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Martin Charnin’s Top 10 List – The Musical Theater Project

The Musical Theater Project
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: October 22, 2015

Last night, the Westfield Studio Theatre at Idea Center was filled with lyrical magic as Martin Charnin, the Director and Lyricist of the original 1977 production of Annie on Broadway, took the stage in a taping of Footlight Parade, with host extraordinaire Bill Rudman. It was a magical evening, as the topic centered on Mr. Charnin presenting his Top 10 List of Lyrics that he has created over his storied career, which by the way, has no signs of stopping. Especially, since Charnin’s Annie is opening tonight at the Connor Palace and will run through Sunday, January 17th, 2016. Rudman led us through listening to, well, actually 11, of Charnin’s favorite songs. Just 10 was just too tough.

Charnin has had an amazing career working with some of the greatest names in Broadway history and music. But the evening, which will be aired on Rudman’s Footlight Parade in the near future, was filled with great suprises. One of my favorites being that he originated the role of Big Deal in West Side Story. Make sure you keep your ears open for Footlight Parade (, which airs Saturday night on WCLV at 6 p.m., and also can be heard on On the Aisle” which airs on the Sirius XM Broadway Channel at various times.

All of this courtesy of The Musical Theatre Project. This was a private event, members only, so this is just one of the many great reasons to become a member and support the Great American Musicals.

If you are interested is seeing Annie this week at the Connor Place, here is the link.

Bat Boy: The Musical at Blank Canvas Theatre

Blank Canvas Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: October 22, 2015

In the hands of many directors, Bat Boy: The Musical ( Story and Book by Keythe Farley, Music by Brian Flemming and Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe) is a fantastic campy ride of delight. Patrick Ciamacco can certainly add his name to that director list, but it would need an asterisk. And, what would that represent? A disclaimer to make sure you bring your seatbelt to handle a brilliantly designed Bat Boy that (if you sit behind the cage) shows more ass than all the Lido Lounge dancers in one night, blood scenes that will encourage you to order your next steak well done, a dancing Pan that embodies one of the most realistic boners that would send Masters and Johnson on a three-day weekend, and procreating stuffed animals. If any of these offend you, then I would skip this production and watch Little House of the Prairie reruns. However to the twisted delight of many, DO NOT MISS this show, and especially a theatrically self-actualized Pat Miller as Bat Boy. Mr. Miller embodies campy transcendence.

Based on a true fake story in The Weekly World News, BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL is a musical comedy/horror show about a half boy/half bat creature who is discovered in a cave near Hope Falls, West Virginia. For lack of a better solution, the local sheriff (a Mayberryesque Will Foley) brings Bat Boy to the home of the town veterinarian, Dr. Parker (entertaining Brian Altman), where he is eventually accepted as a member of the family and taught to act like a “normal” boy by the veterinarian’s wife, Meredith (a brilliantly campy Amiee Collier), and teenage daughter, Shelley (beautiful Stephanie Harden). Bat Boy (Pat Miller) is happy with his new life, but when he naively tries to fit in with the narrow-minded people of Hope Falls, they turn on him, prodded by the machinations of Dr. Parker, who secretly despises Bat Boy. Shelley and Bat Boy, who have fallen in love, run away together from the ignorant townsfolk and have a blissful coupling in the woods, but their happiness is shattered when Meredith arrives and reveals a secret. Soon the entire town arrives and hears the shocking story of Bat Boy’s unholy origin.

We first meet Bat Boy as he hangs upside down in his cave, and to be honest, he is not the only one that should be swinging. Due to a new sound system, the night I was there was plagued with sound issues. I am sure that issue is being addressed more than the Republicans are Benghazi, but it was a major distraction. Also, some of the lighting was off, either called late, or actors left in the dark. Having said that, there is much to celebrate.

Obviously, I thought Miller was great. Complete total commitment to the role. Powerful vocal, acting and a sense of limitless and pervasive energy. Aided by a remarkable Special Effects Design by P.J. Toomey. Add in the detailed brilliance of Costume Designer, Jenniver Sparano, and the results are a blast. Collier once again shows her equity (she could easily be, and was, but not now) bravado. She is in complete campy control, armed with a clarion voice. Her comedic timing is perfect. Altman displays his comedic chops as well as the maniacal Dr. Parker. His is so charming on stage, and watching him flip to the dark side is an enjoyable ride. He also adds his vocal prowess to the evening. Harden offers a quirky ingenue for the evening, which is aided by an attractive stage presence, and a quality voice. She also jumps in the comedic timing pool head first.

The rest of the cast is a hot mess of fun. Will Foley, Jacob Damsky, Colleen McCaughey and Venchise Glenn add sizable contributions to the zaniness. There were a few that I have a shout out. Kristy Cruz brought her Mark Wahlberg realness to one side of her characters, and was dead on with all of her choices. I just want to have a shot and a beer with her/him/them. Michael Crowley was fantastic in giving the Reverand Hightower some Whitney notes for days, and taking the crowd to church in raucous style. But he doesn’t stop there. As a wigged and rollered Mrs. Taylor, he is hilarious, and gives one death look take for the ages. And as far as sustaining a crazy fun performance, Stephen Berg is an X-rated scream as Pan, delivering a fully aroused Barry White moment that will certainly stay with you after the performance. If it is still with you after 4 hours, please seek medical attention. His one-eyed farmer also hits every comedic target.

Ciamacco should be proud. Great cast, great fun and a kick ass Set Design. Music Director Lawrence Wallace delivered a solid wall of sound. The choreography was campy and sharp as provided by Katie Zarecki. Stage Manager Brittany Gaul called a great show. Impeccable costumes by Jenniver Sparano. Lighting Design was good, but some focus could be enhanced. Animation Design by Noah Hrbek was incredibly original and funny. To my taste, could have been streamlined a bit more, as it is narrated live. But certainly a true original work that was impressive. Sound Designer Tobias Peltier and Sound Operator Bryanna Bauman have their work cut out for them. One more shout out to P.J. Toomey and Jenniver Sparano for creating this version of Bat Boy. A creative match made in heaven.

See you at the Cave!

The Secret Garden – Great Lakes Theater

Great Lakes Theater
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: October 15, 2015

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved Victorian classic, The Secret Garden, has been transformed into a beautiful and brooding musical by Pulitzer Prize-winner Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon. The story revolves around young Mary Lennox (Giovanna A. Layne), who loses her parents to a cholera outbreak in India, which is represented through a nicely staged, creative movement by choreographer Gregory Daniels. She is sent to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven (Steven Mitchell Brown), who lives in the imposing, secluded Misselthwaite Manor. Inside the haunted house, Mary finds a reclusive, long-suffering collection of souls, and Dr. Neville Craven (Tom Ford), Archibald’s younger brother, who is not the kindest at his best. Since her aunt Lily’s (Jillian Kates) death, Mary’s uncle has pushed away his surviving loved ones, leaving his bedridden son, Colin (Warren Bodily), alone. Sickly Colin, hidden away in the depths of the manner, bears the guilt of his mother’s death, which occurred during childbirth. When Mary discovers her Aunt Lily’s hidden garden, looking lifeless, Mary is determined to revive the beauty that once was. She receives much-needed support in her plan by encountering Housekeeper Martha (Sara Masterson), and her younger brother Dickon (Colton Ryan), who helps tend to the grounds. Surrounded by spirits from the past, determined Mary begins to peel away the layers of sadness that cover the house and the garden, and as a result, create a new life in the garden, and in the hearts of her loved ones.

Director Victoria Bussert offers us a well paced, star-studded affair in this production. Bussert never lets the story flounder for a moment, and makes expeditious use of the minimal Scenic Design by Jeff Herrman. Not distracted from overdone set pieces, this piece provides characterizations to be at the heart of the story. Daniels compliments Bussert’s vision with interesting choices for movement, that entertain and enhance the story. Musical Director Joel Mercier provides stunning orchestration to match the powerful and impressive voices that inhabit the stage. The costumes are gorgeous, and no wonder, with Costume Designer Charlotte M. Yetman infused in every stitch. Lighting Designer Paul Miller provides emotional lighting that captivates each mood, while Sound Designer David Gotwald sets excellent balance and provides a coming storm bang that will ensure you are paying attention.

At the center of the story is Layne, who portrays Mary with guts, determination and creates honesty moments throughout. She is a fearless actress who traverses this material like a pro, while she stands toe to toe with the professionals around her. Layne is able to remain strong and centered throughout the show, providing insight into her characters journey. Layne also adds strong vocals to her talents as well.

From the moment Kates appears as Lily, we are transformed to behold THAT voice and presence. Her vocals could calm global warming. She gives Lily a soul that we can connect with, and passion that we can feel as she connects with the lives she did not want to leave. A glorious performance. It was the first time I have heard this artist sing, and it has become one of the best moments of the year.

Stephen Mitchell Brown was spectacular as Archibald Craven. His voice is rich, deep and soulful while also being able to float up to heaven. He has a commanding, yet, very likable presence. He provided us an emotional road map to finding the arc of Archie through dynamic acting choices. Brown sets hearts on fire with his pining song “Where in the World”, and then combines with Kates to emotionally blow the roof off the theatre with the duet “How Will I Ever Know”. If you don’t believe in love after that song, then congratulations, you are a zombie.

Ford is on point portraying the unpopular and selfish Dr. Neville Craven, who torments Mary most of the play. Ford does great justice to creating a villain that we get to root against. He serves up some calculating realness, and clearly defines this character’s flaws to the delight of wanting him to fail and find his comeuppance. Ford and Brown also combine their vocal talents to make an event out of the “Lily’s Eyes”, which is one of the grand moments of the show.

Enter Mary’s fierce accomplices, the radiant and fiery Masterson and the matinee idol Ryan, as Martha and Dickon. Both harnessing a deft Yorkshire accent, these two actors excel. Masterson has incredible presence, and a fabulous voice which can captivate while telling a story in “A Fine White Horse”, or provide strength and encouragement during “Hold On” that would motivate Anthony Robbins. Ryan has charm and likability for days. He also owns a beautiful voice which captivates the audience with a playful “Winter’s on the Wing”, and fuels “Wick” with boundless energy and entertainment. Bodily is wonderful as Colin. He provides an innocence and purity that immediately establishes a connection with the audience. He does a great job at showing the emotional and physical growth of his character. And to no surprise, handles the vocals with ease and would most certainly be the MVP of the Vienna Boys Choir.

Some fine featured moments come from Laura Perrotta as Mrs. Medlock, Dougfred Miller as Ben Weatherstaff, Cassandra Bissell as Mrs. Winthrop, and I do believe that the voice of Leah Jennings, portraying Rose Lennox, could melt the ice caps with her breathtaking clear vocals. I just realized I am all about the weather, but I think it is because that first storm thunder knocked my patella into my stomach.

For my enjoyment, the only moment that was subdued due to the fantastic pace, was the pay off when Archie sends Neville away. I wanted that to resonate more, so we could give Neville exit applause for his “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out!” moment.

I love The Secret Garden. This production came through with flying colors. Bravo Victoria Bussert, for bringing this garden to life.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit – cleveland PUBLIC theatre

Cleveland Public Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
October 15, 2015

“It began with a nightmare ……….years ago that I killed myself on stage in front of an audience that included my parents,” said Playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, who grew up in Shiraz and now lives in Tehran.

Soleimanpour was not allowed to leave Iran. To get a passport, you need to serve two years in the military. He was a conscientious objector, so travel was not going to happen. Censorship was deafening. So after having his nightmare, he developed a play that could carry his thoughts, expressions, humor, and storytelling. It resulted in White Rabbit Red Rabbit. An incredibly unique theatre experience that was brought to CPT by Executive Artistic Director Raymond Bobgan. And what a find it is. Bravo.

On the night I attended, the actor for that evening was Councilman Joe Cimperman. You see, one of the interesting things about this play is that a different actor performs each showing. This convention is further enhanced with the actor not having the script until he or she opens an envelope on stage – in front of the audience. All we see on stage is a ladder, a table with two glasses of water, and the stand where the envelope holding the script lives. So ALL of us begin this journey together. The audience and the actor have no idea what is about to happen, and the result is a glorious evening of what the sam hill is going on, and tingling realism.

The actor reveal is delightful as well. After Bobgan greets us and fires the crowd up to vote for Issue 8, which we all need to do, a red curtain opens to reveal the actor.

We are then taken on a journey, where we can hear the playwright as if he were there. The theatre actually keeps a seat available for “him”. At the beginning, it is quite funny, and the interactive situations that ensue are fascinating. But after a while, the play delves into darker territory. We move inside the playwright’s mind as he handles the inevitable rougher times in life, especially when you think of being repressed artistically and physically. Through sharing a family story that might seem cute to some degree, engineers itself into a powerful message of thought and candor. I can’t really give more details, because the play needs to be silent in print and only live on stage and in our minds when we leave.

But we do learn that when the play was able to travel without him, it was a taste of freedom. And the fact that Soleimanpour provides his email address to hear from all who see the play, must have been, and be, an incredible comfort to know your words are touching lives, and inhabiting theatres around the world.

It is a fascinating night. So you need to check out the following performers and pick a day when you can experience a very, unique evening. (Because you never know who will show up in the audience. Beware of pre-printed material being passed out. It is not part of the show.)

Friday, October 16th: RA Washington
Saturday, October 17th: Bill Rudman
Sunday, October 18th: Dana Hart*
Monday, October 19th: Derdriu Ring*
Wednesday, October 21st: Mike Polk
Thursday, October 22nd: Margaret Ford-Taylor
Friday, October 23rd: Dr. Michael Mauldin*
Saturday, October 24th: David Hansen
Sunday, October 25th: Anne McEvoy

Nunsense at The Fine Arts Association

Fine Arts Association
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: October 9, 2015

Under the direction of Sandy Kosovich Peck, this production of Nunsense is quite fun. This show has been done so many times, that I think it is a daunting task to restage it and keep the production fresh and funny. This particular production seems to stay true to the original intent of the show and keeps it traditional and honest. The result is a lot of giggles.

What is this nun-filled evening about? Five nuns from The Little Sisters of Hoboken stage a variety show fundraiser to raise money to bury the rest of the sisterhood who were accidentally poisoned by Sister Julia, Child of God’s vichyssoise. That’s right, you are at a fundraiser, and the nuns take you on a glorious ride of ridiculousness.

The nuns have a fine time warming up the audience with some quirky fun. They provide some instructions on how to greet the Reverend Mother when she comes in, and that is a clever way to start the interaction with the crowd to loosen up the audience. The Mount St. Helen Band, led by “Father” Kyle Lorek, produces the right kind of balance and blend to kick off the evening. The nuns start the show off with a bang, engaging us in tight harmonies and delightful execution of “Nunsense is Habit-Forming.” Yes, it is that kind of show.

Anna L. Davis as Sister Mary Regina, Mother Superior is in fine form and she tries to wrangle the sisters and keep them in line. My favorite moment is when she discovers a bottle of “Rush” and after a couple of sniffs, proceeds to fall apart hilariously into a pile of giggles, and her physicality would be her on the first string of a roller derby team. Ingrid Balstad has a blast as Sister Mary Hubert, Mistress of Novices. And she take it to church for the 11 o’clock number “Holier than Thou”. Maria Lister Lyons brings the right edge to Sister Robert Anne, and is a delight the entire evening. Act II started off a little disheveled, it was preview night, but Lyons brought the thunder on her number “I Just Want to be a Star”, and got the pace back up to muster. Sister Mary Leo, portrayed with charming naivete by Christian Borkey, created entertaining moments during her solo turns. But I have to admit, my favorite was Sister Mary Amnesia. Evie Koh killed this role. Her operatic range made “So You Want to be a Nun” a vocal comedic event. Koh has impeccable timing and charm, and basically, owned the audience.

There are times where the harmonies need to be tightened a bit. Act II did seem to take a bit of time before the pace reconnected, but that probably has already been taken care of, and should be in fine form by now. A word of caution to the band members who face the audience, not to look depressed or disconnected.

I thought the puppet rocked, so kudos for getting ahold of her. And if you don’t know what I am talking about, that is ok, you need to see the show to find out.

Sandy Kosovich Peck directs a fun evening with lots of silliness to spar. The band was tight under the musical direction of Kyle Lorek. I was delighted with the choreography of the show, provided by Rick Bocchieri. The production staff was solid. Dave Peck produced the required elements with flash and color. Nice stained glass work. Technical Director Michael Roesch brought everything together nicely. Good Lighting Design by Paul Gatzke. Sound Design was excellent by Tom Linsenmeier. Costumes were right on target under Hannah Sandham. And the show was Stage Managed in fine form by Korbin James Lashley. Rounding out the band were Erika Nalow on Saxophone, Jacob Kaminski on Bass, and Justice Bixel on Percussion.

This was fun. Thanks for making me giggle.

Director Insight – “5 Questions” – Ron Newell – The Ghost Train – Clague Playhouse

Interview by: Kevin Kelly
October 1, 2015

Director Ron Newell responded to Cleveland Stage Alliance’s “5 Questions” from CSA resident critic Kevin Kelly.

Why did you choose to direct this show?

It’s all about story and the challenge of fitting an old fashion proscenium play onto our small thrust stage.

Why does the world need this production, or, another production of this show?

It doesn’t except for the fact that the lead character is a sound cue.

Can you share some memorable moments from the rehearsal period?

Shared moments…let me say this about that…11 actors on a postage stamp…suicidal to begin with had to use the Chinese fire drill method…All stage right x left and all stage left x right-those stage center pray and trust the director

What started as chaos turned out to be a Martha graham/Balanchine moment. Thanks to the actors.

As you watched your opening weekend, what resonates with you from the audience?

After 4 weeks to six weeks rehearsal you think you know all there is to know about the play-enter the audience-the final step in the process-what resonates is their response to your work. Good or bad deal with it.

What do you think you and the actors have accomplished?

Accomplish what we started out to do. Entertain.

Director Insight – “5 Questions” – Tim Anderson – The Addams Family – Broadview Heights Spotlights

Interview by: Kevin Kelly
Published: September 25, 2015

Director Tim Anderson , responded to Cleveland Stage Alliance’s “5 Questions” from CSA resident critic Kevin Kelly.

Why did you choose to direct this show?

Last year, the Spotlights had a successful run of Happy Days: The Musical. As part of the committee choosing this year’s season, I thought that the Spotlights’ audience would respond well to another musical based on a television show. During my research, I fell in love with the Addams’s family and thought that it would be a fun, creative experience, so I made it known that I wanted that show if it was chosen for the season. The challenge of presenting this iconic family that is so ingrained in American culture (try not to snap when you hear the theme song), in a modern, perhaps less-campy light appealed to me. The Addams are not just flat, stereotypical characters. Compare them to the Beineke’s (3 Ohioans who show up for dinner) and one can see their uniqueness and humanity even more.

Why does the world need this production, or, another production of this show?

The show’s theme of “Love Will Always Triumph” resonated heavily with me the first time I read the script, and I think it’s a very timely message for our society. That, and there’s one amazing alternate lyric about Kim Davis. In terms of other productions, take your pick! There are many opportunities to see The Addams Family in northeastern Ohio this year.

Can you share some memorable moments from the rehearsal period?

The energy at the read-through rehearsal was ridiculously tangible. Within the first five minutes, I knew this cast and show were going to be phenomenal.

In designing the show, I looked at many of the original cartoons by Charles Addams. In many of them, the rooms had interior shutters. I started scouring Craigslist and other sources for inexpensive shutters to no avail. I stopped at a gas station on the way to rehearsal and in the alleyway next door were 30+ old, decrepit shutters leaning against a dumpster. (Insert references to a sunbeam and angels voices here.

The week before tech, one of our actors ended up in handcuffs at rehearsal. Real handcuffs. Real handcuffs without a key. Luckily, the theater is located next door to a Police Station. Who knew that there is no universal key for handcuffs!? About an hour into his captivity, the cast member was freed thanks to the help of the Fire Department and an electrical saw. Teachable moment: Don’t touch props that aren’t yours!

Working with Ryan Bergeron (music director/Gomez) and Zac Hudak (choreographer) was an exhilarating experience. It was a safe, risk-taking team that continually kept raising the quality bar. We’ve known each other for years, but have never worked together in these capacities. There were many “‘Does this work?’/’Why does it have to work?’/’How about this….'” discussions that allowed for free-flowing ideas and honest editing of ideas that flowed a little too free.

As you watched your opening weekend, what resonates with you from the audience?

The cast is not only ridiculously talented, but contains some of the best folks in the entire world. I want to be in the room with them, and I hope to be again soon! There was so much growth that the final product is quite remarkable. I actually watched the show from the light booth with Zac, and it was about the third scene that we realized we were both forgetting to breathe. I wish EVERYONE could see this show. Happily, (and a tiny bit sadly) we sold-out all ten performances before opening night!

What do you think you and the actors have accomplished?

Magic. And a quality show that doesn’t hide behind the “It’s just community theater” label.

Director Insight – “5 Questions” – Alison Garrigan – Finn McCool (A Tale of Irish Mythology) – Talespinner Children’s Theatre

Interview by: Kevin Kelly
Published: September 25, 2015

Alison Garrigan, Director and Artistic Director, responded to Cleveland Stage Alliance’s “5 Questions” from CSA resident critic Kevin Kelly.

Why did you choose to direct this show?

Christopher Johnston approached me over a year ago with an idea to tell the story of Finn McCool, the Greatest of All the Irish Giants. I had always wanted to work with Chris, and the play fell WELL within our parameters of adapting international folk and/or faerie tales (in this case, both), so I was intrigued. As I grew up hearing tales of Finn and other Celtic heroes, I was even more excited to walk back down the path of my youth, sharing those amazing tales with a new generation of children.

Why does the world need this production, or, another production of this show?

This play helps to continue the Celtic tradition of oral story-telling, music, and dance. It also passes on to a new generation the stories of old, while igniting imaginations and excitement in its young audiences. I think this particular show is so loaded with music and magic that it is a perfect vehicle for getting children in the audience involved in the production, letting them be a part of the story in a way that gives them a sense of ownership of what they are watching and experiencing. It tells children of the importance of telling stories–and that we are ALL story-tellers, with a wonderful story to tell. There is a joy and mystery in this show that touches every heart and imagination that sees it, or worked on it. In this story, too, Finn and his wife, Oona, overcome a huge bully by using their minds and creativity, rather than their fists–it provides an excellent anti-bullying message that any child (or parent) can access, hear, and understand. I feel that everything about this show–the joy, the stories, the music, the magic, the growth of the artists, the intelligence (and the silliness, don’t forget the silliness!) make it extremely important to get out to the community.

Can you share some memorable moments from the rehearsal period?

I loved the joy and tenacity with which the entire cast embraced learning the dances and movement for this show, and learned the lilting Irish brogue.

There was one night when, for whatever reason, everyone had been having a rough time outside of the theatre before rehearsal. We do a check-in at the beginning of rehearsal that includes everyone present, and I was so amazed and moved by the caring and unwavering support that came together to bolster every single artist in this group. Not one person stumbled that night, because there were so many arms and hearts to catch them. That’s the kind of group that this amazing ensemble is.

The first time we met John Busser’s Cucullin, we were in stitches. He just sprang from the gate fully formed, and it was hysterical to watch him take (lumbering, blustering) flight. We all laughed so hard when we first met him that we had to stop rehearsal to catch our breath.

There are two very magical moments in which Cucullin has to a) turn a house completely around, and b) dig down and find a buried water source that lies under tons of rock–all in full view of the audience. Watching the cast come up with solutions and magic to make these things happen is something that will live with me forever. There were several different ideas that got floated around, but seeing what they came up with…well, you’ll just have to see for yourself!

As you watched your opening weekend, what resonates with you from the audience?

The joy. Watching every child in the audience sitting on the edge of their seats, or standing so they could lean forward and be closer to the stage, hanging on every single thing being said or happening in front of them. Hearing the glee in their voices as they helped with the songs and problems that characters in the show faced. The smiles on the faces of the parents. The laughter. At the end of the opening performance, there were two little ones, not sitting together or with the same group, who jumped up in the aisle and started to imitate the step-dancing of two of the characters. It was priceless, and moving.

What do you think you and the actors have accomplished?

Every one of the artists in this show has had to grow and stretch out of their comfort zones in some way for this production. Whether it was learning the Irish brogue, or the dances, or the language itself…or playing parts that they never would have seen themselves playing…I think that this group of actors has created a totally believable world, and a very tight ensemble that is truly seamless. As to what we have all accomplished as a whole, I’d say “magic.” Working as such a tight ensemble (one that includes myself, the playwright, the movement specialist, and the designers) we have been able to create an entirely believable world that makes you want to jump in, tell your own story, and dance with the faeries. We have created a world where anything is possible, and everyone is welcome.

Director Insight – “5 Questions” – Dr. Martin Friedman – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – Lakeland Civic Theatre

Interview by: Kevin Kelly
Published: September 2
4, 2015

Dr. Martin Friedman, Director and Artisitic Director, responded to Cleveland Stage Alliance’s “5 Questions” from CSA resident critic Kevin Kelly

Why did you choose to direct this show?

So, I chose to direct this play for a couple of reasons. The first is the theatre that I work in. We are a young theatre that is not only the only professional theatre in Lake County but also a part of a college. Consequently, I am charged with providing the classics, mixed in with theatre that would not normally be done in these parts. I am a lucky fellow; I have been given carte blanche with choosing the great plays of both world drama and the American theatre. Of course, that is also a curse. A curse because not all of the “great” plays are great for everyone.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee is certainly considered one of the top ten American plays ever written. And while probably not one of the so-called big three “American Masters” (Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams), Albee and Albee’s play does reside firmly in the pantheon of great plays of world drama.

I have done many of the great plays of World and American drama and I felt it was time to do an Edward Albee play and Virginia Woolf was the chosen one. Still, to be completely honest, as I have delved into it and worked on it now for six months, I don’t think it deserves to be in the aforementioned pantheon.

Finally, I did this play because I really wanted to work with Greg Violand. I have done two musical theatre productions (She Loves Me and A Little Night Music) with Greg over the years and had a great time with him. His talent is undeniable. Still, we wanted to work together on something substantial and this was the play that I offered him.

Why does the world need this production, or, another production of this show?

While Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has been done twice on Broadway in the last fifteen years, it hasn’t been done in Cleveland in at least ten years; and certainly not with a professional cast. Another reason I wanted to produce and direct this play is that as I have gotten older and my work has matured, I have found that my outlook on things has also matured and ripened. I have found that I don’t need as much stuff on stage and that I can make the classics even more visually and emotionally exciting with less.

Can you share some memorable moments from the rehearsal period?

In regard to memorable moments; I truly find the entire process memorable. I am one of those fellows who is very “Pollyanna-ish”. As soon as a play is over I have a hole in my theatrical life that I find that I can’t refill until the next gig is over. I enjoyed talking about the play with not only Molly McGinnis and Greg but also with Katie Nabors and Dan Simpson. Everyone in this cast were good eggs. They loved to talk and kibbitz and talk endlessly about their characters. What could be better.

As you watched your opening weekend, what resonates with you from the audience?

In regard to the opening weekend…. I had no idea whether my concept would work or not. I also had no idea as to whether anyone would even show up. Indeed, the audiences have been sparse and it’s too easy to blame the good weather or football. I wonder whether the topic is a downer. While these folks, George and Martha are very articulate, they are articulate in battling each other and that doesn’t always make for a wonderful evening of fun and fluff. While often funny, this is, at times, grim stuff. And while I do believe, in the end, George and Martha do love each other; it takes a while for them to get there.

What do you think you and the actors have accomplished?

In thinking what I accomplished, I suspect it was that I had a bit of different take on this play. As I mentioned earlier, I changed the set around a bit. Gone are walls, books, chairs, and any semblance of a house or home. Instead what we have are platforms in which the characters roam around, trying to figure out how to touch each other, or rather how to crash into each other.

I also believe that I have taken a positive approach to this couple. I believe that what you are seeing this particular evening is something that George and Martha have done many many many nights over the years; arguing and fighting and trying to desperately come up with a solution. An understanding. And tonight is the night that this happens. They come to an acceptance of the situation and of each other.

Director Insight – “5 Questions” – Katia P. Schwarz – Death and The Maiden – Mamai Theatre Company

Interview by: Kevin Kelly
Published: September 24, 2015

Director Katia Schwarz, responded to Cleveland Stage Alliance’s “5 Questions” from CSA resident critic Kevin Kelly.

Why did you choose to direct this show?

It was serendipitous that this was the play that Mamaí Theatre Company offered me to direct. It was inspired by a period in history that has always been of particular interest to me – the Pinochet Dictatorship in Chile and its aftermath. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to direct such a significant and meaningful play.

Why does the world need this production, or, another production of this show?

The world needs to see this production (and many more) because it tackles themes and questions that we need to be constantly reminded of. It reminds us of the human rights violations that go on every day around the world. It reminds us of the crimes and corruption of those with power, that too often goes unpunished. I believe this play urges us to not simply be bystanders in our world, but to be ‘upstanders.’ It is a brilliantly written piece that keeps you engrossed and on the edge of your seat while posing so many important questions.

Can you share some memorable moments from the rehearsal period?

Some of the most memorable moments came in our initial table work as the actors and I discussed the historical context of the play. We were repeatedly moved by the long-lasting impact of the dictatorship on a country. We have all been so invested in telling this story and it has been an incredible journey as we have worked together to do justice to this powerful play. We had a wonderful, collaborative process with much generosity of spirit by all, and in spite of the difficult subject matter, we also shared a lot of laughs.

As you watched your opening weekend, what resonates with you from the audience?

Honestly, what has resonated most for me is how truly mesmerized the audiences seem to have been, how they have rushed back to their seats after intermission to see more, and how you could not hear a pin drop in the theatre.

What do you think you and the actors have accomplished?

I am proud of the work we have done together because I am hearing so many people talk about how they have been moved by the play. They have been asking the questions that the playwright hoped audiences would consider, and they are thinking about the state of our world today. If this is how audiences are leaving, then I think we have done something right.

Director Insight – “5 Questions” – Celeste Cosentino – Death of a Salesman – Ensemble Theatre

Interview by: Kevin Kelly
Published: September 24, 2015

Celeste Cosentino, Director of Death of a Salesman and Artistic Director of Ensemble Theatre, responds to Cleveland Stage Alliance’s “5 Questions” from CSA resident critic Kevin Kelly.

Why did you choose to direct this show?

I have always been a Miller fan, and this being his centennial (he would have been 100 this year:)) it seemed a fitting tribute. My mother and I were always fans of his “A View from the Bridge”, but Death of A Salesman was the piece he won the Pulitzer for and is considered one of the greatest American plays of the twentieth century for a reason:)

Why does the world need this production, or, another production of this show?

I think this show is VERY timely. It speaks to the illusion of the American Dream. We all strive for greatness and not all of us are able to get there. With the marginalization of the middle class and the sacrifice of people for profit in the name of “progress” I think it speaks very strongly to modern society and how we define ourselves and our successes. It also speaks to the “death of the salesman” and what happens when a person is no longer essential and when one’s lively hood is eliminated. Willy lives in a lot of his memories in this play, because that was a time when he felt he WAS these things he dreams about…

Can you share some memorable moments from the rehearsal period?

There was a lot of crying at the first rehearsal…. and watching the technical side of the show come to life (the lights and the set) was like watching a master painter creating a magnificent canvas. Ron and Ian and Stephen and Steven did SUCH a fantastic job with the tech side of things on this show. The actors are also amazing so it makes for a memorable show all around.

As you watched your opening weekend, what resonates with you from the audience?

The laughing and then the silence. It seems that with this particular audience you can travel along Willy’s emotional journey by listening to the audience. They are silent and focused in the more dramatic parts and laughing during the more lighthearted parts of the show (no it’s not all depressing…:)). It is a bit of an emotional roller coaster (as I think all great plays are), and it is wonderful to hear the audience react to those highs and lows.

What do you think you and the actors have accomplished?

We have created such a wonderful little family of misfits toys:) I know that is the wrong show, but we are such a friendly and supporting group with this show. This show is ALL about the LOVE within this family and how it plays out for each of it’s members. I think that the brothers (the actors Keith and Jonathon) have created such a real life brotherhood…. Greg and Mary Alice sit on the bed before each show and talk with one another. There is a real ensemble feeling with this show (even with all the ancillary roles) and a real sense of family. There is a gambit of human emotion in this piece and they have performed this emotionally charged piece with such finesse. I told them to never stop digging and to never stop pushing. This is not necessarily a piece you can get totally comfortable in.

The Snow Queen (Cleveland Premiere) – Near West Theatre

Near West Theatre
Community (Youth) Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: September 21, 2015

Here we are. The first Children’s musical production in the new home of Near West Theatre. To inaugurate the first full season in the impressive 7.3 million dollar theatre, they have chosen The Snow Queen. Yes, it is true that the mega-hit movie Frozen is based on this story, that was originally a Danish fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen, published December 1844. But, you literally need to “let it go”, because this musical is a rock adaptation entitled “The Snow Queen: A New Musical”. It was produced by San Jose Repertory Theatre in December 2013, with music by Haddon Kime, book by Rick Lombardo and Kirsten Brandt, and lyrics by Kime, Brandt, and Lombardo. This adaptation received positive reviews at the 2014 New York Musical Theatre Festival.

This production is beautifully directed by Kelcie Nicole Dugger. She, along with her production team, have created an edgy, risky, and thrilling production. The cast ranges in age from 9 to 15, however, many members of the cast transcend their age with ferocious performances.

The story follows two young teens Gerda (Morgan Williams) and Kai (Cole Tarantowski). Kai gets pulled to a darker side by the Snow Queen (Ally Yellets). Even though she is warned not to leave by her Grandmother (Kyanie Vasquez) , Gerda embarks on a raucous journey to save Kai from the Snow Queen (Ally Yellets). Along the way, Gerda meets many incredible characters who either help or hinder her objective to save Kai.

Williams (Gerda) leads this cast with a full arsenal of musical strength. Her acting and singing are tremendous. She has professional concentration as she navigates through this story of love and friendship. Delivering emotional responses and lyrical gifts along the way. Truly a breakout performance for this young lady. Taking on his first lead role, Tarantowski (Kai) moves full steam ahead in this challenging piece. He is delightfully youthful in his initial scenes, and deftly handles transitioning to a darker personality, slowly allowing himself to lose his grip on own moral structure. His vocals convey a honest interpretation of every moment. Great job. Yellets powers her way through this musical with an operatic quality, and does an excellent job of enhancing the haunting melodies of the Snow Queen with alluring tonality. She handles the rhythmically difficult song “Balance” like a pro. Bravo.

Peppering the journey are an array of wonderful characters that spice up the story. There are plenty of opportunities for these characters to be featured, and the following actors rose to the occasion. Nate Jorgensen tore the house down as The Troll. His wild abandonment was contagious and very fun to watch. Jim Carey would have been proud. Rachel Johanek created a freaky conniving Garden Witch. She had a full scene in which her character was spot on in developing what first seems like a friend, and then turns a bit creepy with her desire to trick Gerda. Elliot Lockshine helped close out Act I with a bang as The Old Crow. His accent and physicality were a delight, and his comedic timing is to be commended. Corrine Howery is a scream as A Princess. She certainly knows how to throw a fabulous dance party. Her comedic chops are huge, and her stage presence ups up captivating the audience. Abby Golden blows up on stage as a rocker chick who resembles Pink, and a punk rock band. She excitingly switches personalities on a dime, creating a hot mess of fun and craziness as The Robber Girl. Felix Albino creates one of the most beautiful and honest moments in the show with his ballad “Aurora”. His unique voice glides through the song of inspiration and direction effortlessly, delivering a beautiful result. Jocelyn Perkins delivers a power punch to the production as Woman of the North. Her vocals and inspired acting drive the song “Breathe” into the 11 o’clock number we all live for.

The fun, or good work, doesn’t stop there. Vasquez serves up a wonderful and protective Grandmother. A feisty and festive presence. Natalie Surdy provides The Rose with a delicate and beautiful texture, and has some vocal punch as well. Spencer Skok handles The River well, providing a nice scene. Cole Emerine, Nadia Evans, and Sophie Hull create a delightful scene of talkative flowers that unknowingly provide the backdrop for Gerda to find her way. Zoe Hess as Lady Crow goes one on one with The Old Crow with hilarious results. CJ Jorgensen provides some bumbling comic relief as A Prince. Angellise Irizarry provides some intense moments as Robber Girl’s Mother. You do not want to mess with her. Special shout out to Kylie Colvin and Hannah Horton for making their Pigeon scene a show stopper. Their timing is impeccable, and they deliver a comedic knock-out punch.

The rest of the cast is fierce, firing on all engines. Edie Barcelona, Raya Ervin, Robin Ervin, Micah Evans, Louis Johnson II, Bryen Kilbane, Nora Loughridge van Lier, Sophia O’Leary, Finn O’Malia, Lillian Ross, Angel Savacool, and Spencer Skok. They round out the company as Storytellers, Snowflake Soldiers, The Robber Gang, Birds, and Castle Workers.

Director Kelcie Nicole Dugger has outdone herself. As the first children’s production in the new theatre, she has set a beautiful bar, and greatly enhanced the product of Near West Theatre. Dugger, also co-created the choreography with Sara Danielle Chapman, that provided fluid movement to the story. JT Buck leads a fabulous band, and did a stellar job of teaching this intense musical to the young kids. Bravo on finding that connection and empowering them to display their talents. Joining Buck is Rachel Woods on Keyboard 2, a Buddy Rich like Patrick Altmire on Drums, and Ryan McDermott on Guitar. T. Paul Lowry handles the Production Manager skills with aplomp. Josh Padgett creates his usual top notch theatrical magic as Technical Director. Perren Hedderson assists on the tech side well, and creates some vivid and interesting video additions. Scenic and Property Designs were created by the brilliant Laura Carlson Tarantowski. She is arguably one of the best designers in the region. Costume Designer Jen Ryan provided very interesting costumes, topped off by her Snow Queen creation. Rob Wachala left no fog machine or intelligent lighting unturned, as he created a fabulous mystical world. Sound Designer Joshua Caraballo created a solid design, with sound effects and many mics that seemlessly assist in understanding and enhancing the story. Props Master Jessica Rosenlieb was right on target. Stage Manager Kate Atherton kept things right on track. Scene changes were flawless. Assistant Production Manager Ryan Wolf called a great show.

This is a beautiful start to a new season. Support the kids.


Chris Richards – Theatre Hot Flash

By: Kevin Kelly
September 18, 2015


Cleveland, OH, September 18, 2015 –Cleveland’s Kevin Spacey, CHRIS RICHARDS , will star in Playhouse on Park’s fall production of TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE as Mitch Albom. TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE will be directed by Sasha Brätt and run September 30 through October 18, 2015. Tickets are currently on sale.

Chris Richards is a New York/Cleveland actor who has worked extensively in theater, film, and television. OffBroadway/NYC credits include: The Pearl ( The Philanderer , The Misanthrope 2011, Lucille Lortel Award Nomination Best Revival), The Mint ( I Am A Camera , Meeting Molnar ), Project Shaw ( The League of Youth world premiere), and The Gallery Players (Richard II in Richard II ). Regional: 8 at Cleveland Play

House (2015 Regional Tony Award Winner), Great Lakes Theater (three seasons), DOBAMA Theater ( Gutenberg! The Musical! , Sons of The Prophet ), The Festival Stage of WinstonSalem ( The Last Night ofBallyhoo ), The Barn Theater, Lakeland Civic (Biff in Death of a Salesman ), The Beck Center, Ohio, Shakespeare Festival, and Porthouse. Film/TV: Bachelorette (with Kirsten Dunst), “Madam Secretary”

(CBS), “The Knick” (Cinemax), “Orange is the New Black” (Netflix).

For his work in Sons of the Prophet at DOBAMA in 2013, the Cleveland Critics Circle awarded Mr. Richards Best Actor in a NonMusical Superior Achievement. Plain Dealer theatre critic Andrea Simakis wrote of his performance, “Richards is superb…he really should be famous already,” while Bob Abelman of The NewsHerald

stated it was a “brilliant depiction” in his review. Cleveland Stage Alliance resident critic called Richards’ acting, “a truly remarkable piece of work, a focused presentation of character that is rarely seen, and the handling of the physical and

emotional journey of his charcter was breathtaking….Chris Richards make[s] being an actor real.”

An equally acclaimed comic actor, said of his OffBroadway

debut: “Richards…deserves special mention. His physical comedy shines.” For his work in Gutenberg! The Musical! at Dobama, critic

Keith A. Joseph stated in Cleveland SCENE magazine that, “Richards…is akin to a youthful one man band.” As half of the cast of Gutenberg! The Musical!, he displayed comic genius and verbal dexterity and brought to mind a dozen stars, from Jerry Lewis to Tom Hanks.

The actor recently moved back to his Cleveland where he is thrilled to pursue the next chapter of his acting career, after a successful five years in New York City. While in New York, Richards earned both his AEA and SAG memberships, signed with NYC representation (which he still maintains even though he is a Cleveland based

actor now), and studied improv at Upright Citizens Brigade. Local Cleveland audiences

can see him this season as Alan/David Zuckerman in Exquisite Potential with Interplay Jewish Theater (November 2015) and John Jones in the regional premiere of The Realistic Joneses with DOBAMA Theater (January/February 2016).

Playhouse on Park is managed under the direction of Playhouse Theatre Group, Inc. Playhouse on Park opened its doors in the fall of 2009 and presented a full season of plays, musicals, comedy nights, improv, children’s shows and dance. 201516

marks their seventh season of professional, affordable entertainment

and educational programming in the greater Hartford area. More information about the theater is available

online at

A Comedy of Tenors – Cleveland Play House

Cleveland Play House
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: September 17, 2015

This show is very, very funny. This is a sequel to Ken Ludwig’s “Lend me a Tenor”, however, this show has legs of its own, and is just as entertaining for a newcomer to the characters that are revisited. What a beautiful way for Laura Kepley to start off the programming for the 100th season.

Playbill shares the following synopsis of the evening’s festivities.

“Amidst the glitz and glamour of 1930’s Paris, producer–and former mayor of Cleveland–Henry Saunders is attempting to stage the concert of the century with three of the world’s greatest opera sensations on the bill,” according to press notes. “Straightaway, Saunders hits a snag when Italian superstar and notorious male diva, Tito Merelli, threatens to quit the show after finding his wife, the hot-blooded Maria, in the arms of another man. But as in any good comedy, things aren’t always what they seem. Reluctantly thrust into the action, Saunders’ ex-assistant Max tries to navigate the situation as Tito and Maria’s passionate and fiery relationship begins to cause chaos on an operatic level. As opening night draws near, flaring tempers, mistaken identities, and bedroom hijinks bring new meaning to the phrase ‘the show must go on.’

Embodying these hilarious characters are Ron Orbach (Saunders), Antoinette LaVecchia (Maria), Bradley Dean (Tito/Beppo), Kristen Martin (Mimi), Bobby Conte Thornton (Carlo Nucci), Tony Nominated Rob McClure (Max) and Lisa Brescia (Tatiana Racón). All are directed by Stephen Wadsworth, who crushes the material by creating a very humorous evening of great funny feels. His sense of timing, physicality, and the understanding of timeless classic comedic bits, create magic.

Orbach is a scream as he huffs, puffs and exasperates all over the stage. LaVecchia is a fierce hot flash of Italian sizzle. Looking sharp at every turn, she is a beautiful cog in the comedic wheel. Dean is the rudder of this hilarious romp. His command of comedic timing, dynamic energy, and crisp characterizations is a joy to behold, and very funny. Martin is a beautiful highlight to this cast. She has classic Carol Burnett timing, and a dash of Chenowith, that provides some great chuckles throughout the evening. Conte provides plenty of matinee idol presence, while he effectively handles the romance and tenor diva shtick to great delight. McClure is a theatrical gazelle as he bounds and leaps around the stage with wild abandon. All the while exercising his incredible comedic chops. He is so much fun to watch, as he navigates through this insane plot. Racon looks like she came out of a Bond film. She serves severe entertaining Russian angst, and handles the comedic hardballs thrown at her with aplomb.

My favorite scenes are the wedding, and the slap off between Mimi and Carlo, which is just brilliant physical comedy.

The production scenic design by Charlie Corcoran is fabulous, lighting design by David Lander is spot on, a luscious costume design by William Ivey Long, and deft sound design by Joshua Horvath.

Jennifer Matheson Collins, stage manager, and assistant stage manager Tom Humes, called a terrific show.

If you need a good laugh, and don’t mind silly humor, this is your prescription

Or, – Dobama Theatre

Dobama Theatre
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: September 17, 2015

When Liz Duffy Adams’ “Or,” premiered Off-Broadway in 2009, Charles Isherwood, from the New York Times, was so right about the inventive playwright.

“Her language has a natural period flavor and a formidable wit; her characters possess the spark of fully animated spirits: and she weaves into her story both biographical detail and cultural context with grace.”

Or’ is based loosely on true events, and takes place (mostly) during one night in the life of Aphra Behn, real life poetess, spy, and soon to be the world’s first professional female playwright. Sprung from debtors’ prison after a disastrous overseas mission, Aphra is desperate to get out of the spy trade. Along the way, Aphra tries, kinda, to resist the charms of her new love – actress Nell Gwynne, save King Charles II’s life, win a double agent his pardon, and finish her latest play all in one night. Cue the Restoration romp. and GO.

And GO they do. Quite simply, led by the sharp and witty direction of Shannon Sindelar, this production hits a grand slam. Bases are loaded with three phenomenal actors:

Lara Mielcarek: Aphra Behn
Natalie Green: Nell Gwynne & others
Geoff Knox: Charles II & Others

Sindelar comes up to bat with a clear vision and inventive focus. She positions herself and points to where she will hit the theatrical ball into the outfield because she is confident and well aware of the ballpark. We find Green on first base. She masterfully handles Nell Gwynne as the sharp-tongued diva who drives her carriage on the other side of the road. Well developed fiery character. Green also has fun as a bent over bawdy maid, and a jailer. On second base is the fierce Knox, who emulates a theatrical American Ninja Warrior, through intelligent acting choices. He breathes life into the sexually charged William Scott, the regal King Charles II, and brings down the house, with what seems to be a rapid monologue performed in one breath, as Lady Davenant. That scene alone causes one to ask “I’ll have what she’s having”.

On third, is the magnificent Lara Mielcarek. She displays a beautiful creation of Aphra. It is my humble opinion, that Mielcarek is one of the greatest actors that Cleveland has to offer. Her execution is flawless. Her timing sublime. Her acting is a tsunami of theatrical entertainment. Watching her manipulate and transverse among these characters and her own inner demons is fabulous.

It is definitely worth a trip to Dobama to see these actors go at it. Artisitic Director Nathan Motta should be applauded for starting off the season right, and his continued use of Sindelar. Ben Needham’s set beautifully designed and aptly constructed for the mayhem of doors and closets. Technical Director David Tilk bringing all the elements professionally together as usual. Marcus Dana’s lighting offers a variety of looks from full on room views, to artistic alley ways of light which highlight emotional journeys. Richard Ingraham brings a solid sound design. Tesia Dugan Benson nailed the period costumes and provided well thought out fast change artistry. Stage Manager Megan Mingus and ASM Rocky Enclada

Our Town – Blank Canvas Theatre

Blank Canvas Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: August 18, 2015

There is something very beautiful going on at Blank Canvas Theatre. Artistic Director and Theatre Founder Patrick Ciamacco has assembled a strong cast to present the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Our Town, by Thornton Wilder. Our Town is a 1938 three-act play that tells the story of the fictional American small town of Grover’s Corners, between 1901 and 1913, through the everyday lives of its citizens. The play is divided into three acts: Act One is Daily Life, where we meet the townspeople and especially young Emily Webb (Becca Frick) and George Gibbs (Perren Hedderson). Act Two is Love and Marriage, where Emily and George decide to get married. Act Three is Death and Dying, which is a reflection of loss and ongoing life. All along this journey are the residents of Grover’s Corners, who provide the physical and emotional backdrop for this particular voyage of existence.

While waiting for the play to begin, chirping birds fill the theatre with a calming air. Inviting us to put our feet up and relax and wait for Andy Griffith to stroll in whistling his famous sitcom anthem. In front of the audience are black walls and floor, and just two tables with 4 chairs apiece. Very close to literally a blank canvas. And, that is all you get. However, with those tools the cast creates bedroom window conversations, meetings, kitchen tables, a cemetery and a wedding. The cast mimes everything else, whether it is a horse, or sucking a straw drinking a fantastic concoction made at the local ice cream parlor. But, I shouldn’t have said, “That is all you get”, because what fills the evening is an array of actors who engagingly build the world of Grover’s Corners.

Darius Stubbs starts your excursion as the Stage Manager. I do understand that Morgan Freeman is the “go to” guy for human underscoring. But, I call bullshit! I want Stubbs to narrate my whole life, and take over Neil deGrasse Tyson’s spaceship and explain to me why Pluto isn’t a fucking planet anymore. The reason I say that is that Stubbs is incredibly engaging. His truth honed performance handles the narration and characterization of this piece with supreme charming resonance. His opening and closing of each act, provide beautiful bookends to a piece of classic theatre that makes you smile, warms your heart, and eventually, makes you fight to keep your tears from invading your cheeks.

The love interest is played in spectacular fashion by Frick and Hedderson. Frick practically glows in the non-complicated lighting that keep this production simple and real. She has a beautiful manner and truth about her, as she progresses through her life cycle. All the while, displaying a deftly nuanced performance. Hedderson is so real and grounded, his George resonates with every soulful down to earth individual that you have ever met. Providing such an open and caring persona, it is easy to meld into his world and experience his growth, his joy, and eventually his pain. A beautiful performance.

There are two sets of parents that are prominently featured in this play. Both couples are portrayed with homespun wholesomeness. As stated in the program, we find Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs played by John J Polk and Laura Starnik. These are two mighty fine performances. Polk portrays his character with an authentic texture. You believe him and every emotion he is asked to interpret. Whether caring about the family or handling the inevitable loss, Polk stays true in classic form. Starnik is in a razor sharp focus in this production. I can actually see her regenerating herself emotionally like a transformer. She is steadfast and solid as she traverses the seemingly mundane daily chores of life, but provides an emotional excursion.

Mr. and Mrs. Webb, played by Lance King and Lynna Metrisin respectively, seem to have come out of the pages of this script reliving past lives. Totally turning over their performances with an honest, surface edge, and making the day to day activities have purpose, with flawless execution. Both actors are in fine form as they interpret their characters. You see love. You see concern. You see pain. You see life. Beautiful characterizations.

The rest of the cast is well etched into the American landscape of Grover’s Corners. The young folk have incredible focus and professionalism. Kudos to Joseph Daso (Wally Webb), Cara Myers (Si Crowell), Colin Myers (Joe Crowell), and Makenna Weyburne (Rebecca Gibbs). What is left is a lively, or Grover lively, bunch of citizens who round out the town with their own brand of honest portrayals. Nate Summers, as Howie Newsome, made me want to give his horse, Bessie, a carrot when he passed by me. Kevin Myers turns in a solid Professor Willard and Joe Stoddard. Len Lieber endearingly wobbles his way as Simon Stimson. Sharron DeCosta gets the Chatty Kathy award for giving Mrs. Soames realness and energy. Constable Warren, who has to be Republican, is given life by Christopher Fortunato. And Brett Heidinger nicely completes the picture as Sam Craig.

Director Pat Ciamacco has produced a great expedition to Grover’s Corners. Casting is solid, and the pace of the show is true and honest. Each act was over before I knew it, and that kept the tale alive and relevant. Ciamacco also provided the design for Lighting, Set and Sound. Each was well done, and provided a classic showcase. Music Director Matthew Dolan made sure the choir sounded great. I thought, “Oh boy, here we go”, but the sound was appropriate and effective. Brittany Gaul called a tight show and certainly added to the rhythm of the performance. Luke Scattergood provided comfortable costumes that enhanced each character.

I really enjoyed seeing the show. The last time I saw a production of Our Town was over 20 years ago. It felt good to be fighting that tear. I love when a production moves me. And this one did. Bravo.

Hiatus is over. New Reviews Coming Soon.

By: Kevin Kelly
February 25, 2015

So far this year, I have been treading the boards. But my schedule is opening up a bit to resume my theatre blog with gusto.

Looking forward to seeing fantastic performances again.

Although, I hit the boards again from April 24th to May 17th, 2015, to play Lord Farquaad in Shrek, The Musical at the brand new Near West Theatre Building in Gordon Square Arts District.

Exciting times.


Violet at Lakeland Civic Theatre

Lakeland Civic Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: February 6, 2015

Once again, Producer/Director Martin Friedman and his artistic team, have created a beautiful musical production at Lakeland Civic Theatre. Coming off the heals of stellar musical productions such as Next to Normal and Light in the Piazza, Friedman nails it once again with a fantabulous interpretation of the musical Violet, with music by Jeanine Tesori, libretto by Brian Crawley,and based on the short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts. It tells the story of a young disfigured woman who embarks on a journey by bus from her farm in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, all the way to Tulsa, Oklahoma in order to be healed by an animated evangelical preacher.

When I think of flowers, and the beautiful colors that permeate a fantastic floral arrangement, there is no doubt that when violets are present, they stand out to me as an incredibly vibrant presence. That would be an understatement, when it pertains to the performance of Neely Gevaart** as Violet. Among a fantastic arrangement of talented actors, Gevaart is a revelation. Her beautiful interpretation of this damaged and emotionally wrought character is truly a gift. From the moment she sings, you realize this is going to be good, really good. Every actor has a moment in his or her career, where all the planets align, and a supernova is born. This is such a case. Her voice is spectacular in this role, and transports everyone within earshot to personally connect with this heart wrenching, and eventually, heart warming story. Her acting is sublime. It all combines for one hell of a performance, as she makes this role her own and incomparable in my eyes. It is hers. She owns it.

As Flick and Monty, Eugene Sumlin and Eric Fancher**, remind me of the tortoise and the hare. Each pursuing Violet in different ways. Sumlin more tempered and slowly moving and opening up emotionally to obtain his true desire. Fancher, a power keg of sexuality, who is often a missile without a tracking device, more like a notching device. Both actors portray excellent true characters that are charged with a desire to be with Violet. Sumlin displays great execution in his delivery and journey. His more tempered voice, is full of emotion and matches his more subtle approach. Fancher is a hot bed of fiery vocals and a strong sense of center and passion, and fierce stage presence.

Jade McGee as Young Violet was a delight. Beautiful in stature and voice, she created a lovely fragile and poetic character. She handled the vocals like a pro.(This role is split with another actress, Emily Kenville, playing alternate dates). A great surprise in this production is Daniel Simpson portraying the Father. Where the hell has this guy been? Simpson has an engaging voice, which is emotionally charged. Adding in his very honest characterization, his performance is a beautiful addition to the evening. Robert Pierce kills it as the Preacher. With high hair and promenade steps for days, he whirls a feverish pitch in his vocals, but then takes us to a more sober and incredibly effective reveal. Great work. Once again, Nicole Sumlin* takes us to church and back again as she provides Lula, the lead vocalist of the Preacher’s choir, a voice of heavenly gold and rocks the house. Bernadette Hisey works the Old Lady bit to perfection. Great choices on funny and serious moments.

The rest of the ensemble is terrific. Clear focus, strong vocals, and cemented characters.Those talented actors are Stephanie Harden, Will Sanborn (charming bus driver, and attention to detail like checking on the passengers in the rear view mirror) , Adam Edward Shimko, Sara Danielle Chapman (who brings some Lady Day realness to her solo), Ashley Bossard, Andrea Belser, Joanna May Hunkins (playing a waitress I would not tip), Sharron MacPherson Foxx, Antoinette Kula, Alicia O’Neill, and Joseph Alvey.

Director Martin Friedman is fabulous. There, I said it. Musical Director Jordan Cooper brings his unique musical talents to the forefront once again, with kick ass direction and execution. Sound Designer R. Eric Simna provided an excellent balance. Costume Designer Tesia Benson rocked the Violet world with great choices and looks. Scenic and Lighting Designer Trad A Burns, once again brings incredible originality and conceptual brilliance to the boards. His Birch tree bordered set, with a wooden racked stage provides all that is necessary to frame the story being told. Production Stage Manager Nichole Venci called a great show. Additional Choreography provided by mulit-talented Katie Nabors.

This is a beautiful ride. So, take the ride to Lakeland Civic Theatre and experience a great production, and vibrant performance of a most gorgeous Violet.

2014 Recognitions:
(TPOG) Theatrical Performance Of Greatness

By: Kevin Joseph Kelly
Published: January 2, 2015

So, here we are. My first year of observing theatre from a reviewer standpoint. It has been an amazing journey. But, what I enjoyed most about this year is going to new theatres and experiencing new actors. It turned out to be quite a beautiful year. So, in the tradition of year-end acknowledgements, here are the highlights for 2014.

NOTE: “Rising to the Top” denotes the top recognition for each award.


Andrew Gombas (Seminar, Love in Pieces, A Civil War Christmas)
Geoff Knox (Twelfth Night, Kin)
Joe Pine (Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, The Glass Menagerie, The School for Wives)
Tom Kondilas (The Pillowman)
Dana Hart ( Heartbreak House, St Nicholas, Terminus)
Perren Hedderson (One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
Brian Pedaci (Spirits to Enforce)
Robert Hawkes (The Pillowman)
Aaron Elersich (The Great Gatsby)
Ray Caspio (Code)

Rising to the Top:

Dramatic – Matt O’Shea (Belleville, The Aliens)
Comedic – David Bugher (Spirits to Enforce)



Anne McEvoy (August: Osage County, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
Carly Germany (Voodoo Macbeth, Belleville)
Chris Sebert (American Falls, Ancestra)
Llewie Nunez (Love in Pieces, Bus Stop, Belleville)
Colleen Longshaw (Made in America)
Tess Burgler (Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, The Glass Menagerie, Twelfth Night, The School for Wives)
Valarie Kilmer (Huck Finn, Code, Tingle Tangle)
Sally Groth (Ancestra)
Lara Knox (The Norwegians)
Laura Perotta, Dorothy Silver (night’ Mother)
Bernadette Clemens (Woman and Scarecrow)

Rising to the Top:

Dramatic – Derdriu Ring (Woman and Scarecrow)
Comedic – Dede Klein (Don’t Dress for Dinner, The Glass Menagerie)



Eric Van Baars (Oliver)
Greg Violand (My Fair Lady)
Matthew Ryan Thompson (Mary Poppins, Forever Plaid)
Pat Miller (Title of Show, High Fidelity, Titus)
Matt O’Shea (Titus, A Civil War Christmas)
Brian Altman (South Pacific, Forever Plaid)
Dan Folino (The Frogs)
Ian Atwood (Company)
Pat Ciamacco (High Fidelity)
Eric Fancher (The Frogs)
Dana Hart (Titus, Ring of Fire)

Rising to the Top:

Dramatic: Andrew Gombas (A Civil War Christmas)
Comedic and Vocally: Shane O’Neill (High Fidelity, Forever Plaid, and the vocally stunning Light in the Piazza)



Caitlin Houlihan (Carrie)
Alison Garrigan (Titus)
Genna-Paige Kanago (Carrie)
Juliette Regnier (A Civil War Christmas)
Katherine DeBoer (Carrie, Mary Poppins)
Nicole Sumlin (A Civil War Christmas, The Frogs)
Sally Groth (A Civil War Christmas)
Sandra Emerick (The LIght in the Piazza)
Leslie Andrews (High Fidelity, Young Frankenstein)
Sara Masterson (Carrie)
Rebecca Pitcher (Mary Poppins)

Rising to the Top:

Dramatic: Helen Todd (Sunset Boulevard)
Comedic: Amiee Collier (Mary Poppins, Young Frankenstein, Titus, and the all-encompassing performance in Sunday in the Park with George)



Rising to the Top:

Caris Collins (A Civil War Christmas)



Jordan Cooper
Brad Wyner
Lawrence Wallace
Bryan Bird
Nathan Motta

Rising to the Top:

Larry Goodpaster



Greg Daniels
Mary Ann Black
Jessica Atwood

Rising to the Top:

Martin Cespedes



David Tilk
Patrick Ciamacco

Rising to the Top:

Joseph Carmola



Jeff Herrmann
Ron Newell
Cameron Caley Michalak
Aaron Benson
Patrick Ciamacco
Laura Carlson Tarantowski

Rising to the Top:

Trad A Burns



Marcus Dana
Ben Gantose
Terrii Wachala
Robert Peck
Russ Borski
Corey Molner
Rob Wachala

Rising to the Top:

Trad A Burns



Carlton Guc
Eric Simna
Patrick Ciamacco

Rising to the Top:

Richard B. Ingraham



Megan Mingus
Libby White
Brittany Gaul
Joel Rathbone
Curt Arnold

Rising to the Top:

Sarah Lynne Nicholas



Tom Kondilas
Ian Hinz

Rising to the Top:

Mike Tujaj



Rising to the Top:

P.J. Toomey



Aimee Kluiber
Inda Blatch-Gieb
Tesia Dugan Benson
Luke Scattergood

Rising to the Top:

Jenniver Sparano




The Little Foxes at the Cleveland Play House directed by Laura Kepley


Les Miserables at Great Lakes directed by Victoria Bussert



Christine Howey (Exact Change)

Ray Caspio (Tingle Tangle)



From Love in Pieces (David Hansen and Carrie Williams in the bedroom wrestling for power)

From The Frogs (Mitchell Fields and Michael Regnier in a face off between Shakespeare and Shaw)







Jeremy Paul (Code)
Nancy Cates (The Glass Menagerie)
Pandora Robertson (Woman and Scarecrow)
Patrick Ciamacco (One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
Scott Plate (night’, Mother)
Terry Burgler (The School For Wives)
Alison Garrigan (Talespinner)
Clyde Simon (Terminus)
Sarah May (Life with Father)
Nathan Motta (The Aliens)
Geoffrey Hoffman (The Pillowman)
Raymond Bodkin (American Falls)
Martin Friedman (August: Osage County)

Rising to the Top:

Director of Play

Matthew Wright (Spirits to Enforce) written by Mickle Maher performed at Cleveland Public Theatre

Best Play

Kin at Dobama, written by Bathsheba Doran and directed by Shannon Sindelar



Martin Cespedes (Forever Plaid)
Kristin Netzband (Guys and Dolls)
Patrick Ciamacco (Hair)
Scott Plate (Mary Poppins)
Terry Kent (Oliver, My Fair Lady)
Pierre-Jacques Brault (Sunset Boulevard)
Martin Friedman (The Light in the Piazza, The Frogs)
Scott Spence (Title of Show)
Craig J George (Titus: A Grand and Gory Rock Musical)

Rising to the Top:

Best Musical

TITUS: A GRAND AND GORY ROCK MUSICAL performed at Cleveland Public Theatre
Conceived and Directed by Craig George
Music by Dennis Yurich and Alison Garrigan
Musical Director: Brad Wyner
Choreographer: Martin Cespedes


Martin Friedman for The Light in the Piazza at Lakeland Civic Theatre


It has been an incredible year of talent and versatility for all the Cleveland artists. I look forward to a new year of WOW.

Kevin Kelly