The Brecksville Theatre
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Book by Ebb and Bob Fosse
Based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins
Chicago, the Musical is an American musical with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and a book by Ebb and Bob Fosse. Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, the musical is based on a 1926 play of the same name by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins about actual criminals and crimes she reported on. The story is a satire on corruption in the administration of criminal justice and the concept of the “celebrity criminal.”
There is something magical happening in Brecksville. It is the inaugural theatre production of the newly formed: The Brecksville Theatre. The magic ignites with its first production of the season, Chicago, the Musical. And, there is much to celebrate.
I had a chance to talk with Artistic Director Bruce Orendorf about the exciting new changes that have happened to Breckville’s Historic Old Town Hall, which has in turn, changed the local theatre scene into a dynamic hurricane of theatrical riches. Orendorf, along with other talented and committed colleagues, was very much involved in the process of forming The Brecksville Theatre. This happened by the merging of Brecksville Little Theatre, and Theatre of the Square, which shared the space. On July 1st, 2017, Bruce “The Handmaids Tale” Orendorf, gave birth to the 501C baby of the year.
Coincidentally, at the same time, The City of Brecksville was considering making an investment into the Town Hall. Mayor Jerry N. Hruby is very supportive of the arts, and recognizes the immense payoff that culture and theatre can bring to the community, and families in the area. Helmed by the Mayor, The City of Brecksville made a substantial investment by installing a lighting system in the theatre, capable of enhancing productions to dramatic professional heights. What a joy this will be to the audiences, and the production teams that will flock to work at the theatre. Orendorf was quick to point out that his associate Myles Rapkin, researched and qualified the new lighting equipment for the space. Quite a massive and important job. Also, just as important, is finding someone who can implement the new upgrade into the theatre, and have the production quality reflect the investment. Orendorf made it quite clear, that Lighting and Sound Designer Tobias Peltier was instrumental in the new vision. His final thought was that he wanted “to give the artists the environment to play, create, and highlight their abilities, while removing obstacles to creativity and vision”.
The phrase “Light the Way” is powerful on its own, and as a result of this incredible investment from the city, and the dedication of the transition team led by Orendorf and the Board, the theatre can “Light the Way” for audiences, cast and crew members, alike. Bravo Mayor Hruby. Congratulations to The Brecksville Theatre.
And now, the show must go on!
When you first take your seat you can’t help get excited from what you see on the stage. Especially the official Chicago sign that looms over the entire set and audience. It sends a signal that you’re ready to see something very exciting. There are many fine performances in the show. But first off, let me talk about Kristin Netzband. She has become quite a force in the Cleveland musical theater scene. When you see her name, you can be assured that it’s going to be a dynamic presentation. Plus, she is gifted with talents of casting, directing, and choreography. A triple threat on the production side. And once again, she knocks it out of the park.
Leading this musical are the two jewels, Velma and Roxie as played by Trinidad Snider and Kimberly Eskut. This dynamic duo is quite impressive. It wouldn’t surprise me if Marvel didn’t pick them up for superhero series. Snider is one of the most talented performers in the city. She brings her special star power qualities to this production in multiple ways. Her acting is strong. Her dancing is joyful and sultry. And her vocal chops are legend. Equally amazing is her cohort and musical theater crime partner, Kimberly Eskut. She embodies this character, and evolves into a celebration of musical self-actualization. Which is magnificent to watch. In fact, I think this is the best performance that I have ever seen from this talented performer. She looks beautiful, she dances sublime, her vocals are sexy as hell, and she simply kicks ass. It is a treasured performance.
Neil Scheibelhut as Billy Flynn cuts a fine figure, and brings a velvet vocal quality to the role. Think Dan Draper. And, when he hits the “Gun” note, don’t be surprised if oxygen masks fall from the ceiling to help you breathe along with him. He definitely has his job cut out for him holding his own against such dynamic performers around him. As provided by Caron Wykle, who is on fire as Mama Morton. This is another performance that I feel is the best she has delivered. She is sassy, fierce, and uses those qualities to turn Mama Morton into a jailhouse sex kitten. MEOW Bitch! Mary Sunshine is a fabulous hot mess of sexual identity. Joel Fenstermaker brings some Lucille Ball real-ness to the role, as if Lucille Ball was actually in female drag. Kind of like RuPaul’s wedding planner. His vocal range provides the mystery needed to make the final reveal hysterical. Good job. I really enjoyed Brian Pichola as Amos Hart. His characterization is dead on and the whole audience probably would take up a collection for him at the end of the show. A really nice consistence characterization, which causes the audience to provide several “awwwwwww’s” along the way. Perfect.
Cell Block Tango is one of the big highlights of the show. The six Merry Murderess’s really kick some major jailhouse sass. One of the very clever casting choices show is David Turner as Annie. But instead of going drag, it takes a more realistic approach and makes the monologue about a same-sex relationship which ends up being hilarious. Bravo on that decision and making it work. And in the role of Fred Casely, Jeremy Jenkins looks like he stepped out of a film noir convention, and is a perfect addition to the iconic characters. And, also an indication of the depth of this cast, because Jenkins is an excellent performer.
The Featured Ensemble of actor/dancers are great and fully capture the essence of the show. It is so wonderful to see this fabulous music come to life through this company of invested performers. And, bravo for fitting into those shirts, because if I did that, i would look like one of those frozen turkeys with the fish net holder to carry the bird.
There are some points of order that were noticed. Although the lighting is fabulous, there were two points where I found it distracting. I felt like the jail gobo used for the Cell Block Tango, left too many faces half lit while they were singing and acting. I thought a stronger base lighting across the stage, would have helped and still maintained the effect.
Also, the timing of the lighting on the individual tag lines of each murderess was not as sharp as it could have been. What I felt was missing from Billy Flynn was the smarm of the character. I wanted Flynn to lighten up and be more in love with himself, and expressive, and have much more fun with the audience in a “look at me, I am so good at what I do, and on top of that, women can’t resist me” vibe. Sunshine needs to provide a bit more diction on the higher register. Finally, a little more expression from the crowd during the trial scene would seem to add more energy and fun.
The orchestra certainly jammed, led by Heidi Herzeg. Although I admit I wish you see the orchestra on stage. Netzband provided great true to form choreography, and also, an understated bold set design. Kristina Zielinski provided great costumes. I didn’t see one wrinkle in any of the outfits, including the suits, which is my pet peeve. Tobias Peltier provided an absolutely wonderful lighting and sound design. There wasn’t one moment of feedback.
This is one hell of a way to kick off a brand-new theater in a brand-new season. And it’s clear that the audiences agree, because they’ve actually added to show to the official run to accommodate audience demand. That additional show is on Thursday, November 16th.
Bravo Folks. You have a very entertaining show!
Cleveland Stage Alliance
November 3 – November 18
$15 General Admission