Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (ETC) has turned over a new leaf, at least for its 26th season. Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers has typically spent much of the summer making last-minute arrangements for the shows she’ll offer starting in September. In good years, she’s been able to announce her choices around the time of the Tony Awards, roughly the second week of June. So I’m pleased (and a bit surprised) to tell you that Meyers has pulled it all together for May 1. It’s unprecedented — what’s more, it’s a remarkably good season.
Each of ETC’s five non-holiday offerings for 2011-2012 are regional premieres, launching with the Tony Award winning musical Next to Normal — which also picked up the 2010 Pulitzer Prize. The holidays will offer a newly commissioned world premiere musical, Snow White, by the team of David Kisor and Joe McDonough.
The current season featured record-breaking attendance and sold-out houses, so ETC has added Tuesday evening and Saturday matinee performances for all shows next season. The success of 2010-2011 has resulted in the best round of early renewals in ETC’s history, with nearly 85 percent of subscribers renewed even before the list of great productions was made public.
Next to Normal (Sept. 7-25) is a great season kickoff. It was chosen as one of the 2009-2010 season’s 10 best Broadway shows by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Time Out New York, New York Daily News, The Bergen Record and NY1. It became an even rarer commodity when it won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, something few musicals have achieved. (Rent, A Chorus Line and Sunday in the Park with George are a few of the rare exceptions.) The Pulitzer Board called the show “a powerful rock musical that grapples with mental illness in a suburban family and expands the scope of subject matter for musicals.”
In October, ETC will produce the regional premiere of Michael Hollinger’s Ghost-Writer. (His play Opus was a 2007 hit for ETC.) Set in early twentieth-century New York, novelist Franklin Woolsey dies mid-sentence … yet his devoted secretary, Myra, continues to take dictation. Attacked by skeptics, the media and Woolsey’s jealous widow, Myra sets out to prove she is more than just an artful forger.
The 2011 holiday season will offer Snow White (Nov. 30-Dec. 31). ETC’s holiday fairytale musicals have been pleasing audiences for more than 15 years, so it’s great to have a new work from composer Kisor and playwright McDonough; this will be their eighth collaboration. The show is based on the story that reminds us the true reflection of beauty and happiness can only be found within.
I’m especially looking forward to The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez (Jan. 25-Feb. 12, 2012), a show that received great notices during its recent Broadway run. During Passover, 1865, with the Civil War just ended, Caleb DeLeon, a Jewish Confederate soldier, returns wounded from the battlefield to find his family home in ruins, occupied only by two former slaves who were raised as Jews. As they wait for the family's return, they wrestle with their shared past as master and slave. This will be the first regional production of The Whipping Man since its run at the Manhattan Theatre Club in February 2011. It was recently nominated for the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award, presented for an American play by a new playwright.
For the season’s fourth production (March 14-April 1, 2012), ETC will offer Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still, a nominee for the 2010 Tony Award for best play. It’s a gripping story of internal struggles, set against the backdrop of the Middle East conflict. Two journalists, Sarah and James, were once addicted to the adrenalin of war coverage, but are now grounded in Brooklyn by Sarah’s injuries from a roadside bomb in Iraq. Margulies wrote Collected Stories, the show that opened ETC’s 2010-2012 season, as well as the 2000 Pulitzer Prize-winning Dinner With Friends (which ETC gave its Cincinnati premiere in 2001).
The season will wrap up on a lighter note with the regional premiere of Life Could Be A Dream by Roger Bean (May 2-20, 2012). It’s a funny piece about the Crooning Crabcakes, the boy group banned from the Springfield High School prom that made it possible for The Marvelous Wonderettes to perform. (The Marvelous Wonderettes did big box office for ETC at in May 2010, and the girls will be back this July in a sequel, The Winter Wonderettes.) The 2012 production offers the guys one more chance at fame and fortune. The show features Pop tunes from the 1950s including “Stay” (Just a Little Bit Longer),” “Runaround Sue,” “Tears On My Pillow,” “Unchained Melody” and “Earth Angel.”
ETC has a solid track record of pleasing its subscribers. The best way to ensure that you’ll get in to see each of these productions is to subscribe now. (Several shows during 2010-2011 were best-sellers, meaning that single ticket buyers sometimes missed out. Single tickets don’t go on sale until Aug. 15, 2011.) You can subscribe now by calling the theater at 513-421-3555 or checking out ETC’s website: www.cincyetc.com.