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Local theaters offered a great array of shows in 2008

By Rick Pender · December 30th, 2008 · Onstage


Cincinnati doesn’t have a theater scene that compares to that of New York or Chicago or the Twin Cities. But for a city our size, we have a ton of theater.

I see 60-70 local productions annually. Are there enough serious theatergoers in Greater Cincinnati to support more? I’m not sure. But based on what we’ve seen in 2008, regardless of your preferences, you could find something onstage to entertain you.

The Cincinnati Playhouse is one of the most heavily subscribed regional theaters in the U.S. That’s not because Ed Stern offers seasons with guaranteed sellers. In fact, this fall he scheduled two fine new works: John Kolvenbach’s quirky contemporary romance Lovesong and Julia Cho’s Durango, a story of generational strife between a Korean father and his two American born sons. The former struggled to sell tickets (and lost a nervous corporate sponsor), but these plays demonstrate Stern’s serious commitment to varied works, an attitude to be applauded.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (CSC) has hit its stride with well-staged classics, including the currently running (and charming) Twelfth Night. But CSC takes risks, too, with a film noir rendition of Hamlet, a two-actor version of The Turn of the Screw and — most impressively — its 2008 season opener, Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, featuring Bruce Cromer’s powerful performance as the jealous composer Salieri.

CSC productions regularly sell lots of tickets, too.

Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (ETC), offering local and regional premieres, presented a startling array of shows during 2008. In February ETC presented the Cincinnati premiere of August Wilson’s socially relevant Radio Golf, followed by a kitschy but tuneful Great American Trailer Park Musical. This fall ETC mixed it up again with the poignant Grey Gardens, an award-winning musical about a dysfunctional mother and daughter, succeeded by Conor McPherson’s riveting Irish drama The Seafarer. ETC seeks out fine scripts and brings together excellent professional talent to direct and perform.

New Stage Collective (NSC) continues to exceed expectations with ambitious contemporary musicals and startling dramas. Last spring’s searing Bug featured a CEA award-winning performance by Sherman Fracher; this fall’s Shining City offered another powerful Conor McPherson script. NSC also staged the year’s bestreceived premiere, Jerry Springer: The Opera, winner of multiple CEAs.

Know Theatre has been treading water with some less substantial shows, including Reefer Madness: The Musical and A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant, but I expect them to get back to serious theater in 2009 at their excellent Jackson Street facility in Over-the-Rhine.

Know also presents the annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival, our muchneeded dose of theatrical envelope pushing. The 2008 Fringe featured a vocal explosion with fricative by Performance Gallery, a CEA winner, plus the musical Don’t Make Me Pull This Show Over: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Parenting, which parlayed its enthusiastic reception into a fully staged production that will conclude ETC’s current season in May.

The economy undoubtedly will affect our local theaters in the months ahead. Even our vibrant community theater scene is feeling the pinch: Showbiz Players veteran director Bunny Arszman opted for a cabaret show this fall (A … My Name Is Alice); she tells me Showbiz will probably present such works for a year or two rather than big shows like last June’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. CCM offered H2$ in November with a big orchestra and great costumes.

UC’s excellent productions — as well as those at NKU — remind us that theater continues to have a great future in Greater Cincinnati.



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