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The Sunshine Boys at Porthouse Theatre

The Sunshine Boys at Blossom's Porthouse Theatre

Last week, I posted about my first trip to Blossom Music Festival to see the Cleveland Orchestra. I don’t know what took me so long to get out to the summer concert hotspot, but Scott and I tried to make up for lost time by paying it a return visit this past weekend.

In addition to the Orchestra, Blossom is also home to the Porthouse Theatre which is located up the road from the main pavillion.  On Sunday afternoon, we took a leisurely drive to see their production of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys.  

This is the 43rd season of Porthouse Theatre which started after Kent State and The Cleveland Orchestra paired up to develop Blossom Music Center as a comprehensive environment for the arts.  A summer theatre festival, they helm 3 productions on their outdoor stage each season. 

In addition to producing shows, they also support the Porthouse Theatre Academy. Part of Kent State’s School of Theater and Dance, this summer program for high school students and incoming Kent freshmen provides intensive theatre classes and performance experience. 

I’ve got to say, though, my favorite part of their education mission is their ‘Adopt a Student Artist‘ program. For $300, audience members can “adopt” one of the summer interns. I really like this because – in addition to making a financial contribution to the internship program – donors have the opportunity to be a support system for those summer interns that are far from home. 

Donors can take their adopted student artists out to lunch and get to know them throughout the season.  Right after college, I apprenticed at a theatre and can tell you a program like this would have been much appreciated by a lot of my fellow apprentices who were new to the area.

When arriving at Porthouse, brightly-colored umbrellas and trees welcomed us. In addition to the picnic tables, there are gazebos where guests can enjoy a pre-show picnic.

After learning these things about Porthouse, I was excited to visit them for their production of The Sunshine Boys. The same theatre I once apprenticed for used to produce a good deal of Neil Simon so I’ve always had a soft spot for his comedy style. However, up until last week, I hadn’t seen this particular play.

In it, a young agent tries to reunite his elderly uncle Willie Clark with the other half of the vaudeville comedy duo “Lewis and Clark.” Onstage Lewis and Clark were magic; off-stage they couldn’t stand each other and haven’t spoken in over 20 years. When a variety show comes calling, the question is whether the two cantankerous comedians can put aside their differences long enough to perform one last show.

As with other Neil Simon plays, the laughs are paired with an undertone of sentimentality and sadness. In the case of The Sunshine Boys, while you’re laughing at the classic wink-nod style of vaudeville comedy, you’re experiencing Clark’s struggles as he comes to grips with his age and fears of being forgotten.

In particular, I enjoyed how George Roth brought Clark’s infuriatingly hard-headedness to the stage. He not only hit the nail on the head with the script’s ‘bada-bings’ and character’s anger at his former comedy partner (and pretty much everyone else), but also managed to capture Clark’s quieter moments of reflection and resignation.

Marc Moritz played Al Lewis — and while there was a lag in timing once or twice between Roth’s Clark and Moritz’s Lewis, they were still fitting foils for one another. On the surface, Moritz’s Lewis was dapper and well-put-together – wearing impeccably neat suits compared to Clark’s rumpled sports coat thrown over a pair of pajamas. And Moritz was definitely on point with this fastidiousness. Moreover, he subtly sneaks in Lewis’s own struggles dealing with “retirement.” In the end, even if they can’t be friends, the two still manage an uneasy camaraderie.

After a picnic, it's time to meander down to the theatre to enjoy the show.

As with Blossom’s main pavillion, the Porthouse Theatre is an outdoor facility. When it comes to performing in outdoor spaces, there are definite challenges – you don’t have the luxury of house lights to draw the audience immediately into the action. And when there are choruses of birds chirping in the background, the actors’ focus is essential in keeping us engaged. The cast did an excellent job at this – with a bird’s well-timed chirp even lending itself to one of the jokes.  

If you’re looking to take in the great outdoors while you’re there, the grounds open 90 minutes before the show so that guests can leisurely enjoy a picnic in the gazebo or under one of the many brightly colored umbrellas. And you don’t have to worry about bringing your own food, since Porthouse offers a variety of boxed dinners to pre-order and have ready for pick up. 

Sadly, because of my inability to ever leave the house on time, Scott and I didn’t have a chance to get there early enough to enjoy a picnic; however, we did grab a quick soft pretzel during intermission and next time hope to leave early enough to make an afternoon of it.    

In addition to The Sunshine Boys, this summer’s season at Porthouse includes the sold-out Chicago as well as the classic musical comedy Hello Dolly!, which runs July 28 til August 14. Porthouse’s very own Artistic Director Terri Kent will play the famous matchmaker when she returns to the stage after a 13-year hiatus.  Tickets are available here.

Porthouse Theatre 411:

Disclosure: Scott and I were invited to see a show at Porthouse Theatre by a supporter and patron of their theatre program. We chose The Sunshine Boys because of my love for Neil Simon comedies. All opinions in this post are 100% my own.

(Sunshine Boys Photo Source)

Summers with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom

Blossom Music Center – a perfect way to spend a Sunday evening in summer

After Saturday’s 5K, this past weekend had another “first” for me.  Fortunately, it was a much more leisurely kind of “first” – my first visit to Blossom Music Festival.

On Sunday evening the Cleveland Orchestra had a “Meet the Musicians” night for media and bloggers followed by a concert of Bruckner’s 9th symphony.  Considering how I’ve enjoyed previous Bruckner concerts at Severance Hall, I was not going to miss an opportunity to see the concert and get a backstage look at the Cleveland Orchestra’s summer home.

When Scott and I arrived at Blossom, we skipped the tram and meandered down the path from the parking lot to the stage.  We got there early and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to see the beautiful scenery without a huge crowd surrounding us. 

The “Meet the Musicians” panel discussion featured the Cleveland Orchestra General Manager Gary Ginstling along with Orchestra musicians Franklin Cohen (clarinet), Jung-Min Amy Lee (violin), Stephen Rose (violin), and Paul Yancich (timpani). It was a very casual conversation as each of the musicians discussed their upcoming solo concerto performances this summer, shared stories about their lives as musicians and answered a couple of our questions. 

It was a rare glimpse “behind the music” and I enjoyed seeing a group who is so on point during performances, laughing and at ease.  It reminded me a lot of the Orchestral Manouvres at the Happy Dog (which Amy Lee is also part of). We learned a little bit of everything – from personal stories to music history, insider perspectives on Cleveland’s Orchestra and even a behind-the-scenes look at a new piece being performed in September.

The Meet the Musicians panel featuring (left to right): Orchestra General Manager Gary Ginstling, Stephen Rose (violin), Jung-Min Amy Lee (violin), Franklin Cohen (clarinet), and Paul Yancich (timpani)

From Franklin Cohen, we heard about a fit of giggles at a Carnegie Hall concert he attended as a child that ended with him and his mother having to leave their front row seats. The laughter was caused by an unintentional squeak from the clarinetist that was performing the same piece Cohen will perform in August. When asked if the audience should expect any unexpected sounds from his clarinet, he laughed and promised there would be no squeaks if he can help it.

Amy Lee shared her perspective on how the Cleveland Orchestra differs from other orchestras, describing our orchestra more as a much larger chamber ensemble — an intimate feeling you don’t necessarily find with other orchestras. She added that the wonderful thing about the Orchestra is you get to create something great you can’t necessarily do on your own — one of my favorite sentiments of the evening.

Stephen Rose discussed preparing for a piece like the Bach Violin Concerto he’ll perform in August and how it’s essential to understand the ways the Cleveland Orchestra’s modern instruments and techniques effect a different sound from a piece originally written for baroque period instruments. While it may be a different sound, there’s no need to apologize for it, because each in their own right is a distinctly beautiful style.

And Paul Yancich talked about how growing up with a brother who also plays the timpani (and now is the Atlanta Symphony’s timpanist) led to the commissioning of Dynasty: Double Concerto for Timpani, the piece they will both be playing on September 10th. I personally have a soft spot for the Orchestra’s percussion section, having played the drums growing up. And what I’m most looking forward to with this concert is that the piece is not two competing, clashing timpani sounds (which one might think would happen with the instrument) but a melody of two timpanis complementing and dependent on one another.  

In addition to meeting the musicians, I also got to meet new bloggers and writers, which is always one of my favorite things to do. I was happy to sit and chat with Lincoln in Cleveland (read his two posts on the evening here and here) and Timothy Robson who writes for Cleveland Classical and blogs at Virtual Farm Boy.  Tim shared possibly the most amazing ‘roadtrip to see a concert’ story I’ve ever heard when he told us about taking a trip to Milan to see Lady Gaga.

After the “Meet and Greet,” we took our seats for John Adam’s Violin Concerto. The Cleveland Orchestra invited guest violinist Leila Josefowicz to perform the solo with them. Written in 1993, it’s a contemporary piece filled with wildly melodic sections. Having once noted that “a concerto without a strong melodic statement is hard to imagine,” Adams definitely proves that statement right with the Violin Concerto. 

Leila Josefowicz meets with the group during the Intermission - her reserved demeanor was in sharp contrast to her fittingly hyper performance of John Adam's Violin Concerto

Each of the three movements had its own challenging, distinct sound. quarter note = 78 was a discomforting, eerie piece that often put me on the edge of my seat. I really enjoyed its interesting contrast to the serene setting of Blossom’s rolling gardens. Chaconne (“Body through which the dream flows”) struck me with a sadness that permeated the movement. During this movement in particular, Josefowicz’s solos really stood out as she was captivating with a performance that was fluid, dynamic and really illustrated the sorrowfulness of it. It was perfectly fitting for the subtitle of the movement as Adams’ dream did indeed flow through Josefowicz. I thought the final movement Toccare was again aptly named if it’s based off of the Italian verb to touch – it was an almost frenzied piece that lifted me up after the first two movements.

Throughout the concerto, the very skilled Josefowicz flowed with the music. If it was a frantic section of music, her entire body weaved and moved with her violin and you could see that she embraced it with her entire body as just another part of her. It was an incredible performance and I imagine it was the type that would lead to complete exhaustion afterwards. However, when the group briefly met with her during the intermission, she was cordial, friendly and didn’t seem the bit tired for what she just went through. The athleticism of musicians always amazes me. 

After intermission, it was time for Bruckner. The Cleveland Orchestra seems to have a love affair with Anton Bruckner, the Romantic composer that wasn’t really a Romantic. And that’s fine by me. I love the onslaught of sound that I’ve heard in previous symphonies composed by him. There’s a dense, aching emotion to it that I personally enjoy. There’s also something to his personality as a composer — indecisive (noted by the many revisions he would make) and humble to a fault — that I’ve always found appealing.

While I know there are definite non-fans of Bruckner for the same reasons I like him, I’m glad the Orchestra tends to play a number of his symphonies. In fact, after Sunday’s concert, the Cleveland Orchestra traveled to the Lincoln Center to present Bruckner: (R)EVOLUTION with performances of Nos. 5, 7, 8 and 9.

Last weekend’s performance was of Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Bruckner’s last symphony and incomplete with only 3 movements. While he began working on the fourth movement, it was never completed with Bruckner working on sketches for the intended finale up until the day of his death.  This was my first time hearing the 9th and it has quickly become my favorite.  Aware that his own death was approaching, the piece reflects a lot of this fear and brooding.  However, in the last moments of the movement, the calmness presents a resolution at the inevitable outcome and really is his “Farewell to Life” as he once described it. 

Anton Bruckner

“Anton Bruckner arrives in Heaven”. Bruckner is greeted by (from left to right): Liszt, Wagner, Schubert, Schumann, Weber, Mozart, Beethoven, Gluck, Haydn, Handel, Bach. (Silhouette drawing by Otto Böhler)

This summer at Blossom is filled with a very diverse program – including BeethovenMendelssohn, Broadway Classics, The Joffrey Ballet‘s return and events like this weekend’s showing of Pirates of the Caribbean with underscoring performed by the Orchestra.  And don’t forget to check out the solo concertos the musicians from the Meet and Greet will be performing this season:

If you’re looking to escape for a full hours to enjoy an evening of music in the open air, a full calendar and tickets can be found here.

Cleveland Orchestra 411:

Disclosures: All photos were taken by me except for the public domain silhouette. Additionally, a guest and I were invited to the Cleveland Orchestra Meet and Greet and concert to learn more about Blossom’s summer season. As always, the opinions in this post are 100% my own.