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Memorable moments captured in spotlights
Memorable moments captured in spotlights
Every year, local theaters devote themselves to putting on the best productions possible. While many productions are consistently good, truly great work is most often revealed in memorable moments.
These moments freeze time, cause audiences to simultaneously emote and result in spontaneous applause. They occur when an idea conceived by a playwright, envisioned by a director and enacted by a performer inexplicably become one.
Sometimes these isolated instances transcend mediocre material and give way to talent that seems touched by the muses or simply steps up to the plate in the heat of the moment.
While it is these rare, fleeting goose-bump moments that make theater magical, audiences also encounter theatrical missteps and miscarriages that are similarly memorable. Awe can be found in work both awesome and awful.
Here are some of this past year’s most impressionable moments — both fantastic and frightful — from productions that graced Cleveland’s amateur and professional stages.
TRUTH IN A FALSETTO — The Tony Award-winning “Jersey Boys” is about the Four Seasons — the boy band that dominated the radio airwaves in the 1960s. Justification for that award became evident midway through the first act of the touring production, when the band’s pulsating beat and distinctive three-octave doo-wop harmonies came together in the song “Sherry.”
Two waves of ovation resulted. The first was the polite appreciation given to any good performance. The second was a louder, longer and more raucous aftershock — as if the Playhouse Square audience was paying homage to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers themselves and not the actors playing them.
IT’S IN HIS LOOK — Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s one-man drama “St. Nicholas” tells the tale of a loathsome, self-hating theater critic who befriends vampires and seduces co-eds to their lair for a bit of bloodletting.
It is told by the critic himself, who directly addresses the audience throughout the play. The instant actor Dana Hart looked you in the eyes from across the intimate Ensemble Theatre stage, this farfetched Gothic fantasy became a viable reality, and its despicable hero earned your trust and empathy. Much like Dracula’s alluring stare, Mr. Hart’s penetrating gaze sucked you into Mr. McPherson’s world and held you captive.
TELL ME WHEN IT’S OVER — Sometimes a creative idea becomes significantly less so when given form and function. Such was the case with “Monster Play,” an evening of scary storytelling inspired by medieval literature, Russian folklore and ghost stories and conceived and directed by Jeremy Paul.
So perplexing was this Cleveland Public Theatre-Theater Ninja production that, when the houselights came on an hour into the performance, the audience sat there not knowing if it was a mistake, part of the play or intermission. It was actually the end of the show.
BRILLIANT BANTER — In Lee Blessing’s “A Walk in the Woods,” two opposing strategic arms negotiators step away from the bargaining table and take an informal walk in the woods. Director Robb Gibb and actors George Roth and Brint Learned found the rhythms in the playwright’s intelligent and witty dialogue and, in their Lakeland Civic Theater production, brought life to what was essentially two hours of two men on a bench. As soon as they sat, a state of theatrical detente was achieved, where the strained forces of the story beautifully coexisted with the relaxed fluidity of the brilliant storytelling.
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOLMES — It is rare when the curtain opens and, in that moment, the scenic design elicits gasps and earns applause. Such was the case with Cleveland Play House’s production of Ken Ludwig’s “The Game’s Afoot,” which takes place in the Connecticut mansion of a famous actor known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.
Daniel Conway filled the Allen Theatre stage with an authentic-looking, multi-tiered medieval castle that, complemented by Thom Weaver’s lighting design, filled the audience with astonishment.
YOU HAD ME AT HELLO — The risk of putting people famous for something other than musical theater into a musical is that there is often little left once the novelty wears off. In the national tour of “La Cage Aux Folles” that came through Playhouse Square, the honeymoon was over the moment septuagenarian TV and film star George Hamilton performed his first song and dance. Tan and toothy only go so far and not for very long.
SHAKESPEARE ON STEROIDS — Great Lakes Theater committed literary blasphemy and artistic alchemy by re-envisioning one of Shakespeare’s masterworks, “The Taming of the Shrew.” Director Tracy Young transformed the comedy into an all-out, burlesque-style romp. Everything that was the Bard’s was upped in intensity, velocity and frivolity, and the result was delightful.
Immediately upon her entrance, Sara Bruner, as the obstinate-to-the-core Katherine, let it be known that this “Shrew” was going to put the Shake in Shakespeare.
A JUMP TO THE LEFT — It was a giant leap for the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre to venture into the realm of “The Rocky Horror Show”, a sci-fi rock-’n’-roll sex comedy. Well, more like a jump to the left and then a step to the right. From the very first guitar lick by Dennis Yurich, backed up by a phenomenal six-piece band under David Keith Stiver’s direction, this production rocked the rafters of the community theater.
PERFECT PITCH — In Cleveland Play House’s “Daddy Long Legs,” a two-person musical based on a turn-of-the-20th-century novel by Jean Webster, a young woman in college writes to her anonymous benefactor, and each correspondence becomes a song. The ethereal harmonies between Megan McGinnism who, as Jerusha, was writing the letters, and Robert Adelman Hancock, who, as Jervis, was reading them, took unmemorable songs with monotonous melodies and made them soar.
A SLICE OF SERENITY — The Porthouse Theatre production of “Hello, Dolly!” spread contagious care-free exuberance every time the 16-member ensemble took to the stage. John Crawford’s lighter-than-air choreography captured and recreated the broadly stylized flair of a good, old-fashioned musical and transported the outdoor theater’s audience to a simpler time when everyone apparently waltzed, two-stepped and galloped from one place to another.
Here’s to more memorable moments in the year to come.
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