A standing ovation: 2014-15 Broadway Series wows Playhouse Square crowds

Berit Elderton

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Used with permission/Playhouse Square/Joan Marcus

Patrice Covington (Martha Reeves) dances enthusiastically in center stage with the rest of the cast around her in a production of “Motown the Musical” at Playhouse Square earlier this year.

     This year’s selection of acclaimed Broadway Series musicals brought to life in Playhouse Square ranged from classic to modern, visually pleasing to sonically powerful and moving to uplifting. The eclectic collection of productions–– including Tony award winners “Kinky Boots,” “Pippin” and “Newsies”–– has delighted Cleveland theater-goers since opening night in October; as the season came to a close in April, Broadway fans take a look back over this year’s astounding assortment of live theater.

 

Motown the Musical

    The underdog success story of a lifetime, the musical version of Barry Gordy’s rise from garage recording studio manager to founder of Motown and discoverer of such artists as Diana Ross, the Temptations and Stevie Wonder is informative yet wildly entertaining. Audience members will recognize the classic Motown tunes sprinkled throughout the production, including “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “ABC” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” A shocking 50 songs, although many are shortened, are played during the show. Chock full of raw talent and impersonations of Detroit’s best artists, “Motown” brings the story of classic, homegrown American music to life in a lovable, spunky way.

 

Newsies

     With its origins in a Disney movie, “Newsies” transitioned surprisingly well into a musical. The charming tale of a ragtag group of newsboys known as “newsies,” and their trials and tribulations during the summer of 1899, “Newsies” boasts a devoted fan base and two Tony awards to boot. Struggling to support themselves on the money they earn from selling “papes,” the newsies are determined to end the corruption of the newspaper business. Their acrobatic dancing and powerful male voices combine to create a theatrical sensation bursting with energy. The newsies stole the audience’s hearts with their believability, New York accents and biceps–– a combination sure to please everyone. 

 

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas

    For a Christmas show, “White Christmas” lacks the holly-jolly vibe audiences long for. An outdated excuse for a holiday classic, Irving Berlin’s “masterpiece” is visually bland, doesn’t have a compelling plotline and has an overall drab feel to it. “White Christmas” is based on the 1954 film involving a wartime holiday and an effort to save a struggling inn; featuring annoying and often dull characters, the show is a lifeless attempt at a Christmas musical. The New York Times theater review puts it best, “At Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas,’ you’re mostly just waiting for the next song to come along, and more often than not when it does, you’re disappointed.”

 

Pippin

     The unexpectedly profound tale of a young man named Pippin on a quest for “total fulfillment” in life; “Pippin” is a circus-themed spectacle with a combination of delightful visuals, catchy music and compelling humor. Pippin’s strong stage presence combined with his likeability and relatable nature made the show entertaining and heartwarming. The visual spectacular of the circus adds to this effect, creating a lighthearted setting for Pippin’s journey. A modern classic in the works, “Pippin” was a highlight of this year’s Broadway Series.

 

Dirty Dancing

   To put it bluntly, “Dirty Dancing” should not have been made into a musical. “Dirty Dancing” is the story of a family vacation in which the naive daughter and protagonist learn how to dance with the resort dance instructor in order to perform at the highly-anticipated resort talent show — an intense plot line, right? Both the young girl and dance instructor are oddly cold and stiff; the staging was awkward and uninspired, featuring bland sets, rough transitions from scene to scene and a particularly unconvincing water scene. The characters were not well developed; the actors and actresses seemed rather haphazardly rehearsed and lacked the stage presence needed to entertain an audience. A disappointment to theatergoers hoping to see brilliant dancing and visuals, “Dirty Dancing” was just plain, awkward and uneventful.

 

Kinky Boots

     “Kinky Boots”–– in all its red-sequined, high-kneed boot beauty–– definitely saved the best for last. “Kinky Boots” is the glamorous tale of Charlie, the heir to a burned-out shoe factory collaboration, and the fabulous transvestite, Lola, in their efforts to create a high-heeled boot designed to hold the weight of a man and save the factory from going under. Energetic and poppy without a dull scene to its name, “Kinky Boots” boasts a fast-moving plot line, lovable characters and edgy humor to spare. The music, written by Cyndi Lauper, didn’t have the typical show-tune feel to it as myriad Broadway shows do, which attracts a larger, more diverse audience. After closing with the self-love anthem “Raise You Up,” audience members left feeling uplifted, fabulous and ready to take on the world in a pair of high-heeled boots.

     Next Broadway Series season boasts a fresh variety of delightful musicals including “Bullets Over Broadway,” “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” “If/Then, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” “Matilda,” “Steel Magnolias” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” The season begins with “Bullets Over Broadway,” which opens on Oct.6. Each show runs for approximately two weeks at various theaters in Playhouse Square; season tickets can be purchased at broadway.playhousesquare.org.

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2015-05-19 08:30:24

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