Interested in a little chess? If you're a fan of musical theater, that question has a bit more meaning than sitting down to push a few pawns toward a quick checkmate. Community theater regular MARK FEMIA is directing an upcoming production of CHESS (Friday through May 13) for Cincinnati Music Theatre (CMT). It's a Rock musical from 1988 about a world chess competition, but it's full of romantic rivalries and international intrigue. It's not often staged, certainly not by community theaters. But CMT knows how it's done, and Femia has been part of several recent memorable productions, most notably the 2006 production of Kander & Ebb's Chicago which earned multiple nominations for the 2006 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards (CEA). Femia was the music director for that production, and now he's stepped up to the job of staging Chess, a work composed by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (in case you don't know those names, they're half of the A's and B's in ABBA) with lyrics by Tim Rice (who worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber on Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita).
Femia, who music directed a production of it in 1993, says, "It's not a smiling, happy, tap-dance show. Instead it's a score people need to hear -- it has emotion and power." The show's best-known tune is "One Night in Bangkok." Femia's cast includes several past CEA nominees and winners, including Brian Anderson (a winner for his work in CMT's Evita in 2001 and West Side Story in 2003) and Alison Elfline (who starred in New Stage Collective's Side Show in 2004). "People don't think that a Rock musical about chess makes sense," Femia laughs, "but they need to check this show out: It has gorgeous songs and a moving story." I agree. Tickets: 513-621-2787. ...
Two other classic shows opening this week are being offered by theater groups with reputations for knowing their way around a musical. Falcon Theater, which blurs the line between community and semi-professional (at least in its choice of material), is staging LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (Friday through May 20), the tale of a people-eating plant at Newport's Monmouth Theatre (636 Monmouth St., 513-479-6783) Elsewhere in Newport, Footlighters Inc. is staging a lovely piece, THE SECRET GARDEN (Thursday through May 21), based on Frances Hodgson Burnett's childhood classic. Footlighters presents shows in its own facility, a one-time church now called the Stained Glass Theater (Eighth and York streets, 513-474-8711). ...
ROGER GROOMS, who passed away April 27 of complications during cardiac surgery, was a guy who loved theater and who instilled that love in others. He taught theater at Anderson High School for 49 years -- all his adult life. Cincinnati Post theater critic Jerry Stein mentioned to me that Roger was his high school teacher (and the recently retired Stein has been The Post's reviewer for almost 40 years). Grooms won a national teacher of the year award in 1987, and he directed more than 250 shows at high schools, community theaters and universities, according to his obituary in The Cincinnati Enquirer. He also reviewed movies and theater for several radio and TV stations. (And in his spare time he umpired, coached and refereed basketball, baseball and football games.) Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Cincinnati theatergoers were inspired by his teaching and his staging of shows, not to mention his insightful writing. How fitting that a memorial service for Grooms will be held at Anderson High School on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Memorials can be sent to the Roger Grooms Theatrical Scholarship, Anderson High School, 7560 Forest Road, Cincinnati, OH 45255. ...
SARA VAUGHT is finishing her drama degree at UC's College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). On April 24 she performed in CCM's drama showcase in Los Angeles for agents and directors. The next day she was called by a CBS casting director and auditioned for the TV series Numb3rs. She got the part and filmed a feature role with Academy Award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis. That's what I'd call a great week!
Brian Anderson (left) and Michael Starks are adversaries in Cincinnati Music Theatre's Chess.
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