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February 28th, 2014 By Rick Pender | Arts | Posted In: Theater

Stage Door: Hapless Heroes at Cincy Shakes

stage door for 2-28 - lesmiz @ ccm - blaine alden krauss as valjean & kimber sprawl as fantine - photo mark lyonsBlaine Alden Krauss and Kimber Sprawl in "Les Miserables" at CCM - Photo: Mark Lyons

There's a magnificent production of the legendary musical Les Misérables at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. I attended the opening performance at Patricia Corbett on Thursday evening, and a show that I've seen umpteen times has been given new life with fresh direction, impassioned staging and innovative design — even if you've seen the legendary original with its turntable and massive barricades, you'll find CCM's rendition, directed by Aubrey Berg, an eye-opener. It's simpler and more dramatic (that's quite a claim for a show designed to pluck your heart-strings), and it's especially noteworthy for the leads' strong vocal performances — Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert are double-cast, a demonstration of the depth of talent in this nationally renowned program — as well as each and every every performer in an ensemble of more than 40.

The 16-musician orchestra, conducted energetically by Steve Goers, sounds larger whole lot more, since several players handle three to five instruments. Berg's staging gives the show a clarity and power that makes it feel fresh and new. It has vivid feature characters and storytelling with momentum and emotional impact. This one is a must-see, so it's great that the production runs longer than many at CCM, where it's usually one-weekend and done: There are nine more performances through Sunday, March 9, which means that more tickets ($31-$35; $18-$24 for students) are available.

Nonetheless, they'll be snatched up quickly, so you should call right away to get yours. 513-556-4183.

I saw Cincinnati Shakespeare's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead a week ago, and gave it a Critic's Pick in my CityBeat review here. It's a one-off from Hamlet, which Cincy Shakes just staged, using the same cast — but Tom Stoppard's 1966 script puts two throwaway characters in the limelight. Just like the Prince of Denmark, his college chums are perplexed and bedeviled by questions of existence and the meaning of life. They're caught in the swirl of the court — the characters of Hamlet dart in and out around them and add to their confusion — which adds to their confusion about their own roles, the expectations they need to fulfill and their ultimate fate. Billy Chace and Justin McCombs have a firm grasp on their hapless characters: Their sure-handed comic portraits of loquacious Guildenstern and bewildered Rosencrantz might remind you of the movie comedy team of Laurel and Hardy. This classic modern work of absurdity drawn from perhaps the greatest Elizabethan tragedy makes for a fine evening for lovers of great drama. Tickets ($22-$31): 513-381-2273, x1

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical Evita is at the Aronoff Center through Sunday. It looks great with some epic scenery and excellent choreography. Josh Young as Che is charismatic and strong-voiced in his role as the show’s commentator. But Caroline Bowman’s Eva Perón is shrill, and Sean MacLaughlin's Juan Perón lacks the sinister gravitas that the role requires. So there's not nearly enough of the complex passion and manipulation that bonded them as a political machine. The tale of the ambitious woman who rose to the highest levels of power in Argentina then crashed and burned at age 32 is a memorable modern tragedy, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock-opera tunes by will stick in your head. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

 
 
 
 
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