Best Of 2004

Modä is the obvious pick, but Wish wins, by virtue of its stunning renaissance. Gloomy and gothy under previous ownership, its cult quality is now attributable to the star DJs who pass through Wish during nationwide tours. With three floors, Wish is almost never too crowded, and the music tempo rises as you move upstairs -- from jazz, soul, and funk to hip-hop and house. A bartender on the top floor juggles Molotov cocktails, to the glee of gorgeous people.
Park your car, pick your way through the labyrinth of art-lined hallways, and take a seat for some of the most interesting foreign films shown anywhere. Care to see the dark comedy of Swedish director Roy Andersson? Or an epic Brazilian tragedy set in the largest prison in Central America? Cinematheque director John Ewing has brought hilarious, curious, and bizarre films to Cleveland for almost two decades, and he's won national recognition for his ability to track down rare films and put together film series that educate almost as much as they entertain.
Cleveland State's radio station lives up to its motto: "We eat commercial radio for breakfast." On the weekends, the station meets the FCC's public-affairs dictates with news hours in Hungarian, German, and Arabic. But during the week, it unleashes a lineup of offbeat music fests, such as the "cottage-rocking" Cowboy in Sweden, the quirky Throat Culture Café, and the middle-of-the-night Crap, with your host, Keith. "Horrible music, shady callers, and an even shadier host with an addiction to Frequency Modulation," screams the station's website sarcastically. It even makes its mission clear to students who want to apply for on-air jobs: "We are here to provide an alternative to the crap that passes on commercial radio."
While some art-gallery folks exude an attitude so tightass they could whistle "Flight of the Bumblebee" with their bums, Spaces Gallery is dedicated to bringing local artists together with the public. Shows are chosen by artists and exhibitors, who are given the freedom to express themselves without worrying about marketability. The gallery's SPACELab and World Artist Program bring art into the community in stimulating and often provocative ways.
A surprising number of musicals are mounted each year in which the singing quality appears to be a secondary consideration. This never happens at Kalliope Stage, the new storefront theater in Cleveland Heights dedicated to the American musical. Their production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel was a case in point -- the cast of exceptional singing actors didn't let the Lilliputian dimensions of the space hinder their riveting and blissfully tuneful take on a legendary Broadway gem.
It's challenging to stage a play that has already been turned into a great film, but the Charenton Theater Co. excels at it, as last year's Six Degrees of Separation and the more recent Glengarry Glen Ross demonstrate. The latter exquisite production was anchored by Bernard Canepari, who imbued real-estate salesman Shelley "The Machine" Levene with such desperate, clawing, and hopeless flop-sweat that it was almost physically painful to watch him. Painful -- and profoundly moving.
When an actor gets a chance at a great role written by an iconic playwright, the opportunity must be exploited. Last December, Ensemble Theatre gave Bernice Bolek that chance in Edward Albee's Three Tall Women, and she turned it into a minor tour de force. Playing the character "A," a bitter and multilayered woman, Bolek wielded sarcasm with a wicked flick of her seen-it-all eyes. By boldly exploring the depths of her character without once overreaching, Bolek created a performance that remains vivid in memory.
Plenty of theater groups these days play it safe, especially when they rely on a core audience of older patrons, whose theatrical tastes may not be terribly edgy. But for the past season at the Beck Center, Artistic Director Scott Spence put together an energetic and at times risky slate of shows -- ranging from a superb Seagull to the rollicking Reefer Madness -- which defied easy characterization. Scott found the balance between family-oriented crowd-pleasers, such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and issue-oriented pieces, such as the gay-themed Jeffrey.
Many of the area's professional actors and quite a number of aspiring amateurs seek out Tom Fulton for guidance in developing stage characterizations. Basing his classes at the Fairmount Center on the teachings of Stanislavsky, Fulton goes far beyond the stereotype of self-indulgent method acting. By putting each performer in touch with the physical reality of the role under consideration, Fulton purges actors of the "head games" they love to indulge in -- and he does it all with a warm smile.
As the founder (in 1982) and executive director of Cleveland Public Theatre, James Levin has brought a rich brew of theatrical treats to those who visit this ever-changing company on Detroit Avenue, using CPT's Upstairs Stage and Gordon Square spaces for a dazzling array of innovative performances. In addition to directing the theater and its many educational and community-involved projects, Levin also writes shows himself, including Star Wares and Discordia.
It's time John Rinaldi got his due. Each Friday and Saturday night, on WJW Fox 8, Rinaldi helps Chuck Schodowski introduce such cinematic gems as Sylvester Stallone's trucker/arm-wrestling epic Over the Top to Cleveland viewers. (The show is taped every Thursday in front of a studio audience consisting mostly of Boy Scouts and members of the Red Hat Ladies.) The 4-foot-3-inch Broadcasters Hall of Fame inductee can also be seen in the skits that air before commercial breaks, where he plays the straight man to Chuck's Ben Crazy character or the sidekick to Cuyahoga Jones. These skits might be 20 years old, but Rinaldi's gusto makes them seem more like 15.
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