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Review: ELLIOT & ME at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre

Endearing ELLIOT AND ME pinpoints brotherly love.

Review: ELLIOT & ME at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre

There's a lot of brotherly love, some good songs, professional actors, and an appealing story going on at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre!

ELLIOT AND ME, a slight but charming script by Steven Willensky and Scott Coulter, with music and lyrics by the late Elliot Willensky, is based on the real-life experiences of Steve and his older brother, Elliot.

The script and life reveal that Elliot was a classic Zodiac Leo, "radiantly joyful, loving, living life to the fullest rather than taking responsibility, being self-centered, creative, loving to be obsessed over, a lover who loves to love for the sake of loving, and often a drama queen."

Elliot, a brilliant but undisciplined student, graduated who from Boston University with a degree in biology. He undertook post-graduate studies and worked as a research scientist of the National Institutes of Health. He suddenly left his medical degree studies, much to the chagrin of his over-bearing mother, to become a songwriter.

Elliot's most well-known work is "Got to Be There" which was Michael Jackson's first solo hit and reached number 4 on the R&B singles chart in 1971. The song reached number 5 on the R&B chart again in 1983 when it was covered by Chaka Khan. The song has also been covered by The Miracles in 1972, Boyz II Men in 2007, and an instrumental version by jazz guitarist/singer George Benson in 1993.

Willensky continued his affiliation with the Jackson family into the 1980s, writing the noted Jermaine Jackson and Whitney Houston duet, "If You Say My Eyes Are Beautiful," which appeared on Jermaine's 1986 Precious Moments album. He also wrote for Smokey Robinson.

He composed the music for the 1999 off-Broadway musical ABBY'S SONG and served as the music coordinator for the Tony Orlando and Dawn variety show on CBS.

Elliot died from complications of a stroke in 2010, at the age of 66.

Steve, on-the-other hand, is a Zodiac Cancer, who fits perfectly the definition as being "devoted; fond of their loved ones, often to an unhealthy degree; placing a high value on family and close friends; who often go to great lengths to defend them, no matter the price." Yes, Steve is a classic enabler, a softy for, as the script reveals, Elliot's many appeals for a loan of money. Yes, Elliot, the successful musical composer, had no ability or desire to manage money, much to the chagrin of Steve.

Now a Clevelander, Steve, a Brown and Northwestern graduate, is a successful "retired" businessman, and has been uber involved in the community. He has served as a Board member of such organizations as The Menorah Park Foundation, The Cleveland Sight Center, and Intelligent Mobile Support, as well as being the Chief Executive officer of the Woodstock Theater Group, and a business development advisor. Among his many recognitions was being cited as an "Everyday Champion" by WKYC-TV for "making high school students shine" and being selected as National Trustee of the Year by the Association of Jewish Aging Services.

As the CVLT program states, "In the early 2000s, Elliot and Steven began talk about fulfilling a lifelong dream-creating a show to feature Elliot's song catalogue with family stories sprinkled in between the musical numbers."

ELLIOT & ME, after 11 years of development, had its stage debut in 2021, at the Hudson Theatre Works in NJ. It consisted of 8 original numbers and includes "I'm My Brother's Keeper, ""We've Got Forever," "The Singer," "If You Say My Eyes Are Beautiful" and "Got to Be There."

As the sometimes slowly moving production develops, with a blend of Borscht-belt comic standup skits, song interludes, verbal snapshots of a typical New "Joisey" Jewish mother and compassionate laid-back father, and heartwarming and frustrating interludes, we gain an understanding of strong and meaningful brotherly love and connection.

The local production, which is basically the same show that appeared on the Hudson Theatre Works stage, is directed by Michael Bias, with musical arrangements by Michel Holland, musical direction by Mathew Dolan, choreography by Amanda Whitford Grundy and Lighting by Valerie Hughes.

The two-person cast, who play not only the leads, but many supporting roles, consists of Equity actors Eric Briarley and Drew Seigla.

The duo take-on the actual aura of the brothers.

Briarley, who has a great singing voice, is loose-limbed, laid back and totally dynamic and undisciplined. His Elliot is spot-on!

Drew Seigla, slightly chubby, and up-tight, creates a Steven that is true to form. He has a nice singing voice and mumbles and stumbles in all the right ways.

The production works on many levels. If it is to be performed again, the powers that be might consider having the boys, at least early on, have "Joisey" accents. Since the play is stylized, prop tables, one on each side of the stage, in view of the audience, instead of the small boxes which caused difficulty in finding items needed to flesh out characters, and two "mother" wigs, would eliminate breaking the flow of the show. Since the production is already using electronic media, adding clips of Michael Jackson and others singing Elliot's songs would add a needed alternate dimension.

Capsule judgment: ELLIOT & Me is a "hamisha" (warm/comfortable) show that makes for an enjoyable evening of theatre. It's the kind of script that could be comfortably performed by community theatres and maybe even off-Broadway.

ELLIOT & ME runs through June 25 at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre, 40 River Street, Chagrin Falls. Free parking is available adjacent to the theatre. For tickets call 440-247-8955 or visit CVLT.org



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