Archived Posts

2018

December 2018

Ella Enchanted at Dobama Enchants Into the Final Week!

Dobama Theatre
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

There is no better time for a story about empowerment. The world around us is in a complete state of reevaluation of what is appropriate behavior and how people should be treated. Ella Enchanted, The Musical addresses the empowerment of an individual who eventually takes life and decision making into her own hands. As the story begins, Ella (enchanting Natalie Green*) is given the “gift” of obedience as an infant by a misguided fairy (fabulous Tina D. Stump*) and cannot disobey any order. The strong-willed Ella goes on a quest to rid herself of this horrible curse. During her mystical adventure she encounters an evil stepmother, hungry ogres, enormous giants, a magical bird, and her best friend. Along the way, she finds her own voice.

This story is indeed wrapped with some highly entertaining characters, and a production design that is incredible, highlighted by T. Paul Lowry's Projection Design.

Director Nathan Motta takes us on this journey filled with well defined fantastical characters. My personal feeling is that Motta let his hair down a bit, and presented a family-friendly evening of mystical fun.

Green leads this cast with her own empowerment of a triple threat realness. She is devastatingly beautiful and entertaining. Her antics are on point, comedic chops honed, and her voice needs to bottled and sold at intermission. It is tough to be the main character in a show, where everyone around you is some kind of over the top character, but Green shines brightly and anchors the story. Stump is a scream of Lucinda the fairy that is a hot mess of gift giving. She is animated and joyful and clumsy as you would want her. As Mistress Manners, she wields a heavy hand hilariously teaching the ladies how to catch a prince with the right manners. Amy Fritsche* as Mother and Dame Olga is on fire. She is beautifully sweet as the short-lived mother character, but when she inhabits Dame Olga, she charges down the theatrical runway at full comedic speed, her wheels are up, and in this case, one bent arm, and her fantastic light shines brightly as she two faces her way through this play with maniacal glee. Everything about her is a blast. Flanking her are Hattie (Kelly Elizabeth Smith*) and Olive (Neely Gevaart+). Both these ladies are hysterically on point. Smith delivering sass like its a cabinet position, and Gevaart making a bit about saying "Bye" one of the funniest creations in Cleveland history. They are a blast.

The gentlemen of the piece add their own significant energy. Eugene Sumlin as Sir Peter is charming and fun as he navigates with silly aplomp. Joshua McElroy+ as Prince Charmont cuts a handsome figure, and perfectly embodies the spirit and soul of the grand prize in the kingdom. He is Velvet-voiced and filled with down to earth charm. Madeline Krucek+ and Arif Silverman+ fill out the company with a variety of roles that add to the evening tremendously. They also epitomize the talented depth of the performers in this cast.

There are a couple of elements of the production that hinder a perfect evening. One is the musical score. There isn't a lot of punch or relatability here. None of the songs really seem to pull on the heartstrings or fire up the senses. The performances make them work better with talent and charm. The musical is also a bit stretched out to incorporate some additional scene and puppet play that might have worked better with a stronger score to play around.

But those issues dissolve when Motta, not only lets his hair down but throws every banana clip he has ever known in the air and presents a curtain call that takes all the characters and blasts out a megamix of songs that send you out into the world a better person. If only for Stump singing "Think" by Aretha Franklin. Miss Stump blows the roof off the ceiling and turns Dobama into a planetarium. I found Jesus and about 10 pennies on the floor.

The production elements are off the charts. Douglas Puskas adds a wonderful, simple efficient set design. Marcus Dana lights the scene work with professional creative effort and result. As I stated earlier, if there was a show stopper, it would be the projection work. Very magical and added incredibly to the evening's enjoyment factor. Jeremy Dobbins is serving clear and well-balanced sound design. Colleen Bloom has a blast costuming this crew with engaging looks. Puppet Designer Robin Vanlear provides colorful creatures and some entertaining puppets that wouldn't fit through a toll booth once they left the theatre. Technical Director Kirsten Nicole brings elements together with professional flair. Stage Manager Joel Rathbone calls an excellent show. Providing Additional Choreography is the talented Caitlin Reilly. Adding just the right feel and bounce.

Musical Director extraordinaire Jordan Cooper delivers musical bliss. Following stage cues and action with precision. musical cohorts Assistant Music Director Rachel Woods and Percussionist Justin Hart deliver wholeheartedly.

The last performances are coming up this week, so grab your kids, and head out to capture some enchantment for the whole family.

*Member of Actors' Equity Association

+Equity Membership Candidate

(Dec 25, 2018)

Avenue Q is Definitely The Show For You!

Blank Canvas Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

How can you not love a show that has a printed warning that reads: This Show Contains Adult Content and Puppet Nudity. Thank you.

And who is bringing the crazy to Avenue Q? These fabulous people......

This hilarious musical tells the timeless story of a recent college grad named Princeton (Shane Patrick O'Neill), 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. Of course, the fact that almost everyone has a puppet partner makes this an insane ride. Although the show addresses adult issues, it does so in a humorous way. It is similar to a beloved children's show; a place where puppets are friends, Monsters are good and life lessons are learned. But this version doesn't always turn out the way the traditional TV shows do. In this interpretation, things really get real, and we can't get enough of watching it.

O'Neill is a great leading puppet, I mean, leading man. HIs voice is terrific and very expressive, which matches his puppet alter ego well. Great timing and his innocence really pay off when he experiences some mating rituals. Kate Monster is played to the hilt by Leah Smith. She has great chemistry with O'Neill, and has a powerful set of theatrical chops. She really nails her character voice and puppet work. She is a blast to watch.

Rod, an anal-retentive Republican banker is inhabited by a beautifully expressive Scott Esposito. He is serving mouth open realness. He is full out everything, and the audience can't get enough of it. Wonderful solid character. Everyone probably has known a slacker roommate in their life, and Rod certainly has one in Nicky (Trey Gilpin). Gilpin is a delightful hot mess, with fabulous timing. His right arm sidekick (Kate Michalski) does well to bring their puppet to life and snag quite a few laughs.

I can't say enough about Neda Spears as Gary Coleman. What a great star turn. She commands the Colemanisms, in both physicality and vocal energy. She sings with soul-infused handyman realness and churns out phrases that keep you in stitches throughout the show.

One of my favorite performances is Brett DiCello as Trekkie Monster. Soooooooooo funny, Everytime that window opens, and that hot red haired mess comes out of the window, it is always for a killer reason, and a hilarious bit. Voiced with maniacal gusto, and working with his puppet partner David Turner, they turn in a show-stealing presence.

Now we come to the hussy puppet of the show, Lucy. Katie Gucik arrives in full sass as the man killer Lucy. Equipped with a dynamite voice, and sultry acting chops, she makes her own star turn as the puppet gone bad. Really terrific fun. She really gives you a penny for your thoughts.

Remember those two bears from the first picture. David Turner and Becca Ciamacco play the Bad Idea Bears. From the name you can see that giving appropriate advice is not on the menu. Thank God because these two bears are a mess. Turner and Ciamacco just take their fuzzy little pastel-colored bears to the point of no return. When they introduce a drinking game to Princeton and Leah, it leads to some of the most violent puppet sex I have ever seen. Well, actually, I've never seen puppet sex, but wait, I did see Team America: World Police. That was on a movie screen, but this is right. up. in. your. face. I was convinced that oxygen masks were going to be dropped from the ceiling for the audience to breath. Hilarious. And in a featured puppet bit, Michalski is a scream as Mrs. T. When you hear with T stands for, make sure you aren't drinking something.

Director Patrick Ciamacco outdoes himself again. Directed with his unique gift of comedy, this is an all-out comedic puppet fantasy. He adds a few Cleveland references that enhance the local production. The projections, that have Ciamacco written all over them, are creative and many are new to the show. The EKG screen is completely out of control, The best is listening to the audience slowly get it. Amazing fun. He also contributes to Puppet, Projection, Set Design, and pulling all the elements together as Technical Director. Matt Dolan leads a kick-ass band and certainly brought some tight vocals to the company. The opening number is wrought with harmonic bliss. Katie Zarecki added just the right amount of movement on the stage. Well done since most actors have a puppet as well. Stage Manager Whitney Miller called a great show. Noah Hrbek added with additional puppet design and Projection Animations/Renderings. Costume Design on point by the fabulous Jenniver Sparano. Specific Puppet Design credited to Dave Haaz-Baroque for Kate Monster, Trekkie, and the Bad News Bears. Great Lighting Design from Jeff Lockshine. Clear Sound Design by Richard B. Ingraham.

Great individual and ensemble work. Definitely worth putting yourself on the waiting list, since the entire run is Sold Out.

(Dec 12, 2018)

Ohio Shakespeare Festival Presents a Glorious Production of Shakespeare in Love


Ohio Shakespeare Festival
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

Will Shakespeare (Joe Pine) is a known but struggling poet, playwright, and actor who not only has sold his next play to both Philip Henslow (Lenne Snively*) and Richard Burbidge (Jason Leupold) but now faces a far more difficult problem. He is bereft of ideas and has yet to begin writing. He is in search of his muse, the woman who will inspire him but all attempts fail him until he meets the beautiful Viola de Lesseps (Tess Burgler). She loves the theatre and would like nothing more than to take to the stage but is forbidden from doing so as only men can be actors. She is also a great admirer of Shakespeare's works. Dressing as a man and going by the name of Thomas Kent (Kent), she auditions and is ideal for a part in his next play. Shakespeare soon sees through her disguise and they begin a love affair, one they know cannot end happily for them as he is already married and she has been promised to the dour Lord Wessex (James Rankin). As the company rehearses his new play, Will and Viola's love is transferred to the written page leading to the masterpiece that is Romeo and Juliet.

Director Nancy Cates has made sure that everyone on stage has their own moment within the play. So many wonderful actors collaborating effortlessly to create laughs, entertaining stage fights, and moments of pure truth, all while telling a very clever story. Cates also has a statement of empowerment through casting. Females were not allowed to perform on stage during Shakespeare primary work production, but Cates has cast several women in male roles. Strong, entertaining choice.

Leading this parade of talent are Pine as Will Shakespeare and Burgler as Viola DeLesseps aka Thomas Kent. Both actors have their burners on full throttle. Such a wonderful grasp of storytelling, making each moment count, and entertaining as hell. Burgler moves about the stage like translucent power, spreading her powerful and textured essence through every scene, while letting us see through her beautiful glow, to her core of truth and emotions, and making us laugh at well. Pine also cuts a fine figure as he starts the performance exuding confidence, and sets the tone for this hilarious tale with adept skill. He embraces his "Will" and drives the storyline with professional flair. He also makes me want to hop on Amazon.com and order a Bowflex and a shock collar that is triggered by carbs. (Sorry, I just self-destructed, as I did when I was holding my snickers bar during Act One and it melted in my hand). This is a terrific performance from an incredible partnership.

But that is just the beginning of the fun and moments to remember. Lara Mielcarek* is a scream as Kit Marlowe, who helps Will along the way by making very good suggestions about how to end phrases, titles, and the "How about this?' gift. Scott Shriner is a blast as Fenneyman, the money man. So many fun moments. Snively plays Henslowe, the owner of the Rose with comedic aplomb. Playing the male role, Snively has a blast managing the Rose, and provides lots of jolly. Leupold adds not only his acting chops but his beautiful voice to the journey. Adding many moments of mirth, and skillful swordplay. He is also the Music Director, which under his guidance creates beautiful and dynamic harmonies. Ryan Zarecki is a master of swordplay and confidence on stage, and also handles the duty of Fight Director. He is fierce in his fight choreography, incredibly entertaining and real. Watching him perform, please remind me not to piss him off, as I watched him flip a cast member over his shoulder like he was a one pound kettlebell. He exudes charm and presence. James Rankin makes for a glorious villain of love. His folly is our gold. Well done. Holly Humes was AMAZING as Queen Elizabeth I. Her stage presence is extraordinary. I would like to nominate her for UN Ambassador. If she walked into the UN like she does a stage, she would become the Security Council all on her own. Amiee Collier makes for a hilarious Nurse. Her comedic timing is gold. I could not get enough of her traversing through her scenes. And it was nice that her doggie Buckley was able to show up and perform the ever important Spot. Nailed it.

Katie Zarecki brings her acting chops and her top-notch choreography to the stage. Minuet dancing can be simple and blah, but Zarecki adds much detail and unexpected small moves and formations, that make an engaging movement. And, she is very at home with swordplay. Also, Elise Pakila is a fireball of energy and bravado as John Webster. Her confidence is compelling, and her fearlessness in her scene work is highly rewarding to watch. The rest of the cast fill in for so many characters and each of them are on point. Nothing is wasted EVER. There are many more talented performers in the show. Every one of them adds to the craziness of the evening and helps create a fantastic entertaining show. The Company work is some of the best I have seen in a long time. Great work from all.

If you have never been to The Ohio Shakespeare Festival, or not comfortable with Shakespearean adventures, this is the show that you really should see. It is an excellent introduction to the company members, their new home at the Greystone Hall, and allowing Shakespeare to be so accessible and fascinating for nonscholars like me.

Pine's Set Design served well and provided smooth transitions. Mark Stoffer provided the Light and Sound Design. Well done. The sound was clear, and only took a moment of adjustment in the high ceiling hall. Lights are hung high, so there was some shadow play, but not enough to impede the action. Costume Design was to die for. Marty LaConte and Kelsey Tomlinson threw themselves a party and provided fabulous looks. And the pieces that were constructed by Nancy Humes, bravo on the intricate and period work that added so much to this success. Stage Manager Michelle Elyse Levinson called a great show.

I am a big believer in the energy of a production, and the energy of a theatre. When I walk into a lobby, my Spidey sense usually detects drama or excitement. In the case of OSF, I felt joy.

Take the trip to check out this show. I promise you will not be disappointed. it rocks on every level.

(Dec 12, 2018)

Fine Arts Association Presents a Charming Annie for the Holidays

Fine Arts Association
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

ANNIE is based on Harold Gray's popular comic strip Little Orphan Annie. The comic strip premiered in the 1920s in the New York Daily News and became one of the most widely read strips in the 30s and 40s. Lyricist-director Martin Charnin bought a coffee table book called “The Life and Hard Times of Little Orphan Annie” as a Christmas gift for a friend in 1970. The clerk at the bookstore was too busy to wrap the book, so Charnin took the book home to wrap it. Instead, he read it and fell in love with the strip, and set out to secure the rights, Christmas week of 1970. The friend never got the book.

Charnin championed the idea to colleagues Charles Strouse, a two-time Tony-winning composer, and Thomas Meehan, a short story writer for The New Yorker. It took a great deal of campaigning to get them interested, but the team was finally formed in 1971 when they began to write the musical.

Leapin’ Lizards!

The world’s best-loved musical returns in time-honored form. Featuring book and score by Tony Award®-winners Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, ANNIE includes such unforgettable songs as “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” “Easy Street,” “I Don’t Need Anything But You,” plus the eternal anthem of optimism, “Tomorrow.”

In the depths of the 1930's, Annie (Makenna Hagan) is a fiery young orphan girl who must live in a miserable orphanage run by the tyrannical Miss Hannigan (Emily Stack). Her seemingly hopeless situation changes dramatically when she is selected by Grace Farrell (Colette Siddle) to spend a short time at the residence of the wealthy industrialist, Oliver Warbucks (Dave Peck). Quickly, she charms the hearts of the household staff and even the seemingly cold-hearted Warbucks cannot help but learn to love this wonderful girl. He decides to help Annie find her long lost parents by offering a reward if they would come to him and prove their identity. However, Miss Hannigan, her evil brother, Rooster (J.J. Luster), and his female accomplice Lily St. Regis (Haley Gagnon) plan to impersonate those people to get the reward for themselves which put Annie in great danger. And we're off!

Hagan is wonderful as Annie. Her presence is engaging and makes the process of the audience fall in love with her effortless. She also has a strong commanding voice and handles her solos with depth, clarity, and clarion precision. She is a delight. She heads up a group of young orphans that are quite a lot to handle, but they handle us with wonderful characterizations, and charm oozing from every part of the orphanage. They ham it up with the best of them and create many laugh out loud moments. Those fabulous orphans are Emma Kovach-Uzi as Pepper, Haylie Kalina as Duffy, Noelle Molnar as July, Ella Gifford as Kate, Noni Arndt as Tessie, and Maddie Halapy as Molly. This troupe sings and dances with wild abandon and put a smile on every face in their path.

Peck presents quite a different quality to Warbucks that I haven't seen before, but I really liked it. Normally, Warbucks is gruff and self-centered by still in a comic book way, but what Peck does is actually make the billionaire very real. Warbucks seems colder than normal. But I think this works beautifully as an arc because it becomes even more of a journey for Warbucks to accept Annie and eventually want to adopt her. I loved this choice. He also sings with honest and pure depth. Great job.

Emily Stack is a hot mess of delightful fun as Miss Hannigan. Perfect casting. What a delight to watch her grumble, and wobble all over the stage and face off against the orphans. True delight. Also, her singing voice was totally on point in characterization, and comedic acumen. Now let's add two of her accomplishments in the scheme of the play to get Annie back to claim a reward. J.J. Luster and Haley Gagnon as Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis are the brilliant cherries on top of the already fabulous Hannigan. These two are on fire from the moment they enter. Both of these actors have brought a fresh approach to their roles. Luster feels like he stepped out of a gangster film after just having lunch with Al Capone. Gagnon is a tightly packed comedic car bomb that goes off in precision timing. When the two of them go to kiss, which thankfully happens more than once, Gagnon approaches Luster with machine gun precision using her "upper body" in a rapid-fire fashion that had me spitting out my soda. And when the two of them kiss, they really commit. So much so, their mouths remind me of throwing bread in a codfish pool and watch all the fish go after the bread. There is so much going on between these two, I wanted it to stop, but I really didn't. Pure comedic gold.

Then when the three of them get together and present "Easy Street", they literally blow the roof of the theatre. I was screaming in delight. And I can honestly say since I am older than a redwood, that this is the best "Easy Street” I have ever seen. The actors are on fire. And I need their resumes so I can direct them in the future. ha.

I have to mention that at the beginning of the show, the apple seller comes out. The moment I heard him speak, my attention peaked. his voice, acting, presentation immediately set him on a higher plane. It turns out that actor is Stephen Sandham. Now I know he comes from an esteemed theatrical family, but I didn't know that when he performed, but I wasn't surprised to learn that. This is such a great example for anyone auditioning. you may not get the role you wanted, but make the role you get as important to you as possible, and people will notice your dedication and execution, and not throwing away a smaller part. Plus, he sings and dances his face off.

The Cabinet scene is one of my favorites, and all did not disappoint. Steve Ingrassia as Ickes, Nick Grimsic as Howe, Paul Hagan as Hull, Jonathan Sweet as Morganthau, and the lovely Janice Troha as Perkins. I have to mention the essential Christopher Fortunato as Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The first role I ever had in a theatre was Bert Healy, and I am very happy to report I thought Paul Hagen did a great job, as did his crazy accomplices.

The rest of the cast was a wonderful balance of experience, which is the perfect blend for community theatre. They were enjoying themselves immensely, and that translates well to the audience.

Production Team: Director Sandy Kosovich, Music Director David A. Thomas, Choreographer Jill Tschetter helm this wonderful holiday show. Technical Director Michael Roesch does a great job. Scenic Designer Dave Peck, Lighting Designer Nora Dlugo, Sound Designer Tom Linsenmeier, Costume Designer Colleen Bloom, Production Stage Manager Michael Richmond, Props Master Sandi Fink, Scenic Artist Maria Lister Lyons, Wigs by Winn Douglas, Set Painting Michael Richmond, Props Assistants David Fink & Nate Fink.

I had some observations: There were a few times where I felt some lead characters were upstaging themselves, especially when the Smudges come in towards the end. In the mansion scene, the staging could have opened up more on the sides, especially on the couch/tree side for sightlines. Having a scene change between the "Fully Dressed" song hurt the pacing a bit. Hannigan took a lot of sips from the flask. Annie's hair at the end seemed too big in some way, more of a Lana Turner style, which causes her face to be blocked when she was sideways.

Kosovich has cast well, thus putting together a very fun evening of characters to entertain the masses. Overall, the show moves well and delights the audience. Thomas led a great pit, and the sound was well balanced and played. I always feel sorry for the opening trumpet solo, because it’s just you all alone, but that was nailed. Tschetter did a great job providing movement for this crew. There are different levels of dancing experience, and I thought she did a great job of giving people what they could do, and then she had this core group of 6 or so that could really bust out some more intricate movement. Well Done.

This is a great show. I have to say Annie is my favorite musical, probably because it was my first musical ever.

I would come to see this again!

(Dec 5, 2018)

November 2018

The Final Week for Dobama's Critically Acclaimed John

Dobama Theatre
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

Under the Artistic Direction of Nathan Motta, Dobama Theatre is expanding its vision to end up in a self-actualization that will set it apart from other theatres in town. The theatre is now a Professional Equity House Theatre. That in itself is a statement of power and influence all on its own. But by calling or upgrading yourself, also means you have to deliver. And deliver big. Previously, Motta directed a profound production of "The Flick" by Annie Baker. In fact, the American Playwright won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for this work. So it makes perfect sense to offer another helping of Baker's work. The current production of "John" is that offering.

One cold November night, Elias (Luke Wehner) and Jenny (Cat Shy), a young couple struggling to stay together, stop at a bed & breakfast in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. During their visit they encounter a cheerful innkeeper Mertis (Catherine Albers), her blind friend Genevieve (Dorothy Silver), and an eerie world crammed with toys, figurines and one very odd American Girl doll. This mystic puzzle of a play is full of surprises, both human and supernatural.

This production will test you for many reasons. One is the length, as it takes a little over 3 hours to spin this tale. Audiences are not used to this amount of concentration in general, so any production of that length has to be packed to the gills with stimulation of senses, or at the very least and not less important, intellectual intensity. This production offers much to be enjoyed with incredibly detailed production values, and a cast that offers some severe acting chops.

Watching Wehner and Shy slowly unveil the arc of their story is fascinating to watch. The story itself is certainly spread out over the evening, but seeing these two, in what feels like real time, requires immense concentration, endurance, and focus. Wehner is serving up coffee shop realness with expresso character detail, and a well measured emotional performance. Shy is fantastic. She is a visual seductress of acting that entices you to spend time listening and watching her every move. She has an incredible connectivity with the audience and delivers constantly throughout the evening. Both have the ingredients for formidable careers.

Joining these two performers are two actresses that are a culmination of every theatrical ingredient that exists, refined, and brilliantly presented. Catherine Albers leads the parade as in innkeeper who seems to present a question whether there are more skeletons in her closet or her mind. Her accomplished Mertis gives us two sides of crazy for our enjoyment. One is the sweetest woman you will ever meet. Taking care of her husband (that you never meet), and taking care of her guests. She has an octave lower self that makes a visit once in a while, and the transition is enjoyably weird and indicates that the Time Warp probably happened at some party here in the past. Albers is excellent. Then at the top of the theatrical mountain offering us the greatest view an actor could hope for is Dorothy Silver as Genevieve. Her character is blind, but she is able to see into everyone's soul and enables us to laugh, question, and most importantly listen. She is a living master class. A Sensei for all that know her and study her acting choices like they are B-12 shots of life-giving intrinsic career enabling bolts of lighting. Her monologue describing her descent into insanity is a gift.

The production team was up to the challenge of creating a remarkable canvas for this story to unfold. Scenic Designer Cameron Caley Michalak serves up a fierce bed and breakfast, Dred Geib props abound in distraction and purpose, Marcus Dana lighting the space with professional flair, Jeremy Dobbins giving us clear sound, and Inda Blatch-Gieb costumes this piece to attractive detail and sensitivity.

Will you like this production? I truly think the answer lies in an age-old question that happens in an art gallery. There is a piece hanging on a wall. A group of individuals feast their eyes on it and take in what they are seeing and feeling. When you ask them what they think of the painting, some will say "It was brilliant", some will say "it was ok", and some will say "I didn't get it". I think that is what we may have here. You alone will determine if you enjoy the experience. It is strongly directed, strongly designed, and strongly acted. So the answer will be if you found the pauses in the dialogue empty, or full? The intrigue created but never resolved, fascinating to watch or disappointing that there wasn't a brazen answer to the tension? Or was it just too long?

There were some observations. I thought the play tried too hard to create something scary by just simply staring at something. I never was scared, but I felt I should be because people were staring at an object. Also, the pauses in dialogue is an acquired taste, especially when you ask the audience to spend over three hours with the characters. From my own personal experience, I only felt cheated when the last line of the play was uttered, which resulted in a voice in my head saying. "I waited three hours for this?". Then I was ashamed of myself by thinking I suck as an artist because I didn't get it the more ethereal message that was being sent by the play.

So what a great review right? The production value is strong. There are many gifts within, and one of the greatest is Dorothy Silver. There is always magic when a living legend takes the stage. I know I feel more fulfilled having that memory to pull from for inspiration.

(Nov 5, 2018)

October 2018

Little Women The Musical Shines at Western Reserve Playhouse

Western Reserve Playhouse
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

Based on Louisa May Alcott's classic 1869 semi-autobiographical novel, “Little Women” follows four sisters—the independent, aspiring writer Jo (Kaity Poschner), the romantic Meg (Kayla Lehman), the pretentious Amy (Tenley Stitzer), and the kind-hearted Beth (Abigall Lyman), all under the watchful eye of their beloved mother, Marmee (Bernadette Hisey). while their father is away serving as a Union Army chaplain during the Civil War. Intercut with the vignettes in which their lives unfold are several recreations of the melodramatic short stories Jo writes in her attic studio. Each sister follows a different path but not necessarily what is expected. This coming-of-age tale is filled with drama, romance, humor, and music.

Poschner, as Jo, does a wonderful job leading the sister pack with zest. Her acting chops are the anchor for this characterization, along with a pleasant singing voice. Lehman brings her radiant looks and voice to the role of Meg. Setting sail on the Love Boat and providing a textured performance. Stitzer as Amy does a great job and pushing every trigger in the family. Her contemptuous behavior is great and adds a well-appreciated level to the proceedings. Lyman is the vocal powerhouse here providing a deft characterization and textured vocals to her interpretation of Beth. She made me cry. That’s a good sign.

Hisey leads the adult brigade with a beautiful performance as Marmee. Armed with a beautiful voice which revels in interpretation, an acute sense of timing and environment, and her confident aura, she is a textured delight. One of my favorites memories is the performance of Shelly Palumbo as Aunt March. Now, this stuff is great. Complete command of the period, time, and a sense of comedic timing which ranks up there with the best in the area.

Jay Sigler is quite charming as Professor Bhaer. His characterization is straight on and very enjoyable. Creating a character that makes you want to root for him in the end, and makes you delighted when life finally hands him his due. Well done. Michael Knobloch serves up some romantic lead realness as Laurie, and is ridiculously charming and armed with a beautiful musical voice. Steve Schuerger brings Mr. Brooks to life with subtle acting choices and a great centered focus.

The rest of the company provide solid trimmings to the event. Walt Kaminski as Mr. Laurence, Molly Kessler, Christina Worchester, and Dorota Zarzycka as Mrs. Kirk. I have to throw out some major love the story players within the story. The actors that act out Jo’s story creations are a blast. They are as follows: Clarissa (Shipley) A sweet young women fleeing the evil villain Sir Braxton Prendergast (Schuerger). Rodrigo (Knobloch) The determined and brave hero. The Hag (Palumbo) A mysterious creature who shows Clarissa the way through the forest in return for her combs. The Troll (Kessler) A greedy monster who takes Clarissa across wild rapids in return for her necklace. The Knight (Kaminski) A tired and lonely old man who gives Clarissa his sword in return for her kindness to him. Rodrigo II (Lyman) The real hero of Jo’s operatic tragedy – Clarissa’s long-lost sister. This is so much fun and staged incredibly well.

There were just a couple of observations. The turntable was a very unique addition to the set, but it did result in some close quarters during some of the scenes. There were a few pitchy moments throughout the evening. But, those moments were minimized by secure acting underneath.

Director Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski has assembled a great cast and moves the action with great pace. The staging of the play within the play was a blast. Musical Director Dave Stebbins provided great support and sound. Jennifer Justice added some fun and energetic movement to the mix. Stage Manager Brianna Laybourn called a great show. Set Designer Todd Plone surprises the WRP crowd with a well-designed turntable. Well Done. Costumer Kelsey Tomlinson provided period perfect looks to add to this classic tale. Sound Designer Justin Herman supported with clarity. Light Designer Kevin Rutan provided a sold lighting palate for the story.

This show is a respectable creation of the musical based on a classic book. My observation of the room was one filled with enjoyment. That’s a winner.

(Oct 19, 2018)

Cannibal, The Musical Serves up a Delicious Meal at Blank Canvas

Blank Canvas Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

From the co-creator of South Park and The Book of Mormon, comes the “All Singing! All Dancing! All Flesh Eating!” Trey Parkers’ Cannibal! The Musical, live on stage. This is based on the true story of the only person convicted of cannibalism in America - Alferd Packer (Yes, Alferd, not Alfred, calm down). The sole survivor of an ill-fated trip to the Colorado Territory, he tells his side of the harrowing tale to news reporter Polly Pry (Meg Martinez) as he awaits his execution. And his story goes like this: While searching for gold and love in the Colorado Territory, he and his companions lost their way and resorted to unthinkable horrors, including toe-tapping songs and a couple of showstoppers, or should I say snowstoppers. Thank you.

Sometimes you just have to let your hair down. Sometimes a theatrical piece is not going to win the Nobel prize, but sometimes it is fun to just be silly. Director Patrick Ciamacco, the brainchild behind the Laughter League, a renowned comedy sketch group, dives in head first to create a hot mess of fun. We are living in some tense times. But, if you need a break from watching the ice caps melt, get your behind to see Cannibal! The Musical at Blank Canvas Theatre NOW! Warning, this is definitely some silly stuff, but if you don’t get that from the title, then you need to experiment and sit in the splatter zone. Yes. Splatter Zone. Yes. Blood.

Every actor in this show is a firkin scream and has some kind of moment that is a beautiful hot mess. The ensemble work going on here is among the best I have seen. Everyone is completely immersed in this insane world. The characterizations are all on point, and beautifully funny.

Noah Hrbek as Alfred Packer leads this cast of crazies with confident aplomb. His voice has never sounded better, and his projected innocent quality of humanity works perfectly in this piece. As the love interest, he charms his way into your hearts, and well as ending up eating them. Stephen Berg has a fantastic time playing Shannon Bell, the Mormon Priest who tries his best to contribute spiritually to the journey, but ends up a bit “stressed out”. Berg plays his character's arc to the hilt, and provide plenty of humor as a result. Antonio DeJesus pretty much delivers a puberty driven George Noon to the proceedings. His country-fried twang is a hoot, and the way in which he handles having his privates disheveled is pure joy.

David Turner turns in one hell of a tap number, and one of the show stoppers, by kick-ball shuffling his way into our hearts as the Optimist Isreal Swan. What a scream. Danny Simpson gives us James Humphrey, a reluctant participant. Humphrey’s character seems to be the love child of Pee Wee Herman and Linda Belcher, the result being a delightful hot mess of idiot hall of famery. Joe Kenderes brings his manly nature to Frank Miller, the butcher. He adds mightily to the journey, providing lots of delightful stress and bravado. Reporter Polly Pry is beautifully played by Meg Martinez in both person and character. She is the perfect confidant to Packer, packs a clarion voice, and surprises everyone with a penchant for horseplay. Logan Honsaker, as the leader of the bad pack Frenchy Cabazon, not only shaves the pelt off of trapped animals but also his chest, as his bad guy personae is a frickin delight. His voice and dance moves are a joyful combination of surprise entertainment. Jay Lee as the Chief is a hoot and a half. Beautiful character hilarity.

Some of these folks play multiple roles in the show. Starting us off is Venchise Phillips, she is certainly highlighted when she gets her hoofs in an uproar as Liane, the horse. Yes. This is quite the love story interest, and Phillips carries it off with great humor, and physicality. She carries Packer around like he weighs 10 pounds, so don’t piss her off. Donnell James is serving up multiple roles as well, but he peaks as Nutter, a member of the bad trapper gang. Within Mark Majercik’s multiple personalities, the Doomed Guy is brought to over the top to hilarity. Grace Mitri was a blast in every role she inhabited. Whether Noon’s Mom, Clerk, or the Judge. She was serving up massive amounts of fun.

Director Ciamacco, who also serves as the Artistic Director, brought a script that had nothing but lines and no orchestrations to life with blissful design and by creating a comedic romper room. The show moves well, and the blood effects are not overdone, but just enough to let the “splatter zone” get covered in washable blood. Musical Director Matt Dolan creatively birthed orchestrations and a band where none existed. The music greatly adds to the fun. Choreographer Zac Hudak did a tremendous job bringing the show numbers to life. The tap number will be giving me life for days. Stage Manager Tiffany Trapnell called a great show and kept this cattle call of insanity in line. Costume Designer Jill Kenderes hit all of the marks with relish. Also, Ciamacco added his skill to the production end as well by providing Special Effects (along with Hrbek and P. J. Toomey), Sound, Lighting, Projection (Hrbek), and Set Design, as well as Tech Director. I find this amazing since I can’t even rotate my wardrobe by season without assistance. Hrbek also painted the Scenic Back Drop. Again, I can’t rotate.

Soooooooooooooooo, just get the heck to the theatre and laugh. It’s like theatrical silly string, it won’t change the world, but it is a hell of a lot of fun!

(Oct 14, 2018)

September 2018

Disney's Newsies at Near West Theatre is Headline Worthy

Near West Theatre
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

Set in turn-of-the-century New York City, Newsies is the rousing tale of Jack Kelly (Felix Albino), a charismatic newsboy and leader of a band of teenaged "newsies." When titans of publishing raise distribution prices at the newsboys’ expense, Jack rallies newsies from across the city to "Seize the Day" and strike for what's right! Timely and fresh, Newsies addresses age-old themes of social injustice, exploitative labor practices, and David-versus-Goliath struggles as these youth learn to harness their power against a corrupt establishment. Inspired by a true story and based on the popular Disney film, Newsies features a Tony Award-winning score by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, and book by Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein.

If you were wondering if the future of our country has the resolve and purpose to fight and change the world, then look no further than the current production of Newsies at Near West Theatre. In the words of Director Kelcie Nicole Duggar ", they are a fierce group of the most WOKE young people that inspire me beyond words". I think the audience would agree based on the roaring applause throughout the musical performance. The show itself tends to hang its hat on being a dance show, with the "Newsies" dancing so athletically that it resembles an Olympic Gymnastics tryout. Well, this production features a group of 9 to 15-year-olds, who attack this piece of theatre like carpenter ants on a freshly cut redwood.

There are some powerful observations regarding this production, and some of them are true testaments to the mission of Near West Theatre and the growth and inspiration that empowers young people to grow and become empassioned adults.

First is the Director, Kelcie Nicole Duggar. She has put together a tremendous show, and in particular, her gift of working with the age group of 9 to 15-year-olds in the city is unparalleled. Duggar is able to connect with this group being honest, treating them with respect, and most importantly LISTENING! She has overseen a beautiful and fun production and staged engaging scene work and characterizations that are alive and complete with dead-on accents. Duggar has grown up at Near West Theatre. Starting as a shy kid, she has risen to Associate Artistic Director. Her accomplishments are a tremendous inspiration to the kids that she is directing. Incredibly relatable, and incredibly WOKE.

Secondly, the Music Director Scott Pyle. Here is another homegrown artist who has risen through the conclave of Near West Theatre. First hitting the boards as a young kid filled with energy, talent, and a smile that generated ticket sales more than a BOGO offer. He slowly developed his stage skills, and in addition, honed his skills as a musician, which has evolved enough that he is now Music Director for the 9 to 15 shows. He also has served as Music Director, and Assistant Music Director on the Young Adult, and Intergenerational shows. He is down to earth, nurturing, and his talents contribute heavily to guide and provide growth to the cast members that grace the stage.

Both Duggar and Pyle have come to full actualization of their talents, The institution, and the actors, and stage crews that work on the shows are in talented and protective hands.

Thirdly, the choreography provided by Josh Larkin. You have to remind yourself after each raucous number that brings the audience to a screaming helix of happiness, that these actors are 9 to 15. Newsies is a show known for the dance sequences and launching the career of Jeremy Jordan, Broadway Heart Throb. Well, the heartthrob in this production is the inventive, powerful, creative, fantastic, jaw-dropping moments of dance in this show. I attended this production with another Near West Theatre success story, Trinidad Snider, and she turned to me and stated what I had already concluded, that "this is the best dance I have ever seen at Near West Theatre, ever." It's true, Larkin has outdone himself. It is pure joy!

Next is the crew. The backstage heroes who prefer the shade as opposed to the light. Or the occasional actor who wants to give back by working backstage to help out the actors on stage and a point of balance in the universe. Supervised by Production Stage Manager/Assistant Production Manager Ryan Wolf. The crew led by Stage Manager Katie Landoll, Assistant Stage Manager Allan Stubbs, and a fierce crew that even included the Duggar.

Now we come to this incredible cast.

Leading the way is another Near West Theatre success story. Felix Albino as Jack Kelly. He has literally grown up at Near West Theatre. Watching him grow into such an accomplished performer has been a very proud story to watch. In fact, Albino was nominated for a Dazzle Award last year for his work on AIDA at Near West Theatre. His story no longer exists here, but now is being recognized beyond in the city. Albino give Kelly a rich and layered performance. Acted with a natural presence, that is greatly enhanced by a beautiful and powerful singing voice. He leads the show with a humble command and eschews every scene with relevance and adept acting. At the end of Act One, Albino delivers a heart-pounding reprise of "Santa Fe". His sidekick, Crutchie, is gloriously performed by Dashiell Tidrick. This kid is a scream. He flies around the stage, crutch in hand, like a water spider on spring break. His character is excellent, dances with athletic sharpness and his solo "Letter from the Bridge" is heartbreaking due to his expressive voice, and finding truth in every moment.

Then we come to Davey (Alex Schwartz) and Les (Corlyn Stauffer), the sidekicks of the year. Both of these actors are a blast, dead on, and work every moment to the utmost effectiveness. Both are charming as heck. Schwartz has a beautiful voice, that is highlighted at the beginning of "Seize the Day". I am surprised there isn't a collection plate flying around the audience. He is charming, dances his tuchas off, sings powerfully, and his character is a pure delight. Speaking of powerful, whether she knows it or not, Stauffer playing the little boy Les practically steals the show, and every scene she is in. She is a dynamo. but it is not all charm, she is smart, she can sing, she can dance, she has a great character, and she knows how to share the stage with others. I am surprised they aren't selling "Les" Bobble Heads at the concession stand.

Balancing the strong characters that I have mentioned, you need a strong counterbalance to even the playing field. Well, luckily Alexis Nelan checks every box as Katherine Pulitzer. She carries herself with a mature presence, deft acting skills, and a strong character voice. She handles "What Happens" with professional ease and makes that quite a difficult song, seem like an effortless expression of dialogue. She also contributes strongly to the dance. Slapping on some tap shoes at the opening of Act Two, she traverses the set with the rest of the cast, like Danny Kaye on holiday. If I just showed my age, I apologize, but simply put, she is fierce!

Then we come to the office of Joseph Pulitzer (Trinity Ann Ritchie), the head of the Publishing Company. Ritchie is a scream. Her character is bold, brassy, and completely honed. She is the perfect villain and doesn't waste any moment on stage to shine, or to bully (in character) other characters around her. Excellent fun. Joining as Pulitzer's associates are Seitz (Joshua Mink), Bunsen (Carlo Polisena), Hannah (Ellie Ritterbusch), and barber Nunzio (enjoyable Willie Rose). Mink, Polisena, Ritterbusch, are perfect as the staff. Each one of them is spot on, with accents which make the scenes all the better and are confident beyond their years. Bravo.

There are some highlighted turns. Raina Hubbard as Medda Larkin completely smokes the stage with sassiness and an Audra McDonald realness and knows how to egg on the audience. Rylie Elswick as the Newsie Race brings it to the stage with adept character and a buoyant presence. Jacob Glendenning has a great bit as Romeo which is well played. Nathaniel Brinkhoff as Wiesel is a mop-haired bully that is a blast to watch. Colin Guildoo makes for a mean-spirited Snyder and is effective in making us not like him. Win. Abdullah Madera as Spot brings his roughhouse realness into play. Fonzie in the Bronx. And as a return engagement, Rose appears as Governor Teddy Roosevelt and makes a strong case that his mustache deserves a curtain call all on its own. Great Stuff.

This company is fearless. They are the ones who contributed to making this one, if not, the best dance show ever at Near West Theatre. A crowning achievement. Every person on stage pushed themselves to the limit. And out of the midst of choreographic heaven, several of the cast would bust out of a move in the shape and color of Agnes DeMille, and the crowd would react with stunned visual overload.

The Production Team was on fire.

Hedderson pulled all the technical elements together with professional aplomb. Michalak's design was restrained and focused and worked beautifully in the space. West created great lighting moments, and let the story unravel without tricks and whistles. Walker's costume design was spot on and entertaining as heck. Greatly enhancing the storyline

Director: Kelcie Nicole Duggar

Asst: Amanda Bender

Music Director: Scott Pyle

Choreographer: Josh Landis

Asst: Katie Jerome Taylor

Asst: Antonio DeJesus

Production Manager: Michael Stein

Production Stage Manager/Asst. Production Manager: Ryan Wolf

Stage Manager: Katie Landoll

Asst: Allan Stubbs

Deck Chief: Katarina Radujkovic

Technical Director/Video Designer: Perren Hedderson

Set Designer: Cameron Michalak

Charge Scenic Artist: Jenny Hitmar Shankland

Lighting Designer: Tom West

Light Board Operator: Katie Landoll

Costume Designer: Melody Walker

Wardrobe Supervisor: Lady Jen Ryan

Sound Designer/Operator: Matthew Torok

Sound Technician: Emilee Skutt

Properties Master: Kate Atherton

Scenic Carpenters: Emily Hehnen

Child Supervisor: Michelle Bender

Musicians on Fire:

Keyboard 1/ Conductor: Scott Pyle

Trumpet: Brian Gutkoski

Reeds: Kim Taylor

Violin: Leah Frank

Bass: Jason Stebelton

Drums/Percussion: Rick Taylor

Congratulations to the cast and crew! You have created something wonderful!

I hope the next Headline is "Near West Theatre receives a record number of donations!"

Bravo

(Sep 29, 2018)

August 2018

Oklahoma! at Porthouse Celebrates 'Til The Cows Come Home

Porthouse Theatre
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by Kevin Kelly

There is a lot of celebration going on at Porthouse!

Porthouse Theatre concludes 50th Season with an energetic production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!"

Oklahoma! is celebrating its 75th birthday.

Artistic Director Terri Kent is getting all kinds of love coming her way. She was brought down to the stage before the production started for a special presentation from the Chicago representative of Actors’ Equity. A proclamation was read in honor of the 50th anniversary of Porthouse Theatre and Kent State University. Included in the accolades, Terri Kent was recognized for being the Artistic Director for the past 18 years. For the Porthouse family, it was a beautiful celebration of accomplishment. Being an Artistic Director is not all glamour. People love you, people hate you.

Now we come to my brother's favorite musical Oklahoma! Director Terri Kent serves up a fierce hamper of talent that the audience ate up like Laurey's lemon meringue pie. Nothing is better than an American Classic, and certainly, this one took the book musical to new heights. Kent has put together a great production team, and a cast that radiates passion, energy, and pure joy.

Set in the Oklahoma territory in the early 1900s, this musical tells the story of two pairs of lovers. Curly (a fantastic Matthew Gittins) is a cowboy who has trouble admitting his feelings to Laurey (Rebecca Rand), as she does to him, because of their stubbornness. Judd (San Johnson), the hired hand at Laurey's farm, tries to come between them. Ado Annie (Samantha Russell) is torn between Will (Christopher Tuck*), a cowboy who has strong feelings for her, and Ali Hakim (Joey Fontana), a peddler who's a ladies' man and doesn't want to marry her. Their love stories intertwine with the Farmers and the Cowmen that are sharing the land that will eventually become a state.

My first reaction to this production is the incredible performance of Matthew Gittins as Curly. This is the most natural and honest interpretation I have ever seen. From the moment he arrives, his easy manner and down-homeness are supremely engaging. Thanks to his parent's gene pool, Gittins cuts a handsome figure on stage and becomes the perfect cowboy matinee idol. His voice is perfect in the belly of R&H, and he conveys all the emotions necessary by not overplaying, but just honest fine acting. The engaging Rebecca Rand as Laurey held her own with her skill set. She plays a tougher Laurey than usual. At times, I felt it was too Annie Oakley. She has a dynamic voice. But she chooses to belt the songs that usually a prettier lyric tone works better. But, having been directed to be this character, this is just another take on Laurey, making her tough as nails, instead of hard to get. She softens up in Act II, as does her lyric quality and self-actualizes into a beautiful characterization.

Christopher Tuck* is the bomb. I remember him from other Porthouse seasons, and he is just a charming ball of fire. He has tremendous connectivity with the audience, and literally lights the stage whenever he enters a scene. His voice, vocals, and characterization of Will Parker were fiercely on point. He can also kick up his heels with the best of him. Certainly a Blue Ribbon winner at the Porthouse fair. Samatha Russell is a hot mess of delight as Ado Annie. She is probably what Miley Cyrus is singing about in Wrecking Ball, of love that is! My only point of order is that a lot of the time in Act I, the voice was turned up way too much, and became almost more annoying than Gertie. But Act II, that was pulled back and she settled into a far more vocally appealing character. Russell is also a ball of fire and worked incredibly well with Tuck. She also can dance with the best of them. Great work.

Can we talk about the show-stealing Ali Hakim, manically played by Joey Fontana? What a blast this guy is! Fontana crushed this role. Comedic timing and characterization for days. What an incredibly fun performance. Very well done. On the other side of life, Sam Johnson kicked some serious ass as Jud Fry. The entire time of stage, his sense of darkness prevailed. Playing someone as haunted in such an upbeat musical is tough, and Johnson played it perfectly. Very impressive work. Lenne Snively* as Aunt Eller was a blast. She brought a bright light to the proceedings. I found her very engaging, and her character work is ridiculously on point. You just can't help but love her, and her sense of caring and protection. Plus she can belt out with the best of em. Kelli-Ann Paterwic is a piercing delight with her laugh and milks it to no end, which is annoyingly delightful. Veteran Christopher Seiler* had some great moments as Andrew Carnes, milking the scenes with whatever milk is left from this cast. Mavis Jennings* adds some equity love to Ike Skidmore.

Terri Kent delivers another pace perfect hit! 18 years of them in fact. Bravo for creating such a production, and a summer theatre season, that brings so much joy and entertainment. Jennifer Korecki's orchestra lit up the air with brisk and delightful musicianship. Cynthia Stillings Lighting Design was on point. Nolan O' Dell's Set Design was eye pleasing and had a very inventive set change implemented for Jud's Cabin. John Crawford-Spinelli's Choreography was as fun as a tub of apple butter. Dances were all in line with the themes, but the real creativity came with the Dream Ballet. Nicely done unique vision.Brittney Harrell did a great job costuming this classic. Great looks without one miss. Everyone looked good and comfortable. Sound Design by Tyler Forbes was excellent.

There is nothing better than a crowd standing and clapping and singing their hearts out with the cast. Yep. That happened. Bravo!

*Member of Actors Equity Association

(Aug 2, 2018)

July 2018

Vocally Powerful Spring Awakening at Near West Theatre Soars With Brutal Honesty

Near West Theatre
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

Growing up is a BITCH. For teenage students in 19th century Germany, it’s a fight just to be heard, let alone get any answers! Parents and teachers alike dismiss their questions, fears, and anxieties. With only the guidance of their peers, teens Moritz (Zack Palumbo), Wendla (Sarah Farris), Melchior (Robert Kowaleski), and Ilse (Moriyah Faith Jackson) struggle to navigate religion, morality, sexuality, and coming-of-age angst with heart-wrenching and devastating results.

Over 100 years later, young people still fight for reliable mentors to hear and support them, and without that guidance, teens, young adults, and even children can enter dark worlds of depression, sexual recklessness and assault, and suicide. Spring Awakening highlights the agelessness of this experience. Near West Theatre's decision to bring this musical to life was a brave and bold step in using its platform to heighten awareness. This show does come with a disclaimer regarding the issues addressed. As a result, this would not be marketed as family-friendly, but in reality, you would consider this family reality. This show is direct and incredibly thought-provoking.

This particular story finds us in Germany, 1891, a world where the grown-ups hold all the cards. The beautiful young Wendla explores the mysteries of her body and wonders aloud where babies come from... until Mama tells her to shut it and put on a proper dress. Elsewhere, the brilliant and fearless young Melchior interrupts a mind-numbing Latin drill to defend his buddy, Moritz – a boy so traumatized by puberty that he can't concentrate on anything... not that the Headmaster (Mike Obertacz) cares. He strikes them both and tells them to turn in their lesson. One afternoon, in a private place in the woods, Melchior and Wendla meet by accident and soon find within themselves a desire, unlike anything they've ever felt. As they fumble their way into one another's arms, Moritz flounders to find his truth and soon fails out of school. When even his one adult friend, Melchior's mother (Amanda Bender), ignores his plea for help, he is left so distraught that he can't hear the promise of life offered by his outcast friend, Ilse. Due to devastating events, Melchior is expelled. Wendla learns the truth about intimacy. And soon, decisions are made that bring this tale to a crashing end. However, we are left with a message that through the pain, there is the undeniable need to not forget but to move forward.

The Near West Theatre Production, under the direction of Kelcie Nicole Dugger, is powerful, visually stunning, and without a doubt, one of the best summer Teen/Young Adult musicals produced here in a very long time. Dugger has done a tremendous job of casting this show. The subject matter probably caused a lot of angst for some people, but they should know the show is staged without sensationalism and is professionally focused and executed. Dugger's overall vision of the show is strongly on point and visceral.

As Wendla, Farris shares an incredibly powerful performance. Ferris is radiant on stage, and her beauty is matched by her vocal delivery. Beautifully balanced presentation of innocence, and the inner drive of finding the truth. She exudes confidence, and her character arc is well developed and executed. Kowalewski as Melchoir just crushes this role. A fearless performance with incredible vocal work in which each song becomes an occasion. Definitive character work is on full display and executed with a professional polish. Powerful stuff. Every moment fully complete. Both Farris and Kowalewski are perfect in propelling this story.

Zack Palumbo is a revelation. As Moritz, he embodies his character in deeply tortured realness. That friend we all know who is struggling and we can't seem to put our finger on it. Palumbo brings his bolt of kinetic theatre energy that electrifies every scene he inhabits with brilliant resonance. His powerful voice conveys the music with immense connectivity and emotion. You will remember this performance and performer. Jackson has the difficult task of giving Ilse a journey that is not a pretty one to watch. From the moment we see her, something is wrong. She weaves in and out of scenes, underlying a dark resonance that pierces the story. This is effective because she conveys the damage to this girl with sensitive acting and brutal truth. Her voice aches from pain, and a struggle for recovery of self-worth. Tough character because Ilse never gets a break emotionally. Jackson is devastatingly on point.

There are some fierce dynamic girls surrounding Wendla, multi-talented Zoe Douglas as Martha (her solo and monologue work was spectacular), Kater Brierley as Thea, and Paola Ayala as Anna. They lead the core of women who sing the anthems of awakening with great focus and believability. Their presence is never wasted and due to the depth of their character work, are achingly alive. Antonio DeJesus and Matthew Brightbill, as Hanschen and Ernst, bring incredibly integrity to their roles. Playing sensitive men who have to love secretly, and stay true to their feelings. Both gentlemen bring pure, well-acted honesty to the roles, without ever caving into overplaying the intimate scenes for shock value. Proving that gay love scenes can be beautiful and meaningful without taking off your shirt. Bravo!

There was some great solo work accomplished. Peter Bradley belted his face off as Georg during "Touch Me". Dripping with bombastic energy, this guy killed it. Nick Glavan also had a chance to vocally angst himself to the rafters as well. Great character work from each of them.

There are two Adults in the show, simply listed as Adult Woman, and Adult Man. Each one plays multiple characters in the show. Amanda Bender takes on the female roles of Frau Bergman (Wendla's Mother), Fraulein Knuppeldick, Fraulein Grossebustenhalter, Frau Gabor (Melchior's Mother), and Frau Bessell (Martha's Mother. Michael Obertacz inhabits Herr Sonnenstich, Headmaster Knochenbruch, Her Neumann (Ilse's Father), Herr Rilow (Hanschen's Father), Herr Stiefel (Moritz's Father), Father Kaulbach, Doctor Von Brausepulver, Herr Gabor (Melchior's Father) and Schmidt. Both actors are versatile and creative in giving each character a definitive physical and vocal identity. Bender is killing me as Fraulein Knuppeldick, as she speaks her lines as if she just swallowed an entire box of Cracker Jacks and their still in her throat. Obertacz gives a defining moment as a grieving father. Both actors should be commended for stepping into their roles during tech week. Truly a remarkable feat. Bravo. The company of actors that fills out this fierce cast is excellent. In true, Near West Theatre tradition, every face is intimately connected to the scene work, and deliver solid vocal power.

There were some observations. Sometimes, the convention of having the entire ensemble enter during songs longed for more private moments. However, that is one of the missions of including larger casts in the show. Although at points I just wanted to focus on the specific character exchange, to their credit, the ensemble is tight and focused. There was one moment where I felt it might have been a lighting cue, but when Moritz has his epiphany with mortality, closing to a blackout earlier would have been preferred. It kind of left Moritz with nowhere to go at scene end. There were some moments where the blocking between lead characters seemed a little bit back and forth to center, as noted in one Melchior and Wendla scene. But that is a small quibble.

The Production Team has delivered strongly. Music Director Scott Pyle beautifully guides the voices, and the band to a most effective sound and quality. Josh Landis gives us great interpretive choreography that certainly addresses the angst and sexuality, but doesn't cross the line to hysterics. And the dance and movement involved with the bungee cords were incredibly creative and effective, and simply interesting as heck to watch. Production Stage Manager Ryan Wolf called a great show. Technical Director Perren Hedderson did an excellent job of pulling the elements together and building an effective set. Set Designer Cameron Michalak once again brings his professional artistry to the foreground, and in this case, a playground of sorts. Scenic Artist Jenny Hitmar Shankland continues to produce brilliant artistry in her painting. Costume Designer Lady Jen Ryan got all the stitching right, as her costumes helped transport the story with precision and inspired period work. Lighting Designer Adam Ditzel brought his tremendous skills to the table, creating an amazing array of atmospheric art that greatly enhanced deep and sensitive moments in the show. Sound Designer Josh Caraballo's Sound Design and the balance was on point.

Also, there is a table from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention located downstairs. Thank you to Near West Theatre for allowing public access to information for your patrons, cast, and production staff. AFSP.org

This is not easy to watch. This will be tough for some because the show holds many triggers.

But, we need to hear this story to even begin to heal it.

Go see it.

Discuss it.

Keep your eyes open to those around you.

Keep your ears open to those around you.

Some bruises can be seen, some can’t.

Some voices can be heard, some can't.

Be the voice that saves lives.

Be the voice that can help uncover what is hidden.

Be the voice that becomes a lighthouse for those in pain.

(Aug 1, 2018)

Final Weekend of bare: A Pop Opera at Western Reserve

Western Reserve Playhouse
Community Theatre

Review by Kevin Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Jul 27, 2018)

The Ladies of Karamu's Simply Simone are Simply Spectacular

Karamu House
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smith is a fireball. Her striking appearance and joyful energy are hard not to notice. Her voice is crisp and soulful and radiates confidence and showwomenship.

Her rendition of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" showed her incredible versatility. Simply a joy to watch. Also, she can certainly rock a silver dress for sure.

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

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

The ladies are spectacular.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*denotes member of Actors Equity Association

(Jul 22, 2018)

CSA Director Insight:
Greg Violand and Maryann Nagel
|
Director of Oliver! at French Creek Theatre |

Why did you choose, or how did you come to direct this show?

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


Why does the theatre scene need this production and/or another production of this show?

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


Can you share some memorable moments from the rehearsal period?

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


What themes resonate with you about the show?

Hope, Faith, and Resilience


What do you hope your production has accomplished?

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


Thank you Greg and Maryann for the feedback!

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

(Jul 18, 2018)

CSA Director Insight:
Jacqi Loewy
|
Director of Anything Goes at Lorain Community Music Theater |


Why did you choose, or how did you come to direct this show?

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


Why does the theatre scene need this production and/or another production of this show?

Because we all need some good clean laughs these days! Enough said??


Can you share some memorable moments from the rehearsal period?

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


What themes resonate with you about the show?

The power of love and the zaniness of humanity.


What do you hope your production has accomplished?

I know I am repeating myself, but anything that makes people laugh and hum is good for the soul. I hope we have accomplished that.


Thank you so much Jacqi for your feedback!

(Jul 14, 2018)

June 2018

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

Dobama Theatre
Professional Equity House Theatre

by Kevin Kelly

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

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

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

Everyone is this cast kicks ass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

+Equity Membership Candidate

(Jun 25, 2018)

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

Porthouse Theatre
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Members of Actors Equity Association.

^Member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, a national theatrical labor union.

+represented by United Scenic Artist Local of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

(Jun 21, 2018)

Memphis is Serving Up Hot Talent at Cain Park

Cain Park
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

Currently on stage at Cain Park, is the rock-soul infused production of Memphis. A musical by David Bryan (music and lyrics) and Joe DiPietro (lyrics and book). It is loosely based on Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs to play black music in the 1950s, and has the distinct notoriety to be the first DJ to play Elvis on the air. This production is led by vivacious Director/Theatre Artistic Director Joanna May Cullinan, who certainly knows how to put together a fabulous cast. The cast list is filled with a lot of *'s and ^'s, and Christopher Richards* is listed as the Fight Choreographer, which will sell tickets on its own.

Memphis is set in the places where rock and roll was born in the 1950s: the seedy nightclubs, radio stations and recording studios of the musically-rich Tennessee city. It tells the fictional story of DJ Huey Calhoun (Douglas F. Bailey II*), a good ole' local boy with a passion for R&B music and Felicia Farrell (Nicole Sumlin*), an up-and-coming black singer that he meets one fateful night on Beale Street. Despite the objections of their loved ones (Huey's close-minded Mama (Cynthia O'Connell^) and Felicia's cautious club-owning brother Delray (riveting Anthony Savage-Williams^), they embark on a dangerous affair. As their careers rise, the relationship is challenged by personal ambition and the pressures of an outside world unable to accept their love.

So let me tell you. In the role of Felicia, Sumlin seems to be experiencing a self-actualization of life, love and the pursuit of equality. I have never heard her sing like this before. It is so powerful, I couldn't find my socks after the show. It is like she found the soul of the music, the soul of the book, and as it still is, the soul of being a black woman in America that deserves to be heard. All three converge into one of the most amazing presentations I have seen in a long time. Each time she enters the stage, her presence fills the theatre. She is a giving actress and perfectly shares the stage and emotional journey with those around her. The voice! Strong, honest, musical, and empowering. I don't know if you can tell, but I really liked it. Bravo.

Starting and riding this wave until the very end is Bailey, as Huey Calhoun. He crafts a very unique character that is quite deceptive. On the outside, still living with mama, he seems kind of like a country bumpkin. But as the story unravels, Bailey slowly shows the strength underneath his veneer in a beautifully crafted character. The bonus to his down-home charm is that he has a big city voice, and uses it to whip up the crowd with his clarion vocals and spectacular range, both emotionally and literally. He is well balanced with Sumlin. Fire and Ice moving together in a love story that melds together in truth.

One fabulous surprise is the performance of Williams as the protective older brother Delray. What a terrific character. He struts into the scene like Frank Sinatra coming on stage, turning to the audience, and saying "Oh, by the way. I own Las Vegas". His vocals were hot, and the relationship he establishes with Sumlin is tight and very believable. Great work. O'Connell is really solid as Mama. A great source of some comedic overbearing, and also, a surprise where she knocks Mama Rose off the stage and presents her own version of life. Good Stuff. Richards is just the right kind of a pain in the ass. He needs a nightly Senokot martini and the world will be fine. But he ages well on stage and delivers the goods at just the right time to stir up the story. Solid work.

The rest of the cast is fierce and certainly sends some rock and roll fervor into the crowd. They are all in and attack all of their dance numbers and vocals with unbridled energy. Here is the cast serving us LLLLLIIIIIFFFFFEEEEE!

Elijah Dawson^

Michael Swain-Smith^

Anna Barrett^

Isaiah Blue^

Kyle Burnett^

Phillip Michael Carroll*

Mario Clopton-Zymler

DeLee Cooper^

Frank Ivancic^

Imani Jackson

Johnathon Jackson

Ian H. Lawrence^

Kate Leigh Michalski^

Dennis Runkle

CorLesia Smith^

William Tipton^

Brooke Turner^

David Turner

Montria Walker^

Darian Wilson^

There are some considerations. One is the speech pattern of Calhoun. There were moments that were dangerously close to a Forest Gump feel. I was praying that there wasn't a character called Jenny in the cast. Also, in places, the dancing was not as sharp as it should have been. People looked unsure at times. Just remember your face can get you through anything. The final end of the show seems very hard to time with the final guitar strums with the cast. It seemed a bit awkward.

Director Cullinan has put together a great show. The cast is on point, and so is the pace. She has definitely found the spirit of the show and based on the heads bopping along, and the silence when shit gets real, she nailed it. Music Director Jordan Cooper assembled a kick-ass band, and deftly assimulated the cast into vocal readiness. Choreographer Leilani Barrett provided era correct movement enhanced the proceedings. Costume Designer Tesia Dugan Benson was on her A-game once again. The outfits were gorgeous, hilarious (Calhoun), and the dresses on Sumlin would sell out on QVC in an hour. WHEW! Set/Projection Designer T. Paul Lowry knocked it out of the "park", (see what I did there). Great use of location, and film to enhance the evening storytelling. Lighting Designer Carlton Guc did a great job of knowing when and where to hit the subtle moments, and when to let it loose on the highlights. Great atmosphere work. Stage Manager extraordinaire Tom Humes* called a great show.

Check out the show! Sumlin alone takes you to church and back again.

*Member Actors' Equity Association

^Equity Membership Candidate

(Jun 20, 2018)

Fine Arts Association Presents a Vocally Rich Production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Fine Arts Association
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is quite a challenging piece of theatre to produced. I was thrilled to see that the Fine Arts Association was tackling this musical, which within itself is a message of the strength of the theatre currently under the Artistic Direction of David Malinowski. Sort of like, yeah, ring that bell loud Quasi, we're here, stronger than ever.

The musical is inspired from the 1831 Victor Hugo novel. In 1996 Disney brought the story to the screen in a musical. That musical had music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and an adapted book by James Lapine. The stage musical version opened in 1999, in Berlin, Germany, and became one of Berlin's longest-running musicals. The musical had its successful US premiere at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego from October 28 through December 14, 2014. The production soon moved to the Papermill Playhouse from March 4 through April 5, 2015. But it never did make it to Broadway. It wouldn't surprise me if down the line another version would be created. Maybe one with a happier ending. I mean, it's only a matter of time until Disney buys up every theatre in Time Square.

The story follows Quasimodo (Ryan Peterson), a deformed man taken in by Arch Deacon Dom Claude Frollo (David Malinowski) as an infant, due to both of his parents, younger brother Jehan Frollo (Austin Stois) and Florika (Sarah Gordon), have died from illness. Due to his haggard appearance, Quasimodo was forced to remain inside the Notre Dame cathedral for his entire life. However, one night Gypsy King Clopin Trouillefou (Kyle Lorek) throws a festival. On a secret mission, Frollo and his new Captain of the Cathedral Guard Phoebus De Martin (JJ Luster) show up, as well as Quasimodo, who finds solace with the gypsy outcasts. When a girl named Esmeralda (Haley Gagnon) dances, hearts ignite and set a course for destruction. She becomes the target of Frollo's lust and genocidal mission to eliminate all Romani Gypsy people in France, the love interest of De Martin, and the love interest of Quasimodo.

Awaiting the opening of the show, the preset on stage is breathtaking. The stain glass windows are a beautiful touch. The Opening company vocals are stunning. The transition of the choir into their stalls was well staged, and quite a surprise, and beautifully lit. This sets the stage for some fierce vocal performances.

Peterson as Quasimodo does a wonderful job. He has brought such an underlying tenderness to the role. His velvet powerful voice is able to highlight the strength and weakness of his character. Whether it is yearning to be out there free, or laying bare his torment, that even though disfigured, it doesn't change his human needs are emotions. You care about this character so much, that even when he fights back to a very bitter end, you feel that somehow he has won in the long run. Malinowski as Frollo brings a stoic and harsh clarity to his role. There is no smile here to emulate any true compassion, just lust. He creates a dark character that embodies spiritual ideology, but slowly reveals the darkness of his own tortured soul. Vocally making bass notes seem like threats to your soul. Beautiful work. Luster is terrific. His stage and character presence is solid and commanding. And his voice is a truly magical legit baritone tenor vocal party. I really liked the performance, executed with confidence and vulnerability as well. And he has a head voice, so does Peterson, which everyone knows I don't have. But I digress.

And the focus of their characters love and affection is Esmerelda, beautifully played by Gagnon. This is a beautifully thought-out performance. From her entrance, she radiates her natural beauty and sensual presence. Though simplistic clear choices she earns the stage attention she is getting with a very honest interpretation of her role. Then she sings, and it is captivating. She then enables us to see her fiery side without any gaff in intention. It is pure and confident. Her acting chops allow her to make intrinsic choices that guide her through love, hurt, pain, sacrifice, and humanity. Simply a big fucking BRAVO! Lorek as the Gypsy King is another standout. He has immense stage presence and energy. It is such a natural gift. He is a triple threat of pure entertainment.

All of the supporting roles are executed well. Energetic Austin Stois as Jehan Frollo. Sarah Gordon as Florika, Thomas F. Majercik Sr. as Father Dupin, and really putting his head to use as St. Aphrodisius. Corbyn Bentley as Frederic Charlus, Bradley Allen as King Louis XL, Angela Savochka as the Official, and the fantabulous (This woman was delivering FACE and ENERGY everytime she hit the stage!) Emily Stack as Madame. Add in the company congregation of Sammie Jo Adkins, Molly Lorek, Amanda Ostroske, Vanessa Pintabona, and Michelle Sohm. Also add in the incredible vocal wall of sound from the on-stage choir of Betty Anderson, Susan Becker, James Berner, Jonathan Gordon, Carol Hollaman, Patrick Lanstrum, Alice Nelson, Karin Ostroske, Nathan Park, Gabrielle Perusek, Jim Ray, Michael Richmond, Colleen Royer, and Mery Tomsick.

The Production Team for this production:

Lisa-Marie French - Director and Choreographer

David A. Thomas - Music Director

Greg Pribulsky - Scenic Designer

Michael Roesch - Technical Director

Bradley Allen - Lighting Designer

Tom Linsenmeier - Sound Designer

Susan Pestello - Costume Designer

Jillian Negin - Production Stage Manager

Extraordinary Sound Board Operator - Jenna Rickard

French has put together a wonderful cast and really proficient lead characters. The pace of the show was good, as was the staging of the show. This is a big monster to put up on its feet. And the choreography matched the abilities of the cast well. On the whole, the audience will enjoy, as I did. But I do have some considerations that I feel would have taken this production levels higher. The biggest one is that the stakes of the show are not high enough, especially in the group scenes. People don't seem to know what to do if they aren't given something specific to do. When Esmeralda was on fire, stage right was dead. I wanted to scream "She's on Fire!" to get a reaction. These are also the quietest gypsies I have seen. It should feel like and sound like a toga party every time they are having fun on stage or pissed off. Overall, so many faces were not connecting with the scene work. Personally, I didn't care for the slow-motion fights, because it exposed everything that didnt work, and slowed the pace of the show. Everyone in any group scene needs to be personally invested. I thought the sign language was a nice touch, not overdone, but so subtle. It was very touching. The gargoyles were on point. Loved the interaction.

Thomas delivers strong musicianship. (I do like fuller sustained scene change music). But the score was handled well with adept musicians and keen conducting. Pribulsky knocked it out of the park with his design, major props to you sir. The stained glass was giving me life. Technical Director Roesch did remarkable work bring the design to life. Allen brought some deft lighting choices and design to the lighting. The Sound Design was very good, everyone was crystal clear, and the bell effects were on point. Pestello did an amazing job of costuming the cast. Beautiful period work. Production Stage Manager Negin called a great show. The Sound Operator Rickard was phenomenal.

Random notes in my notebook:

The Company Sopranos need to run for Congress.

I will get a major chill if I ever hear the phrase "Yes, you do." again.

The choir reminds us that religion is always watching.

No matter how damaged we look, we still have something to give.

The musical is a darker, more gothic adaptation of the film. But it is well worth the trip to see it. Although, the young ones won't like the outcome, so don't bring kids expecting the Disney happy version. But, there is wonderful work going on here. Best wishes for the rest of the run.

(Jun 18, 2018)

Blank Canvas Theatre's Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Offers Up a Foot-Long of Rocking Entertainment

Blank Canvas Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

We need to talk about Devon.

No, this is not the follow-up film to 2011's film We need to talk about Kevin. We need to talk about the incredible performance of Devon Turchin, who is now inhabiting the title character in Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Blank Canvas Theatre.

I have known Devon since he was a wee little fellow, who was accomplished on stage even as a youngster, But over the last few years, i have seen him grow and mature in performances in SHOWBOAT, where his legit tenor voice asscended to new heights, HAIR, where his british swag and transencdent voice powerfully infiltrated the hearts of the audience, and then the MC in Caberet where he blew the fucking roof off of Blank Canvas Theatre with a fully actualized sassy and haunting character that led to one of his greatest performances ever. And now we come to the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

This musical is not for an actor who is faint at heart. It is literally a concert version of Hedwig's life story, which was conceived by Jonathan Cameron Mitchell (who was the original Hedwig and wrote the Book) and Stephen Trask (Music and Lyrics). The tale of how a self-described “slip of a girlyboy” from communist East Berlin, Hanschel, becomes the “internationally ignored song stylist” known as Hedwig, and the angry inch refers to a botched sex change operation. Hedwig directly tells the audience of her past tribulations and heartbreak in the form of an extended monologue paired with rock songs. With a little help from her band and her backup singer Yitzhak, Hedwig examines her quest for her other half, for love, and ultimately for her identity. This production is hilarious, harrowing, and essentially uplifting for anyone who’s ever felt different.

Turchin completely kills this performance. An amazing bouquet of confidence, swag, musicality, introspection, and shredding vocals. Not to be missed, and definitely worth showing up and being put on the waiting list. Claire Twigg as the butch sidekick Yitzhak, handles her duties as well. Clear vocals, enough deadpan sass to insult of a sailor, and beautifully fit into the piece.

The band is to die for, or at the very least, be hired for your next rock wedding.

Noah Hrbek (Jacek /Guitar)

Richard Kline (Schlatko /Drums)

Zach Palumbo (Jaime /Bass)

Bradley Wyner (Skszp /Keyboard)

Under the musical leadership of Wyner, this band tears up this score like a hoard of hyenas at a pulled pork festival. Wow.

And to the transcendent Director Alison Garrigan. This woman is a Cleveland Icon, and she proves every measure of her notoriety with this show. Beautifully staged and directed. AND she did the costume design which was pure sexually blended bliss. I want to put her in my pouch as my favorite Joey, and bounce all over the fucking theatre.

Founder and Artistic Director Patrick Ciamacco has provided a fabulously produced show. His technical crew totally on point. Crisp Stage Management by Whitney Miller. Visual Masterpiece of Lighting Designer Jeff Lockshine. Projection Design on point from Ciamacco. The creative Animation and Drawings were produced by Noah Hrbek, proving once again he has one of the most creative sets of hands in Cleveland, just ask, oh, nevermind. Ciamacco Sound Design was perfect, with on-point operation helmed by Anthony Newman. All of the technical aspects overseen by Ciamacco. Continued Excellence.

There is one weekend left, CALL ASAP TO GET TICKETS!!!!!

Check out their waiting list policy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Jun 18, 2018)

An Impassioned Call for Empowerment, Beck Center's Bent Delves Deeply Into Awareness

Beck Center for the Arts
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

I’d like to buy a cake.
I’d like to get married.
I’d like to go out tonight to a dance club.
I’d like to hold hands with the person I love.
I’d like to go to church without shame.
I’d like to serve my country.
I’d like to keep my job.
I’d like to not be put to death because of who I am.
I’d like to vote.
I’d like not to be bullied.

These seem like reasonable requests. They are, but if you are queer, kiss this shit goodbye. At least, for now. We have a lot of work to do.

It is very clear to any reasonable human being that our current administration came into power by tapping into the racism, hatred, and prejudice that exists in this country. One thing it has done is WOKE the people up to realize you can never sit in silence, you need to voice your opinion and VOTE. #wokevote

Martin Sherman decided to WOKE some people up in 1979 with his play Bent. The Pink Triangle features prominently, as the play revolves around the persecution of gays in Nazi Germany and the horror of the concentration camps. It takes place during and after the Night of the Long Knives, in which Hitler came to power by eliminating any political or social leader on his way to obtaining supreme power. Under Hitler's leadership and racially motivated ideology, the Nazi regime was responsible for the genocide of at least 5.5 million Jews and millions of other victims whom he and his followers deemed socially undesirable. LGBT individuals were among the millions. In taking one slice of gay humanity and tracing the path of his character Max, we are left with an incredibly dark tale and a lesson in inhumanity.

Max (Geoff Knox*), a promiscuous gay man in 1930s Berlin, is at odds with his wealthy family because of his homosexuality. One evening, much to the resentment of his boyfriend Rudy (Antonio DeJesus), he brings home a handsome man named Wolf (Nate Homolka), which he comically remembers after his fling pops in the living room to say “Good Morning”. (Yes, there is humor in this tale. There has to be, or you would be set up with a Vodka IV at intermission for Act Two. After Act Two though, you might want to bring in a flask). Unfortunately, it is the night that Hitler orders the assassination of the upper echelon to consolidate his power. SS men break into Max and Rudy's apartment and kill Wolf, and the two have to flee Berlin, and do so, with the assistance of a club owner, and drag performer Greta (Brian Altman).

Max's uncle Freddie (David Burgher), who is also gay, but lives a more discreet life with rent boys to satisfy his desires, has organized new papers for Max to flee to France where homosexuality is legal, but Max refuses to leave his naïve boyfriend behind. As a result, Max and Rudy are found and arrested by the Gestapo and put on a train headed for the Dachau concentration camp.

On the train, Max refuses to recognize Rudy. So, for self-preservation, and in a brutal request for survival, he is forced to beat Rudy to death. Max lies to the guards, telling them that he is a Jew rather than a homosexual because he believes his chances for survival in the camp will be better if he is not assigned the pink triangle.

In the camp, Max makes friends with Horst (Andrew Gorell*). Horst takes a liking to Max, and they end up together on rock detail. As they talk and painfully maneuver through the punishing routine, an incredible love story comes to fruition. They fall in love and become lovers through their imagination and through their words. Both of them are put to extreme measures, and their outcome will stay with you for a long time. In the end, it is facing life with bravery and purpose, no matter what the cost.

This play is led and owned by the two leads actors. Knox is a brilliant actor. We watch him navigate a life that is decadent, and slowly watch as layers are ripped off his personae to reveal the truth, however, ugly that may be, but also, reveal the truth of humanity that exists within us if we can allow ourselves to be hurt enough to feel it. When he eventually reveals what the guards made him do to prove he was straight, I felt stunned and helpless at that moment. Gorell is off the fucking chain masterful. To watch him come into this play, and slowly develop a moral and loving center amidst the horror of what is going on is outstanding. Such simplistic acting choices that ring so loud it feels like an emotional bass speaker is hitting your soul. Both of these gentlemen are magic together. And when they “make love”, it is one of the purest celebratory and heartbreaking moments that make you want to go out and hug everyone you love for a month or never let them go. It is with these two individuals and a couple of rock piles, that life within this play is defined with visceral clarity. I want to wear them both as clip-on earrings and go out and fight for the lives of all who are tramped on, by constructively pushing back against all who exist by igniting and feeding off fear.

Brian Altman as Greta, serves up some major attitude and fabulous scene work, as he helps Max and Rudy escape. Very strong and focused scene work. And who doesn’t want to sing a song on a flowered swing. David Burgher is dead on with Uncle Freddy. Perfectly playing the closeted, omg I’m in public, but I still have to cruise, helpful relative, that is actually risking his life to help. Burgher also shows up later as the Captain at the end of the play, and I assure you, he is a total dick, or I should say, his character. Antonio DeJesus as Rudy carries with him the innocence of life should be like under a normal world. Never really getting how you can trust no one. His character’s naivety is nicely portrayed. When Rudy dies, we care, and that is a mission accomplished. Homolka gives Wolf, the one-nighter, an entertaining sexual bravado that fits nicely into character. He also transforms into an ice-cold Officer as well. I would be happy to punch that character. Luke Ehlert is the perfect Guard to set down rules for the stone yard. I felt like any moment he could belt out “Tomorrow belongs to me”, and then shoot someone. Cold hearted delivery on point.

There are some observations. The panels did come across a bit clumsy in the set changes, at least, the sound of them switching positions took you out of the moment a bit. Rudy’s delivery in the first scene tended to be too fast to understand and trailed off at the end of sentences. Fade away jumpers are fun, but we have to hear them. For some reason, the emotional punch of the evening didn’t really kick in until the two lead characters were engaging with each other, with the exception of Altman’s Greta scene. The stakes could have been on a higher burner during Act One. However, the culmination of the journey speaks for itself.

Director Matthew Wright has assembled a beautiful cast for this show. The power of the piece and the incredibly important message that emanates from the production is clear and distinct. The stone scene is masterful storytelling, shaped beautifully. His Director’s Note is well worth reading. I am sure after reading it, you will realize how personal a story is being presented, and a signal to be WOKE. Stage Manager Hayley Baran called a great show. Aaron Benson created an interesting set, with panels that took on multiple locations through projections. Also, the panels were mobile enough to help discern locations as well. As Technical Director, he brought all the elements together nicely. Costume Designer Tesia Benson was fiercely on point. Lighting Designer Benjamin Gantose kept the atmosphere emotionally cloudy and let the projections work nicely within his design. Sound Designer Angie Hayes was certainly on point. Steve Shack was impressive with his projections, aiding the storyline, and creating a train effect that was chilling.

This show is important. If you haven’t seen Bent before, it is just as important today, as it was in 1979. In 2009 - Bent was presented in Amarillo TX by AVENUE 10, causing the theatre to be targeted by an anti-homosexual Christian group resulting in the theatre being shut down and forced to find another venue for the show. 1934 is still relevant. 2009 is still relevant. How many stories exist that we haven’t heard. It takes balls to Direct this show and aims for human consciousness to become aware that this persecution is still happening. We must pay attention.

Director Matthew Wright has raised the flag, not at half mast, but all the fucking way up the pole.

See the show. See the truth. See the message. See the change that you can empower.

We're here, We're Queer, Get used to it!

*Actor appears courtesy of the Actor’s Equity Association (AEA)

(Jun 9, 2018)

Con-Con Presents A Riveting Production Of In the Blood By Suzan-Lori Parks

convergence continuum
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

How many tour de force performances are allowed in one show? Apparently, Director Cory Molner could care less about that, as his cast attacks this play with acute, moving, and layered characterizations. It certainly helps that this show is written by Suzan-Lori Parks, an American playwright, screenwriter, musician, and novelist. Her 2001 play Topdog/Underdog won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2002; Parks is the first African American woman to achieve this honor for drama. So right there we have the "Now that's what the fuck I'm talking about" moment. In The Blood premiered at The Joseph Papp Public Theater in 1999.

This play haunted me because I remember a long time ago, I made a stupid comment about a single mother who I thought was not making the best choices for her kids. And my best friend, who was also a single mother said "Don't be so rash. You do the best you can." I'll never forget that life lesson. How the hell did I know what she was going through? Her best friend might be saying "you're doing great, keep it up". I never made that mistake again.

But in thinking about that single mother, In the Blood presented Hester, La Negrita (Jeannine Gaskin) - The main protagonist of the play, and mother of five bastard children. She struggles to find help from anyone for her children in poverty. She is surrounded by eldest son Jabber, 13 years old and considered slow (Daryl Kelly); Bully, oldest daughter, 12, good heart, tough exterior (Shannon Sharkey); Trouble, middle son, 10, mischievous (Patrick Gladish); Beauty, youngest daughter, 7, snitch (Grace Mitri); and Baby, youngest son, 2, (Anthony X). Each child's persona is deftly portrayed, and the interaction between Hester her kids becomes very real right in front of your eyes.

Hester lives in a state of illiteracy while claiming as a home for herself and her children, the underside of a bridge. She is offered ineffectual help by her closest friend, Amiga Gringa (Mitri), by a social worker (Sharkey), by a roaming medical doctor (Gladish), and by an evangelical street preacher (X). Help is seemingly at hand when Chili (Kelly), the father of her first “treasure,” Jabber, appears and offers her a chance for rescue. However, when he learns of her four other children, he quickly withdraws, never to return. Her friend’s offer of help is for Hester to pose with her in a series of pornographic opportunities. The social worker has a job readied for the mother, a job that would necessitate her children being taken over by the state. The doctor desires to remove Hester’s reproductive organs to prevent her from having additional children. Finally, the minister refuses to acknowledge any responsibility for Hester or for the child he gave her. The only letter of the alphabet that her literate son, Jabber, has taught her is “A,” a clear reference to the Hawthorne original in which Hester Prine must wear the scarlet “A.” When vandals etch the word “slut” on the walls of the bridge, Jabber refuses to read it for her. However, in the end, the same word has dire consequences.

These actors surrounding Hester are phenomenal. I can tell you that I wanted to punch each one of them upside the head at one point. As kids, their innocence thrives, as Adults, their shallowness, and conniving hearts are sometimes unbearable to watch. They are cast perfectly. And speaking of perfect.....

Jeannie Gaskin is a force of nature. She displays the tenderness of motherly love in terrible circumstances, She infuses her undeniable pull to protect and raise her children and protect them, and she allows us to watch how even the greatest of loves can be eroded over time when there is no luck. None at all. Gaskin maneuvers all these emotions and paths in total clarity and realism. She is strong, confident, broken, fierce, and facilitates as a damaged May Pole under a bridge to nowhere. Truly a remarkable performance.

Cory Molner has done a terrific job of crafting this presentation. The staging and pace are excellent. Just artistically a beautiful show. It also helps he did the Lighting Design which was haunting, and very effective. I felt like I was looking at the bridge components next to Christie's Cabaret. Scott Zolkowksi had a beautiful and effective Scenic Design, as well as the Costume Design, Really strong work. Beau Reinker designed the Sound to really work beautifully with the show and dialogue and greatly enhanced the scenes. Perfect balance. Lucy Bredeson-Smith called a great show.

All these actors are on fire. Go See This!

(Jun 6, 2018)

May 2018

Near West Delivers a Strong Community Theatre Production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Near West Theatre
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

For those of you who know the work of Near West Theatre, your hearts will be filled by this production. Once again Near West Theatre puts an amazing number of people on stage who range from newbies to seasoned community theatre veterans, and individuals that find their calling and pursue professional careers in the field. This formula to infuse the cast with members of different skill levels, stage experience, cultural backgrounds, sexualities, economic environments, and family situations, fulfills many vital mission statements that are at the heart of Near West Theatre. And the large casts that are involved, not only help ticket sales but more importantly, provide an arena for more individuals to be involved as possible. The theatre is known for full out productions that feature the company members at the heart of every production.

With any production at Near West Theatre, one of the most consistent elements of every production is the brilliance of the technical staff. The product and artistry that is delivered for each production rivals any professional theatre in the city. Each time you walk into the theatre, it is always a breathtaking experience to take in the preset of the stage and drink in the set as it looms large and kinetic over the audience. It has never failed. So I want to take a special moment and point out those individuals that have been consistently providing this incredible visual and artistic vision. These individuals have been with the theatre for years. Technical Director and Video Designer Perren Hedderson. Set Designer Cameron Michalak. Charge Scenic Artist Jenny Hitmar Shankland. Michael Stein. Ryan Wolf Assistant Production Manager/Stage Manager. In addition to these pillars, new artists are brought in for each production to fill out the production staffs.

On with the show. Victor Hugo is considered to be among the greatest and best-known French writers. The world came to know him from two of his greatest novels, The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831, followed by Les Miserables in 1862. Both books were turned into musicals, with Les Miserables being one of the all-time granddaddies of Broadway. But here at Near West Theatre, we find The Hunchback of Notre Dame created by the only stage collaboration from two masters of the American musical theatre, composer Alan Menken, and lyricist Stephen Schwartz. New Book provided by Peter Parnell. This brand new production is high theatre, boldly told through stunning choral music and sublime orchestral power.

In the 15th century Paris, Notre Dame Cathedral stands in the heart of the city, a fortress of self-proclaimed righteousness and moral authority. Its citizens move through the streets together but separate soldiers, gypsies, priests, and beggars. The rich and the poor. Predatory and proud. They will do anything to survive. Quasimodo (engaging Pat Miller), the hunchbacked son of the bishop’s brother, rings the church bells and longs to live “out there.”

At the annual Feast of Fools, these worlds come together in a frenzy of drink and debauchery and elect Quasimodo the “King of Fools,” igniting a cataclysmic descent into a street war of forbidden love, betrayal and religious hypocrisy. Hateful torches are raised. The gypsy Esmeralda (brilliant Julie Penzvolto) and the fool are in a stand-off with all of Paris. There is a sanctuary for no one as true goodness and evil are exposed and the fury reaches an apocalyptic boiling point.

On the streets of Paris, the women are strong, as well in this production. Penzvolto is absolutely captivating in this production. Having been last seen in Carrie, the Musical last year, her performance as Esmeralda is to die for. Her beautiful and alluring looks are on full display and are enhanced by a deeply layered and wondrous vocal power. Her voice is transcendent in this role, as is her acting. Taking every moment and cultivating truth with perfect nuance. Kelcie Nicole Dugger is on fire as Clopin Trouillefou. Her stage presence is ominous. Her clarion voice is powerful and moving and taking names. Dugger has immersed herself into this tough exterior, this soldier quality, this force of nature that not only can knock notes out of the park but also some heads that don't agree with her. Fabulous performance.

Miller as Quasimodo was definitely on point. His physical dexterity is incredible and makes the transformation into the creature believable. He whips around the set like one of those mountain goats on the sheer cliffs and seems to have endless energy. Through intrinsic acting choices his Quasimodo can be fully felt and allows a connection that enhances this fatal journey of love over any obstacle. Now add his athletic and powerful pure voice, and he becomes Magic Modo. He also has the ability to hold out the money notes so long, that I can run down to concessions, come back with a fresh Diet Pepsi, and a low carb snack, and be back in my seat in plenty of time to yell "Hell Yeah!" It is a beautiful performance. John Webb as Dom Claude Frollo certainly has the vocal chops to handle the score and generates his own brand of darkness and manipulative energy. His scenes are played well, and certainly generates the lack of well being from the audience perspective, since they love when Frollo meets his maker. A solid performance. Webb dives in without fear. Robert Kowalewski as Captain Phoebus de Martin is equipped with one of the most beautiful voices around. Reminiscent of a love child from Perry Como, and Steve Lawrence, or a crooning stick of butter singing show tunes at the BOP STOP. His physicality is on point with a slicked back love seeking soldier aura. His scenes are solid and add a crucial depth to the show. Devin Pfeiffer as Jehan Frollo makes the most of his good looks, stage presence, and endearing qualities, while armed with an excellent voice.

The rest of the Company members are all focused and vocally blessed. This score is not easy and demands full vocal control and execution. The cast rises to this occasion with bells on. (See what I did there?) Really wonderful company work, with the distinct stamp of Director Bob Navis Jr all over the scenes. Staging is carefully orchestrated to highlight everyone, and everyone is required to be present at every single second of stage time. There is no other option, and everyone thrives on that challenge. One subset that works well together is the Statues and Gargoyles. Good work turned in by Angie Bendahan, Rachel Drotar, Lashavnna Hunter, Anthony "Bones" Kruse, Isabella Novosel, River Onwedinjo, Scott Pyle, and William Solarz.

There are some observations. I felt there was a lack of a Gargoyle presence in the actual set. The gothic work was fabulous, but I had wished from more Statues, and especially Gargoyles. As a result of that, I was a little confused about the Statue/Gargoyle group. They didn't seem attached to any specific Statue/Gargoyle and the costuming certainly wasn't clear. Maybe I just didn't dig the body suits. Maybe because I could never wear one. And I didn't know what the scarves meant on half of them. I am assuming Statue or Gargoyle. As far as casting, one would expect Frollo to have some age on him, and more time to have weathered many storms. Since the leads all read young, it was consistent with the other leads. Lastly, there was one company member mugging so much in every scene he was in, that it literally competed with every scene he was in. As a result, I think it affected the fact that I wasn't as moved as I wanted to be at the end because this guy was completely distracting.

Director Bob Navis Jr has produced a beautiful piece of art. So incredibly in tune with who are the outcasts in the world, and how to survive. Never shying away from the hard questions, or the hard answers we do not want to hear or see. It is all there, due to his talent. Musical Director Matthew Dolan has done a brilliant job with the orchestra. Truly celestial, as were the musicians. Choreographer Josh Landis excelled at making Topsy Turvy an event, and the best interpretation I have ever seen of that number. Costume Designer Loren "Coco" Mayer brought her artistic gothic magic to the stage. Tackling a big cast with contoured strength. Sound Designer Matt Torok provided crystal clear balance. Properties Manager Susie Underwood brought here usual professional touch. Fight Choreographer Mike Obertacz nailed the sword fight sequence, and I can't remember a better-staged fight at Near West Theatre. Except maybe on the production team. Ha.

Don't miss out on the productions here. They are worth every penny. Bravo.

(May 18, 2018)

American Idiot at The Brecksville Theatre Rocks Its Face Off

The Brecksville Theatre
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

Green Day is an American punk rock band formed in 1986 by lead vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong. Their major break was the release of the album Dookie which catapulted them to fame, and also introduced them to a more mainstream audience. Green Day's seventh album, American Idiot (2004) was a rock opera that rivaled concept albums like Tommy by The Who, and Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The book was written by Armstrong and director Michael Mayer. The music was composed by Green Day and the lyrics were by Armstrong. The score included all the songs from the original American Idiot album, as well as additional Green Day songs from the album 21st Century Breakdown and "When It's Time", a song originally recorded for the musical. In 2010, American Idiot debuted on Broadway. The story and music were strong enough to be nominated for Best Musical. The power of Green Day's music was established even on the great white way.

The story, expanded from that of the concept album, centers on three disaffected young men, Johnny (compelling Tony Heffner), Will (introspective Dallas Still) and Tunny (dauntless David Ludick). Johnny and Tunny flee a stifling suburban lifestyle and parental restrictions. However, Will stays home to work out his relationship with his pregnant girlfriend, Heather (powerfully sensitive Stelliana Scacco). The former pair looks for meaning in life and try out the freedom and excitement of the city. Tunny quickly gives up on life in the city, joins the military and is shipped off to war. Johnny turns to drugs, with the help of supplier St. Jimmy (ferocious Rebecca Riffle Polito) Struggling to find himself, he tries to connect with Whatsername (sensual Kaity Poschner) and finds a part of himself that he grows to dislike, which slowly destroys the relationship. Boy meets Girl, Boy and Girl do drugs, Boy can't stop doing drugs, Drugs become more important than her, Girl leaves, Boy realizes where he went wrong, Boy goes home.

Tony Heffner as Johnny delivered on all levels. He is a vocal powerhouse. He also lost all of his boyish charm and sensitivity, and replaced it with a smoldering darkness and focused confidence. He leads this musical with gravitas. David Ludick gave Tunny a disquiet charm that was totally engaging. His voice resonated with the material in a very heartfelt way. Handling the transformation of his whole self-was delivered with a textured arc. Will, as played by Dallas Still, presented a resigned enigma that certainly reflected so many that are held back by life choices. His face and body told the story of unfulfilled legacy in a very raw honest way. His vocal quality was hauntingly sober. Going against type, a kinetic Rebecca Riffle Polito is cast as St. Jimmy. She wastes no time talking this banging rock score by the horns and wrestles the rock bull to the ground. With searing looks, she has more balls than the entire male cast put together. A full-out psychotic manipulative performance. And, she throws in some major vocal prowess.

Stellina Scacco gives us a strong-willed Heather. Great voice, and strong acting choices that don't overplay the moments, but keep them based in reality. Whatsername, as played by Kaity Poschner, first appears framed in her own beauty, and then delivers a crystal voice that ethereally wraps us in emotion. She can also break it down and is a perfect partner to fall into the abyss with Johnny. Mary Vaccani brings some beautiful movement and immense flair as she appears within a drug-induced haze as the Extraordinary Girl.

The Mad Company of Players brings all the punk and sass to the yard. Theo - Josh Baum-Shmigel, Declan/Gerard - Lance Still, Chase - Connor Nightingale, Brian/Miguel - Luka Black, Andrew - Aidan Jarosz, and Joshua (Favorite Son) - Frederick Night. The Sisters of the Green Day Hood are Alysha - Erika Kunath, Libby - Julia Abbadini, Leslie Jacy Todorovich, and Francesca - Francesca Marino. These folks bring everything they can to the party. they fill the stage with light, and energy, and the best thing in the world is watching people who can't wait to get back on the stage again. Overall, they kill it.

There is some feedback. The most important one is the sound. Many times the mics aren't turned up enough to hear the lead singers. Solo lines are lost, and sometimes even the lead characters are left probably wondering if their mic is working. This being a rock show with the band on the stage, we already know it is going to be loud, so I don't know what the feedback level is within the theatre, but crank that vocal up! There are a couple moments where the lighting is off a bit for solos. St. Jimmy is left in the dark when she is on top of the scaffolding when she comes down the center, and Heffner was smart enough to stay in his light when he moved, and the spot didn't go with him. Also, this show is demanding, so I did notice when a few folks were not 150% throwing everything they had into the numbers, and specific movement. I don't think you can give too much of yourselves. For me, the best note from a director is "Could you bring it back a little?", as opposed to, "Are you waiting for Godot? because he's not coming. So MOVE!"

Once again Artistic Director/Director Bruce Orendorf leaves it all on the boards. He has put together a very passionate cast, and also a kick-ass band that tackles this rock score like a rugby team on spring break with an open tab. Music Director Michael Abadini assembled bandmates that know exactly how to bat out of hell this stuff out. His partners in crime are Skylar Keffer and Julian Brill on Guitar, Chris Parsons on Bass Guitar, Nate Taylor on Drums/Percussion, and Abbadini covers the keyboard. Choreographer Jen Justice is perfectly in tune with the hang banging approach to the raucous, and also has the polish to give the Extraordinary Girl ( smooth Mary Vaccani) some beautiful moves to execute, which is done with immense flair. Costume Designer Amy Lence is dead on with the looks and feels, and adds to the tumult of the story. Scenic Designer and Scenic Artist, KC Crookston and Amanda Fawcett, Lighting Designer Mike Larochelle, Sound Designer Tobias Peltier, Video Editing, and Design team, Bruce Orendorf, Michelle Adamczyk, Julia Abbadini, and Technical Director Myles Rapkin, completely transform the theatre space into a pit of punk stress and video madness. The coordination of Video to the show elements is a fierce touch to this production. Stage Manager Alexis Mcnicol called a great show.

This is a very impressive show for a community theatre to take on, and execute. There is so much competition in our area, it is getting tougher and tougher to cast. Orendorf did a great job bringing this show to life, and you can tell the cast as bonded and is ready to give everything they have.

With two theatres that have shared the same building for years, and then deciding to try to come together to form one cohesive artistic vision, I am sure there is bound to be friction. There always is when artistic temperments mesh. But I hope both entities know that the compromise of ideas and engaging performances will result in everyone benefiting from a unique vision and most importantly, the outreach to a diverse community. Even a blended approach will greatly enhance the opportunities for the community and the performers to grow in an ever challenging cathartic process that we all share. Be proud of what you have done here. Compromise is not a bad word. It is the best of both worlds.

(May 2, 2018)

April 2018

Dogfight at Western Reserve Playhouse Manages to Make Everyone a Winner

Western Reserve Playhouse
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

I remember when I was in grade school gym class, they would have to split up the teams through something called "Shirts and Skins." It was horrible for two reasons, One, I always ended up being a skin, which is with my shirt off. and Two, I was always the last to be picked. I hated it. It certainly was the beginning of my first complex. Being judged by other people was not the best emotional experience to have at such a young age. I couldn't change who I was, or how I looked at the time, and up until that moment of being a fat kid without a shirt on pretending to be excited that you got picked for a team when you know something was terribly wrong because you felt like shit afterward. Well the musical Dogfight, currently enjoying a very solid production at Western Reserve Playhouse, certainly triggered some uncomfortable memories. The production does not shy away from the issues at hand, nor the surrounding atmospheric disturbance addressed which is the Vietnam War.

In 1991, Nancy Savoca directed the film "Dogfight" which was written by Bob Comfort. The movie talked about Marines who planned a "Dogfight" before they were deployed to Vietnam. The referenced fight was a cruel game where each marine would go out and try to find the ugliest girl, and bring them to a bar and then dance with them as the girls were judged as to the winner, which was not a congratulatory gesture for the unknowing women involved. The Marine who won got to win the pot of money that each contestant contributed to. This is the material that was used for this musical adaptation of the story. It enjoys the brilliant talents of musicians Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The current Broadway darlings having just written the music for "Dear Evan Hansen" on Broadway. The book was delivered by Peter Duchan.

The show begins in 1967, where Eddie Birdlace (Kyle Burnett), as U.S. Marine, is returning from San Francisco. During his ride, he reflects back to the memories of a waitress Rose Fenny (Kimberly Sullivan), where the show becomes a flashback of his tumultuous past. Now, we are transported to a bus full of Marines, fresh out of training and arriving in San Francisco for a night out. Birdlace and his two wingmen Boland (Maximillan Winer) and Bernstein (Zachery Palumbo), who together like to call themselves The Three Bees, are ready to initiate a dogfight that night by throwing in $50 a piece, winner take all. All the Marines are in, and off to scour the town for unsuspecting females.

Birdlace ends up in the diner, where he meets Rose, a waitress. He woos her a bit and decides she is a good contestant for the dogfight. She is naive, a virgin, and ready for a date that she rarely ever gets a chance to have. On the other hand, Boland invites Marcy (Nian Takacs), a wisecracking, fishnet loving, breast line plunging prostitute that is up for the challenge as long as she gets paid as well. Bernstein finds himself with Ruth Two Bears (Kaleigh Velette). She of Indian descent and the strength of two bears, as you will find out on the dance floor.

As the party progresses, Birdlace has a change of heart and tries to change plans, but Rose takes that as he is embarrassed by her, so after much discussion, he relents and they go in. The judged dance begins sung by the Lounge Singer (Kevin Cline), and eventually, Marcy wins, as well as her handler Boland. However, in a girls moment in the women's bathroom, Marcy shares with Rose what is really going on, which causes Rose to confront Birdlace, and returns home defeated and devastated. Now its time for last call and the Marines head out to have their way with prostitutes, but Birdlace is too wrecked about what happened and returns to Rose to apologize and start over by going to dinner.

After dinner, they take in a romantic view from the Golden Gate Bridge, and return home to experience their "first time," It is also the first time to fully appreciate that she wants to be judged by who she is, and not what people want or think she should be. The next morning, he leaves, and unfortunately, it is time to deploy.

The deployment is devastating and virtually become the last man standing event. Birdlace returns, as we find him at the beginning of the show, hurt, bitter, broken, and longing to return to the safest moment he can remember. Rose. They reconcile. And for a moment, the world is good.

Burnett gives one of his best performances to date. He is centered, fully committed, and in total control of his storyline. His voice soars when it needs to, and provides quiet sensibility. Winer would definitely be the president of the Marine fraternity. His machismo is infectious, and he knows how to play a dick when need be, and the raucous best friend when you need one. Really great character work. Palumbo is so freaking funny, and adorable. He plays the guy that everyone picks on, but everyone would kill anyone else did the same. He is a complete joy to watch! Great work. Kevin Cline is as flexible as Cirque du Soleil. He plays about 10 characters in this show and each one is dead on with comedic flair, character work, up to tattoo butch realness. His Lounge Singer needs to be booked in every whiskey joint in the area. The Bee Ensemble is great. Stevens (Daniel Hunsicker), Fector (Ben Arrignton), and Gibbs (Brian Innenberg) provide some kick ass camaraderie, along with Ryan Dyke and Steven Schuerger.

The women bring some power of their own. Sullivan conveys a very poignant interpretation to Rose. Her voice crystal clear and handles the music with efficient ease. She also switches nicely when she has to serve up some reality to Birdlace, in a great display of showing someone's other side. Embarrassment can be lighter fluid in many of us, and she lets that ring quite clear through her performance. Nice work. It is hard to be the nice girl throughout a show, but she finds the moments to reflect the characters layers nicely. Takacs is on fire as Marcy. I am surprised there is any set left, once she is done chewing on every piece of scenery. She is fiery, funny, and blunt. Her character is great and practically steals the show. Her voice compliments her acting choices well. If they really wanted to end the war, they should air drop Marcy, and she will take care of the front line for sure. Can I just say that having a role that doesn't say a line, but brings down the house in the funniest way is a tremendous compliment to an actor. This accolade goes to Kaleigh Velette as Ruth Two Bears. The way her character handles Bernstein is a hot mess of comedic brilliance. Bravo. The girls are supported by a resilient company including Micayla Carafelli, Kayla Lehman, and Dorata Zarzycha. Diane Roberts turns in some very nice moments as Mama.

I will say that the theatre still has to work on the mic skills. This has been a consistent problem in past shows, where mics are not on early enough, or just out. After listening and experiencing the war scene, and the tremendous sound work, there has to be a solution. That war fight scene rocked.

This production is well done, interesting and provacative. Helmed by Dawn, the cast is really all in, and throw their raw talents at every piece of material. The show is guided by moments of devastating truth, and humor, which at times, will definitely make you blush. It did me. The Musical Direction is led by David Stebbins, and his band seems to have a blast churning out this exciting score. Stage Manager Whiney Miller called a great show. Technical Director Jim Gremba brought all the elements together nicely. Set design worked well under Sniadak-Yamokoski vision. Costumer Kelsey Tomlinson had a great theme throughout the show and certainly made the dance scene more interesting. Choreographer Elyse Morchel provided just the right moves to the men that worked great, without over choreographing the show. Lighting Design was on point, especially with the war scene. Great stuff. Noah Hrbek turned in a great backdrop of the Golden Gate bridge. Incredible work.

Dogfight was a great choice for this theatre, which is pushing itself to expand the offerings, and build and create different opportunities for patrons.

(Apr 21, 2018)

My First Time at the Beck is a Group Counseling Session You Won't Forget!

Beck Center for the Arts
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

Do you remember your first time? Actually, there is a first time for everything, but when it comes to sex, I would prefer not to remember my first time. This question was definitely on the minds of many, and in 1998 a website was formed a decade before blogging began, that allowed people to anonymously share their own true stories about their First Times. The website became an instant phenomenon as over 40,000 stories poured in from around the globe that were silly, sweet, absurd, funny, heterosexual, homosexual, shy, sexy and everything in between. So as you can imagine a lot of these stories are quite, as my momma used to say, "something.'

And now, these true stories and all of the unique characters in them are brought to life by four actors in this acclaimed 90-minute play from Ken Davenport, producer of Altar Boyz and creator of The Awesome 80s Prom. The four tour de force actors pictured below:

When you first arrive in your seats, there is a survey to fill out. Optional of course, but it is fun to do it because it actually becomes part of the show. After the answers are taken back for "processing", the journey begins. Each actor both individually and collectively, tell the stories that have been posted on the site over the years. There are a lot of laughs, but also, a lot of uncomfortable moments when stories tap into what can go wrong, and not just from inexperience, but wrong in the worst way.

This play places high demands on the capabilities of its actors because it is a train that never stops. Once the play begins, there are no full breaks. The actors are challenged to keep the stories flowing without tapping into monotony. Switching emotional tracks, story tracks, and at times, sentences split between them word by word. It will be a personal choice whether you enjoy the stories and format, but there is no denying the talent, focus, and dexterity of these fabulous actors. I think if I were up there, at one point the rolling conversations would end up with me and I would just yell "Check, Please!" and gracefully exit, and end up face deep in a Sweet Moses mountain of coffee ice cream.

Director Scott Spence gets the pleasure of guiding these actors to play all range of emotions, as a result of the stories. An actors dream of social conductivity. And these lovely individuals kick this reality train far down the tracks.

P.S. For Antonio DeJesus fans, he will be going on this Sunday, the 22nd, so get out there and show your love!

(Apr 21, 2018)

Side Show moves to the Big Top at Blank Canvas Theatre

Blank Canvas Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

Side Show. No, I'm not talking about the current politics. I'm referring to the current entertaining production of Side Show, The Musical, "freak" ing out at Blank Canvas Theatre. The Side Show might be on your mind as a result of American Horror Story did a storyline on it just a couple of seasons ago. Who can forget "Lobster Boy" and his sessions with the middle-class housewives. The Circus Side Show was an option to the Big Tent where the major acts performed, with such wild entertainers like the Bearded Lady, Lizard Man, and Tattooed Lady. This musical tells the story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, who had a variety and burlesque career in the 1920's and 30's. Their real-life story is incredibly tragic, but this musical does represent many aspects of their lives. The original version opened on Broadway in 1997. However, the revised version of the musical opened in 2014. This revival is a bit darker and expands more on the Hilton's biographical life story. The revised version also offers new songs that are more in tune with the more developed story, while taking out previous songs that didn't seem to resonante with audiences.

Helming this artistic journey is Patrick Ciamacco, who is the Founder and Artistic Director of Blank Canvas Theatre. He was last seen portraying Sweeney Todd in said musical as the season opener. Theatrical Season that is. I know, to look at me, I have baseball written all over me. Although, I haven't even made it to first base....I digress. He also takes on the Lighting, Sound, Set Design, and brings all the elements together as Technical Director. Accomplishing all of this with professional panache. He also directs the production with adept pace and precise staging. There's not a bad seat in the house.

The show opens as we meet the Boss (John J. Polk), who introduces us to the performers of the Side Show. What a crew it is! The 3 legged man (Andrew Keller), the Geek (Vince Matia), Fortune Teller (Day Ash), Venus de Milo (Julie C. Okuley), Dog Boy (David Lenehan), Half Man/Half Woman (Katie Jerome Taylor), Human Pin Cushion (Jacob Schafer), Lizard Man (Joe Gibson), Bearded Lady (Susan M. Wagner), Tattoo Girl (Leah Kraynak), and the vivacious Bird Girl (Meredith Aleigha Wells). The opening number is fun, and what a blast to see the characters brought to life by costumers Luke Scattergood and Jenniver Sparano.

We next meet the Hilton Sisters, Daisy and Violet, played beautifully by Becca Ciamacco and Stephanie Harden. Each sister showing their own personalities as the play progresses, Daisy more cautious and outspoken, Violet more sunshine and rabbits. Enter Jake (Daryl Kelley), who also doubles as the Cannibal King in the opening, who definitely defines himself as their protector, and will be sure to warn them about any offers that might come their way. His "The Devil You Know" highlights Kelley's voice and bass masculinity. That protection and advice will be needed as two gentlemen arrive to present a new path. Buddy Foster (a charming Ian Jones), an aspiring musician, brings Terry Connor (a focused, and centered Joel Fenstermaker), a talent scout for the Orpheum Circuit, to check out the act, and propose helping the sisters build a new act, and get them on the circuit with "Very Well Connected." Buddy teaches them a new song to get their feet wet. And then we move to a fascination flashback series, which addresses previous discussions of cutting them apart when younger. The next section reveals Harry Houdini (entertaining as hell Lenahan, sans dog face) teaching the girls to tune out distractions to find peace. He also hits a note at the end of his song that makes me want to order twelves pizzas and drown myself in root beer because I can't float a note like he can, and as my friends know, I have no head voice. Thank you. The girls do decide to come to the U.S. and perform their brand new number "Ready to Play", which is a blast to watch. After the performance, the sisters are overwhelmed by the affection from Terry and Buddy, interrupted by reporters that are not kind in their questioning, and then the sisters are left in reflection if they ever will be loved. As so many of us do, questions ourselves, and that biting question "Is this really happening." All of this, beautifully performed by Ciamacco and Harden.

The happiness continues for some time, with celebration and dancing numbers that are on point. And then, after watching the evolving relationship with the sisters and Terry and Buddy, Kelley gets to show his true emotions to Violet in a lovely richly layered number "You Should Be Loved." How many of us had someone close to us try to open our eyes to jerks, but we can't see it. And sometimes, that person just is really in love with you. A vivid moment of truth. After some twists and turns, the sisters devise a plan to cash in on their celebrity, and the publicity of an upcoming wedding of Violet and Buddy, who keeps one secret from the press neatly hung in his closet.

The show ends with the power ballad "I Will Never Leave You." Throughout the show, Ciamacco and Harden certainly handle the music well, but in a move that I love, save the fierce vein in the neck belting for the final song. SO effective. They are charming, sweet, funny, and entertaining, and in the end, they open a musical vein that is splendid to absorb.

Fenstermaker creates a defined and masculine persona that works perfectly. Jones is charming as hell. Both have great voices, and Jones owns that high belt. Kelley delivers a brooding effective message. And Polk is a dick as The Boss. And that is a good thing.

This is an entertaining and solid production. Patrick Ciamacco has done us proud. The set design is carnival realness. Ciamacco's Lighting and Sound designs were really great. The Music Director Anthony Trifiletti, a welcome addition, leads an impressive band and certainly guided the vocals in fabulous order. Stage Manager Joy DeMarco called a great show. Costume Designers Jenniver Sparano and Luke Scattergood designed the Hilton Sisters to sublime beauty, and the rest of the ensemble was on point. They must have had a blast conjuring up the looks for the ensemble. Fun and great work. Excellent Scenic Backdrop work from Noah Hrbek.

(Apr 19, 2018)

A Chorus Line at Cassidy is an Entertaining and Surprising Treat

Cassidy Theatre
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

I love dancing. For me, there is nothing better than watching fully committed dancers busting out dynamic choreography. So imagine my excitement as I attended A Chorus Line at Cassidy Theatre. Whenever a community theatre produces the show, there is a bit of trepidation as to whether a volunteer theatre can round up the talent it takes to put on a formidable production, due to the intense dancing requirements of the show. It takes a special production team to lure in and assemble the right cast, and luckily for Cassidy Theatre, the team of Director/Choreographer Kristin Netzband and Musical Director Mike Caraffi is the winning ticket. They are currently the Queen of Hearts of Cassidy Theatre. With their guidance, this show is infused with positive and kinetic energy that leads to an entertaining outing. The show is paced well, the dances are kick ass. The choreography honors both the original choreography, and also provides amended moves in line with the original intent and style of the piece. The band is hot, and the trumpets rip into the score, just as ferociously as I do when I get ahold of a Señor Rico's Rice Pudding from Aldi's on the weekend.

A Chorus Line was developed by listening to taped interviews of dancers that were not looking for the solo spotlight, but were looking to be a part of the light as an ensemble member, making a living wage, and doing what they loved. Each person shared their personal journey, and using that information, the workshops began, and the show slowly started to take shape. This storytelling was augmented by the immense musical talents of Marvin Hamlisch, while Edward Kleban provided the lyrics, and James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante added the book. The work paid off. The 1976 Tony Award for Best Musical, Book, Score, Director, and the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Hello: Awards: Looks: Fabulous.

The show opens with the ensemble number "I Hope I Get It," a raucous and demanding dance audition, where only the strong survive, or pass the "type" casting requirements. Blending in is the key. Kind of like auditioning for The Borg. Assimilate, don't stimulate, attention. We meet the demanding director Zach (a dynamic and formidable Rick McGuigan) and get the chance to see each dancer lay it all out on the line. A shout out immediately to #44 (Michael McHargh as Richie) who comes out like Willy Loman and says "Attention will be paid!" After the initial dance, Zach starts to ask each dancer to tell their own personal story.

First up is Mike (a dynamic and charming David Turner), who tells his story of being the youngest of 12, and realizing that in a bout of sibling rivalry, he can dance just as well as his sister, and dives into a musical explanation in "I Can Do That!' Turner is confident, fun, and solid, and shines. As the stories continue, we can see that Shiela (a sassy and fit Kim Eskut) isn't taking the line of questioning too well. When pressed, she shares her favorite place she experiences growing up, and that was "At The Ballet." With a rich voice, she begins the tale and is joined by two others, Bebe (a beautiful Lindsay Wilkins) and Maggie (a vocal powerhouse Megan Polk). A beautiful number staged well. You will not forget Polk's voice.

Next up is the funny hot mess of a couple Kristine and Al (erratically charismatic Kristina Zielinski, and supportive butch sidekick Anthony Salantino). Their rendition of "Sing" is a scream. I will never hear Three Blind Mice the same. Listening to Mark (funny Cory Zukoski) describe his first experience with a wet dream was a hoot. He had the audience in the palm of his hands. (Wiped off, of course.) The others begin to sing "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love," sharing their childhood stories as Connie (delightful and spunky Shannon McPeek) talks about being the shortest, Diana (classy Susan DiNino) takes the focus and describes how she didn't connect with her teacher, which leads to the song "Nothing" which DiNino delivers with straightforward panache. This Diana being less spunky, and more rooted in righteous indignation. The song is beautiful. Company members discuss some mommy issues with "Mother" as Don (man's man Joe Kenderes) and Judy (the hysterical Christine Bomberger) share their stories. Greg (beautifully affected Brad Kohl) shares his acceptance of being a future friend of Dorothy. Great monologue and some of the best work I have seen from Kohl. Then we break into "Gimme the Ball" as McHargh takes us to dancing church with some much charm and appeal, you'll be screaming like a 3 pointer. As well as sharing his dream to be a kindergarten teacher, Val (versatile dynamic hoofer Sarah Menser) makes an occasion of "Dance: Ten; Look: Three." She nails the song about getting a little help from Mother Nip/Tuck, along with Mother Nature. Excellent number.

As members retire to another room to learn a new dance combination, Cassie (an elegant, exquisite Annie Unk), is left on stage to battle it out with her ex-lover Zach. He doesn't want her to be in the chorus, because she has been featured in the past, but it seems like some burned bridges are at the heart of the interaction. At one point, she takes charge of the moment, and expresses her deep feelings about dance, and what it means to her being in the incredible and defining show number "The Music and The Mirror." Unk is amazing. She handles the dance like an elegant bobsled traversing the most glacial of luge tracks with poetic flair and grace. Her extension divine and a back bend that would take the entire Cleveland Clinic to help me recover if I would ever attempt it. It is a dynamic impressive presentation. Which buys her character a little bit more time to prove herself.

As she retires to learn the new combo, Paul (likable, reflective Justin Williams) comes to stage front to finally answer the question of his story, having been reluctant to tell it before. He describes his unconventional story of how he became aware of his sexuality, and how he found the means to express it. This is a powerful story for many LGBT to hear and is one of the most poignant in the show. It is apparent that Williams is in total control of his monologue, and in his arc of presentation. But the actual emotional impact of the story is affected early on by the repetition of "sentence of dialogue - pause for reflection." Whether this is an acting or directorial choice. it slows the story and pace down too much.. And because you lose the emotional wham at the end, it also affects the impact of the circumstances when Paul can't go on. However, when the delivery is connected, it really is excellent.

After the combo is learned and dancers rejoin, they resume the audition process, and it becomes quite clear that Zach and Cassie are having issues. For purists, it might be odd to have a younger actress take on the Cassie role because with an older actress it is not just having the conflict of having a hurt ex, but probably more about aging out to younger girls. But in what I feel is a brilliant move of casting the younger Unk, for me, it seems the dialogue between Zach and Cassie take on a different meaning, especially in the #metoo movement of empowering women not to take any shit from powerful men anymore. The spewing from Zach's mouth takes on a whole other context, and it becomes quite uncomfortable. The fact that I would have loved to punch Zach in the face, is a good indication of how the scene played out.

We come to the final question. What would you do when you can no longer dance? In a powerful reply, DiDino leads the cast in "What I Did For Love," which I have sung many times with my face in a fishbowl of long island ice teas regretting each passing birthday as I watch my body turn into playdough. But I digress. It is a wonderful anthem, sung with passion and content. The final dancers are picked, and the show concludes with the barnburner "One." This is the granddaddy and grandmommy of all 11 O'Clock numbers. Top hat in tow, bodies glittering in gold, the show ends in a glorious celebration.

There are some points of order. The sound design in the theatre is not the best. That isn't a slam but probably results from budgetary restraints. With the band behind the curtains, I wanted to hear a bit more in the house. However, the band sounded great but is muddied a bit. Since the actors didn't have mics, whenever someone turned to the side, their volume was lost. And if you weren't directly in front one of the hanging stage mics, you didn't get picked up well. There was also a little bit of leg slapping during some dialogue exchanges, which happens when people don't know what to do with their hands.

The show is really fabulous. So many actors turning in great work. The audience soaking up all the showbiz they can. Stage Manager Jim Carrick on point. Irene Molnar costumed the cast with appropriate flair. Technical and Sound Director certainly worked his ass off to bring the elements together. Sharon Joyce was on top of the prop game. Lighting Designer Joe Plovack set the right mood with stark realism. Shout Out to the Operators: Sound - Lou "Can you hear me now?" Petrucci; Light - Joellen "Can you see me now?" Woodring; Spots: Jen "Can you see me now?" Sindyla and Gail "Please Stay in your Light!" Fischer.

Congrats to Cassidy Theatre as well. Major Kudos to President Bob Stoesser and Vice President Georgia Muttillo for keeping this incredibly important theatre alive for the community. It ain't easy, and it is important to support them at every turn.

(Apr 13, 2018)

March 2018

CVLT Serves Up a Fine Visit to The Country House

Chagrin Valley Little Theatre
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

Dysfunctional families make the world go round. Or, at the very least, provide fodder for numerous coffeeshop discussions, therapy sessions, and material for the arts. I am sure that almost every family can contribute at least one scene to a play while running in rep with the trips to the local bar and CVS for a refill. So it is no surprise that Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies was inspired to step into the dysfunctional family and write "The Country House." As the play opens, we find ourselves gathered in the summer home of Anna Patterson (Margo Parker), soon after the death of her daughter, Kathy, who was a movie star and quite beautiful. Joining the house is Susie Keegan (Kaytie Leonard), who is the daughter of Kathy and her husband, Walter Keegan (Kevin Jones). Walter arrives with his own form of therapy in the form of his new girlfriend Nell McNally (Kerry Scanlon). Enter Anna's hot mess son Elliott (Roland Moore), who has a secret past love interest to unveil. Added to the dynamics is a little sex candy in the form of TV star Michael Astor (Sean McCormick). Astor is walking Viagra. and not sold over the counter.

This is a smartly written piece with a lot of inside theater zingers, especially in Act I. The cast handles the material very well. Act I is definitely the lighter act. The show is led by an impressive Parker. She takes the reins of the monarch firmly and delivers a strong performance, displaying a good range of comedic prowess, and also has the skills to ignite a fiery ending. Roland Moore. He delivers moments of one-liners like it's his job, and certainly inhabits the hot mess elements of his character. Moore can also tap into real pain very truthfully. McCormick walks into the scene perfectly personifying a matinee idol. Not overdoing any schmaltz, but unveiling a very human "star." He allows his character to let go of the showbiz allure, and find a connection with family, even if for one "oops" moment. Leonard is perfectly precocious and delivers her truth bullets with deadpan disgust, or serves up delicious bullets of pain. Her Susie embodies a young lady that has been forced to grow up too fast. Jones gives Walter a great human presence and allows for the younger girlfriend scenario not to reflect like a man trying to stay young, but someone who truly is happy without being creepy. Of course, who wouldn't be happy with Scanlon as his girlfriend? She gives Nell a stable resonance, a Chorus Line body, and a down to earth tone to make it all work, as opposed to coming across as a gold digger. Also, Kerry's sparring with Moore is engaging to watch.

There are a few observations. At times, the staging seems a bit frenetic moving about from chair to chair during conversations, and not letting them settle. The blouse that Parker wheres in act two blends into the chair fabric a bit too much for my eye. I thought the rain sound could have been a bit clearer in the house, but of course, I am no longer a spring chicken.

As part of Chagrin Valley Little Theatre's 88th season, The Country House is a good production, that seems to be inhabited by non CLVT regulars, and is a wonderful indication of reputation and expanding the wonderful experiences that CVLT audiences can provide. The set is great, with really good detail, especially the pictures on the wall. In the moments of upstaged dialogue, I thought the active listening was terrific. Moments of the trend of having the back to the audience, only work, if the cast is tuned in and focused, which it was in this case. Luckily, this convention was not overdone.

Westerly delivers a solid show. Edmond Wolff provided the Set, Sound and Lighting Design with an effective measure. Stage Manager Jeanie Gaither called a great show. Shelley Nixon's costumes were on point.

Also, congrats to the theatre on letting the F-bomb fly. It wasn't taken in vain or punched, like "oh, look what I'm saying", and fit into how these characters would talk.

The audience had a good time. I love laughter.

(Mar 30, 2018)

Steel Magnolias Is In Full Bloom At Workshop Players

Workshop Players
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

Steel Magnolia. Noun. (plural steel magnolias) (chiefly Southern US). A woman who exemplifies both traditional femininities as well as an uncommon fortitude.

In 1987, in a part of processing loss himself, playwright Robert Harling wrote the comedy-drama Steel Magnolias. The play was inspired by the loss of his sister. In 10 days, he created a play which showed how tragic events can be assuaged by laughter and true friendships. As all of us know, in times of tragedy, sometimes well-timed humor can break the wall of despair with a much-needed laugh. Using real-life names in some cases, in fact, M'Lynn and Drum are actually his parents' name. The play unfolds beautifully with six incredible women telling the story.

The action is set Truvy's (Kathryn Dean-Dielman) popular beauty salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana. As the play opens, Trudy is being helped by a new resident named Annelle (Samantha Fisher), who has a secret herself. In comes the bride to be Shelby (Alicia Fogel), who needs fixing up for her wedding day. Soon they are joined by an eccentric millionaire Miss Clairee (Bernadette Hisey), and Shelby's mother M'Lynn (Melissa Hubbard). Last to arrive is Ouiser (Mary Manos Mitchem), a female hurricane of inappropriate sentiment. She probably needs a publicist to remind her "you might not want to say that". What happens within the beauty shop is a 3-year journey that explores their relationships as they engage in much joy and laughter and ultimately immense loss.

I really enjoyed this production Director Judy MacKeigan did a great job casting and keeping the pace brisk. The players performed in the round, and MacKeigan staged movement with deft visibility. What I love about this ensemble is that they create such a unique charm, so you are transported to small-town realness and a charming essence.

Dean-Dielman is a blast, just as you want her to be. Sassy and firing one-liners like it's her job. Fisher is perfect. Such a strong sense of timing and pure character quality. Fogal brings a youthful quality to Shelby. She creates a strong confident woman, whose strength can handle adversity without succumbing to it. Mitchem stomps around the set like a grumpy southern power ranger, to great delight. very fun character. Hisey is a seasoned pro. She is delightful and confident and her acting chops were on full display. I have a standard about Steel Magnolias, for me, the play swims or sinks based on the delivery of M'Lynns last monologue. "I can report" that Hubbard crushes that speech with wicked honesty and truth. Now there are times when it did seem that there were momentary pauses, but those moments were recovered quickly by picking up efficiently and staying in character. I want to complement the cast for never breaking the fourth. Beautiful job,

Stage Manager Julie Marchand called a great show. Dave MacKeigan took on triple duty with the design of lighting, sound, and set. Great execution. Designed enabling fluid movement. Only lighting point I have is the solo spot in the lights out scene. I didn't get that. With sound. I would've liked the gunshots and barking to be a bit louder. Overall, great job.

This is a terrific production, in which the location of the theatre itself enhances the experience.

Very welcoming staff.

Luckily I don't have to "walk on my lips" to tell you, that this production is a winner.

(Mar 21, 2018)

Silent Sky Gets a Beautiful, Touching, and Amusing Production at Clague Playhouse

Clague Playhouse
Community Theatre

Review By: Kevin Kelly

What do you know about Henrietta Leavitt? And GO!

Not many people will be able to answer that question or even know of this woman. But it turns out, she is incredibly important. And with Steven Hawking's death, which obviously was unexpected, here we have a chance to meet another pioneer of understanding the sky, and what beautiful mathematical qualities can be used to uncover the secrets of our Silent Sky. Yes, I did. I just used the title of the play for dramatic effect. Thank you.

SILENT SKY presents the real-life story of Henrietta Leavitt (a stunning Brittany Gaul) and the women working behind the scenes at the dawn of modern astronomy. Henrietta leaves her family in Wisconsin to join a group of women “computers” at the Harvard Observatory in the early 1900s, where she is not even allowed to touch a telescope or express an original idea. Balancing her dedication to science with family obligations and the possibility of love, she makes a breakthrough discovery that enables astronomers to calculate the distance between Earth and remote galaxies and stars. A celestial romance and true story of discovery.

This production is marvelous under the Direction of Curt Arnold. He has such a great grasp and sense of the period. He also elicited the help of Costume Designer Jenniver Sparano, who built the entire show, save one costume. The dresses are exquisite. As is Arnold's direction and staging.

Tackling the role of Henrietta Leavitt, Gaul is an incredible delight. Her poise on stage, her diction, and her character focus are sublime. She anchors this play and does a beautiful job of taking everyone along with her, not only in creating the reality of her characters discoveries but her acting choices blissfully permeate the stage. You care so much about Henrietta, because you are affected so much by Gaul's performance.

Before leaving to pursue her life dream, Henrietta has a sister, Margaret Leavitt, beautifully played by Jill Kenderes. Of course, every free-thinking family member usually has a sibling that tries to keep you grounded, but in the end, always supports you. Kenderes fills the emotional support system with acting finesse.

Then we have the co-workers. Pam Matthews as Annie Cannon, and Molly Clay as Williamina Fleming. I can tell you, that when the play was over, I really wanted to go out with these ladies and throw some lawn darts and do a few shots. They are delightful in the play. Matthews gives Annie a personality that reminds me of someone who has their shoelaces tied WAY too tight. She portrays the authority figure well and does a great job of slowly allowing the caring nature of her character slowly come to the surface. Eventually becoming a suffragette, when she comes out in her grey pantsuit, trust me. that outfit must have been involved in the legislation process. This is one of the best performances from Matthews that I have seen. And where the hell has Molly Clay been. So incredibly natural on stage, and exudes characterization so well, I wanted to adopt a Scottish accent and join her at the log throwing festival. Beautiful work on display. Crafting a nurturing woman who is not afraid to stand for what is right.

Then we have the alpha male of the group, or quite simply, the nice guy in the office that tries to be tough but has a heart full of love. Cue Les Miz. Andrew Keller is awesome in this role. He plays this down to earth, kind of bumbly social guy, to perfection. Watching him deal with the fiesty office women, is a hoot. He also offers up a character design to effortlessly reveal his quirky love march. Another smash performance.

This is a really great show. As Director Arnold likes to call it, a jewel box play. I can agree with that. And certainly, a jewel box filled with shiny sparkling emeralds, and one beautiful diamond. Just like the diamonds in the sky, that Henrietta unlocked their secrets, and Gaul brought to life along with her castmates.

The fierce production team at Clague Playhouse, one of the best in the biz, were all on point. Production Manager Lance Switzer, Stage Manager Tyson Douglas Rand called a great show, Set Designer extraordinaire Ron Newell once again transforms the theatre into the art itself, Lighting Designer Switzer provided wonderful effects, Sound Designer Charles Hargrave providing crystal clear environment, Costume Designer Jenniver Sparano outdid herself again. Choreography from Caitlin Reilly was sweet.

Bravo!

Join the audience and find your own discovery in storytelling at its best.

(Mar 16, 2018)

Death of a Salesman at Brecksville Features a Tour-de-force Performance That Rewards the Audience

The Brecksville Theatre
Community Theatre

Review By: Kevin Kelly

The Brecksville Theater is among a group of theaters looking to enhance and expand their engagement with their local communities. As a result, their current season incorporates diverse choices to help target a younger demographic, appeal to classic American theater fans, and push the envelope to encourage a broader community participation. At the helm that change for the 2017 – 2018 season is Artistic Director Bruce Orndof and his board.

The current offering is the American classic Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, a 1949 play won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. Directed by Frank J Lucas, this is a searing tale of one man's attempt to hold on to success, handle the slide to professional failure, deal with family dynamics and secrets, and eventually devastation. The play addresses loss of identity and to accept change within himself and society. The last 24 hours of Willie's life is presented in a montage of memories, dreams, confrontations, and arguments.

At first sight, the set is an impressive visual. Designed by Orendof and beautifully lit by Lighting Designer Tobias Peltier. It transports you to another place and demands attention, and all of this is enhanced with the classical music selections playing throughout the theater.

Steve Brown is a tour de force in the role of Willy Loman. I've been a fan of Brown's work for some time but seeing him interpret this role was incredible. His performance is spellbinding and anchors the play in exquisite reality. The role is incredibly difficult cultivating the emotional journey and infusing the character with a fractured soul. Brown wears this character as a second skin. Simply, as powerful as it should be.

Priscilla Kaczuk brings a beautiful construct to Linda, Willie's wife. Her character brings a humble version of a Barbara Stanwick realness. She crafts and navigates a supportive nature, protective nature, along with the moments where her strength emanates in devastating truth. Her active listening is perfection and plays an integral part in her scenes. Michael Knobloch is at best, delivering a strong performance, especially during the tense scenes. I don't think he is costumed the right way to accentuate the athletic nature of Biff, which is referenced quite a bit in the play, but he fights against that and develops a well-developed personification. The fireworks are impressive. If Joe Pesci was taller and a womanizer with no morals, i think he would look like Kyle Adam. Adam progressively grew in character as the play developed resulted in a polished presentation of a complex pleaser. Nick North presents a kind Charlie, who tries to help Willy. Touching moments. Wesley Ross does a nice job of developing and delivering Bernard, Charlie son. Uncle Ben is played to perfection by one of the classiest Cleveland actors, David Hundertmark. He exudes success as Uncle Ben, and delivers his scenes with polish. The rest of the cast is solid as well. Jennifer Mavrides causes inappropriate trouble as The Woman, and does a nice job of being dissed. Don Lloyd is appropriately unfeeling and corporate as Howard, Willie's boss. Lucas Hamlescher does not waster stage time as the waiter Stanley, and I would not be surprised to see him as Biff one day. The following ladies had a blast playing femme fatales. Mikhayla Wilkins as Miss Forsythe, and Lexi Avary, Miss Forsythe's tag team accomplice, Letta. Kathy Pekarcik, as Charlie's secretary, didn't waste a moment on stage.

Director Lucas has done a great job with this classic. The pacing was on point, as well as a strong sense of space using the multiple locations on a small stage. He certainly orchestrated the conflict seems extremely well. The stage is on fire during those confrontations. Costume Designer Maggie Brown did a good job. Sound designer Hazen Tobar was on point. No distractions. Stage manager Mandalyn Stevens called a great show.

My biggest complaint about the experience on opening night was that someone was taking pictures of the show during Act II. Three things happened. One, the camera constantly beeped, especially during the dramatic moments of silence. Two, you could hear the shutter each picture taken. And finally, and most unbelievable, at least three times I saw a flash. I am sure that the shutterbug meant no harm, however, there it is.

Bravo to The Brecksville Theater. Keep expanding the boundaries of artistic offerings for your community. Art is education. Art enables us to understand what we are not familiar with. Art makes us better human beings.

If you're reading this, catch the performances on stage. Especially if you're a fan of Steve Brown, and the other wonderful performers on stage.

(Mar 16, 2018)

Tomorrow Morning Gets a Smart and Well-Sung Production at Western Reserve Playhouse

Western Reserve Playhouse
Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

Not many people may know this hidden treasure of a show by Laurence Mark Wythe, but it has had quite a ride so far. The musical was first seen in London in 2006, then traveled to Chicago in 2009 and won a Jeff Award for Best New Musical, and landed off-broadway in 2011, earning a nomination for Outer Critics Award for Best Musical. Tomorrow morning is the brainchild of British Wythe who provided the Book, Music, and Lyrics. So bringing this musical to the Western Reserve Playhouse was a well-played selection. The musical is not often produced, hence the Regional Premiere, but interestingly enough, Michael Snider, who plays Jack in the production, was lucky enough to be in a production in Indiana a couple of years past, so luckily it is our region's turn to bring it to life. Director Ian Atwood has the privilege to helm this production, along with musical director Bryan Bird, both accomplished performers.

The story concerns the relationships of two couples separated by a decade of life. The older couple, Jack (Michael Snider) and Catherine (Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoksi), are getting divorced. They navigate through a discretion that rips their trust apart and presents some very tough questions that a lot of couples have to face sometimes. How do you apologize? How do you forgive?

The Younger Couple, John (Tony Heffner) and Kat (Madeline Krucek), are getting ready to be married. Before the big day, the stick turns blue, and reality becomes reality. Growing up sucks, but higher responsibility is not always a welcome gift. Three is company. and stressful. They have their own questions. Are we ready for this? Do we love each other enough to get through this?

As we meet the couples, each has their conflicts established, and we watch as both couples work at it, and work through it. And the importance of the bond with a child provides the answers to the most difficult questions.

Director Ian Atwood has put together a strong cast of endearing actors and vocalists. As the older couple, Sniadak-Yanmokoski and Snider are given the emotional heavier roles to play. They both are grounded in character and certainly create a depth of despair and regret that each has to accept. It will be enjoyable to continue to find that line between angst and introspection. Both have beautiful voices and connect well with the storyline, even when it calls to be disconnected. As the younger couple, Krucek and Heffner get to play around a little more, and they work beautifully together. They both pack formidable voices and quite frankly, are charming as hell. They handle the touching moments well, especially after their playful moments which are really enjoyable. You just want to give them a savings bond and say "You'll be alright!" Don't get me started on "The Pool Boy" number. Heffner has more humps than a herd of camels. The good thing is you care about these two couples, and that is an important quality to crystalize.

Also, each actor has poignant musicals moments. My favorites for each are Catherine's Self Portrait, Jack's Autobiography, John's Every Day, and Kat's Girl in the Mirror. Each song owned as if a part of their DNA. Beautiful, touching, and sometimes funny adept choices of performing gold.

Atwood keeps the pace flowing, and does a nice job of working the two sides of the stage in tandem to keep the stories separate, but also connected. At times, there does seem to be a repetitive staging group sing position, and some songs are blocked with upstaging with distracts a bit. But the good thing is this is original work, and Atwood is bringing this show to life with his own themes and execution, and that is to be applauded. Bryan Bird does a wonderful job playing the score, although I wish the piano had more of a sharpness out in the house in the sound system. But Bird accents and joins the characters in performance seamlessly.

Stage Manager Whitney Miller called a great show. Atwood designed a solid set to highlight both families and lives. Luke Scattergood did another solid costume design. The Lighting Design seemed a bit weak though. Something about the blend of color and stark white, seemed muddles at times, and to be honest, I don't know if that is unfocused, a choice, or a lack of instruments. The Sound design was clear, however, Snider's mic was off for a large part of act one. But, the balance in the house was good.

Western Reserve Playhouse is on a mission. This season was expanded to include an enhanced offering of plays and musicals to push the theatre to grow and assimilate itself to a variety of audience members. Artistic Director Sniadak-Yamokoksi and Co-Artistic Director Brian Westerly are doing a wonderful job of expanding the vision and the offerings to the theatre community, and as a result, the audience members. Bringing in talent to direct, such as Atwood, and performers with enticing production choices is definitely a plan for success.

(Mar 14, 2018)

The Effect is a Medicated Success at Dobama Theatre

Dobama Theatre
Professional Equity House Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

Under Artistic Director Nathan Motta, once again Dobama Theatre presents a fascinating and powerful production in The Effect by Lucy Prebble, who is a prolific master of language having created Showtime's Secret Diary of a Call Girl, the play ENRON, which played in the West End and Broadway, and also Home Box Office's Succession. Just a few highlights of her creative energy.

The Effect gives us Connie Hall (Olivia Scicolone+) and Tristan Frey ( Ananias J. Dixon+), who are volunteers in a clinical drug trial. As an experimental drug is administered in timed increased dosages, the subjects start to experience a progressive attraction to each other. As the dosage increases, the emotions lay bare a physical relationship as well. The question becomes if they are experiencing a real connection. or is it the side effect of the new anti-depressant drug being tested. The undefined answer to the cause is just as unsettling as the effect. The relationship forces the doctors involved to face off over the ethical consequences of the work. As Motta asks in his preface, "So, if the brain is compromised, can we trust what we're thinking? Can we believe what we're feeling?" Insightful questions that permeate the performance. The administrator of the trial Dr. Lorna James (Derdriu Ring*) and her boss Dr. Toby Sealey (Joel Hammer*) are just as involved in discovering the truth as the subjects.

The play begins clinical in approach and look. Most visually notable are the crafted and intricate scenes changes executed by crew members, who double as clinic assistants. A marvel of artistic traffic. The stage is sterile and surrounded by a border that becomes several instruments of medical equipment through clever effects. We witness the first dose and slow reveal of revelations during the trial. What is an interesting requirement for the volunteers is that throughout the experiment, unsupervised physical or social interaction is not allowed. Watching the two navigate through the mental and physical maze is fascinating, and ends with the subjects performing a Cliff Note version of the Kama Sutra, which results in three words that have dictated many paths over history. The culmination of the sexual dance between these two is riviting. Conflicts and repercussions are ripe in the second act. Every character does not get a break from the realities of choices, and finally told truths. There are also enough triggers to send me to CVS for the next few months. The play also holds a surprise twist this is delivered with stark frankness and truth. There is much to learn and question here.

I can't say enough about these actors. Scicolone provides an incredible arc of apprehension, confusion, strength, and fragility. She is tremendous. Sharing the same energy is Dixon. He is a human cannonball of sex, game, and intention. A massive force of kinetic energy that compliments the proceeding beautifully. Both are inspiring, and provide a deep emotional ride. Ring and Hammer are stalwarts of the equity scene, and highly respected. Their skills are on full display here. Hammer provides strength in delivering truth with precision. Ring especially is given a path in the play that is remarkable to watch. Her nuanced craft is so rewarding. Her final monologue is a gift.

Directing this piece is the fierce Laley Lippard. She is renown for championing new work and developing new plays. Lippard has provided an excellent interpretation of the script. Her vision is clear, precise, and emotionally compelling. Through this inspired vision, the technical team takes flight as they continue their own high-quality production values. Cameron Michalak creates a clinical masterpiece. Marcus Dana infuses precise lighting to create an intense atmosphere. T. Paul Lowry's Projection Design is first class and engaging, and allows us to be connected with the medical data in real time. Sound Designer Jeremy T. Dobbins provides flawless ear candy and clear dialogue. Inda Blatch-Geib continues to provide her excellent couture of appropriate character dress. Fight Choreographer Ryan Zarecki guides a focused and unsettling fight sequence, not for the faint of heart. Stage Manager Megan Mingus calls a fantastic show, which includes an incredible crew that executes scene changes with surgical perfection.

This is an interesting production that well deserves an audience.

At the opening night reception, Artistic Director Motta continued a tradition at Dobama by singling out someone that you usually don't see in the forefront. This time it was Emily Bowe Handling the wardrobe with professional aplomb. Bravo!

As many people who have to take a drug to help them through adversity say, "this shit is good" So is this play.

+ Equity Membership Candidate

* Member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

(Mar 14, 2018)

World Premiere American Dreams at Cleveland Public Theatre Is Wickedly Relevant, Funny, and Brilliantly Produced

Cleveland Public Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

This production is truly captivating, thought-provoking, entertaining, and incredibly directed and produced. The cast is on fire!

You are invited into the live studio audience of American Dreams, where you will decide which of three contestants will receive the ultimate prize: citizenship in “the greatest nation on earth.” Weaving playful audience engagement with up-to-the-moment questions about immigration and more, this participatory performance explores how we navigate between fear, security, and freedom; who and what we choose to believe—and how those choices come to shape who we are.

As you enter the space, guards make sure you are screened for weapons, which immediately alerts you to the game has begun.

After that, you fill out forms asking you personal info, not too personal, and some questions about what you think being an American means.

Then you enter the TV station, that feels like you really are stepping into game show realness, including stage managers, and techies, running around completely immersed in their space and reality. It is so much fun to take this all in.

After preparations are made, the floor manager Bree (fabulous India Nicole Burton) sets the count off to showtime. We are safe here, because of the two security guards, Hizey N.T.S.I. (Christopher Hisey) and Brownie N.T.S.I. (Joshua D Brown) flank the set, letting us know that something is afoot with potential security issues.

And can I just say, that watching Linda, the props master (Lynna Metrisin) is a complete scream, as she flits about the stage with a concerned and scrunchy face of intensity that even a crate full of prunes couldn't remedy.

Jens Rasmussen* and Leila Buck* perfectly portray the roles of the hosts Chris and Sherry. Their on-camera smiles and presentation make me think they would be the perfect hosts for a game show in the city of the Stepford Wives. So much on camera bravado that I could see myself buying a timeshare at the end of the program if that was required. They are a blast and move the show with fantastic charisma and pace. And towards the end or the final phase of the game, they are masterful at providing a dark context of a background check that would leave applicant sweating.

As the contestants, three actors kick it out of the American ballpark, but alas, only one gets in. Each actor providing humor where needed, and then electrifying pathos that hits your heart where it counts, unless, your prejudice, which resides only within the individual audience members. Which is only reflected in the audience vote. Aldi (Ali Andre Ali), Usman (Imran Sheikh*), and Alejandro (Andrew Aaron Valdez) all give tour de force performances. Characters so real and obviously built from the inside out to create a human story for each. They are all funny, smart, heartwarming, and eventually fragile as they open their hearts to describe their dream.

The designers have created an incredible real-life atmosphere. One of the best original creations I have seen in a long time. Especially in such an intimate space. Fierce work by Lighting Designer Wes Calkin, Sound Designer Sam Kusnetz, Video and Sound Designer T. Paul Lowry, Costume Designer Kerry McCarthy, and Scenic Designer Ryan T. Patterson.

Director Tamilla Woodard is a revelation. You don't have to have a Wall Street Journal subscription to understand the depth of humanity and the pursuit of a better life. Here it is explained in plain English. How ironic.

Produced by Raymond Bobgan, Assistant Director India Nicole Burton, Assistant Stage Manager/Board Operator Merit Glover, and developed in collaberation with Ali Andre Ali, Osh Ghanimah, Jens Rasmussen, Imran Sheikh, and Andrew Aaron Valdez.

This show closes this weekend, but please, if you get a chance, get to Cleveland Public Theatre and see this show. It is important. It is about us as a country.

Oh say, can you see? Yes, you can, right now!

(Mar 1, 2018)

February 2018

January 2018

Sweeney Todd at Blank Canvas Has a Double-Edged Razor That Cuts But Also Scrapes

Blank Canvas Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

If Gypsy is considered the Mother of all musicals, then Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is sure to be considered one of the Big Daddy's. Just the fact that a theatre attempts to produce this show is a testament to their drive and ambition, and in this case, it's Founder and Artistic Director Patrick Ciamacco who leads the way. Literally.

Originally, the titled musical was a 1973 play by the British Playwright Christopher Bond. In 1979, the acclaimed musical adaptation was brought to life by Stephen Sondheim, who created one of the most glorious Music and Lyrics ever, and the Book was by Hugh Wheeler. The story is about a wrongfully imprisoned barber, Benjamin Barker, who returns to London 15 years after being wrongfully convicted. He has assumed a new name, Sweeney Todd, and is hell-bent on exacting revenge against Judge Turpin, who is responsible for his imprisonment. Further fury is invoked when he learns that the Judge has raped his young wife, and adopted his daughter and is holding her captive. Todd finds himself in business with his former landlady, Mrs. Lovett. Since times are hard, Mrs. Lovett comes up with a blood-curdling scheme to help them both. As the musical unfolds, there are many surprises that await the path of vengeance.

As Sweeney Todd, Patrick Ciamacco takes on the titular role. It is an outstanding accomplishment to tackle this role, especially when you look through the program, and see that in addition to playing Todd, he also took on the roles of Lighting, Blood, Sound, Barber Chair, Set Designer and Technical Director. And if that isn't enough, helped as Scenic Painter. Oh, and he handles the Box Office and Marketing. Dedication to the nth degree. Ciamacco does a good job of handling the demanding role and does it with a commanding presence. There were a few points where songs were started in the wrong key but quickly corrected. He is a consummate performer and consistently delivers throughout the play. Internalizing his pain, and letting us into his soul through his expressive eyes. The performance dipped from time to time, probably due to exhaustion, but when the intention and energy were fully formed, as in "Epiphany", it was pure magic. And his face waiting for the next "customer" was like watching a slobbering Doberman awaiting the mailman.

Trinidad Snider takes on Mrs. Lovett like a quarterback in the Super Bowl. Using every ounce of her talent and creating a magical interpretation. Her crazy voice inflections, quirky physicality, and deft comedic timing are on full display. Her interaction with Ciamacco is a scream, as both of them represent a demonic Steve and Edie. Her range of emotions is impressive and infectious. Truly a triumphant performance.

As the blade-crossed lovers, Robert Kowalewski (Anthony) and Meg Martinez (Johanna) completely kick ass. Each is equipped with beautiful voices and complete characterizations. Martinez soars like an operatic phoenix, as in her song "Green Finch and Linnet Bird", serving up beautiful dynamics. Kowalewski brings his seductive high baritone voice into the proceedings and basically impregnates the audience with his rendition of "Johanna". His Anthony was a touch more hyper than expected, but he was probably at sea for a long time, and you know. This dynamic pair absolutely crush the duet "Kiss Me", with incredible diction and timing.

Kristy Cruz as the Beggar Woman rightfully came across as she was out of her mind. She took a lot of chances in a well-defined insanity. But also, let us in on moments that seemed to create real connections with her past, and her truths, that her tortured mind couldn't process into words. Beautifully done. I must say that the wig supplied almost upstaged her, but luckily Cruz made it work, through sheer talent. In my opinion, she is one of the most underrated performers in our city. She is a triple threat surrounded by a humble energy.

The dynamic Brian Altman serves up The Judge with a Raul Esparza feel that is definitely easy on the eyes. Too bad his character is a dick. Altman brings to life this loveless powerful man who harbors a tortured soul. His desperation for Johanna stays with him throughout the play and is palatable. His creepy keyhole voyeur scene will certainly raise the threat level a couple of colors. John Webb as The Beadle is a hot mess. Basically running around with the Judge with a sidekick appeal, ready to do the bidding. Armed with a strong voice, he offers some great comic relief in the parlor singing some enthusiastic songs - loudly. Devin Pfeiffer is an endearing Tobias Ragg. Pfeiffer plays to the character's sense of survival but also showing that he isn't the sharpest. His voice is strong, and conveys the passion of protecting Mrs. Lovett with tender innocence. Ian Jones is killing me as Pirelli. He marches into the scene like a peacock during mating season, all spread out with fanfare and bravado. His high notes are a comedic treasure, as he sucks every teet dry from every cow in the surrounding area. I don't know if there are cows around, but I thought that was funny. The rest of the cast is on point from Luke Scattergood as Jonas Fogg, and the incredibly voiced company of Jessica Agnor Pringle, Antonio DeJesus, Joe Gibson, John Kost, Allison Naso, Paige Schiller, and the luminous Julie Penzvalto.

Matthew Dolan leads an accomplished orchestra as they take on an incredibly demanding score, and come out the winner. I thought it sounded full, and just a moment or two out of step, but nothing that deterred from the show.

Directing this epic journey is Jonathan Kronenberger. He has done a great job bringing these talented actors technical elements together to bring the show to life. My major comment is that the production isn't as dark as I would have liked. A more developed ambiance of darkness within each character would have taken a very good show, and made it great. Musically, the show seems to lack the literal bass notes of the score. Ciamacco and Altman are not basses or choose not to use their bass quality, and that would have provided more depth to their characters. Or Sweeney already sliced the neck of every bass in London, and that is understandable. When the Judge is beating himself with the whip, it looks like he is shoeing away a fly off his back, instead of beating himself out of rage for having impure thoughts and losing that battle. Tobias at the end with the grinder seems so dark and confused, I wished there had been more darkness throughout the play. The company started off with a bang. When they all turned in to the middle on "Swing your razor high", it was spine chilling. But then everytime after, they came in, took a position, and sang in different directions, and then left. I wish those exchanges could be more layered. I think moving those company members on a set that was too close to the pipes for some, and too low for exits, was handled well enough. I don't think you could have stopped the occasional bop on the forehead, but luckily, none too distracting.

Carole Leiblinger-Hedderson called a great show. The pace was excellent. Luke Scattergood did a great job on costumes, sans the Beggar Woman wig. Blood Design on point, of course, from the house of blood. The Chair design was excellent and one of the highlights of the show, which also means you can add Welder to Ciamacco's talents.

As of this writing, the show is basically sold out, with just a few tickets remaining, so I would get on it.

(Mar 1, 2018)