Cleveland Stage Alliance Reviews and Previews

Ella Enchanted at Dobama enchants into the final week!

posted Dec 25, 2018, 2:16 PM by kevin kelly

Dobama Theatre
Professional Equity House Theatre

By: Karen Zacarías
Music by: Deborah Wicks La Puma
Based on the novel by: Gail Carson Levine

There is no better time for a story about empowerment. The world around us is in a complete state of reevaluation of what is appropriate behavior and how people should be treated. Ella Enchanted, The Musical addresses the empowerment of an individual who eventually takes life and decision making into her own hands. As the story begins, Ella (enchanting Natalie Green*) is given the “gift” of obedience as an infant by a misguided fairy (fabulous Tina D. Stump*) and cannot disobey any order. The strong-willed Ella goes on a quest to rid herself of this horrible curse. During her mystical adventure she encounters an evil stepmother, hungry ogres, enormous giants, a magical bird, and her best friend. Along the way, she finds her own voice.

This story is indeed wrapped with some highly entertaining characters, and a production design that is incredible, highlighted by T. Paul Lowry's Projection Design.
Director Nathan Motta takes us on this journey filled with well defined fantastical characters. My personal feeling is that Motta let his hair down a bit, and presented a family-friendly evening of mystical fun.

Green leads this cast with her own empowerment of a triple threat realness. She is devastatingly beautiful and entertaining. Her antics are on point, comedic chops honed, and her voice needs to bottled and sold at intermission. It is tough to be the main character in a show, where everyone around you is some kind of over the top character, but Green shines brightly and anchors the story. Stump is a scream of Lucinda the fairy that is a hot mess of gift giving. She is animated and joyful and clumsy as you would want her. As Mistress Manners, she wields a heavy hand hilariously teaching the ladies how to catch a prince with the right manners. Amy Fritsche* as Mother and Dame Olga is on fire. She is beautifully sweet as the short-lived mother character, but when she inhabits Dame Olga, she charges down the theatrical runway at full comedic speed, her wheels are up, and in this case, one bent arm, and her fantastic light shines brightly as she two faces her way through this play with maniacal glee. Everything about her is a blast. Flanking her are Hattie (Kelly Elizabeth Smith*) and Olive (Neely Gevaart+). Both these ladies are hysterically on point. Smith delivering sass like its a cabinet position, and Gevaart making a bit about saying "Bye" one of the funniest creations in Cleveland history. They are a blast. 

The gentlemen of the piece add their own significant energy. Eugene Sumlin as Sir Peter is charming and fun as he navigates with silly aplomp. Joshua McElroy+ as Prince Charmont cuts a handsome figure, and perfectly embodies the spirit and soul of the grand prize in the kingdom. He is Velvet-voiced and filled with down to earth charm. Madeline Krucek+ and Arif Silverman+ fill out the company with a variety of roles that add to the evening tremendously. They also epitomize the talented depth of the performers in this cast.

There are a couple of elements of the production that hinder a perfect evening. One is the musical score. There isn't a lot of punch or relatability here. None of the songs really seem to pull on the heartstrings or fire up the senses. The performances make them work better with talent and charm. The musical is also a bit stretched out to incorporate some additional scene and puppet play that might have worked better with a stronger score to play around.

But those issues dissolve when Motta, not only lets his hair down but throws every banana clip he has ever known in the air and presents a curtain call that takes all the characters and blasts out a megamix of songs that send you out into the world a better person. If only for Stump singing "Think" by Aretha Franklin. Miss Stump blows the roof off the ceiling and turns Dobama into a planetarium. I found Jesus and about 10 pennies on the floor.

The production elements are off the charts. Douglas Puskas adds a wonderful, simple efficient set design. Marcus Dana lights the scene work with professional creative effort and result. As I stated earlier, if there was a show stopper, it would be the projection work. Very magical and added incredibly to the evening's enjoyment factor. Jeremy Dobbins is serving clear and well-balanced sound design. Colleen Bloom has a blast costuming this crew with engaging looks. Puppet Designer Robin Vanlear provides colorful creatures and some entertaining puppets that wouldn't fit through a toll booth once they left the theatre. Technical Director Kirsten Nicole brings elements together with professional flair. Stage Manager Joel Rathbone calls an excellent show. Providing Additional Choreography is the talented Caitlin Reilly. Adding just the right feel and bounce.

Musical Director extraordinaire Jordan Cooper delivers musical bliss. Following stage cues and action with precision. musical cohorts Assistant Music Director Rachel Woods and Percussionist Justin Hart deliver wholeheartedly. 

The last performances are coming up this week, so grab your kids, and head out to capture some enchantment for the whole family.

*Member of Actors' Equity Association
+Equity Membership Candidate

Cleveland Stage Alliance

November 30 - December 30


Showtimes Vary.  Click HERE for a full schedule.

Runtime: Act I - 50 minutes, Act II - 45 minutes, One 15 Minute Intermission
Content Advisories: For Ages 6 and up, features fog, lighting effects

$20-$38 Reserved Seating

(216) 932-3396
Order Tickets Online

Dobama Theatre
2340 Lee Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118

Ella Enchanted at Dobama enchants into the final weekend week!

Avenue Q is definitely the show for you!

posted Dec 12, 2018, 1:50 PM by kevin kelly

Blank Canvas Theatre
Professional Theatre

Book and Lyrics by: Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez
Book by: Jeff Whitty
Based on an original concept by: Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx

How can you not love a show that has a printed warning that reads: This Show Contains Adult Content and Puppet Nudity. Thank you.
And who is bringing the crazy to Avenue Q? These fabulous people......

P.S. Remember the two bears in the inner windows from the picture above. We'll come back to them.

This hilarious musical tells the timeless story of a recent college grad named Princeton (Shane Patrick O'Neill), who moves into a shabby New York apartment all the way out on Avenue Q. He soon discovers that, although the residents seem nice, it's clear that this is not your ordinary neighborhood. Together, Princeton and his new-found friends struggle to find jobs, dates and their ever-elusive purpose in life. Of course, the fact that almost everyone has a puppet partner makes this an insane ride. Although the show addresses adult issues, it does so in a humorous way. It is similar to a beloved children's show; a place where puppets are friends, Monsters are good and life lessons are learned. But this version doesn't always turn out the way the traditional TV shows do. In this interpretation, things really get real, and we can't get enough of watching it.

O'Neill is a great leading puppet, I mean, leading man. HIs voice is terrific and very expressive, which matches his puppet alter ego well. Great timing and his innocence really pay off when he experiences some mating rituals. Kate Monster is played to the hilt by Leah Smith. She has great chemistry with O'Neill, and has a powerful set of theatrical chops. She really nails her character voice and puppet work. She is a blast to watch.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Rod, an anal-retentive Republican banker is inhabited by a beautifully expressive Scott Esposito. He is serving mouth open realness.  He is full out everything, and the audience can't get enough of it. Wonderful solid character. Everyone probably has known a slacker roommate in their life, and Rod certainly has one in Nicky (Trey Gilpin). Gilpin is a delightful hot mess, with fabulous timing. His right arm sidekick (Kate Michalski) does well to bring their puppet to life and snag quite a few laughs.

I can't say enough about Neda Spears as Gary Coleman. What a great star turn. She commands the Colemanisms, in both physicality and vocal energy. She sings with soul-infused handyman realness and churns out phrases that keep you in stitches throughout the show.

One of my favorite performances is Brett DiCello as Trekkie Monster. Soooooooooo funny, Everytime that window opens, and that hot red haired mess comes out of the window, it is always for a killer reason, and a hilarious bit. Voiced with maniacal gusto, and working with his puppet partner David Turner, they turn in a show-stealing presence. 

Now we come to the hussy puppet of the show, Lucy. Katie Gucik arrives in full sass as the man killer Lucy. Equipped with a dynamite voice, and sultry acting chops, she makes her own star turn as the puppet gone bad. Really terrific fun. She really gives you a penny for your thoughts.

Remember those two bears from the first picture. David Turner and Becca Ciamacco play the Bad Idea Bears. From the name you can see that giving appropriate advice is not on the menu. Thank God because these two bears are a mess. Turner and Ciamacco just take their fuzzy little pastel-colored bears to the point of no return. When they introduce a drinking game to Princeton and Leah, it leads to some of the most violent puppet sex I have ever seen. Well, actually, I've never seen puppet sex, but wait, I did see Team America: World Police. That was on a movie screen, but this is right. up. in. your. face. I was convinced that oxygen masks were going to be dropped from the ceiling for the audience to breath. Hilarious. And in a featured puppet bit, Michalski is a scream as Mrs. T. When you hear with T stands for, make sure you aren't drinking something.

Director Patrick Ciamacco outdoes himself again. Directed with his unique gift of comedy, this is an all-out comedic puppet fantasy. He adds a few Cleveland references that enhance the local production. The projections, that have Ciamacco written all over them, are creative and many are new to the show. The EKG screen is completely out of control, The best is listening to the audience slowly get it. Amazing fun. He also contributes to Puppet, Projection, Set Design, and pulling all the elements together as Technical Director. Matt Dolan leads a kick-ass band and certainly brought some tight vocals to the company. The opening number is wrought with harmonic bliss. Katie Zarecki added just the right amount of movement on the stage. Well done since most actors have a puppet as well. Stage Manager Whitney Miller called a great show. Noah Hrbek added with additional puppet design and Projection Animations/Renderings. Costume Design on point by the fabulous Jenniver Sparano. Specific Puppet Design credited to Dave Haaz-Baroque for Kate Monster, Trekkie, and the Bad News Bears. Great Lighting Design from Jeff Lockshine.  Clear Sound Design by Richard B. Ingraham.

Great individual and ensemble work. Definitely worth putting yourself on the waiting list, since the entire run is Sold Out. 

All Photo credit: Andy Dudik

Cleveland Stage Alliance

December 7 - December 22

8pm Thursdays
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
7pm Sundays

Runtime: 2h 15m
Content Advisories: Rated R, This show contains adult language and content

$18 General Admission

(440) 941-0458
Order Tickets Online

Blank Canvas Theatre
1305 West 80th Street, Suite 211
Cleveland, OH 44102


Ohio Shakespeare Festival presents a glorious production of the play “Shakespeare in Love”

posted Dec 12, 2018, 10:03 AM by kevin kelly   [ updated Dec 12, 2018, 10:09 AM ]

Ohio Shakespeare Festival
Professional Theatre

Shakespeare in Love - The Play

Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall
Based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard
Music by Paddy Cunneen

Will Shakespeare (Joe Pine) is a known but struggling poet, playwright, and actor who not only has sold his next play to both Philip Henslow (Lenne Snively*) and Richard Burbidge (Jason Leupold) but now faces a far more difficult problem. He is bereft of ideas and has yet to begin writing. He is in search of his muse, the woman who will inspire him but all attempts fail him until he meets the beautiful Viola de Lesseps (Tess Burgler). She loves the theatre and would like nothing more than to take to the stage but is forbidden from doing so as only men can be actors. She is also a great admirer of Shakespeare's works. Dressing as a man and going by the name of Thomas Kent (Kent), she auditions and is ideal for a part in his next play. Shakespeare soon sees through her disguise and they begin a love affair, one they know cannot end happily for them as he is already married and she has been promised to the dour Lord Wessex (James Rankin). As the company rehearses his new play, Will and Viola's love is transferred to the written page leading to the masterpiece that is Romeo and Juliet.

Director Nancy Cates has made sure that everyone on stage has their own moment within the play. So many wonderful actors collaborating effortlessly to create laughs, entertaining stage fights, and moments of pure truth, all while telling a very clever story. Cates also has a statement of empowerment through casting. Females were not allowed to perform on stage during Shakespeare primary work production, but Cates has cast several women in male roles. Strong, entertaining choice.

Leading this parade of talent are Pine as Will Shakespeare and Burgler as Viola DeLesseps aka Thomas Kent. Both actors have their burners on full throttle. Such a wonderful grasp of storytelling, making each moment count, and entertaining as hell. Burgler moves about the stage like translucent power, spreading her powerful and textured essence through every scene, while letting us see through her beautiful glow, to her core of truth and emotions, and making us laugh at well. Pine also cuts a fine figure as he starts the performance exuding confidence, and sets the tone for this hilarious tale with adept skill. He embraces his "Will" and drives the storyline with professional flair. He also makes me want to hop on and order a Bowflex and a shock collar that is triggered by carbs. (Sorry, I just self-destructed, as I did when I was holding my snickers bar during Act One and it melted in my hand). This is a terrific performance from an incredible partnership.

But that is just the beginning of the fun and moments to remember. Lara Mielcarek* is a scream as Kit Marlowe, who helps Will along the way by making very good suggestions about how to end phrases, titles, and the "How about this?' gift. Scott Shriner is a blast as Fenneyman, the money man. So many fun moments. Snively plays Henslowe, the owner of the Rose with comedic aplomb. Playing the male role, Snively has a blast managing the Rose, and provides lots of jolly.  Leupold adds not only his acting chops but his beautiful voice to the journey. Adding many moments of mirth, and skillful swordplay. He is also the Music Director, which under his guidance creates beautiful and dynamic harmonies. Ryan Zarecki is a master of swordplay and confidence on stage, and also handles the duty of Fight Director. He is fierce in his fight choreography, incredibly entertaining and real. Watching him perform, please remind me not to piss him off, as I watched him flip a cast member over his shoulder like he was a one pound kettlebell.  He exudes charm and presence. James Rankin makes for a glorious villain of love. His folly is our gold. Well done. Holly Humes was AMAZING as Queen Elizabeth I. Her stage presence is extraordinary. I would like to nominate her for UN Ambassador. If she walked into the UN like she does a stage, she would become the Security Council all on her own. Amiee Collier makes for a hilarious Nurse. Her comedic timing is gold. I could not get enough of her traversing through her scenes. And it was nice that her doggie Buckley was able to show up and perform the ever important Spot. Nailed it. 

Katie Zarecki brings her acting chops and her top-notch choreography to the stage. Minuet dancing can be simple and blah, but Zarecki adds much detail and unexpected small moves and formations, that make an engaging movement. And, she is very at home with swordplay. Also, Elise Pakila is a fireball of energy and bravado as John Webster. Her confidence is compelling, and her fearlessness in her scene work is highly rewarding to watch. The rest of the cast fill in for so many characters and each of them are on point. Nothing is wasted EVER. There are many more talented performers in the show. Every one of them adds to the craziness of the evening and helps create a fantastic entertaining show. The Company work is some of the best I have seen in a long time. Great work from all.

If you have never been to The Ohio Shakespeare Festival, or not comfortable with Shakespearean adventures, this is the show that you really should see. It is an excellent introduction to the company members, their new home at the Greystone Hall, and allowing Shakespeare to be so accessible and fascinating for nonscholars like me. 

Pine's Set Design served well and provided smooth transitions. Mark Stoffer provided the Light and Sound Design. Well done. The sound was clear, and only took a moment of adjustment in the high ceiling hall. Lights are hung high, so there was some shadow play, but not enough to impede the action. Costume Design was to die for. Marty LaConte and Kelsey Tomlinson threw themselves a party and provided fabulous looks. And the pieces that were constructed by Nancy Humes, bravo on the intricate and period work that added so much to this success. Stage Manager Michelle Elyse Levinson called a great show.

I am a big believer in the energy of a production, and the energy of a theatre. When I walk into a lobby, my Spidey sense usually detects drama or excitement. In the case of OSF, I felt joy.

Take the trip to check out this show. I promise you will not be disappointed. it rocks on every level.

Cleveland Stage Alliance



8pm Thursdays
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
2pm Sundays

Content Advisories: Some mildly adult language/content; use discretion

$15-$33 Reserved Seating

(330) 673-8761
Order Tickets Online

OSF Greystone Hall
103 High Street, Sixth Floor
Akron, OH 44308

Fine Arts Association presents a charming ANNIE for the holidays. Last Weekend!

posted Dec 5, 2018, 8:00 AM by kevin kelly

Fine Arts Association
Community Theatre

Book by Thomas Meehan
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Martin Charnin

ANNIE is based on Harold Gray's popular comic strip Little Orphan Annie. The comic strip premiered in the 1920s in the New York Daily News and became one of the most widely read strips in the 30s and 40s. Lyricist-director Martin Charnin bought a coffee table book called “The Life and Hard Times of Little Orphan Annie” as a Christmas gift for a friend in 1970. The clerk at the bookstore was too busy to wrap the book, so Charnin took the book home to wrap it. Instead, he read it and fell in love with the strip, and set out to secure the rights, Christmas week of 1970. The friend never got the book.

Charnin championed the idea to colleagues Charles Strouse, a two-time Tony-winning composer, and Thomas Meehan, a short story writer for The New Yorker. It took a great deal of campaigning to get them interested, but the team was finally formed in 1971 when they began to write the musical.

Leapin’ Lizards!

The world’s best-loved musical returns in time-honored form. Featuring book and score by Tony Award®-winners Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, ANNIE includes such unforgettable songs as “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” “Easy Street,” “I Don’t Need Anything But You,” plus the eternal anthem of optimism, “Tomorrow.”

In the depths of the 1930's, Annie (Makenna Hagan) is a fiery young orphan girl who must live in a miserable orphanage run by the tyrannical Miss Hannigan (Emily Stack). Her seemingly hopeless situation changes dramatically when she is selected by Grace Farrell (Colette Siddle) to spend a short time at the residence of the wealthy industrialist, Oliver Warbucks (Dave Peck). Quickly, she charms the hearts of the household staff and even the seemingly cold-hearted Warbucks cannot help but learn to love this wonderful girl. He decides to help Annie find her long lost parents by offering a reward if they would come to him and prove their identity. However, Miss Hannigan, her evil brother, Rooster (J.J. Luster), and his female accomplice Lily St. Regis (Haley Gagnon) plan to impersonate those people to get the reward for themselves which put Annie in great danger. And we're off!

Hagan is wonderful as Annie. Her presence is engaging and makes the process of the audience fall in love with her effortless. She also has a strong commanding voice and handles her solos with depth, clarity, and clarion precision. She is a delight. She heads up a group of young orphans that are quite a lot to handle, but they handle us with wonderful characterizations, and charm oozing from every part of the orphanage. They ham it up with the best of them and create many laugh out loud moments. Those fabulous orphans are Emma Kovach-Uzi as Pepper, Haylie Kalina as Duffy, Noelle Molnar as July, Ella Gifford as Kate, Noni Arndt as Tessie, and Maddie Halapy as Molly. This troupe sings and dances with wild abandon and put a smile on every face in their path.

Peck presents quite a different quality to Warbucks that I haven't seen before, but I really liked it. Normally, Warbucks is gruff and self-centered by still in a comic book way, but what Peck does is actually make the billionaire very real. Warbucks seems colder than normal. But I think this works beautifully as an arc because it becomes even more of a journey for Warbucks to accept Annie and eventually want to adopt her. I loved this choice. He also sings with honest and pure depth. Great job.

Emily Stack is a hot mess of delightful fun as Miss Hannigan. Perfect casting. What a delight to watch her grumble, and wobble all over the stage and face off against the orphans. True delight. Also, her singing voice was totally on point in characterization, and comedic acumen. Now let's add two of her accomplishments in the scheme of the play to get Annie back to claim a reward. J.J. Luster and Haley Gagnon as Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis are the brilliant cherries on top of the already fabulous Hannigan. These two are on fire from the moment they enter. Both of these actors have brought a fresh approach to their roles. Luster feels like he stepped out of a gangster film after just having lunch with Al Capone. Gagnon is a tightly packed comedic car bomb that goes off in precision timing. When the two of them go to kiss, which thankfully happens more than once, Gagnon approaches Luster with machine gun precision using her "upper body" in a rapid-fire fashion that had me spitting out my soda. And when the two of them kiss, they really commit. So much so, their mouths remind me of throwing bread in a codfish pool and watch all the fish go after the bread. There is so much going on between these two, I wanted it to stop, but I really didn't. Pure comedic gold.

Then when the three of them get together and present "Easy Street", they literally blow the roof of the theatre. I was screaming in delight. And I can honestly say since I am older than a redwood, that this is the best "Easy Street” I have ever seen. The actors are on fire. And I need their resumes so I can direct them in the future. ha.

I have to mention that at the beginning of the show, the apple seller comes out. The moment I heard him speak, my attention peaked. his voice, acting, presentation immediately set him on a higher plane. It turns out that actor is Stephen Sandham. Now I know he comes from an esteemed theatrical family, but I didn't know that when he performed, but I wasn't surprised to learn that. This is such a great example for anyone auditioning. you may not get the role you wanted, but make the role you get as important to you as possible, and people will notice your dedication and execution, and not throwing away a smaller part. Plus, he sings and dances his face off.

The Cabinet scene is one of my favorites, and all did not disappoint. Steve Ingrassia as Ickes, Nick Grimsic as Howe, Paul Hagan as Hull, Jonathan Sweet as Morganthau, and the lovely Janice Troha as Perkins. I have to mention the essential Christopher Fortunato as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

The first role I ever had in a theatre was Bert Healy, and I am very happy to report I thought Paul Hagen did a great job, as did his crazy accomplices.

The rest of the cast was a wonderful balance of experience, which is the perfect blend for community theatre. They were enjoying themselves immensely, and that translates well to the audience. 

Production Team: Director Sandy Kosovich, Music Director David A. Thomas, Choreographer Jill Tschetter helm this wonderful holiday show. Technical Director Michael Roesch does a great job. Scenic Designer Dave Peck, Lighting Designer Nora Dlugo, Sound Designer Tom Linsenmeier, Costume Designer Colleen Bloom, Production Stage Manager Michael Richmond, Props Master Sandi Fink, Scenic Artist Maria Lister Lyons, Wigs by Winn Douglas, Set Painting Michael Richmond, Props Assistants David Fink & Nate Fink.

I had some observations: There were a few times where I felt some lead characters were upstaging themselves, especially when the Smudges come in towards the end. In the mansion scene, the staging could have opened up more on the sides, especially on the couch/tree side for sightlines. Having a scene change between the "Fully Dressed" song hurt the pacing a bit. Hannigan took a lot of sips from the flask. Annie's hair at the end seemed too big in some way, more of a Lana Turner style, which causes her face to be blocked when she was sideways.

All Photos: Prelude Photography

Kosovich has cast well, thus putting together a very fun evening of characters to entertain the masses. Overall, the show moves well and delights the audience.  Thomas led a great pit, and the sound was well balanced and played. I always feel sorry for the opening trumpet solo, because it’s just you all alone, but that was nailed. Tschetter did a great job providing movement for this crew. There are different levels of dancing experience, and I thought she did a great job of giving people what they could do, and then she had this core group of 6 or so that could really bust out some more intricate movement. Well Done.

This is a great show. I have to say Annie is my favorite musical, probably because it was my first musical ever.
I would come to see this again!

Cleveland Stage Alliance


November 23 - December 16

7:30pm Fridays
2pm Saturdays
2pm Sundays (Sign interpreted performance 12/16)

$15-$25 Reserved Seating

(440) 951-7500
Order Tickets Online
Fine Arts Association
38660 Mentor Ave.
Willoughby OH 44094

The final week for Dobama's critically acclaimed "JOHN"

posted Nov 5, 2018, 4:56 PM by kevin kelly

By: Annie Baker

Dobama Theatre
Professional Equity House Theatre

Under the Artistic Direction of Nathan Motta, Dobama Theatre is expanding its vision to end up in a self-actualization that will set it apart from other theatres in town.  The theatre is now a Professional Equity House Theatre. That in itself is a statement of power and influence all on its own. But by calling or upgrading yourself, also means you have to deliver. And deliver big. Previously, Motta directed a profound production of "The Flick" by Annie Baker. In fact, the American Playwright won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for this work. So it makes perfect sense to offer another helping of Baker's work. The current production of "John" is that offering.

One cold November night, Elias (Luke Wehner) and Jenny (Cat Shy), a young couple struggling to stay together, stop at a bed & breakfast in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. During their visit they encounter a cheerful innkeeper Mertis (Catherine Albers), her blind friend Genevieve (Dorothy Silver), and an eerie world crammed with toys, figurines and one very odd American Girl doll. This mystic puzzle of a play is full of surprises, both human and supernatural. 

This production will test you for many reasons. One is the length, as it takes a little over 3 hours to spin this tale. Audiences are not used to this amount of concentration in general, so any production of that length has to be packed to the gills with stimulation of senses, or at the very least and not less important, intellectual intensity. This production offers much to be enjoyed with incredibly detailed production values, and a cast that offers some severe acting chops.

Watching Wehner and Shy slowly unveil the arc of their story is fascinating to watch. The story itself is certainly spread out over the evening, but seeing these two, in what feels like real time, requires immense concentration, endurance, and focus. Wehner is serving up coffee shop realness with expresso character detail, and a well measured emotional performance. Shy is fantastic. She is a visual seductress of acting that entices you to spend time listening and watching her every move. She has an incredible connectivity with the audience and delivers constantly throughout the evening. Both have the ingredients for formidable careers.

Joining these two performers are two actresses that are a culmination of every theatrical ingredient that exists, refined, and brilliantly presented. Catherine Albers leads the parade as in innkeeper who seems to present a question whether there are more skeletons in her closet or her mind. Her accomplished Mertis gives us two sides of crazy for our enjoyment. One is the sweetest woman you will ever meet. Taking care of her husband (that you never meet), and taking care of her guests. She has an octave lower self that makes a visit once in a while, and the transition is enjoyably weird and indicates that the Time Warp probably happened at some party here in the past. Albers is excellent. Then at the top of the theatrical mountain offering us the greatest view an actor could hope for is Dorothy Silver as Genevieve. Her character is blind, but she is able to see into everyone's soul and enables us to laugh, question, and most importantly listen. She is a living master class. A Sensei for all that know her and study her acting choices like they are B-12 shots of life-giving intrinsic career enabling bolts of lighting. Her monologue describing her descent into insanity is a gift.

The production team was up to the challenge of creating a remarkable canvas for this story to unfold. Scenic Designer Cameron Caley Michalak serves up a fierce bed and breakfast, Dred Geib props abound in distraction and purpose, Marcus Dana lighting the space with professional flair, Jeremy Dobbins giving us clear sound, and Inda Blatch-Gieb costumes this piece to attractive detail and sensitivity. 

Will you like this production? I truly think the answer lies in an age-old question that happens in an art gallery. There is a piece hanging on a wall. A group of individuals feast their eyes on it and take in what they are seeing and feeling. When you ask them what they think of the painting, some will say "It was brilliant", some will say "it was ok", and some will say "I didn't get it". I think that is what we may have here. You alone will determine if you enjoy the experience. It is strongly directed, strongly designed, and strongly acted. So the answer will be if you found the pauses in the dialogue empty, or full? The intrigue created but never resolved, fascinating to watch or disappointing that there wasn't a brazen answer to the tension? Or was it just too long?

There were some observations. I thought the play tried too hard to create something scary by just simply staring at something. I never was scared, but I felt I should be because people were staring at an object. Also, the pauses in dialogue is an acquired taste, especially when you ask the audience to spend over three hours with the characters. From my own personal experience, I only felt cheated when the last line of the play was uttered, which resulted in a voice in my head saying. "I waited three hours for this?". Then I was ashamed of myself by thinking I suck as an artist because I didn't get it the more ethereal message that was being sent by the play.

So what a great review right? The production value is strong. There are many gifts within, and one of the greatest is Dorothy Silver. There is always magic when a living legend takes the stage. I know I feel more fulfilled having that memory to pull from for inspiration.

Cleveland Stage Alliance


7:30pm Wednesdays
7:30pm Thursdays
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
2:30pm Sundays (10/21 at 7:30 instead)

**$15 Preview Performances 10/16 and 10/18 at 7:30pm**

Runtime: 2h 20m (two 10m intermissions)
Content Advisory: Adult Language, Adult Situations

$10-$29 Reserved Seating

(216) 932-3396
Order Tickets Online

Dobama Theatre
2340 Lee Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118

Little Women, The Musical shines at Western Reserve Playhouse

posted Oct 19, 2018, 1:27 PM by kevin kelly

Book by Allan Knee
Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein
Music by Jason Howland
Based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott

Based on Louisa May Alcott's classic 1869 semi-autobiographical novel, “Little Women” follows four sisters—the independent, aspiring writer Jo (Kaity Poschner), the romantic Meg (Kayla Lehman), the pretentious Amy (Tenley Stitzer), and the kind-hearted Beth (Abigall Lyman), all under the watchful eye of their beloved mother, Marmee (Bernadette Hisey). while their father is away serving as a Union Army chaplain during the Civil War. Intercut with the vignettes in which their lives unfold are several recreations of the melodramatic short stories Jo writes in her attic studio. Each sister follows a different path but not necessarily what is expected. This coming-of-age tale is filled with drama, romance, humor, and music.

Poschner, as Jo, does a wonderful job leading the sister pack with zest. Her acting chops are the anchor for this characterization, along with a pleasant singing voice. Lehman brings her radiant looks and voice to the role of Meg. Setting sail on the Love Boat and providing a textured performance. Stitzer as Amy does a great job and pushing every trigger in the family. Her contemptuous behavior is great and adds a well-appreciated level to the proceedings. Lyman is the vocal powerhouse here providing a deft characterization and textured vocals to her interpretation of Beth. She made me cry. That’s a good sign.

Hisey leads the adult brigade with a beautiful performance as Marmee. Armed with a beautiful voice which revels in interpretation, an acute sense of timing and environment, and her confident aura, she is a textured delight. One of my favorites memories is the performance of Shelly Palumbo as Aunt March. Now, this stuff is great. Complete command of the period, time, and a sense of comedic timing which ranks up there with the best in the area.

Jay Sigler is quite charming as Professor Bhaer. His characterization is straight on and very enjoyable. Creating a character that makes you want to root for him in the end, and makes you delighted when life finally hands him his due. Well done. Michael Knobloch serves up some romantic lead realness as Laurie, and is ridiculously charming and armed with a beautiful musical voice. Steve Schuerger brings Mr. Brooks to life with subtle acting choices and a great centered focus.

The rest of the company provide solid trimmings to the event. Walt Kaminski as Mr. Laurence, Molly Kessler, Christina Worchester, and Dorota Zarzycka as Mrs. Kirk. I have to throw out some major love the story players within the story. The actors that act out Jo’s story creations are a blast. They are as follows: Clarissa (Shipley) A sweet young women fleeing the evil villain Sir Braxton Prendergast (Schuerger). Rodrigo (Knobloch) The determined and brave hero. The Hag (Palumbo) A mysterious creature who shows Clarissa the way through the forest in return for her combs. The Troll (Kessler) A greedy monster who takes Clarissa across wild rapids in return for her necklace. The Knight (Kaminski) A tired and lonely old man who gives Clarissa his sword in return for her kindness to him. Rodrigo II (Lyman) The real hero of Jo’s operatic tragedy – Clarissa’s long-lost sister. This is so much fun and staged incredibly well.

There were just a couple of observations. The turntable was a very unique addition to the set, but it did result in some close quarters during some of the scenes. There were a few pitchy moments throughout the evening. But, those moments were minimized by secure acting underneath.

Director Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski has assembled a great cast and moves the action with great pace. The staging of the play within the play was a blast. Musical Director Dave Stebbins provided great support and sound. Jennifer Justice added some fun and energetic movement to the mix. Stage Manager Brianna Laybourn called a great show. Set Designer Todd Plone surprises the WRP crowd with a well-designed turntable. Well Done. Costumer Kelsey Tomlinson provided period perfect looks to add to this classic tale. Sound Designer Justin Herman supported with clarity. Light Designer Kevin Rutan provided a sold lighting palate for the story.

This show is a respectable creation of the musical based on a classic book. My observation of the room was one filled with enjoyment. That’s a winner.


 Cleveland Stage Alliance

"Last Weekend" October 20


8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
2pm Sundays (10/14 only)


(330) 620-7314
Order Tickets Online

Western Reserve Playhouse
3326 Everett Rd
Richfield, OH 44286

Cannibal, The Musical serves up a delicious meal at Blank Canvas Theatre

posted Oct 14, 2018, 1:45 PM by kevin kelly   [ updated Oct 14, 2018, 1:47 PM ]

Book, Music, and Lyrics by Trey Parker

Blank Canvas Theatre
Professional Theatre


From the co-creator of South Park and The Book of Mormon, comes the “All Singing! All Dancing! All Flesh Eating!” Trey Parkers’ Cannibal! The Musical, live on stage. This is based on the true story of the only person convicted of cannibalism in America - Alferd Packer (Yes, Alferd, not Alfred, calm down). The sole survivor of an ill-fated trip to the Colorado Territory, he tells his side of the harrowing tale to news reporter Polly Pry (Meg Martinez) as he awaits his execution. And his story goes like this: While searching for gold and love in the Colorado Territory, he and his companions lost their way and resorted to unthinkable horrors, including toe-tapping songs and a couple of showstoppers, or should I say snowstoppers. Thank you.

Sometimes you just have to let your hair down. Sometimes a theatrical piece is not going to win the Nobel prize, but sometimes it is fun to just be silly. Director Patrick Ciamacco, the brainchild behind the Laughter League, a renowned comedy sketch group, dives in head first to create a hot mess of fun. We are living in some tense times. But, if you need a break from watching the ice caps melt, get your behind to see Cannibal! The Musical at Blank Canvas Theatre NOW! Warning, this is definitely some silly stuff, but if you don’t get that from the title, then you need to experiment and sit in the splatter zone. Yes. Splatter Zone. Yes. Blood.

Every actor in this show is a firkin scream and has some kind of moment that is a beautiful hot mess. The ensemble work going on here is among the best I have seen. Everyone is completely immersed in this insane world. The characterizations are all on point, and beautifully funny.

Noah Hrbek as Alfred Packer leads this cast of crazies with confident aplomb. His voice has never sounded better, and his projected innocent quality of humanity works perfectly in this piece. As the love interest, he charms his way into your hearts, and well as ending up eating them. Stephen Berg has a fantastic time playing Shannon Bell, the Mormon Priest who tries his best to contribute spiritually to the journey, but ends up a bit “stressed out”. Berg plays his character's arc to the hilt, and provide plenty of humor as a result. Antonio DeJesus pretty much delivers a puberty driven George Noon to the proceedings. His country-fried twang is a hoot, and the way in which he handles having his privates disheveled is pure joy.  

David Turner turns in one hell of a tap number, and one of the show stoppers, by kick-ball shuffling his way into our hearts as the Optimist Isreal Swan. What a scream. Danny Simpson gives us James Humphrey, a reluctant participant. Humphrey’s character seems to be the love child of Pee Wee Herman and Linda Belcher, the result being a delightful hot mess of idiot hall of famery. Joe Kenderes brings his manly nature to Frank Miller, the butcher. He adds mightily to the journey, providing lots of delightful stress and bravado. Reporter Polly Pry is beautifully played by Meg Martinez in both person and character. She is the perfect confidant to Packer, packs a clarion voice, and surprises everyone with a penchant for horseplay. Logan Honsaker, as the leader of the bad pack Frenchy Cabazon, not only shaves the pelt off of trapped animals but also his chest, as his bad guy personae is a frickin delight. His voice and dance moves are a joyful combination of surprise entertainment. Jay Lee as the Chief is a hoot and a half. Beautiful character hilarity.

Some of these folks play multiple roles in the show. Starting us off is Venchise Phillips, she is certainly highlighted when she gets her hoofs in an uproar as Liane, the horse. Yes. This is quite the love story interest, and Phillips carries it off with great humor, and physicality. She carries Packer around like he weighs 10 pounds, so don’t piss her off. Donnell James is serving up multiple roles as well, but he peaks as Nutter, a member of the bad trapper gang. Within Mark Majercik’s multiple personalities, the Doomed Guy is brought to over the top to hilarity. Grace Mitri was a blast in every role she inhabited. Whether Noon’s Mom, Clerk, or the Judge. She was serving up massive amounts of fun.

Director Ciamacco, who also serves as the Artistic Director, brought a script that had nothing but lines and no orchestrations to life with blissful design and by creating a comedic romper room. The show moves well, and the blood effects are not overdone, but just enough to let the “splatter zone” get covered in washable blood. Musical Director Matt Dolan creatively birthed orchestrations and a band where none existed. The music greatly adds to the fun. Choreographer Zac Hudak did a tremendous job bringing the show numbers to life. The tap number will be giving me life for days. Stage Manager Tiffany Trapnell called a great show and kept this cattle call of insanity in line. Costume Designer Jill Kenderes hit all of the marks with relish. Also, Ciamacco added his skill to the production end as well by providing Special Effects (along with Hrbek and P. J. Toomey), Sound, Lighting, Projection (Hrbek), and Set Design, as well as Tech Director. I find this amazing since I can’t even rotate my wardrobe by season without assistance. Hrbek also painted the Scenic Back Drop. Again, I can’t rotate.

Soooooooooooooooo, just get the heck to the theatre and laugh. It’s like theatrical silly string, it won’t change the world, but it is a hell of a lot of fun!

Photo Credit: Andy Dudik

Cleveland Stage Alliance

Runs through October 27


8pm Thursdays
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
7pm Sundays

Runtime: 1h 35m
Content Advisories: Adult Content, SPLATTER ZONE

$18 General Admission

(440) 941-0458
Order Tickets Online

Blank Canvas Theatre
1305 West 80th Street, Suite 211
Cleveland, OH 44102

Disney's Newsies at Near West Theatre is Headline Worthy

posted Sep 29, 2018, 3:04 PM by kevin kelly   [ updated Oct 6, 2018, 7:59 AM by Eric Fancher ]

Community Theatre

Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Jack Feldman
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Based on the Disney film written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White

Set in turn-of-the-century New York City, Newsies is the rousing tale of Jack Kelly (Felix Albino), a charismatic newsboy and leader of a band of teenaged "newsies." When titans of publishing raise distribution prices at the newsboys’ expense, Jack rallies newsies from across the city to "Seize the Day" and strike for what's right! Timely and fresh, Newsies addresses age-old themes of social injustice, exploitative labor practices, and David-versus-Goliath struggles as these youth learn to harness their power against a corrupt establishment. Inspired by a true story and based on the popular Disney film, Newsies features a Tony Award-winning score by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, and book by Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein.

If you were wondering if the future of our country has the resolve and purpose to fight and change the world, then look no further than the current production of Newsies at Near West Theatre. In the words of Director Kelcie Nicole Duggar ", they are a fierce group of the most WOKE young people that inspire me beyond words". I think the audience would agree based on the roaring applause throughout the musical performance. The show itself tends to hang its hat on being a dance show, with the "Newsies" dancing so athletically that it resembles an Olympic Gymnastics tryout.  Well, this production features a group of 9 to 15-year-olds, who attack this piece of theatre like carpenter ants on a freshly cut redwood.

There are some powerful observations regarding this production, and some of them are true testaments to the mission of Near West Theatre and the growth and inspiration that empowers young people to grow and become empassioned adults.

First is the Director, Kelcie Nicole Duggar. She has put together a tremendous show, and in particular, her gift of working with the age group of 9 to 15-year-olds in the city is unparalleled. Duggar is able to connect with this group being honest, treating them with respect, and most importantly LISTENING! She has overseen a beautiful and fun production and staged engaging scene work and characterizations that are alive and complete with dead-on accents. Duggar has grown up at Near West Theatre. Starting as a shy kid, she has risen to Associate Artistic Director. Her accomplishments are a tremendous inspiration to the kids that she is directing. Incredibly relatable, and incredibly WOKE.

Secondly, the Music Director Scott Pyle. Here is another homegrown artist who has risen through the conclave of Near West Theatre. First hitting the boards as a young kid filled with energy, talent, and a smile that generated ticket sales more than a BOGO offer. He slowly developed his stage skills, and in addition, honed his skills as a musician, which has evolved enough that he is now Music Director for the 9 to 15 shows. He also has served as Music Director, and Assistant Music Director on the Young Adult, and Intergenerational shows. He is down to earth, nurturing, and his talents contribute heavily to guide and provide growth to the cast members that grace the stage.

Both Duggar and Pyle have come to full actualization of their talents, The institution, and the actors, and stage crews that work on the shows are in talented and protective hands.

Thirdly, the choreography provided by Josh Larkin. You have to remind yourself after each raucous number that brings the audience to a screaming helix of happiness, that these actors are 9 to 15. Newsies is a show known for the dance sequences and launching the career of Jeremy Jordan, Broadway Heart Throb. Well, the heartthrob in this production is the inventive, powerful, creative, fantastic, jaw-dropping moments of dance in this show. I attended this production with another Near West Theatre success story, Trinidad Snider, and she turned to me and stated what I had already concluded, that "this is the best dance I have ever seen at Near West Theatre, ever." It's true, Larkin has outdone himself. It is pure joy!

Next is the crew. The backstage heroes who prefer the shade as opposed to the light. Or the occasional actor who wants to give back by working backstage to help out the actors on stage and a point of balance in the universe. Supervised by Production Stage Manager/Assistant Production Manager Ryan Wolf. The crew led by Stage Manager Katie Landoll, Assistant Stage Manager Allan Stubbs, and a fierce crew that even included the Duggar.

Now we come to this incredible cast.

Leading the way is another Near West Theatre success story. Felix Albino as Jack Kelly. He has literally grown up at Near West Theatre. Watching him grow into such an accomplished performer has been a very proud story to watch. In fact, Albino was nominated for a Dazzle Award last year for his work on AIDA at Near West Theatre. His story no longer exists here, but now is being recognized beyond in the city. Albino give Kelly a rich and layered performance. Acted with a natural presence, that is greatly enhanced by a beautiful and powerful singing voice. He leads the show with a humble command and eschews every scene with relevance and adept acting. At the end of Act One, Albino delivers a heart-pounding reprise of "Santa Fe". His sidekick, Crutchie, is gloriously performed by Dashiell Tidrick. This kid is a scream. He flies around the stage, crutch in hand, like a water spider on spring break. His character is excellent, dances with athletic sharpness and his solo "Letter from the Bridge" is heartbreaking due to his expressive voice, and finding truth in every moment.

Then we come to Davey (Alex Schwartz) and Les (Corlyn Stauffer), the sidekicks of the year. Both of these actors are a blast, dead on, and work every moment to the utmost effectiveness. Both are charming as heck. Schwartz has a beautiful voice, that is highlighted at the beginning of "Seize the Day". I am surprised there isn't a collection plate flying around the audience. He is charming, dances his tuchas off, sings powerfully, and his character is a pure delight. Speaking of powerful, whether she knows it or not, Stauffer playing the little boy Les practically steals the show, and every scene she is in. She is a dynamo. but it is not all charm, she is smart, she can sing, she can dance, she has a great character, and she knows how to share the stage with others. I am surprised they aren't selling "Les" Bobble Heads at the concession stand. 

Balancing the strong characters that I have mentioned, you need a strong counterbalance to even the playing field. Well, luckily Alexis Nelan checks every box as Katherine Pulitzer. She carries herself with a mature presence, deft acting skills, and a strong character voice. She handles "What Happens" with professional ease and makes that quite a difficult song, seem like an effortless expression of dialogue. She also contributes strongly to the dance. Slapping on some tap shoes at the opening of Act Two, she traverses the set with the rest of the cast, like Danny Kaye on holiday. If I just showed my age, I apologize, but simply put, she is fierce!

Then we come to the office of Joseph Pulitzer (Trinity Ann Ritchie), the head of the Publishing Company. Ritchie is a scream. Her character is bold, brassy, and completely honed. She is the perfect villain and doesn't waste any moment on stage to shine, or to bully (in character) other characters around her. Excellent fun. Joining as Pulitzer's associates are Seitz (Joshua Mink), Bunsen (Carlo Polisena), Hannah (Ellie Ritterbusch), and barber Nunzio (enjoyable Willie Rose).  Mink, Polisena, Ritterbusch, are perfect as the staff. Each one of them is spot on, with accents which make the scenes all the better and are confident beyond their years. Bravo.

There are some highlighted turns. Raina Hubbard as Medda Larkin completely smokes the stage with sassiness and an Audra McDonald realness and knows how to egg on the audience. Rylie Elswick as the Newsie Race brings it to the stage with adept character and a buoyant presence. Jacob Glendenning has a great bit as Romeo which is well played. Nathaniel Brinkhoff as Wiesel is a mop-haired bully that is a blast to watch. Colin Guildoo makes for a mean-spirited Snyder and is effective in making us not like him. Win.  Abdullah Madera as Spot brings his roughhouse realness into play. Fonzie in the Bronx. And as a return engagement, Rose appears as Governor Teddy Roosevelt and makes a strong case that his mustache deserves a curtain call all on its own. Great Stuff.

This company is fearless. They are the ones who contributed to making this one, if not, the best dance show ever at Near West Theatre. A crowning achievement. Every person on stage pushed themselves to the limit. And out of the midst of choreographic heaven, several of the cast would bust out of a move in the shape and color of Agnes DeMille, and the crowd would react with stunned visual overload. 

The Production Team was on fire.

Hedderson pulled all the technical elements together with professional aplomb. Michalak's design was restrained and focused and worked beautifully in the space. West created great lighting moments, and let the story unravel without tricks and whistles. Walker's costume design was spot on and entertaining as heck. Greatly enhancing the storyline

Director: Kelcie Nicole Duggar
Asst: Amanda Bender
Music Director: Scott Pyle
Choreographer: Josh Landis
Asst: Katie Jerome Taylor
Asst: Antonio DeJesus
Production Manager: Michael Stein
Production Stage Manager/Asst. Production Manager: Ryan Wolf
Stage Manager: Katie Landoll
Asst: Allan Stubbs
Deck Chief: Katarina Radujkovic
Technical Director/Video Designer: Perren Hedderson
Set Designer: Cameron Michalak
Charge Scenic Artist:  Jenny Hitmar Shankland
Lighting Designer: Tom West
Light Board Operator: Katie Landoll
Costume Designer: Melody Walker
Wardrobe Supervisor: Lady Jen Ryan
Sound Designer/Operator: Matthew Torok
Sound Technician: Emilee Skutt
Properties Master: Kate Atherton
Scenic Carpenters: Emily Hehnen
Child Supervisor: Michelle Bender

Musicians on Fire:
Keyboard 1/ Conductor: Scott Pyle
Trumpet: Brian Gutkoski
Reeds: Kim Taylor
Violin: Leah Frank
Bass: Jason Stebelton
Drums/Percussion: Rick Taylor

Congratulations to the cast and crew! You have created something wonderful!
I hope the next Headline is "Near West Theatre receives a record number of donations!"


Cleveland Stage Alliance

Closes this Weekend!


7:30pm Saturday
3pm Sunday

$8-$10, $25 Reserved Seating

(216) 961-6391
Order Tickets Online

Near West Theatre
6702 Detroit Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44102

Oklahoma! at Porthouse Celebrates 'Til The Cows Come Home

posted Aug 2, 2018, 10:44 AM by kevin kelly   [ updated Aug 13, 2018, 8:17 AM by Eric Fancher ]

Oklahoma! at Porthouse Celebrates 'Til The Cows Come Home

Porthouse Theatre
Professional Equity House Theatre

Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics and book by Oscar Hammerstein II
Original dances by Agnes de Mille
Based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs

Review by Kevin Kelly

There is a lot of celebration going on at Porthouse!

Porthouse Theatre concludes 50th Season with an energetic production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!"
Oklahoma! is celebrating its 75th birthday.
Artistic Director Terri Kent is getting all kinds of love coming her way. She was brought down to the stage before the production started for a special presentation from the Chicago representative of Actors’ Equity. A proclamation was read in honor of the 50th anniversary of Porthouse Theatre and Kent State University. Included in the accolades, Terri Kent was recognized for being the Artistic Director for the past 18 years. For the Porthouse family, it was a beautiful celebration of accomplishment. Being an Artistic Director is not all glamour. People love you, people hate you.

Now we come to my brother's favorite musical Oklahoma! Director Terri Kent serves up a fierce hamper of talent that the audience ate up like Laurey's lemon meringue pie. Nothing is better than an American Classic, and certainly, this one took the book musical to new heights. Kent has put together a great production team, and a cast that radiates passion, energy, and pure joy.

Set in the Oklahoma territory in the early 1900s, this musical tells the story of two pairs of lovers. Curly (a fantastic Matthew Gittins) is a cowboy who has trouble admitting his feelings to Laurey (Rebecca Rand), as she does to him, because of their stubbornness. Judd (San Johnson), the hired hand at Laurey's farm, tries to come between them. Ado Annie (Samantha Russell) is torn between Will (Christopher Tuck*), a cowboy who has strong feelings for her, and Ali Hakim (Joey Fontana), a peddler who's a ladies' man and doesn't want to marry her. Their love stories intertwine with the Farmers and the Cowmen that are sharing the land that will eventually become a state.

My first reaction to this production is the incredible performance of Matthew Gittins as Curly. This is the most natural and honest interpretation I have ever seen. From the moment he arrives, his easy manner and down-homeness are supremely engaging. Thanks to his parent's gene pool, Gittins cuts a handsome figure on stage and becomes the perfect cowboy matinee idol. His voice is perfect in the belly of R&H, and he conveys all the emotions necessary by not overplaying, but just honest fine acting. The engaging Rebecca Rand as Laurey held her own with her skill set. She plays a tougher Laurey than usual. At times, I felt it was too Annie Oakley. She has a dynamic voice. But she chooses to belt the songs that usually a prettier lyric tone works better. But, having been directed to be this character, this is just another take on Laurey, making her tough as nails, instead of hard to get. She softens up in Act II, as does her lyric quality and self-actualizes into a beautiful characterization. 

Christopher Tuck* is the bomb. I remember him from other Porthouse seasons, and he is just a charming ball of fire. He has tremendous connectivity with the audience, and literally lights the stage whenever he enters a scene. His voice, vocals, and characterization of Will Parker were fiercely on point. He can also kick up his heels with the best of him. Certainly a Blue Ribbon winner at the Porthouse fair. Samatha Russell is a hot mess of delight as Ado Annie. She is probably what Miley Cyrus is singing about in Wrecking Ball, of love that is! My only point of order is that a lot of the time in Act I, the voice was turned up way too much, and became almost more annoying than Gertie. But Act II, that was pulled back and she settled into a far more vocally appealing character. Russell is also a ball of fire and worked incredibly well with Tuck. She also can dance with the best of them. Great work.

Matthew Gittins as Curly, Lenne Snively* as Aunt Eller

Can we talk about the show-stealing Ali Hakim, manically played by Joey Fontana? What a blast this guy is! Fontana crushed this role. Comedic timing and characterization for days. What an incredibly fun performance. Very well done. On the other side of life, Sam Johnson kicked some serious ass as Jud Fry. The entire time of stage, his sense of darkness prevailed. Playing someone as haunted in such an upbeat musical is tough, and Johnson played it perfectly. Very impressive work. Lenne Snively* as Aunt Eller was a blast. She brought a bright light to the proceedings. I found her very engaging, and her character work is ridiculously on point. You just can't help but love her, and her sense of caring and protection. Plus she can belt out with the best of em. Kelli-Ann Paterwic is a piercing delight with her laugh and milks it to no end, which is annoyingly delightful. Veteran Christopher Seiler* had some great moments as Andrew Carnes, milking the scenes with whatever milk is left from this cast. Mavis Jennings* adds some equity love to Ike Skidmore.

Terri Kent delivers another pace perfect hit! 18 years of them in fact. Bravo for creating such a production, and a summer theatre season, that brings so much joy and entertainment. Jennifer Korecki's orchestra lit up the air with brisk and delightful musicianship. Cynthia Stillings Lighting Design was on point. Nolan O' Dell's Set Design was eye pleasing and had a very inventive set change implemented for Jud's Cabin. John Crawford-Spinelli's Choreography was as fun as a tub of apple butter. Dances were all in line with the themes, but the real creativity came with the Dream Ballet. Nicely done unique vision.Brittney Harrell did a great job costuming this classic. Great looks without one miss. Everyone looked good and comfortable. Sound Design by Tyler Forbes was excellent.

There is nothing better than a crowd standing and clapping and singing their hearts out with the cast. Yep. That happened. Bravo!

*Member of Actors Equity Association.

Cleveland Stage Alliance
Ticket Information
and Promotional Materials

Through August 12


8pm Tuesdays
8pm Wednesdays
8pm Thursdays
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
2pm Sundays

$27-$38 Reserved Seating

(330) 672-3884
Order Tickets Online

Porthouse Theatre
Blossom Music Center
1145 W Steels Corners Rd
Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44223

Vocally Powerful Spring Awakening at Near West Theatre Soars With Brutal Honesty

posted Aug 1, 2018, 12:57 PM by kevin kelly   [ updated Aug 2, 2018, 9:26 AM ]

Vocally Powerful Spring Awakening at Near West Theatre Soars With Brutal Honesty

Community Theatre

Book & Lyrics by Steven Sater
Music by Duncan Sheik
Based on the 1891 play by Frank Wedekind

Growing up is a BITCH. For teenage students in 19th century Germany, it’s a fight just to be heard, let alone get any answers! Parents and teachers alike dismiss their questions, fears, and anxieties. With only the guidance of their peers, teens Moritz (Zack Palumbo), Wendla (Sarah Farris), Melchior (Robert Kowaleski), and Ilse (Moriyah Faith Jackson) struggle to navigate religion, morality, sexuality, and coming-of-age angst with heart-wrenching and devastating results.

Over 100 years later, young people still fight for reliable mentors to hear and support them, and without that guidance, teens, young adults, and even children can enter dark worlds of depression, sexual recklessness and assault, and suicide. Spring Awakening highlights the agelessness of this experience. Near West Theatre's decision to bring this musical to life was a brave and bold step in using its platform to heighten awareness. This show does come with a disclaimer regarding the issues addressed. As a result, this would not be marketed as family-friendly, but in reality, you would consider this family reality. This show is direct and incredibly thought-provoking. 

This particular story finds us in Germany, 1891, a world where the grown-ups hold all the cards. The beautiful young Wendla explores the mysteries of her body and wonders aloud where babies come from... until Mama tells her to shut it and put on a proper dress. Elsewhere, the brilliant and fearless young Melchior interrupts a mind-numbing Latin drill to defend his buddy, Moritz – a boy so traumatized by puberty that he can't concentrate on anything... not that the Headmaster (Mike Obertacz) cares. He strikes them both and tells them to turn in their lesson. One afternoon, in a private place in the woods, Melchior and Wendla meet by accident and soon find within themselves a desire, unlike anything they've ever felt. As they fumble their way into one another's arms, Moritz flounders to find his truth and soon fails out of school. When even his one adult friend, Melchior's mother (Amanda Bender), ignores his plea for help, he is left so distraught that he can't hear the promise of life offered by his outcast friend, Ilse. Due to devastating events, Melchior is expelled. Wendla learns the truth about intimacy. And soon, decisions are made that bring this tale to a crashing end. However, we are left with a message that through the pain, there is the undeniable need to not forget but to move forward.

The Near West Theatre Production, under the direction of Kelcie Nicole Dugger, is powerful, visually stunning, and without a doubt, one of the best summer Teen/Young Adult musicals produced here in a very long time. Dugger has done a tremendous job of casting this show. The subject matter probably caused a lot of angst for some people, but they should know the show is staged without sensationalism and is professionally focused and executed. Dugger's overall vision of the show is strongly on point and visceral.

As Wendla, Farris shares an incredibly powerful performance.  Ferris is radiant on stage, and her beauty is matched by her vocal delivery. Beautifully balanced presentation of innocence, and the inner drive of finding the truth. She exudes confidence, and her character arc is well developed and executed. Kowalewski as Melchoir just crushes this role. A fearless performance with incredible vocal work in which each song becomes an occasion. Definitive character work is on full display and executed with a professional polish. Powerful stuff. Every moment fully complete. Both Farris and Kowalewski are perfect in propelling this story. 

Zack Palumbo is a revelation. As Moritz, he embodies his character in deeply tortured realness. That friend we all know who is struggling and we can't seem to put our finger on it. Palumbo brings his bolt of kinetic theatre energy that electrifies every scene he inhabits with brilliant resonance. His powerful voice conveys the music with immense connectivity and emotion. You will remember this performance and performer. Jackson has the difficult task of giving Ilse a journey that is not a pretty one to watch. From the moment we see her, something is wrong. She weaves in and out of scenes, underlying a dark resonance that pierces the story. This is effective because she conveys the damage to this girl with sensitive acting and brutal truth. Her voice aches from pain, and a struggle for recovery of self-worth. Tough character because Ilse never gets a break emotionally. Jackson is devastatingly on point.

There are some fierce dynamic girls surrounding Wendla, multi-talented Zoe Douglas as Martha (her solo and monologue work was spectacular), Kater Brierley as Thea, and Paola Ayala as Anna. They lead the core of women who sing the anthems of awakening with great focus and believability. Their presence is never wasted and due to the depth of their character work, are achingly alive. Antonio DeJesus and Matthew Brightbill, as Hanschen and Ernst, bring incredibly integrity to their roles. Playing sensitive men who have to love secretly, and stay true to their feelings. Both gentlemen bring pure, well-acted honesty to the roles, without ever caving into overplaying the intimate scenes for shock value. Proving that gay love scenes can be beautiful and meaningful without taking off your shirt. Bravo!

There was some great solo work accomplished. Peter Bradley belted his face off as Georg during "Touch Me". Dripping with bombastic energy, this guy killed it. Nick Glavan also had a chance to vocally angst himself to the rafters as well. Great character work from each of them.

There are two Adults in the show, simply listed as Adult Woman, and Adult Man. Each one plays multiple characters in the show. Amanda Bender takes on the female roles of Frau Bergman (Wendla's Mother), Fraulein Knuppeldick, Fraulein Grossebustenhalter, Frau Gabor (Melchior's Mother), and Frau Bessell (Martha's Mother. Michael Obertacz inhabits Herr Sonnenstich, Headmaster Knochenbruch, Her Neumann (Ilse's Father), Herr Rilow (Hanschen's Father), Herr Stiefel (Moritz's Father), Father Kaulbach, Doctor Von Brausepulver, Herr Gabor (Melchior's Father) and Schmidt. Both actors are versatile and creative in giving each character a definitive physical and vocal identity. Bender is killing me as Fraulein Knuppeldick, as she speaks her lines as if she just swallowed an entire box of Cracker Jacks and their still in her throat. Obertacz gives a defining moment as a grieving father. Both actors should be commended for stepping into their roles during tech week. Truly a remarkable feat. Bravo. The company of actors that fills out this fierce cast is excellent. In true, Near West Theatre tradition, every face is intimately connected to the scene work, and deliver solid vocal power.

There were some observations. Sometimes, the convention of having the entire ensemble enter during songs longed for more private moments. However, that is one of the missions of including larger casts in the show. Although at points I just wanted to focus on the specific character exchange, to their credit, the ensemble is tight and focused. There was one moment where I felt it might have been a lighting cue, but when Moritz has his epiphany with mortality, closing to a blackout earlier would have been preferred. It kind of left Moritz with nowhere to go at scene end. There were some moments where the blocking between lead characters seemed a little bit back and forth to center, as noted in one Melchior and Wendla scene. But that is a small quibble.

The Production Team has delivered strongly. Music Director Scott Pyle beautifully guides the voices, and the band to a most effective sound and quality. Josh Landis gives us great interpretive choreography that certainly addresses the angst and sexuality, but doesn't cross the line to hysterics. And the dance and movement involved with the bungee cords were incredibly creative and effective, and simply interesting as heck to watch. Production Stage Manager Ryan Wolf called a great show. Technical Director Perren Hedderson did an excellent job of pulling the elements together and building an effective set. Set Designer Cameron Michalak once again brings his professional artistry to the foreground, and in this case, a playground of sorts. Scenic Artist Jenny Hitmar Shankland continues to produce brilliant artistry in her painting. Costume Designer Lady Jen Ryan got all the stitching right, as her costumes helped transport the story with precision and inspired period work. Lighting Designer Adam Ditzel brought his tremendous skills to the table, creating an amazing array of atmospheric art that greatly enhanced deep and sensitive moments in the show.  Sound Designer Josh Caraballo's Sound Design and the balance was on point.

Also, there is a table from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention located downstairs. Thank you to Near West Theatre for allowing public access to information for your patrons, cast, and production staff. 

This is not easy to watch. This will be tough for some because the show holds many triggers.
But, we need to hear this story to even begin to heal it.

Go see it. 
Discuss it.
Keep your eyes open to those around you.
Keep your ears open to those around you. 
Some bruises can be seen, some can’t.
Some voices can be heard, some can't. 
Be the voice that saves lives. 
Be the voice that can help uncover what is hidden. 
Be the voice that becomes a lighthouse for those in pain.

Image may contain: table, night and indoor
Photo Credit: Mark Horning
Ticket Information
and Promotional Materials

Through August 12

7:30 pm Thursdays
7:30 pm Fridays
7:30 pm Saturdays
3 pm Sundays (No Performance 7/29)

Content Advisories: MATURE CONTENT, including abortion, suicide, bullying, and language. Non-graphic depictions of sex, abuse, and death.

$8-$20 Reserved Seating

(216) 961-6391

Near West Theatre
6702 Detroit Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44102

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