There was a time in the mid-1980s when graffiti art was just beginning to rise to public consciousness as a legitimate art form. Keith Haring, a young graphic designer from Pennsylvania, landed in New York City and saw it everywhere: It inspired him and his contributions made graffiti something to which even more people paid attention.
Through his chalk drawings in subway stations, Manhattanites began to know his work -- but it wasn't long before Haring's creations became recognizable around the world.
Sadly, Haring died in 1990 of an HIV-related disease. But his iconic images have lived on, and his energetic, bold brushstrokes have inspired a musical in which he's the central character. It's RADIANT BABY (the show's unwieldy subtitle is "a musical installation inspired by the life and art of Keith Haring") -- Haring's image that became closely identified with his work. The show, which opens Thursday (through July 15), is the next production of Over-the-Rhine's newest theater company, New Stage Collective (NSC) and its ambitious artistic director, Alan Patrick Kenny.
"Radiant Baby is by far the most eclectic, energetic and exciting musical I've ever worked on," Kenny says.
That's a big claim from the guy who music directed Know Theatre's wildly popular productions of tick, tick ... BOOM! in 2005 and See What I Wanna See in 2006. He says the show is a crazy blend of musicals like Rent, Hair and Sunday in the Park with George, plus Pop music sources as diverse as Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Flashdance, New Kids on the Block, Vanilla Ice and Donna Summer.
"Filter that through the lens of the graffiti explosion of the '80s in downtown New York City," Kenny says, "add some kids and a drag queen, and you have the incredible story of Keith Haring and his art brought to life."
CCM drama grad Adam Standley (pictured) will play Haring, and the cast includes 18 young actors from the region, drawing from CCM, NKU, SCPA and beyond.
The NSC folks proudly point out that their production of Radiant Baby is not only a regional premiere of this show with music by Debra Barsha and a book by Stuart Ross -- it's only the third production of the show anywhere and the first outside of New York City. The show is one more example of the strength and diversity of Cincinnati's theater scene and a don't-miss production for the summer of 2007. 513-621-3700. (See Onstage.) -- RICK PENDER
THURSDAY 21 -- SUNDAY 24
BOB ZANY made his first television appearance at the age of 15 on the Gong Show. "They still repeat that," he says. "I still get residual checks. It's 53 cents for each appearance, but this was before I was incorporated, so they take taxes out. Four cents actually goes to FICA, so I'll be seeing that when I retire." Zany peppers his audience with one-liners. "You ever meet the overachiever guy?" he asks. "(He) says 'I'll sleep when I die.' Why don't you go to bed early?" That style of comedy, though, seems to be a dying art. "I don't know," Zany ponders. "Everyone has such short attention span you'd think it wouldn't be the case. I saw Pirates of the Caribbean yesterday, and it's so long I'm going, 'How in the hell did they market this and to who?' I don't even have time, and I probably have a little more patience than people who watch YouTube." Zany performs Thursday-Sunday at Go Bananas in Montgomery. $10-$17. 513-984-9288. (See Onstage.) -- P.F. WILSON
FRIDAY 22 SATURDAY 23
It can be an exciting moment when you catch a new theater group on their way up, especially if it's populated by talented young performers on the front ends of their careers.
You have that opportunity on Friday and Saturday evening at The Greenwich in Walnut Hills, where TRANSIT FIVE will present What We Become: A Cabaret. The group, founded in 2006 by eight graduates of Sycamore High School, is populated by aspiring directors, choreographers, producers and performers. Not only do they want to entertain you, Transit Five is looking to give back to the community using their talents for theater and music. Last year they donated $1,000 to the Wellness Community; this year they've pledged to support the Cincinnati FreeStore/FoodBank. According to Transit Five artistic director Julia Albain, who is pursuing a degree in theater at the University of Michigan, "I think theater in general needs to move in the direction of affecting social change or bringing attention to stories, issues and reality. I would hope Transit Five would pursue that in theater and create an atmosphere within the company and audience of discussion and excitement." You can enter the conversation this weekend. www.transitfiveproductions.com (See Onstage.) -- RICK PENDER
Fountain Square has done a lot of things in its 135 years in Cincinnati. It has been protested on. It has been celebrated on. It's been flooded. It has even moved at least once. But has it ever really rocked? Music has been connected to the Fountain since its inception (check myfountainsquare.com for MP3s of the music originally presented at the official dedication in 1871), so ... perhaps it has gotten around to rockin' before. But now it's official -- the new ROCK THE SQUARE music series kicks off Friday, replacing last year's Rockin' on Walnut series and featuring a plethora of diverse local music talent. Every Friday though August, the Fountain will rumble to the tunes of artists like Ellison, Diet Audio, Noctaluca, The Delusionals, Tonefarmer and Hungry Lucy. This Friday at 5:30 p.m., the inaugural event features accomplished singer/songwriter Ryan Adcock, the fairly rootsy, always rockin' Elliot Ruther Trio and Funk/R&B marvels Marvin and the Experience (pictured). The events are totally free, run until around 9:30 p.m. (plenty of time to hit a club and keep the live music vibe going) and, with Budweiser the main sponsor, you can even have a few "adult beverages" out in the open as you enjoy the tunes. Since the Fountain is going to be rockin' all summer, may we suggest that the Genius of Water lady get a little modern makeover? An eyebrow piercing? Or at the very least a lower-back tattoo? See myfountainsquare.com for each week's lineup. (See Music.) -- MIKE BREEN
MALTON GALLERY in Hyde Park will show the work of Cincinnati native Beverly Erschell in her solo exhibition, Stroke of Genius. Erschell received a Masters of Fine Art from the University of Cincinnati in 1971, and since then has had exhibitions in places as varied as Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York and Florida. The Cincinnati Art Museum, as well as the Dayton Art Institute and many business and private collections have collected Erschell's paintings. Her landscape and cityscape paintings -- largely set in familiar Cincinnati scenes -- use blocks of vibrant color and strong brush strokes. If you are a fan of Cincinnati paintings, it's time to get out to the opening and decide for yourself about these familiar yet contemporary scenes from one of our city's most faithful painters. Opening reception: 6-8 p.m. Friday. Through July 20. 513-321-8614. (See Art.) -- MAXWELL REDDER
FRIDAY 22 -- SUNDAY 24
Everybody speaks a little Greek this time of year, lining up to order a gyro, some souvlaki and a bit more baklava. It's time for the annual PANEGYRI GREEK FESTIVAL at Holy Trinity-St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Finneytown. Since it began it 1974 the festival has become one of the most popular parish festivals in town. Maybe that's because it's unique in Cincinnati, affiliated with the ancient Orthodox tradition, the dominant form of Christianity in Eastern Europe. In addition to food, music and dancing, the festival includes tours of the church, resplendent with icons. Admission to Panegyri is $2 or two non-perishable food items. Free parking and shuttle at St. Xavier High School. The festival runs 5 p.m.-midnight Friday, 3 p.m.-midnight Saturday and 1-9 p.m. Sunday. 513-591-0030. (See Events.) -- GREGORY FLANNERY
Start your engines, boys and girls, the CINCINNATI SOAP BOX DERBY is back in town. Following a tradition that began in Dayton in the 1930s, children ages 8-17 will race kit-assembled, gravity-powered cars. Kids will hop into the driver's seat and race against other contestants on a sloping, 800-foot track. Guaranteed twice the fun of the Indy 500 (and half the number of mullets?). Opening ceremonies begin at 9:30 a.m. on Gilbert Avenue, near the entrance to Eden Park. For the big kids, check out the Derby Eve pre-party at Bang Nightclub at 5:30-10:30 p.m. Friday. $30 gets you lots of goodies and a good time. Sorry, young ones, your fun will have to wait until Saturday: This party is 21 and up. 513-322-5135. (See Events.) -- ELIZABETH MILLER
Witness the phenomenon of mixed martial arts, the fastest growing sport in the nation, when the Cincinnati Gardens hosts MMA BIG SHOW: DOMINATION. There are 14 fights on the docket with the main event featuring former Ultimate Fighter 3 participant Solomon Hutcherson battling his way back to the UFC. He will square off against the undefeated Johnathan Walsh in the last fight of the night. Domination will also have a special guest, Ed "Short Fuse" Herman, also from Ultimate Fighter 3. A portion of the proceeds from the night will go to the Cincinnati Childrens' Home. The fights start at 7 p.m. $35-$45. 513-562-4949. (See Sports.) -- KEVIN MICHELL
KEITH BENJAMIN's solo exhibition at PUBLICO enters its final day today. Benjamin's work, mostly small-scale sculptures, offers a beautiful and thoughtful way of looking at found and/or discarded objects. Of course, the idea to catapult the mundane into the realm of "high art" isn't new (see anything from Marcel Duchamp at the turn of the last century to Cincinnati's own project, The Collect), but the work at Publico is just that. Benjam (pictured) in betrays his own intelligence in his art, putting together random bits of nothing to create delicate and perfect sculptural works. His skill as an artist also comes through here; for Benjamin, I think, it's all in the eye. He's not afraid to dab color here or there. He easily finds beauty in unbeautiful. He sees the world in a way the rest of us don't. From there, he alters it just enough for his viewers to understand, if only for a moment. Noon-4 p.m. Saturday. 513-784-0832. (See Art.) -- LAURA JAMES
Did you know that The Phoenix was built in 1893 as The Phoenix Club, the first Jewish businessmen's organization in this area of the country? How about the rumor that the bathtub on the second floor of Arnold's Bar & Grill was once used brew illegal gin during Prohibition? Authors DEBBIE NUNLEY and KAREN JANE ELLIOTT dig up these fascinating tidbits and more in A Taste of Ohio History: A Guide to Historic Eateries and Their Recipes, a handy contribution that should pique the interest of both foodies and history buffs. Area eateries make up 12 of the book's 102 entries -- including such local mainstays as Lenhardt's, Porkopolis Tavern & Grill, The Precinct and Teller's of Hyde Park -- all of which are accompanied by brief historical descriptions, a rundown of the duo's recent visit to each venue and a variety of recipes. Ah, I always wondered what was in Mecklenberg Gardens' Dunkelwizen Sauce. The authors discuss their collaboration at 7 p.m. Thursday at Joseph-Beth Booksellers. 513-396-8960. (See Literary.) -- JASON GARGANO