Cleveland Stage Alliance – Reviews and Previews

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


May 2016

Show Boat at Near West Theatre

Show Boat

Thru May 22, 2016

Show Boat is a 1927 musical, with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Based on Edna Ferber’s best-selling novel, the musical follows the lives of the performers, stagehands and dock workers on the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi Show Boat, over 40 years, from 1887 to 1927. Its themes include racial prejudice and tragic, enduring love.

Show Boat  broke new ground in musical theatre, as many regard the production as the Granddaddy of Musical Theatre. Show Boat boldly portrayed racial issues, and was the first racially integrated musical, in that both black and white performers appeared and sang on stage together. Show Boat was the first Broadway musical to seriously depict an interracial marriage, as in Ferber’s original novel, and to feature a character of mixed race who was “passing” for white. The show also generated controversy for the historical portrayal of blacks working as laborers and servants in the 19th-century South, and the use of the “N” word in the lyrics.This was written boldly, in a time where singing the word “gay”, simply meant being happy. But the message of the show was buoyed by an impeccable score. Most notably the famous “Ol  Man River”.

The powerful cast of 61 do incredible justice to this iconic beast of a show. If you are unaware of the mission of Near West Theatre, you should know that the cast is composed of people who have never been on stage before, people who do shows intermittently, and certified veterans. This combination of human resources, which in this production range from the ages of 7 to 69, creates incredible bonds and produces productions full of excitement, commitment, artistry and pure joy. This production is no different.

Providing comedic relief and running the proceedings on the boat, are Cap’n Andy Hawkes ( Gary Samarin) and Parthy Ann Hawkes (Beth Rene Bamberger). These two provide a great presence. Samarin with his antics, and Bamberger being a force of nature trying to handle the situations thrown at her.

This cast can boast some phenomenal voices, and two of them are beautifully delivered by Ryann Sefcik and Devon Turchan, (Magnolia Hawkes and Gaylord Ravenal), respectively. These two provide soaring voices, along with deft acting. Truly a treat to watch their love story play out.

Providing fire and sizzle to the mix, are the dynamic and vocally charged duo of Josh Landis (Frank Schultz) and Cory Markowitz ( Ellie May Chipley). These two are like a vaudeville Fred and Ginger. They provide lots of smile and high energy dance numbers that are a complete delight.

As a couple, Sam Pantalone as Steve Baker, and Jennifer Browning as Julie LaVerne, handle one of the pivotal issues at play here perfectly. Pantalone provides a loving caring husband, who even takes to extreme measures to protect his wife, showing raw courage. LaVerne is on fire in this production. Her character is a blazing furnace of intensity. Sometimes life sucks, and for LaVerne, when her character is alone, drinking too much, and desperate, she pours her heart and soul into the signature song “Bill” with beautifully dramatic effect.

Jordan Powell as Pete, is a brave actor who is given the distinct unpleasure portraying a racist. I can’t imagine this was easy, but this young man delivers an honest and solid depiction of reality. Racism exists, and it still does. If you hate his character, which I did, then that means he did a great job. Nasira Mah-Jabeen gives Queenie life. Her smile and presence is a gift to the production. And that girl can sang. Kate Atherton as Kim Ravenal, provides a fabulous Charleston number that rocks. Hidden in a wig that transforms her back in time to provide a high energy performance.

The rest of the cast is a conglomeration of energy and drive, and pure delight. Watching so many people experience and inhabit this epic musical is a joy.

The Production Team is firing on all cylinders. Director Bob Navis Jr. helms this production with great clarity, and brave focus on the issues being addressed, as well as the musicality. Assistant Director Kelcie Nicole Dugger provided a professional guiding hand as well.Stage Manager & Co-Production Manager Ryan Wolf  called a great show, and coordinated the scene changes that made the evening move swiftly. Assistant Musical Director Rachel Woods led a dynamic orchestra, actually, one of the best I have ever heard at Near West Theatre. The orchestra is on fire. Choreographer Josh Landis provides great dances for the cast to dig into, and adeptly portrays the period moves with precision. Set Designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski, who has created her last and brilliant set design, as she moves on to Oberlin College, once again creates a beautiful and epic design. Sarah Russell did an extraordinary job of costuming this musical. Ripe, appropriate and fine-looking creations. Every one of the 61 cast members was given attention.Josh Padgett leads as Technical Director & Co-Production Manager, and helms a tight and gifted team. Assistant Technical Director & Video Designer provided great execution, especially during the time travel sequence to move the play forward in years. Charge Scenic Artist Jenny Hitmar Shankland is a gifted and talented professional who strikes gold once again with her skills. Lighting Designer Rob Wachala brings his A game to the proceedings as well. Sound Designer Josh Caraballo creates a great balance of orchestra and stage in the theatre.

The rest of the stage crew and spot operators are right on target and deserve praise for their behind the scenes work.

Near West Theatre should be proud. And from the fact that they have had Sell Out audiences, and performances that are on their way to being full, is a testament to the production of a musical that is hardly ever produced in the Cleveland area.

Kevin Kelly












Next to Normal – Brecksville Theatre on the Square (BTOTS)


Next to Normal is a rock musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt. Its story concerns a mother who struggles a bipolar disorder. It examines the effect that her illness, and the attempts to alleviate it, have on her family. The musical also addresses such issues as grieving a loss, suicide, drug abuse, and ethics in modern psychiatry.  The musical won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, becoming just the eighth musical in history to receive the honor.

Director Ian Atwood has assembled a fine group of artists to inhabit this world. He also provided the set design, construction, light and sound design, which is much applauded as all of those elements hold up well.

in the role of Diana Goodman, any actress that plays this pivotal role must find herself in a state of self-actualization. The role demands everything. And I am thrilled to report that Dawn Sniadak Yamokoski delivers on every level. Her vocals soar both in musicality and depth. Her arc is very honest, and thus, she carries us through a most brilliant performance. The role of Dan Goodman is handled beautifully by Michael Snider. He comes across as a truly loving man, trapped in a world where he is not in control, but our of pure love, he exhausts every avenue he comes across to save his wife from being trapped inside her psychotic and tortured brain. His scene at the end where Snider is sitting at a table realizing the decision that his wife has made, is one of the most honest moments I have ever seen Snider create.

Isabel Billinghurst as daughter Natalie Goodman, and her boyfriend Henry played by Michael Knobloch, shine brightly in the production. Billinghurst has a beautiful and powerful voice, and does a great job connecting with her own journey. She shows us a path of angst and redemption, through very honest choices. I have never seen Billinghurst perform, and I am glad I did. She is a treasure. Knobloch turns is a pitch perfect performance. His characterization is supremely on point. His voice is beautiful, caring and aptly connecting with his emotions at all time. Great performance. Dan Hoy rocks. As Gabriel “Gabe” Goodman, Hoy created a haunting presence which is well served by a powerful voice, and tenor notes that leave an impressive trail of emotion. Serving up a gigawatt smile and venerable personae, Hoy becomes the apt focus of the joy and destruction of this family. Well done. This is also the first time I heard Hoy sing, and it was a tremendous pleasure to hear that voice.

The production also offers a rare treat for BTOTS audiences with the presence of Equity Actor extraordinaire, Dan Folino*, as Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden. Dr. Fine is prescribing prescriptions for Diana. Fine diagnoses Diana as bipolar depressive with delusional episodes. Although she’s been medicated unsuccessfully for sixteen years, Doctor Fine continues to adjust her medications over the visits until Diana says that she doesn’t feel anything–at which point he declares her stable. However, this interpretation of Dr. Fine, portrayed and edited by Folino and Director Atwood, is puzzling. The doctor is played like a love child of Mr. Limpet, Jerry Lewis, and Ed Grimley. It is SO over the top that it actually incredibly distracting, and hurts the integrity of the show. I have no idea why this interpretation is in the show. Because it shouldnt be. As Dr. Madden, Folino settles down into a more reality based character, dons a suit, and literally lets down his hair to create a great presence for a caring doctor trying to help. His delivery is subdued but pointed with honestly. However, the performance is briefly interrupted when Folino hands Dan Goodman a business card to help him get his own needed help, but the card that is clearly held up to the audience, is a business card from the Beck Center for the Arts. His shining moments come when Dr. Madden morphs into a rock star, and that is a beautiful and funny thing to behold.

There is one other moment that is confusing. And that comes when Gabe and Diana are singing center stage. There faces are incredibly close, too close. And then Gabe moves in to hug Diana, but it looks like he is kissing her neck. It is a bizarre moment, and many members of the audience, who were seeing it for the first time, asked if Diana and Gabe were sleeping together.

I thought the orchestra kicked ass. A tight and musical orchestra conducted by Matthew Grittner. Great Sound and full-bodied treatment of the score. (The orchestra is open to the audience, so watching a musician watch the show and audience can be distracting)

The overall effect is a good night of theatre. Beautiful voices, and some wonderful break-through performances.

Kevin Kelly

Thru – May 15
7:30pm Fridays
7:30pm Saturdays
2pm Sundays
$14 Reserved Seating
(440) 526-3443

Brecksville Theatre on the Square
49 Public Square
Brecksville, OH, 44141







Blog at

Up ↑