Turning 25 might not seem like a big accomplishment — unless you’re doing theater in Over-the-Rhine. Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (ETC) is drawing its first quarter-century to a close with 25 The Musical (May 4-22), a medley of tunes representing the company’s musical offerings since 1986. Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers and Music Director Scot Woolley, who has overseen many shows for ETC, are assembling the celebration.
Meyers, who came to the theater in 1996 (and still jokes that she’s the “interim artistic director”), needed a show to wrap up ETC’s anniversary, marking both 25 years of productions and a record of survival in the once dangerous neighborhood. (ETC’s address in the Gateway Quarter today puts it squarely in the middle of Cincinnati’s trendiest urban location.) No single show met Meyers’ needs, so she and Woolley are assembling music from lots of productions.
“We started with 40 songs,” she said recently. “It’s down to 31, and we’ll probably trim a few more.”
About a third of the material is by Cincinnati composer David Kisor: The oldest piece is a tune from Cars, Dogs, Money and the Moon (1996), a show predating Meyers’ arrival.
There are many selections from the holiday shows Kisor created with local playwright Joe McDonough, like Jack and the Beanstalk (1991) and the recent Cinderella.
Meyers calls 25 a “no-talking show” — no narration, just “an emotional through-line of songs connecting from one to the next.” For instance, a Kisor tune might slide into “I Won’t Send Roses” from Mack and Mabel (2006) and then cross to a raucous selection from Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001, 2003).
“We want to be sure that no one thinks our 25th anniversary is our swan song,” Myers says, “so we’re including one of my favorite numbers, ‘On My Way,’ from Violet,” an ETC hit in 1999.
Meyers has assembled a Who’s Who of ETC performers, from Deb G. Girdler, everyone’s favorite fairytale villain, to Dennis Parlato, a Broadway and ETC regular who’s never been in a musical locally. She also brought in Sara Mackie, a Wright State grad who started as an ETC intern in 1999, and added young Brooke Rucidlo, who dazzled audiences in The Marvelous Wonderettes last season as well as the recent Cinderella. Rounding out the cast is Nick Cearley, seen in The Great American Trailer Park Musical (2009).
Meyers and her team — “the best staff on the planet,” she calls them — have been working hard this season to raise the funds needed to expand their physical facility. They’re close to finishing a drive for $375,000, which will land an additional $125,000 in matching funds from an anonymous donor. Meyers also points proudly to the fact that 82 percent of ETC’s subscribers have already renewed for next season, even though shows haven’t been announced. (Watch for that information on May 1.)
Looking back over her time at the feisty theater that offers premieres of shows no one has heard of, Meyers says ETC’s theme song could be, “You Gotta Have Faith.” It’s been the ebb and flow of many creative and dedicated people, she points out — staff, performers, volunteers, donors — who have brought faith and belief to ETC. They’ve made the difference, she claims, and will keep doing so for years to come.
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