Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

All City Musical
Playhouse Square
Review by Mark Horning | Season Schedule

Also see Mark's review of Pinch and Squeal's Wizbang!

The cast of 42nd Street
Photo Courtesy of Cleveland Metropolitan School District
It all began in Cleveland in 1954 with the introduction of the All-City Arts program that was managed by the Department of Arts Education. It included an All-City Symphony Orchestra, All-City Choir, and All-City Concert Band. These groups held mid-year and end-of-year events culminating with classical music concerts at the prestigious Severance Hall (home of the Cleveland Orchestra).

At the beginning of the school year, music supervisors were picked during an audition process and would then select individual students from the Cleveland Public School District around the city. Suddenly, in 1970 the program was discontinued as arts education took a hard hit across the country. Thirty years later, in the year 2000, educators recognized the power of arts education and The Cleveland Metropolitan School District re-instituted the All-City Arts program.

Unlike the All-City Arts of years past, this new program was designed to be much more inclusive of other art forms rather than focusing solely on classical music. All-City Arts encourages after-school and weekend college readiness programs using a "Live Learning Lab" curriculum.

The Department of Arts Education utilizes the talents of district certified arts teachers, practicing arts professionals, and more than forty community arts and cultural partners to produce various programs, productions, and events such as live Broadway musicals, concerts, and "Rock Your World with Steam" appearances.

The epicenter of these various programs is John Hay High School where students are offered the opportunity to meet for three hours on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. Other options are after-school and weekend programs, various performance opportunities, and exhibits at different school-sponsored events as well as the opportunity for students to attend performances and exhibitions.

The All City Musical is celebrating its 19th straight production this year. Past shows were Little Shop of Horrors (2000), Once On This Island (2001), The Wiz (2002), West Side Story (2003), Carmen Jones (2004), The Hot Mikado (2005), South Pacific (2006), Guys and Dolls (2007), Dreamgirls (2008), A Decade of Dreams (2009), Fame: The Musical (2010), Bubbling Brown Sugar (2011), Footloose (2012), Aida (2013), Rent (2014), Memphis (2015), Kiss Me, Kate (2016), The Wiz (2017), Bring It On (2018). This year there is a complete change of style and format with 42nd Street.

Hundreds of actor/scholars gather at the beginning of the school year to try out for the various parts. The competition is tough as everyone wants to be awarded the principal roles. Sometimes egos get bruised but it is all part of the process as these students learn that it is not the size of the part but what they can do with it on stage.

The choice of this year's production was especially challenging due to the speech patterns of a time well beyond anyone's memory. The 1930s had its own dictionary of slang, dance and music that had to be learned by this cast in order to get the point of the musical across to a young audience. On top of that, hundreds of costumes, hats and wigs had to be collected as well as an enormous set constructed that included hundreds of Broadway lights, four major scene changes, a number of video projections, and three movable stair sets.

For the matinees, students of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District are invited to watch a full production of the show with all of their teachers receiving a study guide they can take back and share with the students concerning the history of this particular show and the time period in which it takes place.

After many exhausting months of tap dancing, singing and acting, the matinees are performed mid-week, with three ticketed shows held over the weekend and suddenly it is all over as the teachers catch a breath and begin to prepare for the next series of concerts during "Rock Your World with Steam" which is just weeks away.

42nd Street features music by Harry Warren with lyrics by Al Dubin and Johnny Mercer, and a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble. It is based on a novel by Bradford Ropes with original direction and dances by Gower Champion. It was originally produced on Broadway by David Merrick. The All City Musical version is directed by Kimberly Sias with musical direction by David M. Thomas. Choreography is re-imagined by Rosalyn Dale, Kyle Primus and Nehemiah Spencer. The show is presented by arrangement with Tams-Witmark.

It cannot be stressed enough what the impact the arts can have on a student's life. Both of my sons took full advantage of participating in orchestra while in high school. Not only did their other grades improve, but it developed in them a love of playing that they still carry to this day.

The 20th annual All City Musical is presented by the Cleveland Metropolitan School District in partnership with The Musical Theater Project and through the generous support of The Human Fund, The City of Cleveland Ohio, The Ohio Arts Council, The George Gund Foundation, The Chuck and Char Fowler Family Foundation, The Edwin D. Northrup II Fund, the Reinberger Foundation, the Helen F. and Louis Stolier Family Foundation, The PNC Foundation, Medical Mutual, Penske Cleveland and U.S. Bank.

All City Musical's 42nd Street, through April 28, 2019, at Playhouse Square, 501 Euclid Ave #200, Cleveland OH. For tickets, visit

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