I love it when theater evokes a visceral reaction: On April 21, I was in the lobby of Patricia Corbett Theater at UC's College-Conservatory of Music talking to AUBREY BERG during the intermission of Elizabeth I. Berg, head of CCM's musical theater department, directed Paul Foster's 1972 drama, the first time he's staged a dramatic play in many years. Our conversation was interrupted by an angry audience member who told Berg, "You've taken what is probably a wonderful play and turned it into absolute crap." Berg told me he'd been getting quite a few strong reactions to his staging of the intriguing play about Queen Elizabeth I (the British monarch in Shakespeare's era) as re-enacted by a troupe of traveling actors in the 1500s.
It's a sprawling script with nearly 40 roles -- many actors play multiple parts -- but an excellent piece for young actors: accents, physical action, gorgeous costumes (borrowed from the Utah Shakespeare Festival) and more. Berg's musical staging experience served the play well, although a clean narrative line was not to be found. Berg employed contemporary Rock tunes to underscore the humor of some scenes and encouraged his actors to play strongly to the audience. The objections might have been to some simulated sex or ethnic stereotyping, but I'm hard pressed to imagine what got the rude heckler so riled up. Nevertheless, it caused Berg to recall when he staged the musical Chicago in 1989, shortly after the Mapplethorpe exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center; he remembers a letter proclaiming that "Mapplethorpe wasn't the only pervert in town." Now that Chicago's revival has been a Broadway hit and the 2002 film won several Academy Awards, such commentary seems pretty silly. So let's just applaud the ability of a good director to get an audience's blood flowing. ... CCM shows like Elizabeth I often run for only one weekend, so they come and go before CityBeat can review them. So here's a tip: On Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the Cohen Family Studio Theater, CCM presents Caryl Churchill's TOP GIRLS, winner of a 1983 Obie (as an outstanding Off Broadway play). It's a fascinating study of the roles women play in society, opening with a dinner party with women from various periods of history, literature and art. This fantasy is contrasted to hostess Marlene's mundane life as a mother and a woman in the world of business. The production is supported by CCM's Harmony Fund, established in 2002 to help produce works dealing with issues of hate and prejudice. The performance of Top Girls is free, but tickets are limited. To reserve a seat: 513-557-4183. ...
Broadening horizons for youth is an important goal for the CINCINNATI BLACK THEATRE COMPANY. "Children should dream with their eyes wide open," says CBTC's Don Sherman. "We do our best to help children pursue their dreams and accomplish their goals." The company will stage The Wiz at Xavier University's Gallagher Center in mid-May with a cast of talented kids. The experience they gain might be useful on May 14, when CBTC hosts an audition for the Broadway production and the national touring companies of THE LION KING, the second such local search for young talent. (In March 2003 an 11-year-old from Cincinnati, Tariq Ramsey, was cast as Simba and toured with The Lion King to several cities.) Representatives from Disney Theatrical Productions will be at the West End YMCA Branch (821 Ezzard Charles Drive) that day; sign-in for children aged 9 to 12 is 9-10 a.m. Kids must be under 58 inches tall, able to sing, dance and act, and prepared to sing the last verse of the song "Just Can't Wait to Be King." Adult singers will be auditioned later in the day (sign-in from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.). For more information: 212-827-5450 or www.disneyonbroadway.com