Archived Posts


The Laughter League Super Spectacular Christmas Show! at Blank Canvas Theatre

Blank Canvas Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
December 23, 2017

Here is what you need to know!!!!!!!…………………………………………….

  1. This shit is funny.

  2. This show contains all ORIGINAL material written by The Laughter League

  3. The Laughter League is composed of the following talented, insane, creative people: Joe Ciamacco, Patrick Ciamacco, Perren Hedderson, Noah Hrbek, Seth Hrbek, Luke Scattergood. (not appearing on this weekend’s crazy show are Leslie Andrews, Keith Cavey, and Billy DePetro)

In mine humble opinion, this is the funniest show they have produced and performed in the Blank Canvas Theatre space. It is very funny, and edgy, and also at times, makes you gag. But with all improv and sketch shows, there are always a few misses. However, there isn’t many at all and the pace is well-played. I laughed a lot. If you know the folks involved, you will have a blast. And if you don’t know them, it is still a blast, because the humor comes from the script, not from inside jokes, which results in solid work.

Get there Saturday night, the last show is at 8 pm. and Grab yourself a cocktail.

Gift Of The Magi – Theatre in the Circle

Theatre in the Circle

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: December 16, 2017

Once again, partners Bill and Mark Corcoran, this time as Director/Music Director and Producer, bring their Judson Manor magic to life. The current offering is the heartwarming musical “Gift of the Magi.” The original material is a short story, written by O. Henry (a pen name for William Sydney Porter), about a young married couple and how they deal with the challenge of buying secret Christmas gifts for each other with very little money. As a sentimental story with a moral lesson about gift-giving, it has been a popular one for adaptation, especially for presentation at Christmas time. You will see the ending a mile away, but it plays out nicely as if Hallmark and Lifetime, decided to make people cry, but with a musical kleenex. However, this production comes from Peter Eckstrom who provided the Adaptation, Music, and Lyrics.

As the quaint and struggling love birds, Meg Martinez as Della, and Robert Kowalewski as Jim are wonderful in both voice, and their endearing characters. Martinez has a beautiful operatic tone and lands high notes as if she was throwing kernels of popcorn and effortlessly snatching them out the air. Kowalewski’s baritone finds a rich and fertile ground in the piece and shines throughout the production. Both of these artists blend beautifully.

The musicians brought together for this production are phenomenal. Piano and Conductor Elias Manos, McKinley Glasser on Cello, Elizabeth Root on Flute, and Grace Cross on Harp. They sound incredible. and may I say, what a pleasure to hear a piece where the Harp is so prevalent, and the musical is freaking amazing. What a joy!

Speaking of the sound, it was the best ever. I thought the lighting and sound were top-rate. Kudos to David Palmer/Network Sound. Walter Boswell did a very good job of turning the set into an intimate apartment setting. And along with the lighting, very nice moments were enhanced throughout the production.

To be fair, I have to say that this kind of show is not my personal favorite. First of all, I don’t think any pancake house will run out of syrup anytime soon. I was glad to have my insulin pen with me, so I didn’t drive off the road on the way home. But that is about the show. Not this production, in which talent was in full force on all fronts.

There is a matinée left Sunday, December 17th, at 2 pm. Bring your parents, grandparents out for a wonderful reminder of what the holidays should be about. Sharing love with each other, not a Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal. We all need to find the true meaning of life love and support, especially during these times.

Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape at Ensemble Theatre

Ensemble Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: November 22, 2017


The word has tremendous power. It seems to be a defining feature of most people’s psyche. The word can cause great euphoria, and a sense of achievement. But, on the other hand, the word can cause great strife and disconnection that even a Xanax bar would hardly make a dent. Thus, the journey of the human spirit to belong and connect is at the core of the protagonist, brought to life by the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning playwright Eugene O’Neill.

Written in 1921, this iconic piece of expressionist drama is a searing social commentary on the divide between the rich and poor. Yank (riveting Joseph Milan), an unthinking laborer, embarks on a search for a sense of belonging in a world controlled by the wealthy. His journey from the bowels of a transatlantic ocean liner to the wealthy neighborhoods of New York society serve as a metaphor for the struggle between the working man and the industrial complex found at the heart of the play.

Director Ian Wolfgang Hinz has created a minimalist presentation of the play, which focuses the attention of the audience on the character study of each actor. The company moves well in tandem to present this particular journey. Overall, to great effect, but there are some performances that stand out.

The show is led by Milan, who turns in an excellent interpretation of Yank. I have to state that this performance is another solid acting turn from Milan, who consistently produces engaging theatre whenever he hits the boards. In fact, I think he is one of the most consistently solid actors in the city. Always engaging. Always professional quality. Watching the arc of his pursuit to belong is heart wrenching. Every hurdle he hits feels like a punch in the gut. His decline to a caged end, caps off a searing portrayal.

Allen Branstein, as Paddy, brings some drunken realness to the party. Representing the one guy at the party that launches into psychological tormented stories, and demonstrative monologues of astute interpretations of life. Right before you put him to bed. There is a defeated quality to the old man at sea, and it is presented with great precision, even though the accent is a bit hard to unravel at points. But, the feeling is not veiled at all.

James Rankin as Long, is serving up some major mustache, along with a precise and engaging personae. As he engages the company, he creates a dramatic presence and holds the stage with confidence and bravado, while providing just below the surface tension, that beautifully increase the dynamics.

Mary Alice Beck brings her superb sense of timing and comedic skills to the role of Mildred Douglas’s (Brittany Ganser) Aunt. She is serving major face during her scenes with Ganser, and the result is delightful. Providing a strong sense of righteous indignation, and also, “you will reap what you sow child” bravado. Beautiful work. Ganser brings her sass and attitude to set up the wounding encounter with Yank.

Out of nowhere comes Keith Kornajcik, playing the Secretary of the Labor Union and dismisses Yank’s ideas of violent rebellion in favor of peaceful strikes, and the passing out of pamphlets. He does this with a strong and confident poise. His commanding voice demands attention, and his scene is delivered with pitch perfect focus.

The rest of the company is dead on. Whit Lowell, Santino Montanez, Kyle Huff, Aziz Ghrabat and August Scarpelli all deliver the goods.

Director Hinz has put together a great show. Bringing an American classic to the stage with focus and spirit. Walter Boswell’s Set Design is really interesting. A raked stage with inventive coal ovens, jail cells, city skyline, and a descending cage that enhances the dramatic ending. Costume Design by Meg Parish, certainly creates the worker, and the high society, which is key to understanding the pain of Yank’s journey. Andrew Eckert’s Lighting Design brings isolated energy to scenes that are strategically placed on the sparse set. Clear delineations of where we are physically in the play. Becca Moseley and Hinz’s Sound Design was on point. Moseley also added her artistic touch with designing the society masks. Technical Director Stephen Vasse-Hassell brings all the elements together with smooth and effective precision.


Chicago, the Musical at The Brecksville Theatre

The Brecksville Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: November 10, 2017

Chicago, the Musical is an American musical with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and a book by Ebb and Bob Fosse. Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, the musical is based on a 1926 play of the same name by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins about actual criminals and crimes she reported on. The story is a satire on corruption in the administration of criminal justice and the concept of the “celebrity criminal.”

There is something magical happening in Brecksville. It is the inaugural theatre production of the newly formed: The Brecksville Theatre. The magic ignites with its first production of the season, Chicago, the Musical. And, there is much to celebrate.

I had a chance to talk with Artistic Director Bruce Orendorf about the exciting new changes that have happened to Breckville’s Historic Old Town Hall, which has in turn, changed the local theatre scene into a dynamic hurricane of theatrical riches. Orendorf, along with other talented and committed colleagues, was very much involved in the process of forming The Brecksville Theatre. This happened by the merging of Brecksville Little Theatre, and Theatre of the Square, which shared the space. On July 1st, 2017, Bruce “The Handmaids Tale” Orendorf, gave birth to the 501C baby of the year.

Coincidentally, at the same time, The City of Brecksville was considering making an investment into the Town Hall. Mayor Jerry N. Hruby is very supportive of the arts, and recognizes the immense payoff that culture and theatre can bring to the community, and families in the area. Helmed by the Mayor, The City of Brecksville made a substantial investment by installing a lighting system in the theatre, capable of enhancing productions to dramatic professional heights. What a joy this will be to the audiences, and the production teams that will flock to work at the theatre. Orendorf was quick to point out that his associate Myles Rapkin, researched and qualified the new lighting equipment for the space. Quite a massive and important job. Also, just as important, is finding someone who can implement the new upgrade into the theatre, and have the production quality reflect the investment. Orendorf made it quite clear, that Lighting and Sound Designer Tobias Peltier was instrumental in the new vision. His final thought was that he wanted “to give the artists the environment to play, create, and highlight their abilities, while removing obstacles to creativity and vision”.

The phrase “Light the Way” is powerful on its own, and as a result of this incredible investment from the city, and the dedication of the transition team led by Orendorf and the Board, the theatre can “Light the Way” for audiences, cast and crew members, alike. Bravo Mayor Hruby. Congratulations to The Brecksville Theatre.

And now, the show must go on!

When you first take your seat you can’t help get excited from what you see on the stage. Especially the official Chicago sign that looms over the entire set and audience. It sends a signal that you’re ready to see something very exciting. There are many fine performances in the show. But first off, let me talk about Kristin Netzband. She has become quite a force in the Cleveland musical theater scene. When you see her name, you can be assured that it’s going to be a dynamic presentation. Plus, she is gifted with talents of casting, directing, and choreography. A triple threat on the production side. And once again, she knocks it out of the park.

Leading this musical are the two jewels, Velma and Roxie as played by Trinidad Snider and Kimberly Eskut. This dynamic duo is quite impressive. It wouldn’t surprise me if Marvel didn’t pick them up for superhero series. Snider is one of the most talented performers in the city. She brings her special star power qualities to this production in multiple ways. Her acting is strong. Her dancing is joyful and sultry. And her vocal chops are legend. Equally amazing is her cohort and musical theater crime partner, Kimberly Eskut. She embodies this character, and evolves into a celebration of musical self-actualization. Which is magnificent to watch. In fact, I think this is the best performance that I have ever seen from this talented performer. She looks beautiful, she dances sublime, her vocals are sexy as hell, and she simply kicks ass. It is a treasured performance.

Neil Scheibelhut as Billy Flynn cuts a fine figure, and brings a velvet vocal quality to the role. Think Dan Draper. And, when he hits the “Gun” note, don’t be surprised if oxygen masks fall from the ceiling to help you breathe along with him. He definitely has his job cut out for him holding his own against such dynamic performers around him. As provided by Caron Wykle, who is on fire as Mama Morton. This is another performance that I feel is the best she has delivered. She is sassy, fierce, and uses those qualities to turn Mama Morton into a jailhouse sex kitten. MEOW Bitch! Mary Sunshine is a fabulous hot mess of sexual identity. Joel Fenstermaker brings some Lucille Ball real-ness to the role, as if Lucille Ball was actually in female drag. Kind of like RuPaul’s wedding planner. His vocal range provides the mystery needed to make the final reveal hysterical. Good job. I really enjoyed Brian Pichola as Amos Hart. His characterization is dead on and the whole audience probably would take up a collection for him at the end of the show. A really nice consistence characterization, which causes the audience to provide several “awwwwwww’s” along the way. Perfect.

Cell Block Tango is one of the big highlights of the show. The six Merry Murderess’s really kick some major jailhouse sass. One of the very clever casting choices show is David Turner as Annie. But instead of going drag, it takes a more realistic approach and makes the monologue about a same-sex relationship which ends up being hilarious. Bravo on that decision and making it work. And in the role of Fred Casely, Jeremy Jenkins looks like he stepped out of a film noir convention, and is a perfect addition to the iconic characters. And, also an indication of the depth of this cast, because Jenkins is an excellent performer.

The Featured Ensemble of actor/dancers are great and fully capture the essence of the show. It is so wonderful to see this fabulous music come to life through this company of invested performers. And, bravo for fitting into those shirts, because if I did that, i would look like one of those frozen turkeys with the fish net holder to carry the bird.

There are some points of order that were noticed. Although the lighting is fabulous, there were two points where I found it distracting. I felt like the jail gobo used for the Cell Block Tango, left too many faces half lit while they were singing and acting. I thought a stronger base lighting across the stage, would have helped and still maintained the effect.

Also, the timing of the lighting on the individual tag lines of each murderess was not as sharp as it could have been. What I felt was missing from Billy Flynn was the smarm of the character. I wanted Flynn to lighten up and be more in love with himself, and expressive, and have much more fun with the audience in a “look at me, I am so good at what I do, and on top of that, women can’t resist me” vibe. Sunshine needs to provide a bit more diction on the higher register. Finally, a little more expression from the crowd during the trial scene would seem to add more energy and fun.

The orchestra certainly jammed, led by Heidi Herzeg. Although I admit I wish you see the orchestra on stage. Netzband provided great true to form choreography, and also, an understated bold set design. Kristina Zielinski provided great costumes. I didn’t see one wrinkle in any of the outfits, including the suits, which is my pet peeve. Tobias Peltier provided an absolutely wonderful lighting and sound design. There wasn’t one moment of feedback.

This is one hell of a way to kick off a brand-new theater in a brand-new season. And it’s clear that the audiences agree, because they’ve actually added to show to the official run to accommodate audience demand. That additional show is on Thursday, November 16th.

Bravo Folks. You have a very entertaining show!

The All Night Strut at Theatre in the Circle

Theatre in the Circle

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: September 22, 2017

There is a new theatre in town kicking up some swing and jive to the delight of audience members at the Judson Manor Ballroom. Director Mark Corcoran, Musical Director Bill Corcoran, and Choreographer Jennifer Justice, have produced a delightful juke box musical that should entertain virtually everyone. This is definitely a great event to bring your parents, grandparents, and Manhattan Transfer fans, to completely immerse yourself into tight four part harmonies, a kick ass band, and performers that are as talented, as they are charming.

The show itself: The All Night Strut! moves through the Depression, World War II and the post-war boom in a two-act musical celebration of the 1930s and ’40s, filled with jazz, blues, bebop and American songbook standards. Weaving together the work of legendary songwriters such as Hoagy Carmichael, Frank Loesser, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Cab Calloway and the Gershwins. The story moves through time and place to highlight a slick slice of yesteryear and capture a beloved American era.

This cast is on fiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre! Thank you Alicia Keys. Listening to this quartet sing, you would think that they have been together for years. But, they were cast out of auditions, and worked there struts off to create a magic evening of tuneful entertainment.

The ladies from left to right: Neda Spears and Jill Marie Zeszut. Each deliver some dynamite moments throughout. Spears knocks it out of the park several times. Starting off with a great rendition of “Gimme A Pigfoot And A Bottle of Beer”, and then later, literally rips the roof of the ballroom with a fantastic version of “Operator”. I am sure she heard my group yelling with approval. Zeszut with her Marilyn Monroe hair and a red dress that would stop Fleet Week dead in its tracks, finds her enhanced fierceness with her lead on “In The Mood”, which she adds her deft dancing skills, and then makes me question why I don’t date women, with her beautiful delivery of “I’ll Be Seeing You”.

The gentlemen from left to right: Miguel Osbourne and Robert Kowalewski. Osbourne is a finely tuned showman, and leads this quartet with confidence and a smile that would surely turn any bad day into a good one. Whether he is charming your face off with “Minnie The Moocher”, or pulling on your heart-strings during “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime”, he is the consummate performer. Kowalewski possesses one of the most beautiful voices I have heard in a long time. The quality reminds me of Karen Carpenter in a way, and I don’t mean that is a weird way, but just as Carpenter’s resonance is spellbinding, so is Kowalewski’s. It is like listening to butter melting, crossed with looking like John Boy Walton. His version of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” is flawless, and “As Time Goes By” is so radiant it sets off the disco ball.

Add all of these talented folks together and it is a blast to listen to and watch. The opening number of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” is fierce. Their movements and vocals sprint out of the starting gates to such grand effect, you don’t care which horse wins, because actually, they actually all cross the finish line at the same time.

Through an artistic telescope there are some minor distractions. The Ballroom chandelier is not as high up as you would hope from the stage. Making you feel like it is a bit cramped for the middle singers. When the singers move together on one mic, the balance is off because the middle singers stick out. A couple of times, the band drowned out the singers. There are slight moments of not being in sync on the moves. The lighting at times did cast shadows on faces more than I thought should. But as I said, that is through a telescope, because the overall vibe of the evening is a hit.

Shout out to the talented band. Bill Corcoran on Piano, George Judy on Drums, and David Spondike on Bass. Each one helped create a fabulous combo, that worked along with the performers with professional grace and execution. Set Design and Fabrication Design by Austin Kilpatrick was on point. Dig the stage sign in the back. Nice touch. Lighting and Sound Design by David Palmer/Network Sound did a great job in that space. Akron Design & Costume provided eye-popping looks.

Check out this show. It is a great atmosphere and the Corcoran’s are adding a great space for fierce entertainment in a gorgeous neighborhood.

Equus at Blank Canvas Theatre

Blank Canvas Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: August
14, 2017

THEATRE: Blank Canvas Theatre is dedicated to inspiring a new love for those new to theatre in the Cleveland community, while providing another quality venue for those who already love the arts. Our annual season is diverse, designed to attract many different types of theatre-goers – whether you prefer American classics, new works, off-beat musicals, drama, or comedy, you’ll find something to enjoy at Blank Canvas Theatre. We always include at least one show chosen to appeal to new audience members – folks who do not think of themselves as “theatre lovers” and may be seeing a live performance for the first time – and we also feature performances of The Laughter League sketch comedy troupe as part of each season. It’s our goal to interest people in different types of performances, encouraging them to break out of their entertainment boxes! Blank Canvas Theatre is also honored and happy to provide a supportive, fun, and professional environment in which actors, designers and technicians can work together to create a positive experience for themselves and our audience.

SHOW: Equus is a Tony Award winning play by Peter Shaffer written in 1973, telling the story that was inspired by a real crime in which a 17-year-old boy blinded six horses. Dr. Martin Dysart (Russell B. Kunz), a psychiatrist, is confronted with Alan Strang (a remarkable Antonio DeJesus), a boy who has blinded six horses in a violent fit of passion. To the boy’s parents it is a hideous mystery; Alan has always adored horses. To Dysart, it is a psychological puzzle that leads both doctor and patient to a complex and disturbingly dramatic confrontation.

PERFORMANCE: There is much to be celebrated with this production. From the moment, you take your seat, you begin to take in the set design that is reminiscent of a barn stable at sunset. Awash with blood-red hue, the lighting enhances a raised circular set with a dropped center, where one can only guess the recesses of the mind rest. Horse heads are placed strategically around the set, so that anywhere you look, at least one of the horses is looking at you. It is chilling, and even though, I am familiar with the play, I have never seen this design. Truly original and eerie. And I kept thinking, what about the people who don’t know what is coming………………

This tale is anchored on the journey of two actors. In this case, Kunz as Dr. Martin Dysart, and his patient Allan Strang, portrayed to perfection by Antonio DeJesus. But what is remarkable about this production, is the quality of the surrounding actors. Amiee Collier, as court magistrate, Hesther Saloman, is at perfect pitch. She portrays confidence in every step and line, and most importantly intention. Her drive to help Strang resonates. Even though Collier is basically the Patty Lupone of Cleveland Theatre, it is nice to see her flex her acting chords with precision. As parents, Frank and Dora Strang, Andrew Narten and Claudia Esposito ring true on every note. Narten is riveting as he navigates his personal moral code. His nuances are visceral and his intrinsic acting choices divine. His handling of his descent into his own moral demons, is executed with adept choices. Esposito delivers the all-American mother realness in fine form. She handles the characters journey with fine craftswomanship. Delivering both the loving, supportive side, and also, letting loose with determined focus when necessary.

Nugget & the Horsemen are perfection. Providing the physical presence and soul of these equine gods, the gentlemen create a magnificent strength. Daryl Kelley, as Nugget, provides a sexual, strong, and confident leader of the Harras. Jason Falkofsky, Zac Hudak, Evan Martin, Anthony Salatino, and David Turner are perfect as the attending horsemen. Each with quiet dignity and strength, providing a beautiful relationship. And as a former partner to an equine trainer, the moment Alan and Jill enter the stable to see the horses all turn their heads to check out the visitors, was a welcome recalled memory. Every moment and choreographed movement was wonderful. Great work.

Chris Bizub as Harry Dalton provides a down to earth real presentation of character. Solid choices, and delivers with a confident manner. As the Nurse, Katie Wells doesn’t give a flying medical degree how small this role could be perceived, she makes every entrance, moment, and constructive moment count.

Sarah Blubaugh as Jill Mason, Harry’s daughter, turns in a pristine performance. The moment she enters the stage, her stage presence, confidence, and centered psyche is on full display. She is marvelous to watch as she traverses every psychological road block that Allan puts up, and does it with superb skill.

And we come to the two main players. On Saturday night, Kunz started off strong, a little more Richard Griffiths looking for my liking, but began his journey with an effective air. But there was something missing. The performance seemed off with a bit of bobbling lines, and after a while, acting pauses turned into worry that the lines were not coming as fast to the brain and one would wish. Also missing were a few pages of script from Act One, an error that I am sure will be reserved for only once in a lifetime. However, when he was on, it worked well. And also, if you did not know that happened, Kunz handled that as a pro – and as a result, an Equus novice would have never known. But none of that could deflect from the magnificent performance of DeJesus as Alan Strang. It is truly remarkable. From the moment we meet him, he slowly unravels his tortured and protected veneer. Every moment is completely lost within an incredibly defined characterization that is spellbinding to watch. Each of his monologues are pieces of art. Having just entered his first year of college, I can’t imagine a more profound dissertation on character. And when Blubaugh and DeJesus start the final journey into the core of hell and dysfunction of this piece, their moments together, the craft and skill they both bring, is some of the most brave, fierce, trusting, and unapologetic acting I have seen in a long time. It is magic, and it is an honor to have seen their work.

PRODUCTION: Artistic Director/Technical Director/Director Patrick Ciamacco has produced and directed one of the best shows ever at Blank Canvas Theatre. Great concept, and wonderful execution. His Lighting and Sound Design greatly enhanced this show. His set design with the drop middle was especially intriguing to me, for I felt that it represented the subconscious, where all of our fears, faults, and dark stories reside. Luke Scattergood provided solid costuming, but I would press Saloman’s skirt and cut off the string hanging in the back. The Horse Construction was awesome. Great work from Noah Hrbek (Original Horse Design) and Ciamacco. The horse movement was coached by Katie Zarecki, Jenna Fink, and Patrick Ciamacco. Assistant Director Jenna Fink was on board as well within the production. Stage Manager Brittany Gaul did an excellent job as Stage Manager and calling the show.

In the event that skipping pages occurs in the show, it is probably best not to have cast members texting friends in the audience to discuss the faux pas, or discussing the situation at the rest room. Shit happens. To all of us. Just keep it in the family, just like the Strang’s.

Forbidden Broadway at Western Reserve Playhouse

Western Reserve Playhouse
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
August 1, 2017

In this long-running Off-Broadway hit musical revue, Broadway’s greatest musical legends meet Broadway’s greatest satirist in this hilarious, loving & endlessly entertaining tribute to some of the theatre’s greatest stars & songwriters.

The original version of the revue opened on January 15, 1982, at Palsson’s Supper Club in New York City and ran for 2,332 performances. Gerard Alessandrini has rewritten the show more than a dozen times over the years to include parodies of newer shows. The show, in its various editions, has received over 10,000 performances & has been seen in more than 200 U.S. cities, as well as playing in London, Tokyo, Singapore & Sydney.

Currently this show is running full throttle at the Western Reserve Playhouse in Bath, OH. Before I get to the show, I do want to throw some serious congratulations to the new Co-Artistic Directors Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski and Brian Westerley. It is obvious from the moment you walk into the theatre, that there is an incredible sense of positive energy and community spirit which permeates the walls. I mean, does it get any better to walk into the theatre, be greeted by a lovely woman who hands you your program, and then belts out “The Bar is Open!”. Now that is one way to welcome a guest. I noticed immediately the updated wordwork surrounding the bar, and the enhanced atmosphere. It is very apparent that hard work has gone into pumping this theatre full of energy and renewed artistic vision. Bravo!

Director Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski has assembled a crazy group of wonderful performers to bring this musical satire to life. The numbers are well orchestrated and the transitions move well with comedic flair. John Ebner, plays double duty by being the talented Musical Director, and also at times becoming part of the show. He plays wonderfully, and also adds some pretty fabulous face to the proceedings. The production team has done a wonderful job with the set, with a layered comedic cake in the middle, and a silver sparkle curtain as a backdrop. The entire cast makes every movement count, as they fill the space with joyous schtick. Kudos to Tech Director Jim Gremba and Lighting Designer Kevin Rutan. The Costumes are fabulous. I think there are more costumes in this show, than the last ten shows I have seen in the area, and I mean that as a compliment. No holds barred, as the team of Costume Designer Kelsey Tomlinson, and Assistant Brandon Applegarth, created more comedic costume gold than one could possibly imagine.

The nice thing about this show is that everyone gets a moment to be the class clown, and take focus. The cast is a blast, but I do have a few personal favorites. Bernadette Hisey shows that mature women like us can still kick some ass in Glossy Fosse. She also takes names during the Hello Dolly montage as Carol Channing. Nina Takacs is just so much fun it hurts……….from laughing. She has brilliant comedic timing, and a voice that sends angels to heaven. Her long in the tooth Annie is a scream. Jay Hill brings some Soupy Sales charm to the Into the Words number. Mark Vandevender does a great job with Somewhat Overindulgence, which takes Mandy Pantinkin head on. I was impressed with a younger performer having the chops to nail Pantinkin’s idiosyncrasies, but he nailed it along with hilarious vocal finesse. It will take me months to stop laughing from the Wicked number. Kimberly Sullivan chewed more scenery than a pack of fire ants during the White party. Killing me. And the monkeys. And the leaf blower. I can’t, I just can’t. During the Les Miz close out of Act One, Luke Scattergood had me cracking up trying to sing notes that no one should be singing. Damn those composers, and tenors. And the ensemble was cooking on all cylinders.

Act Two brings Takacs back and coked up for a Liza Minnelli spoof that will take about 10 Xanax to come down from. Don Bernardo looks like he just stepped out of the Spamalot movie for some high jinks, and completely nails Ambition, serving up some comedic Terre realness. And I forgot to mention, he killed it as well as Valjean. Speaking of killing it, Scattergood as Edna Turnblad will keep me in rehab for years. Just Fabulous.

Like I stated, all of the performers are good, but the key is to be heard. For the performers who don’t project as well as the others, you spend too much time trying to hear, than listening to the comedy. I personally felt the lights up during the hello section would have connected with the audience better. The opening number was a bit stiff, so if the cast could just get fired up like the end of Act One, and start that way, it would be a better start. I thought that the added bits with the musical director went on too long and didn’t add enough comedy to exist. The hand-held mic is too loud, or stop yelling in it, because it is so loud is getting garbled. A night out at Karaoke would help. Physically, everyone was dead on. At the end, you walk away feeling completely entertained.

And I might have heard a glimmer of the Game of Thrones theme on one crossover. If I am right, brilliant move.

This show is a lot of fun. This is old school kick ass community theatre. Make it out to Western Reserve Playhouse. There is a lot of good happening here, and I can’t wait to write about it again.


Avenue Q at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre

Chagrin Valley Little Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: August 2, 2017

This laugh-out-loud musical tells the timeless story of a recent college grad named Princeton, who moves into a shabby New York apartment all the way out on Avenue Q. He soon discovers that, although the residents seem nice, it’s clear that this is not your ordinary neighborhood. Together, Princeton and his new-found friends struggle to find jobs, dates and their ever-elusive purpose in life.

Filled with gut-busting humor and a delightfully catchy score, not to mention puppets, Avenue Q is a truly unique show that has quickly become a favorite for audiences everywhere. Although the show addresses humorous adult issues, it is similar to a beloved children’s show; a place where puppets are friends, Monsters are good, and life lessons are learned.

Sounds like a blast doesn’t it? Well it is. However, the puppets in this show make “Girls gone Wild” look like a Lassie movie. That is why it is very understandable that the show comes with a disclosure:

Content Notices: Adult Themes, Strong Language, Sexual Content

My first impressions entering the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre is one of awe. The remodeling that has taken place there has turned this charming theatre into a revamped modern facility. Add in the fantastic volunteer base, and this theatre hits a home run. Also, running into Stage Manager Jeannie Clarkson was a delight. Sitting in my seat I am immediately tickled to see the set. Avenue Q never looked better. Looking like Sesame Street, it was interesting to think if the audience knew what was about to happen to them.

Tim Schuerger ( Princeton) starts off with some strong vocals and charming presence with What Do You Do With a B.A. in English? Natalie Kreft ( Kate Monster) has an immediate likable stage presence from her first entrance, deftly handling one of the major story lines that will unfold, with beautiful vocals and an enjoyable character. The entire ensemble rendition of Sucks To Be Me starts the evening off with kicking some major vocal and comedic butt. Every character is unique and a heck of a lot of fun. The puppets are great, and clearly worth the rental fee. This is a fabulous opening number. And Gary Coleman (Dayshawnda ‘Day’ Ash) is the pleasant surprise. So right off we have great characterizations, but when Christmas Eve (Evie Koh) takes over, this party hits the street with burning comedic rubber. Koh kicks ass this entire show. Her husband to be Brian (Patrick Hanlon) is a scream, playing his King of the Hill, Al Bundy realness to the hilt. Rod (Rob Walter) is a hoot as the alternative lifestyle puppet. Great face and great puppet maneuvers, and certainly anchors the show. Truly a blended puppet human delivery.

The Bad Idea Bears are scene stealers in the best way possible. Zachary Vederman and Sara Saltzer are brilliant as the bears that will lead you right off the edge in life, and/or off the edge of your chair in laughter. Other premiere performances are Tony Heffner as Nicky. One of the most well-rounded performers and characters in the show. Great puppet voice, great vocals, and great facial/puppet work. Just fantastic. Lets add in one of my favorite performances with Michael J. Rogan absolutely killing it playing Trekkie. Rogan completely destroys this role with brilliant comedic timing, and a voice that would rival Pennywise the clown. Awesome hilarious work. And then there is Braelin Andrzejewski as Mrs. Thistletwat, and then the delicious slut Lucy. Where the hell has this voice been my whole life. As Thistlewat, she delivers a very funny characterization. But when she enters as Lucy, the turkey thermostat just popped out to tell us we are done. Fabulous sultry, fun Lucyness, and then a sultry powerful vocal to top it all off. Don’t get me started with her rapid head dip. I just can’t.

Very special Kudos to Nicky’s right arm Jackie Manno, and Trekkie’s right arm Ronnie Thompson. Great work from both of them for completing their characters with astute precision, and rocking the ensemble numbers.

There were some issues that I noticed. I felt like a decision should be made to just light the puppet or both the puppet and the human face. Many times the spotlight cut half of the human face off and I found that distracting. There were several times where puppets were upstaging themselves. This happened with Kate Monster quite a bit, and one scene with the Blue Bad Idea bear. Whether these scenes or moments were blocked that way, or just fell into place, more attention needs to be spent making sure the puppets are opened up to the audience. The balance of the orchestra and performers tended to be off quite a bit during big numbers, sometimes so loud you couldn’t hear the performers. And then also when there were quieter moments to start off a number, you could hardly hear the intro. I am a stickler when it comes to a button on the end of the number. There were quite a few times where the posing at the end of the number, and the music weren’t in sync. To be honest, this bugs me. It leaves the audience, and the cast, with an odd sense of “Is this over?”. As a result, some of the transitions suffered.

A major attaboy to the Band led by Carey Knox. They kicked it. Special shout out to percussionist Marcus Greene, who nailed every comedic percussion moment in the show. If you ever needed a rim shot guy for your comedy act, this would be the man.

Director and Co-Lighting Designer Will C. Crosby has put together a great cast and a great night of entertainment. Choreographer Kaylea Kudlaty supplies everyone with just the right amount of movement to make the evening jive. However, if I see one more box step and a grapevine in community theatre, I might have to be medicated. Kudlaty also did double duty costuming the show to perfection. Edmond Wolff did a great job with his Set, Sound, Lighting and Video Design. Jeannie Clarkson handled Stage Management with efficient flare.

Now, friends, lemme tell you what I mean. Ya got one, two, three, four, five, six……….Reasons to see The Music Man at Cain Park

Cain Park

Preview by: Kevin Kelly
August 1, 2017

There might be trouble in River City, but there is a whole lot of family fun going on at Cain Park in the beginning of August. Newly named Artistic Director Joanna May Hunkins has decided to bring back the big brassy musical to the Evans Amphitheater. She is joined by esteemed Musical Director Jordan Cooper. And as the song talks about the 6 pockets in the pool table, here are my 6 reasons why an outting to Cain Park to see The Music Man is a great choice.

1. The Show.

There’s trouble in River City when a fast-talking salesman gets his heart stolen by the town librarian! The Music Man follows fast-talking traveling salesman Harold Hill (Eric Fancher) as he cons the people of River City, Iowa into buying instruments and uniforms for a boys’ band he vows to organize – this despite the fact he doesn’t know a trombone from a treble clef. His plans to skip town with the cash are foiled when he falls for Marian the librarian (Nicole Sumlin), who transforms him into a respectable citizen by the end of the night. By turns wicked, funny, warm, romantic and touching, The Music Man is family entertainment at its best. Meredith Willson’s six-time, Tony Award winning musical comedy has been entertaining audiences since 1957 and is a family-friendly story to be shared with every generation. Cain Park’s production features Liza Grossman and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra performing the music on the stage of the Evans Amphitheater, while the actors stand in front of the orchestra singing the show’s timeless classics.

2. The Venue.

The Evans amphitheater had its grand opening in August 1938 with the staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Plays, operas, concerts, and other cultural events have been held at Cain Park ever since. Dr. Dina Rees Evans, meanwhile, continued to serve as managing director of Cain Park Theater until 1950. She attracted top-flight young talent to the theater company, including music director Jack Lee, producer Ross Hunter, and actors Hal Holbrook, Dom DeLuise, Carol Kane, Jack Weston and Pernell Roberts. Evans retired from teaching in 1958. The amphitheater was renamed in her honor in 1989.

3. The Cast.

A group of over 60 local actors, both equity and community actors, and some local families as well.

Harold Hill…Eric Fancher (pictured above right)

Marian…Nicole Sumlin* (pictured above left)

Winthrop…Easton Sumlin

Amaryllis…Calista Zajac

Mrs. Paroo…Nan Golz

Mrs. Shinn…Jeanne Task

Mayor Shinn…Darryl Lewis*

Gracie Shinn…Sun-Hee Smith

Marcellus…Chris Richards*

Tommy Djilas…Frank Ivancic

Constable/Conductor…Jon M. Fancher

Carlie Cowell…Jim Bray*

Zaneeta…Grace Hunt

Alma Hix…Kate Michalski

Maud Dunlop…Corlesia Smith

Mrs. Squires…Julie Sabroff

Ethel Toffelmeir…Sarah Clare

The River City School Board Quartet…The Cornerstone Quartet (Fred Locker, Chris Foisy, Mike Sabo, David Hipp)

Ensemble: Anna Barrett, Jeffrey Bendix, Joan Bendix, Stephen Bundy, Nicolas Bustamante, David Cooper, Deborah Cooper, Lexi Cowan, Mary DeNunzio, Kennedy Ellis, Courtney Foerg, Trey Gilpin, Jade Gladue, Johnathon L. Jackson, Lily Kerr-Jung, Rose Leininger, Gabriel Mallamad, Ryan Michaels, Lili Evangelina Miller, Ryan C. Miller, Scott Miller, Shawn Miller, Luca Mokotoff, Sienna Mokotoff, Brian Mueller, Elisha Mueller, Keegan Polatz, Connor Logan Reese, Will Sanborn, Olivia Sislow, Nick Sobotka, Jake Spencer, Sam Spencer, Kathleen Sullivan, August Sumlin, Rosie Tilk, Cecilia Willets, Cordelia Willets, Grace Willmott, Robin Woods, Hannah Woodside

This cast is a beautiful example of casting roles in this truly iconic American musical, with diversity at the core of its principles. Inclusiveness is the theme, and one to be heralded and enjoyed.

4. Conductor Liza Grossman and the Contempory Youth Orchestra.

Liza Grossman is the founding Music Director of the Contemporary Youth Orchestra. Liza has worked with some pretty amazing people in some spectacular places, too: Blossom Music Center. Severance Hall. Nautica Stage. Interlochen. Liza has conducted major artists performing major works on these stages and more, including 20 world-premiere concertos performed by members of the Cleveland Orchestra, nationally recognized musicians and prominent jazz artists. She has conducted more than 300 orchestral world premieres, all with the composers present, including Bernard Rands, Robert Ward and Joan Tower. It is thrilling that this partnership will provide an orchestrial backdrop to this incredible concert production of The Music Man. “Don’t let our name fool you: We’re youthful in energy and passion, but professional in quality, delivery, and repertoire.”

5. Bill Rudman and The Musical Theatre Project Performance Talk.

BILL RUDMAN is an educator, a broadcaster, a producer and the founder of The Musical Theater Project. As TMTP’s Artistic Director, he has created more than 40 concerts and cabarets that celebrate and share musical theater as a uniquely American art form. His radio programs, “Footlight Parade” and “On the Aisle,” are heard across the country on public radio stations, Public Radio Exchange ( and Sirius XM Satellite Radio. In 1983, he and New York author Ken Bloom co-founded Harbinger Records, a label that has won critical praise for albums devoted to the American musical and the Great American Songbook. In 2000 he became the first recipient of the Robert Bergman Award for his work in arts education and community outreach. Mr. Rudman will lead a fascinating discussion about The Music Man and its creation. Sunday 1pm pre-performance talk by Bill Rudman for ticket holders, The Musical Theater Project

6. The Interview

Last week I had a chance to sit down with Eric Fancher (Harold Hill), Nicole Sumlin (Marian Paroo), and Musical Director Jordan Cooper. I wanted to know their first memory of The Music Man. Sumlin stated that she was in high school, and it was one of those “let’s show a video in class day”. She has been singing since she was 3, but when she listened to The Music Man, that young lady wondered would she ever get a chance to sing those songs. She was captivated. Fancher was 4 years old, and grew up in a musical family environment. He remembers his parents putting on The Music Man, and he proceeded to dance around the living room pretending to be Harold Hill. Cooper was also around 4 or 5 when he first heard the show. He remembers being overwhelmed with the music, and described the experience as magical. That moment of exhilaration started his love affair with the piano.

Is there a lasting impression from when you saw or remember The Music Man? Sumlin stated it was the Quartet singing, and the fabulous counter melody that Marian gets to sing with Lida Rose. Fancher responded with a more historical reference, by saying the musical reminded him that the show was truly a classic and groundbreaking “American” Musical. Cooper reiterated the love affair with the piano, and how that musical transported a young man’s path to musical heights.

We then turned to the question of what is unique to this production. Sumlin stated that she was honored to have the chance to play Marian Paroo and sing her songs. This could have only happened due to the bold and artistic choice to have a cast with diversity. To be able to handle a role not traditionally cast black, but to look at this project as an oppurtunity for young people to see a cast of all race and ethnicity tell this truly American Musical filled with true Americans. African-Americans can offer the world more than Gospel and Jazz, and this show offers some classical song delivery. And what a joy that her son Easton Sumlin is playing Winthrop. Cooper stated that this particular production is a testament to diversity. He also stated that working in tandem with Liza Grossman has been a truly professional collaboration. Cooper will be in the pit playing the piano, while Grossman will be conducting. He said the process of putting the music performance together was inspiring.

My final thoughts. The story is about who you are, not what you are. Let people be drawn to the characters these talented actors will create. America is a melting pot. Diversity in casting should be celebrated, but hopefully not that surprising anymore. Tell the story. The story is about family and a town who finds redemption and grace through believing. And in the end, isn’t that what we want for America?

City of Angels at Beck Center for the Arts

Beck Center for the Arts

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: July 31, 2017

City of Angels is a very unique musical comedy that offers a clever tribute to 1940’s film noir. The production is bolstered by exemplary work by the esteemed artistic team, which provides music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel, and book by Larry Gelbart. The plot and storyline are quite complicated at it unravels, because it includes almost all of the conventions of film noir all rolled up into one. The plots of twists and turns within would make House of Cards look like Reading Rainbow. When Stine ( charming Jamie Koeth) embarks to faithfully adapt his novel into a screenplay, he discovers the difficulty of maintaining his artistic integrity against Hollywood movie moguls, particularly mogul Irwin S. Irving (played by exuberant Greg Violand). Each character in the life of Stine is mirrored by the film adaptation that is literally happening side by side on stage. Stine’s detective book hero is Stone (played with silver fox finesse by Rob Albrecht). As the line separating fantasy from reality is blurred, Stine must find a way to produce a happy ending, over characters that seem to take on a life of their own.

This cast is top-notch. Jamie Koeth plays Stine with wonderful character and vocal range. From a struggling playwright to a more confident story-teller, his arc is engaging and entertaining. Rob Albrecht as Stone is a master of suave and 40’s detective realness. His slick performance, and vocal power, brings the film noir essence to perfection. And when they both meet at the end of Act One, their duet will definitely inspire you and boost sales at concessions due to excitement. Greg Violand provides a fantastic obnoxious hot mess of greed and lust in delivering mogul Irwin S. Irving and Buddy.

(and the fact that Mr. Violand learned this role during tech week is remarkable).

Two other stand out performances can be found with Brian Altman as singer Jimmy Powers. Powers appears in both sides of the stage action, as he should, especially aided by the velvet voiced Altman. He creates so much charm and vocal schmaltz on stage you literally might need a lobster bib to keep yourself dry. Carlos Cruz handles the roles of Detective Munoz and Pancho Vargas with adept skill and energy to make these characters filled with life, instead of storyline fodder.

THE WOMEN! This production is filled with fabulous talented women. Leslie Andrews is on fire and I don’t want to put her out. Whether she is Gabby, Stine’s wife or Bobbi, Stone’s former girlfriend, she is bringing everything to the table. Brittni Shambaugh Addison needs three names to contain her vivacious talent. Her acting skills are incredibly refined and focused. Her vocals blend melodic joy and layered resonance both in Donna, Buddy’s secretary, and Oolie, Stone’s Girl Friday. Sonia Perez brings us some decadent diva realness and Susan Lucci perfection. Her delivery of one liners could protect us from any foreboding nuclear attack. As Carla, Buddy’s wife, or Alaura, Femme Fatale and Iron Lung Vanna White, she is fierce and fun. The beautiful Madeline Krucek completes this collection of Candle Party perfection. Her vocals are lush, her looks divine and her characters are well drawn and executed.

Throughout this journey is the Angel 4. Kind of like the Charlie’s Angels of the piece. Appearing to open the show and set the mood, and then saving scene changes from being boring and routine, to accented concert moments of vitality and blended vocal gold. The Angels are Robert Pierce, Erin Niebuhr, Brianna O’Boyle, and Steven Huynh.

As this production is filled with talent that any production team would probably want to throw themselves into the colored ball room of Chuckie Cheese to celebrate, the show itself has a journey all its own to overcome. It probably takes a while for the audience to understand what is actually going on. If you aren’t familiar with the film noir voiceovers and essence of what this brilliant musical is poking fun at, you wont get it until later in the show. For example, the opening of the show offers the fantastic vocal blend of the Angel 4, but the number is longer than it probably needs to be, and the choreography doesn’t come across as confident as it should. Maybe just focusing on the superior vocals might have been more effective. After that, the musical starts slowly rolling down the hill and gathers artistic and audience enthusiasm it goes. When the beginning of Act Two begins, the show is in full motion and connected with the audience, who is still fired up from the Act One finale. So in the end, it is probably a 50/50 chance that audience members will go out and tell people to see this show. I don’t know if it has that power on its own. For myself, I would recommend it because it is a unique production, that is hardly ever produced because it is that challenging. But the Beck and Spence took it on, and eventually won.

Director Scott Spence and his creative team have invented a fascinating design to bring this musical to life. As the show opens, we see the famous Hollywood sign split into three sections of stage. A clever addition to this iconic look, is that each section can be used with projections. This enables each separate scene to be enhanced with clever and visually exciting backdrops. And the final reveal, which I will not reveal, is a fabulous and triumphant ending scenario. So just like Oprah, “Everybody gets a Bravo!”. Set Design by Jordan Janota gets a Bravo, Projection Design by Adam Zeek gets a Bravo, and Lighting Design by Trad A (no period) Burns gets a Bravo!

Once again, the Musical Direction by Larry Goodpaster is luscious and inspiring. His first class assemblage of musicians provide a stunning musical backscape. Choreographer Martin Cespedes provides era perfect movement to enhance the 40’s atmosphere. Costume era realness/fierceness provided by Aimee Kluiber. Her costumes complimenting the woman with grand design and fit.

Next to Normal at CAMEO


Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: July 26, 2017

There are some beautiful things happening in Medina right now. One of them is the CAMEO Production of the Pulitzer Prize winning musical Next to Normal. This musical examines a family in crisis, as they experience mental issues that permeate and destroy a typical “normal” family. From the outside, a picturesque family portrait, on the inside, a turbulent bi-polar cloud of pain.

What is remarkable about this production is the production design. Director Colin McCord, and his talented designers, have decided to set this piece in the round. A truly original and dynamic choice, seeing that there has been 100 productions of Next to Normal over the last few years. This is a welcome visual. Along with set design, comes a brilliant Lighting and Scenic Design from Michael Sferro, Ed Schmuhl and Dale Seeds. As you sit awaiting the impending destruction ahead, you are met with a floor design that is awash in a deep blue. Pictures on the floor representing not fully formed faces. The combination transports you to a Picasso Blue Period that is fabulous. Most of the audience may not even know they are already being transported. Blinds surround the main stage area, representing the ability to see through or close off emotions, and our ability to deal with them.

Lights up and we meet Diana (a stunning Kirsten Forshew). Her performance is wonderful, and she meets the demands of the vocal power necessary to tell this fractured tale with confidence. There is nothing better than a stirring and fabulous belt. At the start of Act Two, Forshew has self-actualized into a force of nature. Tucker Boggs, as Gabe, has one of the most amazing voices I have heard in a long time. He turned in a solid performance, and his vocal versatility will provide quite a career for him. His dramatic unexpected entrances were played to perfection. Dan Polk, as Dan, no, that is the truth, brings a visceral vulnerability. He is aided by strong vocals and a likable presence. And, when he is seated in his chair at the end, you must be a zombie if your heart is not aching for him. Adam Vigneault brings his doctoral charm in full swag as Doctor Madden. A reserved textured performance that is certainly a needed balance to the characters swirling around him.

But when it comes to totally nailing a character and providing a fully fleshed out performance, my accolades go to the impressive performance of Meredith Stout as Natalie. Every part of this actors performance was fantastic. From the moment she enters, every scene, every vocal, she is emulating everything that is happening within her, and around her. She is a complete stand out. And her partner in crime, Benson H. Anderson, brings his own fierce characterization to the psychotic dance floor. His understated performance was grand. His relationship with Natalie was spot on. His voice divine. The two of them were incredibly rewarding to watch, and remember.

This is a good production. As a cast, when they are all on and every burner is fired up, it is magic. The closing song Light was incredible and a beautiful vocal event. But there are things that could have elevated this production to another level.

When the show began, and Diana’s mic was off, I wanted to throw a shoe through one of the blinds. This can’t happen. It takes minutes to recover from that, and to be honest, I didn’t even know she had a fantastic voice until the song I Miss The Mountains, because her softer notes and dialogue couldn’t be heard.

There are no musical vamps written in this show. The scene changes should be a break neck speed, so there is no emotional rest. Especially in Act One, it felt like the applause was being led during unneeded black outs, instead of fade outs and ups. And when the stage crew member came out and took the table off out of nowhere, there went my other shoe. Why? Actors did every change before and after that. The stakes have to be higher for everyone involved. Except for Stout and Anderson, I felt everyone could have gone deeper. Diction is imperative in the round. Also, when Polk sang the words Hooray, it reminded me that every word doesn’t have to be sung like a concert. Also, physically lighten up. Lighten up and be medicated. That is the best advice I ever got.

Incredibly talented Musical Director Tom Bonezzi leads a fine orchestra to bring this tale to light. Sometimes muffled by Sound balance issues, he leads a fierce group of young musicians.

Katie Peyton Costumed to perfection. Allen Redmon provided the Sound Design.

I say Bravo for CAMEO for tackling this immense musical journey. I feel it takes your theatre to another level, and for that, you should be very, very proud. Mr. McCord should be proud as well. For one so young to tackle this beast. But also, remember, to push your actors as far as you possibly can. When you get to the edge of a cliff, it is the edge, but when you look up, the view is amazing.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile at Blank Canvas Theatre

Blank Canvas Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: June 20, 2017

Steve Martin. Depending how old you are, hearing this name conjures different visions.

Back at his insane beginnings with incredibly silly humor that you couldn’t ignore whether you liked it or not. Then came the movie phase, which included Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau, and penning many film comedies. Currently, known for writing the book and music for Bright Star on Broadway.

Behind every brilliant comedian, there is usually a brilliant mind. In Martin’s case, true intelligentsia. In 2009, Steve Martin wrote “Focusing on Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity and Picasso’s master painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, the play attempts to explain, in a light-hearted way, the similarity of the creative process involved in great leaps of imagination in art and science”. That play is Picasso at the Lapin Agile, currently on stage at Blank Canvas Theatre directed by Jonathan Kronenberger. The play is without intermission and runs around 80 minutes.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile is a magical look into an imagined conversation between two minds that had a powerful impact on the shape of the 20th century, and those lucky enough to have been there to witness it in a neighborhood bar in Paris in 1903. It brings to life Einstein and Picasso, still in their early twenties, as they debate the meaning of art, the power of thought and the essence of everything. Einstein is still toiling in his job at the patent office, but is looking for a publisher for his Theory of Relativity, and Picasso is on the verge of painting his revolutionary Les Demoiselles dAvignon.

When I take a look at this cast, this is one hell of a collection of characters. The beautiful thing as well, is they are all talented performers. Including some incredibly seasoned performers. Since the play enjoys the cast being in the order of appearance, I thought I would maintain that course.

First we meet Freddy (John Busser). He is the owner and bartender of the Lapin Agile. He seems to be a simple-minded man, but occasionally says something truly stunning. Busser plays this role with everyman realness, a solid actor, but needed more energy presenting his calculation problem to Einstein. Enter Gaston (Rich Stimac). He is an abrupt and direct character with prostate problems, who only seems to care about sex and drinking. Stimac plays his character big and broad. He is very funny, but seems to be a tad disconnected within the play, since his energy is not matched by those around him. And I have to say, when he goes in for the prostate gold at one point, I immediately texted the bar for a shot.

Then the delightful Carla Petroski enters as Germaine. A waitress at the Lapin Agile. She is Freddy’s girlfriend, and has many ideas of what the 20th century will be like. Oh, and she banged Picasso. Petroski is a delight. The queen of the phrase “never mind.”

Einstein (Robert Kowalewski) – A 25-year-old genius scientist with big aspirations, with a book on the way called The Special Theory of Relativity. He often finds himself having to explain his theories and thoughts in a simpler manner to the patrons for them to understand his thoughts. Kowalewski gets one of the biggest laughs in the show when his hair isn’t recognized, and he makes an Einstein transition. That is a fun way to start a run. Sure comedic gold. His character is well formed, and he is a delight to watch as he takes on the crowd around him. He has a solid characterization, and confidence. The only hindrance is the German accent that is hard to understand at times, especially when blocked to talk upstage.

Becca Ciamacco as Suzanne – Her character is infatuated with Picasso. Suzanne and Picasso have already slept together, and she is left hurt and angry when he doesn’t remember her. And let’s just say, from her beautiful looks and artistic choices, Ciamacco turns her face into throwing some shade that would bring jilted women around the world to their feet. Great job. She also returns at the end as a female admirer to give us some perky”crazy ex girlfriend, if I don’t get laid tonight I’m going to die.” Sagot (Greg Mandryk) is Picasso’s art dealer, who is obsessed with finding and selling great pieces of art for profit. Mandryk turns in a perfect strong performance. Engaging, funny, and electric.

Pablo Picasso (Roderick Cardwell II) is talented and charismatic 23-year-old painter. Extremely egotistical and self-confident, he is a serial womanizer and master of manipulation. Cardwell fits the physical bill, and moves with ease through scenes with confidence. However, he needs more of a spark in his character to energize his chicanery.

Charles Dabernow Schmendiman (Ronnie Thompson) is a young inventor with huge dreams and little knowledge. Although he is hardworking, he is overshadowed by the genius and talent of Einstein and Picasso. He just tries TOO hard. Thompson is full of energy, and is a manic delight. But I think audiences will be hit and miss, since this character represents the crazier younger Steve Martin with an arrow through his head. The Countess is played by the brilliant comedian Britta Will. She takes on being Einstein’s sidepiece with perfect reserved finesse. She knows her man for sure.

The Visitor (Evan Martin) is polite and talented country-boy time-traveler, who adds another dimension and point of view to Einstein’s and Picasso’s debate. As he magically enters, he moves around stage as if he was on a bed of fog. Martin gives this character much suspense and intrigue, and his looks are haunting. I felt like I was about to see an episode of True Blood, and Twin Peaks. Interesting performance, delivering fascinating observations.

Overall, my guess is that the reaction to this show will be 50/50. Watch it on the right night, where the cast is full of vibrant energy, and the audience is there for this Steve Martin delight, and things will go very well. The night I saw it, I felt the evening lacked something. There were laughs, but not enough. Director Kronenberger took some chances on casting, and not all of those worked out to the benefit of the total product. If this production is not crisp, it withers.

Patrick Ciamacco came through strongly with his Lighting, Sound and Set Design. Luke Scattergood costumes a beautiful show that highlights each character. Joy DeMarco provided great Stage Managment. Noah Hrbek and Pat Miller serve up some fabulous replications of priceless work. Hrbek recreated The Red Beach by Matisse, and Miller recreated Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso. Even Wolfgang Beltracchi would have been proud. And to round things off, Hrbek displays his passion for sheep by the original landscape Le Mouton d’Avignon, which is not half baaaaaaad. Thank you.

Rock Of Ages at Cain Park

Cain Park
Professional Equity House

Review by: Kate Michalski
Published: June 13, 2017

Sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

And laughs. And face melting vocals. And so much fun!

If you want to have “Nothin’ But a Good Time”, Cain Park’s Rock of Ages is the place to be. From the minute the pre-show announcement starts, you know you are in for one hell of a ride, and as soon as the cast appears, you are in on the action. (Even more so if you snag the ‘in’ stage mosh pit seats!) This ensemble cast is absolutely phenomenal, and there isn’t a moment that goes by in this whirlwind of 80’s classics, big hair, and tight pants that isn’t filled with high energy fun.

Rock of Ages is the story of Drew and Sherrie, two small town kids looking for their dreams to come true in Los Angeles, and the cast of characters that shape their new lives on the Sunset Strip. Shane Lonergan and Lauren Ashley Berry are the adorable, star-crossed lovebirds and they are delightful together on stage. Lonergan is sweet and charming as the wannabe rocker, and Berry is fluffy haired perfection as the naive wannabe actress.

Along the way we meet Douglas F. Bailey II’s Lonny, our narrator for the evening, who draws the audience in from the moment he appears. If you’re not having a good time, he’ll make sure you do. Philip Michael Carroll’s Dennis Dupree is his perfect match as the owner of Dupree’s Bourbon Room, the beloved rock ‘n roll club on the Sunset Strip. (Their second act duet is not to be missed.)

But of course, no story is complete without a little villainy, and these antagonists are played out brilliantly by Kevin Kelly and David Turner as Hertz and Franz Klinemann. Kelly and Turner are the father son duo you never knew you always needed to have in your life. Their comedic timing is flawless both together and individually, and it is fantastic to watch.

Hertz is a real estate developer who’s come to clean up the Strip, which means destroying the legendary Bourbon Room. Of course, that won’t happen without a fight. And leading that fight is Regina, city planner turned resistance leader, played in beautiful protester glory by Neely Gevaart.

To save the club, Dennis, Lonny and Drew try to come up with something that will show these interlopers that Dupree’s Bourbon room needs to stick around, so Dennis calls an old acquaintance, Stacee Jaxx, to convince him to have his band’s farewell performance at the club. Jaxx, played to glam rock front-man awesomeness by Connor Bogart O’Brien, oozes pure rock star from the moment he appears with his fawning groupies.

As the story plays out, conflict, misunderstanding, and rock ‘n roll lead to not always perfect moments for our lovers, and Sherrie ends up out of a job and alone, when she meets Justice, the ‘takes no sh*t’, but golden hearted proprietor of a neighboring gentleman’s club. Trinidad Snider as Justice is a magnificent sight to behold.

The members of the ensemble, Meredith Zahn, Natalie Girard, Brooke Turner, David James Grant (on opening night for Lavour Addison), Tony Heffner, Grace Hunt, and Alec Chock Irion, kill it with every head bang and jazz hand making this show an absolute blast from beginning to end! The band, lead by musical director Jordan Cooper, rock out just as hard as the cast from a top the stage, so you never forget you are at a rock concert, that also happens to be a wonderfully self-aware and self-deprecating musical/80’s music video.

Director Joanna May Hunkins has put together a stunning, multi-talented cast and crew that makes for a side-splittingly fun evening of theatre and rock, and Kevin D. Marr II’s choreography adds the final touch of rock moves to round out the atmosphere. Tesia Dugan Benson’s marvelous costumes and wigs outfit everyone in all the 1980’s glory possible. Trad A Burns’ set and lighting make the absolute most of the space and let you know what you are in for as soon as you step through the flaps. Carlton Guc does an excellent job with the sound design and balancing out the rock band back up and vocals. On opening night, the dialogue sometimes got lost in the mix of transitions and music, which I’m sure will get worked out over the coming performances.

Over the top in the best possible way, and with some fun surprises, Rock of Ages will have you singing and rockin’ along the whole time. You only have until June 25th to let this sublime cast take you “High Enough”, so grab your jean vest, feather out those bangs, and make your way to Cain Park for this nostalgic blast from the past, filled with classic songs you know and love. Just be ready to have “Don’t Stop Believin’” in your head for a few days.

Mary Poppins is “Spit Spot” on at Near West Theatre

Near West Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: May 11, 2017

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!!! At last! This imaginative convergence of the classic film musical and the sophisticated children’s books by P. L. Travers comes to the Near West Theatre Stage. Julian Fellows (Downton Abbey, Gosford Park) weaves together tales of a strict and magical nanny who comes in the nick of time to an estranged family in 1910 London, England. So let’s sip a Spoonful of Sugar, Fly a Kite and Step in Time through a series of unforgettable events that forever change how the Banks family, and we too, prioritize our lives. Will Mary fly on Near West’s new stage? Chim Chim Cher-ee… come and see!

When you come see a musical at Near West Theatre, sometimes you have to remind yourselves that this is truly a community theatre. It is part of their mission statement to be as inclusive to the community as possible. In every production, the cast consists of actors that have never been on stage in their life, actors who have done shows occasionally as a hobby, and actors that have dedicated a large part of their life to the stage. This unique combination enables the Near West Theatre experience to empower individuals to soar, and enable veterans to experience what it is like to share their gifts, and recall that magic moment when they first heard an audience applaud. For many, it is a life changing moment. I can assure you, that the current production of Mary Poppins will accomplish that mantra in bold fashion.

Artistic Director/Director Bob Navis Jr has assembled an incredible production staff to create the world in which Mary Poppins lives. His artistic team provides inspiring music (Accomplished Music Director Matthew Dolan), and Choreography (Energetic Josh Landis) that will cramp every foot in the theatre from keeping time. The Technical Team has outdone themselves with this production, especially the Technical Director and Video Designer Perren Hedderson. The Opening Set Warmer is a scene that clearly states that this production has professional values that charge the audience’s batteries, and in this case, the cast delivers a fantastic charge of their own by presenting an enjoyable evening of theatre.

As someone who is quite familiar with Near West Theatre, this production has a particular strength in the depth of the leads, supporting characters, and the company. There is literally never a moment where the level of acting or characterization dips. And that is a tall order to fill, since the main characters of this production are excellent, but that doesn’t stop the par excellence from permeating the rest of the company. When I think about this show, and the characters within, it reminds me of power couples coming together to create a fantabulous, energetic, and well acted presentation of Disney magic.

Let’s start off with the magical arrival (Flying Effects provided by ZFX, Inc.) and the performance of Meg Martinez, who perfectly imbues Mary Poppins. This is that spectacular occasion when an actor and role seem to made in heaven for each other. Martinez has a phenomenal balance of maternal toughness, and an ingratiating kindness. She is the complete package to take charge of this musical and sprinkle sunshine all over the audience. She packs a powerful and clarion voice, along with acting chops for days, and she can break it down on the dance floor with the best of them. Martinez is the bomb. Speaking of the other half of this power couple is Devon Turchan, who plays Burt to the hilt. Another powerhouse performance to catapult this show into the stratosphere. Sublime acting, a beautiful, powerful vocal resonance, and dancing skills that can glide between nuanced gracefulness, to igniting every production number he is in by commendeering the situation with pure brilliantly executed joy. There is no doubt that Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke would be quite proud of these two.

Another couple that ignites the stage with their adept acting choices and characterizations, are Cory Markowitz and Andrew Narten, who play Winifred and George Banks. These two have incredible chemistry. Markowitz brings her vocal prowess and terrific acting skills making Winifred a fully fleshed out character. Her voice is capable of embodying joy and heartbreak on command with deft results. Watching her deal with the transformation of George from a dark cloud to a bright future is not dull or expected at any moment. A beautiful fresh performance. Narten brings his severe acting chops to a very difficult role. George has to move from being in a somber space, protected by an emotional wall, to someone who finds redemption in his inherent goodness that battles its way out of the dark. In the artful hands of Narten, that journey results in an impressive pitch perfect performance. Add to that, his great vocal delivery of his songs, make for a delightful evening of watching quite the delightful actor split the difference of cantankerous and lovable.

The children, Jane and Michael Banks, are double cast. This reviewer saw the performances of Sophie O’Leary and Phil Pantalone. The alternating performers are Calista Zajac and Macon Taylor who perform on May 11, 12, 14, 18, and 21. O’Leary and Pantalone are delightful. Precocious as heck, they swirl around the house like animated musical theatre Roomba’s. They provide all the snarkiness and charm one could hope for. Their acting and singing are right on point, and add their own special blend of mischief and charm.

Of course, where would we be without a dysfunctional comedic couple? Although not romantically involved, Gwen Stembridge as Mrs. Brill, and Roger Lowe as Robertson Ay, completely fit the bill. These two remind me of refined Keystone cops. Stembridge chews more scenery than carpenter ants on a three-day holiday. And Lowe is a delightful clueless mess, of which the audience can’t get enough. Although we see more of Stembridge’s joyful antics on stage, these two are the salt and pepper shakers of the house. Total Fun.

Speaking of fun. Stafford Hartman is a demented beautiful hot mess of a nanny. She enters the space with full command of the stage. When she encounters Mary Poppins, their confrontation reminds me of Poppins engaging with her umbrella versus the Queen of the Night presenting her magic flute. Hartman possesses equal parts of divine demented acting, and a set of operatic chops that want me to book a cruise on the high seas. (see what I did there?). Great showcase moment.

Now the rest are character actors that deserve a shout out, because they are the ones that really keep the show alive, when the main story characters are filling the stage with fierceness. It would be easy to rest on the laurels of the main characters, but that doesn’t happen here. Each supporting character is all in and makes an impression. Some shout-outs: Cocoa Star Price starts the show off with the exhausted Katie Nanna. Julianne Kurdila is a scream as Miss Lark. David Hopkins as Admiral Boom. Park Keeper Sam Pantalone does great work, even getting zapped by Poppins. Steven Walker is a hot grey mess as Neleus. Rebecca Riffle-Polito is impressively stoic, and eventually grateful as the Bank Chairwoman. The song “Feed the Birds” is delivered with somber reality by Angie Bendahan, the Bird Woman. And then, Amani Green starts off the audience showstopper “Supercali………………..” with zest and gusto. Bob Zombar as Von Hussler and Nick Leverknight as Northbrook, show the worst and best of the corporate entrepeneur. The rest of the company is wonderful. They take every moment and play the truth with zeal and focus.

Near West Theatre, under the artistic vision of Bob Navis Jr, definitely has a major success on their hands, and production values to match. Music Director Matthew Dolan has put together a kick butt band with accomplished musicians. Joshua Landis has outdone himself with beautiful staging and a chimney sweep number that will have you cheering several times. Production Manager Michael Stein has coordinated a very talented team: Stage Manager Ryan Wolf, Technical Director and Video Designer Perren Hedderson, Set Designer Cameron Michalak, Scenic Charge Artist Jenny Hitmar Shankland, Lighting Designers Adam Ditzal and Stein, Sound Designer Josh Caraballo, and the excellent Costume Design work of Sarah Russell.

There are some minor observations regarding the production. I thought some scenes might be a little more downstage. Some of the spoken dialogue, especially when whispered or brought down, was hard to hear. I thought the time between Mary Poppins landing and when she enters the house, needed more stage business to cover the silence that I experienced. The Prologue number was overshadowed a bit by too much clanking of instruments that were hung around Bert’s neck. I wouldn’t want too much to distract from that beautiful voice. But these are minor observations, because you will only remember the joy of this production.

And can I just say, wait until the Carousel!

Congratulations Near West Theatre. This is a great family show. The next two Sundays are Sold Out! This is one of the best of what Near West Theatre can do, because this theatre really does believe that ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN, IF YOU LET IT!

Hand to God – Dobama Theatre

Dobama Theatre
Professional Equity House

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: May 3, 2017

What a town we live in. Playhouse Square has put us on the national map, however, the level of excellence doesn’t stop there at all. In fact, it is thriving and cursing and fuck-youing its way in front of every audience coming to see Hand of God at Dobama Theatre in Cleveland Heights. What a joyful barrage of verbal warfare, that is sure to insult or entertain or both, every audience member that interacts with Tyrone, the puppet, and this fabulous cast of two-sided coins.

We are introduced to three children of Cypress, Texas, Jason (Luke Wehner*), Timothy (Austin Gonser+), and Jessica (Molly Israel+). They are being taught the teachings of Jesus Christ by their teacher Margery (Tricia Bestic*). Margery has embraced the idea of a Christian Sock Puppet Ministry. Thank you. This spiritual journey is supervised by Pastor Greg (David Bugher^). But, one of the sock puppets has a different idea and identity of their own to contend with. That is where the raucous humor begins. And, that is where real questions are raised that challenge us to reflect on what is truth. What do we say? As opposed to what we wish we could say. The power and turmoil of truth is a bitch.

A masterful performance is turned in by Wehner, as our lead human Jason, and his demonic puppet Tyrone. Wehner does a terrific job at creating two distinct personalities that contrast each other is hilarious ways, and also, enable thoughtful consideration of our life choices. His comedic timing is honed, and tireless. The puppet manipulation was a complete scream to watch. It is like Hamlet talking to his skull, but the skull won’t let you get a word in. Can’t you picture it? Hamlet: “Alas, poor Yorick!” Tyrone, the skull: “Fuck you!” Fantastic job, Mr. Wehner!

Watching the journey of Bestic through the character of Margery is a hoot and a half. She brilliantly navigates being a Christian soldier, a bereaved wife, and then, overtaken by her own vaginal sock puppet. Mama has her own needs sometimes. Hello. This journey is hilarious, but also, there are moments that affect your heart in the deepest of ways. It is a beautiful arc to witness.

As the other kids in the basement puppet sessions, Gonser and Israel are a treat. Gonser is a walking erection who easily transforms into the class bully at a moments notice. His physique also helps him seduce the teacher during a scene where the line “I want you to eat it”, is not about vegetables. Israel is wonderful and funny, and is instrumental is making the puppet sex scene burn directly into your rods and cones forever. Both are pure delights.

Burgher certainly gives Pastor Greg the biggest set of blue balls in Cypress. He puts together a beautifully tortured, stressed and religious man who is tested on all levels as those around him completely lose their minds trying to wade through the demolition of their own truths.

One of the most magical scenes that you will remember is the puppet sex scene. This tour de force of masterful puppet love rivals Team America: World Police. HILARIOUS!

All of this insanity is beautifully directed and guided by Director Matthew Wright. Casting is wonderful, and Mr. Wright does an outstanding job of keeping the pace bright, but also allows moments to sit and create of moment of reflection of just how insane real life can be, although, this shit seems real sometimes.

My only other feedback would be that Tyrone might give House Left a little more face time. Tyrone seems to work the center and House Right a bit more. I wanted more of that demonic sock face up in my face.

Ben Needham creates a revolving set of delight. With scene changes beautifully structured and executed. Marcus Dana has a solid Lighting Design. Richard Ingraham provides a vocally balanced evening for the ear. Tesia Dugan Benson costumed the piece with energy and appropriate dress. Props Designer Yesenia Real-Rivera did a great job. Technical Director David Tilk pulls all the elements together with professional flourish.

Stage Manager Joel Rathbone* called a great show. Fight Choreographer Ryan Zarecki added some kick ass slapping and fighting scenes.

This show is funny. Also, there is dialogue that will make you think about how much we all could use a little Tyrone in our lives.

Little Shop of Horrors – Chagrin Valley Little Theatre

Chagrin Valley Little Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: April 8, 2017

Little Shop of Horrors is a horror comedy rock musical, by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman, about a hapless florist shop worker who raises a plant that feeds on human blood and flesh. The musical is based on the low-budget 1960 black comedy film The Little Shop of Horrors. The music, composed by Menken in the style of early 1960s rock and roll, doo-wop and early Motown, includes several well-known tunes, including the title song, “Skid Row (Downtown)”, “Somewhere That’s Green”, and “Suddenly, Seymour”. The show made a star of Ellen Greene, who played the pivotal role of Audrey in both the U.S. and London productions.

If you are a theatre person, I find it hard to believe you haven’t heard about this musical. It was a huge hit Off-Broadway. 30 years ago, Chagrin Valley Little Theatre had the distinction of producing the first Ohio production. That is quite an accomplishment for this power house of a theatre nestled next to the Chagrin Falls. Director Greta Rothman has assembled a valiant crew of actors to celebrate this return to the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre stage.

This production could be easily re-titled Little Shop of Summers. Nate Summers is a delightful force of nature in this production. His acting is sublime, along with his comedic timing. His voice is strong and versatile, and he handles the score like a pro. I have never seen Summers perform before, but I will not make that mistake again. He is charming as hell, and has a fabulous stage presence. His performance alone is worth the trip to the theatre.

Nina Takacs is a lot of fun to watch in this production. She flaunts her Rubenesque body in all the right places, makes terrific comedic choices, and has a divine voice which she uses to nail the signature song Somewhere That’s Green. The chemistry between Takacs and Summers is perfect and fun.

Michael A. Green is a hoot as Mushnik. He provides a lovable, grumpy, and entertaining character. He and Summers create another chemistry hit. Green has all the right comedic and vocal tools to make his an audience, and this critic favorite.

If Nikki Haley wanted to make sure the current crisis was in control, she could easily deploy these three girls. Each one of these Doo-Wop chicks bring their different performance styles together for a fabulous streetwise pot luck of sass. This is Aja Norman’s first show, and you would never know it. When she sings “Alarm goes off at seven” on the highest step of the stoop, the audience starts to throw hymnals around because it is time to go to church. This one displays elegant style and grace, and vocal power. Speaking of vocal power, Kimberly Sullivan sings like a classically trained Patty Lupone, with deft comedic timing, and a face that demands attention in the best way possible. Jen Ryan serves up her Peggy Lee realness with her sultry vocals. Listening to her makes you want to light up a cigar, pour your favorite bourbon, and fire up some hot jazz. But the most remarkable thing about these ladies is their tight harmonies. Three different timbres come together to sizzle more then a fajita plate at Outback.

If anyone is missing Patrick Swayze, you are in luck, because he is now performing in this production as The Dentist. Tiderman must have watched the film The Outsiders and said “I will have better hair then all of you”. He brings his retractable gas personae to Scrivello, as well as serving up some delightful characterizations in the triple header of Bernstein, Mrs. Luce, and Skip Snip in Act Two.

Little shop aficionados will delight in the Plant antics on display with this production. Anthony Williams provides some Soul Train realness with the plant vocals, and adept acting. And major applause for the operators of the Plant. As the plant grows, the tremendous artistic puppetry from Alex Petsche, Genevieve Vince, and Steven Heintel is fantastic. I really enjoyed their display of comedic plant manipulation.

The company rounds out with Natalie Dolezal, Rosi Jamison, Petscher serving double duty, and Stephen Bundy. Bundy’s vocal resonance is fierce. He needs his own radio show, or Shakespearean monologue stat.

Musical Direction provided by David W. Coxe was perky and fun, except a few of the numbers felt under tempo. Choreography provided by Pamela LaForce was a bit uneven. The movement in the window scenes were great, but personally I was looking for more sass and executed movement from the doo-wop ladies. Set, Sound, and Lighting Design provided by Edmond Wolff. Set and Sound were great, especially the projected back drop for the street scenes. However, I would have liked more dramatic lighting and isolation for more of the important moments. Brian Smith provided great costuming for the period.

Director Greta Rothman has put together a fun show for Little Shop addicts, theatrical families, and date night. I really enjoyed myself immersing myself into this crazy musical.

And, thanks for the seed packet on the way out. I will let you know what grows!?

Floyd Collins is a Hot Diggity Damn Production at Blank Canvas Theatre

Blank Canvas Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: March 14, 2017

My father used to say “There is nothing better than a great steak!” Well that is exactly what Blank Canvas Theatre is serving up on stage now, with their inventive and well cast production of Floyd Collins. Patrick Ciamacco (Artistic Director, Founder) displays his full arsenal of directorial instincts and delivers this story with array of emotional and musical depth. This musical with Book & Additional Lyrics by Tina Landau and Music and Lyrics by Adam Guettel is a master class of musical interpretation. There is probably only one song that will stay in your mind due to its musicality, but the score that is delivered is not one for the faint of heart. It demands superior concentration and professional resolve to perform the piece, which the cast accomplishes with fierce bravado. This includes an orchestra that must have razor-sharp execution which is provided by the adept Musical Direction of Matthew Dolan.

The story of Floyd Collins is real. He was an American cave explorer, principally in a region of Central Kentucky. In the early 20th century, in an era known as the Kentucky Cave Wars. On January 30, 1925, while trying to find a new entrance to Crystal Cave (also known “Sand Cave” by the media), Collins became trapped in a narrow crawl way, 55 feet below ground. The rescue operation to save Collins became a national newspaper sensation and one of the first major news stories to be reported using the new technology of broadcast radio. The rescue attempt grew to become the third-biggest media event between the world wars. Collins died of thirst and hunger compounded by exposure through hypothermia after being isolated for 14 days, just three days before a rescue shaft reached his position. Collins’ body would be recovered two months later. Adding to the circus that was created through the news media, in 1927, Floyd Collins’ father, Lee Collins, sold the homestead and cave. The new owner placed Collins’ body in a glass-topped coffin and exhibited it in Crystal Cave for many years. Luckily, the National Park Service assisted the family to transfer him to a proper grave site. The fame he gained from his death led to him being memorialized on his tombstone as The Greatest Cave Explorer Ever Known.

At the core of this production is obviously Floyd Collins. You need someone who can embody this character with down home charm, rustic character, and a set of pipes that can handle music that at times is so difficult, it reminds me of taking a Musical Bar Exam. Michael Snider handles this role and its complicated counterparts like a pro. His handsome features, and resonating voice, capture all the joy and pain of Collins. The role is challenging because most of the time, he is trapped in the cave, and only has the top half of his body to transmit critical emotions to the audience. A slow arc of determination, to worry, and then to the final stages of realizing the end is not exactly what he would have ever wanted. This is a skilled and beautiful performance, and without a doubt, the best performance I have ever witnessed from Snider.

Mike Knobloch as Homer Collins, Floyd’s brother, delivers a strong performance. His characterization is excellent, as well as having a beautiful voice which is on full display. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose your brother in a situation like this, but Knobloch makes it clear and provides intrinsic decisions that take us through that process. The beautiful Madeline Krucek, is wonderful as her voice captures every emotional nuance that is demanded from Guettel. With ever-present charm, her vulnerability is perfectly portrayed throughout her journey. At one moment, she is against the corner pillar with a spot on her, and it reminded me of old school Hollywood Glamour. Just beautiful on every level.

Aimee Collier and Rob Albrecht, as Miss Jane and Lee Collins, mother and father, bring their veteran skills to the plate with emotional power. Not employing any performance tricks, just skilled execution of how real people of faith have to navigate the process of impending loss, with subtle and vocal purity. Pat Miller as “Skeets” Miller is awesome. Taking us through a reporter who is assigned to a story that is not at the top of his list, to the transformation of becoming engaged in not only the story, but the person at the heart of it. Vocally excelling, and deft choices along the way, that help catapult this journey with a realistic pace and emotional impact. Especially with the line delivery of “Forgive me for making you a story.” Simply heartbreaking.

The rest of the company is a finely tuned orchestra of southern charm, feisty-ness, smart, and courageous energy. John J. Polk (Ed Bishop), Jeff Glover (Bee Doyle), Daniel Bush (H. T. Carmichael), Jewell Estes (Joseph Daso), Cliff Roney (Robert Pierce), Dr. Hazlett (Brian O. Jackson), and Frederick Jordan (David L. Munnell). Special shout out to Daso for firmly establishing himself in a field of adult actors with a terrific performance. Strong vocals and some dynamic acting chops. Also, when Pierce, Jackson, and Munnell team up as the reporters in the opening song of Act II “Is That Remarkable?”, they bring down the house with tight harmonies and hilarious facial gesticulations, that would make the Andrew Sisters pissed off for taking their spotlight. On a personal note, I think it is time for a theatre to find a lead role for Pierce, so he can display all of his ferocious talent in one serving of Yasssssssssss.

This is a show with extremely strong direction provided by Patrick Ciamacco, along with his creative octopus theatrical arms that also provide the Lighting, Sound, Projection, Tech, and Set Design. Shout out for the actual period photographs that match on the onstage activity, which provides fascinating historical relevance. His set, which at first reminds me of Vietnam bunker realness, but quickly resolves itself into the cave representation during the first number. Matthew Dolan provides a kick ass orchestra that tackles this demanding score like Lawrence Taylor on a musical boot camp. Wonderful Stage Management by Carole Leiblinger-Hedderson, and excellent period costuming from Luke Scattergood.

My only constructive note would be that Snider’s mic seemed too close to his mouth, causing his vocals to be a bit muffled at times. Maybe this was done to compensate for the actor being sick. But, luckily, I don’t think that needs to happen.

This is a very strong production from Blank Canvas. Get your fried chicken and your kegger, and get out and see it.

The Wiz at Near West Theatre

Near West Theatre
Community (Youth)

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: February 16, 2017

It all started in 1974. “The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical “Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” This is not the version of Oz that you have come to know on television. This version is a dazzling urban musical, which mobilizes a mixture of rock, gospel and soul to set audiences on a heartfelt journey of finding truth. All the while, infusing their insides with powerful life affirming messages. Providing the music is Charlie Smalls, and contributors Timothy Graphenreed, Harold Wheeler, George Faison, and the soulful Luther Vandross. Lyrics by Smalls, Vandross, and Zachary Walzer. Book by William F. Brown, based on the Novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.

What is significant about the 1975 Broadway production, is that it was an early example of Broadway’s mainstream acceptance of works with an all-black cast. Taking a mainstream story, and turning it upside down with dynamic soul/funk infusion, and showing the essence of black influence. At Near West Theatre. Kelcie Nicole Dugger once again takes the reigns as Director of the youth production, this time for The Wiz. That’s right. The cast includes 40 plus young performers from the ages of 9 to 15. The result is amazing to watch these cast members take on the material and music, and approach and celebrate it with tremendous zeal.

Near West Theatre has a tradition of mixing up their ensembles. A portion of the cast are actors that might never have been on stage before. Another cast section will have some, or occasional stage experience. The round out the cast with members that are more versed in the craft, and can offer role models for the others to emulate. It is truly a fascinating synergistic formula to watch come to fruition on stage. The combined energy from the different stage experiences ,come together to literally explode on stage. And from personal experience, the parents and family members are just as excited. The first weekend of The Wiz was completely SOLD OUT!

Overall, this is a lively production that showcases some amazing voices, and some wonderful characterizations. Dugger has done her best to bring out the best in everyone, especially those with less experience. However, this is just like Planet Fitness – “Judgement Free Zone.”©

Dorothy, the iconic role, is the heart and center of this tale. Newcomer Zeakia Jordan has a voice that is beautiful, raw, and emotionally powerful. When she takes on the classic “Home”, if your spiritual core is awakened then you must belong on The Walking Dead. For someone who does not have a lot of experience, taking on this role, and handling this music, which is not easy by any means, Jordan crushes it. What is so wonderful about this is experiencing the potential this young lady has to offer. Her star will only grow brighter as she gains experience as an actor, and her voice will continue to lift her up to the heavens.

Zoe Douglas, as Aunt Em, and then Glinda, the good witch, provides a textured and vocally powerful performance. Her characterizations are strong, and when she begins to sing, her versatile range and nuanced vocals are an incredible treat to the ears. Her voice has a deep richness which delightfully infiltrates and colors everything she sings. It is like a layered onion at Outback, in which each part just gets better and better. When she turns on the power button, her voice is transcendent.

As the Tinman, Felix Albino turns in an excellent performance. Her characterizations are completely on point, fun, and expressive. Simply, a joy to watch. But vocally, his vocal displays were a treasure chest of yasssssssss. Slide Some Oil to Me can be an interpreted nightmare if not performed well, and Albino turns it into a fierce fun treat. Slighty hampered with choreographed pots and pans, which he and his cohorts handle well, but he strongly delivers. It is the performance of the song What Would I Do If I Could Feel. where Albino presents a performance that could live on any stage in Cleveland. The richness, texture, and emotional commitment to the song is brilliant. All of this coming from a 14 year old, who sings as if he has lived 100 years. Just beautiful.

Kayla Slater brings her sassy sultry self to the role of Addaperle, and proceeds to gloriously chew the scenery for everyone to enjoy. She brings lots of funk and soul to “He’s the Wiz”. Her character is a blast to watch, and this young lady strides across the stage with fierce confidence. She must be the love child of Patty Lupone and Luther Vandross. Just a joy! The Wiz, brought to life by Cole Tarantowski, was a blast to watch. Due to some incredible projection and lighting work, Tarantowski made the most of his face as he loomed over the redemption team to react to their wishes. Nice work as the projection shifts around and he still has fun barking at Dorothy and her crew. His rendition of If You Believe was heartfelt.

The fly team to Dorothy is a character bonanza. Connor Fields as the Scarecrow, does a terrific job finding all the qualities that made him a crowd favorite. He is moving and jiving in all the right ways, and creates a great playful presence on stage. Nate Jorgensen as the Lion, is a hoot. His lion is an entertainingly stressed lion with a thin shell. His roars hide a sweetness and kindness, that is projected with a beautiful balance. Calista Zajac is literally a theatrical cannon ball shot out on to the stage. Her Evillene is a manic fireball of fury and talent that has enough energy and stage presence to keep the Citadel in order.

Props out to the Hilarious Gatekeepers CJ Jorgensen and Connor Marrott. And a special shout out to Shadarria Robinson who helped launch Brand New Day with a severe case of fabulous vocals and dynamic stage presence. Jackson Marshall as Uncle Henry, Josh Davis as Lord High Underling, and Tyler Thompson as the Winged Monkey all make significant contributions to this party. The Yellow Brick Road Dancers do a great job bringing road crews to life. The rest of the company is dedicated, strong, and fearless as they help bring this story to life and entertain the audience.

Kelcie Nicole Dugger does a great job handling the enormous cast, and harnessing the best out of every one of them. Musical Director John Krol is a welcome addition to the musical family as he conducts a fierce band that kicks some serious Ozness. Choreographer Josh Landis gives the piece just enough movement to highlight the company, instead of focusing on featured players, which is a refreshing change for a large cast. Stage Manager Kate Atherton called a great show. Tech Director and Asst Tech Director, Josh Padgett and Perren Hedderson, bringing the technical elements together well, especially the projections.Cameron Michalak delivers a sliding and interesting set. Adam Ditzel brings some fabulous and interesting lighting choices. April Rock does a wonderful job costuming this theatrical hoard.

Bravo to Near West Theatre for once again providing inclusion from all walks of life, from all colors of the rainbow. and from every social arena that exists.

Death of a Salesman at French Creek Theatre

French Creek Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly
Published: January 18, 2017

A man struggles to earn a living wage after decades on the job. His grown children struggle to make careers for themselves. When hard work reaps little success, their family begins to doubt each other. Intricate dysfunctional family bonds unravel, as the pressure of defined and imagined success take its toll. As relevant now as it was when it opened 68 years ago, masterful Director Fred Sternfeld, presents Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning treatise on the price of the American Dream. Produced by French Creek Theatre Artistic Director Rick Fortney.

As in any Sternfeld production, the depth of each moment and each character is pertinent to telling the story. The success of the audience connecting with the piece is complete immersion within the play, and more importantly, the journey of each character arc. This particular production achieves its goal of presenting the fractured America, that unfortunately, affects many. Also, the pace in which the show is presented is brisk, but not enough to deflect or avoid the emotional impact of the importance of each interaction. French Creek should be proud of this production.

Leading the tortured way is Greg White as Willy Loman. White embodies this emotional roller coaster with relenting truth and honesty. His descent into personal hell is heartbreaking. Watching him come in and out of reality will affect a lot of people on a personal level. So many of us will see ourselves, or our loved ones, as the prospect of “What if?”, challenges our accomplishments and failures. This all works due to the performance and characterization by White.

What can you say about Anne Mcevoy that doesn’t include the word “excellence” in the description. As Linda Loman, Mcevoy gives her character the ultimate unconditional love and pathos. Her journey, strength, resolve, and backbone provides a fantastic cocktail of human life. Each part delivered in measured, but powerful doses. A masterful performance.

James Rankin delivers a knock out punch of unrealized dreams and angst as Biff Loman, the tortured son. We see the struggle of what we want to do, try to do, but sometimes life doesn’t give us the tools to make it so. By not realizing our dreams, or what is projected are dreams should be, we feel disappointment in ourselves, and guilt for not being what so many want us to become. Rankin delivers on every level. Providing depth in being a friend, a brother, a son, and the eventual self-actualization of a decimated reality.

Jeremy Jenkins as Happy Loman, the snake oil salesman son, has a terrific turn of a brother that could talk himself out of a carjacking. Jenkins provides the human alter ego of success, by cleverly disguising success with a flair of smoke and mirrors, and does so with some kick ass character work. His balance within the family is powerful in an unassuming way.

Corey Knick gives Bernard an excellent arc of boyhood charm and nerd like reflexes, as he changes into a successful story of hard work and determination. Also, providing a strong performance is Noah Budin, as Willy’s seemingly only friend, Charley. Both of these characters realize you can’t save someone, they have to save themselves. That realization is tough. But that is brought to light with incisive delivery. Stuart Hoffman as Howard Wagner, offers a performance so good, that if he said “I have people other people to meet with” one more time, I was going to punch him in the face. So obviously, strong character choices.

Uncle Ben is given a haunting presence by Lou Will. Moving though the piece like a ghost narrator of projected fortune. Linda Goldstein-Wolf giving us “the other woman” realness in spades and stockings. Having no conscience about being the other woman is tough to watch. Lynna Metrisin as Jenny, and Chris Bizub as Stanley, blend themselves well into the tapestry of infused acting choices. Tiffany Trapnell as Miss Forsythe adds the right amount of sexual tension that sends Happy into a tailspin, and Amanda Trompak as Letta, her amorous sidekick embellishes the night on the town hustlers of fun and free drinks.

Fred Sternfeld is a welcome addition to French Creek Theatre production values. His Block, Work and Polish process enables a cast to find their own grounded resilience, and enables the process of fitting the pieces together to provide an emotional journey. Beautiful work, excellent pace and a very satisfying result.

The show is effectively Stage Managed by Charlene Hartley. T. Paul Lowry does some wonderful work in the challenging stage space. Multi-layered set, with an awesome collaboration from the imitable Lighting Designer Mo Patterson. The set comes alive and provides accented ambiance. Stan Kozak provides haunting aesthetic sound, and Costume Designer Justin Bilewicz empowers the ensemble of talent with fabulous skin fabrics. Linda Goldstein-Wolf does double duty on the side, handling as Properties Manager.