Sunday, August 10, 2014

Henry IV, Part I, Ohio Shakespeare Festival

It’s hard for a father to watch an apparently wayward son find his way in life, and that parental angst forms the personal core of the “history play” Henry IV, Part One.

That is the problem King Henry faces as he muses on his son, the wastrel “Prince Hal.” Hal spends his time drinking with the dissolute Sir John Falstaff and thinking up pranks to play. His dad wishes he were more like the son of his rival Thomas Percy (Ross Rhodes), the hot-blooded, laser-focused young “Hotspur.”

HIVPI is a long play loaded with all kinds of political details, but as usual the talented Ohio Shakespeare Festival company manages to sort it all out.

As the two sons, Andrew Cruse and Joe Pine draw clear distinctions, as Hal and Hotspur. Each is intense in his own way and yet oh so different, and both display a clarity of diction that is immensely satisfying. Cruse is aided by an energetic Geoff Knox as Hal’s wingman (okay, gentleman-in-waiting) Poins, and Pine finds succor in the arms of his wife Lady Percy (Tess Burgler in a small but impactful turn).

In the title role David McNees frets nobly, and convincingly shows this man’s political acumen and his vulnerable personal side. Also, Derrick Winger is appropriately full of himself as the gasbag Owen Glendower.

Once the fighting starts, Ryan Zarecki stars in two roles: as the Likes-To-Fight–Guy, the Scottish Earl of Douglas, and as the fight director. These aren’t the tippy-tappy fight scenes you’re used to, as the actors often seem to swing for the fences with their axes and such.

In the highlight role of Falstaff, director Terry Burgler offers a mostly comfortable version of this boozy whore hound. It’s an audience pleaser, but his interpretation doesn’t delve very deeply into Falstaff’s clear and present contradictions. Still, Burgler is amusing in a fat suit that seems lifted from Martin Short’s intrepid celebrity interviewer, Jiminy Glick.

As for the introductory greenshow, a long send-up of Cymbeline as done by the Disney Studios has its moments, but overall the concept seems funnier than the execution. This observer missed the shorter pieces, with one usually tweaking a selected Shakespearean trope. Still, the greenshow—directed by Tess Burgler with Jason Leupold as music director—is not to be missed. It starts a half hour before the main event. “Huzzah!”

Henry IV, Part One
Through August 17, produced by the Ohio Shakespeare Festival, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, 714 N. Portage Path, Akron, 330-673-8761.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Wedding Singer, Mercury Summer Stock

(Left to right: Dan DiCello as Sammy, Will Sanborn as Robbie, and Brian Marshall as George)

Some decades are easy to identify at a glance. And once you see a mobile phone the size of a shoebox, you know you’re in the 1980s. (As the TV commercials said at the time, “It weighs only two pounds!”)

Well, that phone and lots of other ‘80s detritus is on display in The Wedding Singer, now being produced by Mercury Summer Stock. This song-heavy adaptation of the Adam Sandler flick features music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Tim Herlihy and Beguelin. None of those individuals is credited in the program—either an unforgivable oversight or a detestable decision.

Of course, the trouble with adapting an Adam Sandler movie is that you don’t have Adam Sandler to carry the comedy load. And that becomes evident as Will Sanborn takes on the unenviable task of doing the title role as Robbie Hart. He’s a singer who’s been jilted at the altar by his party-hearty fiancĂ©e Linda (a sizzling Michelle Ireton), and starts taking his frustrations out on his two band members and any of the subsequent weddings he’s booked into.

Sanborn has a nice boyish quality and sings reasonably well, but his occasional attempts at channeling a Sandler-esque delivery fall well short of the mark. As a result, we never quite warm up to Robbie and his marital plight.

However, there are other cast members who are ready and willing to pick up the slack. One of Robbie’s band members is Sammy, a hefty and sweaty fellow played to the hilt by Dan DiCello. And the other guy is (Boy) George, a flamingly gay Brian Marshall who shows off a rather coquettish falsetto singing voice in “George’s Prayer.”

After Robbie’s dreams are shattered, he falls in love with wedding reception waitress Julia (Melissa Sills in an endearing and very well-sung turn). But she’s engaged to marry Glen (Jimmy Ferko), a junk bond broker who covets only money.

And so, the stereotypes abound as the play lurches from one derivative meme to the next. But once you look past that, several of the songs are quite catchy, such as Robbie’s lovesick anthem “Casualty of Love” and Glen’s tribute to bucks in “All About the Green.” Plus, Cindi Verbelun as potty-mouth grandma Rosie and Dani Apple as Julia's cousin Holly chip in with some laughs.

Placed on a Let’s Make a Deal set featuring three curtains, the large and pumped-up ensemble performs admirably under the guidance of director and choreographer Pierre-Jacques Brault and music director Eddie Carney. In short, the show steamrolls over all the material’s inherent bumps and turns this sack of fluff into an enjoyable (if overlong, at 2½ hours) summertime fling.

The Wedding Singer
Through August 16, produced by Mercury Summer Stock at Notre Dame College, 1857 S. Green Road, South Euclid, 216-771-5862.