Playhouse Square Revue 

Never mind that the massive new GE Chandelier at Playhouse Square — the world's largest outdoor chandelier! — represents an "audacious and counterintuitive response" to Cleveland's punishing winters, according to the PD's Steve Litt.

Never mind that around the chandelier's supports, "sprigs of curlicue filigree sprout like stylized bushes of armpit hair" (again, blessedly, via Litt).

Never mind that many have lambasted the chandelier and the new digital kiosks on Euclid Avenue and Star Plaza, and the Toys-R-Us signage at the district's borders, as "kitschy" and/or "glitzy" and/or "insane."

The fact is, Playhouse Square has been vitalized, to employ a word Cleveland leaders love, in very real terms. It's so vital, the civic champions declare. It's so iconic. But yes, bars and restaurants (Parnell's Pub on Euclid, Zach Bruell's Dynomite Burgers on Star Plaza) are allowing theater patrons and office workers to get outside and have a bite and a drink before or after a show.

The chandelier's 4,200 crystals coated in eye-popping acrylic resin cast the walkways in a futuristic neon glow, so parents can feel safe when their teenagers are strolling unaccompanied. Manufactured or otherwise, the energy and lush activity of the digital signs is constant.

The whole $16-million overhaul, unveiled in May during the "Dazzle the District" ceremony, was orchestrated by Baltimore designer Danny Barnycz, who calls himself a "creatologist." He specializes in Las Vegasesque displays, and said he wanted to bring the magic and ornamentation of the theaters' interior out to the streets. Whether or not you're into the results, people are certainly taking way more selfies on Euclid these days, and the yearlong programming in the Allen, the Palace, the Ohio, the State, and the Hanna remains as vibrant and Broadway-infused as ever.

We hear often that Playhouse Square is the second-largest performing arts complex in the country, "second only to New York's Lincoln Center!" the champions say, so why not dress up Euclid and East 14th as a flagship intersection downtown?

All this new "retro glamor" wouldn't have been possible without the vision and grit of the late Ray Shepardson, the district's founder and original revitalizer in the '60s and '70s. We've been given to understand that he'd be rolling in his grave at the thought of the chandelier, but he certainly would be pleased to see all the smiling faces.

Along with fellow preservationist Weldon Carpenter, Shepardson transformed the decaying movie houses of the 1920s into the magnificent theaters we know and love today. He worked every night for years to produce live theater in an effort to make downtown Cleveland come alive.

Shepardson took his own life in April in Chicago. Said Playhouse Square leaders on the occasion of Shepardson's death: "With incredible foresight and vision, he believed that restoring and revitalizing those theaters would transform downtown Cleveland.

"His powers of persuasion convinced others that the theaters were an irreplaceable resource. Following a grueling seven-year run of presenting 200-300 performances each year before the theaters were fully restored, Shepardson went on to play starring roles in theater restoration projects in Columbus, Detroit and St. Louis, and has consulted on more than 35 major restoration projects all over the country."

This year's Broadway series includes Pippin (Feb. 3-15), Dirty Dancing (March 3-22), 2013 Tony Award-winning Kinky Boots (April 7-19), Cinderella (July 21-Aug. 2), and 2011 Tony Award-winning smash hit The Book of Mormon, back for a one-week engagement Aug. 25-30. Visit playhousesquare.org for details.

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