University theater programs like UC’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM, which offers separate programs in drama and musical theater) and Northern Kentucky University (NKU’s department of theater and dance encompasses several disciplines)train students for professional careers. Schools like Xavier and Miami universities offer theater majors that might be less technically and vocationally oriented, but most students in those programs also envision careers onstage.
Those pedagogical purposes, however, don’t mean there’s not solid entertainment on area campuses. Of course, you might have to suspend your disbelief when a 20-year-old plays Willy Loman, but by and large scripts are chosen as learning experiences for students — often classic works and sometimes new scripts that will broaden their theatrical experiences. You have an excellent opportunity over the next few weeks to sample such choices.
CCM is staging Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening (Wednesday-Sunday), a play from 1891 about the joys and pains of adolescence. Themes of youthful sexuality and depression made it a controversial work in its day, and it was the subject of a Supreme Court lawsuit before it was first presented in the U.S.
in 1917. It’s on more people’s radar today because it inspired a hit Broadway musical, but this production is a rare chance to see the original play.
NKU offers Stephen Flaherty and Lynne Ahrens’ Once On This Island (Thursday-Nov. 9), a tuneful musical theater production that transports the story of The Little Mermaid to a Caribbean island. It’s full of myth and the exploration of racial inequity, but shaped by comic and romantic moments and memorable melodies. (Flaherty, by the way, is a CCM grad; with Ahrens he has also created such hit shows as Ragtime and Seussical.)
Already this fall, Xavier Players have presented Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Power Plays by actors Elaine May and Alan Arkin. In early December the Players will offer Tales from My Grandmother’s Attic, a production in conjunction with Cincinnati’s Madcap Puppet Theatre.
Wednesday through Sunday there’s a double bill at Miami University’s Studio 88: The Lover, a 1962 play by Harold Pinter, and The American Century, a recent script by TV actor Murphy Guyer. The plays are about seemingly normal couples dealing with extraordinary circumstances; they challenge audiences with situations not always as they seem.
University stages are also a place to catch the classics: Later in November, CCM presents the 1961 musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. In December, Miami offers The Taming of the Shrew, while NKU stages Claire Booth Luce’s The Women from 1936. Xavier is mounting Macbeth next February and in March ambitiously undertakes Tony Kushner’s 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner, Angels in America.
Expand your own horizons by keeping an eye on campus stages. It’s another important dimension of our area’s excellent array of theatrical choices.
CONTACT RICK PENDER: firstname.lastname@example.org