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Archive for the ‘Broadway’ Category

Local Theater Spotlight: Beauty and the Beast

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Beauty and the Beast” isn’t necessarily my favorite Broadway offering, but it has some sentimental value for me personally, which is why I had to take part in it’s week-long run, currently housed at the Palace Theatre in Columbus, Ohio.

Though I’ve seen every Broadway tour to come through Columbus in the past six years, “Beauty and the Beast” is the only show I’ve actually seen on Broadway in the Big Apple, coupled with the fact that it was my favorite Disney movie growing up. I and my sisters often pranced about the living singing at the top of our lungs to Alan Menken’s popular score (much to my mother’s chagrin).

The 1994 Tony-winning, Broadway blockbuster beautifully transforms from the screen much to the work of it’s top class costume (Ann Hould-Ward) and scenic designs (Stanley A. Meyer). The stage becomes a masterpiece all its own.

Tim Rice joined the Academy Award winning team behind the movie to add seven new songs, but I wasn’t very impressed with the additions. Gaston’s “Me,” Belle’s “Home” and the Beast’s “If I Can’t Love Her” fall quite short in comparison to classics “Belle,” “Be Our Guest” and the title tune.

The cast however pulls out fantastic performances, especially Hilary Maiberger as Belle. It wasn’t until her act two aria “A Change In Me” did I really feel like I was watching a Tony-worthy showcase.

The show also infuses a healthy dose of comedy, which I appreciated.  Jeff Brooks as Gaston and Jimmy Larkin as his bumbling sidekick Lefou add hilarity with their Three Stooge-likes physical comedy exchanges.

“Beauty and the Beast” is definitely more of a showcase for your kids, the bright costumes and colorful moving backdrops, paired with the physical comedy will keep any 6-year-old on the edge of their seat, but as for me I’ll stick to with my fond memories of the film.

“Beauty and the Beast” runs through Oct. 14 at the Palace Theatre, 34 W. Broad Street, Columbus. Visit or for more information. 


Local Theater Spotlight: ‘Memphis’

Original Broadway cast members Montego Glover and Chad Kimball in “Memphis.” Photo credit: Joan Marcus

I’ve never been a comic book junkie but when it comes to theater I’ve always had my own personal Fantastic Four. “Rent.” “Chicago.” “Dreamgirls.” “Wicked.”  I’ve seen a lot of theater over the past several years. A LOT of theater. Most of it pretty good. But it’s never gotten better than those four for me. That is until I saw “Memphis” at the Ohio Theatre last night.

In Columbus on it’s Braodway tour until June 3, Joe DiPietro and David Bryan’s “Memphis,”  the story of radio DJ Huey Calhoun’s rise and fall from fame as the first white DJ to play “race music” in the 1950s,  is hands down the best musical I’ve ever seen.

The show opens with Calhoun (Bryan Fenkart) happening into a blue’s club and falling head over heels with the music and the club’s lead singer, Felicia (Felicia Boswell). Huey and Felicia’s love story takes a bumpy ride through history, all the while Huey uses his DJ career to promote the “Music of [His] Soul,” placing him and local R&B artists on the front lines of fame and racism in 1950s Memphis, Tennessee.

I have to admit I had s0me doubts going in. This 2010 Tony Award winner for Best Musical has a synopsis that reads like an unintentionally racist headline. “White man saves black music.” But much ado is given to the true originators of rock ‘n’ roll, the black southern blues musicians of the time period. And there’s no denying the stellar talent, music and choreography that makes this show breathtaking.

It’s been circulating among critics that the “Memphis” tour is even better than the Broadway original. And after perusing a dozen or so YouTube videos, I’m inclined to agree.

The ensemble is replete with powerhouse vocalists, led by Bryan Fenkart and Felicia Boswell as star-crossed music lovers Huey and Felicia. Fenkart is charming in the bumbling idiocy of Huey, a poor kid who happens upon local fame. It’s his astounding vocal range and wide-eyed wonderment that keeps the show endearing. And Boswell is a ball of fierce tenacity that you can’t keep your eyes off of. Her first-act aria, “Colored Woman,” not only steals the show, but your heart as well.

Supporting players Quentin Earl Darrington (Delray, Felicia’s overprotective club-owner brother), Rhett George (Gator, “Delray’s” breakout bartender) and Will Mann (Bobby, radio station janitor turned Calhoun’s crowning co-host) also showed vocal prowess, especially George, who had much of the audience in tears after his leading moment in act-one closer “Say a Prayer.”

It’s the Tony-winning score, however, that makes “Memphis” a true delight. Blues, jazz, gospel and rock ‘n’ roll are all rolled into a host of feel good inspirational tunes. It definitely feels a lot like the message of “Hairspray” mixed with the soul of “Dreamgirls,” but keeps the energy at a high-octane level throughout.

Paul Tazewell’s Tony Award nominated costumes light up the stage with a distinct period finesse, while David Gallo (scenic design), Howell Binkley (lighting design) and Ken Travis (sound design) create a powerful audio visual experience that is goosebumps-inducing all its own.

If “Memphis” comes through your town, or anywhere near your town, you must indulge. It was this season’s must-see tour and you need to believe the hype.

“Memphis” runs at Ohio Theatre through June 3. Tickets start at $28. For more information visit

Local Theater Spotlight: ‘The 39 Steps’ by CATCO

Paul Riopelle, Jeff Horst and Ben Gorman in “The 39 Steps” by CATCO

For their season closer CATCO is in the midst of running fan favorite “The 39 Steps,” a stage spoof of the famous Alfred Hitchcock film by Patrick Barlow.

A 2008 Tony Award winner, the production is one of the longest running plays on Broadway and has been known to be a universal crowd-pleaser.

The story follows Richard Hanney (Ben Gorman) an ordinary fellow who only wishes for a night of “mindless pleasure” at the theater, but finds himself on the lam after being framed of murder. Hijinks and hilarity ensue.

Four actors (Gorman, Ginna Hoben, Paul Riopelle, Jeff Horst) play all 150 of the show’s characters, making the quick-change it’s own art form. Parts of the script oftne force the actors the change characters throughout the same scene.

CATCO’s production is pretty solid. Gorman skews slightly older than most “Hanneys” I’ve seen, but does well wearing the character’s absent-minded charm. Hoben (last seen in the AMAZING production of “Next Fall“) is a delight as ALL the female roles, especially as the thick-accented Annabella Schmidt. Riopelle and Horst are also a riot as Clown #1 and Clown #2 taking on the bulk of the show’s characters.

CATCO’s typically phenomenal set designs didn’t disappoint this time either. Designers Brad Steinmetz and Jacque Nelson add 1930s period Britain nuance and the stage hands often become part of the production changing sets intricately about the players as the show in play. Director Steven C. Anderson does well to keep the action moving at a swift pace, while still keeping impeccable comedic timing.

Definitely add “The 39 Steps” to your early summer lineup, you won’t be disapointed.

CATCO presents “The 39 Steps” through June 3 in Studio One of the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street. Tickets are $11 to $40. For more information visit

Local Theater Spotlight: ‘Reefer Madness’ by Shadowbox Live

Mary Randle, Renee Horton, Tom Cardinal and Jamie Barrow in Shadowbox Live’s “Reefer Madness”

Shadowbox Live is in the throes of another hit with their latest Sunday musical, “Reefer Madness,” the 2001 Off-Broadway musical spoofing the 1930’s PSA meant to scare adolescents away from smoking marijuana.

The original PSA adds manslaughter, suicide, rape and cannibalism to the munchies and apathy as side effects of marijuana use. Watching it now, the blatant fear-mongering seems ridiculously over the top, a concept the musical plays off of well.

The storyline follows high school student Jimmy Harper (Jamie Barrow) as he descends from straight-and-narrow to an alleged murderous criminal because of his addiction to “the reefer,” pulling his unsuspecting golden girlfriend,Mary Lane(Renee Horton), down with him.

The score be-bops much like a mix of “Grease” and “Little Shop of Horrors,” especially sprightly songs like “Romeo and Juliet” and “Mary Jane/Mary Lane.”

The Shadowbox Live cast nails the musical’s over-the-top innuendo and period attitudes. Barrow and Horton are a perfect duo and the leading couple. Kudos to director Julie Klein for putting two of Shadowbox’s typical second stringers in the starting lineup. Barrow was born for this role, nailing Harper’s nerdy charm and good-boy-gone-bad dalliances, while Horton’s overt ray of sunshine as the ditzy Mary never wanes or becomes annoying, as it easily could.

By definition “Reefer Madness” is an envelope-pusher that stays in the realm of the absurd and is known by some critics to be too bizarre, but in the hands of Shadowbox it becomes a beautifully ridiculous ode to the ignorance behind fear-based propaganda, and a damn good night at the theater.

“Reefer Madness” runs at Shadowbox Live, 503 S. Front Street, Columbus, through July 8. Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students/seniors. For more information visit

Local Theater Spotlight: ‘Bad Seed’ by TAPA

Shaunessey DeRosa and Ernie Nicastro in “Bad Seed” by TAPA

TAPA (The Academy for Performing Arts) has definitely become the little theater company that could. They continue to adequately produce full-fledged classic plays and musicals (“The Glass Menagerie,” “Scrooge the Musical”) on a shoestring budget with only the help of ticket sales and their donors.

Knowing this before I stepped into “Bad Seed”—their season-closer showing through May 13 at TAPA Theatre, 1230 Oakland Park Ave.—I was thoroughly surprised by the lavish sets and some of the amazing talent that graced the stage.

Maxwell Anderson’s hit 1955 Broadway play chronicles the tale of a seemingly perfect 1950s suburban home. A “Leave It to Beaver”-style family—military father, a doting wife and a cute 8-year-old daughter in blonde pig tales—open the show to their daily Cleaver-like routines. It first reminds you of “Our Town” but soon a young boy from the local grade school is found drowned in a nearby lake and evidence quickly begins to point to the 8-year-old girl.

Mysteries from the girl’s and the mother’s past are revealed that show a pattern of murder that could be hereditary, calling into questions whether the daughter’s acts are triggered by nature or nurture.

TAPA puts on a sound production. The plush stage is perfectly set by Don Roberts, who acts as director and set designer, and the costumes adequately represent the era.

Shaunessey DeRosa is perfectly creepy as Rhoda Penmark, the 8-year-old villain. Her smile and disposition stays painted and perky even when admitting to her mother that she’s committed murder.

Ginny Cipolla also shines as Monica Breedlove, the nosey and annoying neighbor quick with an opinion. She helps to offer a bit of comedic relief to the otherwise frightful tale. And Cheryl Muller, as the grieving Mrs. Daigle, also puts in a few scene-stealing moments, bursting in on Mrs. Penmark in a drunken stupor to seek answers from her daughter.

The production is far from perfect, a few lags in energy, some dropped lines and misplaced sound cues muddle the storyline, but overall it’s a trilling and well executed sleuth that worth the city’s attention.

TAPA’s “Bad Seed” runs through May 13 at TAPA Theatre, 1260 Oakland Park Ave., Columbus. Tickets are $14 for adults and $10 for children/seniors. For more information call 614-783-3955 or visit

Local Theater Spotlight: ‘Titanic the Musical’

The world is all abuzz about Titanic. The 100th anniversary has spawned a re-release of James Cameron’s famous film, a multitude of televised and printed tributes, and a remake of the voyage itself, complete with a replica boat that traveled the exact same route. (Talk about karma waiting to happen.)

SoColumbus, of course, couldn’t get away from the hype. Curtain Players’ staging of “Titanic the Musical,” running through April 29 at the troupe’s Playhouse inGalena, has sold out EVERY production. (One seasoned local thespian sitting near me put it best, “Getting a ticket to this show was like winning Willy Wonka’s golden ticket!”)

Maury Yeston and Peter Stone’s ode lit up Broadway, winning five Tony’s, including Best Musical, in 1997, the same year as Cameron’s film. But I’m having trouble understanding why.

Curtain Players’ production is phenomenal (more on that later). But the book and music left me flat. The script is in the same vein as “Anything Goes” with the musical stylings of “Phantom of the Opera,” but doesn’t quite live up to those classics. The show is riddled with clichés and stunted character development. It’s fun, but not exactly phenomenal.

Despite my misgivings about the show’s original artistic integrity, director April Olt pulls out all the stops, adding a plethora of the necessary bells and whistles for this local blockbuster.

Having to guide more than 40 actors makes the task of putting this show together much like captaining the Titanic, and it looks like Olt handles it with ease. Every inch of the small Galena Playhosue is put to use. Boat staff climb ladders on the walls, people are singing from the balcony and the aisle ways are constantly filled with performers.

Cleverly built moving set pieces (also designed by Olt) transform the stage from deck to captain’s quarters to dining room and back again. But the bank could’ve easily been broken with the intricate costumes donned by each of the entire cast. Debbie Hamrick, of Debbie’s Costume Shop, adds striking nuance to the period aesthetic for the ship’s first class, second class and third class passengers.

I was also thoroughly surprised by the talent. There wasn’t a single off vocal throughout the night. A hefty task when dealing with that many voices. Most noteworthy are the show’s leading men. Jay Rittberger, Doug Browell and Randy Benge (as designer, owner and captain respectively) are phenomenal, especially during high-charged “The Blame” once it’s realized the ship is lost. But this was truly an ensemble show. The harmonies during “Godspeed Titanic,” “Lady’s Maid” and “We’ll Meet Tomorrow” are goose-bump inducing.

I have to admit, I did get a bit teary towards the end as the ship was going down and women and children were literally being ripped from the arms of the men, but this is more a credit to the cast’s amazing acting chops, rather than anything done by Yeston and Stone.

You should definitely go see “Titanic the Musical” (if you can get a ticket!), but because it’s a tribute to what the amazing theater talent Central Ohio has to offer, not because you’re suffering from Titanic Mania.

“Titanic the Musical” runs through April 29 at the Curtain Players Playhouse in Galena. Tickets are $15 for adults and $13 for students/seniors. All shows are sold out but there is a waiting list. Visit for more information.

Local Theater Spotlight: ‘West Side Story’

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

It gets me every time. That gun shot goes off and I loose it.

That’s the power of classic like “West Side Story.” Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s 1957 musical remake of Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” has stood test of  time and seems to be in the midst of a 10th wind.

The WSS at Ohio Theatre through Sunday is the 2009 revival featuring the hyped modern new look that was all the rave a few years ago. An expanded focus on Jerome Robbins award winning choreography and a much more bilingual book making the show more culturally competent than ever are welcome changes.

Ross Lekites’ smooth deep tone and Evy Ortiz’s operatic overtures make them a match made in WSS heaven as Tony and Maria. And the rest of the stellar young cast dressed in 90s era denim cut-off grunge give a lively finish to the musical.

I only had two small issues with the remake. “America” was cut down to an all female number and the iconic “There’s a Place For Us” was relegated to Kiddo (xx) instead of that historic Tony/Maria duet.

Broadway caliber sets and lighting also helps bring the show into the 20th century. I and my 12-year-old niece were mesmerized. Inter-generational wonder. For a classic, it doesn’t get much better than that.

“West Side Story” runs through Sunday at Ohio Theatre, 39 E. State Street, Columbus. Tickets start at $28. For more information visit