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LIZZIE: The American Rock Musical Returns!

Published April 4th, 2017 by | Comments Off on LIZZIE: The American Rock Musical Returns!

Recall the famous nursery rhyme, “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.” But did she really?

On April 28 – 30, in partnership with Baldwin Wallace University’s musical theatre program, LIZZIE, the American rock musical and crowd favorite, returns to the Cleveland stage. This year marks the 10 year anniversary of this collaboration with Baldwin Wallace, and the first time the student perform the same show twice! For one weekend only, experience the exhilarating story of Lizzie Borden and decide for yourself whether she is innocent, or if she is the axe-wielding murderer that everyone suspects her to be.

The chilling tale of Lizzie Borden:

125 years later, the mystery surrounding Lizzie Borden and whether or not she murdered her father and stepmother is still one of the most controversial cold cases in American history. Born July 19, 1860, in Fall River, Massachusetts, Lizzie Borden grew up in an unusual home. Sarah Borden, her mother, died when she was only two years old. After their mother’s death, Lizzie’s older sister, Emma, promised she would care for her. It didn’t take long however for Andrew Borden, Lizzie’s father,  to remarry a woman named Abby, whom Lizzie would come to resent. Mr. Andrew Borden a wealthy businessman was frugal with his money, to a fault, and often left his family to go without electricity or indoor plumbing.

Growing up, Lizzie struggled to live a normal life. Her father gave her a minimal allowance and the only social activities she could participate in were church-related. Eventually, she dropped out of high school and became a well-known shoplifter. Lizzie wished to be free to live an extravagant, wealthy lifestyle but never could. She came into conflict with her stepmother, in large part, due to her father choosing to treat his wife better than his children, like buying her a house. By Lizzie’s early 30s, she was even more unhappy as an unmarried woman living with her father and stepmother.

Then on August 4, 1892, tragedy struck the Borden home. Sometime between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m., Lizzie’s stepmother Abby was brutally murdered with an axe in the upstairs bedroom. Lizzie claimed to be unaware of the murder, stating she was in the kitchen downstairs. Lizzie then claimed she went outside to the barn to get some equipment for an upcoming fishing trip. During all of this, Bridget Sullivan, the family’s maid, was outside washing windows. When she finished, Bridget came back inside the house, acquainting with Mr. Borden before she went to lie down for a nap in a second upstairs bedroom. Then, around 11:00 a.m., Mr. Borden was also brutally murdered in the downstairs living room, to which Lizzie came into the house and shouted to Bridget upstairs, “Come quick! Father’s dead. Somebody came in and killed him.” When it came to the trial, even amidst some incriminating evidence, Lizzie was found to be not guilty.

It’s time for you to see the show and choose your own verdict. Get tickets to see LIZZIE here.

An Interview with Bunny Christie

Published March 22nd, 2017 by | Comments Off on An Interview with Bunny Christie

By Alicia Hansen

As part of our Broadway Buzz program, Buzz Extra writer Alicia Hansen will take you behind the scenes of each KeyBank Broadway Series show and interview a member of the show’s cast, crew or creative team. Alicia recently interviewed Bunny Christie, the Scenic & Costume Designer of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, about her experience in designing this Tony Award winning play.

Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in Scotland and was involved in my school drama group although performing, not designing. We would sometimes go to Glasgow to an amazing theatre called The Glasgow Citizens Theatre. They produced incredibly visual, decadent pieces of theatre and employed very beautiful actors. I then went to Art School in London and found that the Theatre Design students were having much more fun than the painters or sculptors.

I first heard about The National Theatre doing a version of Curious Incident when Marianne Elliott rang me asking if I knew the book and if I would like to have a go at designing the show. I absolutely loved the book. I had read it along with the rest of the UK when it first came out. I love working with Marianne so it was a very decision to say YES!!!

In taking a book to the stage, how did the novel of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time inspire or influence your designs?

It was really lovely to have the book and the script to work with. The book is beautiful and has lovely pictures, maps and equations in it. I really wanted to use some of the illustrations in the book in our production. Also, the book is very playful. The chapters aren’t numbered 1, 2, 3. They are numbered as prime numbers 2, 3, 5, 7, so I wanted to keep some of that playful, irreverent feeling. There are also nice descriptions of the people in the book that I used in the costume designs. Christopher often notices the shoes that people wear or their t-shirts because he doesn’t do eye contact.

The most striking aspect of the scenic design is the electronic panels that provide the flexibility to tell this tale. Can you describe your process in developing that important feature?

It felt to me that we should be in a space that is Christopher’s domain, almost inside his head, and that would be a world of technology, science and math. I also really wanted the space of the stage to feel exciting and vibrant, and celebrate the world of computers and technology.  I was looking at lots of computer gaming rooms and club interiors for inspiration, and talking to Paule Constable, the lighting designer, about how to make the space feel like a computer game and fizz with energy and light.  The space needed to become so many different locations, and be very fluid and fast moving.

What were some of the most important aspects on your mind when creating the costume designs for Curious Incident?

I wanted the colors on the clothes to really glow – as though when Christopher sees a color, it is super bright and almost vibrates. I also use Christopher’s favorite colors on his clothes and the colors he hates on the characters he doesn’t like. Anyone wearing something yellow or brown is not a good person. The characters need to be able to change very quickly, sometimes onstage.

The company who become all the characters in the story and also sometimes act almost as neurons in Christopher’s brain have a monochrome ‘skin’ of clothes that sort of match the black and white set.  They can then add character elements to quickly become an individual person, or melt into the set when the focus is really on Christopher and we need to see only him clearly. Siobhan, his favorite teacher, is dressed in white, so she glows in the space a little. I always felt like she is a guardian angel for Christopher.

As I said, I used particular details from descriptions in the book of how people looked: Mrs. Shears in her pajamas and pink toe-nails; Mrs. Alexander, the neighbor who wears New Balance trainers with red laces; the neighbor, Mr. Thompson, who wears a T-shirt with “Beer. Helping ugly people have sex for 2,000 years”!

Was there any one character you especially enjoyed crafting costumes for in this production?

I do really like Mrs. Alexander the older lady neighbor. She’s a really nice person and I love the look of her wearing her trainers to do work in the garden. The policemen were actually really fun to do. London and Swindon police have quite particular kit and the actors always love dressing up and trying on the London Bobby helmets.

What scenes in the show leave the audience with the strongest visual impacts thanks to the work you created?

I love the moments when all the visual and aural elements work together. The section when Christopher is searching the house for evidence is really fun.  All the pixel lighting is firing, the actors are moving through the space and its fun and playful.

I also love the bit we call Astro-boy when Christopher imagines himself in space. Again the projection, sound, light, music and movement are all working together and we spent a lot of time orchestrating this section to make it feel magical.

The journey on the train to London is lovely. I can really clearly remember coming up with this idea way back at the beginning of the design process with Marianne. It’s still exactly as we imagined – that’s very satisfying.

What makes Curious Incident stand out to you from the other productions you’ve worked on over the years?

Definitely the teamwork.  Although Marianne and I worked alone on the design and feel of the production for many weeks, once the rest of the team got involved, we all bounced off each other and they added layers of ideas. It’s a large team of people all working together – this includes the actors and all the backstage teams.  It’s a very precise piece of work.  We all became very particular about the detail of each moment.  Although the show is very visual and loud at times, it is also quiet, moving and delicate with beautiful acting and writing. I always love watching it. The story gets me every time.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs March 21 – April 9, 2017 in the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square. For more information, please visit the show’s page on the Playhouse Square website.

Alicia Hansen is the writer behind Poise in Parma, a healthy balance blog for Clevelanders. A graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College’s theatre program, Alicia is a local yoga teacher, event professional, marketer and proud Northeast Ohio arts supporter. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

This week (January 1) in theater news…

Published January 5th, 2017 by | Comments Off on This week (January 1) in theater news…

Each week we’re going to keep you up-to-speed with the latest Broadway and theater news. Check back next week to see what you missed this week, and to catch a glimpse of what’s going on at Playhouse Square and beyond. Enjoy!

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New Year new records to break
Oh what a year it has been! Broadway broke box-office records up and down Times Square for the week ending January 1, with 33 Broadway shows taking in $50 million, the highest total in Broadway history! (Playbill.com) Read More…

A must see documentary
The world still feels the loss of legendary mother and daughter Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. On January 7 at 8 p.m., HBO will debut Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, a documentary. Watched first full trailer that was recently released here. (Playbill.com)

Nothing like Broadway in the spring time
There’s beauty behind a show closing in order for a new production to take its place. From December 31, 2016 through January 29, 2017 thirteen shows are scheduled to close, including Something Rotten, Jersey Boys & The Color Purple, and a new slate of revivals, original musicals, & two Broadway play writing debuts will being previewing these theatres. (Playbill.com) Read more…

Sing Emma sing
Just in case you’re as excited as we are for Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, enjoy this snippet of Emma Watson singing “Something There” (Playbill.com) Read More…

Reflection time
As the first week of 2017 comes to an end, join us as we take a look back on 2016 and some great Broadway reveals. (Broadway.com)

An Interview with Clare Cook from Bullets Over Broadway

Published October 5th, 2015 by | Comments Off on An Interview with Clare Cook from Bullets Over Broadway

Please welcome back guest blogger, Alicia Hansen, with your Broadway Buzz Extra for Bullets Over Broadway.

Great news, Cleveland theatre lovers: the 2015-2016 KeyBank Broadway Series at Playhouse Square is ready to entertain you. The production opening this season, Bullets Over Broadway, captures the making of a Broadway show, highlighted by the masterful choreography of Broadway legend, Susan Stroman. In this interview, Clare Cook, choreographer of the tour, gives us the inside scoop on what it takes to keep all those dancing gangsters creatively engaged as they arrive in Northeast Ohio.

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How did you discover dance? How did it bring you to the theater, specifically Bullets Over Broadway?

I started dancing at a very young age growing up in Louisiana, but have been living in New York City for about ten years now. I originally moved to New York to peruse my Master of Fine Arts degree at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts – that is what first brought me to the professional realm of New York City. Shortly after finishing my degree there, I began working with productions of new musicals a lot as NYU has a graduate program in composing/writing musicals, which is rare.

In addition to all the training in my younger years plus having a lot of theatrical work in my training as a choreographer, participation in those pieces was my first foray into working professionally in musical theatre.  It was really exciting for me to be working on these new pieces — you are literally the first person to get to make the movement and have it dance off of the page. You are working in a highly creative way. You are constantly in conversations. Things change rapidly. It is an adrenaline rush. It was a nice balance to be able to work with musicians and actors, not just only dancers. The work has continued to come since my professional start, and I am very grateful for that.

I first became involved with Bullets Over Broadway project several years ago during one of its workshops in New York City before it went to Broadway. I did a great program through the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. They offer an “observer-ship” which is essentially a paid fellowship/internship opportunity. After a specific interview process and several interviews, Susan Stroman selected me to be the observer for the New York City Bullets workshop.  That was an amazing opportunity because it allowed me to closely witness her work in building the production. I had been doing that in my own field on a smaller scale, so to watch someone like her who is a master at her craft was so exciting.  I was learning from her new things but also understanding that the work is the work. No matter what the scale is, the toolbox is still similar. It was rewarding on many levels to have that realization at the same time.

From there, Bullets went on to Broadway and I went on to other projects. What a wonderful opportunity it was to get an email several years later to say they were going to do a tour asking if I’d want to be involved with it. And so here I am!

In serving as the choreographer of the tour, what does your role entail and how does it continue to evolve? What challenges arise as you are on the road?

I have the great fortune to be working with some of the best choreography in the business. It is a real pleasure to be inside of Susan’s original movement from the Broadway show every day. First, part of my role is just physicalizing and knowing that work intimately so I can pass it on to the performers. Then, because it is a tour — it is not the same cast as Broadway and we have some adjustments to the set pieces – it has been exciting to take the original choreography, but, in the moment, shape it to the actors, sets and transitions that we have found in the touring process. It involves a lot of thinking on your feet and quick reflexes. Ultimately, I try to maintain the original work as closely as possible and as elegantly as possible.  I shape the work so the current cast can understand the style and help them get inside of the piece so it becomes original to them – the cast then takes ownership over the moment.

You are working on a show with a some very well respected names associated with it, including Woody Allen and Tony-Winning director Susan Stroman. What lessons have you learned while working with this creative team?

One thing I learned from Susan a long time ago is that you have to trust your instincts. Be open to new discoveries. If you have an idea, try it. There is no harm in trying. For this touring cast, we are setting the original work, but as it is on human beings, you have to be open to their ideas as well. The director of the tour also carries that sense of experimentation and inspiration with him. If there is an idea in the room, it’s “let’s try it” and “let’s see what happens.” If you try it before you have time to self-edit, you might find something really great.

Are there specific moments of the show that are favorites for you? For the audience?

There are so many moments, but towards the end of act one, “Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do” is an ensemble tap dance number lead of by Cheech, one of the main characters. It is one of the most thrilling musical theater experiences in terms of dance that I have ever had the chance to be involved in, but also that audiences really respond to during the show. It features nine or ten tap dancing gangsters in suits, fedoras and tap shoes. It is so exciting to see the physicality, yet you’re not losing any of the edge of a gangster. It is so physical, heavy footed and acrobatic.

The men in the number are coming at this with different levels of tap dancing experience. We have some very skilled tappers and some tapping novices. For the Broadway show, it was the same and Susan was really excited and inspired by having all of them do the choreography. These men have worked, toiled and really just gave it all for this dance. It is a real excitement for me to see it all come together. I am just so proud of them as they are embracing it with such force.

Also, the rhythms in this dance especially show the craft of Susan Stroman. It is very even, articulating that sound of bullets. It is not only physically exciting to watch, but to hear the sounds of it — it fits so seamlessly into the story that you don’t believe for a moment that you’re watching a bunch of tap dancing gangsters!

What makes Bullets stand out from everything else that you worked on over the years?

It is the craft of it.  The story so tight and so funny. Add in the dancing, the staging, the costuming, the designs, the sets — it’s just one of the most professionally perfect pieces of theater, in my opinion. The elements just fit so seamlessly together and support each other so well. When you experience it, it just flies before you. You are suddenly inside of it, and before you know it, you’re in the next scene, the next action, the new character. Yet since it is an ensemble story, you grow to love all of them. It is the collaborative nature of the creative, the design, the story, the characters themselves – it is just its own perfect family.

Bullets Over Broadway plays in Cleveland October 6 – 18 at the Connor Palace Theatre at Playhouse Square. For more information, please visit the show’s page on the Playhouse Square website.

Alicia Hansen is the writer behind Poise in Parma, a healthy balance blog for Clevelanders. A graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College’s theatre program, Alicia is a yoga teacher at Evolution Yoga, an event and marketing professional and proud Northeast Ohio arts supporter. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

An Interview with Michael Lanphear from Pippin

Published February 5th, 2015 by | Comments Off on An Interview with Michael Lanphear from Pippin

Our Buzz Extra writer, Alicia Hansen had the exciting opportunity to interview Michael Lanphear, the Acrobatic Coordinator of the current touring production of PIPPIN The Musical. As part of our Broadway Buzz program, Alicia will take you behind the scenes of each KeyBank Broadway Series show and interview a member of the show’s cast, crew or creative team.

Pippin, part of the KeyBank Broadway Series at PlayhouseSquare

Michael Lanphear, the Acrobatic Coordinator of the current touring production of PIPPIN The Musical, found his way to Broadway via a different route than most. As a young child, horseback riding and vaulting lead him into acrobatics and eventually the circus arts. Since honing his skills in those areas, he performed with the likes of Britney Spears and Justin Bieber before finding his way to the Great White Way. In advance of PIPPIN’s arrival in Cleveland this month as a part of the 2014-2015 KeyBank Broadway Series, Michael answers some questions about his involvement with this American musical classic and its circus-themed spin.

Tell me a bit about yourself, your path to the circus arts and your involvement in this touring production of PIPPIN?
In terms of circus arts, I started at a bit of a late age. I rode horses starting when I was young. I started competing and started vaulting, which is gymnastics on horses. Then around the age of 18, I focused more acrobatics and then eventually on circus arts. I was a performer until last year. I retired and decided to go more into coaching, but up until then, I was performing for about ten years and touring the world. I’ve done pop tours, different circus tours and a lot of cabarets in Europe. Today, I am the Acrobatic Coordinator of PIPPIN and I am the assistant to Gypsy Snider, the Acrobatic Choreographer. I maintain all of what she’s created while we’re on the road.

Would you provide a glimpse into a “day in the life” of a touring production? What happens on the first day in a new city, and then once the show is up and running?
When we first arrive in a new town, I am responsible for checking that all the apparatus are running properly, all of cues are in the computer system correctly and all the props we use circus-wise are ready for the show that night. Once the artists arrive, we have a meeting before the first show in the new location. That very first meeting is very important to getting the team used to the new space. We will try different cues and skills if necessary, then we’ll do our regular training that occurs before each show.  At that daily rehearsal, all of the principal actors, if they do anything that is acrobatic in the show, come to brush up on skills and conditioning. The acrobats also have their skills that they train every day before the show. It’s a pretty full-on day!

Once settled into a new town, we have a two-hour training on stage once a week, which is separate from the daily hour rehearsal before each show. It involves constant cleaning and constant upkeep. If someone is planning on taking a vacation and we have to change the routines a bit, that is when we practice those changes.  We only have seven acrobats. If one is out, we are very creative in creating alternate versions of the routines without affecting the quality of the show. We have lots of tricks in our bag.

Is there a specific part of the show that is is a favorite for you?
I was able to assist the Acrobatic Choreographer in the creation of the tour, so all of the acro numbers are very special to me. There is one moment in particular that is a big mix of all the circus guild skills that we have: there’s tumbling, knife juggling, two porters throwing a flyer in the air to flip and land on a platform, and more. It’s the most challenging as a coach to constantly maintain and clean because there is so much going on at stage at once. It is one of those numbers where there’s a clear story to what’s happening, but there’s so much happening that an audience member can come and watch it ten times and they would see something different every time.

All of the acrobats are ensemble members, which is something new to them. In the circus, you are usually a specialist and we do our acts on stage by ourselves, or if you’re in a duo you are with your partner, and then you’re done. You have your highlight moment, and then you come out for bows at the end. Gypsy Snider has created a show where the acrobats are completely integrated the whole time: they are singing, they are dancing, they are doing the acrobatics, they are working with the principals constantly. For me, it’s exhilarating as a coach but it’s a great challenge for every acrobat that we bring in to the show.

What challenges arise with touring?
The most challenging thing is whenever we have to arrange for a replacement, or any time we have someone leaving on vacation, or if a performer’s contract is over and we have to fill the role. This tour really does have some of the best acrobats in the world, and replacing them is a very difficult process. Everyone brings something different to the table.  For example, my two handstand performers are basically irreplaceable. They spend two to three hours a day working on their handstands! We try to hang on to our performers as long as we can.  But when we can’t, I usually run the auditions. It’s hard when you’re trying to replace the best in the world! But we have a really fantastic group on the tour, so we have been fortunate that we haven’t had to do too many replacement processes. We’ve been able to slightly adjust the show for replacements of any sort without taking away any of the essence of what the originators created.

What makes being a part of this production so exciting? Why is this PIPPIN so special?
This production is so special because it is the first time that circus arts have been really integrated into a Broadway production. Some productions — Broadway or not — will put some circus elements in, but it’s icing on the cake – where in this production, it’s the meat of the show, right alongside the signing and dancing – it’s all equally important.

Also, there’s a huge importance placed on the storytelling through the acrobatics. Every act has a purpose and a meaning, and there’s not any superfluous acrobatics in the show. Everything has a bit of storytelling in the show, which is really special and unique to both the circus and Broadway worlds to use acrobatics in that fashion.

Also, we have a wonderful energy in the cast. The majority of the artists all went to the National Circus School in Montreal, so they all at some point cross paths at school. They are very close friends and they work very well together. So not only skill set, we have a nice family bond — not just amongst the acrobats, but with the dancers as well.

On a personal note, one special part of this experience for me is being a part of a union. This isn’t something that we have in the circus and it’s been a huge benefit for everyone: for the performers, as well as for me as a coach. It’s been amazing to feel completely supported by the entire Broadway community because we are part of one united group. It’s not the most exciting answer but it’s a very truthful answer!

PIPPIN comes to Cleveland February 3 – 15 at the Connor Palace at PlayhouseSquare. For more information, please visit the show’s page on the PlayhouseSquare website.

Alicia Hansen is the writer behind Poise in Parma, a healthy balance blog for Clevelanders. A graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College’s theatre program, Alicia is a yoga teacher at Evolution Yoga, an event and marketing professional and proud Northeast Ohio arts supporter. Follow her on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

Broadway and Turkey Day

Published November 25th, 2014 by | Comments Off on Broadway and Turkey Day

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Animated and ready for the day, Tom Turkey leads the floats down Broadway.

For 88 years, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has become as much a part of Thanksgiving as eating turkey! Not only is this an annual holiday tradition for many, but since 1977 the parade has been incorporating one of our most favorite things: BROADWAY! For going on four decades, the television broadcasts of the parade have cast a huge spotlight on the Great White Way in a GREAT BIG WAY!

And the lineup of shows for this year’s parade will certainly not disappoint when the Tony® Award-winning Best Musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, Finding Neverland, The Last Ship, On the Town, Honeymoon in Vegas, and Side Show all make their Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade debuts. Not to mention a performance from the highly anticipated television event Peter Pan: Live, starring the beautiful Allison Williams and (not as beautiful) Christopher Walken.

Blog-GentlemansGuideIf the shows aren’t enough to get you excited, then how about performances from Idina Menzel (Wicked, Disney’s Frozen); Quvenzhané Wallis from  next month’s big-screen remake of Annie; and Les Misérables alum, actor/singer Nick Jonas. Other artists en route to Macy’s Herald Square include The Sing Off champs Pentatonix; rock legends KISS; and Meghan Trainor. Plus, word has it that Taylor Swift is also set to perform!

Blog-ElfBalloonWith all of these fabulous musical performers, don’t forget to keep an eye out for other amazing parade attractions like the Elf on the Shelf balloon and the Sesame Street float. Central Park West may not be the yellow brick road, but balloons of Dorothy and her friends will be floating along to celebrate the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz.

Follow the action online with #MacysParade or download the official Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade App to receive updated parade news and design your own balloon! So, if it’s not already, make the parade part of your holiday traditions this year. You won’t want to miss out on all the fun.

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