About Russell Florence, Jr.

Russell Florence, Jr. is a member of The American Theatre Critics Association and The Drama League. In addition to his role as arts and culture editor of Dayton City Paper and theater critic for Dayton City Paper and Impact Weekly, he served as a Dayton Daily News freelance writer and editorial page contributor. He has also written features for such theater publications as Spotlight Ohio and The Sondheim Review. He attended over 30 Broadway/Off-Broadway productions during the 2013-14 season.

Tender ‘Sugarhill’ Wins Dayton Playhouse FutureFest

linda sugarhill

Playwright Linda Ramsay-Detherage of Detroit received top honors Sunday, July 27 at the 24th annual Dayton Playhouse FutureFest of new plays for her World War II-era Southern family dramedy “Sugarhill,” a compelling exploration of race, heartbreak and hope. Set in the fictional titular Louisiana town in December 1941, “Sugarhill,” also named the Audience Favorite, scored highest among a commendable field of six original, developing plays adjudicated within criteria including theme, style/language, dramatic structure, character development, story/plot, pacing, page-to-stage, and the next … [Read more...]

‘Once On This Island’ Review – Epiphany Lutheran Church – Vibrant Storytellers

(L to R) Back Row: Desmond Thomas, Kathy Meyer, Kandis Wean, Bryan Burckle. Front Row: Brianna Russ in Epiphany Lutheran Church's production of "Once On This Island" 
(Contributed photo by Charles Woodward)

The Epiphany Players Drama Ministry of Centerville’s Epiphany Lutheran Church delivers a wonderfully heartfelt, joyously sung production of the1990 Tony Award-nominated musical “Once On This Island.” Composed by Tony winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (“Ragtime”) and adapted from Rosa Guy’s 1985 novel “My Love, My Love,” this Caribbean-immersed show inherently appeals with its straightforward, touching emphasis on a young peasant girl’s coming-of-age. The effervescent yet strong-willed Ti Moune (sprightly portrayed by the winsome Brianna Russ) adores the wealthy Daniel (a charming, … [Read more...]

Saluting Dayton’s 2013-14 Theater Season

les mis wsu

Looking back on Dayton’s commendable 2013-14 theater season, appealing stories reflecting cries of revolution, love and forgiveness, identity and family, and relationships beyond repair gave audiences thought-provoking, richly rewarding memories. Wright State University certainly triumphed with an exceptional Les Misérables which catapulted its musical theater component to astonishing degrees from performance to design. The beautiful complexity of The Magic Fire, the wonderful earthiness of Oklahoma!, and the dynamic electricity within The Wild Party also gave the organization cause to … [Read more...]

‘Play it By Heart’ Review – Human Race Theatre Company – Sing Out, Jeannine!

play it by heart

Three generations of strong Southern women feud and reconcile against the backdrop of changing dynamics within the country music industry in “Play it By Heart,” a promising new musical still navigating its path as evidenced in its Human Race Theatre Company regional premiere at the Loft Theatre. In this sweet but predictable tale, the legendary Jeannine Jasper (Trisha Rapier), a Grammy and Country Music Association winner with a spot in the Grand Ole Opry on the horizon, yearns for retirement to the chagrin of her overbearing, ruthless stage mom Naomi (Sharva Maynard). As mother and daughter … [Read more...]

‘Million Dollar Quartet’ Review – Victoria Theatre Association – That Old Time Rock & Roll


There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on at the Schuster Center as the outstanding national tour of “Million Dollar Quartet,” nominated for the 2010 Tony Award for Best Musical and based on a true event, lets loose with feel-good exuberance courtesy of the Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Broadway Series. A jukebox musical written by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux unabashedly concerned with tone and era instead of plot or storyline, “Million Dollar Quartet” captures a glimpse of rock and roll history in 100 breezy minutes under Eric Schaeffer’s crisp direction. On Dec. 4, 1956 … [Read more...]

‘The Dead Guy’ Review – Dayton Theatre Guild – Reality Bites

dead guy

Would you kill yourself on live TV in a manner determined by viewers for the luxury of spending $1 million in a week?  Eldon Phelps ponders this intriguing notion hastily in the local premiere of Eric Coble’s fascinating 2005 dark comedy “The Dead Guy,” currently receiving a thoroughly engaging and thought-provoking presentation at the Dayton Theatre Guild deftly directed by Saul Caplan. At a nondescript bar in the nondescript town of Leadville, unemployed and aloof Eldon (a first-rate, credibly impulsive Christopher Hahn) is persuaded to become the Dead Guy, the focal point of a new … [Read more...]

‘Beauty and the Beast’ Review – Victoria Theatre Association – Delightful Disney Magic


A top-notch national tour of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” the recipient of nine 1994 Tony Award nominations including Best Musical, has arrived at the Schuster Center as part of the Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Broadway Series.   Based on the beloved 1991 Academy Award-winning film, one of the best animated movies containing one of the best cinematic scores courtesy of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, “Beauty and the Beast” wholeheartedly succeeds on the wonderfully relatable portrayals of Hilary Maiberger as bookworm Belle and Darick Pead as the troubled Beast. … [Read more...]

‘Oklahoma!’ Review – Dayton Playhouse – Smokehouse Showdown


Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!,” the landmark 1943 musical concerning love and statehood circa 1906 in Oklahoma territory based on Lynn Riggs’ 1930 play “Green Grow the Lilacs,” thrives on its engaging romance between a stubborn farm girl and her folksy suitor. Even so, there is another relationship, a truly alluring collaboration, key to the appeal of the Dayton Playhouse’s entertaining if off-kilter presentation.   Late in Act 1, an absolute highpoint, cowboy Curly McClain (an immensely charismatic Jeff Sams) arrives at the pornography-adorned smokehouse of surly ranch … [Read more...]

‘An Inspector Calls’ Review – Dayton Theatre Guild – Evening Confessions


J.B. Priestley’s 1945 drama “An Inspector Calls” is an engrossing, humorous, well-acted, and handsomely designed display at the Dayton Theatre Guild. Breezily presented in three acts, Priestley’s thorough if heavy-handed chastisement of the privilege and personality of the upper class, an obvious portal into his own staunch views of socialism, concerns the Birling family of Brumley, England circa spring 1912. Inside their beautifully decorated dining room (superbly envisioned with dramatic flair by Chris Newman), the Birlings (attractively costumed with period panache by Carol Finley) … [Read more...]

‘Bring it On’ Review – Victoria Theatre Association – Smells Like Teen Spirit


Fun, sassy exuberance is the bill of fare at the Schuster Center as the appealing national tour/ local premiere of “Bring it On: The Musical” charms and entertains. Presented as a special Star Attractions courtesy of the Victoria Theatre Association, “Bring it On,” a 2013 Tony Award nominee for Best Musical, effectively adheres to the silly, fluff-filled cinematic franchise of the same name launched in 2000 starring Kirsten Dunst. Popular Truman High School cheerleader Campbell (truly delightful triple threat Nadia Vynnytsky) is thrown for a loop when she’s suddenly redistricted to urban … [Read more...]