Archived Posts


High Fidelity, a musical at Blank Canvas Theatre

Blank Canvas Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: December 19, 2014

Ok, when you read this, there will be only one show left, which will be on Saturday, December 20th, 2014 at 8 pm. So, if you read this in time, you need to get your musical theatre ass to Blank Canvas Theatre, buy a beer, and get ready to laugh. A lot. The current show running is High Fidelity: a musical, which follows Rob (Shane Patrick O’Neill), the thirty-something owner of Championship Vinyl, a beloved Cleveland record store. When his current relationship with girlfriend Laura (Leslie Andrews) goes south, Rob enlists the help of his two quirky clerks, Barry (Patrick Ciamacco), and Dick (Pat Miller), to expound on the intricacies of life and music, while revisiting his former relationships to find out where he went wrong. The result of this exploration with his girlfriend, and his past, sets up a very funny musical ride. I mean, very funny. The creators of this fabulous journey: Lyrics by Amanda Green, Music by Tom Kitt, Book by David Lindsay-Abaire, all based on the Novel by Nick Hornby. The creators of the Blank Canvas journey: Director: Patrick Ciamacco, Musical Director: Lawrence Wallace

The set immediately gets you fired up, one of the best I have seen at Blank Canvas. The entire shop is vinyl records. On the floor are the album covers, and on the back wall are the vinyls themselves. And, you can buy the albums that are on sale on the set for $1 a piece at intermission. WHAT?!?!

Pictured is O’Neill, who plays Rob, and the kick ass set. O’Neill turns in a tremendous fun performance. He is so incredibly connected to the audience. He has charm, skill and a voice that is liquid gold. He is able to show all of his talents in this show, and he nails it.

Who is this woman? Well it is Rob’s girlfriend, Laura, played by Leslie Andrews. Andrews has a blast in this show. She is on fire, and is a comedic gift, while being able to wail with the best of them. Great performance.

Then there are his two friends who work at the record shop. On the right is Ciamacco, a scream as Barry. Great comedic chops and fierce vocals. Wait until you see Sonic Death Monkey. And then in the middle, Miller is a hot mess of vocal delight, and a human doobie of fun, as Dick.

The following cast members are out of control:

Maggie Adler (Alison) awesome

Stephen Berg (Futon Guy and Bruce) As Bruce Springsteen, he brings the house down.

Tasha Brandt (Marie) fierce vocals

Tony Heffner (Mohawk Guy) hitting the high notes while looking like a son of anarchy.

Matt Majewski (Hipster) cracking me up.

Kayla McDonald (Sarah) a lesbian every mother would love.

Jillian Mesaros (Penny) terrific.

Kate Leigh Michalski (Liz) She is firing on all cylinders. Fantastic.

Kevin Myers (TMPMITW) Revved up like a nerd, he kills it.

Hayden Neidhardt (Charlie and Backup Singer) Who would believe she played Annie, well, this girl grew up fierce and a fine tuned musical theatre performer.

Aaron Patterson (Ian, Neil young and Middle Aged Man) I can’t tell you how funny this guy is in this show. “Who’s your Gandhi?!” should give you an idea.

Monica Zach (Jackie/Anna) fired up and solid.

This is one show that needs to be remounted. Again and Again.

Mary Poppins at Beck Center for the Arts

Beck Center for the Arts
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: December 19, 2014

There is no doubt, that Mary Poppins is the reigning queen of the Holiday theatrical season. Especially, when it comes to the Beck Center for the Arts. Mary Poppins has left Annie and the Orphans, Joseph and his Technicolor Coat, and any other holiday production that dared enter the holiday race, in her dust. In fact, this production has made history by being 90% sold out for the entire run, as of opening night. There is power in the title, and kudos to Artistic Director Scott Spence for securing the rights for the mega musical, and also, adding more enticing titles to the Beck Center season, that are not the usual fare.

For those of you who have been struck by lighting and have a memory loss, Mary Poppins is the lead character in a series of eight children’s books written over the period of 1934 to 1968, by P. L. Travers. The books center on a fabulous magical nanny, Mary Poppins, as she is blown by the East wind to Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane, London, and into the Banks’s household to care for their children. Encounters with chimney sweeps, shopkeepers and various adventures follow, until Mary Poppins feels it is time to leave after the Banks have learned valuable lessons. You may remember that the books were adapted by Walt Disney in 1964, into a musical film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. For the stage musical, Original Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. Book by Jullian Fellowes. New Songs and Additional Music and Lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.

In the current show, Chimney sweep extraordinaire Bert (Matthew Ryan Thompson), introduces us to the troubled Banks family, headed up by George Banks (Curt Arnold) and Winifred Banks (Katherine DeBoer*). Young Jane ( Anna Barrett) and Michael (Joseph Daso), have sent many a nanny packing before Mary Poppins (Rebecca Pitcher*) arrives on their doorstep. Using a combination of magic and common sense, she must teach the family how to value each other again. Mary Poppins takes the children on many magical and memorable adventures, but Jane and Michael aren’t the only ones she has a profound effect upon. Even grown-ups can learn a lesson or two from the nanny who advises that “anything can happen, if you let it.”

Esteemed Director Scott Plate has done an excellent job of casting a very talented cast. I was especially impressed with the children, Barrett and Daso. Their characterizations were wonderful and on point, as they held themselves up against a plethora of Broadway talent and local veterans. They were a central connection with the audience, and created a lot of enjoyment. Another energetic connection came from Aimee Collier, while playing Miss Andrew, the cruel nanny who has and addition with castor oil as a tool for obedience, and Mrs. Corry, a big haired cartoon who sells conversations. The rest of the characters in the play do a fine job of inhabiting their characters, but they almost do it too well. They play the dysfunctional aspects of their character consistently, without allowing themselves to have any element of comedic embellishment. So in Act One we are introduced to Arnold, expertly playing an emotionally shut off father and husband. We meet DeBoer, expertly playing an emotionally abused wife, who has to listen to her husband say “It’s your job to be Mrs. Banks.” And then we meet Pitcher, who expertly plays Mary Poppins with spit spot, almost military focus. I say expertly about all of these actors, because they are really good, I just wanted them to be more fun. At the end of Act One, I was a little depressed thinking how this family needs so much love to empower all of them to heal themselves and each other, because the amusement level of the piece didn’t seem to be at the forefront of the direction. Thompson expertly played Bert. He is a splendid triple threat, and one of the most engaging performers in the area. But even he was given or took a path that didn’t spark and dazzle, it just was really pleasant, but not care free. So my overall feel about the show is that I wished there was more joy throughout the show.

Now, having said that, the ticket sales tell their own story, and I can tell you that the little girl who was sitting two seats over from me had an aneurysm every time Mary Poppins appeared on stage. And that is the joy of this piece, as you sit in the audience. Hearing these kids go nuts for Mary Poppins is a gift to the soul which is incredibly empowering and wonderful. It was also great to see Peggy Gibbons performing as the Bird Woman. Her voice is a gift, as she tenderly sang “Feed the Birds.”

Some of my favorites observations were listening to Pitcher unleash her elegant and powerful vocals. When she starred in “She Loves Me” at Beck previously, the songs were gorgeous, but here, there are some tunes where her vocal prowess is astonishing (I am a sucker for belting), and would certainly make The Phantom invest in an umbrella himself. The travelling bag was a fantastic sight gag, which was beautifully executed. It was so much fun to watch endless items of length and size come magically out. The “flying technique” that was invented for this production was very original and fun. I loved how the nasty nanny ended up in a bird-cage. The set design of a backdrop of umbrellas was very cool, and the projections were impressive.

Musical Director Larry Goodpaster’s orchestra knocks it out of the park once again. Such a beautiful strong sound, and expertly in tune and in sync with the show. Goodpaster has assembled an amazing array of deft musicians. As far as the Choreography in the show, for the first time ever, I thought Martin Cespedes dance was played very safe. There were no barn burners here, just pleasant movement, but nothing that seemed bright and inventive and surprising. Cespedes is one of the kings of dance here in Cleveland, but his work here seemed uninspired. He is known for having the talent to make any group of dancers, no matter what their talent level, look good, They did look good, but not electrifying. Jeff Herman created a fabulous Scenic Design. The scenes were effective, fun and interesting. The Lighting Design by Dennis Dugan had its ups and downs. A major distraction was there seemed to be no front lighting, just side lighting, so every time cast members came downstage, their faces had shadows. Also, there was a lot of green light in the bedroom all the time. But that also spilled over to Mr. Banks office, since there seemed to be a green light that would catch him. However, having a stage with a tremendous amount of open space and solid background, makes it difficult to light colorfully. But, lighting the umbrella backdrop, made up for a lot. Costume Designer Aimee Kluiber did a nice job creating some beautiful looks. It seemed off that Collier’s costumes and make up, were so different from everything else in the show, but that just may be me. Sound Designer Carlton Guc produced an excellent experience. Video Designer Mike Tujaj did great work on the umbrella canvas. Technical Director Joseph Carmola did an excellent job of bringing the elements together. Stage Manager Libby White called a great show.

Overall, this is a nice production. All through this production, Mary Poppins clasps her hands together in a tight position, as she dispenses her magic. I just hope that as the run progresses, it doesn’t take itself so seriously, and Poppins and the main characters can unclasp themselves a bit.

A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration at Dobama Theatre

Dobama Theatre
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: December 17, 2014

At a dinner table, Pulitzer Prize winning author Paula Vogel was talking with Molly Smith, the Artistic Director of the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., sharing her dismay about the Arena producing A Christmas Carol once again as a Holiday nugget. Vogel was emphasizing her frustration over why American theatres love to highlight Victorian England and the plights of poverty in that era, instead of telling an American Christmas Carol. One could argue that the play It’s A Wonderful Life fits that bill, but Vogel wanted to tell a new story rooted in history. The fact that she grew up in Washington, D.C. and visited numerous museums, and historical places many times, influenced her tremendously. Currently, at Dobama Theatre, Artistic Director Nathan Motta is presenting A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration, which is the result of that dinner conversation. The musical is embellished with wonderful selections by Composer Daryl Waters.

As you enter the theatre, the set design is impressive. A wooden turntable rests in the middle, that will be powered by actors. A beautiful wooden background creates side stages, and a back wall where projections illuminate the space. (Unfortunately, at the performance I saw, a projection bulb had burnt out minutes before the show. Hopefully, in the future, there will be a replacement bulb on the premise.) You immediately get a sense that we are connected to the past, and the characters are just waiting to tell their stories. At the beginning of the show, we literally meet all the characters, or at least one set of characters, as a subset of the cast play multiple roles. They sing “All Quiet/Silent Night”. It is haunting and beautiful. Then, the stories begin.

Christmas Eve. Washington, D.C. 1864. It’s the coldest December in memory and the country is in the last throes of war. In and around the nation’s capital an escaped slave searches for her daughter, the first lady searches for a Christmas tree, a Union officer’s character is challenged by a young confederate, conspirators plan an assassination, and the President prepares his inaugural address while riding on horseback to retrieve a Christmas gift for his wife. This musical weaves together many characters, story lines, and pieces of music including spirituals, carols, and a setting of the Kaddish. The show reveals the universal and unifying themes of hope, joy, and the beauty of the human spirit.

This cast is formidable.

Matthew Wright* (LINCOLN) His performance is a beautifully structured and convincing honest portrayal, along with a gifted voice. Someone being Lincoln, must handle the assignment like a pro, as to not to make it a caricature. We are not disappointed. Wright is incredibly on point and impressionable.

Juliette Regnier* (MARY TODD LINCOLN) Brilliant performance. Just south of crazytown, she handles Mary’s dysfunction with dignity, and with that journey, is able to make us laugh as normal family dysfunction can, but also break our heart, as in her interaction with the dying Moses Levy (Gombas)

Sally Groth* (CLARA BARTON) Fabulous character, with incredible stage presence, and was a gifted presence to the story.

Nicole Sumlin* (ELIZABETH KECKLEY) Sumlin was on fire. Her characterization was fierce, matched by powerful vocals that moved through your soul with direct emotion. She lit up the stage without any projections, she didn’t need it.

Nathan A. Lilly+ (BRONSON) Watching this tenor voiced actor delve into a darker character and voice was interesting and rewarding. Although, the musical numbers would have benefited with more of a bass tone, Lilly created a solid personification of his journey of “take no prisoners”

Natalie Green+ (RAZ) Green is a fearless performer, and she once again shares her confidence, and unrattled personae to create this male character. At first, I was confused, but after research, realized that a female character playing Raz, a boy, is a traditional “Breeches role.” Meaning it is a male character played by a female actress, which was a custom that was very popular at the time of the Civil War. Nicely done.

Matt O’Shea+ (JOHN WILKES BOOTH) This actor is incredibly talented, and always delivers a masterful performance. O’Shea once again presents fascinating looks at complex and colorful characters.

Katrice Headd+ (HANNAH) Heartbreaking performance. I literally felt the pain of this woman, as she led her character through a journey of love and devotion to her daughter. Their journey is one of the strongest connectable story lines in the show. thanks to Headd’s acting chops.

Vincent Briley (WILLY MACK) Spirited performance. Confident, and engaging, while held beautifully in truth and story.

Tim Tavcar (ROBERT E. LEE), BobKeefe (ULYSSESS.GRANT) These gentleman literally inhabit their characters with stark reality, and seem to be mirror images of the famous men they are portraying.

Lashawn Little+ (JIM WORMLEY) Another beautiful character, completely developed and connectable.

Andrew Gombas+ (MOSES LEVY/ CHESTER SAUNDERS) Gombas is blessed with an incredible stage presence, but even more, a connectivity with the audience, which, by the way, is one of the strongest I have seen in Cleveland theatre for quite a while. A master of being so open, honest and charming, but then being able to find deeper levels of truth within the character, and the results are golden nuggets of acting. Watching someone die on stage is tough, but it is even more dramatic and powerful, when you connect with someone so much, you actually FEEL a loss as an audience member. Fabulous performance.

Brian Mueller+ (JOHN SURRAT) What i really remember about you is your musicianship, and a gorgeous voice. You fit perfectly into this cast of historical characters.

Caris Collins (JESSA) This young lady held her own and then some in the show. Strong, fearless, and not afraid to push herself physically to embody what her character had to go through. She was right on target.

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, +Equity Membership Candidate

Act One of this musical is not as aspiring as Act Two. There are too many characters, and too many scene snippets to become connected. But, there were moments. The song “Follow the Drinking Gourd”, was the first real power moment of the show. This song is often described as an American folk song that was used by members of the Underground Railroad to secretly communicate directions to runaway slaves. Telling them to follow the Big Dipper. It was very moving. As we meet the characters, vocals abilities run from serviceable to strong, but dips are overcome with deft character portrayals.

Act Two spends more time on the storylines and familiar characters, and thus, becomes incredibly more engaging. Several of the musical numbers moved me. My favorites: Lilly leading “Yellow Rose of Texas”, Sumlin and Heaad “There is a Balm in Gilead”, Regnier and Gombas in a spellbinding “Silent Night”, and Sumlin took us all to church in a Mega-Bus driving “Ain’t that A-Rocking”.

Director/Co-Music Director Nathan Motta. Nice Work, and the staging was crisp. Also, kudos for bringing Co-Musical Director/Keyboard Jordan Cooper on board. He is a talent.

Ben Needham created a great Scenic Design, as did Marcus Dana on his Lighting Design. Tesia Dugan Benson did some fine work on the Costume Design. Great looks. Richard Ingraham does his excellent work once again on Sound Design. From what I hear, Jennifer Sherman’s Projection Design is great, sadly, I didn’t get a chance to enjoy it. Big shout out to the horse, designed by Mark Jenks. David Tilk once again kicks ass as Technical Director. Stage Manager Megan Mingus* called a great show.

Theatrical Hot Flash – High Fidelity, a musical at Blank Canvas Theatre

Cleveland Public Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
December 15, 2014

American Falls at Cleveland Public Theatre

Cleveland Public Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: December 12, 2014

This past week, I got to take a trip to American Falls, Idaho, courtesy of Cleveland Public Theatre’s production of “American Falls” by Miki Johnson. It was a very rewarding adventure. Director Raymond Bobgan took a personally unique approach to creating this piece, by setting aside his usual complex, intense, and layered creation process, and imbued a more traditional approach. In doing so, the play evolved directly from the pre-written script, adept direction, and utilizing trusted actors who embody these characters with clear, precise, and emotional depth.

What is incredible about the play, is that it is Miki Johnson‘s first play, which received its 2012 world premiere at The Catastrophic Theatre. The play follows 8 characters that reveal themselves and parts of their life stories in a series of monologues, albeit three of those characters are in a scene together. The stories do cross at some point, which lends itself to some moving juxtaposition. When you consider any town or neighborhood, there are also stories to be told, and secrets to be revealed.

The actors are tremendous in their execution. Some of their personifications touched me deeply. Darius Stubbs, as Billy Mound of Clouds, is a gracious narrator of sorts. Stubbs creates an affable and engaging storyteller, who has a sublime sense of comedic timing. He is the Garrison Keillor of American Falls. Stubbs is real, down to earth, and an artist of the highest caliber. And once again, I am a hot mess about the performance of Chris Seibert. Every time I see Seibert perform, I continually get blown away by her craft. Here, she transforms herself into Samantha, who has taken too many swigs of the bottle, and bore too many children for her own sanity. Speaking from a celestial place, Seibert is funny, tough, and physically and vocally morphs into a dramatic and fascinating portrait of a damaged woman. Adam Seeholzer creates the dramatic arc of Eric, by emotionally layering himself during a tragic journey of coping with reality. Seeholzer gives a beautiful performance, as he slowly guides us through his character’s dysfunction. I thought this was a beautifully paced reveal, with a nuanced dance of illumination.

Faye Hargate, as Lisa, demonstrated a strong communication of grief, and despair. Her entire performance, as was Seibert’s, is delivered from a stool, with powerful results. Hargate is a master of becoming a complete emotional communicator. Lovely work. The characters Eric, Matt and Maddie (PJ McCready, Ryan Edlinger, and Dionne D. Atchison) handle their scene work with sharp focus, and relaxed normalcy. Anthony Sevier did a great job staying in focus, and handling the odd scene with Seeholzer. Impressive work from one so young.

Bobgan did a great job of casting and guiding this production. All the actors had clear and focused communication with the audience. Scenic Designer Aaron Benson created a pleasing set. Excellent use of the space, and I thought that the circled couch area, reminded me of a monument circle in the middle of a town, except the monument was Billy Mound of Clouds, as master narrator. Jakyung Seo created a wonderful aura of lighting design. Angelina Herin costumed beautifully, and killed it with Specialty Makeup. Stage Manager Sarah Lynne Nicholas called a beautiful show.

Another fascinating experience at Cleveland Public Theatre, as characters are inhabited with unrestrained focus and depth.

The Great Gatsby at Ensemble Theatre

Ensemble Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: November 20, 2014

The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel written by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald, which follows a cast of characters living in the fictional town of West Egg, on prosperous Long Island during the summer of 1922. The story primarily concerns the young and mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and his quixotic passion for the beautiful former debutante Daisy Buchanan. Considered to be Fitzgerald’s greatest novel and an American Classic, The Great Gatsby explores themes of decadence, idealism, resistance to change, social upheaval, and excess. Thereby creating a portrait of the Jazz Age and Roaring Twenties, that has been described as a cautionary tale regarding the American Dream. The adaption of this iconic novel by Simon Levy brings the humor, irony, pathos and loveliness of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American classic to the stage. Navigate the languid atmosphere of wealth and privilege with Nick Carraway, as he observes the glittering, elaborate parties of his neighbor, the infamous and illusive Jay Gatsby. But, observation is just an invitation to being sucked into the craziness that will engulf him, and change him forever.

The story

The main events of the novel take place in the summer of 1922. Nick Carraway (James Rankin) serves as the novel’s narrator. He rents a small house on Long Island, in the (fictional) village of West Egg, next door to the lavish mansion of Jay Gatsby (Kyle Carthens), a mysterious millionaire who holds extravagant parties but does not participate in them. Nick drives around the bay to East Egg for dinner at the home of his cousin, Daisy Fay Buchanan (Rebecca Moseley), and her husband, Tom (Aaron D. Elersich), a college acquaintance of Nick’s. They introduce Nick to Jordan Baker (Sidney Perelman), an attractive, cynical young golfer with whom Nick begins a romantic relationship. She reveals to Nick that Tom has a mistress Myrtle Wilson (Cassandra Mears).Not long after this revelation, Nick travels to New York City with Tom and Myrtle to an apartment they keep for their affair. At the apartment, a vulgar and bizarre party takes place. It ends in violence.

As the summer progresses, Nick eventually receives an invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties. Nick encounters Jordan Baker at the party, and they meet Gatsby himself. Through Jordan, Nick later learns that Gatsby knew Daisy from a romantic encounter in 1917 and is deeply in love with her. He spends many nights staring at the green light at the end of her dock, across the bay from his mansion, hoping to one day rekindle their lost romance. Gatsby’s extravagant lifestyle and wild parties are an attempt to impress Daisy in the hope that she will one day appear again at Gatsby’s doorstep. Gatsby now wants Nick to arrange a reunion between himself and Daisy. He does. They begin an affair. Tom grows increasingly suspicious of his wife’s relationship with Gatsby. At a luncheon at the Buchanan’s’ house, Daisy speaks to Gatsby with such undisguised intimacy that Tom realizes she is in love with Gatsby. Though Tom is himself involved in an extramarital affair, he is outraged by his wife’s infidelity. He forces the group to drive into New York City and confronts Gatsby in a suite at the Plaza Hotel, asserting that he and Daisy have a history that Gatsby could never understand. In addition to that, he announces to his wife that Gatsby is a criminal whose fortune comes from bootlegging alcohol and other illegal activities. Daisy realizes that her allegiance is to Tom, and Tom contemptuously sends her back to East Egg with Gatsby, attempting to prove that Gatsby cannot hurt him.

When Nick, Jordan, and Tom drive home, they discover that Gatsby’s car has struck and killed Tom’s mistress, Myrtle. Nick later learns from Gatsby that Daisy, not Gatsby himself, was driving the car at the time of the accident, but Gatsby intends to take the blame anyway. Myrtle’s husband, George (Joseph Milan), falsely concludes that the driver of the yellow car is the secret lover he recently began suspecting she has, and sets out on foot to locate its owner. After finding out the yellow car is Gatsby’s, he arrives at Gatsby’s mansion, where he fatally shoots both Gatsby and then himself. Nick stages an unsettlingly small funeral for Gatsby, ends his relationship with Jordan, and moves back to the Midwest, disillusioned with the Eastern lifestyle.

Currently presenting this soiree into decadence is Ensemble Theatre, with a production directed by Ian Wolfgang Hinz. My first impression of the space was one of intrigue, with the stage being separated into 5 audience sections, bathed in a black, grey and white color scheme that represented the black tie underbelly of the piece. But, as I recall the performances in this play, there are a few that stand out. The fact that just a few stand out is due to the much underplayed direction that haunts this production. There are also off technical aspects to this production. Some of the projections, that are used to create scenic locations are crooked, or off the screen. The music is out of balance by using current songs redone in a 20’s style, the recognition of what the song is, brings you out of the era. Tainted Love does not take me to the West Egg of this story. There are many dead transitions that create dull energy. Mr. Hinz is the designer for all of them. So the actors seem to be on their own to create their individual energy and presence.

Succeeding in the journey are actors that left an impression. Rankin handled Carraway with a great charm and innocence. Incredibly likeable. His transitions from Narrator to character were beautifully executed. And provided a good eye to the storm. Elersich provided great masculine energy to the proceedings. Working the Alpha male personae, it was easy to think he was a jerk for being misogynistic bully. He brought great truth and confidence to each of his scenes. Mears was a fantastic hot mess of energy and kinetic chutzpah. Her drive was compelling, and memorable. Milan was a very impressive addition to this cast. Fabulous energy and resolve to even the simplest of scenes. And providing a journey that was heartbreaking to watch and unfold. Excellent work. A shout out to the Aerial Artist Rhian Virotsko. Beautiful work on the drapes. I certainly almost lost my breath a couple of times, and I usually only do that when I hear “Dinner is ready!” The rest of the cast are good, but I just didn’t feel the characters were alive enough to hold my attention, or leave that theatrical characterization that stay with you.

The costume design had its problems as well. There were suits that didn’t fit, which surprisingly included Gatsby. The women certainly fared well, but having the extravagance cultivator in clothes that looked too small, did not help Carthens create his character’s omnipotence. Lighting Designer Andrew Eckert did a good job with scene changes and mood shifts. Stage Manager called a good show.

As the production heads into the second weekend, a tightened space and creative tweaks will certainly enhance the production, that reveals one of the most classic American stories in our treasure chest.

[title of show] at Beck Center for the Arts

Beck Center for the Arts
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: November 12, 2014

Currently at the Beck Center for the Arts, is a very fun theatrical jaunt called [title of show]. it is quite crazy and inventive. Director Scott Spence has assembled a group of Beck Center regulars, and one new addition to the Beck family, to present this 90 minute fest. [title of show] is an Obie Award-winning musical comedy, featuring a book by Hunter Bell, with music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen. The musical is about two guys, writing a musical about two guys writing a musical. this show within a show is a scream, and the concept is incredibly clever. The show chronicles its own creation as an entry in the New York Musical Theatre Festival and follows the struggles of the author Hunter (Will Sanborn) and composer/lyricist Jeff (Pat Miller) and their two actress friends Heidi (Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly*), and Susan (Amiee Collier), during the initial brief (three-week) creative period, before the deadline for submission. All of the shenanigans that go on, is underscored and interactively invaded by Larry Goodpaster, the actual music director of the show, who is on stage as the actual music director of the show within a show. And, in the original script, is named Larry. Kismet!

The first thing that impressed me about the show is that it was sold out. Seeing as last weekend was the fifth weekend of a six-week run, that reveals a lot about word of mouth regarding the show. In some respects, this production reminds me of a college skit that seemed crazy at first, but then really worked. Each of the performers stand on their own merits, and contribute their strengths to the greater good. Collier and Reilly are like the Thelma and Louise of the Studio Theatre. Each possess fierce voices, and both have deft comedic skills, The men seem to be the lifeguards at the pool, each seeming they were cut out of a conservative preppy magazine for musical theatre. they both have that youthful energetic kick that is needed for to sustain this piece, and have the voices to tell the tale. There were some highlights for me. The song “Die Vampire, Die!”, led by Collier is a hot mess of fun. and Reilly’s “A Way Back to Then”, is performed with a beautiful texture, and exquisite nuance. The gentleman hold up well against the ladies, with a beautiful blend of harmonic charm.

Larry Goodpaster (Musical Director and Larry), was a blast to have on stage. His deadpan delivery is fabulous. many of us have enjoyed him behind the scenes, so it was a refreshing change to find him onstage the entire musical playing with his usual flair, and getting to be the jokester he really is at heart.

Director Scott Spence keeps the staging brisk and interesting. There are plenty of moments that the audience throughly enjoyed. Spence is also the Artistic Director of the Beck Center, and decided to throw his Scenic Design hat into the ring on this one. With no fly space for bedazzled chairs to reappear at the end, he incorporates a clever poster reveal at the end, that is wonderful. I thought there could have been a bit more cleverness,,or more surprising moments tied to the choreography for the piece, Musical Director Larry Goodpaster provides excellent guidance for the vocals, and keyboard skills. Becky Adams called a great show. Lighting Designer Trad A Burns (no period after the A) provided great context to the show. Sound Designer Richard B. Ingraham provided terrific sound quality and balance. Tech Director pull the elements together nicely, will able assistance from Technical Assistant Dan Folino.

This is truly a fantastic book, and a fun ride. There is one weekend left. Check it out!!!!!!!


Theatre Ninjas
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: November 11, 2014

TingleTangle is an evening of personal storytelling, gender-bending songs and no-punches-pulled conversations about sexuality, gender, oppression, hate speech and compassion’s transgressive power. This cabaret-inspired performance responds to a conflicted, changing world, with love, empathy, humor and the desire to understand…not to mention some out-and-out desire! This provocative evening revels in the nuances of identity and how we all use performance to communicate our truest selves to the world. TingleTangle is a show about compassion and transformation. An avant-garde Muppet Show mixed with Weimar sex and danger. Come in! Enjoy yourself! Laugh!

Well I did come in. I did enjoy myself, and I laughed, a lot. TingleTangle is beautifully conceived by Ray Caspio, unabashedly directed by Jeremy Paul, and Eric M. C. Gonzalez provides original haunting composition and accompaniment to the entire proceedings. I enter the location, Guide To Kulchur, entrance greeted by Don, who is definitely a gender bend, and here we go. My ticket is taken by a young man in a trench coat, who casually opens up his coat to point where I should go, while flashing a little skin. At this point, I am not even at the theatre, and I had to spritz. As I moved downstairs, it certainly reminded me of entering a secret club, that usually would have a door with a slide window, which opens to a man who got punched too many times in the face asking for the password. Luckily, I am already in.

As i sit in my seat, i notice a German Groucho Marx( a versatile Ryan Lucas), working the crowd as a stand up comic. He does a great bit, by identifying people’s lives by giving them a T.V. show title. Ray Caspio enters and begins to take us on a journey of his own life. Identifying pivotal moments in his sexuality that are painful, explosive and heartwarming. Whether delivering slices of his life in dialogue or singing his emotional journey, the path of his sexual life is honest, beautiful, shocking, and inspiring. The rest of the cast is fierce and certainly have worked thought any emotional or physical barriers about performing, or are just so glad to have this opportunity to perform in an open and unconstrained environment. Katie Beck, Dan Rand are beautiful additions to the foray. Valerie C. Kilmer, once again transforms herself into a gorgeous creature of theatrical delight. After seeing her in Code at Theatre Ninjas, and then in Huck Finn at Lantern Theatre, I was amazed by her transformative talents. Her we find a more glammed up Kilmer, with a beautiful voice, physicality and comedic chops. And speaking of comedic chops, Amy Schwabauer takes the submersion cake. Her routine as a gym teacher answering questions about sex from her students, is one of the funniest things i have seen all year. Also, i will never look at a condom the same way again.DO NOT MISS THIS SCENE!

This is a fearless cast. They have all created this piece by slicing open parts of themselves, or literally exposing parts of themselves, to help tell a story. It’s a story, of a lovely lady, who had……….. well, not that story. But even in that house, there was a closet never opened. Too bad that people are shamed into not being who they are.

The Production team out tingles themselves. Jeremy Paul did a great job at using the space, and allowing for free movement, and sensing the form and presentation of the evening. Stage Manager Kaitlin Kelly called a great show. Costume Design was clever, sexy and fun. Lighting Design (Benjamin Gantose) was fierce. It was raw, sexual, haunting, and a visual tingletangle of emotions.

Ray Caspio opens his heart and his soul on this personal journey. you have one more weekend of performances to go underground to reach your destination. You will come back up with a challenge to free yourself to be who you are. As Caspio writes “Love and Truth are the most powerful weapons we have”. Indeed it is, indeed it is.

Woman and Scarecrow at Mamai Theatre Company

Mamai Theatre Company
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
November 11, 2014

“I think being a woman is like being Irish… Everyone says you’re important and nice, but you take second place all the time.”

― Iris Murdoch

My first time at Mamai Theatre Company certainly turned out to be an elegant affair. Presently, they are producing Woman and Scarecrow, by Irish playwright Marina Carr. Although Carr is not a feminist, her plays bolster femininity, and defy previous thoughts of weak women into ones of strength. In this play, we find a woman who is on her deathbed. Her interactions with her spiritual partner, and family, unfold in a fascinating, and chilling expose on the last moments of life. Throughout the entire play, “Woman” ( played brilliantly by Derdriu Ring*), is confined to her bed. Mostly, she interacts with her spiritual psyche named Scarecrow (a haunting Bernadette Clemens*). Along the way, there are visits from her Auntie Ah (Mary Jane Nottage), and her husband, described as “Him” (James Lally).

As the play begins, in the darkness we hear breathing, but you can tell there are two breaths that seem to be lying in wait. And, indeed there are. Ring is in bed, with Clemens playing opposite of her on the floor, verbally sparring with each other, as the details of her last moments are discussed. What concerns Woman is the question of “Who is going to take care of……?. That question tears her apart, as she realizes that her eight children will not have her to guide them. These are just one of the worries of someone who is dying. Through their interactions, you can see they are both tied together physically and emotionally, especially when dealing with affairs of the heart.

Scarecrow challenges Woman for answers that she wants herself. She does so by taunting her with treasures such as “Your spite is that the world didn’t live up to your standards.” When visits from Auntie Ah and her husband take place, it becomes apparent that Scarecrow can only be seen by Woman. This leaves us wondering who exactly is, or what exactly does Scarecrow represent for this dying woman. Those answers are left to us to decipher.

The dialogue between the two never gets tiring. Each actress is so focused and in the moment, that you are completely taken in with their journey together. Interfused are visits from two characters that certainly complicate a desire for anyone to go smoothly into the after world. Nottage as Auntie Ah, comes across as fiery as her red hair. She sets off easily, and doesn’t a comforting asset. But, beautifully performed. And then, there is the total dick husband, as portrayed by Lally. What a piece of work is man. Well this man, played with emotional coldness, it delightful to want to kick his ass. So many people will connect with a relationship that is one-sided and blinded with love, and Lally’s performance certainly creates a jerk, who has the ability to climb into bed with his dying wife, and somehow comfort her. It is tough to watch. Beautifully executed.

The Production Team was firing on all cylinders. Director Pandora Robertson made the most of her debut. Beautiful staging, fabulous concept for the set, and created a remarkable intimacy for all of us to share. Inda Blatch-Gieb’s Costume Design was wonderful, and especially Clemens’s death outfit was fierce. She also killed it with the scenic design, with lush draped carpets to contain the sound and add to the color of the evening. Rob Peck delivered a deft lighting design, that greatly enhanced the moments throughout the performance.

The team of Ring and Clemens is a delectable treat that needs to be seen. This is the first time I have seen them together, and I certainly hope it is not my last.

The Norwegians at Dobama Theatre

Dobama Theatre
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: November 5, 2014

Currently at Dobama Theatre is the dark comedy The Norwegians by C. Denby Swanson. Swanson must have been inspired by the movie Fargo, and decided to take a turn at her own Coen-esque genre. The results involve two women scorned in Minnesota and the really, really nice gangsters—Norwegian hit men—they hire to whack their ex-boyfriends. Olive (Christine Fallon+) is a transplant from Texas and Betty (Lara Knox*) is a transplant from Kentucky, but neither of them was prepared for the Norwegian men they would fall in love with there: the practical, warm, thoughtful, destructive, evil, jilting kind. If you’re a hit man in Minnesota, 83% of your clients want to take out their ex (oofda!). Betty has referred Olive to Gus (Tom Woodward*) and Tor (Robert Ellis*), a partnership in the whacking business. What Tor doesn’t know is that Gus has a special relationship with the clients. What Olive doesn’t know is that Gus is Betty’s own ex, and she has already made some decisions about ending their relationship.

This production is marketed by sharing a New York Times review that states it “is often hysterical”, and in Dobama press, where it states the play is “hilarious.” I would offer that this production of the play is funny, but not often hysterical or hilarious. The “Fargo” idea is not fresh anymore, and thus, the play must be directed with an incredibly fresh delivery. What is delivered is a good rendition of the material, and not a nuanced presentation of comedic timing.

The standout of this production is Knox. Her Betty is a hard core bitch, equipped with a purse, that could double as a magic well with incredible depth. Knox takes us from being hard core, to moments of truth, that are very effective in providing a layered character to connect with on different levels. Her bit with the contents of her purse is a scream. Fallon offers a feisty and colorful character, who does her best to keep up with Knox, but certainly has the tools to face off against the hit men. Her energy is certainly on point. Ellis is a hoot as Tor. He brings the down home charm and kindness, with deft execution. And, it really makes it a treat to watch him navigate his profession, along with the fact that his explanation of the Big Bang Theory, would involve Norway as the center. Woodward reminds me a gangster mutt. His penchant for smacking someone upside the head with a baseball bat as a career choice is entertaining to watch. The two hit men are certainly a pair of delightful, entertaining henchmen.

Shannon Sindelar directs a funny rendition of the script. The cast needed to be more equally tuned. Scenic Designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski designed a cool icy set, equipped with an ice waterfall, black ice background that illuminates for creative purposes, and a frozen base with its own iceberg. Lighting Designer Marcus Dana gives great looks to the proceedings. Costume Designer Inda Blatch-Geib continues her trail of professional appealing work. Sound Designer Richard Ingraham adds his artistic touch for clarity. Technical Director David Tilk pulls the elements together nicely.Stage Manager Joel Rathbone called a great show.

Overall, this is a funny show. The cast has a good time creating a train wreck of relationships and love gone wrong, or getting out of love.

Ira Levin’s Deathtrap at Aurora Community Theatre

Aurora Community Theatre
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: November 3, 2014

Well, Halloween certainly spurs many to think about scary things, and conjure up fright gags to hilariously torture our friends by scaring the bejesus out of them. So I think Aurora Community Theatre got it quite right about producing Ira Levin’s Deathtrap, a Thriller in Two Acts, during this festive season. Based on the audience’s reactions, there were plenty of ominous moments that were verbally exorcised at the show I attended.

For those who are not familiar with the show, it is a quite clever who done it, or who you thought done it, and even stretches to I have no fricking idea who is doing what to whom. And that is the major fun of this piece, so much so, it is one of the longest running plays on Broadway. The five-character drama about Sydney Bruhl (Kevin Horak), a playwright with writer’s block, his fragile wife Myra (Susan Henthorn), his talented seminar student Clifford Anderson (Zach Griffin), his lawyer Porter Milgrim (Mark Durbin) and the psychic next door, Helga ten Dorp (Sue Jeromson), opened on Feb. 26, 1978, and ran for 1,793 performances. Recently deceased Marian Seldes, who played the wife, Myra, became famous for staying with the show during its entire run, not missing a single performance. The play was made into a 1982 film starring Michael Caine, Dyan Cannon and the late Christopher Reeve. The film caused a sensation at the time due to a kiss shared by Caine and Reeve. Shocking, I know.

Director Paula Kline- Messner has assembled a good group of actors, some of which excel more than others. They have the great joy of cavorting on an awesome set. Beautiful set design work is the first striking asset for this production. Horak cuts a fine regal figure as Sydney Bruhl. He presents himself as a solid character, and lets the layers unravel slowly, as we discover his dark side. Good work. Henthorn is appropriately fragile at his wife. She is fragile egg that is devoted to her husband, and is ready to help in any way, almost. Nice work. Griffin certainly enters the festivities with a gentle honest demeanor. His character development works beautifully, as we soon discover, there is much more to this devoted student. Jeromson kills it as Helga. She is a fireball of energy, look, and overall character. Her accent is endearing, and her comedic timing a gift. Durbin does an outstanding job as Porter. Bringing his down home flavor just right, and, infuses the play with very good energy. Nice character work.

Overall, the first act seems to drag in energy. That goes away in act two, but part of the reason is the lack of varied delivery of lines. Horak has a beautiful baritone voice that should be more expressive, and I am sure it will be as the run goes on. But it kind of lulls you during act one. The pace also could be sharper, as Kline needed to tighten up the ship. This energy gap is exposed when Jeromson enters the room, and then the party begins. Also, there is a glaring mistake in the blocking. Porter states that “Is it true, that Helga pointed to the spot on the floor where she was going to die?” But she died in a chair. Another distraction is that the character Anderson is in jeans the whole play. Wouldn’t he dress up to at least business casual as Bruhl’s secretary, as opposed to looking like a college roommate? Then there is the gay issue here. It seems like the gentlemen are uncomfortable with the underlying character relationship between them. As you think they might share a kiss at tender moments of intrigue, they don’t, and they never really seem comfortable as actors dealing with that issue. It shouldn’t be a major point at the show, but it should be handled with more ease.

Producer Jennifer L.S. Teller did a fantastic job. Wes Shofner really did some tremendous work with the set. Craig D. Kollai did good work, along with a rain storm that looked real. Maggie Hamilton provided great sound, although the first scary music part might be better if faded out, not just shut off. Ann Nyenhuis called a great show. Neil Thackaberry provided some excellent guidance with the fight choreography.

When you balance out the evening, this is a fun production. You will never guess the twists and turns that these actors take you though. And as the machine fine tunes itself, the production will grow just in time for you to get out to Aurora Community Theatre and see this classic.

George A. Romero’s The Night of The Living Dead at Blank Canvas Theatre

Blank Canvas Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: October 28, 2014

Holy shitballs! Last night was so much fun. Artistic Director Patrick Ciamacco has done his research well, and realized that due to the original creators making a novice publishing mistake, The Night of The Living Dead is public domain. So this creative lad took it upon himself to recreate the iconic movie as a stage play. The results are a blast. Even though much of the dialogue and situations are similar to the original movie, by simply letting the story play out in front of a live audience, and infusing creative special effects, the play creates hilarious and horrifying moments. This production does not play for comedy, but last night’s crowd went from giggles to out and out stadium uproarness. Yes, I am sure that is not a word.

For those who haven’t seen the film, Night of the Living Dead follows eight people from a variety of backgrounds on a terrifying night where the dead rise to feast on human flesh. The strangers end up fighting for their lives in an abandoned house surrounded by zombies. The situation escalates as tensions rise and fear and prejudice take over.

This is truly a fantastic ensemble effort. Matthew Ryan Thompson is an effective tool of a brother as Johnny. Amber Revelt is appropriately scared and frightened and a hot mess as sister Barbara. Devon Settles, Jr. is a fierce alpha male who eventually succumbs to a blistering headache. Steven Berg is charming as the loving husband and frantic provider. Jonathan Kronenberger inhabits the style of this piece to perfection. Tasha Brandt gives us some frightened realness. Ian Atwood is an opposing figure of authority as Sheriff McClelland, aided by Will Crosby as his right hand posse man. When they arrive, they arrive in spectacular fashion. But the evening really belongs to the young actress who plays Karen. Makenna Weyburne initially presents herself as a weakened child, but deliciously turns into a monstrous delight, as demonstrated by the audience’s roar of approval. One slow turn of the head provides enough creep factor for the even the best of American Horror Story fans. The Zombies are dead on.(See what I did there?) Elizabeth Ahlstrom, Hannah Beaumont, Tonya Broach, Will Crosby, Jennifer Furst, Richie Gagen, and Venchise Glenn are Zombielicious. They also provide a layer of unrest, from the moment we first see them, until the end. Great stuff

Excellent Live Orchestration by Lawrence Wallace.Brittany Gaul called a great show. Jenniver Sparano once again provides vivid and period excellence. Patrick Ciamacco splits himself into many selves, as he provides the Set, Light, and Sound Design and coordinates himself with himself as Technical Director, while Directing everything himself. Zombie Makeup and Blood Effects by the prestigious and under-acknowledged P.J. Toomey. Jenna Fink provides Makeup Assistance. Stage Blood Effects are executed by Ciamacco and Chuck Klein. Noah Hrbek provided the Backdrop Scenic Painting.

There are only two shows left. Tonight and tomorrow night. GO SEE THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!

As stated in the promotion material “This show will have a SPLATTERZONE (See Below) much like when they did for The Texas Chainsaw Musical. However, this is NOT a comedy. Be prepared to see a true telling of the horror movie that started all zombie films. If it doesn’t scare you, you’re already dead!”

How We Got On at Cleveland Play House

Cleveland Play House
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: October 28, 2014

It’s 1988 in a Midwest suburb known as The Hill. Three teenagers, Hank (Eric Lockley), Julian (Kim Fischer), and Luann (Cyndii Johnson), live and breathe hip-hop. The only problem is no one else seems to understand their art. As the three forge ahead melding poetry with music, loyalties are tested and parents disapprove. But nothing can overcome a true friendship or stop the flow of inspiration. How We Got On, by playwright Idris Goodwin, tells this tale in an 80 minute story that never dips in energy or creative flow. Goodwin had a good year in 2012 — this work premiered at the prestigious Humana Festival of New American Plays, while his play Blackademics was named the best of 2012 by the Chicago Tribune.Under the direction of Jaime Castaneda, this rap infused chronicle takes us through the musings and stories of three artists who strive to find their dream, and their self-actualization of passion.

1988 is when Yo! MTV Raps debuts. The program, which was the first hip hop music show on the MTV network, was a lively mix of rap videos, interviews with rap stars, and live performances. No doubt, the three teenagers presented in this piece have been influenced by this mainstream onslaught of inspiration. In the world of Debbie Gibson and Rick Astley, these teens find their calling by dropping beats and verse to express their lives, as opposed to overproduced dance music.

The set is a high school basketball court, which includes a stage used for assemblies no doubt, but this court is ruled by the master DJ and storyteller of the evening, Selector. The fierce actress Portia inhabits Selector with mad DJ skills, and offers a variety of interpretation of all the other characters that appear in the story. She deftly tells the tale of these teenagers, and provides the presence of their fathers, along with other figures that play prominently in the story. Portia is engaging, theatrical, and a beautiful presence and sets her own tempo and beat for the entire evening, which is pitch perfect. The play flies, as she, and the three other actors, are a concert of kinetic fluidity.

We first find Hank, a young black youth, that is inspired to create verse, but set it to a beat that will reach the suburbs with his sick rhythm. Along the way, he meets Julian, a frustrated and cocky artist himself, who eventually faces off with Hank in a rap battle, and realizes that Hank should be the writer, and he the performer. You see, you learn things in this show as well. We learn about Ghostwriters, and some of the biggest rappers are not really using their own words. They work together, but as many artists do, they find conflict with egos and the sense of who is in control. Enter Luann, a girl that can rap on the spot, using original material pulled from thin air and the environmental cues that surround her. Hank aligns easily, because he is about the music, but Julian finds the road more difficult, being that Luann is brilliant and god forbid, a woman with power and confidence. We then learn about the process of developing and bringing to life a rap track, with its melody and beats, and hooks. Every time we watch the characters learn and move on to the next level, that journey IS “How We Got On.” How we got on to the next level. How we got on through our family telling us no. How we got on by identifying our strengths, faults and how to reconcile them. How we got on battling our own demons and jealousy.

Eric Lockley as Hank is terrific. He has such grand appeal and honesty, that I couldn’t help but be entertained and found myself rooting for him to keep plugging away at his dream. His character provides a great epicenter of spirit during the evening. Kim Fischer creates appropriate cockiness and engaging coolness as we meet him. Fischer does a great job. He lets the layers of insecurity present themselves slowly, and displays that vulnerability that haunts many performers with subtle cracks in the armor. His attractive athletic presence is a good counter to the scrappy underdog. Cyndii Johnson fires on all cylinders as she traverses the male dominated court. Johnson has a great spirit and provides vast entertainment as she busts out some mad verse, and interacts and dominates her male compatriots with confidence and honesty.

(Yes, I did take a selfie, but don’t worry, I didn’t crash the stage. They actually invite you up afterwards to mingle. You can even order a cocktail if you like. From left to right, Eric Lockley, Portia, Cyndii Johnson and Kim Fischer.These folks are as nice, as they are talented. And that smudge on the far left is the lovely woman who volunteered to take our picture. It was a journey, ha)

Scenic Designer Lauren Helpern created a very cool space. Sound Designer Mikhail Fiksel did an outstanding job. The shift from house music to the boom box was incredibly well designed and executed. Costume Designer Jessica Ford brought some nice period realness to the court. Musical Director Shammy Dee nailed the proceedings with beautiful choices. Lighting Designer Brian Sidney Bembridge earned his three names. Stage Managers John Godbout and Lisa J. Snodgrass called a great show, and executed the sound cues with incredible professionalism. You both really added to the evening by surrounding those actors with expert timing of cues.

Spirits To Enforce at Cleveland Public Theatre

Cleveland Public Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: October 22, 2014

I can assure you, that you will never expect what happens on stage when you see “Spirits to Enforce” at Cleveland Public Theatre. Playwright Mickle Maher has put together quite a whiz bang script that will keep you on your toes. Director Matthew Wright has taken that script, added his precise deft direction, and assembled a fabulous cast that provides more stimulation than a monster drink spiked with Viagra. The story you say, ok, well now that their arch-nemesis, Professor Cannibal, is locked away in a correctional facility, twelve superheroes- The Fathom Town Enforcers- have taken up residence in a secret submarine to tackle the most critical work of their crime-fighting mission… fundraising. The Enforcers’ plan? To stage a “superheroic” benefit performance of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Seriously. Infused with comic book lore, choral arrangement and text from Shakespeare’s beloved masterpiece.

This collection of actors essentially play three characters each. First, who they really are, second, their superhero personae, and third, their character from “The Tempest.” Watching these twelve actors go at it, reminds me of looking at an old fashioned typewriter. As you are typing, you watch the metal pedals with their individual letter swoop up from the curved base, and strike the paper. The individual strokes on the keyboard seem to create chaos, with many repetitive strikes, but when you look at the paper, it makes sense. That is how I felt watching this show. It is twelve actors sitting at one table, a telethon phone bank, and each one never stops doing their thing, ever, all at the same time. If they are not speaking out loud, they are miming their speech, but their faces never rest. The skill of executing this piece, and not having it blow up in your face, is astounding. The cast must hit a spa after the 85 minute show, and the director was probably floating on an inflatable donut raft on a lazy river at Kalahari for a few days after the opening weekend.

The cast is fantastic, and the playbill lays out the three characters they play simply, but I thought I would share their superhero names. David Bugher (as “The Pleaser”), Ursula Cataan* (“The Silhouette”), Holly Holsinger (“The Page”), Tanera Hutz (“The Intoxicator”), Val Kozlenko (“The Tune”), Doug Kusak (“Fragrance Fellow”), Cathleen O’Malley (“Memory Lass”), Brian Pedaci (“The Untangler”), John J. Polk (“The Snow Heavy Branch”), Arif Silverman (“Ariel”), Abigail Anika Svigelj (“The Ocean”) and Sophie Weisskoff (“The Bad Map”). Yep, you got it, this play is nuts.

I had some favorites. Starting off with David Bugher, who looked like a cross between Liberace and a male perfume salesman from Dior, after a Botox induced lost weekend. Holly Holsinger impressed me with the fact that when the play enabled her to have a serious moment, her theatrical gifts generated moments of spellbinding truth, in the middle of a busy intersection. Brian Pedaci worked that mustached face with remarkable wit and humor. Arif Silverman had enough charm, diction and energy to make the audience vote him to be “most likely to have been a Walton in a previous life.”

Composer and Sound Design by Sam Fisher, who is also the Kulas Foundation Theatre Composer Fellow. First, congrats on that honor, and second, your music was very cool and connected to the proceedings. It greatly enhanced the emotional experience. Stage Manager Dan Kilbane ran a tight ship, and called the show beautifully. Costume Designer Inda Blatch-Geib, must have had a blast created this very different entertaining personae. Lighting Designer Jonathan Maag did a nice job, but I think it could have used some more creativity in creating moments. Set Designer Val Kozlenko created a fascination background to the phone bank, and hence, created a cool and curious unsettling canvas for the proceedings.

This production is an artistic win. I don’t know if the production would have legs beyond its scheduled run, because the audience will probably be either impressed and entertained, or completely confused after the show is done. That thrilling aspect, as least for me, is why you should see this show. It is cast with adept actors, directed with pinpoint frenetic colorful direction, and pushes the boundaries of conventional theatre. Of course it does, you are at Cleveland Public Theatre.

Motown: The Musical at the State Theatre in Playhouse Square

Playhouse Square
Professional Theatre (Touring)

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: October 12, 2014

Motown: The Musical is a Broadway jukebox musical. With a book by Berry Gordy, based on his 1994 autobiography To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown. The musical is based on the story of Gordy’s founding and running of the Motown record label, and his personal and professional relationships with Motown artists, such as Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and The Jackson 5. The music and lyrics for the musical are taken from selections from the Motown catalog. The musical contains a total of 66 songs. The musical premiered on Broadway in April 2013.

The story starts in 1983, where Barry Gordy is trying to be convinced, by his inner circle, to attend the 25th anniversary of Motown Records at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, where all the stars he created are coming back to celebrate and say, thank you. Then we jump to a flashback, and watch how the whole thing happened. From a young man who tried many careers, he finally got the idea to start a record label, and finally convinced his family to give him $1000 of their savings, to create Hitsville, U.S.A.. The show comes across mostly as a montage jukebox musical, with most of the songs coming in snippets, and just a few songs given the full attention they deserve. Just when your motor is running, there is a lane change, and then you start all over again. However, when the full song is realized, it is glorious. And, the choreography and costumes are fierce. In fact, the first time the show really takes flight is “Dancing in the Streets”, where the whole song and dance is allowed to overtake the audience with crazy energy and love, and the audience goes nuts. There could be many more moments like that, but in between long stretches of snippets, come these amazing full blown numbers that are magic, and completely worth the wait.

Clifton Oliver is dynamic, handsome, and richly voiced as Berry Gordy. This man can “sang” and then some. He creates a very compact and charismatic character, and holds the audience in his palm with his incredible voice. Allison Semmes is perfect as Diana Ross, or “Miss Ross”. She doesn’t try to oversell the impersonation, and finds every unique quality of the star without becoming a caricature. Her voice is beautifully strong and communicative. And in one of the best moments of the show, she interacts with the audience during “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand”, and creates magic and fun for days. Nicholas Christopher is delightful as Smokey Robinson. He nails the down the earth nature of Smokey, and also the enigmatic voice that pierces your soul and takes you on a swoon journey, or makes your feet move to the beat. Jarran Muse handles the swagger of Marvin Gaye, along with his soul and sexiness, perfectly. A velvet voice, but also gives weight to Gaye’s concern over the political events that were affecting the times, and him personally. Reed L. Shannon owned the audience portraying little Michael Jackson. He is a human fireball of charm, talent, moves and falsetto.

So the show is really a celebration of song, a brief overview of the story of Motown, covering details without too much of the drama. But what I also saw, were the lessons that were addressed in Gordy’s story. Learning that you can work your whole life to make someone successful, but when money talks, they can leave you. And, it is OK if they do, because that is just part of the business. The show also covers racism. It is embarrassing to sit in a predominately white audience, and watch how many of our past generation treated black people. Seeing “White Only” signs on the projected backgrounds, as Gordy worked ferociously to make his music available to all races. It is a lesson. This is a happy musical, but I didn’t leave without realizing how brave those artists were, as they trail-blazed a path of hope for many others behind them.

This is a great ride, and you should be sure to take the journey. And, they have those super big soft pretzels. Thank you.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Huntington Playhouse

Huntington Playhouse
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: October 8, 2014

It is possible, that this is the 25th time that I have seen The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee over the last 3 years. This time is at Huntington Playhouse, under the humorous direction of Dave MacKeigan. This production works as a result of a good company of actors, and some standout performances.The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a one-act musical comedy conceived by Rebecca Feldman with music and lyrics by William Finn, a book by Rachel Sheinkin and additional material by Jay Reiss. The show centers on a fictional spelling bee set in a geographically ambiguous Putnam Valley Middle School. The six quirky adolescents that compete in the Bee are Chip Tolentino (Matt Langenhop), Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere (Muna Al-Nimer), Leaf Coneybear (Tony Heffner), William Barfee (Will Crosby), Marcy Park (Sarah Menser), and Olive Ostrovsky (Jackie Luthy), They are assisted by three equally quirky grown-ups; Vice Principal Douglas Pance (Bill May), Rona Lisa Perretti (Colleen Zettler), and Mitch Mahoney (Jake Ingrassia). There are some doubling of parts going on, such as Jesus (Langenhop), Carl Dad (Heffner), Olive’s mother (Zettler), and Dan Dad/Olive’s Dad (Ingrassia). This is a full car load of craziness to enjoy

Director Dave MacKeigan gives the evening a great sense of simplicity and gentle humor. His casting creates the feel of American Gothic gone wild. Wonderful characters, and an Adult panel that is just fabulous. Music Director David W. Coxe is on the keyboard (Kira Seaton filled in on the night I was there, and did a great job), and provided able melodic assistance, but I would have preferred a fuller sound with a small combo. Choreographer Jill Smith handled the cast well, and matched movements with varying degrees of ability, but produced charming numbers.

As the adults in the show, Zettler and May are hysterical. Zettler has a beautiful, powerful voice and charm for days. I don’t remember hearing her sing before, but I am glad I did. May is a scream. His delivery is perfect, and reminds me of the classic comedians that never had to work to hard for a laugh, they just created them with natural ability. He killed me. So enjoyable. As a quasi adult, Ingrassia brings some great bouncer realness to the proceedings, and has a blast with his semi-spiritual number.

Leading the kids is Heffner. He has a fantastic young voice, and great comedic chops. He definitely lit up the stage with his antics. Crosby continues to delightfully grow as an actor, and certainly went to another level with this show. His character is a hot mess of fun, and it must take him an hour to Un-Barfee his face. Solid singing and great frenetic choices. Luthy brings a beautiful down to earth quality. She has a lovely voice,which shines in the “I Love You” song. A complete delight. Langenhop is quirky and adorable fun. His transformation into a young gentleman, is a scream. He brings comedic angst in spades. Al-Nimer works her hair and character to great effect in the show. And Menser shows her considerable dance forte in her solo number, with entertaining results. This group is a fun bunch.

Production Team: Stage Manager Diane Ford, Dance Captain Sarah Menser (no surprise here), Set Design Tom Meyrose, Light and Sound Design Chuck Tisdale, and Costume Design Judy MacKeigan (Nice creative looks),

This is a solid show at Huntington. Enjoy it!

The Pillowman at convergence-continuum (Con-Con)

convergence continuum
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: October 8, 2014

You might have heard the story about Mark Andrew Twitchell, who is a Canadian convicted of first degree murder in 2011 for killing John Brian “Johnny” Altinger. His trial attracted substantial media attention because he was inspired by the Dexter Morgan character, featured in the “Dexter” television series, a serial killer who works as a forensic bloodstain pattern analyst for the fictional Miami Metro Police Department. Twitchell was an aspiring filmmaker who dreamed of making blockbuster movies. In September 2008, he shot a short horror film at a garage he rented in the south end of Edmonton, where he murdered and dismembered his victim, just like “Dexter.”

It seems unbelievable that life imitates art in this manner. But, what may be a more interesting question, is if there is any responsibility to the producers of said art. That is one of the major themes in the current fantastic production of The Pillowman, currently running at Con-Con. The Pillowman is a 2003 play by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. It tells the tale of Katurian (Tom Kondilas), a writer of short stories which often depict violence against children, has been arrested by two detectives, Ariel (Stuart Hoffman) and Tupolski (Robert Hawkes), because some of his stories resemble recent child murders. When Katurian hears that his brother Michal (Daniel McElhaney) has confessed to the murders and implicated him, he resigns himself to his execution, but attempts to save his stories from destruction. The play includes both narrations and reenactments of several of the short stories, which provide insight into the layers of dysfunction that are present.

Director Geoffrey Hoffman has assembled a fierce cast to dive into this totalitarian nightmare. Great use of the space and tightly paced. Great ideas executed to explore and communicate the inner belly of this piece. Kondilas is a bright centerpiece. He has the bulk of action and exposition, and you almost could compare his role to “The Pillowman Cometh.” He handles the script with clarity, depth and keeps the moments close at hand. A very strong performance. Hawkes is a play stealer, and I mean that as the best compliment. His character is solid, and delivers with acute execution, and deft comedic timing. Yes, you laugh in this piece. His monologue regarding a young chinese child and a paper airplane is mesmerizing, because of how many fascinating levels one actor can bring to the table. Incredible work. Stuart Hoffman is appropriately textured as well. He brings anger and sympathetic layers to his role, and also, offers some comedic gems. But, his most violent moment with Katurian, is frightening as hell, and incredibly effective because of brilliant execution by both parties. McElhaney must have learned a lot on his previous journey through the cuckoo’s nest, because he nails this character. Finding so much truth, and presenting a sympathetic character, with a tragic reality. Truly inspired. Melissa Freilich as the Child is fabulous. Her representations that occur in the Jesus story, and the burial scenes are excellent. Nicole McLaughlin brings a Serial Mom-esque layer to the Mother, that is chilling.

Production Team: Director Geoffrey Hoffmann (Excellent work). Clyde Simon, not only the Artistic Director, but also the Durga Puja of Con-Con, as he is the Stage Manager, Co-Set Designer, and Sound Designer for the show. Lighting Designer Terrii Wachala (very effective looks and feel), Costume Designer sade wolfkitten (Great looks), Fight Choreographer (Good physical mechanics)

This is Con-Con getting it all right, and that is a very good thing to experience.

August: Osage County at Lakeland Community College

Lakeland Civic Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: October 1, 2014

If there is a theatrical bone in your body, you have certainly heard of the Pulitzer Prize winning play August: Osage County by acclaimed playwright Tracy Letts. And if the play doesn’t ring a bell, the movie of the same name, starring Julia Roberts and Meryl Strep, hopefully comes to mind. The brilliance of this play is evident from the fact that it did win the Pulitzer, and it pulled two of the biggest box office stars in the world to inhabit the main characters. This is a beautiful piece of theatre. So, it is no wonder that Director Martin Friedman jumped at the chance to put up this complicated dysfunctional fascinating piece. And, it is no wonder why Anne McEvoy is cast as Violet Weston. She leads this performance with intelligence, grit, and amazing depth and cynicism. And beside her is Diane Mull as Barbara Fordham, Violet’s oldest daughter, who bring her own brand of angst and brilliant execution to the stage.

The story is set on the plains of modern day, middle-class Oklahoma, in a large country home outside Pawhuska. The Weston family members are all intelligent, sensitive creatures who have the uncanny ability of making each other absolutely miserable. When the patriarch of the household mysteriously vanishes, the Weston clans gathers together to simultaneously support and attack one another. Grief turns into anger and projections of guilt, as each member of this family deals with naked truths and harsh reality.

The play is beautifully directed by Martin Friedman. He has assembled a fantastic league of actors to rock this house of emotional horrors. Staging is smooth and coherent, and provides an appealing canvas. He guides his actors with intellectual support, and lets the action take its seemingly fresh approach. Set and Light Design is top notch. Keith Nagy is a master of turning the stage into a feast for the eye. Costume Design by Tesia Benson was on target. Sound Design by R. Eric Simna was clear and crisp. Production Stage Manager Nichole Vencl called a great show.

The cast reminds me of showing up at a pot luck dinner, and realizing that every dish that was brought, is absolutely delicious. The program states “Featuring” Anne McEvoy. It should. As described earlier, she is the main dish and is most fantabulous. Robert Abelman playing her husband Beverly Weston “human cactus”, sets the play rolling with a profound and subtle performance. Quietly laying the first pieces of the puzzle on the floor, for the rest to complete. Enter Diane Mull and Andrew Narten, playing Barbara and Bill Fordham. At this point, I just wanted to yell “Hold your cards please, we have a bingo!” The reason being that these two are fantastic actors who bring their unique skills to the table. Mull navigates through this emotional maze with deft choices and engaging delivery. Narten is a master of non-verbal communication. Watching his character process what has been said to him, or what is observes, is superb. Natalie Welch as their daughter Jean Fordham, does a wonderful job of playing the teenage angst, while underscoring her character with mischief, and coping skills. Her nighttime scene was handled beautifully.

Courtney Nicole Auman and Jeremy Jenkins, as Ivy Weston and Little Charles Aiken are great. Auman delivering more layers than lasagna. So many textured moments to enjoy. Jenkins projecting an innocence that is radiant, which enables heartache even more. Debbie Jenkins and Aaron Elersich, as Karen Weston and her fiancé Steve Heidebrecht, are engaging as well. Jenkins bringing her naivety and sweet charm, while deftly masking the truth. Elersich creates a likable character, and then with uncomfortable and controlled execution, gives you reason to want to make him a target on a gun range.

Jeffrey Glover and Rose Leninger, as Charlie and Mattie Fae Aiken, are certainly gifts to this production. Both of them bring such honesty to their characters. There is never a false moment, and luckily they get to bring some cheerfulness to this beleaguered bunch, and the audience. They both deliver beautiful scenes of clarity, especially Glover with his son, and when Leninger shares a devastating truth. Caitlin Post as Johnna Monevata, and Michael Vitovich as Sheriff Deon Gilbeau, both deliver the goods. Monevata provides a gentle calming presence, but fearless backbone. Gilbeau brings a simple compassionate charm to his character.

It is a grand evening to watch some great actors serve up a fantastic meal.

Loki and Lucy (A Norse Mythology Story) at talespinner

Talespinner Children’s Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: September 27, 2014

Setting off on an adventure to visit Talespinner Children’s Theatre (TCT), is always an exciting jaunt. Executive Artistic Director Alison Garrigan and her astute creative partners always deliver a top notch professional show that thrills and educates the young audiences, as well as parents. But, as you approach the Reinberger Auditorium, it is not hard to find the entrance. There is usually a stream of young ladies showing off their princess dresses, accompanied by rowdy brothers, bouncing off the walls in excitement. And they have every reason to be excited, because the current offering at TCT, Loki and Lucy (A Norse Mythology Story) by Michael Geither, is very entertaining.

If you are wondering what is Norse Mythology, briefly it is a kind of religion that was practiced by some of the people in the Scandinavian countries, primarily Vikings. In the last few decades, the stories and culture of the Vikings have increasingly spread across the world. This was the origin of Norse mythology. They are what these people believed, and their religion had no specific name, and this made it seem like a tradition practice. They believed in their gods’ deities such as the Odin, Thor, Loki, and Freya, and other mythical beings such as the giant, dwarfs and other creatures. Such the stories of doing good and bad were accessible to the children, and the adults who needed it.

Hence, we come to this particular tale of Loki and Lucy (A Norse Mythology Story). Featured is the story of Lucy (a delightful Melissa T. Crum), and her dream adventure, that seems to be guided by the mischievous Loki (fun-loving Bryan Ritchey). At first we find Lucy at home with her mother (charming Brittany Gaul), and we see a tree in the background that looks suspiciously alive (Loki). When Lucy falls asleep, Loki comes alive and takes her on a journey filled with wonderful characters. All the actors are firing on all cylinders. Nicholas Chokan is a scream as Thor, wielding his big hammer and arsenal of comedic gold. Gaul also takes on the role of the Fenrir, and creates quite the pesky Fox to everyone’s delight. Nate Miller as Thorbjorn Horgabrudr, is also a hoot with a mugtastic face and physicality that completely engages and entertains. Bryan Ritchey as Loki, does a fabulous job of weaving the tale, and pulling Lucy along for the ride. Ritchey is engaging, affable, and moves with animated grace. Crum is a bouncy, peppy, childlike gift to the proceedings. She has a beautiful way of connecting with the audience that enhances the entire experience. Such a delightful presence the entire journey.

As usual, the costuming, puppets, and set design are unique and engaging. Set and Puppet Design by Alison Garrigan, who is a creative force that seems to know no boundaries. The fabulous Costume Design by Melanie Boeman is just a feast for the eyes. Lighting Designer Benjamin Gantose provides his excellence once again. Stage Manager Tania Benites called a great show. Assistant Director and Tech Director Charles Hargrave sharing his refined talents. Movement by Katelyn Cornelius was very interesting. And may I say, that it is nice to see a production that doesn’t use common dance steps to convey the story. I think Twyla Tharp will enjoy what goes on here. And the icing on the cake is the Director Alison Garrigan. The story is told with such energetic and focused composition, but still allows the silliness to provide the performance, so kids can laugh, and parents can revel in their children’s laughter, while being entertained themselves. Just a handsome production on all levels. The vision is clear, and all of us win as a result.

Congratulations on another fabulous show. Please take your kids out to see this show, and experience Talespinner Children’s Theatre. This is children’s theatre with a professional vision, and enough heart and soul to make any bad day better.

The Little Foxes at the Cleveland Play House

Cleveland Play House
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: September 24, 2014

The 99th season of the Cleveland Play House starts off with a fabulous bang with Lillian Hellman’s classic The Little Foxes. Under the fierce direction of Artistic Director Laura Kepley, this play soars. Aaron Spelling must have seen this play before he produced the television series Dynasty, because there is so much backstabbing that I am surprised these actors don’t perform entirely against the walls. The only thing missing for me is a good old brawl between Alexis and Krystle, I mean, Regina and Birdie. Of course, you have to be a bit older to enjoy what I mean.

The Little Foxes is a 1939 play who’s title was inspired by Chapter 2, Verse 15 of the Song of Solomon in the King James version of the Bible, which reads, “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.” And my, do these characters spoil and take advantage of tender human flaws. Set in a small town in Alabama in 1900, it focuses on the struggle for control of a family business.

The play’s focus is Southerner Regina Hubbard Giddens (Maggie Lacey*), who struggles for wealth and freedom within the confines of an early 20th-century society, where fathers considered only sons as legal heirs. As a result of this practice, her avaricious brothers Benjamin (Cameron Folmar*) and Oscar (Jerry Richardson*) are independently wealthy, while she must rely upon her sickly, wheelchair-using husband Horace for financial support. Regina’s brother Oscar married Birdie (Heather Anderson Boll*), his much-maligned alcoholic wife, solely to acquire her family’s plantation and its cotton fields. Oscar now wants to join forces with his brother, Benjamin, to construct a cotton mill. They need an additional $75,000 and approach their sister, asking her to invest in the project. Oscar initially proposes marriage between his son Leo (Nick Barbato) and Regina’s daughter Alexandra (Megan King) – first cousins – as a means of getting Horace’s money, but Horace (Donald Carrier*) and Alexandra are repulsed by the suggestion. The resulting self-centered attempts by some of the family members create irreparable fissures, and result in some paying the ultimate price of life, and devastating loneliness.

Attending the production with my friend Molly McGinnis on a Saturday afternoon, I was struck by two things. First, how the matiness was so well attended, and then the beautiful set. Incredible craftsmanship, beautifully lit, which resulted in a welcoming environment that literally stirred excitement.

Lacey leads this dysfunctional parade with exceptional execution. Her beautiful looks mask a deep conniving heart, and her presentation is a fascinating study to try to find out if this character has the ability to ever be honest. Her stage presence is tremendous, as is her ability to make you want to slap the back of her head and yell “Knock it off!” The Brothers Grimm, or The Brothers Hubbard are quite a collection of misfits. Folmar leads off batting first in the smarmy line up. He deftly creates a devilish, selfish Benjamin, who is obviously empty of any compassion, except maybe when he looks in the mirror. As middle brother Oscar, Richardson presents the typical male who suffers from a Napoleon complex below the belt. His character follows his brother’s lead, and frustrated by his own lack of male dominance, finds it abusing his wife (a shockingly executed moment). Then there is Barbato, who creates a Leo that is as trifling gnat that never seems to settle down. Just like bowling, he would need the bumpers in the gutter lanes to get through life. He is enjoyable and annoying. Boll is mesmerizing as Birdie. We watch her character and struggle to find what is going on in that head, and as the layers are pealed back, we are astonished of how the will to survive is profound. Her coping mechanism is a beautifully played moment in the show, and heartbreaking. Carrier brings strength and energy as he joins the family. Watching him navigate through the machinations of those around him is a pleasure to watch. He adds so much to the balance of power in the play, and does so with great choices. King presents a strong presence on stage. As a younger character, she turns in a fierce performance and creates an arc for Alexandra that is very rewarding to watch. As Addie and Cal, Tolliver and Sullivan are not throw away characters. They each create a sense of weight in the play with sincere, powerful, and occasionally comical moments, which greatly enhances the handling of racism with dignity and resolve. Ellis as the Cotton Mill executive Marshall, cuts a fine figure and infuses the opening scenes with the right amount of “presenting the brass ring”, which everyone wants to grab. Hence, setting the wheels in motion in a fantastic way.

There was only one thing I noticed that I thought dangerously trod near farce, and that is where the brothers are denying an accusation from Regina. Some of the physical reactions of denial seemed too big for the atmosphere and tone that has been established to date. Other than that, I thought this production was a beautiful opening to the new season, and reinforces how wonderful it is to see Laura Kepley at the helm of this great institution.

The production team was excellent. Scenic and Costume Designer Lex Liang (Seriously amazing work. The costumes were perfection and the set wrapped the proceedings with elegance), Lighting Designer Michael Boll, Sound Designer Jane Shaw, Voice and Speech Director Thom Jones, Fight Choreographer Ron Wilson, Stage Manager Tom Humes*, Assistant Stage Manager Lizzie Robinson*.

This is a beautiful show, and a fascinating to watch the dysfunction. This play holds up really well, and that is a sad commentary on our human condition.

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association.

The Director is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.

The scenic, costume, lighting and sound designers in LORT Theatres are represented by United Scenic Artists, Local USA-829 of the IATSE.

Actors Nick Barbato and Megan King are members of the Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House Master of Fine Arts Acting Program.

The Musical Theater Project – Bill Rudman – Babes in Arms Performance

The Musical Theater Project
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: September 22, 2014

Last Thursday evening, I had the pleasure of attending The Musical Theatre Project (TMTP) at the Beck Center for the Arts. I was invited by my good friend Joanna May Hunkins, who has just become Associate Director. TMTP was formed in 2000 to foster a deeper appreciation of the American Musical. Through its concert and cabaret series, TMTP educates, as well as entertains people of all ages. It is headed up by BILL RUDMAN, an educator, a broadcaster, a producer and the founder of TMTP. He has created more than 40 concerts and cabarets that celebrate and share musical theater as a uniquely American art form. His radio programs, “Footlight Parade” and “On the Aisle,” are heard across the country on public radio stations, Public Radio Exchange ( and Sirius XM Satellite Radio. In 1983, he and New York author Ken Bloom co-founded Harbinger Records, a label that has won critical praise for albums devoted to the American musical and the Great American Songbook. In 2000 he became the first recipient of the Robert Bergman Award for his work in arts education and community outreach. Armed with a passionate mission, this man is well grounded and experienced, to lead this educational treasure chest.

On Thursday night, TMTP presented the American musical classic Babes in Arms. The evening was produced by the hosting venue Beck Center for the Arts, and artistically fueled by the Kent State University Musical Theatre Program. What a fantabulous collection of Producers, which resulted in an incredibly charming evening of education and performance quality. The incredible host Bill Rudman introduces us to what we are about to see, guides us through the storyline, provides fascinating background on the show, and the artists who created it, which includes the legendary song writing team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.

Babes in Arms is a 1937 musical that concerns a young man and woman, in their 20’s, who put on a show with their friends to avoid having them be sent to a work farm, since their parents are out of work vaudevillians. It is truly the first “Hey, let’s us kids put on a show,” which screams Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Providing the talent for the occasion is the Kent State Musical Theatre students, and boy, do they deliver the goods. With sharp, fun direction from Terri Kent, tap dancing magic provided by Choreographer MaryAnn Black, and fierce Music Direction by Nancy Maier, assisted by Jennifer Korecki, this is one of the best concert staged musicals that I have ever seen. With the energy of the engaging cast, and the production values, this production delighted the nearly full Beck Center crowd.

This cast was ridiculously cute and entertaining. Kyle Kemph (Val Lamar) has to be the patronus of Mickey Rooney. This kid is packed with musical theatre muscle, and along with effortless charm and a beautiful voice, nailed it. Lindsay Simon (Billie Smith) takes on the iconic Judy Garlandesque role, and creates a full blown musical sack of fabulous sugar, with a side of sass, and alongside Kemph, created a solid team to lead this bouncy musical. Michael Crowley brings his charm to Marshall Blackstone. Kristen Hoffman and Christopher Tuck, as Dolores Raynolds and Gus Fielding, are the character actors you want to go out and have a shot with. Blessed with engaging voices, and faces that are mugtastic, these two are a delight. The rest of the cast is solid as well, Jennifer Kirchner serving Baby Rose realness, William Tipton and Kirk Lydell bringing Nicholas Brothers’ charm and movement alive and lovable, Troy Kowatch giving us a hilarious look at day dreaming as Peter, Tyler Hanes and Andy Donelly providing the racist tension in the show by showing both sides of the coin with the Calhoun brothers, and finally Kevin Lauver delivering a hilarious ride as Rene Flambeau.

Providing great production work was Production Manager and Lighting Designer Jaime Benjamin, Sound Designer R. Eric Simna, and Stage Manager Nathan Rosmarin.

This was a great time and I can’t wait to see another TMTP production. Keep your eye on their website


Forever Plaid at Beck Center for the Arts

Beck Center for the Arts
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: September 13, 2014

Forever Plaid is an off-Broadway musical revue written in New York in 1990. Musical arrangements, vocal arrangements and musical direction were by James Raitt; the show was written, directed, and choreographed by Stuart Ross. The show is a revue of the close-harmony “guy groups” (e.g. The Four Aces, The Four Freshmen) that reached the height of their popularity during the 1950s. Personifying the clean-cut genre are The Plaids. This quartet of high-school chums’ dreams of recording an album ended in death, in a collision with a bus filled with Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see the Beatles’ American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. The play begins with the Plaids returning from the afterlife for one final chance at musical glory.

The playlist for this jukebox musical includes great classic songs such as: “Three Coins in the Fountain”; “Undecided”; “Gotta Be This or That”; “Moments to Remember”; “Crazy ‘Bout Ya, Baby”; “No, Not Much”; “Sixteen Tons”; “Chain Gang”; “Perfidia”; “Cry”; “Heart and Soul”; “Lady of Spain”; “Scotland the Brave”; “Shangri-La”; “Rags to Riches”; and “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing”.

Directed and Choreographed by Martin Cespedes, The Beck Center for the Arts cast includes Josh Rhett Noble* (Sparky); Matthew Ryan Thompson (Jinx); Brian Altman (Smudge); and making his Beck Center debut, Shane O’Neill (Frankie). Musical Direction provided by Bryan Bird. His band included Bill Hart on Drums, and Kevin Aylward on Bass.

I couldn’t imagine being a maitre d’, and looking down at your reservation book and seeing that Noble, Thompson, Altman, and O’Neill had booked a table for the evening. That is one fantastic talented hot mess of a table. Well, the Beck Center is serving up that combo for all to see, and the result is a vocal delight. Each one of these performers is a delight in their own respect. So, seeing them inhabit the Plaids on Preview night was a scream. Everyone gets their turn in the spotlight, and each brings their comedic gifts to the party. Leading the comic parade is Noble. He is just hilarious in every situation, and has a set of hips that deserves a curtain call. He was on the top of my laugh list. Thompson uses his innocent, shy routine to fierce delight. In a bizarre way, some of his delivery reminds me of Mary Katherine Gallagher from Saturday Night Live fame. Altman brings his supreme charm to the proceedings. His rich voice adds substance to the vocals, and give this man a spoon and a ketchup bottle, and magic ensues. Beck Center audiences have their first chance to fall head over heels for O’Neill. Blessed with an angelic voice and face, he croons like a matinee idol. Truly a gift to the proceedings. And the best part, is each one of them is talented singer, and their blend is to die for. See what I did there?

This production is just a whole lot of damn cuteness and feel good vocalizations. The fellows have their work cut out for them with the challenging choreography. It is obvious the drill work these four must have went through to nail the execution of never-ending tweaks and tweaks recreating all the old classic moves. But, that definitely paid off. The highlight of the evening is the Ed Sullivan Show section. I literally could not stop laughing as a barrage of sight gags filled my rods and cones with so many hilarious images, that I will be giggling for weeks. Sooooooooo funny. Another highlight is when the Plaids bring up and audience member to play “Heart and Soul.” Hilarious results.

There were some distractions with the production. One major one was most of the whispered dialogue is lost. I lost many of Thompson’s whispered lines, and when the group would whisper. Now, some of those whispers might not be needed to be heard by the audience, but it creates dead space, and there is a lot of that in the beginning. There is also an issue with no front lighting on the faces, especially in some of the solo moments. Shadows on faces from being lit from above. That could be an intended look, but i found it distracting. My final critique is the band. Not their playing, that is terrific. But, aside from choreographed smiles to the audience from Bird, the band never smiles. I know the Plaids are dead, but if the Plaids can enjoy themselves, so can you. This is a party!

The bottom line is that the audience will eat this show alive, as they did by giving a Standing O to the hardworking cast. One of the greatest things about this show, is that each performer is a talented class act and a great ambassador for the arts. You will leave this show in a better place after having enjoyed the work of some of the area’s most talented performers. Great job casting Mr. Cespedes.

The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd at Weathervane Playhouse

Weathervane Playhouse
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: September 12, 2014

Directed by Tony Award-winner Michael Rupert, The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd is a comical, allegorical satire on the British class system of the 1960’s, and is the current offering at Weathervane Playhouse in Akron, OH. The show has Book, Music, and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Through a series of sketches and songs, usually served up in a style reminiscent of vaudeville, we meet the show’s two central characters: the pompous Sir (Patrick Michael Dukeman), who represents “the Establishment,” and the downtrodden Cocky (Ryan Bergeron), who stands in for “the little guy.” Sir and Cocky meet to play “The Game,” which symbolizes the eternal struggle between “The Haves” and “The Have Nots.” Because Sir changes and manipulates the rules of The Game, Cocky always ends up with the short end of the stick. Sir’s disciple and sidekick, known as The Kid (Kate Klika), is eager to learn from his master while keeping an eye on the upstart Cocky, who desperately wants to beat Sir at The Game. As the mighty battle wages between Sir and Cocky, a group of young children known as the Urchins comments through song and dance (as a sort of Greek chorus). Ultimately, Sir and Cocky are forced to realize that their interdependence is more complicated and thorny — and perhaps more potentially variable — than either “Have” or “Have Not” originally thought. Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, many of the songs from The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd have become musical standards: “Who Can I Turn To?,” “The Joker,” “The Beautiful Land,” “A Wonderful Day Like Today” and “Feeling Good” (which was a hit song for both Nina Simone and Michael Bublé).

The first thing I noticed after a lively opening number featuring the cast, was that Dukeman was holding a script. I didn’t learn until later, that he recently joined the cast the week before tech week. I have to say that I was incredibly impressed by Dukeman for diving into the show, and also, doing the show, because he is a delight. He is kind of a combination of Downton Abbey, Harold Hill and the Man in the Chair with control issues. His sparing partner for the evening is Bergeron, who houses a powerful voice, and attitude and sass for days, to the delight of the production. There are many great songs from this show, but when he sings “The Joker”, it is close to perfection. Ashley Bossard at The Girl, brings her own sense of sass to her role, and is a pleasant addition. Kate Kilka kicks some major butt as The Kid. Dynamic diction and great characterization. Will Price as The Bully adds the right amount of feisty-ness to the proceedings. But, the star turn of the night belongs to Marcus Malcolm Martin, as The Outsider. In this darkly directed piece, his solo “Feeling Good” brought down the house. As the Urchins, a fine gaggle of talent is assembled with young fresh faces eagerly taking advantage of their stage time to sing and dance.

My biggest problem with this production comes from how it was directed by Michael Rupert. There is a general air of sadness through this entire piece. First, it doesn’t seem like the Urchins have been given any character development at all. Questions to why they come on, and move off, and their presence seemed to go unanswered. Only when Lora Workman’s choreography takes over, do they come to life. Also, the show itself is literally dark. There are only a few occasions that the stage is lit up, providing glimpses of energy for the cast to bask in. So instead, we are given depressing lighting, and even the color changing specials on the game board don’t register at all. The Girl is dressed and directed like she is from skid row, which makes her payment from Sir odd. After intermission, it was clear that the audience had dwindled. Maybe, that was because of the choice to have every ballad by Sir or Cocky, start by sitting on the stage left footstool. As soon as someone sat there, I thought, ok, cue the ballad. But watching people directed to go back to the footstool before they sang, was incredulous.

My hope with this talented cast, is that when the chains of direction come off, they will blossom and grow and let the buoyancy and fun back into the piece. Hopefully, with more light.

Belleville at Dobama Theatre

Dobama Theatre
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: September 12, 2014

My visit to Dobama Theatre was a triple dose of entertainment. First, a pre-show talk hosted by Artistic Director Nathan Motta, featuring guest director Corey Atkins. Secondly, the profound and disturbing drama Belleville by Amy Herzog. And finally, the actors return to the stage for a post-show talkback with the audience. Atkins was very engaging, as he revealed his theatrical journey. Presently, he is the Assistant Producer at the Cleveland Play House (CPH), handling local auditions, and the Inside CPH program. He reviewed his directing process through visual images, research, historical and psychological character analysis, and then culminating with the ultimate process of collaboration. Addressing the playwright Amy Herzog, we learn that she is considered by the industry as one of the best at “creating natural dialogue.” With a Chekhovian influence on characterization, Atkins holds true to the superlative that “the voice of the playwright is the most important voice.” Motta, announces that this is the first production of the first season as a full equity house. What an exciting professional gift to our theatre community, and to continuing the dream of the first Artistic Director Donald Bianchi.

Speaking of a gift, this production of Belleville is a riveting emotional time bomb that uses a slow fuse to ignite a descent into tell. The fuse might be a tad too long, but the conviction of the actors and outstanding performances will stay with you. It is the story of Abby (Llewie Nunez+) and Zack (Matt O’Shea+), a married couple living in the Belleville section of Paris. Zack is a doctor working on his passion project of pediatric AIDS. Abby is now in the process of teaching yoga, besides the fact that no one seems to show up for her classes. Living below them is a Muslim couple, Alioune (Robert Hunter), and Amina (Carly Germany*). The have a newborn, and also the landlords, as Alioune’s Uncle owns the building. When Abby comes home from her yoga class early, because once again, no one showed up, she settles in her apartment. Soon, she begins to hear music, which is eventually identified as coming from the bedroom. When she investigates, she discovers her husband taking matters into his own hand. The confrontation that results, is the first fissure in trust between the two that will ultimately destroy them. The rest of the play follows that fissure as it cracks open everyone’s humanity, trust, mental health, and damaging secrets.

The four actors that inhabit this world are wonderful. Nunez creates a character who is so neurotic and emotionally draining, I wanted to scream “Shut the F@@@ Up!” after the first 20 minutes. She lives in a world of “What If?”, and as a result, is exhausting with her insecurity. The fact that she goes off her meds does that help matters at all. Her issues with leaving her family are acute, and Nunez finds every level and nuance of neurosis that is presented. Her physical encounters are also noted, as they were executed with professional flare. Handling this tornado of angst is O’Shea, a brilliant actor. He is mesmerizing to watch as he navigates his environment, his addictions, and his fractured truth. Both of these actors create moments of tension and fear, as if I was looking into an apartment in movie Rear Window, and having no way to helping any one of them. The relationship between these two is like watching a car wreck in slow motion.

As the downstairs neighbor, Hunter brings a beautiful honesty, and when needed, a realistic harshness to the role of Alioune. He delivers a pitch perfect performance, even though he doesn’t have an asterisk or a carrot after his name. As his beautiful wife, Amina, all I can say is “Hell to the Yes!” Germany is such an incredible presence, and I have to say one of the top equity actresses in this area. Every moment is searing with relevancy and purpose. Her character stands tall as she manages against immature behavior, and is not afraid to kick some ass and take names. However at the end, she lends a disturbing surreal calm. You will remember her.

Overall, in regard to the real time approach of storytelling, understandably based in truth, I wish Atkins would have found ways to tighten the pauses of nonverbal communication and decision making. I think once you pass the 90 minute mark, it starts to test the audience. Some scene changes seemed they could be trimmed, and with the run, some of that will resolve itself. I left feeling very moved from what I saw. And, for any patrons of this show that hear the phrase “Daddy, come get me”, they will have a profound flashback to this play.

After processing the emotional toll of this storytelling, this incredibly professional cast came out for a talk back. Giving back to the audience again, with grace and fierceness. And I am sure, tired. Bravo.

Company – A Musical Comedy at Workshop Players Theatre-in-the-Round

Workshop Players

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: September 12, 2014

The road to Workshop Players in Amherst, OH, is a pleasant trip, lined with open fields, healthy trees, and an occasional NRA flag flying at full mast. The trip was made more pleasant by ending with a very nice production of Company, led by Ian Atwood in the role of Bobby. Company is a musical based on a book by George Firth, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The plot involves around Bobby (Atwood), a 35 year old single man, who is unable to commit to any kind of stable relationship, or god forbid, marriage. Linked by a celebration for Bobby’s 35th birthday, the musical is a series of vignettes, featuring five married couples, and three girlfriends that surround Bobby with advice, and opportunities to settle down.

Director Jennifer Bertoni has cast an appealing group of actors who generate a lot of good will on stage. The actors range from seasoned pros, up and comers, and those that are getting their feet wet and hold great promise. As Musical Director, Andrew Bertoni has made the unfortunate decision to use an electric piano for the only musical accompaniment for the show. This leads to a muddled sound on many numbers, and eliminates any chance for the music to add emotional weight to the numbers. The Choreography works, the first major number seems a bit squished, and however, the act two opening moves nicely and generates more fun.

However, the cast doesn’t seem to care about any distractions, because they end up just having a ball. As Bobby, Atwood presents a well-constructed, gentle, kind character, who is certainly not undersexed. He is blessed with a fabulous voice which enables him to belt glorious notes and float tenor notes that are emotional gifts. Atwood stands grounded against the revolving human dysfunctional planets. Sarah (Deb Burrow) and Harry (Jonathan O’Toole) are a great couple. Watching them navigate their addictions to Sara Lee and alcohol is a hoot. The fact that karate seems a popular way to release stress, just makes you want to get a beer and a shot with them even more. Susan (Victoria Fritzman) and Peter (Kevin Boland) make their mark with Fritzman’s fierce soprano vocals and southern charm, while Boland delivers a very honest and funny balcony scene, where he shares a scenario he has been thinking about. Jenny (Emmalea Linder) and David (Alex Craig) are my favorite couple. Very honest and funny. The scene getting high is well balanced and executed with great results. Amy (Kayla McDonald) and Paul (Aaron Smith) have the classic wedding scene. McDonald is a fabulous neurotic hot mess, nails her patter song, and shows her acting chops with Atwood with her honest resolve to getting married. Smith is quiet on the assist, as he should be, and adds good vocals. Joanne (Jayne Kacik) and Larry (Ted Williams) bring some mature realness to the table. Williams creates a handsome, gentle soul, who loves Joanne to a fault. From time to time, it was hard to hear him. But he is a great compliment to Kacik, who establishes dominance and stage presence the moment we see her. She is a fireball of talent and engaging characterization. She cuts through this musical like a seasoned pro, and the results are fabulous.

Through Bobby’s journey, we meet his girlfriends; April (Shelbey Linder), Marta (Kristina Rivera), and Kathy (Kelsey Rice). The three conjoin to create a feisty “you could drive a person crazy,” but I don’t understand the staging of why Kathy is not singing to Bobby, when the other two are selling their goods directly to him. Linder takes a sardonic approach to April, but the payoff is the delivery of “I have nothing else to say.” Comedic gold. Rivera is shimmering confidence and dispenses some fierce vocals. Rice provides the on-off girlfriend realness, and shares an honest and beautiful scene about Cape Cod.

This is a cute show, with a good group of actors working hard and having fun. Take a trip and support Community Theatre in Amherst.

Hair at Blank Canvas Theatre

Blank Canvas Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: August 31, 2014

In the late 60’s, my cousin John Toland and his partner Gilbert Lesser (famous for his Broadway Posters, including his most famous work with Equus), hung out in the artistic centers of New York City. They were there when Liza rode into Studio 54 on a white horse, and they were friends with many young artists who would become notable in the future. I remember a time when I was visiting John, and we were walking around the city. He told me one interesting story about how he would drop by a friend’s apartment, and hanging out there were Rod McKuen, James Rado and Gerome Ragni.

A fascinating collection of folks, but Rado and Ragni, along with composer Galt MacDermot, would go on to create the classic musical HAIR. I always wondered if they were talking about the show, when my cousin visited. With book and lyrics by Rado and Ragni, HAIR became a product of the hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the 1960s, along with the pleasures of psychedelic drug use, and creating anthems of the anti-Vietnam War peace movement.

The themes of HAIR continue to permeate our culture. We still have debates over drugs, freedom of choice, and whether War is the answer. Along with astute direction and vast vision, Patrick Ciamacco, the Artistic Director of Blank Canvas Theatre, has assembled a fearless, brave and energetic as hell cast to celebrate the themes and inspire audiences to think beyond the spectacle. And, spectacle it is, thanks in large part to the amazing projection work artistically incorporated into the show by Perren Hedderson. Ciamacco and Hedderson create some fascinating and stunning pictures that are able to create strong emotions, and that feels so good. Hair tells the story of the “tribe”, a group of politically active, long-haired hippies of the “Age of Aquarius” living a bohemian life in New York City and fighting against conscription into the Vietnam War. Claude (an unrecognizable Scott Esposito), his good friend Berger (Nicky Belardo), their roommate Sheila (Jessie Cope Miller*) and their friends struggle to balance their young lives, loves and the sexual revolution with their rebellion against the war and their conservative parents and society. Ultimately, Claude must decide whether to resist the draft as his friends have done, or to succumb to the pressures of his parents (and conservative America) to serve in Vietnam, compromising his pacifistic principles and risking his life.

But the biggest enemy in this production, or at least on opening night, is not the Viet Cong or an irrational government plowing straight into a war that was not winnable, thus sending home veterans with Agent Orange in their system and PTSD, but the muddled vocal sound. I sat in the center section, and for the first 20 minutes of this show, it sounded like everyone was muffled, and it was simply hard to hear. Only when the belters were cranking, or the ensemble was singing, did I hear the fabulous come through. The orchestra seems to be coming through the same speaker as the vocals for the cast, and the cast is losing that speaker battle. I literally kept looking at the sound board operator to see if he was alive. Berger came on, it was like his mic was off, and the song “Donna” became a non-event. Anyone singing upstage, vocal is completely lost. And that is a shame, because there is a lot of good stuff happening.

First of all, 20 minutes before the show opening, the theatre was almost completely full. How exciting to have that kind of support on an opening night. Also wafting through the air was some good herb, but don’t worry, the legal kind. Must say, the mood was so set and ready to go. Leading the vocalists is Miller, who creates a powerful rendition of “Easy To Be Hard.” Every song she sings is blessed with striking vocals and emotional content. Neely Gevaart embodies Chrissy with a beautiful innocence as she weaves her love story with “Frank Mills.” Becca Frick gives some great face during her numbers, and scenes. “Air” is grand, and her “takes” on proceedings are priceless, as is the pregnancy smoking. Joanna May Hunkins is vocally in charge as she opens the show with “Aquarius” and never lets us go. Scott Esposito takes us on a grand journey as Claude. Strong voice, deft acting, and an arc that takes you with him, as he battles his demons and conformity. Tonya Broach raises the roof and lets it fly, even as Abe Lincoln. Nothing better than music from the soul, from a soul sister. Broach tears apart her songs like a pulled pork dinner, and there are shreds of fabulous everywhere. One of the major highlights of the show was “Black Boys” “White Boys.” These ladies took some names. Nicky Belardo as Berger certainly had the hippie movement down, but the sound issues really hurt me connecting with him. When there was clarity, I dug his character. However, I was confused when he wasn’t singing on the flag song. Devon Settles serving up some awesome Shaft inspired characterization as Hud. Once again, Trey Gilpin uses his falsetto as a weapon as Woof. Nice turn David Turner, as Margaret Mead.

The “Tribe” is excellent. This crowd is like “Hippies gone wild”, except you get a front row seat. Filled with energetic, talented, engrossing, and personable individuals, who are fearlessly embracing the material. Great vocal energy and movement. The tribe also includes Wesley Allen, Andrea Belser, Roderick Cardwell II, Venchise Glenn, Shannon Hubman, Jillian Mesaros, Kate Leigh Michalski, and Joe Virgo.,

On the Production Staff:

I really enjoyed Ciamacco’s vision. The use of projection work, and staging was excellent. Brad Wyner provided a kick ass band. Jessie Cope Miller as Choreographer had a blast with this show. Her moves were right on target. Inventive, fun, and just enough hippie sass to elevate the numbers. Thanks to costumer Luke Scattergood, costumes were groovy. Perren Hedderson killed it with his projection work. So many incredible visual treats to absorb and process. Excellent work. The ending is very powerful. Lighting Design by Cory Molner was ok, but I had noticed that the front light didn’t seem to be focused center, or the actors were missing their mark. Quite a few times, the actors had crescent moons on their faces. Also, at the final blackout, a light remained on the stage, which took away from the final moment. The contrast between the on stage projection work and actual lighting, made the non-projection scenes seem more hollow and bare. Ciamacco designed the Sound, and also, the Set Design, which worked great for the space, and offered perfect audience interaction decks.

This is a wild and important ride. The sound issues will be resolved. The musical offers great insight into the mindset of a generation that forced society and government to rise up to a challenge. The audiences will eat this show alive, and you want to make sure you have a seat at the table. Get your Hippie On!

No Sex Please, We’re British at Huntington Playhouse

Huntington Playhouse

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: August 23, 2014

You probably have never heard of him, but Anthony Marriott passed away this year in London, at the age of 83. He was well known in British circles for co-writing the record-setting play, “No Sex Please, We’re British,” written by Marriott and Alistair Foot (who died a few weeks before opening night in London), which ran in the West End for more than 16 years, from June 1971 until September 1987, a total of 6,761 performances. And to this day, is the longest-running comedy in the history of theater in England. The only other productions that have run longer are “The Mousetrap” and “The Woman in Black.” Currently, Huntington Playhouse is unleashing this farce on local audiences. In order to enjoy this wild ride, it would be a great benefit if you were a fan of “Benny Hill,” as the show is strewn with physical comedy and enough innuendo to last for years.

The plot involves a young bride (Jena Gross), and her husband (Steve Martin), who is the assistant manager at a bank, who innocently sends a mail order off for some Scandinavian glassware. What comes is Scandinavian pornography. The plot revolves around what is to be done with the veritable floods of pornography, photographs, books, films, and eventually girls (Natalie Romano, Will Crosby) that threaten to engulf this happy couple. The matter is considerably complicated by the man’s mother (Meg Parish), his boss (David Hundertmark), a visiting bank inspector (Jordon Fleming), a police superintendent (Ron Young), and a muddled friend (Bob McClure), who does everything wrong in his reluctant efforts to set everything right.

Director Christopher Bizub takes on this rather outdated relic with zeal. I say outdated, because most of the comedy bits have been around for years, so it is a tough task to make this fresh and shockingly funny. The assembled cast does a valiant job, but due to the air conditioning keeping the audience cool, the actors who project the best and have the clearest diction are the winners. McClure as Brian, is one of those individuals who pulls off a physically chaotic and amusing performance. This would be the local answer to Chris Farley, and he literally does everything he can to create havoc, except throw himself on the coffee table and destroy it. Martin as Peter, and Gross as Frances, have their jobs cut out for them. Having the job of being the Rob and Laura of the evening, they are surrounded with characters that are constantly vying for the audience’s attention. For the most part they hold up well. Martin creates a frenetic character that serves as a comedic ping pong ball, as he bounces around navigating this motley crew of British invaders. Gross is charming, but her diction distracts, as does her habit of looking in the audience. Parish is wonderful as Eleanor, Peter’s Mother. With grace, charm and comedic timing, Parish turns in a very fun performance. As does her eventual suitor, Hundertmark. Fleming and Young have fun with their supporting contributions, but I would suggest Fleming wear an extra pair. Romano and Crosby definitely get the reaction that fans of Benny Hill would love.

The show lacks a crispness in some of the physical comedy, but the constant flow of motion was definitely well paced. With so many entrances and exits, the cast was a well-timed machine. There are many more smiles here, than laughs, but this is one bottle of wine away from a raucous evening of old school comedy.

Stage Manager Joy DeMarco, Set Design Tom Meyrose, Light and Sound Design Chuck Tisdale, and Costume Design David Glowe.

The Seven Year Itch at Cassidy Theatre

Cassidy Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: August 20, 2014

“The grass is always greener on the other side.” From time to time, so many of us forget how good we actually have it, or forget how special the loved ones in our lives really are. This sobering thought get a comedic turn in the 1952 George Axelrod play, The Seven Year Itch, currently charming audiences at The Cassidy Theatre. The “Itch” explores a phrase that was used by psychologists to explain a feeling of declining interest, or a need for a change, after several years of marriage. In 1955, this play was produced as a film, and starred Marilyn Monroe and Original Broadway star Tom Ewell. The film features the iconic scene of Monroe standing on top of a subway grate, as her white dress is blown around by a passing train underneath.

Director Jenna Messina has assembled a great cast to create a well-paced, and well-acted production. Her direction highlights well staged “Fantasy moments” that offer insights as to what the main character would love to see happen based on his selfish decisions, or insights into how it could go all go to pot, with the wrong decision.

For the story, Richard Sherman (a very funny Jim Dove), is tempted by a beautiful neighbor (fetching Madeline Krucek), while his wife Helen (Aleece Roach) and son Ricky (Mason Kruse), are away for the summer.

The anchor of the evening is Dove. He is engaging, personable, and has a lovable Jackie Gleason type quality. He deftly navigates through this journey of tortured obsession to comedic delight. The audience ate him up. The part is huge, and Dove always managed to find fresh, funny way to keep us engaged. As The Girl, which is the only reference to her in the script, Krucek does a knockout job. Embodying a role made famous by Monroe, Krucek takes her time and established her own characterization. She is as fearless on stage, as she is beautiful. Creating her own complex demure temptress, with layers of survivor skills and naiveté. While the higher register voice wears after a bit, Krucek overcomes that with engaging appeal and comedic skill.

The supporting cast is terrific. Aleece Roach (Helen) takes a fine turn as the wife. Radiant, beautiful, and saucy. I really enjoyed Neil Donnelly as the Radio Announcer, turned advice giver, a lot. He has a film noir flair and Bogart swagger to his delivery. Even announcing the ball game was interesting. Special shout out to Brandon-Soeder Penner as Dr. Brubaker, for knowing the combination to the suitcase, when it wouldn’t open. Nice catch.

This is a great evening out, especially for the older crowd that remembers this classic film. And yes, the dress does arrive on stage to grand delight.Time to grab your parents and head out to the theatre. But the night I attended, all ages were there. Funny is funny, no matter what age.

Direction and Costumes Jenna Messina, Stage Manager Lou Petrucci, Props by Sue Overton, Lighting by Jeremiah Landi, Set by Kenneth Slaughter, and Sound by Slaughter and Messina (which sounds like a great band name)

Jekyll and Hyde, The Musical at Olmsted Performing Arts

Olmsted Performing Arts

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: August 8, 2014

I would imagine that Angela Boehm (Producer/Director) and Christina Haviland (Director), had a “Thelma and Louise” moment, when they decided to produce and direct Jekyll and Hyde, The Musical at Olmstead Performing Arts (OPA). In the past, OPA has been known for ultra-family friendly theatre, and rather conservative productions. The choice to produce Jekyll and Hyde, The Musical is similar to the finale of “Thelma and Louise”, where the two ladies clasp hands, slam on the accelerator, and take a perilous flight. In the case of this production, OPA should be proud. Not only do they take on heavier material, stretch their actor base, but also offer two equity contracts as part of their mission to become a professional theatre. I am thrilled when theatres create opportunities for equity contracts, and provide more work for the equity community. The directors also cast strong local individuals in their supporting roles to round out the excursion into new territory.

The story is based on the book “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson. Music is by Frank Wildhorn, Lyrics by Wildhorn, Leslie Bricusse, and Steve Cuden, and book by Wildhorn. The musical premiered on Broadway in March, 1997. The story revolved around a devoted man of science, Dr. Henry Jekyll (Michael Padgett*), who is driven to find a chemical breakthrough that can solve his father’s comatose state, and eventually be able to help others. Aided by his associate and longtime friend John Utterson (Josh Rhett Noble*), Jekyll presents his suggested study to the Board of Governors (an eclectic mix), and is denied. Jekyll then decided to use himself as a subject for his experiments, and the results are devastating.

Padgett as Jekyll/Hyde is fantastic. Firing on all cylinders, this artist created an accessible Jekyll, showing his humanity, and then slowly, the venerability as he pursued his objective. With soaring vocals, he commands “This Is The Moment”, with show stopping resilience, counters with illuminated darkness on Hyde’s dramatic “Alive”, and is eerily monstrous in the tender “Sympathy, Tenderness.” This is a well textured and beautiful performance. Natalie Green, as Lucy, is electric and hot. Besides her sheer beauty, Green brings powerhouse vocals and deft acting skills to the role. She handles the knock out numbers like “Someone Like You” and “A New Life”, as if key changes were kernels of popcorn, and she is hungry. Seemingly effortless vocal work, that results in a spectacular presentation for the audience. When Padgett and Green tangle in “Dangerous Game”, I had to remind myself I wasn’t watching pay for view. Riveting, provocative, and beautifully executed.

The role of John Utterson is kind of a thankless role. Important to the story, but not given tremendous weight, that is, until you have someone with the class and style of Noble. He brings layers of emotion, and tremendous stage presence to his scenes, and becomes a quiet anchor to the distressing storyline. I don’t know if this role warrants an equity contract, but I am sure glad that OPA did. Quality intact. And speaking of quality, this was my first encounter watching Rachel Anderson perform. As Emma Crew, she has a beautiful presence, a beautiful voice, and gorgeous look. Her voice soared, and was textured with strength and compassion. Rounding out the four horsemen or horsepersons, Anderson delivered a great portrayal, and along with Green, created a vocal event with “In His Eyes”.

The sound performances don’t stop there. Jeffrey Braun, as Sir Danvers Carew, was spot on as Emma’s father. Good vocals and character. Rebecca Riffle as Nellie, provided a fabulous chassis, sass for days, and her own strong set of pipes. Michael Vitovich, as The Spider, was appropriately creepy and mean. As a group, the Board of Governors was a blast, and certainly provided much entertainment as they met their ill-timed end.

The robust ensemble was certainly pushed by the choreography, provided by Josh Landis. They did dive right in and create mostly strong images, but the main critique is faces. They need to be more expressive and connected to the piece and lyrics that are happening. The distraction could come from trying to keep up with the dance, guess the next move, but you cannot let that affect your face. And, in the numbers, everyone should be coming into the scene on the same superlative idea, which can be individually interpreted and performed with each other. You are so important to any piece of theatre that is heavy on leads. The ensemble is the element that takes it to another level. So kick butt, have some fun, and Kill It!

As far as the direction, there are some details that caught my eye. The opening reveal could have been more impressive with set. Too vast of a stage to open up for the beginning. Scene changes were great, but at one moment, a crew member crossed from stage right to stage left, to help move a stage left staircase, that was distracting. One of my biggest peeves is a “button” on the end of songs, or dance numbers. Coordinating actors, lights and music, to create a crisp ending is key to executing a solid number. I found those lacking several times. Also, the lighting cues seemed off sometimes. However, the “Confrontation” lighting was great, just as long as the cues are flawless. And the staging of the wedding at the end, was excellent. What was lacking, will all get better in time. This is a great beginning.

Choreography by Landis was energetic and creative, although I would have preferred a bit more realism in “Murder, Murder”. But Landis pushed his ensemble hard, and the results strived to get the best out of everyone, which in many cases, was great. Loved the umbrellas. Judy Crandall coached great vocals, and David W. Coxe, led a talented orchestra.

Meghan Cvetic called a good show, Technical Director Bob Foraker provided effective scenery. Some scenes could have used more depth, but his best work was the basement laboratory. That was cool. The Lighting Design by Gary Holsopple is fine. And, Josh Caraballo provided great sound design, along with Dawn Hyde. (Any relation?) Costumer Jane Christyson provided some great looks.

Thelma and Louise should be very proud of this leap of faith.

The Frogs at Cain Park

Cain Park
Professional Equity House

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: August 6, 2014

Currently at the Alma Theatre in Cain Park, is a fascinating production of the award winning The Frogs. (Award winning in 405 B.C.). This satire took shots at the political arena of the day, and also, enjoyed poking fun at the theatre audience, with gems like “If it’s not sold out, I don’t want to see it.” Written by Aristophanes, this play has enjoyed quite a journey of adaptation, in order to find it present form as a musical. In 1941 Bret Shevelove adapted the play into a book musical, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. In 1979, Nathan Lane became interested and added his own revamping of the piece, which enabled taking more current jabs at political situations. So with additional music by Sondheim, the Lane driven adaptation opened on Broadway on July 22, 2004.

Being a Sondheim aficionado, Director Martin Friedman has spent the past 20 years exploring his intricate and demanding work. So, with the support of Cain Park Artistic Director Ian Hinz, and Producer Erin Cameron Miller, this greatly under produced musical came to fruition. Friedman has assembled a remarkable production team and adventurous thespians to tackle this romp to Hades and back. The musical follows Dionysos (Dan Folino*), Greek god of wine and drama, and his slave Xanthias (Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly*), on a journey to Hades to collect renowned critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw (Michael Regnier), so that he may enlighten the misled and corrupt (The Frogs), who are engulfed in their own clouded vision. They are assisted by Herakles (Darryl Lewis*), as he provides an undercover personae. Along this journey to Hades, they meet gods, lost souls, and some creepy Matrix loving Frogs. Finally, with the permission of Pluto (Nicole Sumlin*), Dionysos has to choose between Shaw and William Shakespeare (Mitchell Fields*), in the Hades version of “So You Think You Can Recite.”

This production is entertaining as hell, but also had some confusing moments. The confusing moments are observations intended for the director. As far as entertaining, Folino brings his exuberant talent to the role of Dionysos. With tremendous confidence and charm, he certainly would be able to win any election as a write in candidate. With a clear voice, deft diction, he handles the scored life a pro, while delivering his sarcastic comedic bits with wild abandon. I am sure some are scripted, and some are definitely not. Confusing was the fact that in Act One, the comedic delivery was in the style of comedian Mitch Hedberg, and then in Act Two, that seemed to go away. As the sidekick Xanthias, Reilly goes toe to toe with Folino, delivering a full out, fearless, crazy and eventually hormone induced character. Exuding confidence, she was the perfect foil partner. However, this role was actually intended for a male, which would make the story almost a buddy adventure. Because of the choice to cast a female, the score needs to be adapted to a female voice range, which in this case made way for a higher register. And, when Xanthias loses her virginity, it becomes a lesbian adventure, however, it would be a lot funnier, if “his” first time was getting laid by Amazon woman. Go big, or go home. But, that is just me.

One of the funniest characters in this show is Charon, the ferryman of Hades, played with one liner brilliance by Eric Thomas Fancher. Killing me. His one eyed patched creepy ferryman gig was outstanding. And just as entertaining as Aekos, the Gatekeeper. Good Stuff. Lewis arrives on the scene looking like Mr. T’s twin, who decided to enter musical theatre. He has a grand presence, a powerful voice, an electric face and comedic chops to sell everything. Sumlin is purple pleasure palace of talent. Entering like Beyonce on tour, she illuminates the stage with her voice, presence, and sublime acting skills. And the fact that this role was intended for a male, didn’t stop her from making it her own.

The pièce de résistance of the evening is the showdown between Fields and Regnier. Each embodying their characters with deft characterization, these two are a scream. What is amazing about this whole moment, is the fact that what makes it so funny, is that the two actors deliver their prose in an uncanny realistic brilliant delivery. It is wonderful fun, and in itself, something you should not miss.

The rest of the cast is great. The stunning Neely Gevaart as Ariadne, the lost love, is memorizing. The cast execute some fierce choreography, led by dance captains, energetic Nora Culley^+, and the uber talented Tom Sweeney^+. Sidney Perelman, Trey Gilpin^, Lydia Hall, Kelly Elizabeth Smith^, and Meg Wittman^ deliver some intense Frog realness.

Director Friedman has done a great job bringing this piece to life. It is a fearless decision. His staging is wonderful, and his supporting and positive presence is felt throughout. Music Director Nathan Motta provided excellent music direction, and also extended his musical vision with the hiring of Conductor/Keyboard Jordan Cooper to lead the pit. Martin Cespedes~ knocked it out of the pond. I’m sorry, I tried not to do that. The dance in this show was awesome, and the creative energy that flowed into this piece was executed with outstanding precision. Ron Newell is a scenic design god of his own. This set was fierce, and The River Styx was very cool, and sturdy for the actors that must cross. (When Mitchell Fields crosses the river, I think the entire audience is holding their breath). Lighting Designer Trad A Burns brings his electric skills again, with great effects. Sound Designer Stan Kozak delivered balanced sound (Kudos to Friedman for the preying bird sound). Costume Designer Tesia Dugan Benson delivered the goods, from hippie attire to electric colored Lycra. Stage Manager Tom Humes* called a great show.

Oberlin Summer Theater Festival – Bittersweet Goodbye

Oberlin Summer Theater Festival

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: August 5, 2014

Oberlin Summer Theater Festival closed this past weekend, and my biggest regret is that I didn’t get there earlier. Based on what I saw during the production of Come Back, Little Sheba by William Inge, and directed by Paul Moser, I will not make that mistake again. I would suggest that all of us, put it on our calendar for next summer and be on the lookout.

The Festival produces high quality productions and is populated by Oberlin’s Professional teaching staff, and students of the Oberlin College and Conservatory. Any actors that join in on the programming from outside, are exceptional performers. The most amazing part of this gift, it that it is FREE to the public. Oberlin itself is a quaint town with shops and restaurants to explore before or after the show. There is even another theatre of high regard in the area, The Mad Factory. It is a perfect theatrical storm of talent, which leaves you enriched and fulfilled and extra money for dessert.

The production of Come Back, Little Sheba was riveting. Karen Nelson Moser*, as Lola, brought a damaged and honest truth, which allowed herself if delve fearlessly into the world of co-dependence. Matthew Wright* provided a devastating arc to Doc. Wright brilliantly wore the veil of strength and old fashioned ideals, while slowly peeling back layers that eventually revealed a darkness that could only be assuaged by alcohol. It was a powerful descent into the hell that the Serenity Prayer fights against. Annie Winneg as Marie brought a realistic portrayal of young love, and the fickle moments that teeter on destroying what is really good. Her honesty of who she was, lent itself to be a formidable assault on the veneer of Doc. Colin Wulff, as Turk, was perfect in physicality and manner. Wulff delivered a solid rendering of this young man, pursuing love with straightforward passion, and playful angst.

The rest of the cast was solid. So much so, that when Danny Prikazsky, as the Milkman, arrived on the scene, I wanted to punch him for being cold to Lola. Jordan Golding, Laura Starnik, David Cotton, William Quick, Axandre Oge, Tiffany Ames and Pete Ferry* rounded out the talented ensemble of supporting characters.

I can’t wait for next summer. I will not miss this fabulous opportunity again. I call road trip, and shotgun!

The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein at Beck Center for the Arts

Beck Center for the Arts

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: July 29, 2014

This past weekend, I got to take a trip to Transylvania Heights, courtesy of the Beck Center for the Arts Production of The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Fronkensteen, oops, I mean, Frankenstein. The musical is based on the 1974 comedy film of the same name. It has a book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, and music and lyrics by Brooks. It seemed to make sense after the success of The Producers, created by the same team, to bring another one of Brooks’s films to the stage. Frank opened on Broadway in November 2007, to mixed reviews. Unfortunately, the show didn’t enjoy the success of The Producers, and closed after a year. That in itself is not a bad accomplishment, but just not the sensation that everyone was hoping. There were several reasons why this musical didn’t work as well. The film is a classic, and the book isn’t able to capture the cinematic joy that ensued. Also, the score is not as strong, and certainly does not contain the kick ass ensemble numbers that are needed to propel the evening into glorious success. The book doesn’t help the ensemble either, by not giving them exciting moments to explore and generate enough action. Having said that, Brooks’s fans will find a strong connection to the story, enjoying each famous punch line, as was witnessed when I attended last Saturday night. Theatre goers not familiar with the film and the style of humor, may not be impressed, but the loyal fans will eat this up. Due to the fact that this past Saturday night, during the third weekend of the run, was virtually sold out, it is obvious that word of mouth is driving sales. Which in the end, is the ultimate compliment to a production.

The plot involves the Grandson of the infamous Victor Frankenstein, Fredrerick (Jamie Koeth*), who inherits his family’s estate in Transylvania. He leaves his fiancée Elizabeth (Lindsey Mitchell*) behind, to settle the estate. Once he arrives, he is assisted by Igor (Alex Smith), and a well-educated, um, well…, um, you get it, lab assistant Inga (Leslie Andrews), and the resident guide Frau Blucher (Amiee Collier). Haunted by ghosts of the past, he is drawn into his grandfather’s work, and as a result, all comedic hell breaks loose.

As a result of not having a Broadway budget, Artistic Director/Director Scott Spence has to come up with some creative ways to emulate the films key visual moments. Most of those clever remedies come in the use of a projection window in the upper half of the castle wall, which recreate and suggest some of the more technical and hydraulic moments of the film. And, offers a firework display that is quite orgasmic.

Christopher Aldrich as The Monster is an incredible delight. He is a spectacular big green, tap-dancing, guttural singing hot mess of fun. There is no doubt we might see him some day leading a national tour of this show. As his creator, Frederick, Koeth is burdened with the inevitable comparison to Gene Wilder, who played Frederick in the film. In this production, armed with a powerful voice, mad patter skills, and hair that got wilder (no pun intended) as the show went on, he carves out a unique frenetic descent into crazy town.

As Frau Blucher (neighing), Collier kills it. She serves up a fierce characterization, which is a deft homage to the film. Collier serves so much face, it must take her an hour to un-Blucher herself. Her formidable voice is entertaining as hell, and she brings the house down in one of the best numbers in the show, He Vas My Boyfriend. Lady power continues with the golden haired bombshell Andrews, giving Inga, a delightful roll in the hay, and a romp near a dangerous lighting rod, thank you, both to comedic delight. I don’t really know what bounced more, but I think her yodeling notes won in the end. Andrews was a delight. As Elizabeth, Mitchell enters the arena with confidence, a quirky appeal, which really works for her transformation after some Monster, and I don’t mean the drink, to hilarious results.

Smith is an absolute hoot as Igor. Flying around the stage with wild abandon, I am sure there are many requests to adopt him after the show. He has an engaging presence, fabulous timing, and works a hump like a pro. Every time he appears on stage, something delightful is going to happen. John Busser as Inspector Kemp must have a blast every performance. His character is a scream, and his timing with the infamous arm, is a treat. Very funny stuff. I could not get enough of Mark Heffernan as the Hermit. His sense of calm deliberate comedy is a gift. I will never be able to watch a waitress pour my coffee again the same way. So funny.

The Ensemble is a wall of solid beautiful vocals. Filled with energy, and working and dancing every moment they can from the score and staging. But, the one you remember is pint sized Elise Pakiela. A young lady that is a thrilling triple threat that permeates the stage. She is in the front of the group numbers, leading her colleagues with fierce confident performance heaven. It is only a matter of time for this down to earth grounded young performer. Great featured work.

The production team worked hard on this technical workout. Musical Director Larry Goodpaster turned in another suburb sounding orchestra. Martin Cespedes worked what he could with the big numbers, and created audience pleasers. One of the highlights of the show is Puttin’ on the Ritz. A fantastic dance song and dance number that starts out with Frederick and The Monster, and turns into a fantastic memorable number. Cespedes knocked the number out of the castle. Scenic Designer Cameron Caley Michalak designed a formidable set that gave castle realness, impressive knockers, and a hide and seek bookcase. Lighting Designer Trad A Burns fired up the electrics, deftly creating lots of lightning and castle effects. Costume Designer Aimee Kluiber served up some great choices. Stage Manager Libby White called a great show. Sound Designer Carlton Guc provided balanced sound. Video Designer saved the technical day with some fun projections. And Technical Director Joseph Carmola brought all the elements together with quality.

Critically, this may not be the best constructed piece, but sometimes, it is just a blast to sit back and laugh at what makes you laugh. I know the horses on the hayride made me laugh. That is the silly stuff that will get you in the end. It did me. (Neighing) for no reason.

Oliver! at Porthouse Theatre

Porthouse Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: July 26, 2014

Porthouse Theatre is currently serving up the musical Oliver! With music, lyrics and book by Lionel Bart, the musical is based upon the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, published in 1838. The story is about an orphan, Oliver Twist, who endures a miserable existence in a workhouse and then is placed with an undertaker. He escapes and travels to London where he meets the Artful Dodger, leader of a gang of juvenile pickpockets. Naïvely unaware of their unlawful activities, Oliver is led to the lair of their elderly criminal trainer Fagin. From there, Oliver travels through some rough spots, until he finally meets his destiny. Along the way, he encounters many memorial characters. The musical had a Broadway premiere in 1963 and enjoyed a long successful run.

The plot of Dickens’ original novel is considerably simplified for the purposes of the original musical, with Fagin being represented more as a comic character than as a villain. This premise seems to permeate this particular production of Oliver! Terri Kent*^ seems to have chosen a lighter presentation of the show, focusing on the more entertaining aspects, rather than digging into the disturbing layers. Reflected in that choice is the break neck pace of the show. Each scene seamlessly shifting from one location to the next, and at times not allowing the emotional set up for some of the heartbreaking moments and songs of the show. So, if you are looking for a darker interpretation, you won’t find that here. But, if you enjoy a pick me up polished production, what you will find is a slick, musically rich, vocally powerful, visually enticing, and character rich production. It is kind of Oliver!-lite. From the reaction throughout the piece from the audience, it is clear that Kent knows exactly what her audience wants, and she has assembled a fantastic production team to illuminate the dark roads of London. Along with an assemblage of kids that could melt an ice storm in seconds with charm and talent.

Before the show started I heard the orchestra tuning up, and I was delighted that Musical Director Jonathan Swoboda chose to assemble a kick ass orchestra to fire up the score. And speaking of kicking some butt, Choreographer MaryAnn Black* took hold of the space and turned in some spectacular dance, and provided the kids with charming and lighthearted moves, which had the audience wanting to throw their wallets at them, instead of them having to work so hard to steal their treasure. Working within a limited dance space, Black was able to make those talented hoofers bust out some moves that were a joy to watch.

Cameron Nelson+ was a delight as Oliver Twist. With a heartbreaking sweet voice, and sass for days, Nelson traversed this tale with gusto and confidence, while taking the audience along. Her performance certainly took hold of our hearts. Patrick Kennedy* was terrific as the Artful Dodger. Full of confidence, clear diction, and a full voice, he sang, finagled, and danced right into the victory lane. Fagin, delightfully played by Eric Van Baars*^, was a fantastic ride of wrong. He gave Fagin such an entertaining personably edge, even though everything his character is doing is abhorrent. In other productions, I usually have to down a 5 hour energy drink somewhere in the middle of Reviewing the Situation, but here, Baars was terrific and entertaining.

Ok, somebody give Mr. Bumble (Timothy Culvert+) and Widow Corney (Lissy Gulick) a cabaret show. These two actors were killing me in this show. Both are equipped with powerhouse voices, and comedic timing that kept me from eating my soft pretzel, and just laughing. Which is saying a lot. Culver embracing every hysterical nuance of his character, while belting out BOY FOR SALE, like it was just another day on the Thames. And Gulick, bouncing around in that fabulous costume, like her undergarments were full of helium, and working what God gave her to great amusement.

For some reason, I never got the depth of despair or aggression from Nancy (Miriam Henkel-Moellmann+) and Bill Sykes (Brian Keith Johnson*). Their voices were glorious and certainly strong acting chops, but for Moellmann, not until the reprise of As Long As He Needs Me, did the angst and power truly connect. Johnson has a superb operatic voice, but some of his low notes were lost, and I was distracted by the riff at the end of My Name. In honesty, the edginess might be a victim of the pace. They were consummate professionals, and certainly earned that London street cred and the audiences’ approval.

The rest of the cast was great, creating one entertaining scene after another. The Boy’s Ensemble was a blast. A wonderful carnage of sweet faces, dancing feet, and unbridled energy. And the supporting characters were each a dose of comedic gold.

Costume Designer Sarah Russell did a terrific job, Stage Manager Derric Nolte* called a great show, Lighting Designer T.C. Kouyeas, Jr. created a visual treat (loved the confrontation isolate), Technical Director Ryan T. Patterson efficiently pulled the elements together, Scenic Designer Nolan C. O’Dell did a superb job, Sound Designer provided great balance.

Although this production doesn’t delve deep into the darkness, it is full of energetic performances that deserve a visit. All I heard around me was “This was terrific.”

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at Blank Canvas Theatre

Blank Canvas Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: July 24, 2014

Blank Canvas Theatre serves some psychotic realness during the current offering of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which is based on the novel of the same name written in 1962 by Ken Kesey. Set in a psychiatric hospital, the book serves as a study of the institutional process and the human mind. It also explores the interaction of those less fortunate, and the inner demons that control us, and the outer demons that can harbor ill will against us. The novel was adapted into a Broadway play by Dale Wasserman in 1963. Bo Goldman adapted the novel for the 1975 film directed by Miloš Forman, which won five Academy Awards. Most people will remember the film that starred Jack Nicholson, but seeing the story live, makes for a fascinating evening of theatre.

The stage adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel, captures the radical and anti-establishment mood of the 1960s. Tyrannical Nurse Ratched (Anne McEvoy) rules her psychiatric ward with an iron fist and a penchant for electro shock therapy. Into her ordered domain, enters the boisterous Randle P. McMurphy (Daniel McElhaney), intent on disruption and showing the other patients a good time. A titanic battle of wills emerges. The conflict explores the boundaries between conformity and individuality, sanity and madness, all culminating with a devastating effect.

Director, Set and Sound Designer, and Technical Director Pat Ciamacco has created a fascinating playground for the mental ward to flourish. The theatre space has been cleverly transformed into an antiseptic psych ward, complete with a second level of windows that house the nurses on view. Into the space enters a fine crew of actors, each with their quirk and method on how to survive the Nurse from hell.

The superlative showdown is between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy, where in McEvoy and McElhaney face off quite effectively in this piece. McEvoy gives a tempered performance that just bristles with a surface level cruelty, that makes you just want to smack her upside the head. With complete control, McEvoy efficiently and effectively, portrays the mind control of the patients and staff with emotionally brutalizing glee. McElhaney enters the space like he just jumped on the highest level on a mechanical bull. He gives us a highly frenetic character with endless energy and focus, showing cracks in his armor as his gambling pervades. It did seem overall there was one level, which eliminated exploring the moments where subtle strength could be applied. But, both actors come at each other from ends of the spectrum, and the result is devastating and entertaining.

Aaron Patterson delivered the goods in Chief Bromden. His physicality was well chosen, and certainly created a sense of “there is something more to this guy.” It was a controlled, nuanced performance. John J. Polk was entertaining as hell as the intellectual and sexually repressed Dale Harding. His comic delivery was spot on, but also, he delivered a heartbreaking breakdown. But the highlight was the performance given by Perren Hedderson, as Billy Bibbit. Quietly without fanfare, a beautiful character was developed and executed. Playing the role with such truth, and not overdoing the mental restraints that torture his character. Watching the transformation from boy to man, and then back, was truly blissful acting. The rest of the boys were terrific, each with their quirks and fitting perfectly into the puzzle. I was amazed how Michael N. Herzog, as Martini, sustained his neurosis. With seemingly endless movement and hallucinations, his character was heartbreaking and amusing, a compelling presentation.

Ken Allan as Dr. Spivey was awesome. Giving us clarity and levelheadedness, as best he could. Monica Zach was a delightful tart and sexual conquest, giving just the right amount of fluff.

One general note is that as the fans keep the audience cooler and more comfortable, which they are, at times it would have helped if the actors were louder on stage. I am sure this is a battle that comes from having a theatre space packed with audiences. Packed being the operative word.

The show is very good, the pace is great, and the ending is so bizarrely hypocritical that it unnerved me to no end. That is a good production.

Stage Manager Brittany Gaul called a great show. Costume Designer Luke Scattergood knew he whites well. Lighting Designer Cory Molner was dead on.

Sunset Boulevard at Mercury Summer Stock

Mercury Summer Stock

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: July 24, 2014

Mercury Summer Stock is now serving up a stunning production of Sunset Boulevard, largely due to nuanced performances, and the remarkable and inventive direction by Pierre-Jacques Brault (Artistic Director/Co-Founder). There is no doubt that this show is an acquired taste. It is narrative in nature, the score contains two massive theatrical hits, but the rest of the score is not something that you will take with you. But what does stay with you are dynamic performances, surrounded by a visual treat that pays homage to the glory days of Hollywood. The production is filled with clever staging and cinematic projections that transport you into the world of Norma Desmond. Sunset Boulevard pays homage to the 1950 film that starred the legendary Gloria Swanson, and William Holden.

The plot revolves around Norma Desmond (fantastic Helen Todd), a silent film star who has faded since the advent of “talkies.” She lives in her decaying mansion in Los Angeles, aided by her servant Max Van Mayerling (appealing Jonathan Bova). When Joe Gillis (wonderful Brian Marshall – Managing Director/Co-Founder), a young screenwriter, cross paths with Desmond, she believes that he can help her make a comeback to the big screen. What results is a convoluted tale of love, betrayal, and tragedy.

Helen Todd as Norma Desmond is wonderful in so many ways. She is the right mix of crazy, despair, drive and loneliness. Todd’s voice is soaring and is textured perfectly for this role, whether she is belting or tapping into her inner depths. She also knows how to work the spectacular wardrobe. At the end of Never Can Say Goodbye, when Todd is singing to those of us in the dark, the room is eerily silent, because the audience was spellbound. Matching Todd in bravado is Brian Marshall as Joe Gillis. Cutting a fine figure right out of the film noir motif, Marshall has a striking and refined voice. The score makes full use of his impressive range. He is in complete command at all times, and tackles the narration with aplomb, while deftly singing and carrying us all on the journey into madness. Excellent work. Jackie Komos as Betty Schafer is gorgeous on many levels, but especially her voice and her acting chops. She built a great character, and delivered the goods to create the romantic tension that was a major component to the tragic end. Jonathan Bova as Max Von Mayerling was perfect for the doting servant for Norma. Protective, sensitive and caring. Nicely composed character, who hides a secret that is delivered passionately. His vocals were a tender addition to the chaos.

The rest of the cast was spot on. Carter Welo as Cecil B. Demille was great in character and look. Jimmy Ferko (Artie Green), Will Sanborn (Sheldrake), and Dan DiCello (Manfred) all contributed beautifully to this epic tale. The ensemble can sing. Beautiful, strong vocals permeated the evening to the delight of all. What a powerful talent pool.

As I said before, this is not a typical theatrical experience. When this was on Broadway, one of the main attractions was the set, which hydraulically could change set locations by literally raising and lowering the set. With that daunting visual, most directors would take a pass at trying to reproduce the show. However, not in the hands of the incredibly inventive Brault. Major kudos for this outstanding production and visual celebration. Devine Musical Direction provided by Eddie Carney. Stage Manager Joseph Pavelek and Assistant Stage Manager Zach Burton called a great show. Brilliant lighting design by Robert Peck, and a great balance provided by Sound Designer Eric Simna.

This is quite a production. Take a chance on something different. You will never walk down a flight of stairs the same way again.



Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: July 23, 2014

It might be possible that there are more productions of RENT in the Cleveland area, then there are Republicans in the NRA. So, off I go to see the current production of RENT presented by Cameo, helmed by Uber Producer Michael A. Sferro, which is performed at the Medina Performing Arts Center. Producing this show within the confines of a high school could potentially mean devastating cuts to the script, but luckily, the only edit came in the form of the word “frickin”, during the Tango Maureen. So on a set bedazzled with fluorescent graffiti, and appropriate back alley realness, we begin.

For those of you who do not know theater, have no theatre friends, or are afraid of theatre people, let me share the story. RENT is a rock musical with lyrics, music and book by Jonathan Larson. It tells the story of impoverished young artists and citizens who inhabit New York City’s East Village, in the frenetic days of Bohemian Alphabet City. One of the major issues that pierces the core of this musical is the devastation of HIV/AIDS, especially during the beginning of the crisis. This emotionally stunning musical won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for Best Musical.

Director Maggie Steffen has assembled a vocally energetic, and mostly collegiate cast. Connor Stout (Roger Davis) and Danny DiMarino (Mark Cohen), are tremendous anchors to this production. Stout has a commanding voice that is captivating, and when need be, heartbreaking. He is fearless on stage, and provides adroit characterization. DiMarino is another powerhouse, possessing a dynamic voice and stage presence. He is charming as hell, and provides just the right narrative vibe. The only stumble is the end harmonies with Stout, just needs to be tuned up.

Austin Gantz (Tom Collins) and Ryan Routh (Angel Schunard) deliver standout performances. There storyline is perhaps the most controversial, and they both play the arc with complete confidence and appeal. Gantz is right on target and puts everything on the table with his reprise of I’ll Cover You. Routh is a triple hot mess of fierceness. His angel is so real and confident, you actually see the human inside, and not just Miss Claus flaunting around. His entrance reminded me of California Chrome busting out of the gate at the Kentucky Derby. Jacob Schafer (Benjamin Coffin III) is offering his best vocal work in years. Her character is just the right balance of jerk and appropriate corporate angst.

Jacqueline D’Attoma (Mimi Marquez) has a strong pure voice, a fishnet worthy body, and looks that would charm any guitar player. Venerability at her core, infuses her performance with an edgy ebb and flow. Jennifer Herron (Joanne Jefferson) and Sarah Husbands (Maureen Johnson) provide some girl power. Herron is uptight and methodical, and captures the aggressive attitude, but adds a level of humanity that is just right. Husbands is like an American Ninja of talent. Possessing a voice that is a gift, see enters the stage like she just landed on the moon, and decided to hold a concert called MaureenFest. Great work, giving us a bitchy artistic delight, who has a tender side, kinda, sort of, well, you can find it if you are patient.

As far as the direction, there is one major distraction in this production. That is the intensity. The stakes are not high enough for everyone involved. In fact, the production only truly sizzles when Mark is about to leave in Act Two. From that moment on, the levels of every performance rose and created the angst and fear of what this piece is addressing. Everyone sings and moves well, but when the ensemble is on for the group numbers, everyone is not connected in their own personal journey, whether that be hell, or fright, or confusion. I saw a few people consistently taking chances, such as Connor Green, Will Crosby, and Brooke Lytton, but not the whole collective. Each and every character, whether ensemble, or not, needs to take assessment and find more depth and emotional connection to what they are singing about. Group scenes exposed actors who looked like they didn’t know what to do. Also, there were moments of upstaging each other. Even Angel’s return at the end is blocked by the cast until he literally gets there. I thought the scene changes were a bit on the long side, but that might have been a result of the lack of tension and angst, that I felt on my part. This is not a bad production at all, but it just reminds me of Rent-lite.

Chorographer Oksana Klue added festive movement to the piece. Music Director Tom Bonezzi provided his usual standard of excellence. Scenic Designer Dale Seeds created a sharp, cook set with black light homage. Costume Designer Katie Peyton got it right with style. Lighting Designer Michael A. Sferro electrified the stage. Sound Designer Allen Redmon provided an excellent balance of sound and vocal, and covered failed mics invisible to the general audience. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded the music louder. Technical Director James Welch efficiently brings all the elements together.

Cameo is a great place, with a terrific producer. They aspire to push themselves professionally all the time, and that is a worthy mission for a community theatre.

The Music Man at Lorain Community Music Theater

Lorain Community Music Theater

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: July 22, 2014

This past weekend I travelled to 1912 River City, IA, compliments of Lorain Community Music theatre’s production of Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man. The story behind the musical is by Meredith Wilson and Franklin Lacey. This classic piece of Americana was Directed and Choreographed by the multi-talented Monica Olejko. I usually get a little apprehensive when community theatres attempt the classic big musicals, but to my delight, Olejko kept the pace flying from one entertaining clip after another.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Music Man, and I will pray for you, the show became a hit on Broadway in 1957, winning 5 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It starred Robert Preston, who also headed up the film version, along with Shirley Jones. The plot concerns Harold Hill (charming Joe Tutak), a traveling con man, who enters River City posing as a boys band organizer. He is able to sell band instruments to the naïve townsfolk. His plans include skipping town when he gets enough money, which gets foiled when he comes across the town librarian Marian Paroo (radiant Beth Whittington Van Horn). Their relationship is full of surprises, and eventually, involves all the residents in some way or another, including some memorial characters.

As the champions of this piece, Tutak and Van Horn are a good match. Tutak is a towering figure, who could double as a bouncer at the pool hall, with a solid baritone voice that suits the role perfectly. Pleasant, masculine, and engaging, but able to unveil some emotional cracks along the way. At times, he did seem out of step with the orchestra on the patter songs. And his softer upper range once on the bridge, was a bit strained and needs more support. Van Horn enters looking beautiful and tightly wrapped, emotionally, I mean. She cuts a clear uptight veneer, and very matter of fact personae, just what the doctor ordered. Doctor Who? Sorry, I digress. Van Horn has a strong voice, which is colored with an Amanda Seyfried Les Miz timbre. Elegant characterization, but I would have liked to see more of a smile in “Sweet and Low”, and more depth in “My White Knight.” Just pushing the emotional range a bit more.

The audience had a ball with the supporting characters in this musical. The cheeping Pick-A-Little Ladies, and the harmonizing Barbershop City Hall Members. The classic roles of Mayor Shinn (Ted S. Williams) and his wife Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn (Bernadette Hisey), were hilariously played out. Williams was a delightful hot mess of twisted vernacular, and a candidate for high blood pressure regarding his frequently interrupted performance career. Hisey was a scream throughout. Whether appearing at the town celebration dressed as a patriotic amazon, with a spear that looked like the July 4th blew up in her hand, or in the midst of Grecian urns, providing a voiceover that sounded like a voice coming out of a Target Kiosk, when you push the “Gentle Rain” CD sample. Tylar Dohar, as Marcellus Washburn, knocked it out of the cornfield. Dynamic, funny, and of great voice, he was a constant source of entertainment. Cathleen Phillips, as Mrs. Paroo, was another welcome delight. Great character choices, and an engaging encourager of love. Of note, Patrick Augustine as Charlie Cowell was a memorable comical anvil salesman, and head banging salesman David Trinter created a great bit.

The kids were great. Olejko has such a great connection with them, and that certainly showed well, especially Giovanna Layne as Amaryllis. Clear diction, comedic timing, and sass to boot.

The orchestra, led by Michael Komperda, was strong and provided a wonderful musical canvas. There were some problems hearing the ensemble on the big numbers, but seemed more like a sound issue. Individual solos were mostly lost in the stage vacuum. There were some mic issues, but then, it seems every theatre has a sound ghost.

The choreography was a perfect fit for this cast. Moves fit the ensemble, and thus resulted in festive presentations. Especially “76 trombones”, where I thought they nailed it. My only distraction was the lack of button endings on songs, where the music and moves meet for a climatic punch ending. But, my “I can’t stop laughing” moment, was the “book” moment with the Ladies rehearsal. Olejko Brilliance.

Production staff was on it. Producer Lynn Maslinski, Assistant to the Director Jessica Atwood, Stage Manager Sarah Lynne Nicholas (who organized a well called show), Set Designer Rob Prete did a fantastic job, especially the backdrops (which caused the row of kids behind me to say “WOW, how did they do that?), Fabulous Costume Designer Judy MacKiegan, Lighting Designer Kris Makinen.

Olejko has taken this community and embraced them in her directorial arms, with emphasis on family. Family as an audience, and family as cast members. A perfect example being the Golden family. Daughter Abby, the featured twirler in 76 trombones, Brother Zac, the pint sized message delivery boy with perfect timing, and their Father, Jim Golden, who appears in the pool frame like the American Gothic picture during “Iowa Stubborn.” This is the beautiful message that is delivered.

TPOG Cabaret Series – Discovering Me – A Benefit Concert with CoCo Smith

Interview by: Kevin Kelly
Published: Ju
ly 21, 2014

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending an outstanding cabaret show performed by CoCo Smith at the West Side United Church of Christ. The purpose of this show was to raise funds for continuing her education in New York City, where she is attending The American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA). As she explains, her dream is to perform as a professional theatrical artist, and ultimately, on the boards of Broadway. There are many roads to the Big Apple, which can start at any age, any economic background, any level of professional schooling, and from any support system. This young lady found her calling 4 years ago, when she performed in the Near West Theatre production of RENT. I thought I would sit down with CoCo and find out a little bit more about this aspiring artist. Here are some highlights:

TPOG: CoCo is an interesting name. Is that your real name?

CoCo: Actually, no. When I was younger my friends used to call me “Coconuts”, because I was a little crazy fun. Around that time I had a guitar teacher who didn’t like that name, so he called me “CoCo”, and it just stuck.

TPOG: What was your prior experience in theatre and singing?

CoCo: Singing in church was my first exposure to singing in front of an audience. But I was shy at first, my mother would have to hold my hand and guide me, eventually gaining a bit more confidence. I sang in school choirs growing up, but my first real theatre experience was participating in the musical RENT at Near West Theatre 4 years ago. I also spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos listening and trying to emulate the artists who I respected. Basically, learning through osmosis.

TPOG: What did Near West Theatre offer you as part of your transformation, and decision to pursue your artistic dream?

CoCo: Near West Theatre has a very unique process of developing a show. At first, we explore ourselves through a series of exercises that challenges you to find and face your faults and weaknesses. It also strives to identify ways to free your imagination and artistry. Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr. was at the helm of that process. On the other end of the spectrum was Darius Stubbs, who was a huge influence, as he helped me develop my specific character and find my way to process the identity of who I was.

TPOG: How did you hear about AMDA?

CoCo: When I was taking some extra classes at Tri-C, I saw a poster for AMDA, and decided to audition on a whim. I did, and got in, but never had the forethought of figuring out who I was going to pay for it. Maybe just seeing if I could get in, without thinking I could. So I was down, but not out. So last year, I shared by vision, and with the help of my classmates, incredible advice from Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek (Executive Director and Founder of Near West Theatre), and family support, I was able to audition, get in, and attend school last October. All of this happened within 6 months. It was incredible.

TPOG: What gave you the idea for your cabaret show?

CoCo: Well the name of the show is Discovering Me – A Benefit Concert. I need to continue to raise funds to go to school, and it was a way for me to share my experiences dealing with New York City and school. Coincidentally, I met the musical director for my cabaret at my AMDA audition. Bryan Bird actually played for my audition, so our collaboration seemed destined.

The show was performed in an intimate section of the church administrative building, with stained glass windows and God looking down at all of us and smiling. Narrative was intermixed with a song list that ranged from Funny Girl, Sondheim, and Annie Get Your Gun. Although my favorite song was a selection called Random Black Girl, which was a hilarious tribute to the lone black woman in the chorus. And Miss CoCo nailed it!

She ended her show with her assimilated new mantra: Be Tough, Believe in Yourself, and Fight for the Dream. That is definitely a wonderful mantra for a spectacular young lady.

If you would like to help CoCo Smith with her dream, send me a message and I will be happy to pass it along.

Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at Aurora Community Theatre

Aurora Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: July 15, 2014

My first trip to Aurora Community Theatre is impressive, with a theatre space that is captivating and very inviting. They have chosen the epic Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as their current offering. I applaud the theatre for choosing such a demanding piece, and stretching the local talent to their limits. This is a community theatre that certainly isn’t afraid of tackling such a musical theatre demon.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a 1979 musical thriller with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. The musical is based on the 1973 play Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Christopher Bond. Set in 19th century England, the musical tells the story of Benjamin Barker, aka Sweeney Todd (Thomas E. Love), who returns to London after 15 years in prison after being convicted on trumped-up charges. When he finds out that his wife poisoned herself after being raped by the judge who sentenced him, he vows revenge on the judge and, later, other people too. He teams up with a pie maker, Mrs. Lovett (Ann Nyenhuis), and opens a barbershop in which he slits the throats of customers and has them baked into pies. It is a barbaric relationship wrought with lies and deception. Sweeney Todd opened on Broadway in 1979 and in the West End in 1980. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical and Olivier Award for Best New Musical.

Love cuts a fine figure of Todd, and has an effective voice to carry off one of the best baritone roles in theatre. He tends to overuse the despondent, reflective, and gazing look out into the audience. I liked him best when he opened up and let us see the more reactive and emotional Sweeney. This does happen, but not enough. Ann Nyenhuis as Mrs. Lovett captured the look very well, and her vocals were pretty much on target, but felt a little strained on top. My biggest critique would be to just go for it and have fun. Anthony Hope and Johanna (Andy Novak and Carolyn Voorhees) made for an adorable couple within the angst of this piece. Novak had a solid, but young voice, which could have used more internal interpretation underlying the lyrics. Voorhees was charming, and her voice was a welcome addition to the evening. Her manic giddiness was refreshing.

Some of the best performances come from the supporting roles. There is no doubt that Mike Rogan, as Judge Turpin, will be dating his whip for weeks to come, and it would not surprise me if his wife makes him walk through a car wash on the way home. Justin Roth was great at Tobias Ragg, when he wasn’t overplaying the childish angle. His voice is solid and his diction was excellent. He was a treat to watch. As the Adolfo Pirelli, Michael Guffey, was a hot mess of overdone fun, with a terrific tenor belt that made Pirelli come alive. And, his own turn to the dark side was well done. One of my favorites was Shannon Eller as the Beggar Woman. She engages the audience by being a bit nutty and begging for money, then she quickly and delightfully turns rabid, selling her lady parts with wild abandon. Her voice and character were very strong.

The Company of expressive actors worked hard attacking the complex harmonies, however, that was hit or miss, mostly hit. Jesse Bergione, Madeline Cuckow, Heather Gosnell, Avery Bounds, Ryan Roark, Tom Emerick, Becky Grano, Nick Alder, and Emma Weihe worked the space with boundless energy and created many memorable pictures.

Director Claudia Lillibridge assembled a fearless group of actors. The staging was very good within the space, and the asylum was a nice touch. Lillibridge definitely has her casting chops in the right place. The pace of the show needed to move more at a clip. The 20 minute intermission didn’t help the momentum. All the characters are in the right place, mentally and mostly vocally, but being dramatic doesn’t necessarily mean being slow. Music Director John Krol supplied a fine orchestra and I was pleasantly surprised at their sound. Speaking of sound, I wish the theatre was equipped to have music pumped throughout, but I should make a capital campaign to help out on that one.

Stage Manager Nate Benson, and Assistant Stage Manager Jeziel Chavez called a great show. The Stage Crew was very impressive in number and in swift scene changes. There are not that many theatres in the area that can boast a crew of that size. Scenic Designer Wes Shofner created a great look, and the chair did its dastardly duty well. Cory Molnar provided solid morbid lighting, as usual, ha, not usual morbid, I mean his consistent terrific work. Costume Designers Marianne Gingras and Marianne Paul created very good period pieces.

Twelfth Night at Ohio Shakespeare Festival

Ohio Shakespeare Festival

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: July 11, 2014

So let’s say you want to go out and have a grand evening of theatre. Well I have a great suggestion for you, which includes a two for one offering. Currently, the Ohio Shakespeare Festival is presenting their opening show of their 13th Summer Season with a theatrical feast of Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, hilariously directed by Terry Burgler**. Performed at the Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens in Akron, Oh, with the multi-leveled set cloistered in a beautiful garden setting. But this feast begins with dessert, in the form of the Greenshow.

Directed by Tess Burgler, she gathers up her multitudinous band of merry makers and creates an entertaining serving of craziness and HUZZAH-ing. With Music Director Jason Leupold, Choreographer Katie Zarecki, and Original Music by Scott Campbell, Burglar literally creates a Bardnado of fun that has the audience eating up every hilarious and charming moment. There is a little bit of everything thrown in for good measure, such as sing a longs, patter songs, drinking songs, marriage advice to young maidens, and a fascinating display of fight choreography provided by Fight Director Ryan Zarecki, and his fool, I mean foil, Joe Pine. Foreshadowing. Thank you. One of my favorites is a cover of one of my favorite songs, “Brandy” by Looking Glass, and the results are a chuckle fest. The festivities end with a very funny song about Mermaid love, and then brilliantly segues into the main course.

Terry Burgler serves up the main course, Twelfth Night, with a collection of talented actors that are appealing, engaging and exude supreme confidence. We follow these merry makers as the story unfolds. A great shipwreck washes Lady Viola (Tess Burgler), and what remains of her crew, ashore the beach of Illyria. She has been separated from her brother, Sebastian (Kevin Glass), who is presumed dead. To safeguard her virtue, Viola disguises herself as the boy Cesario, and serves as page to Duke Orsino (Anand Nagraj*). She quickly falls in love with the Duke. Orsino, however, is heartsick for the Lady Olivia (Lara Knox*), and he sends Cesario to woo his lady love. The love triangle is made complete when Olivia falls in love with the disguised Viola. Soon, a whirlwind of mistaken identities, love-struck royals, practical jokers, and outlandish servants bombard the stage with their revelry.

There are so many strong and wonderful performances here, it is a roll call of bliss. Of course, it also may be I bought the last soft pretzel, but I digress. Nagraj is a regal joy to watch, taking charge of his space with eloquent diction and stage presence. Burgler is very strong as she maneuvers through this tale with her disguised personae, and is an anchor that holds this production together. Kevin Glass as Sebastian, brother to Viola, cuts a fine figure and performance, and is enjoyable to watch. Antonio (David McNees), sea captain and friend to Sebastian, has a great confident look, and delivers a solid performance.

Knox is a knock out. As she enters, you can just feel her presence and confidence, and emotional power. Beautiful diction, dramatic alluring looks, and she inhabits a kick ass character throughout. Even when love gets the best of her, she becomes even more of a delight. Derrick Winger as Sir Toby Belch, is a total blast to watch and enjoy. His drunken antics are welcome throughout, and his strong energy makes every appearance on stage a welcome sight. Jason Leupold is hot yellow mess, and I love every minute of it. His Sir Andrew Aguecheek is a fabulous train wreck of issues that delights endlessly.

Holly Humes as Maria, is an incredible asset to this production. Great characterization, and watching her handle situation after situation, is pure enjoyment. I don’t want her to be mad at me. Geoff Knox as Malvolio is a master class of brilliance and exceptional humor. Following his arc through the play is worth the trip. And, then there is Joe Pine. What can’t this man do? I am convinced that he has never gotten a speeding ticket, because when he is pulled over, he just says to the officer “I am sorry sir, but look how adorable I am”, to which the officer says “Ok, I’ll give you a warning this time”. Pine is firing on all cylinders in this production, and I am surprised they don’t need a bigger extension to contain his fantastic energy. Excellent work.

Rounding out small of the smaller roles, we still experience deft acting. Mark Stoffer as Fabian is great, and Henry C. Bishop takes about 4 lines of dialogue and creates a superb comedic moment. The ensemble is strong and never wastes a moment on stage.

Congrats to Director and Set Designer Terry Burgler, Music Director Mark Stoffer, Fight Director Zarecki, Original Music by Steve Liebman, Lighting Design by Buddy Taylor, and Costume Design by Nancy Cates**.

Huck Finn Comes Down River at The Lantern Theatre

The Lantern Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: July 10, 2014

To know Bill Hoffmann, is to love him. Hoffmann is a theatrical force that was at the center of the golden age of Children’s Theatre during his tenure at The Cleveland Play House. It was there he met another amazing talent, and just as revered, Eric Schmiedl. Both an accomplished performer and playwright, the two often collaborated on truly masterful and entertaining pieces of theatre. The dynamic duo is at it again with a fascinating production of “Huck Finn Comes Down River”, adapted by Schmiedl, from Mark Twain’s novel “Huck Finn.” This historic American work, the intended sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, has been praised, studied, criticized and banned over the decades since it was published in the U.S. in 1885. However, the adventures of Huck and Jim, as they ply their way down the Mississippi, remain an essential part of the American experience and, on The Lantern Theatre stage, these memorable characters and many more will be portrayed by Valerie Kilmer and Chennelle Harris.

At the beginning of the show, Director Hoffmann and Playwright Schmiedl, strum on their guitars and croon an old folk song, with luscious harmonies, that definitely create the mood. Then Hoffmann takes a few moments to introduce the Big, Red Barn to everyone and shares interesting facts and stories about the place. The proper show begins seamlessly, as another folk tune brings on the actors. What is interesting about this show, is every character, including the narration, is portrayed by two gifted actors. Kilmer (Huck) and Harris (Jim) are the principle storytellers, but both actors weave in and out of narration and characterization in spectacular fashion. Schmiedl himself provides a folk ballad soundtrack to the proceedings, along with all the sound effects. Kilmer and Harris are a fine tuned theatrical machine that never misses a beat, and keeps the kids and adults transfixed on their journey. Schmiedl provides the musical canvas for these artists to weave their tale. It is a heck of a lot of fun.

It is certainly worth of trip to The Lantern Theatre. Being my second barn experience this past weekend, I am really getting into this stuff.

MOVE ON! at Near West Theatre

Near West Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: June 26, 2014

“Let’s remember the first show here. It was the summer of 1978 and there were 13 kids, 11 to 16 years old. There were basketball hoops here in the space that we had to push out of the way, and all we had was one light. Well, we stand on their shoulders tonight and remember all those who came before us.”

Those dramatic and inspiring words were shared on opening night by Near West Theatre Co-Founder and Executive Director Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek to the cast of MOVE ON! The last show ever in the St. Patrick’s Club Building, home since 1978. The rise of Near West Theatre is an incredible tale of relentless dedication and incredible resolve by the founding partners. The philosophy of Near West Theatre is the belief in the healing, transformative power of the theatrical arts. Their mission statement states that “Near West Theatre builds loving relationships and engages diverse people in strengthening their sense of identity, passion, and purpose, individually and in community, through transformational theatre arts experiences.” That is a tall order for a theatre that started being Ohio City based and bred. The results are staggering, as the theatre has transformed many, and empowered thousands to move forward with focus and clarity.

As the Artistic Director, Bob Navis Jr. has joined Morrison-Hrbek on this transformative mission, and has provided vital musical direction and inspiration for the institution to move forward, presenting musicals that embrace the audience with visceral energy. Navis has provided one last musical goodbye to the quirky, magical space that has housed the theater for 36 years. Sixty-six cast members of all ages are filling a 90-minute one-act with reflections and music, plus projected pictures and video, which evoke the healing, transformative power of theater.

The music is provided by Assistant Musical Director/Keyboard/Conductor Jordan Cooper, Percussion by Rick Taylor, Trumpet by Juan Ingram, and solo piano by Bob Navis, Jr.

The show highlights the beginnings of the theatre, along with the process that creates the shows themselves. A Revolution section is a powerful testament to the social issues that the theatre has not shied away from and addressed with honesty and truth. A Broadway section serves up show stopping performances from some of the many productions at Near West Theatre. And in the end, it is all about thanking everyone who had something to do with the journey. Present, past and those that radiant from above.

Producing this particular journey are Assistant Director Kelcie Nicole Dugger, Technical Director/Production Manager Josh Padgett, Assistant Technical Director/Video Designer Perren Hedderson, Scenic and Props Designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski, Stage Manager Ryan Wolf, Choreographer Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek, Assistant Stage Managers Roderick Cardwell II and Alexa Jones, Costume Designer David Glowe, Lighting Designers Mike Stein and Rob Wachala, and Sound Designer Joshua Caraballo.

The new home will be located in the Gordon Square Arts District, and will certainly be a crucial addition to the revitalization. There is a lot of joy and celebration that the cast members and staff want to share with returning patrons, and new attendees. Be a part of, and participate in Cleveland theatrical history.

My Fair Lady at Porthouse Theatre

Porthouse Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: June 25, 2014

In 1956, the juggernaut musical “My Fair Lady” opened on Broadway. It is a musical based upon George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. Unless you have been living under a theatrical rock, you know that Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews graced the original story that follows Eliza Doolittle (gracious Kayce Cummings* (Green)), a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from Professor Henry Higgins (dynamic Greg Violand*), as a result of a bet with Colonel Pickering (lovable Geoff Stephenson*), that she may pass as a lady at an Embassy Ball. The journey is what “My Fair Lady” is all about, and of course, some memorable characters along the way. My Fair Lady hit a more universal audience when the film production featured Audrey Hepburn as Eliza.

Porthouse Theatre, under the expedient direction of Artistic Director Terri Kent *^, serves up a fine rendition of this classic. Cummings is a classic beauty as Eliza. She comes on stage as a snarky street urchin ready to take on the world with a heart of gold. Her brash physicality was solid, but I didn’t notice any dirt on her face, even though her clothes were certainly downtrodden. Must have been her flower selling technique “Would this face lie to ya?” Cummings is a joy to watch throughout this production, and watching her sneak a chocolate is priceless. Personally, I like a more soprano like quality to Eliza’s voice, but Cummings is a powerful theatrical force of nature and sold it well.

Greg Violand knocked the role of Professor Henry Higgins out of the park. It was a solid, textured, comedic, and charmingly executed portrayal. Every time he would yell or get flustered, it cracked me up. What a beautiful marriage of a role and an actor that was firing on all cylinders. I could write an entire paragraph about “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face. “ He cuts a fine handsome figure that the audience couldn’t resist, and happily reciprocated by providing an evening of uninterrupted magic.

Charm and a lovable presence was in full bloom with Geoff Stephenson* as Colonel Pickering. As Higgins sidekick, Stephenson kept Pickering affable, likable and engaging the whole performance. Elliot Litherland could have rented the Megabus, and taken home every woman in the theatre. His charisma meter was off the charts as a result of a beautiful voice, and an honest, sweet, and touching rendition of “On The Street Where You Live”. Lissy Gulick is adorable as Mrs. Pierce, as she keeps 27-A Wimpole Street organized, but also, displays no fear in sharing her “opinion.” As Alfred P. Doolittle, Porthouse veteran Rohn Thomas* cuts of fine disheveled figure, bringing debauchery to a new level of “oh no, he didn’t.” I would have preferred him a little more inebriated throughout, but, he overcomes that by being charming as heck. Darian Lunsford and Dylan Ratell, Jamie and Harry, make appropriate sidekicks and pseudo body beer guards to Doolittle.

The Quartet (Daniel Lindenberger, Ratell, Connor Simpson, Christopher Tuck) sparkled with lush harmonies, however, at times it seemed they were were not loud enough to enjoy their vocal work. The Servants’ Chorus (Lucy Anders, Jessica Benson, Grace Falasco, Miriam Henkel-Moellmann, Linderberger, and Simpson) delivered strong vocals, and Falasco delivered great face. Speaking of face, Lunsford kills it at the Ascot Gavotte, throwing more shade then RuPaul on a long weekend.

All of these wonderful actors, including ensemble member Mackenzie Duan, are decked out to the nines and appropriate fabulousness in costumes designed by S.Q. Campell. I thoroughly enjoyed the visual parade.

One of the excitements of this lush musical, is the orchestration. Hearing the sweeping sounds that illuminate the score can elevate an audience to heights unimagined. With this production, Porthouse Musical Director Jonathan Swoboda has opted for two pianos (Second pianist, accomplished Melissa Fucci), instead of a full or abridged orchestra. With the exception of one flute, the result is an under fulfilled score. However, if you are not married to a full pit of musicians, the piano becomes powerful in its own right, and services this compact production quite well. This is accomplished by the exquisite skill of Swoboda, and the assist from Fucci.

There were some distractions in the production. Because of the set design (Ben Needham), dancers and actors had to continually navigate the checkerboard floor plan, with heightened sections that kept dancers and actors precariously close to platforms edges throughout the night. You can’t help but worry that some may step off and fall. The set design was very functional and effective, but the unevenness was the price you paid. As a result, the choreography (John R. Crawford) seemed very efficient, instead of raucous numbers that should have electrified the stage. The pace of the show is brisk, and many smaller important emotional moments are lost. This culminates at the end, when a longer moment is used to close the show, and it almost becomes awkward. On a personal note, I love the role of Mrs. Higgins. The character is fierce and has one of the greatest exit lines ever. Director Kent certainly knows her audience, which certainly affected casting the role with a Porthouse treasure in drag. But, I prefer the original, emanating warmth and biting clarity when needed most. I guess I need to loosen up.

Tech staff was on point. Lighting Designer T.C. Kouyeas, Jr., Sound Designer Brian Chismar, Assistant Director Jerimie Newcomb, Production Stage Manager Derric Nolte* called a great show, and Technical Director Steve Pauna.

Porthouse is a summer theatrical treasure, but not an appetite suppressant. Said Kevin after 3 hot dogs, a soft pretzel and 2 diet cokes. Enjoy!

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at Huntington Playhouse

Huntington Playhouse

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: June 24, 2014

Huntington Playhouse is offering up a zesty production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) directed by Improv Wizard Marc Moritz.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is a play written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield. The convention of the piece is that it parodies all the plays of William Shakespeare, while being performed by only three actors. In this case, the cast is Douglas F. Bailey II, Sean Cahill, and Dan Sekanic. Typically, the actors use their real names, which they do here, and play themselves when they are not characters or having a ball with the audience. The script allows and encourages improvisation, which results in each performance being different and fresh. Local and topical references are often added to the mayhem.

The writers, Long, Singer, and Winfield—former founding members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company—first performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987, and later played at the Criterion Theatre in London, where it ran for nine years. It has become one of the world’s most popular shows, playing frequently in a variety of languages. It is notable for holding the (self-proclaimed) world record for the shortest-ever performance of Hamlet, clocking in at 43 seconds, as well as the fastest performance of Hamlet backwards, at 42 seconds.

Moritz has taken the show’s improvisation moments, and let the sexual overtones run free. This approach has colored the occasion with a Vegas lounge feel. This interpretation lends itself to puppets taking it every which way but loose, naughty text interpretation, nipple rubbing, and proclaiming that “Taylor Swift is a whore.” Fitting that into the abridged works of Shakespeare keeps the audience on their toes, and creates some nervous laughter. A charming Bailey opens the show with a warm welcome and prepares the audience for the evening flight plan. Sekanic joins later on, as Cahill joins them from the audience with hilarious results.

The action begins with a parody of Romeo and Juliet, followed by a Titus Andronicus cooking show. Following is Othello, which is done through a rap song. The rest of the first act demonstrates most of the other plays by all of the comedies being combined into one convoluted reading, all of the histories being acted out through athletic activity, complete with cheerleaders, a reduction of Julius Caesar to his death, followed immediately by a reduction of Antony and Cleopatra and Macbeth. At the end of the act, the characters are about to finish, when they realize that they forgot to perform Coriolanus, exacerbated, the other actors run out of the theater. The final actor is left to entertain the audience by himself and introduce the intermission.

After the intermission, the entire second act is the performance of Hamlet. The audience gets involved during this segment when one audience member is asked to portray Ophelia for the Nunnery Scene. The rest of the audience makes up Ophelia’s subconscious, with three sections that each represent her ego, superego, and id. This whole bit was executed really well, and the audience ate it up. After the portrayal of Hamlet, the actors realize they have a little time left, and proceed to recreate all the plays in 30 seconds. And if that isn’t enough, they finish by performing it backwards. However, at this performance, the cast wheels came off completely during the last scene, (flubbing lines), which caused the cast to break, and ended the show in a muddled mess. But, it was fun getting there.

Stage Manger Joy DeMarco (called a clean show), Set Design Tom Meyrose (looked great), Light and Sound Design Chuck Tisdale (great), Costume Design David Glowe (very creative).

The Six Ages of Woman performed by Mary Faktor

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: June
23, 2014

Recently, I was invited by the beloved Mary Faktor to attend her one woman show The Six Ages of Woman. I have known Mary for some time, and have been familiar with her show, but this was the first performance where schedules clicked. When someone invites you to a show, and more importantly a one person show which they have written, you really hope it is going to be good. Well, it was! I settled into the St. Michaels Woodside Party Center in Broadview Heights, surrounded by 175 women and 2 men hiding in plain sight. These ladies were wired up for fun, and I am sure the men were wondering what the hell was going to happen.

The 90 minute script is drawn from Faktor’s life experiences, and tweaked and edited as the years have gone by to include more relevant topics and observations. The set is simple. A backdrop that allows for costume changes to occur on stage, with appropriate coverage, a chair and a phone and table. The rest is conversation and story telling that will cover The Six Ages of Woman with hilarious results.

Before the “show” actually begins, Faktor takes the stage to introduce herself and what the evening is about. She covers her current range of occupations, her performance pedigrees, her movie career, and outlines her family history. Describing life as a young woman, Faktor covers what it feels like to hear “You look good for your age,” and what the conditions used to be like to obtain the title of “good girl.’ You can just hear the woman in the audience getting ready to rumble. Faktor explains how she found herself at a low emotional point, wanting more out of life, and how theatre became an outlet. Which resulted in getting cast in a show. Her breakout role. A depressed housewife.

She challenges the audience to examine their “What If?” world, and reassures them that “There is a reason for everything.” Faktor has had 33 years to develop her message of hope through laughter and some slightly racy humor, which is eaten up faster than the desserts. On With the Show!

We follow “Vicki” by listening in on her phone conversations with her best friend, Madge. We never meet Madge, but trust me, we all have a Madge in our lives. The show opens with Vicki as a teenager reading her current issue of True Romance. Decked out in a pink sweater, that should get a curtain call on its own. In fact, all the costumes throughout the evening are extremely fun. We listen in on a discussion about being asked out on a first date by Alan Zerwicki, and the plans that follow, that include Bowling and White Castle. We also hear about Vicki’s feelings about how she is going to treat her kids in the future. A bold statement from someone too young to know the path before her. As she reads Good Housekeeping, we learn Vicki got married to Alan. That must have been some good White Castle. They talk about the first time for sex, the first decorating motif, and the first master plan of when to have babies, all with comic delight.

Vicki is pregnant and reading her Baby Magazine. We venture through trips to the gynecologist, sex dreams, and exploring the vision of how to be a wonderful mom. Reading the National Enquirer signals the next phase of owning a new home, and having a baby, or as Vicki explains to Madge who has just come back from a trip to Monte Carlo, how the 4th pregnancy is going. We hear about the master plan, sugar, eBay, and even more sex dreams. The Successful Woman magazine signals a new phase that explores why it has suddenly gotten a little hot in here, how Vicki has entered business management, Marriage counseling and that one long chin hair. 50 years after the first phone call, Vicki is reading AARP. Faktor displays some mad bra skills with an epic “removal under the sweatshirt” to thunderous laughter and applause. But, we also enjoy Viagra, a bittersweet conversation with Madge, and the joys of becoming a grandmother.

This is a grand presentation of life presented with deft comedic monologues and terrific characterizations. The costumes are delightful, and even the phone changes by time period, which is a nice detail. My mother would have had a tremendous time. This show is funny, and gently bumps into sex jokes without setting off any defibrillators. This is really a perfect show for adult women to bring their friends, mothers, and grandmothers. But, the men will have fun too. To borrow from the marketing material, this show is a perfect choice for church, hospital and organizations fund raisers, conventions, conferences and social banquets.

Check out Mark Faktor at There is a lot of fun going on here.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Fine Arts Association

Fine Arts Association

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: June 7, 2014

Walking into the lobby of Willoughby Fine Arts Association, you can’t help but notice an extra kick of energy in the air. It doesn’t take long to discover why, as a perky character approaches me with a hair style that would make Crazy Eyes from OITNB proud. Who is she? Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere (clarion voiced Leah Smith), one of the contestants in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” delightfully directed by James Mango (Artistic Director). The Bee is a one act musical conceived by Rebecca Feldman, with music and lyrics by William Finn. Feldman also wrote the book, which garnered her a Tony and Drama Desk Award in 2005.

The show is a fictitious spelling bee taking place at the Putnam Valley Middle School. There are six peculiar contestants along with some adults that are a little special themselves. Add in the convention that the cast brings four audience members on stage with them to enter the Bee, and all hell breaks loose. The script is very funny, but also leaves room for ad-libbing which results in each night becoming a slightly different shade of crazy.

My initial observation of seeing the cast onstage, is that Mango went for a younger look, then packing the stage with veterans. This casting choice, at least with the students, lends itself to a stronger connection with the kids actually being in middle school. This doesn’t have to happen, but it worked. With the “adults”, both Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Korbin James Lashley) and former champ and returning moderator Rona Lisa Perretti (Cassandra Mears), also had the same youthful look, which was a little distracting from an older adult presence. However, Comfort Counselor Mickey Mahoney (Rachel Roth) gave some adult realness, looking like the love child of Mimi from The Drew Carey Show and the Hells Angels.

The first contestant to stand out is Smith, who has a solid character, clear diction (even with a lisp), and a glorious set of pipes. Smith was a scream to watch. William Barfee (Tyler Moliterno) is terrific. His characterization seemed so real and natural, you wondered if he was like this at home. Probably having a life sized poster of Daniel Day Lewis in his room. With this total immersion and deft comedic choices, he is hard to forget. As was his reaction to peanuts, which was one of my favorites bits. And one more, he is the doppelganger of Doug Bailey. That is a compliment Tyler. Another stand out is Gus Mahoney, who seems to inhabit Leaf Coneybear with ridiculous pleasure, and athletic clowning. His coma induced spelling antics are definitely a well-executed bit of fun. Charming Celia Lupton as Marcy Park, brings a great sight gag to the party and she crashes the orchestra and lays down some mean piano riffs of her own during “I Speak Six Languages.” Great stuff. Olive Ostrovsky (demur Jackie DiFrangia) plays introvert, with a side of angst at first, and then unleashes some great golden pipes and comedic antics of her own. “Chip” Tolentino (Surya Ravindran) is a hot mess of puberty, which he plays to the hilt. He also has a stint playing Jesus Christ, which is very funny. As for the adults, they add the anchor to the proceedings with charm, Perretti’s vocals, Lashley’s custom tailored ad-libbing, and Roth’s hard knock life, juice box sincerity.

There were some distractions within the production. The biggest being sound. The opening number was unbalanced, and it was hard to hear many lyrics over the orchestra. This occurred many times during the night, so I don’t know if the balance was constantly in a state of flux, or the mics were being turned on and up properly, which was certainly the case with Coneybear. Being opening night, the crispness of the comedic moments were not all there, but should be as the run continues. The pace lagged towards the end, and the harmonic elements of “The I Love You Song” didn’t help. DiFrangia was fine, but what was happening around her needs to be toned up. As the run takes shape, these distractions will become a distant memory. The cast also doubles as the other minor characters in the show to delight of the audience.

Musical Director John Krol supplied a tip top band to crank out this delightful score, and did it with energy and vigor. Jennifer Justice supplied the choreography, which seemed to provide a loose structure to be filled in with character driven moves and wild abandon.

The technical staff delivered. Competent Technical Director and Scenic Designer Michael Roesch, Lighting Designer J. R. Simons, Costume Designer D. Justin Bilewicz, III (creative and fun), Sound Designer Tom Linsenmeier ( some issues), Production Stage Manager Laura Schleder called a clean show.

Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life at The Cleveland Play House

Cleveland Play House
Professional Equity House

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: June 6, 2014

“WELL, HELLO CLEVELAND!” With that glorious opening, the legendary Maurice Hines opened his old school Vegas show at The Cleveland Play House to an enthusiastic response. Well, actually, the show opened with an attending senior who was a little overexcited, so much so, he needed to be escorted back to his seat after dancing and cavorting around the front of the stage. I actually thought that he might be the opening and hop of the stage and start tapping. I thought wrong. But that actually just reflected the excitement of the crowd. Backed by the remarkable and frisky THE DIVA ORCHESTRA, led by acclaimed Musical Director Dr. Sherrie Maricle, Hines launches into his jazz infused rendition of “I’ve Never Been In Love Before.”

He then takes us through the early years, with assistance from photos projected on the cleverly designed screen panels. Even then, the brothers attracted attention. So with the vision of his mother, and the dancing abilities of his father, the young protégées were guided to hone their talented dancing feet. Hines talks about his parents a lot in very touching moments. But the sweetest is his rendition of “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face”, where he intertwines a parental moment of love. He also can’t say enough about Cleveland, and gives a shout out to Artistic Director Laura Kepley, and their visit to Hot Sauce Williams to turn his mood around.

At ages 7 to 9, the tapping phenoms appear in Las Vegas. But not on the strip, due to the racial prejudice that existed. And even though that happened, the mood is kept light. However, the bluntness of racism is quite a life check on how far we have come, and where we need to go. Their first encounter with celebrity greatness was with Tallulah Bankhead, who made a life changing introduction to Pearl Bailey. In a powerful moment, Hines explains how they all went for a swim, but afterwards, the hotel drained the pool. He then gently rolls into “Smile”, while pictures of segregation are shown in the panels. It gives the song a whole new meaning, but also represents their strength in persevering. Hines also, addresses prejudice in other areas as well, highlighting DOMA, while he sings “Get Me To The Church On Time.” Now, this is a class act. Stories abound about meetings with Johnny Carson, Ella Fitzgerald, the Rat Pack, Judy Garland, and then Duke Ellington and his musical “Sophisticated Ladies” lightheartedly follow.

One touching moment is when Hines tap dances with his brother, represented by a spotlight, and recreates the first soft shoe number they ever learned. With that, it is time to tap. And joining the icon on stage is John and Leo Manzari, who previously appeared in Arena Stage’s Production of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Ladies” starring Hines at the Lincoln Theatre. Tapping off with their mentor, these two brothers are fierce tappers with agility, grace, and moves that seem to defy gravity. They are two good looking dancing athletic artists that raise the roof with their charm and execution. Not to be outdone, Hines brings on a young lady that appears to be right out of “Alice in Wonderland.” Well she quickly sheds that moniker with a scorching tap routine that has the audience going nuts. Then, the three join together for a tap off that is so much fun, you don’t want it to end.

The evening ends with a tribute to his mother, with whom he credits his career to her vision. In a rendition of “Too Marvelous for Words”, you can just feel the love this family had for each other through all the pain and suffering that they all must have gone through. But the pain is not what Hines wants you to focus on, it is the strength that lies within families, it is the drive that results from oppression, and it is the soul of a dancer and the spirit that is released with each step. This is an evening of old school Vegas. I don’t think my feet stopped bopping or shaking to the rhythms the entire evening.

The Creative Design Team for the show includes Tobin Ost (Scenic Designer), T. Tyler Stumpf (Costume Designer), Michael Gillian (Lighting Designer), Carl Casella (Sound Designer), and Darrel Maloney (Projection Designer). Stage Manager Jennifer Matheson Collins, along with Assistant Stage Manager Tom Humes, called a great show.

Bravo to The Cleveland Play House for bringing this piece to Playhouse Square. AND, don’t leave right away, the DIVA ORCHESTRA plays out the performance with a kick ass number. The folks that remained were cheering and yelling at the end. So much fun, but yes, old school. For me, that is totally cool.

Twentieth Century at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre

Chagrin Valley Little Theatre
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
June 4, 2014

All aboard the 20th Century Limited! Chagrin Valley Little Theatre has produced the zany comedy “Twentieth Century”, which may have the longest subtitle of authors. This version is a new adaptation of the play by Ken Ludwig, originally written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur that was based on an unpublished play by Charles Bruce Milholland. So “All Aboard!” is doubly appropriate.

The first Broadway production, directed by George Abbott, opened on December 29, 1932 at the Broadhurst Theatre. It was adapted for a critically acclaimed film adaptation of the same name two years later. The play has been revived on Broadway twice. The second revival, an adaptation by Ken Ludwig directed by Walter Bobbie, opened on March 25, 2004 at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines Theatre. Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche received Tony Award nominations.

With a troupe of community theatre artists, Director Barbara L. Rhoades takes on the train that is loaded with characters that are all a little off track is some way or another. And some of them generate quite a bit of laughter. The play is about Oscar Jaffe (Tim Walsh), the egomaniacal Broadway director, and Lily Garland (Grace Mannarino), the chorus girl he transformed into a leading lady. Bankrupt, with his career on a downslide, Oscar boards the Twentieth Century Limited and encounters Lily, now a temperamental Hollywood star. He’ll do anything to get her back under contract and back in his bed, but his former protégé will have nothing to do with him. All of the action takes place on board the legendary Twentieth Century train from Chicago to New York City where Oscar has 20 hours to persuade Lily to return to Broadway in his upcoming show. No Lily, no show, no career!

Most of the laughs are generated by and around Lily Garland, richly played by Grace Mannarino. Here is a woman that could beat Gloria Swanson to a cab. Diving into the diva part of the play, Mannarino has a blast overacting and serving ham at a moment’s notice. Tom Hill as Dr. Grover Lockwood, is appropriately shady and energetic, as he takes a ride on the love train with the mischievous Anita Highland (beautiful Keri Lambert). The Porter could easily be a throw away part, but in the hands of Cody Steele, he is a delightful presence. Jerry Schaber stays true to the O’ in his name but making sure his character Owen O’Malley is tipsy, and his face is mugalicious. Tim Walsh handles the lead role of Oscar Jaffe with confidence and appeal. Natalie Dolezal as Ida Webb is the eye of the hurricane, by setting up a lot of comedy around her.

This is a colorful group of characters. But what is lacking is the precision and timing of rapid fire pace. Scenes shifting from one train section to the other are often delayed, creating dead air that isn’t filled with anything visually active to hold the energy. I can’t tell if the actors don’t feel the lack of crispness needed, or the direction didn’t focus enough on the timing and full out energy needed to pull off this comedic bullet train. At intermission, an audience member in front of me stated to his partner “you kind of wonder if it gets better.” It does. Act Two brings in a force of nature in Max Jacobs, played to the hilt by Stephen Kay, and also provides a very funny death scene in which all characters enjoy a comedic self-actualization. But, the lack of sharpness still takes a toll on the overall effect.

Production values were in good shape. Set, Sound (could be louder), and Lighting Design by Edmond C. Wolff. Costumer Jackie Kruyne has a great eye for style. And Stage Manager Karen Paktinat called a clean show.

Chagrin Valley Little Theatre is a dynamic venue, surrounded by a picturesque and charming city by the falls. There is a lot of great history here. Check it out when you can.

Seminar by Theresa Rebeck at the Beck Center for the Arts

Beck Center for the Arts

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: June 3, 2014

There is no doubt that the current offering at the Beck Center for the Arts is one “Seminar” you do not want to miss. Five thriving actors fire on all cylinders in this witty play about the creative process of writing, and the critique that gets you there. Without intermission, “Seminar” is a 90 minute literary ride that never stops giving, thanks to the adroit and inventive direction of Donald Carrier. Written by Pulitzer Prize nominee Theresa Rebeck, “Seminar” must have been a blast to write. It pokes fun at the literary world from the angle of what teachers and advisors can be like, and the fellow students and achievers that have that special quirky signature esthetic. But it leaves room for some very poignant moments that reflect the true meaning of what exists within our most honest considerations.

The play opens in a fabulous Upper West Side Apartment, which happens to contain four hungry writers ready to take on the literary world. Kate (Lara Knox*) is the owner of the apartment, or should I say, the recipient of gracious parents. She is a high strung pistol who is a little sexual repressed and dramatic. She has spent 6 years tweaking her masterpiece in an attempt to revise it to perfection. Martin (Andrew Gombas) is very focused on being a “real” writer. The only problem is he won’t share his writings with anyone. Douglas (Brian Gale) comes from great pedigree, and really enjoys hearing himself speak on a high intellectual level and about the process. He has the power of a recognizable last name, which is helpful, but as later addressed, seems a bit whorish. Izzy (Aily Roper) starts off being a big fan of Douglas, but seems more interested in working connections, by using her own power of “connection”. Izzy works a room better than most lobbyists. What do these fab four have in common? They have each paid $5000 dollars apiece to receive the tutelage of the esteemed Leonard (Scott Plate*), a renowned editor and playwright. What they don’t expect to get is the editor from hell, which Plate embodies with zest.

Plate, who is on fire here, is like the Mama Rose of the literary world. He infuses Leonard with grand layers of drive, pompous posturing, and most importantly, brutal honesty. I mean, who can’t love a guy who refers to writers as feral cats. I am surprised the set wasn’t surrounded by boxing ring ropes. Everyone gets to take their turn being obliterated by the Godzilla of critique. My favorite is watching Knox eat her feelings, and ends up showing she does not need a spoon to devour her ice cream. This is one depressed feral cat that will never go hungry. Knox is fantastic throughout this play, and made me gut laugh with the simple act of ordering Chinese food. It also doesn’t help, Kate has feelings for Martin. And that doesn’t end well either, as Izzy and Martin get busy for extended periods of time, without deference to location. So much so, a bit created to pick up the “pillow of love” off the floor, is brilliant.

As the play goes on, everyone is taking a toll from the brutal nature of the sessions, and as a result, people want out, their money back, or decide to lessen morality to achieve a higher purpose. Towards the end, the laughs subside to explore and address internal issues buried within these characters. Do we judge the writer or the work? Is there pride as a Ghost writer? And, why Martin is afraid to give up his pages? As Leonard states, “Some people are so crippled, they can’t stand the truth.”

Reaching the end, there are two very powerful moments that avail themselves. Gombas delivers a searing, powerful torrent of emotion and brutal truth as Martin finally lets loose on Leonard. And in response, Plate displays the most honest and moving passages from Leonard, that he hasn’t shared with anyone in many, many years. Both moments are pin drop worthy. And when it is Martin that consoles Leonard, a sparkling moment reveals itself.

These actors are a beautiful team, led by a dynamic director who has guided an exquisite evening of theatre. There are many laughs, and a crescendo that results in true introspection. Also of note, is that Gale, Gombas and Roper are recent graduates of acclaimed Oberlin College. Kudos to the acting program that created these talented young artists, and to the teachers, like the venerable Matthew Wright, who invested so much in their future.

The Production Staff delivers fine work as well. Superb Scenic Designer Cameron Caley Michalak, provides a set that seamlessly changes from scene to scene, and then finally, location. Trad A (no period) Burns continues his excellent work. Sound Designer Cyrus O. Tayler spot on. Technical Director Joseph Carmola competently pulls the elements together is great style and execution.

This is a very good evening of theatre. Elements of comedy abound, but also, the elements of darkness that haunt most artistic genius.

Laughter League presents Laughs of Future Past

Blank Canvas Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: May 30, 2014

Who knew Brunswick, OH was so funny? Well, I enter into evidence the Laughter League, a collection of insane and fearless comedians that tackle original material like the security team at the Cher concert, when I got a little too excited. But I digress. Last night I was witness to the last rehearsal of the current show “Laughs of Future Past”. And I say rehearsal, but I can assure you that each night of their performance will be different in some way, because it was evident that all hell can break loose at a moment’s notice. The spontaneity is a gift.

This group is currently led and directed by Patrick Ciamacco, who is also the Founder and Artistic Director of the acclaimed Black Canvas Theatre, located in the 78th Street Studios. The Laughter League also performs at this venue. There is a stable of comedic horses to pick from, but at this outing the cast included: Joe Ciamacco, Billy DePetro, Perren Hedderson, Noah Hrbek, Seth Hrbek, Chuck Klein, and the man himself, Patrick Ciamacco. This current version includes delightful twists on ordinary situations, current commentary on the local film business, sales techniques, a fresh look at the NSA back office, and a slice of wildlife that would have Jack Hanna gasping for breath.

The opening music by Flo Rida tells us that “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, Sometimes, I get a good feeling”. Well to be honest, I got a good feeling a lot. There is something here for everyone, and a couple of laughs that could be considered pushing the limit of political correctness. But this is a group of fearless funny men. Several sketch scenes tickled my funny bone a little bit more. The opening transit ride featured some butt shaking that could easily be rap worthy. The X-Men parody is a scream, or should I say X’ed- Men. Their unique skills had me rolling, and their leader, oh man, just wait. I loved the searing look at “extras” in film work. The sketch about how the “business” of Girl Scout Cookies goes wrong is ridiculous fun. Patrick Ciamacco has a grand time with his unique version of “Let it Go”, and does he ever.

There are many more sketches in the evening that provide ample opportunity to have a great time. The fact that this is all original material is very impressive. An evening filled with tremendous risk and comedic reward.

VOODOO MACBETH at Ensemble Theatre in collaboration with The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival

Ensemble Theatre/Cleveland Shakespeare Festival

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: May 26, 2014

In 1935, the Federal Theatre Project, a part of Roosevelt’s New Deal initiative for supporting the arts when private funding was crippled by the Depression, established the Negro Theatre Project in New York. VOODOO MACBETH is a common nickname for The Federal Theatre Project’s 1936 New York production of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. This production featured an all black cast and was originally directed by a 20 year old Orson Welles. In a creative move, Welles adapted the setting to a Caribbean location, that most people have associated with Haiti. Within the new location, that allowed witchcraft to be replaced by a more connectable Voodoo magic. This original production electrified Harlem, and played to packed houses.

Ensemble Theatre in collaboration with The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival is presenting that version of VOODOO MACBETH. The production is directed by Celeste Cosentino and Tyson Douglas Rand. The physical setting designed by Ian Hinz, provides a relatively open space with three projection screens that act as location or suggested backdrops to frame the action. So the power of the production is really left to the actors to create the magic, and the directors to guide the demanding performances that are essential to the Bard.

The matinee performance seemed to lack the overall energy and drive that is needed to captivate the audience. Of course, that didn’t stop one audience member from taking 10 flash pictures in the middle of the show, which was handled appropriately by the staff. However, within the play there were those that did rise to the occasion, or achieve their moments of complete connection to the material. This production is clearly led by Carly Germany* as Lady Macbeth. Here is an actress that fires on all cylinders every time she appears. With an expressive face, physicality and confidence, she creates a compelling performance. A captivating Kyle Carthens as Macduff finds his moments as his anger is tested. Leonard Goff is expressive as Duncan. Stephen Hood nails it as the Porter. Hood is a hot mess of alcohol laced comedic delight. Greg White reminds me of Sidney Poitier, by projecting all class and style. “They call me Mr. Banquo”.

It felt like Jimmie Woody as Macbeth, needed to dive deeper into his character to sustain the energy and drive. There were moments of clarity and power, but not the overall punch that was needed. The witches (Chinetha Hall, Emily Terry, and Tina Tompkins) were effective, and certainly moved together with sensuous purpose and mischief. And as one of the murderers, remind me never to piss off Calvin Willis Jr.

The Set Design and Projections didn’t seem electric enough. One major distraction is the scene at the water’s edge, where the film was on a loop and would jerk and replay itself during the scene. That was very distracting. The Costume Design (Angelina Herin) and Lighting Design (Andrew Eckert) were fine. Stage Manager Julia Perez called a good show, except for the beginning of Act Two, where the timing of music going off and the action starting seemed off, leaving some dead air.

I love when a theatre company takes risks and pushes to break new ground. Congrats to both producing parties for remounting such an original production, that has such a powerful history and purpose.

Customer Service SHOUT OUT – Angie Balfour at Cleveland Public Theatre

By: Kevin Kelly
May 25, 2014

As I hop around to different theatres, you start to get a sense of the individuals that are on the front lines of the theatre. These individuals interact with you before, during intermission, and sometimes after the performance. So, I thought I would throw some recognition to those that come to mind.

One such fierce person is Angie Balfour. You will find her most of the time behind the concession stand at Cleveland Public Theatre. I may also remember her because I gave her too much money one time, and she called me back to make it right. But I see her interact with many, and she is surely a pleasant soul with patrons.

When you go into a theatre, you could get turned off if you have a bad experience within the space. Every player contributes to the positive experience. Angie Balfour is a welcoming presence for this patron.

Ancestra at Cleveland Public Theatre

Cleveland Public Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: May 25, 2014

If I were a woman, and trust me, for years I have been convinced that I am a black woman at heart, I would be especially outraged and inspired by the performance of “Ancestra” at the Cleveland Public Theatre. Within the play, women’s rights are explored from a historical and topical perspective. The voices of pioneer women are in supposition with current day decisions that affect us all. And if you don’t think women have had it rough, consider this. In 1976, the first marital rape law is enacted in Nebraska, making it illegal for a husband to rape his wife. You read that correctly, 1976! So spare me the “women are emotional” bullshit, when the sisters get together and demand to be heard.

There are three major components of the piece. The first being an exploration of women’s struggles in the 1800s, that is creatively presented in a secret place that is located “in the woods”, where thoughts, expressions and debates can take place without consternation. It is in this sacred space, that we meet the women, Lucy Stone (a fiery Katy Lynn Patterson) and Antoinette Brown (a classic jewel Lauren Joy Fraley), who would go on to become a major influence in the women’s rights movement. The second component is watching the major players in The National Women’s Rights Convention of 1853, right here in Cleveland.

The third component is a contemporary story of one woman struggling with issues of women’s health and reproductive rights. She begins investigating abortion clinics and what information is being presented to potential clients. But after a personal surprise, all her investigative instincts are challenged by her own real life decision making process.

These components are beautifully woven into a flowing and adeptly paced showcase of talent. The May Pole of the evening is Cora, powerfully played by Chris Sebert. GDFS! You will understand those letters after you see this production. Sebert is memorizing as we follow her from investigative reporter, to eventually, watching one of the most gut wrenching decisions that a women will ever have to make in her lifetime. Faye Hargate plays double duty as a fierce activist Abby Kelley Foster, and Cora’s sister Marian. Hargate displays superlative character choices in both historical genres. Anne McEvoy is on fire throughout this piece. Whether communicating where woman’s rights need to be, kicking scholastic ass or playing Cora’s mom, Jan. McEvoy brings a beautiful sense of communicative edification, and serving motherly realness with passionate humanity.

Sally Groth* delivers solid gold. Groth is SO impressive in each of her characters. I was ready to march into hell for a heavenly cause every time she spoke. One spitfire that caught my eye was Patterson, who commands attention with the personified core of Lucy Stone, and comedic chops that could easily get Officer Dynn a spin off series. Fraley is just radiant on stage and delivers confidence at every turn of Antoinette Brown. Rhoda Rosen is just supreme class. Rosen brings quality and honesty to every nuanced word she speaks. Sarah Moore delights as Martha Wright, Tanera Hutz (a little hard to hear in the opening office scene) is a beautiful presence, and Sarah Moore is solid force of nature.

This piece was written by Holly Holsinger and Chris Seibert, along with Renee Schilling and Sally Groth. I loved this play. Holsinger masterfully directed this piece. She kept the audience engaged throughout, while making sure that we left educated about women’s rights, and/or provoked to realize the struggle. Aaron Benson needs a round of applause for the exciting and beautiful scenic design. The woods never looked more hauntingly beautiful. Tesia Dugan Benson provided sharp costume design for both eras with creative passion. Once again, Benjamin Gantose heightened the play with ascetic visuals. Stage Manager Sarah Lynne Nicholas called a terrific show.

There is a line somewhere in this play that Cora says to the women at the convention: “and no one remembers your names”. That line hit me hard. As a gay man, I don’t know one name of any of the drag queens that bravely fought back against persecution at the Stonewall Inn. The Stonewall riots are largely regarded as a catalyst for the LGBT movement for civil rights in the United States. It discourages me that not one of their names is prominent. So, I applaud these courageous women who created this piece. They have connected with our current history, by connecting us with the past, and as a result, given heightened awareness to some incredibly brave and pioneering women.

SEE IT! If you have never been to Cleveland Public Theatre, I think this is a great piece to get your theatrical feet wet. This show is an excellent example of the process, the message, the execution and the social impact of creating a powerful piece of theatre.

This is Not the Play at Cleveland Public Theatre

Cleveland Public Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: May 19, 2014

I have been intrigued of late when I have heard J.K. Rowling talk about her characters in the Harry Potter series. I found it fascinating that when a character meets their fate, Rowling stated that she is emotionally involved, even bringing her to tears upon a characters death. What an amazing relationship to exist inside the head of a playwright. So it was with great delight, that I discovered the current production at Cleveland Public Theatre actually explored that theme.

So, what are we talking about here. A gritty, in-your-face comedy that digs into what we naturally turn away from, racism. “This Is Not the Play” imagines a black playwright trying to write a play about white people. The problem is that the characters seem to have minds of their own. The playwright sends in her agent to interrogate the characters and then she tries to intervene as they expose their pathetically racist and patently disempowered viewpoints. Is this the playwright’s reflection on racism, or on her own prejudice?

“This is Not the Play” by Chisa Hutchinson, in a regional premiere, is a unique one act experience that delves into the mind of a playwright, by actually interacting with the characters right in front of us. The Black playwright (a stunning Katrice Headd) is the voice you hear coming from all four corners of the performance in the round. She first encounters the first female character portrayed by a stunning Rebecca Frick. Her character starts off as a blond version of Sunny Delight, and would certainly be the cover girl for the magazine “Good Girls Don’t”. Then, we meet some rough trade played to the hilt by Jessica Annunziata. I would not cut in front of her in line. The two ladies have wills of their own and have issues with the playwright’s direction of their characters, and the drama and bits of comedy begin.

To solve and negotiate the proceedings, what better choice then send your snarky literary agent played devilishly by Bobby Coyne. Coyne is a bipolar mess of hot and cold, and the middle makes you want to take a shower. After dramatically trying to make the playwrights vision of a “nice play about closet lesbians” come to life, it is time for mama playwright to enter the picture. Headd appears and personally addresses the situation with her creative kids gone wild. Headd is a beautiful presence on stage, with one of the fiercest faces that commands attention. Part of her intervention involves bringing in the big guns, or simply, Mother. Played with supreme crispness by Laura Starnik, she arrives with her set of guilt luggage and the tale of family bigotry.

Director Emily Ritger does a nice job of keeping the players moving around the festive brain set that visually pops due to the fine work by Inda Blatch-Geib and Dred Geib. There were moments when the brooding dialogue seemed to lack variation in tone, but overall, I found the performances to be strong and interesting. The lighting and sound design rocked. Gregory S. Falcione and Mike Tutaj deserve a massive bar tab for their work. The effects almost upstaged the play itself. And a note about the stage manager calling the show, I thought it was called with tremendous timing. The execution of the cues was impressive.

Fairfield by Eric Coble presented at The Helen by Cleveland Play House New Theatre Festival

Cleveland Play House
Professional Equity House

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: May 17, 2014

I got to tell you, I just came from a staged reading of “Fairfield” by Eric Coble at the NEW. THEATRE. FESTIVAL. at the Cleveland Play House. This is truly one of the funniest plays I have EVER seen. Laura Kepley cast and directed this stage reading with a crazy stick of humor that was relentless.

It is February and you know what that means? Let the craziness begin. Principal Angela Wadley (Nedra McClyde) addresses a student assembly and wants to celebrate Black History Month as an educational experience for all. But, when a young teacher, Crystal Finn (Laurie Kaminski), introduces some misguided attempts at celebrating Black History Month, the result is a hot mess of social discord. But due to the brilliant writing of Coble, comedic gold is served. Due to an altercation between a white and black boy in a “role playing exercise”, the kids’ parents get involved. Venessa and Daniel Stubbs (Marinda Anderson and Bowman Wright) are the black parents that believe that Fairfield school is the place for their child. On the other hand, Molly and Scott Flemmingsen (Jessica Dickey and Rob McClure), the white parents, believe in Fairfield as well. Well, at least they did before the “incident”. What happens next is the most dysfunctional, funny, problem solving process I have ever seen.

Every actor on that stage brought it, sold it and nailed it. The audience was constantly engaged. I really haven’t heard an audience laugh that much at original material ever. What a joy it was to see another Coble production brought to life, and so deftly by Laura Kepley and the merry gang of creative actors.

Watch out for the full production next year. Trust me. You do NOT want to miss this show.

The School for Wives at Coach House Theatre

Coach House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: May 15, 2014

I am really digging Coach House Theatre in Akron, Ohio. Once again, I make the modest trek to the house of Nancy Cates* and Terry Burgler*, Co-Artistic Directors, and I couldn’t be happier. This time around they present “The School for Wives,” which is a theatrical comedy written by the 17th century French playwright Molière, and considered by some critics to be one of his finest achievements. Directed by Burgler, this rompy farce is an over the top chuckle fest with a cast that chews more scenery than a festive group of carpenter ants.

The story involves Arnolphe (Andrew Cruse**), who has raised the young Agnès (Tess Burgler) since the age of 4. Arnolphe supports Agnès living in a nunnery until the age of 17, when he removes her and moves her to one of his abodes, which he keeps under the name of Monsieur de la Souche (Cruse). His intention is to bring up Agnès in such a manner that she will be too ignorant to be unfaithful to him. As a result, he forbids the nuns who are instructing her from teaching her anything that might lead her astray. His good friend Chrysalde (Ryan Christopher Zarecki) warns Arnolphe of his downfall, but Arnolphe takes no heed. After Agnès moves into Arnolphe’s house, Horace (Joe Pine) arrives on the scene ahead of his father, Arnolphe’s friend. Oronte. Horace immediately falls in love with Agnès and she with him. Not realizing that Arnolphe and Monsieur de la Souche are the same person, Horace unwittingly confides all his activities with Agnès to Arnolphe. Arnolphe then schemes to outmaneuver Horace and ensure that Agnès will marry him. To assist Arnolphe in his plans are his two servants, Alain (Benjamin Fortin) and Georgette (Katie Zarecki). And with their help, the plan gets very twisted and bumbled to our pleasure. Even a Notary (Mark Stoffer), called in by Arnolphe, gets caught up in the shenanigans.

A powerful irony waits as Oronte (Timothy Champion), Horace’s father, and Enrique (Alfred Anderson), Chrysalides’ father-in-law, arrive on the scene and announce that Horace is to marry Enrique’s daughter. Da Dum. That was said to music. Thank you.

With Godzilla opening this weekend, it reminds me that Cruse has the Godzilla role when it comes to lines. Immediately, Cruse sets a rapport with the audience that he successfully retains throughout, to delightful effect. Throw John Ritter into the 17th century and out pops Cruse, cranking on all cylinders. Coach House must be thrilled that their new neighbors are the Zarecki’s. Ryan Zarecki is a confident, fun, diction perfect Chrysalde. His delivery and energy is a joy to watch. And his wife, Katie Zarecki, is one-half of the fierce sidekicks of Arnolphe, along with Fortin. Both of them remind me of security detail at Meerkat Manor, and deliciously provide hilarious results. They are bumbling, very funny, and add tremendously to the antics. Burgler brings her Stepford Wife realness to Agnès. Playing stiff with an innocent veneer, she underplays well, so her moments of rebellion are fabulous. Pine delivers another strong performance as a love sick puppy, which creates more energy than an atom-smashing particle accelerator. Stoffer comes in late, but adds comedic timing of his own. And Anderson and Champion, with great characterizations, bring the whole wonderful mess to a festive close.

Random thoughts: loved the way the fourth wall was broken and executed, enjoyed the fact that little note held such a long speech, and I thought the backstage vocal antics and suggested actions were gold.

The Production staff did a great job. Fierce Costume Design by Jonathan Fletcher. It was like every male had a folic bouncy castle on his head. Delightful. Lighting Design by Buddy Taylor. (There seemed to be some buzzing in Act 2, whether that was a lighting fixture or sound). Sound Design by Mark Stoffer. Set Design by Terry Burgler was awesome. Stage Manager Michael Cranston called a clean show.

Left in Ink at cleveland PUBLIC theatre

Cleveland Public Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: May 15, 2014

In the United States, a person dies by suicide every 13.7 minutes, claiming more than 38,000 lives each year. It is estimated that an attempt is made every minute, with close to 1 million people attempting suicide annually. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. among adults 18-65, the second leading cause of death among teens and young adults, and individuals ages 65 and older account for 16% of all suicide deaths. This is a public health issue that does not discriminate by age, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.*

I have seen suicide claim many lives in my lifetime. When I was younger, a number of young men took their lives because they couldn’t handle being gay. As I grew older, neighbors had family members who chose this end, friends lost their internal struggle, and families that I knew for a very long time lost a loved one. One of those family members has created an experience to explore their loss, and the issues involved with dealing with it personally, within the family, and publicly. It is their truth to tell. But Caitlin Lewins, a Cleveland Public Theatre Joan Yellen Horvitz Director Fellow, has expanded her own truth to include others’ struggles in a piece titled “Left in Ink,” currently running in the Storefront Studio space. These fictional characters that inhabit this presentation are based on interviews from Colleen Byers, Tony Cintrony, Kelly Lozar, David Ploenzke, and Emily Seigel. The interviews were then transcribed by Caitlin Lewins, Dylan Winter Dwyer, and Darius Stubbs. Some material from “Left in Ink” was developed for Leap/Conceive last fall with Elizabeth Kelly, Alice Nelson, and Jill Tighe.

The ensemble approach to this moving and thought provoking piece includes Megan Brautigam, Jeanne Madison, Brett Radke, Amy Schwabauer, Jerry Tucker and the haunting recorded voice of Anne McEvoy, each one of them didactically taking the stories and sharing them beautifully with the audience. It begins at a frenetic pace, with storylines coming at you from a choreographed synapse of information. Eventually, slices of the scenes are slowed down to allow connection to characters and stories, or parts of the stories to which individuals can relate. There are moments where it is okay to laugh. You have to at some point, and Schwabauer and Radke provide that release; Schwabauer as an overall presence and Radke making a sheet cake that is poetically funny and sad at the same time. But every actor serves reality with the utmost respect. And as the furniture accumulates behind the actors, at the end, each piece represented one of the questions that I felt personally connected to, such as:

How do you find out? How do you react? How do you tell people that they are being insensitive? How do you get through the day? How do you get through the holidays? How do you handle what is left on the Internet forever? How do you handle that talking about suicide is not a popular topic? How do we cope? How do we grieve? How do we handle songs on the radio?

The production elements were strong. Dan Kilbane called a great show. Sounds Designer and CPT Kulas Composer Fellow Patrick Fellow added electronic realness. Cassie Goldbach and Val Kozlenko provided a fascinating and efficient Lighting Design (loved the different lights and fixtures) and Set Design. Alison Garrigan brought her Costume Design excellence once again.

Additional text for the project was provided by Jane Lewins. Momma needed to be recognized.

We all need to talk. We all need to be educated. I was in a better position after watching this performance to know I needed to know more. That is a powerful piece of theatre.

The Fox on the Fairway at Clague Playhouse

Clague Playhouse

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: May 14, 2014

Ron Newell has given Clague Playhouse’s back nine a hilarious comedic shine by directing “Fox on the Fairway.” Mr. Newell has assembled a troupe of ferocious comedians in top form to rock the three-sided golf course. This jewel was written by Ken Ludwig, who is an internationally acclaimed playwright. His first play on Broadway, “Lend Me A Tenor,” which The New York Times called “one of the two great farces by a living writer,” won three Tony Awards and was nominated for nine. His other best-known Broadway and West End shows include “Crazy For You,” “Moon Over Buffalo,” “Leading Ladies,” and “Twentieth Century.” With such great material, I was thrilled that the production matched expectations.

Bingham (Lou Will), president of the Quail Valley Country Club, is in a difficult position, because he found out that the golfer he thought would play for his club has switched sides due to being recruited by his opponent, the cocky and arrogant Dickie (Lance Switzer). Bingham’s stress in increased by the fact that he wagered a huge bet, which includes a store owned by his wife, Muriel (Margy Haas), which is now likely to be lost. Fortunately, his newly hired hand, Justin (Jeremy Jenkins), is actually quite good at golf and Bingham finagles his entry into the tournament with the help of Pamela (Donna Case), his club’s vice-president. Justin does not disappoint and has a huge lead, but when Justin learns that Louise (Debbie Lenarz), a waitress at the club house, has lost the engagement ring he gave her, he comes unglued. The game resumes the next day, but Justin loses the lead and, upset, takes an unfortunate swing, breaking his arm. Bingham is desperate, and the appearance of his wife complicates the matter, as she catches him much too close to Pamela. Can Bingham find a replacement for Justin to win the game and the wager? There lies the rub.

Under the magnificent direction of Newell, this cast works like a well-oiled machine. Will is a blast as the tortured club president, and is the anchor to this piece. Whether he is grumpy, scheming or amorous, Will is a delight. Case is on top of her game, giving comedy some glamour and physical shtick to boot. Switzer is a shoo-in for winning every ugly sweater contest in the county; he is a hoot as he perfectly embodies the villain. Very funny stuff from an accomplished performer. Jenkins is fantastic as the lovesick golf phenom. His skills are kicking, and result in a lot of laughter. Lenarz is right on target, especially in the red dress, and adds to the merriment with some great acting chops. And I just want to wrap up Haas in a to-go box because she delivers one of the best “punch” lines I have ever seen. It literally took me a full minute to stop laughing. Awesome stuff.

Ron Newell. Can I just take a moment and write a brief love letter. As I sat there gazing at the impeccable set, it just reminded me of what a treasure this man is to Cleveland. Newell is an accomplished actor, director, set designer and one of the most down-to-earth, talented artists you will ever meet. He is such an incredible positive force in this community, and definitely proves that there is power in supportive genuine artistry. As his bio states “When asked why he keeps going, he quotes ‘An object in motion stays in motion. An object at rest stays at rest.’ When I’m the ‘object,’ I prefer the latter.Love and Respect – Ron.” Well, I think I can safely say the Cleveland theatre community has more Love and Respect for you than you might ever know.

For anyone who has worked at Clague Playhouse, you know that the production staff is one of the best of any theatre in the area. Volunteers are fierce contributors to this Westside gem. Fine work Production Manager Gig Giauque, Stage Manager Tod Huffman (Calling a great and complicated show), Set Designer Ron Newell, Lighting Designer Jeff Lockshine (One of the best in the Biz), Sound Designer Bryan Ritchey (lots of sound effects handled beautifully), Costume Designer D. Justin Bilewicz, III (nailing it big time).

I had a great time. If you want to laugh, get out and see this.

Bathroom Humor at Blank Canvas Theatre

Blank Canvas Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: May 13, 2014

Bathroom Humor. To be honest, when I think of bathroom humor, I think of one of those books you buy that are filled with jokes, stories and tasteless cartoons to keep you occupied when you are in the middle of nature’s business. If you have ever read one of those books, you probably have noticed that some of the jokes are funny…and some of them are decidedly not. “Bathroom Humor,” currently on porcelain display at Blank Canvas Theatre, written by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore of “Love, Sex and the I.R.S.” fame, takes this script through the comedic spaghetti approach. Throw the jokes at the bathroom wall and see what sticks. Director Patrick Ciamacco engages this piece by casting a diverse group of crazy actors that couldn’t care less about meaningful material, and are brave enough to dive into the crazy pool.

So the story happens in the bathroom, which is the entire set, of the office party of the year. Laura (Ashley Conlon), who is married to Arthur (Luke Scattergood), is having an affair with Sandy (David Turner), one of Arthur’s employees. Sandy is a nervous fellow who is trying to work up the nerve to ask Arthur for a raise during the party. Arthur, who owns his own company, struggles with the temptation to have an affair with Babette (Tamicka Scruggs), a man-chaser who works for him and wants desperately to get him alone and undressed. Stu (Jeffrey Glover) is a degenerate whose goal for the evening is to consume massive quantities of drugs and alcohol. Peg (Jenna Messina) is a sweet person who is struggling to overcome her self-image and “fit in.” The Big El (Steven Schuerger) is a not-too-talented Elvis impersonator who has been hired as the party entertainer, and Peg’s father (Len Lieber) is just trying to use the bathroom for its original use. With one door, a tub covered with a shower curtain, and a window, there aren’t a lot of places to hide. And the medicine cabinet becomes quite the epicenter.

While it is hard to sustain slapstick humor for an entire evening, I did laugh. And more importantly, the audience laughed. There were things that made me giggle: Embodying her character’s catch phrase, “Rubenesque is coming back,” Messina is very funny, whether taking flossing to a new level or delivering her one woman show called “Peg and the Zipper,” which is pure comedic delight. Glover, wearing a wig that reminded me of Norman Bates’ mother, is a demented and very funny drugged out hot mess–and in a moment of self-actualization, gets to nail the biggest laugh in the show. The rest of the cast rocks the proceedings with their quirkiness. Scattergood as the disheveled, window crashing boss; Conlon with her wandering libido; Scruggs with a body that could stop traffic and her character’s athletic approach to love; Schuerger who gives a whole new meaning to an “enhanced” Elvis sighting with a crotch that moves more than the polar vortex; Turner who singlehandedly will bring back the mustache to great heights; and Lieber, whose determination to potty is relentless.

Mr. Ciamacco not only provided Direction, but also the Set Design and served as Technical Director. Scattergood had good choices as Costume Designer. And Cory Molner provided sound Lighting Design.

If you are looking for a real story, it isn’t here. But did you think there was going to be, judging by the title? This is just silly fun that regulars will find funny, and newbies might or might not be impressed.

The Last Romance at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre

Chagrin Valley Little Theatre
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: April 30, 2014

Chagrin Valley Little Theatre is not so little anymore. The present production of THE LAST ROMANCE by Joe DiPietro is produced at the River Street Playhouse, right next door to the main theatre. Voila, a theatre complex right beside the falls. The play is very funny and will be a delight for an older crowd, because it treats the mature characters as alive and capable of love. No retirement homes here, just great comedic gold from area veterans that prove that picking up chicks is not just for the young. But this journey also includes issues of family, trust and the heartbreaking reality of life as we age gracefully with our partner, or without.

This is the story of Ralph (CVLT vet Don Edelman), a widower in his senior years, who spots the slightly younger Carol (Mary Jane Nottage) walking her Chihuahua, Diesel, at the local dog park. Impressed with the elegant and distant woman, Ralph decides to take a chance on love one more time by pursuing her. His lonely sister and caretaker, Rose (Margo Parker), does not approve. Carol isn’t particularly interested in Ralph at first, but they soon bond as Ralph tells her about his missed chance to sing for the Metropolitan Opera (with vocalist Andrew Kondik appearing as young Ralph), and Carol tells of her romance–however, leaving out an important part. There are secrets to be revealed about both of them…will their relationship blossom? THE LAST ROMANCE is a heartwarming comedy about life, loss, and the transformative power of love.

Cindee Catalano-Edelman does a fine job as a first time director. She is blessed with three veteran actors, and a young up and coming vocalist blessed with a beautiful voice.

The main actors in this production are a treasure chest of bravado. Don Edelman is a delight as Ralph. A gifted actor, he is smooth as silk as he navigates meeting a new woman who spikes his interest, while cleverly peeling away the wall built up around his love interest. Parker makes Rose a lovable sisterly curmudgeon with gruff and realistic emotion when necessary. She is a blast when taking control of the situation and “telling it like it is.” Nottage is radiant as Carol, delivering a funny, confident layered performance. Watching her take on her potential suitor, his over protective sister and her own truth is a delight. Kondik, described only as “Young Man,” performs his opera vignettes with confidence and a clear and confident voice. And, belting out opera at 2 in the afternoon should be worth applause as well, which he received throughout the performance.

Special shout out to Peaches, the dog playing Diesel, who was incredibly behaved and cute as all get out.

Technical elements were great for an intimate space. Stage Manager Karen Paktinat called a great show. Light and Sound design James Barron adding just the right amount of atmosphere and barks. Candy Clemson and Marge Zellmer create a cozy bench habitat. Edmond Wolff does a great job of pulling it all together as Tech Director.

KIN at Dobama Theatre

Dobama Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: April 29, 2014

Boy meets Girl. It is such a short, sweet sentence that seems to be so simple, but who the hell are we kidding? Each boy and girl comes with family, friends, baggage, fears, hopes, dreams, medical problems, angst, occasional rash and, well, need I go on? Most of the fun stuff of relationships comes from our family members and our emotional friends. Can I get an Amen in here? But along this ride come comedic journeys and moments of deep resolve and depth. I found all of that in the recent production of “Kin” by Bathsheba Doran currently playing at Dobama Theatre. Beautifully directed by Shannon Sindelar, this play is funny and fascinating as it glides through two lives coming together with a series of vignettes that weave a love story with all the trappings involved. It is like watching all the stories at a Thanksgiving dinner, where you are blessed and reminded why it should only happen once a year.

This play features a fierce cast of players at the top of their game, and technical elements that haven’t been seen in Cleveland for a long, long time. I will rave about that later on. But these actors! Elana Kepner* plays Anna, the “girl” of this play. Kepner is sublime, as she navigates through an overzealous best friend, a literary creation with a dangerous title, dealing with family matters, and finding, possibly, true love. She is a pleasure to watch and becomes a compelling thread throughout this fabulous story. As her father, Pete Ferry* (Adam) is terrific. He has a dashing John Wayne command of the stage and is wonderful at showing the damaged but loving sides of his character, allowing a flawed character to come back and reemerge a better man. Then we come to Helena, played with frenetic brilliance by Leighann Delorenzo. Delorenzo plays the heck out of this character so well, if she were to show up at Pamplona, the bulls would run the other way. But there is also a beautiful undercurrent of desperation that keeps Helena interesting and fun to watch.

Geoff Knox as Sean, the “boy” of this piece, is terrific. With athletic looks intact, Knox brings brooding electricity to his scenes, not overdoing anything, but centering his character in truth and focusing on achieving his desires to move past love and reacquire it. His mother Linda, as played by Lenne Snively*, is a treasure. Supreme confidence and emotionally open about what haunts her and what she wants for her son. Snively clearly depicts all the character aspects of having a son away, dealing with a tragic past, and accepting what the future holds. As Uncle Max, Bob Keefe deserves a life time achievement award for getting through the treadmill scene in one piece. Trust me, it is a scream. Keefe is awesome, whether slinging Jameson with sis or sharing advice with the nephew. Great stuff.

David Bugher plays two roles in this piece. We meet him first as Simon, and boy do we meet him: giving one of the funniest “I am breaking up with you” speeches ever. And a lot has to do with his deft comedic timing. Too funny. Then he pops up again, gun in hand, as Gideon, a hunter who saves Helena from a bear, which is another great comedic bookend. There is even a moment of tenderness thrown in for good measure. Great work. Jeanne Task is in top form as she brings humor and honesty to Kay, the other woman in Adam’s life. Task takes on a reserved persona but still generates laughs, and touches your heart with simple, beautiful acting. And then there is Rachel Lee Kolis as Sean’s ex, Rachel. It is rare that an actor has one scene but it is so honest and brilliant that you can’t forget the performance. That is the case with this young actress. It was a privilege to watch such purity of acting.

And speaking of fabulous, the technical elements of this show are just that. WOW. Particularly, the projection effects designed by Mike Tutaj are the coolest thing I have ever seen in Cleveland. I don’t want to spoil anything by describing what happens to the set, but you have to see this fine artistry. Scenic Designer Tiffany Scriber produces a fascinating set that ignites when lit. Marcus Dana’s Lighting Design is terrific as usual. Costume Designer Jenniver Sparano is in top form. Sound Designer Richard Ingraham sounds terrific. (See what I did there?) Technical Director David Tilk did an excellent job of pulling all the elements together. Kudos to Stage Managers Megan Mingus and Joel Rathbone for calling a great show. I also understand the technical assistants did some yeoman work on this piece, so congrats to Mary Rathell, Bryan Ritchey, and Jeremy Dobbins.

This is one hell of a way to end a season.

Informed Consent at Cleveland Play House for the New Theatre Festival

Cleveland Play House
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: April 2
8, 2014

It is time to break new ground at Cleveland Play House (CPH). To empower that mission comes the CPH “New Ground Theatre Festival,” which showcases new theatrical works and play readings from nationally recognized artists. The first offering is the fascinating “Informed Consent” by Deborah Zoe Laufer, co-produced with Geva Theatre Center; half the cost and twice the thrill. Beautifully directed by Sean Daniels, this play tackles questions of Bio-ethics. As a person, would you want to know your genetic defect? As a medical professional, should you tell someone they have a genetic defect, when in fact the reason they are there is for something else? And when you sign that paper before you take a blood test, what are you really consenting to?

The story which examines these questions follows Jillian (Jessica Wortham), a genetic anthropologist who finds herself on a frantic journey to find a cure for early onset Alzheimer’s. She has learned she has inherited the defective gene, and she wants to solve the problem to prevent passing it on to her children. At the same time, she is asked by her colleague, social anthropologist Ken (Gilbert Cruz) to assist in a study of the isolated Havasupai Tribe, who is dying out due to type 2 diabetes. In her overzealous quest for self preservation and medical research, she makes some dire decisions. As a result, she sets a collision course with Ken, her husband Graham (Fajer Al-Kaisi), the tribe contact and spokeswoman Arella (Larissa FastHorse), and Dean Hagen (Tina Fabrique). It is a 90-minutes-plus journey that is fascinating.

We find a company of actors spread out on a “baked earth” set, (Scenic Designer Michael Raiford), which propels us to desert essence, representing the base of the Grand Canyon, where the Havasupai Tribe resides. A genetic code consisting of lit boxes permeates the set. With the ability to change colors and function as prop containers, the set tells the story all on its own. Add in effective lighting (Brian J. Lilienthal), clear sound (Matt Callahan), and perfect costumes (Amanda L. Doherty), and we are ready to get our genetics on!

The cast is led by Wortham, who embodies Jillian with excellent choices. Wortham handles the frantic pace and unstoppable desire with flawless execution. She is both funny and intense. Al-Kaisi is so realistic as the husband and almost full-time daddy. He brings a beautiful awareness to Graham, and the scene where the couple meets for the first time is hilarious. Great work. FastHorse is powerful as the tribe spokeswoman. She provides a regal personae bathed in tradition and pride, and deft execution of her characters. Cruz has all the right moves within his characters. Whether perfectly playing the social anthropologist or the lawyer, he is on target and brings the passion when called on to do so. Fabrique is funny, stern when needed, and has a beautiful voice. All combine to make a huge contribution to the evening within Laufer’s characters.

Kudos to playwright on being able to generate an excellent play about bio-ethics and still make it funny. The blend results are a beautiful and fulfilling evening of theatre. And let’s not forget Stage Manager Jennifer Matheson Collins for calling a great show.

Moonlight and Magnolias at Workshop Players

Workshop Players
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: April 28, 2014

“Gone With The Wind” is one of my favorite movies. I can’t imagine how this classic movie could be produced today without the Fed printing more money. Legendary performances and one of the most famous “see ya later“ lines in cinematic history. Playwright Ron Hutchinson was also impressed by the movie but, more importantly, how it was made, so he was inspired to create “Moonlight and Magnolias.” The scenario focuses on producer David O. Selznick (Jonathan McCleery), who has fired the original director of “Gone With The Wind” and is in need of a script revision. He has five days to rewrite and begin shooting or the production will shut down. Enter Victor Fleming (Dennis Runkle) to direct and screenwriter Ben Hecht (Dale Hruska) to rewrite the script. Throw in a few problems, like Hecht hasn’t read the book, Fleming is still working on “The Wizard of Oz”, and the fact that it is hard to get anyone to agree on anything. How does Selznick solve that problem? Simple. Just lock the door and have your secretary, Miss Poppenghul (Kristina Rivera), hold your calls, and bring in a steady supply of bananas and peanuts. Apparently, fiber is a key ingredient to success. But, within those five days, a lot of hilarious and poignant moments come together to achieve the goal.

At the helm of this mockumentary is Brad Sales. He pulls together a solid cast of professional crazies to set this script in action. This collection of community theatre veterans turns in a fun evening of theatre-in-the-round for a packed house. Sales uses a great sense of movement and staging to ensure all sides are thoroughly entertained.

McCleery is the anchor of the ship of brilliant foolishness. He navigates the script with plenty of deft choices as his character handles egos and deadlines. He is a blustering vehicle of somewhat controlled chaos and pathos. Hruska’s madness can be measured by the state of his hair. He starts off together and somewhat flustered with the task, and then turns into a hot mess of talent and comic frustration. Runkle is a towering figure of comic gold. Watching him interpret the female characters is a true delight. With great confidence, timing, and a dead pan mug that triggers laughter all night long. Rivera brings great comedic energy as Miss Poppenghul. It would not surprise me if she ended up with a tattoo which read “Yes, Mr. Selznick” after the run. Delightfully, somehow Rivera finds different ways to say that one line that always keeps it fresh and funny. And, her unkempt chassis at the end is a blast, reflecting the harried journey they have all been through.

There were some distractions. The script itself seems to overplay the same arguments over and over again. The cast fell into a “line-reaction-line-reaction” pattern that slowed the pace unnecessarily. There were some delays in the sound and fade blackouts in the scene-ending tableaus. I expect as the run continues, these will tighten and resolve themselves.

The production team put in some great work: Stage Manager Kathy Whitmore, Scenic Designer Brad Sales (doing double duty), Costume Designer Judie May (getting the looks just right, totally digging Rivera’s costumes), Lighting Designer Matt Gould, and Sound Designers Pat and Joe Price.

Theatre-in-the-round is a challenging endeavor, and Workshop did a fine homage.

Love in Pieces by Sarah Morton

Review by: Kevin Kelly
April 24, 2014

There is something wonderful about mystery, especially when it comes in the form of a random email inviting you to be a guest at a random destination for an immersive play experience. And what wondrous rewards await the immersed as your consciousness is transformed by being surrounded by a virtual and artistic environment that is literally inches away from you. That was my experience tonight as I took a house tour from top to bottom, which included watching famous historical couples dealing with a variety of situations as presented in “Love in Pieces” by Sarah Morton.

This delicious recipe for adventure was written in 1997 by playwright, actor, educator, and activist Morton and, after winning the Chilcote award, the play was given a full production at Cleveland Public Theatre. Tonight, artistically marinated artists take the piece for a physical and visual ride.

The evening is hosted by Ellen Nicole Morales. The guides for the tour are Elaine Feagler, Chennelle Bryant-Harris, Khaki Herman, and Michael Silverstein. We go in groups of three, predetermined by our playing card symbol. I was a Diamond. Thank you. Donning a mask, our silence is requested and it begins.

You have no program, so there is no way to know what you are going to encounter. Each scene is directed by a “Master of Scene.” Our first destination is the basement, where we meet Orpheus (Andrew Gombas) and Eurydice (Llewie Nunez). The eerily lit basement provides an ethereal environment for these lovers to kick some “Don’t look at me, because I’m beautiful” ass. Both actors display deft representations of angst for the ages and heartbreaking realness that sometimes love comes with a heavy price. David Hansen provides Master of Scene. The after-party is held in the kitchen, where we dance with each other to the beautiful voiced Gombas hauntingly drifting up through the stairwell partnered with a folk guitar.

In the attic awaits Cupid (Christopher Sanders) and Psyche (Katelyn Cornelius). Lit by cellphone light, the pair is painfully effective at displaying a tortured love, and an attempt to repair wingless ambition with beautiful, emotional connections. Master of Scene is Tim Pringpuangkeo (the best last name ever).

Master of Scene Michael Silverstein ignites the raucous pair of the evening, Antony (David Hansen) and Cleopatra (Carrie Williams). Ok, these two are gold. Watching the fiery Williams try to solve Antony’s “engine” problem is a scream. And Hansen kills it as he becomes an accidental drag queen which apparently prevents him from having to order Viagra online. I have to have a drink with this couple.

We head into the bathroom as Master of Scene Chennelle Bryant-Harris present Laertes (Brett Radke) and Ophelia (Brittany Nicole Gaul). This scene is physically the bravest of all, with Gaul bearing all in emotion, acting and herself. Gaul is fierce, as is Radke who provides an interesting consort with intelligent interplay. Incredible fearless work.

A shout out to Musicians Andrew Wise (Piano) and Liam McMillin (Bass) for providing some classy jazz infusion to the evening.

This is a great unexpected experience. Immerse yourself whenever you can.

Ghosts at Oberlin College Theatre

Oberlin College Theater
College Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: April 20, 2014

Henrik Johan Ibsen was a major 19th-century Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet. He is often referred to as “the father of realism. His major works include “Peer Gynt,” “An Enemy of the People,” “A Doll’s House,” “Hedda Gabler,” and “Ghosts,” which just played this weekend at Oberlin College Theater, translated by Rolf Fjelde, and directed by the brilliant Matthew Wright.

Several of Ibsen’s plays were considered scandalous to many of his era, when European theatre was required to model strict morals of family life and propriety. Ibsen’s work utilizes a critical eye and free inquiry into the conditions of life and issues of morality, conditions that have hardly changed in today’s society. And, under the creative team led by Wright (Associate Director, Associate Prefessor of Theatre), this collegiate production of “Ghosts” was spectacular.

The story you say? Well, “Ghosts” would be a grand exhibit in the television series Ibsen Abbey. Helen Alving (Katy Early) is about to dedicate an orphanage she has built in the memory of her dead husband, Captain Alving. She reveals to her spiritual advisor, Pastor Manders (Brian Gale), that she has hidden the evils of her marriage, and has built the orphanage to deplete her husband’s wealth so that their son, Oswald, might not inherit anything from him. Pastor Manders had previously advised her to return to her husband despite his philandering, and she followed his advice in the belief that her love for her husband would eventually reform him. However, her husband’s philandering continued until his death, and Mrs. Alving was unable to leave him prior to his death for fear of being shunned by the community. Moving among them all is Jacob Engstrand (Danny Prikazsky), a carpenter working on the orphanage, who not only has plans of his own, but also has Regina thinking that he is her father. SPOILER ALERT: During the action of the play she discovers that her son Oswald (Colin Wulff), whom she had sent away so that he would not be corrupted by his father, is suffering from inherited syphilis, and has fallen in love with Regina Engstrand (Sarah Rosengarten), Mrs. Alving’s maid, who is revealed to be an illegitimate daughter of Captain Alving, and thereby Oswald’s own half-sister. The play concludes with Mrs. Alving having to decide whether or not to euthanize her son Oswald in accordance with his wishes. Her choice is left unknown.

The play opens to haunting music (Designer Jonathan Maag and Music Consultant Early), and then dramatic lighting (Designer Jeremy K. Benjamin) gradually rises on a gorgeous set (Designer Christopher McCollum). Beautiful depth and detail immediately take hold of our senses, as a macabre presentation of characters appear before us, and stimulates our intellect to devour “what the Sam hill?” is about to happen to us.

Early is full of blistering characterization. Watch her hold on to the moral high ground, bury secrets, and navigate family histrionics, all done with excellent precision and execution. Gale pastorally glides through the piece with committed strength and moral fiber, and delicately showing the cracks in the armor, with deft choices. Wulff presents a disturbing descent into hell, producing an arc of character that is fascinating to watch, and heartbreaking to bear witness to his own solution. Rosengarten is a feisty presence with complete command of her nature, embodying her character with inherited strength and guts. Prikazsky does creepy and slimy well, but I hear he is a great guy. He creates a limping shell of a man, whose conniving is brought forth with sublime acting.

Director Wright delivers this classic with adept pace, with three acts that feel like two, guiding these future artists with skill and editing prowess. It is a masterful evening, aided by the glorious costume design of Chris Flaharty. Amazing work.

Kudos to Assistant Director Abigail Barr, and the trio of Stage managers bringing this piece to life on the outside and inside: Calling a great show was Production Stage Manager Julia Perez, and her assistants Hannah Montgomery, and Andrew Hartley.

The Oberlin theater productions must be put on the “go see” list of any aspiring actor. It is a beautiful environment to take in, and the experience will greatly empower and enlighten you as an artist. Be sure to check out the summer festival season.

Check out The Feve!

The Drowning Girls at Cleveland Public Theatre

Cleveland Public Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: April 19, 2014

The son of an insurance agent, George Joseph Smith was born in Bethnal Green, London on January 11, 1872. Reads like just another beautiful soul entering the world with the potential to create so much good. But in this case, this soul was dark and created much blackness in his life. In fact, in 1915, he was convicted and subsequently hanged for the drowning of three women, in a case known as the “Brides in the Bath Murders.” Those women were Margaret Elizabeth Lloyd, Alice Smith, and Beatrice “Bessie” Munday. After all this time, one would think the women had been silenced forever, long forgotten stories. That is true no more with the Cleveland Public Theatre regional premiere of The Drowning Girls written by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson, and Daniela Vlaskalic.

This production is creatively directed by Melissa Therese Crum, who is part of the CPT’s prestigious Joan Yellen Horvitz Director Fellow Program that was developed for emerging directors of extraordinary potential. The program offers mentoring, formal class work, and practical work. Well, this is one hell of a practical work.

This play examines a time when women did not have the power that they have fought for today. Being married was one of the most secure statures to have in life. George Joseph Smith certainly understood how to take that societal pressure and target woman who were weak for companionship and, much to their demise, trusting. We are met by Alice (Natalie Green), Bessie (Sarah Kunchik) and Margaret (Jaime Bouvier), who appear among the three bathtubs where each took their last breath.

This is a fascinating tale. Each actress embodies her character with a clear perspective of what path they had chosen. All three work together to share the demented stories of their deaths in a surreal water ballet that is totally engrossing. All of this done completely connected to the water that killed them, and the bathtubs that became their graves. You learn about each one of them and what their lives were about. Then how they met Smith and how the relationships ended up in marriage so quickly. And the final journey of how their last moments were realized. Just like watching the ID Channel, you learn the sickness of Smith of how he manipulates people, passion and facades. What is also amazing is that within the waterworks of death come genuinely funny moments. This is 70 minutes of “non-stop what the hell am I watching because I have never seen something like this before” savory goodness.

Crum kicks the bathtubs right through the goalposts. This is a very interesting ride. Stage Manager Cameron Cerny called a great show. Sound Designer and Music Composer Sam Fisher added a lot of surrealistic quality to the evening, and haunting effects. Fisher is part of CPT’s Kulas Foundation Theatre Composer Initiative, which is a three-month fellowship program providing emerging early career composers with firsthand experience creating music for theatre. Bravo, Mr. Fisher. Set Designer Val Kozlenko turns the storefront space into a visually interesting array of bathtubs, unique floorboards, and a draped backdrop which highlights the proceedings nicely. Providing haunting lighting design throughout the evening is the incredibly talented Ben Gantose. The lighting greatly enhanced the presentation with tremendous touches and color choices. Inda Blatch-Geib does an amazing job of costuming these ladies. Very nice looks and pieces.

This was a very cool evening of Storefront Studio theatre. However, if you are George Joseph Smith, you would be looking through the storefront asking “How much is that bathtub in the window?” Yikes.

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea at Coach House Theatre

Coach House Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: April 1, 2014

There comes a time in any dynamic evolution, where the need to stretch and grow becomes a necessity. Such is the case at the Coach House Theatre with the creation of the Artists Choice: Black Box Series. As Nancy Cates, Co-Artistic Director, explains “This series will enable Coach House Theatre to flex their artistic muscle and attract a younger audience, new young-adult actors, and directors.” This program enables play selections that are not part of traditional programming. To start the series off, the offering is the wildly dynamic “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” by John Patrick Shanley. Mr. Shanley has quite the resume which includes the 2005 Pulitzer Prize winning “Doubt.” With good material to jump start a new series, the next job is to cast the show with solid performers to prove the point that different can be a good thing. And director Sarah Coon does just that, while guiding the piece in terrific form and execution.

The story involves two damaged people that find comfort in one another. The setting is a rundown bar in the Bronx, where two of society's rejects, Danny (Joe Pine) and Roberta (Tess Burgler), strike up a halting conversation over their beer. This is a raw, funny and poignant romantic tale with adult language and sexual content--just what the Series ordered. This is a 70 minute ride without intermission delving into the lives of two souls who have not had a good day in a long time. Pine and Burgler inhabit these two shattered lives with intensity and sharp focus. These two actors are amazing. To be honest, I want to wear them as clip-on earrings and just go around and act. Thank you.

In the beginning, Roberta is a woman who states, “Sometimes, I just start screaming,” while Danny shares that, along with his anger issues, “It never seems like enough.” Both characters live at home and are struggling to make a life for themselves. Roberta is haunted by a past sexual encounter, and Danny is struggling with panic attacks that can completely shut him down. But this is visceral acting that we witness. Both actors convey their character’s faults and tortured connection with great acumen. And when the two decide to spend the night together, the entrance into the bedroom generates more heat than watching the movie “Body Heat” on fast forward. It wouldn't be a bad idea to have ice water available for the faint of heart. Then we journey through what real emotions these two can garner. Watching Danny’s tender moments is a scream. The resolution is touching. The physicality in the play was both excellent and disturbing. These are two actors that trust each other explicitly and, as a result, the purest of truth resides.

Congrats to Coach House Theatre on an exciting new journey. I know that I will be there supporting the next production.

Handle With Care at Actors' Summit

Actors' Summit
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: March 30, 2014

Currently at Actors’ Summit is the very funny romantic comedy “Handle with Care” by Jason Odell Williams. The play ran Off-Broadway recently and was the vehicle for the return of Carol Lawrence, who first struck Broadway gold as Maria in the original “West Side Story.” The story involves Ayelit (Natalie Sander Kern), who is visiting America with her grandmother Edna (Marci Paolucci). Edna unfortunately dies on Christmas Eve morning, and Ayelit is left with the task of shipping the body back to Israel for a prompt burial. Unfortunately, the delivery man, Terrence (Arthur Chu), loses the box with the grandmother inside. So he calls his best Jewish friend, Josh (Keith Stevens*), because he is sure he can speak Hebrew. Well, if it was only that easy! The results are comedic and surprisingly romantic, and a hot mess of characters navigating a crazy situation.

Constance Thackaberry* (director) does a great job with this piece, with great casting and keeping the pace cooking while knowing exactly when to dim the lights and let the moment simmer.

Kern (Ayelit) is FANTASTIC! If I were Actors’ Summit, I would rent a furnished apartment upstairs, install a fire station pole, and let her slide down into every show I produced. Kern is on full cylinders from the second the play begins and she never stops. A recent transfer from Pensacola, FL, she is an incredible addition to the acting chops in the area. She also handled the Hebrew with deft accuracy, while learning the language phonetically, and assisted by Hebrew Coach Oudi Singer. Both are masterful at what they do, as teacher and student. But the fun doesn’t stop there! Stevens embodies Josh with great comedic timing and one-liners to die for. With charm and a solid lovable character, he kills it in the role. He shows a beautiful arc of letting the past go and enabling himself to understand it is ok to have a future and love again.

Arthur Chu’s Terrence reminds me of Tom Arnold, if he graduated from Animal House--not the sharpest tool in the shed. Chu brings sublime dysfunction to his character. I would not be surprised if her had to use his own delivery GPS to get home. Playing it over the top with his amazing summations of life and intellect, he certainly is an audience favorite. Marci Paolucci brings a warm and loving quality to Edna. Without bravado, she establishes a great connection with the audience and with her on-stage daughter.

The production staff supports this production with aplomb. Kevin Rutan+ (Technical Director) does great work, as well as Anna Bose (Stage Manager) calling a great show.

There are a lot of laughs here, and some very impressive performances. I mean, seriously, where else can you see a Jewish Christmas play in the spring?

Life With Father at Weathervane Playhouse

Weathervane Playhouse
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: March
29, 2014

“Directed by Sarah May.” Those words alone tell you the production you are about to see is going to be great. Actors turn out in droves to audition when she is directing, and her meticulous method of making the set look as authentic as possible is part of the artistic charm that exudes in her productions. Well, May has done it again with a terrific production of “Life With Father” at Weathervane Playhouse. Debuting on Broadway in 1939, it holds the distinction of being the longest running non-musical play in Broadway history. May does the production justice, transforming all of us back to a time when family entertainment was indeed just that -- laughter coming from actual events and conversations that we all have experienced in our own family dynamics. The play was dramatized by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, based on the stories by Clarence Day. These stories were first run in The New Yorker magazine. It tells the true story of Clarence Day, a stockbroker who wants to be master of his house, but finds his wife and his children ignoring him until they start making demands for him to change his own life -- the major change being his wife’s insistence that Clarence be baptized to avoid going to Hell. There are other family dynamics as well that seem to keep everyone on their toes. May even stays with the original story and all the boys in the household are redheads. That is an eye for detail.

Jim Fippin as Father, Clarence Day, Sr., is a bombastic blast. So set in his ways, Fippin does a great job at making this pompous father lovable and exasperating at the same time. He creates a textured father with a good heart but an overbearing way of expression. Tari Lyn Bergoine as mother Vinnie Day is spectacular. She owns this character and this time period in a beautifully nuanced performance with deft comedic choices. Watching Mother manipulate Father is a joy to behold.

The kids are terrific. You really feel that they are part of an actual family, with each inhabiting their character with resilient charm and presence. Clarence Day, Jr. is played with great effect by Eric Lucas. As the older child, he does a great job conveying the yearning of trying to become an adult with financial independence, and handling the ups and downs of a first love. Will Price is a hoot as John Day. Price has a great playful charm that he uses with great skill throughout the production. As a salesman, he has some great comic moments. The Desberg brothers, Owen and Spencer, are scene stealers as Whitney and Harlan Day, handling the roles with great focus and cuteness, and generating plenty of smiles along the way, red heads and all.

Cousin Cora is colorfully played by Jenny Barrett, bringing great charm and bubbliness to the role. You are happy to see her when she visits. As her daughter, Mary Skinner, Erin Moore brings an endearing quality that makes it easy to see why Day, Jr. would fall head over heels for her. Reverend Dr. Lloyd (Richard Worswick) is very fun. Under the character antics supplied by Worswick, the Reverend is a pleasure to watch as he looks for the right moment to encourage the baptism of the ages. Dr. Humphreys (Steve Boardman) reminds me of the Sean Connery of the medical profession -- great job, along with his back up physician, Dr. Somers (John Grafton).

The maids are kept busy in the show. Margaret (April Deming) is a scream to watch as she tries to make everything perfect and manage the staff. Watching her get a bit rattled is delightful. Annie (Kay Caprez), Delia (Sasha Desberg), Nora (Madelyn E. Francis), and Maggie (Jennifer Desberg) do double duty during the show, not only playing their parts and trying to serve the meals without setting the alarm off inside Mr. Day, Sr., but also being involved in the scene changes, making them interesting to watch. There is also an easel to the side that the maids switch with each scene, following the play’s timeline like we were watching in an old silent movie theatre.

The creative team does a tremendous job: Stage Manager Scott Crim calls a terrific show. Sound Designer Michelle Conner does a great job at blending the spoken word with the fabulous song choices. Properties Designer Jennifer Maxson Draher must have worked overtime on a marvelous set with incredible detail. Costume Designer Jasen J. Smith knocked it out the park with his designs. The family looked amazing, and the woman to die for. But leading the charge were the designs for the Mother. Bravo. Scenic/Lighting Designer Alan Scott Ferrall continues his streak of incredible professional work. The set is incredibly impressive and lit to highlight the action with a loving embrace.

This is what family theatre is all about. Weathervane kicks some creative butt with this production.

Clybourne Park at Cleveland Play House

Cleveland Play House
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
March 28, 2014

Currently at the Cleveland Play House is the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris, presented in association with Geva Theatre Center, Directed by Geva Artistic Director Mark Cuddy. Clybourne Park (2010) was inspired by Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun (1959). This play will certainly generate discussion. One discussion point is about suicide and how family members and loved ones cope with and mask their emotions. But the major discussion will be about racism.

We journey to 406 Clybourne Street, in the near northwest of central Chicago. In Act One, we are taken to September, 1959, where an anxious group of white neighbors attempts to talk a couple out of selling their home to an African-American family. Seeing as this is a response to Raisin in the Sun, I was quite taken by surprise. Instead of a dramatic edge, we meet a cast of characters that could have lived in Pleasantville, with racist tones intact. There are a few liberals thrown in the mix, but they are dealing with their own son’s suicide. It is a bizarre ride. But what I began to notice is that the characters were caricatures of racist white people. It is disheartening to hear it thrown in your face, but after a while, you have to admit you actually know people like that.

Act Two is 50 years later in the same house, but now it is dilapidated. Once again sparks fly when a white couple presents a plan to knock down the house in order to build their dream house in the now predominately black neighborhood. The same actors assume new roles; some of the characters are direct descendants from 1959. This group is much more careful about stating racist remarks, which is our new found “political correctness.” Respecting the memory of what the house represents becomes important, and also forces frank conversation about racial issues. It seems to me that the black couple now has been empowered by their predecessors struggle and has found confidence in protecting the value of the past.

As I stated before, the cast does double duty. Roya Shanks (Bev) unfolds as a hilarious, emotional train wreck directly from the Pleasantville station. In Act Two, she (Kathy) turns into an uptight lawyer who obviously didn’t have to pass a geography lesson on her bar exam. Remi Sandri (Russ) is a knock out as the father, riding the emotional waves perfectly. And then is a very funny ‘Dwayne F. Schneider’ of Clybourne (Dan).

Kristen Adele (Francine) brings class and elegance even donned out as a maid, and then morphs into Lena, an Angela Bassett spitfire who has impeccable comedic timing and delivery. Daniel Morgan Shelley brings stature and grace to Francine’s husband (Albert), then transforms beautifully into Kevin, a modern day preppie with a wonderful connective energy with the audience.

Jessica Kitchens is a blast in both acts. We find her as Betsy, a deaf and pregnant wife. She handles the disability with such care that she is able to generate some terrific laughs. Then Kitchens becomes a confident mother-to-be who is an emotional rollercoaster handling the conversations around her, especially her husband. Along the way, she creates some great laughs and social commentary. Christian Pedersen has the assignment of issues throughout both ends of the play. As Karl, he comes across like a pre-superman uptight jerk as he attempts to convince the couple not to sell and ruin the neighborhood. Later, as Steve, he excels at being someone who just can’t keep his mouth shut.

Jim Poulos arrives to the party as Pastor Jim and must confuse bigotry with a religious freedom. Poulos is great. Later, he comes back “light in the loafers,” and contributes his sexual preference in a very funny moment. The final moment of the show features Bernard Bygott as Kenneth, the son who left their world way too soon. It is handled with beautiful honesty and is a very touching moment to end the show.

I am left with the theme of being in fear of others--the others that we don’t understand and who scare us. We must not remain in a bubble. One by one we must reach out and extend openness to what is uncomfortable and seek those who are based in truth. That is what I left with.

The technical elements were excellent. Embellishing the beautifully restored Allen Theatre were Scenic and Costume Designer G.W.Mercier, Lighting Designer Ann G Wrightson, Sound Designer Lindsay Jones, and calling a great show was Stage Manager John Godbout.

The Importance of Being Earnest at Medina County Show Biz Company

Medina County Show Biz Company
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: March 24, 2014

Today’s Adventure: Medina County Show Biz Company presents “The Importance of Being Earnest” directed by J.T. Buck. Once again, I am surrounded by a group of ladies who are local theatre fans, and this time they came from a pre-show talk at Miss Molly’s Tea Room. They filled me in on the theatre and they also did something else. When we were instructed to turn off our cell phones, I tried to do that but my cell phone was gone. The woman behind me offered to call it and when she did, lo and behold, one of the ladies was sitting on it. Oscar Wilde would have been pleased.

First produced in 1895, marriage is of paramount importance in the themes of this play, both as a primary force motivating the plot and as a subject for debate. Morality and the constraints it imposes on society are explored as well. However, in the hands of Oscar Wilde, the result is a comedic farce of infamous proportions. We take flight with John and Gwendolen, Algernon and Cecily, Rev. Chasuble and Miss Prism, with Lady Bracknell as the pilot and Merriman and Luke handing out the peanuts.

J.T. Buck (Director) has assembled a fine cast for this presentation. He certainly understands Wilde and goes right after the farcical elements of the play with a fever pitch. Almost vaudevillian, the actors push themselves to find their inner over-the-top muscles and flex them onstage. The pace is mostly sprite with some lags in the scene changes and minor staging choices, but overall plows through the lengthy material with vigor and laughter for days. His style is clear and consistent.

Andrew Deike (John Worthing) plays the protagonist of the play with a full arsenal. He cuts a fine leading man persona and gives John a refined, educated, and well balanced richness. His accent is tight and he handles the part with supreme confidence and a classic gate. He also knows when to let go and have some fun. On occasion, as a result of low volume, some of the dialogue was lost. But overall, this was a strong turn with great comedic elements.

According to the program, Amanda Davis (Gwendolen Fairfax) states she is happy to share the stage with her dashing fiancé, Adam Vigneault (Algernon Moncrieff). Well, you have heard “misery loves company” -- in their case, “excellence loves company. “ Both of these entertaining actors knock it out of the Victorian era. Vigneault is a terrific Algernon. He is funny, wild, and has a great sense of connection with the audience and the material. He consistently is a firestorm of energy throughout. And complimenting that energy is Davis, who is beautiful, charming, and funny. Hers is a great embodiment of the character with deft comedic choices. Both Davis and Vigneault have clear voices with diction that is essential in the world on stage, but especially in the Wilde. (See what I did there?) Bravo to both.

Then we come to the masterpiece theatre. Patrick Michael Dukeman as Lady Bracknell is a scream, with a commanding presence, clear elegant diction, and a character that resembles Maggie Smith on steroids. Dukeman is all over this part, and thankfully so. Very funny! And he owns what I call the comedic fade away jumper. He is dressed to the nines by designer Jasen Smith, who designed and built Bracknell’s costumes. I have to admit with the slender hips and the full bosomed look towering over the cast, I think Bracknell would easily go in the first round of the draft. Tremendous work! Lady Bracknell can steal the play, and in this case, she does.

Cecily Cardew (Katie O’Connor) was a crowd favorite. She brought bubbly dynamics and physical Burnett-esque chops to the role. One caution: diction was lost in some of the over the top moments. O’Connor was a frenetic entity and very enjoyable in her verbal duets with Davis. Diann Gorsuch brings a regal touch to Miss Prism. She is a hoot when being wooed by her suitor. Charles Cover brings a Burl Ives feel to Rev. Canon Chasuble. He is pleasant, enjoyable and lovable throughout the evening.

Kudos to Brett Agular for playing double duty with Merriman (Butler to Mr. Worthing) and Lane (Mr. Moncrieff’s manservant). These two roles could easily be thrown away but due to great character focus—and, in the case of Lane, bringing back the ghost of Tim Conway—were enjoyable and added to the proceedings.

Technical staff did a great job:
Stage Manager: Mary Smeltz
Set and Scenic Design: Kathy Elias (tremendous work with the garden and interior sets)
Lighting Designer: Manuel Aguiar (nice foot light effect)
Sound Design: Larry Mohler (good balance of music and spoken word)

One last note, I hope Wendy the poodle has insurance--careful with the luggage!

The Glass Menagerie at Coach House Theatre

Coach House Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: March 22, 2014

Renaissance is a beautiful thing. And having never been to Coach House Theatre in the past, it was a treat to see what a new venue has in store. As I waited in my seat for the show, I was seated beside four wonderful ladies who were very happy to bring me up to date on the theatre, since I looked new. They talked about the Artistic Directors Nancy Cates* and Terry Burgler*. About how six years ago, when they learned about the new artistic directors, these ladies were thrilled because they knew the quality work that was about to begin. A Renaissance. Tonight’s performance of “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams is a beautiful example of what inspired creations now exist in the coach house. As for the play?

“The play is memory,” he says.

In the Wingfield apartment in St. Louis, the mother, Amanda, lives with her crippled daughter and her working son, Tom. At dinner she tells her daughter, Laura, to stay nice and pretty for her gentlemen callers even though Laura has never had any callers and expects none. Amanda asks Tom to find some nice gentleman caller for Laura and to bring him home for dinner. A few days later, Tom tells Amanda that he has invited a young man named Jim O'Connor home for dinner. Amanda immediately begins to make rather elaborate plans for the gentleman caller. Later, Amanda sends Jim, the gentleman caller, into the living room to keep Laura company while she and Tom do the dishes. As Jim and Laura talk, she loosens us, but the evening ends with crushing honesty. The evening ends with all parties finding themselves at crossroads, and pathetically in the dark, without even light to cast brilliance on to the glass figurines that Laura loves so much. But within this evening’s outline lay secrets and unresolved pasts.

Director Nancy Cates has assembled a sharp and elegant cast to bring this classic to life. She has used the depth of the stage to move scenes with an ebb and flow that seem as natural as passing though your own house. She has created a world that lights up as the action goes, centering our attention in a stylistic way that is refreshing. Her underscored music choices gently provide emotional support for specific moments that seem to connect perfectly. Cates has guided her actors to fine tune their immense talents with excellent results.

Leading this dysfunctional family is Amanda Wingfield, explicitly played by Dede Klein. This is a role for the big leagues. You can’t step into this role without sharp focus, clear characterization, deft timing and the power to command attention without wearing out the spot light. Klein delivers on every level. Whether she is working in the pit crew for gentlemen callers for her daughter, selling magazine subscriptions, or wearing her killer dress that looked like a cotillion blew up on her, Klein nails Amanda Wingfield. Bravo!

Joe Pine is mighty fine as Tom Wingfield. From the first moments we see him, he has an immediate connection with the audience. You can sense the truth in his acting. His face reads like the face of an old friend with whom you just connected again. As he travels through the evening, he balances the internal struggles and his current responsibilities with an engaging edge. Letting us see the inner struggle of what responsibilities have landed in his lap, and eventually how to get out of it. Pine plays it like a pro. When he is happy, we are, when he is upset, we are, and when he blows up, we are concerned and disheveled, and that is a wonderful thing to experience from live theatre. Pine is damn good!

Tess Burgler (Laura Wingfield) broke my heart tonight with her performance. So much of what Laura gets to do is so understated, but Burgler empowered Laura with her own light that completely pulled you in. A stunning representation of less is more, and her reactive acting, without having lines, spoke volumes where there were no words. But, we heard her. Her disability was handled beautifully and naturally, and never came out of focus. And when she transforms for her gentleman caller, she is radiant, still allowing her vulnerability to maintain the conversation she has waited for her whole life. Beautiful work.

And here comes the gentleman caller, Jim O’Conner (Jeremy Jenkins). From the moment Jenkins is waiting for the door to be opened, he is in character, even blocked by steps. Love it! Jenkins does a great job coming into the lion’s den, or should I say Amanda’s Den. Sporting a great look and manners that would charm any household, he imbues O’Conner with life, brevity, and eventually some incredible instinct that really becomes great advice. When the affection goes too far, Jenkins plays the scene deftly, letting us see the awkward without becoming a caricature. Jenkins is well worth the wait.

This is a tight cast in a tight production. You can leave your watches at home; you will never check them during this show.

Kudos to the technical staff. Set Design by Terry Burgler, great use of space. Costume Design by Michael James right on point. Lighting Design by Mark Stoffer was tricky and well executed. Sound Design by H. Jackman added lots of emotional levels. Stage Manager Jerry Mirman called a great show.

Congratulations to Coach House Theatre on 86 years. That is amazing and, according to the ladies in the seats with me, this place keeps getting better.

'Night, Mother at Beck Center for the Arts

Beck Center for the Arts
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: March 21, 2014

I can’t remember the last time I honestly cried while watching a stage production. But I did tonight. Currently playing in the Studio Theatre at the Beck Center for the Arts is “Night, Mother” written by Marsha Norman, and beautifully directed by Scott Plate. Recently, I have become involved in a suicide prevention project called Out of the Darkness. This organization reaches out to anyone in trouble and surrounding friends and family members. So my emotional reaction to the play has a deep connection. But I feel so blessed to have tonight’s story shared by such brilliant actors and brilliant direction.

“Night, Mother” is about a daughter, Jessie Cates (Laura Perrotta), who has come to a decision to end her life. From the very beginning of the play, she shares that information with her Mother (Dorothy Silver) in the middle of a routine conversation about what is on the agenda for today, and explaining lists that she has prepared. Jessie is epileptic and, coupled with numerous failed relationships and opportunities in her life, she has decided there really is no need to go on any further. As you can imagine, “Mama” (as she is called) spends the entire time trying to convince her daughter that she is wrong, and that there are many reasons to live. However, that conversation takes many twists and turns amid omissions, lies, and the truth. We spend 90 minutes, without intermission, in their world and it consumes us.

The play begins with the sound of clocks. Time is of the essence. The backdrop is just a living room and kitchen, giving space to two souls that will bargain about life and death. Laura Perrotta reinvents herself as Jessie. Her character seems numb and robotic as she goes about her business and, throughout the evening, we see the inner insight that comes through as the result of continuous conversation. Isn’t it true for all of us that, if we talk too much, we might share too much? Perrotta is magical as she continues her course of self destruction without missing a beat, but still managing to create humor, which is essential to the audience to provide some relief. She allows you to see into Jessie’s mind and have some acknowledgement of why it might be time to get off the bus. She is magnificent.

As Thelma “Mama” Cates, the elegant Dorothy Silver is compelling. Silver seems to know no boundaries in expressing emotion, will and connection. Watching her navigate through an unbelievable puzzle put in front of her, she is astonishing. Her timing is impeccable by asking questions that can incite laughs and then, seconds later, tenderness and the fear of loss. How does one battle talking to someone who has the feeling that nothing will ever get better? Silver embodies that fight. Her final plea to her daughter is heartbreaking and so real; I know that I felt like I had lost something very dear. She is magnificent.

And engineering this talent and this Pulitzer Prize winning script is director Scott Plate. Plate is an actor’s dream. He has the empathetic ear and Midas touch for crafting beautiful performances. Adjusting physicality where necessary, the play never loses its edge or purpose. He guides two powerhouses into an evening a stark realism, humor and tragedy. He is magnificent.

But I don't want to forget the technical aspects of the show that were just as on point. That includes the stage manager, which I believe should be mentioned whenever a show is called well. Those talented folks are:
Scenic Designer -- Aaron Benson
Costume Designer -- Tesia Dugan Benson
Sound Designer -- Richard B. Ingraham
Technical Director & Lighting Designer -- Joseph Carmola
Stage Manager -- Curt Arnold

Yeah. I liked it a lot.

Lobster Alice at Convergence Continuum

convergence continuum
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: March 19, 2014

My first venture into the mind of Clyde Simon was attending “Lobster Alice” by Kira Obolensky at convergence-continuum (con-con) at the enchanting Liminis theatre. Simon (Director) explains that in fact, in 1946, the surrealist artist Salvador Dali went to Hollywood and spent time at the Walt Disney Studios. He had been commissioned to create a short animated film – a ballet based on the then-popular song “Destino” or “You Tempt Me.” He spent most of his time with an animator who was part of the “Alice In Wonderland” project. Obolensky creates a fictional speculation on the happenings during his time at Disney. That speculation involves Alice Horowitz, coffee-bearing secretary, who wants life to be interesting, and John Finch, an animator at work on Disney's “Alice in Wonderland,” who wants Alice. Then the great and outrageous Salvador Dali arrives at the studio to work on a short animated film. Dali scandalizes the conservative Finch; Alice, coffee-bearing secretary, becomes Alice, girl down the rabbit hole; and Finch and Alice both experience the very surreal whimsies of the human heart.

When I think about Alice Horowitz (Sarah Maria Hess) and John Finch (Tim Coles), it reminds me of Blondie and Dagwood, except that Blondie is a Stepford wife on adderall and Dagwood is as tight as a frog’s ass underwater. Throw in Dali (Grey Cross), who is his own drug, and a horny caterpillar (Beau Reinker) with a talent for smoke rings, and this has the makings of a tea party for the crazges (crazy and ages, see what I did there?).

Hess embodies Alice with stylized charm and gate. Her deft comedic skills are on full display, as she morphs into a woman who just doesn’t put her toe in the water but, eventually, her whole body. The result is a sharp, funny, and fully surreal trip down the rabbit hole and back. And what a brilliantly conceived rabbit hole it is! I can’t tell you or it would ruin the surprise.

Coles brings great angst and bumble-headedness to Finch, the lovelorn animator. As he is portrayed, my guess is the only action he gets is on the pages of his flip board animations. Coles presents an excellent arc of character, slowly dissolving layers, literally, right in front of us, until every repressed protective layer subsides and we are left with pure honest emotion. When these two reenact their first day, it is a scream to behold.

Bursting into the story with a flourish and dropping scarves to mark his territory is Grey Cross as Dali. Here is someone that would never get turned away from Studio 54. Cross knocks it out of the wonderland, delivering a hilarious raucous ride. He is the fecal Copernicus, judging everyone by how they must poop. Every time Cross enters, the stage becomes a hotplate of delight.

Rounding out the deftly-cast show is Beau Reinker, the workhorse of the production, portraying ex boyfriend Thorton, the Caterpillar, and quite literally “everyone else”. Adding to those skills, he also creates original music and accompaniment for “Dear Alice,” composed along with Bobby Coyne. But his highlight is the Caterpillar, donning a green skin tight suit that would make any speed skater jealous. Reinker makes the most of the seductive Lepidoptera, and creates cackles even when whimsically making scene changes.

Basically, this cast rocked. The technical crew should be applauded as well: Creative lighting design (Lisa Wiley) and Set/Sound design (Clyde Simon). Mucho meows to costumer sade wolfkitten. Video design (Tom Kondilas) was terrific and led us into underbelly of the rabbit hole with delight.

I am so happy I finally got my butt to con-con, but I am left with two burning desires. One, to go on a Martini Happy Hour tour headed by Dali. And the second, to have my life underscored.


The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity at Karamu House

Karamu House
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: March 14, 2014

Now playing at the house of Karamu, in the Jelliffe Theatre, is “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety” by Kristoffer Diaz, directed by Artistic Director Terrence Spivey. This satirical look at professional wrestling was a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize. The storyteller of the evening is Macedonio Guerra, or Mace for short. Mace is a professional fall guy who narrates and participates in explaining how professional wrestling is manipulated and manufactured. Mace lives in a world dominated by Chad Diety, the resident rock star of the league, who is managed by the smarmy manager Everett K. Olson. Mace eventually brings his own discovery, a young Indian-American Brooklyn kid, into the industry. Then things get crazy when the manager decides what their personas will be, created to illicit emotional responses from the crowd based on inflammatory characters, much to the delight of the box office.

Davis Aquila, as Macedonio Guerra, has the journeyman’s share of the dialogue for the evening. Aquila colorfully tells the tale of “the elaborate deconstruction of professional wrestling.” He presents himself as vulnerable; a man who is happy to lose to make the others look better. Built like Thor, he has a very connective presence with the audience and a commanding presence in the ring. His final monologue is riveting, filled with passion and conviction.

Enter Reginald McAlpine as Chad Diety. Diety would book himself on his own cruise, and McAlpine plays his to the hilt. Donning a flashy suit and flanked by appropriately dressed ring girls (who should get a reward for walking down the ramped aisle in mile high heels), he struts and roars onto the stage and proceeds to seduce the audience with his bravado. When he is talking about his refrigerator, it is a scream. He is a man definitely impressed with the size of his……crisper. Nicely overplayed and enjoyable as heck. Mark Seven is a smarmy mess of fun as Everett K. Olson. He reminds me of a twin peaks character come to life. Seven’s flamboyant and slimy motif is a captivating characterization.

My favorite is Prophet Seay as Vigneshwar Paduar. With comedic chops in tow, he has a Bill Cosby like style and relishes in his facial machinations. However, Paduar is also effective in displaying the tougher side that eventually refuses to conform. Chase Coulter has the task of playing the American wrestlers who are cheered on by the patriot crowd and whipped into a frenzy of America Rules. He certainly proves that white men can jump and bust out some smooth moves on the ring floor. The Ring Girls, Kristen Kozak, Courtney Marshall, and Dominique Paramore, ‘werk’ the aisles and stage with fearless energy.

Terrence Spivey has presented a fascinating tale of professional wrestling and how the ideals of America play into the story. Spivey puts together an intriguing cast who fit the mold perfectly. The functional ring is impressive, along with the very effective body slams. Kudos to all for their risk taking. However, this play lives and breathes through interaction with the audience. Its pace should be as intense as the wrestling itself. It needs a rocking house to become fully engaged. The night I attended, the crowd was thin, and the magic didn’t happen. As a result, the pacing and interactive moments suffered. Even the cues seemed off. A show that is built for interaction has a tough time pushing forward without a Plan B. With a rowdy crowd, I suspect the show will be sure to ignite.

Richard H Morris, Jr. did triple duty as Scenic, Sound and Lighting Designer, all to great effect. Costume design was fierce--kudos to Malikah Johnson Spivey.

Lost in Yonkers at Clague Playhouse

Clague Playhouse
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: March 10, 2014

Neil Simon is one of America’s great comic playwrights. In 1991, his play “Lost in Yonkers,” currently running at Clague Playhouse, premiered on Broadway and garnered the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Simon veered away from his usual route of sentimentality by concluding this piece with a dramatic confrontation that leaves each player involved with a fractured conscience, but new resolve. But as is stated within, everything hurts. All good comes with a price. These characters are rich and textured with identifiable affectations that fuel the storyline with great nuance.

The set design is gorgeous. Ron Newell continues his reign of excellence. It is miraculous how Newell constantly changes the inner belly of Clague and the results are always stunning. D. Justin Bilewicz, III provides great period costumes. However, the wig for Grandma Kurnitz does not cover her real hair and is distracting but, other than that, it is dead-on work. Lighting (Lance Switzer) and sound (Charles Hardgrave) design are right on target.

Tyson Douglas Rand (Director) casts the show well. Under his watchful eye, the play moves swiftly--sometimes too swiftly--but resulting in an enjoyable presentation of family dynamics at its best. Rand guides the younger actors to hold their own against the adult characters. Rand provides chaotic delight and slows the pace to accentuate the moments that break your heart.

Jake Ingression (Jay) and Elliot Lockshine (Arty) are state-of-the-art brothers. Each creates unique a persona but interacts with genuine care and compassion, with some brotherly antics thrown in for good measure. Ingrassia takes on the older brother with great finesse. Being the emotional core of the play, we get to watch his growth as a teenager moving to handle adult responsibilities, oh too soon, complete with humor and pathos. Lockshine, on the other hand, embodies Arty with machine gun like one-liners. He is hilarious and delivers a strong performance as the youngest contender on the boards. As younger actors, they just need to watch checking out the audience but, besides that, they are terrific.

Jeff Lockshine (Eddie) provides a terrific father figure. It might help that his real son is in the production, which is a delight to watch on another level. Mr. Lockshine lets us see brutal honesty, and provides levels of emotion that help us see the struggle that goes into those decisions that are not popular, but are “what’s best for the family.” His travel vignettes are deftly played and enable us to maintain an emotional bond while his character is away from the family. Meg Parish as Grandma Kurnitz is a blast--a demolition blast! Her presence is strong and commands attention. She could deflate a room full of balloons just by entering. But her crusty shell, hardened by years of struggle and loss, hides a heart that truly cares. She is a bitter pill, but forces others around her to rise to the challenge of being strong and self-sufficient.

Chris Bizub provides Uncle Louie with a brash “are you talking to me?” attitude. He is able to develop tangible sides to his crook demeanor. Always brash and self-consuming, he is still able to reveal a caring nature at the most critical moments. Well done! Lisa Margevicius as Gert is a psychosomatic hot mess. What a joy it must be to play a last-minute character and be a comic delight. Gert is a one trick pony, but Margevicius plays her to grand effect and looks beautiful while doing it.

Then we come to centerpiece of the evening. Elaine Feagler as Bella is a revelation--a beautifully constructed character that melts your heart at every turn. Feagler completely embodies Bella with warmth and charm, and handles the mental illness with such skill that it seems not so far from what we experience ourselves on occasion. When Bella finally takes a stand and resolves her ambitions with reality, it feels like we have traveled with her through the entire journey.

Clague Playhouse is a gem. Many talented actors, directors, and technicians have worked there over the years, and it strongly continues. Thankfully.

Titus: A Grand and Gory Rock-Musical at Cleveland Public Theatre

Cleveland Public Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: March 8, 2014

“The Most Lamentable Romaine Tragedie of Titus Andronicus.” Sounds so dramatic, doesn’t it? So it should come to no one’s surprise that it screams to be made into a musical, said no one ever, except in the brilliant creative mind of Craig J. George. Through the risk-taking birthing hips of Cleveland Public Theatre’s Executive Artistic Director Raymond Bobgan, George takes the sickening tale of revenge and murder and surrounds himself with music wizards Dennis Yurich, Alison Garrigan, and Brad Wyner. Together they produce the world premiere of TITUS: A GRAND AND GORY ROCK MUSICAL, a rocking dramedy that will have you guessing what the hell you are in the middle of. Just when you think it is a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the bard, comes a quick shift into a dramatic scene that holds you in Shakespearian delight, moved and enlightened with pitch-perfect diction and emotion. And just when your iambic pentameter is assuaged, shit happens! Oh, what a glorious night of theatre indeed!

Set designer Todd S. Krispinsky knocks it out of the coliseum. The set reminds me of a love child between “Game of Thrones” and “Thunderdome.” I half expected a leather-clad Tina Turner to open the show atop the haze covered glorious structure. All of this is stimulatingly lit by lighting designer Ben Gantose.

The first vocal moment of any musical is extremely important. It can be a beautiful hard cover edition, or a paper back novel found at a resale shop. Jon Conley, described in the beginning as the First Goth, delivers a haunting opening with a Sting-like quality that is breathtaking. It is an unexpected vocal and immediately dictates this will not be your mother’s Titus. Lawrence Charles (Aaron) is a self absorbed hot mess. With strong vocals and a presence that reminds me of Punjab on steroids, he wields his talent throughout the chaos. Marcus is skillfully played by Amiee Collier. Her clarion voice and deft diction clearly provide her path as the lone survivor with a commanding presence that provides great range of emotion. Ryan Edlinger is a blast--a comedian that offers such varied characterizations (Quintus/2nd Goth/Nurse) to the delight of the audience.

Tamora is a complicated woman and has a siren song that apparently makes any man’s sperm count quadruple within a 10 mile radius. Empowering this gothic beauty of voice and look is Alison Garrigan. From her entrance, her commanding presence would make any waiter quit if they got her order wrong. Decked out in gothic chic, Garrigan is a “bardnado” of talent. Her voice is haunting and powerful, her acting chops pierce every scene, and her embodied characterization is a delight. Dana Hart (Titus) is the titan of the evening. Watching the journey of this loyal soldier, slowly realizing deceit and then self-actualizing in a picnic from hell, is magnificent. He is an actor that can command the language and dictate intense emotions and then, as a comedic fade away jumper, his “here, hold this” moment at the end of Act I has you howling with horror and delight. Hart is a master storyteller and excels at presenting this evening of Shakespearean chicanery.

Val Kozlenko (Lucius/Chiron) and Pat Miller (Bassanius/Demetrius) would be sure bets to win The Amazing Race. Watching these two traverse the evening is a complete success, with each in total control of his impressive talents, vocally rocking out as the brothers Grimm or as back-up singers to a trippy vision to screw up Titus’s head, which reminded me of Josie and the Pussycats on crack. Their moments are many, and their dedicated character work is grand. And then we come to Saturninus. Oh, Saturninus, who is adorned in a pantsuit that looks like China and New Orleans decided to blend the celebrations of the Chinese New Year and Mardi Gras. Matt O’Shea practically steals the show with his metro apparition of a cover model for Men’s Fitness. I can’t imagine a mirror that can hold all of that nebulousness at one time. O’Shea rocks the shit out of this role. His versatility is worth the evening’s “you go girl!” award. Tremendous work.

Justine Kunstler Zapin (Lavinia) is very enjoyable. Her skill at a dead pan look to comment is my personal favorite. Her voice is luscious, and she handles the transformation to a retooled body with great skill. She is a pistol to revel in, but then she still shines when cruel intentions add a silencer. Christopher Sanders (Mutius/Young Lucius) and Justin Williams (Martius/Aemillus) round out this impeccably talented cast. Both actors are busy providing great energy, diction and characterizations that never are off track, with strong vocals and an unending energy stream that ignites every scene they are in.

Jenniver Sparano is a revelation. This is a costumer of exquisite talent. Sparano creates a dream production of leather, pleather, color, kink, chains, glitter and heels for days. P.J. Toomey adds his expertise to the blood and special effects of this production--a monstrous job executed with adept skill. However, on review/opening night there was the rogue penis that wouldn’t go into the bucket, much to the delight of the audience. But then actors (and body parts) can be so temperamental. Carlton Guc did a great job balancing the sublime rock band with the stage vocals. The entire evening was clear and crisp musical heaven. Martin Cespedes provides high energy excitement, executing ferocious manipulations with the staircase, and staging the rock cast with appropriate zeal and focus.

Dennis Yurich, Alison Garrigan and Brad Wyner have created a solid musical foundation. There is a great balance of ballads and rock-out jams that are interjected in a timely manner and certainly add to the arch of the evening. Brad Wyner, who provides musical direction, orchestrations, and arrangements, is a gold mine. This is a World Premiere. There is no bar for these incredible artists, except their own. Craig J. George should be applauded for gathering a perfect storm of talent.

Go see it. Cleveland Public Theatre is a phoenix in the national theatre movement, constantly being reborn.

Made in America at Dobama Theatre

Dobama Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: March 7, 2014

A World Premiere is an exciting adventure. So many artists are to be congratulated on their perilous journey of creation. In this case, it is the fabulous case of “Made in America,” premiering at Dobama Theatre, under the artistic umbrella of Nathan Motta (Artistic Director). He has provided and supported the arena for the champions to enter.

Enter Dobama Artistic Director Emeritus Joel Hammer (Playwright) who has created a sales call from hell that delivers so many twists and turns that, at times, it reminded me of a blend of “House of Cards” and “Dangerous Liaisons” A hotel bar. Esther, a savvy sales rep, and Barry, a buyer for a manufacturing company, finally meet to “seal the deal” after months of negotiating over the phone. Upon seeing each other, they begin a cat and mouse game that falls into dangerous territory. But all is not what it seems. As Hammer describes “Made in America,” he makes reference to one of the definitions in the Urban Dictionary for the word maid: “to have your cover blown, to have your real identity revealed.” This is the seed of “Made in America.” It is indeed that seed that blossoms into a terrific game of cat and mouse between just two characters, inhabited by actors at the top of their game. For anyone who has had a sales job, this is a smorgasbord of every tactic and underhanded move that everyone has used. But to the delight of many, Hammer creates a brilliant move that shocks everyone and provides a second act of epic proportions. But you can’t keep a good man down. In fact, you will lose count of who is winning, but it is so damn entertaining, it just adds to the party.

Scott Miller helms this piece with generous guidance shaping the events into a smooth delivery. With very creative use of the space, he manages to move the actors around one table and chairs and still maintain sharp focus. The technical staff provides exemplary work. Marcus Dana continues his streak of providing some of the best lighting designs in the area. Costumes (Tesia Benson) were great. I could have used a little more juice on the sound—hard to hear--but the music selections used were very cool and, lo and behold, held some observational content.

Now we come to the two actors that enter the ring of “Made in American:” Barry (Joel Hammer) and Esther (Colleen Longshaw). Both actors deliver tremendously rounded performances. Hammer makes you want to smack the hell out of Barry. He is the ultimate client that holds the cards and loves to watch you dance in order to get the sale. It is a sense of power that is insulting, and Hammer nails the slimy sales dance and the intellectual maneuvers. But then, everything comes with a price. Longshaw provides a stunning and surprising voyage into her character. With the hurdles of race and gender, she leaps over each one with deft choices that have you worried, scared, and then cheering for her. When she “goes to church,” it reminds me of running up the steps like Rocky, then turning around and yelling “F U”. She is mesmerizing to watch. Their dance together is a masterful evening of hide and seek, using truth and intention as foils.

Congrats to all involved and best wishes for a great run.

Bus Stop at Actors' Summit

Actors' Summit
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: March 3, 2014

There is a great production going on at Actors’ Summit. Described as local, professional, and exceptional, the current production of “Bus Stop” by William Inge is just that: locally performed in the majestic theatre that is located on the 6th floor of Greystone Hall at 103 High Street in Akron, fueled by local talent, professionally produced and directed, and the result is exceptional. Inge is a master storyteller of regular lives that survive by adjusting to and navigating what life has thrown at them. On the surface, so many lives seem to be fine, until the knots and wrinkles appear slowly. “Bus Stop,” beautifully directed by Ric Goodwin, is filled with a wonderful array of colorful characters that bear their inner linings in an attempt to acquire resolution to their own needs and dreams.

The theatre itself is stunning. The room reminds me of the House of Commons, and possesses a Masonic royalty. The thrust stage delivers a small town western diner that imbues a true sense of reality. “Bus Stop” has found a home worthy of the material. The play itself is set in the middle of a howling snowstorm, and a bus out of Kansas City pulls up at a small roadside diner. All roads are blocked, and four or five weary travelers have to take refuge until morning. Cherie, a nightclub singer, has the most to worry about. She’s being pursued by a young cowboy with all the romantic finesse of a rodeo bull. The belligerent cowhand is right behind her, ready to sling her over his shoulder and carry her, alive and kicking, all the way to Montana. As a counterpoint, other romances evolve, such as the proprietor of the cafe and the bus driver at last finding time to develop a friendship of their own, and a middle-age scholar coming to terms with himself, and a young girl who works in the café getting her first taste of romance. It is a classic character study.

The apex romance is between chanteuse Cherie (Liewie Nunez) and cowboy Bo Decker (Dean Coutris). Both actors are in top form. Nunez brings an emotional and nuanced performance that keeps you transfixed. She slowly reveals her doubts and fears, while keeping true emotions at bay, just like the hands of many of her patrons. You become emotionally invested in her happiness. Decker rides into the diner with hurricane force and quickly established a blind love Robocop with one pretty lady in his sights. He gives his character an awkward honesty and bullheadedness but then, through deft choices, unravels and grows right before our very eyes. Victories are found, not in great strides, but in little steps that culminate in being able to truly express rooted emotion. These two knock it out of the park.

Rebecca Ribley as Elma Duckworth, the young waitress, turns in a solid performance. She is so real that you want to protect her from your seat. Watching her skillful presentation of bringing naiveté to her character and navigating through the whirlwind of presented choices and yearning was incredibly enjoyable. Doug Hendel was remarkable in his interpretation of Dr. Gerald Lyman, the college philosophy professor who can’t keep a job for dubious reasons, masterfully providing a loving and likable façade that harbored a disturbing undertone of uncomfortable behavior. Elizabeth Lawson embodied Grace Hoyla, the owner of the diner, with commanding tone and diction, and a saucy side of attitude and kick. Her game of hide and seek with bus driver Carl (playfully and libidinously played by Jim Fippin) is a hoot. Alex Nine brings in western justice just right with a strong performance and establishes true authority. Bill Hoffman excels at delivering a smooth, gentle performance that guides Bo in father-like fashion, providing heartbreaking realness to the process of making choices for the greater good. You couldn’t find a better friend or a better interpretation.

The costumes were excellent, with great choices in creating the western ambiance, by MaryJo Alexander. Lighting and sound design (Kevin Rutan) were extremely effective. And the set, with authentic props and decoration, reflected a clear vision and fine execution.

The drive from Cleveland to Actors Summit is not that bad at all, and what waits for you is a great place to perform and a great place to watch quality theatre. Check it out.

[sic] presented by Theatre Ninjas at 78th Street Studios

Theatre Ninjas
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: March 1, 2014

“We are architects of out-of-the-ordinary experiences.” Theatre Ninjas is most definitely that, and tonight did not sway far from the runway with Melissa James Gibson’s play titled [sic], opening at the 78th Street Studios. Theatre Ninjas has performed in more places than I have left my wallet over the years, morphing themselves in material, artists and interpretations to create stimulating, pulsating theatre. Annie and her orphans will never sing here, but what is created and guided by Jeremy Paul (Artistic Director, Producer), who has helmed since 2006, is a poetic convolution of artistic stimuli to the delight of his audience.

[sic], directed with breakneck speed and crafted timing by Pandora Robertson, holds the audience by allowing us to shadow the main characters in and out of their apartments. Sic is a Latin term, when appearing in writing, as a signal to the reader that an apparent mistake is, in fact, an accurate statement. Characters exist at arm’s length from their own situations. [sic] is a hilarious look into three interrupted lives characterized by Gibson's singular insight into conversational idiosyncrasies and keen playwriting talent. If only Babette can get this book deal, if Theo can finish his roller coaster theme song, and if Frank can launch his auctioneer career their dreams will come true... or so they think. [sic] is about friendship; about giving it your all and not getting a lot back; and about how when things are at their darkest, your friends will be there for you, if only because they need to borrow money...or want to hook up.

We physically see this with a divine scenic design by Val Kozlenko, angled floors, naked apartments, working windows, and a back lit screen that allows the shadows artistically executed by Courtney Nicole Auman and Michael Prosen to tell the story of a diminishing relationship so well that Attraction Shadow Theatre would be proud. To compliment the design, another level of artistic interpretation is provided by lighting designer Gregory S. Falcione. He deftly illuminates the action with pinpoint accuracy, mobilized moments, and a haunting rooftop crescendo.

Our protagonists are Babette, Frank, and Theo, portrayed with neurotic love by Rachel Lee Kolis, Gabriel Riazi, and Ryan Lucas. Kolis delivers such a beautiful (literally) and complex woman that it reminds me of a human Jenga tower, and if the wrong section is taken out, the whole damn tower is going to fall in a heartbeat. The tension of her decisions, struggles with her craft, and her handling man love is wonderful. Riazi is a glorious hot mess. He imbibes his character with an appealing nuance as he comically navigates through literally losing his boyfriend and pursuing his dream of an auctioneer. Riazi takes the fruitcake as Frank rehearses his auctioneer speech, turning slowly into a pulsating, body shifting experience to behold. And his tongue deserves its own curtain call for getting through the verbal twisters thrown at him from the script. Lucas creates a mistaken lover in his own mind, which propels Theo to emotional roller coaster status. Of course, he has the gift of creating music that turns into the journey from hell to hilarious effect. Empowered by an eyebrow that Sparta would be proud of, Lucas takes us on a great ride of neurotic delight.

Original Music by Michael Bratt blends into the evening’s success. Stephanie Fisher provided a costume design that enables multiple looks that engage.

There are many types of theatre, and they are all important. Theatre Ninjas is a tremendous source of artistic expression. I hope you get out to see the show and check out their season.

Once Upon a Mattress at Mighty Goliath Productions

Mighty Goliath Productions
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: February 24, 2014

There is a very special community theatre in Avon Lake that is celebrating its 55th season. Mighty Goliath Productions, more popularly known as MGP, has produced for 55 years, infusing community, spirit, empowering young people, providing family entertainment, and contributing proceeds toward the performing arts programs of the Avon Lake City Schools. Quite an accomplishment. The current production of “Once Upon A Mattress” is dedicated to the memory of Betty S. Dingledy who, together with her husband Ed, was responsible for what is known today as MGP, when she created the 1959 Minstrel Show.

MGP has a unique approach to casting and rehearsing. The ensemble is open to everyone, regardless of experience. They look for singers/actors, but if you show up, you're in, thus eliminating a high pressure audition process that might dissuade someone from participating in the show. The lead roles are cast in a more traditional manner. Also, they only rehearse on Friday nights. But the magic is pulled together during the final week before opening night. Truly a remarkable feat. On this, MGP stands alone.

The current production of “Once Upon A Mattress” is pleasantly directed by Ian Atwood, and skillfully produced by Jessica Atwood, who concurrently produced an Atwood heir, Neil Francis. “Once Upon A Mattress” is the hysterical tweaking of the fairy tale, “The Princess and the Pea.” The kingdom is an unhappy one because Queen Aggravain has ruled that none may marry until her son, Prince Dauntless, marries a princess of royal blood. However, she has managed to sabotage every princess that comes along. When Sir Harry and Lady Larken learn that they are going to be parents, wed or not, Sir Harry goes off to the swamps and brings back an ungainly, brash Princess Winnifred, ("Fred" to her friends). The queen is horrified and immediately begins to scheme. However, Winnifred, with some help from Sir Harry, the King, and the Jester, isn't going to be quite so easy to get rid of. The original show was the break out vehicle for Carol Burnett as Winnifred.

The 21 piece orchestra, led by its director Jim Lucas, starts the evening off with delicious instrumentation flowing from a formal pit, that saturates the space with energy and anticipation. Atwood updates a more modern approach, which is reflected in the costumes (designer Joann Sarvas) and references to modern media like Facebook. The same conundrum of "first impressions" and the resistance of our kids leaving the nest are relevant in any time period.

Kristen Jones as Queen Aggravain delightfully chews more scenery than a flood of carpenter ants. With comedic chops in tow, she dominates her family, struggles to let go, and eventually gets her comeuppance. Winnifred the Woebegone and Prince Dauntless, Brittney-Jade Colangelo and Lucas A. Scattergood, remind me of Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman. Colangelo deftly handles the prime role with chaotic charm and a set of pipes that commands attention. Scattergood plays the mama's boy well, infusing laughter everywhere in his quest for a wife. There is a great connection between these two that evokes rooting for the jocular couple. Lady Larkin and Sir Harry, Amanda Isula and Brett Hall, utilize their good looks and strong voices, to enhance their fertile love story with great chemistry and Disney moments for days.

At one moment during the show, it clicked. Three Stooges. Three Musketeers. Minstrel, Jester, and King Sexitmus (Douglas F. Bailey II, Steve Schuerger and Jerry Popiel). Three actors who should always travel together and create havoc as a job. Their shtick is ineffable. Bailey provides gorgeous vocals, blessed with clarity and control. Schuerger utilizes his physicality to great aplomb with comedic skills. Popeil is a beautiful hot mess of vocal distress. Unable to speak as a result of a curse, he gesticulates a lot, creating a hilarious interpretation of the birds and the bees along the way.

Matthew Cuffari as the Wizard, Aggravain's sidekick, provides deleterious delightful moments, while possessing a strong voice that gets to glimmer once but, unfortunately, not more in the script. As the Nightingale, Grace Penzvalto is a flapping, operatic, feathered creation of paradise, working the cage like a pro, and providing hilarious results.

As chorographer, Jessica Atwood moves the ensemble well by providing steps for the novice, and slick moves for the hoofers, managing the large cast in good order. Nice work is done by Musical Director James Kotora. The ensemble voices provide luscious vocals. Kudos to Scenic Designer Gary Fischer for the multi-colored cracker jack bed, that holds quite a surprise.

MGP is pure community theatre at its best, standing the test of time and providing the community and the actors with boundless rewards.

Breath and Imagination at Cleveland Play House

Cleveland Play House
Professional Equity House

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: February 23, 2014

Roland Hayes (June 3, 1887 – January 1, 1977) was an American lyric tenor. He is considered the first African-American male concert artist to receive wide acclaim both at home and internationally. "BREATH AND IMAGINATION" by Daniel Beaty, opened downtown at the Allen Theatre, produced by the first professional regional theatre in the country, the Cleveland Play House. It is a soaring tale of Roland Hayes and his rise from the fields of Georgia, to performing at Fisk University, Buckingham Palace, and then on to international acclaim.

Author Marva Carter summed up Hayes' life and career:

"Hayes' life of almost ninety years reveals a remarkable story of a man who went from the plantation to the palace, performing before kings and queens, with the finest international and American orchestras, in segregated communities before blacks and whites alike. He was of small stature, dignified manner, and non-violent persuasion. He chose to overcome racism by example and in doing so became a trailblazer. When he sang, art became more than polished excellence. It appealed to something universal, something beyond the emotions, and something beyond the intellect, something one could call the soul."

This production, beautifully crafted by director May Adrales, delivers one powerful moment after another, illuminating Haye's spirit, drive and resolve. The story is set upon a stage (brilliantly designed by Rachel Hauck) adorned with classical columns, a piano, and a grandiose tree that glows with the essence of wisdom, illuminates divinity, and with its metallic puffs of leaves, provides comfort for the turbulence of a ground breaking life.

At first, we find Hayes announcing a decision to close a music school, as a result of his family being arrested for sitting in a white-only section of a shoe store, and then being beaten while trying to defend them. Flashbacks allow us to follow Hayes' (magnificently embodied by Cleveland native Elijah Rock) journey from a young child, being reared by his mother Angel Mo' (beautifully played by Daphne Gaines), as he transcends the racist south to become a role model for young blacks everywhere. It is a fascinating story of courage and drive as he faces his father’s death at 11, moving to Chattanooga at 14, and then, at 16, experiencing self-actualization of purpose listening to Caruso for the first time. At 18, Hayes is at Fisk University, receiving the professional training that will transport him to eventual international acclaim. There are many lessons to be learned. Watching them be taught, lived and interpreted is mesmerizing.

Rock and Gaines turn in spectacular performances. They create a tremendous love story that enters your heart and continues to grow through the entire performance. Hayes, who is equipped with an instrument from above, sings with adept passion, interpreting the storytelling and performance pieces with classical aplomb. Gaines provides her own sizzle by providing enough soul and vocal comfort food to placate the hardest of hearts. Each one delivers over and over again, but I will admit that "Over My Head" by Rock, and "Don't You Weep When I'm Gone" had me emotionally raw.

Throughout the play, there is another actor and musician (the clever and accomplished Tom Frey), knocking it out of the park. He takes on a myriad of roles that include: Accompanist/Officer/Preacher/Pa/Mr. Calhoun/Miss Robinson/Frenchman/ King George V. Quite an undertaking, but Frey makes each character different and entertaining, whether providing levity, racism, or unsettled emotion, and his deft musicality comes across loud and clear from the keyboard.

Watching this play, I realized I was watching several love stories unfold: The love between a mother and her son, constantly reinforcing him to "Keep Your Focus.” The love between a son and his mother, so strong he takes her with him when he moves to Boston so she won't be alone. The love between an artist and his craft, an undying passion driven by the soul to embrace a melodic expression that only music can provide.

It is a grand evening supported by great designers of Sound (James C. Swonger), Projections (Jared Mezzocchi), Costumes (Jennifer Moeller), and Lighting (Jeff Nellis), and Music enhanced by the proficient work of Arranger Mike Ruckles and Musical Director Rahn Coleman.

Embrace Playhouse Square, visit Cleveland Play House at the Allen Theatre. You will leave enlightened.

Death Trap at Great Lakes Theater

Great Lakes Theater
Professional Equity House

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: February 21, 2014

At the height of my tennis career, if I watched a professional tennis match on TV, I immediately would want to grab my racket and head for the courts, filled with energy and inspiration. That is how I felt after watching Great Lakes Theatre’s production of “Deathtrap” written by Ira Levin and directed with robust insanity by Charles Fee. No, not to play tennis, but hit the boards and act my face off.

Great Lakes Theater is Cleveland, Ohio's professional classic theater company. Founded in 1962, Great Lakes is the second-largest regional theater in Northeast Ohio. It specializes in large-cast classic plays with a strong foundation in the works of Shakespeare and features an educational outreach program. The company performs its main stage productions in rotating repertory at its state-of-the-art new home at the Hanna Theatre, Playhouse Square, which reopened on September 20, 2008. The organization shares a resident company of artists with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, which current Artistic Director Charles Fee engineered. Great Lakes Theater was formerly known as Great Lakes Theater Festival, which continues to be its legal name. “Festival” was dropped from the classic theater company’s business name to better reflect its September through May season, and programming format.

Written in 1978, “Deathtrap” holds the record for the longest running comedy-thriller on Broadway, and was also nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. Cunningly clever and comically twisted, “Deathtrap” is a murder mystery masterpiece that keeps you on the edge of your seat, trying to figure out where the madness ends. When a once successful Broadway playwright struggles to overcome a dry spell that’s resulted in a string of flops and a shortage of funds, anxiety ensues. His fortunes turn when one of his students shares a brilliant new script with blockbuster potential. Resolved to resurrect his collapsing career, the covetous playwright conceives of a treacherous trap to snare the script and take credit for its creation. Murderous machinations result, springing to a surprising conclusion.

The technical and creative elements of this production deserve strong accolades. Scenic Designer Russell Metheny knocks it out of the park with his single set masterpiece. Sound and Lighting Designers, Richard B. Ingraham and Rick Martin, provide razor sharp effects to greatly enhance this journey of whodunit and what the……! Costume Designer Alex Jaeger provides terrific visions of town and country, popped collars, psychic eccentricity, and dwindling wealth.

The professional actors of this company deserved, and received, a standing ovation. The cast is a classic exhibition of great casting and actors at the top of their game. Watching Sidney Bruhl (the delightful Tom Ford) navigate through his plotting and chicanery, is like hopping on a mechanical bull and just holding on for dear life. Tracee Patterson (Cleveland’s answer to Meryl Streep), brings emotional chaos, conniving realness and misplaced loyalty to Myra Bruhl. Nick Steen enters the picture as Clifford Anderson, the student/secretary, with superhero looks and acting chops that deftly create a sense of innocence, greed, cunning, and eventually horror. Helga Ten Dorp, the neighborhood psychic, is played with comedic bliss by Lynn Allison. She inhabits Helga with a dramatic sense of “ah ha” moments, that would certainly move her to the front of the line for “the next AHS supreme”. Aled Davies adds just the right touch of classic and comedic flair to the suspicious, and opportunist attorney Porter Milgrim.

This cast is a blast. I felt like I had only been in the theatre for a half an hour, because the pace is excellent. I wish I could have joined them for happy hour for act three. Get yourself out to see this show. It is a delightful whodunit which serves up an evening of artists to cherish.

Doctor Dolittle, The New Musical at Fine Arts Association

Fine Arts Association

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: February 18, 2014

Within most thriving community theatres lies youth education and theatre programs. These programs provide an aortic energy to the arts institution by infusing energy, growth and enabling a future vision of artists. I was invited to view part of the dynamic vision that exists within the Fine Arts Association, located in Willoughby, OH, by attending the Yarnell Youth Theatre Production of “Doctor Dolittle, A New Musical,” with book, music and lyrics by Leslie Briscusse, based on the Doctor Dolittle stories by Hugh Lofting and the Twentieth Century Fox film.

The musical concerns the classic tale of a wacky but kind doctor who can talk to animals. The show takes the audience on a journey from the small English village of Puddleby-in-the-Marsh to the far corners of the world. Doctor Dolittle is wrongly accused of murder and, once pronounced innocent, continues with his search for the Great Pink Sea Snail--the oldest and wisest of the creatures on earth. He is accompanied by his closest animal friends, delightfully portrayed by a cast of charming actors. Utilizing flashbacks, we relive the trial, before we go on the great snail adventure.

Fine Arts Association Artistic Director, the dynamic James Mango, serves the production well by placing Director David Malinowski at the helm of this adventure. Malinowski has cast well and delivered an adeptly paced show. Smooth scene changes are orchestrated to keep our attention and focus. Under Malinowski’s guidance, full characterizations abound. Music Direction by David W. Coxe is delivered in fine fashion from the pit, which I loved, providing a great musical landscape for the performers to excel upon. Lisa-Marie French provided choreography that was light and refreshing, moving the masses with whimsical madness. The set design rocked (Michael Roesch), filling the space with grandeur and also providing smoothly moving pieces that create the various playful regions. Lighting Designer Paul Gatzke added creative fuel to the fire. From all accounts, Production Stage Manager Evie Koh made the proceedings run smoothly as Dolittle’s ship before the storm.

The cast is led by a trio of musical athletes, Mario Formica (Doctor Dolittle), Bryan Patrick Daly (Matthew Mugg), and Ali Collingwood (Emma Fairfax). These folks would certainly be taken in the first round of any draft (I think they could even help the Browns). Their performances create a wave of artistry and energy that enables the rest of the cast to excel in their wake. Formica takes on the title role with supreme confidence. He splendidly delivers a captivating performance, which includes adept diction and colorful animal communication skills which are hilarious. Truly a blast. Speaking of a blast, Daly is a tornado of zest, gusto and ridiculous charm. This Irish crooner utilizes great comedic form, and has a gifted voice with timbre and a pleasant vibrato beyond his years. His antics always lighten up whatever scene he blissfully invades. Balancing the theatrical scale is the remarkable Ali Collingwood. Collingwood is spectacular. Confident, beautiful, and possessing a voice that could melt the Polar Vortex. Her deft delivery, timing and characterization are a joy to watch. It does not surprise me that she was accepted into the Baldwin Wallace Musical Theatre Conservatory.

However, the talent doesn’t stop there. Several other performances deserve note. Stephen Sandham (Tommy Stubbins) is terrific. His clear diction, character and profound confidence win over the audience. Nora DeMilta (Polynesia) is the perfect right hand……..bird! Her physicality and character work is good, which brings the fabulous parrot to life. Owen Lister (General Bellows) is a scream. His courtroom antics liven up the place. High above the courtroom, he indeed provides a commanding presence. Ben Whitney (Albert Blossom) is a complete delight. His personality and charm inhabit the stage like a 5 hour energy drink. As Gertie Blossom, Elizabeth Meluch adds charm, and Max Brodzinski (Straight Arrow) hits a bull’s eye with great character choices and a solid voice to boot.

The ensemble works together extremely well. Whether it is in big production numbers, scene changes, or providing courtroom participation, they are creating energy that serves the right purpose. The only thing for them to work on is not looking out into the audience, which is a novice mistake, and one easily overcome. But that is a minor detail in a wonderful production on all ends.

I am sure that the Fine Arts Association is proud of what everyone has created. They should be. The future looks bright in Willoughby.

Air Waves at Cleveland Public Theatre

Cleveland Public Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: February 14, 2014

Tonight I got to experience Air Waves (Part Three Of The Elements Cycle) at Cleveland PUBLIC theatre. Therefore, I got to experience Raymond Bobgan and his sapient vision. And what a joyous vision it is. This is my first visitation to the world of creationist theatre. Building out of nothing, a story is grown through raw energy, talent and a visceral evolution. It thrives at CPT, and Bobgan was recognized by “American Theatre Magazine,” as one of 25 theatre artists who are working to shape the next 25 years of theatre in America. Working with a number of local actors and writers, this is a collaboration and celebration of artists and artistry.

As you enter the space, tables have been set up with questions on them. You get to read several statements that are proposed to answer and provoke thought. In front of me was “I crave more…….” Myriad responses, some highlighted with colored dots of agreement. My answer was…… Justice. “Hosts” join the audience at their tables, providing insight and discussion about how the evening is going to move. At my table were hosts Darius Stubbs and Caitlin Lewins, who are both excellent throughout the evening and quite the tag team. This particular adventure begins with George (Adam Seeholzer), Jeannette (Cassie Neumann), and Kim (Faye Hargate). Hargate’s character leads a city-wide initiative to buy the air over people’s houses. Each character is beautifully created. The first song, “De Bo Gah,” written by Bobgan, is a Buddhist delight. Helen (Molly Andrews-Hinders), Tina (Dionne Atchison) and Therese (Carly Garinger) knock it out of the temple. These actresses also excel through the evening’s proceedings.

We then move to a new space with a simple arrangement of chairs, and are soon listening to four women with significant messages, and also magnificent voices. Created by Molly Andrews-Hinders, this scene provokes us to listen and relish in the compromise. Speaking of the music, it’s excellent. The harmonies are clear and hauntingly effective. In moments, we are on an airplane watching Jonathan (an engaging Jeremy Lewis) facing final thoughts and decisions. The cast creates some kick ass motion sickness in interpreting a landing which is not what most of us would hope for. The interlude “Air Pool” is powerful, and reminds me what might happen if Ghandi and Cirque Du Soleil would have collaborated. It is visually exciting and inventive.

Physically, we move again, and what awaits us is Daryl and the Queen. Both are played with ferocious intensity and comedic brilliance by Chris Seibert. Not to give anything away, but this came out of nowhere, and I am still processing what happened to me. Siebert’s performance is so strong that if the next hurricane isn’t named after her, I’m gonna be pissed. Moving along, we meet Hargate again, who Carol Burnetts her way to a self meditation session that had me renewing my Xanax prescription when I got home.

The subway provides a backdrop for some continued courageous work by Caitlin Lewins playing the mom, Cassie Neumann (Jeannette), and Nate Miller (Rumpelstiltskin). They do so much during this show but their work here, addressing a simple yet complex medical issue that affects so many of us, is heartbreaking. Newmann’s Jeannette is engaging in every aspect, and leaves each scene throughout the night with incredible truth. Now it’s game time, but a game that makes emotions and truths, the weapon. Renee Schilling and Lauren Joy Fraley as Contestant #1 and #2 respectively, kill this scene. Their deft choices and extreme focus are mesmerizing.

Act II brings the question, “What if you could ask someone from the future what to watch out for? And if you could go back, what would you change?” My answer was to end the virus at the beginning.

We now are following the journey of George (played with endearing and emotional depth by Seehozler) as he battles his loss. Watching someone split themselves open in order to reconnect is a struggle that many of us experience. And he nails it. Before we say goodbye, we meet Ford and Edison (Schilling and Fraley, respectively). This scene is a scream. I just want them to know that I want to apply for the driver on their tour bus. They are a Broadway play waiting to happen. After the laughs, we are met with the end resolve. George and Jeannette finally come to terms, of sorts. The evening left me with one burning statement: “It’s all one breath. It’s what we do with it.” Every scene asks the same question. What do we do with our breath, with our air that we are so lucky to have? How do we treat the air, this gift of life? So many questions wrestle in my brain. There are so many reasons why I was so happy to see this play.

To everyone in this production, congratulations. All of these actors contribute so much in every scene. Ali Garrigan costumes the show with flair, and Benjamin Gantose’s lighting design engulfs the show with dramatic effect. Thank you, Mr. Bobgan, for bringing this fresh approach to theatre and guiding it to life. You take all the actors and playwrights with you, and the best part is that the audience gets to ride along.

Of Mice and Men at TrueNorth Cultural Arts

TrueNorth Cultural Arts

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: February 11, 2014

77 years ago, Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” was published. Telling the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place in search of work during the Great Depression in California. It is based on Steinbeck’s own experiences in the 1920’s. its title comes from a Robert Burns poem, “To A Mouse,” which contains this ominous line: “The best laid schemes of mice and men / often go awry.”The 1937 Broadway stage production of “Of Mice and Men,” was written by Steinbeck himself. The book, in fact, was written by Steinbeck as a kind of hybrid between a novel and a play, with the story divided into three acts consisting of two chapters each, and was intended to work both as a literary and theatrical text.

Director Michael Dempsey does a beautiful job of presenting this valued piece of American theatre. This production is cast well, and includes some musical underscoring which is reminiscent of Masterpiece Theatre in the presentation. I thought it was used with great effect. This was greatly enhanced by the work of the terrific sound designer Stan Kozak. The authentic set results from expert design and craftsmanship from set designer Cameron Caley-Michalak. He has a great sense of how to utilize space and make the most out of budgetary constraints. The results add a tremendous atmosphere. Accented by the lighting design work of Scott Sutton, it is a perfect setting. Costume Designer Luke Scattergood adds another creative dimension with adroit choices. Dempsey pulls all of these elements together for a fine night of storytelling.

There is much to celebrate about this production, led by the performances of Brian McNally as“George” and Nate Sayatovich as “Lenny”. They consume these roles. The chemistry between these two is tangible and captivating. McNally is excellent. His manner of speech, movement, inflection, and emotions are dead on. McNally’s performance is based in refreshing truth. Equally as powerful is Sayatovich. Lennie is a demanding role, that requires an actor to not make a mockery out of someone less fortunate, but create a human that we can relate to and root for. Sayatovich engulfs his role, providing a child-like presence, while inexplicably riding the surface of his determinable reckless strength. It is a deft, realistic presentation.

The supportive cast is great. Bob Kenderes gives Candy beautiful simplicity and honor as a man who is coming to the end of his journey, but dreams on. Crooks, played by Greg White, gives a searing performance that addresses the racial tensions of the day, and the loneliness that segregation causes to a human soul. Eric Perusek creates a callous, jealous, jerk out of Curly. I know I enjoyed when the tables were turned on him. Andrew Knode excelled at bringing depth and compassion to Slim. His silent support of George toward the end is very moving. Greg Mandryk’s Carlson looks like he just stepped out of a John Houston film. His mustached personae is great. David Arrendondo and Herb Hadders as Boss and Whit, round out the cast nicely.

As the lone female in the cast, Kelly Marie Tomko, brings a restless sweetness as Curley’s Wife. An unnamed character, it is her job to bring a danger to the proceedings, and eventually to Lennie. Tomko holds her own against this cast. Her beautiful looks are delicately balanced with a dangerous desire for attention. She handles the crisis with Lennie with noble strength and focus.

One last note. The ending. Mr. Dempsey, that rocked!

Artistic Director/Founder Rick Fortney has every reason to be proud.

Get out to TrueNorth Cultural Arts and continue to build on our community theatres!

Guys and Dolls at Cassidy Theatre

Cassidy Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: February 9, 2014

Cassidy Theatre in Parma Heights, OH, is celebrating its 40th anniversary. THAT is a tremendous achievement. I think this community theatre is a gift to the Cleveland area and has produced some notable artists that have come up through its ranks, and even made it to Broadway and National Tours. Can I get a Corey Mach up in here! Currently President/Artistic Director Bob Stoesser and Vice-President Georgia Muttilo are at the helm, keeping the doors of this community theatre factory open in a competitive market and succeeding. And so, the classic “Guys and Dolls” kicks off the 40th season in high spirits.

Based on “The Idyll of Sarah Brown” and characters by Damon Runyon, this oddball romantic comedy, considered by many to be the perfect musical, introduces us to a cast of vivid characters, including Sarah Brown, the upright but uptight "mission doll," Sky Masterson, the slick, high-rolling gambler, Adelaide, the chronically ill nightclub performer and Nathan Detroit, her devoted fiancé, desperate as always to find a spot for his infamous floating crap game.

Thankfully, the production is directed and choreographed by Kristen Netzband. She has assembled a fine group of colorful actors. Her vision is right on with adept casting and Hot Box numbers that tantalize the audiences with legs for days, and crisp moves that evoke the era and bawdy humor. Netzband infuses a solid pace and never lets us lose focus. It reminds me of the heydays of Greenbriar Theatre and that is a very good thing.

Providing the soundtrack is Heidi Herczeg, who assembles a fine band, equipped with a solid horn section to alight the score in a brass blaze.

Set designer Kenneth Slaughter ( congrats papa-to-be!) does excellent nesting work by creating a colorful, dynamic set that really creates a period mood and energy. It is one of the best recent sets that I have seen at Cassidy.

Major kudos to costumer Sarah Clare, who knocked it out of the park by providing great period costumes, and sent the Hot Box numbers to another level by wrapping them in whimsical perfection.

Headlining the romantic leads are Trey Gilpin (Sky) and Kate Michalski (Sarah) Gilpin takes on Masterson with an intelligent edge, not overplaying the bravado, but utilizing an underplayed strength to thwart his opposition. Kindness kills just as effectively. "My Time of Day" was my personal favorite.

Kate Michalski brings a sweetness, sublimely mixed with resolve to her Sarah Brown. Her bright soprano voice is beautiful. Michalski conveys empathetic realness. "If I Were A Bell" is a challenge for any actress to ride the line of tipsyness and deliver honest humor. Her take on this favorite is one of the best I have ever seen, with great choices within the song, and throughout the show. Her "Dulce De Leche" tango was an audience favorite.

Nathan Detroit is one half of the dynamic duo that ignites for some of the show's most funniest and most enjoyable moments and musical numbers. The actor portraying Nathan needs bravado, musicality, and a strong comedic sense. Luckily, Steve Brown has them all is spades. Brown inhabits his character with deft timing, an engaging personality, and a voice that harmonizes and holds its own. Brown's Detroit is a blast to watch, playing every moment at full tilt.

Complimenting Brown on every front, is Kim Eskut as Miss Adelaide. Her Adelaide is a long engaged, neurotic hot mess, which is a beautiful thing. Eskut chews the scenery and puts her newly remodeled chassis to good use, dancing, prancing and bringing nasal realness to her mission to get hitched. Eskut delivers a strong comedic performance. She's a hoofer, too, which just adds to the insane party.

Within the Salvation Army, Patrick Carroll's Arvide is a pleasant presence and delivers a heartfelt rendition of "More I Cannot Wish You”. Bernadette Hisey represents authority well as General Matilda B. Cartwright, adding her strong vocals to the fold. Lt. Brannigan is delightfully played by Jason Uzl, when he isn't literally firing up his trumpet in the band.

The gamblers were a bunch of delightful loaded dice. Leading the pack is Lou Petrucci, knocking Nicely-Nicely Johnson out of the casino. With a powerful presence, exquisite timing, and a voice that would make a cop siren jealous, he nails it. Petrucci brings the house down with "Sit Down, You're Rocking The Boat,”Nicely-Nicely done. Bravo!

A great surprise is Gavin Gangi as Benny Southstreet, creating a lovable devilish sidekick to the madness. With street charm for days, he deftly adds mayhem to the proceedings and kicks off the show well, when he helps nail the duet anthem "Guys and Dolls.” He's a gangsta you'd invite to dinner, but hide the real silver.

Jeremy Jenkins's Harry the Horse is so real, you think he just time travelled from the era, with great character choices and a face that Elliot Ness would love to hate. Jordan Fleming's split personality fits him well, as he covers the Master of Ceremonies, and then slips into a great Big Jule. Donning a firey red hat, he makes it work as someone whose gun makes up for inches. Whether you look down or up at a gun, it’s still a gun.

The rest of the ensemble works their magic. There is such great chemistry in this cast and I felt like I was watching a party as a special guest, and they were just showing off. It certainly seemed like a drama free cast kicking up one hell of a good time!

Congratulations Cassidy Theatre! 40 years is a tremendous achievement!

Go see this show and support this theatre. And, in fact, get out there and support all community theatres.

Carrie The Musical at Beck Center for the Arts

Beck Center for the Arts/Baldwin Wallace University

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: February 7, 2014

Cinderella went to the ball and it had a happy ending. Carrie White went to the ball and the result, was a hot mess. In 1976, the film “Carrie” exploded into movie houses telling the tale of a young teenager, with a unique gift, who is trying to find herself in high school. We all know how cruel kids can be, especially if you are plain and don't fit in. Add in a hyper religious mother with assiduous control over any decision that would allow her to mature and gain independence, and the results are not kind to anyone. Currently at Beck Center for the Arts, the stage production of CARRIE, THE MUSICAL is heating up the boards, or what is left of them.

This production is directed by Victoria Bussert. That alone takes me to a place of high anticipation and excitement. It reminds me of being at a racetrack, feeling the intensity in the air, watching the horses come into the starting gates, feeling the athletic energy rip through the atmosphere, then hearing the bell, and all hell breaks loose. When the lights go down, I hear that bell. I know that my anticipation will be met with musical athletes that have professionally trained through academia at the Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory, which is one of the strongest musical theatre programs in the country, led by Bussert herself. This production is a nostalgic gift of epic proportions. Paced with energy and deft scene changes that never let you fade away.

From the very first number, the athletic nature of the dance is dictated beautifully by choreographer Gregory Daniels. Watching the ensemble explode onto the stage, reminded me of a Crossfit WOD that was designed to create a musical Seal Team. It was hot, pulsating, and with flair for days.

Nancy Maier provides great musical direction and a glorious orchestra to tell the tale of Sween.... I mean Carrie.

Carrie White appears, sublimely played by Caitlin Houlahan. Her charming unassuming presence made you want to protect her. Watching her journey was enthralling, creating a character wrapped in shyness and fear, then slowly evolving and discovering her inner power, powers, and confidence that grew with every encounter. She morphed slowly and surely as she dealt with her body changing, her mother’s religious fanaticism, the pain of high school identity, and, finally, the ultimate embarrassment and deception. Houlahan’s beautiful clear voice was the perfect vehicle for the story. Carrie’s transformation at the end of Act One is a moment that will stay with me for some time.

Katherine DeBoer brings her accomplished chops to the role of Margaret White, with commanding vocals which effortlessly range between loving passages and demented religious fervor. DeBoer's Margaret is a thesis presentation of histrionics and misplaced compassion. Besides the cruelty of the high school kids, I always felt uneasy every time she appeared. And that is a very good thing. Her descent into hell is riveting. DeBoer’s "And Eve Was Weak" gave me chills.

Sara Masterson is a beautiful revelation as Sue Snell, the at first snarky, but then, compunctious friend of Carrie. It is such an honest performance of showing someone truly changing heart, and compassionate enough to take socially unpopular steps for redemption. She is the storyteller of this tale, with asides that literally guide us to the catastrophic prom night. She also guides us with a voice that impressively holds emotion in perfect control. Masterson is an actress that inhabits her character and draws you in close as she tells her own story.

Coltan Ryan as Tommy Ross kicks some ass. Watching a character that is the all American kid can make for an uneventful presentation, but not in this case. He is a perfect complement to Masterson, and provides depth that enhances his story line. But the moment that Ryan breaks the mold is the stunning and elegant “Dreamer in Disguise.” When this song comes out of a poem he is forced to read in front of the class, you can't hear a sound in the theatre. That's because the audience is transfixed and doesn't dare make a sound to interrupt the emotion and quality of what is happening. Later on, after accepting Sue's proposal to take Carrie to the prom, you truly get the feeling that Tommy Ross wants Carrie to have the night of her life. That is a mission well-acted.

Inhabiting Chris Hargensen, the adversarial nemesis of Carrie, Genna-Paige Kanago is a bitch on wheels. I can't tell you the number of times I just wanted to spray her with water bottle to make her stop. And that means an excellent creation of someone we love to hate. With a body that would stop Fleet Week in its tracks, Kanago struts, insults, gyrates, and Lupones it out of the park. Chris doesn’t have much of a character arc--she is a one note bitchmobile--but Kanago infuses her character with a never ending glee of self-absorption.

Sam Wolf as Billy Nolan is appropriately in the throes of hormones, gym workouts and conquering Mount Hargensen. He has a commanding presence on the stage, and easily draws your attention with sinewy energy. You can almost feel the Rocky theme play when he enters, but then his SAT score cuts the music off. Edgy looks and strong vocals make Wolf a blast to watch.

Jodi Dominick nails Miss Gardner. Being Carrie’s adult support system within the school, Dominick shows the athletic authoritarian side of Gardner, and then slowly displays the layers of compassion. Watching her glide in and out of Carrie’s life provides us a chance to root for the underdog, as maybe we ourselves have helped someone less fortunate. Dominick also possesses a clarion voiced instrument, "Unsuspecting Hearts" is ample evidence of a beautiful voice that never misses a day of work.

Highlighting some of the searing ensemble, all of whom represented a collage of musical brilliance, includes Ian Gregory Hill as Mr. Stephens, John Kramer who can definitely cut a rug with the best of them, and my personal favorite bitchy sidekick, Norma, played with relishable delight by Adrian Grace Bumpas. It does not surprise me that Bumpas is the understudy to the role of Chris. There is a lot of talent in that young lady.

Scenic Design worked really well by wrapping the stage with the final exit structure, and with Russ Borski's deft lighting, enabling scenes to be played in multiple areas with clarity of place and time. Also, the laser starlit night was mesmerizing.

Costume Designer Aimee Kluiber worked the era correctly and helped transform Carrie into a prom night hit.

Sound Designer Richard B. Ingraham has his work cut out for him. Some preview night misfires that will surely be worked out, but great quality being able to hear and understand the music and voices. It doesn't always happen that way.

The collaboration between Baldwin Wallace Music Theatre Program and the Beck Center has another winner. Like “Spring Awakening” and “Next to Normal,” Carrie is sure to please. Luckily for the audience, the stage version does not include the hand coming out of the grave at the end like the movie, because when that happened, Maria Callas would have been proud of the high pitched note that came out of my mouth.


Knock Me A Kiss at Ensemble Theatre

Ensemble Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: February 4, 2014

As I wait for the beginning of KNOCK ME A KISS, the first impact is the set, masterfully designed by Ron Newell. The wood construction tells a story already of success and an efficacious air. Taking place in the 20's, we await the beginning of the play, successfully absorbed into the atmosphere. It is a good feeling, especially at a matinee. Within the set, we are about to experience an African-American prospective of a political, social, sexual and historical time, beautifully crafted by playwright Charles Smith. Mr. Smith is familiar to the house of Ensemble, having previously created the plays Free Man of Color and The Gospel According to James. Mr. Smith take us to Harlem in the kinetic era that surrounds 1928, addressing the Du Bois family and the circle of colorful characters that gesticulate for attention.

The story encompasses the vivacious journey of Yolande Du Bois (Emily Terry), as she navigates being nurtured by a socially demanding father, W.E.B. Du Bois (Edward Swan), and a histrionic splintered mother Nina Du Bois (Pamela Morton). Yolande has a true test when it comes to the gentlemen callers in her life. Jimmy Luncford (Kyle Carthens) who has a talent for music and curling your toes, and Countee Cullen (Dyrell Barnett), a preppy version of Harlem Town and Country. Yolanda is aided and abetted by a fabulous confidant Lenora (Tonya Broach). The result is an abacus of emotion, intention, deceit, class, discovery and self empowerment.

Playing Yolande, Emily Terry brings a brilliant and beautiful performance as the main artery of this play. I left feeling like I just been on a long cross country motorcycle ride, clutching a side car that allowed me to watch every emotional element of the journey. Terry's was a tour de force of being at the center of a judging hurricane, but without an eye to rest. She presents a woman of virtue. She deftly handled scenes of sexual intent, discontent, and a self-actualization process that demands we pay attention as she figures out the expedition and exploration of family, love and decision making. We all take chances. And there is always a consequence.

Jimmy Luncford, a player played by Kyle Carthens, reminds me of Kanye West, before he made it big, and before he took awards away from people. Kyle defines Jimmy with a cool refined buoyant flair, accented by intensity, that was dead on. He is wary of the high strutting W.E.B., but as any artist of the day, maybe being a musician is a scary occupation for a father. We follow him, starting from a place of posing flash and style, to a dramatic quest for love, and eventually settling in success, but romantic resolve. His journey is executed with accomplished talent.

Matching that talent is Dyrell Barnett, infusing Countee Cullen with enough layers that Outback could serve him as a blooming onion. Filled with style and grace, we immediately are impressed by his impeccable taste and refined educated air. Although listening to W.E.B. instruct him on how to find a wife, tends to make you believe he doesn't get out much in the beginning. His character faces many secrets. Some hinted, some self-confessed, and some that are based in survival. Deftly played.

For a moment, I thought Billie Holiday was on stage when I see Tonya Broach as Lenora. But then this fireball of comedic sass and tell-it-like-it-is bravado takes over and makes it her own. Broach embodies her character with a human heart, but a generator of advice and gossip that could be a half time show at the Super Bowl. Skillfully played, Broach supplies the jam, and some comedic antics that are a scream.. But also enables her character to pull back and provide prospective. All of us need a Lenora is our lives, even if at the end, you can't really blame her for what happens, because it is all based in truth.

Mother Du Bois is a complicated mess of sorts. Struggling from an overbearing husband, who calls her "wife", as if that was her only identity, but then uses him as a weapon of guilt against her own daughter. Coping with a loss that has strings attached that are suffocating. Trying to connect with a daughter that does not accept things just to survive. But even medicated with headache powder, her heart is still the center of her being and shines through at beautiful moments during the performance. Pamela Morton handles this character assignment like a pro. Through her tortured, almost Stepford movements, we come to learn so much about her pain, and her love. At the end, Morton delivers a powerful piece of poetic prose.

As W.E.B. Du Bois enters, Edward Swan cuts a fine figure. There would be no doubt that he would appear as "the most interesting man in the world" commercials. His character is the Debbie Downer of the party here. I mean, who uses math to find a mate. Completely engulfed in "what looks best" and "what is best for the movement of people of color", he is the one who holds the playbook. It seems as if it were the old electronic football game, he would be in the center and all the other players would vibrate around him. Although Swan has a great presence, his delivery of character is not as strong as the others. It doesn't seem that the actor and the character have meshed together as one, and settled into a confident space. But he has enough gusto to make his character push the others to play the game correctly, or be able to do the end around without being flagged by the referee.

Meg Parish does a great job with costumes, especially with Lenora. The lighting bothered me a little bit with the scenes that are upstage. Having actors go out of the light is not the best, but certainly not a deal breaker. but otherwise, Micheal Beyer creates a period ambiance

One of the lasting things that cross my mind about this play, is that you can never go back. That is a tough message to hear, and to reconcile. Director Caroline Jackson Smith has provided an evening of theatre that lets us weigh that message. And that is a beautiful thing to have a part of the play resonate inside you.

Ensemble Theatre is a gem. Artistic Director, Celeste Cosentino, should be very proud.

The Light in the Piazza at Lakeland Civic Theatre

Lakeland Civic Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: February 1, 2014

I must say that I am a bit emotionally transformed and artistically empowered after watching the performance of The Light in the Piazza at Lakeland Civic Theatre last night. This show is not an easy venture into the theatrical landscape. With the Book by Craig Lucas and the classical operatic Music and Lyrics by Adam Guettel, challenges abound in producing this simple, yet complicated story. A story of a mother and daughter visiting Italy for the summer, encountering love among the classics of yesterday, and each fighting their own predisposition to succeed and resolve. Enter a young Italian man. His purity of heart pushes two families to address the age old adage "I am just doing what's best for my child". That seems like a worthy cause, but not always executed smoothly. However, executed with powerful grace and beauty under the direction of Dr. Martin Friedman and the sublime Musical Direction of Jordan Cooper.

As I sit waiting for this event to unfold, I am taken in by the set and lighting ( masterfully interpreted by Trad A. Burns). Hanging muslin and iconic architecture accenting the stage that brings to life the drawings and works of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. As Director Dr. Friedman states "sometimes you have to go back, to move forward". All of it is bathed in a wash of light reminiscent of Italian Lemon Ice. Setting the appropriate mood.

At first we meet, Margaret and Clara Johnson, coming into the Piazza with racing expectations of what they will uncover. You could never expect to know the secret at this point, and it is Margaret's job to keep it that way and protect her beautiful childlike daughter. Providing the loving barrier of the mother, masterfully played, is Sandra Emerick. She is the storyteller of sorts, having the ability to share asides with the audience that are both funny and at times, emotionally heartbreaking. Her prodigious voice excels throughout this production. I found myself attached to her emotional journey throughout the show. Being at the center of a vortex of love, but struggling with what reality can be. She has been in Florence before. She knows. But it is her relentless love for her child that reverberates in our hearts.

When I listen to Clara, portrayed with resplendent honesty by Lindsey Sandham Leonard, it reminds me of "Touched by an Angel", when the angel reveals herself, she starts to glow. Her beauty and perfected characterization of Clara is delightful. Her complete immersion allows us to believe in unabashed honest love. At the same time, she reminds us that innocence can also reveal truths that are not covered up with years of learned manipulation. Her journey of probity becomes a lesson in strength and survival.

Several years ago, I attended The Wild Party at BW, and heard a young woman, Ciara Renee, sing. At that time, I said that I have never heard someone sing live like that in my life. It was stunning. I have to say that I experienced that moment again listening to Shane Patrick O'Neill inhabiting the world of Fabrizio Naccarelli. When he sings, Il Mondo Era Vuoto, everything is left on the boards. A magnificent celebration of voice, character and dialect. Never losing his Italian accent for a moment of acting or singing. Through his character we get to see lucid emotions of love and honesty for Clara. We follow his struggle with both families, trying to follow his unfeigned adoration for his love.

The Naccarelli family is a fluster buck of raw Italian emotion. Giuseppe Naccarelli (Eric Fancher) is a Goodfellas wanna be. Cavorting around the stage led my his crotch and his desire to find a mirror at all time. He adds some spice to the family dynamics. Married to this bastion of bravado, is Franca (Neely Gevaart), who embodies her character with a tough exterior, but also lets us see her vulnerability. When she sings The Joy You Feel, she does just that. She makes you feel. Her triumphant voice forces you to emotionally connect to the stuggle of what love is and how the path is not wine and roses. Raising these sons are Signor (Rob Albrecht) and Signora (Liz Huff) Naccarelli. Albrecht gives a charismatic interpretation of the head of household if you will. Exploring family dynamics and critical decision making when love dictates what really is best. His duet with Emerick, Let's Walk, is arresting and compelling, even if he is a bit of a donnaiolo. And then there's Maude, oops, I mean Mama. That is only funny if you are as old as me. Liz Huff brings her operatic chops to the matron of the italian wedding soup party. She really comes to life in the Octet. Huff gets her own chance to aside as she enjoyably explains the proceedings within the walls of chaos.

Rounding out the story is Roy Johnson (Michael Rogan), who is the golf obsessed husband of Margaret. Rogan delivers a textured portrayal. Enjoyable to watch, but also connecting the dots for us through simple conversation. Showing a side that we wish included more love, but recognizing a fierce loyalty to protect. Even willing to leave a golf game. To some, that is real love. Brian Mueller as the Priest serves us just right, and has a beautiful voice to boot. Antoinette Kula, not Kila, as the Tour Guide, has the distinct pleasure of being on stage in that character for less than 30 seconds, but getting a laugh.

Elisha Mueller, Erin McManus, Jacki Komos, Anna White, Venessa Pintabona, Stephanie Harden, Johanna Regan round out the ensemble. All equipped with powerful voices to match the soaring score. Also, if you are a man, your odds of getting lucky in the Piazza are good. Men seems to be out in the field working a lot.

Stephanie Fisher did a beautiful job with the Costumes, and thanks to Eric Simna, it was a night of clear beautiful spoken word and melodic tones.

One last shout out to Jordan Cooper and the orchestra. Exquisitely done.

You should see this. Not the average musical. But every artist involved is pushed.

The Aliens at Dobama Theatre

Dobama Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: January 27, 2014

The playwright, Annie Baker, has created a fascinating play that reminds me of Woodstock genetically altered to exist in the back alley of a coffee shop. Characters that define two perceptions of life, from frenetic to chilled out. But from the first moment of the play, I can tell you this, the sound designer (Richard Ingraham) knocked this out of the park. In an opening ceremony that reminds me of the upcoming Sochi Olympics, the results are hysterical. And then the play sits there for a moment, and you get a clue to how the evening will progress. Not afraid to let silence tell a story of character, unresolved pain, and choices. Nathan Motta (Artistic Director/Director) of this production chooses wisely to understand the piece as a "real time" experiment. Motta has crafted a beautiful evening of theatre, letting the laughter come from a very simple and neurotic place, aided of course, by drugs of choice.

We meet KJ and Jasper. Or as I thought of them, Tom and Jerry tweaked out 24/7. Nestled in the safety net behind a coffee shop, these two approach life differently, one jittery, and the other one, well, he would fit nicely in the back seat of Cheech and Chong's ride. KJ (equity actor Alexander V. Thompson) is a frickin scream. His physicality is priceless, and I kept on wondering how many calories he must burn per second for the energy to get his thoughts from this brain to his mouth. Watching this lovable train wreck with awe is Jasper (played beautifully intense by Matt O'Shea). He reminds me of a skinny panic attack, and that is a compliment. Jasper is a tortured artist as we all are. Writing poetry, songs, and hopeless expression about love loss.For the two, it's quite a love story of sorts. Two individuals who didn't quite turn out the way they might have hoped. Both share of love for the work of Charles Bukowski. No wonder, because in 1986 Time called Bukowski a "laureate of American lowlife". So I can see why an artist that can make poetic justice about how two individuals find solace behind a coffee house, and not in it.

Soon we meet Evan (Joseph Dunn) who brings a 17 year old perspective into the picture. Although he starts off bringing the heat to the two in a nervous ball of being assigned a duty that he really didn't want, which is to get rid of them. Dunn craftily handles and assimilates to the proceedings, much like the Borg. And to stand tall against these two on stage, is a major bonus. No weak links on the boards. Thus begins the interaction that provides sustaining energy to this triangle of innocence and misfortune. Through this triangle, you certainly learn that SHROOMS can be very entertaining. A whole other meaning to "High Tea" if you will.

The evening makes me wonder what happened to these guys in their lives. You get hints of their valleys throughout, but it makes me want to know more about them. Motta keeps the slow pace moving well which just carries you through the play faster then you think you are going.

The highlight of the music that is presented in the play is the Frog Men Song. A hilarious rendition. Think of the Everly Brothers on a three day bender on the back of a farm truck. It is so much to crack each other up, isn't it.

The fact that both gentlemen have great folk voices adds to the charm and the bewilderment to the tunes that materialize in the show.

Act Two offers a surprise which triggers some more deeply moving scenes and honestly within the characters. That against the very funny discussion of their first sexual experiences, and what honor that band camp brought to Evan. I think we can all take a few lessons from Evan on how to lean on a garbage to try to create coolness. That bit cracked me up. Also, KJ made me want to look up truth tables.

The evening ends with loss. We can appreciate how Evan has grown from both of these back alley counselors. There is a way out of depression. You just have to pick it up and play.

I realize how the set works perfectly for this piece (fine work by Aaron Benson), aiding by the eerie lighting design (Marcus Dana). Together the pair bring realness to this ordinary life. The costumes (Tesia Benson) are dead on. My favorite being the horse shirt. I would imagine KJ has named them all at some point.

Dobama is known for presenting high quality, professional productions of the best new plays. Well, they are indeed.

Exact Change at Cleveland Public Theatre

Cleveland Public Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: January 17, 2014

Change is powerful. It can save a life, regenerate a country, and even elect a president. Exact change has a increased value to it and is much tougher. Pinpointing something that needs revision, and making a plan to create an exact change, to something that is usually taken as a given, and accepted by others as the same. Therefore, there must be truth to make those decisions. Because it is in that truth that we find peace, or a reasonable defense of our new position in life.

Christine Howey had to find that truth on a remarkable journey which is now on display at cleveland PUBLIC theatre in her one woman show EXACT CHANGE. As director Scott Plate says "Truth, like gender, is shaped by what it faces as it comes into being." That clarity of directorial vision enabled Plate to guide this journey smoothly through the 90 minutes of prose, poetry, and demonstrative storytelling. His excellent skill at moving the piece forward is only matched by Howey herself, who serves up a tremendous evening of entertainment, to say the least.

Last year I attended the Big Box workshop of this show and what a treat that was. 60 minutes of touching, hilarious and brilliant writing, that one person shows rarely achieve. And tonight I had the pleasure of seeing this piece being taken to its next level of development that resulted in 90 minutes of theatrical bliss. With original music supplied by Danny English, we start off the evening with a series of poems and stories. My personal highlight was of one of the most erotic in-home sales calls I have ever witnessed. Witnessed by watching a woman behind window blinds, that reminded me of a commercial for the Trojan Vibrating Tri-phoria, and fully expected her hair to be blown back in a cone after she came out.

The first biting piece for me was Blueberries. Listening to careless conversation between female workers that seems so innocent, and then when it is revealed where this is taking place, a chill goes through you and makes you feel the pain of a time which many would want to forget. I was delighted to see that Beowulf and his wife were back, because this couple would be prime material for a BBC sitcom. As the piece progresses we reach a point where the transformation of Christine begins to unravel before our eyes. We are taken through the life of someone who at first struggles with who they are, asking questions that someone so young couldn't possibly know the answers, to the years where he slowly finds the decisions that will result in a life changing and identity changing event.

As presented by the segments from Oprah, that are shared as part of the evening, we search for the answers and the education necessary to understand sexual versus gender identity. If I remember correctly, I remember seeing Christine and her daughter Noelle on the national show Inside Edition long ago. What an amazing time to be face to face with someone who I thought a hero so many years ago. This process is fascinating to watch, and entertaining as hell. There are painful, thoughtful, and funny moments. And I must say, I would love to have lunch with Dolly, who gives a young man some fabulous advice to be used for his future. At one point during the evening, Christine bares her soul and her head in a very powerful moment of the evening in which she puts everything on the table.

Towards the end of the evening we are reminded of the current murder investigations that are going on that involve the lost transgendered women in the Cleveland area. A reminder that to some, this is a life and death situation. Howey's explanation of the first time she felt accepted in public was a very poignant moment. At the end of this piece, I just sat there and was so inspired by the strength it must have took to not only write everything, but to expose yourself to the world and let all of us in. Remarkable truth was needed to accomplish that task.

As I thought about the play, I was struck with the love story that exists within the evenings poetic synergy, and that is the love story of Christine and Noelle, her daughter. The Oprah clips have Noelle sitting on the couch with her, and then both of them dancing at her daughter's wedding. That really touched me because it was all about family and sticking together. It was a lovely bonus.

Go see this. As a director, actor or playwright. There is a lot to celebrate.

Sisters Forever. The Burrell Family Letters at True North Cultural Arts

True North Cultural Arts

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: January 10, 2014

True North Cultural Arts, located in Sheffield Lake, OH has a unique program within its theatrical walls. Throughout the year, they commission plays to be written to highlight and provide education as to the history of Lorain County. Kelly Boyer Sagert took on the latest task of exploring the Burrell Sisters, who were an important representative family during a time of the 20's, the Great Depression, World War II and the country's eventual recovery. Although laden with historical facts, Director Brian Bowers chooses to focus on the family dynamics. Creating an evening of relationships that tell how a family survives during tested sisterhood and surviving the economics of life challenges. The evening moves smoothly. Bowers has created an interesting world out of the playwrights vision.

At the helm of the evening is Tyson Douglas Rand, who portrays Ken Burrell, a brother who mystically guides us through the lives of his family with touching antidotes and the ability to crack a joke when needed. He creates a beautiful connection with the audience that sets the tone of Prairie Home Companion-esque. He hardly ever leaves the stage, so he deserves a well earned adult soda. The women of this play remind me that it could be called the Desperate Housewives of Lorain County. Each sister bringing her own presence and a mother that could beat up Tevye in a street fight. Marilyn Forster plays matriarch Tempe Burrell with charm and a clear understanding of what to tell and not to tell her daughters. Tempe holds her own and gives a good insight to raising her family in these trying times. The three sisters are typical of family dynamics, where along the way it always seems to be an interchangeable two versus one. It is the circle of life, sister style. Eleanor Burrell comes across of the most stoic of the group, and defines herself with a regal sense of serenity that permeates her performance. Virginia Burrell is played with a spunky resolve by Bernadette Hisey. She is most animated of the sisters and makes the most out of the physical shtick. Her Virginia is the most balanced of the sisters. And then there is Doris Burrell, who cracked me up a lot. Played by Kathie Dice with an Annie Oakley charm, and a woman I would not like to have to play Red Rover with because I would never cross over if she was on the other side. Doris goes through the biggest personal heartbreak of the piece, and conveys the journey of what we all face sometimes with directness. Rounding out the cast are Anne Chriszt, playing her character Lillian Brown with bubbling energy and a spot on performance. Jenny Erbs who brings the irish spitfire Rose O'Reilly to life and definitely knows what she wants and how to get it.

And finally Dean Stamatis, playing Marty Schilling. Dean brings a common man persona to the role and helps us connect with his dream, but with a grounded resolve, and when to say "Ok, you're right"