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.
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.
Aside from Shakespeare's works, the coming season will offer stage versions of two beloved American classics: a new adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age classic The Great Gatsby and the regional premiere of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Daphne du Maurier's thriller, The Birds (familiar to many as a 1963 film by Alfred Hitchcock) will show up in a 2009 adaptation by Irish playwright Conor McPherson (known for numerous works staged locally, including St. Nicholas, The Weir, Port Authority, Shining City and The Seafarer). Next January will bring forth Samuel Beckett’s profound comedy, Waiting for Godot featuring veteran actors Joneal Joplin and Bruce Cromer, and the season concludes in June 2015 with the Cincinnati debut of the Tony-award winning, West-End smash hit comedy, Richard Bean's One Man, Two Guvnors, a 2011 play based on Carlo Goldoni's 1743 comic masterpiece, The Servant of Two Masters.
Tickets for the
2014-2015 season went on sale earlier this month, resulting in a
record-breaking first day of sales on Feb. 3. Single
tickets are now on sale. For more information, go to cincyshakes.com or call the box office at 513-381-2273, x1.
On Wednesday the department of theater and dance at Northern Kentucky University also announced its productions for the 2014-2015 academic year, a mix of classics and contemporary works. The year kicks off in late September with the ancient Greek tragedy The Bacchae by Euripedes. The fall semester also includes the hit 2003 Tony Award-winning musical Hairspray in October-November and, in November-December, Philip Dawkins' Failure: A Love Story, the magical story of three sisters in 1928 Chicago who live and die in a rickety home by the Chicago River. In February, launching the spring semester, NKU will stage the epic musical Les Misérables, the popular masterpiece that affirms the human desire to achieve redemption. The academic year's theater productions will conclude with the 17th Biennial Year End Series Festival of New Plays. During April, the "YES" festival, as it's shorthanded, will present three world-premiere plays which have not yet been selected. Info: theatre.nku.edu or 859-572-5464.
If a classic musical is to your taste, you might try Andrew Lloyd Webber’s epic musical Evita,
in a touring production at the Aronoff Center through March 2. I caught
a performance last evening, and it looks great — some epic scenery and
excellent choreography. Josh Young as Che is charismatic and
strong-voiced in his role as the show’s commentator. Unfortunately,
Caroline Bowman’s Eva Perón gets too shrill way too fast and becomes a
grasping harpy before there’s a chance to be won over by her
Machiavellian charms. As Juan Peron, Sean MacLaughlin looks young and
slimy, without the sinister gravitas that the historical figure
possessed. That doesn’t leave much opportunity to convey the complex
chemistry — passion and manipulation — that bonded them as a political
machine. But the tale of the ambitious young woman who rose to the
highest levels of power in Argentina then crashed and burned is a
memorable modern tragedy, and the show’s rock-opera tunes by Andrew
Lloyd Webber will stick in your head. Tickets: 513-621-ARTS.
Cincinnati Shakespeare is keeping the cast of its recent production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet intact with its current production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. This time around, it’s the story of Hamlet’s college buddies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who move from Shakespeare’s sidelines to Stoppard’s center stage. In this classic 1967 script, the pawns become the central characters, while Prince Hamlet, Queen Gertrude, King Claudius, Ophelia and others wander by. The classic tragedy is turned on its head, and it becomes an existential tragedy for two guys who everyone has a hard time telling apart. Through March 9. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s production of Amy Herzog’s Pulitzer Prize finalist script, 4000 Miles, is onstage at the Shelterhouse Theatre. It’s about a 91-year-old grandmother and her 21-year-old grandson bridging a giant generation gap and finding that they actually have a lot in common. Through March 9. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
It’s the final weekend for several shows that have been pleasing audiences. Nina Raine’s Tribes at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati was originally scheduled to close last Sunday, but to meet ticket demand for the show about coping with deafness — and contentious families — ETC added performances through Saturday. (CityBeat review here.) Tickets: 513-421-3555. … A block away at Know Theatre, the off-kilter script by Steve Yockey, Pluto, winds up on Saturday, too. It’s about dealing with tragedy and grief, told in an inventive, sometimes even humorous, manner. Two of Cincinnati’s finest actors — Annie Fitzpatrick and Tori Wiggins — are in this one, making it very watchable. (CityBeat review here.) Tickets: 513-300-5669 … For the younger set, this weekend offers the final public performance, Saturday at 2 p.m., of Children’s Theatre’s Pinkalicious at the Taft. It’s the story of a girl who can’s stop eating pink cupcakes. Tickets: 800-745-3000.
And here’s a tip for Monday evening: Dayton native Daniel Beaty, who pleased a lot of Playhouse patrons last season with his tour-de-force one-man show, Through the Night, will be in town for a one-night performance to promote his new book, Transforming Pain to Power. His performance (6:30 p.m. in the Marx Theatre) and the book signing afterward in the Rosenthal Plaza) are free, but you need to make a reservation with the Playhouse box office: 513-421-3888.
Last night I caught the opening of 4000 Miles at the Cincinnati Playhouse. What with today being Valentine's Day, this tale of a feisty grandmother and her hippie grandson — separated by a 70-year gap in age — might not seem like a very typical love story. But it's about understanding and finding common ground, and what else is that but true love? Actor Robbie Tann plays 21-year-old Leo and Rosemary Prinz is Vera, his 91-year-old grandmother. You'd think that seven decades might be an uncrossable chasm, but each is a lonely soul — she as the result of old age, he by virtue of the tragic accidental death of his best friend — and they find consolation and support from one another as the become better acquainted. Both actors are delightful in their roles, he kind of spacey but caring, she feisty and loving. If you're looking for a good date night for Valentine's weekend, you should give Amy Herzog's play a chance. It happens to be a very credible script, by the way, having been a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize. Through March 9. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Tonight is the opening for Cincinnati Shakespeare's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard's now-classic through-the-looking-glass take on Hamlet. Since Cincy Shakes just finished a production of the latter, it's the same cast, but with the royals in the background and two lowly minor characters moved to center stage. Their plight? They don't quite understand the intrigues swirling around them, and they wonder about the meaning of their own existence. There's a lot of dark humor, and actors Billy Chace and Justin McComb are just the guys to carry it off. Through: March 9. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
If it's darkness you crave, you might also consider Pluto at Know Theatre. No, it's not about the Disney dog, but rather about unexpected changes in life — like the demotion of the solar system's one-time farthest planet into something less — as well as the Roman god of the underworld. How does all that fit together in a modest contemporary kitchen? Steve Yockey's play is an absurdist study in contemporary angst, an instant of tragedy dissected and set in amber. It's not easy to watch (there's some extreme gun violence), but the show's strong cast, especially Annie Fitzpatrick and Tori Wiggins plus NKU student actor Wesley Carman, make it extremely watchable. You just have one more week to catch this one. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
If you thought you'd missed out on Tribes at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, you actually have a grace period, since the show about deafness and family strife has been extended to Feb. 22. It was originally set to close on Feb. 16; the additional dates should make it possible for anyone who's interested to get tickets. Watching the fine acting performances of guest actor Dale Dymkoski as a young man who has been isolated by deafness and Cincy Shakes regular Kelly Mengelkoch as a young woman, adept with sign language, who is losing her hearing, will make you glad you made the effort to see this one. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
Know Theatre formally introduced its incoming artistic director, Andrew Hungerford, before a full house on Wednesday evening. He might not approach the boundless energy of his predecessor Eric Vosmeier (more on his half-dozen years at the helm here), but Hungerford has a kind of boyish enthusiasm for the job he's taking on that feels fresh and infectious. The crowd of supporters seemed enthusiastic about his engagement and were especially pleased as he filled in details about coming productions for the months ahead in 2014.
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..
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.
Lots of plays not previously seen in Cincinnati are good theater choices this weekend:
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.
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.
Several of our local theaters produce shows this time of year that are a kind of antidote to the usual fare of A Christmas Carol and other happy, merry tales. Three get under way this weekend:
I went to a rockin’ party earlier this week, and you can, too — if you turn up for the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Low Down Dirty Blues, through Dec. 20. That’s right, a whole month of good times and sad in the intimate Shelterhouse Theater, doubling as Big Mama’s after-hours Blues bar. Every year around this time the Playhouse puts on a show as an alternate holiday choice to A Christmas Carol (which gets underway next week). This year it’s a warm-hearted good time featuring three excellent singers and a couple of very accomplished Jazz musicians (especially local Jazz pianist Steve Schmidt) performing off-color tunes, full of double-entendres and scandalous joking. The first half of the two-hour performance is mostly about lusty interaction via tunes like “Rough and Ready Man,” “I Got My Mojo Workin’ ” and “You Bring Out the Boogie in Me.” After intermission the party continues briefly (including some cute audience interaction to the tune of “I’m Not That Kind of Girl” — but then the tone darkens with passionate songs of grief (“Death Letter”), mourning (“Good Morning Heartache”) and then hope (“Change is ’Gonna Come”). Felicia P. Fields, a Broadway veteran who played a major role in the original staging of The Color Purple, anchors (and I use that word quite literally) the banter and the singing, but she is ably matched by Caron “Sugaray” Rayford, a massive force of energy, perspiration and rhythm. Chic Street Man sings and plays several guitars (especially a steel number with a gorgeous ring), and his sly, sinuous presence is a perfect complement to Fields’ and Rayford’s more ebullient performances. Don’t go if you’re offended by sexual innuendo, but if you’re looking for a “low down dirty” time, call now for a ticket: 513-421-3888
One of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, As You Like It, is the first step of holiday happiness at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. The story of tomfoolery and romance in the Forest of Arden kicks off tonight; it’s around until Dec. 12, when it’s followed by the tenth annual staging of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some). In case you missed it, Cincy Shakes announced this week that by mid-2017 it moves to its own spectacular new space in Washington Park, the Otto M. Budig Theatre, with nearly 100 more seats than its Race Street facility. (Read my story in this week's issue for more.) Until then, you need to line up for tickets, since many of the company’s performances sell out quickly. Tickets: 513-381-2273
Another “kind of” holiday show getting started is Know Theatre’s production of All Childish Things, opening tonight and onstage through Dec. 19. In a story set right here in Cincinnati (Norwood, in fact), it’s 2006 and two guys are still yearning for the galactic adventures promised by Star Wars when they were kids. One guy lives in his mom’s basement; the other has a girlfriend who could care less about The Force. They think their big break might be residing in a warehouse full of collectible Star Wars memorabilia. Zany shows rooted in childhood have become a holiday staple at Know Theatre, and this is right up that weird, happy alley. Tickets: 513-300-5669
And if you’re really longing to get the holidays under way, you have the perfect opportunity with a tour stop by a production of White Christmas at the Aronoff (next Tuesday through Dec. 6). It’s a stage version of the popular film; the tour features stage Cincinnati and Broadway veteran Pamela Myers in a cute, outspoken role. She performs a number titled “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” a perfect summary of her illustrious career. Tickets: 513-621-2787
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
I’m in New York City this week to check out some Broadway shows, so I’m missing the opening night of the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Low Down Dirty Blues. It’s the holiday “alternative” to A Christmas Carol, and alternative it is. It’s set in a nameless Blues club on Chicago’s South Side that’s closing for the night. But that’s just when the party heats up as a group of musicians assembles for an after-hours jam session to swap stories and perform favorite tunes, especially numbers from the bawdier side of the Blues, tunes by the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Mama Thornton and more. “It is a spicier kind of Blues, specifically one that has two sides to it," says Dan Wheetman, the production’s co-creator and music director. "On one hand, it is a more intimate look, it is a smaller group and a smaller palate… It’s a story about the people, these people in this club and their stories, which includes the music but it is more of a personal talk about what brought them to where they are.” I’m eager to see it. Onstage through Dec. 20. Tickets: 513-421-3555
It’s that time of year when families begin thinking about going to the theater together. Getting an early start are musical productions for the entire family. Once choice is Seussical, based on the works of Dr. Seuss, at Northern Kentucky University. It opened on Thursday and continues through Nov. 22. Tickets: 859-572-5464 … The other is a production of the musical Mary Poppins by Cincinnati Music Theatre at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater. This is perhaps the city’s most ambitious community theater company, typically undertaking big musicals and doing a good job with them. It opens tonight and continues through Nov. 21. Tickets: 513-621-2787 … If you miss the latter, you’ll have a chance to see a different production: The Covedale Center will be presenting it Nov. 27-Dec. 27.
Continuing and finishing: A keep-’em-guessing murder mystery with just two characters, Sleuth, continues its run at the Carnegie through Nov. 22. (Tickets: 859-957-1940)… This is the final weekend for Mad River Rising at the Cincinnati Playhouse (final performance is Saturday; tickets: 513-421-3888); Andy’s House of [BLANK], an original musical at Know Theater (also winding up on Saturday; tickets: 513-300-5669); and an old-fashioned farce, Fox on the Fairway, at the Covedale (Sunday’s matinee is your last chance; tickets: 513-241-6550).
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
“Florala.” That’s where you are when you head down the ramp to see Know Theatre’s production of Andy’s House of [Blank]. It’s set on the state line between Florida and Alabama, but it’s recreated in two-dimensional cardboard props (telephones and ice cream cones) and decorations (comically taxidermied animals, including the backside of a dog) imaginatively designed and executed by Sarah Beth Hall. The tale is filtered through the often-divergent memories of two guys who were 16 in 1998, holding down their first jobs in roadside oddity shop and museum of “unmailed love letters.” The “guys” are Paul Strickland and Trey Tatum (truly from Florida and Alabama). They serve as the narrators — or perhaps the “recollectors” — of the oddball musical tale of Andy (Christopher Michael Richardson), the proprietor, and Sadie (Erika Kate MacDonald), the girl he had a crush on as a kid. The show was a well-received entry in Know’s “Serials” earlier this year, a story told in five 15-minute episodes. Strickland and Tatum have stitched those pieces together, and director Bridget Leak has given the piece continuity and flow. Their ebullient enthusiasm is obvious from start to finish — Tatum pounds away on an electric keyboard, Strickland (who composed the 20 or so songs) plays guitar and sings almost operatically, and Richardson and MacDonald (both with gorgeous voices) affectingly play two people caught in a looping time warp. In fact, all four characters are living out the theme repeatedly spoken and sung: “Every day is just a variation on a theme.” The music is great, and there are lots of laughs along the way, but the story is a serious, poignant rumination about love, longing and how to move forward by looking back. At two-plus hours (including an intermission) it feels a tad long, but every moment is a treat to watch. Onstage through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669
Opening this week: Anthony Schaffer’s Sleuth, a humorous but taut murder mystery is at The Carnegie in Covington. It’s a two-man show about a famous mystery writer who’s out to murder a man having an affair with his wife. There are a lot of twists and turns in this tale, so it’s fun to watch if you pay close attention. Through Nov. 14. Tickets: 859-957-1840 … Playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa fascinated Cincinnati Playhouse audiences back in 2013 with his “sequel” to The Crucible, Abigail/1702. Falcon Theatre is offering two related one-acts by him, The Mystery Plays, inspired by the tradition of medieval theater that dealt with the imponderables of death, the afterlife, religion, faith and forgiveness — but from a thoroughly American perspective. In the first piece, a horror film director survives a train wreck only to be haunted by someone who didn’t make it; in the second, a woman travels to a rural Oregon town to make peace with the man who murdered her parents and her sister: He’s her older brother. Through Nov. 21 at the Monmouth Theatre in Newport. Tickets: 513-479-6783
Continuing: Cincinnati Shakespeare’s excellent production of Arthur Miller’s classic drama Death of a Salesman has its final performance on Saturday evening. It’s worth seeing, but tickets might be scarce. Tickets: 513-381-2273 … Mad River Rising at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a compelling study of place and aging, an old man trying to forestall the sale of his family farm. It continues through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-421-3888 … Covedale Center’s staging of the comedy Fox on the Fairway, a tribute to cinematic farces from the 1930s and 1940s, is onstage until Nov. 15. Tickets: 513-241-6550
Tune in to WVXU (FM 91.7) on Saturday evening at 8 p.m. to catch LA Theater Works’ production of Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man. This show, about a young Jewish Confederate soldier marking Passover 1865 with his family’s newly freed slaves in a crumbling mansion in Richmond, Va., at the end of the Civil War, is a powerful work. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati staged this show very effectively in 2012.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
There are almost too many good shows for you to enjoy this weekend, but depending on what you like, you’ll probably find it somewhere.
Cincy Shakes production of Death of a Salesman doesn’t open until tonight, but all sings point to a strong production, headlined by one of our region’s best actors, Bruce Cromer, as beaten-down Willie Loman, who I interviewed for my CityBeat column this week. He’s matched with another fine local stage performer Annie Fitzpatrick as Willie’s faithful but worried wife; two of the Shakespeare team’s excellent company of actors, Jared Joplin and Justin McCombs, play Willie’s sons who can’t quite bear up to the weight of his expectations. Arthur Miller’s play is one of the greatest, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award. So if it’s serious drama, get tickets for this one, onstage through Nov. 7: 513-381-2273.
Want something more frivolous and entertaining, but still a great performance? Show up at Ensemble Theatre for Buyer and Cellar, a one-man show about a guy pretending to be a shopkeeper in a vast basement treasure trove of acquisitions on Barbra Streisand’s Malibu estate. It’s 90 minutes of non-stop storytelling, rooted in a real place — but with a fantasized chain of events. Actor Nick Cearley is a comic gem, performing in a smartly written script that requires him to conjure up not just Alex, the actor hired to wait on Barbra, “the customer” (one and only), but the singer herself and a handful of others. Great fun to watch. Here’s my review. Through Nov. 1. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
If you love a good Broadway musical, you need to show up at the Aronoff and score a seat for the touring production of Pippin. (CityBeat review here.) It’s a show from 40 years ago (by Stephen Schwartz, the creator of Wicked more recently), but this version of an award-winning Broadway revival from two years ago is full of Cirque du Soleil-styled acrobatics, as well as some great songs and performers. It’s a sort of fairytale embroidered from a real historical character from the 9th century, the son of the monarch who launched the Holy Roman Empire. It’s about the young Pippin’s arduous search for a meaningful life. The “Leading Player,” a kind of emcee/storyteller, is Gabrielle McClinton, who handled the role on Broadway for part of its two-year run there, and Charlemagne, Pippin’s father, is played by veteran actor John Rubinstein — who originated the title role back in 1972. (He’s 68 now, but still an energetic, animated performer.) Tickets: 513-621-2787.
Shows previous opened that are also worth seeing include the very serious drama Extremities at the Incline Theater in E. Price Hill (tickets: 513-241-6550), onstage through Sunday; and Sex with Strangers, a very modern romance about writers who envy one another’s careers and lust after one another’s bodies, has another week and a half at the Cincinnati Playhouse (tickets: 513-421-3888).
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.
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
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.
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
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.