Stage notes: A few holiday events still to come

By Kerry Clawson
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Hundreds of low brass musicians participate in the 32nd Annual Tuba Christmas at E.J. Thomas Hall at the University of Akron. (Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal)

It’s time again to listen to loads of low brass at Akron’s melodious TubaChristmas. The event, in its 33rd year, will grace the E.J. Thomas Hall stage at the University of Akron on Saturday.

Hundreds of tubas trimmed with holiday trappings will fill the stage for noon and 2:30 p.m. performances. The shows are free — a gift to the community from the UA School of Music and E.J. Thomas Hall.

Beacon Journal columnist Jewell Cardwell will be tooting her own horn as guest soloist at both performances. Tucker Jolly, founder of Akron’s TubaChristmas and a UA music professor, will conduct holiday carols and sing-alongs. UA music professor Robert Jorgensen will be guest conductor.

Musicians who want to participate can register Saturday in the E.J. Thomas Hall ticket lobby between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. Cost is $5 for tuba players. Rehearsal will run from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

For audience information, call 330-972-7570. Musicians may call Jolly at 330-972-6641.

UA theater news

In other UA news, James Slowiak’s provocative production of The Bacchae has been selected for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival’s regional festival competition. The play was one of only six full-length works chosen for performance at Towson University in Towson, Md.

The performance in Maryland will be Jan. 14. UA theater professor Slowiak’s rendition shifts The Bacchae’s setting from ancient Thebes to Akron, where audience members sit around a communal table for soup and beverages while elements of vaudeville, gospel music, torch songs and ethnic dance are incorporated into the story.

A special pre-festival performance of The Bacchae, which was performed at UA in the fall, will be at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 9 in the Daum Theatre in Kolbe Hall. Tickets are $25, with proceeds helping to offset the cost of sending the production to the festival.

Also chosen for performance at the festival is one scene from UA’s The Merchant of Venice, directed by theater instructor Aubrey Caldwell last spring. The scene will be performed in the Fringe showcase.

‘A Carol for Cleveland’

A Carol for Cleveland, a world premiere holiday play at Cleveland Play House, has awkward moments along its story trajectory but ultimately offers a heartfelt, positive message for families to enjoy. Adapted by prolific Cleveland Heights playwright Eric Coble, it is based on Cleveland mystery writer Les Roberts’ novella of the same name.

The original story was a slight one, and Coble has done a good job of fleshing out the background on main character Ed, an anti-hero who has fallen on very hard times. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn how the blue-collar, likable Ed has gradually become embittered by devastating steel plant layoffs in the late ’70s.

The show’s sets are a marvel to look at, especially projection designer Sven Ortel’s falling snow and the image of Terminal Tower, beautifully lit in Christmas colors. The lights and sights of Public Square carefully re-created onstage are a thoroughly Cleveland-centric treat.

Under Laura Kepley’s direction, star Charles Kartali creates a consistently absorbing characterization as the bitter Ed, who left his family a year ago in Pennsylvania to try to find work in Cleveland. As Coble draws parallels to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol throughout the story, we see that Ed’s pride and embarrassment are the biggest things getting in his way.

It’s a bit too awkward of a stretch, though, to introduce the character Fez from Ed’s past, a man who knew how to throw a party and encouraged Ed to reach out to others. The entire Fez flashback, which is not well integrated into the play, falls flat.

Also awkward is the stale-feeling holiday cheer at the Torbics’ house with their friends George and Daisy, where all the actors seem to be working too hard. Even the scene where Ed and his wife, Diane, first meet at Kmart felt like it was dragging Friday night.

Coble takes too long working up to Ed’s desperate act on Christmas Eve, the catalyst for the rest of the story. And a scene where Ed runs into a seedy person from his past in Cleveland comes across as both far-fetched and cursory.

Kudos go to Stephen Spencer, a master’s student in acting at Case Western Reserve University who is ever-present as This Guy, an excellent narrator. Anjanette Hall and Kartali create a highly believable, tear-inducing chemistry during their fight as the stressed-out spouses Diane and Ed, and John Cugel is emotional and sweet as Eddie Jr.

Coble has introduced a couple of surprises in the story and created lovely symbolism surrounding a child’s toy that brings us the heart of what Christmas is all about. A Carol for Cleveland, which continues through Sunday at the Allen Theatre at PlayhouseSquare, presents a mixed bag as a new play. But kudos go to Cleveland Play House for taking a risk on something brand new, original and Cleveland-centric for its holiday slot.

See www.cleveland­playhouse.com or call 216-241-6000 for tickets.

Cleveland Orchestra

Tickets remain for just two Cleveland Orchestra Christmas concerts, at 8 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Sunday. Other weekend performances are sold out.

The traditional holiday program includes seasonal music, sing-along selections and Christmas classics with the Cleveland Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and Youth Chorus. Robert Porco will conduct as well as direct the adult chorus and Lisa Wong directs the Youth Chorus. Cost is $35-$85. Call 216-231-1111 or see www.clevelandorchestra.com.

For a last-minute Christmas gift, folks may want to check out the Women’s Committee’s sale of engraved silver bells, a favorite holiday tradition that benefits the orchestra’s education and community programs. Made by Reed and Barton Silver Company and engraved with “Christmas 2012,’’ the $20 bells are sold in Severance Hall’s Smith Lobby before concerts as well as at the Cleveland Orchestra Store (216-231-7478).

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com.


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