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Arts District

Friday, February 14, 2020

Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi's Bilingual Production of 'And Then We Met...' at CPT Brings Four Strangers Together on the Path to Mutual Respect

Posted By on Fri, Feb 14, 2020 at 9:38 AM

  • Photo by Steve Wagner
Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland never received an award for promoting cultural engagement, but maybe they should have. Many times, in their song 'n' dance flicks when they were both young and spry, they would gather their friends and shout, "Let's put on a show!" And then they did.

It turns out, putting on a show is a pretty damn good way to bring people and communities together. Cleveland Public Theatre under the leadership of Raymond Bobgan knows this better than most, and the proof is on stage for everyone to see. Their theater company Teatro Publico de Cleveland has been going for seven years, presenting the voices of the LatinX-Cleveland community.

And this is the second year for a new company, Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi, involving the Arabic-speaking citizens of our town. The latest production by this group is And Then We Met..., an episodic tale of four strangers from the Arabic world with very different backgrounds and religions. The multiple tragedies of war throw them together but also lead them on a path of mutual understanding and respect.

The play, developed by the 11-person cast under the direction of Bobgan and Faye Hargate, is unpolished in a theatrical sense. This is particularly true since many of the performers are first-timers on stage. But this is as much a coming out party for a little-seen community in Cleveland as it is a theatrical event. And in that regard, it succeeds beautifully.

As those four strangers live their lives, in the Middle East and here in Cleveland, we see people struggling for and sometimes achieving the lives they want. The bi-lingual script is performed in both English and Arabic, with surtitles projected in the language that is not being spoken in the moment.

The performers and creators of this piece are Abbas Alhilali, Ebaa Boudiab, Issam Boudiab, Jamal Julia Boudiab, Hussein Ghareeb, Anna Handousa, Ahmed, Kadous, Omar Kurdi, Shirien Muntaser, Haneen Yehya, and Ahlem Zaaeed. And their work—replete with humor, heartache, music and laughter—helps the audience see the world in general, and the Arabic community in Cleveland, in what will be a new light for many.

As Bobgan and Hargate mention in their program notes, our city is stronger when we come together. One way to do that is to put on a show so creators, performers and audience can experience the same moments together. Aa a result, they can see each other for what they really are—fellow human beings who share the same hopes and dreams

When you do that, people can change for the better. Mickey and Judy would be proud.

And Then We Met...
Through February 16, presented by Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., cptonloine.org, 216-631-2727.

Christine Howey, a former stage actor and director, is executive director of Literary Cleveland.

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Thursday, February 13, 2020

'The Masked Singer' Comes to Cleveland This Summer, Features Mysterious Local Celebrity

Posted By on Thu, Feb 13, 2020 at 11:24 AM

  • Photo via YouTube
Your grandma's favorite show, The Masked Singer, is getting the live tour treatment this summer, headed to theaters around the country, including one in Cleveland.

Tuesday, June 9, the adapted-for-the-stage event hits the KeyBank State Theatre with two guest "celebrity" judges.

“Audiences can expect to see their favorite characters brought to life on stage, as well as surprise celebrity guests, amazing new performances and a can’t-miss spectacular live show for audiences of all ages,” promoters said in a statement.

Making each tour stop hyper-local, the show is including one city celebrity with each performance, which is sure to keep the audience guessing.

As to which celebrity judges and/or participants from the TV show, if any, are headed out on tour is still unclear.

Tickets are currently on sale and run between $24.75 to $109.50. The show starts at 7 p.m.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

fp Creative Brings a Surround-Sound Gallery of Music to Snap House Studios Next Week

Posted By on Wed, Feb 12, 2020 at 9:37 AM

  • Courtesy Cleveland Classical

Imagine the thrill of sampling ice cream without being a burden on the person scooping it, and without the sighs of people in line behind you. Now switch out the flavors for different types of music performed by area vocalists, and you have a good idea of the next concert from fp Creative.

“Samples” is in fact the name of the show at Snap House Studios on Thursday, February 20. Designed by guest producer Melanie Emig, the program ranges from Medieval music to hip hop, R&B, folk, global music, blues, soul, contemporary classical, and guided listening — each short performance coming from a different spot around the edges of the room, as the audience sits in the center and takes it all in.

The evening’s vocalists include Elena Mullins, Case Bargé, Amanda Powell, Liz Bullock, Rayna, Seyu, Naomi Columna, and Emig herself. Also featured is theorbist Jeremy Bass. Doors open at 7:00 pm, music begins at 7:45, and tickets between $0-15 are available onsite.

I spoke with Emig to learn more, and began by asking what sparked this idea.

Melanie Emig: I knew that I wanted to do a variety show of sorts and bring together genres that you might not necessarily hear in the same space. When I was in high school, we used to do a similar concert. It was my favorite one of the year. The audience sat in the middle, different acts were placed around them, and there was no clapping in between — it moved seamlessly from one artist to the next.

It was always so exciting and involved a lot of people. I just thought the whole concept was really lovely, and I wanted to kind of update it with a lot of new music by living composers alongside different genres in the same space. I love the idea of somebody coming to the show who maybe is a fan of hip hop but doesn’t like these other genres, or thinks they don’t. And when they hear some other style, they think, maybe I do like that! Or if somebody comes in who listens to world music but not a lot of early music, and then decides to check that out some more — that was my main goal.

Jarrett Hoffman: I imagine that producing this show has felt like putting together a mixtape or a playlist, and it’s always so fun to put those in order. Have you debated about that very much?

ME: I’ve thought a lot about order and the flow of things. It is purposely kind of disjointed, just because of what it is. And part of that is also the space. Some artists are in different ensembles, so it was like a puzzle to figure out a good flow while also making sure that people have time to get where they need to be for the next piece. To me, it’s kind of like a story — there’s a slow build-up, there’s a climax, and then the end.

JH: Tell me about some of those different ensembles.

ME: The first piece is by Amanda Feery, a living Irish composer, and it’s a quartet for female singers. And the second-to-last piece is by another living composer who’s really popular right now in the new music scene, Caroline Shaw. I had given each performer a prompt to present something they feel best represents them as an artist, but in between, I selected pieces about how well we communicate. The Caroline Shaw piece was featured on NPR — it’s about the 24th Amendment and voter suppression. So are we really listening to all of the voices we have available to us?

I would have loved to have more overlap and mixing of genres, like a hip hop artist performing with an early music person, but we only have one rehearsal to get things together. Down the road, eventually.

JH: How have you decided to arrange the audience in the center — all facing out?

ME: I had originally intended for everybody to be facing one way. I kind of like the idea of not being able to see the performer and just hearing them. But once we get into the space, we’ll have a better sense of it. I’m also open to having people just walk around, kind of like an art gallery — we’ve toyed around with that idea.

JH: Tell me about the guided listening section.

ME: We don’t have an intermission, but that’s kind of like our mental break. It’s a piece by Pauline Oliveros with audience participation. She was all about listening, and she advocated deep listening as opposed to just hearing. So the audience is encouraged to listen to their breathing and to each other, and at some point, if they feel so inclined, to make sound with their breath.

JH: We’ve talked about Amanda Feery, Caroline Shaw, and Pauline Oliveros. Are there any other composers or songwriters you want to point out? Or pieces?

ME: Seyu and Case write their own music, which is all amazing, and Liz Bullock, who’s doing rock and blues, will sing one of her original songs for this show as well. We have Hildegard von Bingen, who was a 12th-century nun and a pretty amazing composer. We have Barbara Strozzi, a composer of Baroque music, and one of her contemporaries, Francesca Caccini. And Amanda will be singing some folk music, like La Llorona, a famous Spanish folk song that has been sung forever.

JH: This looks really exciting! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk.

ME: Absolutely, and come on out — February 20th!

Published on ClevelandClassical.com February 11, 2020.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Three Career Women 'Of a Certain Age' Explore Their Libidos in 'Sassy Mamas' at Karamu House

Posted By on Tue, Feb 11, 2020 at 11:36 AM

  • Kayla Lupean Photography
As is true with most theaters in town, they tend to repeat popular shows to help fill their coffers. And if you've ever tried to fill a theater coffer, you know that's no easy task. Trouble is, the re-visited shows are often less successful than the original was.

Happily, such is not the case with Sassy Mamas, Celeste Bedford Walker's naughty and frolicsome comedy which is making its return engagement at Karamu House. In this iteration, the cast is flying even higher on the sexual octane pumped out by the playwright, as three career women "of a certain age" in the same condo building explore their libidos with younger studs.

As director Tony Sias says in his program notes, this new cast is integrated with one of the three hot-to-trot couples being white and two of them black. This celebrates the theater's history of inclusion, which began back at its founding in 1915.

White or black, this play is funny all over. The pre- and post-menopausal gals fight off hot flashes as they flash their bodies and urges, throwing aside prim upbringings as they live the lives they love. And what they love is a man who walks softly and carries a, well, you know.

The one returning cast member is Jeanne Madison as Wilhelmina, an accomplished woman who is now the National Security Advisor to the President—the one who used to live in the state of Texas, not the one who currently lives in a state of delusion.

Madison has an easy stage manner and her facial expressions as she tries to balance her hormones that are attacking her from all sides are priceless. And she is well complemented by Dyrell Barnett as Wes, an ex-jock who likes a strong woman, even one with military capability.

The quiet one among the trio of women friends is Mary, who is played by Susan Lucier as rather fragile and weepy at first. But by the second act, Mary has found her groove with Colby (Peter Ribar) a gardener who tends to her ferns and such. With an emphasis on the such.

The most outrageous woman of the trio is Jo Billie, who has written out a contract for her lover LaDonte, or "Tay-Tay." The details of the contract stipulate when he must stop talking and Zip It, and when he is called upon to get busy and Unzip It. As Jo Billie, Sheffia Randall Dooley has a blast as she chases Tay-Tay around her pad, and Darelle Hill has the audience screaming with his gyrations, pelvic and otherwise.

Once again, the set and costume design by Inda Blatch Geib are luxurious. And women in the audience may be conflicted by whether they want to rush the stage and grab one of the men, or grab some of the gorgeous dresses.

Sex ought to be fun. And thankfully Sias and his capable cast provide exactly that, in ample amounts.

Sassy Mamas
Through February 23 at Karamu House, 2355 E. 89 St., karamuhouse.org, 216-795-7070.

Christine Howey, a former stage actor and director, is executive director of Literary Cleveland.

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'The Scottsboro Boys' at the Beck Center Uses a Minstrel-Type Show to Shine Light on the Disease of Racism

Posted By on Tue, Feb 11, 2020 at 11:31 AM

  • Photo by Roger Mastroianni
When you're doing strength training, your fitness instructor will often have you stand on one foot or hold a kettle bell in one hand. The purpose is to destabilize your body and require your core muscles to work harder to compensate.

That explains why I hate my fitness instructor.

It also serves as a useful analogy for The Scottsboro Boys, the final John Kander and Fred Ebb musical partnership that is now at Beck Center. This fascinating piece is about a deadly serious Depression-era event that added fuel to the black civil rights movement in the 1960s.

The situation involved the illegal railroading of nine innocent young black teens (ages 13-19) in a small southern town, who were falsely accused of raping two white women. In this musical re-telling, the audience is intentionally thrown off-balance by treating much of the story as a minstrel show.

At first glance, this might seem to be lacking compassion, since the play is full of white racists and African-American caricatures that are played for laughs. But you soon realize that the injustices are real, the laughs are hollow, and the void those laughs disappear into achingly recall the racial state of affairs years ago. And yes, still today.

In this production, director and choreographer Jon Martinez crafts a minstrel show vibe on a bare set with a few chairs and three slightly askew proscenium arches studded with lightbulbs. He puts his cast through their paces, and the dance numbers they create are cringingly evocative of the minstrel show ethic, which sought to embed virulent hate in the guise of entertainment.

This ensemble of players from the Baldwin Wallace University Music Theatre Program often succeed in capturing the curdled rot of blatant racism in 1930s Alabama. Most of the actors take on more than one role, crossing races and genders, and the impact is undeniable.

Shouldering a lot of the task with skill and imagination are Nick Drake as Mr. Bones and Charles Mayhew Miller as Mr. Tambo, who execute energetic, quicksilver character changes as they switch from minstrel show hosts to electric chair victims to officers of the court. They serve as the beating heart of this production.

Those two are overseen by the white Interlocutor, played with unctuous ooze by Greg Violand. Together with the nine boys on trial—played by Gordia Hayes, Marcus Martin, Jahir Hipps, Anthony Harris, Elijah Dawson, Tavon Olds Sample, Brinden Harvey, Javar Parker and Savannah Cooper— these performers tell the unbelievably tragic story of the boys who were swept up in the furious racial animosity of the time.

While many of the songs are not intended to be beautiful, in the usual Kander/Ebb tradition, the tender ballad "Go Back Home" stands out as a signature piece. It is led, as several of the songs are, by Haywood Patterson (Harris), who has a strong vocal tone but sometimes strays slightly from the intended notes.

The one female performer in the cast, RhonniRose Mantilla, stands aside as a quiet observer until we learn who The Lady really is. And that is when the full power of The Scottsboro Boys lands with authority. As entertaining as it is, this play focuses a revealing light on the disease of racism. And that light that must never be dimmed, no matter how off-balance it makes us feel.

The Scottsboro Boys
Through February 23 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, beckcenter.org, 216-521-2540.

Christine Howey, a former stage actor and director, is executive director of Literary Cleveland.

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Apollo's Fire Brings the Love With 'L’Amore — An Old Italian Valentine' and the Rest of the Classical Music to Catch This Week

Posted By on Tue, Feb 11, 2020 at 9:47 AM

  • Photo courtesy Apollo's Fire
Valentine’s Day inspires some of this week’s programming, notably Apollo’s Fire’s performances of “L’Amore — An Old Italian Valentine” beginning on Thursday, February 13 at 7:30 pm at First Methodist Church in Akron. Violinists Olivier Brault, Alan Choo, Adriane Post, and Carrie Krause will pair off in a few of Vivaldi’s concertos for two violins, and vocalists Erica Schuller and Brian Giebler will contribute love songs from Monteverdi’s Scherzi Musicali and works by Barbara Strozzi and Nicola Porpora. Three more performances follow on Friday, February 14 and Saturday, February 15 (both at 8:00 pm at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Hts.), and Sunday, February 16 (4:00 pm at Rocky River Presbyterian Church). Tickets here.

Instead of chocolate, how about treating your significant other to an orchestra concert? The Cleveland Orchestra suggests one of its four performances this week under Belgian guest conductor Philippe Herreweghe — making his Cleveland Orchestra debut — and featuring violinist Isabelle Faust. The music is among the classiest of classical: Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Violin Concerto, and Mozart’s 41st and final symphony. Tickets for Thursday, February 13 at 7:30 pm, Friday, February 14 at 7:00 pm (no concerto), Saturday, February 15 at 8:00 pm, and Sunday, February 16 at 3:00 pm can be had online.

The Beijing Guitar Duo — Meng Su and Yameng Wang — will visit the Cleveland Classical Guitar Society series at Plymouth Church on Saturday, February 15 at 7:30 pm with a program of music by J.S. Bach, Debussy, Tan Dun, Chen Yi, and Piazzolla. Buy your tickets in advance here.

On Sunday, February 16, two East Side orchestras will go head-to-head at 3:30 pm. Guest conductor Dean Buck will lead the Heights Chamber Orchestra with tenor Brian Skoog and hornist Van Parker in Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings along with music by Mozart and Dvořák at the Church of the Gesu in University Hts. Meanwhile, at Beachwood High School Auditorium, three winners of the Suburban Symphony’s Young Soloists Competition — violinist Maude Cloutier (16), cellist Katarina Davies (17), and double bassist Jamie Park (15) — will take the spotlight in pieces by Ravel, Tchaikovsky, and Frank Proto. Music Director Domenico Boygian fills out the program with Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony. Both concerts are free, donations welcome.

Members of the Cleveland Orchestra and Friends, including violinists Kim Gomez, Zhan Shu, Stephen Tavani, and Jimmy Thompson, cellist Linda Atherton, and pianist Ralitsa Georgieva-Smith will pair Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires on Monday, February 17 at 7:00 pm in Solon’s Church of the Resurrection. There’s a freewill offering.

Another Cleveland Orchestra member, trumpeter Jack Sutte, will join pianist Christine Fuoco in a faculty recital at Cleveland State University on Tuesday, February 18 at 7:30 pm. The free concert in Drinko Hall, “Among the Living,” includes music by contemporary composers David Loeb, Jiři Mittner, Tom Pierson, and Andrew Rindfleisch.

And several Cleveland Orchestra players who teach at the Cleveland Institute of Music will join their students in a Music for Food Benefit Concert on Tuesday, February 18 at 8:00 pm at First Baptist Church in Shaker Heights. Donations go to the Cleveland Food Bank, who can provide four meals for every dollar raised. Contribute to a good cause while enjoying performances of Saint-Saëns’ Havanaise, Gounod’s Petite Symphonie, and Mendelssohn’s String Octet. Read more about the event here.

For details of these and other classical concerts, see our Concert Listings page.

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Fast-Paced 'On Clover Road' at None Too Fragile Features Cults and Daring Rescues, and That's Just in the First Act

Posted By on Tue, Feb 11, 2020 at 9:43 AM

  • Alanna Romansky

"It grabs you by the throat in the first line and doesn't let go." We've all heard someone say that about a book, a movie or play. And sometimes, it's even true.

Well, it's true in this case. The play is On Clover Road, and don't be misled by the bland title. This work by playwright Steven Dietz doesn't waste a second or a breath as it plunges the audience into a world of surprises that all occur in a seedy room in an apparently abandoned motel.

That's where we encounter Katherine (Rachel Lee Kolis), who has been taken here by the rough-edged deprogrammer Stine (James Rankin). In a trice, we learn that they are there to stage an abduction of Katherine's teenage daughter Angela who was absorbed four years earlier into a cult called "The Farm" run by "The Prophet."

Yet, just when you're ready to settle into a familiar Lifetime Channel yarn about cult brainwashing and a brave rescue, the characters flip, the plot races off in another direction, and you start to grip the arms of your seat. Or are those the arms of the people sitting next to you?

Could be, since the seats in the old Coach House Theater, where the None Too Fragile theater company now performs, are jammed together and plenty cozy. But that's okay when you're in the capable hands of director Sean Derry and an outstanding cast that doesn't miss a beat or a moment.

In the role of Katherine, Kolis exhibits every conflicted emotion you might expect for a mother who has been desperately seeking her daughter for that long. Mixing cynicism with hope and yearning, Kolis is a ripe bundle of contradictions and the perfect centerpiece for this strenuous piece.

As Stine, Rankin matches Kolis's intensity from 180 degrees away, proudly claiming he's a jackass and confronting his client with hard truths. He tells her that having her daughter back might be harder than having her here because "Children are glass, not rubber. They don't bounce back, they shatter."

Once Angela (Sarah Blubaugh) appears, she is hostile and pissed off, as expected. But don't get too comfortable with those expectations, because Dietz has a stack of character switchbacks in store.

In the second act, the pressure doesn't relent as The Prophet (real name Harris McClain) shows up. Abraham McNeil Adams makes the most of this smarmy character, showing how far Harris is willing to go in destroying the lives that have been given to him by his followers.

It's a sign of the times that cult leaders have become a cliché, due to the outsize real personages such as Jim Jones, David Koresh, Keith Raniere, and their ilk. But in Harris, Dietz cleverly puts together a different sort of scuzz bucket and Adams is equal to the nasty task.

There is a fifth character, played by Lauren Kolezar, but you won't find out who that is unless you're lucky enough to nab a ticket for the few remaining performances.

On Clover Road
Through February 15 at None Too Fragile Theatre at The Coach House, 732 W. Exchange St., Akron, nonetoofragile.com, 330-962-5547.

Christine Howey, a former stage actor and director, is executive director of Literary Cleveland.

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