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Billy Elliot – The Musical at Beck Center for the Arts

Beck Center for the Arts
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: July 16, 2016

It seems a bit odd to write a review a week after you see a show. But, it is interesting when you think about what stuck with you and resonates. Last weekend, I attended the opening night of BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL at Beck. I had never seen the musical before, but I did remember the 2000 movie. I was also thinner then, but I digress. The film is set in north-eastern England during the 1984 -85 coal miners’ strike. The movie invaded the film festivals and garnered much warranted attention and critical success. Then in 2005, a musical version was created,which debuted on Broadway in 2008 with Book and Lyrics by Lee Hall and Music by Sir Elton John. The Musical garnered ten Tony Awards and ten Drama Desk Awards including, in each case, Best Musical.

To explain a bit more of the story of BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL, it portrays an important time in the life of 11-year-old Billy Elliot (Seth Judice), a coal miner’s son in Northern England. His life is forever changed one day when he stumbles upon a ballet class during his weekly boxing lesson. Before long, he finds himself in dance, demonstrating the kind of raw talent seldom seen by the class’ exacting instructor, Mrs. Wilkinson (a fierce Katherine DeBoer*). With a tart tongue and a never-ending stream of cigarettes in her hand, Mrs. Wilkinson’s zest for teaching is revived when she sees Billy’s potential. However, his family finds the whole idea repugnant. The result is a powerful story of acceptance, tolerance, and love.

There are some fantastic performances surrounding the world of Billy Elliot. Katherine DeBoer as Mrs. Wilkinson, is certainly at the forefront of a talented company of actors. The moment she walks on stage, stands with that cigarette hanging out of her mouth, without saying a word, she communicates everything you need to know about this shot and a beer gal. DeBoer’s accent is impeccable and her comedic chops are in fine tuned order, as she gets laughs from precise delivery. But, the other side is the strength she shows in her defense of Billy. Providing a characterization in which you believe this woman could kick the ass of every coal miner in town.

A welcome addition to the Cleveland scene is the arrival of Allen O’Reilly*. What a pleasure to watch a well crafted portrayal of Billy’s father. The arc of the connection that he has with his son is a powerful journey, and resonates with anyone who has not been accepted by family and/or friends. In the creative hands of O’Reilly, his transformation into a loving parent who moves past his own inherent prejudice is masterfully delivered.

The last time I saw Riley Ewing, he was running around the stage in his underwear humping a pink pig pinata in the Beck production Heathers, the Musical. He was hilarious. So in some ways, I was not expecting the exceptional darker and tormented side of Ewing as Billy’s’ brother Tony. An accomplished actor can make you laugh, and when required, create a hard shell of raw emotion buried deep within years of disappointment and personal pain, as required from this story. Ewing captures and executes a brilliant depiction. So much so, when the time comes that love wins, he adds a critical layer to Billy’s victory of self accomplishment.

Hester Lewellen is fantastic as Billy’s Grandma. She is a master of comedy, and delivers a touching and funny dose of Grandma stills live at home antics. Bob Goddard gives us some Mickey Goldmill realness, with an english twist as Billy’s boxing coach George. Jade McGee as Debbie, creates a young lady who is definitely in touch with her feelings, and definitely would like to touch Billy. Funny bits. I have to say one of my personal favorites is Mr. Braithwaite, played with embellished veracity by Robert Pierce. Starting off as a rehearsal pianist, the audience has no idea what is about to happen. Once the accompanist shackles are lifted, Pierce turns in a dance performance during “Born to Boogie” that is a combination of an exploding gay car bomb, and Bob Fosse on top of a ballet bar. And the best part is that Pierce is a fierce dancer. Bravo and HILARIOUS.

Brittni Shambaugh Addison provides heartbreaking vocals and a beautiful presence as Billy’s Dead Mum. Creating a bond that is crucial to the story. Michael Hinton brings his ballet chops into play and halves a beautiful and powerful pas de deux as Older Billy. His line and fluid movement is captivating during the number. Marcus Martin as Big Davey lends his dynamic stage presence to help lead the miners in a rousing voice. Amiee Collier not only portrays the Clipboard Woman, she IS the Clipboard Woman.

Now we move to the two youngest principle performers in the show. My hat is off to Maurice Kimball IV, who plays Michael. In the story, Michael is Billy’s friend who is gay, and has a crush on Billy. As an actor, Kimball is fearless. Playing a gay character is challenging for anyone, but as a younger actor, probably represents a family decision as well. With that said, Kimball dances and sings his face off. He does a great job entertaining us, and executes a very nuanced performance during an emotional scene that involves revealing his true feelings towards Billy.

At the center of this musical firestorm is Seth Judice as Billy. This is not a role for the faint of heart, nor a person who doesn’t have the physicality to handle the challenges that the role demands. When you think of Broadway, there were 4 Matilda’s that handled that title role, and 3 Billy Elliots were on hand for the Great White Way. At Beck, there is one to handle the entire run. So it is obvious that Superman is not the only one made of steel. In the midst of the incredibly strong character actors around him, it is a challenge to find the level that is needed to match his surrounding actors, however, Judice holds his own. For myself, I found myself getting emotional in Act II quite a bit. If Judice didn’t do his job, I would not have had tears streaming down my face.He did do his job. His dancing was athletic, courageous, and fearless. The moment where Billy first executes a sweeping display of ballet which ends in a classic ballet pose in front of Mrs. Wilkinson, takes your breathe away. And if I ever did an aerial the way this kid can, I think I would literally bring the house down.

Major shout out to the Ballet Corps: Katie Arendt, Kaia Atzberger, Edie Barcelona, Anna Clawson, Aubrey Kocis, Keira Leland, Carolina Manfredi, Olivia Martinez, and Alessandra Rovito. Beautiful work.

The Adult Ensemble fills out the production nicely with some taking over some roles as well. Brittni Shambaugh (Dead Mum), Amiee Collier (Clipboard Woman), DeLee Cooper (Lesley), Danny DiMarino, Dylan Freeman, Greg Good, Michael Hinton (Older Billy), Devon Jordan, Robert Pierce (Mr. Braithwaite), Zachery M. Pytel ( Mr. Wilkinson), Zac Roetter, Will Sanborn, Gabi Shook, Carleigh Spence, and Joe Virgo.

Understudies: for Billy – Maurice Kimball IV, for Michael – Caleb Kocis, for Debbie: Anna Clawson

Artistic Director/Director Scott Spence, Musical Director Larry Goodpaster, and Choreographer Martin Cespedes** once again complete the Beck Center artistic triumphant. Spence brings together a great cast, and a vibrant ensemble. Goodpaster provides music and orchestra that sounds beautiful and balanced. Cespedes did a great job of matching choreography to the abilities of the cast and making it look great. The Ballet corps and Billy were fiercely on point. (See what I did there?)

Production Staff: Stage Manager Diana D’Alessandro called a great show. Assistant Stage Managers: Hayley Baran, Jenna Fink, Andrew Gluvna. Technical Director: Aaron Benson, Lighting Designer: Benjamin Gantose, Costume Design: Aimee Kluber, Sound Designer: Carlton Guc, Flying Effects: ZFX, Inc.

Overall, this is a darker show that the audience might expect. Act I starts slow, but that is scripted films that are shown to set the time and place. I think audiences might be surprised that this isn’t a brightly lit extravaganza, but a tale set more in reality. Not everyone is perfect, not everyone is straight, and not every decision is easy. Act II delivers the emotional moments for me. I wasn’t blown away by this production, but I left with tremendous respect for the endeavor.

One last thought. During “Express Yourself”, a singing and dancing duet involving Kimball and Judice, I couldn’t help thinking about how powerful the message is in the song. It is a song about finding the strength inside to love yourself enough to be who you are, and also, a song about compassion that people who are different can get along. We can express ourselves, be different, but find a common ground. During our trying time in our country and world, what a more powerful way to communicate that message then through two 12 years olds, singing and dancing and telling the world to get over yourselves.

Heathers – The Musical at Beck Center for the Arts

Beck Center for the Arts
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: June 14, 2016

Isn’t it fun to go to high school and not fit in? Isn’t it fun to get bullied by the jocks? Isn’t it just wonderful to get to sit alone at the cafeteria table, or only be able to join the table filled with the nerds? Do you ever fantasize about being one of the cool kids in school?

These questions encourage students to take different paths to handle this pressure. Some survive, some adapt, some take serious steps to vent, and some don’t quite make it. This all was addressed in the film Heathers, a 1988 American cult black comedy film written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehmann. Then, as all of life should be at some point, this dark tale was adapted into Heathers: The Musical, a rock musical with music, lyrics, and a book by Lawrence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy.

This is the darkly delicious story of Veronica Sawyer (Madeline Krucek), a teenage misfit who hustles her way into the most powerful clique at Westerberg High: the Heathers. (Kayla Heichel, Amy Kohmescher, and Tia Karaplis) Just as she gets comfortable atop the high school food chain, and betrays one of her best friends Martha “Dumptruck” (Molly Millsaps), Veronica falls in love with the dangerously sexy new kid J.D. (Shane Lonergan). Before she gets kicked out of the clique she worked so hard to infiltrate, Veronica decides to bite the bullet and kiss up to the Heathers…but J.D. has another plan.

Quite frankly, Heathers is Heaven. There is sooooooooooooo much delicious debauchery in this show, and fabulous performances to enhance the abundant chicanery. Let’s start with the set designed by Trad A Burns (no period after the A). It reminds me of the result of a love-making session between a Tetris game and a pastel joystick, and at the right moment, it all blew up on stage. All against a palette of high school lockers which remind many of us of the worst days of high school. Mine for sure. Although I was saved because I was a math tutor for the football team, so some big dudes had my back. Sound Designer Carlton Guc does an impressive Sound Design to enhance the audience’s enjoyment of hearing everything beautifully balanced.

The show opens with the kick ass song “Beautiful”, where we get to meet all of these hormonal students. The energy is kinetic and riveting fun. Madeline Krucek as Veronica Sawyer self-actualizes right in front of your face, and when she riffs at the end, i want to throw popcorn all over the theatre and scream “OH HELL YES”. Krucek does a terrific job of portraying the angst of want, and the pain of redemption, all while displaying a voice that is like a vocal all-you-can-eat buffet. And she holds her own quite well against the “Heathers”. And speaking of the Heathers, here they are: Kayla Heichel as Heather Chandler, Amy Kohmescher as Heather McNamara, and Tia Karaplis as Heather Duke. This fierce trio is our answer to national security. Let these bitches defend our borders, and the country will be chanting U! S! A! in no time. Each lady is a weapon of mass entertainment. Beautiful of face, voice and acting chops. Heichel is the head of this group with a commanding presence and talent to match. Kohmescher is also a dynamic presence, along with a face that reminds me of the golden days of Hollywood glamour. Karaplis is a complete bitch, and I couldn’t be happier. She is the last character to turn it around, and throws more shade and attitude than Season 8 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. She kills it.

One of the great surprises of the night is the performance of Molly Millsaps as Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock. Millsaps does a great job giving this belittled character an arc where we can relate. When she sings “Kindergarten Boyfriend”, she slays it, and provides a real sense of pain and loss, within this comedic tornado. And she just does a great job being the odd truck out. Speaking of surprises, can we talk about Riley Ewing and Jonathan Walker White, as Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelly, respectively. OMFG. When these two sing, or I should say perform/slay/kill “Blue”, it is a comedic paradise. It’s as if, John Belushi and Chris Farley, came back as high schoolers and terrorized everyone in sight, to our delight. Ewing and White are hilarious and provide one of the rowdiest and funniest numbers in the show. Truly epic.

Circling around these characters in a calculating way is JD, played with brooding genius by Shane Lonergan. Armed with a dark richness to his character, and a voice that gradually becomes more and more powerful and moving as the show goes on. Great outsider looks, and a sexy dangerous joie de vivre, he perfectly captures the dark side. The duet “Seventeen” between Lonergan and Krucek is absolutely beautiful. But before then, Lonergan cracks us up with “Freeze Your Brain”. Great stuff.

Now it is time for the war horses to shine. Amiee Collier is a scream as Ms. Fleming and Veronica’s Mom. Leading the song “Shine a Light”, her clarion voice does its usual brilliant agenda of entertainment. Paul Floriano brings some fun flair to a trio of roles that perfectly fit into the show. Each one providing fun accoutrements. Matthew Wright also provides a trio of roles which add sass and masculinity, but he rips the roof off of the studio leading the song “Dead Gay Son”. A masterful showman at work.

The rest of the cast is all on point. Zach Landes, Greg Good, Joe Virgo, DeLee Cooper, Kacey Faix, Gabi Shook, and swinging Brianna O’Boyle, bring some major Heather realness to the table.

Artistic Director/Director Scott Spence, Musical Director Larry Goodpaster, and Choreographer Martin Cespedes are once again joined at the hip and provide a solid framework of guidance and support for the cast. Technical Director Aaron Benson professionally pulls all the elements together. Trad A Burns provides great lighting and certainly helps nail the Heathers entrance which if on a float, would win at any Pride event. Aimee Kluiber costumes the festivities with perfect pitch.

This regional premiere is a knock out and sold out. To the lucky that get to see it, that will come as no surprise.

The Toxic Avenger – Cain Park

Cain Park
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: June 11, 2016

If you happen to see a greenish radiation cloud on the east side of Cleveland, possibly Cain Park, I am happy to tell you that this is one radiation treatment you don’t have to avoid. Giggling and Camping its way on stage at the Alma Theatre is the quirky musical The Toxic Avenger. This monstrosity of a production is brought to you by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, who produced the Book and Music respectively, while both bonged their way with the lyrics.

The Toxic Avenger is a 1984 American superhero horror comedy film directed by Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman (credited as Samuel Weil) and written by Kaufman and Joe Ritter. The film was released by Troma Entertainment, known for producing low-budget B-movies with campy concepts and gruesome violence. Virtually ignored upon its first release, The Toxic Avenger caught on with filmgoers after a long and successful midnight movie engagement at the famed Bleeker Street Cinemas in New York City in late 1985. It now is regarded as a cult classic.

Melvin Ferd the Third (Ellis C. Dawson III) wants to clean up Tromaville, the most polluted town in New Jersey. Foiled by the mayor’s (Kate Leigh Michalski) bullies (Marish Burke and Codie Higer), Melvin is dumped into a vat of radioactive toxic waste, only to reemerge as The Toxic Avenger, New Jersey’s first superhero. He’s out to save New Jersey, end global warming, and woo the blind librarian (Natalie Green) in town.

Director and Choreographer Nathan Motta has put together a stellar cast to tell this toxic tale, and delivered camp on every level. Once again, Music Director Jordon Cooper provides brilliant musicianship. Special Effects Designer P. J. Toomey provides highly entertaining and brooding elements to the show. Lighting Designer Trad A Burns (no period after A) creates a neurotic and ominous atmosphere. Costume Designer Tesia Dugan Benson kicks some serious designing ass in this show. Her highlight is the dysfunctional Confrontation between Ma Ferd and Mayor Babs Belgoody. Although the Bride of Frankenstein-esque Mayor wig is to die for. Sound Designer Richard B. Ingraham tries valiantly, but because of the venue itself, or some other factor, it is very difficult to hear and understand lots of the dialogue and lyrics. Probably my biggest critique of the show.

Ellis C. Dawson III seemed to have a blast with the dual role of Melvin Ferd The Third/Toxic Avenger. He provides nerdish charm and a strong voice to helm the production. As Sarah, the blind librarian, Natalie Green fires on all cylinders. Green is a consummate professional who can milk and nail every comedic moment. Along the way she can belt or serenade us with her glorious voice. She is serving blind realness with hilarious results. One performance that will be hard to forget is delivered by Kate Leigh Michalski. Although Michalski is a solid consistent performer accompanied by a titanic voice, this show provides a showplace for her immense talent. She is a blend of Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, and Ethel Merman, along with the physicality of Soupy Sales. She is relentless in her pursuit of the funny, and we are all better for it.

Malik Akil, Mariah Burks, Trey Gilpin, and Codie Higer provide all the other characters to this radioactive tale. They are a scream. Each one of them provides ridiculous characterizations that are a blast to watch. Burks and Higer are a hot mess of fun as thugs. I just keep giggling at these two being hardasses, while displaying every caricature imaginable. Give Akil some tricked out hair, and the attitude that presents itself will definitely make you sashay away to buy another ticket to his show. Gilpin, master of the side eye, is a hoot.

As I stated, I thought the only true downside was the sound. and also, I would have like to have seen a little more of a physicality change in body and voice with the avenger himself. But other than that, this is campy fun. So if you are looking for mindless, campy B-movie realness, THIS IS IT!

Show Boat at Near West Theatre

Near West Theatre
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: May 13, 2016

Show Boat is a 1927 musical, with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Based on Edna Ferber’s best-selling novel, the musical follows the lives of the performers, stagehands and dock workers on the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi Show Boat, over 40 years, from 1887 to 1927. Its themes include racial prejudice and tragic, enduring love.

Show Boat broke new ground in musical theatre, as many regard the production as the Granddaddy of Musical Theatre. Show Boat boldly portrayed racial issues, and was the first racially integrated musical, in that both black and white performers appeared and sang on stage together. Show Boat was the first Broadway musical to seriously depict an interracial marriage, as in Ferber’s original novel, and to feature a character of mixed race who was “passing” for white. The show also generated controversy for the historical portrayal of blacks working as laborers and servants in the 19th-century South, and the use of the “N” word in the lyrics.This was written boldly, in a time where singing the word “gay”, simply meant being happy. But the message of the show was buoyed by an impeccable score. Most notably the famous “Ol Man River”.

The powerful cast of 61 do incredible justice to this iconic beast of a show. If you are unaware of the mission of Near West Theatre, you should know that the cast is composed of people who have never been on stage before, people who do shows intermittently, and certified veterans. This combination of human resources, which in this production range from the ages of 7 to 69, creates incredible bonds and produces productions full of excitement, commitment, artistry and pure joy. This production is no different.

Providing comedic relief and running the proceedings on the boat, are Cap’n Andy Hawkes ( Gary Samarin) and Parthy Ann Hawkes (Beth Rene Bamberger). These two provide a great presence. Samarin with his antics, and Bamberger being a force of nature trying to handle the situations thrown at her.

This cast can boast some phenomenal voices, and two of them are beautifully delivered by Ryann Sefcik and Devon Turchan, (Magnolia Hawkes and Gaylord Ravenal), respectively. These two provide soaring voices, along with deft acting. Truly a treat to watch their love story play out.

Providing fire and sizzle to the mix, are the dynamic and vocally charged duo of Josh Landis (Frank Schultz) and Cory Markowitz ( Ellie May Chipley). These two are like a vaudeville Fred and Ginger. They provide lots of smile and high energy dance numbers that are a complete delight.

As a couple, Sam Pantalone as Steve Baker, and Jennifer Browning as Julie LaVerne, handle one of the pivotal issues at play here perfectly. Pantalone provides a loving caring husband, who even takes to extreme measures to protect his wife, showing raw courage. LaVerne is on fire in this production. Her character is a blazing furnace of intensity. Sometimes life sucks, and for LaVerne, when her character is alone, drinking too much, and desperate, she pours her heart and soul into the signature song “Bill” with beautifully dramatic effect.

Jordan Powell as Pete, is a brave actor who is given the distinct unpleasure portraying a racist. I can’t imagine this was easy, but this young man delivers an honest and solid depiction of reality. Racism exists, and it still does. If you hate his character, which I did, then that means he did a great job. Nasira Mah-Jabeen gives Queenie life. Her smile and presence is a gift to the production. And that girl can sang. Kate Atherton as Kim Ravenal, provides a fabulous Charleston number that rocks. Hidden in a wig that transforms her back in time to provide a high energy performance.

The rest of the cast is a conglomeration of energy and drive, and pure delight. Watching so many people experience and inhabit this epic musical is a joy.

The Production Team is firing on all cylinders. Director Bob Navis Jr. helms this production with great clarity, and brave focus on the issues being addressed, as well as the musicality. Assistant Director Kelcie Nicole Dugger provided a professional guiding hand as well.Stage Manager & Co-Production Manager Ryan Wolf called a great show, and coordinated the scene changes that made the evening move swiftly. Assistant Musical Director Rachel Woods led a dynamic orchestra, actually, one of the best I have ever heard at Near West Theatre. The orchestra is on fire. Choreographer Josh Landis provides great dances for the cast to dig into, and adeptly portrays the period moves with precision. Set Designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski, who has created her last and brilliant set design, as she moves on to Oberlin College, once again creates a beautiful and epic design. Sarah Russell did an extraordinary job of costuming this musical. Ripe, appropriate and fine-looking creations. Every one of the 61 cast members was given attention.Josh Padgett leads as Technical Director & Co-Production Manager, and helms a tight and gifted team. Assistant Technical Director & Video Designer provided great execution, especially during the time travel sequence to move the play forward in years. Charge Scenic Artist Jenny Hitmar Shankland is a gifted and talented professional who strikes gold once again with her skills. Lighting Designer Rob Wachala brings his A game to the proceedings as well. Sound Designer Josh Caraballo creates a great balance of orchestra and stage in the theatre.

The rest of the stage crew and spot operators are right on target and deserve praise for their behind the scenes work.

Near West Theatre should be proud. And from the fact that they have had Sell Out audiences, and performances that are on their way to being full, is a testament to the production of a musical that is hardly ever produced in the Cleveland area.

Next to Normal – Brecksville Theatre on the Square

Brecksville Theatre on the Square
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: May 9, 2016

Next to Normal is a rock musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt. Its story concerns a mother who struggles a bipolar disorder. It examines the effect that her illness, and the attempts to alleviate it, have on her family. The musical also addresses such issues as grieving a loss, suicide, drug abuse, and ethics in modern psychiatry. The musical won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, becoming just the eighth musical in history to receive the honor.

Director Ian Atwood has assembled a fine group of artists to inhabit this world. He also provided the set design, construction, light and sound design, which is much applauded as all of those elements hold up well.

in the role of Diana Goodman, any actress that plays this pivotal role must find herself in a state of self-actualization. The role demands everything. And I am thrilled to report that Dawn Sniadak Yamokoski delivers on every level. Her vocals soar both in musicality and depth. Her arc is very honest, and thus, she carries us through a most brilliant performance. The role of Dan Goodman is handled beautifully by Michael Snider. He comes across as a truly loving man, trapped in a world where he is not in control, but our of pure love, he exhausts every avenue he comes across to save his wife from being trapped inside her psychotic and tortured brain. His scene at the end where Snider is sitting at a table realizing the decision that his wife has made, is one of the most honest moments I have ever seen Snider create.

Isabel Billinghurst as daughter Natalie Goodman, and her boyfriend Henry played by Michael Knobloch, shine brightly in the production. Billinghurst has a beautiful and powerful voice, and does a great job connecting with her own journey. She shows us a path of angst and redemption, through very honest choices. I have never seen Billinghurst perform, and I am glad I did. She is a treasure. Knobloch turns is a pitch perfect performance. His characterization is supremely on point. His voice is beautiful, caring and aptly connecting with his emotions at all time. Great performance. Dan Hoy rocks. As Gabriel “Gabe” Goodman, Hoy created a haunting presence which is well served by a powerful voice, and tenor notes that leave an impressive trail of emotion. Serving up a gigawatt smile and venerable personae, Hoy becomes the apt focus of the joy and destruction of this family. Well done. This is also the first time I heard Hoy sing, and it was a tremendous pleasure to hear that voice.

The production also offers a rare treat for BTOTS audiences with the presence of Equity Actor extraordinaire, Dan Folino*, as Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden. Dr. Fine is prescribing prescriptions for Diana. Fine diagnoses Diana as bipolar depressive with delusional episodes. Although she’s been medicated unsuccessfully for sixteen years, Doctor Fine continues to adjust her medications over the visits until Diana says that she doesn’t feel anything–at which point he declares her stable. However, this interpretation of Dr. Fine, portrayed and edited by Folino and Director Atwood, is puzzling. The doctor is played like a love child of Mr. Limpet, Jerry Lewis, and Ed Grimley. It is SO over the top that it actually incredibly distracting, and hurts the integrity of the show. I have no idea why this interpretation is in the show. Because it shouldnt be. As Dr. Madden, Folino settles down into a more reality based character, dons a suit, and literally lets down his hair to create a great presence for a caring doctor trying to help. His delivery is subdued but pointed with honestly. However, the performance is briefly interrupted when Folino hands Dan Goodman a business card to help him get his own needed help, but the card that is clearly held up to the audience, is a business card from the Beck Center for the Arts. His shining moments come when Dr. Madden morphs into a rock star, and that is a beautiful and funny thing to behold.

There is one other moment that is confusing. And that comes when Gabe and Diana are singing center stage. There faces are incredibly close, too close. And then Gabe moves in to hug Diana, but it looks like he is kissing her neck. It is a bizarre moment, and many members of the audience, who were seeing it for the first time, asked if Diana and Gabe were sleeping together.

I thought the orchestra kicked ass. A tight and musical orchestra conducted by Matthew Grittner. Great Sound and full-bodied treatment of the score. (The orchestra is open to the audience, so watching a musician watch the show and audience can be distracting)

The overall effect is a good night of theatre. Beautiful voices, and some wonderful break-through performances.

Godspell – Near West Theatre

Near West Theatre
Community (Youth) Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: February 19, 2016

In 2005, 13 year Near West Theatre veteran, Kelcie Nicole Dugger was in a production of Godspell at Near West Theatre. So it seemed a perfect time for Dugger to helm the current production in the glorious new building in Gordon Square Arts District, and give her spin on the classic musical.There is a bit of history with this show, because it was the first show ever produced by Near West Theatre in 1978. Two productions followed in 1987 and 1994, but what is fascinating about the production staff for this production, is that Assistant Director Anthony Williams, Assistant Musical Director Scott Pyle, and Dugger herself were all children in the 2005 production.That production enabled Dugger to personally identify what was involved in building a community, while embracing diversity.

Godspell is based on the ancient writings of Matthew, which examine the life and teachings of Jesus.The original production was brought to the world stage by John-Michael Tebelak in the early 1970’s.These inspiring stories of love, goodwill and compassion will come vividly to life through an eclectic blend of songs, ranging in style from pop to vaudeville, put forth by a passionate troupe of 9 to 15 year-olds!

This is a grand ensemble of 40 plus young people working hard on the stage and off to bring this musical to life. The role of Jesus is certainly pivotal in the show, and the casting of Felix Albino could not have been better. Albino has an immediate connection with the audience, offering a warm and gentle soul, but also adept at showing his stern warnings of veering off the path. His voice is majestic in the role, and certainly indicative of a young man finding his voice, literally, in the world of musical theatre. His rendition of ‘Beautiful City’ is perfection.

The first appearance of Judas is dramatic and cool as heck. This is accomplished by a fierce costume provided by Costume Designer Jen Ryan, and the lovely actress Jocelyn Perkins herself. Perkins presence is formidable and she has the acting chops and voice to back up her personae. Her rendition of ‘On the Willows’ is haunting and beautiful. One of the major standouts in this production is one of the youngest and tiniest in the show. Calista Zajac is absolutely amazing with her song ‘All Good Gifts’. You would never expect the voice that she creates. It reminds me of America’s Got Talent, when someone unexpectedly wows the judges, and results in a Golden Buzzer to the finals. This would be that performance.

Each song is performed with beautiful harmony and message. Corrine Howery and Christian Thomas bring joy and hope to ‘Day by Day’. Brett Nickolette and Abby Golden bring freshness and originality to ‘Learn your Lessons Well”.Morgan Williams injects grand energy and a high note for days in ‘Bless the Lord’. Zoe Hess adds her musical zest, along with Golden and Nickolette, to ‘Light of the World’. Angellise Irizarry brings as much sass as her parents would allow to ‘Turn Back, O Man’, having raucous fun with the bawdy tune. Ally Yellets adds her formidable talents to lead ‘By My Side’. Beck Saine kicks some theatre butt with his energetic rendition of ‘We Beseech Thee’, firing on all cylinders.

This is a harmonious ensemble that puts forth enough effort and zeal to inspire climate change. Dugger, with her production and technical crew, have done a wonderful job highlighting these young artists that leap and bound on this impressive stage.

Music Director – Matthew Dolan, Choreographer – Josh Landis, Set and Props Designer – Douglas Puskas, Technical Director Josh Padgett, Asst Tech Dir/Video Designer – Perren Hedderson, Stage Manager – Jeannie Clarkson, Asst Stage Manager – Eric Reising, Costume Designer Jen Ryan, Lighting Designer Rob Wachala, Sound Designer – Josh Caraballo, Scenic Artist – Jenny Hitmar Shankland

Dugger hopes “that this production inspires us to have more faith in obtaining unity amidst tremendous turmoil. If we can find a common ground, we can begin to heal”.

In my book, success is word of mouth. Alas, the last weekend of this show is Sold Out. That speaks for itself.

Pure shock Value – None Too Fragile

None Too Fragile
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: February 7, 2016

This is a bad-ass production at a bad-ass theatre! None Too Fragile theatre in Akron has established themselves as a no- bullshit, unpretentious, ball-busting company not afraid to go into the deep end of the pool. This current production is a perfect example of letting go of the roller coaster handle bars and throw your hands up in the air because you just don’t care.

Obviously, author Matt Pelfrey is, or knows someone who is, pissed off at the film festival circuit. This diatribe railing against everything pretentious about the honored cult hip few, and the system where crap sells if you can make it smell different is on full tilt in the back room of Pub Bricco.

NTF co-founder/artistic director Sean Derry directs this piece with wild abandon and ferocious tenacity. He doesn’t let his actors miss one moment of pure adrenaline and focus. It’s all accomplished with deft staging. He has produced one awesome trainwreck of absolute joy.

The four actors who inhabit this world are fabulous and at the top of their game. The calmest, if there is a calm in this crazy show, is Brian Kenneth Armour as Ethan. With beautifully understated humor and timing, he gives a down-to-earth quality to Ethan, but allows himself to make us believe that what he plans on doing sometimes is OK. You find yourself laughing at things you shouldn’t. A lot of that is the solid acting taking place with this talented man.

Robert Branch as Julian Quintana resembles Weekend at Bernie’s on crack. His physicality must be incredibly challenging to execute and he does it brilliantly. With indecipherable syllables, Branch makes the most of his vulnerable position and executes great comedic timing. His final declaration of truth almost sends the audience into doing the wave throughout the theater, screaming “Hell Yeah”.

Obviously Sophia Vergara has a sister, who is a sexy hot bitch named Gabby. Alanna Romansky (co-founder/artistic director), brings Gabby some fierce internal fire. She chews more scenery with her accent than a college town of carpenter ants on spring break at the white party. With her sexy curves, comedic chops, and having more balls than all the men in the audience, she is fierce.

But the pinnacle of this production is Benjamin Gregorio as Tex. Picture Matthew McConaughey doing an 8-ball and then giving the performance of his life. It’s a nonstop full-speed neck-brace performance in which he stays within the lines of the road, and takes everyone along with him for a scary wild ride. This is his debut at None Too Fragile, and there is nothing remotely fragile about this actor’s intrinsic acting choices. He has to be exhausted after this and so is the audience, because Gregorio makes us pay attention and emotionally takes us on a ride with him, whether you want to or not. Brilliant Work!

This is not a show you take your mother to on Mother’s Day, which is why you need to get to this theater, take a shot of Jameson with the crowd, and get ready to rock and roll. I can assure you, you will never guess what is going to happen next. It is rough and vulgar, but oh so sweet.

Proof – Clague Playhouse

Clague Playhouse
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: February 4, 2016

Clague Playhouse is truly a theatrical jewel in this city. If you look at the roster of the “professionals” that have acted, directed or provided top flight technical artistry there, it reads like a Broadway cavalcade of stars. Because you see, it doesn’t matter what building you are in, or what your theater is called or labeled such as community theater or professional, it is what you CREATE. Clague Playhouse is currently housing a production that I consider stunning and enriched with tremendous performances.

Directed by Anne McEvoy. That alone should create an interest in any piece that has that declaration on the playbill. A seasoned professional, McEvoy has cast this show beautifully, and guided the cast through a fascinating journey of truth, stability and truth.

The soaring damaged light of this production is the incredibly focused and nuanced performance of Rachel Lee Kolis, as Catherine. With every moment of her body, her breath, her eyes and her physicality, Kolis takes you with her as she navigates an emotionally complex course of defining moments. Complete confidence with the material and a complete understanding of the arc of her character, Kolis connects with the audience with a beautiful complexity. There are moments in the play when you think you believe her, you want to believe her, and don’t believe her. What a fascinating dilemma. What a fabulous performance.

Robert Hawkes, as Robert, proves once again that his body of work is one of the finest in Cleveland, and well beyond. Portraying a human battling brilliance and sanity with heartrending consequences, is presented with deft acting choices that provide an anchor to this play. You care deeply for this man. That happens because the performance is immersed in truth, and aided by an acute sense of awareness. Hawkes is terrific.

What seems at first to be a smitten nerdish geek, Nicholas Chokan as Hal, destroys any argument for being one dimensional. With a pleasant personality and looks, Chokan slowly unravels his characters levels like a blooming onion at Outback. Each layer revealing another texture to identify and associate with. His presence and acting chops add much to the complicated path of identifying truth within others and ourselves. Fine fine work.

Renee Schilling, as Claire, easily holds her own against the sea of tortured souls. Her strength of piercing through the mire of agendas and cracking personalities is delivered with outstanding resolve. Solid work of providing another voice to the argument and a sense of reality that many are not ready for. Great stuff.

The production team is up to its usual gold medal standard. That standard is provided by the incredible set design by Ron Newell, the nuanced lighting design of Jeff Lockshine, the rich sound design of Bryan Ritchey, the well called show by stage manager Richie Lynch, and the brilliant costuming of Jenniver Sparano.

Bravo Clague Playhouse, for knocking it out of the park again. There is one more weekend of this show. I strongly encourage you to head out and watch some damn fine acting.

Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses – Dobama Theatre

Dobama Theatre
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: January 26, 2016

There is a clue in the picture above. I didn’t get it until the end of the piece. A beautiful backdrop of mountains that provides a cascading stream that gently splits the stage in pieces of territorial life. It is amazing what fragility is hidden by beauty and the appearance of strength. You would think by that description, that the tale of the Joneses would be a bit heavy, and the visual effect is the fabric of life being ripped apart. Well, it does break open for moments of intensity and absurd realness, but the overall treat of this show is that it might break open your gut, because it is fucking hilarious. This fascinating material is handled by four deft actors who display a master class of their craft. They do it by discharging witty, rapid fire, quick witted, beautifully timed dialogue that makes me think I am watching the most dysfunctional verbal badminton game ever.

Dobama is serving up a delicious theatrical tasting for the audience. We are greeted by the maitre’d, Artistic Director Nathan Motta, who explains that we will be enjoying a fascinating play “The Realistic Joneses” written by Will Eno. The play was produced on Broadway in 2014, and received accolades from the Drama Desk Organization, USA Today, The Guardian, New York Times, and Time Magazine to name a few. Mr Motta has chosen one of the finest theatrical directing Connoisseurs in the business, and that would be Shannon Sindelar. Her record of directing tremendous bodies of work at Dobama has led audiences and this reviewer, to be incredibly excited to see her name listed on the program. Once again, Sindelar brings her fantabulous directing skills to create a swift paced, funny, introspective creation of live entertainment. Scenes move swiftly, as if we are watching a Snapchat version of life, diving in and out of normal life, which is never what you think it is, or where it will go. Beautiful job of creating this tricky piece of theatricality served with perfection.

She is aided by superb sommeliers. Scenic Designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski brings her A game to the tapestry of the evening, and provides a beautiful design, and highly functioning set. Marcus Dana adds effective mood lighting for the evening, as to highlight the evenings meal by enhancing the effervescence of emotion running throughout the piece. Costume Designer Inda Blatch-Geib dresses the evening with comfortable realness, providing a visceral taste of real life, to help us relate. Sound Designer Jeremy Dobbins, Props Designer Rocky Encalada, Technical Director David Tilk, and Stage Manager Joel Rathbone, add their immeasurable talents to round out the staff.

With superb direction in hand, and a staff that has been given a solid vision to prepare the evening festivities, we are presented with a theatrical flight of impressive offerings.

Our first is an Abboccato Tracee Patterson as Jennifer Jones. Patterson provides a full-bodied performance with an appealing measure of sweetness strewn among her fight for understanding and love. She is the most relatable for those of us that want the best in life, and strive to focus on what is right. As she usually does, her performance is brilliant. and by usually does, i don’t want to take away from the work that this professional does for every role. she is a mentor to all actors, and provides inspiration for our craft every time we see her execute an emotion. Her sense of humor runs wild and she is the “straight man’ for many jokes. She cracks me up with her delivery, and her nuanced double takes of “WTF did you just say?”

Then there is Joel “Garrafeira” Hammer as Bob Jones, Jennifer’s husband. He is a hoot and definitely suffers some blunt language that no doubt has come from extended aging in the barrel and bottle. I found his underplay and dead pan delivery a revelation of fun. Excellent timing, and you could imagine him being in the next Robert DeNiro film, Dirty Grandpa II. I would pay big money to see those two on a roadtrip. Hammer and Patterson had tremendous chemistry, and underlying heart with each other. He is a damaged soul, but under Hammer’s talents, you never lost sight of the embattled good, and inner strength from facing life challenges. He can nail a line for days.

Our Szamorodni for the evening is Chris Richards, who plays John Jones, the new neighbor. I say Szamorodni as a compliment to the character that he created and defined with beautiful creative and fierce acting choices. His character is funny and entertaining, but there is a dark side that swirls within. This type of wine means “as it comes” ,and used to describe a wine that will have a mixture of healthy and botrytis-infected grapes. Also, Richards healthy side is hilarious and fractured, but there is a flaw buried within, that enable Richards to stop the play with an outburst that stops our breath. To make an audience laugh, and then in one powerful moment, stop time, is the power of an accomplished artist. Bravo you silly funny dramatic man.

Our last offering is a Clairet. A French term for a wine that falls between the range of a light red wine and a dark rosé. And this fearless actress creates light and darkness. Rachel Zake, who plays Pony Jones, wife of John Jones, returns to the area with a welcomed presence on the stage. Possibly the most damaged of the four, Zake has created a character that is complicated, ditsy, hyper, but also houses a thirst for desire that is almost void of emotional consequences. But in true form to the piece, adds comedic beauty to this soiree of craziness. You have to be on your toes to follow everything that is happening, and in the beginning, there is a touch of not being able to understand the lines, whether that is due to diction or positioning on stage, but it does not last for long. For as we connect with the talented actress, we find ourselves immersed in her perceived arc. But then, don’t do that too much, because this one is has more layers than a Trifle. Beautiful work, and I am sure we will be seeing you often.

You need to get out to Dobama and see this show. It really offers a lot of laughs, fabulous acting, and a story line and dialogue that will have you wanting to say “Come again….?” every couple of lines or so. Ha, it is that trippy and fun.

Little Shop of Horrors – Cleveland Play House

Cleveland Play House
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: January 21, 2016

Last night, I got to sit in the front row in the Allen Theatre to watch one of my favorite guilty pleasure musicals – Little Shop Of Horrors. This camp horror ride was created by Howard Ashman, book and lyrics, and Alan Menken, who wrote the music. This show was based on the low budget 1960 film The Little Shop of Horrors, directed by Roger Corman. Fun Film Fact, Jack Nicholson is the patient in the Dentist scene who is obsessed with dental pain with a twisted passion.

As the band arrives, which is certainly a different take on the band aspect of the show, you notice that we are dealing with a street GO_GO’s, kind of 5 fierce female musicians who set up shop stage right, and fire up their rock band for the whole neighborhood to enjoy. They are full of beautiful faces, and bodacious musical talent. Kate Ferber, Alanna Saunders, Hallie Bulleit, Brittany Campbell, and Injoy Fountain are the musical culprits. These ladies serve some realness for dayzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

So let me start with the parts of the evening that were a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Lauren Molina, portraying Audrey, was right on terrific point. Her comic timing, facial acrobatics, and lamenting vocalizations were killing me in all the right places. She had a strong grasp on the silliness of her character and the musical itself. She drove that confidence home in hilarious fashion. However, even within this bizarre story, she kept Audrey human enough to be emotionally effective in Somewhere That’s Green. And then during the reprise of Green, even in the contrived antics of the ending, a tear running down her cheek, was matched by mine. Molina is a crazy, fun and comedic powerhouse.

Joey Taranto hilariously and vocally tore this show apart, armed with dynamic talent and versatile characterizations for days. Not to spoil the surprises here with Mr. Taranto’ clusterfuck of characters he gets to play, however, the featured split personality is the iconic Dentist, Orin Scrivello. D.D.S. As his self-titled song starts, he places himself stage front, packed, and I mean packed full, of talent. Displaying sadistic qualities only a quaalude could love, Taranto has a blast masochistically churning through this parody of evil in glorious fashion.

But the true talent of an actor playing this role is not the more public known DENTIST song, it is having the chops to make NOW (IT’S JUST THE GAS) work while deftly riding the line of comedic horror, and literally…………….dying……………..and making me giggle. Mission Accomplished. Bravo. Like a Phoenix coming out of the ashes, you will get a lot of reincarnations of Taranto, and each one has a different voice, accent, and creative center. As my friends in Pittsburgh would say, “yinz did good!”

Seymour, portrayed by Ari Butler, is a menial laborer at Mushnik’s Flower Shop. Seymour Krelborn turns out to be the improbable hero of the story. Nerdlike is stature and presence, he’s a well-meaning guy, who couldn’t win an arm wrestling match against his grandmother. Seymour is the one who discovers the soon to be a carnivorous plant, Audrey II. Butler has great nerd charm. From the get go, Butler gives us hints of his connection with Audrey that are beautifully underplayed, and along with a velvety voice, create a very lovable character. He gets a lot of the evening’s journey right, and although he underplays the nerd aspect and childishness of a more typical Seymour, he does it with great resolve and commitment.

But then a few things don’t make sense to me. And since Amanda Dehnert directed, choreographed, and musically directed the show, it might have to do with respectful disagreement on personal taste and vision for the production. The first is the casting of Larry Cahn as Mushnik. He never seemed to get the essence of Mushnik, or the comedic element of his character, or maybe that wasn’t explored enough. It just seems like an odd fit to me. He is a good actor and singer, but the connection wasn’t strong.

The band was fierce, however, I didn’t know exactly where they were. On the street in Skid Row would be a good guess, but then were they in front of a movie theatre, and since the fierce voice of Audrey II, Eddie Cooper, was holed up in back of them, I would have wished for a little more clarification. Also, the mic stands are great for the band look, but then the girls are also head miced. This gives them the ability to move if need be, but that turned out to be a mixture of moving and then limited with the cord lines, or stepping away to ensnare a main character. It just didn’t read smooth to me, and also, didn’t allow for some creative fierce choreography to happen so those girls could break it down.

The plant is a letdown. There was more work done on the shaft of the flower, instead of focusing on the face of the plant, where the humor comes in. Also, seeing the puppeteer arm open and shut the mouth took me out of the magic. The tallness of the plant makes the eating segments turn into a display of physics on how to get the soon to be food characters inside.

The overall comedic value of the piece could have been directed with a stronger sense of what is funny in this show. So many subtle and some not so subtle moments were lost which give this fluffy piece of fun, a lot more layers that you would think.

And the stagehand opening Mushnik’s Shop on and off? Who was taking notes? I am all for artistic choices, don’t get me wrong, but that was a STRONG artistic choice.

At the end of the show, Audrey is singing the reprise of Somewhere that’s Green, and right in front of you, a tear moves down her face, from a face that is completely committed to the moment and the fun of it all. that is my biggest point, I wanted all of it to be fun.

INCENDIARIES hough 1966 – presented by cleveland PUBLIC theatre & Ohio City Theatre Project

Cleveland Public Theatre/Ohio City Theatre Project
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: January 16, 2016

“THIS HAPPENED…………………………..!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Yes, it did. In 1966 Cleveland. The Hough riots. The riots culminated as a result of numerous reasons. Mostly found in the social conditions that existed in the ghettos of Cleveland. And also found in a city that didn’t seem to have the time or wherewithal to care enough to try to reach out and empower a broken community. A community that wanted to be better, but was so frustrated over years of being beat down.

“the spark is all you need”

That spark was ignited on July 18, 1966, when someone posted a sign outside the 79’s bar, situated on the southeast corner of East 79th Street and Hough Avenue. It read, “No Water for Niggers”

An argument ensued for several reasons, and before the night was over, Joyce Arnett, a black 36-year-old mother of 3, was shot dead when she called from a window, trying to get permission to go home and check on her children.

The next day, Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes activated 1,600 local members of the National Guard to keep order. That didn’t save Percy Giles, a black 38-year-old divorced father of two. he was shot and killed on his way to help a friend protect his business. On the third night, five people were wounded, including a woman and her two children. On the fourth night, Sam Winchester, a 54-year-old black man was killed while walking to a bus stop. On the fifth night, a trio of white men shot 29-year-old Benoris Toney, a black man sitting in his car in a nearby Euclid Avenue lumber yard. On the sixth and final day, rain helped settle the outbursts, as if the universe couldn’t handle it anymore, and cried for the pain and misery that was visceral for every human being involved. There were claims that the riots were too organized and that a Communist influence must be involved. But it didn’t matter as to the details. There is an argument that the city has never fully recovered.

Years later, enter the fierce and inventive Pandora Robertson, creator and director of Incendiaries, and also Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Ohio City Theatre Project. As she describes her artistic being, she states “I believe my job as an artist is to tackle difficult topics and inspire others to venture out into the unknown.” I would think that in this case, the unknown could also be a question of whether we are a bit racist and don’t want to admit it. What Robertson has done here in this expanded piece, which began as a segment in the Cleveland Public Theatre production of Fire on the Water, a series of short plays inspired by or connected to the burning of the Cuyahoga River, is present the events of the Hough Riots in full detail, dramatically trimmed to 50 minutes.

In an athletic performance art demonstration of determined force, 7 actors, fierce activists, take the stage and commence telling the tale of a disturbing time in Cleveland history. And when you add in the raw emotional feelings around the killing of Tamir Rice, you slowly realize that the deep-rooted fears from 1966 are still alive and well. The storytellers are Brittni Shambaugh Addison, Wesley Allen, Ashley Aquilla, Laprise Johnson, Daniel McNamara, Randi Renee and Chris Walker. They tell the story on a bare set, except for folding chairs and a large table. The physically demanding pace asks for the actors to constantly use the chairs and table to create cars, home, businesses and various locations to provide the story a setting and propel the story forward. It is an impressive artistic physical display.

Throughout the piece, there is a cacophony of sound mirroring the riotous atmosphere of the riots. This adds an underlying disturbance throughout the play. But the strongest moments come when the play and sound slow down and subside to reveal the painful reality that must be communicated. These more distinct sections of the play are powerful and serve the purpose to arouse a need to understand what happened, and recover from what did happen to so many. As the play moves forward and continues to grow, I hope that even more sections are allowed to be more exposed and that some of the table physicality is geared more towards a natural movement than just movement. But those distracting moments are few. The piece has a stronger base than Bernie Sanders at the point. The hardest and the best solution to what happened at the Hough Riots is education. It will be a never-ending task. But, it will always be important to remind people …………………..

“THIS HAPPENED…………………………..!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”


Pandora Robertson- Conceiver and Director (gifted storytelling and casting, keep on pushing us to look inside and outside)

Benjamin Gantose- Lighting Designer (created a deeply moving palate of light that infused the story telling with a piercing starkness)

Darryl Dickenson and Patrick Stoops- Sound Designers ( nice work on the edgy feel of the piece)

Inda Blatch-Geib- Costume Designer (every performer seemed at ease and comfortable in their design, which enables them to engage more viscerally)

Sherrie Tolliver- Dramaturg (i have a feeling you are very smart)

Ian Petroni- Scenic Designer (a simple design that encompassed a disturbing reality)

Lauren Sturdivant- Stage Manager ( nicely called show, which added tremendous value)

Lauren Garson- Production Manager (pulled together the elements with style)

Frankenstein’s Wake at cleveland PUBLIC theatre

Cleveland Public Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: January 19, 2016

It is very exciting walking into a theatre without any idea what you are about to see. You know the title, but have no sense of how the story will be presented. But sometimes there are hints to what is in store for you. For Frankenstein’s Wake, I know that Holly Holsinger is the principle actor, which means that excellence is sure to follow. And I know that Raymond Bobgan, along with Holsinger, was the co-creator, co-designer, and director of this historic ghost story. So that would mean that every moment of the evening has been infused with vibrant execution and creation.

The performance takes place in the Church that is now a part of the cleveland PUBLIC theatre campus. I am taken with how the interior has been transformed visually to a new and exciting internal venue. Wooden plates on the windows, black sheets at each end of the rectangular floor, amidst white-clothed set pieces. Along with the lighting, it creates a harbouring of something is going down here, and I am going to dig it.

Holsinger begins with a creepy silent opening, black laced, and encircled with haunting vocals. At this point, we don’t know who she is, and that become quite apparent when the question is asked, “Figure it out?!” What we are figuring out at this point is who is our narrator of this story. The story examined here is Mary Shelley’s most famous work ” Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.” published anonymously when Mary was only 20 years old in 1818. And Holsinger brilliantly takes on the personas of the main characters simply by morphing her body, voice, breathing pattern, and enhancing her dress with subtle costume pieces. A coat and a fascinating addition of makeup are simple, but powerfully introduced augmentations to he core of Holsinger and the character she is creating.

Holsinger is also masterfully physical in her displays of creative emotion and presentation. Balancing a paper on her face, a card on her hat, and a prolific physicality as she maneuvers under, over and on the table is applaudable. However, you’re drawn into the moment of storytelling; you dare not move. You don’t want to run. You actually can’t move, because there is never a moment that isn’t devoured in truth, honesty and intensity. There is never a break from the relentless, focused telling of the tale, as we slowly realize that the monster is not who you think it is.

The confrontation scene played in the middle of the stage makes Jekyll and Hyde look like a puppet show. Searing embattlements are playing out in front of us as one actor twists and turn herself into a vortex of absolute chaos and characterization. Fascinating.

Of tremendous mention, are the three Attendants that add a vocal soundtrack to the show.Whether enhancing a song with Holsinger, or creating vocal atmospheric magic on their own, these three ladies, Chloe Mlinarcik/Penelope, Sarah Moore/Celeste and Shannon Sharkey/Pilar, provide the most stunning and beautiful harmony I have EVER heard at CPT. It is brilliant in its tonality, and coupled with Holsinger’s voice, kicks some serious vocal ass. All arrangements are by Caitlin Lewins (Bellissimo), and unless otherwise noted in the playbill, songs created by Holsinger and Bobgan. If you don’t mind, I would like the ladies to underscore my life.

Powerful collaboration to Raymond Bobgan and Holly Holsinger. The two of you are magic. And the spell you cast on the audience is worth everything. Thank you.

2016 Creative Workforce Fellows Award Celebration at Near West Theatre

By: Kevin Kelly
Published: January 15, 2016

This past year, over 400 artists located in Cuyahoga County submitted applications to be considered for the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC’s) Creative Workforce Fellowships. Of those, 40 artists working in the disciplines of craft, dance, design, literature, media arts, music, theatre and visual arts were selected to receive grants in the amount of $15,000; a total of $600,000 for 2016.

The Winners and descriptions of their work are provided at the link below.

2016 Creative Workforce Fellowship Award Winners

What an incredible evening. Congrats to all the artists from

ANNIE – Connor Palace at Playhouse Square produced by Troika Entertainment, LLC

Playhouse Square
Professional Theatre (Touring)

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: January 13, 2016

First of all, I love the musical Annie. Second of all, I loved this production. So, if you don’t like the musical Annie, I would stop reading here, because this will be a rave.

Having this iconic picture being used as a curtain warmer is a strong signal that Martin Charnin, the director of this production, the original director and creator of Annie in 1977, has decided it is time to get back to Annie basics and infuse this touring production with the heart and soul that was missing from the last national tour of Annie. To update is fine, to demolish the heart from the story is not going to get you a seat at Charnin’s table during the holidays. So, with the master at hand, this production of Annie revels in joy and fun.

The journey of Annie (picture perfect Heidi Gray) is quite a tale. She thinks her parents have left her at an orphanage run by the whiskey infused Miss Hannigan (ferocious Lynn Andrews). However, on the other side of town, Republican Oliver Warbucks (played by Cleveland’s artistic bull mastiff of talent Gilgamesh Taggett) wants to have an orphan spend the holidays with him. Obviously, he must be running for office. The craziness ensues as some shady characters vie for the $50,000 finders fee. The results are fun as heck, and not without true heart-tugging emotion.

Heidi Gray as Annie is a true delight. This is a juggernaut role and she handles the demands like a pro. With an infusive personality and pipes for days, she brings Annie to life. Her range of emotion is quite impressive. When the dramatic moments arrive, she doesn’t sugar coat or fake anything. It is pure and honest.

Gilgamesh Taggett is self-actualized in the role of Daddy Warbucks. His fierce confidence is quite evident as he navigates through the self-built walls that his character has built. Taggett is funny, charming, and possesses a voice capable of quiet empathy and free-wheeling spirit. Gifted comedic chops are on full display in this well-rounded portrayal.

On the right below, is the charming Chloe Tiso who plays Grace Ferrell. Luckily, Tiso has a great energy for Grace, that created more than one dimension, which is a welcome relief. She is beautifully poised and has a fantastic rapport with Warbucks.

Lynn Andrews chews more scenery than the union is able to fix. She starts off a bit slow, but that is only to give her character an arc of supreme craziness. I could not get enough of her. Comedic timing for days, as she serves enough face to secure herself a cable channel. she is armed with a fantastic voice, rowdy chops, and a WWE approach to dancing, as her hip thrusts could protect America from any invasion. Pure fun.

Garrett Deagon and Lucy Werner, as Rooster and Lily, provide Hannigan with some fun feral sidekicks. They seem to approach their characters a little less over the top, and more shifty. Its a different take, but I enjoy something new to chew on. They certainly turn up the burners when they join Hannigan is a rip-roaring version of “Easy Street”. They dance their smudges off for sure.

No orphanage would be complete without some fierce orphans. This production has a well-designed cast of ragamuffins that are diverse in race, size and age, which is fantastic. They are low brow and precious. Sage Bentley as Tessie, Bridget Carly Marsh as July, Annabelle Wachtel as Molly, Casey Watkins as Duffy, Molly Rose Meredith as Pepper and Emily Moreland as Kate. Miss Wachtel will be picking up her Nickelodeon award soon, I’m sure.

Special shout outs to Jeffrey B. Duncan as F.D.R. Your delivery of the line “Harmony” was only topped by your scene-stealing tenor note at the end of the Tomorrow reprise. Todd Fenstermaker was a hoot as Drake, and especially when you let out of holler over Annie staying. Great bit. Ruby Day come on the set illuminated with beauty and charged with a voice that would surely melt a thousand hearts, and book her a gig if I was directing. My personal favorite is Bert Healy. of course, Healy is the first part I ever played in theatre. Brendan Malafronte was terrific. Malafronte had a great classic take on the character, and if it wasn’t for the fact that he is better looking than me and more fit, I would have mentioned him sooner. Don’t worry, I’m fine. Ha. Great Job!

The featured ensemble includes Chelsey Lynn Alfredo, Jonathan Cobrda, Madisen Johnson, Brianne Kennedy, Tyler Lenhart, Theresa Rowley, Kelsey Shaw, Connor Simpson and Daniel Forest Sullivan.

ANNIE has a book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin. All three authors received 1977 Tony Awards for their work. Choreography is by Liza Gennaro, who will incorporate selections from her father Peter Gennaro‘s 1977 Tony Award-winning choreography. However, with this production, I would like to have seen something a bit more energic with the servants.

The celebrated design team includes scenic design by Tony Award winner Beowulf Boritt (Act One, The Scottsboro Boys, Rock of Ages), costume design by Costume Designer’s Guild Award winner Suzy Benzinger (Blue Jasmine, Movin’ Out, Miss Saigon), lighting design by Tony Award winner Ken Billington (Chicago, Annie, White Christmas) and sound design by Tony Award nominee Peter Hylenksi (Rocky, Bullets Over Broadway, Motown). The lovable mutt “Sandy” is once again trained by Tony Award Honoree William Berloni (Annie, A Christmas Story, Legally Blonde). Musical supervision and additional orchestrations are by Keith Levenson (Annie, She Loves Me, Dreamgirls). Casting is by Joy Dewing CSA, Joy Dewing Casting (Soul Doctor, Wonderland, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat).

My hat is off to Mr. Charnin for bringing the show back home, the way it should be. But also, the additional embellishments to some of the musical numbers like”N.Y.C.”, “I’m Gonna Like It Here” is fantastic. The old pure heart, but punched up with a red bull dose of pep. Loved the new stuff.

and of course, I can’t forget Sandy and her understudy. Macy and Sunny.

Get your tickets and welcome Gilgamesh Taggett back home!