Most of the time I extol the virtues of Cincinnati theaters, but we don’t have a corner on that market, so I’d like to give Dayton its due. Demographers tell us that sooner rather than later our two metropolitan areas will become one with I-75 as our main street, so it’s worth paying attention to what’s onstage in the Gem City.
My favorite place to watch theater in Dayton is The Loft, home to the Human Race Theatre Company (www.humanracetheatre.org), which presents both classic shows and new works with a particular emphasis on new musicals. The Ohio Arts Council recognized the 25-year-old company’s founders and ongoing leaders, Artistic Director Marsha Hanna and Executive Director Kevin Moore, with the 2010 Governor’s Award for arts administration.
If you like what you see at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, you should have Human Race on your radar. During 2009-2010 it presented two classics, Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me a Tenor and the musical Man of La Mancha, and two works we haven’t seen yet in Cincinnati, David Hare’s The Vertical Hour and Richard Dresser’s Rounding Third. This weekend, it’s offering the regional premiere of a new musical, Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days, which runs through June 27.
It’s about four New Yorkers whose lives are intertwined — lost thesis notes, confetti laced with fortune cookie wisdom, loves sought, avoided, won and lost. Playwright and composer Gwon won the 2008 Fred Ebb Award for Musical Theatre Songwriting. Ordinary Days had a well-received 2009 run in London.
Human Race has big plans for the coming season, too, starting in September with the regional premiere of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize winner, August: Osage County, in collaboration with the theater department at Wright State University. Also scheduled is its own production of The 39 Steps, a loving take-off of a 1935 cinematic thriller by Alfred Hitchcock (a touring production came through Cincinnati this spring), and Permanent Collection, a drama about conflict at an art museum (which ETC presented in 2005).
Other offerings include a holiday show, 8-Track: The Sounds of the ’70s, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Greg Coffin’s right next to me, a new musical about the wife of a serviceman. (The latter had a workshop at Human Race during the summer of 2009.)
If your preference is for Broadway musicals, the Victoria Theatre Association (www.victoriatheatre.com) presents touring shows at the Schuster Center, designed by architect Cesar Pelli. (He also designed our Aronoff Center, but I find Schuster a more appealing facility.) A touring production of Phantom of the Opera is onstage there at the moment, through June 27. I saw this show at the Schuster several years ago and enjoyed it in the more intimately designed theater with its balconies and ornamentation. The Victoria’s 2010-2011 Broadway Series season offers several shows that have already stopped in Cincinnati — The Drowsy Chaperone, the Elvis-themed All Shook Up and (a year from now) The Lion King for a four-week run. There are some novelties, including the Blue Man Group this fall, and two new shows, The Wonder Bread Years and 9 to 5: The Musical, which had its Broadway debut this past season.
Theater slows down in Cincinnati after the middle of June, so keep Dayton in mind. It’s just an hour away, and they know something about good theater there, too.
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