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Passion rules stages at BW and PlayhouseSquare

There’s passionate romance both in downtown Cleveland with the Broadway touring production of “Once,” and in Berea with Baldwin Wallace University’s unusual production of “Carousel.” Both shows run through Sunday, so this week is the final opportunity to see the talented casts in first-rate settings.

A surprise entry to the Broadway theater scene last year was “Once.” Based on a movie that was inspired by real events, “Once” chronicles a romance in Dublin between two musicians, one Czech and one Irish. “Once” could be an intimate look at Girl and Guy (their character names) and the focus frame could be small. The depth of their passion cries out for a larger-than-life setting, however, and that is what the Broadway production, and this touring production, bring.

Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal are the couple who meet under innocent circumstances. Her Hoover does not “suck,” and he is a repairman. He plays guitar, she plays piano, and in no time they are making beautiful music together. Filling the huge Palace stage is the world’s largest pub set, where the total ensemble of a dozen artists plays mandolin, percussion, accordion and violin for starters. The structure and story of “Once” has made innovative advances in American musical theater. Musicians first, this cast also sing, act and dance. John Tiffany’s direction focuses on the intimate scenes at times, and also opens the stage up to grand production numbers. Watch for the guy who has a cello strapped to his chest so he can dance.

The degree to which you love all things Irish will determine how much you enjoy “Once.” At minimum, you’ll be impressed with the musicianship of the cast, especially the passionate energy that Ward brings to his role through voice and guitar. Before the show and at intermission you are welcome to go on stage and order a beer at the bar. Maybe you’ll dance as well, since the cast comes out early for a jam session before the curtain-up time.

The cast of "Once" at PlayhouseSquare (Photo by Joan Marcus)

 

At suburban Baldwin Wallace University, you can hear one of the most lush and beautiful scores ever written. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” is a classic musical, and collaboration between the school’s Conservatory of Music and the Department of Theatre and Dance has resulted a special production.

“Carousel” is the story of dashing but awkward Billy Bigelow, a carnival carousel barker who falls in love with New Englander Julie Jordan. This show has it all – romantic ballads, large choral numbers and an extensive fantasy ballet. More on that later. The BW production is an affirmation that a new generation of performers is being well-prepped to carry on musical theater traditions. Leads and soloists are all voices in training, and the rich score gives everyone lots of opportunities to shine.

Staged in the school’s small black-box theater, “Carousel” accommodates about 300 audience members on four sides of the stage. The production is fully staged with beautiful costumes. I especially enjoyed hearing the two-piano orchestra reduction by Richard Rodgers himself. Scott Plate’s practical direction works best with the larger ensemble numbers that wash over all the audience. To feature dance in this production, choreographer Gregory Daniels retained the complete fantasy ballet that dominates the second act. Tightly staged and nicely executed, this piece is rarely performed in its entirety.

With most of the area’s theaters in full production, the above two choices are things a bit off the beaten track.

The ballet from "Carousel" performed at Baldwin Wallace University (Photo by Damon Condon)

 

 

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