Scene in Cleveland: Newsies, Les Miserables, Alton Brown Live!

There’s been a bit of a delay in the posting of my Disney Newsies the Musical response. That’s in part because I had so many other theatrical ventures that week, all of which will be recounted in this “Scene in Cleveland” Omnibus Edition!

NEWSIES

My return to Newsies was a somewhat mystifying experience in that I felt it was a little boring, but everyone around me clearly LOVED IT. As the show started, it was even more lackluster than I remembered when I first saw it on Broadway. Dan DeLuca’s “pre-prise” of “Santa Fe” was somewhat strained and nasal, with an overabundance of pop-influence note-scooping. The staging of “Carrying the Banner” (which, as itsdlevy pointed out, does contain the nuns I said were cut in my Preview piece, but is nevertheless missing Patrick’s mother) was a confusing jumble with more choreography for the sets (three towers of scaffolding that were arranged in a variety of meaningless configurations) than the able-bodied dancers. Harvey Fierstein’s book has been praised for improving upon the somewhat dull original screenplay, but it isn’t a particularly strong piece of writing on its own merits, full of lame jokes and bold declarations of intent, lacking nuance or subtext or credible characters. But the show has notable strengths in its talented male ensemble and the best of its score. There aren’t a lot of shows that feature broadly sung men’s chorales on admirable subjects like Standing Up For Yourself and Working Together. It’s the heroism and braun of Les Miz, but with New Yawk accents and a clearly articulated objective! And dancing! The choreography on “Seize the Day” and “King of New York” were particularly inventive, energetic, and enthusiastic (more so than I remember). “Seize the Day” also benefitted from being led by the productions strongest vocalist, Jacob Kemp’s Davey, who hit the notes squarely, with a pleasant timbre, and a refreshing lack of pop affect. (You many have seen Kemp on Black-ish, where he plays Anthony Anderson’s assistant.) Dan DeLuca, though perhaps overtaxed by the role’s musical demands, was nevertheless a charismatic and winning lead. Stephanie Styles’ reporter/love interest had spunk and a pleasant, bright, belt and ably sold “Watch What Happens”, the strongest addition to the score. But even with the Connor Palace nearly at capacity (2,714 seats, more than twice as many as Newsies‘ former Broadway home), including A LOT of young families and kids, it was the quietest, most attentive audience I’ve seen in Cleveland. I heard no whispers, or coughs, or candy wrappers, or fidgits. I saw no texting or walkouts. So though I can quibble about some of the production’s shortcomings, I cannot deny it’s ability to engage an audience. (The show is apparently selling so well, the only tickets available are single tickets scattered through the theater, which producers are pushing with a curious “Seize Single Seats” promotion that encourages you to show up as a group and then sit alone.)

LES MISERABLES

Actually everyone in the cast.

Actually everyone in the cast.

Great Lakes Theater Company, “Cleveland’s Classic [and they use that term BROADLY] Theater Company”, brought this city it’s first professional local production of Les Miserables (which the cast performed in rep with a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor). The intimate production, which closed yesterday, received good reviews and word-of-mouth-buzz and sold out it’s run. When I bought my ticket, two weeks in advance, my seat was the last one in the house. I’ve never been fanatically interested in Les Miz, but it’s melodic score and epic storytelling merit annual revisits, and Victoria Bussert’s production ably scratched the itch. The small cast was solid and capable. Though the doubling of parts has alway been a part of the Les Miz tradition, it was particularly heightened here (Fantine and Eponine returned to the chorus mere minutes after their respective SPOILER ALERT: deaths), giving the audience a sense a familiarity with even the smallest of ensemble parts. The evening was well paced, and the story telling mostly clear (though I offer a king’s ransom to the production that clearly explains what the hell that revolution is actually about). I don’t necessarily resent the use of a GREATLY reduced orchestra, I do wish I had been done more artfully, with real instruments and without relying on (quite frankly ludicrous) synthesized approximations of swelling strings and other clearly artificial sounds I heard at the Hannah Theater. The standouts in the company were Pedar Benson Bate as a beautifully sung Marius, Tom Ford as Thernardier, Calista Zajac as Young Cosette, and Alex Syiek as Grantaire (which is, I’ve decided, the best part in the show).

ALTON BROWN LIVE!

alton-brown-logoAlton Brown Live! The Incredible Edibles Tour, which made a one-performance stop in Cleveland, is definitely geared towards pre-existing Alton Brown fans (Brownies?), as opposed to the uninitiated. Not that someone who’s never seen Good Eats or Cutthroat Kitchen wouldn’t appreciate it the evening, it’s just that the evening is more about Alton that it is about food. There are two very entertaining and highly theatrical live cooking demonstrations of the “don’t try this at home” variety, and the reaminder of the evening is centered on Brown’s anecdotes and relationship with the audience. And songs! I was deeply disappointed when the house lights came up and the end of each act and could have easily spent another hour. He is absolutely as funny, charming and engaging onstage as he is on the small screen, and the over two hours were the breeziest I’ve ever experienced in a theater.

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