Cleveland Stage Alliance – Reviews and Previews

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


May 2017

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

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