Paul Gurgol, Director


My Fair Lady
Beck Center For The Arts 2010
Beck Center My Fair Lady production photo
My Fair Lady
a "loverly" evening at Beck Center

Charming, elegant and proper - everything that My Fair Lady should be. The Beck Center for the Arts' production of My Fair Lady is all of these things. With book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Frederick Loewe, and direction by Paul Gurgol, the adapted version of George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion has stood the test of time.

First produced on Broadway in 1956, this musical theater classic has been produced in London, become a popular film, and has enjoyed multiple remounts and revivals throughout the decades. The story puts Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle (played by Valerie Reaper) in the middle of a bet between phonetics professor Henry Higgins (played by Bob Russell) and linguist Colonel Pickering (played by Dana Hart). Higgins bets he can take the unpolished, foul-mouthed Doolittle and turn her into a lady in 6 months time - and so the games begin.

My Fair Lady features many familiar musical theater pieces that are both well-known and catchy. "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" and "I Could Have Danced All Night" feature Reaper's lovely soprano voice and charm. "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face" is performed by Russell with the appropriate frustration and longing associated with the tune. "The Rain In Spain" is a joyous celebration of triumph. Benjamin Czarnota is a captivating Freddy, belting out "On the Street Where You Live" with all the joy and hope in his heart. Finally, the "Get Me to the Church On Time" number featuring Eliza's father Alfred (played by George Roth) is amusing and playful. It features a surprise bit of garbage can lid choreography, capped off by acrobatics and some group hand jive. Also a treat to the ears twice in the production - the Cockney Quartet blends beautifully and has the confidence of a professional barbershop quartet. It is also nice to see (sort of) the orchestra, as they are on stage behind a scrim in silhouette for the entire performance.

All in all the show is a politely delightful evening. Be sure to block off a chunk of time, though. Although a bit lengthy, the time is well-spent. Kudos to director Paul Gurgol for smart staging, scenic designer Russ Borski for an interesting two-tiered set, costume designer Sarah Russell, lighting designer Trad A. Burns, and finally sound designer extraordinaire Richard B. Ingraham.

Kate (Klotzbach) Miller, Cleveland Performing Arts Examiner, September 2010
Beck Center's delectable "My Fair Lady"
'Fair'-ing well

"My Fair Lady," a paragon of golden-era Broadway musicals, poses challenges to cow the biggest theater. But thanks to magical touches from director Paul Gurgol, musical director Larry Goodpaster, lighting designer Trad A Burns and several tasty performances, the Beck's surprisingly entertaining production has no apologies to make.

The 1956 Lerner and Loewe musical is special for its indelible score ("Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" "With a Little Bit of Luck," "The Rain in Spain," "On the Street Where You Live"), and also for its book, or dialogue.

To hear it fresh now, when a book -- if there is one -- consists of "Oh, I love you" between musical numbers, is to relive a time when musical plays were exactly that.

It doesn't hurt that the book is almost word for word from its source material, George Bernard Shaw's 1912 "Pygmalion," a Shavian retelling of a myth about a sculptor who carves a woman of ivory and falls in love with it.

The sculptor here is Henry Higgins, a London grammarian and elocutionist who fashions a princess out of a flower girl named Eliza Doolittle.

Joining him in the confirmed-bachelor camp are fellow phonetician Col. Pickering and common dustman/moralizer Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's gin-preserved paterfamilias.

Gurgol's straightforward take is a delight. The performances are the chief delectation.

Bob Russell is a fascinating, against-type 'Iggins, a roly-poly mama's boy, a spoilt and petulant brat, a swollen and pompous ne'er-do-well whose few charms are not for all markets, even a flower girl's. This is Higgins by way of Max Bialystock.

Rougishly mutton-chopped Dana Hart turns on all his considerable charms and attic wit as Pickering. And Cleveland stalwart George Roth brings a welcome touch of delicacy to the often too-broadly-played Alfie.

At the center of this stag triangle stands the lissome, blond and golden-throated Valerie Reaper. It is no stretch that Reaper -- still a college senior -- can move Higgins to grow accustomed to her face. And all of her.

Gurgol adds a dimension or two, including a suffragette march in Eliza's "Show Me."

Enjoy the three hours for their musical-theater gold. You'll find yourself wishing you could have listened all night.

Tony Brown, The Plain Dealer, September 2010
Beck Center gives "My Fair Lady"
a few fun twists

"My Fair Lady," a production of which is running at the Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood, has quite a pedigree.

Paul Gurgol understands and appreciates "My Fair Lady's" literary heritage, and is not the kind of fellow to direct just another production of this now iconic work. In his Beck Center rendition, he calls attention to the play's Shaw-manship.

Some innovations are small. The show opens with a statue coming to life - a nice, albeit highly obscure homage to the work that inspired Shaw's play. In "Metamorphoses," written by ancient Greek poet Ovid, a sculptor named Pygmalion falls in love with an ivory statue he has made. She comes to life and they marry.

Some innovations are more substantial. The huge ensemble typically assembled in productions of this grand musical has been limited to nine individuals, several of whom also play small character roles. By reducing the scale of the typically big production numbers, the story and its wordplay are accentuated.

The show closes with another obscure twist concerning Eliza's fate after Higgins has achieved his goals. The script calls for the two to come together at the end. The Beck rendition implies a potentially different ending, based on the Afterward written by Shaw upon the publication of his play.

Gurgol's vision is delivered very effectively by performers capable of developing rich and interesting characters to sustain the story line and not just deliver the show's songs.

Bob Russell has turned the stiff, erudite and fairly one-dimensional Higgins from stage and screen into a round, pampered and petulant man-child in this production. Gone is Higgins' charm, replaced by playfulness. Gone is the sexual tension between Higgins and Eliza; only the tension remains. These are intriguing trade-offs.

Higgins' lack of charm is more than made up for in Dana Hart's enchanting rendering of Pickering. He is the perfect playmate for Russell's Higgins - the voice of what is proper but a pliable and willing accomplice in what is not. Charming is not as easy to play as it would seem, and Hart is wonderful.

Veteran actor George Roth dons the tattered wardrobe of Alfred Doolittle, Eliza's ne'er-do-well father, and does so in fine fashion. Roth's very presence on stage and the warmth he exudes improves the show's climate and showcases the richness that can be found in Shaw's words.

Of course, at the end of the day, "My Fair Lady" is a classic American musical and not just a Shaw play with songs inserted.

The songs are brilliant, comprised of the irresistibly hummable music by Fredrick Loewe and memorable lyrics by Alan Lerner. Rather than interrupt the play's cleverly conceived conversation and its linguistic rhythms, the music and lyrics are intended to be a natural and harmonious extension of the conversation. Musical Director Larry Goodpaster and his orchestra deliver Lerner and Loewe's songs with the sumptuousness they deserve.

Most of the best songs, including "I Could Have Danced All Night," belong to Eliza, performed to perfection by Valerie Reaper. Establishing herself as an ideal ingenue with a pure soprano in her portrayal of Johanna in "Sweeney Todd" at Cain Park, Reaper has added gumption and spirit to her repertoire. Hers is a joyful performance that is a pleasure to watch.

True to the work's heritage, Beck Center's version of "My Fair Lady" is delightful. With its Shaw-centric sensibilities, audiences will be thinking as they head for the parking lot and not just humming the show tunes. This is an atypical but welcome exit strategy for a classic piece of American musical theater.

Bob Abelman, New Herald, Friday, September 24, 2010
Sweeney Todd
Cain Park 2010
Cain Park Sweeney Todd production photo
Sweeney Todd Makes The Cut
At Cain Park

If you only see ONE theater production in Cleveland this summer, see Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at Cain Park! Running through June 27th, 2010 in the Alma Theater, this production features smart staging, awesome effects, and a cast that will blow you away.

While this production is directed by Paul Gurgol and musical direction by Jodie Ricci, Sweeney originally opened on Broadway in 1979 and ran for 557 performances. This musical thriller, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, follows title character Sweeney Todd on a journey of revenge against the people who destroyed his life.

After being sent away for a crime he did not commit, Benjamin Barker returns to the city of London and takes the name of Sweeney Todd (played by Benjamin Czarnota). While plotting against corrupt Judge Turpin (Nick Koesters) and The Beadle (Bob Russell), he sets up a barber shop to hatch his plan above the pie shop of Mrs. Lovett (Patty Lohr), and the city starts to bleed. Unintentionally weaved into the plan are Sweeney's long-lost daughter Johanna (Valerie Reaper), his former shipmate and friend Anthony (Chris McCarrell), a young pie shop assistant named Toby (Max Joseph), and a mysterious Beggar Woman (Amiee Collier). And how does Sweeney's barber chair make the pie shop more profitable in all of this? Let's just say the answer may be deliciously hard for the audience to swallow!

The music of Sondheim is not easy, but the cast powers through it with confidence and passion. "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" is sung so fully and rich that the opening number will give you goose bumps. Benjamin Czarnota is a frightful and compelling Sweeney Todd, soaring through each number - "My Friends" and the duet "Pretty Women" with Judge Turpin (Koesters) were especially memorable. Patty Lohr's versions of "Wait" and "By the Sea" are quirky and on-character. Both Chris McCarrell and Valerie Reaper hit their marks as young lovers in their charming rendition of "Kiss Me". And although the character of Pirelli is not one of my favorites, I was both surprised and delighted by John Paul Boukis' performance of "The Contest". All cast members (whether principle or ensemble) shined vocally. This is truly a talented group.

The production staff did a great job with all technical aspects of the show. Costume designer Terry Pieritz, dialect coach Beth McGee, set/lighting designer Russ Borski, and sound designer Richard Ingraham all took us to London and kept us in the magic of the show.

Cain Park's production of Sweeney Todd is definitely a "cut" above.

Kate Mill, Cleveland Performing Arts Examiner, June 13, 2010
Cain Park's 'Sweeney Todd' scores big
as entire cast leaves everything on stage

Cain Park's production of the musical, "Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street," is a complex, dark undertaking. The show's musical dissonance and quick word streams punctuate the stomach-turning, intense, adult subject matter. But every piece is in place and "Sweeney Todd" is an exceptionally strong show.

Sweeney Todd (Benjamin Czarnota) has a roof-shaking voice, an amazing vocal power that he controls masterfully. Lohr infuses her pie-selling widow with practicality, honesty and charity while also serving as the major comic relief in a show filled with grisly crimes. Her wonderful series of jokes about the way humans of different professions taste in "A Little Priest" lightens the show.

Johanna (Valerie Reaper) has an enchanting voice as she sings, "If I cannot fly, let me sing" while waiting to escape the judge's clutches. She beams, even while caged like Rapunzel at her balcony. Her ardent suitor, Anthony Hope (Chris McCarrell), woos her from the moment he sees her.

The ensemble shows its vocal chops, especially in the "Wigmaker Sequence," a difficult piece to master. Every last prostitute, thief and street urchin in Cain Park's "Sweeney Todd" leaves it all on stage at the end of the night. Notable performances also include John Paul Boukis as the campy shyster Pirelli, Koesters' creepy hypocrite judge and versatile Aimee Collier as the mad Beggar Woman.

Russ Borski, the artistic director, scenic and lighting designer, matches the gritty, bleak world of the script with an equally stark, black set featuring steam grates, two levels and five windows showing silhouettes of the characters behind. The two levels are dictated by the locations of the shops in the script, and by themes, such as the haves and the have-nots, and the theme of rising against injustice.

Ample stage space allows Director Paul Gurgol to showcase the actors in a variety of scenes, from subtle humor to deep personal pain with intense singing and emotions concentrated in their faces, with intricately choreographed movements.

The show is both intense and subtle in this wonderful incarnation.

Marjorie Preston, Sun News, July 9, 2010
Madness, mayhem, murkiness
in "Sweeney Todd"

From the opening frenzied moments of "Sweeney Todd" until its bloody, fiery ending, director Paul Gurgol's compelling production of Stephen Sondheim's 1979 musical strongly suggests a world teetering on the edge of madness. The story of an avenging, murderous barber is not only Sweeney's personal vendetta, but a sweeping indictment of a corrupt and unjust society in which Sweeney is as much victim as perpetrator.

Sondheim's demanding score makes this Grand Guignol operatic masterpiece fiendishly difficult to pull off. Such is the power of Gurgol's interpretation, which corrals the audience for almost three hours, yet never loses its grip in this superb production.

A perfectly chosen cast, hypnotic staging and wondrous stagecraft, coupled with Sondheim's ravishing music and biting lyrics, make this a not-to-be missed theatrical event of the season.

The star of the show, of course, is Sondheim's magnificent score, from Gregorian chants and dissonant ballads to melodic love songs and ingenious wordplay. The brilliant music and lyrics, for which Sondheim won a Tony, gets its tuneful due from music director Jodie Ricci and orchestra.

Russ Borski's tiered setting of Mrs. Lovett's pie shop, Sweeney's barbershop, and other domiciles keeps the action flowing seamlessly. Borski's lighting alternately bathes the stage in smoky gray or blood-soaked hues of red. Richard Ingraham's musical interludes heighten the Gothic melodrama. Terry Pieritz's costumes personify the disparity between the haves and the have-nots.

In the dynamite opening titular ballad, the well-honed ensemble, which serve as a Greek chorus, first appear as lunatics in an asylum, setting the stage for the grisly story that follows. Their running narrative is visually enhanced by characters simultaneously miming the action in silhouette throughout the show. It's a clever touch.

Benjamin Czarnota is brilliant as the haunted, half-crazed Sweeney Todd, whose fixed stare and cold, lifeless eyes suggest a man possessed by demons. Czarnota's operatic training and experience lift his tormented character and the musical to unparalleled heights. No less captivating is New York actress Patty Lohr (a Baldwin-Wallace music theater graduate) as the amoral, love-starved Mrs. Lovett, with a hopeful eye on more than her baking.

"A Little Priest," the priceless comedic duet between Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett, is an hilariously satiric number in which the entrepreneurial shop owner conjures a recipe for meat pies, using lawyers, the clergy and especially politicians as choice ingredients. The salty lyrics about "who gets eaten" and "who gets eat" is a sardonic commentary on our own time.

Tenor Chris McCarrell and beautiful soprano Valerie Reaper are perfectly matched as the young lovers Anthony Hope and Johanna, Sweeney's daughter and the evil Judge's captive ward. Anthony's love song "Johanna" and their love duet "Kiss Me" are vocal highlights.

Versatile Nick Koesters is suitably malevolent as the depraved Judge Turpin, who lusts after his young charge. Oily Bob Russell is excellent as the Judge's slimy henchman, The Beadle. John Paul Boukis is flamboyant and a bit ridiculous as the pseudo-Italian barber and Irish charlatan Signor Pirelli. Max Joseph plays Pirelli's hapless apprentice Tobias Ragg, who finds a mother figure in Mrs. Lovett. A crazed Aimee Collier is perfect as the demented Beggar Woman with a mysterious past.

Fran Heller, Cleveland Jewish News, June 18, 2010
Fiddler On The Roof
Beck Center For The Arts 2009
Fiddler On The Roof production photo
Beck Center's 'Fiddler'
keeps the tradition fresh

By some curious alignment of Broadway stars, the theater gods have called for fiddlers three to visit Northeast Ohio within the space of a year.

Over the summer at the College of Wooster, Ohio Light Opera performed 'Fiddler on the Roof,' which will come to Playhouse Square in June in a tour version starring Chaim Topol, Tevye of the 1971 film. Between the other 'Fiddlers,' a production has arrived at the Beck Center in Lakewood that knows how to keep a classic fresh.

Never mind that we hardly need another incarnation of the beloved 1964 musical. As staged with fluent charm by Paul Gurgol, former artistic director of Kalliope Stage, the production finds a fine balance between the humor, poignancy and tension that makes 'Fiddler' one of the summits of musical theater.

For their sojourn into 'Fiddler' land, Gurgol and choreographer Lisa Lock decided to pay respects to Jerome Robbins' original staging without rendering a carbon copy. In 'Matchmaker,' the three oldest daughters are joined by the two youngest, who emerge from their bath to help fill out the lilting waltz. It is an entrancing variation on the theme.

Gurgol adds a pinch of sweetness to 'Do You Love Me?' As Teyve and Golde realize they indeed have more than a little affection for one another, the dairyman gives his wife a tender nudge.

Gurgol hits the right emotional notes and Lock preserves the flavor of Robbins' savory dances, while adding energetic details of her own. (The choreographer, in lavish beard, also appears as the fiddler.)

Russ Borski's flowing sets, with flowers and trees in frequent motion, and Trad A Burns' discerning lighting provide poetic views of the village of Anatekva. The atmospheres in 'Sabbath Prayer' and 'The Dream' are particularly effective as staged partly behind a scrim.

No 'Fiddler' can hope to thrive without a Tevye who inhabits this Everyman's generous, expansive soul. Beck Center is lucky to have George Roth to convey Tevye's conflicts with tradition in a seamless blend of wit, rage and compassion. He receives vibrant assistance from Adina Bloom, a Golde abounding in good cheer and never-say-die spirit.

The three oldest daughters are captivating and forceful as played by Morgan Greene (Tzeitel), Patricia O'Toole (Hodel) and Dani Apple (Chava), and their suitor-husbands register strongly in the performances of Tim Allen (Motel), Kyle Downing (Perchik) and Andy Weyenberg (Fyedka).

By the time the Jewish residents of Anatevka go their various ways, the Beck Center production has reminded us that a familiar work can be potent no matter how often we enter its world. This 'Fiddler' achieves impact with endearing integrity.

Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer, September 21, 2009
Ode to Oy

A half-century ago, a fierce Broadway prophet named Jerome Robbins bestowed three sacred musicals upon the earth: 'West Side Story,' 'Gypsy' and 'Fiddler on the Roof'. The shows were so perfectly conceived and constructed that any significant tampering could lead to sacrilege.

Beck Center has been wise not to perpetrate any blasphemies with its season-opening production of Fiddler. Director Paul Gurgol and choreographer Lisa Lock have faithfully preserved the original's warmth and humanity.

No signs of rigor mortis here, just lovely little touches and emotional honesty that keep the work's heart beating. As Teyve and Golde, George Roth and Adina Bloom - like the production - have gone for truth rather than shtick.

Keith Joseph, Scene Magazine, September 24, 2009
Dear World
Kalliope Stage 2007
Dear World production photo
A Rare Madness
A Musical Pinnacle With 'Dear World'

Is there any musical comedy composer safer to take your mother to than Jerry Herman? She'll get all the tunes on the first hearing. None of that Sondheim, pseudo-Stravinsky cacophany to mar Mom's joy. Herman's music is a delirious frosting that turns his source material into a gourmet dessert.

In 1969, after Dolly and Mame had conquered the universe, the composer tried to use his patented jubilance on Jean Giraudoux's 1944 farce, "The Madwoman of Chaillot." The resulting "Dear World" was in the long line of works with a lunatic as savior which hold the belief that only the certifiably insane have the wisdom to overcome the establishment.

The original production was intended by Herman to be a chamber work. But inevitably it ended up with too many feathers and too many chorus boys and sopranos belting out the title tune, causing the show to collapse under its own weight. Fortunately, the superb original cast album kept the musical alive in the hearts of Broadway aficianados.

As with man tanked Broadway pachyderms, there followed major reconstructive surgery. Herman revamped the score, adding and subtracting numbers, and playwright David Thompson made the book more user-friendly, rendering the show more appropriate for regional theaters and allowing Kalliope Stage the opportunity to give us the ideal production it's been striving toward for five years.

This is where all the theater's virtues come to the forefront: The postage-stamp-size intimacy of the stage that obviates the need for amplified voices; the company's propensity for successfully mixing local and New York talent; the canny miniaturization of large-scale works blended with director Paul Gurgol's stylish attention to movement and detail. This parable of a crazy-as-a-fox countess fending off the machinations of a group of greedy capitalists in an effort to save her café and all of Paris from being turned into a giant oil well requires a kind of Chaplinesque delicacy to bring off. And happily, there's not a false note in Kalliope's pitch-perfect ensemble.

As the countess, Liz Rubino is a gift from the theatrical gods. Tall and unwieldly, she emits a brassy insanity worthy of Merman. This is additionally one of those rare productions where the hero (Jared Sampson) is as handsome as called for, the heroine (Jodi Brinkman) as winsome as she strives to be, and all the fellow lunatics (Juliette Regnier, Marla Berg), indigents (John Paul Boukis, Omri Schein) and villains (Jeff Haffner, Frederick Hamilton, Killeen Vogel) as comically vivid as need be.

It all culminates in musical theater as it should be - and so rarely is.

Keith Joseph, Free Times, October 3, 2007
Gushing With Talent
A Cast Of Future Stars Makes A Plundering-For-Oil Play Shine

You might truly believe that all corporations are devil's spawn. Hell, you might be right. But that doesn't mean they can't be the centerpiece of a warm and sweet musical. Kalliope Stage's "Dear World," with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman ("Hello, Dolly!," "Mame"), features some lovely, cabaret-style songs. But it's the wonderful Kalliope cast, under the direction of Paul F. Gurgol, that turns this rather haphazard material into an evening jammed with memorable moments.

While the book adaptation by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee is serviceable, it's Herman's music that catches a surprisingly intriguing vibe floating somewhere between rage (against the corporate cretins) and tender idealism.

When the Sewerman sings of his love for the way it used to be, in "Pretty Garbage," the effect is almost magical: "There was a time when garbage was a pleasure . . . the world was all ginger and lime . . . the rustle of silk, purple, and puce." This piece is aided immensely by the performance of Omri Schein, a diminutive actor with towering comic talent who has stage presence to burn, as Sewerman. If anyone is wondering where the next Nathan Lane may come from -- well, here he is.

Also outstanding are Juliette Regnier and Marla Berg, who play Constance and Gabrielle, The Kewpie-doll-lipped Berg is hilarious as she snuggles and chides her invisible dog Dickie, while Regnier smolders comically. Another standout is John Paul Boukis as the Prospector, his face and body twisted in a permanent scowl. He looks like Margaret Hamilton in a bowler hat.

Liz Rubino, as Aurelia, sings her part with professional grace. And her "Tea Party Trio" with Constance and Gabrielle, wherein each woman sings different lyrics to the same melody, is a flat-out showstopper.

Handsome to look at (thanks to Russ Borski's detailed costumes and sets) and beautifully sung, this is another gem to add to Kalliope's long list of remarkable productions.

Christine Howey, Scene Magazine, October 10, 2007
'Dear World' is brilliantly mad

Kalliope Stage has kick-started its new season in grand fashion. "Dear World" is a blast.

This musical comedy is based on the play "The Madwoman of Chaillot," by Jean Giraudoux, a satirical farce conceived during the German occupation of France in World War II. It takes place in Paris and centers around an eccentric proprietress of a quaint café, the Countess Auralia. With the help of her adoring employees and a handful of colorful locals, she saves the city from being exploited and laid to ruin by ruthless industrialists.

In the original play, the countess is largely dismissed as a crazy old woman. In this adaptation, her eccentricities are completely embraced by those around her. In fact, her eccentricities become the force that propels the story. We discover that only unflinching optimism, bold perseverance, true love and imagination bordering on lunacy can counterbalance and eventually conquer life's harsh realities.

The music and lyrics are by Jerry Herman, of "Hello Dolly" and "La Cage aux Folles" fame. As a result, this show is a strange yet wonderful cross between the brassy "Mame," with its show-stopping numbers and strong female lead, and the askew escapades and bizarre supporting characters of "Alice in Wonderland."

On Broadway in the 1960's, "Dear World" emphasized the brassy. It was woefully over-produced and extremely short-lived. In the very capable hands of Kalliope artistic director Paul F. Gurgol this show offers an abundant cache of lunacy that is nothing but delightful.

Mr. Gurgol has a keen eye for the absurd and is willing to go the extra mile to emphasize the fantasy that permeates his tale. He does this by combining Kalliope regulars with imports from New York to find a core of clever performers capable of populating this play with rich, textured and fully developed characters. There is not a weak link in this cast or an anemic moment in their performances.

Liz Rubino is an enchanting countess. She has a commanding stage presence and a lofty Mary Poppins-esque manner that allows the fantasy world she inhabits to appear normal and inviting. Juliette Regnier and Marla Berg, as fellow madwomen Constance and Gabrielle, could easily steal the show with their antics, if not for the equally superb performances of their fellow players. In particular, Omri Schein, as the sewer man, John Paul Boukis, as the prospector, and Dash Combs, as the mute, are masterful and an absolute pleasure to watch.

Not to be outdone, Jeff Haffner, Frederick Hamilton and Killeen Vogel's depictions of the evil industrialists are brilliant and wonderfully over the top. Jodi Brinkman, as the waitress, Jared Sampson as her love interest, Rick Montgomery as the sergeant, and Philippe Pierce, as the waiter, add layers of charm and harmony to this production.

Mr. Gurgol's vision is nicely complemented by the creative set and costumes by Russ Borski. The costuming for the three madwomen is particularly noteworthy. The peculiar layering and over-accessorizing gives definition to these characters' respective eccentricities and accentuates the sheer absurdity of their self-perceptions and distorted world views.

"Dear World" is a unique show that is very rarely done as well as the current offering at Kalliope Stage.

Bob Abelman, Chagrin Valley Times, October 2007
A Little Night Music
Opera Cleveland 2007
A Little Night Music production poster
Little Music's Big Night
Opera Cleveland's Stand-Out Outing

Paul Gurgol last directed "A Little Night Music" a couple of years ago at his home base Kalliope Stage. Aided by conductor Betsy Burleigh's vigorous command of the score's strengths, set designer Erhard Rom's stylishly minimalist zigzagging paneled walls and French windows, and the muted harmonies of Kim Brown's costumes - and particularly a company rife with solid acting and superior voices - Gurgol has perpetrated what may well be the premier realization of this much-produced 1973 show seen in these parts in decades.

The director has wisely brought along from his Kalliope staging a pair of stalwarts in Kathleen Huber, whose imperious dignity and innate sophistication as the matriarchal courtesan are even more seductive this go-round; and Marla Berg, whose Deisirée is once more entirely desirable.

As the midlife-afflicted lawyer, Kenneth Derby is a persuasive blend of wimpy manliness and confused concupiscence; the angelically voiced bride of Erin Stewart intriguingly sports a deceptively matching demeanor; Phillipe Pierce resoundingly renders the seminarian's post-pubescent anxieties.

If this outing genuinely exemplifies the requisite level of the Broadway-show component in Opera Cleveland's projected cocktail mix of classic and pop operas -- bartender, you can make mine a double.

James Damico, Free Times, August 2007
Cleveland Opera's production of 'A Little Night Music' has high style

Transforming foreign films into Broadway musicals would appear to be risky business, but three durable examples have been in our midst this summer: "Sweet Charity" (based on Federico Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria") at Porthouse Theatre was followed by "Nine" (Fellini's "8½") at Cain Park. Now comes "A Little Night Music," which has roots in the late Ingmar Berman's "Smiles of a Summer Night." The elegant Opera Cleveland production, at the Cleveland Play House's Bolton Theatre through Sunday, reveals the genius of composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim and book writer Hugh Wheeler (mentioned nowhere in the program) to mix bits of Bergman with dashes of Mozart, Moliere, Ravel and friends.

What is most striking about "A Little Night Music" is how deftly it walks the trapeze between opera, operetta and musical theater. Some roles require trained singers and others legitimate-theater voices (which might mean no singing ability at all). Yet everyone must really act to draw an audience into this farce of amorous musical chairs.

Opera Cleveland does a lovely job of establishing characters within fashionable and sylvan atmospheres. Erhard Rom's sets of movable panels, hanging foliage and blazing sun enhance the frolicsome activities, whie Kim Brown's colorful costumes and Benjamin Pearcy's subtle lighting add crucial shadings.

Sondheim's swirling score and Wheeler's crisp book need sensitive champions for the bittersweet enchantment to click. Paul Gurgol has staged the show with a keen eye for gesture and timing. At his Kalliope Stage in Cleveland Heights, Gurgol does resourceful work in a space not much bigger than a small bedroom. He must have felt liberated sending the clowns about the more spacious Bolton.

Betsy Burleigh conducts with lilt and resiliency, and Michael Medcalf's choreography allows a group of dancers, including Medcalf and Lisa Lock, to do their vibrant thing.

The sound system sometimes plays tinny tricks on voices, including those of the winning lieder quintet. But the cast largely savors Sondheim's brilliant and winsome gems. Marla Berg is a glowing presence as the actress Desirée, full of spunk, compassion and enough smarts to deliver "Send in the Clowns" without a hint of operatic grandeur.

As Fredrik, Kenneth Derby nabs the lawyer's light-hearted responses to marital frustration and infidelity. Kathleen Huber makes a thespian feast of world-weary Madame Armfeldt, especially during her hookah-smoking rendition of "Liaisons."

You can't help but love Meghan Moroney's languid bite and susceptibility as Charlotte or the dimwitted swagger of Christopher Vettel as Count Malcolm, her philandering prig of a husband. Erin Stewart shines as the virginal Anne; Philippe Pierce smolders - and displays a healthy tenor - as the repressed Henrik; and vivacious Jodi Brinkman is a randy Petra who sings "The Miller's Son" in front of a napping, naked Frid (Justin Tatum).

This is a "Night Music" with high style.

Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer, Monday, August 13, 2007
'A Little Night Music' @ Cleveland Play House 8/10

It was all (bitter) sweetness and light at Opera Cleveland's "A Little Night Music." The smart Stephen Sondheim score sounded like, well, Sondheim--talky and witty. Partners, married or otherwise, changed (sometimes this meant finding a new love; sometimes merely adjusting the balance of power). It was all very Swedish and sophisticated, especially the second act which took place during a summer weekend in the country that involved picnics, running about under the trees, and what seemed to be full male nudity.

Director Paul Gurgol set the large and nicely balanced cast on a leisurely pace. Fredrika Armfeldt (played by Lucy Anders) and Madame Armfeldt (Kathleen Huber) held the story together as a granddaughter and grandmother who were both much wiser than anyone else. Marla Berg (as actress Desirée Armfeldt) sang the well-known "Send in the Clowns" as if she meant it (and she gets points for competing with well-known versions by Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and the like bouncing around in listeners' ears). Near the end of the second act Jodi Brinkman as Petra the maid summed up Sondheim's "carpe diem" theme with a wryly humorous "The Miller's Son." A smartly dressed and voiced chorus introduced the action and commented on it. The dancers, choreographed by Michael Medcalf were (as usual) splendid.

Erhard Rom's set was simple, but gorgeous. Lit by a never-setting peach-tinted sun and (often) draped with leaves and vines hanging beguilingly from the ceiling, it was enchanting eye candy--best yet for Opera Cleveland. Betsy Burleigh conducted an outstanding ensemble of musicians outstandingly (but of course). The house was full; the audience seemed delighted with this very romantic night music.

Laura Kennelly, Cool Cleveland, August 2007
'A Little Night Music' @ Cleveland Play House 8/12

At some point in the future, Cleveland audiences may well look back at Opera Cleveland's production of "A Little Night Music" as the new oopera company's 'coming-of-age' party. And what a splendid, stylish and sophisticated party it is, too! Everything works here, just as it should, from beginning to end. Perhaps by design, this is largely a Cleveland production: director Paul Gurgol, conductor Betsy Burleigh, choreographer Michael Medcalf, sound designer James C. Swonger, plus newcomer Mary Schilling-Martin who did the wig and hair design, all claim Cleveland as home. In addition, soprano Marla Berg (Desirée) is a faculty member at CIM. Several of the singers have appeared here previously, and the dancers are mostly local as well. It's neat to have so many local people involved in a production of this sort.

Stephen Sondheim wrote music and lyrics to the story from Ingmar Bergman's film "Smiles of a Summer Night," with a book by Hugh Wheeler. It takes place in Sweden around the turn of the 20th century. It's a very wry look at the foibles of love-in all its guises. Fredrik Egerman (Kenneth Derby), a man in his forties has a second wife, Anne (Erin Stewart), who is just 18. The 11-month long marriage has yet to be consummated. She is younger than his son, Henrik (Philippe Pierce). Years before, Fredrik had a romance with a famous actress Desirée Armfeldt (Marla Berg), which resulted in the birth of their daughter, Fredrika, of whom Fredrik is unaware.

Desirée's mother, Madame (Kathleen Huber), was a noted courtesan in her day, and is now raising her granddaughter at her country estate, freeing the actress for more liaisons. But still Desirée thinks of Fredrik, as he dreams of her. Her current lover, the soldier Carl-Magnus (Christopher Vettel), has a wife, Charlotte (Meghan Moroney). Jodi Brinkman as Petra, the flirtatious maid of Anne, indulges with Madame's butler Frid (Justin Tatum). As these characters play out the story, they are assisted by a chorus of five singers, or liedersingers, who swirl in and out of the story. They are: Darren Perry, Susan Wallin, Marian Vogel, Timothy M.R. Culver and Michelle Rice.

The costumes by Kim Brown are superb, and immediately convey the time in which the story is set. Generally, the women are garbed in white or cream or other light pastels, while the men are in either a tailsuit or outlandish (on purpose) military uniforms. Some scenes are all in white, including the dancers, making for a gorgeous overall appearance. Wigs by Mary Schilling-Martin greatly enhance the costumes, adding to the ambiance.

The set of moveable furniture and sliding panels, created by Erhard Rom, works very well, instantly creating a variety of backgrounds for the multiple scenes. Lighting by Benjamin Pearcy and superb sound by James C. Swonger (the best I've ever heard at the Bolton which usually swallows everything whole!) contribute greatly to the overall effect.

However, all these components mean little if the music isn't right. Director Paul F. Gurgol exhibits his genius at casting for appropriate appearance as well as talent. The singers here were all excellent actors, not always the case. He emphasizes the human aspects of love while yet keeping everything moving forward. Conductor Betsy Burleigh allows the music time to breathe without dragging or moving so fast one can't understand the words. Diction was uniformly excellent throughout-every word was intelligible.

Any new organization has growing pains, but it appears that Opera Cleveland has really hit the mark with this production! Bravo!

Kelly Ferjutz, Cool Cleveland, August 12, 2007
Opera Cleveland Performance of 8/10/07
Jerome Crossley's "Considered Opinion," broadcast on WCLV

Stephen Sondheim: "A Little Night Music" (Kenneth Derby, Fredrik Egerman; Marla Berg, Desirée Armfeldt; Kathleen Huber, Madame Armfeldt; Erin Stewart, Anne Egerman ;Philippe Pierce, Henrik Egerman; Jodi Brinkman, Petra; Chris Vette, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm; Meghan Moroney, Countess Charlotte Malcolm; Betsy Burleigh, cond.)

It's a melancholy coincidence that Opera Cleveland should open its new production of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" less than two weeks after the death of the great film director Ingmar Bergman. It was, after all, Bergman's film "Smiles of a Summer Night" that inspired the Sondheim musical. And both works resulted in part from commerce and necessity forcing healthy constraints on art.

Bergman once compared "Smiles of a Summer Night" to a series of soap commercials he had directed. The movie was intended to earn some cash. Sondheim's dark original conception of "A Little Night Music," meanwhile, had to give way to producer Hal Prince's insistence on having plenty of what he called "whipped cream on top." And "Send in the Clowns," the musical's biggest hit, owes its distinctive short musical phrases to the fact that the original Desirée, Glynis Johns, wasn't very good at singing anything longer. Despite-or perhaps because of-the compromises, "Smiles of a Summer Night" and "A Little Night Music" are, in their own way, every bit as masterful as "The Seventh Seal" and "Sweeney Todd."

If you're not familiar with Sonsheim's score, you won't go wrong getting to know it in Opera Cleveland's exceptional new production. Frankly, Sondheim's score is so good and Paul F. Gurgol's direction so fundamentally sound that, had the show started over when last night's performance ended around 11 p.m., I'd have happily stayed for a second go round.

Take that version of "The Miller's Son." No, singer and orchestra weren't always faultlessly synchronized. But Jodi Brinkman, who plays the maid Petra, has such a fantastically charismatic, dynamic stage presence that it hardly seemed to matter.

The rest of Opera Cleveland's cast is nearly as strong. Kenneth Derby doesn't eclipse memories of Len Cariou, the original Fredrik Egerman. But Derby gives an extremely solid performance that achieves the right mix of comedy and believability. Erin Stewart is a charming Anne Egerman, Kathleen Huber close to definitive as the elderly Madame Armfeldt. And not only does Philippe Pierce bring impressive vocal agility to the role of Fredrik's represeed, cello-playing son Henrik; he manages the difficult task of making the character at once appealing and hilariously drippy.

And Desirée Armfeldt-the aging actress who fascinates Fredrik Egerman even after fourteen years apart? Marla Berg is perfectly cast in the role. And it's thanks to her sure-footed acting that she can situate her version of "Send in the Clowns" just a few millimeters shy of sentimentality. The result's utterly different from Glynis Johns' more restrained rendition of the song on the original Broadway cast recording.

It's a show not to be missed. You can either savor "A Little Night Music's" sophistication or simply enjoy its whipped cream. The musical invites analysis, but doesn't require it. Frank Sinatra, one of the innumerable singers to record "Send in the Clowns," was once asked what he thought that much-discussed song meant. The answer, he thought, was obvious, and his explanation was a model of concision. "Listen," he said, "you love a chick, she walks out, send in the clowns."

Jerome Crossley, WCLV, August 2007
In Review: Cleveland - 'A Little Night Music' 8/11/07

Opera Cleveland closed the summer portion of its season in August with a beautiful production of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" (seen August 11). Though the work is technically a Broadway-style musical, its vocal demands and sophisticated musical language have made it a perennial favorite of opera companies. In the Cleveland production the beautiful sets by Erhard Rom were light and almost whimsical, perfectly reflecting the graceful Sondheim scover. A dominant midnight sun was almost ever present, reminding us of the Scandinavian setting. Kim Brown's costumes mostly black, white and earth tones, helped evoke the polished elegant style the show demands. Benjamin Pearcy's lighting and Michael Medcalf's choreography were further assets. The dancers provided beautiful comment on some of the coming entanglements, also moving scenery when needed. Paul Gurgol's incisive, clear direction helped the singing actors capture the precise timing that all Sondheim comedies demand.

The singing was begun, of course, by the quintet of minor characters, who, in Greek-chorus fashion, comment on the action at hand. Local singers Darren Perry (Mr. Lindquist), Susan Wallin (Mrs. Nordstrom), Marian Vogel (Mrs. Segstrom), Timothy M.R. Culver (Mr. Erlanson) and Michelle Rice (Mrs. Anderssen) have all performed major roles in Cleveland in the past, pointing to how carefully and wisely Opera Clevleand cast the entire production. Their performance-whether in quintets, trios or duets-was always a delight.

The success of any "Night Music" production hinges on its five principals- all of whom grabbed love and attention in Opera Cleveland's cast. As Countess Charlotte, Meghan Moroney was perhaps the acting and vocal stand-out of the leading artists. Moroney made us feel sympathy for a character who can sometimes get lost in the tangled action of Sondheim's midsummer night. Kathleen Huber presented Madame Armfeldt - the crotchety and majestic lady who has lived such an "interesting" life - with perfect flair and impressively nuanced readings of her every line, sung or spoken. Fredrik Egerman was Kenneth Derby whose whole demeanor showed that his character had lived a bit. His strong voice carried all the colors Sondheim's writing demands. Egerman's counterpart, Carl-Magnus, was sung with aplomb by Christopher Vette. The Egerman-Carl-Magnus duet, "It would have been wonderful," was a highlight of Act II. As the object of their individual and collective fascination, Desirée Armfeldt, Marla Berg captured the frustration and sadness of a person whose life was seemingly wasted in her intense "Send in the Clowns." Desirée's music - essentially written for a non-singer - does not show off the quality or range of Berg's soprano, but she acted the role with telling command of detail.

Fredrika Armfeldt, Desirée's daughter, was played knowingly by young Lucy Anders. Erin Stewart's Anne Egerman was beautifully youthful and poised. She deftly played the difficult transition from "stephmother" to Henrik (only four years her senior) to his runaway bride. Henrik was quite well played and s ung by Philippe Pierce, who not only was capable of singing the highest notes easily, without resorting to falsetto, but mimed the playing of the cello so admirably that most of the audience was unsure whether he was really playing or not. Jodi Brinkman's Petra was the perfect saucy minx. Her "I shall marry the miller's son" - sung with the naked Frid (actor Justin Tatum) sleeping at her side - was a show-stopper. Betsy Burleigh conducted quite musically and kept the orchestral underscoring present but "under." The discreet miking of the voices, necessary in most modern musicals, was well done by James C. Swonger. Preceded by many audience members picnicking in front of the Cleveland Playhouse on a beautifully balmy evening, the performance was a triumph.

Alan Montgomery, Opera News, September 2007
Music of Jacques Brel
Kalliope 2007
Music of Jacques Brel production photo
Jacques Brel's music is alive and well at Kalliope

The Vietnam War lingers. Race riots break out. Yippies get beat up in Chicago. And in trendy Greenwich Village, an off-Broadway revue of often tart, oh-so-French (even in English) songs capture the quel dommage 1968 zeitgeist.

Following its four-year stand in New York, the revue opened in the lobby of the then-dilapidated State Theatre in downtown Cleveland and went on to run 550 performances. That record stood for more than 25 years.

Now "Jacques Brel" is back.

The revue, by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman - whose English captures the je ne sais quois of Brel's pithy commentary on love, death, war and the class system - is running again off-Broadway, slightly reshuffled.

And close to home, Kalliope Stage is selling many of the same songs as "The Music of Jacques Brel." The translations are by Blau and/or Shuman.

Purists may scoff about how director Paul Gurgol has ordered the songs, or how he has five people singing instead of four, or the insertion of bits from Canadian John McCrae's famous World War I poem "In Flanders Fields."

But forget them. And enjoy this quintet and how each not only sings but also sells each song.

Jodi Brinkman, looking a lot like Jane Fonda in "Barbarella" in her Euro-mod-chic slouches, shifts into overdrive-scary mode for "Carousel," delivered in clipped, rapid-fire bursts while the other four members of the cast mock her with deadpan echoes.

Clean-cut Chaz Statham does best with the funny stuff, like the bittersweet "Madeleine," the silly "Jackie" and the worldly "Next." Reedy Joan Ellison shimmers in "I Loved" and "My Death." Statham and Ellison pair nicely on "You're Not Alone."

Big William Marshall wraps his big baritone around "Amsterdam," a pugnacious cabaret song about sailors, drinking and prostitutes.

And Adina Bloom boldly leads the company in the signature final number of "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well" (and this makeshift homage), which goes something like this: "If we only have love / To embrace without fears / We will kiss with our eyes / We will sleep without tears / If we only have love."

What is there not to love about that?

Tony Brown, The Plain Dealer, 2007
Jacques is Back
Kalliope Revue Reorchestrates Brel

The sure way to detect a native Clevelander (over 40) is to mention either Dorothy Fuldheim, Ghoulardi or Jacques Brel. Each reference will generate a specific palpable nostalgia, evoking some lost universe.

The name of the aforementioned departed Belgian singer-composer recalls a decimated '70s downtown, where the major entertainment options were a night of disco at Swingos, followed by a hearty repast at the Rusty Scupper. Then came the show-biz Moses Joe Garry leading his "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" troupe out of the Baldwin-Wallace wilderness to the milk-and-honey of the Palace lobby, where it engendered a cult. Giving 522 performances, its popularitiy saved that endangered theater and fostered the rebirth of Playhouse Square. As our own theatrical legend, it's given aging theatergoers the same bragging rights as those who saw Merman in "Gypsy."

Since that time, there's been a plethora of Brel revivals, each attempting to percolate its own oo-la-la. What makes his music so irresistible to theaters is that each song is a picturesque little play all to itself, ranging in topics as far-flung as prostitution and dead soldiers lying in Flanders Field. Kalliope Stage's artistic director Paul F. Gurgol, who was weaned on the legendary production, has decided to do his own interpretation and has reinvented the revue, changing its order of songs and inserting other Brel compositions.

His approach is far more youthful and literal. Without quite resorting to berets, baguettes and Chevalier accents, he's managed to turn each of his five cast members into a French archetype. With a Jane Fonda Barbarella mane, an Edith Piaf growl and dressed in the tattered black lace uniform of a Montmartre streetwalker, Jodi Brinkman excels at Lautrec-tinted angst, specializing in numbers of loss and regret ("Sons Of").

Showing another aspect of French society, Gurgol cleverly dresses the fawnlike Joan Ellison in an Audrey Hepburn upsweep and Givenchy black satin sheath. To play agaainst the elegance, he has Ellison fiercely rendering "My Death" - "My death waits like an old roue." The miniature Kalliope stage is the perfect showcase for the singer's truthful delicacy. Adina Bloom has become a Kalliope institution. With a belt that cure a head cold, a pathos that guarantees a sniffle, added to a benevolent dignity and a wry Bette Midler humor she infuses her Brel with a Statue-of-Liberty grandeur.

Every revue needs the authoritative balance of a stentorian baritone, provided here by the salt-and-pepper bearded William Marshall. His Paul Robeson earthiness lends the evening a sardonic twinkle in such numbers of sexual escapades as "Bachelor's Dance." Likewise, no study of French archetypes would be complete without a Gallic bad boy. Bearing a remarkable resenblance to Matthew Perry, Chaz Statham is equally effective when losing his innocence cracking up waiting in line at the army brothel, or when reciting the elegy "In Flanders Field."

What makes this version of Brel viable in its own right is Gurgol's creative use of archetype and movement not provided by a book, making us feel we've experienced a century of French history. Brel's musical playlets haunt our imagination. On a barbarically frigid evening, we could seek solace of French onion soup at Nighttown or go for its wonderfully metaphoric equivalent on Kalliope's stage.

Keith Joseph, The Free Times, February 2007
Tiniest Gift
Kalliope 2006
Tiniest Gift production photo
Old songs are wrapped up anew in Kalliope's 'Tiniest Gift'

As we brace ourselves for the household damage sure to result from our new Ninendo Wii game controllers (Dad, the remote's stuck in the plasma screen . . .), it is wise to remember that presents come in all sizes. And one of the more bountiful treasures in local theater is found whenever the Kalliope Stage opens another show.

Modest in square footage but huge in talent, Kalliope always succeeds in bringing sublime singing voices to the fore, whether the plays themselves are stellar or just mediocre. And their 90-minute holiday offering, "The Tiniest Gift," is almost a perfect microcosm of the theater. The 11-person cast, made up of individuals who have had key roles in past Kalliope productions, creates a diverting evening of song.

This original cabaret, created and directed by Paul F. Gurgol, rounds up a couple of classics along with offbeat and interesting tunes - not the usual suspects you'd expect in a frothy Christmas cavalcade. In the place of a story line, the "gifts'" of the title are broken into three groups: family and friends; nature; and memory, faith, and tradition.

Elizabeth Kelly handles "My Grandmother's Love Letters" with tenderness, and Andrew Wehling finds a little humor in the ode to a racetrack-betting father in "And They're Off!"

The pulse of the show quickens a bit as the songs turn to the gifts of nature, and four of the performers contribute a rousing rendition of "Snow" from "White Christmas." Kris Comer turns in a torchy turn on "Ill Wind," and Wehling returns to kick up the energy as a boy praying for a canceled school day in "Come On Snow."

Most of the tastiest treats are tucked away in the last part of the show, and they're worth waiting for. William Clarence Marshall does the virtually impossible by delivering a basso profundo version of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" that actually competes favorably with the original crooned by Thurl Ravenscroft. This is one song that could be twice as long and no one would complain.

Jodi Brinkman is right on target with "All Those Christmas Clichés," warbling about Johnny Mathis and sugar-glazed fruitcake (as if there's a difference). The funniest tune of the evening is presented by Killeen Vogel, playing a harried holiday cook in "Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise." She describes some truly hideous culinary concoctions with a spry, stiff-upper lip manner that matches the song nicely.

But the loveliest and most melodic moments, other than when Adina Bloom is crafting a warm and affecting "Shalom" from the Broadway show "Milk and Honey," are when the ensemble gathers to sing "Still, Still, Still" and "Al Shlosha D'varim." The voices blend beautifully in these intricate pieces, and it's too bad there aren't more such choral arrangements throughout the show.

Fittingly, the emotional climax of the show comes at the end, when Kalliope co-founder John Paul Boukis sings Susan Werner's "May I Suggest." This gently rueful song posits that this instant is the best moment of our lives - a sentiment that has added heft, since Boukis is leaving the theater after this production to pursue his own creative projects. But with or without this talented individual, the Kalliope crew proves once again that the tiniest and most precious gift is...the present.

Christine Howey, Scene Magazine, December 20, 2006
'Tiniest Gift' ties nice bow on holidays

A long and sometimes enervating holiday season on the old theater desk comes to a much-desired close, and it is with tidings of joy bordering on ecstasy that I bring you the last review of the last Christmas play of this too-soggy time of year.

Kalliope Stage's "The Tiniest Gift" succeeds far beyond all reasonable expectation because it relies not so much on the usual yuletide fare as on crisp material that gets at the heart of where we live here and now.

Artistic director Paul Gurgol has put together a cabaret that joins recent and new show tunes (heavy on the William Finn, but also with Stephen Schwartz, Ahrens/Flaherty and Craig Carnelia) with the old (Rodgers and Hammerstein, Frank Loesser and Jerry Herman).

That, plus a cast of 11 that reallly sings out in Kalliope's snug, storefront theater in a brisk running time under 90 minutes, sends the listener out into the suppurating maw of hell-bent commercialism and forced family time refreshed and perhaps even invigorated.

It ain't perfect, but by God! if William Clarence Marshall isn't almost. The burly basso transfixes us with a wrenching "Some Enchanted Evening" and then tickles us nearly green with "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." If only he sang more.

Adina Bloom carries off "Shalom" as if she's speaking to us individually, launching a trio fo welcome Hanukkah numbers, Jodi Brinkman burns bright as she wraps herself around "All Those Christmas Clichés," and little Dani Apple sings like an adult but has the charms of a child she is in "My Favorite Things."

Fortunately, the sum of these parts equals a gift that is several times larger than many we've been subjected to lately.

Tony Brown, The Plain Dealer, December 17, 2006
Kalliope Musically Celebrates Itself

"The Tiniest Gift," with its 11 love-starved, fuzzy, warbling thespians, is the most romantic spectacle in town. Every member of this crew has previously appeared on the tiny Kalliope stage, and in the theater's holiday salute to itself, has returned to show off an aspect of their musical skills, from torch singing to a knack for Broadway cerebral psychobabble.

Created and directed by Paul F. Gurgol, we have an evening decked in a panoply of tasteful scarves, merry yuletide vests and plaid woolens. The look is pure J. Crew, the predominant tone is Hallmark, and, to stick to the TV clichés, the work itself is "priceless."

Even though the evening is not limited to yuletide ditties, it still brings to mind generations of TV specials. A bit of Perry Como wistfulness, a soupçon of Carpenters smarminess, and lots of the naught-but-nice romping that endeared Liberace to grandmothers everywhere.

Those looking for a nondenominational, eclectic alternative to the more traditional Christmas fare will be merrily satiated with the offering's endless variety.

Looking for a motif to hang all this tenuous gaiety on, Gurgol has come up with the theme of the various kinds of gifts surrounding the holiday season, which include those of family, nature, memory and faith. Cleveland's own red-hot yiddishe mama, Adina Bloom, brings her ringing vibrato to "Shalom" from Jerry Herman's "Milk and Honey." Goosing favorite childhood memories of Dr. Seuss, William Clarence Marshall makes sly use of a powerful baritone in "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." As a musical James Thurber matron, Killeen Vogel trumpets a Wagnerian appreciation of the edible nightmares that surround holiday parties in "Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise."

The show is at its best evoking holiday seasons past. This includes the giddy delights of Elizabeth Kelly and Mark Ludden performing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with captivating bounce, Kris Comer's seductive rendition of Harold Arlen's "Ill Wind," and gifted youngster Dani Apple demonstrating the underrated charms of "Carnival's" "Beatiful Candy." Among the more esoteric pleasures is the doe-eyed intensity that John Paul Boukis brings to the lilting ballad "Winter's on the Wing." By the time this winning cast assembles around the tasteful tree constituting the set for the valedictory "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," the evening's theme doesn't seem such an implausible idea.

Keith Joseph, The Free Times, December 20, 2006
Nite Club Confidential
Kalliope Stage 2006
Nite Club Confidential production photo
Entertainment fills Kalliope stage

The theater is bathed in smoky darkness. A volley of gunshots, a choir of police sirens, and a saxophone player blurting bluesy music follow in rapid succession.

When the lights go up, a dead body lies facedown center stage, surrounded by a trio in trench coats and fedoras, while to the left, a woman in black cradles a martini glass.

A prone man rises from the dead long enough to tell the story of how he met his fate.

This campy noir opening sets the stage for "Nite Club Confidential," a cabaret-style musical spoof of café society in the Eisenhower era.

The setting is the Café High Society, where aging chanteuse Kay Goodman is making yet another one of her comebacks. The handsome Buck Holden, short on talent but long on ambition, is part of Kay's backup quartet, The High Hopes.

Kay sets her romantic sights on Buck, who jumps on her bandwagon to further his own career. When The High Hopes ditch Dorothy, the lone female singer in the group, she sheds her spectacles and launches her own solo act.

As dorothy's star rises and Kay's plummets, the opportunistic Buck falls for Dorothy. It isn't long before three proves a crowd, and the two-timing schemer gets his tragic comeuppance.

As the hardboiled femme fatale Kay Goodman, Trudi Posey has the right comic moves as a jealous diva trying to hold onto her career and her man. Perky Liz O'Donnell is a sweetheart as Kay's rival Dorothy. O'Donnell brightens the stage whenever she appears. Dorothy's comic number "The Canarsie Diner," a tutorial on restaurant lingo, shows off Deal's and Evan's clever lyrics to great effect.

Costumer Kim Brown's polka-dot frocks and crinolines are a treat.

The ensemble adds pizzazz to such oldies but goodies as "Goody Goody," "Something's Gotta Give," and a riff on "That Old Black Magic."

Steve Parmenter couples oily charm with blatant self-interest as the double-dealing, smooth-talking heel, Buck Holden. Charles Statham does a terrific solo as jazz beatnik Mitch in "Crazy New Words" to the accompaniment of bongo drums. As Sal, Mark Ludden performs a neat Elvis imitation in "Black Slacks." Both numbers hint at the new music, rock 'n roll.

Paul F. Gurgol's direction emphasizes the camp to great comic effect. There isn't much in the way of choreography, but it's done in sync and extremely well.

The orchestra keeps the beat lively. Krystyna Loboda's setting in garish red and black captures the seedy glamour of the nightclub milieu.

"Nite Club Confidential" has been Deal's most successful show, with productions staged around the country. Director Gurgol earned five Barrymore nominations for his production of this show in Philadelphia in 1995, including best show and best director.

Fran Heller, Cleveland Jewish News, 2006
'Nite Club Confidential' at Kalliope 11/5

What: A smart, tongue-in-cheek nightclub noir musical mixing great jazz standards like "That Old Black Magic" with delightful originals by co-writers Dennis Deal & Albert Evans that perfectly match them: sassy, irresistible entertainment.

Reasons to go: The writing is fun, the singing is great, and the ensemble is perfectly cast, from suave hottie Steve Parmenter's Pal Joey-like cad to Trudi Posey's throaty nightclub diva "who hasn't seen daylight since the Eisenhower Era." You could shave with the sharp a cappella harmonies & scatting from backup singers Mark Ludden, Liz O'Donnell, and Charles Statham. Special kudos to Kim Brown's yummy gowns, some of them obviously vintage. If this were at Playhouse Square, it could run for a year; enjoy it in Kalliope's intimate 99-seat house.

Backstory: Director Paul F. Gurgol received 5 Barrymore nominations for his 1995 Philadelphia version of the show, which featured his now-executive director John Paul Boukis as Sal.

Target audience: If you've ever enjoyed a retro martini bar, this is a hoot - a clever flashback to the era that spawned them.

Linda Eisenstein, Cool Cleveland, 2006
Wild Party
Kalliope Stage 2006
Wild Party production photo
Kalliope picks smoking version of 'Wild Party'

Truth in advertising is not always high on the show-business agenda. But you can believe it when Kalliope Stage says it is throwing "The Wild Party."

Long before there was sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, there was sex, drugs and jazz; and as "The Wild Party" demonstrates, not everybody got out alive.

Joseph Moncure March, a magazine and script writer, was there to chronicle it with a 1920s poem of decadence and debauchery. A hot dame named Queenie throws a party to snag a new lover. She wants to get revenge on boyfriend Burrs, the clown (literally, that's how the bum makes his living) who beats her.

A lesbian and a minor. A pugilist and his blonde. A Tweedledum-Tweedledee gay couple. Then comes Kate, an older woman with the hots for Burrs, and her latest acquisition, the young Mr. Black who will do Queenie nicely.

Fights in the living room. Cocaine on the toilet. Everyone in skivvies. And in the bedroom, gunpowder and bang-bang.

March's poem, justifiably infamous, has long inspired artists in other media (but skip the 1975 James Ivory movie). In 2000, two musical-theater composers took separate cracks at it, Michael John LaChiusa's heavy-handed version on Broadway and Andrew Lippa's elegantly haunting one off.

Lippa's, the wise choice by Kalliope artistic director Paul Gurgol, has a jazzy, scary, funny score with histrionics aplenty and a hurtling narrative that stops at nothing.

And it avoids any larger purpose. "Chicago" spoofs the criminal-justice system. "Cabaret" shows the rise of the Nazis to power in Berlin. But "The Wild Party" is simngle-mindedly a cautionary tale: Play with fire, somebody's going down in flames.

Gurgol, who in four years has built his Cleveland Heights storefront operation into the area's leading producer of musicals, goes at "The Wild Party" with his usual complement of New York and local talent.

But, for the first time, he has found a collaborator in his efforts, and does it ever pay off. Michael Medcalf, the impossibly small and strong artistic director of Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre, choreographs and performs, putting a slinky patina on the entire enterprise.

The dancers and singers, 15 in all, combine into a single, gorgeous unit of steam and flesh.

As Queenie, Melody Moore looks sculpted from butter, and her voice is every bit as rich and smooth. Tommy Foster sings Burrs with a sardonic but sad twist, a mass of contradictions and frustrations. And Jodi Brinkman brings all her brassiness to bear as Kate the vulture.

The hangover is the genuine article. Wanna party? Be careful what you wish for.

Tony Brown, The Plain Dealer, 2006
Party On
Kalliope Tunes Up a Jazz Age Debauch

Let me emphatically state that, unless your appreciation of musicals stops at Maria Von Trapp twirling on an Alp, you'd be a damn fool to forego the Kalliope Stage production of Andrew Lippa's "Wild Party."

In the parlance of long-dead jazz babies, "It's the bee's knees." However, we will concede it's as life-affirming as Samuel Beckett and as wholesome as De Sade. But nevertheless, it still rates a "Wow."

Entering the refurbished Kalliope bandbox, you'll note something new. It's not just the comfortable new seats and expanded stage, but, for the first time in the theater's four-year history, there's no compromise to its miniature proportions in Paul F. Gurgol's electric staging.

Lippa's 2000 musical is fashioned from "The Wild Party," Joseph Moncure March's 1928 epic poem about a vaudeville couple throwing a night-long debauch to attempt to cure their ennui. In musicalizing the poem, Lippa successfully infuses the adaptation with a nightmarish propulsion and matches the poem's frantic style with a sophisticated eclectic score.

Amazingly enough, it may be the first theater score in 20 years without a whiff of Sondheim. Yet, if you listen carefully, you'll hear the expected Brecht-Weill jazz-influenced social commentary, Harold Arlen blue notes, and Kander and Ebb propensities for turning old show-biz styles into knife-between-the-shoulder-blades editorializing. We'll even grudgingly acknowledge a touch of David Bowie. And, like the source material, the only uplift comes from the womens' breasts.

To get a feel for this musical, imagine Albee's George and Martha, wallowing in a Jazz Age, La Dolce Vita torpor, recruiting the tarts from "Chicago" for an evening of George Grosz debauchery. Or in other words, Bob Fosse on steroids.

We suspect that the greatest contribution to this production's overwhelming success is its inspired collaboration with Michael Medcalf's Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre - for rarely has a show been so sexualized in its movement, where everything from a passed-around vial of cocaine, drunken Charlestons and harmonious Hieronymus Bosch couplings, reeks of pure libidinous energy.

With a cast that seems more comfortable in their frequently displayed underwear, the show might have been underwritten by Maindenform and Fruit-of-the-Loom. Known for shopping out-of-state for their performers, Kalliope has here acquired some of the best bargains seen in this city for years. These particularly include Melody Moore, as a Jean Harlow-wigged, defiant kewpie doll; the paradoxically pudgy yet sexually neurotic host of Tommy Foster; Elizabeth Rubino's predatory lesbian; and, as a rival femme fatale, Jodi Brinkman's coked-up prostitute. It'd be hard to imagine a better company to bring this work to decadent life, better choreography than Medcalf's, or any better setting, lighting and costuming to ornament the occasion.

Only time can validate a final judgment on "Wild Party," but we can unequivocally state in the here and now - providing that you have an appreciation of the dark corners of existence - this is a bash not to be missed.

Keith Joseph, Free Times, 2006
Style overtakes substance in Kalliope's 'Wild Party'

Never has such vulgarity been so classy!

Visionary director Paul F. Gurgol, a sublime cast, and ace design team serve up a bawdy coktail that is equal parts naughty and nasty. The first-rate production perfectly captures the self-destructive lifestyle of these demimonde lowlifes.

Gurgol has teamed up with Michael Medcalf, founder and leader of Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre. The collaboration has resulted in one of the show's most dazzling features, it's mouthwatering choreography, in which Medcalf also appears as a dancer.

Bearing a striking resemblance to Jean Harlowe, with an hourglass figure and helped by a signature blond wig, Melody Moore sizzles as the manipulative and "sexually ambitious" Queenie.

A volatile Tommy Foster inspires contempt, fear and pity as the doomed Pagliacci-type clown and pathologically jealous lover, Burrs. Sporting a bulbous red nose, Burr's self-destructive tendencies and brutish temperament mask a neurotic, childlike need for love.

Jodi Brinkman crackles as the cocaine-snorting Kate, a gal who has been around the block more than a few times and is fixated on an unresponsive Burrs. Kate swills gin from a bathtub and takes a pee on a toilet with the appropriate sound effects.

Kyle Wrentz suits the role of the gentlemanly, soft-spoken Black, who, smitten with Queenie and blind to her wiles, is the unwitting pawn in the degenerage foursome.

The principals, all excellent vocalists, lend an operatic quality to the four-part harmony in "Poor Child," a song in which each character sees a different Queenie.

"What a Party," the ensemble number in which each of the guests arrives, showcases Medcalf's marvelous choreography and costumer Kim Brown's fabulous flapper dresses for the women and pinstripes and gaudy plaids for the men.

The guests include John Paul Boukis and Nick Nerio as a pair of androgynous twin brothers.

Elizabeth Rubino provides one of the evening's funniest moments as Madelaine True, an aging lesbian. Her droll rendition of the comic tune "An Old-Fashioned Love Story" describes her fruitless pursuits of the various female guests.

Don Circle Jr.'s burly frame fills the role of Eddie, a pugilist who protects his mistress with possessive ferocity. Elizabeth Kelly delivers the perfect caricature of the skinny, but cute dumb blonde mistress, Mae. Their duo "Two of a Kind" is another highlight.

The clever lyrics in many of the songs are downright dirty and delicious, oozing with double-entendres that add to the ribald humor. Verse couplets from the original poem weave in and out of the show, which moves the story forward.

As the party gets wilder and Lance Switzer's lighting grows dimmer, the pickled guests shed clothing and inhibitions in a frenzied simulation of sex. It culminates in a solo dance by Medcalf whose balletic movements suggest a Greek chorus of impending doom. The tick of a clock and the chime of bells add to the suspense-filled ending.

Fran Heller, Cleveland Jewish News, 2006
The party at Kalliope comes with a secret motive

A good party can be the solution to just about any problem, but it takes a more devious mind to use a party for revenge on an abusive lover.

That's the plot driver in Andrew Lippa's "Wild Party," a sleazily agreeable musical now playing at the Kalliope Stage. Based on a 1928 narrative poem of the same name by Joseph Moncure March, and first staged off Broadway in 2000, this play looks like what you'd get if you stuffed "Cabaret" and "Chicago" into a blender set on turbowhip. Kalliope gives the material a stylish and decadently fascinating turn.

Fortunately, the music and lyrics penned by Lippa have a restless energy, dipping into genres including jazz, rock, and gospel, and often spinning off in surprising melodic directions. And the evocative choreography, designed and danced by Michael Medcalf and some compatriots from the Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre, adds immensely to the dark, throbbing mood.

Performing on a basically black stage with trapezoidal door and window frames accentuating the slightly distorted reality inside, the Kalliope cast delivers many memorable moments. As Queenie, Melody Moore has a sweet face that readily flickers into toughness - a chameleon effect that serves her character well. And Tommy Foster has a burly, brutish look that seems threatening, whether he's wearing his bright red nose or not.

One standout song is "An Old-Fashioned Love Story," sung by Elizabeth Rubino as a big-boned lesbian on the prowl for girl meat. Staring at random female prey in the party crowd, she reveals her less-than-demanding standards by crooning, "She's got a quality I like/She's alive."

Director Paul F. Gurgol stages this steamy material with his usual inventiveness, crafting a multitude of small tableaux by using his 15 players in an ever-shifting mural of sybaritic joys. That makes this production a pleaure for the eyes and ears.

Christine Howey, Scene Magazine, September 20, 2006
'The Wild Party' @ Kalliope 9/10

What: Andrew Lippa's musical about a Jazz Age flapper and her abusive boyfriend's wild party - full of booze, drugs sex, and more bare skin and lingerie than a Victoria's Secret catalogue.

Reasons to go: The ensemble is outstanding - with tight direction by Paul F. Gurgol and sultry choreography by Michael Medcalf, they look great, and sing and move even better. The principals are swell, especially sexy Melody Moore as Queenie, leather-lunged Jodi Brinkman as her rival Kate, and Tommy Foster as the violent yet sympathetic Burrs. Lippa's expressive music fits the tawdry tale.

Extra sizzle: Four dancers from the Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre, including Artistic Director Medcalf, join the Kalliope company. The production itself is a home run.

Linda Eisenstein, Cool Cleveland, September 10, 2006
110 in the Shade
Kalliope Stage 2006
110 in the Shade production photo
A refreshing splash of theater

Love is all anyone needs. Like rain on a farmer's crops, love can spell the difference between unhappiness and happiness, between a plant that matures and one that withers on the vine.

This simple analogy is the root of "110 in the Shade," the not-so-simple 1963 cowboy musical by "Fantasticks" duo Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones. The show is blooming in a charming new production directed by Paul Gurgol at Kalliope Stage in Cleveland Heights.

Once again, Kalliope's technical team maximizes its resources, magically conveying on a small stage the essence of a barn on an expansive prairie with the sun blistering overhead.

Rain becomes a metaphor for love as an anonymous Western town suffering from a severe drought tries to match up File, its lonely sheriff, with Lizzie Curry, a young woman with a strong will, low self-esteem and few romantic prospects.

Lizzie's father, H.C., and two brothers, Jimmy and Noah, are particularly determined to marry her off, although they can't agree how best to do it. Complicating things is the sheriff's scarred heart and reluctance to get on with his life.

Meanwhile, Starbuck, a fast-talking con man, arrives in town promising to evoke rain for $100. Played by Broadway actor Allan Snyder, he's loud, melodramatic and clearly false, but eventually Lizzie falls for his assurances that she's beautiful. Snyder is a fun, booming, larger-than-life presence, delivering a knee-slapping showstopper in his introductory number, "The Rain Song."

The resolution to this delicate love triangle split between reality and imagination is only partially predictable. Along the way, too, are some genuinely moving scenes of credible family strife provided by Leslie Feagan, Daniel Henning and Justin Tatum, who play Lizzie's father and brothers, men of radically different philosophies.

Joan Ellison crafts Lizzie's awakening marvelously, starting out as someone sweet but overly demure and ending up as a fully realized woman. Ellison's voice is strong and accurate, and she finds her comfort range to greatest effect in "Simple Little Things." She's also funny in "Rauncy," a humorously steamy little number in which she imagines being flirtatious.

As the stern, sure-voiced File, Don Circle Jr. makes a surprisingly quick transition of his own by the end, but he plays the character appropriately and affectionately, like the fallen giant he is. In this parched town, the sheriff needs companionship as much or more than anyone else.

Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer, April 26, 2006
Fever of 110
Kalliope Production Shines, Even In The Shade

In its present incarnation at Kalliope Stage, "110 in the Shade" is just shy of undiluted bliss.

The charm of this 1963 musical is that it's an intoxicating balm to bruised Eros, for it exquisitely intensifies the optimistic message of Nash's original play that no matter how many dateless Saturday nights you live through, and no matter how fast that biological clock is ticking, rescue is on the way.

First produced by the grand impresario David Merrick, it was like the enchanting "She Loves Me" criminally underrated. It is a musical in the best Rodgers and Hammerstein tradition, fortifying its source with luxurious textures through a melodic, character-driven score. As Tom Jones and Harvey Schimdt accomplished in their classic "The Fantasticks," this tale of a spinster's salvation from terminal frigidity by a traveling rainmaker's ministrations creates a rich musical tapestry of longing and whimsy. Like "The Fantasticks," it's overwhelming in its warmth and humanity.

Director Paul F. Gurgol has wisely emphasized the good heart of this show by finding an ensemble that exemplifies the small-town family relationships at the work's core. In the felicitous casting of Joan Ellison as spinster Lizzie, he's found someone in the Olivia de Havilland tradition, who can suggest plainness and repression while actually managing to be radiant. She glides through the score effortlessly, delivering everything from longing to sexual panic with silken ease. Yet, where she really excels is in her reactions. She registers every hurt and delight with watercolor delicacy.

The remainder of the cast matches her ease. As Lizzie's insecure younger brother, Daniel E. Henning is more than just charming. With his fawnlike earnestness, and Howdy Dood wonder, he not only plays but inhabits the role; and, as his female consort, Elizabeth Kelly complements him with Loony Tune flirtatiousness. In the Will Geer style of cackling benevolence, Leslie Feagan is a father we might all yearn for. As the doubting older brother, Justin Tatum is at once amiable and cynical, while Don Circle Jr. conveys the sheriff with an ideal damaged tenderness and a vocal splendor.

We should be grateful for seeing an underproduced treasure deftly reincarnated.

Keith Joseph, The Free Times, 2006
Dated musical exudes 110° of fresh charm in Kalliope production

It isn't only the weather that's hot in "110 in the Shade," the 1963 musical by Harvey Schmidt, Tom Jones and N. Richard Nash. Unexpressed longings and stifled passions simmer and boil just beneath the surface in this tenderhearted tale about a single woman yearning for love and marriage.

As a story about human longing for connectedness and the affairs of the heart, it remains forever fresh and timeless.

In an age of blockbuster musicals and outsized stagecraft wizardry, it was refreshing to experience this small and quietly charming show in such an intimate setting and with unamplified voices.

I am always amazed by the consistently fine quality at Kalliope, spearheaded by the theater's talented and impassioned artistic director, Paul F. Gurgol, whose production of "110" is delightful.

With its many scenes, the musical is as much an ensemble piece as a showcase for the soloists. The 15-member cast keeps the action fluid, an amazing feat on a small stage. Thanks to director Gurgol, the first-rate cast transcends the storyline's cornier aspects to find the beauty and poignancy at the show's inner core.

Lighting designer Lance Switzer's yellow ball of sunlight coupled with Gurgol's parched-looking setting and peeling shards of wood convey the harsh effects of the drought. One can almost feel the heat in the opening number, "Another Hot Day."

Joan Ellison's Lizzie conveys the outward sass of a girl too smart for her own good and the inner vulnerability of a woman yearning for domesticity. "Love Don't Turn Away" is a poignant song of longing and loneliness that shows off Ellison's sweet crystalline voice. Lizzie's comic number "Rauncy" reveals a passionate woman behind the buttoned-up look, magnified by Switzer's blood-red lighting, in which the sky seems on fire as much as Lizzie.

As the charismatic rainmaker Bill Starbuck, the handsome Allan Snyder lands upon the sere prairie town like a force of nature. Oozing with charm reminiscent of another musical con man, Professor Harold Hill in "The Music Man," Starbuck convinces the skeptical townsfolk he can make rain. Snyder, who sings as well as he acts, whips the crowd in to a frenzy of belief in the rousing gospel number "The Rain Song."

Lizzie and Starbuck perform a number of lovely duets. I especially liked "Simple Little Things" in which Lizzie's world, grounded in everyday real life, is contrasted with Starbuck's world, which remains rooted in dreams.

Don Circle Jr. plays the hard-boiled, reserved sheriff File with the right edge of stoicism and machismo.

Leslie Feagan is a natural as H.C. Curry, Lizzie's gentle father who dearly loves his daughter and wants to make her happy. Justin Tatum suits the role of the narrow-minded and blunt older brother Noah, who condemns his sister to being an old maid. An infectious Daniel E. Henning is terrific as the younger brother Jimmy, who loves his sister and his girlfriend with equal exuberance. With her pigtails and smacking red lips, ther perky Elizabeth Kelly is delightful as Snookie Updegraff, who snookers the lovestruck Jimmy.

Jennifer Heemstra's fine piano accompaniment under the musical direction of Rita Klinger embellishes the musical numbers without overpowering them.

What a lovely and enjoyable show is "110 in the Shade." Unabashedly sentimental for sure but never has such sentiment been as entertaining and as sweet.

Fran Heller, Cleveland Jewish News, 2006
Coming to America
Kalliope Stage 2006
Coming to America production photo
Kalliope revives vaudeville with style in 'Coming to America'

Spend a few afternoon hours with Comedy Central, and you'll notice that plenty of the comedians freely traffic in f-bombs and scatalogical references. This is what they call "working blue," a phrase that originated around the turn of the 20th century, when vaudeville was in its prime. B.F. Keith and Edward F. Albee (yep, the grandfather of the famous playwright) ran their entertainment circuit like a slave ship. During final rehearsals, the bosses would hand out little blue envelopes to the performers with orders to cut from their acts such salacious content as "slob" or "son of a gun." Performers who let loose a "blue" line onstage were looking for work the next day.

Even so, singers and comics managed to maintain plenty of irreverence in their acts, making such presentations the predominant entertainment for their audiences, which happened to include many newcomers to these shores. These dynamics all coalesce in the Kalliope Stage's world premiere of "Coming to America," an energetic tribute to the immigrant spirit presented in the context of a vaudeville show. Director Paul F. Gurgol and his five-person cast create plenty of laughs and more than enough entrancing musical moments.

After an opening sequence that sketches the quintet of core characters who are journeying to New York Citiy to find the rumored "streets paved with gold," the script focuses on each new arrival in turn. Conceived and created by James Hindman and Ray Roderick, the show explores these lives by stitching a fragile and sometimes strained personal biography to songs of the time. Though the composer credits read like a Who's Who of American music - Irving Berlin, Scott Joplin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter George Gershwin - man of the tunes are C- or D-list selections. For every well-known ditty, there are six or seven obscure sheet-music reclamations such as "Ephraham Played the Piano" or "Thomas A. Edison, Miracle Man."

But much of this material works, thanks to Gurgol's sharp, precisely timed staging. Minimal set pieces are thrown on and off as the songs tumble out; if one melody doesn't strike your fancy, there are a few more right behind it. Adding some eye candy to the mix are Russ Borski's black-and-white costumes, which are nothing close to bland, with pinstripes, shimmering patterns, and one drop-dead feather boa.

The most effective comedy is pure slapstick, such as when Kaitlin (played with a truckload of pizzazz by Kimberly Koljat) remembers her ex-boyfriend back in Ireland, the one with breath that could drop a mule at 10 paces. Her expressions are priceless, and she milks many more guffaws from the material that it would ordinarily merit. Koljat is also hilarious in perhaps the funnies song, Hoagy Carmichael's "Huggin' and Chalkin'," in which a man sings a love anthem to his hefty wife by noting how he has to make a chalk mark on one side of her to determine where he began his romantic attentions, so massive is the mound of flesh in question.

Also excellent is Jason Winfield, who exudes enormous stage presence and easily manages the transitions from wacky physical humor to a quiet and heartfelt moment of reflection on his hometown and new life in America. Playing the stout opera singer and a Swedish maid with dreams of Hollywood stardom, Beth Kirkpatrick hits all the tough notes with power. And as Yankel, the piano player from Eastern Europe, Jaron Vesely holds his own with the others, even though his characters aren't quite as expressive.

As Ambrose, the immigrant Italian, Christopher Sena looks like a young Roberto Benigni and assembles the most interesting story line, tracing his evolution from humble street vendor to owner of the biggest Italian restaurant in Buffalo. This success is built on some unusual circumstances, including the apparent death of the wife of a rival restaurant owner - and then her awakening from a deep coma at her funeral. These tortured plot devices are all established to set up certain songs, but it's done with such giddy joy that you just go with the flow.

Kalliope has mounted a memorable show (Did we mention there are 70 songs?) It all makes for a dandy coming-out party for "Coming to America."

Christine Howey, Scene Magazine, February 22, 2006
'Coming to America' in Cleveland

I drove over to the charming little Kalliope Stage in Cleveland a couple weeks ago to see the world premiere production of Jim Hindman and Ray Roderick's "Coming to America," a vaudeville style show about the immigrant movement.

It's not just revue, though there are dozens of songs by Scott Joplin, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, George M. Cohan, Victor Herbert and more. The show is divided up into acts, each of which feature a specific character from one country and his/her mini-story of coming to America, and sometimes a glimpse into what happens to his/her descendents. Some of the songs are well known, some more obscure, but they all fit the stories and characters well.

And it's sentimental but very funny - not corny, like it could have been, but with fresh and appropriate humorous touches.

The company must be commended for the staging work they have done with this show's first production. With a talented and busy cast of five, they must have put in a lot of hard work to put this together without an example to work from.

It is a work in progress, but it's an interesting concept to me and certainly found an audience at the Kalliope as the response was very enthusiastic. I look forward to hearing what happens in future productions.

Talking Broadway, March 16, 2006
'Coming to America' is Kalliope's homage to vaudeville

Direction and choreography by Paul F. Gurgol makes a loving, happy scrapbook from these snippets of tune and scraps of real lives.

The tunes are a love note to the time period. The music reflects the culture of each character and propels their stories.

The red velvet curtain with rope fringes and multiple period costumes, all by Russ Borski, were clearly a labor of love.

Vaudeville fans will really enjoy this evening out. Others will take a trip down memory lane. The rest should be prepared for a feel-good musical armed with a generous helping of physical comedy.

Marjorie Preston, Sun Press, 2006
Review: 'Coming to America'

Now in its third season, Kalliope Stage, which is dedicated to showcasing the American musical, is presenting its first world premiere: "Coming to America," a vaudeville-style tribute to turn-of-the-20th-century Americana, Ellis Island, and the immigrant experience.

Conceived and written by James Hindman and Ray Roderick, with musical arrangements by Phil Reno, the show features 61 songs from the 1910s, '20s, and '30s, including work by Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Victor Herbert, Cole Porter, and George M. Cohan. It takes its cue from such thematic predecessors as "Tintypes" and "Ragtime," combining song, dance, and shtick and comprising five different stories representing five different cultures. Each actor plays his or her own principal role as well as numerous characters in the others' stories.

What makes it entertaining is the creative staging of Paul F. Gurgol, Kalliope's artistic director; terrific performances by a quintet of actors who sing, dance, and switch characters and costumes with chameleonlike speed; and the theatre's size, in which a small musical like this finds a perfect fit. With just 80 or so seats, the proscenium house requires no artificial amplification and keeps actors on their toes.

"Coming to America" jumps into especially high comedic gear with the bubbly Kimberly Koljat, who plays a plucky Irish lass who starts life anew in New York City as a destitute laundress. It is there she meets the man of her dreams, a Greek immigrant with a pile of dirty laundry, played by Jason Winfield. Together they turn soiled clothes into a successful dry-cleaning business.

Charismatic Christopher Sena plays the very Italian immigrant who settles in Buffalo and, to the tune of Cole Porter's "Old-Fashioned Garden," transforms the family's vegetable pushcart into a thriving Italian restaurant. The nimble-footed Jaron Vesely looks and acts the part of the Russian-Jewish immigrant, Yankel, an itinerant street singer who becomes a successful song-and-dance man with a little help from Irving Berlin and George Gershwin. Beth Kirkpatrick, a soprano with an incredible high C, is hilarious as a Swedish immigrant maid with dreams of becoming a movie actress. This sketch contains one of the evening's funniest moments, when she imagines herself a star of the silent screen. Lance Switzer's lighting turns the frenzied stage action into a cinematic progression of silent movie clips.

Although essentially a lightweight entertainment, "Coming to America" is a nostalgic journey that never fails to move those in the audience with a connection to that journey.

Fran Heller, Backstage, 2006
Funny tales from Ellis Island
Melting pot is bubbling as Kalliope Stage actors present world premiere of 'Coming to America'

Hats go off to Kalliope Stage director Paul Gurgol, who has taken the song, humor and dialogue off the pages of a brand-new, untested musical and made it work onstage.

The world premiere of "Coming to America," which launched last week in Cleveland Heights, celebrates the real lives of immigrants who came through Ellis Island from 1893 through 1916. The musical presents a humorous picture of the melting pot that was the American experience at the turn of the century, through the eyes of five everyday heroes who helped shape this country.

Through self-contained sketches, the audience learns about young Kaitlin from Ireland, Ambrose from Italy, Yankel from Russia, Pernilla from Sweden and Hector from Greece. None of these characters are connected, so Gurgol presents their separate stories as an American vaudeville. Five actors are seen in an onstage dressing room, preparing to assume a large array of characters on an adjacent vaudeville stage.

Since launching a world premiere musical is a full-time job for both the artistic staff and the actors, Kalliope Stage has cast mostly out of New York. Cleveland-area actress Kimberly Koljat, a Kalliope regular, takes the stage in Coming to America with New York actors Beth Kirkpatrick, Christopher Sena, Jaron Vesely and Jason Winfield.

Koljat is the most accomplished comedian of the group, especially when she dons a fat suit to play a ridiculously rotund, pregnant Italian aunt who pops out triplets. The director's not going for realism: think big, fake vaudeville mustaches, cigars and such.

The story starts with all five characters heading toward Ellis Island, telling the real names of the ships they took from their respective countries and the dates they each arrived in New York. The historic nuggets presented carry plenty of humor: Upon entering the New York harbor, millions of immigrants saw a huge, flashing sign for Lipton tea and coffee. Nobody knew what that was, but they knew it must be good.

"Coming to America" is very briskly paced, breezing through 61 songs that represent a living library of turn-of-the-century music. Composers include Scott Joplin, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, George M. Cohan, Victor Herbert and more.

The actors are in constant movement, with nearly all of their dialogue underscored. The show, created by James Hindman and Ray Roderick of New York with arrangements of old pop tunes by Phil Reno.

The musical has a strong first act, highlighting the three most interesting characters. Kaitlin (Kimberly Koljat) has been driven from Ireland by her intended's halitosis, and now she's on a husband hunt in America. She becomes a trailblazing female business owner.

Ambrose's story, portrayed by Sena, is the most fleshed out. He loses his sister to fever on the voyage from Italy to America. His family labors in a Buffalo factory before finding their true calling: running an Italian restaurant. They bring over a chef named Boiardi from Italy, who would become the celebrated Chef Boyardee.

Beth Kirkpatrick does a hilarious bit as her Swedish character, Pernilla, fantasizes about being a silent film star. Pernilla doesn't achieve the American dream: She leaves stardom in Sweden to become a nobody maid in America.

The Greek Hector's story, played by Winfield, includes some of the show's most heartfelt emotion and patriotism.

"Coming to America" features some light dancing and tons of fun music with a ragtime beat. The musical is something to celebrate, and its Kalliope presenters have lofty goals for its future.

"Coming to America" surely will strike a chord with many Americans, 46 percent of whom can trace their roots to the immigrants who came through Ellis Island.

Kerry Clawson, Akron Beacon Journal, February 20, 2006
Kalliope Stage 2005
Opal production photo
'Opal,' A Musical Based On A Young Girl's Fantasy Life

There are two show-biz prototypes for illustrious junior misses. First, there's the curly-headed windup dolls. They come fully dimpled, prepared to defrost all curmudgeons. Then there's what Nabokov famously labeled the "nymphets." Nobly carrying on the latter tradition is 11-year-old Dani Apple, wowing audiences as the eponymous Opal at Kalliope Stage. She possesses the haunted countenance of a Da Vinci madonna, improbably attached to a Raggedy Ann body. In old Salem, her bizarre intensity would have had her burned as a witch. In Robert Nassif Lindsey's musical, she is a shipwrecked French child, who may or may not be the last spawn of an exiled royal family, forced to play the recalcitrant farm girl in a roughhewn 1904 Oregon lumber camp.

One of the many delightful conceits of this storyteller musical is an unseen, but heard, pig that the madly fanciful Opal christens Peter Paul Reubens. The riveting Apple bestows on this unseen hog the same palpable, breathless ardor that Liz Taylor would first register for Lassie and later for Richard Burton.

Much like the familiar saga of the Russian Anastasia, this musical is tantalizingly constructed around the enigma of a lost young girl who may be a princess, a lunatic, or both.

The genius of the musical adaptation is that it captures her elusive hold on reality. The world of the play is set up as an illusionary fantasy, painted in a Grandma Moses' folksiness. We see the characters through her eyes, and they are referred to by such names as The Man Who Wears Gray Neckties. Even the dialogue has an unearthly tone, such as "The freckles on your wrinkled face are as lovely as the stars in the Milky Way."

Diligently complementing the musical style is director Paul F. Gurgol's knack for making the characters seem like toy figments of Opal's imagination. Thus, we have a schoolmarm who looms over her paralyzed students, town gossips who resemble old rag dolls, and a young hero who appears to have stepped out of a Grimms fairy tale.

With its perpetual movement, a nonstop score that reaches a happy medium between Aaron Copland and John Denver, and a twinkling cast of a dozen vigorous performers creating compelling storybook cutouts, the evening takes on the feeling of a whirling ride on a merry-go-round. In a hyperbolic world, this refreshing change of pace is a perfectly realized, unashamed miniature in a miniature theater - proving that big things can come in small packages.

Keith Joseph, Free Times, 2005
'Opal' @ Kalliope Stage 11/23

The production, directed by co-founder Paul F. Gurgol is excellent. He is an absolute wizard at moving twelve actors around Kalliope's small stage area. He does this by using nearly all of them in a sensible fashion as scenery, scenery changers, and props as well as people. The set by Russ Borski - which mainly portrays a logging camp in Oregon - would do credit to a much larger and wealthier theater than Kalliope Stage. Costumes by Dana Romeo are entirely appropriate to the time and place. Sound by Dave Glowacki and Lighting by Lance Switzer do much to convey the passing of time and movement of the settings from clearing to forest; dawn to midnight, and storm to forest fire. You could go to a lot of theater and not see better.

Kalliope makes much of being an acoustic space - no amplification, which is a very good thing. Voices that are great in a much larger auditorium are overwhelming in such an intimate area. Music Director Brad Wyner kept all the words and music together in fine style. There was not a weak voice in this group.

Dani Apple as Opal is a talented young singer/actress. She is eminently believable in her long, arduous role. The Mamma of Ayeshah Douglas was fine as the embittered woman who so desperately needs help that she's willing to take in the foundling who she'll never be able to understand. Her capitulation in the final scene was touching. R. Scott Posey as the lumberjack acts and sings with such authority he can hardly be blamed for having the two girls fall in love with him. The Thought-Girl, daughter of the lumber mill owner was perfectly portrayed by Jodi Brinkman, while Kris Comer was marvelous as The Girl that has No Seeing. Sadie McKibben emerged toward the end of the evening as one of the main characters, and was enthusiastically brought to life by Marla Berg, with a wonderful Irish brogue.

Kudos to Kalliope Stage for bringing it to our attention.

Kelly Ferjutz, Cool Cleveland, 2005
Enchanting musical for all ages at Kalliope Stage

There's a reason why so many musicals are based on children's stories. It's because the best of them prove equally enchanting to grown-ups.

"Opal," by Robert Nassif Lindsey (book, music, lyrics), at Kalliope Stage through Dec. 18 is a perfect case in point. Based on the diary of real-life Opal Whitely, a young girl with a mysterious past, the musical works its many charms with a heartwarming story, some terrific songs, and the wonder of seeing the world through a child's eyes.

Brimming with imagination, the fine production at Kalliope Stage completes the magic. Once again, director Paul F. Gurgol has assembled a great cast that sings and acts their hearts out with professionalism and passion. The 100-minute production, presented without intermission, flew by, and I was reluctant to see it come to an end.

The musical, which played off-Broadway in 1992, is set in Oregon in 1904. Scene designer Russ Borski converts the stage into a wooded lumberjack camp, turning burlap into a forest of gnarly trees that look amazingly real.

Eleven-year-old Dani Apple is sheer delight as the feisty young heroine, coupling a sweet vocalism with impressive acting skills and incredible poise. It's a demanding role, in which her character speaks French and English, which Apple achieves with astonishing ease. With her wide eyes, dimpled smile, and winning ingenuousness, Opal captivates us from first to last.

Scott Posey's heavenly tenor soars as The Man Who Wears Gray Neckties in the song, "Everybody's Looking for Love." The object of his affection is the boss's daughter, the lovely Jodi Brinkman as The Thought Girl.

Kris Comer is The Girl Who Has No Seeing who also falls for Neckties, mistaking his friendship and gentlemanly ways for love. Comer and Brinkman sing a wonderful duet called "Someone" about the man they both desire.

Oppressed by the cruelty of The Mamma (a tough-minded Ayeshah Douglas), Opal seeks refuge with a kindly Irish washerwoman, Sadie McKibben, played by Marla Berg; she reveals a splendid soprano voice in "Why Do I see God?"

The first rate ensemble includes Halle Barnett, Tonya Broach, Elizabeth Rubino, Joseph Haladey III, John Jensen and Justin Tatum who serve as rotating narrators as well as characters in the story, seamlessly navigating their dual roles.

The company numbers are especially noteworthy, including "To Conquer the Land" in which each actor mimes a different activity to paint a rousing picture of life in a lumber camp. Director Gurgol creates choreographic miracles on the small stage.

Brad Wyner's full-throttled piano playing sounds like an orchestra. Dana Romeo's period costumes fit time and place.

"Opal" is a feel-good musical for young and old alike.

Fran Heller, Cleveland Jewish News, 2005
Kalliope Stage does area premiere of 'Opal'

'Opal,' the Richard Rodgers and AT&T Award-winning musical by Robert Lindsey Nassif, is getting its local premiere at Kalliope Stage. 'Opal' is a full-length musical in one long act, that explores a young girl's attempt to "make earth glad" by helping those around her fulfill their needs and desires. The bottom line is that Opal's story is compelling, mysterious and tragic.

Kalliope Stage's production, under the adept directing of Paul F. Gurgol, is generally excellent. Gurgol does a masterful job of using the theatre's small stage to its maximum. He has cast members linger around the stage, doing various tasks such as needle-point, knitting, and sawing wood to the best effect. The scenes flow well and transition effectively. The pacing is excellent. The opening storm scene is quite realistic and his creation of visual pictures, such as the human tree, is impressive.

There are some very strong performances. Marla Berg as Sadie McKibben, the washer woman who befriends Opal, has a fine singing voice and develops a clear character. Kris Comer, the blind girl, creates a perfect image of a woman who is vulnerable and in need of love. Scott Posey has a powerful voice and also hits all the right acting notes as The Man that Wears Gray Neckties. His future bride, The Thought-Girl with the Far Away Look in her Eyes, is nicely developed and sung by Jodi Brinkman. Each of the narrators is effective.

The choral work is excellent as are the musical sounds. Russ Borski's set design is effective and Lance Switzer's lighting works well.

Capsule Judgement: 'Opal' is an arresting play that gets a very good production at Kalliope Stage.

The Times Newspapers, 2005
11-year-old's singing, acting carry show
Dani Apple portrays girl in inspiring musical 'Opal,' based on real child's diary

The enchanting musical "Opal" offers a turn-of-the-century fable in its area premiere at Kalliope Stage in Cleveland Heights.

This lovely Off-Broadway piece by Robert Lindsey Nassif that won the 1992 Richard Rodgers Award for best new musical shines with youngster Dani Apple in the lead as Princess Opal, who was lost at sea.

The highly imaginative Opal is a delightfully memorable character. Actress Dani's face has a wise, soulful maturity that belies the youthfulness of her little, preteen body. She's a strong actress and singer, and we are thoroughly taken in by her characterization.

Young Opal has trouble accepting the finality of death. In struggling to come to terms with her loss, she strives to do good deeds to make others' lives better. This way, she believes, she'll somehow be reunited with her deceased parents. This is ultimately a story about a child finding faith in God. It's also about life springing forth in the midst of death, and about finding beauty in every situation.

Marla Berg is soulful as Sadie McKibben, the wise old Irish washwoman whom Opal befriends. Among the cast's storytellers, Halle Barnett and Tonya Broach are most humorous as the Gossip Sisters.

The stage is framed by Russ Borski's gnarled-looking woods set, with trees wrapped in burlap. Director Paul Gurgol has created some beautiful staging: A handful of cast members become the tree that Opal names Michelangelo and that embraces her in her sorrows. Later, Gurgol creates a spectacular fire scene with five cast members fervently flipping around fiery-colored fabric.

As an adult, the real Opal published the diary that she had kept on scraps of paper as a child. She claimed to be the daughter of Henri d'Orleans of the deposed French royal family. Some said she had fabricated her story. Whether fact or fiction, Opal's story is inspiring.

Kerry Clawson, Akron Beacon Journal, November 27, 2005
Kalliope Stage 2005
Cabaret production photo
Dare to sink into raw 'Cabaret'

Kalliope Stage has created an up-close and very personal production of the musical Cabaret that is so in-your-face, it's downright disturbing. The fact that audiences become uncomfortable in the increasingly ugly world of the musical means that director Paul Gurgol and his cast have done their jobs exceedingly well. The tiny theater has been transformed into the 1930 Kit Kat Club in Berlin, with guests sitting at small, round tables. Actors and audience members mix as performers walk about the small house and sit amid viewers.

This adults-only production of the edgy 1997 Sam Mendes version is a clear triumph.

The cautionary tale is so raw and intimate at Kalliope Stage, it's hard not to take it personally. All the sleazy characters are downright glaring and larger than life at the pocket-sized venue.

I was able to soak in every word and every lyric of the show, leading to my greatest understanding yet of how desperate and dangerous the times were on the eve of the Nazi rise to power.

At first, audience members may feel disoriented when they see the trombonist wearing nothing but a leather G-string. But you get used to that, and much, much more. All the sexually explicit song and dance isn't just for shock value: It makes perfect sense within the context of the story, and its presentation has been thoroughly thought out by director Gurgol.

He has done copious research on the period, which was one of economic depression and moral decay. Interesting poster boards of authentic images from 1930s Berlin, juxtaposed with photos of Kalliope's production, adorn the lobby walls.

In this story, American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Rick Hamilton) comes to Berlin in search of something to write about. He finds much more than he bargained for after meeting the self-destructive Sally Bowles (the stellar Jodi Brinkman), featured entertainer at the decadent Kit Kat Club.

Every detail Gurgol has added to this show is replete with symbolism: For instance, he has made Kit Kat boy Hans (Joseph Haladey III) a clown who ultimately can't clown around anymore. And the Emcee starts out as a satyr - half-man, half-goat - who is a symbol of lust and merrymaking.

John Paul Boukis is perfectly insane as the Emcee, the linchpin who holds this whole seedy show together. Boukis, co-founder of Kalliope Stage with Gurgol, is born for this role: He's a fearless actor and a powerful singer.

The multitalented Boukis also plays the violin at times, the director's symbol of romance that contrasts with the score's heavy accordion sounds, representing German nationalism.

The cast comprises a combination of New York and Northeast Ohio actors. Among them is amazing singer Jay Strauss as the Jewish widower, Herr Strauss, and the emotionally evocative Kathleen Huber as Fräulein Schneider.

Gurgol's ultra-daring conception of "Cabaret" has been 20 years in the making, ever since he staged "I Am a Camera" in New York, the book upon which the musical is based.

We as audience members can't remove ourselves from the seediness, but character Cliff does, in a sense. He's the foreign observer, mentally documenting the downfall of a culture. Cliff has a conscience, unlike Sally, who tries to avoid thinking about one. Sadly, Cliff tries to be Sally's savior, but she won't have any saving. She just wants to keep partying until the bitter end.

The show's timeless warning has to do with keeping your eyes open and taking a stand against the evils around you.

Audience members should arrive early at this Kit Kat Club to get a feel for the hard-core party mood. They'll see cross-dresser Bobby (Chris Sgarlata) having the time of his life on a swing above the stage.

Costumes have a heavy bondage look, and grungy makeup includes faux bruises on a number of the actors' bodies. The provocative show includes partial nudity, depiction of drug use and simulated sex.

This undoubtedly will be the most meaningful musical production audiences will see all year in Northeast Ohio.

Embrace the discomfort. You'll be glad you did.

Kerry Clawson, Akron Beacon Journal, September 25, 2005
Provocative 'Cabaret' production at Kalliope powerfully shocking

"Cabaret" at Kalliope Stage is more than a show. It's an experience.

The event begins upon entering the theater, which has been transformed into a cabaret-like setting with audience members seated around tables lit by small, red-shaded lamps. Before the show, musicians tune up, a transvestite swings from the rafters, and dissipated-looking dancers and a sad-faced clown meander through the audience. The tight quarters in this tiny theater make it less than comfortable. But you aren't supposed to be comfortable watching a show that depicts the seedy, sordid underbelly of Berlin in 1930 at the dawn of Nazism.

And that's only the beginning of the uneasiness. The intimate, almost claustrophobic environment is matched by an emotionally jarring peek at the depravity of the era, which this production literally shoves in the face of audience members who are no longer spectators, but participants.

In the lobby, a display of newspaper clippings highlights Berlin as the homosexual capital of the world, where every kind of erotica is readily available. Director Paul F. Gurgol recreates the eroticism in a no-holds-barred, sexually provocative production with a first-rate cast that pulls it off. It's shocking, but that's the point.

In the first of Russ Borski's suggestive, bizarre costumes, John Paul Boukis, the emcee, is dressed as a satyr with a pair of short horns and the furry legs of a goat. The heavily made-up and tattooed actor telegraphs the insidious malice of Nazism, while simultaneously thumbing his nose at it. The emcee is always on stage, either up front in performance or lurking in the background as a constant reminder of the evil times. He effectively conveys the physical embodiment of depravity, as do the chorus of scantily clad cabaret dancers.

Jodi Brinkman is outstanding as the childlike, unstable Sally Bowles. With her carrot-top bob and coquettish ways, Brinkman combines reckless charm with neediness; her English accent is flawless. Frederick Hamilton makes Cliff Bradshaw's affability and naïveté believable. Hamilton has a fine singing voice, which matches Brinkman's in their song of mutual attraction, "Perfectly Marvelous."

Kathleen Huber is excellent as Fräulein Schneider, a spinster fallen on hard times who now runs a boarding house. Huber does not have much of a singing voice, but she compensates with her superior acting skills. In the song "So What?" she proves that being practical is the best way to survive. Jay Strauss paints a poignant image of the Jewish grocer and widower Herr Schultz, who wants to marry Fräulein Schneider. A dreamer, Schultz refuses to recognize what is happening in Germany.

The brief bliss and party celebration of the landlady and the widower end abruptly when a brick marked "Juden" comes crashing through the window. Dave Glowacki's sound design of shattering glass heightens the horror. Justin Tatum is outstanding as the closet Nazi, Ernst Ludwig, who smuggles funds from Paris for the German cause. His blond hair and chiseled Aryan features are enhanced by a perfect German accent. Ernst's transition from friend to steely-eyed foe is spine-chilling.

Even the on-stage band, under music director Brad Wyner, dressed in black leather and assorted thongs, gets into the act.

Kudos for Kris Comer's wigs and incredible make-up artistry, including body tattoos, and S&M laceration bruises.

No detail is left unattended, from the nightclub's vintage telephones and Cliff's typewriter, to Sally's flapper dresses and fur coat. In the satiric ensemble number "The Money Song," the audience is showered with a torrent of green paper bills.

Lance Switzer's lurid lighting underscores the seediness of the times.

The production is extremely well coordinated by director/choreographer Gurgol, who once again accomplishes the impossible with a cast of 21 actors on a small stage.

The hyper-realism is unsettling, even voyeuristic, and the astonishing ending remains unforgettable.

Fran Heller, Cleveland Jewish News, 2005
'Cabaret' @ Kalliope 9/23

What: An intimate, in-your-face rendering of Kander & Ebb's powerful musical about a decadent cabaret in 1930's Berlin during the rise of the Nazis, full of enough leather, studs, and bare skin to rival a fetish club.

Reasons to go: With his environmental staging, director Paul Gurgol puts you at tiny tables in the middle of the Kit Kat Club, with drag queens overhead in swings, bruised chorus girls, and people doing lines of coke at the next table. Jodi Brinkman is a bravely brittle entertainer Sally Bowles: a fine singer, she's unafraid to make an ugly sound when her Sally is drugged out. But the heart of the play is the tragically tender older couple - Kathleen Huber's lonely landlady Fräulein Schneider and Jay Strauss as her Jewish grocer beau Herr Schultz. They're heartbreaking. As the Emcee, John Paul Boukis goes over the top in an over-the-top production; he's effective in several numbers, especially "I Don't Care Much". Gurgol makes the ending even more grimly ghoulish. But overall it's both entertaining and disturbing in the right ways, and the intimate setting makes it especially memorable.

Backstory: Kalliope's Artistic Director Gurgol has been planning this production for years, and it shows in the details, from a choreographed pre-show (come early) to excellent historical lobby displays.

Target audience: Adults who want to experience an adult version of a classic musical.

Linda Eisenstein, Cool Cleveland, September 23, 2005
Springtime for Hitler
Kalliope's 'Cabaret' glimpses decadent, prefascist Germany.

Step through the heavy black curtains covering the theater entrance at Kalliope Stage and witness a brutally magnificent staging of "Cabaret." This version of the show, popularized on film in 1972, is stripped down to its core. Director Paul F. Gurgol has removed all the rubber buggy bumpers from this carriage ride into hell, and the result is a metal-on-metal screech of bleak sexuality in a backwards world, where survival demands isolation from others.

This is one show where it wouldn't hurt to arrive early, since the Kit Kat Club is bustling with activity as you take your seat at a small table: Leather boys abound, a transvestite is swinging overhead, and the stage is set for the emcee, played by John Paul Boukis, to launch into "Wilkommen." Dressed as a satyr, Boukis is completely mesmerizing, flashing his raccoon-lined eyes and wielding a rancid charm to pull you into his lair. Costumed variously in a leather codpiece, lacy pantalettes, or cross-strapped bondage gear, Boukis is a prancing, pouty, and perfectly depraved conduit for John Kander and Fred Ebb's inspired tunes.

The emcee's performances, supported by a splendidly sullen chorus line of junkies, whores, and perverts, serve as the framework for a curiously traditional Broadway musical formula: two couples teetering on the brink of relationships. Sally, a down-at-the-heels chanteuse, is drawn to the American wannabe novelist Cliff Bradshaw, even though Cliffie appears to swing both ways. Jodi Brinkman, her flickering cuteness almost buried under an avalanche of sex and drugs, makes a leaner and meaner Sally. Although speaking her songs a bit too often, Brinkman's lacerating take on the title song may forever expunge the pop track from memory. Rick Hamilton handles the often thankless role of Cliff well, floating in limbo both sexually and personally.

Cliff's landlady, Fräulein Schneider, and another tenant, Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz, create a few tender moments amid all the sturm und drang. Kathleen Huber and Jay Strauss sing with the burnished presence only age and experience can invoke, and their ultimate fate as a couple is the most poignant reminder of the evil spawned by fascist ideology.

This "Cabaret" gets even the small things right, from background vignettes (an S&M bottom getting paddled by his top) to a contortionist clown-mime (the amazingly limber Joseph Haladey III), who continually fuels the production's spooky aura. The show's breathtaking ending will drive home -- better than 100 hours of historical Nazi footage ever could -- the stark terror that can appear at the flick of a switch.

Christine Howey, Scene Magazine, September 28, 2005
Kalliope Stage 2005
Baby production photo
Everyone's expecting in Baby, and Kalliope delivers.

If you're an expectant parent, you're bound to have an epiphany sometime during the pregnancy, when the enormity of what you're doing hits you like a two-by-four between the eyes. It just might be when, in a quiet moment, you say to your spouse with amazement: "It will live with us for the next 18 years."

That's how Lizzie, a freshly knocked-up college co-ed, expresses the situation to her boyfriend, Danny, in "Baby," a comical and energetic musical at Kalliope Stage about how three very different couples handle their personal journeys, once each learns there's a bun in the oven. The play, which had a respectable run on Broadway in the early 1980s, features a bundle of charming songs, with music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. And even though the book by Sybille Pearson doesn't quite manage to tie all the elements together into a satisfying story arc, there are more than enough engaging performances to pacify even the crankiest observer.

The story is set in a college town, where three twosomes find out they're in the family way and generally greet the news with surprised anticipation. The least enthusiastic couple is Alan and Arlene, who are in their forties and already have three children in college. As for Lizzie and Danny, they focus on sharing their happy thoughts in "What Could Be Better," a cute song in which they imagine which of their traits the new addition will exhibit.

The most complex relationship involves Pam and Nick, an athletic thirtysomething duo (he's a wisecracking coach at the college, she's a guileless tomboy) who are absolutely giddy about the prospect of a bouncing baby. But they quickly learn that Pam's medical records were mixed up and she's not pregnant after all. This launches them on the path of fertility counseling and brings them into contact with a doctor, hilariously played by John Paul Boukis, who's more concerned with his ill-fitting contact lenses than Pam and Nick's propagation problems.

There's a gaggle of funny scenes. In one, Pam is lying motionless on her back with legs in the air after sex, helping Nick's less than superstar sperm reach their destination, while he reads Moby Dick to her.

Happily, the Kalliope cast offers a bassinet full of performance goodies. As Danny, Andrew Smith is a ringer for a young Christopher Reeve and fairly crackles with energetic good spirit. He's especially appealing in the show-stopping tune "Fatherhood Blues," decked out in his rocker wig and leading the other dads in a foot-stomping anthem to the joys and miseries of being a paterfamilias. Carrie Hall as Lizzie nails a few funny lines and handles her singing with solid professionalism. John Jensen is a thorough delight as Alan, using his angular good looks and rich voice to bring depth to his material, particularly the painfully honest ballad "Easier to Love." He also enlivens his moments with Arlene and makes one almost believe he could talk a 43-year-old woman into having another kid. As Arlene, Adina Bloom has a powerful and evocative singing voice. Kris Comer is vitally alive as Pam, making the audience feel her frustration as she pursues pregnancy. Her duet with Nick, "With You," culminates in the most affecting moment of the play, when her jokester husband asks her, simply, to "Hold me." Scott Posey as Nick handles that scene perfectly.

Director Paul F. Gurgol brings out all the joy this show has to offer, and that's quite a bit. It's a bright and breezy evening that works as a tribute to the people who, against plenty of financial logic, continue to bring tiny human beings into the world.

Christine Howey, Scene Magazine, June 29, 2005
Musical 'Baby' A Fun-Filled Romp

Kalliope Stage has nurtured its "Baby" into a thoroughly likable, tender-hearted musical at its tiny, intimate theater in Cleveland Heights.

What's not to like about this sweet show, a pleasing choice for summer? It tells parallel stories about three couples on a college campus who find themselves each expecting a little bundle of joy. One couple - Pam and Nick - have struggled with infertility, while the other two couples were completely unsuspecting. Under the direction of Paul Gurgol, the cast does a fine job of making it clear that this show isn't so much about actually having a baby: It's more about all three couples growing and maturing in their relationships. Being responsible for a little life forces one unmarried couple to re-evaluate their beliefs on matrimony, and causes a middle-aged couple to examine their marriage for the first time in 20 years.

Most radiant are Andrew Smith of New York as Danny and Carrie Hall of Baldwin-Wallace College as Lizzie, whose chemistry lights up the stage. They bring their young couple's deep love to light by the way they smile, touch and gaze at each other. The look of awe on Smith's face when Danny realizes Lizzie is going into labor is priceless.

"Baby" features catchy tunes by David Shire, with lyrics by Richard Malby Jr., who also collaborated on the musical "Big." Hall is a knockout singer as she belts The Story Goes On, in which Lizzie emotes about the miracle of life and the long line of childbearing women who came before her.

The six leads also coalesce beautifully with their stellar harmonies in Finale, in which all the couples come to terms with each other.

The melodies seem deceptively simple in "Baby," which actually features a difficult vocal score. All nine performers - including three ensemble singers - more than rise to the challenge.

Kalliope Stage finishes its second season with "Baby." The professional theater, which has built its young reputation on staging fabulously sung American musicals, doesn't disappoint this time.

Kerry Clawson, Akron Beacon Journal, July 5, 2005
Kalliope delivers a winner about relationships with 'Baby'

Kalliope Stage has on its hands a production of nearly universal appeal. "Baby," the touching 1983 musical comedy by David Shire with lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr., will seem most relevant to those who have or are contemplating children, but those who don't or aren't should not feel excluded. Only those who can't get tickets at this cozy storefront theater will be shut out.

More than pregnancy, "Baby" is broadly interested in the ways relationships adapt to life-changing circumstances -- and anyone can share that interest. Timing is the operative factor. It's one thing for Danny and Lizzie, a college-age couple, to discover they're with child, but something else entirely for the middle-age Alan and Arlene, who get the good news just when they thought their nest was finally empty and it was time to downsize.

A third couple find themselves in an even more precarious situation. Nick and Pam want desperately to be parents but can't get pregnant. Most of their struggle consists of conversations in bed, the stage's lone set piece.

Paul Gurgol, the artistic head of Kalliope Stage, directs an energetic, gifted and well-cast troupe that manages to mimic genuine human feeling and true 1980s fashion without losing its realistic balance.

Just as remarkably, no one misses a note in this challenging if stylistically dated musical score. The actors belt out their songs with equal assurance despite Shire's winding harmonies, counterpoint and frequent key changes. Brad Wyner leads an accompanying trio of keyboard, guitar and drums.

Scott Posey's Nick is a sympathetically conflicted character, torn between his nagging sense of inadequacy and his determination to be strong. His wife, meanwhile, played by Kris Comer, rides a wave of fully understandable emotions from overwhelming joy ("I Want It All") to doubts about her femininity and fear for her marriage.

Carrie Hall, as Lizzie, blows away her competitors in the vocal-power department, most notably in "The Story Goes On." She also portrays Lizzie as a bright-eyed young woman trying to combine motherhood with a fierce independent streak. Andrew Smith plays Danny, her likable and sincere but slightly goofy partner who earns money touring with a Def Leppard-like rock band.

Just as Alan and Arlene are the only characters who actually know what they're getting into, John Jensen and Adina Bloom bring the greatest depth of experience to their performances. The show's most honest song, in fact, "Easier to Love," comes from Jensen. Each relationship is a model in its way, but theirs is the one to aspire to.

Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer, June 2005
Small musical with big heart at Kalliope

Musicals that don't have a long shelf life on The Great White Way may have more to do with the vagaries of Broadway tastes than the merits of the show. Consider, for example, the delightfully witty and thoughtful "Baby." Created more than 20 years ago by David Shire (music), Richard Maltby Jr. (lyrics), and Sybille Pearson (book), it ran less than a year in New York. But it has since become a regional favorite.

No blockbuster extravaganza or state-of-the-art stagecraft to tease your attention here, but a refreshingly simple and straight-forward musical with terrific songs and insightful lyrics that will make you think, laugh and raise more than a few goose bumps throughout.

The intimate chamber piece finds a perfect setting at Kalliope Stage where "Baby" runs through July 31. A story about impending parenthood and how it affects three couples at various stages in life, "Baby" is a "small" musical with a big heart that is certain to capture yours as well.

There are so many good things to say about "Baby," beginning with David Shire's catchy pop music and Richard Maltby Jr.'s pointed lyrics which illuminate the human experience with insight and humor. Sybille Pearson's book gives equal weight to both the male and female perspective.

The uniformly excellent cast makes their characters utterly human and believable. The six principals are all actors who can sing and singers who can act. Paul F. Gurgol's direction is airtight, and the snappy songs under Brad Wyner's musical direction at the keyboard keep things humming.

Dave Glowacki's minimalist set consisting of a rotating bed and little else demonstrates that less can be more.

Carrie Hall is sensational as the fiercely independent co-ed Lizzie, whose expressive face turns from elation to horror as she contemplates the notion that what is growing inside her will live with them for 18 years! Andrew Smith is outstanding as the aspiring rock musician Danny, who imagines what "he" or "she" will look like in the young lovers' catchy duo "What Could Be Better?"

Lizzie ends the first act with the powerful ballad "The Story Goes On," in which experiencing the baby's first kick, she sings movingly of the continuity of life.

R. Scott Posey's soaring tenor thrills throughout as the macho, vulnerable Nick, singing of sperm conquest in the wonderful ensemble number "Baby, Baby, Baby."

Kris Comer packs a wallop of a voice in a slender body as the tomboyish Pam, who desperately wants a baby. The scene in which the couple decides to visit a fertility specialist smacks of sitcom. But John Paul Boukis's droll impersonation of a doctor more preoccupied with his new contact lenses than his patients is extremely funny.

Adina Bloom adds dimension to the introspective Arlene, who has second thoughts about having another baby as well as about her marriage. Bloom doesn't always hit some of the high notes musically, but she is an accomplished comic actress and chanteuse. In her plaintive song "Patterns," Arlene ponders the emptiness of a well-ordered life and her ambivalent feelings about breaking away.

The excellent John Jenson endows the well-intentioned Alan with a mix of youthful vigor and encroaching middle age. More comfortable as a parent than a husband, a conflicted Alan sings of his preference for children over wives in "Easier to Love." Later, Arlene and Alan reassess their repressed emotions in the deeply moving "And What If We Had Loved Like That?"

"I Want It All" is another great number in which the three expectant mothers explore the conflicting goals of career and parenthood. The men counter with "Fatherhood Blues," in which Alan instructs the neophyte Danny, dressed as a punk rocker in Gordon Leary's neon orange wig and tatters, about the realities of fatherhood. Director Gurgol's ingenious choreography to the funky beat is a work of art.

Rita Klinger and Kimberly L. Koljat complete the cast as two women eager to share their "horror" stories of childbirth with a very pregnant Lizzie in "The Ladies Singing Their Song."

To paraphrase our daily newspaper's motto, Miss this musical and Miss a lot!

Fran Heller, Cleveland Jewish News, June 2005
'Baby' @ Kalliope Stage

Kalliope Stage is a cleverly-redesigned store-front near the intersection of Lee and Cedar in Cleveland Heights. It's a very intimate performing space that boasts of having 'unplugged' singers, while yet amplifying the accompanying instruments, an unnecessary extravagance. It is however, the perfect space for such a small, intimate sort of theater piece, allowing the audience to not only partake of the emotions displayed by the actors, but to hear the singers even when they whisper.

Given the outstanding vocal talents displayed in this production - it's hard to imagine a more well-suited group of actors or a better collection of singers - the audience is presented with a nearly perfect production. Director Paul F. Gurgol chose his players well and keeps them moving briskly through the performance. The youngest couple - Lizzy and Danny, juniors at college - have all the youthful exuberance and energy imaginable for their roles. Carrie Hall and Andrew Smith are engaging as these young lovers. She wants it all; a career, baby, and Danny - but not the marriage he so ardently desires. They sing, they dance, they look the parts.

The 30-something Pam and Nick, a pair of ideally-suited jocks, are wonderfully portrayed by Kris Comer and Scott Posey. Their frustration as not being able to get pregnant is alternately funny and poignant.

It is the older couple, however, who really light up the night. Adina Bloom as Arlene and John Jensen as Alan celebrate their 20th anniversary and the departure for college of their youngest child, with a 'night on the town'. Faced with an unplanned pregnancy, they also must face hard facts. At 43 and 48, are they really ready to become 'new' parents all over again? Arlene envisioned a small apartment for just the two of them, but now-

All three couples face difficult choices which they share with us in believable dialog or in song. Among the vocal highlights were the three women in "I Want it All" and the men in "Fatherhood Blues" which included a cleverly choreographed routine with baseball bats. Danny sings "I Know I Chose Right" as Lizzie accepts his ring (promising fidelity) while repudiating the thought of marriage. He goes off to play with a traveling rock band for the summer, leaving her to experience the first fluttering movements of the baby all by herself, in the emotional "The Story Goes On".

Pam and Nick were not given the outwardly emotional story of the other two couples, yet they managed to portray the love and patience—and humor—necessary to follow the instructions in hopes of conception. The observer never doubts their commitment to each other, especially in the moving "With You".

Arlene and Alan were the most engaged of the couples. They've been there, done that. The thought of doing it again is terrifying. Her "Patterns" and his "Easier to Love" were vivid examples of the intensity involved in their lives. It was the next to last song, however, that saw members of the audience wiping away a tear or two. "And What If We Had Loved Like That" sung with great passion and tenderness by two experienced theatre professionals was an unforgettable experience.

Kelly Ferjutz, Cool Cleveland, June 30, 2005
A Little Night Music
Kalliope Stage 2005
A Little NIght Music production photo
Fabulous singing, artistry fill tiny professional theater
Kalliope Stage's 'A Little Night Music' breathtaking

It's Kalliope Stage's second season in Cleveland Heights, but the tiny professional theater was a rich new discovery for me just last weekend.

I missed the theater's March 2004 opening during my extended maternity leave, so I was playing catch-up with its current, sleekly elegant production of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music. The show is the theater's sixth production in a black-box space whose seating ranges from 75 to 99.

The tiny stage surprisingly never looks crammed with its current 16-member cast, thanks to an ingenious set design by Russ Borski and staging by Director/Artistic Director Paul Gurgol.

Kalliope Stage, founded by Cleveland natives Gurgol and John Paul Boukis, is dedicated exclusively to producing the American musical. The goal was to create high-quality professional theater in an intimate, Off Broadway-style house.

Gurgol and Boukis score an A-plus on that front: The level of artistry at Kalliope Stage is breathtaking.

First and foremost, the singing is fabulous. The musical - a tribute to Sondheim's 75th birthday - includes a blend of Cleveland and New York cast members, led by Cleveland opera singer Marla Berg as Desirée.

Executive Director Boukis said that at a bare minimum, Kalliope Stage's singers must "be able to sing the hell out of a role." That they do, from Berg's tearfully impassioned Send in the Clowns to the full-sounded operatics of five ensemble singers, including Boukis.

There's no need for a sound designer in this theater, where every nuance of a singer's natural voice is heard blissfully unplugged. That makes for a wonderfully immediate experience, combined with a beautiful chamber music accompaniment of piano, cello and flute for A Little Night Music.

The charming musical, with a book by Hugh Wheeler, was inspired by the 1955 Ingmar Bergman movie Smiles of a Summer Night. Described as an anxious operetta, the tale is set in turn-of-the-century Sweden as mismatched lovers try to find their perfect partners.

Kalliope Stage's beautiful, breathtaking visuals include lovely maidens doing a beribboned maypole dance. Everything about this show looks sumptuous, from Borski and Aimee Kluiber's gorgeous costuming to the classy crystal chandeliers hanging above the chamber musicians.

Set designer Borski's series of gilded screens are surprisingly versatile, sliding in and out, hinging to become doors, and artfully revealing cast members posed behind them. A tiny turntable also allows for effective scene changes, rotating to allow one actor to freeze with his or her back to the audience as other characters face the audience for the next scene.

Relationships are complicated in this story, in which actress Desirée isn't the only one acting. The brooding Henrik (Brad Herbst) is trying to be holy, Anne (Kimberly Koljat) is trying to be the perfect young wife and the Countess (Katrya Oransky-Petyk) is trying to pretend her husband's infidelity doesn't bother her.

Oransky-Petyk brings great warmth and humor to her role as the wronged wife. The story, which has some sexy frolicking and issues of infidelity, is not for children.

But it certainly is a delectable treat for adults.

Kerry Clawson, Akron Beacon Journal, April 2005
Cast is right for 'Night Music'

The most difficult part of producing Stephen Sondheim's most intricate and melodic creation, "A Little Night Music," is casting singers who can act and also fit into the characters straight out of Ingmar Bergman's movie, "Smiles of a Summer Night," from which the musical is based.

It must have been easy in 1973 to accomplish this. Mr. Sondheim, director Hal Prince, and librettist Hugh Wheeler had all of Broadway to choose from.

Can Kalliope fill this bill? The answer is a resounding yes. The tiny theater on Lee road, just north of Cedar Road, has a cast with voices nothing short of remarkable and actors with stage sense to match. Director Paul Gurgol has put together a thrilling production. He has a lot of help.

Costume designers Russ Borski and Aimmee Kluiber have dressed their delightful cast in detailed outfits of 1914 Sweden. These are characters with the utmost class, and the designers have not overlooked one detail.

Marla Berg, as Desirée, captures the mood and the humor of the play. She shines with her own wistful interpretation of the show's most memorable song, "Send in the Clowns."

Frederick Hamilton has the vocal talent and stage sense for Fredrik. Though as much as 20 years too young for the part, he pulls it off with shear ability.

Kimberly Koljat is a delightful Anne, and Brad Herbst is perfect as the solemn, suicidal and finally fulfilled Henrik.

And there are more: Tony Lehmenkuler, as the loathsome, egotistical but somehow likable ladies' man, Carl-Magnus, and Katrya Oransky-Petyk, as his sad but worldly wife, with the best laugh lines, are both perfectly cast.

Add Desirée's wheelchair-bound mother, played by Kathleen Huber, and you have nearly a dream cast.

Director Paul Gurgol directs with a fine touch with much help from music director Brad Wyner and a quintet of singers who provide a sort of Greek chorus and the mood of early 20th-century Sweden.

"A Little Night Music" was not a major hit on Broadway. As for here at the Kalliope Stage, it shouldn't be missed.

Herb Hammer, Chagrin Valley Times, April 21, 2005
Kalliope pumps up the intensity with 'A Little Night Music'

In almost every Roadrunner cartoon, there's a moment when Wile E. Coyote is holding a package from the Acme Company close to his face and wondering whether he should open it. That's a bit like going to see a big musical at Kalliope Stage, where they mount enormously powerful theatrical fare on a teeny platform that's so close to the audience, it feels as if the performers have been strapped to your head. Frankly, it's an acquired taste. But, like Wile E., you may find yourself strangely addicted and coming back for more.

This time around, the work in question is "A Little Night Music," the witty and challenging show with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. Set in Sweden in 1914, we peek into the upstairs-downstairs lives of people lusting after one thing - and it ain't herring fritters. At the center of the sensual storm is Fredrik, a middle-aged lawyer entangled in a sexless 11-month marriage to an 18-year-old sprite named Ann (bubbly Kimberly Koljat), who is the secret obsession of Fredrik's Calvinist-strict son, Henrik (played with morose monomania by Brad Herbst). The plot complications multiply faster than rabbits on Levitra, as horny Fredrik seeks to bed Desirée, an old flame and a famed actress, even as her boy toy, the low-wattage Carl-Magnus, is cheating on his wife, Charlotte.

As with virtually all Kalliope productions, the assembled voices range from good to spectacular. Although Frederick Hamilton looks a bit young for Fredrik (he could pass for Val Kilmer's second cousin), he is charmingly libidinous. In a beautifully nuanced scene with Marla Berg's Desirée, they share knowing glances and lickerish body language until they jump under the sheets. Berg is every inch the diva, and her rendition of the show's most famous tune, "Send In the Clowns," is achingly felt. As Carl-Magnus, Tony Lehmenkuler has a deep and robust baritone, while Laurel Held Posey as maid Petra cadges many laughs, teasing uptight Henrik with a deftly placed feather duster.

But the drop-dead-wonderful performance in this production is turned in by Kathleen Huber as Desirée's aristocratic but candidly acquisitive mother. Clipping her words with such crisp enunciation that the edges fairly gleam, she explains in the lovely and trenchant "Liaisons" the way times have changed and how she scored mansions and yachts through amorous entanglements with wealthy men ("It's but a pleasurable means/To a measurable end"). Huber is worth the price of admission -- and maybe a couple extra bucks on the way out.

This production also benefits from a neatly efficient set and opulent costumes, both designed by Russ Borski. Director Paul F. Gurgol sure can assemble some goosebump-inducing talent.

Christine Howey, Scene Magazine, April 13, 2005
'A Little Night Music' scores Kalliope a big hit

The course of true love has never run smoothly. Just ask the characters in Stephen Sondheim's, "A Little Night Music," who are now on the Kalliope Theater stage. It is the story of mismatched lovers who over time open their eyes and realize that what they are searching for is different from what they have been pursuing.

Kalliope's production is a winner - sophisticated and stylish. Its version is presented with finesse, a well done set and fine costumes, and a lot of acting prowess.

Opera diva Marla Berg is outstanding in the role of Desirée. She led the audience into a whirlwind of emotions and brought them full circle from happy to sad and back again. Frederick Hamilton also brought fuel to the fire as Fredrik, laying bare his heart and making effective use of his body as he walked the line between love and lust. Kimberly Koljat as the young and energetic Anne was a breath of fresh air. She seemed the physical incarnation of innocence, loyalty and love. Brad Herbst brought an endearing, naïve willingness to his portrayal of Henrik.

The most heartfelt performance of the evening, however, was Kathleen Huber's Madame Armfeldt, Desirée's mother. She was the wise authority figure on love, and she had her fair share of witty one-liners, too.

Alison Barron Sonderman, The Sun News, April 2005
Christmas Carol Rag
Kalliope Stage 2004
Christmas Carol Rag production photo
'Christmas Carol Rag' is a delightfully retro revue

Though Kalliope Stage has yet to attempt Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song, it has, in its short life span, pulled off its own variations of that musical's "Hundred Million Miracles" mantra.

Its latest eccentric triumph is a Christmas show (yes, another variation on Dickens' ubiquitous skinflint), which has, among its numerous virtues, a genuine ladling of Yiddishkeit. Amid the relentless holiday cheer, The Christmas Carol Rag's most endearing novelty is that its lovingly resurrected Tin Pan Alley sass far outweighs its mandatory sugarplum redemption.

A couple of years back, Norman Allen, a clever playwright-in-residence at Washington, D.C.'s Signature Theatre, got the nutty notion of pollinating Dickens' Victorian evergreen with an early-20th-century American vaudeville score and setting. With this mad bit of theatrical botany, Allen cultivated a red-hot mama in Evelyn Scrooge, an unlikely proprietress of a Lower East Side sweatshop, played here with the fervor of a tragedian of the Yiddish theater by Cleveland's own Adina Bloom. Her gender-bent Scrooge comes equipped with a Jack Bennyish parsimony and an Ethel Mermanish belt, filtered through an Eleanor Roosevelt-ish matronly earnestness.

The passionate Bloom even gets a chance to essay some Shylockian rage, when she is forced in a surprising swerve into a "Go Tell It On the Mountain" Christianity. She is given her de rigeur show-stopper when she turns Bert Williams' plaintive standard "Nobody" into a next-door neighbor of "Gypsy's" "Rose's Turn."

As is to be expected in any madcap experiment, the evening is fueled by a galloping insanity that deliciously defies all mundane logic. For instance, Halle Barnett makes the Ghost of Christmas Past into a wisecracking Fanny Brice in some bizarre Ziegfeld Follies sketch. Even more outrageous - if possible - is the theater's co-founder, John Paul Boukis' herringboned Bob Cratchit doing a popeyed Eddie Cantor take on "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland" to his spectacularly pregnant wife.

Director Paul F. Gurgol, aside from stealing the show with a tap-dance specialty worthy of Sammy Davis, Jr., has rounded up a company that wonderfully approximates show-biz archetypes of earlier days. Katherine DeBoer, who plays the young Scrooge, has the face of an Irish Madonna and the body of a showgirl. Paired with, and improbably towering over, the doll-faced Chris Pohl, the two pull off a rapturous cakewalk to "Hello, My Baby." John F. Herget IV brings a cherubic innocence to nephew Fred, in this version an unemployed actor-waiter. Singing "What Child Is This?" as the female counterpart of Marley's ghost, the radiant Molly McGinnis gives the show a moral heft that keeps it from floating away into vaudeville pastiche.

Once again, Russ Borski has indelibly aided the theater with a phantasmagorical set that seems to come alive with its own whimsical ghostliness, and Kim Brown's splendid costumes seem to have emerged from an old show-biz weekly.

Perhaps best representing this show's tongue-in-cheek innocence is its enchanting opening, when the chorus sings Victor Herbert's "The Streets of New York," belting out "You cannot see, in gay Paree, in London, or in Cork, the queens you'll meet on any street in old New York," without eliciting a single snicker.

Keith Joseph, Free Times, December 2004
Updated 'Christmas Carol' delivers a timely message

Whether you're a fan of traditional "Christmas Carol" presentations or just someone who has been over-Scrooged, you might be leery of yet another adaptation of Dickens' holiday classic. So it's a pure pleasure to report that at Kalliope Stage, "The Christmas Carol Rag" not only works beautifully, it even improves in several ways upon the original.

Playwright Norman Allen had the inspired notion to move the tale to New York's Gilded Age, making Scrooge a female garment-district owner who exploits her immigrant sweatshop workers. It allows for a mix of traditional carols with interpolations of terrific period songs to illuminate the plot and provide entertaining comic relief.

And the setting is a perfect mirror for our own age, where George M. Cohan's "If Only I Had 50 Million Dollars, Then I'd Be Satisfied With Life" still could be the ironic theme song.

Adina Bloom plays Evelyn Scrooge as a work-obsessed female entrepreneur, whose stony exterior covers a soul-sick loneliness. There's no Tiny Tim - instead the gentle Bob Cratchit (John Paul Boukis) and his very pregnant Mrs. (Elizabeth Rubino) face a dangerous childbirth with no doctor. The Nativity metaphor is further underscored by Janet Marley (Molly McGinnis), whose haunting "What Child Is This?" lays bare the vulnerability of poor children.

At Kalliope, the voices are always top-notch, but in this case, music director Brad Wyner has performed a minor miracle with a pitch-perfect period sound. So we get an operetta rendering of Victor Herbert's "If I Were on the Stage" by trilling soprano Kris Comer and light tenor John Frederick Herget IV, plus a sparkling cakewalk "Hello! Ma Baby" by young Scrooge (a luminous Katherine DeBoer and her fiancé Chris Pohl).

As the Ghost of Christmas Present, Kimberly Fain-Bryant rocks the rafters with a gospel "Go Tell It on the Mountain." Even director Paul F. Gurgol gets a tap-dancing specialty as Mr. Fezziwig. Cabaret diva Bloom's anguished rendering of Bert Williams' "Nobody" is fabulous, and "I Heard the Bells" is transcendent.

Kim Brown's gorgeous period costumes are a riot of colorful plaids and brocades, and Russ Borski's candle-lighted windows and gas-lighted street lamps look like a Currier & Ives print...everything about the production glows.

Linda Eisenstein, The Plain Dealer, Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Summer of '42
Kalliope Stage 2004
Summer of '42 production photo
Kalliope captures right tone with teens in WWII musical

Coming-of-age stories are tricky things. They require us to look back at our younger, more innocent selves with a mix of empathy and rueful tenderness at how truly clueless we were about the ways of the world.

At Kalliope Stage, director Paul F. Gurgol gets the tone exactly right with a luminous production of "Summer of '42." Staging the area premiere of the musical adaptation of the 1971 movie, Gurgol makes theatrical magic with impeccable casting and direction that is both delicate and deep. He takes a big risk - staging a story about teens at a professional theater and putting real teens in the roles - and it's a risk that pays huge dividends. The cast, led by the amazing Alex Wyse, is funny, touching and very real.

"Summer of '42" juxtaposes the first sexual fumblings of adolescents against the more serious story of a nation suddenly at war. Awkward, gangly and open-hearted, Wyse is heartbreakingly ingenuous as the 15-year-old Hermie, moonstruck over his neighbor Dorothy (Jodi Brinkman), the "older woman" who has just said goodbye to her newlywed soldier husband (a sure-voiced Chris Pohl). Brinkman has a torchy voice and a powerful presence, and on the tiny Kalliope stage, the side-by-side scenes of yearning have an intimacy that is spot-on.

Aaron Dore and Dan O'Neil are goofy comic foils as Hermie's pals, the crassly horny Oscy and the bird-watching Benjie. Nubile and sleek in period swimsuits and lingerie, Elizabeth Kelly, Julie Marx and Jamie Finkenthal look as though they stepped off a pinup calendar when they sing as a fantasy Greek chorus in Andrews Sisters harmonies. When they switch to their other roles - awkwardly real teens in bobby sox who are the objects of the boys' attentions - the contrast is both comic and sweet.

Rounding out the cast is Jay Strauss, an old pro who shines in his multiple roles - a canny New England druggist who sells Hermie his first condoms, a broadcasting Walter Winchell and the elderly Hermie, whose memory conjures the story.

David Kirchenbaum's score works dramatically to open up the story in the way that only musicals can do: taking us into a character's head and heart in lovely ballads, such as "Losing Track of Time" and "I Think I Like Her," and musicalizing light, comic moments such as the boys' consulting an illustrated sexology book. Hearing the lush voices unmiked in Kalliope's intimate space makes it even better.

Russ Borski's nostalgic beach-house set, framed by a star-filled sky, and Kim Brown's excellent period costumes add to the illusion.

It's a beautiful production - funny, sweet and moving - to open Kalliope's second season and an excellent introduction to the strengths of this new professional company.

Linda Eisenstein, The Plain Dealer, Thursday, October 7, 2004
'Summer of '42'

Yep, it's a musical version of the movie, and it's a good thing Kalliope decided to do it, since it requires adolescent boys to sing and act. Thankfully, this company's dedication to splendid voices and evocative presentations has landed it some very talented local high schoolers, who perform like seasoned troupers.

Alex Wyse plays the lead, Hermie, with such a cute and fragile boyishness, you just want to hug him (and it doesn't hurt that he looks like a teenage Fred Astaire). Hermie falls for an older woman (of say, 30) named Dorothy, acted and sung to perfection by Jodi Brinkman.

The original music by David Kirschenbaum ranges from average to excellent, with the high points being a hysterical double-date song sketching the awkward moves boys make on girls in "The Movies" and a tender ballad titled "Promise of the Morning." In supporting roles, Aaron Dore is terrific as Hermie's rough-and-tumble pal Oscy, and Jay Strauss gets some laughs from his Walter Winchell bits.

Director Paul F. Gurgol finds all the nooks of sentiment and crannies of humor (a boy buying his first "rubbers" in a drugstore) to give everyone a twinge of longing for the blissfully naive good ol' days.

Christine Howey, Scene Magazine, Wednesday, October 6, 2004
Coming-of-age story opens Kalliope season

The intimate Kalliope Stage paints a vivid picture of that bygone era, beginning with Russ Borski's minimalist set of a sun-drenched coast and beach house (one can almost smell the sea air from the sound of seagulls and lapping waves). Here the protagonist, Hermie, and his buddies seesaw between baseball and fantasizing over girls. Humor and heartbreak coalesce in a story told in flashback about a young boy who falls for an older woman whose husband is away at war.

Alex Wyse is equal parts touching and funny as the ingenuous Hermie whose adolescent sexual awakening wavers between bumbling earnestness and precocious sensitivity. Aaron Dore is the horny Oscy, while the bespectacled Dan O'Neill fits the role of the nerdy Benji, more interested in birds than the birds and the bees.

The object of Hermie's obsession is Dorothy, a war bride torn between loneliness and the nascent desire of a woman separated from her soldier husband. Jodi Brinkman gives a towering performance in that role. Chris Pohl is impressive in a brief but notable appearance as Dorothy's husband, Pete.

Seasoned New York actor Jay Strauss is sublime as the droll proprietor, Mr. Sanders, and the famously glib reporter, Walter Winchell.

A trio of Andrew Sisters types, alternately serving as a Greek chorus and a gaggle of teenage girls, features Elizabeth Kelly as the "fast" Miriam, Jamie Finkenthal as the self-conscious Aggie, and Julie Marx as the bookish Gloria who talks with a lisp.

The six talented, youthful performers (all save one are in high school) deliver well-honed performances under Paul F. Gurgol's meticulous direction.

Sara Smith at the piano keeps the production purring. Costumer Kim Brown's 1940's bathing suits and Bermuda shorts perfectly capture the milieu.

Fran Heller, Cleveland Jewish News, October 2004
Tender, Delightful 'Summer of '42' Opens Kalliope's 2nd Season

Kalliope Stage, one of Cleveland's newest theatres and the only area theatre dedicated to producing only musicals, has opened its second season with a wonderful production of "Summer of '42." Does the show's name sound familiar? It should. "Summer of '42" was the hit coming-of-age movie in 1971.

The plot concerns Hermie, an awkward, gawky, confused teenager whose summer of fun becomes a bittersweet lesson in love when he falls in love with a young war bride in a seaside town.

The play, which is based on the novel and screenplay by Herman Raucher, has words and music by David Kirschenbaum and a book by Hunter Foster. The duo has remained faithful to the film and even improved upon it. They have created a fully integrated work, where dialogue and songs interweave seamlessly, complementing each other with precision. The addition of the music adds a dimension of reality and tenderness to the story.

Kalliope Stage's production, under the watchful eye of Paul Gurgol, is excellent. Gurgol gets all of the laughs, the tenderness and the reality out of the script. He allows the audience to become swallowed up in the era. He is aided greatly by Russ Borski's mood setting and workable set, Kim Brown's period right costumes, Marcus Dana's lighting design and Chad Helm's sound design. The playing space also aids. This is a play that needs intimacy and since no viewer is more than 15-feet from the action in Kalliope's small theatre, the personal tie to the performers is easily accomplished.

The Kalliope cast is excellent. Beachwood High School senior Alex Wyse was born to play Hermie. His skinny frame, which features flailing arms and weak-kneed legs, gives him a look which is perfect for the role. But more important is Wyse's total control over the character. His small, yet well-pitched voice, is plaintive in the love songs, his yearnings perfectly revealed. It's worth seeing the show just to share Hermie's anguish and angst as Wyse lives them.

Jodi Brinkman is the perfect Broadway-leading lady. She is a wonderful actress, beautiful and possesses a compelling and big vocal sound. She makes for a perfect Dorothy. Wyse and Brinkman not only sing well together, but seem to have a powerful emotional connection.

Jay Strauss, a veteran New York actor, plays the drug store owner, Walter Winchell and the aged Hermie with total delight. He is a wonderful character actor.

Highlights of the show include the drugstore scene in which Hermie attempts to buy condoms, the hysterically funny movie scene in which the boys attempt to make their first "scores," and the "unfinished business" scene in which the boys are getting ready for their first conquests. Cheat notes have never been so hilarious!

Capsule Judgement: The recent trends in American musicals are in your face offerings such as "Rent" and "Assassins." Sometimes it's just nice to see a musical offering that is charming, full of smiles and laughs, and contains pleasant music. It also helps if the production is of high quality. If that's what you're looking for, Kalliope Stage's second season opener, "Summer of '42" will delight you.

The Times Newspapers, October 2004
A Charming 'Summer Of '42' At Kalliope Stage

Kalliope Stage's lovely "Summer of '42" represents more than just the triumph of the chamber musical: it is also the best of all sexual orientations. Ostensibly, it chronicles the most potent of heterosexual fantasies - a sensitive teenager losing his virginity to a beautiful, loving older woman, who then conveniently morphs into a wistful memory.

Yet this production, with its Vincent Minnelli-ish attention to detail, the romance of WWII open-toed pumps, the Varga pinup-girl underwear on a libidinous fantasy of a female trio, and, in particular, the lovingly detailed image of horny, pubescent boys on a beach, give the show the sheen of a homoerotic wet dream. The only missing element is Carmen Miranda in her tutti-frutti hat.

With this exquisite musical adaptation of the 1971 film, Kalliope Stage commences its second season, making that fortunate leap from a tantalizing possibility to an assured asset. This musical had the bad luck to open in the shadow of 9/11, and has been seen only in a handful of cities. Those fortunate enough to see this production will experience a cornucopia of happy surprises, which reinforce our faith in the restorative powers of musical theater.

The first happy surprise is the manner in which it elevates the kitschy nostalgia of its source with wonder and delicacy. Though painstakingly recreating the early '40s, David Kirschenbaum's music and lyrics - with their psychological nuances and impressionistic takes on everything from big-band music to Max Steiner's Warner Bros. strings - is clearly out of the school of Sondheim.

One of the most refreshing aspects of the show is its heart-on-its-sleeve sincerity, which eschews the leering mockery that has been the essence of every off-Broadway musical adaptation since Little Shop of Horrors . The score is too amorphous and tied to the plot and characters to make for a boffo cast album. But its songs - which attest to such emotions as a war bride's loneliness, a teenager's sexual insecurity, and the patriotic urgings of Walter Winchell - give the work an overpowering intimacy and humanity.

Rarely has a production been so perfectly cast. Director Paul F. Gurgol has employed a radical concept that has paid off richly: casting teenage roles with genuine teenagers. The show sinks or swims on the sincerity of its central figure, Hermie. Alex Wyse sings like a Vienna choir boy just past puberty and suggests the living oxymoron of a gawky Fred Astaire. But the key to his great performance is that, in a space no bigger than Aunt Bertha's parlor, he radiates an innocence and wonder that imbue the entire experience with a glow.

As his cohort in adolescent confusion, Aaron Dore pulls off the uncanny trick of fusing nascent Stanley Kowalski sexuality with Andy Hardy bumptiousness. With her auburn sensuality, Rita Hayworth voluptuousness and crystalline vulnerability, Jodi Brinkman performs the amazing double feat of embodying a genuine woman and a composite of all '40s cover-girl fantasies.

With the help of Kris Comer's sensitive musical direction, Russ Borski's delicate wisps of scenery, Kim Brown's evocative costumes, and, above all, Gurgol's impeccable direction, we have a production that fits its theater as lovingly as Cinderella's slipper.

Keith Joseph, Free Times, October 6, 2004
Pete 'n' Keely
Kalliope Stage 2004
Pete 'n' Keely production photo
'Pete 'n' Keely' @ Kalliope Stage

What: A 1968 "television special" reuniting America's Swinging Sweethearts - a divorced musical couple modeled on Steve & Eydie - goes comically awry.

Reasons to go: Two pitch-perfect performances make this campy musical a pleasure. Both Kathyrn Kendall (Keely) and Christopher Vettel (Pete) have the vocal chops and charisma to make you believe they were once headliners. They expertly show off the mix of quirkily arranged jazz standards and original novelty tunes by Patrick Brady & Mark Waldrop, and do the comic banter proud. Vettel smirking and finger-popping through "Fever" alone is worth the price of admission, and their "Battle Hymn of the Republic" is unforgettable. Costumer Kim Brown adds sequins by the truckload.

Caveats: Pete 'n' Keely is as fluffy as cotton candy - but the hilarious performances make it extremely enjoyable.

Backstory: This is the 3rd show of Kalliope's inaugural all-musical season, and its best yet. Artistic Director Paul Gurgol has made his living for 25 years staging industrial spectaculars from NY to LA, and his flair for tongue-in-cheek glitz and campy comedy makes this material shine.

Target audience: Nostalgic enough for the blue-haired crowd and funny enough for everybody else - a perfect summer treat.

Linda Eisenstein, Cool Cleveland, July 2004
'Pete 'n Keely' enlivens Kalliope Stage

Like Sonny and Cher and Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme, Pete Bartel and Keely Stevens were a show-biz item off stage and on in the 1950s and '60s.

"Pete 'n Keely," a frothy, vaudeville-style send-up of the duo's public and private lives, by James Hindman with music by Patrick Brady and lyrics by Mark Waldrop. The first-rate production at Kalliope Stage through Aug. 8 is as professional as musical theater can be and augurs well for this plucky new theater's promising future.

Director Paul F. Gurgol, artistic director of Kalliope Stage, doesn't miss a beat, starting with the assured, charismatic performances of Christopher Vettel and Kathryn Kendall as America's swinging sweethearts, Pete 'n Keely. These veteran actors of the musical stage have what it takes to make an evening of syrupy nostalgia and silly jokes such great fun.

The intimate 99-seat Kalliope Stage is the perfect backdrop for Jennifer Hitmire's faithful rendition of a TV studio, in which both audience and orchestra play an interactive role, including a flashing neon "Applause" sign.

With the requisite words from their sponsor, "Swell Shampoo" ("We put the 'ooooo' in Shampoo"), Pete 'n Keely retrace their history, beginning with their chance meeting at an Italian restaurant, where Pete is a singing waiter and Keely, a starry-eyed wannabee stalking one of the customers, Milton Berle.

The first act charts their rapid rise to stardom, ending with the show-stopping number "The Cross Country Tour," a lightning-bolt medley of familiar songs that touch on every state of the union, in which both delivery and choreography are a highlight.

Kendall, equally at home as a belter and blues singer, delivers a searing rendition of the sizzling torch song "Black Coffee." Vettel's jazzy, finger-snapping takeoff on "Fever" and the soulful "Lover Come Back To Me" are equally terrific. Their outsized talents include some impressive scat duets.

The second act mirrors the couple's professional and marital downfall. Nothing is shortchanged in this entertaining production, including Kim Brown's mouth-watering costumes (Pete's pale purple tux shirt matches Keely's mauve and sequin-studded cocktail dress), Marcus Dana's lush lighting, and the catchy orchestration of music director Joan Ellison.

This is the third and final production of Kalliope's inaugural season, but my first glimpse of Cleveland's newest theatrical kid on the block. If first impressions matter, I can hardly wait for the second season.

Fran Heller, Cleveland Jewish News, July 2004
Kalliope Stage 2004
Carousel production photo
Singing & Swinging

This production at Kalliope Stage is replete with fantastic voices that give this enduring score a rich and satisfying once-over.

One look at the small Kalliope performing space, and you'd wonder why anyone would try to mount a show requiring 25 cast members, some involved crowd scenes, and a couple of ballet sequences. But director Paul F. Gurgol manages to shuttle everyone in and out while giving his singers room to massage that incredible music. The boyishly brash Aaron Ramey is physically perfect as Billy...his solo about his baby-to-be is heartfelt and affecting. As his betrothed Julie, Joan Ellison sings like an angel.

Some of the best voices, however, reside with the secondary players. As the rigid but loving fisherman Enoch Snow, stocky William Clarence Marshall literally shakes this storefront theater's rafters with his powerful pipes, making one wish he had two or three more songs. His wife is played by Carrie Hall, who is blessed with a lovely voice and eyes that form into happy little half-circles whenever she smiles (you can see this, because you're never more than 15 feet from the stage in Kalliope's intimate environs). Rounding out the major singers is Marla Berg, who as Nettie delivers "You'll Never Walk Alone" with operatic panache.

This production is superbly handled, from spot-on costuming to ballet choreography that avoids seemingly imminent collisions with walls and poles. And the glorious singing makes it all worthwhile.

Christine Howey, Scene Magazine, May 2004
Sweet voices make smaller 'Carousel' long on emotion

Kalliope Stage is presenting an affecting vest-pocket version of "Carousel" in its pint-size space at Cedar and Lee roads in Cleveland Heights. The miniaturization has its drawbacks, but Paul F. Gurgol's mounting of the classic show gives you a good sense of what this new musical theater is about.

The full, aching heart of this "Carousel" belongs to the luminous Joan Ellison as Julie Jordan. With a gamin face and shining doe eyes, she's like a young Audrey Hepburn with a meltingly lovely soprano. It's no wonder that Cupid's arrow pierces the brash Billy Bigelow (Broadway baritone Aaron Ramey) you can't take your eyes off her. Their chemistry makes even the soggiest parts of the Rodgers and Hammerstein vehicle believable, and their falling-in-love scene ("If I Loved You") is unmatched.

Gurgol has assembled opera-size voices for this production, and in the small space, the ensemble has a resonance and volume that can pin your ears back.

Plump as a powder pigeon, Carrie Hall makes an endearing Carrie Pipperidge. As her suitor Enoch Snow, William Clarence Marshall looks like an NFL linebacker and shakes the rafters with his booming bass.

There are two standouts in the nonsinging roles: Susan McGinnis as the sharp-eyed Mrs. Mullins and a folksy Mark Flanders as the Starkeeper. The production is so well-sung that ultimately the music delivers the emotional freight.

Linda Eisenstein, The Plain Dealer, May 2004
A Grand Night For Singing
Kalliope Stage 2004
A Grand Night For Singing production photo
A grand night, indeed Kalliope Stage off to a solid start

Two great American traditions, artistic and commercial, come together at the intersection of Cedar and Lee roads in Cleveland Heights.

Kalliope Stage, an entrepreneurial partnership by John Paul Boukis and Paul Gurgol, is a fixed-up, 99-seat storefront catty- cornered from the Cedar Lee Theatre.

Their first effort is "A Grand Night For Singing," a 1993 showcase by Broadway showman Walter Bobbie of the artistic partnership of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, 38 songs from 11 shows.

With a youngish cast of five, directed with clean-cut flirt appeal by Gurgol and featuring the curly good looks and sturdy vocals of Boukis, "Grand Night" takes on a collegiate air in Cleveland Heights, a pleasant night out at a campus joint with some of your friends taking turns at the songs.

Boukis leads the crowd with the dark, tousled, slightly brooding look of a poet, setting just the right tone of relaxed, let's-sing- a-few-numbers, casually crooning about his "Surrey With the Fringe on Top" as if it were a shiny 1967 Pontiac GTO.

Crew-cut Robert Burian brings a frat-guy smirk to the proceedings, winking his way through "Honey Bun" and staying low-key in "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'."

Joan Ellison has the air of an undergraduate dreamer as she hastens the coming season with "It Might as Well Be Spring," inflames a heart or two with "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" and works wonders with "Something Wonderful."

Allison Hedges pulls ingenue duty with straightforward readings of "A Wonderful Guy" and "If I Loved You."

And Lisa Spinelli, who has the broadest smile and most mature looks, does the character songs with a touch of innocent lust, keeping "I Cain't Say No" well within the bounds of propriety without losing its spirit.

Kalliope is a new venture off to a solid start. Time alone will tell if the kompany kan kontinue its initial success.

Tony Brown, The Plain Dealer, March 2004
Songs Sung True
Superlative singers launch Kalliope, a theater for musicals.

For those who consider musical theater as necessary for survival as unpolluted air, clean water, and a well-priced Shiraz, there's a new company in town dedicated solely to producing this kind of fare. And based on its first production, "A Grand Night for Singing," Kalliope Stage is going to be a mandatory addition to the entertainment schedule. Tucked into a tiny storefront on Lee Road across from Heights High, Kalliope provides three rows of up-close seating so an audience can experience the full melodic impact.

"A Grand Night for Singing" is a collection of songs penned by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein for hit Broadway shows including "Carousel," "South Pacific," "The King and I," and "Oklahoma!" In this production, directed with style and wit by Paul F. Gurgol, the time is the late 1940s, and the songs are loosely arranged by the four seasons, from the initial stirrings of amour in Spring ("Hello, Young Lovers") to the reflective repose of Winter ("I Have Dreamed").

Director Gurgol effortlessly transitions from one tune to the next and optimizes the small playing area with ever-shifting focal points. This "Grand Night" is a gleaming treasure of musical excellence; it should not be missed by anyone who loves it when people burst into song for any damn reason they want.

Christine Howey, Scene Magazine, March 2004
Nite Club Confidential
Philadelphia Area Repertory Theatre 1995
Nite Club Confidential production photo
'Nite Club Confidential' too good to keep to yourself

If you are uninfected by the contagious fun and joyous spirit of the "sassy entertainment": "Nite Club Confidential," you must be dead.

Tipping it's hat to a number of '50s genres, particularly jazz and film noir, "Nite Club Confidential," the latest offering of the Philadelphia Area Repertory Theatre, pays homage to an era gone by: a time of innocence, when people felt safe to take to the streets after sundown to smoke, drink and listen to the song stylings of jazz interpreters in nightclubs across the globe. Although some of its songs and choreography may seem camp by today's standards, this production is by no means a parody; "Nite Club Confidential" embraces and celebrates the era it depicts, and its affection for the period is hard to resist.

The production combines an original pastiche score by Dennis Deal and Albert Evans with period music (including the works of such greats as Frank Loesser, Johnny Mercer, Sammy Fain and Harold Arlen). The young, energetic cast - uniformly excellent - are irresistible with their enthusiasm and hopefulness. The tight harmonies of "Ev'rybody's Boppin'" was just one show stopper but certainly a highlight for me. The two novelty numbers written for the show were also outstanding: in "The Canarsie Diner," a Marilyn Monroe-type from Long Island signs about how a waitress names menu items; in "Put the Blame on Mamie," MGM musicals are spoofed in a routine reliving the scandal of Mamie Eisenhower redecorating the White House in pink.

The show begins as three gun shots ring out in the dark, and the body of a man is seen lying on the stairway. He gets up and talks about his fall at the hands of perhaps the greatest star of all (a singer). (His name is Holden. Not to worry, his first name isn't William - it's Buck, and he's played terrifically stonefaced by Jack Hoffman.) Sound familiar? Yup. "Nite Club" is "Sunset Boulevard" - with healthy doses of "Forever Plaid," "Pal Joey," the film version of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" plus the slick harmonies of Manhattan Transfer.

An hysterical avant garde beatnick number performed by Scott Wagner will leave you bewildered and impressed.

Through the course of the show, the audiences are treated to Buck's manipulation of the two women in his life (Deborah Jean Templin is delicious as the over-the hill, vampy cabaret singer Kay Goodman and Meredith Patterson proves herself a fine singer and actress, and a damned good Monroe look-alike), and his inevitable murder by a femme fatale of the period.

Although I was disappointed in last year's production of "Gunmetal Blues" - it seemed to want to say something, but didn't - "Nite Club Confidential" pooh-poohs "messages;" indeed, message songs are derided in the show. Instead, you have merely to sit back, relax, tap your toes and enjoy the scintillating sounds and occasionally raucous laughs ahead.

Au Courant, November 21, 1995
'Nite Club Confidential'

Three shots. Sirens. Bluesy music. A body sprawled on the stairs. Lights up. Curtain up. Woman in strapless black gown, "a woman who, during the Eisenhower administration, never once saw daylight." Corpse stands up (monogrammed cravat, smoking jacket -- what else do you smoke in?) and tells us "how it was" on that night, not long ago, when noir was noir and glamour was glamorous.

"Nite Club Confidential," by Dennis Deal and Albert Evans, is entertaining in a couple of ways: it's a play and it's a nightclub show, it's a dramatic parody of all that "Sunset Boulevard," Sinatra-wannabe blues-in-the-night-stuff, and it's that stuff itself, with lots of good songs, good voices and good music.

The plot revolves around the fading career of Kay Goodman, a comeback dame who can still fill a gown as well as a club, who takes a shine to Buck Holden, one of the guys in a group called The High Hopes. We follow their careers (the show becomes a history of 1950s music, the transitions from swing to Village jazz and rock 'n roll) as well as their romances. The homely glasses-wearing girl in the group Dorothy, transforms herself into a singing sex kitten and snags Buck for her own. The resulting triangle -- there's always a triangle -- plays itself out in all the expected ways, with many cigarettes and many martinis along the dimly lit way.

The familiar songs are wittily used along with some great original songs ("Paris You Are My Big Affair," "The Long Goodbye"), and the staging, under Paul Gurgol's direction, is lively (especially the many transformations of "That Old Black Magic" into the ultimate ridiculous nightclub act (remember the line, "Do do that voodoo that you do so well"? Well...). Some of the corny old jokes are just too corny to listen to, though, and some of the reprises seem excessive, especially the epilogue. Deal and Evans' torchy song, "Dead End Street," is an exception: first parodic, and then, in its reprise rendition, genuinely moving and beautifully sung by Deborah Jean Templin, who plays the washed-up, lushed-up chanteuse with style and swagger.

Jack Hoffman, who plays Buck Holden, a lounge lizard and a lady-killer, narrates the proceedings with just the right smoke-gets-in-your-eye quint. Meredith Patterson is a nifty singer and a startling Marilyn Monroe lookalike. The back-up guys add to the fun: John Paul Boukis gets to do a very funny early rock 'n roll song, "Black Slacks," complete with mike swings and pelvic contortions, and Scott Wagner's bongo-jazz parody of the black turtleneck musical phase is really good as well as amusing.

The set, designed by Mark Simens, makes clever use of the Actors' Center paltry stage space, inventing a separate little arena with a black venetian blind, and a suggestion of glitz with a shirred circular curtain for the various nightclubs. Costume designer Kristi Irish has found some great vintage clothes, although some of the alterations are too visible. The offstage musicians, Scott Gurney on keyboards, John Hoey on drums and Bill McKemy on bass, do a terrific job.

Well, that's it, babe. Au revoir. That's not goodbye, that's French.

Toby Zinman, Philadelphia City Paper, November 23, 1995
'Nite Club' rollicks

Back when they were two smart-alecky guys fresh out of college, Albert Evans and Dennis Deal got themselves a couple of powder blue tuxedos and a flaxen-haired vocalist named Patti, and played the gay cabaret circuit in New York as an intentionally lousy '50s lounge act called "Blond Wood." It was razor-sharp - clever, broadly satiric but always affectionate and rooted in a genuine love for the world of the night club.

Ten years later, these two men turned their prolific knowledge and prodigious talents toward that same subject again, and wrote "Nite Club Confidential," a blissfully loopy marriage of film noir and '50s pop, Norma Desmond and the Modernaires, that is receiving a right-on-the-money production by the Philadelphia Area Repertory Theatre.

The material itself is terrific. Evans and Deal are so steeped in the music of the time that, unless your knowledge of music is encyclopedic, you'll be hard pressed to tell where their original songs leave off and the works of Johnny Mercer or Sammy Fain pick up. This is one of those shows where the more you know, the more you get; "Put the Blame on Mamie" bears more than a passing acquaintance with Kay Thompson's "Think Pink" number in the film "Funny Face." "He Never Leaves His Love Behind" owes a great deal to "The Man That Got Away." But even without that insider's edge, "Nite Club Confidential" is a rollicking good time, first note to last.

Paul Gurgol obviously shares the creators' love for this era; his direction and choreography is exactly right, briskly paced and tight as a drum. He's also assembled a top-notch cast, with two particular standout performances by Meredith Patterson and Deborah Jean Templin, who only just edge out the men of the company by dint of a couple of great numbers.

"Nite Club Confidential" is just too much fun to miss.

Philadelphia Gay News, November 24, 1995
Old songs and new ones that sound like them

You remember the chic nightclub scene of the 1950s when a singer in a strapless evening gown and three or four backup singers would present such songs as "That Old Black Magic" and "Something's Gotta Give"?

Well, maybe you don't remember. It was, after all, a long time ago. But whether you recall it or not, don't hesitate to see "Nite Club Confidential," the musical the Philadelphia Area Repertory Theatre (PART) is presenting at the Actors Center Theatre. It turns some of these old songs - and even more original ones crafted in the style of the period - into a spirited, skillfully presented entertainment that a person familiar with "Born to Run" can enjoy as much as someone who actually heard and saw a singer render "Love Isn't Born, It's Made."

If you weren't around to go to nightclubs in the '50s but have seen movies from the period, you can appreciate many of "Nite Club Confidential's" production numbers, which accurately copy the style of those in the film musicals whose popularity was dying in that decade. You'll aslo recognize the voice-over, film-noir-style narration and the "Sunset Boulevard" plot that the musical spoofs.

The show opens with shots ringing out and a man dead. In the second scene he tells us his name is Buck Holden, and he begins to tell in flashback the story of "how five people caught up with each other, collided and broke up."

The four others are Kay Goodman, a nightclub singer on the decline; Dorothy Flynn, a young singer on the way up; and backup singers Sal and Mitch. Holden has an affair with Kay. When she goes to Hollywood to make movies, he takes up with Dorothy, and the spurned Kay fights to get him back. It all ends up with everyone performing in Holden's Club Au Revoir, "where au revoir never means 'goodbye.' It's just French."

Dennis Deal's script doesn't really take itself very seriously, using it as a humorous vehicle to carry the show to the musical numbers. It serves that purpose well, and the story is funny enough. But the songs and their performance are this show's reason for being, and both are great. Although the score contains a number of standards from the '50s, it has just as many songs that composer Albert Evans and lyricist Deal wrote for the show, which was first produced in the early 1980s. Evans' tunes sound as if they were written 30 years earlier, and Deal's lyrics are evocative and appropriate - sharp and witty in such numbers as "Put the Blame on Mamie," a spoof of both Mamie Eisenhower and movie musicals; moody and bluesy in Kay's lament "The Long Goodbye."

Director/choreographer Paul Gurgol has a real feeling for this music and found a cast that can present it with style and enthusiasm. Kay is the principal singer in the story, and Deborah Jean Templin brings a versatile, impressive voice to the part, singing such torchy songs as "The Long Goodbye" with lost-my-man feeling and such numbers as "Bonjour" with sexy bounce.

As Dorothy, Meredith Patterson also sings well in various styles, giving an especially rousing rendition of the witty patter song "Canarsie Diner." Patterson also contributes '50s ambience, glamour and just plain sex appeal. Wearing a blond wig, she strongly resembles Marilyn Monroe.

As Buck Holden, Jack Hoffman doesn't do much singing. His main task is to move the show along with the narration, for which he effectively strikes the requisite smart-alecky cynical tone, and by portraying the ambitious, sleazy Buck. He's winningly sleazy.

As the backup singers, John Paul Boukis and Scott Wagner make strong contributions with both their singing and their bright, upbeat performances.

Gurgol's accurate evocation of the '50s musical style is wonderfully aided by Mark Simens' nicely conceived semicircular, bandbox stage setting, and Corey Schmitt's lighting, which really makes the show's various nightclubs look like different places.

Costume designer Kristi Irish has done a fine job (and probably had a fine time) creating a showcase of nightclub dresses.

Douglas J. Keating, Philadelphia Inquirer, November, 1995
Grand Hotel
Berea Summer Theater 1994
Grand Hotel production photo
Director is the real star of Berea's 'Grand Hotel'

When early this summer Paul Gurgol directed the Kander and Ebb musical review "And The World Goes Round" at the JCC Halle Theatre, it became crystal clear that Mr. Gurgol was a real find.

Taking this tiny review and turning it into a glorious evening's entertainment took a lot more talent and technique than you will find in your average local director.

But we had yet to see all of what Mr. Gurgol could do.

Currently he's directing and choreographing "Grand Hotel" at Berea Summer Theatre in Baldwin Wallace College. Those who marveled at his earlier work will be far more impressed this time out.

With Mark Simens' giant set pieces gliding on and off, this amazing production appears to be in constant motion. Guests and bellboys move briskly through the lobby. The orchestra is nearly always busy. Early on, character introduction might lead you to believe the play to be plotless. But a plot does emerge through this odd assortment of guests.

Somehow, mainly through the efforts of Mr. Gurgol, the show succeeds. First off he has assembled a remarkably talented group of performers. Mark Friedlander is perfect as the narrator, a long-suffering World War I casualty who acts as the conscience of the story.

Scott Wagner has just the right bratty, boyish charm as the quickly becoming desperate Baron. Bruce Karl Domski is wonderful as the frightened, shy and ever-coughing bookkeeper and Kris Koma has a cute effervescence as the typist with a dream.

The rest are all superby down to the maids and bellboys and even the seldom-seen scullery workers who remind us, "Some Have, Some Have Not."

The star of "Grand Hotel" though is its director. Mr. Gurgol draws outstanding performances all around and knows how to stage a musical better than anyone we've seen in this town within memory.

Herb Hammer, Solon Times, August 18, 1994
'Grand Hotel' production is one of BST's best ever

Berea Summer Theater's lavish production of the musical "Grand Hotel" is one of the best efforts this reporter has ever seen in the John Patrick Theater.

Director Paul Gurgol and scenic designer Mark Simens have outdone themselves - and the Broadway production of the musical - with a show that combines outstanding acting and singing with a set that is absolutely amazing.

Gurgol said he hand-picked the cast of people with whom he has worked before and one can see the reason why. Quality of voices as a whole is enough to keep the audience enthralled.

Scott Wagner as Baron Felix Von Gakern, a bit of a scoundrel whose money woes almost propel him to a life of crime - but not quite - is outstanding. His voice is beautiful and combined with his eventual love interest Elizaveta Grushinskya, an aging ballerina played by Peggy Gibbons, offers a beautiful love duet worthy of any stage.

The striking contrast of the ballerina's "confidante," Raffaela, is played powerfully by Renee Gatien.

"Flaemmchen" is an audience pleaser. Kris Koma is the petite and bouncy Hollywood wannabe stuck as a typist at the Berlin Hotel and caught between her desire to go to America to become famous and her morals. As her tale unwinds, it provides a most interesting twist to the story. She has a lovely voice that was perfect for the part.

The good guy gone bad, played by Berean Gary Jones as General Director Preysing, is also a matter of interest as the audience watches him fall prey to his business interests.

Otto Kringelein, a former bookkeeper who is dying from a respiratory disease, cashes in his savings and comes to the Grand Hotel to live out those last days among the rich and famous.

His travails and eventual triumph provide plenty of entertainment. Bruce Karl Domski does a great job in the part which calls for a wide range of skills.

Whatever the sound people did this time with miking the characters really worked. The show we saw last Thursday was crisp and clear and without a hitch.

There would be plenty of room for glitches in the show as the eleborate set recreating the interior of the lobby, a hotel room, the ballroom, an exterior view and the elevator area ebb and flow throughout the show. It's amazing to watch how the sets fit together and remake themselves. Simens' designs are genius.

The musical background and accompaniment to the show was, I felt, the best I've ever heard. Hats off to musical director Joan Ellison and the orchestra. Considering there is no break in the action for 20 scenes, this audience member says hats off to the entire cast.

The story is complex, but absolutely worth seeing.

Sam Boyer, The News Sun, Thursday, August 18, 1994
Riveting human stories in musical of 1920s Berlin

"Grand Hotel" attempts to pack into one musical experience the multiple stories of people whose only connection is that they're all at the same ritzy Berlin hotel in 1928.

Not an easy musical but an interesting one, in spite of slides into melodrama (holdovers from its sources, the Vicki Baum novel and classic Greta Garbo-John Barrymore film) and an undistinguished score (by Robert Wright and George Forrest with additions by Maury Yeston). Tommy Tune made it work on Broadway with Art Deco glitz and a seamless flow, without intermission.

Berea Summer Theater ambitiously offers the first local production, running through August 28 in the Patrick Theater. Directed by Paul Gurgol, it is a very good show with some excellent performances.

Gurgol and his set designer, Mark J. Simens, have kept Tune's gold chairs and fluid staging but changed the Art Deco look to European luxe - rococo furbelows and wood inlays in the hotel, a palatial vista of formal gardens and the Brandenburg gate beyond. Probably a more accurate style - traditional, comfortable and rich - it evokes a class-ridden society whose "time is running out," as everybody in the show keeps saying.

Class is important - we see the underpaid, angry workers in the hotel's kitchen as well as the rich guests - but the lines are dissolving. Money rules. The penniless baron, a generous gambler, is doomed; so is the businessman who can't keep his company on top. In this production, however, the decadence of pre-Nazi Berlin is much less important that the human stories. We meet a typist who yearns for stardom, a great ballerina on the skids, a mousy accountant with a fatal disease, a desk clerk whose wife is in labor.

Watching them all from a corner of the stage is the doctor, wounded in World War I and kept alive with morphine, who acts as a jaded emcee. Pale, right eye covered with a patch that can't conceal the purple scar underneath, Mark Friedlander gives a commanding performance, revealing the doctor's paradox of detachment and desperation.

Kris Koma is also first-rate as Flaemmchen, the typist, whose Hollywood dreams run aground in the face of a sleazy reality. Koma kicks up her heels with class in a short red dress, but under the bright egotism, her Flaemmchen has a wistful side.

Scott Wagner sings beautifully as the baron and warms up to the romance in the role; Peggy Gibbons' love for him is very appealing. Also very good are Bruce Karl Domski as the accountant who discovers life when he thought he was dying, and Gary Jones as a cheating businessman.

Marianne Evett, The Plain Dealer, Thursday, August 11, 1994
And The World Goes 'Round
Jewish Community Center 1994
And The World Goes 'Round production photo
JCC musical revue is sheer delight

Even the heavens "rained" their applause on the rooftop of the Halle Theatre at the Mayfield Jewish Community Center Sunday where "And The World Goes 'Round" will delight audiences through June 5. Everything you would want in a musical revue is here: good songs, great lyrics, wonderful voices and magical staging. It's a show you simply don't want to miss.

Musical theater is indigenous to the American stage, and John Kander and Fred Ebb join the ranks of great Jewish composers and lyricists who have left an indelible imprint on its 100-year history. "And The World Goes 'Round," which enjoyed a long and successful run on Broadway, includes songs from the duo's most well-known musicals, such as "Cabaret" and "New York, New York," as well as their least-known ones. Like Stephen Sondheim, Ebb writes lyrics that are intelligent, witty, thoughtful and moving. Not every song is memorable, but all are enjoyable.

The revue opens with the stirringly beautiful "And The World Goes 'Round" from "New York, New York," a song about life going on despite its hurts and disappointments; its words of wisdom echo throughout the show.

Set designer Jim Smith boldly translates the theme into visual reality. Ascending and descending stairwells orbit a turntable stage, which spins like the planet around a large globe poised at its center. A backdrop of blue infinity heightens the notion of life's continuity, awhile tiers of zigzagging steps emphasize its ups and downs. Freestanding "pillars" of light also accentuate the circular theme.

Many of the songs satirize contemporary culture, including "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup," a brilliant parody of Americans and their coffee fix. Performed by the ensemble holding ubiquitous Styrofoam cups, its words describe a culture of electric shavers, microwaves and Minute Rice. Each time they drink another cup, the song's pace increases, ending in a frenzy of words and movement; it's a masterpiece of choreography and performance.

"Sara Lee," sung by the handsome and talented newcomer John Paul Boukis (a graduate student at Case Western University) is another delightful spoof, this time on the popular dessert maker; it includes a slice of cheesecake, a cupcake and a brownie in human form.

The comedic note continues with "Arthur in the Afternoon," performed by the incredibly talented Kris Koma, whose large voice seems to erupt from ervery corner of her tiny and sensuous frame. Koma lithely navigates the stage on spike heels as she makes an appointment to cure her doldrums. (And it's not for the beauty shop!) This gifted singer and actress, who played Bella in the JCC's hit production of "Rags," is clearly a star with a promising future.

The refrain, "Sometimes we're happy, sometimes we're sad," subtly shifts the mood to songs of lost love and loneliness. The equally talented Neda Spears lends a bluesy rendition of "My Coloring Book," in which she soulfully laments a lost love.

"Sometimes A Day Goes By" and "I Don't Remember You," a duet by Scott Wagner and John Paul Boukis, is another excellent number in which memory, or lack thereof, plays off a woman's shadow in the background.

This corps can sing, act and dance with equal aplomb and, under the artful direction of Paul Gurgol, maintains a level of virtuosity that ranges from soaring to stratospheric. The judiciously placed orchestra and Karen Bull's musical direction are both outstanding.

Solo and ensemble numbers, either teasing or somber, are perfectly balanced. The colorful costumes, coordinated by Scott Wagner, are equally playful. Shirts and blazers of purple, gold and burgandy hues, bold ties and sophisticated black shift moods to match the music and lyrics.

With lyrics both entertaining and instructive, "Ring Them Bells" has much to say about the anonymity of city life. It tells of a girl who borrows $1,000 to go to Yugoslavia only to meet the boy next door. It is wonderfully rendered by Neda Spears, who urges us to go out in the hall and ring them bells; in other words, get to know your neighbors!

"Isn't It Better?," beautifully sung by Katrya Oransky-Petyk, contrasts the quick flame of passion with the quiet, yet enduring nature of true love. The simplicity of the lines attest to the power of Kander's and Ebb's genius. "Passion is fine, but passion burns fast; passion's design seems never to last. Better a match, better a blend; who needs a lover, I need a friend."

Another brilliant number (among my many favorites) is "The Grass Is Always Greener" (on somebody else's lawn). Sung by Koma and Spears, one a celebrity, the other a housewife, each yearns for the other's way of life. The contemporary lyrics, which both charm and bite, include a jibe at Bill Clinton's White House and penchant for fast food.

The revue closes with two outstanding ensemble numbers, "Cabaret" and "New York, New York," the latter presented in different languages (no doubt a tribute to the city's and world's multiculturalism), while light designer Charlie Lawrence frames the stage with a band of bulbs like a giant theater marquis.

"The World Goes 'Round" has something for everyone as the JCC ends its 1993-94 season in a blaze of glory. Every performance should be SRO (standing room only).

Fran Heller, Cleveland Jewish News, May 20, 1994
Kander-Ebb revue fresh, charming

An evening of Kander and Ebb songs might not sound as enticing as one with Stephen Sondheim or Rodgers and Hammerstein. But "And the World Goes Round," the Kander and Ebb revue playing in the Halle Theater at the Mayfield Jewish Community Center through June 5, has lots of freshness and charm.

John Kander and Fred Ebb are best known for "Cabaret," "Chicago," "Zorba" and the current Broadway success, "Kiss of the Spider Woman." But the real delights of this revue do not come from hit tunes or hit musicals.

Instead, "And The World Goes Round" mines true gold from some of the team's less familiar shows -- "The Rink," "Flora the Red Menace," "The Happy Time," "Woman of the Year." Outside the context of the show, these songs shine, telling a story all their own.

Take, for instance, "Colored Lights" from "The Rink," in which a woman with a checkered past admits that although she yearns for simplicity, she's a sucker for tinsel and excitement. Katrya Oransky-Petyk gives this complicated confession an easy, lyrical intimacy that turns it into a little jewel. In Act II, she does the same thing with "A Quiet Thing," from "Flora, the Red Menace."

Oransky-Petyk, a Philadelphia actor who played the title role in "Evita" at Berea Summer Theater last year, and Neda Spears stand out in this ensemble show. They each have considerable presence and unself-conscious ease. Spears moves from the bluesy melancholy of "My Coloring Book" to "Ring Them Bells," ("Liza with a Z,") the comic chronicle of Shirley Devore, who has to go to Dubrovnik to meet the boy next door.

Kris Koma has a terrific voice. She shines at a simpler song, "Only Love" from "Zorba."

The men, John Paul Boukis and Scott Wagner, both have excellent voices, and a duet mixing two songs of loss, "I Don't Remember You" from "The Happy Time" (Wagner) and "Sometimes a Day Goes By" from "Woman of the Year" (Boukis) is a sheer delight. It and a more hopeful second-act trio of "We Can Make It" from "The Rink" (Wagner), "Maybe This Time" from "Cabaret" (Spears) and "Isn't This Better" from "Funny Lady" (Oransky-Petyk) are high points in the show.

Directed by Paul Gurgol, the young performers give the show plenty of freshness, energy and charm. Musical director Karen Bull and her small combo sound fine, and Jim Smith's set, with its revolve, looks cleanly professional.

Marianne Evett, The Plain Dealer, June 2004
Astonishing JCC revue is season sleeper

Nothing John Kander and Fred Ebb have done has ever compared to the popularity of their first show, the 1966 hit "Cabaret." The only show that ever came close came a decade later when they wrote the songs for "Chicago."

These shows plus the songs for the movie "New York, New York" and "Zorba" and their new Broadway musical "Kiss of the Spider Woman" still have not exactly made Kander and Ebb household names.

But Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman and David Thompson have had the foresight to see enough in the Kander and Ebb works to build a musical review around them.

In "And The World Goes Round," now entering its third week at the Jewish Community Center on Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights, it's difficult to determine what it is exactly that makes this show such a smashing success.

Surely it's not only the collection from Kander and Ebb at their creative best; there has to be more and there is. On Jim Smith's glittering art deco set with dual staircases that rotate on cue, five singers -- each with a wealth of talent --sing nearly 30 songs from the aforementioned shows. Other minor works are included such as "The Happy Time," "The Rink," "The Act," "70 Girls 70" and "Flora the Red Menace."

But when you're doing a review you have the luxury of picking out the diamonds in the rough as it were. And that's what happens here. Flying in the face of convention at a time when musical reviews have long been out of favor, "And The World Goes Round" scores and scores big. Never has a happier or more delighted audience ever left the theater after a performance.

Director Paul Gurgol, who should be teaching the other directors in this town how to stage a musical number, does astonishing work. Without the help of a word of narration, Mr. Gurgol strings the numbers together making you believe they were intended to be done just this way. Never have there been so many show-stoppers. He has surrounded his show with a remarkable amount of talent.

Kris Koma, whose "Arthur in the Afternoon" from "The Act" nearly brings down the house, reminds you of Bernadette Peters and is just as good.

Neda Spears, with a voice of pure silk, does "Maybe This Time" from the movie version of "Cabaret" and has everyone ready to jump up and cheer.

Katrya Oransky-Petyk sings the ravishing "Isn't This Better?" from "Funny Lady" and the audience last Sunday wouldn't stop their applause.

The two men are equally fine. Scott Wagner is amazing singing the title song from "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and John Paul Boukis takes your breath away with the moving "Sometimes a Day Goes By" from "Woman of the Year."

Musical director Karen Bull pulls it all together musically drawing remarkable performances from everyone. No credit is given for orchestrations but many of them have freshened some of the older songs so much they sound brand new.

Lighting by Charlie Lawrence changes subtly creating just the right mood for every song, and sound designer Casey Jones has everyone with body mikes which enhance every note that is sung.

It's hard not to gush a little over this wonderful show. It's the most pleasant stage surprise of the year.

Herb Hammer, Chagrin Valley Times, June 2004
Berea Summer Theater 1993
Rags BST production photo
Richly woven 'Rags' is a musical treat for summer

"Rags," Berea Summer Theater's third offering of the season, is a highly ambitious musical that is pulled off with great skill and mastery by its director Paul Gurgol.

Rich in character and deeply moving, "Rags" has all the elements of a rewarding evening at the theater—a stirring score, outstanding acting and singing and a beautifully written script.

Add to that amazing scenic designs, and you have a winner. "Rags" is certainly that.

And just like immigrant life in the new country, "Rags" is made up of laughter and tears. The cast members, whose performances are nothing short of professional, obviously cared about their parts. This is a show with a lot of soul.

Scene designer Jim Smith, lighting designer Lance Switzer and costume designer Deborah Fell are all deserving of praise for the artist work this show displays. Co-choreographers Robert Nardi and Conley Schnaterbeck have also done an outstanding job.

Gurgol is brilliant in his casting and directing. He has, indeed, brought a must-see production to BST.

The News Sun, Thursday, July 22, 1993
Rich 'Rags'

Rarely is a theatrical experience so profoundly touching, so immensely entertaining and so richly portrayed as is "Rags," Berea Summer Theater's current co-production with the Jewish Community Center.

With deliciously eclectic music by Charles Strouse, brilliant lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and a remarkably talented and polished cast, director Paul Gurgol has crafted a theatrical thing of beauty for both eye and ear.

Strouse's music, from its bluesy, breezy melodies that evoke memories of "Porgy and Bess" and Joplinesque playfulness, to its haunting Judaic moods and borderline operatic moments, is a challenge perfectly met by the whole cast, including Charles Eversole's orchestra, the best to grace summer stock stages this year.

The host of talent in "Rags" is equally incomparable. Kathryn Wolfe Sebo, Cantor at Congregation Bethaynu in Pepper Pike, brings Rebecca, the young mother, to riveting life.

Sebo's is one of many rich voices and fine performances in "Rags." Kris Koma, featured here in a spotlight article last year, positively enchants. Rob Gibb and Scott Wagner are also especially notable. There isn't one weak performance in the mix.

Staging, costuming and scenic design are superior. This is a new world of brick tenement houses with glass windows, of oppressive sweat shops, and over-crowded apartments, teeming with life. This is a world of rich imagery, full of hope, but also full of crooked politicians, exploitive employers, bigoted small minds and shattered dreams.

This is the world of "Rags." If it had played like this in its relatively short run on Broadway, it might still be playing the Big Apple. This "Rags" however, is a new, improved model, with a more definitive story line and more focused characterization.

Go forth and enjoy, but go soon. "Rags" plays only through August 1 and is selling out fast.

Victoria Nash, The Morning Journal, Friday, July 23, 1993
Jewish Community Center 1993
Rags JCC production photo
Fiddler's Boychik

When "Rags," an epic musical about russian/Jewish immigrants opened in New York four years ago there was great anticipation. Finally there would be some new standards to play along with those from "Fiddler On The Roof" at Jewish weddings.

As a matter of fact, the show was expected to be "Fiddler"'s boychik. It had the same book writer (Joseph Stein) and the same sentimental reverence for the tribulations of the oppressed immigrants who became our grandparents. "Fiddler" told of their sufferings and the breakup of their traditions in the old country while "Rags" tells what these immigrants had to endure here.

How could it miss?

Easy. It had a labyrinthian book, a temperamental star and what was at best a competent hack director, Gene Saks. ("Fiddler" was molded to perfection by the genius of choreographer/director, Jerome Robbins.) It took an immediate nosedive into Broadway's shark-infested waters.

Fortunately, its death was only temporary. "Rags" has picked up devoted fans. It became a cult: there were rescue missions, re-writes and a splendid recording. A mini-"rags," which scaled the musical down to nine frantic performers, played the Jewish Repertory Theater in New York.

It was at the mini-"Rags" that the lust first stirred in the heart of Jewish Community Center's theater director, Elaine Rembrandt. She had to have it for her theater. When a rabbi's wife has a cause she will fight like a tiger. To make a long story short, she not only go the show but she also got the author to patch up the leaky book and she obtained an eager young director named Paul Gurgol to freshen it up.

Rembrandt and Gurgol plowed across all boundaries to give "Rags" a new life—budgets were busted, and a shofar horn was blown to summon in the aid of foreigners. Berea Summer Theater joined forces with the JCC. All corners of the globe were plundered. The Jewish Community Center suddenly found itself bursting with strange, exoti life forms: Shiksas from Berea, goyem from Chagrin Falls and even a female cantor. There were dancers from all sorts of unkosher places, wigmakers enough period costumes for 10 temple productions, all going into making the greatest resurrection that this city has ever known.

World, take note! If the Jewish Community Center can bring all these diverse factions together and create out of damaged goods a production so moving, so soaring and so involving that even my parents stayed awake, can world peace be far behind?

Offstage congratulations go to Joseph Stein for repairing his show. It may well be one of the best musicals of the last 20 years. I have a vision of a prosperous odyssey "Rags" on Broadway and then becoming the darling of countless community theaters. Also a quick passing squeal of delight for Charles Eversole's musical direction, Deborah Fell's costumes and Abraham Bruckman's set design.

Now for some good news and some bad news. The rest of the run at JCC is sold out. Now for the good news. Joseph Stein and once-boy-genius-director Paul Gurgol are going to do further work on the show and it will be re-opening at the Berea Summer Theater from July 13 to August 1. For you east siders who were shut out, pack your thermos with some matzoball soup, reserve your ticket and go west. You'll savor the novelty.

Keith Joseph, Scene Magazine, May 13-19, 1993
Seeking riches in 'Rags'

Fate has not been kind from the very beginning of "Rags," a musical created by "Fiddler on the Roof" writer Joseph Stein. Last-minute production changes, an 11th hour switch of directors and troublesome reviews plagued its Broadway opening in 1986. It closed after four shows.

Still, the story of Russian-Jewish immigrants definitely touched audiences. And the music, by composer Charles Strouse and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, is almost universally loved by those who hear it. So the American Jewish Theater staged a new version early last year, with the cast scaled from 30 members to an austere eight.

That's where Elaine Rembrandt fell in love with "Rags," met Stein and asked him to send her the script, with the thought of producing "Rags" at the Jewish Community Center's Blanche R. Halle Theater in Cleveland Heights. Now, little more than a year later, the JCC tonight unveils its own "Rags." It retains its almost operatic score, but has a hybrid script that Stein revised and a cast beefed to a healthy 40, including 18 principal roles and one baby.

"It's bigger than anything we've done at the JCC," said Rembrandt, who is cultural arts director. "We're going out on a limb for this show because we believe in it, and we're just sure it's going to sell well."

But a talk with Rembrandt and director Paul Gurgol indicates the two feel more for "Rags" than simple box-office lust. They seem to be on a "Quantum Leap" mission, wanting to knock aside all the hurdles that have kept this show from finding is rightful, respected place in musical history.

Its genesis, Stein said in a recent telephone interview from his home in New York City, "is not too complicated. I wrote 'Fiddler on the Roof,' and for a long time people were after me to do a sequel, which I did not want to do."

Stein felt the problems of Jews living in late czarist Russia had been effectively addressed in "Fiddler," but he remained interested in the first years of the 20th century.

So he turned his sights instead on Ellis Island, the Russian Jews fleeing pogroms and other immigrants who found new hardships along with their freedoms.

"I think ("Rags") tells a very strong basic story about America, about the immigrant experience in America which is part of every American's experience," said Stein.

"I modeled the story after the kind of life that was led during the 1912--to-1920 period in New York. In one way or another, it's what strangers in a strange land go through," said Stein, who came to see thursday's preview at the JCC and suggested a couple of minor changes.

At the heart of this "Rags" is the friendship that builds between Rebecca, a 33-year-old mother who comes to America in search of her husband, and 17-year-old Bella, who comes with her family and takes a job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. But the women were not always so finely etched, said Gurgol, who extensively researched the previous versions of "Rags" beginning with the original.

"The problem with the piece was that too many characters were undeveloped," Gurgol said. Bella originally had been barely introduced to the audience before having to carry off a big musical number, he said. Nor was Rebecca originally the central character she has become.

The American Jewish Theater's "Rags" had a better sense of story than the original, but with a cast of eight members who played various parts, the piece couldn't have the type of New York city-street feeling Gurgol hopes to achieve through the use of an onstage turntable, rapid pacing and his sizable cast. And this production is bolstered by a kaleidoscope of period and ethnic costumes by Deborah Fell.

Rembrandt hired Gurgol to direct "Rags" after her original director got sick, she said. The show was to open the theater season for the JCC, but when Gurgol saw the script, he postponed it to make changes. Later, when he saw what it was becoming he booked it for a July run at Berea Summer Theater, too.

"It's been very, very very overwhelming in my life," he said. "It's epic."

Even after Stein delivered his revision to the JCC, Gurgol has continued to work a cut-and-paste with the cast during rehearsals, he said.

"We're treating this as a workshop," Gurgol said. "I've been moving scenes around in different orders to make things work."

It might not be so much a question of whether it "works" as it is a question of to what degree it improves upon the past. Gurgol has spent nearly a year working the piece in the hopes of finding its ultimate form. What he thinks he has, so far, is a show worthy of stages such as the Palace Theater and beyond.

"It's not the usual let's do 'Anything Goes' in Cleveland because we can get an audience," said Gurgol, who has directed professional theaters in Los Angeles and New York. "I could have done that and collected my paycheck, but I didn't want to because I saw so much potential here."

Karen Sandstrom, The Plain Dealer, Saturday, May 1, 1993
A Little Night Music
Clague Playhouse 1992
A Little Night Music production photo
Clague gets a lot out of 'A Little Night Music'

There are adjectives out there that any self-respecting critic dreads using. Adjectives like astounding and breathtaking and enchanting.

Those are, however, the only adjectives worthy of describing Clague Playhouse's final production of the season, "A Little Night Music."

From the first glimpse of the frugal, but ethereal set, to the closing curtain, it is evident that this rendition of the Stephen Sondheim musical is on a par with any professional production anywhere.

If that sounds like exaggeration, consider that Paul Gurgol, director, choreographer and set designer, took Sondheim's wildly ranged musical score and assembled a group of performers who moved in and out of what could easily become musical chaos and never missed a step.

Kudos, too, for creating a cast of 16 very diverse roles in which not one was miscast. As a matter of fact, "Night Music" is so well cast that one marvels how so many talented, perfectly suited performers could be gathered together on the same stage creating this very memorable assortment of characters.

Clague Playhouse has employed perfect psychology here. After a season that started out beautifully and seemed to get progressively even better, they have ended their season with a visually and creatively stunning coup d'etat that will leave the audience thirsting for next season's offerings. Bravo, Clague!

Friday, April 24, 1992
Rupert's Birthday
Los Angeles 1987
Rupert's Birthday production photo
'Chug'/'Rupert's Birthday'

These two one-acts by Ken Jenkins avoid the pitfalls of so many recent short plays. Both are about Southern eccentrics, but go far beyond mood pieces to actually tell stories and create full, rich characters.

"Rupert's Birthday" is an absolute gem of a play. On a pleasingly quaint set of a farm we see and hear a lovely, middle-aged farm woman rattling off a litany of holidays that she does not celebrate. But she does celebrate Rupert's birthday - Rupert is a cow she helped to birth when she was just 13.

The monologue that follows is the woman's beautifully touching story of her life, centering on that important night when she became a woman. To say more would be a disservice to a truly moving theater experience. Anita Jesse is nothing short of stunning as the farm woman Louisa May.

Directors Flora Plumb ("Chug") and Paul Gurgol ("Rupert's Birthday) are both very effective, as their hands are absolutely invisible throughout these two very natural performances.

Tom Provenzano, L.A. Weekly, March 6-12, 1987
'Rupert's Birthday'

Actress Jesse has that rare ability to be a fascinating storyteller and be so crystal clear in her narrative one would be hard-pressed not to actually visualize and become a part of her action. Director Gurgol has managed to capture her innate visceral qualities exceedingly well and, as such, it makes for a vibrant piece of theatre.

Steven Zeller, Drama-Logue, January 22-28, 1987
'Rupert's Birthday'

Anita Jesse plays a Tennessee farm woman reliving an event from her youth (which will not be revealed here, but its simplicity and sentiment as opposed to sentimentality will tear you up).

Jesse's performance - her country accent, her oak-hewn manner, her total identification with her character - is masterful. Jesse disguises any trace of acting. Major credit also goes to director/producer Paul Gurgol, playwright Ken Jenkins, and the dreamy farmland set designed by Leonard Pollack.

Not much more than 25 or so minutes, this is a special piece of work.

Ray Loynd, Stage Beat, Los Angeles Times, Friday, February 6, 1987