Monday, March 02, 2015

DIAL “M” FOR MURDER, another exciting murder mystery at GLT

Mystery books are the second highest money-making genre in literature, only exceeded by Romance/Erotica.  They are the highest rated television demand topic. 

Building on the desire of readers and viewers, Great Lakes Theater has included a “who done-it” in each of their last two seasons.  Both DEATHTRAP and THE MOUSETRAP met with audience approval.  Their present offerings, DIAL “M” FOR MURDER, should do the same.  Finding a cash cow topic, the theater has announced that Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is being staged in the 2015-2016 season.

As explained in GLT’s excellent “Teacher Preparation Guide,” DIAL “M” FOR MURDER is filled with “Deception, betrayal, passion and greed.”

The plot centers around Tony Wendice, a recently retired British tennis player, his wife, Margot, who Tony married for her money, and Max Halliday, a New York mystery writer, who is visiting in London, and may or may not be having an affair with Margot. 

Tony, wanting to inherit Margot’s money, develops a “perfect crime” plot, which includes his hiring a hit man.  The problems start when Margot, during the attempt to kill her, accidentally kills her attacker and is sentenced to death.  Will Tony inherit the money?  Will Max be able to save his love?  Will Inspector Hubbard see through the charade and save Margot? 

DIAL “M” was originally created by Frederick Knott as a BBC television production.  Both the play and the screen script were also written by Knott.  The 1954 Warner Brother’s film starred Ray Milland and Grace Kelly, was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and was filmed in 3D, a new innovation in cinema filming.

Knott was noted for writing material that focused on women who innocently became victims of sinister plots.

Great Lakes production, under the focused eye of Charles Fee, is well paced, builds efectively to the creative and mind boggling conclusion, and grabs and holds attention.

The cast is universally excellent.  Beautiful Robyn Cohen makes for a believable Margot, the potential murdered wife.  She gives a convincing portrayal of a rich, perfectly coifed woman, who transitions into the potential victim.

Nick Steen, has become GLT’s choice for the handsome leading man in their murder mysteries.  He follows up his outstanding portrayal in DEATHTRAP with another believable characterization as Max, Margot’s lover.

Aled Davies, is accent and action perfect as Inspector Hubbard.  He seems born to play the wise policeperson who can and will solve all cases in a clever manner.

Jonathan Dyrud as Tony, has the lithe body need to make for a believable tennis player and the Iago good looks to give an air of innocence.

Dougfred Miller creates Captain Lesgate, Tony’s former college acquaintance,  as a perfect cad and a fine potential killer.

Russell Metheny’s fragmented set design allows for a clear view of the action, both on and off stage.  His incorporation of a large picture window on the second level, cleverly serves as a screen for Lucy Mackinnon’s projections.  The films of the receivers of telephone calls add to the visual dimension of the production, which is more effective than just hearing the voices of the participants, which is the standard way of staging the interactive scenes.

Rick Martin’s lighting design and Joe Court’s sound all aid in developing the mystery aspects of the script. 

Capsule judgement:  Great Lakes production of DIAL “M” FOR MURDER makes for a wonderful escapist evening of theatre.  Anyone liking murder mysteries, good acting, and good staging will enjoy this production.  As to the theatre’s evolving pattern of staging a mystery each season, as long as they continue in the vein of their DEATHTRAP, MOUSETRAP, and DIAL “M,” let’s have some more!


“Great Lakes Theater Teacher Preparation Guide for Dial ‘M’ for Murder, as prepared by Kelly Schaffer Florian and David Hansen, is a available from GLT’s Education Outreach program. Kflorian@greatlakestheater.org


DIAL “M” FOR MURDER runs through March 22, 2015 at the Hanna Theatre.  For tickets: 216-664-6064 or www.greatlakestheater.org

Saturday, February 28, 2015

MY HEART IS THE DRUM gets staged premiere at Kent State

One of the major purposes of collegiate musical theater programs, besides teaching acting, singing and dancing skills, is to expand student knowledge of not only traditional, but new scripts.  Kent State is offering its students such an opportunity by presenting MY HEART IS THE DRUM.

Though the Jennie Redling (book), Phillip Palmer (music and original concept) and Stacey Luftig (lyrics) musical has been workshopped three times in the last couple of years, this is the first completely staged version.

The time is 2000.  Dealing with such subjects as the lack of educational opportunities for women, arranged marriages, AIDS, superstition, and Ghana gender traditions, the script aims to illustrate the country’s third world mentality regarding health issues and male and female societal roles.

Efua Kuti, an intelligent young lady who lives in Kafrona in rural Ghana, is encouraged by her teacher to attend university.  Efua’s father, who needs her to pick and sort cotton so the family can eke out a living, opposes her educational advancement. 

When Efua’s cousin, Balinda, is given in an arranged marriage to a “wealthy” jewelry merchant in Accra, the country’s capital, where a university is located, Efua accompanies her.  The duo confronts the issue of sexual slavery when Caesar Nabuto, the merchant, turns out to be a man who sells his product by supplying women to his wealthy patrons.  Both Efua and Balinda are trapped into working for Caesar.  Efua fights off the advances of the man to whom she is given. Balinda is not as fortunate.

Edward, who is in love with Efua, and who has been betrothed to her in an arranged marriage forced upon her by her father in an attempt to control her and keep her in Kafrona, follows the girls to Accra and frees Efua and Balinda.

Brought back to Kafrona, Efua is determined to get her education, and Balinda, who has acquired AIDS, dies and follows her Nana into the spirit world of her ancestors.

The script is not well developed.  It bridges segments with a lack of clarity.  The music, though often poignant, generally lacks true African cadence and vividness.  The words to the songs are often trite.  This lack of material fidelity makes it difficult for the student cast, under the direction of Terri Kent, to create real characterizations.

Samara Costa displays a nice voice and her Efua is as believable as possible with the lines she is given.  Alex Echols is also on point as Balinda, but, as with Costa, is limited in her character development by unreal sounding conversational language and a lack of plot fidelity.  David Holland has a nice voice and is delightful as the fearful Edward.  His “What’s Possible” is the comedy highlight of the production.

Colleen Longshaw has a fine voice and creates a nice characterization as Nana, the guiding spirit of the Kuti family.   Her “Your Heart is the Drum” is poignant.
Kirk Lydell displays strong dancing abilities. 

Musical Director Jonathan Swoboda wisely has his orchestra underscore rather than overshadow the performers. MaryAnn Black’s choreography tries to add Afro beat dancing but is somewhat limited due to the musical score. Benjamin Williams has created a clever scenic design centering on ever-moving curved set pieces with African motifs.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  Kent State’s Musical Theatre Program should be commended for exposing their students to a new theatrical experience in MY HEART IS THE DRUM.  Though the material is generally obvious and often trite, the message of third world naivety, when it comes to curing diseases such as AIDS, the plight of women in a patriarchal society, and the dependence on tradition and superstition, comes through.

MY HEART IS A DRUM runs from February 20-March 1, 2015 at Kent State University. 

Kent State’s Porthouse Theatre, located on the grounds of the Blossom Center, will present A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, June 11-27, VIOLET, July 9-25, and HAIRSPRAY, July 30-August 16.   Single tickets go on sale May 26 at 330—672-3884.  For more information go to http://www.porthousetheatre.com

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

DOGFIGHT fails to live up to Beck-Baldwin Wallace past productions

Beck Center for the Arts and Baldwin Wallace’s Musical Theatre Program have, for the past four years, collaborated to produce some outstanding productions.  CARRIE, SPRING AWAKENING and NEXT TO NORMAL all received Cleveland Critic Circle and Times Tribute recognitions. 

Unfortunately, this year’s offering, DOGFIGHT, probably won’t get such attention.  It’s not that the production is bad, but it is cursed with a weak script, with lines that seem forced and unnatural, and an inconsistent, often repetitive musical score which includes five reprises.

DOGFIGHT, the musical, is based on the 1991 Warner Brothers film of the same name.  It concerns a group of young marines who are in San Francisco on the eve of their deployment to Vietnam.  Their goal is having fun, partying, and getting sex. 

The highlight of their exit into war is to be a dog fight, a contest where each of the marines brings a “dog,” an ugly girl, to a bar for a contest to judge who is the ugliest. The guy who brings the “winner” gets a cash prize.

In his search, Eddie Birdlace comes upon Rose, a nerdy, plain-Jane, sweet young lady working at a diner.  He asks her on a “date” without revealing that she is going to be his candidate in the “dog fight.” 

The tale becomes complex when the contest takes place. Rose realizes that rather than being on a date, she is a victim of a hoax.  Eddie recognizes his cruelty and tries to make it up to Rose by taking her on a real date, which ends with the duo going to bed together.  In the morning, as he leaves for duty, he promises to write Rose, but fails to do so, because his buddies taunt him.

The story is revealed in a flash-back/flash-forward format, in which the broken and disillusioned Eddie returns 4 years later, searches for Rose, reveals his feelings for her, and relates that his buddies were killed in battle.

The soap-opera like book was written by Peter Duchan.  The major flaw is the lack of natural speech he affords the cast to speak.  The script tends to be composed of forced and trite language, rather than a natural flowing vocabulary. 

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have written some nice songs, but they are sometimes shoe-horned into the script, often without purpose.  Highlight songs are “Nothing Short of Wonderful,” “Pretty Funny,” “Before It’s Over,” and “Come Back.”

The Beck/BW production, under the direction of Victoria Bussert, flows well and has some nice moments. 

Besides the problematic script, the young students simply don’t seem to be real, to be natural in characterization development.  They generally act the roles, rather than creating real characters.  They aren’t bad, just not up to the usual BW Musical Theatre standards.

Colton Ryan has a nice boyish look and sings well as Eddie Birdlace.  Unfortunately, he seems to stay on the surface, feigning, rather than being absorbed in creating the needed conflicts between machismo, sensitivity, and remorse.  Eddie seems to be more Colton, than Eddie.

Keri René Fuller has a fine singing voice, and develops a most consistent and real person as Rose.  She appears to be the most advanced person in the cast in the race to Broadway.  (Over a dozen BW grads appeared on the Great White Way this past season.)

Zack Adkins is consistent in development of the smarmy Boland, but his overacting becomes taxing after a while.  There is little texturing, just a lot of snarling and yelling.

Micky Ryan stays on the surface as Bernstein.  Gabriel Brown has a chance to show off his gym-sculpted body and fine dance moves as Stevens .  Jamie Koeth sings well as the Lounge Singer.

The choreography is mainly stomping and marching, done with various degrees of quality.  The singing is generally good, but some of the cast sing words, rather than meanings.  Musical Director Dave Pepin keeps the orchestra under control so that they nicely underscore rather than drown out the singers.  

Scenic Designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski had the difficult task of creating a set that constantly was switching locales.  She did a masterful job in cramming all those settings into the postage sized space of Beck’s arena theatre.

On the night I saw the show there were numerous squeals and popping sounds in the sound system.  One might question why, in such a small space, there was even a need for microphones, and why, after two weeks of performances there were still sound issues.  

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The production agreement between Beck Center and the Baldwin Wallace Musical Theatre program has produced some outstanding productions.  Though it is not bad, DOGFIGHT is not of the quality of the duo’s previous stagings.

DOGFIGHT is scheduled to run through March 15, 2015  at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or http://www.beckcenter.org  

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Elements series concludes with FIRE ON THE WATER at Cleveland Public Theatre

FIRE ON WATER is the fourth play in Cleveland Public Theatre’s Elements Cycle, plays about the environment.  According to Artistic Director, Raymond Bogban, the plays were not created “to preach or propagandize.  We wanted to make plays that explored our ongoing efforts to understand and transform our relationship with the world.”  The presentations have done that, with varying degrees of artistic success.

Most of the efforts were “devised theater,”  productions which have no playwright, per se, but are conceived by the performers and other theatre staff.

In the case of FIRE ON WATER, the production is a partnership with other west-side theatres:  Blank Canvas, Ohio City Theatre Project, Talespinner Children’s Theatre and Theater Ninjas.  “Each of the five theatres involved sought to create plays about sustainability and the burning of the Cuyahoga [River].”

The collaboration is both the strength and weakness of the evening.  The fourteen playlets, plus some transitions, made for over two hours of performance, plus the intermission.  Listening to the stories of the burning of the river over and over made for redundancy and a very long sit.  Some of the tedium was relieved because the offerings moved from the stage units at both ends of the main theatre, to smaller platforms and tubs of water, distributed through the space. 

In a creative staging device, the audience members were each seated in their own plush wheeled office chair and were silently directed by cast members where to skootch.  It was almost like being on the Dodgem Bumper Cars at an amusement park, but the object here was not to run into your fellow audience members.  Some attenders made the movements into a game by spinning around on their chairs as they moved.  This may have been facilitated by the availability of beer, which was allowed into the acting arena.

Segments covered the historical settling of what is now referred to as Greater Cleveland, how the river was named [Native American for “crooked river”], how it got polluted, the role of such companies as Standard Oil in the destruction of clean water, how fire and water can work together or can counter each other, what happens to fish when the river gets polluted, the role of the Clean Water Act in attempts to clean up the sludge and oil, the numerous times the river caught on fire (there were at least 12 occasions that were recounted), the Hough riots, the successes and failures to pass laws to help the environment, and the citizen flight from this area.

The devices used to convey the ideas varied from spoken words to sung and played music.  There were puppets of varying sizes and materials, projections, an ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET television show reenactment, a scuba diving probe into the dark river waters, swimming in large tubs of water, and acrobats swinging like Peter Pan over the heads of the audience.

According to Bobgan, “This is truly homegrown theatre that acts locally with a global vision.”   To this he added “how we act in this world is a mater of choice and belief.” After participating in this adventure, a strong feeling of the need for action became apparent.

The large cast worked as a well functioning unit to portray the ideas developed.  

Capsule judgement: Cleveland Public Theatre, with its Elements series, continues to use theatre to not only entertain its audience, but to act as an arts device to alert people to the needs and wants of society, as well as teach civic and social responsibility.  FIRE ON WATER, though overly long and redundant, is an interesting piece of devised theatre, that, as the rest of the Elements series, illustrates the fragility of the world in which we live.

FIRE ON WATER, runs through April 6  at Cleveland Public Theatre.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org.

Magical PIPPIN almost finds its “Corner of the Sky,” at Connor Palace

PIPPIN, the Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics) and Roger O. Hirson (book) magical show is now on stage at The Palace Theatre.  It tells a modern version of the mythical tale of Pippin, the oldest son of King Charlemagne, and his search for purpose and identity. 

The clarion song of the show, and one of my favorite tunes from any Broadway musical, is “Corner of the Sky” which tells of the desire of many people who strive to find their purpose in life. They yearn to find safety, security, and satisfaction and strive to find the place “eagles can fly” because, as our hero sings, it’s where “my spirit can run free.”

The original 1972 version of the show starred Ben Vereen as Leading Player, the emcee and guide of the action, and Jonathan Rubinstein as Pippin.  That production centered on the singing, dancing and charisma of Vereen.  The story line was almost secondary.  Since that time many productions have altered focus and highlight Pippin and his mission. 

The 2013 Broadway revival, conceived by Diane Paulus, which won the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical, and garnered a Best Actress in a Musical for Patina Miller as Leading Player, added circus performers and acrobats, thus creating the “Magic to Do.”  It had Pippin, Grandma Bertha, and the Leading Player joining in the exciting athletic displays.

The touring production carries much of the image of the latest Broadway staging. The acrobats and circus performers are present, the emphasis is on Pippin and his search, and the show visually dazzles. But those who saw the original or are familiar with the score, may be thrown by some of the changes that have been made to the lyrics and the altered arrangements.  (I have seen the original and recent Broadway production, about 10 other productions, and directed the show.  My son, who was sitting next to me on opening night, has portrayed both Pippin and Theo.  We had a wonderful time debating the changes.)

Sam Lips, who understudied the role on Broadway, is now Pippin.  Lips has a boyish charm and nice youthful enthusiasm.  He is good looking, has a nice singing voice (especially in the higher registers), and has the acting chops to pull off the role.  He dances well and his acrobatics add nicely to the role.  His “Corner of the Sky” and “Morning Glow” passed my very high level of expectations.

John Rubinstein, yes, the same guy who played Pippin in the original Broadway show, is now King Charles.  He has a wonderful time playing the role, adding delightful shticks with his mobile face.  It’s too bad they altered some of the words to, “Welcome Home,” because Rubinstein would have delighted with some of the omitted lyrics.

Priscilla Lopez almost steals the show as “Grandma” Bertha.  She not only gets all the requisite laughs from “No Time At All,” but stopped the show with her agility as a gymnast!

Molly Tynes is properly conniving as Fastrada, who wants nothing more than to have Charles’ crown pass on to Louis so she can brag, “My son the king.”

Kristine Reese makes for a convincing Catherine.  Her “Love Song,” with Pippin, is charming.

Sasha Allen displays a marvelous voice as Leading Player.  Unfortunately, she doesn’t compare to either Patina Miller, or Baldwin Wallace University grad, Ciara Renée, who replaced Miller on Broadway.  Allen doesn’t do much in the way of gymnastics, walks and poses rather than dances, and has some difficulty with spoken and sung line interpretation.  

The sets, special effects, and the musical accompaniment are all Great White Way quality.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  The touring production of PIPPIN, in spite of some minor flaws, is mainly magical.  It nicely carries out the story’s theme and should delight those who are seeing the show for the first time, or are seeing the new and reconfigured edition of the show. From my perspective,  it would be worth seeing the show just to hear “Corner of the Sky” and “Morning Glow.”

Tickets for PIPPIN, which runs through February 15, 2015, at the Connor Palace Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to www.playhousesquare.org.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

PILOBOLUS, Dance Cleveland’s gift to area aficionados; area dance previews

PILOBOLUS is noted for adding both physical and theatrical elements to dance presentations.  They have been credited, in their 44 years of performances, to have added a new way for audiences to look at dance.

Nothing cements the company’s unique style more then what was on display before the start of their recent State Theatre nearly-sold out concert.

Upon entering the auditorium, the audience found the proscenium curtain open and the dancers warming up.  It was a preparation not usually seen.  No barre work, stretching, or practicing of couple-lifts here.  Instead, the performers were doing jumping jacks, handstands, tossing each other around, running in undisciplined patterns, doing frog leaps, executing cartwheels, and doing pushups.  Just before curtain went up, they formed a football huddle, arms entwined behind each other’s backs, swayed, talked, laughed, broke the togetherness, and wandered off stage.  They were ready!  So was the keyed up audience.

The program featured five numbers, each of which varied in technique and effect.  Incorporating gymnastics, power strength movements, balancing on circular mini-platforms, combining sensual actions with whimsy and whirlwind with exquisite calm, the dancers created compelling art.

PILOBOLUS’s dances aren’t meant to convey a clear message.  They are often  abstract visions of actions which allow for personal interpretation.  Yet, they prresent well-disciplined and choreographed displays. 

The choreographers avoid gender roles.  Males and females share the heavy lifting and often are dressed in the same costumes.  The company’s performances integrate graphics, films, impressive lighting and special effects. 

Whether doing dance versions of the famous Tim Conway old man from his days on the Carol Burnett Variety Show, or taking on such serious topics as young love and it’s issues, they seamlessly weave together attention-sustaining actions.

As part of the program, the company challenged the audience to name their newest piece, presently entitled, UNTITLED 2015.  After viewing the door-slamming, body endangering number, my suggestion is ANGST!

There is no way to clearly recreate PILOBOLUS in words.  This is performance that must be seen. 

Capsule judgement: It can only be wished that Pam Young and her Dance Cleveland staff do not wait too long before they bring PILOBOLUS back to the area, so that those who missed their recent performance get a chance to experience the creativity and joy the company shared.

Side note:  Cudos to Donald Rosenberg for an excellent “Dance Matters” column in the program, which gave a wonderful preview of what was to be experienced by the audience.

Next up for Dance Cleveland, on, is, COMPAGNIE KÄFIG on March 7, 2015, 8 PM, Ohio Theatre, which combines Brazilian acrobatics and hip-hop dance.

DANCE OFFERINGS IN THE CLEVELAND AREA

The Cleveland area has some strong dance companies. How about going to local offerings? They need your support.  Some upcoming performances include:

Ohio Dance Theatre

6:00 pm Friday, February 13, 39 South Main Street, Oberlin
“Blood Stripe”—world premiere of a ballet inspired by a personal witnessing of the challenges of choreographer Denise Gula and her family as they struggled with the long term effects of PTSD and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury).
Tickets: 440-774-6077

Groundworks
March 20 & 21, 2015, 7:30 PM
Breen Center, 2008 W. 30th Street, Cleveland
The Cleveland premier of two new works, one choreographed by Robert Moses and the other a collaboration with Aeolus Quartet. 
Tickets: http://groundworksdancetheater.ticketleap.com/groundworks-spring-series-at-breen-center/

Inlet Dance

April 23-25, 2015--CPT Danceworks '15
Tickets: http://www.cptonline.org/box-office/

Verb Ballets

“Ballet Uncorked”—guest appearance with Ohio Dance Theatre
6:00 pm Friday, February 13, 39 South Main Street, Oberlin
Tickets: 440-774-6077

February 21, 2015 at 8:00pm
Breen Center, 2008 W. 30th St., Cleveland

February 28, 2015 at 8:00pm
Olmsted Falls Performing Arts Center, 6941 Columbia Rd.. Olmsted Falls 
Tickets: olmstedperformingarts.com

March 21, 2015
NEOSonicFest, Baldwin Wallace, 96 Front St., Berea 
Tickets: neosonicfest.org

April 16-18, 2015 at 7:00pm 
Cleveland Public Theatre DanceWorks’15. 6415 Detroit Ave, Cleveland
Tickets:  cptonline.org or 216.631.2727 ext. 501

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ensemble’s THURGOOD is a perfect Black History Month treat

Thurgood Marshall has been called the “greatest lawyer of the 20th Century,” “Mr. Civil Rights,” and is credited with doing “more than any other American to lift the burden of racism from our society.”   

It is only appropriate that his life and judicial story be told during Black History month.  Ensemble is doing exactly that by presenting multi-award winner George Stevens, Jr.’s THURGOOD.

Marshall, who was born in Baltimore, was the great-grandson and grandson of slaves.  Against great odds, including being rejected by the University of Maryland’s law school, he became a lawyer.  He graduated from Howard, an all-black university in Washington, D.C..   After being in private practice, he became active in the National Association for Colored People (NAACP) and went on to plead many cases before the Supreme Court regarding segregation in public schools and universities.   He is best known for pleading and winning Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, the basis for the elimination of the policy of “separate but equal” in public schools.  He won 29 out of the 32 cases he pleaded before the Supreme Court. 

He was appointed by John F. Kennedy to a seat on the US Court of Appeals, by Lyndon B. Johnson to be US Solicitor General, and, in 1967, Johnson selected him for a seat on the Supreme Court.  Marshall was the first African American to hold the position.

Steven’s script encapsulates Marshall’s life into a two-act presentation.  We find Greg White in a one-person audience lecture (with the inserted voices of Kirk Brown as Chief Justice Earl  Warren, and Kyle Huff as the Clerk of the Supreme Court).  It is a lesson about a great American, an important Black American, and the foibles of the political system, especially in the prejudiced South.

Ensemble’s production is well staged by director Sarah May.  She succeeds in creating stage business that holds the audience’s attention.  She also choreographs the use of many props to help in creating the reality of the court cases.

May is greatly aided in developing the story by the projections conceived by Ian Hinz, which not only lead the audience to seeing where each scene is set, or of a place that is being referred to, but aids visualization by use of photos of the people that Marshall mentions.  Without these excellent visuals, the illusions and people would not have been as vivid.  This was the best use of electronics that Ensemble has presented in their productions.

In the opening night presentation, White was properly laid back as Marshall, who was noted for his reasoned use of words, and emotional control as he presented his cases.  At times, however, more physical and verbal dynamics would have enlightened the proceedings.  As White becomes acclimated with the script’s words, and the audience’s reactions, he should find himself more comfortable and real.  He must take on the awing “aura” of Marshall, as well as relaying his words.

One audience reaction tool that White needs to take into consideration is the use of “call outs.”  Traditional in many black churches is the congregation verbally reacting to the sermon.  Shouts of “right on,” “uh-huh,” and “tell ‘em brother,” are common in that setting.  The verbalization carries over when individuals get involved in plays or even movies.  Since THURGOOD is a script and subject matter that will attract African Americans, as evidenced by the almost equal numbers of blacks and whites in the Ensemble audience, the “call outs” should aid in adding the heightening of emotions in the play.   White will need to adjust to those and take them as a tribute to his becoming Marshall.  Those not used to “call outs,” will have to learn that the vocalizations show praise for the actor and the message and are not the “bad manners” of breaking-the-silence-tradition which some think of as the protocol of theatre-goers.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  THURGOOD is a well-conceived script, which receives a solid production.  The message is a lesson well needed for black and whites alike. It should be a “must see” for junior and high school students, their parents and grandparents so that the story of the ever present issue of granting civil rights becomes a cause-célèbre and all people are treated with respect and dignity.

THURGOOD runs Thursdays through Sundays through February 22 at Ensemble Theatre, housed in the former  Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to http://www.ensemble-theatre.org

Of special interest:  Talkbacks are scheduled after the productions of:  2/1 (Judge C. Ellen Connally, Greg White and Sarah May), 2/8 (Peter Lawson Jones), and 2/15 Subodh Chandra). 

To see the views of other Cleveland area theatre reviewers go to:  clevelandtheaterreviews.com

Thursday, January 29, 2015

FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE, story light, musically big at Cleveland Play House

Cleveland Play House has in its recent history included small cast musicals in its offerings. Those shows included TAPPIN’ THROUGH LIFE (Maurice Hines), BREATH AND IMAGINATION (Roland Hayes), WOODY SEZ;  LIFE AND MUSIC OF WOODY GUTHRIE (Woody Guthrie), THE DEVIL’S MUSIC:  THE LIFE AND TIMES OF BESSIE SMITH (Bessie Smith), and ONE NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN (Janis Joplin).  Each told a story about the person through their own words, their music, or from the mouths of those who knew them.  Often they have been tied to Black History Month.

Do not expect any personal or history patterns in FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE, a musical by Clarke Peters, which features the great hits of Louis Jordan,  but does not deal with Jordan’s history or life tale.   Nor is there a direct tie to Black History month.

Jordan is noted as the 1940’s bandleader who pioneered a blend of jazz and blues, which centered on swinging shuffle rhythms, sometimes referred to as “jump blues” or “jumpin’ jive.”  His music appealed to both blacks and whites, thus he become the first successful crossover artist of American popular music.  He is sometimes referred to as the “Grandfather of Rock n’ Roll.”

What could be better than an evening of the music of Louis Jordan and his influential “jumpin’ jive” that paved the road through the blues to hard R&B and rock ’n’ roll?  Nothing if you love that style or music.  A lot if you wanted to know about the man who wrote and played the tunes or the derivation of some of the songs.

FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE is a jukebox musical.  It’s a review, with a razor thin plot that mainly serves as a device to bridge the songs together.  The little bit of dialogue does not develop a real story line, such as is found in PIPPIN, KINKY BOOTS or DIRTY DANCING, which will soon appear on Playhouse Square stages.  It is basically irrelevant as can be spotlighted by deviances from the script, which take place during the ad lib and audience inclusion segments of the staging.

The present version of the show is an update of the 1992 Broadway musical written by Clarke Peters which ran 445 performances and was nominated as Best Book of a Musical.  It lost to FALSETTOS.

The audience enters the Allen Theatre to find the proscenium curtain closed, music playing, supposedly from an old tube model radio placed center stage.  Nomax (Kevin McAllister) wanders on stage, in what proves to be a drunken stupor, sings “Early in the Morning,” relating how his “woman” has rejected him due to his drinking and irresponsibility.  As he wallows in his self-pity, the Moes: Big Moe, Little Moe, Four Eyed Moe, No Moe, and Eat Moe, “jump” out of the radio.  Actually the curtain opens to reveal the singers, orchestra, and an eye appealing set consisting of two lighted staircases with a bridge between them, and a large electronic “MOE” sign.

The quintet try to convince Nomax to, “Beware, Brother, Beware,”or he will permanently lose his lady.  Songs such as “I Like ‘Em Fat Like That” and “Messy Bessy” don’t do the convincing, but they are entertaining.  Other songs include, “Knock Me A Kiss,” “Push Ka Pi Shi Pie (with a Calypso beat and a Congo line of audience volunteers), “Safe, Sane and Single” (a definite audience favorite), “Let the Good Times Roll” (featuring tap dancing), and “Caldonia (more audience participation).

The cast was universally good.  The individual singing of Sheldon Henry (Big Moe), Jobari Parker-Namdar (No Moe), Travis Porchia (Four-Eyed Moe), Clinton Roane (Little Moe) and Paris Nix (Eat Moe) was on key and the quintet’s vocal blends were excellent.  Nix excelled in his song styling and dancing, and his splits awed the audience.

Kevin McAllister, he of bloodshot eyes, drooping lips, and stumbling step was delightful and in consistent character as Nomax.  He probably has the best voice of the singers.

Robert O’Hara directed, Darryl G. Ivey was the musical director, Byron Easley choreographed, Clint Ramos conceived the set, Dede Ayite designed the costumes, Alex Jainchill created the lighting plan and Lindsay Jones was the sound designer.

To keep with the era, the cast wears classic clothing and sings into old time microphones.

FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE     is a co-Cleveland Play House and Washington, DC’s Arena Stage production.  According to Laura Kepley, CPH’s Artistic Director, CPH personnel, including her, went to DC to work on the staging and design of the production.  The band at the local staging, with the exception of the musical director, is made up of Cleveland performers.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  If you like the jazz and blues musical stylings of Louis Jordan, you’ll enjoy FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE.  If, on the other hand, you desire a musical with a storyline, with songs and productions numbers that develop that tale, then you will probably join those who left at intermission.  Me, I’m a storyline kind of guy! 

FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE runs through February 15, 2015, at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

Monday, January 26, 2015

JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE helps celebrate 100th anniversary of Karamu

On June 15, 2015, Karamu, the country’s oldest continuously performing Black Theatre, will celebrate its 100th birthday. 

As part of the celebration year, the theatre is reviving some of its most notable productions.  Therefore, it is entirely appropriate that August Wilson’s personal favorite play in his “The Pittsburgh Cycle,”  JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE, be performed.

Wilson was one of America’s best known African-American playwrights and is well remembered for writing 10 plays about blacks in Pittsburgh, his hometown.  He wrote one play for each decade.  Two of the scripts received Pulitzer Prizes for Drama.

JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE takes place in Seth Holly’s boarding house in 1911.  It provides a glance into African American patterns of the late nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth century of  blacks trying to find “their song.”  They were attempting, after many years of slavery where they were controlled by the “massa,” to identify where to live, what to do with their freedom, and what family structure they should form. 

Many blacks, as they wandered around seeking of their “song,” and to avoid the continued discrimination of the South, came North, and stayed for short periods of time in boarding houses.  The Holly House was an example where they claimed as a short term home.  It was a place to have a bed to sleep in, breakfast and dinner, for about $2 a week.

The play’s title is based on the popular blues song, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” a W. C. Handy tune, which tells the tale of Joe Turner, a plantation owner, who illegally enslaved blacks for a period of seven years in order to physically and psychologically beat them down, destroy their families, and continue the patterns of slavery. 

Herald Loomis was one of those captured by a “Joe Turner.”  When he returned after his “sentence,” his wife and child were gone.  Loomis starts a search for them. He locates his daughter at his mother-in-law’s home.  Unable to find his wife, Martha, he continues his tracking to the North.  He arrives in Pittsburgh, one of the border line cities, to which the ex-slaves fled.

The plot follows a liner line, exposing each of the characters who populate or visit the Holly House.  We meet Seth and Bertha Holly who run the establishment.  There is Bynum Walker, a practitioner of voodoo and conjuring, who shares a tale of meeting a “Shiny Man” who taught him his “song.” 

Selig, a white peddler who travels the countryside, brings Seth Holly metal to be made into pots and pans, stops in to share gossip and pick up his products. 

Others come and go, including Jeremy, a young “playah’” who strums the guitar and jumps from job to job and from woman to woman.  There is Herald Loomis, a menacing looking man in a long black coat and lifeless eyes, Zonia, his pre-tween daughter, and Mattie Campbell who needs Bynum’s help to find the man who has run out on her. 

We also meet Reuben Scott, a teenager who befriends Zonia, and Molly Cunnigham, who has missed her train, needs a place to stay, and hints of making money by befriending men.

Each of the characters is in search of identity. They must learn to be human beings, rather than objects to be sold, traded, or controlled by others.

Playwright Wilson is a master at creating dialogue which clearly defines each character.  Their use of language and dialect clearly sets them apart.  Loomis is a man of the south as his Southern words and dialect illustrate, while Seth Holly has a twang of Pennsylvania, the symbol of a free man of several generations in the north.

The Karamu production is basically well conceived by director Terrance Spivey.  The massive set fills the arena theatre.  The pacing is well done, with lots of physical action interspersed to keep the action moving along.  

Several things distract.  Why are all the meals a biscuit and a partially filled cup of coffee?  Even when grits are referred to, a biscuit is served.  Why are some of the windows void of glass panes?  No programs were given out, robbing the audience of such necessary information as the play’s date, setting and the background of the performers.

The cast is exceptional.  There is not a weak performer on the stage.  Michael May excels as Herald Loomis, a frustrated man who has been beaten into submission and voided of his manhood.  His eyes change from flatness to flashing anger and back again, his powerful body writhes in pain and explodes in powerful attack, then retreats.  The last scene, when he threatens himself and the others, is mesmerizing. 

Tonya Davis shows a depth of restraint and character as Bertha Holly.  Butch Terry is delightful as Bynum.  Prophet D. Seay portrays Jeremy with a devilish charm.  Zamani Munashe is lovely as Zonia.  Both Kennetha Martin and Phillia Thomas create real people as Mattie and Molly. 

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE is a perfect script choice for both Karamu’s 100th anniversary and Black History month.  The script is a classic and the production is one of Karamu’s better offerings.  For those who want a good history lesson, to be exposed to the writing of one of America’s greatest playwrights, and see a well performed show, JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE is a good choice!
JOE TURNERS COME AND GONE continues through February 15, 2015 at Karamu, 2355 East 89th Street, which has a fenced, guarded and lighted parking lot adjacent to the theatre, and provides free parking.  For ticket information call 216-795-7077.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Compelling, well-written, well acted SLOWGIRL at Dobama

On the surface, Greg Pierce’s SLOWGIRL, which is now on stage at Dobama, is the tale of a teenager who finds herself living a real-life nightmare and her confronting the issues with her reclusive uncle, who has problems of his own.

The tale begins as 17-year old Becky arrives at her Uncle Sterling’s Costa Rican isolated jungle home.  The duo has had little contact since she was a child.  We quickly become aware that she is uninhibited, somewhat rebellious and a nonstop talker.   He is inhibited and reclusive. Why is she there?  Why is he living alone in the jungle? 

As their interactions roll out, it is revealed that Becky’s classmate has fallen from a second story window while attending a party.  The teenager was nicknamed “Slowgirl” by her classmates.  Was this moniker an act of bullying? Was the reason Slowgirl invited to the party an act of bad-girl cruelty?  Was the fall an accident?  Are the stories told to the police honest revelations?  Were the visual images captured on a cell phone video real?  Did Becky have a role in the fall?

As the duo gets better acquainted, incidents from Sterling’s past unfold and questions arise. He is divorced, but why?  What was the basis for conflicts with his law school friend and business partner?  Why is that friend now in jail? Did Sterling have any connection to the incarceration?   How did Sterling, who was involved in low-pay, non-profit work, get the money to buy the Puerto Rican property?  Is he “on the run” from US authorities? 

Pierce is a fine storyteller.  He reveals one layer of information, then another, in a slow psychological striptease that allows for constant surprises.  He is the Gypsy Rose Lee of writers….revealing only enough at any one time to keep us interested and wanting more. 

The dialogue is real.  It is not forced, stylized nor theatrical.  These are two conflicted people talking, learning about each other, showing their fault-lines and vulnerabilities.

The Dobama production, under the focused direction of Leighann Delorenzo, is compelling.  She has paced the show well.  In spite of the play being basically dialogue, with little physical action, there is no wavering of attention during the ninety-minute intermissionless production.

The two person cast is character-perfect.  Miranda Leann Scholl, a Baldwin Wallace psychology and theater student, physically fits the teenager roll.  She is Becky.  This is not a performance, this is a presentation of reality.  No acting here, just a series of reactions to ideas and the portrayal of a real person.  Scholl is impressive!

Christopher Bohan, a theatre professor at Case Western Reserve, is completely believable as the reclusive Sterling.  He quickly gives the impression of someone uncomfortable in his own skin, opening up the basis for his character development.  His performance is completely authentic, leaving little doubt that he is experiencing Sterling, not portraying him.

Scenic designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski has been placed in the position of creating two different performance areas in a small space.  She basically succeeds.  The jungle house is very effective, complete with the metal roof on which iguana’s romp, much to Becky’s angst.  The necessary realistic labyrinth, however, is not as successful.  The drawings of the path work well when they are on the theatre’s floor, but when they extend onto the deck of the house, the effect is somewhat lost due to overlapping of the spaces.

Marcus Dana’s lighting design sets just the right moods.  Jeremy Dobbins’ sound design, complete with parrot squawks and iguanas scurrying on the roof, are meaningful and realistic.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: SLOWGIRL is a well-written script that keeps you on the edge of your seat, waiting for what surprising revelation will reveal itself next.  Dobama’s production values enhance the text, resulting in a must-see evening of theatre.
SLOWGIRL runs through February 15, 2015 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hey, Clevelanders…it’s almost Shaw Festival time!

Yes, the snow is on the ground, the weather is miserable, but soon the cold winds will subside and Clevelanders will start their flow to the land of the maple leaves and cross the many bridges in their treks to the major theatre festivals of Canada. 

The Shaw Festival is one of two major theatre celebrations, the other being The Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario.  Both are professional high quality venues. 

The Shaw Festival is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw and his writing contemporaries. 



Many Clevelanders take the four-hour drive up to The Shaw, as it is called by locals, to participate in theatre, tour the “most beautiful little city in Canada,” shop, and eat at the wonderful restaurants.  

It’s a good idea to make both theatre and lodging reservations early, especially for weekends.  

Our home away from home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (http://www.wellington.house@sympatico.ca), directly across the street from The Festival Theatre, within easy walking distance of all the theatres and the home of Karen’s individually prepared breakfasts.  

 For information on other B&Bs go to www.niagaraonthelake.com/showbedandbreakfasts




There are some wonderful restaurants.  My in-town favorites are The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King Street) and Ginger (905-468-3871, 390 Mary Street).  Reservations are encouraged, even during the week. 

This year’s theatre offerings include: 

SWEET CHARITY (April 17-October 31)  Experience the world of 1960s New York through the eyes of a dance hall hostess who dreams of a brighter future but she can’t help giving her heart to all the wrong guys. The book is by Neil Simon, the score by, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, includes “Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” 

PYGMALION (May 31-October 24)  G. B. Shaw’s tale of a London flower-seller and a linguistics professor’s unlikely pairing. Yes. MY FAIR LADY without the music.  

LIGHT UP THE SKY (June 25-October 11).  Moss Hart’s comic love story to and about Broadway. THE LADY FROM THE SEA (April 30-September 13).  A new version of Henrik Ibsen’s tale of a claustrophobic, restless woman, who is haunted by her past. 

TOP GIRLS (May 23-September 12).   Caryl Churchill’s drama about the role of women in society and what being a successful woman means. 

THE TWELVE-POUND LOOK (June 11-September 12)  J. M. Barrie, the author of PETER PAN,  writes a one-act tale which has been called, “a feminist battle cry.”  Match this with Shaw’s PETER AND THE STARCATCHER and you have a  Barrie-experience. 

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (April 8-November 1).  This five time 2012 Tony Award winner, through music and story-telling, chronicles the adventures of an orphan soon to be known to the world as Peter Pan! 

YOU NEVER CAN TELL (April 26-October 25).  One of Shaw’s most light-hearted plays, the tale is filled with family mishaps, romantic skirmishes and the battle of the sexes. 

THE DIVINE:  A PLAY FOR SARAH BERNHARDT (July 5-October 11).   A world premiere production about the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt and her controversial performances in Quebec City at the turn of the 20th century, when she was told she was not welcomed in the city by the Catholic Church!



THE INTELLIGENT HOMOSEXUAL'S GUIDE TO CAPITALISM AND SOCIALISM WITH A KEY TO THE SCRIPTURES (July 11-October 10).  Tony Kushner's tale of an intervention which results in 21st century political and personal values being wrestled to the ground.



THE NEXT WHISKEY BAR:  A KURT WEILL CABARET (August 21, 22, 28, 29, September 4 and 5).  It's Germany, 1923.  Through the distinctive, raucous music    of composer Kurt Weill, we get to know some of the hopes, hurts and dreams of the lost souls of the Fatherland.  The score includes "Mack the Knife" and "September Song."


For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com. Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets. Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets and senior matinee prices.



Go to the Shaw Festival!  Oh, don’t forget your passport as it’s the only form of identification that will be accepted for re-entry into the US.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Must see, thought provoking, entertaining, EINSTEIN, at Actors’ Summit

Brian Zoldessy, one of the area’s most awarded actors, seems to be making a career of bringing real people to life.  He was Ned Weeks, the AIDS activist in Ensemble’s THE NORMAL HEART, Sigmund Freud, the recognized father of Psychoanalysis in Actors’ Summit’s FREUD’S LAST SESSION, and now he’s reincarnating the renowned physicist, Albert Einstein.  He won both Cleveland Critics Circle and Times Tribute Theatre awards for the former two roles, and the odds are he’ll be receiving similar recognition for his most recent portrayal.

EINSTEIN, now on stage at Actors’ Summit, is a one-performer snapshot of the personal life and scientific revelations of the German Jewish scientist who changed the understanding of the world of science. 

We observe as Einstein tells the tale of his going from gymnasium (high school) drop-out to one of the most revered men on the planet.  We see him argue with peers, teachers, professors and other men of letters, as he rejects teaching methods which discourage creative thinking and stress rote learning.

This is the man who seems to be a typical absent minded professor, losing his pipe, glasses, letters and papers of importance, even forgetting where he lives, but, in reality, living in a world where he is overwhelmed with internal thoughts that get in the way of his traveling through life with organization and clarity.  He is a man who is less than an acceptable husband and father because his world is consumed with probing theoretical thoughts.  He is always in the office located in his mind.

We become aware that, at age 26, Einstein had a miracle year.  In a short period in he published 4 groundbreaking academic papers, established the building blocks of quantum theory, proved the existence of atoms,  conceived the theory of relativity, including the equation of the matter-energy conversion rate, E = mc2, often dubbed the world’s most famous equation.

He is the pioneer who explored new frontiers in science, opposed quantum mechanics and the Big Bang Theory, while becoming a fighter who brought refugees from Hitler’s Germany and was proposed as the President of Israel.
 
Potential audience members may fear seeing a play of deep scientific matters that will be boring and hard to understand.  Fear not!  Writer Willard Simms has overcome those issues by using “a conversation with the audience” format.  Einstein wanders the stage, talking to the audience, clarifying his ideas with stories, jokes, absent minded forgetfulness, and written and drawn examples.  He keeps the ideas on the shallow side, which may be frustrating to scientists, but works well for the rest of us. 

Praise for this production’s staging was heard from a large number of MENSA members, people who score in the 98th percentile or higher on standardized IQ tests, who attended the opening night performance as a group, as well as Kent State University advanced science students, and the “regular” members of the audience.

The script is light on some details of Einstein’s life, his theories, and motivations which developed his acceptance/rejection of God and organized religion, his skepticism, and the causes of family conflicts, but the general concepts are there.

Simms does help open the doors to understanding why Einstein was perceived as arrogant, his belief that only musical composers and scientists express the unknown and the power of the universe, his strong stand against injustice, acceptance of Zionism, and beliefs in morality.

The winner of the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect, Einstein wrote a letter to President Roosevelt in the 1940s about Germany’s potential development of “extremely powerful bombs of a new type.”  His action helped develop  the Manhattan Project which gave birth to the atomic bomb.  In an about face, when he discovered that the Nazis could not develop a similar weapon, ironically because they had either killed or expelled their Jewish scientists, Einstein denounced the idea of using the newly discovered nuclear fission as a weapon in the now famous “Russell-Einstein Manifesto.”

Actors’ Summit’s production, is excellent.  A. Neil Thackaberry directs the show with precision and Brian Zoldessy is brilliant in his portrayal of Einstein.

On stage, alone for an hour-and-a- half, Zoldessy become the great scientist.  Rather than portraying Einstein, Zoldessy becomes the hair flying, unkempt genius.  He does not allow the audience’s attention to wander.  His is not a good performance, it’s a great performance.  Wow!  Standing “O!”

Capsule judgement:  EINSTEIN is a must see production that offers an opportunity to access the man and his myths.  It also allows for a showcasing of Brian Zoldessy becoming Einstein!

There are after-production discussions by science educators following some performances.  Check the theatre’s website for dates and panel members!

For tickets to EINSTEIN, which runs through February 1, 2015, call 330-374-7568 or go to www.actorssummit.org

Sunday, December 21, 2014

2015 Winter-Spring Cleveland Theater Calenda

Though the winds and snow are blowing, theater in Cleveland continues on.  Here’s a list of some of the offerings through the spring season.  SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL THEATRES!

ACTOR’S SUMMIT
330-374-7568 or go to www.actorssummit.org
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sundays @ 2 PM

EINSTEIN (January 15-February 1)—Brian Zoldessy, as Albert Einstein, invites the audience into his home to set the record straight.  Remember, it’s all relative.

THE BOOK CLUB PLAY (February 26-March 15)—A famous filmmaker chooses Ana’s book club to be part of his next documentary with comic results.

BAD JEWS (April 16-May 3)—She is the family’s “Superjew,” he is an assimilated atheist.  This comedy asks, “who gets the sacred family heirloom?”

ALWAYS . . . PATSY CLINE (May 28-June 21)—A musical tribute to Patsy’s spirit and a celebration of her music.  Yes, “Crazy,” “Sweet Dreams,” “Walkin’ After Midnight” and 17 more.

BECK CENTER

216-521-2540 or http://www.beckcenter.org
8 p.m. evenings, 3 p.m. matinees

MARY POPPINS (December 5-January 4, 2015)—The supercalifragilisticexpialidocious musical in its local premiere.

DOGFIGHT (February 6-March 15)—In collaboration with Baldwin Wallace University’s Music Theatre Program, this musical, based on the film of the same name, centers on three young Marines, who, in 1963, before the night of their deployment, learn the power of compassion. (Studio Theatre)

LEND ME A TENOR (March 27-April 26)—Ken Ludwig’s farce, with mistaken identities, misunderstandings, and lots of slammed doors, follows Tito Morelli, the fiery-tempered Italian superstar, who arrives in Cleveland to star in a local opera, and then disappears.

THE YOUNG MAN FROM ATLANTA (May 29-June 28)—Horton Foote’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama tells the story of a Texas couple’s attempt to make sense of the death of their son.

BLANK CANVAS



440-941-0458 or www.blankcanvastheatre.com

TBA

CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE
 

216-241-6000 or go to www.clevelandplayhouse.com
7:30 Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 Saturday and Sunday

FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE  (January 23-February 15)—Main Stage--His woman left him, he’s broke, and it’s almost five o’clock in the morning. But don’t worry about our hero. All he needs is the right music—and the right guys—to get him through. Enter five guys named Moe, stepping out through his radio to cajole, comfort and jazz him with dozens of whimsical hit songs from the extraordinary Louis Jordan.

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (February 25-March 7)—The Helen—CPH and CWRU/MFA program perform Phillip Barry’s romantic comedy focusing on the mixed-up lives of the rich and famous who seemingly “have it all.”

THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE (February 27-March 22)—Main Stage--Jura’s daughter, renowned pianist Mona Golabek, brings her mother’s true tale of survival and triumph to the stage. Featuring live performances of classics by Chopin, Beethoven, and Debussy. Content and themes include war and the Holocaust.

VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE (April 3-April 26)—Main Stage—Siblings Vonya and Sonia are contentedly discontent to pass into their twilight years sipping coffee and watching for blue herons. However, when their fading B-movie-star sister descends upon their quiet country home with sexy boy toy Spike, chaos ensues.  (To read my review of the New York production go to:  http://www.royberko.info, click on Broadway, scroll down to “Absurd Vonya and Sonya and Masha and Spike delights.”

FAIRFIELD (May 1-May 24)—Outcalt Theatre—Clevelander Eric Coble’s play examines how we each determine what’s appropriate and inappropriate, and whether “We Shall Overcome.”  (Content Advisory: Play contains strong language, including profanity and derogatory terms, mild violence, innuendo, and frank conversations on race.)

CLEVELAND PUBLIC THEATRE


216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org

FIRE ON THE WATER:  PART FOUR OF THE ELEMENTS CYCLE (January 29-February 14)—7:30, Gordon Square Theatre--This concluding work will focus on how the environment can shape identity and will celebrate the remarkable recovery of Cleveland’s waterways.

STANDING ON CEREMONY:  THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS (March 5-21)-- 7:30, Gordon Square Theatre--Back by popular demand, this powerful series of short plays promote marriage equality and the power of love to overcome.

IN A WORD (April 16-May 2)—7:00, James Levin Theatre--Two years have passed since Fiona’s eight-year-old son mysteriously vanished. As she delves back into her memories of that fateful day to find the missing piece.

DONTRELL, WHO KISSED THE SEA (May 21-June 6)—7:00, James Levin Theatre—It’s a month before his first day in college and Dontrell Jones III wakes up from a dream that will change his life. The young man’s unconventional journey begins with swimming lessons, and ends in a boat drifting into the sea to meet his grandfather’s spirit.

JOHANNA:  FACING FORWARD (May 28-June 13)—7:30 Gordon Square Theatre--Based on the true story of Johanna Orozco, a Cleveland teen who survived a gunshot wound to the face by her boyfriend in 2007 and whose story sparked a nation-wide movement against teen domestic violence

convergence continuum
convergence-continiuum.org or 216-687-0074
Thursday-Saturday @ 8

ISAAC’S EYES (March 20-April 11)—A quirky look at what drove Isaac Newton, a brilliant but troubled farm boy, to become one of the modern world’s greatest thinkers.

WOLVES (May 8-30)—A female narrator tells an urban fable that takes place during a long and terrible night at the apartment of Ben, his roommate and one time boyfriend, Jack.

DOBAMA

216-932-3396 or www.dobama.org
check the theatre’s blog for performance times

A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS:  AN AMERICAN MUSICAL CELEBRATION (December 5-January 5, 2015)—A musical that weaves together characters, story lines and pieces of music about hope, joy, and the beauty of the human spirit.

SLOWGIRL (January 23-February 15)--A teenager is sent to her reclusive uncle’s retreat in the Costa Rican jungle to avoid the aftermath of a tragic accident. In the days that follow, they are forced to face the choices they’ve made and what they both are truly running from.

BECKY SHAW (March 6-March 29)-- When a couple of newlyweds set up their abrasive and confident friend with a sexy and strange new co-worker, it’s the blind date from hell.

SUPERIOR DONUTS (April 24-May 24)-- When his donut shop in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago is vandalized, an uninspired, ex-hippie, seems both hapless and indifferent. But when an African-American college student enters the doors of Superior Donuts, both men are changed forever.

ENSEMBLE THEATRE

216-321-2930 or http://www.ensemble-theatre.com
Friday and Saturdays @ 8, Sundays @ 2

THURGOOD (January 31-February 22)--Brings to life a civil rights giant who attended Fredrick Douglas High School in Baltimore, as well as Lincoln University where his class mates were the likes of poet Langston Hughes and Musician Cab Calloway.

BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO (April 24-May 17)—Cleveland Heights native Rajiv Joseph’s play about the lives of two American Marines and an Iraqi translator whose lives are forever changed by an encounter with a quick-witted tiger who haunts the streets of war-torn Baghdad.  Starred Robin Williams on Broadway.

GREAT LAKES THEATER

http://www.greatlakestheater.org or 216-241-6000
Wednesday-Saturday @ 7:30, Saturdays @ 1:30, Sunday @ 3.

DIAL M FOR MURDER (February 27-March 22)—An ex-tennis professional married his wife for her money. Now he plans to kill her for the same reason, convinced that she is having an affair. When his precise murder plot goes awry, can he improvise an equally deadly plan B?

THE TEMPEST (April 10-26)—Along a magically tempestuous journey, passions are unleashed, villainy is thwarted and a family is reunited in Shakespeare’s comic and cathartic tale of romance and renewal.


LAKELAND COMMUNITY THEATRE

440-525-7134 or http://lakelandcc.edu/academic/arts/theatre/index.asp




VIOLET (January 30, 31, February 6, 7, 13, 14 @ 7:30, February 1, 8, 15 @ 2)--Tony nominated musical tells the story of a young disfigured woman who embarks on a journey, by bus, from her farm in North Carolina to Tulsa, Oklahoma in order to be healed.

none-too-fragile

www.nonetoofragile.com or 330-671-4563
evenings at 7:30, matinees at 2:00

THE LONESOME WEST (February 5-21)--Marin McDonagh’s contemporary Irish play about the murderous goings-on in the Western Ireland town of Leenane.

GOD OF CARNAGE (April 24-May 9)-- Two sets of parents, one of whose child has hurt the other at a public park, meet to discuss the matter in a civilized manner. As the evening goes on, the parents become increasingly childish, resulting in the evening evolving into chaos.

PLAYHOUSESQUARE

 
216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org.
See the website for specific dates and times

STOMP (January 16-18)—Connor Palace--The eight-member troupe uses everything but conventional percussion instruments--matchboxes, wooden poles, brooms, garbage cans, Zippo lighters, hubcaps--to fill the stage with magnificent rhythms.

PIPPIN (February 3-15)—Connor Palace--Full of extraordinary acrobatics, wondrous magical feats and soaring songs from the composer of Wicked, PIPPIN is noted for such Broadway standards as “Corner of the Sky,” “Magic To Do,” “Glory,” “No Time at All,” “Morning Glow,” and “Love Song.”   (For Roy Berko’s review of the Broadway show go to http://www.royberko.info, go the Broadway link and scroll to PIPPIN.)

DEFENDING THE CAVEMAN (February 4-15)—Outcalt Theatre-The longest running solo play in Broadway history, the insightful play about the ways men and women relate, or don’t relate.

HAL HOLBROOK IN MARK TWAIN TONIGHT (February 21)--Fifty years ago, a young actor took the stage in a tiny off-Broadway theater and introduced the world to a man they would never forget. The actor was Hal Holbrook and the man was Mark Twain.

DIRTY DANCING (March 3-22)—Connor Palace--Tells the story of Baby and Johnny, two independent young spirits from different worlds, who come together in what will be the most challenging and triumphant summer of their lives. Featuring such songs as “Hungry Eyes,” “Hey Baby,” “Do You Love Me?” and the heart stopping “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.”


POTTED POTTER (March 26-29)—Ohio Theatre--Whether you camped outside a bookstore for three days awaiting the release of the “Deathly Hallows” or you don't know the difference between a “horcrux” and a “Hufflepuff,” the comedy, magic and mayhem makes for perfect entertainment for the entire family.


KINKY BOOTS (April 7-19)—Connor Palace—Based on a true story, the musical follows a struggling shoe factory owner who works to turn his business around with help from Lola, a fabulous entertainer in need of some sturdy stilettos. Together, this unlikely pair find that they have more in common than they ever dreamed possible… proving that when you change your mind about someone, you can change your whole world. (For Roy Berko’s review of the Broadway show go to http://www.royberko.info, go the Broadway link and scroll to KINKY BOOTS.)


AMERICA’S GOT DOWNTON (April 18)—Ohio Theatre—Direct from London’s West End, Luke Kempner creates more than thirty characters in this parody that blends celebrity visitors with well-known characters from Downton Abbey. Cultures clash and eras hilariously collide to help the cast save the estate from financial ruin – again!


DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (April 24-26)—Connor Palace--The classic musical love story filled with unforgettable characters, lavish sets and costumes, and dazzling production numbers including “Be Our Guest” and the beloved title song.


RAIN-A TRIBUTE TO THE BEATLES (May 3)—State Theatre--A live multi-media spectacular that takes you on a musical journey through the life and times of the world’s most celebrated band.  It includes such songs as “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “Hard Day’s Night,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Let It Be,” “Come Together” and “Hey Jude.”


I LOVE LUCY: LIVE ON STAGE (May 15-17)—Connor Palace--It’s 1952 and you are a member of the Desilu Playhouse studio audience awaiting the filming of two oh-so-familiar I LOVE LUCY® episodes and the sidesplitting antics of America’s favorite foursome – Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel – are presented live on stage.


THE MUSICAL THEATER PROJECT

http://www.MusicalTheaterProject.org or 216-529-9411 for tickets and information
(productions staged in review format with narration)

OVER THE RAINBOW (The Songs of Harold Arlen)--January 18 @3 PM—Main Stage Theatre Tri-C Metro—A national survey found that Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow” was the most beloved song of the 20th century! 

 FINE ROMANCE (The Love Song Cabaret)—February 15—Vosh Lakewood (area’s newest entertainment venue, 1414 Riverside Drive, Lakewood) @ 7 PM—Puts a spotlight on the many faces of love.

SWING’S THE THING!—Saturday, March 21 @ 8 PM—Ohio Theatre, and Saturday, April 11, 7 PM—Lorain County Community College—A salute to the electrifying Swing Era, a golden age for musical theatre history.

BEHIND THE MUSICAL:  HELLO, DOLLY—Sunday April 26 @ 3 PM—Chagrin Falls High School Performing Arts Center—From Carol Channing to Pearl Bailey to Barbra Streisand, the musical is 50 years old and still “going strong.”

Saturday, December 20, 2014

TIMES THEATER TRIBUTES--2014

Greater Cleveland is blessed with a vital theatre scene.  It is the purpose of the TIMES THEATRE TRIBUTES to recognize theatrical experiences that, in the subjective view of this reviewer, were excellent and deserve recognition.

Only shows performed in 2014 which I reviewed were considered.  With the exception of Outstanding National Touring Production, selections were limited to local presentations though actors, directors and technicians who were imported by local theatres for their productions were considered.  No community theatre recognitions are included.  Actors are separated by gender, but not equity or lack of union affiliation, or leading or supporting roles.  Names are listed in alphabetical order, not in rank order.
   
2014 OUTSTANDING NON-MUSICAL PRODUCTIONS
‘night MOTHER, Beck Center
BELLEVILLE, Dobama
EXACT CHANGE, none too fragile
GIDION’S KNOT, none too fragile
INFORMED CONSENT, Cleveland Play House
KIN, Dobama
SEMINAR, Beck Center
STRANDED ON EARTH, Theater Ninjas
THE ALIENS, Dobama
THE LITTLE FOXES, Cleveland Play House
TOPDOG/UNDERDOG, none too fragile
A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS:  AN AMERICAN MUSICAL CELEBRATION, Dobama

2014 OUTSTANDING MUSICAL THEATRE PRODUCTIONS
CARRIE, Beck Center/Baldwin Wallace University Musical Theatre Program
HOW WE GOT ON, Cleveland Play House
LES MISÉRABLES, GREAT LAKES THEATER
THE LIGHT IN THE PLAZA, Lakeland

2014 OUTSTANDING DIRECTOR OF A NON-MUSICAL
Corey Atkins, BELLEVILLE, Dobama
Donald Carrier, SEMINAR, Beck Center
Jeremy Paul, STRANDED ON EARTH, Theater Ninjas
Laura Kepley, THE LITLE FOXES, Cleveland Play House
Nathan Motta, THE ALIENS, Dobama
Scott Plate, ‘night MOTHER, Beck Center
Sean Daniels, INFORMED CONSENT, Cleveland Play House
Sean Deery, GIDION’S KNOT, none too fragile
Sean Deery, TOPDOG/UNDERDOG, none too fragile
Shannon Sindelar, KIN, Dobama
Nathan Motta, A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS:  AN AMERICAN MUSICAL     CELEBRATION, Dobama

2014 OUTSTANDING DIRECTOR OF A MUSICAL
Jaime Castañeda, HOW WE GOT ON, Cleveland Play House
Martin Friedman, THE LIGHT IN THE PLAZA, Lakeland
Victoria Bussert, CARRIE, Beck Center/Baldwin Wallace University Musical Theatre Program
Victoria Bussert, LES MISÉRABLES, GREAT LAKES THEATER

2014 OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHY IN A THEATRE PRODUCTION
Gregory Daniels, CARRIE, Beck Center/Baldwin Wallace University Musical Theatre Program
Martin Céspedes, AS YOU LIKE IT, Great Lakes Theater
Martin Céspedes, FOREVER PLAID, Beck Center
Martin Céspedes, MARY POPPINS, Beck Center
Martin Céspedes, THE FROGS, Cain Park

2014 OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES BY A MALE IN A NON-MUSICAL
Alexander V. Thompson, THE ALIENS, Dobama
Brian Kenneth Armour, TOPDOG/UNDERDOG, none too fragile
Daniel McElhaney, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, Blank Canvas
Daniel McElhaney, THE PILLOWMAN, convergence continuum
Grey Cross, LOBSTER ALICE, convergence-continuum
Matt O’Shea, BELLEVILLE, Dobama
Perren Hedderson, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, Blank Canvas
Scott Plate, SEMINAR, Beck Center

2014 OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES BY A FEMALE IN A NON-MUSICAL
Chris Howey, EXACT CHANGE, Cleveland Public Theatre & none too fragile
Chris Seibert, AMERICAN FALLS, Cleveland Public Theatre
Derdriu Ring, STRANDED ON EARTH, Theater Ninjas
Dorothy Silver, night MOTHER, Beck Center
Elena Kepner, KIN, Dobama
Ireland Derry, RIDE, none too fragile
Jen Kilka, Gidion’s Knot, none too fragile
Jessica Wortham, INFORMED CONSENT, Cleveland Play House
Laura Perotta, night MOTHER, Beck Center
Llewie Nunez, BELLEVILLE, Dobama
LucyBredeson-Smith, TERMINUS, convergence continuum
Maggie Lacey, THE LITTLE FOXES, Cleveland Play House
Sally Groth, PHOTOGRAPH 51, Actors’ Summit

2014 OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES BY A MALE IN A MUSICAL
Dan Folino, THE FROGS, Cain Park
Elijah Rock, BREATH AND IMAGINATION, Cleveland Play House
Greg Violand, MY FAIR LADY, Porthouse
Matthew Ryan Thompson, MARY POPPINS, Beck Center
Stephen Mitchell Brown, LES MISÉRABLES, Great Lakes Theater

2014 OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES BY A FEMALE IN A MUSICAL
Caitlin Houlahan, CARRIE, Beck Center/Baldwin Wallace University Musical Theatre Program
Cyndii Johnson, HOW WE GOT ON, Cleveland Play House
Daphne Gaines, BREATH AND IMAGINATION, Cleveland Play House
Jodi Dominick, LES MISÉRABLES, Great Lakes Theater
Kayce Cummings (Green), MY FAIR LADY, Porthouse
Lindsey Sandham Leonard, THE LIGHT IN THE PLAZA, Lakeland
Rebecca  Pitcher, MARY POPPINS, Beck Center

2014 OUTSTANDING SCENIC DESIGN OF A NON-MUSICAL
Aaron Benson, ANCESTRA, CLEVELAND PUBLIC THEATRE
Laura Carlson Tarantowski, OCCUPANT, Cesear’s Forum
Lex Liang, THE LITTLE FOXES, Cleveland Play House
Marcus Dana, KIN, Dobama
Russell Metheny, DEATHTRAP, Great Lakes Theater

2014 OUTSTANDING SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Ben Needham, , A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS:  AN AMERICAN MUSICAL     CELEBRATION, Dobama
Jeff Herrmann, MARY POPPINS, Beck Center
Jeff Herrmann, LES MISÉRABLES, Great Lakes Theater
Jordan Janota, CARRIE, Beck Center/Baldwin Wallace University Musical Theatre Program
Ron Newell, THE FROGS, Cain Park
Todd Krispinski, TITUS A GRAND AND GORY ROCK MUSICAL, Cleveland Public Theatre
Trad Burns, THE LIGHT IN THE PLAZA, Lakeland

2014 OUTSTANDING MUSICAL DIRECTION
Bryan Bird, FOREVER PLAID, Beck Center
Joel Mercier, LES MISÉRABLES, Great Lakes Theater
Jordan Cooper, LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, Lakeland
Larry Goodpaster, “[title of the show],” Beck Center
Larry Goodpaster, MARY POPPINS, Beck Center
Nancy Maier, CARRIE, Beck Center/Baldwin Wallace University Musical Theatre Program
Nathan Motta, THE FROGS, Cain Park

2014 OUTSTANDING SOUND DESIGN IN A NON-MUSICAL OR MUSICAL
Amanda Were, LES MISÉRABLES, Great Lakes Theater
James C. Swonger, A CHRISTMAS STORY, Cleveland Play House
Clyde Simon (with music by Jeremy Allen), TERMINUS, convergence-continuum
Mikhail Fiksel, HOW WE GOT ON, Cleveland Play House
Richard Ingraham, DEATHTRAP, Great Lakes Theater
Tom Limsenmeier, BELLEVILLE, Dobama

2014 OUTSTANDING COSTUME DESIGN IN A NON-MUSICAL OR MUSICAL
Esther M. Haberlen, LES MISÉRABLES, Great Lakes Theater
Lex Liang, THE LITTLE FOXES, Cleveland Play House
S. Q. Campbell, MY FAIR LADY, Porthouse
Tesia Dugan Benson , A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS:  AN AMERICAN MUSICAL CELEBRATION, Dobama

2014 OUTSTANDING LIGHTING DESIGN IN A NON-MUSICAL OR MUSICAL
Ben Gatose, TITUS A GRAND AND GORY ROCK MUSICAL, Cleveland Public Theatre
Jeff Nellis, BREATH AND IMAGINATION, Cleveland Play House
Marcus Dana, A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS:  AN AMERICAN MUSICAL     CELEBRATION, Dobama
Marcus Dana, BELLEVILLE, Dobama
Mary Jo Dondlinger, LES MISÉRABLES, Great Lakes Theater
Rick Martin, DEATHTRAP, Great Lakes Theater
Russ Borski, CARRIE, Beck Center/Baldwin Wallace University Musical Theatre Program
Trad A Burns, THE LIGHT IN THE PLAZA, Lakeland
Trad A Burns, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, Beck Center
Zachary Svoboda, STRANDED ON EARTH, Theater Ninjas

2014 OUTSTANDING NATIONAL TOURING PRODUCTION
PORGY AND BESS

SPECIAL RECOGNITION

Daryl Waters for his musical arrangements for A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS:  AN AMERICAN MUSICAL CELEBRATION, Dobama

Eric Coble, for THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN, his first on-Broadway production

Holly Holsinger, Chris Seibert, Renee Schilling and Sally Groth, for their development of ANCESTRA for Cleveland Public Theatre

Martin Céspedes’s choreography for the Cleveland Foundation’s Centennial gala

Mike Tutaj, videos, MARY POPPINS, Beck Center

The Baldwin Wallace University Musical Theatre program for producing an outstanding number of Broadway theatre cast members

Victoria Bussert and the Baldwin Wallace University Musical Theatre Program student company fir their quality production of THE MURDER BALLAD

If any names are spelled incorrectly, or there are errors in identifications, please let me know so I can change the permanent record on www.royberko.info.

If you would like to read any of my reviews for the year, please go to www.royberko.info, enter the blog and click on “2014 Reviews” or click on the name of the producing theatre and scroll through their performances. Reviews from previous years may also be accessed.