The 2011 Tony Awards have come and gone: The Book of Mormon, an irreverent musical collaboration by the guys behind the satirical TV series South Park and the Broadway show Avenue Q, were the big winners, receiving nine awards from 14 nominations. War Horse, an emotional play about a boy and a horse he raises (re-created using remarkable, life-sized puppets) was named best play. Don’t look for either one at local theaters anytime soon. Tony voters include producers who make money touring shows, so Mormon and War Horse will eventually show up at the Aronoff Center.
The Tonys recognize only shows from Broadway. That’s just 40 theaters (many tied up with long, open-ended production runs), so there might be 30 or so new musicals or plays annually — not an extensive sampling of American theater and increasingly dictated by popular appeal (hence, “jukebox” shows using tunes we all know) or star vehicles (TV or movie actors whose names sell tickets).
Our Cincinnati theaters present shows mostly free of such limitations, often digging into Broadway’s more distant past. Covington’s Carnegie Center just announced its 2011-2012 season, four shows, three partnering with other arts organization.
For instance, they’ll work with Northern Kentucky University’s Ken Jones and NKU’s professional Commonwealth Theatre Company to stage Pippin (Aug. 19-Sept. 3), a Tony nominee from nearly 40 years ago by Stephen Schwartz, best known for Wicked. It’s never been revived.
The Carnegie will present the regional premiere of In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play (Nov. 4-20), playwright Sarah Ruhl’s latest script. Local theater veteran Ed Cohen will direct a cast of actors from the drama program at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). The show was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in drama, but its subject matter — sexuality in the Victorian era — has apparently not appealed to any of our local theaters that have staged other scripts by Ruhl, like The Clean House (Playhouse) or Dead Man’s Cell Phone (Ensemble Theatre).
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I (Jan. 20-29, 2012) is the Carnegie’s closest brush with a classic — and follows the Broadway formula of a revival with a familiar star. The 1952 Tony winner will be presented in concert with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, featuring Ron Bohmer, a Cincinnati native with a lot of Broadway experience, as the autocratic king. The Carnegie season concludes with a show from 1982 that began Off-Broadway, Pump Boys and Dinettes (April 13-29, 2012). The Country-fried collection of tunes set in a gas station/diner has never had a New York revival. (The Playhouse staged it in 1989, but it’s not been seen much locally since then.)
Meanwhile, CCM’s Aubrey Berg has announced three musicals for the Cohen Family Studio Theater, starting in October with Make Me a Song, a 2006 revue of tunes by William Finn, who composed Falsettos and 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. In late February CCM has landed the regional premiere of an Alt-Rock 2007 Tony winner, the name of which cannot be released yet, but is definitely not your typical musical. In the spring of 2012, Berg dusts off Hit the Deck, a seldom-produced Broadway show from 1927 — long before the Tonys existed!
With shows like these at the Carnegie and CCM, we needn’t pine for Broadway’s current hits.
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