Cleveland Stage Alliance Reviews and Previews

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

Final Weekend of bare: A Pop Opera at Western Reserve

posted Jul 27, 2018, 12:46 PM by kevin kelly   [ updated Aug 2, 2018, 6:19 AM by Eric Fancher ]

Final Weekend of bare: A Pop Opera at Western Reserve

Community Theatre

Review by Kevin Kelly

A pulsating, electric contemporary rock musical, bare follows a group of students at a Catholic boarding school as they grapple with issues of sexuality, identity, and the future. Peter (Nick Sobotka) and Jason (Nicholas Urbanic) have fallen in love with each other, but Jason — a popular athlete — fears losing his status if he is discovered to be gay. Unpopular Nadia, Jason’s sister (Korinne Courtwright), is contemptuous of Ivy (Laney Davis), a beautiful girl with a questionable reputation. As the group attempts to put up a production of Romeo and Juliet, tensions flare, self-doubt simmers, and God’s path seems more difficult to find than ever. bare rings with the sounds of youthful repression and revolt. With a unique sung-through pop score, heart-pounding lyrics, and a cast of bright young characters, bare is a provocative, fresh, and utterly honest look at the dangers of baring your soul, and the consequences of continuing to hide.

This is a strong relevant story to tell, especially in the environment we live in. It was a strong choice for Western Reserve Playhouse, and one that reflects a theatre that is working to expand its base, and present material that falls out of the mainstream, but is critical to address. Directing this project is Brian Westerley, who did a wonderful job of casting for this auspicious tale. Everyone seems perfectly fit into the story line, which heightens the credibility of the show. 

Urbanic gives Jason the appropriate mixture of a conflicted personae. Jock strutting when he can, but always letting a layer of vulnerability exist, which fuels a tortured soul of compliance. Sobotka crushes the role of Peter, by giving a full emotional throttle performance. Every emotion played on the sleeve, and powerful and soulful vocals embellish the story. His journey is heartbreaking for all of us that just want to love against all odds. Davis is giving off Rita Heyworth vibes, and does a beautiful job of a strong and sexual being, who is conflicted by coming to grips with the clues that eventually are gut wrenching. Her voice assuages her pain nicely.  Courtwright kicks ass and takes no names at Nadia. She is the complete bomb in this show. A fireball of intention, focus, comedic flair, and a voice that commands attention. Complete standout. Speaking of standouts, Dayshawnda Ash gives some Sister Act realness to Sr. Chantelle. Or, as I told her "Go Chantelle it on the Mountain!" She was well worth the comedic moments, and going to church vocals. Stephanie Malfara gave us a riveting and powerful solo as Claire. Truly a beautiful moment of cathartic splendor. David Rusnak turned in a sold performance at the Priest. Adding the essential element of religious doctrine, and doing it with brutal honesty and vocal strength.

Dominic Sonby gives Matt great character. He really carves out a rounded performance, that is definitely a highlight. His scenes are very focused, and interesting. Daniel Hunsicker as Lucas handles the drug dealing capabilities well. Not over doing the bad ass personae, and keeping it real. He also handles the drug rap song like a champ. The rest of the cast is strongly on point. Kayla Lehman, Khylee Kridler, Olivya De Luca, Brooke Lytton, Austin "I got laid" Hopson, and Ben Arrington. I list these names, not as a group listing of the cast, but truly because each one of them adds to the story. Each one creating a solid character interpretation of how they are in this complicated emotional story. Many shows are a success based on the company of actors as a whole. So their work is greatly acknowledged.

Director Westerley brought together a great cast and production. Music Direction by Dave Stebbins is listed, however, the sound track was used for the show. But the vocals were dead on, so bravo to Stebbins for teaching the music initially. Stage Manager Jeff Bixby called a great show. Chorographer Kristy Kruz did an outstanding job. Every number was spot on and entertaining with very creative movement. Set Design by Westerley worked great. Simple but very effective. Scott Zolkowski did a great job with costuming. Light Designer Austin Hopson was on point. Sound Design by Brianna Laybourn had its troubles. This is one area that the theatre as a whole needs to focus in and work on a resolution. Balance problems, mic problems, are getting in the way of storytelling. Once addressed, every musical will excel to another level without that distraction.

Try to catch the final weekend. These actors are working hard.

Cleveland Stage Alliance
Ticket Information
and Promotional Materials

Final Weekend
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays


(330) 620-7314

Western Reserve Playhouse
3326 Everett Rd
Richfield, OH 44286

The Ladies of Karamu's Simply Simone are Simply Spectacular

posted Jul 22, 2018, 2:08 PM by kevin kelly   [ updated Jul 23, 2018, 9:19 AM by Eric Fancher ]

The Ladies of Karamu's Simply Simone are Simply Spectacular

Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

Eunice Kathleen Waymon (21 February 1933 – 21 April 2003), better known by her stage name Nina Simone, was an American singer-songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist widely associated with jazz music. Simone aspired to become a classical pianist while working in a broad range of styles including classical, jazz, blues, soul, folk, rhythm and blues, gospel, and pop. One of the true divas of the 20th century and a genuine musical powerhouse, she defined a generation and defied classification. 

Simply Simone The Music of Nina Simone is constructed as a presentation of Nina Simone's life. Created by David Grapes and Robert Neblett, with Music arrangements by Vince Di Mura. Her path is narrated by 4 performers who describe the facts of her life, descriptions of her environment, affairs of her heart, and share the celebration of her music. The 4 performers who transcendently tell this story and breathe fresh life and interpretation into the music are Mariama Whyte*, Sheffia Randall Dooley*, CorLesia Smith, and Mary-Francis R. Miller. Based on the success of the initial run of the show, Karamu decided to bring it back to join in celebrating the Grand Reopening of the Jelliffe Theatre.

I had heard of Nina Simone but didn't really know anything about her life. My first introduction to her was a Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?. An incredible look at the artist, where you find that she was as vulnerable as she was dynamic. So I was thrilled to see that I was going to get a chance to hear the music live, and performed by artists that would wrap their souls around the music, and indeed they did.

As the show opens, I am taken by the soulful harmonies coming forth from these fierce women of color. Each performer representing a separate time and character in Nina's life. Together, blending and gathering energy like a spiritual hurricane over the ocean. Hurricane season has come early, and these ladies are delivering some major Nina realness.

My first wow moment comes from the song "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black." Just incredibly performed. The power of telling someone to take ownership of your gifts, your color, and your youth, and move forward with purpose. You also can't ignore the audience interacting with the songs, and their lyrics. Constant feedback, and emotional bursts reacting to the lyrics that become triggers for joy, pain, faith, and hope. There are many powerful moments created by this quartet of soulful love and professional execution.

Another moment of WOW comes from Whyte, when she turns to the audience, points, and sings "I Put a Spell on You," You could feel the goosebumps and the entire theatre become spellbound, literally. I am telling you, she killed that song, and turned it into an occasion of Hell Yes, and Yass. The quality of the vocals, and interpreted acting choices should be served piping hot for days. It is the first time I have seen her perform, but I know I haven't seen skill like that in a long time.

Dooley brings her sultry voice to the occasion, and her smile that should be registered as a national treasure. Her innate communication with the material and the audience is on full blast. Her songs strike celebration and joy, but then, she can turn introspective such as "Alone Again Naturally." Dynamic performer. She embodies immense charm and knows exactly when to tap directly into the dynamic moments.

Smith is a fireball. Her striking appearance and joyful energy are hard not to notice. Her voice is crisp and soulful and radiates confidence and showwomenship.
Her rendition of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" showed her incredible versatility. Simply a joy to watch. Also, she can certainly rock a silver dress for sure.

The beautiful addition to the return engagement of this production is Miller. She is divine. Her voice has a quality of velvet soul. She captures the innocence of Nina, and adeptly processes a young woman who is harboring an immense talent. Her simplistic approach to the music and phrasing is a beautiful occasion.

These ladies are so worth the trip to learn and listen to the brilliance of Nina Simone. Each beautiful performer is equipped with all the artistic weapons to creatively perform each of the songs weaving in all the emotional requirements that are necessary to tell the entire story of each song.

The ladies are spectacular.

I do have constructive feedback on the production side. I found occasionally that there were sound issues. Not enough to ruin anything, however. mics were not always turned on when singers started to sing. Also, there needs to be a sound check because, at times when the ladies are belting or taking us all to church, the sound becomes muffled. So, is the problem in the mixing, or the mic placement? I don't know, but it needs to be addressed. Also, the spotlight work needs to be tightened up. Watching spots find the singers, or turning up the lights late on a solo, or watching a spot turned on too early and then watch it travel across the stage to hit the target, is not acceptable. I wish there had been another way to create location references, besides the spinning columns on the sides. Having the actors moving these time and again, seemed to mix a bit with the flow. Also, the lighting could have been more creative to create more dramatic area work and variance.

This being said, the evening is a complete win because of the performances of these ladies of soul.

And speaking of WIN, the band led by Ed Ridley, Jr is on FIRE! Brilliant musicianship coming from his direction and feel. His cohorts are equally impressive with Elijah Gilmore on Percussion, Bradford L. McGhee on Guitar, and Kevin Byous on Bass. They are also a part of Nina Simone. Serving up a soundtrack that brings the house to tears that range from emotional to having to start a GoFundMe page to replace the roof that was blown off during the performance. Bravo.

Caroline Jackson Smith has cast well and put on quite an amazing evening of celebration. The pace is tight and is only broken because the audience won't stop applauding, and that is the sing of some good work. Scenic and Costume Design by the creative Inda Blatch-Geib. Costumes were on point, and added to the personality of the piece. Choreographer Treva Offutt gave us some free-form movement that wasn't over done, and stayed in a natural vein. Stage Manager Xavier P. Kahn. Lighting Designer Colleen Albrecht. Sound Design Cyrus Taylor. Technical Director Prophet D. Seay brought the technical elements together nicely.

Congratulations on the new and improved theatre. Best wishes as Phase 2 continues.

Please take a trip to see this show. You will be so happy you did.

*denotes member of Actors Equity Association
Ticket Information
and Promotional Materials

Through August 5th


7:30pm Wednesday
7:30pm Thursdays
7:30pm Fridays
7:30pm Saturdays
3pm Sundays

Runtime: 2h 0m


(216) 795-7070

Karamu House
2355 East 89th Street
Cleveland, OH 44106

CSA Director Insight - Greg Violand and Maryann Nagel (Oliver! at French Creek Theatre)

posted Jul 18, 2018, 12:54 PM by kevin kelly   [ updated Jul 23, 2018, 9:37 AM by Eric Fancher ]

Professional Theatre

CSA Director Insight:
Greg Violand and Maryann Nagel

Why did you choose, or how did you come to direct this show?
I was asked to direct One Flew Over The Cukoo's Nest last Fall, but when we discovered Beck Center was doing it a the same time I told Rick we should not compete with them. He agreed and then offered me Oliver along with Maryann as Co-directors. With our schedules, this worked out fine.

Why does the theatre scene need this production and/or another production of this show?
I do not think NEED is the right word here but I do think that Oliver is not done that frequently around town so...why not?  It is a great family show, uses lots of kids and adults and offers some wonderful characters for local actors to play.

Can you share some memorable moments from the rehearsal period?
I think all things considered we did very well getting this large show on its feet.  I say considering only because we lost not one but 2 musical directors. One a week before rehearsal started and the second a week after they began!  Thank God we were able to find Lisa Van Scyoc. AND we also lost our Nancy 2 weeks in and were lucky enough to have a replacement within 2 hrs!  We actually did our first complete run through BEFORE Tech weekend! So we were able to do 4 full run-throughs before we opened.

What themes resonate with you about the show?
Hope, Faith, and Resilience

What do you hope your production has accomplished?
I think this production allowed a few people the opportunity to play and create characters they wouldn't necessarily get to do normally. It was fun for them (I think).  The parents of the kids had the hardest part and their patience and help were terrific.  One of our actors stated that to them the best part was that with Maryann and Me directing it was like a Master Class in Acting as well since we have both been teaching a lot in recent years.  We did and always do try to pass on not only our "decades" of professional acting experience but our understanding of what it takes to be "professional" and be able to pass that on.  My personal insight. "community theater actors tend to overact, indicate, gesture and move too much because they feel they need to TAKE their performance to the audience. A professional understands his/her job is to BRING the audience to them."  LESS IS MORE!!!

Thank you Greg and Maryann for the feedback!

Greg Violand Co-Director, previously directed The Miracle On 34th St.,   The Secret Garden and The Odd Couple here at French Creek. He is a well-known professional actor in Northeast Ohio having performed for the last 30 years in numerous productions with the Cleveland Play House, Great Lakes Theatre, Cleveland Opera, Beck Center, DOBAMA, Ensemble Theatre, Cain Park, Porthouse Theatre to name a few. He can be heard on the NY Studio Cast Album of Kris Kringle as Santa Claus available on Amazon. Recent film credits:  Jenny’s WeddingCarolMy Blind Brother, and Batman v Superman- Dawn of Justice.  He has two films premiering in 2018, The Assassin’s Code and The Toybox. He is a proud member of Actors Equity and SAG-AFTRA and received his MFA from Kent State University.  He is also currently an Adjunct Professor of Acting and Theater at Lakeland CC. 

Ticket Information
and Promotional Materials

Running through July 29


7:30pm Fridays
7:30pm Saturdays
3pm Sundays

$10-$18 Reserved Seating

(440) 949-5200
Order Tickets Online

French Creek Nature & Arts Center

4530 Colorado Ave.

Sheffield Village, OH 44054

PRESS RELEASE: Cleveland Play House Single Tickets On Sale for 2018 - 2019

posted Jul 16, 2018, 2:12 PM by kevin kelly   [ updated Jul 23, 2018, 9:28 AM by Eric Fancher ]

Cleveland Play House Single Tickets on Sale for 2018 -  2019 Season

Cleveland Play House (CPH) single tickets for the 2018-2019 season will go on sale to the public beginning July 30. Additionally, family favorite A Christmas Story will be offered on July 25 for a “Christmas in July" special at 50 percent off all tickets (Promo Code JULY). The entire season of spectacular shows will be available for purchase on July 30, and on that date only be offered at a 25 percent discounted rate, using promo code “ON SALE.”

The 2018-2019 Season Subscription Series begins in September with the launch of the U.S. National Tour of London’s long-running hit The Woman in Black (Sept. 15 to Oct. 7), a mystery thriller based on the novel by Susan Hill.  The 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Sweat (Oct. 13 to Nov. 4) will then heat up the Outcalt Theatre with a story of the working class struggling to make ends meet in the Rust Belt.  An Iliad (Jan. 12 to Feb. 10) hits the stage in January, featuring two women in a modern, visceral telling of the ancient Greek story of war and vengeance. Next up is the return of CPH favorite Ken Ludwig and his rollicking new comedy, Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood (Feb. 2 to 24). The 2017 Roe Green Award-winner Tiny Houses (March 23 to April 14), a comedy about what happens when the world shrinks, has its world premiere in the spring.  The Subscriber Season comes to a hilarious and poignant conclusion with a look over the fence — the neighbor’s fence — in Native Gardens (April 27 to May 19). From Cleveland favorites to new voices, every show features strong, determined characters staring down the obstacles for the greater good.

In addition to the six-play Subscription Series, CPH announced two special attractions: the family holiday favorite A Christmas Story from Nov. 23 to Dec. 23 and The Wolves in spring 2019, a full immersion into the world of teenage girls, which will be featured in the 2019 New Ground Theatre Festival.  The new CWRU/CPH MFA class of 2020 will offer two productions in the Helen Theatre, with Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull (Oct. 10 to 20) and Noël Coward’s Hay Fever (Feb. 27 to March 9). Tickets to these productions will be included in the on sale date for purchase. Tickets for the CWRU/CPH MFA productions cost $15 each or two for $25.

“This season will inspire and invigorate our loyal patron base and introduce new audiences to what CPH does best — tell stories that matter in productions that are imaginative, thrilling, and entertaining,” said CPH Artistic Director Laura Kepley.

Subscriptions to the 2018-19 Season at Cleveland Play House are on sale currently. Subscribers save up to 25 percent off individual ticket prices and receive many great benefits throughout the season. Full and flexible season packages begin at just $262. To purchase subscriptions or to receive more information, call 216-400-7096 or visit


September 15 – October 7
Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt
Directed by Robin Herford
Allen Theatre

Halloween comes early this year with a bone-chilling ghost story that will shake you to your core. Arthur Kipps never believed in the supernatural until he came face to face with evil. Tonight—desperate to exorcise his demons—he will tell his haunting tale…no matter the consequences. For over 28 years, The Woman in Black has thrilled audiences on London’s West End. Now, CPH launches the North American tour of this spine-tingling production.

October 13 – Noevmber 4
By Lynn Nottage
Directed by Laura Kepley
Outcalt Theatre

The American Dream has its back up against the wall in this Pulitzer Prize-winning drama. In Reading, PA, there’s talk of union lock-outs, massive lay-offs, and jobs going overseas. As rumors quickly become reality, a group of life-long friends gather at their local bar to joke and blow off steam while struggling to stand together as everything else falls apart. Inspired by true stories, Sweat is a compelling portrait of pride and survival in the Rust Belt.

January 12 – February 10
By Lisa Peterson & Denis O’Hare
Based on Homer’s The Iliad, translated by Robert Fagles
Directed by Tarah Flanagan and Andrew Carlson
Outcalt Theatre

One actor. One musician. The Trojan War. With vivid storytelling and live cello, two women transform a bare stage into a raging battlefield where gods, heroes, and empires clash in a quest for vengeance and glory. This searing adaptation of Homer’s timeless epic catapults an ancient tale of fate and fury into the present day.

February 2 – February 24
By Ken Ludwig
Directed by Adam Immerwahr
Allen Theatre

Cleveland favorite Ken Ludwig (Baskerville, A Comedy of Tenors) is back with a rollicking new take on a beloved legend. A greedy prince has taken control of England, and it is up to dashing outlaw Robin Hood to save the day. Join up and take aim with Robin and his band of Merry Men—and women!— as they champion the underdog and fight for justice. Laughs, romance, and plenty of arrows fly in this all-out comic adventure.

March 23 – April 14
Directed by Laura Kepley
Outcalt Theatre

Tiny homes are all the rage! Cath is ready for a big change. She quits her lucrative, fast paced job in finance and moves across the country with her boyfriend to build a 200-square-foot tiny house. Turns out that choosing a simpler life can get very complicated. Filled with lovable, idiosyncratic characters each on a quest to find a place to call home, Tiny Houses is a surprising world premiere comedy about what happens when the world shrinks.

April 27 – May 19
By Karen Zacarías
Directed by Robert Barry Fleming
Allen Theatre

They say good fences make good neighbors, but that’s the not the case with the Del Valles and the Butleys. What starts out as a squabble over a backyard property line hilariously erupts into a full-blown border dispute. Native Gardens comically unearths deeply-rooted assumptions, plants the seeds for understanding, and blossoms into colorful, thought-provoking entertainment.

November 23 - December 23
By Philip Grecian
Directed by John McCluggage
Based on the motion picture written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark
Allen Theatre

He’s back! One boy. One holiday wish. And a world that seems to be conspiring to make certain it doesn’t come true. The record-breaking show returns to the CPH stage in all its pink-bunny-suit, glowing-leg-lamp, triple-dog-daring glory. The perfect holiday treat for the entire family.

Spring 2019
By Sarah DeLappe
Directed by Sarah Elizabeth Wansley
Presented as part of the 2019 New Ground Theatre Festival
Helen Theatre

Game on! The Wolves are undefeated, and they plan to stay that way. Fiercely competitive and enormously talented, these nine high schoolers gather each Saturday to battle it out at their indoor soccer league and leave it all—body and soul—on the field. But, when the world outside the game starts to creep onto their turf, will the pack be able to stick together? A ferociously funny and achingly honest portrait of the warriors that are teenage girls.


October 10 – October 20
Written by Anton Chekhov
Translated by Paul Schmidt
Directed by Sarah Elizabeth Wansley
Helen Theatre

It’s The Seagull as you have never seen it before as Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece gets a fresh, contemporary take in this youthful and energetic production. Each on their own quest for artistic and romantic fulfillment, guests at a country estate find themselves entangled in romantic triangles, leading to resentment, jealousy, and misplaced affection along with love, music and laughter through tears.

February 27 – March 9
Written by Noel Coward
Directed by Jerrold Scott
Helen Theatre

A true British comedy of wit from “The Master” Noël Coward, Hay Fever enters the eccentric minds of a retired actress, her novelist husband and their family. A weekend retreat is anything but relaxing when unsuspecting family and their guests are enlisted as pawns in their outrageous theatrical games. Mismatched romantic pairings and explosive familial rivalries bring out the worst in this dysfunctional team of players.


All CPH performances for the 2018-2019 Season are in the Allen or Outcalt Theatres at Playhouse Square, Cleveland. Shows preview at 7:30 p.m. the first Saturday, 6:30 p.m. the first Sunday, 7 p.m. the first Tuesday and 7:30 p.m. the first Wednesday and Thursday, with 2:30 p.m. matinees most Saturdays and Sundays. They open at 7:30 p.m. the first Friday and close on a Sunday. There is one Thursday matinee performance at 1:30 p.m. for each production.

Prices for single tickets begin at $25 with special discounts available:

$15 rush tickets for currently enrolled students under age 25 with valid student ID, and Young Professional discounts available with YP-CPH Membership. Groups of 10+ save up to 50% off single ticket prices; call 216-400-7027.

Subscriptions are on sale now. Subscribers save up to 25% off individual ticket prices and receive many great benefits throughout the season. Full and flexible season packages begin at just $262. To purchase subscriptions or to receive more information, call 216-400-7096 or visit

Press Release attached!

PRESS RELEASE: Karamu Presents the Encore Production of the Wildly Successful Simply Simone

posted Jul 16, 2018, 2:03 PM by kevin kelly   [ updated Jul 23, 2018, 9:29 AM by Eric Fancher ]


Karamu House fills the summer with the sounds of Nina Simone
in a musical profiling the life and music of the American icon.

July 18 – August 5, 2018

Media Night is Friday, July 20, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.

(Cleveland, Ohio) Karamu House, the oldest multicultural performing arts center in the country, continues its mission to produce socially-relevant, professional-quality entertainment.

Karamu remounts Simply Simone: The Music of Nina Simone from July 18 through August 5, 2018. Performances of this R&B musical journey created by Robert Neblett and David Grapes, and directed by Caroline Jackson Smith will be held in the newly renovated and historic Jelliffe Theatre located at 2355 East 89th Street, Cleveland, Ohio. Tickets range from $25-$50, and can be reserved online via or by calling 216.795.7077.

Simply Simone, musically directed by Ed Ridley, Jr., features Sheffia Randall Dooley*, Mary-Francis R. Miller, CorLesia Smith, and Mariama Whyte* all appearing as the music sensation and American icon Nina Simone at various stages of her life.

Tony F. Sias, President + CEO of Karamu House notes that “it is ironic that we open the production on July 18th which happens to be the 50th anniversary of the Hough Riots, one of many events that mark the civil rights movement throughout the United States. Nina Simone was a pioneer and inspirational leader who was courageous and steadfast in her stand for freedom and justice. Few marquee performers were as willing to use music as a vehicle for social commentary and change. Just as Simone was a major advocate for civil rights, Cleveland was a major artery of the civil rights movement."

One of the true divas of the 20th century and a genuine musical powerhouse, Nina Simone defined a generation and defied classification. Based on the turbulent life and rich artistic legacy of this American musical icon, the musical score compiled by Robert Neblett and David Grapes crosses genres from gospel to blues, to Broadway to rock and roll. This soulful musical journey features over 30 definitive Nina Simone hits such as “The Look of Love,” “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”

The public demand for an encore of our original regional premiere that opened the 102nd season in September 2017 was so strong that Karamu is bringing it to the stage again. The original production was the last play produced in the Jelliffe Theatre before the extensive renovation of the historic venue. It is very fitting that it returns for a reprisal immediately after the grand re-opening of the stage.

“ leaves feeling uplifted and entirely satisfied.” - Buffalo News
“...impressive, intense and thrilling.” - Miami Herald
“...a magical performance.” – Cleveland Jewish News
“...Whyte handles her songs well, especially a spine-tingling version of “I Put a Spell on You.” - Cleveland Scene

Born on February 21, 1933, in Tryon, North Carolina, Eunice Waymon studied classical piano at the Juilliard School in New York City. Simone taught piano and worked as an accompanist for other performers while at Juilliard, but she eventually had to leave school after she ran out of funds. Moving to Philadelphia, her career took an unexpected turn when she was rejected from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She later claimed the school denied her admittance because she was African-American. Turning away from classical music, she started playing American standards, jazz and blues in Atlantic City clubs in the 1950s. Before long, she started singing along with her music at the behest of a bar owner. She took the stage name Nina Simone— "Nina," derived from the Spanish word for “little girl,” which came from a nickname used by her then boyfriend; while "Simone" was inspired by French actress Simone Signoret. The performer eventually won over such fans as writers Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin.

Her first album in 1957 scored a Top 20 hit with the track “I Loves You Porgy.” In the ‘60s, Simone expanded her repertory in exemplary fashion while becoming identified as a leading voice of the Civil Rights Movement. She later lived abroad and experienced major mental health and financial issues, though enjoying a big career resurgence in the 1980s. In her final years, reports indicated that Simone was battling breast cancer. She died at the age of 70 on April 21, 2003, at her home in Carry-le-Rouet, France. Simone has inspired an array of performers, including Aretha Franklin, Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Lauryn Hill and Meshell Ndegeocello. Two documentaries on the musician's life were released in 2015: The Amazing Nina Simone, directed by Jeff L. Lieberman, as well as the Netflix original What Happened, Miss Simone?, directed by Liz Garbus, which received an Oscar nomination for best documentary. Simone was also depicted by actress Zoe Saldana in the 2016 biopic Nina.
- excerpt from A&E Biography

“There's no other purpose, so far as I am concerned, for us except to reflect the times, the situations around us, and the things we're able to say through our art, the things that millions of people can't say. I think that's the function of an artist and, of course, those of us who are lucky, is to leave a legacy so that when we're dead, we also live on.”
- Nina Simone

Returning to the helm of the Karamu production is CAROLINE JACKSON SMITH, professor of theater and Africana studies at Oberlin College. Caroline directed the 2011 production of Ruined at Karamu. A recipient of the prestigious 1993 fellowship for early career directors from the Theater Communications Group/National Endowment for the Arts, Jackson Smith made her New York debut at the New York Public Theater in 1995, when she directed Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro for the Signature Theater Company. A graduate of Yale University, Jackson Smith served as the executive director of the Yale Afro-American Cultural Center for eight years. Select credits in directing include The Gospel at Colonus, The Tapestry, The Resurrection of LadyLester, Darker Face of the Earth, and The Colored  Museum among many other. Also returning to lead the musical aspects for the production is ED RIDLEY, JR. whose Karamu productions include Passing Strange, Sister Act, The Wiz, Leap of Faith, It Ain’t Nothin But the Blues, The Color Purple, and Caroline or Change among many others. Other credits include: Ain’t Misbehavin, Blues in the Night, Five Guys Names Moe, Crowns, Mahalia, Cuttin’ Up, The Piano Lesson, and Love, Janis. Ed serves as music director for the Christian Fellowship Center Church and is also on the music faculty at the Eastern Campus of Cuyahoga Community College. His versatility and talent as a performer have allowed him to accompany such great artists as Aretha Franklin, Lauryn Hill, Walter Hawkins, Jon Hendricks, and Clark Terry. Co-creator ROBERT NEBLETT is a versatile theatre artist, scholar, and educator with over 20 years of professional experience. Other works for the stage include Dracula: The Case of the Silver Scream Roundabout, A Wrinkle in Time, The Thirty-Minute Lysistrata, and Alice in Wonderland. He has served as founding artistic director of (Mostly) Harmless Theatre in St. Louis, MO, and Inevitable Theatre Company in Dallas, TX, where he produced and directed the local and regional premieres of groundbreaking works such as The Laramie Project, Fuddy Meers, Four Modern Noh Plays, Jordan, and Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead. Co-creator DAVID GRAPES II is an award-winning director, actor and playwright, and is the creator/co-author (with Todd Olson) of four musical revues including My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra, Christmas My Way: A Sinatra Holiday Bash, Moon River: Johnny Mercer’s American Songbook, and I Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett. His film noir play Dracula: The Case of the Silver Scream (co-created with Robert Neblett) had its world premiere at
Tennessee Rep in 2003. During his 30-year career in the theatre, David has produced over 800 major productions that span nearly every genre of dramatic literature.

In 1915, Oberlin College graduates Russell and Rowena Jelliffe opened the Playhouse Settlement in a Cleveland area called The Roaring Third. The Jelliffes wanted to build an environment where people of different races, religions, and social and economic backgrounds could come together to seek and share common ventures through the arts, and Karamu House was established as a gathering place for racially-diverse members of the surrounding community at that time. As the community became predominantly African American, Karamu responded with programs geared to their needs and interests. Today, Karamu is evolving to be reborn as a beating heart for the entire community, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identification, or age, as it embarks on its second 100 years, retaining its historical identity as “a place of joyful gathering.” Core programs include a five-performance, socially-relevant and professional quality theatre season; arts education in drama/theatre, music and dance for all ages; and community programming, such as a lecture series, and spoken word and music performances, that invites participation and engagement, reflection, and a re-commitment to cultural values.


Karamu House’s Simply Simone: The Music of Nina Simone

Wednesday, July 18 through Sunday, August 5, 2018

Performances on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 PM.
Performances on Sundays at 3:00 PM.
* Post-show conversations on 7/29 and 8/5

Jelliffe Theatre, 2355 East 89th Street, Cleveland, Ohio 44106

The ACTING COMPANY includes:
Sheffia Randall Dooley*
Mary-Francis R. Miller
CorLesia Smith
Mariama Whyte*
* denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors in the US

The CREATIVE TEAM includes:

CREATORS Robert Neblett and David Grapes
DIRECTOR Caroline Jackson Smith
SCENIC & COSTUMES Inda Blatch Geib
LIGHTING DESIGN Colleen Albrecht
PRODUCTION ASST. Johnathon L. Jackson

Child prodigy. Jazz superstar. Civil rights activist. Political exile. Nina Simone was all of these things, and more. One of the true divas of the 20th century and a genuine musical powerhouse, she defined a generation and defied classification. Based on the turbulent life and rich artistic legacy of this American musical icon, the score crossesgenres from gospel to blues, to Broadway to rock and roll. This R&B musical journey features definitive Nina Simone hits such as “The Look of Love,” “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”

The play runs approx. 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

Simply Simone will be performed in Karamu’s newly renovated, historic Jelliffe Theatre located at 2355 East 89th Street, Cleveland, Ohio. Tickets range in price from $25 –$50. Groups of 20+ save more on single ticket prices. To order please call 216-795-7077 or visit


CSA Director Insight - Jacqi Loewy (Anything Goes at Lorain Community Music Theater)

posted Jul 14, 2018, 4:33 PM by kevin kelly   [ updated Jul 23, 2018, 9:36 AM by Eric Fancher ]

Anything Goes

Community Theatre

CSA Director Insight:
Jacqi Loewy

Why did you choose, or how did you come to direct this show? 
I met the producers when they came to see my production of Jekyll and Hyde at French Creek. They liked my work and I knew LCMT from the great production of Into the Woods I had seen so I think it was a little bit of a mutual admiration society. The common denominators were Music Director Anthony Trifiletti and Stage Manager Julie Billinghurst and I really love working with them.

Why does the theatre scene need this production and/or another production of this show?
Because we all need some good clean laughs these days! Enough said??

Can you share some memorable moments from the rehearsal period?
We are a little short of men in this cast so watching the teenage girls grow into their "male" roles was great.  Our Sir Evelyn kept calling Plum Blossom Plum Bottom ... that's fun! Honestly, the cast had such great chemistry and was pretty drama-free (in the good sense) that nothing sticks out. It was all just easy and a good time.

What themes resonate with you about the show?
The power of love and the zaniness of humanity.

What do you hope your production has accomplished?
I know I am repeating myself, but anything that makes people laugh and hum is good for the soul.  I hope we have accomplished that.

Thank you so much Jacqi for your feedback!

Cleveland Stage Alliance
Ticket Information
and Promotional Materials

July 13 - July 22


7:30 pm Fridays
7:30 pm Saturdays
2 pm Sunday (7/22 only)

$16-$30 Reserved Seating

(440) 366-4040
Order Tickets Online

Lorain Performing Arts Center

2600 Ashland Avenue

Lorain, Ohio 44052

Dobama Presents Powerful American Premiere of Dror Keren's On The Grill

posted Jun 25, 2018, 5:41 PM by kevin kelly   [ updated Jun 25, 2018, 6:29 PM by Eric Fancher ]

On The Grill

Dobama Presents Powerful American Premiere of Dror Keren's On The Grill

Professional Equity House Theatre

by Kevin Kelly

In the playbill, Artistic Director Nathan Motta explains 'that he saw the original production of ON THE GRILL at the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv in 2016. After experiencing the play, he wanted our community in Cleveland to experience it as well. He found that his experiences as an American in Israel were encapsulated in the play. There were so many aspects of the show that seems so relevant to what is happening now in our country". It took three years, but the decision to produce the American Premiere, and share this story, turns out to be a brave and incredibly successful endeavor.

Everything is ready for the Israeli Independence Day party at the home of Rochale (Juliette Regnier*) and her husband Zvika (David Vegh*). The lawn has seen better days and so has the family. Their grown son Mordi (Andrew Gombas*) is home from Berlin for the holiday and he’s brought an unexpected guest, his girlfriend Johanna (Emily Viancourt+). Grandmother Gizela (Dorothy Silver) is frail and attended to by her newly hired Sri Lankan caretaker Raja (Arif Silverman*). As neighbors come to visit, such as Tirtza (Rocky Encalada+), whose son Gilad (Nicholas Chokan+) is on deployment, neighbor Avinoam (Michael Regnier), and an old flame Alona (Olivia Scicolone+), news broadcasts on the television keep everyone on edge. As smoke from the barbecue circles in the air, fighter jets circle in the sky. And as food is passed, drinks poured, and the good old songs were sung, conflicts are reignited that cannot be ignored.  

The arc of this play is sublime. It starts out like any other grill out. This one just like us, celebrating Independence Day. Issues that are slowly introduced into the story of these characters are not far removed from the high stakes that permeate our country at this time. Within in the first moments of the play, we are introduced to the words "immigrant" and "border". I know for myself, those words were triggers. The story continues as it slowly brings you in the conversation as an observer, but emotionally you are triggered by the issues they address about war, and division, and how the self-sacrifice of those who join the fight, affect everyone without much choice.

Everyone is this cast kicks ass.

Gombas turns in a remarkable performance. His arc is heartbreaking to watch on so many levels, and he delivers on every emotion. Entering the party, he is able to slowly unveil his damaged soul and physical well-being. We watch as different triggers begin to tear away his smile. Whether it be overhead jets, distance bombs, family tension or regrets, or prescribed equalizers, Gombas reacts viscerally and emotionally connects with all of us. This enables the audience to feel like they are moving closer to the stage as a quiet observer, and closer to an emotional electrical tower of damaged humanity. I am such a huge fan of this and all your work.

As the parents of Mordi, Vegh and Juliette Regnier are perfect. Together they traverse the grill out like season veterans of entertaining. We find in both of them the strength that lies within many couples who face reality with unrelenting positivity, and the will to live. That is how societies sustain their relevance. They do it with subtle strength. Vegh is the father we might all want. I personally could see some bowling in the future, along with a shot and a beer. He created a father that is so down to earth, able to believe without generous helpings of loud justification. And most of all, the devout love of family. Those qualities are honed and become so important to some incredible moments in the play. Ms. Regnier is a force to be both enjoyed and reckoned with. What a powerful pitch-perfect performance. She is the protector of intention and family. She creates a neighbor and mother you want to visit by ensuring a welcome and safe place. In one of the strongest moments of the play, she delivers a speech that is an anthem of a father's love, which literally shifts the energy of the evening to demand that you are emotionally alert. Oh my, it is powerful and truthful. My tear ducts also became alert. I wished my father was alive so I could hug him. We children do have problems, and sometimes we forget our parents are affected just as much as we are. Sometimes they just have to wait, until someone brings us into focus. Ms. Regnier, you are magic.

As the story unfolds, we have two love interests that bring their own superior touch to their roles. Viancourt, as the beautiful German girlfriend, is strongly effective throughout. The play requires a quieter presence, but, not an unimportant one. She is associated with a country of damaged repute, she is the new girlfriend coming to meet the family for the first time, she ends up meeting the ex, and she ends up patiently holding fast by her boyfriends' side without fear, in a less than normal situation. This is done with a polished performance. Quiet strength and resolve are beautiful characteristics, and in this case, strongly executed. Scicolone comes into the scene with an outgoing air. She handles the new of meeting the new girlfriend with relished restraint and does a fantastic job of maneuvering among some conflicting emotions. I really enjoyed how she managed to find that line of reacting to a family that once was, still connected, but also riding that awkward ex-thing. Her face was a creative palate of very good character intention. Both ladies held their cards close to their hearts while eyeing the pot in the middle of the table, or should I say, backyard.

Michael Regnier offered much to the evening's pace and enjoyment. He is the neighbor that is essential to every occasion. Adding mirth when necessary, and also, asking the questions that either lead a conversation or cause others to move on quickly. His gift to the evening was the connection to those around him with his adept character choices that seemed to show he exists in real life, not just an armchair character for mechanical artistic reasons. Encalada and Chokan give this play an aching reality, heartwarming reunion, and a conclusion that seems it will never have a defined ending. Encalada gives us a worried and scared mother having to deal with one of the worst realities of war. Having your son or daughter choose to defend your country is a noble act, but to be a mother or father watch your child leave to an uncertain fate is unbearable for some. She gives Tirtza a groundedness that is so effective. We can feel how awaiting word on a loved one becomes a parallel universe that your conscious body and mind are forced to live in. She nails it. Chokan is charming as hell as he enters the fray. Emotions run high, and for some wonderful moments, what surrounds or fly over the gathering is lost in happiness. His interactions with everyone is a delight, whether it being over loved by mama, making other people feel better, or reconnecting with old friends. He also can deliver reality with a professional precision. Allowing us to see the character and the important realities that are at stake. Great stuff.

Silver gives Gizela the honor and pride she deserves by surviving. From the Holocaust to Israel. Her monologues that open and close the show, are gentle stories and thoughts that open up the envelope of this play, and then gently close the envelope at the end. Done with such care. Her interactions with the family are centering, and through adept acting choices, have the power to bring the heat down to at least a simmer. She situation allows us to recognize families taking care of their elderly parents. Silver is divine. Silverman gives Raja a charm and wit that helps keep things lighter. His devotion to Gizela is palatable, and when he puts down his foot about what is good or not to keep her healthy, we see the undercarriage of his protective. will. He is fun, caring, and also, he gets a chance to remind everyone that skin tone doesn't dictate "approximately" where you live. When you think of it, some people care more about what valley their wine comes from, then what country an individual comes from.

There are so many themes that permeate this piece. I can tell you that the trigger words "border", "immigrant", and the discussion of military conflicts, are still with me. What we saw, what we felt, and what we were left with, are the result of two mega influences. Playwright Keren has written and delivered an emotional punch to our realities. A geographical olive branch to our own pain. Letting us know that we are not alone. While we bring to the surface these painful realities through theatre, those words can inspire change and empowerment. Thank you for sharing this story. It's a damn good play.

Then we come to Director Leighann Delorenzo. This production guided by her hand and vision, that includes collaboration with the technical artists, the producing elements, the numerous translations to make the words work in English, and finally, the transference to the actors. And with that process and collaboration produces a stunning result. The pace is perfect. The characters developed to be alive and relatable. With your direction, you have proved that American audiences will be able to understand, be triggered by, and find compassion and passion in this work. BRAVO!

Scenic Designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski showed up again with her professional touch. Lighting Designer Marcus Dana served up great looks, and car lights that actually looked like the car turned around. Sound Designer Jeremy Dobbins did an exemplary job. The overhead jets and distant bombings were far too real. Costume Designer Inda Blatch-Geib brought her A game, and the looks were all on point. Technical Director Kirsten Nicole brought all the elements together with professionalism. Stage Manager Jenna A Fink called a great show. 

Cleveland Stage Alliance

*Member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
+Equity Membership Candidate
Ticket Information
and Promotional Materials

Through July 8


7:30 pm Thursdays
8 pm Fridays
8 pm Saturdays
2:30 pm Sundays 

Run time: 90m (no intermission)
Content Advisory: Adult Themes, Adult Language

$29-$32 Reserved Seating

(216) 932-3396
Order Tickets Online

Dobama Theatre
2340 Lee Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118

50 Shades of Porthouse Theatre Presents a Fantabulous Production of Anything Goes

posted Jun 20, 2018, 9:01 PM by kevin kelly   [ updated Jun 22, 2018, 5:06 AM by Eric Fancher ]

Anything Goes

50 Shades of Porthouse Theatre Presents a Fantabulous Production of Anything Goes

Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

First off, let me explain that title. I was being a little cheeky. Porthouse Theatre is now celebrating its 50th season! What an incredible journey and accomplishment. You can read all about it in the program because I'm not going to let you not see this show. If you love the classic fun-loving American musical that you can take your grandparents, family, and every person that deserves a fun evening of joy, this production is it!

All I can tell you is that this production is so much fun, the singing is beautiful and hot, the dancing is some of the best I have ever seen at Porthouse, and it just explodes with entertainment. Director/Producing Artistic Director Terri J. Kent*^ just threw one of the best theatrical parties I have been to in a long time. By the end of this production, I went home and threw away by Prozac, and starting tap dancing on my porch.

Anything Goes is set aboard the ocean liner S. S. American, where nightclub singer/evangelist Reno Sweeney (magical Sandra Emerick*) is en route from New York to England. Her pal Billy Crocker (charming Matthew Gittins) has stowed away to be near his love, Hope Harcourt (radiant Liz Woodard), but the problem is Hope is engaged to the wealthy Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (hilarious Eric van Baars*). Joining this love triangle on board the luxury liner are Public Enemy #13, Moonface Martin ( terrific Christopher Seiler*) and his sidekick-in-crime Erma (sassy Kelli-Ann Paterwic). With the help of some elaborate disguises, tap-dancing sailors and good old-fashioned blackmail, Reno and Martin join forces to help Billy in his quest to win Hope’s heart. Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter, Original book by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, Revised by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, New book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman,

It is very possible I might run out of compliments for this production. I loved everything. If the ship had a steam engine it would be the imitable Emerick. Her broad talents are on full display. Her character work, her voice, her dance, her comedic timing, her scene chewing, was outstanding, and so much fun to watch. Her wardrobe was beautiful, as she turned out to be "the lady in red", with incredible design work by Costume Designer Sarah Russell. Her battling cohort van Baars, was cracking me up the whole time. His comedic prowess is a master class of funny. So enjoyable to watch, and his voice is great as well. When Emerick and van Baars go after each other in the song "Gypsy in Me", Porthouse turns into the Roman Colosseum, as we watch two titanic comedic Gladiators go after each other like there is one chicken leg on the floor, and they both haven't eaten in a month. MASTERFULL! Woodward as Hope was just perfect. She is radiant on stage, her voice is like a stick of butter melting over your heart. That's probably not healthy, but you get the idea. Adept acting, and holds her own in the chaos surrounding her. As her suitor, Gittins bring his Stark Sands quality to Billy. Handsome, debonair, and a velvet voice to boot. He handles the duties of being one of the main characters in this show with professional finesse. There is a nice connection between Gittins and the appealing Woodard.

Jess Tanner* is a hoot as Evangeline Harcourt. (As I was typing Evangeline, "Ms. Vangee" went through my head). What a delight aristocratically fussing about the stage, with the cutest dog in the world, and not getting upstaged. Great stuff and schtick. Rohn Thomas* was cracking me up as Elisha Whitney, delivering a wonderful character actor tour de force. And the crazy couple of Moonface and Erma played to the hilt by Seiler and Paterwic. Here is a couple that could take that show on the road. Seiler is so much fun as a conniving gangster and can crank out of tune as well with just the right entertaining craziness. Paterwic, is a scream. She reminded me of a young Bernadette Peters. Her stage presence is fantabulous, as is her character. She comes across as an audience pleaser and a triple threat of joy.

The rest of the cast is so full of life and energy that I find it hard to believe their performance wouldn't transport you to a better place. One highlight is the Angels, Purity, Chasity, Charity, Cheeky, and Virtue, Felicity Jemo, Abby Morris, Katelyn Cassidy, Luna Cho, and Falyn Mapel. Talk about fierce. When they line up, it looked like they would take on the course of America Ninja Warriors. Which comes to the whole dancing company. Just incredible dancing and execution. I didn't see one moment where anyone was out of step, or character, or breath. I mean, I got winded walking up the ramp to buy an ice cream bar. 

Terri Kent you have outdone yourself. What a wonderful show to kick off the 50th season. So much love and energy filled the theatre and that is a direct compliment to you for inspiring that energy under your vision. And how gracious and educational to bring on Tekla Gaughan as Assistant Director. MaryAnn Black*, your work in this show is a prime example of you taking it to another level. Under your guidance, these kids knocked in out the theatre and landed it in Blossom. I haven't seen dancing like that anywhere in a long time. Your tap numbers were incredible, and then when the score skipped to a jazz feel, the choreography blended in and out seamlessly. Your staging and choreography was magic. AS WERE YOUR DANCERS! Musical Director Jennifer Koreck brought it. The cast sounded wonderful, and the band kicked some major nautical butt. THAT TRUMPET PLAYER! #davebanksisatrumpetstud. Lighting Design totally on point. Special shout out to the spot operators who were great. Costume Designer Sarah Russell killed it. Loved all the looks. You created a sparkling era perfect costume parade. And the lifesaver on the doggie, thank you. Scenic Designer Rob Wolin+ brought a wonderful, easy to work set to the proceedings. Aided the pace of the show well, and showed off the good when need be. Technical Director Steve Pauna brought all the elements together nicely. Sound Designer Tyler Forbes did a pitch-perfect job. Stage Manager Kelly Cosgrove* called a great show.

I had so much fun, that if I wasn't short on cash, my entire body would have been covered in those blinky things.

Go take your family out to see this show, and tell me how you like it.

Cleveland Stage Alliance

*Members of Actors Equity Association.
^Member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, a national theatrical labor union.
+represented by United Scenic Artist Local of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
Ticket Information
and Promotional Materials

Thru June 30


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

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