Resident Critic for – Kevin Kelly Editor: Robert Kowalewski

Picasso at the Lapin Agile @BlankCanvasTheatre

picasso at the lapin agile
Thru 6/24

Blank Canvas Theatre
Professional Theatre
Steve Martin. Depending how old you are, hearing this name conjures different visions.



Back at his insane beginnings with incredibly silly humor that you couldn’t ignore whether you liked it or not. Then came the movie phase, which included Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau, and penning many film comedies. Currently, known for writing the book and music for Bright Star on Broadway.
Behind every brilliant comedian, there is usually a brilliant mind. In Martin’s case, true intelligentsia.  In 2009, Steve Martin wrote “Focusing on Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity and Picasso’s master painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, the play attempts to explain, in a light-hearted way, the similarity of the creative process involved in great leaps of imagination in art and science”. That play is Picasso at the Lapin Agile, currently on stage at Blank Canvas Theatre directed by Jonathan Kronenberger. The play is without intermission and runs around 80 minutes. 
Picasso at the Lapin Agile is a magical look into an imagined conversation between two minds that had a powerful impact on the shape of the 20th century, and those lucky enough to have been there to witness it in a neighborhood bar in Paris in 1903.  It brings to life Einstein and Picasso, still in their early twenties, as they debate the meaning of art, the power of thought and the essence of everything. Einstein is still toiling in his job at the patent office, but is looking for a publisher for his Theory of Relativity, and Picasso is on the verge of painting his revolutionary Les Demoiselles dAvignon.
When I take a look at this cast, this is one hell of a collection of characters. The beautiful thing as well, is they are all talented performers. Including some incredibly seasoned performers. Since the play enjoys the cast being in the order of appearance, I thought I would maintain that course.
First we meet Freddy (John Busser). He is the owner and bartender of the Lapin Agile. He seems to be a simple-minded man, but occasionally says something truly stunning. Busser plays this role with everyman realness, a solid actor, but needed more energy presenting his calculation problem to Einstein. Enter Gaston (Rich Stimac). He is an abrupt and direct character with prostate problems, who only seems to care about sex and drinking. Stimac plays his character big and broad. He is very funny, but seems to be a tad disconnected within the play, since his energy is not matched by those around him. And I have to say, when he goes in for the prostate gold at one point, I immediately texted the bar for a shot.
Then the delightful Carla Petroski enters as Germaine. A waitress at the Lapin Agile. She is Freddy’s girlfriend, and has many ideas of what the 20th century will be like. Oh, and she banged Picasso. Petroski is a delight. The queen of the phrase “never mind.”
Einstein (Robert Kowalewski) – A 25-year-old genius scientist with big aspirations, with a book on the way called The Special Theory of Relativity. He often finds himself having to explain his theories and thoughts in a simpler manner to the patrons for them to understand his thoughts. Kowalewski gets one of the biggest laughs in the show when his hair isn’t recognized, and he makes an Einstein transition. That is a fun way to start a run. Sure comedic gold. His character is well formed, and he is a delight to watch as he takes on the crowd around him. He has a solid characterization, and confidence. The only hindrance is the German accent that is hard to understand at times, especially when blocked to talk upstage.
Becca Ciamacco as Suzanne – Her character is infatuated with Picasso. Suzanne and Picasso have already slept together, and she is left hurt and angry when he doesn’t remember her. And let’s just say, from her beautiful looks and artistic choices, Ciamacco turns her face into throwing some shade that would bring jilted women around the world to their feet. Great job. She also returns at the end as a female admirer to give us some perky”crazy ex girlfriend, if I don’t get laid tonight I’m going to die.” Sagot (Greg Mandryk) is Picasso’s art dealer, who is obsessed with finding and selling great pieces of art for profit. Mandryk turns in a perfect strong performance. Engaging, funny, and electric.
Pablo Picasso (Roderick Cardwell II) is talented and charismatic 23-year-old painter. Extremely egotistical and self-confident, he is a serial womanizer and master of manipulation. Cardwell fits the physical bill, and moves with ease through scenes with confidence. However, he needs more of a spark in his character to energize his chicanery.

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


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


Overall, my guess is that the reaction to this show will be 50/50. Watch it on the right night, where the cast is full of vibrant energy, and the audience is there for this Steve Martin delight, and things will go very well. The night I saw it, I felt the evening lacked something. There were laughs, but not enough. Director Kronenberger took some chances on casting, and not all of those worked out to the benefit of the total product. If this production is not crisp, it withers.
Patrick Ciamacco came through strongly with his Lighting, Sound and Set Design. Luke Scattergood costumes a beautiful show that highlights each character. Joy DeMarco provided great Stage Managment. Noah Hrbek and Pat Miller serve up some fabulous replications of priceless work. Hrbek recreated The Red Beach by Matisse, and Miller recreated Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso. Even Wolfgang Beltracchi would have been proud. And to round things off, Hrbek displays his passion for sheep by the original landscape Le Mouton d’Avignon, which is not half baaaaaaad. Thank you.
Photo credit: Andy Dudik
This show is rated PG-13.
Kevin Kelly

8pm Thursdays
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays

7pm Sundays

$18 General Admission

(440) 941-0458
Order Tickets Online

Blank Canvas Theatre
78th Street Studios

1305 West 80th Street, Suite 211
Cleveland, OH 44102

Rock of Ages @Cainpark

rock of ages Thru June 25th

Cain Park
Professional Equity House Theatre

            Sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

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

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

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

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

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

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


David Turner, David James Grant, Neely Gevaart, Kevin Kelly

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

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

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

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


David James Grant, Neely Gevaart, David Turner, Kevin Kelly, Meredith Zahn, Lauren Berry, Doug Bailey, Shane Lonergan, Connor Bogart O’Brien, Natalie Gerard, Phil Carroll, Brooke Turner

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

Reviewer: Kate Michalski, CSA Street Team.


7pm Thursdays
7pm Fridays
7pm Saturdays
2pm Sundays

$30-$32 Reserved Seating

(216) 371-3000

Order Tickets Online
Alma Theatre at Cain Park
14591 Superior Road
Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118

Staff and Cast:

Director: Joanna May Hunkins

Musical Director: Jordan Cooper


Shane Lonergan…Drew
Lauren Berry…Sherrie
Douglas F. Bailey II…Lonny
Phil Carroll…Dennis Dupree
Neely Gevaart…Regina
David Turner…Franz Klinemann
Connor Bogart O’Brien…Stacee Jax
Trinidad Snider…Justice
Kevin Kelly…Hertz Klinemann
Lavour Addison…Mayor / JaKeith / Ensemble 
Meredith Zahn…Ensemble / Sherrie understudy 
Natalie Girard…Ensemble / Dance Captain
Brooke Turner…Ensemble / Regina understudy
Alec Chock Irion…Ensemble / Stacee & Drew understudy
Tony Heffner…Band Singer
Grace Hunt…Band Singer / Justice understudy
Tekla Gaughan…Swing
David James Grant…Swing

Talespinner Children’s Theatre – 2017 Season

Sundiata (a Tale of Mali)

June 10th through July 2, 2017

Fridays 7PM; Saturdays 2PM & 7PM; Sundays 2PM

Ohio Savings Pay What You Can Series performances Sunday, June 11th; Friday, June 16th; Friday, June 23rd; & Friday, June 30th

Buy Tickets Now:

Talespinner Children’s Theatre: Opening eyes, ears, hearts and imaginations.

Talespinner is located at the Reinberger Auditorium
5209 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44102

FREE PROGRAMS to be announced soon, including expanded post-show workshops and the continuation of TCT’s partnership with The Children’s Museum of Cleveland through the pre-show program, “Science and a Show!”

Sundiata is destined to be king – a child born to a mother who had the spirit of the buffalo and whose father possessed the spirit of the Lion He was meant to bring peace throughout the land of Mali. But how can one become a great king, if everyone and everything seems to be set against you – even your own body? Will he gain the courage to create the life that lives in his dreams? Will he arise to become the great king? Find out in this musical, magical tale, as it unfolds…

By Nina Domingue Glover

Directed by Nina Domingue Glover & Nathan Lilly



2017 Season

Red Onion, White Garlic (a Tale of IndonesiaApril 8 – 30 

by David Hansen, directed by Katelyn Cornelius 

Sundiata (a Tale of Mali) June 10 – July 2

by Nina Domingue Glover, directed by Nina Domingue Glover & Nathan Lilly

The Rainbow Serpent (A Tale of Aboriginal AustraliaSept. 16 – Oct. 8 

by Christopher Johnston, directed by Alison Garrigan

Mr. Scrooge’s Ghosts (A Dickens of a Holiday Tale) Nov. 25 – Dec. 17 

by Michael Sepesy, directed by Alison Garrigan


Talespinner Children’s Theatre: Opening eyes, ears, hearts and imaginations.

Talespinner is located at the Reinberger Auditorium
5209 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44102

Near West Theatre – 40th Season Announcement @NearWestTheatre

Fall Youth Production
Cast: Ages 9-15
September 22-October 1, 2017
Book by Douglas Carter Beane
Music & Lyrics by Jeff Lynne & John Farrar
Based on the Universal Pictures film
Screenplay by Richard Danus & Marc Rubel

Slap on your roller skates, get hip to the muses, and prepare for the glitter explosion of Xanadu, the laugh-out-loud musical adaptation of the 1980 film

Kira, a magical and beautiful Greek muse, descends from the heavens of Mount Olympus to Venice Beach, California on a quest to inspire a struggling artist to achieve the greatest artistic creation of all time: the first ROLLER DISCO! (Hey, it’s 1980!) But when Kira falls into forbidden love with the mortal Sonny – a chalk artist with half a brain and a heart of gold – her jealous sisters take advantage of the situation, and chaos abounds.

Roller-skating along to the cult classic film’s legendary, chart-topping score, Xanadu reminds us to follow our dreams despite limitations set by others. This moving, electrifying tale of endless fun is hilarity on wheels for adults, children and anyone who has ever wanted to feel inspired – a musical with a big heart, an even bigger funny bone, and its tongue stuck firmly in its cheek.

  • Nominated for two Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Book
  • Based on the Universal Pictures film starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly
  • Showcases the film’s hit songs by pop-rock legends Jeff Lynne and John Farrar

Fall Intergenerational Production
Cast: Ages 7 and up
November 17-December 10, 2017
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice
Book by Linda Woolverton

Step into the enchanted world of a brilliant Beauty and a Beastly prince as their centuries-old tale proves it’s never too late to be Human Again

Belle, a vibrant, intelligent young Beauty, feels out of place in her provincial French village and longs for adventure. When her father is imprisoned by a terrible Beast in a mysterious castle, her brave attempt to rescue him leads instead to her own capture by the grisly, fearsome monster. In truth, the Beast is the forgotten prince of the castle, condemned long ago to his gruesome form by the curse of an enchantress as punishment for his foolish pride and lack of compassion.

The only way for the Beast to become human again is if he learns to love and be loved in return by the time the last petal has fallen from an enchanted rose. Hot-tempered and commanding, it seems unlikely that he will succeed. The Beast’s enchanted household – populated by such beloved characters as Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Chip – watch anxiously as Belle and the Beast grow to understand and befriend one another, their feelings growing deeper as the clock ticks and the petals fall. With time running out and a fearful, angry mob at the castle door, will Belle’s kindness and acceptance of the Beast’s rough exterior spark his warm and loving heart before he and his castle are doomed for all eternity?

  • Nominated for nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical
  • Based on Disney’s Academy Award-winning animated feature and the late 18th-century classic French fairy tale La Belle et le Bête by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve
  • Showcases the film’s memorable songs by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, as well as new songs by Menken and Tim Rice
  • An international sensation that has played to over 35 million people worldwide in 13 countries

Winter Youth Production
Cast: Ages 9-15
February 16-25, 2018
Music by Elton John
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Book by Linda Woolverton and
Robert Falls & David Henry Hwang

The star-crossed love affair of a slave and an Egyptian prince from warring nations

At the Nile’s edge, Nubian princess Aida, stolen from her country and enslaved by the Egyptians, finds herself romantically entangled with Egyptian Captain Radames. Though Radames is betrothed to Amneris, the Pharaoh’s daughter, he returns Aida’s affection, and their forbidden love blossoms and grows deeper. With love and responsibility at odds, Aida and Radames must decide to follow their hearts or lead their people. Their love ultimately rises above the vast cultural differences between their warring nations, heralding a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity… though not without heartbreaking sacrifice.

With an unforgettable, Tony Award-winning score featuring soaring ballads and rousing choral numbers, Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida is a modern crowd-pleaser in a timeless tale of loyalty, pride, betrayal, and a love that transcends them all.

  • Winner of four Tony Awards, including Best Original Score
  • Winner of a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
  • Based on the story of Verdi’s 1871 opera Aida

Spring Older Teen & Adult  Production
Cast: Ages 16 and up
May 11-27, 2018
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Peter Parnell

A lushly scored retelling of Victor Hugo’s epic story of love, acceptance, and what it means to be a hero

The Bells of Notre Dame sound throughout the renowned gothic cathedral in fifteenth-century Paris. Tortured hunchback bell-ringer Quasimodo, held captive by devious archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo, observes all of Paris reveling in the Feast of Fools. He escapes his confines to join the boisterous crowd, only to be treated cruelly by all but the enchanting gypsy, Esmeralda. Quasimodo is captivated by her free spirit – and Frollo, along with the handsome Captain Phoebus, are equally enthralled. As the three vie for her attention, Frollo embarks on a mission to destroy the gypsies, and it’s up to Quasimodo to save them all.

Based on Victor Hugo’s famous gothic novel and songs from the Disney animated feature, The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s sweeping score and powerful story mesmerize as they boldly beg the question, “What makes a monster, and what makes a man?”

  • Showcases the film’s Academy Award-nominated score, as well as new songs by Menken and Schwartz
  • Peter Parnell’s new book features verbatim passages from Hugo’s gothic novel

Summer Teen/Young Adult Production
Cast: Ages 16-25
July 27-August 12, 2018
Book & Lyrics by Steven Sater
Music by Duncan Sheik
Based on the play by Frank Wedekind

An angsty rock musical adaptation of the seminal play about the trials and tribulations of growing up

In 1890’s Germany, grown-ups hold all the cards – and rarely show or explain them to their children. With only each other for guidance, a group of young students travel the tumultuous and confusing path of adolescence. Headstrong Melchior and naive Wendla stumble into each other’s arms, passionate and curious, while anxious Moritz struggles to live up to the stringent expectations of society. Join them as they navigate coming-of-age anxiety, discovering their bodies, their minds, and themselves along the way.

Based on Frank Wedekind’s groundbreaking and controversial play (once banned in Germany), the evocative Spring Awakening fuses issues of morality and sexuality with driving rock n’ roll to create a musical that packs a powerful emotional punch. Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s brilliant rock score and searingly emotional book bring this story of sexual awakening, youth revolt, and self-discovery to vibrant life with illuminating poignancy and passion.

  • Winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical
  • Based on Frank Wedekind’s controversial 1891 play Spring Awakening
  • Featuring a driving, powerful rock score by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater


Mary Poppins is “Spit Spot” on at Near West Theatre @NearWestTheatre thru May 21st.


Near West Theatre
Community Theatre
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!!! At last! This imaginative convergence of the classic film musical and the sophisticated children’s books by P. L. Travers comes to the Near West Theatre Stage.  Julian Fellows (Downton Abbey, Gosford Park) weaves together tales of a strict and magical nanny who comes in the nick of time to an estranged family in 1910 London, England. So let’s sip a Spoonful of Sugar, Fly a Kite and Step in Time through a series of unforgettable events that forever change how the Banks family, and we too, prioritize our lives. Will Mary fly on Near West’s new stage? Chim Chim Cher-ee… come and see!
Meg Martinez as Mary Poppins
When you come see a musical at Near West Theatre, sometimes you have to remind yourselves that this is truly a community theatre. It is part of their mission statement to be as inclusive to the community as possible. In every production, the cast consists of actors that have never been on stage in their life, actors who have done shows occasionally as a hobby, and actors that have dedicated a large part of their life to the stage. This unique combination enables the Near West Theatre experience to empower individuals to soar, and enable veterans to experience what it is like to share their gifts, and recall that magic moment when they first heard an audience applaud. For many, it is a life changing moment. I can assure you, that the current production of Mary Poppins will accomplish that mantra in bold fashion.
Meg Martinez as Mary Poppins, Devon Turchin as Bert
Artistic Director/Director Bob Navis Jr has assembled an incredible production staff to create the world in which Mary Poppins lives. His artistic team provides inspiring music (Accomplished Music Director Matthew Dolan), and Choreography (Energetic Josh Landis) that will cramp every foot in the theatre from keeping time. The Technical Team has outdone themselves with this production, especially the Technical Director and Video Designer Perren Hedderson. The Opening Set Warmer is a scene that clearly states that this production has professional values that charge the audience’s batteries, and in this case, the cast delivers a fantastic charge of their own by presenting an enjoyable evening of theatre.
As someone who is quite familiar with Near West Theatre, this production has a particular strength in the depth of the leads, supporting characters, and the company. There is literally never a moment where the level of acting or characterization dips. And that is a tall order to fill, since the main characters of this production are excellent, but that doesn’t stop the par excellence from permeating the rest of the company. When I think about this show, and the characters within, it reminds me of power couples coming together to create a fantabulous, energetic, and well acted presentation of Disney magic.
Let’s start off with the magical arrival (Flying Effects provided by ZFX, Inc.) and the performance of Meg Martinez, who perfectly imbues Mary Poppins. This is that spectacular occasion when an actor and role seem to made in heaven for each other. Martinez has a phenomenal balance of maternal toughness, and an ingratiating kindness. She is the complete package to take charge of this musical and sprinkle sunshine all over the audience. She packs a powerful and clarion voice, along with acting chops for days, and she can break it down on the dance floor with the best of them. Martinez is the bomb. Speaking of the other half of this power couple is Devon Turchan, who plays Burt to the hilt. Another powerhouse performance to catapult this show into the stratosphere. Sublime acting, a beautiful, powerful vocal resonance, and dancing skills that can glide between nuanced gracefulness, to igniting every production number he is in by commendeering the situation with pure brilliantly executed joy. There is no doubt that Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke would be quite proud of these two.
Devon Turchin as Bert, Meg Martinez as Mary Poppins
Another couple that ignites the stage with their adept acting choices and characterizations, are Cory Markowitz and Andrew Narten, who play Winifred and George Banks. These two have incredible chemistry. Markowitz brings her vocal prowess and terrific acting skills making Winifred a fully fleshed out character. Her voice is capable of embodying joy and heartbreak on command with deft results. Watching her deal with the transformation of George from a dark cloud to a bright future is not dull or expected at any moment. A beautiful fresh performance. Narten brings his severe acting chops to a very difficult role. George has to move from being in a somber space, protected by an emotional wall, to someone who finds redemption in his inherent goodness that battles its way out of the dark. In the artful hands of Narten, that journey results in an impressive pitch perfect performance. Add to that, his great vocal delivery of his songs, make for a delightful evening of watching quite the delightful actor split the difference of cantankerous and lovable.
 Andrew Nartan as George Banks, Cory Markowitz as Winifred Banks
The children, Jane and Michael Banks, are double cast. This reviewer saw the performances of Sophie O’Leary and Phil Pantalone. The alternating performers are Calista Zajac and Macon Taylor who perform on May 11, 12, 14, 18, and 21. O’Leary and Pantalone are delightful. Precocious as heck, they swirl around the house like animated musical theatre Roomba’s. They provide all the snarkiness and charm one could hope for. Their acting and singing are right on point, and add their own special blend of mischief and charm.
Phil Pantalone as Michael Banks, Sophie O’Leary as Jane Banks
Of course, where would we be without a dysfunctional comedic couple? Although not romantically involved, Gwen Stembridge as Mrs. Brill, and Roger Lowe as Robertson Ay, completely fit the bill. These two remind me of refined Keystone cops. Stembridge chews more scenery than carpenter ants on a three-day holiday. And Lowe is a delightful clueless mess, of which the audience can’t get enough. Although we see more of Stembridge’s joyful antics on stage, these two are the salt and pepper shakers of the house. Total Fun.
Gwen Stembridge as Mrs. Brill, Roger Lowe as Robertson Ay
Speaking of fun. Stafford Hartman is a demented beautiful hot mess of a nanny. She enters the space with full command of the stage. When she encounters Mary Poppins, their confrontation reminds me of Poppins engaging with her umbrella versus the Queen of the Night presenting her magic flute. Hartman possesses equal parts of divine demented acting, and a set of operatic chops that want me to book a cruise on the high seas. (see what I did there?). Great showcase moment.
Stafford Hartman as Miss Andrew
Now the rest are character actors that deserve a shout out, because they are the ones that really keep the show alive, when the main story characters are filling the stage with fierceness. It would be easy to rest on the laurels of the main characters, but that doesn’t happen here. Each supporting character is all in and makes an impression. Some shout-outs: Cocoa Star Price starts the show off with the exhausted Katie Nanna. Julianne Kurdila is a scream as Miss Lark. David Hopkins as Admiral Boom. Park Keeper Sam Pantalone does great work, even getting zapped by Poppins. Steven Walker is a hot grey mess as Neleus. Rebecca Riffle-Polito is impressively stoic, and eventually grateful as the Bank Chairwoman. The song “Feed the Birds” is delivered with somber reality by Angie Bendahan, the Bird Woman. And then, Amani Green starts off the audience showstopper “Supercali………………..” with zest and gusto. Bob Zombar as Von Hussler and Nick Leverknight as Northbrook, show the worst and best of the corporate entrepeneur. The rest of the company is wonderful. They take every moment and play the truth with zeal and focus.
Near West Theatre, under the artistic vision of Bob Navis Jr, definitely has a major success on their hands, and production values to match. Music Director Matthew Dolan has put together a kick butt band with accomplished musicians. Joshua Landis has outdone himself with beautiful staging and a chimney sweep number that will have you cheering several times.  Production Manager Michael Stein has coordinated a very talented team: Stage Manager Ryan Wolf, Technical Director and Video Designer Perren Hedderson, Set Designer Cameron Michalak, Scenic Charge Artist Jenny Hitmar Shankland, Lighting Designers Adam Ditzal and Stein, Sound Designer Josh Caraballo, and the excellent Costume Design work of Sarah Russell.
There are some minor observations regarding the production. I thought some scenes might be a little more downstage. Some of the spoken dialogue, especially when whispered or brought down, was hard to hear. I thought the time between Mary Poppins landing and when she enters the house, needed more stage business to cover the silence that I experienced. The Prologue number was overshadowed a bit by too much clanking of instruments that were hung around Bert’s neck. I wouldn’t want too much to distract from that beautiful voice. But these are minor observations, because you will only remember the joy of this production.
And can I just say, wait until the Carousel!
Congratulations Near West Theatre. This is a great family show. The next two Sundays are Sold Out! This is one of the best of what Near West Theatre can do, because this theatre really does believe that ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN, IF YOU LET IT!
Kevin Kelly
Photo Credit: Mark Horner
Thru May 21st.
7:30pm Thursdays
7:30pm Fridays
7:30pm Saturdays
3pm Sundays (No performance 5/7)

$8-$10 General Admission, Reserved Star Seats $25

(216) 961-6391
Order Tickets Online
Near West Theatre
6702 Detroit Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44102

Hand to God by Robert Askins. Directed by Matthew Wright. @DobamaTheatre thru May 21st.


Dobama Theatre
Professional Equity House Theatre
Thru May 21st
Content Advisory: Adult Language, Violence, Graphic Puppet Sex
What a town we live in. Playhouse Square has put us on the national map, however, the level of excellence doesn’t stop there at all. In fact, it is thriving and cursing and fuck-youing its way in front of every audience coming to see Hand of God at Dobama Theatre in Cleveland Heights. What a joyful barrage of verbal warfare, that is sure to insult or entertain or both, every audience member that interacts with Tyrone, the puppet, and this fabulous cast of two-sided coins.
We are introduced to three children of Cypress, Texas, Jason (Luke Wehner*), Timothy (Austin Gonser+), and Jessica (Molly Israel+). They are being taught the teachings of Jesus Christ by their teacher Margery (Tricia Bestic*). Margery has embraced the idea of a Christian Sock Puppet Ministry. Thank you. This spiritual journey is supervised by Pastor Greg (David Bugher^). But, one of the sock puppets has a different idea and identity of their own to contend with. That is where the raucous humor begins. And, that is where real questions are raised that challenge us to reflect on what is truth. What do we say? As opposed to what we wish we could say. The power and turmoil of truth is a bitch.
Tyrone and Jason (Luke Wehner)
A masterful performance is turned in by Wehner, as our lead human Jason, and his demonic puppet Tyrone. Wehner does a terrific job at creating two distinct personalities that contrast each other is hilarious ways, and also, enable thoughtful consideration of our life choices. His comedic timing is honed, and tireless. The puppet manipulation was a complete scream to watch. It is like Hamlet talking to his skull, but the skull won’t let you get a word in. Can’t you picture it? Hamlet: “Alas, poor Yorick!” Tyrone, the skull: “Fuck you!” Fantastic job, Mr. Wehner!
Jason and Margery ( Luke Wehner and Tricia Bestic)
Watching the journey of Bestic through the character of Margery is a hoot and a half. She brilliantly navigates being a Christian soldier, a bereaved wife, and then, overtaken by her own vaginal sock puppet. Mama has her own needs sometimes. Hello. This journey is hilarious, but also, there are moments that affect your heart in the deepest of ways. It is a beautiful arc to witness.
As the other kids in the basement puppet sessions, Gonser and Israel are a treat. Gonser is a walking erection who easily transforms into the class bully at a moments notice. His physique also helps him seduce the teacher during a scene where the line “I want you to eat it”, is not about vegetables. Israel is wonderful and funny, and is instrumental is making the puppet sex scene burn directly into your rods and cones forever. Both are pure delights.
Burgher certainly gives Pastor Greg the biggest set of blue balls in Cypress. He puts together a beautifully tortured, stressed and religious man who is tested on all levels as those around him completely lose their minds trying to wade through the demolition of their own truths.
One of the most magical scenes that you will remember is the puppet sex scene. This tour de force of masterful puppet love rivals Team America: World Police. HILARIOUS!
All of this insanity is beautifully directed and guided by Director Matthew Wright. Casting is wonderful, and Mr. Wright does an outstanding job of keeping the pace bright, but also allows moments to sit and create of moment of reflection of just how insane real life can be, although, this shit seems real sometimes.
My only other feedback would be that Tyrone might give House Left a little more face time. Tyrone seems to work the center and House Right a bit more. I wanted more of that demonic sock face up in my face.
Ben Needham creates a revolving set of delight. With scene changes beautifully structured and executed. Marcus Dana has a solid Lighting Design. Richard Ingraham provides a vocally balanced evening for the ear. Tesia Dugan Benson costumed the piece with energy and appropriate dress. Props Designer Yesenia Real-Rivera did a great job. Technical Director David Tilk pulls all the elements together with professional flourish.
Stage Manager Joel Rathbone* called a great show. Fight Choreographer Ryan Zarecki added some kick ass slapping and fighting scenes.
This show is funny. Also, there is dialogue that will make you think about how much we all could use a little Tyrone in our lives.
Photo Credit: Steve Wagner Photography
* denotes member Actors’ Equity Association
+ denotes Equity Membership Candidate
^ denotes He is his own man
Kevin Kelly
Showtimes thru May 21st, 2017
7:30pm Thursdays
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
2:30pm Sundays (4/23 at 7:30 instead)
Runtime: 120 minutes w/15 minute intermission
$10-$29 Reserved Seating
(216) 932-3396
Order Tickets Online
Dobama Theatre
2340 Lee Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118

Little Shop of Horrors – Chagrin Valley Little Theatre


Thru April 22

Chagrin Valley Little Theatre
Community Theatre

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

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

littleshopcvltseymourNate Summers as Seymour

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

littleshopcvltaudreyNina Takacs as Audrey

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


Michael A. Green as Mushnik

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

littleshopcvltAja Norman, Kimberly Sullivan, and Jen Ryan as Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon

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


Steven R. Tiderman as Orin Scivello……………..DDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thru April 22

8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
2pm Sundays (no show 4/16)


(440) 247-8955
Order Tickets Online
Chagrin Valley Little Theatre

40 River Street
Chagrin Falls, OH 44022



Floyd Collins is a Hot Diggity Damn Production @blankcanvastheatre


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

All production photos credited to Andy Dudik

Kevin Kelly,, and

For show information:









It’s Theater Ninjas Time to Shine!!!!!


A dynamic message from Theater Ninjas


We have some big news.

We are proud to announce the creation of the Theater Ninjas Headquarters. YES. The “Food Truck of Cleveland theater” is putting down roots in the Detroit Shoreway/Gordon Square Arts District. A storefront in the historic Courtland Building at West 54th and Detroit Avenue will become the new base of operations for Theater Ninjas, acting as a hub for rehearsals, performances, classes in movement and devised theater creation, audio and video recording, and Company administration including box office.

The new space is at 5403 Detroit Ave, next door to CityBreaks CLE, The Black Market, and Zekes Barber Shop

Having a headquarters is a complete sea change for Theater Ninjas and for the artists with whom we collaborate. We’ve spent the last ten years as nomads, basically operating the company out of a messenger bag. A home base will make creation of new work much easier, and while we will continue to seek out non-traditional venues for larger productions, we now have an central hub for our work.

So help us celebrate! We’re inaugurating the new space March 18 with an informal open house and another installment of Positive Reinforcements, a showcase of short-form performance that features new and developing material from local artists. You’ll be able to check out the new space, vote on designs for the remodel, and celebrate this huge milestone with us.

Big thanks to Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization for helping to facilitate the new space, and to The George Gund Foundation.

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