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.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Funky, fun, “High Fidelity a musical” at Blank Canvas




Pat Ciamacco, artistic director at Blank Canvas, has a “thing” for off-beat musicals.  Sure, he produced “Hair” and “Godspell,” but it’s more likely that what you’ll see mounted on his stage are “Beach Blanket Party,” “Debbie Does Dallas,” and “Texas Chainsaw Musical.”  I’m surprised he’s missed out on “Bullshot Crummond,” “Dance of the Vampires,” “Expresso Bongo,” “Hands on a Hard Body, and, of course, “The Rocky Horror Show.”

Pat’s latest offering is David Lindsay-Abaire, Amanda Green and Tom Kitt’s “High Fidelity, a musical,”  which is based on Nick Hornby’s similarly named novel.

The story centers on Rob Gordon, a 30-year old slacker, who owns a record shop. ("I'm sitting on a business that has zero growth potential, and I wouldn't change a thing.")   He is obsessed with developing top five lists for everything.  You name the category, and Rob, rather than concentrating on what is really happening in his life, has developed a top five. 

He’s kind of a Peter Pan who refuses to grow up, geared to live with and obsess about disappointment.  “Never grow up, never grow up, never grow up,” that is, until his girlfriend, Laura, leaves him (not even qualifying for his “Worst Top Five Breakup” list).  When Laura’s father dies, Rob suddenly has an epiphany, “He needs to let loose of his top five lists, yes, even his “Top Five ‘mother load’ of 45-rpm records” list, and the records, themselves, and his self-centered view of the world. 

The musical had a short and mixed-reviews run in Boston, then a fourteen performance run on Broadway.  With a review from a New York leading newspaper calling the epic-not “an all-time most forgettable musical,” there wasn’t much of a future for this script. 

Short runs and bad reviews don’t dissuade Ciamacco.  He knows his niche audience and his own off-the-wall sense of humor.  His people go for loud, brash and kooky, not sweet, home style and family friendly.  Yeah, blood zones, not comfort zones.  So this off-the wall script is a perfect choice for him and them.

The score includes ballads, rock, country western, and heavy metal.  There are references to mega-stars like the Beastie Boys, Indigo Girls, Talking Heads, and Aretha Franklin.  All of the songs are original, however, so no old standards are sung.  This is not a jukebox musical.

The music is loud, everyone is miked, even the orchestra, which shakes the walls and chairs in the postage-stamp sized theatre, where the furthest seat is ten feet from the stage. 

My head is still ringing, and I removed my hearing-aids half way through.  I still have an echo in my head twenty-four hours later.  I guess it’s a generational thing, but  I have a strong desire to hear the words the singers are singing, not the semblance of words.  I think since the words were written, I should understand them. As I said, it’s a generational thing.

Songs include “The Last Real Record Store,” “Desert Island Top 5-Break-Ups,” “Ian’s Here,” “Ready to Settle,” “Cryin’ in The Rain,” and “Turn the World Off.” 

Favorites songs include the clever “Nine Percent Chance,” the statistical probability that Laura will take Rob back, which had a boy-group sound complete with repetitive gestures and choreography. 

Another delight was “It’s No Problem,” first sung by the utterly charming Charlie Brown-like Pat Miller as the nerdy Dick, who doesn’t know whether he has had sex or not.  But by the end of the show, he has a girl friend, Anna (the equally nerdy Monica Zach) who joins Miller in the song’s reprise. 

And then there is “Laura, Laura,” a nice ballad, performed beautifully by our hero, the tall, skinny, handsome, Shane Patrick O’Neill, he of great voice and acting talent. 

I heard and understood the lyrics to those three “quiet” songs.

The cast is talented, sings well, and has a ball portraying their odd ball parts.  They even did justice to the farce nature of the piece, a hard task.

Leslie Andrews is girlfriend Laura, Kate Leigh Michalski is Rob’s nagging female friend, director Pat Ciamacco displays a big set of singing pipes as the negative Barry, Kevin Myers is a hoot as T.M.P.M.I.T.W. (yes, that’s what the guys call him!).  Stephen Berg does a bad (yes, bad, “bad,” not bad “good”) take-off on Bruce Springsteen, to the delight of the audience.

The overly energetic and overly miked orchestra, under the direction of Lawrence Wallace, played the begeebers out of the music.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “High Fidelity, a musical,” now on stage at Blank Canvas, is fun.  It’s filled with delightful ridiculousness, is well-staged and performed, and is definitely LOUD.  If you are in the mood for a night of off- beat “cool,” and “different” and want to avoid Santa Claus, reindeer, an umbrella carrying flying nanny, and “bah-humbug,” this should be your holiday theatre treat. 

Blank Canvas runs “High Fidelity, a musical” through December 20 in its west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.  For tickets and directions go to www.blankcanvasthetre.com

Monday, December 08, 2014

MARY POPPINS continues the happy holiday tradition at Beck

Like retail stores, local theatres realize that they need a big December holiday season to make enough profits to sustain themselves for rest of the year. 

Looking on the holiday boards, there’s Great Lakes with their umpteenth production of “A Christmas Carol,” Cleveland Play House’s “A Christmas Story,” and Cleveland Public Theatre’s “Santaland Diaries.” PlayhouseSquare joined the jolly days with a production of “White Christmas.”  Even Dobama, the “serious theatre” added “A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration” to its line up, with seemingly good pre-sales. 

Beck has used ”Annie” and “Beauty And The Beast” as its holiday cash cows in previous years.  This time, it decided to start a new tradition with “Mary Poppins.”

Beck is up against several obstacles with their selection.  Because of the theatre space not having a fly gallery, Mary, as she does in the movie version, can’t fly.  (Leave it to some cute little lass, who, when the nanny with the umbrella in the movie went skyward, and our Mary was instead gliding, anchored to a moving stepladder, jumped out of her seat and wailed, “Why isn’t she flying?”)

Poppins is also a “lesson” play.  It doesn’t have a prince and princess or a little orphan girl who gets saved.  It also doesn’t have a cute dog, or a monster who turns in to a handsome prince.  It’s long on story and is short on cutesy stuff, slapstick, and unbridled action. 

Fortunately, the theatre employs Martin Céspedes, the most awarded choreographer in the area.  Leave it to Céspedes to create some show stopping dances that tended to hold the attention of the kids and adults alike. 

But, as good as the production is, under Scott Plate’s inventive staging, this just isn’t a kid pleasing show, especially kids who have seen the movie so many times that they can repeat the lines and expect Mary to fly and for Burt and his chimney sweeps to dance on the roof tops.

As the story goes, Jane and Michael Banks, the children of the up-tight banker George Banks, are the scourge of nannies.  The parade of child keepers, go in and out of employment, as if the house had a revolving door. No ad was run, no one knew the last nanny left, but based on a ripped-up note thrown into the air (magically taken sky-bound by creative electronic video), “The Perfect Nanny,” Poppins, shows up. 

Using a child rearing philosophy of “A Spoon Full of Sugar,” the nanny tames the wild beasts and inserts a joyful ”Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” attitude.  When Poppins leaves to test her long term effect, Mrs. Banks finds Mr. Banks’ old nanny, the fearsome Miss Andrew to take her place.  The results, of course, are disastrous. Poppins returns, to “Cherry Tree Lane” and  the family settles down  in happy bliss, appreciating the value of family and the need for love rather than fear. Mary Poppins leaves to the strains of “A Shooting Star.”

Along the way, such tunes as “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “Jolly Holiday,” “A Man Has Dreams,” “Feed the Birds,” “Playing the Game,” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” are sung, and Céspedes pulls off his choreographic magic with rousing numbers such as “Step in Time.”

Scott Plate does a “Practically Perfect” job of directing. 

The cast is universally strong.  As Jane and Michael, Anna Barrett and Joseph Daso have been well-versed in the ways of theatre and the to be natural and not act their roles.  Accent perfect, the duo are totally believable.  Good job!

Matthew Ryan Thompson succeeds in the battle to create his own Bert and not imitate Dick VanDyke.  He sings well, dances with gusto and has a nice touch with humor.  Rebecca Pitcher as “The Perfect Nanny,” also avoids the film’s stereotype set by Julie Andrews.  She reverts to the character as written in the P. L. Travers’ book series, stern but loving, rather than syrupy sweet.

Katherine DeBoer is properly motherly and displays a well-trained singing voice.   Curt Arnold is excellent as the rigid George Banks.  Lissy Gulick is adorable as Mrs. Brill, the put-upon house keeper.  Aimee Collier plays the nasty Miss Andrew with a negative relish and a big voice!  Peggy Gibbons delivers a lovely rendition of “Feed the Birds.” 

The dancing corps is excellent, pulling off the choreography with ease and effectiveness.  The orchestra, under the direction of Larry Goodpaster, plays well and supports rather than drowning out the singers.  Sound designer Carlton Guc did the masterful job of getting the Beck sound system to operate without a single sound squeal!

Jeff Herrmann, cursed with a small playing area and no back or side stage space, must be a master of jigsaw puzzles, as set pieces whiz on and off stage with comparative ease.  Using many, many white umbrellas hanging from the batons, as a background for Mike Tutaj’s masterfully designed videos, was a stroke of genius.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  “Mary Poppins, based on the stories of P. L. Travers and the Walt Disney Film, is generally delightful, though not as charismatic as required for the attention of young children.  It will delight most theatre-goers as Mary Poppins flylessly cavorts into their hearts and feeds them “A Spoon Full of Sugar.”

“Mary Poppins” is scheduled to run at Beck Center for the Arts through January 4, 2015.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go online to http://www.beckcenter.org

CPT’s “American Falls” is an existentialist tale of yearning and destruction

The existentialists ask, “What does it mean to exist?  What is our purpose in being?”  “American Falls,” Miki Johnson’s drama which showcases eight people living in a small town—six alive, two dead—is an existentialist exercise. 

The Cleveland Public Theatre production probes “the inner life of everyday people desperately seeking meaning and love on the razor’s edge of transcendence and despair.”

Much in the vein of Thornton Wilder’s classic, “Our Town,” “American Falls” takes place in a small town, populated by people who examine life from birth through death and thereafter.  Neither give answers, but much in the pattern of Talmudic scholars, asks questions. 

Wilder’s heroine, Emily Webb asks, “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”  Wilder goes on to observe:  “That's what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years. To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another.”

Lisa, one of the dead characters states, “I mean, we do these things.  We spill coffee down our sleeve, we read the labels on soup cans, we honk our horns and floss our teeth and cry and sing and swallow and turn on light switches and turn them off again and get places on time and get places late and watch TV and we get upset when a storm takes out the electricity and we blink and open drawers and sometimes forget to close them again and write ourselves reminders.  All these things.  And it’s nothing.  It’s all nothing. And it’s everything . . .It’s so lovely, so kind that this is how it ends.

The play starts with the line, “Let me tell you a story.”  And, what a story it is.  A story of intrigue, yet, ordinariness.  A tale of horror, yet one of longing.  The events appear to be a natural outlet for probing about life by Miki Johnson, born and nurtured in the small town of Green, Ohio (near Akron).

In one suspended period of time, we hear the tales of Lisa, a new suicide, who relates her life of abuse, while we view her former husband, Samuel, transform himself from ranting male to psychotic female…denuding himself of all bodily hair, putting on a wig, as he explains to an uncomprehending young boy why he is not really the child’s biological father, because his mother had an affair .  As this part of the tale unravels, the boy’s real father is interacting with two friends in a bar, and a Native American shoe salesman tells about his magical shoes, “Not bullshit magic, real magic.”  Samuel’s dead mother relates her tale of depression, alcoholism, mothering 11 children, and the mistakes of her life. 

The stories continue, some funny, some sad, but all filled with some sort of heartache and pain, and how life carries on with losses and gains.

Johnson uses numerous pop references in her tale-telling.   She refers to Budweiser beer, National Public Radio, Terry Gross interviews, Frank Capra movies, and “Law and Order:  Special Victims Unit” in her metaphoric descriptions of the story of life.

The characters are bound by geography, but, most by being humans and probing for the whys of their existence.

The performances, most of which are presented in monologue form directly to the audience, are compelling.  Each member of the cast, Darius Stubbs, Faye Hargate, Adam Seeholzer, Chris Seibert, PJ MCready, Ryan Edlinger, Dionne D. Atchison, and Anthony Sevier is convincing in being, not acting, his/her character.

Capsule judgement: “American Falls” is not an easy sit.  If takes concentration.  As Raymond Bobgan, the director, states in his program notes, “This journey requires curiosity, attention and a yearning for something wonderful to happen.”  Each will take his/her own journey in this complex piece.

“American Falls” continues at Cleveland Public Theatre through December 20, 2014.  For tickets go to: 216-631-2727 or go to www.cptonline.org
 

Sunday, December 07, 2014

“A Civil War Christmas,” a massive and impressive undertaking at Dobama

Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel is noted for crafting play scripts which impact directly on the lives of people.  A review of her works illustrates that  she writes about issues that need to be expressed (AIDS, sexual abuse, prostitution, degradation of the individual), she favors writing about emotional circumstances which she expresses in narrative structures, and her works contain theatrical requirements that make for better viewing, than reading.

Her “A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration,” which was written over a ten-year period, reflects her focus on direct impact of situations and experiences on the lives of people.

The epic drama, which is set on Christmas Eve, 1864, in Washington, D.C., centers on the lives of about a dozen characters, some real (e.g., Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth and Clara Barton), some compositions which allude to real people, and purely fiction beings.  There is a multi-religious message, as well as historical tales.  It highlights community and family values (e.g., deep dedication of Southerners regarding their cause, even when faced with certain defeat; the confusion on the part of the slaves of what it meant to be free; the conflict between religious convictions and national pride.)

The musical interludes contain slave songs, spirituals, code songs (melodies of the Underground railroad intended to give directions to Blacks who were attempting to flee to the North, on whether it was safe to travel by land or waterways), as well as traditional Americana tunes, carols, and even a Hebrew prayer. 

Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of seeing victory within reach of the union, frets over the gloves he bought for his wife, which were left at the family’s summer home; John Wilkes Booth schemes to capture the president; a Quaker questions whether he could kill someone if forced to do so; bi-polar Mary Lincoln fusses and fumes over obtaining a holiday tree, her need for a new dress, mourning the death of her son, and balancing her over-extended budget; a black Union solder wants revenge against the Rebels for kidnapping his wife; a young black girl wanders the frigid streets of D.C. in search of her mother and a place to stay.

The story of nation, family, reconciliation and communal hope, spotlights familiar themes, often in a code that only a keen viewer will grasp.  The mother and child, like the Jesus story, are refused entrance to their home (the nation’s capital), the child is swaddled in straw (in this case, in a shipping container), and is found by a group of do-gooders (much like the Wise Men).   A delirious wounded Jewish young man hears the songs of the “Kaddish” (the prayer for the dead) sung as he confuses a hallucination of poet Walt Whitman, who was noted for visiting the wounded Union soldiers, as a vision who is looking out for him.  “Marching Through Georgia,” the fevered Confederate battle cry blasts forth in pride, even though the South has lost what they called “the war of Northern aggression,” a war that is still being fought today in the minds of some.  The Black experience on both sides of the conflict center on what has changed, what will change and what will stay the same.  The race card issue is very much in the present day news.

This is not a historical play as many of the “facts” are not “facts,’ per se, but Vogel will not allow the audience to ignore that that war, and the trauma it left behind is still present.

Dobama has taken on a major task in producing “A Civil War Christmas:  An American Musical Celebration.”  Not only does the production require 15 skilled actors who portray 60 characters, each character requires a number of unique costumes.  In order to visually transport the audience from each of the 64 scenes to the other, a massive turntable had to be constructed.  Props are numerous.  Special lighting effects were present.  This is the most expensive and probably the most complex show that Dobama has ever produced.

Director Nathan Motta has succeeded in master-planning the epic tale.  Nothing short of using an Excel spreadsheet could have solved how to keep track of all the characters and where they should be on and off stage at all times, as well as the numerous props and multitude of lighting changes.

The technical aspects of the show were as complex as the staging.  Ben Needham’s set designs, Marcus Dana’s lighting, Richard Ingraham’s sound design, Mark Jenks’ puppets, Jeremy Dobbins’ projection designs, and Tesia Dugan Benson’s costumes all added to the epic feel and images of the production.

Daryl Waters’ musical arrangements were well honed.  Especially effective were the singing of the spirituals and the counterpoint of “Kaddish”/”Silent Night,” and the musical sounds of Jordan Cooper and the orchestra.

The cast was universally outstanding.  Curtain calls to Vincent Briley (Willy Mack), precocious Caris Collins (Jessa), Andrew Gombas (Moses Levy/Chester Saunders), Natalie Green (RAZ), Sally Groth (Clara Barton), Katrice Headd (Hannah), Bob Keefe (Ulysses S. Grant), Nathan Lilly (Bronson), Lashawn Little (Jim Wormley), Brian Mueller (John Surrat), ), Matt O’Shea (Johns Wilkes Booth), Sally Field’s look and-sound-a-like Juliette Regnier (Mary Todd Lincoln), Nicole Sumlin (Elizabeth Keckley), Tim Tavcar (Robert E. Lee), and Matthew Wright (Lincoln).

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  Audiences looking for an alternative to the usual escapist holiday treats have an opportunity to attend “A Civil War Christmas:  An American Musical Celebration, ” and broaden their knowledge of a series of historical and fictional events, which should challenge their thinking, while helping place some of the current legal and ethical issues in a broad perspective.  The production is stronger than the content, but it is a show well worth seeing.
“A Civil War Christmas:  An American Musical Celebration” runs through January 4, 2015, at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.

Friday, December 05, 2014

New cast brings added cheer to ‘A Christmas Story” at Cleveland Play House


Little did I realize as I stood many years ago, as an extra, in front of Higbee’s Department Store in downtown Cleveland at 3 AM, that I was participating in the filming of what would become one of the most popular winter holiday movies of all times. 

The filming was done in the middle of the night because in daytime, the Erieview Tower and Federal Building were visible from Public Square, as was the shell of the BP Tower, that was under construction.

I also didn’t know, as I stood on the stoop of a house, a couple of doors down from 3159 West 11th Street, in the heart of Tremont, that the single sentence I spoke on camera, would wind up on the cutting room floor, eliminating my actual role in “A Christmas Story.” Ah, show business, cruel show business!

Many Clevelanders think of “A Christmas Story” as “our” movie, a movie set and made in Cleveland.  They are only partially right.  Our fair city was selected as the place to film the low budget flick because Cleveland, in the winter, has lots of snow.  Right?  Wrong!  A freak of nature caused 1982 to be mild.  Little snow.  The movie mavens had to flood the scenes with fake snow.  Finally, frustration set in and the powers that be moved the filming to Canada.

Before the flight across the lake took place, the now dubbed “The Official Christmas Story House” was used for external shots, including the footage of the stocking lamp in the front window.  Interior scenes were shot on a sound stage.  The actual house, after falling into disrepair, was bought, turned into a museum which displays rooms rebuilt to duplicate the images on the sound stage decorated with props from the film, as well as hundreds of rare, behind-the-scenes photos, which are now on display.

(Nope, though I was posed for some pictures, and interviewed Peter Billingsley (the film’s Ralphie) and Scott Schwartz (Flick) for Continental Cable, I’m not on display their either). 

The house gets about 50,000 visitors a year.  Across the street there is a gift store that sells such goodies as Lifebuoy soap,  pink bunny suits and leg lamps.

The interior of the beautiful Higbee’s Department Store, now the home of the Horseshoe Casino, was actually used for “the visit to Santa” scene.  Santa’s house and slide, where Ralphie and his friends went to sit on the lap of he great-giver-of-gifts, which was built for the movie, was left in the store after the film crew departed.  The slide was used from that time until the store closed in 2002.

The film, “A Christmas Story,” was released in 1983.  It takes place on Cleveland Street in Hohman, Indiana, in the 1940s.  It centers on Ralphie, a 9 year-old boy whose goal in life is to have Santa bring him “an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.”

Ralphie and his best friends, Flick and Schwartz, try to negotiate life as tweens. A life filled with sophomoric wishes, eluding Scut Farkas, the neighborhood bully, putting up with Randy, Ralphie’s younger brother, escaping the grasps of Esther Jane, who has a crush on our hero, and the need to convince every one in his life, that he won’t shoot out his eye with the sought after bb gun. 

The tale is narrated through remembrances relayed by Ralph, the adult Ralphie.  (In the film Ralph’s voice was supplied by Jean Shepherd, the films co-author.)

The play, written by Philip Grecian, is based on Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark’s film script and Shepherd’s book, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.”

The stage version is filled with the memorable lines of the film, including, “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine,” “Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie!,” “Only I didn’t say ‘Fudge.’  I said the WORD, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the ‘F-dash-dash-dash’ word!,” “Some men are Baptists, others Catholics, my father was an Oldsmobile man!,” “Scut Farkus staring out at us with his yellow eyes.  He had yellow eyes!  SO HELP ME GOD, YELLOW EYES,” “Aha, aha, it’s a clinkerrrr!!! That blasted, stupid furnace. Dadgummit!.”  And, the never to be forgotten epithet by Flick before he succumbed to the , “I TRIPLE-dog-dare you!”
Yes, “Stick my tongue to that stupid pole, that’s stupid.”

Again this year, the Play House production is directed by John McCluggage.  Last time around the production was sluggish and lacked some of the requisite charm.  McCluggage replaced much of the cast, has refined some of the technical aspects, and added zing that previously was missing.

Jeff Talbott revived his role as Ralph, the on-stage narrator, with great ease, charm and empathy. 

Skipper Rankin grew enough to move from being Randy in last year’s production, to portray Ralphie.  Though his voice got a little into the high range, making it difficult to hear some words, Skipper was real, believable and delightful.

Ethan Montoya was amusing as the put upon Flick, though he needs to work on projection.  Yumi Ndhlovu was properly full of herself as Helen, and Giovanna A. Layne was on point as the crush-struck Esther Jane.  Jake Spencer nearly stole the show as probably the best, “I have to go wee-wee” Randy, in the long history of local staging. 

Newcomers, Christopher Gerson, was wonderful as The Old Man, and Madeleine Maby was perfect as the gentle, put upon, June Cleaverish-mom.  Laura Perrotta was nicely fierce as Miss Shields, the teacher who turns in the Wicked Witch of the West!

Robert Mark Morgan’s set design worked well, but the Higbee’s Santa house and slide are still flimsy and underwhelming.  James C. Swonger’s sound design was outstanding.  The audio special effects, especially the “clinkers” and “Bumpuses’s dogs” were terrific. 

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  This year’s “THE CHRISTMAS STORY,” now a seemingly permanent installment as CPH’s holiday show, was a step above some of the recent stagings of the epic.  Many of the opening night audience seemed to be long time devotees, as many of the laugh lines were preceded by pre-giggles and oral  forecasting of the now famous lines.  It was almost like a midnight viewing of “The Rocky Horror Show.” Yes, a good time was had by all.  No “bah Humbug” here!

“A Christmas Story,” runs through December 21, 2014 in the Allen Theatre at PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.