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by Rick Pender 02.07.2014
Posted In: Theater at 10:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Stage Door: Choices Galore

Last evening I went to see Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. You can read more about playwright Zimmerman in my column in this week's issue here, and you'll probably figure out that this is one of my favorite scripts. CCM's drama program has created a shimmering, playful production that's getting a brief run (final performance is a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday) at Patricia Corbett Theatre.

Guest director D. Lynn Meyers took a break from Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati to travel up the hill and stage this one on the UC campus, and her cast of 18 student performers wholly embraced this unusual show — which requires a pool of water as its central design feature. (Water plays a significant and meaningful role in the retelling of a set of classical myths shaped and recorded by Ovid two millennia ago.) But Dana Hall's scenic design doesn't stop with water; it's elemental, with immense hanging slabs of stone that resonate with the decorative concrete slabs in PCT. Wes Richter's lighting — it really does shimmer — enhances the stories of characters changed by circumstances, good intentions and bad decisions, and Kevin Semancik's sound design brings vivid punctuation to many stories, including a destructive storm at sea.

Speaking of sound, cellist Jacob Yates, a senior at CCM, composed moody accompaniment that distills the moving emotional essence of each scene; he performs live from stage left as the tales unfold. Amanda Kai Newman's costume designs complete the visual power of the show, whether they are fluttering around the edge of the pool or from a high balcony upstage from which the gods watch and control the mortals — and even when they are sopping wet from action in the variable-depth pool. Much of the action is beautifully choreographed and delivered with confident physicality. All in all, CCM's Metamorphoses is a total theatrical package that's definitely worth seeing. Tickets are likely available if you call quickly: 513-556-4183..

If you want a two-fer featuring shows staged by D. Lynn Meyers, you can catch her production of Tribes back at her ETC home base. (CityBeat review here.) Nina Raine's script focuses on two young adults who come from different "tribes," families with distinctively separate approaches to deafness. Billy's family wants to approximate normalcy by teaching him to lip read, while Sylvia's parents, both deaf, have used signing. Now that she's going deaf herself and has befriended Billy, these practices are at odds. But this is also a show about family dynamics, love and acceptance — something everyone can relate to. Billy's family is boisterous and rude, behaviors that often exclude him. Sylvia's gentle, thoughtful manner is both solace and revelation to him. Actors Dale Dymkoski and Kelly Mengelkoch (familiar to Cincinnati Shakespeare audiences; she's a company member there) are simply excellent in these two roles, and the balance of the cast creates real, human characters. Tribes has been extended to Feb. 22, a week beyond its announced closing, to accommodate ticket demand. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

Other productions worth checking out this weekend are Seminar by Falcon Theater at Newport's Monmouth Theater, a play by Cincinnatian Theresa Rebeck about a writing class with a tyrannical teacher (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-479-6783); Bruce Norris's Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park, revealing how attitudes about race and class haven't evolved all that much in 50 years, at Cincinnati Playhouse (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-421-3888); and Steve Yockey's absurdist drama Pluto at Know Theatre, an inventively told story of contemporary grief (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-300-5669).
by Rick Pender 02.03.2014
Posted In: Theater at 10:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Broadway in Cincinnati Announces 2014-15 Season

Tony winners fairytales and Pop titles to grace Aronoff audiences

Broadway in Cincinnati today is announcing its 2014-2015 season, which will bring back The Lion King for a month-long run in April 2015 as well as the 2012 Tony Award winner, Once, which has a two week run in mid-November 2014. Lion King had a record-breaking engagement at the downtown Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center in 2007, and the winner of 1998’s best musical Tony continues its long run on Broadway. Once, based on the 2007 movie of the same name, is theatrical retelling of the story of musicians in Dublin. Played out in an Irish pub, if features an impressive ensemble of actor-musicians who play their own instruments onstage.
\"The Lion King\"
Photo: Joan Marcus
The season also offers two tried-and-true classics: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, a made-for-TV musical fairytale from 1957 which had a well-received Broadway run in 2013, will land at the Aronoff Center next January for two weeks. And a classic from 1934, Cole Porter’s Anything Goes will show up for five days in February; the story of love and blackmail on a cruise ship sailed back to Broadway in 2011 and won three Tonys.

Rounding out the season are several shows with roots in pop culture. The season opens with Dirty Dancing, a musical based on the 1987 movie about a summer vacation in the Catskills that turns into a steamy romance with a lot of choreography. For the holidays, we get another short run aimed at families: Elf: The Musical about an human orphan who ends up as one of Santa’s elves, but never quite fits in. It’s based on the 2003 film that starred Will Farrell. (Broadway in Cincinnati had good luck last Thanksgiving with a short run of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and this is surely aimed at the same audience.)

Also likely to capture an audience in search of for laughs is the season’s concluding production, I Love Lucy: Live On Stage, bringing to life recreations of one of TV’s greatest sitcoms with actors portraying Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and Ethel and Fred Mertz. Set in 1952, it lets audiences pretend they’re attending the filming of a pair of classic episodes on an L.A. soundstage. It’s not a musical, but it has lots of tuneful interludes by Ricky’s orchestra at the Tropicana Nightclub, plus ’50s style singing commercials.

Season subscriptions go on sale today: 800-294-1816 or BroadwayinCincinnati.com

Dirty Dancing (Sept. 23-Oct. 5, 2014)

Once (Nov. 11-23, 2014)

Elf: The Musical (Dec. 2-7, 2014)

Cinderella (Jan. 6-18, 2015)

Anything Goes (Feb. 17-22, 2015)

The Lion King (March 31-April 26, 2015)

I Love Lucy (June 2-14, 2015.

by Rick Pender 01.31.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 1-31 - dale dymkoski is billy, torn between two divisive approaches to deafness in tribes at etc - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door: Full Weekend

Lots of plays not previously seen in Cincinnati are good theater choices this weekend:

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati just opened its regional premiere of Tribes by Nina Raines on Wednesday, and I've given it a Critic's Pick. The story circles around two young adults from families with very different approaches to deafness. Billy's family has tried to give him a "normal" life by teaching him to speak and lip read, while Sylvia's deaf parents have always communicated using sign language. Now that she's going deaf, she's more and more dependent on that skill. But Billy's loud, boisterous family objects to him to make his deafness so obvious, even though he's finally found a path to overcome his loneliness. This tale of warring tribes is as much about family dynamics and human nature as it is about coming to terms with a disability. Provocative and thoughtful, with a sterling cast of convincing actors. Through Feb. 16. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park has a winner with its production of Bruce Norris's Clybourne Park, a show that portrays territoriality rooted in insensitivity and prejudice. (CityBeat review here.) Using a 1959 play, Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun*, as its jumping-off point, Norris's first act portrays a white Chicago neighborhood where the sale of a home to an African-American family has set off warfare between residents. In the second act, it's 2009 and the same neighborhood, blighted by deterioration, is now being gentrified. The tables are turned, but many of the arguments — and in Norris's clever script, even some of the same words — resurface. I gave this one a Critic's Pick, too. Through Feb. 16. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

*A footnote to Clybourne Park: To experience this show's inspiration, A Raisin in the Sun, tune to WVXU (FM 91.7) on Saturday evening, 8-10 p.m., for a radio production of Lorraine Hansberry's play by LA Theatre Works. It's a seminal American drama in its own right.

This bounty of premieres is joined by Know Theater's staging of Steve Yockey's brand-new play, Pluto. (CityBeat review here.) It's the story of a single mom and her sullen, disconnected son in a generic suburb. It feels realistic, but there are signs that it goes beyond that: A blossoming cherry tree has crashed through the ceiling, and a three-headed dog (played by a one-headed actress) sits nearby, offering curious observations about what's going on. A radio spits out news about a school shooting, sometimes speaking directly to the mom, and then the refrigerator begins to shake violently, as if some force is trying to escape. There's more to be revealed, and I should warn that gun violence and death are portrayed. But this is a poetic and emotional tale of grief distilled. Through Feb. 22. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Daniel Beaty's one-man show, Through the Night, was well-received at the Cincinnati Playhouse in a Fall 2012 production, performed by the playwright. (CityBeat previewed that piece here.) Northern Kentucky University this weekend is offering another of Beaty's solo works, the multi-character show (27 roles in all) Emergency, a piece that features slam poetry, performed by local actor Deondra Means. It begins with a fanciful premise, a slave ship arriving in a New York City harbor in the 21st century. Director Daryl Harris calls Emergency "a perfect storm for the social activist and the theater artist in me." It's onstage only this weekend at NKU's Stauss Theatre. Tickets: 859-572-5464.
by Rick Pender 01.28.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
onstage blog 1-28 - pirates of penzance @ actors theatre -photo by bill brymer

Advising a Louisville Theatre Field Trip

Actors Theatre's "Pirates of Penzance" is a joyous, festive hoot from start to finish

If I could charter a bus and offer you transportation to Louisville over the next few days to see a production at Actors Theatre, I'd happily do so. I made the drive to see a Sunday matinee of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, "reimagined by The Hypocrites." This zany group of theater artists from Chicago have found contemporary ways to inject new energy into traditional works from Shakespeare to Golden Age musicals. And that's what they've done with Pirates, a show that was a silly musical hit in the 1880s on both sides of the Atlantic.

In fact, what this energetic cast of 10 does with the show is restore its comic brilliance in a way that's wholly suited to the 21st century but in keeping with the original. The story of soft-hearted pirates, a soft-headed major-general and his melodic daughters and a crew of incompetent cops remains intact and is inherently funny. But The Hypocrites have pushed it to a contemporary level.

Entering Actors Theatre's arena-styled Bingham Theatre, audiences were immediately immersed in a beach party on the central stage. Beach balls were bouncing everywhere; the ushers were wearing floral shirts. The performers, also musicians, were leading a folksy singalong, tunes like the Lumineers' "Ho Hey" and Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard." It was downright festive, and audience members who had seating onstage (many with kids) joined right in with the fun.

When showtime arrived, a few ground rules were laid out by actress Christine Stulik, who played both the matronly awkward Ruth and the sweet ingenue Mabel. She asked those onstage to follow any requests made by the stage managers, dressed as Victorian lifeguards, so that actors would have clear paths to move to their required locations. She also mentioned that the show would be one hour, 20 minutes, with a one-minute intermission. (That's what really happened: a quick break, with actors sipping bottled water, audience members running up the steps to an in-theater bar, stretching and so on.)

The performance follows Pirates' amusing tale of the virtuous young Fredric, who is a "Slave of Duty" (we were regularly reminded by the word DUTY, spelled out in giant red letters at the top of one audience section). The performers executed their roles in exaggerated fashion, squeezing humor out of every moment. They also played an astonishing array of musical instruments: guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, flute, clarinet, accordion, squeezebox and other esoteric items such as a toy piano, a kiddie xylophone and a saw(!). They were all accomplished singers, too, and just about everyone played multiple roles — including sweet young ladies who doubled as comically mustachioed police officers.

It was a joyous, festive hoot from start to finish, a wonderful tonic for a bitterly cold winter. My only regret is that I'm late to the party: The production of Pirates of Penzance wraps up on Saturday. If you have the time to drive down I-71 and can score a ticket (Actors Theatre box office: 502-584-1205), you'll feel like you took a mini-vacation.
by Rick Pender 01.24.2014
Posted In: Theater at 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 1-24 - clyybourne park @ cincy playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: 'Clybourne Park' and More

I caught the opening night of the Cincinnati Playhouse's production of Clybourne Park last night. The play won the theater triple crown: Tony for best play on Broadway, Olivier for best play in London, and the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for drama. It's being staged by a lot of big theaters this season, but you need go no farther than Mount Adams to see what all the fuss is about. And there is a ton of fussing in Bruce Norris's script. He took his inspiration from the events of Lorraine Hansberry's historic 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun, the story of a black family seeking to improve its lot by buying a home — in a previously all-white neighborhood. Clybourne Park's first act looks at the same events from the neighborhood's perspective; Act II jumps ahead 50 years to the same neighborhood, deteriorated but coming back. Curiously enough — or is it predictably? — many of the stresses and strains have only moved from one set of people to another. Norris's clever script subtly presents parallels and contrasts, with some humor and some pathos, and a sardonic sense that human nature is what it is. The Playhouse does a great job with a cast that plays different roles (some slightly connected from past to present) and a revolving set that recreates the house at 406 Clybourne in Chicago in 1959 and 2009. This production will spur lots of thoughtful and spirited conversation. Onstage through Feb. 16. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Pluto at Know Theatre is being staged by former artistic director Jason Bruffy. Steve Yockey's unusual script blurs the line between real life and mythology, as weird events materialize in a suburban kitchen, what with a talking three-headed dog and other unusual phenomena getting in the way of necessary dialogue between a mom and her sullen son. It opens tonight and runs through Feb. 22. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Also opening tonight is Revelation by Untethered Theater, in the compact space at Clifton Performance Theater (404 Ludlow). It's described as a "pitch black comedy" about a couple, one a Southern Baptist who is expecting the Rapture and the other a premed student who happens to be an atheist. They travel from New York to Arkansas in search of the New Jerusalem. Along the way, they find a whole lot more. Opening tonight, onstage through Feb. 8. Info: 513-939-0599.

I don't mean to sound like a broken record — I've mentioned the following productions before — but several shows are here a bit longer that are definitely worth considering:

The Book of Mormon continues at the Aronoff through Sunday. If you haven't seen this hilarious musical, I have to ask why? And if you have, you might want to catch it one more time if you can. (I went twice, and it was every bit as funny the second time around — maybe more so because I could focus on the crazy, rude lyrics and the beautifully timed comedy.) Tickets: 800-982-2787.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic tale of singing kids, their stoic dad and the nun who brings them together, The Sound of Music, is being offered in a "lightly staged" concert version accompanied by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra at Covington's Carnegie Center. It's been enthusiastically received by folks I've talked with who've seen it. Final performance is Sunday. 859-957-1940.

This is also the final weekend for a charming production of Stephen Sondheim's musical of mixed-up lovers in early 20th-century Sweden, A Little Night Music, at Mariemont Players. Tickets: 513-684-1236.

Hamlet, at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, runs until Feb.9, but you should catch it if you plan to attend the next CSC show, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which tells the same story from the perspective of two minor characters — using the same cast. It opens on Feb. 14. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.
by Rick Pender 01.17.2014
Posted In: Theater at 12:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: 'South Park,' Sondheim and Shakespeare

The big buzz is around The Book of Mormon, the musical by the South Park guys that's rude, crude and sweet, all at once. An acquaintance of mine aptly describes it as "blasphemy without malice." Regardless of what you call it, it's the talk of the town, and a lot of people have told me that affordable tickets are not to be found. Since it's a hot item the ticket resellers have really jacked up the prices, so it's a better bet to go straight to the box office at the Aronoff Center and ask them what's available. If you have the time, come the box office two-and-a-half hours before the performance you're hoping to see and apply for one or two tickets (that's the limit). Two hours before curtain names will be drawn randomly. You have to be there and you can only enter once. Of course it's a gamble, but if your name is pulled, you'll pay just $25 per ticket. This touring production will be in downtown Cincinnati through Jan. 26.

Last weekend I drove out through Mariemont to the Walton Creek Playhouse where Mariemont Players has assembled a thoroughly enjoyable production of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, a show once described as "whipped cream with knives." The theater, an old schoolhouse, has an intimate performing space, a perfect setting for this tale of mixed-up couples in early-20th-century Sweden. The show, simply and effectively staged by Skip Fenker, revolves around a free-spirited but aging actress who eventually sings "Send in the Clowns," Sondheim's best-known tune. The Sunday matinee I attended was all but sold out, so you should call in advance for a reservation: 513-684-1236. Onstage through Jan. 26.

If you're looking for some outstanding acting, you should definitely head to Cincinnati Shakespeare and watch Brent Vimtrup play the title role in Hamlet. He plays the role of the indecisive Prince of Denmark, pointed toward vengeance but filled with doubt. Vimtrup uses an expressive physicality and natural insight that makes long-familiar speeches ("To be or not to be," "What a rogue and peasant slave am I" and more) feel fresh and new. He's onstage for most of the three-and-a-half hour production, a highly watchable marathon. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x 1. Through Jan. 26.

by Rick Pender 01.03.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage copy

Stage Door: Couple of Classics

Truth to tell, midnight has already passed and Victorian adventurer Phileas Fogg thinks he's missed the deadline for getting "around the world in 80 days." But his faithful servant Passepartout (played with manic energy by the always amusing Michael G. Bath) saves the day by sorting out travel across time zones. Your deadline has not quite passed, since Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's inventive staging of a musical version of Jules Verne's classic Around the World in 80 Days continues through a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. (CityBeat review here.) If football and cold weather aren't your preferences, maybe you should head to the Over-the-Rhine theater for a final volley of holiday entertainment. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

While you're thinking about theater, you should be making plans to see Shakespeare's greatest tragedy (some say it's the greatest play ever written), Hamlet, which opens next week at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Once you've taken that one in, you'll be ready to head back in mid-February for Tom Stoppard's other-end-of-the-telescope version of the show (using the same actors), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

Happy New Year!
by Rick Pender 12.27.2013
Posted In: Theater at 11:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
to do onstage 12-25 - complete history of comedy @ playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Post-Holiday Options

Don't despair that the Christmas holiday is behind you. Several theaters are still staging enough cheer to keep you going for another week or so. Here's what continues this weekend:

At the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park you'll find the traditional Christmas favorite A Christmas Carol as well as The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) onstage through Sunday. It feels a bit odd to be watching Scrooge and the ghosts after Christmas Day, but the Playhouse's rendition is such a lovely show and Bruce Cromer's portrait of the old miser is so entertaining that you'll be charmed, I'm sure. And the Reduced Shakespeare guys doing the "comedy" piece know how to evoke laughter from the making of jokes in ways you haven't imagined. They're the guys who originated this amusing formula with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), and they're making it work with this world premiere production. It's a nice bit of entertainment for a weekend between the holidays. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Holiday themed laughs are being served up at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company through Sunday, too, with their eighth annual presentation of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some). No Shakespeare in evidence (although they're performing on the gussied-up set that was built for the previous production, Twelfth Night) but four of CSC's best comic talents are mashing up every imaginable tale you might think of that has a holiday connection — Charlie Brown, Charles Dickens, Rudolph, the Nutcracker, It's a Wonderful Life and many more. They'll have you laughing from start to finish, especially if you make a stop by the bar in the lobby beforehand. Not for the kids, but a lot of fun for anyone with an adolescent sense of humor. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x 1.

If you want a nice outing for the kids, I recommend Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's holiday show, Around the World in 80 Days. Jules Verne's adventure classic about a hectic circumnavigation of the globe in 1899 has been musicalized and condensed in a way that children will enjoy it — but there's enough humor and talent onstage to keep adults entertained, too. ETC'S production actually runs through the weekend after New Year's Day, but if the kids are restless and you want to entertain them with live theater, this is a great choice. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

Happy theatergoing!

by Rick Pender 12.20.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Wrapping up Holiday Shows

It's the final weekend for most holiday shows, and there are lots of good choices. I'm ranking today's listings according to the laugh-o-meter, starting with the most hilarious:

No. 1: Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some). This is the eighth year the Cincinnati Shakespeare has put this show together, but it's fun even for if you've been before. The cast of four talented actors who usually do Shakespeare and the Classics prove adept at silly, in-the-moment humor. While they're poking fun at many things local, they also manage to touch on just about every Christmas story you can imagine, all with laugh-out-loud results. The biggest challenge is getting a ticket, since the run (through Dec. 29) was nearly sold out when it opened last Sunday. A performance has been added on Saturday at 2 p.m., which might be your best bet to score a seat or two. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

No. 2: The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), a show by the same guys who came up with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). The Cincinnati Playhouse is presenting the show's world premiere, and it's a wide-ranging evening of every kind of humor imaginable by three very adept performers. They can impersonate people and characters, they can do improv, they can satirize the classics — and they can keep everyone in the audience paying attention lest they get a pie in the face. Seriously. Our should I say "humorously"? It's an evening of fun, through Dec. 29. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

No. 3: The 12 Dates of Christmas is the story of a gal who struggles through a year of awful dating after she loses her fiancé when she sees him making out with another woman on national TV during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Lots of losers, lovers and louts — and a few nice guys who aren't quite right. It's a one-woman show with a good heart and a great performance by Annie Kalahurka. New Edgecliff Theatre is presenting the production at Know Theatre. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

No. 4: A Klingon Christmas Carol. This one isn't really laugh-out-loud, but it's a lot of fun to see actors telling the familiar story of Scrooge and his ghosts through the filter of Star Trek's fierce warrior race, the Klingons. SQuja' (he's the central character) isn't a miser, he's a coward — which is sinful for these tough guys. Find out how he gets retuned. It's a good bet for Trekkies; others venture in at your own risk. Tickets for this one ($20) can be obtained at the door, in the lobby of the Art Academy of Cincinnati (1212 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). 

Lots of more traditional fare elsewhere, of course, including Christmas Carols at the Playhouse and Covedale, as well as the family-oriented Around the World in 80 Days at Ensemble Theatre.
by Rick Pender 12.13.2013
Posted In: Theater at 11:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door

Stage Door: Holiday Cheer

It's Friday the 13th, but if you're in the mood for holiday shows, this is your lucky weekend. Just about every theater in town has something onstage aimed at getting you into the Christmas spirit, making you laugh, diverting you from the stress of being cheerful or just poking fun at the ways of the world (at least the world of commercialism we see in America today).

Perhaps you've already done your annual brush-up on Dickens' A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse (another fine production, now in its 23rd season with Bruce Cromer back as Scrooge and a new interpretation of Bob Cratchit, featuring the very angular Ryan Wesley Gilreath, who seems to be all arms and legs and stringy hair — very Dickensian) or the musical version being presented by Covedale Center. With the story of Scrooge's dark night of the soul fresh in mind, perhaps you're ready for A Klingon Christmas Carol, presented by Hugo West Theatricals at the Art Academy of Cincinnati (1212 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). This is a newish theater group that knows its way around satirical work (their Don't Cross the Streams, a goofy derivative of Ghostbusters, was a popular piece in the 2012 Fringe festival), they are giving this unusual piece its local premiere. (It's been staged in Chicago and Minneapolis.) It's actually a rather faithful retelling of the story with SQuja' (Donald Volpenheim), a cowardly, money-grubbing member of Star Trek's warrior race, taking the place of Scrooge.

It's presented by a deadpan Vulcan narrator (Lauren Carr) who positions the work as the "original" of the tale. Klingons don't celebrate Christmas, but they are bound by traditions, the greatest of them being the "Feast of the Long Night." The 70-minute piece closely matches with Scrooge's story, but it's all through a Klingon filter — lots of angry outbursts and hearty laughter, grunting, growling, drinking and chest-thumping by characters with wrinkled foreheads, bushy eyebrows and fierce demeanors. Eileen Earnest handles timHom (a Muppet-like equivalent for Tiny Tim), son of Quachit (David Dreith), whose training as a warrior is being neglected because of greedy SQuja'. If you've never yearned for a visit to Qo'noS, the Klingon homeworld, you might find this production a bit impenetrable since it's performed in the guttural Klingon language, but there are projected subtitles that add humor to the action. This won't be a show for everyone, but if you're a Star Trek fan, you'll have a good time. Tickets ($20 at the door or here).

Elsewhere in OTR, there's no need for subtitles for New Edgecliff Theatre's The 12 Dates of Christmas, presented this year at Know Theatre (1120 Jackson St.). It's a remount of NET's 2012 holiday, again featuring Annie Kalahurka as Mary, a New York actress whose chipper view of the holidays is trashed when she sees her fiancé kissing another woman on national TV at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The one-woman show recounts her trajectory through a year of dating a dozen men, a few with potential, others with "what were you thinking?" qualities. Kalahurka does it all, from her central character, her oppressive matchmaking aunt, her nervously worried mother and a parade of bad choices marked by ornaments she hangs on a tree — an old friend, a doctor, a bartender, guys met at weddings, a musician and more. Along the way, she's in a production of Macbeth and A Christmas Carol (she plays Christmas Past) adding more humor with references to theater and such. This is a contemporary show with language to match (so it's not for the kids), but Kalahurka is a charming performer who makes this one totally worth seeing. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

On Sunday evening, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company kicks off two weeks of Every Christmas Carol Ever Told (and then some) for the eighth consecutive year. As the title implies, it's a mash-up of everything from A Christmas Carol to the Grinch, with stops for Charlie Brown, It's a Wonderful Life, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, the Nutcracker and more. It's been a great evening of adult entertainment in past incarnations: This year returns last year's cast intact — Miranda McGee, Sara Clark, Justin McComb and Billy Chace. They're individually funny, and together they can be downright hilarious. Even if you've seen this one before, it's worth a return trip. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

For those who want to take the kids to a show, you can't go wrong with Around the World in 80 Days at Ensemble Theatre through Jan. 4 (513-421-3555) or the Children's Theatre of Cincinnati's production of The Day Before Christmas with performances today and Saturday at the Taft Theatre (800-745-3000).



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by Rick Pender 10.02.2015 5 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door -

Stage Door

Sex and its various outcomes

Sex is pretty much a constant presence in life as we know it, and it’s often a driving force in plays, taking on many shapes and outcomes. That’s particularly the case with two shows that just opened locally, Laura Eason’s new play, Sex with Strangers, at the Cincinnati Playhouse on its Shelterhouse stage through Oct. 25, and William Mastrisimone’s 1982 script, Extremities, at Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Incline Theatre, through Oct. 18.

Eason’s script is about two writers who seem as opposite as can be — he’s an arrogant 28-year-old blogger (Nicholas Carrière as the charming and ebullient Ethan) whose writing about sexual conquests has been turned into a best-selling book, while she’s a serious, introspective novelist, 39, (Nancy Lemenager as introverted and self-conscious Olivia) who’s given up because of bad reviews and weak sales of her first book more than a decade earlier. But they end up together in a Michigan B&B due to a snowstorm (and some serious interest on his part in meeting her) and they discover a powerful mutual attraction that’s also driven by aspiration and envy of one another’s careers. Eason writes great contemporary dialogue, and director KJ Sanchez keeps things hurtling along down a road of desire and tentative trust. It seems evident that things could go off the tracks, but when they do there’s some more interesting sparks — and a lot of conversation about the state of writing and literature today. While the show’s title is titillating and they are strangers who steam things up — repeatedly — it’s really the title of his blog, and a past that he might or might not want to move beyond. There’s both humor and real emotion to be appreciated in this finely crafted production. Tickets: 513-421-3888

Mastrisimone’s off-Broadway script from three decades ago (Extremities also became a 1986 movie starring Farrah Fawcett) comes at issues of sex and attraction from a far more serious and brutal angle. It’s a significant a departure for Cincinnati Landmark, best known as a producer of safer, more mainstream fare, musicals and classical comedies. Raul (Will Reed) has been stalking three young women who share a house. He bursts in on Marjorie (Eileen Earnest), who we meet lounging around in a state of undress; he overpowers her, knowing her roommates won’t be back for hours. But she turns the tables on him, and when Terry (Katey Blood) and Patricia (Rachel Mock) return, they find Marjorie menacing and torturing her foul-mouthed attacker, hogtied and imprisoned in a large fireplace. They are shocked by her violent turn, and their perspectives — Terry is shocked and fearful, while Patricia is pragmatic and overly analytical — provide various takes on the situation and its potential resolution. Their four-cornered battle unfolds in harsh, often unhinged arguments about motives, likely outcomes and fears. Some of these feel a tad dated in 2015, but that does not diminish the story’s power. Earnest’s searing performance as Marjorie and Reed’s manipulative portrait of an intelligent, twisted man she insists on calling “The Animal” fuel the pounding pulse of this production of Extremities, staged by Tim Perrino. You’re never sure how the battle will end, and that makes for good theater. Tickets: 513-241-6550

CCM Drama head Richard Hess calls David Edgar’s Pentecost the British equivalent of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Both are big-cast plays, stuffed full of language and contending philosophies. The discovery of a 13th-century mural in an Eastern European church threatens to upset the world of art history, but it also lights the match on conflicts that go well beyond — to geopolitics, religion, history and more. It’s a heady script, with 26 roles speaking multiple languages, utterances that audiences have to intuit, just as the characters need to try to grasp one another’s motives. Read more about Pentecost in my recent Curtain Call column. Like most CCM productions, this one (at UC’s Patricia Corbett Theater) has a short weekend run; the final performance is a matinee on Sunday. Pentecost is an important play, an essential experience for serious theatergoers. Tickets: 513-556-4183

One more interesting piece of theater this weekend, inspired by Titus Kaphar’s Vesper Project at the Contemporary Arts Center, a multi-part installation in which paintings are woven into the walls of a 19th-century American house in New England, the home of a mixed-race family. His exhibit there involves a true/false backstory and familiar/unfamiliar environments. The massive exhibit invites conversation, and that’s what writer (and occasional CityBeat contributor) Stacy Sims has created after several discussions with the artist. She invited five local actors to work with her to respond to the piece, and the result, RETRACED: A theatrical conversation with the Vesper Project, will be performed three times this weekend at the CAC on Sixth Street in downtown Cincinnati, at noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Sims says, “While I have a strong idea of how the actors will move in and out of the space and intersect with each other, each of their individual stories will be deeply informed by their own personal narratives of race, power, privilege and home.” Performances are free with gallery admission.

This weekend is your last chance to see the Cincinnati Playhouse’s beautiful production of The Secret Garden, NKU’s rendition of the comedy Moon Over Buffalo and New Edgecliff Theatre’s well-acted staging of Frankie and Johnnie in the Clair de Lune.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.25.2015 12 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 9-25 - frankie & johnny @ net - sara mackie & dylan shelton - photo provided by new edgecliff theatre

Stage Door

Frankie & Johnny and a taste of Hannibal

New Edgecliff Theatre’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is under way a week later than initially announced following some issues with its not-quite-ready new home in Northside. So it’s been moved to the Essex Studio (2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills), in a performance space routinely used by Cincinnati Actors Studio & Academy, a training group for teens. It was bit of hustle and strain to move a half-built set from Northside to Walnut Hills, but it fits nicely into CASA’s black box. Rather than rattling around in a big old church sanctuary (Northside’s work-in-progress Urban Artifact), NET’s staging of Terrence McNally’s 1987 romantic dramedy works beautifully in this more intimate space. But I suspect no matter where it was staged, the two-character show would be well received thanks to actors Sara Mackie and Dylan Shelton, smartly put through their paces by director Jared Doren. As lonely co-workers in a New York greasy spoon diner, they’ve finally connected — at least for a night. They’re both kind of needy although in very different ways. Frankie, a sweet waitress, has been bruised by bad relationships and seems happy with her own insular existence; Johnny, the motor-mouthed short-order cook who can quote Shakespeare, is driven by angst and passion — filled with desperation that he doesn’t have any more chances for romances. This naturally frightens Frankie, and their navigation through this minefield, full of passion and snark, makes audiences laugh and love them both. It’s definitely worth seeing. Because of the move, it’s a short run, just through Oct. 3. Tickets: 888-528-7311

The folks who run Falcon Theater, performing in Newport at the Monmouth Theatre (636 Monmouth St.) have staked a claim on comic musical satires — they’ve produced Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical, Poseidon: The Upside-Down Musical, Evil Dead: The Musical and several more. So they worked really hard to get the rights to Silence: The Musical, based on The Silence of the Lambs, the creepy 1991 movie about “Hannibal the Cannibal” starring Anthony Hopkins as a manipulative serial killer and Jodie Foster as the young FBI cadet who needs him to solve another serial murder. The musical version was a big hit at the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival and over the past decade it's become a cult favorite. It opens tonight and continues on weekends through Oct. 10. Tickets: 513-479-6783

The first production of the season at Northern Kentucky University, Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo, is a comedy about a pair of fading actors from the 1950s on tour in Buffalo. Their marriage is coming apart, but a famous movie director is coming to see their matinee and just might cast them in an upcoming feature. But everything goes wrong when they start confusing the two shows they’re performing — Noël Coward’s Private Lives and Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. Tickets: 859-572-5464

Speaking of Cyrano, there’s a fine production of it (not to be confused with anything else …) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, with an excellent performance by company veteran Jeremy Dubin in the title role. It’s onstage through Oct. 3. 513-381-2273. • Also closing on Oct. 3 is the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s beautiful production of The Secret Garden, a musical based on a cherished novel from a century ago. This is one of the Playhouse’s “family-friendly” productions — like A Christmas Carol — suitable for multiple generations. It looks great, and the talent onstage — much of it from Broadway — is top-notch. Tickets: 513-421-3888

If you haven’t seen Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, you really should try to get there this weekend for one of its final showings. This new play hat will make you uncomfortable because it’s about a tough conflict with no obvious right or wrong — a custody fight over a baby between her irresponsible parents and her religiously conservative grandmother, refereed by an over-burdened social worker. The cast (including three former ETC apprentices who do a great job) is led by Annie Fitzpatrick as the weary social worker. She’s especially good in this role, a woman trying to do the right thing who’s thwarted at every turn. Final performance is 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: 513-421-3555

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.18.2015 19 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
annie fitzpatrick & brent vimtrup in luna gale @ etc - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door

Actors are shining in several local shows

Actors are a big reason we go to see specific performances, and there are a couple of excellent choices onstage right now as several theaters are kicking off their 2015-2016 seasons. Of particular note is Annie Fitzpatrick, a familiar performer to audiences frequenting productions at Ensemble Theatre. She’s playing Caroline, an over-burdened social worker in Luna Gale. Her character is caught in a custody tug of war involving a baby, the title character. Her immature parents are on one side, caught up in drugs and angry behavior; on the other side is Luna Gale’s well-intentioned grandmother who’s religiously conservative. Fitzpatrick portrays a beleaguered woman trying to do what’s right, but constantly thwarted by the system in which she works. You feel this desperation deep down inside Caroline’s character, in her physical presence, in her exasperated stares and sighs. Fitzpatrick is a marvel to watch. She’s a major factor in my giving this production a Critic’s Pick. (Note for the future: She’ll be onstage next at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Oct. 16-Nov. 7, playing Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman.) Luna Gale continues through Sept. 27. Tickets: 512-421-3555

Another veteran actor is shining at Cincinnati Shakespeare this month. Jeremy Dubin, a member of CSC’s acting company for 16 seasons, is playing the swashbuckling poet Cyrano de Bergerac. The show is sometimes called a heroic comedy, and Dubin handles both parts of that phrase with aplomb. He makes Cyrano larger than life in his generosity and faithfulness, but he plays him with the requisite sense of humor — especially in scenes involving Cyrano’s oversized nose, a convincing prosthetic created for Dubin’s performance. He has excelled in roles both comic and serious; Cyrano draws on both. Read more about this play and Cincy Shakes’ production in my recent column. Tickets: 513-621

One more excellent acting performance worth catching: Caitlin Cohn as 10-year-old Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden at the Cincinnati Playhouse. She’s actually a college student (New York University), but the petite actress is wholly convincing as the ornery, bright and eventually loving orphan who finds the warmth of nature and shares it with her grieving uncle. Cohn is doing an audacious job with a challenging role. Tickets: 513-421-3888

If you were planning to see New Edgecliff Theatre’s production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune this weekend, you need to put it in neutral. Due to some technical delays with NET’s new home at Urban Artifact (1622 Blue Rock Road, Northside) the company is moving the production to a different venue and delaying performances for a week. It’s not scheduled to be presented at Essex Studios (2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills) opening Sept. 24 and continuing through Oct. 3. NET is contacting people who already had reservations. If you don’t have tickets yet, call now: 888-421-7311

A few quick notes: Showbiz Players, a dependable community theater company that likes satirical shows, is presenting The Rocky Horror Show at the Carnegie in Covington, through Sept. 26. Tickets: 859-957-1940 … Performance Gallery, an avant-garde troupe of performers that’s been a steady contributor to the Cincinnati Fringe, is reprising its production from the 2015 Fringe, Shirtzencockle, at Know Theatre on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. It’s a surreal, magical, ridiculous blind of folk and fairy tales. Tickets: 513-300-5669 … Kate Tombaugh, who studied opera at UC’s CCM (and trained in numerous other places) is presenting her one-woman show, It Just Takes One. It portrays the roller-coaster story of a young woman in her 20s seeking a career in opera while struggling to find a social life. A benefit for the Charitable Care Fund at Children’s Hospital, it’s being presented at St. Thomas Episcopal Church (100 Miami Ave., Terrace Park) on Friday evening at 8 p.m. and in 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.11.2015 26 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 9-11 - luna gale @ etc - milly israel, patrick e. phillips & annie fitzpatrick - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door

And so the season begins...

The fall theater season is fully under way. I’ve seen several productions that I can recommend, starting with Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s staging of Luna Gale. The story focuses on a weary social worker caught on the horns of a horrible dilemma — a custody battle between teen parents with drug issues and a zealously religious grandmother — with veteran actress Annie Fitzpatrick turning in another outstanding acting performance. The production is also an impressive reminder of the fine work ETC has been doing for 30 years since three actors in Luna Gale were ETC apprentices a year ago. The award-winning Luna Gale is being produced at many theaters across America this season, but I can’t imagine that any of those productions will be better than the one we have right here in Cincinnati. I gave it a Critic’s Pick. Through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-421-3555

Last night I was at the Playhouse for The Secret Garden opening its 56th season. While this is a story about a 10-year-old girl, it’s quite serious and thoughtful. Orphaned and seemingly headed for unhappiness, she finds redemption in nature and friendship, bringing others along on her path to a better place through abandoned garden that comes back to life. In my review, I suggest that this production might be a bit too complex and impressionistic for kids, but the show is physically beautiful and gorgeous musically. Caitlin Cohn’s performance as Mary Lennox is impressive; she’s a student at New York University, but quite convincing as a young girl. The cast features two CCM musical theater grads, Adam Monley and Carlyn Connolly, and a raft of polished New York veterans. Through Oct. 3. Tickets: 513-241-3888

If you’re a fan of the music of the ’60s and ’70s, you’re likely to love the touring production of Motown: The Musical currently rattling the rafters at the Aronoff Center (through Sept. 20). The hardworking cast does a great job of recreating the sounds of Motown — The Four Tops, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye, and many more. The play in which this is presented, however, is not so stimulating — Motown founder Barry Gordy’s story was written by (you guessed it) Barry Gordy, and it all feels pretty self-serving. But the music is great, and it comes at you hot and heavy — nearly 60 songs, although many are in medleys or shortened versions. Nevertheless, it’s a great reminder of the Pop tunes that kept American singing and dancing several decades ago. Tickets: 513-621-2787

The Covedale Center is offering an ambitious staging of a great musical, A Chorus Line, with some fine dancing in its own right. This is a very moving show about people who put themselves “on the line” to do something they love. It’s still powerful after 40 years, and Cincinnati Landmark Productions has done a fine job with this one. (Through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550

There’s a lot of laughter at Know Theatre this weekend where the Cincinnati Improv Festival is underway. I understand that there aren’t many tickets left, but if you’re a fan of this branch of comedy, you should call to see if you can get in. Shows tonight and Saturday. Tickets: 513-300-5669

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.04.2015 33 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
seven guitars @ actors theater louisville 2015 (l-r) forrest mcclendon, j. alphonse nicholson_photo credit by bill brymer

Stage Door

Theater seasons starts movin’

There’s a lot more coming next week, once we get past Labor Day, but right now there’s just one theater locally with a production onstage. That’s the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. Artistic Director Tim Perrino has been reminding everyone that just because Cincinnati Landmark Productions has opened the Incline Theatre, don’t think that the Covedale has shut down. In fact, it has an ambitious line-up of shows, and the opening production is already under way, A Chorus Line. I haven’t seen this production of it yet, but I will tell you that it’s a show that really lit my interest in musical theater. It was a Broadway hit back in 1975, and I saw a touring production of it in Cleveland in 1978. I had next to no income at the time — and tickets for subsequent performances were pretty well sold out anyway — but I told several friends that in a perfect world, I would have gone back to see it again. I had to wait a few years for that to happen, but this story of aspiring performers grabs me every time I see it. It’s the story of eager young dancers trying to get into the chorus of an upcoming Broadway production. The group is narrowed to 17, but the ultimate goal is four men and four women. The songs are rooted in each dancer’s personal story: Some are amusing, some are heart wrenching — all are painfully true. At the end, they all coalesce into “One (Singular Sensation),” a stunning finale that has all the individuals we’ve met together, dancing as one. It’s a wonderful metaphor about the passion to perform and to be part of a larger whole. A Chorus Line at the Covedale has performances this weekend and continues through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

Last evening I drove to Louisville where Actors Theatre is opening its 2015-2016 season with a superb production of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, one of his “Century Cycle” plays chronicling African-American life in Pittsburgh across the decades of the 20th century. This one, set in the late 1940s, swirls around a promising young Blues singer, Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, who has been offered a recording contract just after his release from a 90-day stint in jail. The play opens with his funeral then circles back through scenes reminiscing about his life and six vividly different people who were close to him — three women and three men. The cast is powerful, and the minutely detailed setting, a desolate backyard in Pittsburgh’s Hill District (inspired by the art of African-American painter and collagist Romare Bearden) is a sight to behold. Seven Guitars blends humor, lyricism and tragedy. Although several of Wilson’s remarkable plays have been stage in Cincinnati, Seven Guitars — winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for best play in 1996 and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award — has not been produced locally. So you might want to make a run down I-71 to Louisville between now and Sept. 20 to see this. This production is definitely worth the trip. Tickets: 502-584-1205.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 08.28.2015 40 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 07:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
shakespeare in the park crowd - photo provided by cincinnati shakespeare company

Stage Door

Park your theatergoing outdoors

At this point in the summer you have to look a little harder for theater productions. Most of our local companies are rehearsing for shows to open their 2015-2016 seasons. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see, especially if you’d like to enjoy theater in the great outdoors.

Queen City Flash’s performances of The Complete Tom, from Mark Twain’s tales about Tom Sawyer, are both outside-the-box and — literally — outside, popping up in different area parks for each evening their final romp with Tom Sawyers, Detective, is being presented. In this installment (the fourth of four), Tom and Huck Finn set out to clear a friend implicated in a murder. To catch one of these free performances, you need to reserve a ticket at queencityflash.com. At 4 p.m. on the day of the show, you’ll receive an email with details of the “secret” outdoor location. The production, creatively staged by Bridget Leak, features six actors who play multiple roles using puppets and quick costume changes.

Another outdoor adventure is in store for you if you track down a FREE Shakespeare in the Park performance of a modern-dress staging of Romeo and Juliet this weekend. You’ll find one at Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park on Friday, another at the McDonald Commons Park Shelter in Madeira on Saturday and a third at Keehner Park in West Chester on Sunday; all performances are at 7 p.m. This series is produced by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and it will be toured (as will a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream) to local schools, community centers and other venues through May 2016.

If you prefer to sit in a theater, head to Covington where The Carnegie has a head start on the theater season with its mid-August production: Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s innovative Company, onstage through Sunday. Even though the show has been around for 45 years, its outside-the-box approach — no beginning-middle-end story, in particular, but rather a central character, Robert, who’s turning 35 but remains disconnected, despite his married friends pushing help toward relationships — seems timely. Although the Carnegie’s actors are a tad young and don’t really feel like the New Yorkers who Furth’s script portrayed, they do a good job with the songs, and Zachary Huffman does a fine job with the central role. Here’s my CityBeat review. It’s onstage through Sunday. Tickets: 859-957-1940

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 08.21.2015 47 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 8-14 hundred days @ know theatre - id from left - lindsey mercer - abigail bengson -brian koch - shaun bengson -colette alexander - photo by daniel r. winters

Stage Door

A few end-of-summer theater choices

Theater slows down this time of year as most local companies are readying to launch their 2015-2016 seasons in September. You’ll find two newish productions on local stages — Company at The Carnegie in Covington and 9 to 5 at the Incline in East Price Hill. Stephen Sondheim’s Company is a solid production with a nice turn by Zachary Huffman in the central role of Robert. There are lots of well-performed tunes by a young cast and some able musicians. Here’s my review. I’m not so enthusiastic about the third show of the Incline’s inaugural season: 9 to 5 is a weak offering after the successes of The Producers and 1776. That’s largely due to a script that’s pretty stale and silly, as I mentioned in my review. It’s based on a 1980 movie about a chauvinistic boss and three women who give him his comeuppance. Dolly Parton played a feisty secretary in the movie and had a hit with its title song. When the movie became a 2009 stage musical, she wrote the songs. They don’t add much. Cincinnati Landmark must have pulled out all the stops for the first two shows this summer; this one looks like they cut some corners. These two productions continue through Aug. 30.

This is the final weekend for Hundred Days at Know Theatre. This Rock opera has been an unqualified hit for the 18-year-old Over-the-Rhine venue. I gave it a Critic’s Pick and I’ve talked with several friends who have gone back to see it a second time. Abigail and Shaun Bengson sing their way through a tragic love affair — a marriage cut short by a terminal disease — that ends up feeling pretty joyous since they choose to celebrate their “100 days” as if it was the 60-year marriage they had hoped for. Great concept, great execution. Get a ticket if you can: 513-300-5669

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 08.14.2015 54 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 8-14 hundred days @ know theatre - id from left - lindsey mercer - abigail bengson -brian koch - shaun bengson -colette alexander - photo by daniel r. winters

Stage Door

Only a few more days for 'Hundred Days'

Know Theatre’s Hundred Days is not running for 100 days. In fact, it has only seven more performances, so I urge you to get your tickets now if you haven’t seen it yet. (I say this in part because I’ve now heard from three acquaintances that they liked the show so much they’ve purchased tickets to go back to watch a devoted couple deal with a marriage that’s foreshortened by illness. So I’m sure some performances are getting very full.) David Lyman gave it a good review in the Enquirer, and I attached a Critic’s Pick to my CityBeat commentary, so we agree — and I suspect you might, too. Abigail and Shawn Bengson, the performers and creators of Hundred Days, are full of energy and passion, and their backup musicians are infected with the same spirit. Next Wednesday (July 19) is a free admission performance, which is likely to be very full. Tickets ($25 in advance): 513-300-5669

This is the final weekend for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s very funny show, The Complete History of America (Abridged), featuring three very funny performers — Amanda McGee, Justin McCombs and Geoffrey Barnes. I don’t think you’ll leave the theater knowing more about American history, but you’ll understand our willingness to poke fun at ourselves and others. It has some moments that fall flat, but that’s to be expected in two hours of non-stop efforts at hilarity. When they hit it, the show is a laugh-out-loud riot. Final performance is Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets: 513-381-2273

Cincy Shakes’ FREE Shakespeare in the Park continues this weekend with performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Dunham Arts Center in West Price Hill (this one is actually an indoor performance) on Saturday at 2 p.m. and at Covington’s Linden Grove Cemetery on Sunday at 7 p.m. (Not that you want or need to drive to Portsmouth, Ohio, to see a performance, but the troupe is there tonight — showing just how far they’re willing to go to advance the cause of Shakespeare.)

I wish I could tell you that 9 to 5, the third musical in the inaugural season at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, is as entertaining or well done as its predecessors, The Producers and 1776. But it isn’t. Nevertheless, based on the strength of the season so far and the novelty of going to a brand-new theater most of the tickets for this lightweight musical have already been snatched up. It’s based on a movie from the 1980s that featured Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. Parton’s countrified tunes, written for the musical not the movie (which did feature her hit song of the same title), are mildly entertaining, but the story is full of clichéd stereotypes about “working girls” who struggle to work with a chauvinistic boss. The real Parton makes a video appearance, but it’s not quite enough. Through Aug. 30. Tickets: 513-241-6550

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 08.07.2015 61 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 8-5 -hundred days at know theatre - id - shaun bengson - photo by daniel r. winters

Stage Door

Make ’em Laugh: Midsummer Theater

Hundred Days, a Folk Rock Opera onstage at Know Theatre, continues to be the go-to show of the summer. The story of a marriage that gets short-circuited by a fatal illness turns into a joyous 75-minute concert music written and performed by the dynamic duo of Abigail and Shaun Bengson, with five musicians and singers behind them. Rather than wallow in grief about having only 100 days, they celebrate their love by condensing what they imagine 60 years of life might have held. It’s a lovely story, told in an imaginative, contemporary way. Read my CityBeat review, which gave it a “Critic’s Pick.” Tickets: 513-300-5669

Cincinnati Shakespeare has three excellent comic actors onstage at the moment who know how to wring every possible laugh out of a satiric script. Geoffrey Barnes, Justin McCombs and Amanda McGee are performing The Complete History of America (Abridged), another script by the zany trio who wrote The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). I think this one tries a little too hard to be hilarious, so a few moments feel kind of lame, but these three players manage to pick things up, make a little fun of themselves and move right on with more gags, jokes, pratfalls, spit takes and costume changes. It’s an evening of hilarity. Here’s my CityBeat review. Through Aug. 15. Tickets: 513-381-2273

Cincy Shakes’ FREE Shakespeare in the Park tour continues this weekend with a 7 p.m. performances of Romeo and Juliet at Cottell Park in Deerfield (Friday) and the Community Park Pavilion in Milford (Sunday) as well as A Midsummer Night’s Dream — at the Community Pavilion in Glenwood Gardens, a Hamilton County Park. 

Finally, if you’re willing to drive to Dayton for the Human Race Theatre Company’s first-ever Festival of New Works. The weekend offers a collection of readings of five scripts — three plays and two musicals — by local, national and international writers. The lineup includes full readings of Have You Ever Played, Dayton?, a play by Robb Willoughby, and Mann … and Wife, a musical by Douglas J. Cohen and Dan Elish based on the latter’s novel Nine Wives. There will also be three 30-minute “snapshot” readings: Karen Righter’s play, The Day After Epiphany; Central Park Tango, a musical by Nicky Phillips and Robert Gontier; and Scott Stoney’s adaptation of Some Self-Evident Truths, a play based on the journals of Lucille Wheat and Lois Davies. Open talkbacks with the creative teams follow the readings. The “snapshots” (Saturday at 8 p.m.) are presented and ticketed as a group. Readings will be held in the 60-seat Caryl D. Philips Creativity Center of The Human Race and The 212-seat Loft Theatre in downtown Dayton. Info: 937-228-3630 or humanracetheatre.org

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 07.31.2015 68 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 7-31 - hundred days at know theatre - id - abigail bengson -  photo by daniel r. winters (1)

Stage Door

Make ’em Laugh: Midsummer Theater

On Wednesday evening I took a bunch of kids (four elementary-school-age nieces and a nephew in town for a visit) to see a bunch of kids (high schoolers, average age 16) in Hairspray, this summers’ Cincinnati Young People’s Theatre production at the Covedale Center. The verdict: “We loved it.” One of them said, “They did more singing than talking.” (A good thing, in her opinion.) And one even got the message of black and white teens breaking color barriers and just being teens. So the story from 1962 still makes some sense. The CYPT performers come from 33 schools across Greater Cincinnati. It’s a big undertaking to get that so many performers (I counted 70 in the program) working together, plus several more backstage. Tim Perrino has been doing this for 34 years, so he knows how to get the best out of teen performers, and there are some standouts in this cast — especially Julie Deye and Gabe Schenker as the ebullient but fair-minded plus-sized teen and her lumpy mom. The kids are all right! Performances continue through Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: 513-241-6550

The most dazzling show onstage right now is Hundred Days, a Folk Rock Opera, at Know Theatre. It’s 75 minutes of great music written and performed by the dynamic duo of Abigail and Shaun Bengson, backed by five talented musicians and singers. But it’s also a fine piece of theater — a love affair cut short by a fatal illness that’s met head-on with clarity and joy to celebrate what might have been 60 wonderful years in just “100 days.” Great concept, great execution. I gave it a Critic’s Pick in my CityBeat review.

You’ll get a lot of laughs out of Cincinnati Shakespeare’s performance of The Complete History of America (Abridged), largely thanks to the comic talents of actors Justin McCombs, Miranda McGee and Geoffrey Barnes. Even if the script  — by the comic trio who originated The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) — strains a little too hard to be hilarious, playing fast and loose with America’s past, these three know how to turn every scene into a good laugh. Things occasionally fall flat and a few elements are borderline tasteless, but before you know it they’re off and running again with another gag, joke, pratfall, misunderstanding or just tossing a bucket of water. All in good fun; it’s not very profound nor is it intended to be. Here’s my CityBeat review. Through Aug. 15. Tickets: 513-381-2273

If you like your Shakespeare a bit more traditional — but perhaps just a little funny — some of Cincy Shakes' troupe begins their FREE Shakespeare in the Park tour this weekend. Throughout August they’ll be offering performances in parks across Greater Cincinnati and beyond using a handful of young actors handling multiple roles in two-hour reductions of plays by Shakespeare. This weekend you have three chances to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream — at Eden Park’s Seasongood Pavilion on Friday at 7 p.m., at the Harry Whiting Brown Lawn in Glendale on Saturday at 7 p.m. and in Washington Park on Sunday at 6 p.m.

If you haven’t tuned in yet for the third iteration of Serials! at Know Theatre, you might want to show up on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. Each of five plays will have the third of five 15-minute installments; the trick this time out is that the playwrights trade places with each biweekly event, so stories definitely veer off in unexpected and unplanned directions. Don’t worry about catching up — there’s a quick preview as each piece starts. But even more, these are just zany stories, made all the zanier by the format. You’ll have fun watching even if you can’t quite figure out what’s going on. Tickets: 513-300-5669

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.