Okay, so the idea of hanging a huge chandelier outside at Playhouse Square seems weird, right? Then again, they all laughed when Monsieur Eiffel erected his tower in Paris, one critic decrying it as "a half-built factory pipe, a funnel-shaped grill, a hole-riddled suppository." Ouch.
Rectal comparisons aside, the GE Chandelier has received its fair share of bon mots and brickbats, and that's just fine with Gina Vernaci, senior vice president of theater operations at Playhouse Square. As she says, "The chandelier is doing what good urban art does. It engages people and sparks conversation."
And plenty of people are drawn to it. "People are taking their wedding pictures underneath the chandelier," notes Vernaci, "and there are a lot of selfies being snapped. I think it's creating a recognizable icon for the city." And no matter what you may think of this particular specimen of public art, it sure beats the Paul Bunyan statue in Portland.
No matter how many bulbs are illuminated in the chandelier, they can't compare to all the lights that are being trained on the Playhouse Square stages this fall. The performance schedule is packed and, according to Vernaci, ticket sales are off the charts.
The mother ship of all the performances happening at PlayhouseSquare is the KeyBank Broadway Series, since these multi-week runs of touring shows bring the biggest crowds and the most dollars downtown. This year, it starts with Motown, the Musical, the story of Motown founder Berry Gordy. As Vernaci says, "Everybody claims Motown music as their own music. And it's music we all can sing, in the shower or elsewhere." It figures people of all ages, races and backgrounds will find something to identify with in those infectious beats. (Motown: Oct. 3 to 19).
Next up in the Broadway Series is Newsies, the Disney musical about newspaper delivery boys that won 2012 Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Choreography. Although it may seem a tame subject, the percussive, tap-dancing show is based on the New York City Newsboys' Strike of 1899. And as Vernaci points out, there is a deeper theme: "It's about a group of disregarded people who rise up against the powers that be. That strike actually led to a reform of child labor laws." (Newsies: Nov. 4 to 16)
In addition to the Broadway Series, Playhouse Square is home to other stellar entertainment entities such as (amazingly) two professional theater companies in residence, the Cleveland Play House and Great Lakes Theater.
Playing now at the Cleveland Play House, in the new Allen Theatre, is The Little Foxes, Lillian Hellman's barbed and vicious little story about a family of greedy vipers in turn of the (20th) century Deep South. It will surely inspire you to wrap your arms lovingly around your own family's dysfunctions. (The Little Foxes: through Oct. 5)
Then CPH changes its tune by presenting How We Got On by Idris Goodwin, the story of two kids in 1988 who want to create the ultimate suburban rap song. They're accompanied by an on-stage DJ who will spin records and remix the action of the play. (How We Got On: Oct. 24 to Nov. 16)
Great Lakes Theater will open its season with The Merry Wives of Windsor by some Shakespeare fellow, a play rife with sexy shenanigans and delightful deceit. (Wives: Sept. 26 to Nov. 2).
Running in rep with Wives at GLT will be a locally produced staging of Les Miserables, the long-running monster musical hit. The Boublil and Schonberg epic will be directed by Victoria Bussert and will no doubt feature a much better singer in the role of Inspector Javert than the recent film version did with vocally execrable Russell Crowe. (Les Miz: Oct. 3 to Nov. 9)
There are many venues at Playhouse Square, and one of them is tucked away downstairs in the space known as Kennedy's. That's where the intrepid little theater company Cesear's Forum will present Edward Albee's Occupant a tribute to the American sculptor Louise Nevelson, through Oct. 25.
Of course, those performances are just part of the multitude of Playhouse Square entertainments that will float down on us this autumn. These one-night or short-run events offer a staggering variety of experiences. From the multi-genre jazz bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding (Oct. 11) to an exploration of fine art in Discover DaVinci and Michaelangelo Side by Side (Oct. 17).
If you like to see big stars, they will be here: Everly Brothers Tribute featuring Graham Nash, Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris (Oct. 25), Bob Dylan and his Band (Nov. 12), Tony Bennett (Nov. 22), and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (Nov. 9). If you prefer quirky performers who play to a niche audience, try Country Music Hall of Famer Don Williams (Oct. 5), deadpan (and fall-on-your-ass funny) comedian Steven Wright (Oct. 26), or dedicated foodist/performer Alton Brown (Nov. 7).
And since Playhouse Square is connected with the drama departments of two local universities, there will be productions of The Dybbuk by S. Ansky, produced by Cleveland State University's department of theater and dance (Nov. 6 to 16) and The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, produced by the Case Western Reserve University MFA acting program at Cleveland Play House.
That's a ton of entertainment options, and that's just a fraction of the Playhouse Square schedule (see playhousesquare.org for the whole megillah). Thanks to this non-stop stream of activity, the area around the theaters is starting to boom with new restaurants, trendy new housing, and even new retail—including a Heinen's grocery store now under construction on East Ninth.
As Vernaci concludes, "Things are happening down here, you can feel the sidewalks vibrating. It's a stimulating time be here." So hail to thee, o chandelier!
Tickets for all the above events can be obtained by visiting playhousesquare.org or calling 216-241-6000.