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Looking backward, looking forward at area theater

As we wrap up the holiday season with hopefully happy memories, and resolutions for self-improvement for the future, I’ve been thinking a lot about our area theater, something we often overlook, or worse, take for granted. This region is rich in theater. We’re richer than most cities. Further, last year was a very good one.

Cleveland’s heritage boasts the first regional theater in the country. The Cleveland Play House was started by visionary industrialists to bring professional theater to Cleveland. In the PlayhouseSquare complex, we have the largest concentration of theaters outside of Lincoln Center in New York.

Last year, two of our local nonprofessional theaters presented what I consider to be among their best work ever. For the record, my first theater review appeared in West Life in July 1981. I had been enjoying the Cleveland theater scene for quite a while before then, however. Last August, Huntington Playhouse presented the musical revue “The All Night Strut.” A celebration of the music of the 1930s and 1940s, a tight cast sang three dozen songs, with no dialogue. They included the jazzy “In the Mood” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.”  Clague Playhouse took a risk by departing from the usual Christmas fare with its “Broadway Christmas Carol.” This Dickens-inspired work used the words from “A Christmas Carol,” but twisted in hysterical form by the show’s creators and the inspired direction of Mark Moritz.

Ironically, my reviews for both productions were victims of the paper’s cyber demons. Though they did not appear in print, you can read both of them in our archives. Go to www.westlifenews.com and click on “Insights.”

In other news, the Cleveland Critics Circle has been resurrected. Originally founded in 1979, the Cleveland Critics Circle had been dormant for a quarter of a century. This year, those of us who review in print, on the radio and through electronic media re-formed the CCC to promote Cleveland theater. I am proud to have been a member of the first incarnation, and also the organization’s “revival.” You can read snapshots of our reviews at the website, www.clevelandtheaterreviews.com.

The Cleveland Critics Circle gave awards this year to celebrate the best that our area offers. Of the 11 award categories, the “winningest” theater was Lakewood’s Beck Center for the Arts. Its production of “Spring Awakening” won three awards for Best Musical, Best Director of a Musical (Victoria Bussart) and Best Choreographer (Gregory Daniels). The theater’s fourth award went to Laura Perrotta as best actress in a nonmusical for “The Little Dog Laughed.”

You can check out all of the awards and the many nominees by visiting www.clevelandtheaterreviews.com and clicking on “2012 Awards.” I wish that we could have given an award to Great Lakes Theater for “best rethinking of a classic work.” Its production of “The Mousetrap” featured an innovative set and forced the audience to focus on the murder mystery in a way very different from what Agatha Christie visualized in her realistic setting.

I’ve become quite a fan of the theater convergence-continuum in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. This small theater seats only 40 or so guests and presents shows you’ll see nowhere else. Be on the lookout for them.

And the future? This year’s offerings are every bit as exciting as those of last year. I challenge all readers to try to see a few more shows this year than you did last year. You will be supporting our area’s “intellectual and imaginative” economy. Take some risk and go to a theater you’ve not visited in the past. Looking ahead, you and I have a tough decision on March 22. There are contrasting opening night productions of “Good People” at the venerable Cleveland Play House, while convergence-continuum opens “Sordid Lives.”

 

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