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Friday, December 27, 2013

Annie at The Beck Center for the Arts - Theatre Blog

First of all, you should know I love the musical Annie. It was the first show I ever performed in back in 1998. I was a late bloomer in theatre. My first role was Bert Healy. Not that you needed to know that.
Annie, currently running at the Beck Center is great.

Scott Spence, Martin Cespedes, and Larry Goodpaster have been producing musicals at the Beck Center since 30 B.C.  And the Christmas slot has been a rotation of sure fire musicals to ring in the new year, and ring the cash registers. I think they did a tremendous job with this production. Annie II, the second coming was new and improved and rocked the house.

When people usually think of the young kid playing Annie, it would be easy to think that the song Tomorrow is the one song they have to nail to get the part. But I think the real test is Maybe. It is a tough song with enough emotion to create a flood of hugging your children because you never want to let them go.  Anna Barrett is wonderful in this role. She has such a commanding presence and as my mother used to say "I never thought for a moment that she didn't know what she was doing or singing". You got it right mom. She was a joy to watch and held her own against some pretty impressive performers around her. 

The orphans as a whole were so confident and charged with energy, they should run Hillary's field campaign in 2016. There ability to handle the sharp crisp choreography of the brisk Hard Knock Life was impressive. It is so amazing to watch young actors go for it. This group is completely fearless and obviously Patty Lupone carried them all to term.

Can I just say how cute Buckley is as Sandy. Ok, I think I am done.

Lenne Snively ate the role of  Miss Hannigan for breakfast, lunch and dinner.. What a fantastic portrayal of this nut case of a woman. Vocals that could change Madame Butterfly back into a cocoon. Her character was ramped up from last year and dead on. And I must say my favorite nuance was the head banging on the door. Nice touch.

The solo in N.Y.C. is always an interesting one. It is such a nice feature if someone can nail it. Well not only did Carleigh Spence nail it, she used a nail gun. This young actress grows every time I see her. It is such a thrill to see someone with so much talent and potential for growth, that you want to give her a scholarship at the end of the show and tell her "GO FOR IT!!"

When Rooster and Lily St. Regis come into the scene, the voltage meter takes a sudden spike. Matthew Ryan Thompson was killing me with his performance. Great new character choices. His hips seemed to be made out of bungee cords, and the way he flipped his hair around, I am surprised it didn't knock St. Regis off her hotel balcony.  Complementing that fabulous trainwreck is Molly Huey at Lily St. Regis, a skyscraper of ditz and glitz and vacant floors. Her character was a hoot and a half.

So what happens when you combine Hannigan, Rooster, and Lily together on stage. You get the first "Bring down the house" number, Easy Street. These three tossed a musical staged salad that got lettuce on everyone. It was terrific.

So there is Daddy Warbucks. And then there is Gilgamesh Taggett. I was incredibly impressed with this performance. There was a beautiful mixture of gruff, power, republican aroma which melded into a man with cracks in the armor, which he let us see. His voice has never sounded better and he was able to channel any emotion with deft vocals and the acting chops, that would cause to want to rent a room in the guesthouse just to hear him sing in the shower.

Countering Mr. Warbucks is Grace Farrell played deftly by Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly. I think Grace is a very hard role to perform fulfillingly. If that is a word. But Caitlin created a character that holds up against the rest of the crazy characters around her. She unselfishly makes the others stand out a little more with their uniqueness. If there is an anchor to this production, she made herself one.

Act One flew by. The pacing was just what the doctor ordered for all the kids that were planning there next raid on the concession stand at intermission.

Trey Gilpin was a scream as Bert Healy. I never knew he had so many teeth. He was a hoot and a holler guiding the scene setting up the kick ass second "Bring down the house" number which is the reprise of the orphans singing and dancing Fully Dressed.  They were like musical navy seals that had a mission to accomplish, which was to blow the audience away. And they did just that.

The reprise of Easy Street was highlighted for me by the scene prior to it. I don't think I will ever not laugh when I hear someone say CANADA. Thank you Mr. Thompson for that hilarious quirk.

There is the back to back songs of Something Was Missing and I Don't Need Anything But You. Gilgamesh and Anna developed these numbers into a beautiful bridge that the audience emotionally walked over to grand effect. The magic between these two performances and genuine and lovely.

This show was filled with great characters and wonderful voices. The crowd loved it. And in the end, that is what it is all about. Creating theatre to take us somewhere awesome and leave us feeling better about life, or stimulating conversation where we try to convince each other we know the meaning of life. Bravo

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Godspell at Blank Canvas Theatre - A Reflection Blog.

I was fortunate enough to see the final performance of Godspell at Blank Canvas Theatre this past Saturday.

Blank Canvas seems to be on a theatrical roll of good fortune.  The theatre has developed a great following and luckily seems to be able to bring new audience members in with every production.  A lot of that is word of mouth.  To me, that is an incredible asset to be blessed with and well deserved. And a test of real impact in the community. Because face it, theatre people can be bitchy.

At first when you see Godspell promoted as a production, I think there may be a involuntary reaction of  "Oh Really? Another production of Godspell?! OH, i can't wait!". But this production has something to offer. First, it is the revival script. And second, the unique vision of Patrick Ciamacco (Director/Artistic Director/Founder).  The creative slant on this production is apparent right away as we see a young girl getting ready for bed. In her dreamland, the story unfolds with characters coming out of everywhere like when Ace Ventura calls his pets to come out of hiding after getting rid of the Landlord in Ace Ventura, Pet Detective.  Each character establishes his or her own identity with multiple accents throughout the musical with hilarious effect. A great indicator of how a show is entertaining for me is if i am checking my watch, or looking at my program ticking off the musical numbers like a countdown. But here, the acts went smoothly with vivacious energy and just little pockets of "get a move on", but not enough to slow the fun or deter the entertainment. The edited version of this show helped move the piece along and provide a beautiful segway to the emotional ending. I read the book, so at least i knew what was coming.

The man, literally, who is the ballast for the evening is Jesus, played with simplistic and charming effect by Noah Hrbek. The quality of his voice made it clear how folks could be caught up in his lessons of humanity and religious purpose. It was a vulnerable performance that generated every mood needed to take the audience on course.  It was a tremendous pleasure to see Shane Patrick O'Neill on stage again. He has a tremendous voice and stage presence. Lucky for Cleveland he is back in town and ready to rumble the boards. Leslie Andrews is a musical tractor pull of fun. Carol Burnett comedic chops and vocals that could set off a fire alarm. Eric Thomas Fancher is the king of one liners. Delivered with a dead pan accuracy, and as I like to call it "A comedic fade away jumper". It takes a few seconds, and then you are laughing your ass off. With strong vocals to boot, Captain Kirk would have been proud. His hair needed to take a curtain call. Newcomer Kristin Hoffman was serving some fresh vocal realness. She is a welcome addition to the Cleveland stage. Her duet with Kate Leigh Michalski was absolutely beautiful. Speaking of Kate, she is one musical medic kit waiting to happen. Soaring vocals pierce through the evening and also blend with heartbreaking result as in By My Side with Kristin. Kirk Lydell is a lion voiced belter who handles All Good Gifts with deft ability. He bounced around that stage like it was the day before crossing the Serengeti. Heyden Neidhardt was one of the evenings best surprises. Her voice is strong and carries with it a truth that singers dream about achieving.  Isreal Spain balances out the evening as Judas. He served the production well in providing vocals which prepared us the mood for the entire evening, which was "this is going to be good".

Congrats to the Band for generating music that uplifted the production and took the musical numbers along with them.

Patrick Ciamacco should be applauded for having a unique vision of the show. The crowd enjoyed it and there is nothing better then hearing laughter in my book. His vision remains intact for providing a fresh approach to the Cleveland theatre scene.

Director: Patrick Ciamacco
Music Director: Lawrence Wallace
Costume Design: Luke Scattergood
Lighting Design: Cory Molner
Scenic Painting: Noah Hrbek
 Choreographer: Pierre Jacques-Brault