Cleveland Stage Alliance – Reviews and Previews

Eric Fancher – Founder/Administrator/ Webmaster/"CSA Presents" Co-Producer


July 2014

The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein at Beck Center for the Arts

This past weekend, I got to take a trip to Transylvania Heights, courtesy of the Beck Center for the Arts Production of The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Fronkensteen, oops, I mean, Frankenstein. The musical is based on the 1974 comedy film of the same name. It has a book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, and music and lyrics by Brooks. It seemed to make sense after the success of The Producers, created by the same team, to bring another one of Brooks’s films to the stage. Frank opened on Broadway in November 2007, to mixed reviews. Unfortunately, the show didn’t enjoy the success of The Producers, and closed after a year. That in itself is not a bad accomplishment, but just not the sensation that everyone was hoping. There were several reasons why this musical didn’t work as well. The film is a classic, and the book isn’t able to capture the cinematic joy that ensued. Also, the score is not as strong, and certainly does not contain the kick ass ensemble numbers that are needed to propel the evening into glorious success. The book doesn’t help the ensemble either, by not giving them exciting moments to explore and generate enough action. Having said that, Brooks’s fans will find a strong connection to the story, enjoying each famous punch line, as was witnessed when I attended last Saturday night. Theatre goers not familiar with the film and the style of humor, may not be impressed, but the loyal fans will eat this up. Due to the fact that this past Saturday night, during the third weekend of the run, was virtually sold out, it is obvious that word of mouth is driving sales. Which in the end, is the ultimate compliment to a production.

The plot involves the Grandson of the infamous Victor Frankenstein, Fredrerick (Jamie Koeth*), who inherits his family’s estate in Transylvania. He leaves his fiancée Elizabeth (Lindsey Mitchell*) behind, to settle the estate. Once he arrives, he is assisted by Igor (Alex Smith), and a well-educated, um, well…, um, you get it, lab assistant Inga (Leslie Andrews), and the resident guide Frau Blucher (Amiee Collier). Haunted by ghosts of the past, he is drawn into his grandfather’s work, and as a result, all comedic hell breaks loose.

As a result of not having a Broadway budget, Artistic Director/Director Scott Spence has to come up with some creative ways to emulate the films key visual moments. Most of those clever remedies come in the use of a projection window in the upper half of the castle wall, which recreate and suggest some of the more technical and hydraulic moments of the film. And, offers a firework display that is quite orgasmic.

Christopher Aldrich as The Monster is an incredible delight. He is a spectacular big green, tap-dancing, guttural singing hot mess of fun. There is no doubt we might see him some day leading a national tour of this show. As his creator, Frederick, Koeth is burdened with the inevitable comparison to Gene Wilder, who played Frederick in the film. In this production, armed with a powerful voice, mad patter skills, and hair that got wilder (no pun intended) as the show went on, he carves out a unique frenetic descent into crazy town.

As Frau Blucher (neighing), Collier kills it. She serves up a fierce characterization, which is a deft homage to the film. Collier serves so much face, it must take her an hour to un-Blucher herself. Her formidable voice is entertaining as hell, and she brings the house down in one of the best numbers in the show, He Vas My Boyfriend. Lady power continues with the golden haired bombshell Andrews, giving Inga, a delightful roll in the hay, and a romp near a dangerous lighting rod, thank you, both to comedic delight. I don’t really know what bounced more, but I think her yodeling notes won in the end. Andrews was a delight. As Elizabeth, Mitchell enters the arena with confidence, a quirky appeal, which really works for her transformation after some Monster, and I don’t mean the drink, to hilarious results.

Smith is an absolute hoot as Igor. Flying around the stage with wild abandon, I am sure there are many requests to adopt him after the show. He has an engaging presence, fabulous timing, and works a hump like a pro. Every time he appears on stage, something delightful is going to happen. John Busser as Inspector Kemp must have a blast every performance. His character is a scream, and his timing with the infamous arm, is a treat. Very funny stuff. I could not get enough of Mark Heffernan as the Hermit. His sense of calm deliberate comedy is a gift. I will never be able to watch a waitress pour my coffee again the same way. So funny.

The Ensemble is a wall of solid beautiful vocals. Filled with energy, and working and dancing every moment they can from the score and staging. But, the one you remember is pint sized Elise Pakiela. A young lady that is a thrilling triple threat that permeates the stage. She is in the front of the group numbers, leading her colleagues with fierce confident performance heaven. It is only a matter of time for this down to earth grounded young performer. Great featured work.

The production team worked hard on this technical workout. Musical Director Larry Goodpaster turned in another suburb sounding orchestra. Martin Cespedes worked what he could with the big numbers, and created audience pleasers. One of the highlights of the show is Puttin’ on the Ritz. A fantastic dance song and dance number that starts out with Frederick and The Monster, and turns into a fantastic memorable number. Cespedes knocked the number out of the castle. Scenic Designer Cameron Caley Michalak designed a formidable set that gave castle realness, impressive knockers, and a hide and seek bookcase. Lighting Designer Trad A Burns fired up the electrics, deftly creating lots of lightning and castle effects. Costume Designer Aimee Kluiber served up some great choices. Stage Manager Libby White called a great show. Sound Designer Carlton Guc provided balanced sound. Video Designer saved the technical day with some fun projections. And Technical Director Joseph Carmola brought all the elements together with quality.

Critically, this may not be the best constructed piece, but sometimes, it is just a blast to sit back and laugh at what makes you laugh. I know the horses on the hayride made me laugh. That is the silly stuff that will get you in the end. It did me. (Neighing) for no reason.


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July 11 – August 17
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
3pm Sundays

$10-$29 Reserved Seating

(216) 521-2540

Order Tickets Online

Beck Center for the Arts
17801 Detroit Avenue
Lakewood, Ohio 44107

Oliver! at Porthouse Theatre

The Artful Dodger (Patrick Kennedy) and Oliver (Cameron Nelson) consider their new friendship. Photo by Andrew Eicher.

Porthouse Theatre is currently serving up the musical Oliver! With music, lyrics and book by Lionel Bart, the musical is based upon the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, published in 1838. The story is about an orphan, Oliver Twist, who endures a miserable existence in a workhouse and then is placed with an undertaker. He escapes and travels to London where he meets the Artful Dodger, leader of a gang of juvenile pickpockets. Naïvely unaware of their unlawful activities, Oliver is led to the lair of their elderly criminal trainer Fagin. From there, Oliver travels through some rough spots, until he finally meets his destiny. Along the way, he encounters many memorial characters. The musical had a Broadway premiere in 1963 and enjoyed a long successful run.

The plot of Dickens’ original novel is considerably simplified for the purposes of the original musical, with Fagin being represented more as a comic character than as a villain. This premise seems to permeate this particular production of Oliver! Terri Kent*^ seems to have chosen a lighter presentation of the show, focusing on the more entertaining aspects, rather than digging into the disturbing layers. Reflected in that choice is the break neck pace of the show. Each scene seamlessly shifting from one location to the next, and at times not allowing the emotional set up for some of the heartbreaking moments and songs of the show. So, if you are looking for a darker interpretation, you won’t find that here. But, if you enjoy a pick me up polished production, what you will find is a slick, musically rich, vocally powerful, visually enticing, and character rich production. It is kind of Oliver!-lite. From the reaction throughout the piece from the audience, it is clear that Kent knows exactly what her audience wants, and she has assembled a fantastic production team to illuminate the dark roads of London. Along with an assemblage of kids that could melt an ice storm in seconds with charm and talent.

Before the show started I heard the orchestra tuning up, and I was delighted that Musical Director Jonathan Swoboda chose to assemble a kick ass orchestra to fire up the score. And speaking of kicking some butt, Choreographer MaryAnn Black* took hold of the space and turned in some spectacular dance, and provided the kids with charming and lighthearted moves, which had the audience wanting to throw their wallets at them, instead of them having to work so hard to steal their treasure. Working within a limited dance space, Black was able to make those talented hoofers bust out some moves that were a joy to watch.

Cameron Nelson+ was a delight as Oliver Twist. With a heartbreaking sweet voice, and sass for days, Nelson traversed this tale with gusto and confidence, while taking the audience along. Her performance certainly took hold of our hearts. Patrick Kennedy* was terrific as the Artful Dodger. Full of confidence, clear diction, and a full voice, he sang, finagled, and danced right into the victory lane. Fagin, delightfully played by Eric Van Baars*^, was a fantastic ride of wrong. He gave Fagin such an entertaining personably edge, even though everything his character is doing is abhorrent. In other productions, I usually have to down a 5 hour energy drink somewhere in the middle of Reviewing the Situation, but here, Baars was terrific and entertaining.

Ok, somebody give Mr. Bumble (Timothy Culvert+) and Widow Corney (Lissy Gulick) a cabaret show. These two actors were killing me in this show. Both are equipped with powerhouse voices, and comedic timing that kept me from eating my soft pretzel, and just laughing. Which is saying a lot. Culver embracing every hysterical nuance of his character, while belting out BOY FOR SALE, like it was just another day on the Thames. And Gulick, bouncing around in that fabulous costume, like her undergarments were full of helium, and working what God gave her to great amusement.

For some reason, I never got the depth of despair or aggression from Nancy (Miriam Henkel-Moellmann+) and Bill Sykes (Brian Keith Johnson*). Their voices were glorious and certainly strong acting chops, but for Moellmann, not until the reprise of As Long As He Needs Me, did the angst and power truly connect. Johnson has a superb operatic voice, but some of his low notes were lost, and I was distracted by the riff at the end of My Name. In honesty, the edginess might be a victim of the pace. They were consummate professionals, and certainly earned that London street cred and the audiences’ approval.

The rest of the cast was great, creating one entertaining scene after another. The Boy’s Ensemble was a blast. A wonderful carnage of sweet faces, dancing feet, and unbridled energy. And the supporting characters were each a dose of comedic gold.

Costume Designer Sarah Russell did a terrific job, Stage Manager Derric Nolte* called a great show, Lighting Designer T.C. Kouyeas, Jr. created a visual treat (loved the confrontation isolate), Technical Director Ryan T. Patterson efficiently pulled the elements together, Scenic Designer Nolan C. O’Dell did a superb job, Sound Designer provided great balance.

Although this production doesn’t delve deep into the darkness, it is full of energetic performances that deserve a visit. All I heard around me was “This was terrific.”

+Equity Membership Candidate

*Member of Actor’s Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers.

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


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July 24 – August 10

8pm Tuesdays
8pm Wednesdays
8pm Thursdays
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
2pm Sundays

$17-$38 Reserved Seating
(330) 672-3884

Order Tickets OnlineLocation:
Porthouse Theatre
Blossom Music Center
1145 W Steels Corners Rd
Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44223


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at Blank Canvas Theatre

Blank Canvas Theatre serves some psychotic realness during the current offering of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which is based on the novel of the same name written in 1962 by Ken Kesey. Set in a psychiatric hospital, the book serves as a study of the institutional process and the human mind. It also explores the interaction of those less fortunate, and the inner demons that control us, and the outer demons that can harbor ill will against us. The novel was adapted into a Broadway play by Dale Wasserman in 1963. Bo Goldman adapted the novel for the 1975 film directed by Miloš Forman, which won five Academy Awards. Most people will remember the film that starred Jack Nicholson, but seeing the story live, makes for a fascinating evening of theatre.

The stage adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel, captures the radical and anti-establishment mood of the 1960s. Tyrannical Nurse Ratched (Anne McEvoy) rules her psychiatric ward with an iron fist and a penchant for electro shock therapy. Into her ordered domain, enters the boisterous Randle P. McMurphy (Daniel McElhaney), intent on disruption and showing the other patients a good time. A titanic battle of wills emerges. The conflict explores the boundaries between conformity and individuality, sanity and madness, all culminating with a devastating effect.

Director, Set and Sound Designer, and Technical Director Pat Ciamacco has created a fascinating playground for the mental ward to flourish. The theatre space has been cleverly transformed into an antiseptic psych ward, complete with a second level of windows that house the nurses on view. Into the space enters a fine crew of actors, each with their quirk and method on how to survive the Nurse from hell.

The superlative showdown is between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy, where in McEvoy and McElhaney face off quite effectively in this piece. McEvoy gives a tempered performance that just bristles with a surface level cruelty, that makes you just want to smack her upside the head. With complete control, McEvoy efficiently and effectively, portrays the mind control of the patients and staff with emotionally brutalizing glee. McElhaney enters the space like he just jumped on the highest level on a mechanical bull. He gives us a highly frenetic character with endless energy and focus, showing cracks in his armor as his gambling pervades. It did seem overall there was one level, which eliminated exploring the moments where subtle strength could be applied. But, both actors come at each other from ends of the spectrum, and the result is devastating and entertaining.

Aaron Patterson delivered the goods in Chief Bromden. His physicality was well chosen, and certainly created a sense of “there is something more to this guy.” It was a controlled, nuanced performance. John J. Polk was entertaining as hell as the intellectual and sexually repressed Dale Harding. His comic delivery was spot on, but also, he delivered a heartbreaking breakdown. But the highlight was the performance given by Perren Hedderson, as Billy Bibbit. Quietly without fanfare, a beautiful character was developed and executed. Playing the role with such truth, and not overdoing the mental restraints that torture his character. Watching the transformation from boy to man, and then back, was truly blissful acting. The rest of the boys were terrific, each with their quirks and fitting perfectly into the puzzle. I was amazed how Michael N. Herzog, as Martini, sustained his neurosis. With seemingly endless movement and hallucinations, his character was heartbreaking and amusing, a compelling presentation.

Ken Allan as Dr. Spivey was awesome. Giving us clarity and levelheadedness, as best he could. Monica Zach was a delightful tart and sexual conquest, giving just the right amount of fluff.

One general note is that as the fans keep the audience cooler and more comfortable, which they are, at times it would have helped if the actors were louder on stage. I am sure this is a battle that comes from having a theatre space packed with audiences. Packed being the operative word.

The show is very good, the pace is great, and the ending is so bizarrely hypocritical that it unnerved me to no end. That is a good production.

Stage Manager Brittany Gaul called a great show. Costume Designer Luke Scattergood knew he whites well. Lighting Designer Cory Molner was dead on.


July 18 – August 2
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
7pm Sundays

$15 General Admission

(440) 941-0458

Order Tickets OnlineLocation:
78th Street Studios
1305 West 80th Street, Suite 211
Cleveland, OH 44102

Sunset Boulevard at Mercury Summer Stock

Mercury Summer Stock is now serving up a stunning production of Sunset Boulevard, largely due to nuanced performances, and the remarkable and inventive direction by Pierre-Jacques Brault (Artistic Director/Co-Founder). There is no doubt that this show is an acquired taste. It is narrative in nature, the score contains two massive theatrical hits, but the rest of the score is not something that you will take with you. But what does stay with you are dynamic performances, surrounded by a visual treat that pays homage to the glory days of Hollywood. The production is filled with clever staging and cinematic projections that transport you into the world of Norma Desmond. Sunset Boulevard pays homage to the 1950 film that starred the legendary Gloria Swanson, and William Holden.

The plot revolves around Norma Desmond (fantastic Helen Todd), a silent film star who has faded since the advent of “talkies.” She lives in her decaying mansion in Los Angeles, aided by her servant Max Van Mayerling (appealing Jonathan Bova). When Joe Gillis (wonderful Brian Marshall – Managing Director/Co-Founder), a young screenwriter, cross paths with Desmond, she believes that he can help her make a comeback to the big screen. What results is a convoluted tale of love, betrayal, and tragedy.

Helen Todd as Norma Desmond is wonderful in so many ways. She is the right mix of crazy, despair, drive and loneliness. Todd’s voice is soaring and is textured perfectly for this role, whether she is belting or tapping into her inner depths. She also knows how to work the spectacular wardrobe.  At the end of Never Can Say Goodbye, when Todd is singing to those of us in the dark, the room is eerily silent, because the audience was spellbound. Matching Todd in bravado is Brian Marshall as Joe Gillis. Cutting a fine figure right out of the film noir motif, Marshall has a striking and refined voice. The score makes full use of his impressive range. He is in complete command at all times, and tackles the narration with aplomb, while deftly singing and carrying us all on the journey into madness. Excellent work. Jackie Komos as Betty Schafer is gorgeous on many levels, but especially her voice and her acting chops. She built a great character, and delivered the goods to create the romantic tension that was a major component to the tragic end. Jonathan Bova as Max Von Mayerling was perfect for the doting servant for Norma. Protective, sensitive and caring. Nicely composed character, who hides a secret that is delivered passionately. His vocals were a tender addition to the chaos.

The rest of the cast was spot on. Carter Welo as Cecil B. Demille was great in character and look. Jimmy Ferko (Artie Green), Will Sanborn (Sheldrake), and Dan DiCello (Manfred) all contributed beautifully to this epic tale. The ensemble can sing. Beautiful, strong vocals permeated the evening to the delight of all. What a powerful talent pool.

As I said before, this is not a typical theatrical experience. When this was on Broadway, one of the main attractions was the set, which hydraulically could change set locations by literally raising and lowering the set. With that daunting visual, most directors would take a pass at trying to reproduce the show. However, not in the hands of the incredibly inventive Brault. Major kudos for this outstanding production and visual celebration. Devine Musical Direction provided by Eddie Carney. Stage Manager Joseph Pavelek and Assistant Stage Manager Zach Burton called a great show. Brilliant lighting design by Robert Peck, and a great balance provided by Sound Designer Eric Simna.

This is quite a production. Take a chance on something different. You will never walk down a flight of stairs the same way again.


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July 11 – July 26
7:30pm Thursdays
7:30pm Fridays
7:30pm Saturdays
2pm Sundays

$15-$18 Reserved Seating
(216) 771-5862
Order Tickets Online

Regina Hall at Notre Dame College
1857 South Green Road
South Euclid, OH 44121


It might be possible that there are more productions of RENT in the Cleveland area, then there are Republicans in the NRA. So, off I go to see the current production of RENT presented by Cameo, helmed by Uber Producer Michael A. Sferro, which is performed at the Medina Performing Arts Center. Producing this show within the confines of a high school could potentially mean devastating cuts to the script, but luckily, the only edit came in the form of the word “frickin”, during the Tango Maureen. So on a set bedazzled with fluorescent graffiti, and appropriate back alley realness, we begin.

For those of you who do not know theater, have no theatre friends, or are afraid of theatre people, let me share the story. RENT is a rock musical with lyrics, music and book by Jonathan Larson. It tells the story of impoverished young artists and citizens who inhabit New York City’s East Village, in the frenetic days of Bohemian Alphabet City. One of the major issues that pierces the core of this musical is the devastation of HIV/AIDS, especially during the beginning of the crisis. This emotionally stunning musical won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for Best Musical.

Director Maggie Steffen has assembled a vocally energetic, and mostly collegiate cast. Connor Stout (Roger Davis) and Danny DiMarino (Mark Cohen), are tremendous anchors to this production. Stout has a commanding voice that is captivating, and when need be, heartbreaking. He is fearless on stage, and provides adroit characterization. DiMarino is another powerhouse, possessing a dynamic voice and stage presence. He is charming as hell, and provides just the right narrative vibe. The only stumble is the end harmonies with Stout, just needs to be tuned up.

Austin Gantz (Tom Collins) and Ryan Routh (Angel Schunard) deliver standout performances. There storyline is perhaps the most controversial, and they both play the arc with complete confidence and appeal. Gantz is right on target and puts everything on the table with his reprise of I’ll Cover You. Routh is a triple hot mess of fierceness. His angel is so real and confident, you actually see the human inside, and not just Miss Claus flaunting around. His entrance reminded me of California Chrome busting out of the gate at the Kentucky Derby. Jacob Schafer (Benjamin Coffin III) is offering his best vocal work in years. Her character is just the right balance of jerk and appropriate corporate angst.

Jacqueline D’Attoma (Mimi Marquez) has a strong pure voice, a fishnet worthy body, and looks that would charm any guitar player. Venerability at her core, infuses her performance with an edgy ebb and flow. Jennifer Herron (Joanne Jefferson) and Sarah Husbands (Maureen Johnson) provide some girl power. Herron is uptight and methodical, and captures the aggressive attitude, but adds a level of humanity that is just right. Husbands is like an American Ninja of talent. Possessing a voice that is a gift, see enters the stage like she just landed on the moon, and decided to hold a concert called MaureenFest. Great work, giving us a bitchy artistic delight, who has a tender side, kinda, sort of, well, you can find it if you are patient.

As far as the direction, there is one major distraction in this production. That is the intensity. The stakes are not high enough for everyone involved. In fact, the production only truly sizzles when Mark is about to leave in Act Two. From that moment on, the levels of every performance rose and created the angst and fear of what this piece is addressing. Everyone sings and moves well, but when the ensemble is on for the group numbers, everyone is not connected in their own personal journey, whether that be hell, or fright, or confusion. I saw a few people consistently taking chances, such as Connor Green, Will Crosby, and Brooke Lytton, but not the whole collective. Each and every character, whether ensemble, or not, needs to take assessment and find more depth and emotional connection to what they are singing about.  Group scenes exposed actors who looked like they didn’t know what to do. Also, there were moments of upstaging each other. Even Angel’s return at the end is blocked by the cast until he literally gets there. I thought the scene changes were a bit on the long side, but that might have been a result of the lack of tension and angst, that I felt on my part. This is not a bad production at all, but it just reminds me of Rent-lite.

Chorographer Oksana Klue added festive movement to the piece. Music Director Tom Bonezzi provided his usual standard of excellence. Scenic Designer Dale Seeds created a sharp, cook set with black light homage. Costume Designer Katie Peyton got it right with style. Lighting Designer Michael A. Sferro electrified the stage. Sound Designer Allen Redmon provided an excellent balance of sound and vocal, and covered failed mics invisible to the general audience. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded the music louder. Technical Director James Welch efficiently brings all the elements together.

Cameo is a great place, with a terrific producer. They aspire to push themselves professionally all the time, and that is a worthy mission for a community theatre.


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July 18 – July 26
8pm Thursday
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
2pm Sunday

$15 General Admission

(330) 636-3400

Order Tickets Online

851 Weymouth Road
Medina, OH 44256

The Music Man at Lorain Community Music Theater

This past weekend I travelled to 1912 River City, IA, compliments of Lorain Community Music theatre’s production of Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man. The story behind the musical is by Meredith Wilson and Franklin Lacey. This classic piece of Americana was Directed and Choreographed by the multi-talented Monica Olejko. I usually get a little apprehensive when community theatres attempt the classic big musicals, but to my delight, Olejko kept the pace flying from one entertaining clip after another.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Music Man, and I will pray for you, the show became a hit on Broadway in 1957, winning 5 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It starred Robert Preston, who also headed up the film version, along with Shirley Jones. The plot concerns Harold Hill (charming Joe Tutak), a traveling con man, who enters River City posing as a boys band organizer. He is able to sell band instruments to the naïve townsfolk. His plans include skipping town when he gets enough money, which gets foiled when he comes across the town librarian Marian Paroo (radiant Beth Whittington Van Horn). Their relationship is full of surprises, and eventually, involves all the residents in some way or another, including some memorial characters.

As the champions of this piece, Tutak and Van Horn are a good match. Tutak is a towering figure, who could double as a bouncer at the pool hall, with a solid baritone voice that suits the role perfectly. Pleasant, masculine, and engaging, but able to unveil some emotional cracks along the way. At times, he did seem out of step with the orchestra on the patter songs. And his softer upper range once on the bridge, was a bit strained and needs more support. Van Horn enters looking beautiful and tightly wrapped, emotionally, I mean. She cuts a clear uptight veneer, and very matter of fact personae, just what the doctor ordered. Doctor Who? Sorry, I digress. Van Horn has a strong voice, which is colored with an Amanda Seyfried Les Miz timbre. Elegant characterization, but I would have liked to see more of a smile in “Sweet and Low”, and more depth in “My White Knight.” Just pushing the emotional range a bit more.

The audience had a ball with the supporting characters in this musical. The cheeping Pick-A-Little Ladies, and the harmonizing Barbershop City Hall Members. The classic roles of Mayor Shinn (Ted S. Williams) and his wife Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn (Bernadette Hisey), were hilariously played out. Williams was a delightful hot mess of twisted vernacular, and a candidate for high blood pressure regarding his frequently interrupted performance career. Hisey was a scream throughout. Whether appearing at the town celebration dressed as a patriotic amazon, with a spear that looked like the July 4th blew up in her hand, or in the midst of Grecian urns, providing a voiceover that sounded like a voice coming out of a Target Kiosk, when you push the “Gentle Rain” CD sample. Tylar Dohar, as Marcellus Washburn, knocked it out of the cornfield. Dynamic, funny, and of great voice, he was a constant source of entertainment. Cathleen Phillips, as Mrs. Paroo, was another welcome delight. Great character choices, and an engaging encourager of love. Of note, Patrick Augustine as Charlie Cowell was a memorable comical anvil salesman, and head banging salesman David Trinter created a great bit.

The kids were great. Olejko has such a great connection with them, and that certainly showed well, especially Giovanna Layne as Amaryllis. Clear diction, comedic timing, and sass to boot.

The orchestra, led by Michael Komperda, was strong and provided a wonderful musical canvas. There were some problems hearing the ensemble on the big numbers, but seemed more like a sound issue. Individual solos were mostly lost in the stage vacuum. There were some mic issues, but then, it seems every theatre has a sound ghost.

The choreography was a perfect fit for this cast. Moves fit the ensemble, and thus resulted in festive presentations. Especially “76 trombones”, where I thought they nailed it. My only distraction was the lack of button endings on songs, where the music and moves meet for a climatic punch ending. But, my “I can’t stop laughing” moment, was the “book” moment with the Ladies rehearsal. Olejko Brilliance.

Production staff was on it. Producer Lynn Maslinski, Assistant to the Director Jessica Atwood, Stage Manager Sarah Lynne Nicholas (who organized a well called show), Set Designer Rob Prete did a fantastic job, especially the backdrops (which caused the row of kids behind me to say “WOW, how did they do that?), Fabulous Costume Designer Judy MacKiegan, Lighting Designer Kris Makinen.

Olejko has taken this community and embraced them in her directorial arms, with emphasis on family. Family as an audience, and family as cast members. A perfect example being the Golden family. Daughter Abby, the featured twirler in 76 trombones, Brother Zac, the pint sized message delivery boy with perfect timing, and their Father, Jim Golden, who appears in the pool frame like the American Gothic picture during “Iowa Stubborn.” This is the beautiful message that is delivered.


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July 18 – July 27
7:30pm Fridays
7:30pm Saturdays
2pm Sunday (July 27 ONLY)

$16-$18 Reserved Seating

(440) 366-4040

Order Tickets OnlineLocation:
Stocker Arts Center
Lorain County Community College
1005 Abbe Rd. North
Elyria, OH 44035

TPOG Cabaret Series – Discovering Me – A Benefit Concert with CoCo Smith

Photo Credit: Mo Eutazia

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending an outstanding cabaret show performed by CoCo Smith at the West Side United Church of Christ. The purpose of this show was to raise funds for continuing her education in New York City, where she is attending The American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA). As she explains, her dream is to perform as a professional theatrical artist, and ultimately, on the boards of Broadway. There are many roads to the Big Apple, which can start at any age, any economic background, any level of professional schooling, and from any support system. This young lady found her calling 4 years ago, when she performed in the Near West Theatre production of RENT. I thought I would sit down with CoCo and find out a little bit more about this aspiring artist. Here are some highlights:

TPOG: CoCo is an interesting name. Is that your real name?

CoCo: Actually, no. When I was younger my friends used to call me “Coconuts”, because I was a little crazy fun. Around that time I had a guitar teacher who didn’t like that name, so he called me “CoCo”, and it just stuck.

TPOG: What was your prior experience in theatre and singing?

CoCo: Singing in church was my first exposure to singing in front of an audience. But I was shy at first, my mother would have to hold my hand and guide me, eventually gaining a bit more confidence. I sang in school choirs growing up, but my first real theatre experience was participating in the musical RENT at Near West Theatre 4 years ago. I also spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos listening and trying to emulate the artists who I respected. Basically, learning through osmosis.

TPOG: What did Near West Theatre offer you as part of your transformation, and decision to pursue your artistic dream?

CoCo: Near West Theatre has a very unique process of developing a show. At first, we explore ourselves through a series of exercises that challenges you to find and face your faults and weaknesses. It also strives to identify ways to free your imagination and artistry. Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr. was at the helm of that process. On the other end of the spectrum was Darius Stubbs, who was a huge influence, as he helped me develop my specific character and find my way to process the identity of who I was.

TPOG: How did you hear about AMDA?

CoCo: When I was taking some extra classes at Tri-C, I saw a poster for AMDA, and decided to audition on a whim. I did, and got in, but never had the forethought of figuring out who I was going to pay for it. Maybe just seeing if I could get in, without thinking I could. So I was down, but not out. So last year, I shared by vision, and with the help of my classmates, incredible advice from Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek (Executive Director and Founder of Near West Theatre), and family support, I was able to audition, get in, and attend school last October. All of this happened within 6 months. It was incredible.

TPOG: What gave you the idea for your cabaret show?

CoCo: Well the name of the show is Discovering Me – A Benefit Concert. I need to continue to raise funds to go to school, and it was a way for me to share my experiences dealing with New York City and school. Coincidentally, I met the musical director for my cabaret at my AMDA audition. Bryan Bird actually played for my audition, so our collaboration seemed destined.

The show was performed in an intimate section of the church administrative building, with stained glass windows and God looking down at all of us and smiling. Narrative was intermixed with a song list that ranged from Funny Girl, Sondheim, and Annie Get Your Gun. Although my favorite song was a selection called Random Black Girl, which was a hilarious tribute to the lone black woman in the chorus. And Miss CoCo nailed it!

She ended her show with her assimilated new mantra: Be Tough, Believe in Yourself, and Fight for the Dream. That is definitely a wonderful mantra for a spectacular young lady.

If you would like to help CoCo Smith with her dream, send me a message and I will be happy to pass it along.

Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at Aurora Community Theatre

My first trip to Aurora Community Theatre is impressive, with a theatre space that is captivating and very inviting. They have chosen the epic Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as their current offering. I applaud the theatre for choosing such a demanding piece, and stretching the local talent to their limits. This is a community theatre that certainly isn’t afraid of tackling such a musical theatre demon.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a 1979 musical thriller with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. The musical is based on the 1973 play Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Christopher Bond. Set in 19th century England, the musical tells the story of Benjamin Barker, aka Sweeney Todd (Thomas E. Love), who returns to London after 15 years in prison after being convicted on trumped-up charges. When he finds out that his wife poisoned herself after being raped by the judge who sentenced him, he vows revenge on the judge and, later, other people too. He teams up with a pie maker, Mrs. Lovett (Ann Nyenhuis), and opens a barbershop in which he slits the throats of customers and has them baked into pies. It is a barbaric relationship wrought with lies and deception. Sweeney Todd opened on Broadway in 1979 and in the West End in 1980. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical and Olivier Award for Best New Musical.

Love cuts a fine figure of Todd, and has an effective voice to carry off one of the best baritone roles in theatre. He tends to overuse the despondent, reflective, and gazing look out into the audience. I liked him best when he opened up and let us see the more reactive and emotional Sweeney. This does happen, but not enough. Ann Nyenhuis as Mrs. Lovett captured the look very well, and her vocals were pretty much on target, but felt a little strained on top. My biggest critique would be to just go for it and have fun.  Anthony Hope and Johanna (Andy Novak and Carolyn Voorhees) made for an adorable couple within the angst of this piece. Novak had a solid, but young voice, which could have used more internal interpretation underlying the lyrics. Voorhees was charming, and her voice was a welcome addition to the evening. Her manic giddiness was refreshing.

Some of the best performances come from the supporting roles. There is no doubt that Mike Rogan, as Judge Turpin, will be dating his whip for weeks to come, and it would not surprise me if his wife makes him walk through a car wash on the way home. Justin Roth was great at Tobias Ragg, when he wasn’t overplaying the childish angle. His voice is solid and his diction was excellent. He was a treat to watch. As the Adolfo Pirelli, Michael Guffey, was a hot mess of overdone fun, with a terrific tenor belt that made Pirelli come alive. And, his own turn to the dark side was well done. One of my favorites was Shannon Eller as the Beggar Woman.  She engages the audience by being a bit nutty and begging for money, then she quickly and delightfully turns rabid, selling her lady parts with wild abandon. Her voice and character were very strong.

The Company of  expressive actors worked hard attacking the complex harmonies, however, that was hit or miss, mostly hit. Jesse Bergione, Madeline Cuckow, Heather Gosnell, Avery Bounds, Ryan Roark, Tom Emerick, Becky Grano, Nick Alder, and Emma Weihe worked the space with boundless energy and created many memorable pictures.

Director Claudia Lillibridge assembled a fearless group of actors. The staging was very good within the space, and the asylum was a nice touch. Lillibridge definitely has her casting chops in the right place. The pace of the show needed to move more at a clip. The 20 minute intermission didn’t help the momentum. All the characters are in the right place, mentally and mostly vocally, but being dramatic doesn’t necessarily mean being slow. Music Director John Krol supplied a fine orchestra and I was pleasantly surprised at their sound. Speaking of sound, I wish the theatre was equipped to have music pumped throughout, but I should make a capital campaign to help out on that one.

                                              Stage Manager Nate Benson, and Assistant Stage Manager Jeziel Chavez called a great show. The Stage Crew was very impressive in number and in swift scene changes. There are not that many theatres in the area that can boast a crew of that size. Scenic Designer Wes Shofner created a great look, and the chair did its dastardly duty well. Cory Molnar provided solid morbid lighting, as usual, ha, not usual morbid, I mean his consistent terrific work. Costume Designers Marianne Gingras and Marianne Paul created very good period pieces.


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July 5 – July 19

8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
3pm Sundays

$11-$16 Reserved Seating

(330) 562-1818

Order Tickets Online

Aurora Community Theatre
115 E. Pioneer Trail

Aurora, OH 44202


Twelfth Night at Ohio Shakespeare Festival

So let’s say you want to go out and have a grand evening of theatre. Well I have a great suggestion for you, which includes a two for one offering. Currently, the Ohio Shakespeare Festival is presenting their opening show of their 13th Summer Season with a theatrical feast of Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, hilariously directed by Terry Burgler**. Performed at the Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens in Akron, Oh, with the multi-leveled set cloistered in a beautiful garden setting. But this feast begins with dessert, in the form of the Greenshow.

Directed by Tess Burgler, she gathers up her multitudinous band of merry makers and creates an entertaining serving of craziness and HUZZAH-ing. With Music Director Jason Leupold, Choreographer Katie Zarecki, and Original Music by Scott Campbell, Burglar literally creates a Bardnado of fun that has the audience eating up every hilarious and charming moment. There is a little bit of everything thrown in for good measure, such as sing a longs, patter songs, drinking songs, marriage advice to young maidens, and a fascinating display of fight choreography provided by Fight Director Ryan Zarecki, and his fool, I mean foil, Joe Pine. Foreshadowing. Thank you. One of my favorites is a cover of one of my favorite songs, “Brandy” by Looking Glass, and the results are a chuckle fest. The festivities end with a very funny song about Mermaid love, and then brilliantly segues into the main course.

Terry Burgler serves up the main course, Twelfth Night, with a collection of talented actors that are appealing, engaging and exude supreme confidence.  We follow these merry makers as the story unfolds. A great shipwreck washes Lady Viola (Tess Burgler), and what remains of her crew, ashore the beach of Illyria. She has been separated from her brother, Sebastian (Kevin Glass), who is presumed dead. To safeguard her virtue, Viola disguises herself as the boy Cesario, and serves as page to Duke Orsino (Anand Nagraj*). She quickly falls in love with the Duke. Orsino, however, is heartsick for the Lady Olivia (Lara Knox*), and he sends Cesario to woo his lady love. The love triangle is made complete when Olivia falls in love with the disguised Viola. Soon, a whirlwind of mistaken identities, love-struck royals, practical jokers, and outlandish servants bombard the stage with their revelry.

There are so many strong and wonderful performances here, it is a roll call of bliss. Of course, it also may be I bought the last soft pretzel, but I digress. Nagraj is a regal joy to watch, taking charge of his space with eloquent diction and stage presence. Burgler is very strong as she maneuvers through this tale with her disguised personae, and is an anchor that holds this production together. Kevin Glass as Sebastian, brother to Viola, cuts a fine figure and performance, and is enjoyable to watch. Antonio (David McNees), sea captain and friend to Sebastian, has a great confident look, and delivers a solid performance.

Knox is a knock out. As she enters, you can just feel her presence and confidence, and emotional power. Beautiful diction, dramatic alluring looks, and she inhabits a kick ass character throughout.  Even when love gets the best of her, she becomes even more of a delight. Derrick Winger as Sir Toby Belch, is a total blast to watch and enjoy. His drunken antics are welcome throughout, and his strong energy makes every appearance on stage a welcome sight. Jason Leupold is hot yellow mess, and I love every minute of it. His Sir Andrew Aguecheek is a fabulous train wreck of issues that delights endlessly.

Holly Humes as Maria, is an incredible asset to this production. Great characterization, and watching her handle situation after situation, is pure enjoyment. I don’t want her to be mad at me. Geoff Knox as Malvolio is a master class of brilliance and exceptional humor. Following his arc through the play is worth the trip. And, then there is Joe Pine. What can’t this man do? I am convinced that he has never gotten a speeding ticket, because when he is pulled over, he just says to the officer “I am sorry sir, but look how adorable I am”, to which the officer says “Ok, I’ll give you a warning this time”. Pine is firing on all cylinders in this production, and I am surprised they don’t need a bigger extension to contain his fantastic energy. Excellent work.

Rounding out small of the smaller roles, we still experience deft acting. Mark Stoffer as Fabian is great, and Henry C. Bishop takes about 4 lines of dialogue and creates a superb comedic moment. The ensemble is strong and never wastes a moment on stage.

Congrats to Director and Set Designer Terry Burgler, Music Director Mark Stoffer, Fight Director Zarecki, Original Music by Steve Liebman, Lighting Design by Buddy Taylor, and Costume Design by Nancy Cates**.

Thank you for a great evening.

**Member SDC, the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers

*Member, Actors’ Equity Association


Please credit with any quotes. Thank you.


July 3 – July 20
Grounds open at 6pm, Greenshow at 7:30, Curtain at 8pm Thursdays
Grounds open at 6pm, Greenshow at 7:30, Curtain at 8pm Fridays
Grounds open at 6pm, Greenshow at 7:30, Curtain at 8pm Saturdays
Grounds open at 6pm, Greenshow at 7:30, Curtain at 8pm Sundays

$15-$30 Reserved Seating/General Admission

(330) 673-8761

Order Tickets Online

Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens
714 N. Portage Path
Akron, OH 44303

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