle for fighter pilots, as no one ever comes back.”  A satirical, but fortuitous name.

Seated in a windowless trailer, isolated from almost everyone, she spends her time looking at a gray screen, occasionally finding a terrorist and blowing him up, many thousands of miles away. 

She is safe, no danger of crashing her plane or getting shot down, and comes home each night.  But, with the routine of long shifts, repeated similar family time, little personal contact with her former “comrades,” no “blue time,” and little self-fulfillment, our protagonist goes through serious personality changes.  Seemingly, her purpose for life is gone and she spirals out of control, with tragic results.

The play won the 2012 Smith Prize for works about American politics and asks questions about whether the advances in technology have positively or negatively affected the psychological well-being of our armed forces, whether the removal of being actively involved in the “purpose of war” has resulted in PTSD for some former combatants, whether there has to be a rethinking of who should be in the armed forces, and with the changed nature of war, are we more or less safe?

The pilot’s last speech is eerie and maybe scarily true, “You who watch me and think you are safe, know this, know that you are not safe.” 

Think this.  With a quick mood-swinging ego-centric President, who some psychologists declare to be mentally unstable, having access to the red button that could release nuclear missiles that could start World War III or destroy the world, how “safe” are we?

Dobama’s production, under the focused direction of Alice Reagan and the superb tour-de-force performance of Baldwin Wallace professor, Anjanette Hall, is compelling.  No time, during the 85-minute show, does Hall allow the audience’s attention to waver.

Tesia Dugan Benson’s aesthetically pleasing set, though it does little to actually create a visual base for much of the script, is well used by Hall.  Marcus Dana’s light design and Megan Cully’s sound help underscore and enhance the moods and transitions. 

Capsule judgement: “Grounded” is the kind of script and staging on which Dobama fulfills its goal of presenting the best contemporary plays in a professional production of the high quality.  Don Bianchi, the theater’s founder, would have been proud of this must-see production.

“Grounded” runs through February 11, 2018 at Dobama, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

Next up: “The Effect” by Lucy Prebble.  The setting is a drugs-trial unit at Rauschen Pharmaceuticals, where volunteers are taking an experimental antidepressant called RLU37. A psychiatrist is tracking their behavior, but we in the audience are the ones really keeping watch and being watched.  March 2-25, 2018.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Pulitzer Prize winning “Angels in America, Part 1” is compelling at Ensemble

On February 23, the Broadway previews for Tony’s Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, “Angels in America:  A Gay Fantasia On National Themes,” which won 7 Tony Awards in its original production, will begin.  It will be directed by Marianne Elliott who was responsible for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time” and “War Horse,” and star Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane. 

Lucky you.  It is unnecessary to go to New York to see a production of this epic.  It is now running at Ensemble Theatre as part of their “We The People” 2017-2018 season.  The first segment, subtitled “Angels in America, Part One:  Millennium Approaches,” is running until January 28.  In April, “Angels in America, Part Two:  Perestroika,” will be staged at the theatre.

The play is thought-provoking, character-driven, and complex. 

Centering on church and societal attitudes toward homosexuality, AIDS in America in the 1980s, psychological illness, relationships, political power and supernatural beings (angels and ghosts), it has metaphorical overtones while probing real issues, real people (e.g., Roy Cohen, the legal counsel for the McCarthy Un-American Activities committee) and unnerving ideas.

Set in New York City at the end of October, 1985, the story basically centers on a gay couple (Prior Walter and Louis Ironson) who seem to have a solid relationship until Prior is diagnosed with AIDS.  In panic, Louis abandons Prior. Also showcased are Mormons Joseph Pitt, a closeted homosexual and his wife Harper, who is paranoid and agoraphobic.   Joseph is encouraged by Roy Cohn, a political heavy-weight, to take a position in the Justice Department.  Cohn’s offer is not without purpose, as he expects Joseph to protect him from possible recriminations for bribery and legal manipulation. 

In a state of delusion, Prior begins to receive “visits” from a pair of ghosts who claim to be his own ancestors, and hears an angelic voice telling him to prepare for her arrival.  Meanwhile, Harper retreats into a drug-fueled escapist fantasy, including a dream where she and Prior meet, even though the two of them have never met in the real world.  Joe begins an affair with Louis.

Though he contends he is not gay, but does admits to having sex with men, Cohn is diagnosed with AIDS.  He says he is suffering from cancer, and uses his political connections to get a supply of the newly discovered, experimental drug AZT.  In his delirium he is confronted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, who, along with her husband, were convicted of espionage when Cohn was the prosecutor at their trial.

The Ensemble production, under the adept direction of Celeste Cosentino, is excellent.  

Scott Esposito gives a sensitive portrayal as Prior Walter.  Esposito has the ability to play gay men (e.g., “The Normal Heart”) with sensitivity and no hint of making the character “fey” and false.  He is, he doesn’t act. and Cleveland Critics Circle acclaimed performer, Jeffrey Grover, creates a clear picture of the egotistical, nasty, manipulative Roy Cohn, as man who is easy to hate.

Craig Joseph’s Louis Ironson is a “schlemiel,” without a backbone or principals, who can’t cope when a situation becomes difficult.  Kelly Strand is properly pathetic as Harper Pitt and James Alexander Rankin, as Harper’s husband, Joe, nicely develops the character’s internal struggle to be true to his Mormon faith, while fighting his homosexuality.

Robert Hunter is excellent as Belize, Prior’s ex-lover and Cohn’s nurse. Inés Joris and Derdriu Ring are very effective in multiple roles.

Ian Hinz’s projection design helps give the visual emphasis needed to flesh out the story.  His set and light designs help create meaning, as do Hinz and Celeste Cosentino’s sound and music selections.

Capsule judgment:  Combine a brilliantly written play that has a compelling purpose, with an adept director, a well-conceived set, sound and lighting, and an excellent cast, and you have a first class theater experience.  Yes, it’s over three hours in length, but if you are interested in history, an exploration of social causes and fine staging, this is a must see!

“Angels in America, Part One, Millennium Approaches” runs January 5-January 28, 2018 on Thursdays through Sundays at Ensemble’s Theatre, housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to

Ensemble’s next production is Charles Smith’s “Jelly Belly, “a story of a convict returning from a brief prison stay to resume his position as the neighborhood kingpin.  It offers an unremittingly bleak portrait of inner-city life and the enormous pressure on working-class black men to be gangsters.”

Monday, January 08, 2018

The Musical Theatre Project presents “The Gershwins in Hollywood”

George and Ira Gershwin penned some of the best popular songs of the 1900s and many film hits including the Academy Award winning, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” and the classic, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”  Their Hollywood scores included the songs and underscoring for “Shall We Dance,” “A Damsel in Distress,” “The Goldwyn Follies” and “The Shocking Miss Pilgrim.”

Unfortunately, George Gershwin died of a brain tumor at age 38, leaving us to wonder what he might have composed. 

The Musical Theatre Project’s lecture-concert, “The Gershwins in Hollywood,” tells the story of George’s last years.

The program features Bill Rudman and Paul Ferguson, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, the Joe Hunter Trio, Vince Mastro and Treva Offutt.

Paul Ferguson, who is the Artistic Director of The Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, is a graduate of the University of Akron and Eastman School of Music.  He is a well-known trombonist who toured with Glenn Miller’s and Tommy Dorsey’s orchestras, playing classic swing arrangements from the 1930s and 40s.

Presently, Ferguson is the director of Jazz Studies at Case Western Reserve University, a position he has held since 1988.  He is an active composer and often plays in the pit when Broadway musicals come to Cleveland.

He has collaborated with The Musical Theatre Project for the past four years, including last year’s Cy Coleman tribute. 

He looks forward to doing the Gershwin program as he thinks that George, though not a jazz composer, “had jazz sensibilities.” 

The concert will also feature Vince Mastro, referred to as the “Dean of Cleveland vocalists” and singer, songwriter, actress, dancer, teacher, musical theater director and visual artist, Treva Offutt.

Performance and ticket information:
Playhouse Square, Hanna Theatre
Saturday, January 27, 2018 | 8:00 PM
Tickets available through Playhouse Square
Call:  216-241-6000
For more information or to purchase  tickets:

Temple-Tifereth Israel
Sunday, January 28, 2018 | 3:00 PM
Tickets available 24 hours a day through Brown Paper Tickets
To purchase tickets by phone:  1-800-838-3006
To purchase online, visit

Friday, January 05, 2018

THEATER AND DANCE PREVIEW—January 2018—Cleveland

Roy Berko

January in Cleveland is cold!  There are usually a limited number of theatre and dance events.  Right?  Cold, yes.  But, you may be surprised by the number of venues which have events.  Go!  Enjoy!

Sunday, Jan. 28 at 2 p.m.
Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage
2929 Richmond Road, Beachwood
Kate Fodor’s PHARMACOLOGY: THE NEXT FRONTIER! Testing a new drug that will make us happy to go to work. What could possibly go wrong?
(Designed to accompany the current museum exhibition Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews & Medicine in America.)

Tickets: 216 593-0575 or at
(Your museum admission ($12.00 non-members) includes your ticket to the reading. Members are asked for a $6 donation.)


Grupo Corpo
January 20 (7:30 p.m.) and January 21 (3 p.m.)
Ohio Theatre/Playhouse Square

DANCECleveland and Tri-C present the Brazilian sensational dance group, known for their “fizzy, high-voltage dance,” will perform “Suite Branca” and Dança Sinfônica.

Tickets:  Starting at $25, call 216-241-6000 or visit

January 20-February11
Cleveland Play House
Check schedule for curtain times

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, "The Godmother of Rock n' Roll" who influenced performers from Elvis to Hendrix, plucks prim and proper Marie Knight from a rival gospel show, and the two challenge one another on music, life, and the Almighty.

Tickets:  216-241-6000 or go to


January 24-28 (7:30)
Cleveland Public Theatre

Over the course of 90 minutes, audiences list, explore and ultimately decide how to spend $1,000 from that evening’s box office sales.

Tickets:  216-631-2727 or go on line to

January 19-30

Cleveland writer George Brant’s award winning poetic monologue about a hotshot fighter pilot sidelined by pregnancy and reassigned to manage drone strikes.

Tickets:  216-932-3396 or


January 5-25
Ensemble Theatre

Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winning play--Set in 1980's New York City, a gay man is abandoned by his lover when he contracts the AIDS virus, and a closeted Mormon lawyer's marriage to his pill-popping wife stalls.  New Yorkers grapple with life and death, love and sex, heaven and hell.

Tickets:  216-321-2930 or http://www.ensemble-theatre/

January 9-29
State Theatre/PlayhouseSquare

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, picks up the tale 10 years after the Phantom’s disappearance from the Paris Opera House and has escaped to New York where he lives in Coney Island.  Christine, who is now a famous opera singer, is lured to America by the Phantom in a last attempt to win her love.

Tickets:  216-241-6000 or go to

The Musical Theatre Project presents--THE GERSHWINS IN HOLLYWOOD
January 27—Hanna Theatre, 28—Temple Tifereth Israel

George and Ira penned some of the best popular songs of the decade. This is the story of George’s last years, capped by the brothers’ iconic “Love Is Here to Stay.”  Featuring Bill Rudman and Paul Ferguson, Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, the Joe Hunter Trio, Vince Mastro and Treva Offutt.

Tickets: or 216-529-9411