Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

The Panther Dancer
Playwrights Local
Review by Mark Horning

Also see Mark's reviews of Passing Strange and White Guy on the Bus and David's review of The Royale

Cast of The Panther Dancer
Photo by Grace Mc C Photography
Playwrights Local is on a mission. Their aim is to nurture and support playwrights in the Northeast Ohio area. Sometimes, as is the case in their newest offering of Logan Cutler Smith's The Panther Dancer, it works.

The show got its start at the 2016 NEOMFA Playwright Festival put on at Convergence-Continuum. It is a biographical account of life of the often maligned Michael Jackson. We meet his overbearing father, religious mother, brothers and sister, as well as a parade of celebrity friends that include Diana Ross, Quincy Jones, Brooke Shields, Prince, Elizabeth Taylor, Berry Gordy, Liza Minnelli, and Lisa Marie Presley. The show documents the life, rise to stardom, fall from grace and death of "the king of pop."

Five actors (Andrea Belser, Robert Branch, Corin B. Self, Kim Simbeck and Anthony Velez) take turns in the variety of roles through the use of costumes and really bad wigs. Each character is introduced in dialogue such as, "Well hello there, Diana Ross," with not even a hint of subtlety.

Over the course of the evening we learn of Michael's misplace childhood, abusive father, eight brothers and sister, being signed by Motown Records, the many mega hits, his Peter Pan obsession, the "nose" controversy, the gay question, Elvis, Neverland, drugs, relationships with children, and his early death. Kudos to Mr. Smith for the obviously tremendous amount of research needed to put together this show. It is almost (but not quite) too much information.

Director Jimmie Wood uses a variety of brilliant techniques to tell the story, such as straight acting, singing and dancing, videos, and backlit shadow sequences. While the entire cast is terrific, special mention must be made of Anthony Velez's portrayal of Michael Jackson. His precision dancing and singing is a wonder to behold. This is real talent on stage and alone is worth the price of the ticket.

While a lot of serious research went into the writing of this play, the result is a tongue in cheek portrayal of Michael Jackson as a whirlwind of costume and character changes shows off the singer in many different forms, shapes, colors and sizes. It's a hoot and worth going to see.

The Playwrights Local production of The Panther Dancer, through May 26, 2018, at the Creative Space at Waterloo Arts, 397 E. 156th Street, Cleveland OH. Tickets may be purchased online at

Note: For those who had been to this venue before, the adjacent parking lot is no longer available for theater patrons. You must now park on the street or in the small lot on the south side of Waterloo just around the corner.

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