Arts District

Thursday, December 14, 2017

No Conga Beat Unsung, No Dancing Spin Un-spun in "On Your Feet" at Playhouse Square

Posted By on Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 4:40 PM

  • Courtesy Playhouse Square

Is it ever proper to set your critical thinking aside and just immerse yourself in a show for the sheer pleasure of it? After all, every show that raises its curtain doesn’t have to carry a big message or leave you with indelible characters, does it?

These are the thoughts that go through one’s mind when encountering the colorful wave of music and dancing in On Your Feet, the Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical. And just like that subtitle, this show is bracingly direct and no-nonsense. It wants to be liked—no, loved—by the audience, and it leaves no conga beat unsung and no dancing spin un-spun to achieve that goal.

As you probably know, Gloria Estefan is the Cuban-American singer and songwriter who, along with her hubby and business partner Emilio, put together the incredibly successful group called The Miami Sound Machine. And a machine it was, from the mid-1970s and through the 80s, churning out songs with irrepressible beats such as “Conga,” “Dr. Beat,” and the sizzling “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You.”

Of course, this isn’t a concert, there’s a story to tell. And similar to a basketful of puppies, the book by Alexander Dinelaris is adorable and not challenging in any way. Oh sure, there are some formula setbacks when a couple producers don’t immediately cotton to the Estefan brand. Will the Cuban radio station disc jockeys in Miami ever play their music, since it’s in English? Will the English-speaking stations play Latin tunes? Not to worry, we know those objections will soon be washed away on the tsunami of songs and dances to come.

One of the more appealing segments of the story is when we see Gloria and Emilio trying to get a foothold in the music business by playing at any venues they can scare up. This means they’re doing their thing at weddings, Shriners conventions and Bar Mitzvahs—anywhere they could go to get exposure for their infectious musical hybrid involving thumping guitars and loads of Latin rhythms.

From the personal perspective, the show doesn’t delve too deeply into Gloria’s relationship with Estefan. No traumas here since they begin in love and just continue to love each other. However, Gloria E. does have a falling out with her mother Gloria Fajardo, who suffers from some envy since her budding singing career (she was once considered to be the Hispanic voice for Shirley Temple) years before never came to fruition. As Gloria, Nancy Ticotin delivers a powerful sense of what might have been in a singing flashback to her glory days.

However, young Gloria’s grandma Consuelo (a warm and amusing Alma Cuervo) keeps pushing for her granddaughter to be a star and eventually, well, you know what happens. The one big wrinkle in this otherwise happy journey is when Gloria is seriously injured in a highway accident. But after emergency, and very risky, spinal surgery Gloria is reunited with her mother and all is well.

This engaging production directed by Jerry Mitchell features spectacular choreography by Sergio Trujillo, which is performed with unstinting enthusiasm by the talented ensemble. And one young performer, Kevin Tellez (rotating with Jordan Vergara), is a nonstop dynamo, dancing up a storm in a couple different roles.

As Gloria Estefan, Christie Prades does everything necessary to convey the essence of this woman, who is basically a shy person with a gift she couldn’t hide. She is matched by Mauricio Martinez as Emilio, who exhibits a nice understated manner with his more amusing lines. When their music is accepted with verve in Sweden, Emilio is stunned by all those white people dancing: “It looked like Q-tips bouncing all over!”

More than 25 songs from the Estefan song catalog are trotted out, and the beat never slows since David Rockwell’s scenic design moves tall panels of shuttered windows and other elements around with as much grace as the dancers. With the dialog butted up against compelling orchestrations, there’s a propulsion to the show that keeps it moving even when the story line is not particularly gripping.

At times, the script gives a little too much self-conscious homage to Emilio’s business chops. When he holds out for a multi-million dollar contract for Gloria, a pal tells Emilio, “How do you sit down with balls that size?” And the multitude of encouraging letters that fans sent to Gloria during her long recuperation from the accident, some of which are read out loud, border on the treacly. But most of the time, the script doesn’t intrude and get in the way of the music.

Perhaps the most telling moment in the show is when Emilio references his Latino community and says, “This is what America looks like.” Indeed it does, and that’s one message that still needs to be delivered to one particular house in Washington DC.

On Your Feet
Through December 23 at Playhouse Square, Connor Palace, 1615 Euclid Ave. 216-241-6000,
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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Cleveland Composer's Oratorio Shines Musical Light on Lake Erie Plight

Posted By on Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 3:35 PM

  • Flickr CC
In a new oratorio titled Voice of the Lake, Cleveland composer Margaret Brouwer presents the beauty and the toxic challenges flowing through Lake Erie. It's an exceptionally timely piece.

Brouwer's work was first reported by Great Lakes Today's Elizabeth Miller, and aired on regional public radio stations this week. The composition premiered last month at the Breen Center for the Performing Arts.

At the heart of the oratorio is the drama and reality of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Cleveland Port Authority fighting over how and when the Cuyahoga River should be dredged. (Scene has covered this issue extensively.) There's even a section of Brouwer's work entitled The Public Hearing, which places the audience right in the heart of the debate.

From Brouwer: "The conflict concerns the current toxicity of the lake bottom and whether it is safe to dump the dredged Cuyahoga River bottom into the lake. The choir voices lively opinions."

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The Orchestra Does "Nightmare Before Christmas" and Six More Festive Classical Music Events for the Holidays

Posted By on Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 10:14 AM


Christmas takes over the classical music agenda for the next two weeks. Here’s a selection of concerts that venture outside the usual.

Want to sing Handel’s Messiah without having to join a choir? Trinity Cathedral in downtown Cleveland invites you to join Todd Wilson and Trinity Chamber Orchestra for its annual flash mob-style Messiah Sing on Wednesday, December 13 at noon. Bring a score or borrow one of the Cathedral’s, and be generous with your donation — it pays for the professional orchestra.

Burning River Brass, Cleveland’s first-class brass and percussion ensemble, will pop up for 7:00 pm concerts in several area venues, including Pilgrim Congregational Church in Tremont (Thursday and Friday, December 14 and 15), Painesville United Methodist Church (Tuesday, December 19), and the Church of the Resurrection in Solon (Thursday, December 21). Freewill offerings will be accepted, and Pilgrim will also take in non-perishable food items for local distribution.

Les Délices (or LD), Cleveland’s French Baroque ensemble, will join soprano Amanda Powell for a free concert of off-the-beaten-track seasonal music at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ohio City on Friday, December 15 at 7:00 pm. A sing-along and cider & cookies are included, and a freewill offering benefits the Institute at St. John’s.

Three concerts by Ross Duffin’s Quire Cleveland mark the professional choir’s ninth foray into the Great World Carol Book, this edition including Hanukkah tunes as well as Christmas songs. “Carols of Yore” plays at Trinity Cathedral on Friday, December 15 at 7:30 pm, St. Christopher’s Church in Rocky River on Saturday, December 16 at 7:30 pm, and Historic St. Peter’s Church in downtown Cleveland on Sunday, December 17 at 4:00 pm. You’ll need tickets.

Cleveland Opera Theater is behind a second production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors this season, this one featuring Amber Monroe as the Mother, and Brian Keith Johnson, Timothy Culver, and Cy McFarlin as the three kings. There are performances on Saturday, December 16 at Holy Rosary Church in Little Italy, and on Sunday, December 17 at Old Stone Church in Public Square, both at 7:00 pm. Donations benefit Laura’s Home at the City Mission.

If visions of sugar plums are already beginning to cloy, you might need a dose of Tim Burton’s cult classic film, The Nightmare Before Christmas. The Cleveland Orchestra takes a two-night break from its ten Christmas Concerts to play Danny Elfman’s score live under the direction of its new assistant conductor, Vinay Parameswaran. Watch Halloween Town invade Christmas Town at Severance Hall on Tuesday and Wednesday, December 19 and 20 at 7:30 pm. Buy tickets online.

Finally, welcome 2018 with Carl Topilow and Cleveland Pops Orchestra on December 31 at 9:00 pm at Severance Hall. The concert features vocalist Connor Bogart O’Brien in rock-and-roll classics by Elvis, Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, The Beatles, Frankie Valli, and others. Dancing follows in both the Grand Foyer and in the Smith Lobby until 1:00 am. Book your seats online.

For details of these and other events, visit the Concert Listings page.
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Monday, December 11, 2017

Fantasy Author Neil Gaiman to Appear at the State Theatre in March

Posted By on Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 4:47 PM

  • Courtesy of Playhouse Square
Author of more than 20 books, Neil Gaiman has had a remarkable career. His bestselling contemporary fantasy novels such as Coraline and American Gods have won countless awards. His children’s novel, The Graveyard Book, is the only work to win both the Newbery and Carnegie medals. Gaiman’s Sandman comics, which Stephen King has said “turned graphic novels into art,” earned a number of accolades, including nine Eisner Awards.

Next year, Gaiman will make his first-ever appearance at the State Theatre. He’ll speak at the venue at 8 p.m. on March 9.

Continue reading »

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Thrilling Brahms Brings Audience — and Maestro — to Their Feet at Severance Hall

Posted By on Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 1:19 PM

  • Photo by Steve Riskind

The only thing more predictable than a Mozart rondo is a standing ovation at Severance Hall.

The enthusiastic ovation following Richard Goode’s performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat major, K. 456 was far from trivial, though. The orchestra got off to a bumpy start on Thursday night as strings and woodwinds couldn’t quite agree on a tempo, but then Goode came in with the right tempo and it was perfection from then on.

Right away there was plenty of on-stage “critic bait,” from Goode’s decision to use a score to conductor Mikko Franck leading the orchestra while sitting down. (Franck replaced Christoph von Dohnányi, who the orchestra inexplicably keeps engaging in spite of his persistent cancellations due to failing health.) None of that has anything to do with the music, but it did fuel some inane parlor analysis overheard at intermission.

Goode, who’s best known as a supreme interpreter of Beethoven, projected the Mozart with total clarity in spite of an oddly large string section. Typically a conductor would consider paring down the strings to emulate the more modest proportions of an 18th-century orchestra. While the orchestra was more present than one might hear on a perfectly balanced recording, the musicians came together as perfect accompanists.

Franck led the orchestra with quiet dignity, affection and assurance. The second movement’s ominous repeated-note “knocking” motif was expressively shaped and blossomed with each appearance. The way Goode tapered off his half cadences rather than leaning into them added subtle but effective drama. The second movement’s character shift from minor to major was somewhat incomplete all around; the latter section sounded overly laden. Principal flutist Joshua Smith’s solos in the second movement were incredibly lovely aside from some anticlimactic breaths when sustained notes begged to be carried through.

Goode’s exciting inflections and effortlessly tossed-off arpeggios turned Mozart’s boilerplate rondo into a rousing finish.

A work by former Daniel R. Lewis Fellow Julian Anderson opened the concert. The British composer’s “Incantesimi,” which premiered on this side of the pond almost a year ago, was a dramatic aesthetic shift since Anderson’s work was last heard in Cleveland. Known for taking textural and tonal saturation to almost unimaginable excess, Anderson instead delivers an accessible, delicate and moving piece that’s more thematically cohesive, at least on the surface, than anything else of his I’ve heard. It didn’t quite work as a concert opener, though. Too bad the geriatric management treats new music like a fiber pill to be gotten over with before the meal.

Anderson stands out among living composers as a thoughtful and truly skilled orchestrator. The stage looked atypically bare; there was no cartoonish battery of percussion. Robert Walters’ beautifully elegiac English horn solos bound the piece together like a black silk ribbon. Unfortunately, Walters’ final declaration as the piece came to an abrupt end was partially covered by offstage brass. I’m not sure whether to blame the musicians or the composer, because every chance to hear the English horn is precious.

The evening’s post-intermission masterwork was Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, a piece perfectly suited to the orchestra’s embracing and warm sound. The brass playing was some of the most tasteful I’ve ever heard in a Brahms symphony. (Listen to the Chicago Symphony’s recording of the complete symphonies with Daniel Barenboim to hear the opposite extreme.)

The basses and contrabassoon took full advantage of their moments in the spotlight, and so did the timpani acting as the orchestra’s rich heartbeat. The smart imitative passages among the oboe, clarinet and horn in the first movement showed the musicians’ remarkable ability to individually play off each other while matching style and articulation. The whole orchestra was perfectly synced and made simple work of Brahms’ signature offbeats and playful rhythms.

Principal oboist Frank Rosenwein’s solos were the highlights of the hymn-like second movement. Rosenwein consistently captures the elusive beauty of the oboe’s upper register, and this performance was no exception. Concertmaster William Preucil was disappointingly under pitch during his and Rosenwein’s unison duet, and his darker color was poorly matched to the oboe’s pure tone.

Afendi Yusuf played the third movement’s meandering clarinet solo with simplicity and innocent grace.

The final movement’s unremarkable melody, when combined with Brahms’ genius for development and the Cleveland musicians’ amazing skill, became absolutely transporting. The horn solos were emotionally flat but technically competent. Brahms’ capricious shifts between flurries of scales and lush effusion were intoxicating as they built to a fugue-like fever pitch.

There was one unexpected person standing at the end of the symphony: the maestro himself. After being confined to a chair for the duration of the program, Franck suddenly rose to his feet and cheered the orchestra on to deliver the exultant final chords
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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Departed Co-Director of FRONT: Triennial, Who Left Because of 'Creative Differences,' Suspended by Jewish Museum After Sexual Harassment Allegations

Posted By on Tue, Dec 5, 2017 at 11:22 AM

  • Photo: Robert Adler, courtesy New York Jewish Museum.

News last week that Jens Hoffmann had departed as co-director of FRONT: Triennial, the impending major art exhibition in Cleveland that debuts next year, sent minor shockwaves through the art community. FRONT, after all, is a major undertaking in a crowded landscape, had only recently released its first confirmed projects and participants, and is set to open in July of 2018.

"We've made a change in the artistic leadership of FRONT," said Fred Bidwell, one of the founders and organizers, in a vague statement to the Plain Dealer about the reasons for Hoffmann's departure. "I really don't have a comment on the background of this other than to say that Michelle Grabner has been involved in the project from the very beginning. She's brilliant, beloved and doing a great job, so we'll have no pause or blip in the leadership of the project, or our plans."

Hoffmann, for his part, told Artnet News that the split was over creative differences: "I have decided to withdraw from FRONT to focus on my other projects, such as the 2nd Honolulu Biennial in 2019, my role as chief curator at MOCA Detroit, my work for the Kadist Art Foundation in San Francisco, and a number of other exhibitions taking place over the next years.

"Putting together an exhibition like FRONT, which has so many different museums, off-site venues, and local curators and administrators taking part in the larger curatorial process, all of which need their voices to be heard, is not an easy undertaking.

"As the triennial was evolving, I found that I personally could not identify with the directions it was taking but I am confident that FRONT will be a wonderful experience for visitors and the participating artists. I am very glad to know that Michelle Grabner, who has been a wonderful and inspiring co-artistic director, will carry FRONT over the finish line."

It turns out that might not be the whole story. News broke this week that Hoffmann, a celebrated arts figure who also serves as artistic director of the Honolulu Biennial, senior advisor for KADIST Art Foundation in San Francisco, and who recently took on a new role at MOCA Detroit, was suspended from his position at the Jewish Museum in New York after allegations of sexual harassment.

“A number of Jewish Museum staff members came forward on November 30, 2017, with allegations of sexual harassment by Jens Hoffmann during his tenure at the Museum,” a spokesperson for the Jewish Museum told Artnet News in a statement. “In light of this information, we have suspended all current projects with him while we review the allegations.”

Hoffman's attorney told Artnet News he “flatly denies having sexually harassed anyone ever at the museum. He has no basis for commenting because he’s never been confronted with the allegations.” Hoffmann additionally told the outlet his contract had simply ended on Nov. 30.

As for FRONT, Bidwell told the PD that while this is a minor issue, it's just that — minor.

"I would expect there will be some changes in the lineup of the artists' list, but it will be relatively minor," Bidwell said, noting full confidence in co-director Michelle Grabner. "The scope of the project, the ambition of the project are undiminished. I'm very confident, excited and optimistic about where we're going."
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The Christmas Classic 'Amahl and The Night Visitors' Plus Four More Classical Music Events to Hit This Week

Posted By on Tue, Dec 5, 2017 at 9:35 AM

  • Original 1951 NBC production of Amahl and the Night Visitors

CityMusic Cleveland
welcomes back Stefan Willich, the German physician/conductor who also leads the World Doctors Orchestra, as guest conductor for its five-concert December program, to be performed in Cleveland, Parma, Shaker Heights, and Willoughby Hills from Wednesday, December 6 through Sunday, December 10. Willich will lead the ensemble in Schubert’s Third Symphony and Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante with soloists Miho Hashizume, violin, and Jonathan Bagg, viola. Another returnee to the December festivities, soprano Chabrelle Williams, with be featured in Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. All the performances are free, but the orchestra will appreciate donations. Check our Concert Listings page for venues and times, and read a preview article here.

Mary Queen of Peace Church in Old Brooklyn will host New York Polyphony (Geoffrey Williams, countertenor, Steven Caldicott Wilson, tenor, Christopher Dylan Herbert, baritone, and Craig Phillips, bass) for seven centuries’ worth of Christmas music, including new works composed for the ensemble by Michael McGlynn, Andrew Smith, and John Scott, on Thursday, December 7 at 7:00 pm. A freewill offering will be taken up.

Cleveland Orchestra music director laureate Christoph von Dohnányi has to miss his December dates with the ensemble — he’s recovering from a fall — so Finnish conductor Mikko Franck is stepping in to lead Julian Anderson’s Incantesimi and Brahms’ First Symphony. The concerto du jour, Mozart’s 18th Piano Concerto, will feature the superb Richard Goode. Performances are on Thursday, December 7 at 7:30 pm, and Friday and Saturday, December 8 and 9 at 8:00. Tickets can be ordered online from the Severance Hall Box Office.

Not many operas are “made for television,” but Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and The Night Visitors has become a Christmas classic since its first broadcast in 1951. Anne Wilson directs two performances at Forest Hills Presbyterian Church on Saturday, December 9 at 7:00 pm and Sunday, December 10 at 3:00. The show stars Henry Dyck as young Amahl, Lara Troyer as his mother, Mist’a Craig, Carl Jenks, and Frank Ward as the Three Kings, and Jack Lentz as the page. The church choir appears as the villagers. Performances are free.

Liza Grossman’s Contemporary Youth Orchestra welcomes alumna Sarah Frisof as soloist in Joan Tower’s Flute Concerto for its first concert of the season in CSU’s Waetjen Auditorium on Saturday, December 9 at 7:00 pm. A second soloist, oboist Kate Young — who won the Orchestra’s concerto competition — will take on Ralph Vaughan Williams’ beautifully pastoral Oboe Concerto. The CYO will fill out the program with Mason Bates’ The B-Sides, Clint Needham’s Free Radicals, and Arturo Márquez’s Danzón No. 2. You’ll need tickets for this one and they’re available online.

For details of these and other events, visit the Concert Listings page.
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