July 2007 Issue
The Stage is Set
Summer is the ideal time to experience the arts in Akron.
"The arts are alive and thriving here," says Jessie Raynor, director of the Akron Area Arts Alliance, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting cultural activities in Summit, Portage and Medina counties. "It's amazing. There's something for everyone every day of the week -- from blues concerts to Broadway shows. It's the perfect time to see a wonderful sampling of all we have to offer."
So pack a picnic and get ready to experience art with the added ambiance of the great outdoors.
Hooked on Classics
As Richard Weiner, the Cleveland Orchestra's principal percussionist, gazes out at Blossom Music Center's pastoral grounds from his place on stage, he remembers pivotal moments from 40 summers past: the excitement surrounding the opening of Blossom in 1968 as a premier outdoor venue, surpassing the acoustic excellence of Tanglewood, the Hollywood Bowl and Wolf Trap. The sea of young families -- including his wife Jacqueline and daughters Deborah and Stephanie -- who have acquired an appreciation for the symphony during picnics on the lawn. And the music, replete with a timelessness that resounds through the ages.
Like the debut Blossom concert in July 1968, this festival season includes Beethoven's "Symphony No. 9" on July 7, featuring "Ode to Joy," which Weiner describes as "one of the greatest pieces ever written.
"For the audience, the score is an exceptional experience: emotional, visual, intellectual and psychological," he adds.
Other selections this season include "A Viennese Evening" July 8 with music by Richard Strauss and Johann and Josef Strauss; and Mahler's "Symphony No. 1" on July 14. "Bravo Broadway" celebrates the best of the Great White Way August 12.
Sense of Community
Tailgate parties are usually a prelude to football games and autumn weather. Not so at the Porthouse Theatre, where patrons often linger long after the curtain calls to talk about the night's performance while sharing a repast of summer fare.
"There's a cosmic energy here that makes the place magical," says artistic director Terri Kent, who likens the experience of seeing a Porthouse production to being on a seaside vacation.
"No matter what has happened in my life, no matter where I am psychologically, physically or spiritually, when I stand at the foot of the ocean, I know all is right with the world. I have that same feeling at Porthouse," she says.
City of Akron Recreation Bureau
Lock 3 Live!
Main Street, downtown Akron, 330/375-2877. http://lock3live.com.
Ohio Shakespeare Festival
Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, 714 N. Portage Path, Akron, ticket office 330/315-3287. www.stanhywet.org
1145 W. Steels Corners Rd., Cuyahoga Falls, 330/672-3884. http://dept.kent.edu/theatre/porthouse/TicketInfo.htm
For more information on upcoming activities, call the Akron Area Arts Alliance at 330/376-8480 or visit www.akronareaarts.org.
Kent credits that response to the 150-acre setting, which adjoins the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and the theater's 500-seat pavilion, which offers the fresh airiness of the outdoors without letting Mother Nature dampen anyone's spirits.
This season's offerings include J.M. Barrie's classic "Peter Pan," July 5–21, which, Kent is quick to add, is no Mary Martin musical.
"Not only is Peter played by a boy," she explains, "but the bells and whistles are stripped away. The audience learns how the magic is created."
The Tony Award-winning musical "Sweet Charity," with book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields and choreography by the legendary Bob Fosse, concludes the season July 26-August 12. Kent promises that even fans of the play and movie -- about a dancer with a dream -- will be surprised by the outcome.
Ode to the Bard
Shakespeare amid sumptuous gardens replete with wildflowers, roses and daylilies. It's no midsummer night's dream. Nobody snoozes when the Ohio Shakespeare Festival takes the stage at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, the magnificent country estate and grounds completed in 1915 for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company magnate F. A. Seiberling.
To Terry Burgler, OSF's artistic director, the experience is a quintessential one, the way the Bard should be enjoyed, akin to a performance at London's Globe Theatre, where the plays debuted 400 years or so ago.
"When the production starts, you get the sense of the great big wide world surrounding you. But as the evening goes on and the sun goes down and the stage lights start to become more and more important, there's this wonderful telescoping effect that draws the audience in. As a result, by the end of the show, there's an extra degree of connection and intensity," he says.
Not to mention the added attraction of being outdoors this time of year, when birds and bullfrogs add another dimension to the dialogue.
"As tough as Ohio can be in winter in terms of grayness and weather, it's sure a nice place to be in the summer," Burgler says.
On tap this season is "The Comedy of Errors," July 20–August 4, Shakespeare's tale of mistaken identity, and the tragedy "Othello," the story of love gone awry, August 10-19. To add to the mix, the festival is also presenting the Broadway hit, "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," through July 14.
"There's an exceptional value to mixing contemporary works with some of Shakespeare's works, because they enrich each other," Burgler explains. "Large Broadway musicals have a structure very similar to Shakespeare's: They jump from scene to scene without any concern about the flow and communicate with rich language. Characters reach extraordinary moments where the only way they can communicate is with a more expressive form -- in a musical it's a song, in Shakespeare it's a soliloquy."
Arts in the Parks
There's something about an old-fashioned concert in a community park: the camaraderie present when greeting neighbors you haven't seen all winter, the opportunity to sit a spell and watch the rest of the world go by.
"People are confined so much to their homes, to their offices, to the rush of life that they actually look forward to sitting and enjoying an evening outside," says Yvette Davidson, community events coordinator for the city of Akron, who plans 10 weeks' worth of free concerts each summer at four Akron parks: Mondays at Hardesty (1615 W. Market St.), Tuesdays at Firestone (1480 Girard St.), Wednesdays at Shadyside (I-277 between 1-77 and St. Rte. 224) and Fridays at Goodyear Heights Metro Park (2077 Newton St.).
Davidson makes sure an enjoyable time is had by all by keeping the music family-friendly and diverse.
"Each neighborhood has its own flavor," she says, taking musical recommendations by residents into account when scheduling entertainment. Jazz and the blues rule at Hardesty, with the Gary Jackson Band (July 2), Shout! & The Legends of Motown (July 16) and Colin Dussault's Blues Project (August 13). Firestone Park has a flair for oldies with a lineup that includes Logical Solution's 1970s pop-rock favorites (July 3) and Wild Avenue's '80s rock renditions (August 14). Oldies and country hits take center stage at the Shadyside gazebo with Off the Record classics from the '60s and '70s (August 8) and November Dawn's brand of country (August 15). The Goodyear Heights Metro Park presents a medley of shows just right for dancing, including the Blues Sisters' brand of funk (July 13) and the Latin-infused rock of the JiMiller Band (August 3); the Akron Symphony Orchestra brings its renowned sound to the park on July 6.
Rocking the Lock
It's a picture-perfect slice of history: Lock 3, where the Ohio & Erie Canal meandered, bringing commerce to Cleveland and Akron in the early 1800s. Today, the site is still making history, only now as Lock 3 Live! -- a premier place for community fun year-round.
"We've created an environment where babes in arms, toddlers in hand and people pushing strollers are welcome," says deputy mayor Dave Lieberth. July Fourth weekend will be celebrated with a bang this year as vendors from around the country compete for prizes in a family barbecue serving up ribs, chicken and sausage amid a medley of hits from Survivor on July 4, a performance by the Akron Symphony Orchestra July 5, a tribute to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young July 6, and Old School Soul July 7. Friday nights bring bands paying homage to performers who still rock the ages. The lineup includes Sharp Dressed Men: A Tribute to ZZ Top (July 13), The System: A Tribute to Bob Seger (July 27) and Blue Wild Gypsy: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix (August 10). Saturday night headliners include Collin Raye (July 14), Gerry and the Pacemakers (August 4) and Lou Christie and Lesley Gore (September 1).
Down by the Riverside
It sounds like the plot of a movie musical from the '30s: In 1935, during the throes of the Great Depression, four members of the Akron Woman's City Club decided the town needed a boost, something to lift the spirits and add a bit of culture at the same time. Seventy-two years later, Weathervane Community Playhouse has brought 525 productions to life and continues to be a vital part of the community.
The setting is hard to resist. Nestled on the bank of the Cuyahoga River, Weathervane is friend to fowl, including the geese ready to greet theater patrons in the parking lot.
"It's very soothing," interim executive director Janis Harcar explains. "You can't help but be lulled by the river, especially after it rains and you can hear it rushing by."
Plays are chosen by committee, guaranteeing an eclectic assortment sure to entice a variety of tastes. Through July 8, the summer schedule is winding down with "The Full Monty," the musical comedy about a group of unemployed factory workers who strut their stuff to make ends meet. The fall season debuts with "I Do! I Do!" an ode to love and marriage, September 5–23.