Cleveland Stage Alliance – Reviews and Previews

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


June 2016

Heathers – The Musical at Beck Center for the Arts

heathers the musical

Thru July 2

Isn’t it fun to go to high school and not fit in? Isn’t it fun to get bullied by the jocks? Isn’t it just wonderful to get to sit alone at the cafeteria table, or only be able to join the table filled with the nerds? Do you ever fantasize about being one of the cool kids in school?
These questions encourage students to take different paths to handle this pressure. Some survive, some adapt, some take serious steps to vent, and some don’t quite make it. This all was addressed in the film Heathers, a 1988 American cult black comedy film written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehmann. Then, as all of life should be at some point, this dark tale was adapted into Heathers: The Musical, a rock musical with music, lyrics, and a book by Lawrence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy.

This is the darkly delicious story of Veronica Sawyer (Madeline Krucek), a teenage misfit who hustles her way into the most powerful clique at Westerberg High: the Heathers. (Kayla Heichel, Amy Kohmescher, and Tia Karaplis) Just as she gets comfortable atop the high school food chain, and betrays one of her best friends Martha “Dumptruck” (Molly Millsaps), Veronica falls in love with the dangerously sexy new kid J.D. (Shane Lonergan). Before she gets kicked out of the clique she worked so hard to infiltrate, Veronica decides to bite the bullet and kiss up to the Heathers…but J.D. has another plan.

Quite frankly, Heathers is Heaven. There is sooooooooooooo much delicious debauchery in this show, and fabulous performances to enhance the abundant chicanery. Let’s start with the set designed by Trad A Burns (no period after the A). It reminds me of the result of a love-making session between a Tetris game and a pastel joystick, and at the right moment, it all blew up on stage. All against a palette of high school lockers which remind many of us of the worst days of high school. Mine for sure. Although I was saved because I was a math tutor for the football team, so some big dudes had my back. Sound Designer Carlton Guc does an impressive Sound Design to enhance the audience’s enjoyment of hearing everything beautifully balanced.

The show opens with the kick ass song “Beautiful”, where we get to meet all of these hormonal students. The energy is kinetic and riveting fun. Madeline Krucek as Veronica Sawyer self-actualizes right in front of your face, and when she riffs at the end, i want to throw popcorn all over the theatre and scream “OH HELL YES”. Krucek does a terrific job of portraying the angst of want, and the pain of redemption, all while displaying a voice that is like a vocal all-you-can-eat buffet. And she holds her own quite well against the “Heathers”. And speaking of the Heathers, here they are: Kayla Heichel as Heather Chandler, Amy Kohmescher as Heather McNamara, and Tia Karaplis as Heather Duke. This fierce trio is our answer to national security. Let these bitches defend our borders, and the country will be chanting U! S! A! in no time. Each lady is a weapon of mass entertainment. Beautiful of face, voice and acting chops. Heichel is the head of this group with a commanding presence and talent to match. Kohmescher is also a dynamic presence, along with a face that reminds me of the golden days of Hollywood glamour. Karaplis is a complete bitch, and I couldn’t be happier. She is the last character to turn it around, and throws more shade and attitude than Season 8 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. She kills it.

One of the great surprises of the night is the performance of Molly Millsaps as Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock. Millsaps does a great job giving this belittled character an arc where we can relate. When she sings “Kindergarten Boyfriend”, she slays it, and provides a real sense of pain and loss, within this comedic tornado. And she just does a great job being the odd truck out. Speaking of surprises, can we talk about Riley Ewing and Jonathan Walker White, as Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelly, respectively. OMFG. When these two sing, or I should say perform/slay/kill “Blue”, it is a comedic paradise. It’s as if, John Belushi and Chris Farley, came back as high schoolers and terrorized everyone in sight, to our delight. Ewing and White are hilarious and provide one of the rowdiest and funniest numbers in the show. Truly epic.

Circling around these characters in a calculating way is JD, played with brooding genius by Shane Lonergan. Armed with a dark richness to his character, and a voice that gradually becomes more and more powerful and moving as the show goes on. Great outsider looks, and a sexy dangerous joie de vivre, he perfectly captures the dark side. The duet “Seventeen” between Lonergan and Krucek is absolutely beautiful. But before then, Lonergan cracks us up with “Freeze Your Brain”. Great stuff.

Now it is time for the war horses to shine. Amiee Collier is a scream as Ms. Fleming and Veronica’s Mom. Leading the song “Shine a Light”, her clarion voice does its usual brilliant agenda of entertainment. Paul Floriano brings some fun flair to a trio of roles that perfectly fit into the show. Each one providing fun accoutrements. Matthew Wright also provides a trio of roles which add sass and masculinity, but he rips the roof off of the studio leading the song “Dead Gay Son”. A masterful showman at work.

The rest of the cast is all on point. Zach Landes, Greg Good, Joe Virgo, DeLee Cooper, Kacey Faix, Gabi Shook, and swinging Brianna O’Boyle, bring some major Heather realness to the table.

Artistic Director/Director Scott Spence, Musical Director Larry Goodpaster, and Choreographer Martin Cespedes are once again joined at the hip and provide a solid framework of guidance and support for the cast. Technical Director Aaron Benson professionally pulls all the elements together. Trad A Burns provides great lighting and certainly helps nail the Heathers entrance which if on a float, would win at any Pride event. Aimee Kluiber costumes the festivities with perfect pitch.

This regional premiere is a knock out and sold out. To the lucky that get to see it, that will come as no surprise.

Actor’s Equity Association: Matthew Wright, Paul Floriano, Zach Landes

Member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers: Martin Cespedes


8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
7pm Sundays
$10-$29 Reserved Seating(216) 521-2540
Order Tickets Online
Beck Center For The Arts
17801 Detroit Avenue
Lakewood, Ohio 44107


The Toxic Avenger – Cain Park

toxic avenger

Thru June 26

If you happen to see a greenish radiation cloud on the east side of Cleveland, possibly Cain Park, I am happy to tell you that this is one radiation treatment you don’t have to avoid. Giggling and Camping its way on stage at the Alma Theatre is the quirky musical The Toxic Avenger. This monstrosity of a production is brought to you by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, who produced the Book and Music respectively, while both bonged their way with the lyrics.

The Toxic Avenger is a 1984 American superhero horror comedy film directed by Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman (credited as Samuel Weil) and written by Kaufman and Joe Ritter. The film was released by Troma Entertainment, known for producing low-budget B-movies with campy concepts and gruesome violence. Virtually ignored upon its first release, The Toxic Avenger caught on with filmgoers after a long and successful midnight movie engagement at the famed Bleeker Street Cinemas in New York City in late 1985. It now is regarded as a cult classic.

Melvin Ferd the Third (Ellis C. Dawson III) wants to clean up Tromaville, the most polluted town in New Jersey. Foiled by the mayor’s (Kate Leigh Michalski) bullies (Marish Burke and Codie Higer), Melvin is dumped into a vat of radioactive toxic waste, only to reemerge as The Toxic Avenger, New Jersey’s first superhero. He’s out to save New Jersey, end global warming, and woo the blind librarian (Natalie Green) in town.

Director and Choreographer Nathan Motta has put together a stellar cast to tell this toxic tale, and delivered camp on every level. Once again, Music Director Jordon Cooper provides brilliant musicianship. Special Effects Designer P. J. Toomey provides highly entertaining and brooding elements to the show. Lighting Designer Trad A Burns (no period after A) creates a neurotic and ominous atmosphere. Costume Designer Tesia Dugan Benson kicks some serious designing ass in this show. Her highlight is the dysfunctional Confrontation between Ma Ferd and Mayor Babs Belgoody. Although the Bride of Frankenstein-esque Mayor wig is to die for. Sound Designer Richard B. Ingraham tries valiantly, but because of the venue itself, or some other factor, it is very difficult to hear and understand lots of the dialogue and lyrics. Probably my biggest critique of the show.

Ellis C. Dawson III seemed to have a blast with the dual role of Melvin Ferd The Third/Toxic Avenger. He provides nerdish charm and a strong voice to helm the production. As Sarah, the blind librarian, Natalie Green fires on all cylinders. Green is a consummate professional who can milk and nail every comedic moment. Along the way she can belt or serenade us with her glorious voice. She is serving blind realness with hilarious results. One performance that will be hard to forget is delivered by Kate Leigh Michalski. Although Michalski is a solid consistent performer accompanied by a titanic voice, this show provides a showplace for her immense talent. She is a blend of Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, and Ethel Merman, along with the physicality of Soupy Sales. She is relentless in her pursuit of the funny, and we are all better for it.

Malik Akil, Mariah Burks, Trey Gilpin, and Codie Higer provide all the other characters to this radioactive tale. They are a scream. Each one of them provides ridiculous characterizations that are a blast to watch. Burks and Higer are a hot mess of fun as thugs. I just keep giggling at these two being hardasses, while displaying every caricature imaginable. Give Akil some tricked out hair, and the attitude that presents itself will definitely make you sashay away to buy another ticket to his show. Gilpin, master of the side eye, is a hoot.

As I stated, I thought the only true downside was the sound. and also, I would have like to have seen a little more of a physicality change in body and voice with the avenger himself. But other than that, this is campy fun. So if you are looking for mindless, campy B-movie realness, THIS IS IT!

*Malik Akil: Black Dude (Understudy Melvin / Toxic Avenger)
~Mariah Burks: Black Chick
*Ellis Dawson III: Melvin Ferd the Third / The Toxic Avenger
^Trey Gilpin: White Dude
*Natalie Green: Sarah
^Codie Higer: White Chick
^Kate Leigh Michalski: Mayor Babs Belgoody / Ma Ferd / Nun
^Sidney Perelman: Understudy Sarah
^Johnathon Jackson: Understudy Black Dude
*Member, Actors’ Equity Association  ^Equity Membership Candidate  ~Mariah Burks

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

$28-$30 Reserved Seating

(216) 371-3000

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

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