If you’ve never seen a show at Near West Theatre, you may wonder: Why bother with a farewell show in a third-floor church ballroom?
My advice: do bother. Go climb the stairs and see Move On!, and not just because it’s Near West’s last production ever in the St. Pat’s Club Building, 3606 Bridge Ave. Don’t even just go for the good reason that it’s a piece of Cleveland arts history: founding Executive Director Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek and almost-founding Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr. have shaped the show, and they join a cast of 65 in performing it in the same place where it all started back in 1978. No, see it above all because it’s fun, passionate and satisfying. It’s a mix of music, the spoken word and projected images a that form a grand, interesting, moving artistic experience. It’s about the power of theater — and this theater in particular, in this part of Cleveland — to change lives and build community.
Move On! presents Broadway and popular songs in a concert style and intersperses them with original poems, video interviews and testimonials written or voiced over the years by people who have seen and felt the impact of Near West’s mission. The production showcases the power of Near West Theatre’s process to build relationships and create great art, while also explaining its socially conscious roots and its place as an institution in an unusually rich, diverse, challenged, changing neighborhood. It’s embodied by a diverse cast of ordinary people ranging in age from 7 to 60, and augmented in a delightful way by video interviews and still images assembled by Assistant Technical Director Perren Hedderson.
Soloists, duos and the entire ensemble belt, croon and harmonize beautifully, backed by the strong work of assistant musical director Jordan Cooper on keyboard, drummer Rick Tyler and trumpeter Juan Ingram.
Hang around afterwards to enjoy refreshments, greet the actors, check out the many Near West artifacts displayed throughout the space by Designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski, and say goodbye to St. Pat’s, even if it was your first hello. Come back one more time if you can, around 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, June 29, after the final matinee, to join hands with the community as we encircle St. Pat’s for a brief farewell ritual. We’re moving on to a transitional half-year of theater across the street at West Side United Church of Christ and then into our new building in the Gordon Square Arts District in early 2015. With you, I hope. — Hans Holznagel