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Broadway comes, goes too fast
THEATER, BY BOB ABELMAN
Broadway comes, goes too fast
Like a spritz of aerosol in the wind, the touring company of the Broadway musical "Hairspray" blew into Playhouse Square last Friday night and, after a three-day engagement, is gone. The national tour of "Rent," featuring cast members from the original New York production, was here for two weeks in January and is here no more. "Legally Blond" was a blur of musical-comedy delight during its short visit to the Palace Theatre in downtown Cleveland and is a wonderful memory now.
Unless, of course, you missed it.
We live amidst a spiraling economy, a soaring unemployment rate, a hard-fought war in the Middle East, record snowfall and whatever personal burdens we bare in silence. Couldn't we all use a three-hour excursion to a realm of no-risk respite and unadulterated entertainment? Musical theater is the ticket, and Playhouse Square's Broadway series is the escapist destination of choice.
There is no shortage of wonderful stage productions in the area, including those offered by the community theater nearest you. But Playhouse Square offers something special -- the bigger-than-life, big-budget blockbuster musical as performed by the nation's most talented, passionate and effervescent professional performers. Housed within downtown's grand-pleasure palaces, these traveling troupes create a fantasy world complete with amazing costumes, colorful scenery, full orchestration and storylines to get lost in.
In last week's "Hairspray," for example, it's 1962, but a 1962 built from candy-coated recollection and vivid imagination. Baltimore's Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, lives to dance. By winning a spot on the local TV dance program, her life is transformed. Thanks to huge, beautifully staged musical extravaganzas, all is right with the world. Those in the audience were taken along on this wonderful ride and got to experience the characters' trials and triumphs as presented by a team of young artisans overly eager to please. This is musical theater therapy at its finest.
Missed it? Coming soon to Playhouse Square are productions of "Spring Awakening" and "Mary Poppins."
Winner of eight Tony Awards, including best musical, "Spring Awakening" is a groundbreaking fusion of morality, sexuality and rock 'n' roll that celebrates the journey from youth to adulthood with power and poignancy. The New York Post noted that the show is "unmatched by anything in the theatre right now." The New York Times suggested that it is "a jolt of genius!" Can you use some of that?
"Mary Poppins" is ... well, does "Mary Poppins" really require a description to establish its transformative powers and the sheer pleasure its story can generate? The song "Just a Spoonful of Sugar" pretty much says it all. Combining the best of the original stories by P.L. Travers and the classic Walt Disney film, the Tony Award-winning Broadway production of "Mary Poppins" is, according to the New York Daily News, "a roof-raising, toe-tapping, high-flying extravaganza!" And it will be performed within driving distance.
These shows come to Cleveland in March and July, respectively, and stay for a very short time. Can't easily afford the cost of admission or readily avail yourself during the limited run of these shows?
There is always "I Love You Because" at the 14th Street Theatre at Playhouse Square, which plays throughout May. It is, however, a locally produced production of an off-Broadway show with a small cast, minimal staging and less-than stellar pedigree.
Nonetheless, this is a fun and effortless evening's entertainment performed by brilliant actors, as are so many other local productions. But to experience the true healing powers of musical theater, there is no substitution for Broadway-quality productions delivered in our own back yard.
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