So you go to a theater for a show. Ever wonder how that show came to that theater? Or how a whole season of shows is selected for a particular theater? It's a juggling act, especially for a large theater like the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, which announced its 2008-09 season last weekend. (See the A&E blog with season details.)
I recently sat down with Ed Stern, the Playhouse's producing artistic director, to talk about his plans for his 17th season. That's a long time to please local audiences with varied seasons, but Stern has a remarkable track record of picking 10 shows that get subscribers to renew and entice others to buy tickets.
A quick glance at his overall lineup finds no big-name title like Doubt, the award-winning show currently onstage at the Playhouse (and many other American theaters). I also noted the return of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, a holiday hit in 2000, plus two shows that ran at the Playhouse in 1986, long before he took over Larry Shue's The Foreigner and Stephen Sondheim's Marry Me A Little.
Stern quickly challenged me. "We have something for everyone, including some proven favorites. But there are two works from novels," he said, pointing out a new musical of Jane Austen's Emma and Jeffrey Hatcher's 2008 take on Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. (A Christmas Carol, back for its 18th season, of course, also has literary roots.)
"And several new titles," he reminded me. In fact, most of the Playhouse's upcoming shows are less than two years old, including a Playhouse world premiere, The Travels of Angelica by Cincinnati writer Joe McDonough, John Kolvenbach's Love Song (2006), Julia Cho's Durango (2006) and David Harrower's Blackbird (2007). Even Arlene Hutton's Last Train to Nibroc (2000) is new to local audiences.
As the city's largest theater, the Playhouse generally gets first dibs on permission to stage shows. That's often why their season is announced first; other theaters then get to select titles that Stern has passed over. But even the Playhouse occasionally gets bumped: Stern hoped to produce Frost/Nixon, Peter Morgan's top-notch Broadway drama about TV interviews between the fallen ex-president and the brash British talk-show host. But it will tour with veteran actor Stacy Keach, and theaters like the Playhouse can't get the rights.
(Tip: Although the Broadway Series hasn't announced its 2008-2009 season, it seems likely we'll see Frost/Nixon at the Aronoff Center. And, oh, by the way, it's not a musical.)
"I like to present shows that rivet people," Stern says. "I think that's what we have for next year."
He's done a good job for 17 seasons, more than one-third of the Playhouse's life. And he probably has more plays in mind that he thinks will rivet us. Get ready.
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