Wednesday, January 22, 2020

“JERSEY BOYS” --“Oh, What a Night,” once again, at the Connor Palace

It’s back!  “JERSEY BOYS,” the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, is back in residence at the Connor Palace in Playhouse Square for a short run. 

How many times can one see the show and still appreciate it?  Obviously from the large enthusiastic crowd who braved the cold to get to opening night, the answer to “JERSEY BOYS” is, “As many times as the powers that be bring it back!”

“JERSEY BOYS” is a jukebox musical, a compilation of formerly written songs shoehorned into a story line.  In this case, it is a fairly well-written documentary about the formation, success and break-up of the 1960’s rock ‘n roll group, The Four Seasons, who went from delinquent “Joisy” boys to become inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The musical, which opened in 2005 and ended its Broadway run on January 15, 2017, has music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe, and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.  

Divided into four sections, each designated by the name of a season, each segment is narrated by a different member of the musical group.  As the story chronologically unfolds, over 30 songs are presented.

Yes, every tune in their folio of hits is artfully staged by director Des McAnuff and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, including “Oh, What a Night,” “Earth Angel,” “Cry for Me,” “Sherry,” ”Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “My Eyes Adored You,” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” 

The story reveals that some members of the group served prison sentences, which ran counter to the clean-cut image the quartet portrayed.  Included in their altercations was a stint in a Cleveland jail for skipping out on a Holiday Inn hotel bill. (This revelation drew extended cheers from the audience, as did the reference to their being installed in the Cleveland-housed Rock museum.

At the start of the show, Tommy DeVito explains the start of the band, “The Variety Trio,” which was composed of his brother, and friend Nick Massi.  Later Frankie Castelluccio (Frank Valli) was recruited.  The tale rolls from there through many group name changes, the recommendation by Joe Pesci (yes, THE Joe Pesci who later became an Oscar-winning movie star) of adding Bob Gaudio, who became the main composer for the Four Seasons. 

The show is filled with creative musical and visual moments.  Highlights were “Pretty Baby,” “Bye Bye Baby” “Working My Way Back to You,
 and the finale, “Who Loves You.”

The cast is strong.  Jon Hacker stars as Frankie Valli.  He creates a real Valli, well-duplicating the singer’s famed falsetto.  Corey Greenan is the sleazy Joisy-bred and neighborhood-loyal Tommy DeVito.  Handsome Eric Chambliss is character-right as the prolific, clean-scrubbed, creative, Bob Gaudio.  Michael Milton gives fidelity to Nick Massi, the reluctant performer.  Though he over-does the fay illusion, Sean McGee is a crowd-pleaser as the effervescent Bob Crewe.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  JERSEY BOYS fanatics and newbies will all have a wonderful time at this revival of a revival.  Oh, yes, “Oh, What a Night.”  You’ll be “Beggin’” to “Stay” for another curtain call!  You’ll leave clapping, singing and dancing down the aisle. 

Tickets for “JERSEY BOYS,” which runs through January 26, 2020 at the Connor Palace Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to

Thursday, January 09, 2020


Sword swallowing, escape from a vat of sand while being handcuffed, inserting a needle through the tongue, the shell game of trying to figure out which cup contains a hidden pea, card tricks, changing water to wine, putting a sword through a trunk while a woman contortionist is inside and remains uncut, and mind reading, are just some of the illusions, tricks or magic that are presented by the performers who make up the cast of “THE ILLUSIONSTS, LIVE FROM BROADWAY,” now appearing on-stage at the Connor Palace.

The production which features a rotating cast of magicians who present on stage illusions, escapology and comedy magic using not only their own assistants, but “volunteers” from the audience, is aimed to please audiences of all ages. 

The show premiered at the Sydney (Australia) Opera House on January 12, 2012 and has gone on to appear in such places as Kuwait, Mexico, China, England, Dubai, much of Europe and on Broadway.   The troupe is now on a nation-wide tour, with a 5-day stop in CLE.

The international cast includes Valentin Azema (The Elusive), Dizzy (The Trickster), Jonathan Goodwin (The Daredevil), Stuart MacLeod (The Delusionist), Florian Sainvet (The Manipulator), Sos & Victoria (The Transformationalists), and Steve Valentine (The Showman).  Each has a magic specialty.

One of the highlights of the opening night performance took place when two pre-arranged for volunteers were brought on stage.  At the conclusion of a delightful give-and-take between the master-of-ceremonies and the young ladies, one dropped to her knee, removed a small black box from her pocket, and, to shrieks of delight and affirmation from the audience, asked her companion to marry her.  Of course, the answer was, “yes”

The engaged duo were not the only audience participants.  By various means and schemes, audience members played the foils in many of the activities.

The stage actions were enhanced by the presence of camera close-ups projected onto a large on-stage screen, ensuring that card tricks and slight-of-hand activities were easy for everyone in the audience to see.

Capsule judgment:  Though many aspects of the show were very entertaining, the over-all effect was under-whelming.  It seemed in many segments, that the cast has done these same tricks over and over, and were on automatic pilot.   

‘THE ILLUSIONISTS LIVE FROM BROADWAY” appears at the Connor Palace from January 7-11.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

Monday, January 06, 2020

Musical Theater Project presents “MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY: THE SONGS OF COMDEN & GREEN”

Betty Comden (Basya Cohen) and Adolph Green were noted as one of the luminaire lyricist and script-writing teams of mid-20th century Broadway and Hollywood.  

The duo, who were a creative partnership but not a romantic couple, met while they were studying drama at NYU.  They formed a troupe called “The Revuers,” which consisted of Betty, Adolph and Judy Holliday and played at venues in Greenwich Village.  Green’s good friend, Leonard Bernstein, often played the piano for the group.

The acts success earned them a movie offer, but their roles in the Hollywood flick were so small they barely were noticed.  They quickly returned to New York.

Their first Broadway composing effort teamed them with Bernstein for ‘ON THE TOWN,” a critical and financial success.  Unfortunately, their next two stage attempts were flops. 

Discouraged, they left NY for Hollywood, this time to be lyricists, not performers.  They found much success at MGM, which was noted for producing many memorable films during the era of the Golden Age of the Movie Musical.  Included were Comden and Green’s  "SINGIN' IN THE RAIN,” “GOOD NEWS,” and “THE BAND WAGON.” 

Flush with success, they returned to Broadway where they found Great White Way praise with “TWO ON THE AISLE,” “WONDERFUL TOWN,” “PETER PAN,” ‘ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY,” and “BELLS ARE RINGING.”  The latter show united them with Judy Holliday. 

Their song creations included such classics as “The Party’s Over,” “It’s Love,” “Lucky to be Me,” “Make Someone Happy” “Never Never Land,” and one of the top hits of all time, “New York New York.”   

Often referred to as Broadway’s “merry pranksters,” Betty and Adolph continually wrote about the witticism of life, of childhood, and how to escape from reality. 

The Musical Theater Project will pay tribute to the duo in “MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY:  THE SONGS OF COMDEN & GREEN.”  The multi-media production will be hosted by Bill Rudman and Nancy Maier and feature Eric Fancher, Sheri Gross and Sara Masterson.

Spotlight on Eric Fancher:  

Eric Fancher is well known to many CLE theatre-goers for his over 100 local theatre productions.

Originally from Detroit, the handsome and talented 31-year-old, who is noted for his well-trained singing voice and compelling stage presence, moved to this area in 1991.  

The product of an “artsy” theatrical family, his father, a minister, was a collegiate theatre major and his mother is a music teacher.

How did he become involved in theatre?  In a recent interview, Fancher revealed that in high school he was interested in a girl who was interested in theater.  How to better win over the damsel then to try out for plays!  Though the romance never developed, the theater connection did.

His favorite role:  Harold Hill in “THE MUSIC MAN.” It was a role he played in a concert version of the classic at Cain Park under the direction of Joanna May Cullinan.  It was Cullin, who is the Marketing Director at TMTP, who made the arrangements for Fancher to try out for roles at TMP.  And, as the old saying goes, “The rest is history.”

Besides performing, Eric is the founder of The Cleveland Stage Alliance (, which is a “website developed to expose local theatre to those who don’t know what’s going on theatrically in the area.  It promotes any and all locally produced theatre.”  As Fancher stated.  “There is more theatre in CLE than most people know about.  

For MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY, he will be singing 17 songs including “New York, New York,” “Once in a Life Time,” “Make Someone Happy,” “I Just Can’t Wait,” and Captain Hook’s Waltz” from “PETER PAN”. 

What is the rehearsal process like for a TMTP concert?    “There are one or two solo rehearsals with music director, a run through with cast and a tech rehearsal.”  Yes, all that wonder is created in 4 rehearsals.

What does Fancher like about Comden and Green songs?  “They are lyricists who are clever, funny, often beautiful, and each show has a different feel to it.”

Upcoming local gig for the talented singer/actor is TMTP’s “THE IMPACT OF CAMELOT,” to be staged in late May.  

You can see Eric and his co-performers in MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY:  THE SONGS OF COMDEN & GREEN at the First Baptist Church, January 24 @ 7 PM:  General admission: $38, TMTP Members: $33, tickets: 1-800-838-3006 or or Hanna Theatre, January 26 @ 3 PM:  General admission: $35-$55, TMTP Members: $30-$50, tickets:  216-241-6000