The new New Deal

by Bob Abelman

Between 1933 and 1943, during the depths of the Great Depression and into the early years of World War II, federal tax dollars employed artists and craft workers of various media and with varying levels of experience, and kept them from poverty and despair.

In addition to providing relief, the New Deal’s Federal Art Project and other government-sponsored art programs promoted American art and culture by giving more Americans access to what President Franklin D. Roosevelt decorously labeled “an abundant life.” It enabled Americans all across the country to see an original painting for the first time, attend their first professional live theater or dance production, or take their first music or drawing class. An enormous volume of public art intended for education and civic engagement – including 2,500 murals and 18,000 sculptures – was created without restriction to content or subject matter and put on display.  

Arshile Gorky works on “Activities on the field,” his 1936 mural project for Newark Airport sponsored by the Works Progress Administration. | Photo / Federal Art Project, Photographic Division

“Artists have been given something more precious than their daily bread,” said social critic Lewis Mumford at the time. “(They have received) the knowledge that their work has a destination in the community.” The public art of the New Deal reflected a vast array of traditions and cultures that served not only to celebrate the nation’s diversity but to reflect and build a common, collective national identity through art.

Never before or since has our government so extensively supported and sponsored the arts. Until now.

COVID-19 devastation by the numbers

The Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts report arts and culture contribute approximately $877.8 billion, or 4.5%, to the nation’s gross domestic product annually, according to 2017 data. Prior to the pandemic, more than 5 million wage-and-salary workers were employed in the arts and cultural sector.

In the wake of COVID-19, the arts have been devastated. Research published by the Brookings Institution reports the performing arts have been the most at risk and the hardest hit of all the creative industries. More than 52% of actors and 55% of dancers were out of work in the third quarter of last year, when the national unemployment rate was 8.5%, The New York Times reported. Since the shuttering of arts venues in March to the end of the last calendar year, it was estimated that nationwide almost 1.4 million performing and fine arts related jobs and $42.5 billion in sales have been lost. And the numbers are mounting as venues remain closed or open to sparse, socially distanced occupancy.

The live entertainment industry has missed out on $9.7 billion of box office sales, according to Pollstar, a trade publication. The larger economic hit from lost sponsorships, concessions, merchandise and other related revenues may be closer to an estimated loss of $33 billion. 

Broadway theaters were among the first businesses to shut down in March 2020, and according to the Actors’ Equity Association, more than 1,100 actors and managers lost work. From May 2018 to May 2019, shows across all 41 theaters garnered more than $1.83 billion in sales. But according to a report published by the Broadway League, a national organization of theater owners and show producers, only around $300 million in ticket sales were generated in 2020 before theaters were shuttered and midtown Manhattan became nearly deserted. Thousands more working touring shows that contributed $3.8 billion to the local economies of about 200 U.S. cities became unemployed.     

In March, we witnessed the abrupt closure of nearly all the nation’s 5,477 cinemas, the Los Angeles Times reported. In Los Angeles County, where all five major film studios – Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., Universal Pictures and Walt Disney Studios – are housed, job losses in the creative community reached 24% between February and December 2020. Disney alone saw a $7.4 billion loss to its operating income in the last fiscal year, despite its effective shift in distribution to streaming services.  

Locally in Cuyahoga County, arts, entertainment and recreation is a $1.35 billion industry that employs more than 10,000 people, one-third of whom lost jobs due to the pandemic, ideastream reported in October. Downtown Cleveland’s Playhouse Square Foundation – a consortium of performing arts venues that attract about 1 million visits a year – estimated a loss of about $4 million and laid off or furloughed nearly 200 employees between March 2020, when its theaters were first closed, and the end of the calendar year. Playhouse Square has canceled or postponed 680 performances, the organization reported late last year. 

In a May 2020 press release, Gina Vernaci, Playhouse Square CEO and president, said, “Your health and safety are our top priority,” announcing the postponement of the KeyBank Broadway series.

And, of course, local theaters, concert halls, nightclubs and arenas across the region have had thousands of live performances canceled or indefinitely postponed, leaving artists unemployed or severely underemployed. But there has been help.

A New New Deal

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act was a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill signed into law last March in response to the economic fallout of the pandemic. The bill included the Paycheck Protection Program, which offered small businesses – including arts organizations – forgivable loans to help them keep their workforce employed during COVID-19.  

Within 18 days of the bill’s approval, the National Endowment for the Arts was awarded almost $75 million, 40% of which was to be distributed to state and territorial arts agencies and regional arts organizations, including the Ohio Arts Council, for their funding of local programs. By law, the agency had to allocate the money by Dec. 30, 2020 which, according to its Executive Director Donna S. Collins in a press release, “will go a long way in supporting the recovery and resilience of Ohio’s creative economy.”

The OAC issued 296 grant awards totaling $20 million in economic relief for the arts and culture sector. Approximately $2.66 million was set to be distributed to arts and culture nonprofits through Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, the public agency that distributes some $12 million a year in county cigarette tax revenue to cultural nonprofits in the area. An additional $1.3 million was given to Arts Cleveland, which distributed the relief funds to some 425 Cuyahoga County artists and 38 performing arts businesses, of which 23 are owned by minorities or women, local media reported. 

“The CARE funds we received though the Ohio Arts Council and Cuyahoga Arts & Culture have helped survive the loss of a season plus two plays from last spring,” says Bob Taylor, executive director of Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland. “They allowed us to hold onto the reserves we strategically and rigorously built over the last decade so that we will be ready for when what’s coming next comes along.”

The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program

In December 2020, tucked into Congress’ massive, year-end $2.3 trillion relief package, was the largest public rescue of the arts in U.S. history: $15 billion in relief grants earmarked to help save the arts and entertainment industry. First crack at the money went to those venue owners who could demonstrate losses of 90% of their earned total revenue because of the COVID-19 shutdown, the Washington Post reported. Allowable expenses included equipment, rent, insurance, worker protection expenditures and mortgage payments.  

The PPP was also extended, allowing many arts organizations to apply for a second forgivable loan from a pool of $284 billion. The NEA and National Endowment for the Humanities were given a budget increase of $5.2 million each ($167.5 million each in FY2021) and were tasked with distributing additional funding to nonprofit arts organizations across the country. 

American Rescue Plan Act

Most recently, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 passed this March. The Act provides an additional $270 million in funds to the NEA and NEH, $175 million in emergency funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, an additional $7.25 billion for PPP and an additional $1.25 billion for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program program. It is expected this round of funding will support about 234,000 jobs, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.   

The cast of “Ghost Girls,” part of the “5 x 15 Minutes” musicals, a partnership between the Beck Center for the Arts, Baldwin Wallace University and the National Alliance for Musical Theatre. | Photo / Screenshot, directed by Vicky Bussert

The impact of relief funding

How do relief payments affect arts organizations on an individual basis? For one thing, the funding provides for sustainable staffing. 

For many arts organization, the first and most accessible form of assistance came in the form the forgivable loans made available through the Paycheck Protection Program. The first round of the PPP, which issued loans from March to August 2020, helped 5.2 million small businesses keep 51 million American workers employed, according to the Small Business Administration.  

This past December, as many small businesses continued to struggle and the PPP was renewed, roughly 60,000 borrowers were approved for the forgivable loans during the first week of the reopening, noted the SBA. A portion of the available funds were set aside for first-time borrowers.  

In Northeast Ohio, some larger organizations like downtown Great Lakes Theater did not have to lay off a single administrative or production staffer thanks to these loans. 

“When we are ready to go back to work and deliver live theater – hopefully in the fall, along with our Playhouse Square partners – we will have our team in place and hit the ground running,” Taylor says.  

André Gremillet, president and CEO of The Cleveland Orchestra, says, “We applied for and received a PPP loan in the amount of $5.5 million dollars, which was absolutely essential in order to be able to pay our employees – including our musicians – in 2020.”

For some smaller arts organizations with limited staffing, such as Cleveland Heights’ Ensemble Theatre, PPP loans were “a lifeline,” according to Executive Artistic Director Celeste Cosentino.

Katrice Monee Headd in Maelstrom Collaborative Arts’ “ACTIVATE 2020” storefront window visual and performing arts project. | Photo / Kaitlin K. Walsh

The funds also allowed for creative pivoting. For Gordon Square’s Maelstrom Collaborative Arts, the PPP and other forms of federal funding “allowed us to pivot, creatively,” says connectivity director Marcia Custer.  

Similarly, Laura Wiegand, executive director of Les Délices, suggests grants distributed by Cuyahoga Arts & Culture and the OAC enabled the Cleveland-based chamber ensemble to think outside the box. Adds the company’s artistic director Debra Nagy, “We emerged from the pandemic as providers of virtual interactive programming and pivoted from audio to audio/video recording for later distribution. It changed our model of creativity.”  

Verb Ballets dancers Emily Dietz, from left, Lieneke Matte, Kelly Korfhage and Kate Webb perform “KL3668.” | Photo / Kolman Rosenberg Photography

The same goes for Verb Ballets in Shaker Heights, which was forced to close its doors last March. According to producing artistic director Margaret Carlson, “we could not have continued without relief funding,” which not only reopened the doors six weeks later by providing payroll for the company’s 14 dancers and six staff, but it allowed Verb Ballets to invest in the equipment necessary to transition a rehearsal studio into a recording studio, and purchase the technology necessary to deliver performances virtually. “Doing so,” adds Carlson, “has significantly expanded the company’s audience nationally and internationally.”  

Cleveland Public Theatre’s Raymond Bobgan notes that everything takes longer and requires more resources to produce art under the current circumstances. But the grants have allowed CPT, located in Gordon Square, to “dive in” and reinvent its working model, he says. 

Darelle Hill, from left, Samantha Cocco, Christina Johnson, Zach Palumbo and CorLesia Smith in Karamu House’s “Freedom After Juneteenth, Episode Two.” | Photo / Nathan Migal

Another impact is on programming. Karamu House, in the Fairfax neighborhood on the east side of Cleveland, and CPT were among the many local theaters to receive a grant from the OAC CARES program. But they were the only two Cleveland theaters of the 30 historically under-resourced Midwestern arts and culture organizations to receive a grant from Arts Midwest’s share of the United States Regional Arts Resilience Fund.  

This first round of funding – consisting of $50,000 to $55,000 grants for each of the 30 organizations, underwritten by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation – focused on rural communities, Indigenous communities and communities of color. Karamu is the oldest producing African American theater in the nation, and CPT is home to the Latino theater company Teatro Publico de Cleveland. Grant sources helped make possible Karamu’s original virtual theater social justice series “Freedom on Juneteenth” and facilitated CPT’s use of technology to extend its virtual reach into the community, and to take creative risks in the development of hybrid performance art that merge film with live theater. 

When the dust settles

As might be expected, the New Deal’s Federal Art Project was met with some political opposition. Works of art that promoted social justice, challenged political beliefs or threatened cultural norms, for example, were seized upon by critics of President Roosevelt and used as fuel for the argument that the New Deal was bad for America. Many argued art projects should not be funded with taxpayer money. Several works of art that depicted controversial topics were destroyed by local officials uninterested in or fearful of radical, depressing or “un-American” subject matter.

Clearly, funding the arts is still a partisan issue. Recall that former President Donald Trump’s budgets for the past four years proposed the elimination of the NEA, NEH and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, as The New York Times reported.  

“As for now,” notes Laura Lott, president and chief executive of the American Alliance of Museums in a recent Times article, “we are relieved with how things ended up (under the Biden administration). But we don’t take anything for granted.” 

PHOTO | Roger Mastroianni / The Cleveland Orchestra

Cleveland Orchestra anniversary concert to be broadcast across PBS in 2019

By Marissa Nichol

The Cleveland Orchestra is accustomed to performing before audiences at home and abroad, but a recently announced partnership involving an upcoming concert is poised to extend its reach even further.

In association with ideastream, “Great Performances,” a leading performing arts TV series, will record the orchestra’s 100th Anniversary Gala Concert on Sept. 29 at Severance Hall in Cleveland for an exclusive U.S. broadcast scheduled to air on PBS in 2019.

“ideastream has a long and storied history of partnering with The Cleveland Orchestra to share the outstanding work of Cleveland’s musical ambassadors through television, radio and digital platforms,” said Kevin Martin, president and CEO of ideastream, in a news release. “We are grateful to the donors of the ideastream Campaign for Community. Their investments make possible this new collaboration with ‘Great Performances,’ which will give local, national and international audiences a chance to hear ‘The Cleveland Sound’ as The Cleveland Orchestra celebrates its 100th birthday.”

For the Anniversary Gala, Cleveland Orchestra music director Franz Welser-Möst will lead a program featuring pianist Lang Lang as soloist. The program will offer works of more than a century of Viennese musical traditions with Lang’s performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24.

“As The Cleveland Orchestra is about to celebrate its 100th birthday in December 2018, this special television broadcast of our Anniversary Gala concert represents a great opportunity to showcase the Orchestra and its unique partnership with Music Director Franz Welser-Möst,” said Cleveland Orchestra executive director André Gremillet in a news release. “We are delighted to share with the world some of the superb musical experiences we are so proud to offer our Cleveland audience every week in our beautiful Severance Hall.”

The annual gala provides essential funding for The Cleveland Orchestra’s education and community programs that share music with people throughout Northeast Ohio.

Individual concert tickets are available now starting at $51 for subscribers and will be available to the general public in August. For more details and ticket information, visit cv

Lead image: PHOTO | Roger Mastroianni / The Cleveland Orchestra

The world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra performs at Severance Hall in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood.

Cleveland Orchestra, Cleveland Foundation team up to offer free tickets to gala concert

Staff report

A chance to see the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra for free would be music to the ears of many Northeast Ohioans – and this weekend, they’ll have an opportunity to score free tickets.

In celebration of The Cleveland Orchestra’s 100th season, the orchestra and the Cleveland Foundation are partnering to provide 1,000 free tickets to the orchestra’s gala concert at 7 p.m. Oct. 7 at Severance Hall in Cleveland.

Under the direction of Music Director Franz Welser-Möst, themed “A Musical Journey through Italy,” the Orchestra’s one-night-only program of popular selections will include Verdi’s Ballet Music from “Don Carlo,” Respighi’s “The Birds,” Johann Strauss’s “The Carnival of Venice” and Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien.”

The tickets will be distributed to the public on a first-come, first-served basis at 10 a.m. on Sept. 30. Tickets can be requested via the orchestra’s website using the promo code “GALA” at the checkout or via the Severance Hall Ticket Office at 216-231-1111. The orchestra recommends using the website for ticket requests due to the high volume of calls anticipated.

Ticket requests are limited to two tickets per household and will be available until all tickets have been reserved. Attendees are encouraged to use the orchestra’s mobile ticketing option, which provides electronic tickets directly in the order confirmation email for easy viewing and scanning on mobile devices.

Tickets may also be picked up in person at the Severance Hall box office Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and the day of the concert beginning at 10 a.m.

“Our 100th season represents a milestone anniversary, not just for The Cleveland Orchestra itself but for the community that created it. We are grateful for the Cleveland Foundation’s long-term partnership in expanding access to great music throughout our community,” said André Gremillet, The Cleveland Orchestra’s executive director, in a statement. “The foundation’s tremendous support inspires us daily in our commitment to fulfill the promise of this amazing community who created The Cleveland Orchestra, through quality, sharing, education and celebration.”

Inviting the Greater Cleveland community to experience the gala concert highlights the special role the Cleveland Foundation, through its donors, continues to play in supporting Cleveland’s hometown Orchestra — and its commitment to sharing more music with more people. In the past four decades, the Cleveland Foundation has granted more than $38 million to the orchestra, including a $10 million grant in 2013 as part of the orchestra’s “Sound for the Centennial” campaign — the largest single grant to an arts organization in the foundation’s history.

“The Cleveland Orchestra is a true treasure, not only here in Cleveland but throughout the world,” said Ronn Richard, Cleveland Foundation president and CEO, in a statement. “They were a wonderful partner during our centennial celebration in 2014, and now we’re delighted to be able to help the Orchestra celebrate 100 years in our community.” CV

LEAD IMAGE: The world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra performs at Severance Hall in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood. PHOTO | Roger Mastroianni / The Cleveland Orchestra

Cleveland Orchestra Music Director, Franz Welser-Möst, leads the Orchestra in the 2014 production of Janáček’s opera, “The Cunning Little Vixen” at Severance Hall. Photo / Roger Mastroianni

Cleveland Orchestra begins 100th season with ‘The Cunning Little Vixen’

By Bob Abelman

The 2014 Cleveland Orchestra’s premiere of Leoš Janáček’s opera, “The Cunning Little Vixen,” – the innovative made-for-Severance Hall opera described by The New York Times as “ingenious” – is being revived to open the orchestra’s 100th season.

Created and directed by Yuval Sharon in collaboration with music director Franz Welser-Möst, the limited-run encore production will once again juxtapose state-of-the-art digital animation by Walter Robot Studios with live performance from featured singers, the Cleveland Orchestra chorus and the children’s chorus. 

The performance will be sung in Czech, with projected English supertitles.

The opera details the adventures of a clever fox cub. She’s captured by the local forester, grows up on his farm, and then escapes back to the woods to raise a family. This tale has much to say about the cyclical nature of life and death.  

On the rare occasions when the highly theatrical “Vixen” has been mounted since its world premiere in 1924, the cast dons full-body costumes to portray the animals. As he did with the 2014 production, Sharon follows suit but has dispensed with sets in favor of digital animation.

All that will be seen of the Vixen (Martina Janková), the mezzo-soprano fox, woodpecker and rooster (Jennifer Johnson Cano, Sandra Ross and Clarissa Lyons, respectively), the soprano hen, grasshopper and frog (Marian Vogel, Miranda Scholl and Caroline Bergan, respectively), the tenor mosquito (David Cangelosi) and the bass-baritone badger (Dashon Burton) when the spaces they inhabit are depicted on screens are their faces.

Making her Cleveland Orchestra debut in this production is Daryl Freedman, a Jewish mezzo-soprano who will be playing Lapák the dog. 

“‘The Cunning Little Vixen’ is such an ensemble show,” Freedman said. “I am so excited for us all to develop our characters together in this captivating and beautiful production and to discover how my Lapák can incorporate both the playful, frisky qualities of a pup and the seriousness of the artist he believes himself to be.

Under Welser-Möst’s direction, the Cleveland Orchestra has been re-establishing itself as an important operatic ensemble, beginning in 2008 with five sold-out performances of a staged production of Dvorák’s opera “Rusalka.”

“We take risks, we don’t shy away from being creative, we actually go for it,” he said in a news release.  “The city of Cleveland and The Cleveland Orchestra especially are places for innovation and creativity, and our production of Janáček’s ‘The Cunning Little Vixen’ is one of the most outstanding examples of what we have done.”  

In October, the groundbreaking “Vixen” will be performed as part of the Orchestra’s upcoming European tour to Hamburg, Linz, Luxembourg, Paris, and Vienna. At Vienna’s Musikverein, the performance will make history as the first fully-staged opera presented there since the concert hall opened in 1870. 

On stage

Janacek’s ‘The Cunning Little Vixen’

WHEN: 8 pm, Sept. 23, Sept. 24 and Sept. 26

WHERE: Severance Hall, 11001 Euclid Ave., Cleveland

TICKETS & INFO: $41-$165, go to or call 216-231-1111

Bob Abelman covers professional theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at 2017 Ohio AP Media Editor’s best columnist.

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on September 15, 2017.

Lead image: Cleveland Orchestra Music Director, Franz Welser-Möst, leads the Orchestra in the 2014 production of Janáček’s opera, “The Cunning Little Vixen” at Severance Hall. Photo / Roger Mastroianni

DANCECleveland brings in nationally recognized dance companies like the contemporary Brazilian dance company Grupo Corpo, which exemplifies a minimalistic approach to dance.

Home to a variety of theater, classical music and dance offerings, Northeast Ohio stages are in the spotlight

By Alyssa Schmitt

With scores of stages from Cleveland to Akron and Canton – and in many of the suburbs in between – Northeast Ohio is bursting at the seams with dance, theater and classical music offerings.

So much so, in fact, Karen Gahl-Mills, CEO and executive director of Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, one of the largest public funders of arts and culture in the U.S., says the thriving region performs at a level higher than might be expected of it.

“When you look at the list of all the organizations we fund – much less everything that’s out there – we do seem like we have more stuff, more stages, more organizations doing more work here than really belies a city of our size,” Gahl-Mills says.

That the area is experiencing this boom is in part a result of previous generations making arts part of the region’s foundation. To that point, several institutions are celebrating milestone anniversaries, including The Cleveland Orchestra, whose upcoming 2017-18 season marks its centennial anniversary.

The world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra performs at Severance Hall in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood.

The world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra performs at Severance Hall in Cleveland’s University
Circle neighborhood. Photo by Roger Mastroianni / The Cleveland Orchestra

“Cleveland used to be a city of a million people, so many of our cultural institutions are celebrating 100th anniversaries over the course of the last five and next five years,” Gahl-Mills says. “That speaks to those institutions being built at a time when Cleveland was a much bigger city with a much larger population. And it was a population of folks who really did believe that having arts and culture in your community needed to be part of your community’s DNA. It was a way to speak of yourself as a world city.”

The idea that Cleveland is a world-class arts city may sound foreign to outsiders, but compared to stage scenes in New York City or Chicago, Cleveland’s large and vibrant performance arts culture – and its focus on community – stack up quite well, says Clyde Simon, co-founder and art director of convergence-continuum, a Cleveland theater company that calls Tremont’s Liminis Theatre home.

“Since (convergence-continuum) started (in 2000), the theater scene in Cleveland has really grown,” Simon says. “In terms of quality, we’re definitely there. The productions that I’ve seen in those other places and the ones I’ve seen in Cleveland are equal in quality, and we’re being recognized outside of the area for such things. Cleveland has been getting some national attention beyond our own city limits.”

Quality guides the livelihood of Cleveland’s stages, but the secret to its growing audience is accessibility. Nationally known productions run through Cleveland often. Those who can’t afford to make the trip to New York City to see a renowned play or musical – chances are – can see it in Cleveland.

“Five Flights” transformed the entire theater space at convergence-continuum’s Liminis Theatre in Cleveland into the interior of an abandoned aviary.

“Five Flights” transformed the entire theater space at convergence-continuum’s Liminis Theatre in Cleveland into the interior of an abandoned aviary.

“We have a lot of offerings that, (in) many cities, you don’t necessarily have the opportunity to experience,” says Sarah Hricko, marketing manager at DANCECleveland, a stand-alone, dance-only presenter based in Cleveland’s Shaker Square neighborhood. “We’re able to provide, at DANCECleveland, the ability for people to see world-class dance performances that in many places people would have to drive really far to get to, or in New York for example, you’re going to be spending at least double what you pay for tickets here.”

The Cleveland Orchestra has also increased accessibility in recent years. In addition to regularly performing at Severance Hall in Cleveland and Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, the orchestra has participated in neighborhood residences in Lakewood and Cleveland’s Detroit-Shoreway, Slavic Village and Hough neighborhoods. By performing in more familiar environs, the orchestra is able to present its world-renowned performances to audiences that may not otherwise get to experience them, says Justin Holden, Cleveland Orchestra’s director of public relations.

“Providing access, in general, in different settings – whether it’s smaller ensembles or outside of a concert hall – just helps,” Holden says. “I think that when people are asked to connect with it simply as great music and great artists performing, then it’s easier for them to have an experience that’s meaningful to them.”

Many organizations are also engaging audiences over and above an evening’s main performance. Pre-show talks explaining the history of the production, classes in which audiences can interact with performers and Q&A sessions allowing audience members to speak directly to creative talent are all common ways connections are being built.

“We want to try to make sure that not only are you seeing the show, but you’re getting to interact before and after the show as well,” Hricko says. “It’s all about creating different experiences for different people.”

Each stage is unique, which may make it challenging (in a good way) when deciding what to see, but from dance to classical music to theater, there’s no shortage of options.

“There’s a real variety in Cleveland of really different types of theaters, both physically and the kind of things they produce,” Simon says. “There’s a real wealth of theater and you can’t see everything in one week … you’re going to miss stuff because there’s so much going on now.” CV

On stage

The Cleveland Orchestra

The Cleveland Orchestra’s Gala Concert will take place Oct. 7 and serve as the celebratory kick-off to launch Second Century initiatives at the start of the ensemble’s 100th season. For more, visit


Performances of “Rhinoceros” (Aug. 25 – Sept. 16) and “In the Closet” (Oct. 13 – Nov. 4) will take place at Liminis Theatre. For more, visit


A performance by the Koresh Dance Company will take place Oct. 1 at The University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall, and a performance by the Paul Taylor Dance Company will take place Nov. 11 at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre. For more, visit

Lead image: DANCECleveland brings in nationally recognized dance companies like the contemporary Brazilian dance company Grupo Corpo, which exemplifies a minimalistic approach to dance. Photo by Jose Luiz Pederneiras / DANCECleveland

“At the Movies” at Severance Hall. Photo | Courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra

Updated takes on stage classics draw tepid responses

By Bob Abelman

“Don’t throw the past away/
You might need it some rainy day”

– From “Everything Old is New Again”
1974 Song by Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager

There were times early in the last century when ingenuity embraced the visual and performing arts, enhanced its artistry and expanded the audience.

Those days are here again, but to curiously mixed reviews.


Live-captured broadcasting. Photo | Courtesy of National Theatre Live

Live-captured broadcasting. Photo | Courtesy of National Theatre Live

In the early-1920s, in order to fill the silence before talkies and bring out the emotion of what was being said but needed to be read, many movie theaters employed a live pianist, organist or small orchestra to accompany their films.

In the spirit of this act of creative enrichment, but on steroids, the December installment of the “At the Movies” series at Severance Hall offered a screening of Frank Capra’s monochromatic classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” with a live symphonic performance of the film’s original underscoring by the world-class Cleveland Orchestra. Included were 40 minutes of found music written by composer Dimitri Tiomkin that were cut from the original release of the movie.

The Cleveland Orchestra offered a richer and more vibrant experience than Frank Capra could have ever have imagined or that any audience ever encountered in the 70 years since the film’s release. And yet, there were those in attendance who felt that the live accompaniment was overkill and who found that the now-somber underscoring of assorted scenes detracted from the light and happy feeling we’ve come to expect from this holiday staple.


Garrett Clayton as Link Larkin, at left, Ariana Grande as Penny Pingleton, Maddie Baillio as Tracy Turnblad, Ephraim Sykes as Seaweed J. Stubbs. Photo | Justin Lubin, NBC

Garrett Clayton as Link Larkin, at left, Ariana Grande as Penny Pingleton, Maddie Baillio as Tracy Turnblad, Ephraim Sykes as Seaweed J. Stubbs. Photo | Justin Lubin, NBC

Back in the 1930s, Broadway productions were often re-staged for film and turned into feature-length movies, bringing professional theater to places where professional theater didn’t exist.

Today, sites such as iTunes, Amazon Video, Netflix and GooglePlay stream filmed musicals and plays to phones, computers and tablets. Last year, a production of the acclaimed revival “She Loves Me” was the first in a series of Broadway, Off-Broadway and London West End shows to be streamed live or live-captured on the internet by the new online subscription service BroadwayHD.

And yet, many theater purists have been unreceptive to these ventures, condemning them for reducing the heightened reality of a stage production to the size of an iPhone screen and turning the communal experience of theatergoing into a socially isolating event.


During the early days of television, live hour-long anthology series such as “Studio One” and “The Philco Television Playhouse” offered original stage plays. In 1955, as part of its “Producers’ Showcase,” a live NBC broadcast of the Broadway musical “Peter Pan” drew 65 million viewers.

Just last month, NBC launched its fourth modern-era live musical event, “Hairspray Live!,” preceded by “The Sound of Music Live!” in 2013, “Peter Pan Live!” in 2014, “The Wiz Live!” in 2015 and Fox’s broadcast of “Grease: Live!” early in 2016. The highly promoted $10 million production of “Hairspray Live!” employed 13 digital cameras, a cast and crew of 700, and the massive soundstages of Universal Studios in California.

And yet, with 8.9 million viewers, “Hairspray Live!” was the lowest rated of them all. Even the audience for “Peter Pan Live!” (9.2 million) paled by comparison to the musical’s 1955 broadcast. The press blamed the chasm that exists between old-school stories and the new, highly obtrusive digital modes of storytelling. In particular, The New York Times called out these productions for their “inability to leave any lily ungilded, to direct a scene without tilting or hurtling or throwing the camera around.”


The evolution of entertainment, it seems, can be uncomfortable for those of us who recall with great fondness the primordial soup of traditional storytelling – when theater looked like theater, when TV looked like TV, and when film looked like film. New enrichments to old art forms are as awkward an assault on our senses as when color was added to motion pictures, when microphones were first worn by stage actors, and when television screens started growing to 65” with 2160p resolution and Ultra HD.

But change can be a good thing. Freeing live theater from the proscenium arch and making it available on multiple platforms, for instance, offers the best seats in the house to everyone in the virtual audience. And while creative and technical risk-taking involves some degree of failure – and there was plenty of that in “Hairspray Live!” – the next attempt will know which risks to keep and which ones not to repeat.

So give change a chance.

Take in the February edition of “At the Movies” at Severance Hall, where the Cleveland Orchestra will do justice to Henry Mancini’s legendary score for the romantic comedy “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Subscribe to BroadwayHD. The live streaming of “Holiday Inn: The New Irving Berlin Musical” begins Jan. 14.

Attend March’s NT Live’s broadcast of Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan” at the Cedar Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights.

And hope for the best rather than expect the worst from NBC’s “Bye Bye Birdie Live!” coming to TV and computer screens in December 2017.

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Jan. 2, 2017.

Bob Abelman covers professional theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at

Lead image: “At the Movies” at Severance Hall. Photo | Courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra