Sunday, July 28, 2019

Pleasurable “Music Man” at Porthouse

Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” is one of American musical theatre’s most produced shows.  Professional, community and educational theatres stage the show on a regular basis.  The songfest, which is as American as apple pie and a Fourth of July fireworks display, is now on stage at Porthouse Theatre.

The show’s march to popularity was not an easy one.  After many years of trying to convert Willson and Franklin Lacey’s hokey story into a musical, trying to shoehorn almost 40 songs into the score (twenty-two were eventually cut), more than forty script drafts, and a change of producers, the show finally opened on Broadway on December 19, 1957.

Opening night reviews were sensational, calling the production, “a marvelous show,” “rooted in wholesome and comic tradition,” and “a whopping hit.”  It went on to win five Tony Awards, including winning Best Musical recognition over “West Side Story.”  Praise was heaped on original cast members, Robert Preston, who reprised his title role in the 1962 screen adaptation, and Barbara Cook.

Willson wrote the book “But He Doesn’t Know the Territory” about the trials of getting the show to Broadway. 

Stories include that Wilson’s interest in the story was inspired by his boyhood experiences in Mason City, Iowa.  In addition, it is revealed that the song, “Ya Got Trouble,” was originally spoken dialogue about the serious woes facing River City parents, but during the developmental process it was realized the words had a sound to it that was ideal for a “patter song,” so music was written to underscore the cadence.  

We also become aware that in “the original production (and the film), the School Board was played by the Buffalo Bills, the 1950 International Quartet Champions of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA).”

And, “Robert Preston claimed that he got the role of Harold Hill despite his limited singing range because, when he went to audition, they were having the men sing "Trouble." The producers felt it would be the most difficult song to sing, but with his acting background, it was the easy for Preston.”

As for the story, “the plot concerns con-man, Harold Hill, who poses as a boys' band organizer and leader, selling band instruments and uniforms to naive Midwestern townsfolk.  He promises to train the members of the new band.  Harold is no musician, however, and plans to skip town without giving any music lessons. Prim librarian and piano teacher Marian sees through him.  When Harold helps her younger brother overcome his lisp and social awkwardness, Madam Librarian changes her tune.  And, of course, as happens in all good musical comedy love stories, Marian falls in love and Harold risks being caught to win her hand. As the lights go out all are assured that the duo will live happily ever after.

Though pleasant, the Porthouse production is not without its flaws.

The strengths of the production, under the directorship of Terri Kent, are the enthusiastic large cast, the high quality of the musicianship under the baton of Jonathan Swoboda, the creative set by Nolan O’Dell, the quality of the sound as designed by Parker Strong, where the music and voice balance make for easy hearing of the lyrics, the high quality of singing voices, and some of the performances.

Thom Christopher Warren does a nice job of setting up Harold Hill.  Though he could have been a little more hard-sell in his con-man approach, he is charming enough to be believable as a sham salesman.  He has a good singing voice and his ability to do patter is excellent, as displayed in “Ya Got Trouble.”

Though there seems to be little emotional connection between her and Warren, Emma Sohlberg is properly uptight as Marian, the librarian.  Her “Goodnight, My Someone,” sung with adorable Mai Renard (Amaryllis) was charming.

Mason Henning does a nice turn as “bad boy” Tommy and the Quartet--Tim Culiver, Sam Johnson, Morgan Thomas-Mills and Jay White--were pitch-perfect.  Bernadette Hisey, as has come to be expected from this talented actress, was delightful as Mrs. Paroo.  Rohn Thomas nicely “phumphered” his way as Mayor Shinn.

The dancing, which was enthusiastic and creatively designed, lacked precision.  Maybe after the show runs for a while the movements will look less labored and more polished.

The show would have been aesthetically aided by era-correctly costumes.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “The Music Man” is a staple of the American musical theater genre.  It makes for a wonderful summer escape.  The Porthouse production is not without its flaws, but all in all, the end result is a pleasurable experience.

“Music Man” runs at Porthouse Theatre through August 11, 2019.  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to

Monday, July 22, 2019

Nicely conceived "Chess" production enhances a weak script at Near West

Most musicals follow the tried and true pattern of being written in a format that it is expected to be examined and redone through a series of readings, rewrites, staged readings, rewrites, previews, more rewrites, and, if lucky, a full-staged production.  As the process continues the script and score are improved to attempt to ensure that they are well-integrated.

Unfortunately, from the developmental perspective, “Chess” was first a concept album, then there was an attempt to develop a stage musical.  This is not totally unusual.  Other shows, such as “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Evita” followed this format and did fairly well, but most shows, whose names you don’t know because they never “made it,” haven’t fared so well.

Why would a writing and producing team choose to break the mold, when the odds are against the venture being successful?  Usually it is because they don't have the capital to go through the usual process, so they figure that selling the album will raise the money to mount a production.

In the case of “Chess” the concept album was released in the autumn of 1984.  The recording was such a hit that, even when the show itself received such reviews as being described as "a suite of temper tantrums, [where] the characters ... yell at one another to rock music," and that "Chess” assaults the audience with a relentless barrage of scenes and numbers that are muscle-bound with self-importance," the West End production ran three years.  The same fate did not greet the much-altered US-version premiered on Broadway in 1988, which barely survived for two months.

The script tends to be contrived. The music may work well as a concert piece, but is not totally appropriate for a musical.  And the production was rudderless as illustrated by the fact that the first preview on the West End “ran 4 hours with a 90-minute intermission.” 

Opinions vary as to why the show was never a real hit.  The easiest description was that the book for the story line was never well-developed and the music /lyrics never fit smoothly into the story.  As such, in trying to make the show better, many different versions of the show have been put on over the years, featuring modified plots, different selections of music, and various casts of characters.

Though the musical plays out as a chess match, inspired by some of the political machinations surrounding the 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Championship competition, the script basically tells of a love triangle between two chess playing grandmasters and a woman who serves as a manager to one of the players but falls in love.  

Oh, if it were only that simple.  All sorts of other disparaging themes emerge including the Hungarian revolution against the Soviet Union, the personal eccentricity of the reclusive American chess aficionado, the Cold War political posturing between the US and Russia, the rocky marriage of the Russian chess player, and am attempt at political asylum, just to name a few of the side trips.

Despite the fact that the musical itself could never seem to settle on a single format that worked, the music from “Chess” composed by Benny Andersson and Björn of the pop group ABBA, (the same ABBA whose tunes are used in the juke box musical “Mamma Mia”) with lyrics by Ulvaeus and Tim Rice, has remained popular. 

“Tim Rice admitted that after the comparative failure of “Chess,” his all-time favorite, he became disillusioned with theatre." He commented, "It may sound arrogant, but “Chess” is as good as anything I've ever done. And maybe it costs too much brainpower for the average person to follow it."

Or, maybe if time had been spent developing a solid story and book before shoe-horning in pre-written songs that often have nothing to do with the plot, the result would have been different.

The question may well be raised as to why Near West Theatre chose to do “Chess.”  Maybe, part of the answer lies in the theatre’s mission.

“Near West Theatre builds loving relationships and engages diverse people in strengthening their sense of identity passion, and purpose, individually and in community through accessible, affordable and transformational theatre arts experiences.  Near West is an open and affirming organization.”

Though many of their shows are of high production quality, the organization’s social service mission, making sure that those who participate, on and off stage, are in a safe zone, are respected no matter their race, religion, ethnicity, body shape, sexual orientation or age, holds paramount. 

To carry out their inclusive nature shows tend to have large casts, putting Equity actors on stage is not a priority and human process is as important as theatrical product.   In addition, shows are often chosen to aid the mostly tween and teenagers to learn history and sociological lessons.  “Chess” does exactly that.

Near West’s production, under the direction of Kelcie Nicole Dugger, has some excellent, textured performances, e.g., Grant Bell (Anatoly Sergievsky) and Sarah Farris (Florence Vassy) both develop very believable personas and have excellent voices.  Unfortunately, others tend to posture and act rather than react, scream rather than develop intense emotions. 

Many of the chorus admirably stay in character, listening and reacting to the dialogue, while others draw attention to themselves, upstaging the speeches and song lyrics of the soloists through over-wrought gestures and over-done facial expressions. 

Scott Pyle’s musicians play well, though sometimes they get a little overly enthusiastic and drown out the vocals.

The interestingly designed choreography by Josh Landis insured that all the members of the chorus were given the chance to perform.

Todd Plone’s scenic design sets the correct moods, and were intensified by Adam Ditzel’s lighting.  Melody Walker and Lady Jen Ryan did an excellent job of designing period correct costumes.

(Side-comment:  Congrats to Trinidad Snider, a Near West Theatre alum, and one of the area’s premiere musical theater performers, on her appointment as NWT Artistic Director.)


Capsule judgment: “Chess” is not a well-conceived script.  The Near West Theatre’s production was, generally, more effective than the material.

" Chess" runs through August 4, 2019.  For tickets 216-961-6391or go to

Saturday, July 20, 2019

“Tom at the Farm,” now on stage at convergence continuum, unfolds with blurred boundaries between lust and brutality, truth and fiction.  It blends psychological-thriller elements as it moves toward an unsettling plunge into a nightmare of fear, intolerance and fantasy.

Written by Michel Marc Bouchard, a Canadian playwright, the 2011 script was adapted into film in 2013.

The tale centers on Tom.  Following the death of Guillame, his lover, who was killed in an accident, Tom goes from Montreal to the Quebec countryside for the funeral.  He knows little of the family, and they know nothing of him.

The late boyfriend’s mother thought Guillame had a girlfriend in the big city.  When happening upon Tom, who lets himself into their house, she’s displeased that it is not the “girlfriend” who is there to go to the funeral.

The mother is unaware of Guillame’s homosexuality, but it is not a secret to his older brother, who killed his sibling’s high school lover rather than let the word get out about their relationship.  Word, that, in this small religious town, would have been scandalous.

Francis, the brother, taunts and tortures Tom, while showing sexual interest.  The arrival of Guillame’s “girl-friend,” in an unexplainable plot twist, adds to the obtuseness of the story line.  The ending, which is out of right-field, adds yet another level of both intrigue and preposterousness to the tale.
The con con production is strong. The directing by Tom Kondilas fulfills the writer’s desires.  The acting is of high quality. 

Kudos to Mike Frye (Tom), Daniel McElhaney (Francis) and Madelyn Voltz (Sara) for nicely texturing their performances.  Laura Starnik is exceptional as Agatha, Guillame’s mother.

Be aware that the set, which consists of three different acting spaces, spreads the entire length of the acting space, making clear-seeing difficult for anyone except those who sit in the center section facing the stage. 

Capsule Judgment: “Tom at the Farm” fulfills the theatre’s mission of “expanding human imagination and extends the conventional boundaries of language, structure, space and performance.”  This is the kind of play with sexual overtones and the bizarre that turns on the typical con-con loyalist.  Overall, in spite of strong production, the play leaves us wanting since we don’t develop strong feelings of connection with any of the characters and the contrived nature of the plot.

“Tom at the Farm” runs through August 3, 2019, 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: Two by Pinter: “A Slight Ache” and “Landscape” (August 8-10) followed by “Shakespeare’s R&J,” a play set in a boys boarding school.  Four students discover a forbidden text of a Shakespeare play and secretly enact the script in a deluge of adolescent agitation, terror, and fierce desires that parallel their own lives.  (August 30-September 21, 2019)

Monday, July 15, 2019

Kids and choreography enhance MATILDA @ Beck Center

What do “James and the Giant Peach,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “George’s Marvelous Medicine” all have in common?  They were all written by Roald Dahl. 

The British author’s short stories, many of which were written for children, are known for their unexpected endings, dark comic mood, and villainous adult enemies of the child characters.

His 1988 “Matilda” has been adopted by Dennis Kelly, as a stage musical.  It has music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, and is now on stage at Beck Center. 

“Matilda The Musical” is the story of a 5-year-old girl with extraordinary powers.   She is the daughter of a self-centered father who calls her “boy” because he didn’t want a girl, and a ditzy mother whose life centers on dance contests and an infatuation with her Latino dance partner. Matilda finds refuge in books.  She reads the books and acts them out for the school’s librarian.
School is a nightmare for the child.  Between the students who resent her superior intellectual abilities and Miss Trunchbull, the hunchback sex-neutral head mistress who believes “Children are maggots,” her only refuge is her kind and caring teacher, Miss Honey and the school librarian.

We watch with pleasure as Matilda stands up against the adults in her world, and in doing so, discovers her own remarkable powers.

Matilda’s bravery teaches Miss Honey and her classmates an important lesson -- that even though life can be hard, “nobody but me is going to change my story” so “sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.”

The musical script is a compilation of various Matilda stories, which I found out from the adorable pre-tween brother and sister sitting behind me opening night.  They knew all the stories and delighted each other by whispering, “Do you know what is going to happen next?”  And, then, of course, relating the happenings.  Ah, the joys of children and children-oriented theater.

“Matlida The Musical” opened on the West End in London in 2011, winning the prestigious Olivier Award for best new musical in 2012.  The show won the 2013 award for best musical on Broadway, where the show ran for 1,555 performances.

Having seen both the London and Broadway productions, and not being particularly enamored by either, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by the Beck Center production. I enjoyed the nicely paced second act, the marvelous kids, and Martin Céspedes’ choreography.  

Nine-year-old Sophia Tsenekos was delightful as Matilda.  (She trades off the role with Ella Stec, who I did not see portray the role.)  Sophia lights up the stage whenever she appears.  This is a triple-threat little Thespian who can sing, dance and act at high levels.  Watch for her name to appear in local, and possibly national playbills.  Yes, she is that good!

Finn O’Hara captivates as the awkward Bruce.  His “eat the whole cake” scene was a total delight as were his physical education class hijinks.

Samantha Lucas has a fine singing voice and was totally realistic as Miss Honey.  Her “My House” was lovely.

Neda Spears shines as Mrs. Phelps, the librarian.  Her interplay with Matilda was endearing.

Grace Mackin delights as Lavendar, Matilda’s friend.

Portraying Miss Trunchbull, Trey Gilpin made the wise decision to tone-down the overacting which was present in both the London and Broadway productions.  The character is evil enough as-is and overdoing the role makes him ridiculous rather than pathetic. 

Timothy Allen’s Mr. Wormwood displayed the typical Brit bar-pub exaggeration.  His between-acts routine, however, needed better farcical timing.  Maybe even elimination as Americans don’t often understand or go in for that kind of “entertainment.” 

Olivia Billings and Joey Carmello were a big over-the-top, as the mother and Rudolpho, though their dancing, especially Carmello’s hip movements, were well-conceived.
The kids (both the young ones and the more mature variety) were universally outstanding.  They acted and sang with high quality results.  Their stage movement/dancing was very impressive. 

Choreographer Martin Céspedes proved once again that he has a knack for being able to get anyone to look like talented dancers.  He appears to be a master in difficult task of working with children.  I thought this show’s choreography was, in some ways, more impressive and creative than the professional productions I saw. 

Unfortunately, the decision was made for the cast to use British accents.  It’s hard enough for American ears to understand Brits who speak the language naturally.  But, with Beck’s terrible sound system, which makes echoes out of spoken and sung words, adding the accents made understanding the words almost impossible.  Thank goodness I had the kids behind me telling the tale, or I would have been totally lost.

(Side note:  Beck has spent a great deal of money on a projection system that has paid off in wonderful effects in not only this show, but in recent musicals.  Why the powers that be do not realize that good efforts is being under-mined with bad acoustics and a malfunctioning sound system is beyond comprehension!  (Don’t blame the sound people.  They do the best with what they have been given.)

Musical Director Larry Goodpaster honed his singers and musicians well, Trad Burns scenic designs enhanced the production as did Burns and Jason Taylor’s projections.

Huzzah to Scott Spence on directing his 100th show at the Beck Center.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Matilda The Musical” is the kind of show that many will like, especially kids who have read the book.  Wonderful performances by the kids in the cast and creative choreography make the show a pleasant sit, in spite of not being able to understand much of the dialogue due to the poor sound system and English accents.
“Matilda The Musical” is scheduled to run at Beck Center for the Arts through, 2019.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go online to  

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Toxic Avenger--a slapstick, double entendre farcical delight at Blank Canvas

Blank Canvas has a niche audience.  They love slasher, off-the-wall, ridiculous plotted plays, especially musicals.

The nerdy group that calls this theatre their home away from home, will find “The Toxic Avenger” well within their scope. 

Yeah, this is “The Toxic Avenger,” the 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?)

If you are not a regular BC attender, before you come to the conclusion 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 has an affinity for the bizarre, not to enjoy themselves. 

So, what’s all the fun about? 

Once upon a time in Tromaville, New Jersey, there was a corrupt Mayor-lady (who resembles former-Governor Chris Christy in many ways), 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, men and women dressing in drag, lots of quick costume changes, and some bad puns.  Also on stage is a singing and dancing nun, water cannons squirting the audience, a splatter zone where audience members get sprayed with water and other substances and, of course, Toxie, running wild.  Oh, and there are some good zingers aimed at POTUS.

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.”

Patrick Ciamacco, the one-man crew at Blank Canvas--he directs, designs and builds sets, does special effects, makes the popcorn sold before and at intermission, while personally financing the whole shebang, adds to his chores for this show.  He admirably plays Toxie, the lead role.  The hulking hulk, he of green and molting skin and a hanging eyeball, has a powerful singing voice and great comic timing. 

For this production Ciamacco relinquishes the directorial reigns to Molly Claassen, who does a smash up job keeping the mayhem constantly moving and the creative juices flowing.  It is amazing to see what the BC thespians do with little space, littler money, “chutzpah,” and a lot of imagination. 

Musical Director Rachel Woods generally controls her players so that most of the dialogue and lyrics can be heard.

Noah Hrbek (White Dude) and Sydney Smith (Black Dudette) are a hoot as they change sexual orientations, accents and costumes with ease.  “Hey, waddya tink,” dis is ‘posed to be fun an’ dees two helps-uh-lot.”

Leslie Andrews, she of “zaftig” cleavage, makes the most of her assets (the physical and vocal ones) to create a nasty Mayor Babs.  She also hits the stage as Ma Ferd and the nun.  She even plays two people at once.  Talk about being multi-talented.

Pat Miller is adorable as the love-struck Melvin, a man with a mission to save New Jersey from itself.

Pretty Madeline Krucek stumbles around the stage as the blind Sarah, singing with a fine voice and nicely developing her role.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “The Toxic Avenger” isn’t great theater, but it is lots of fun for those inclined to enjoy the bizarre and are willing to laugh at the slapstick shticks that make this production a wonderful summer escape. 

“The Toxic Avenger “runs through July 25, 2019 at Blank Canvas, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.   For tickets and directions go to

Next up at Blank Canvas is “Lobby Hero,” which asks what happens when emotions come in conflict with principles.  The script was written by the 2017 Oscar-winning author of “Manchester by The Sea.”

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Emotional, humorous, heroic “Come From Away” is a must see at the Connor Palace

When I saw “Come From Away” on Broadway I was totally blown away!  As the lights faded on the last scene I shot out of my seat to give a standing, yelling salute.  Yes, me, the person who doesn’t believe in standing ovations unless the show is an A+ was totally “in” on awarding this exceptional musical drama and its immersing experience.

And, yes, I was on my feet again at the ending of the Key Bank Broadway version of the show, now on stage at the Connor Palace. 

“Come From Away” is from the new genre of musical dramas, that seamlessly integrates music and story together so that the spoken words and lyrics are one and the same. “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Next to Normal” are prime examples of this genre.  These musicals don’t have dance interludes.  The staging incorporates movement and what would normally be termed as dance, together.  No show stoppers here, just story telling.

“Come from Away” is a Canadian musical with book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. 

The musical, which is the result of visits by the authors to Newfoundland and numerous interviews with local and international participants, spotlights the true stories of the generosity and kindness of the people of Canada following the 9/11 tragic events as it relates to thousands of people of various nationalities and religions.

The action takes place on the island of Newfoundland — thousands of miles away from New York City’s World Trade Center, Washington D.C.’s Pentagon, and Pennsylvania’s Somerset County, where on that iconic day three terrorists hijacked and crashed planes, thus changing the course of modern world history.

The Federal Aviation Agency immediately closed the United States’ airspace following the attack and Canadian air traffic control stepped in to help planes coming to the US.

As part of “Operation Yellow Ribbon,” they landed 38 jumbo jets and four military flights at Newfoundland’s Gander International Airport — the nearest sizable available airport on the continent.
As a result of the detour, 6,759 passengers and airline crew members, plus 9 cats, 11 dogs, and a pair of endangered apes, arrived at the small northeastern town and nearly doubled its population of 9,651.

(To put the mind-boggling event in perspective, realize that Gander is about the physical size and population of Vermillion, Ohio!)

The musical drama opened to rave reviews when it was first produced at Sheridan College in Ontario, Canada.  It went on to record-breaking runs at four other venues in the United States and Canada before it opened in New York in 2017, to extremely positive critical reviews and resounding box office success.  The show has been playing to standing-room-only audiences on the Great White Way ever since.

The Key Bank Broadway touring show is meticulously directed by Broadway’s Christopher Ashley with creative staging by Kelly Devine and scenic design by Beowulf Boritt.  The staging centers use of just a dozen or so chairs, a couple of tables and a lot of imagination, creating visual depictions of airplanes, buses, a bar, a school, a skating rink and the great outdoors.

The compelling music for the tour is supervised by Ian Isendrath.

Starting with the powerful “Welcome to the Rock” through “38 Planes” and “I Am Here,” to “Me and the Sky” and “Stop the World” to “Somethings Missing” there is not one moment of let-down.  Humor, pathos, empathy and drama reign supreme.

The cast is universally outstanding.  Each takes on numerous roles, changing accents and personas, with ease and conviction.  Each gives a textured, believable performance, displaying humor and dramatic depth-of-character development.  

Special hurrahs to soloists Andrew Samonsky (“Prayer”), Danielle K. Thomas (“I Am Here”), Kevin Carolan (“Screech In”), Becky Gulsvig (“Me and the Sky”) and Chamblee Ferguson and Christine Toy Johnson (“Stop the World”).

Don’t plan to run for your vehicle at the conclusion.  The Canadian hoe-down that is part of the curtain call is, by itself, worth the price of admission.  (I dare you not to stomp, hoot and clap your way through that experience.)

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Come From Away” is a special musical that creatively tells a heart-wrenching story of compassion, caring and a display of the best of humanity with humor and pathos.  It makes for one of those special moments in the theater.  The touring production is beyond excellent and is an absolutely must see!!  

“Come From Away” runs through July 28, 2019 as part of the Key Bank Broadway Series.  To purchase tickets, visit, call 216-241-6000 or go to

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Cannons, fireworks, a bird @ Blossom & previews of "different" upcoming events

Where can you sit in a covered amphitheater, with near-perfect acoustics, surrounded by the wonders of nature, be startled by cannon shots and see a wonderful fireworks show while listening to one of the greatest orchestras in the world?  The answer:  Blossom Musical Festival!

The venue’s July 5 and 6 program, RHAPSODY IN BLUE, showcased the extraordinary conducting skills of Roderick Cox and featured SYMPHONIC SUITE from “On the Waterfront,” RHAPSODY IN BLUE, the SUITE from THE FIREBIRD (1919 revision) and FESTIVAL OVERTURE:  THE YEAR 1812.

Written by Leonard Bernstein, the score for “On the Waterfront” has the gritty sounds of conflict and an intensity of tension.  It’s the world of prize fighters and dockworkers, the violence of gangs with the underbelly of a love story. 

Strains of Bernstein’s “On The Town” and “West Side Story” pepper the audience engaging score.

Handsome young conductor Roderick Cox became so physically engaged in the music to the degree that the intensity of score emanated from his tall muscled body.

RHAPSODY IN BLUE, a jazz-style concerto, a work for piano solo and jazz band plus strings, was beautifully interpreted by the orchestra and award-winning pianist Aaron Diehl, whose delicate touch and emotionally involving playing brought a deep depth of feeling to the piece. 

Barely caressing the keys, the light fingering of the difficult score, brought about strong audience response. He rewarded the assemblage’s extended standing ovation with a very seldom seen mid-concert encore.

Just before the piece started, a yelp from the stage and sudden movement revealed that a bird had tried to land on the shoulder of a violinist.  She jumped ,the bird tumbled to the ground, rolled to the lip of the stage, was quickly scooped up by a patron in the front row, eliciting cheers from the audience.  The quick thinker carried the avian over to an usher who gained more applause when he set the bird in flight.  Only at Blossom!

The program ended with the enthralling SUITE from the FIREBIRD, Igor Stravinsky’s ballet score, based on a Russian folk tale, which had been arranged as an orchestral suite to be performed without dancers.

The program ended with cannons firing, fireworks shooting into the air during and after Tchaikovsky’s FESTIVAL OVERTURE:  THE YEAR 1812, and the audience shrieking well-earned approval. 

Tchaikovsky once said of the piece, a musical commemoration of the victory of Russian forces over Napoleon at the gates of Moscow, “It will be loud.”  And he was absolutely right!  Loud, in the best sense of the word.

Capsule judgment:  Cleveland Orchestra’s July 5 and 6 concert was an encompassing delight.  The orchestra performed masterfully under the disciplined baton of Roderick Cox.  Aaron Diehl brilliantly interpreted Gershwin’s RHAPSODY IN BLUE and the cannons and fireworks ended an evening of memorable music.


Besides the more traditional theatres, there are offerings that should be considered for your summer enjoyment.  How about . . .

800-1141 or

SOUTH PACIFIC (August 25—8 PM) – Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic Broadway show presented in concert in collaboration with Baldwin Wallace University’s Music Theatre Program.  Performed by the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by Andy Einhorn and staged by Victoria Bussert.


FOR GOOD:  THE NEW GENERATION OF MUSCIALS, VOL.4 (July 17 Alma Theatre) -- In partnership with The Musical Theater Project--From the cutting edge BE MORE CHILL to the contemporary KINKY BOOTS, musicals produced since 2000 have awakened audiences to new possibilities for America's great art form.  Hosted by Nancy Maier and Sheri Gross the production features singers Bridie Carroll and Eric Fancher.

THE LAST FIVE YEARS (July 25-27 Alma Theatre) -- Jason Robert Brown’s classic musical about love, loss and the moments we wish we could do over. (Presented by The Passion Project.)


SHADOW OF THE RUN Chapter 1:  WanderLust (July 25-28 and Aug 1,3,4 show times begin at 6pm and starting every 20 mins with the last group starting at 10pm)

A 90-minute immersive experience in which audience members are put in the middle of the action where their experience is determined by the choices they make. With 19 Actors and only 14 audience members per show it's a very unique approach.
Takes place in and around historic downtown Bedford (meet at 50 South Park Street)
Length: 90 minutes.  Restrictions: 18+ (16+ if accompanied by a parent)
Note:  The performance takes place over multiple buildings that require standing, walking and use of staircases.
Cost: $40  Tickets must be purchased in advance online at  There will be no door sales.

Free admission
For times and places go to

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (July 19-August 4) -- A respectable nobleman lives in the idyllic Italian town of Messina.  He shares his house with his lovely young daughter, his playful, clever niece, and his elderly brother. What ensues is Shakespeare at his creative best!

Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens (outdoor performances)
714 N. Portage Path, Akron or 1-888-718-4253 opt.1

MEASURE FOR MEASURE (July 26-August 11) -- Intrigues, disguises, and amorous plots propel this twisted, comedic adventure to its unexpected conclusion.

On the grounds of Blossom or 330-929-4416 or 330-672-3884

THE MUSIC MAN (July 25-August 11)— The “Seventy-Six Trombones” musical story of a fast-talking salesman who arrives in River City, Iowa to con the townspeople and hurry off with their money, but he doesn't count on falling for the town librarian in the process.  (See this classic at Porthouse before its scheduled fall Broadway revival.)

convergence continuum or 216-687-0074
Thursday-Saturday @ 8

TOM AT THE FARM (Jul 12-Aug 3) -- After the sudden death of his lover, Tom travels from the city to a remote farm for the funeral, and finds a religious family who know nothing of his existence. Tom is threatened by the deceased’s brother and is drawn into a brutal, sexually-charged game.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

“Tintypes” plays a patriotic tune at Porthouse

It is reasonable, with the Cleveland Orchestra playing its annual “Salute to America” at Blossom, just yards away, and POTUS going through what appears to be his childhood dream of having tanks, planes and fireworks light up the nation’s capital for its birthday, that Porthouse Theatre get into the mood by staging “Tintypes,” a musical revue with almost fifty patriot songs.

The Mary Kyte, Mel Marvin and Gary Pearle musical is a tuneful, high-level composite of popular songs from 1890 to 1917, the highlight period of American immigration.  It’s the era often called “America’s last age of Innocence.”  It’s the era when the newbies were taught the American way through song, dance and razz-ma-tazz musicals.

The 1917 cut-off date is significant as it was in that year that the U.S. Congress enacted The Literacy Act, the country’s first widely restrictive immigration law. 

This was reinforced with the passing of the Immigration Act of 1924 whose purpose was to “distinguish the United States as an autonomous political community.” The term often serves to explain efforts to reinforce the national identity and stress self-determination of national and international affairs. 

That legislation, strongly backed by “nationalists,” who strongly believed in “nativism,” “perceived Jews, Muslims, [Asians], agnostics and naturalized citizens as something less than truly American.”

(Side note:  it is this same type who believe that to be an American means to be “white, Christian and male” and, therefore, today are strongly in favor of legal and physical walls being built to exclude Latinos from immigration.) 

The musical tells the story of pre-anti-immigration times.  It’s the era that changed the cultural and ethnic makeup of the nation. “The transcontinental railroad and Carnegie Hall were built, electricity and the telephone were introduced to homes, cowboy Theodore Roosevelt became President of the United States, automobiles joined horse-drawn carriages on city streets, and children worked in factories for twenty-five cents a day.”

The score features works by George M. Cohan, John Philip Sousa, Scott Joplin, and Victor Herbert.  It’s quintessential Americana at its most glorious flag-waving apex. 

Starting with the immigrants, who thought to be “The Yankee Doodle Boy” was the goal for every new arrival to “Stars and Stripes Forever,” the revue showcases the dreams and aspirations of the country at the turn of the century. 

The tale shifts to investigating growth and industrial creativity as “Electricity” and “The Factory” are sung.

The bully attitudes of Teddy Roosevelt, the joys of being, as expressed in “The Ragtime Dance” and the power of the country as showcased in “I Want What I Want When I Want it” flow rapidly and climaxes in a fireworks of patriotism highlighted in “You’re A Grand Old Flag” and a repeat of “The Yankee Doodle Boy.”  

The revue ran for 137 performances in its off-Broadway presentation and then another 93 performances when it was moved to a Broadway theatre.

The Porthouse production, nicely directed and choreographed by Eric van Baars, with fine musical direction by Jennifer Korecki, is a cornucopia of enthusiasm. 

On opening night, the production was aided by a loud 4th of July fireworks display at the conclusion of the national birthday celebration by the Cleveland Orchestra, which shares the grounds with the theatre, which paralleled the finale of the play.

The cast all had strong voices, interpreted the meanings of the songs, had the right patriotic attitude and nicely performed the creative choreography.

Highlight numbers included “In My Merry Oldsmobile,” “What It Takes to Make Me Love You—You’ve Got It,” “Shortnin” Bread,” “The Ragtime Dance,” “Then I’d Be Satisfied With Life,” “When It’s All Goin’ Out and Nothing Comin’ In,” and “We Shall Not Be Moved.”

Devin Pfeiffer, he of expressive face and boyish charm, was delightful as Charlie, the immigrant.  He has a nice sense of comic timing and dances with joy and skill.

Beautiful Shamara Costa is a talented singer and actress. She who developed a Susannah who lit up the stage each time she appeared.

Mavis Jennings made for a bully good Teddy (Roosevelt).

Samantha Kennett had the right attitude and voice to portray the firebrand known as Emma Goldman, the union organizer and voice of the people. 

Josy Soriano delighted as the manipulative Anna Held. 

Ryan T. Patterson’s set, consisting of a back wall illumination of the lower east side of New York, and a cobblestone painted thrust stage, nicely set the mood.  Susan J. William’s costume designs were era correct.

The show is a little long, and would have been helped by cutting or eliminating the vaudeville scene, which at best, was mildly humorous.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Tintypes” is a musical revue which reminds of the desires, values and worth of immigrants.  It reinforces the idea of why the less fortunate of the world are willing to risk their very lives in their desire to live the American dream. In its own way, it highlights the present battle over immigration. 

“Tintypes” runs at Porthouse Theatre through July 20, 2019  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to

NEXT UP AT PORTHOUSE: “The Music Man,” Meredith Wilson’s delightful “Seventy-Six Trombones” tale of
con-artist Harold Hill who learns that love can lead to unexpected endings. (July 25-August 11)