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by Rick Pender 03.15.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Photo: Ryan Kurtz

Stage Door: Recognizing African-American Stories

February is Black History Month, a period when the arts traditionally wake up and pay attention to African-American stories and artists. I'm always a bit troubled by this segmenting, so I want to commend both the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati for presenting two fine productions of shows featuring African Americans in engaging stories — in the middle of March. They represent two of this weekend's best choices.

At ETC, Black Pearl Sings! features two outstanding local actresses. Annie Fitzpatrick plays Susannah Mullally, a folk music researcher in the 1930s; Torie Wiggins is Alberta "Pearl" Johnson, a prisoner (for a violent but probably justified crime) who has a remarkable recollection of songs she learned as a child from her family. They form an uneasy alliance that turns into a guarded friendship, and Fitzpatrick and Wiggins have a delightful interplay and chemistry. I heard that this might be the 40th production Fitzpatrick has done at ETC; she's a versatile actress, and she convincingly creates the uptight but driven Susannah. Wiggins, who graduated from the drama program at CCM, earns her Equity card on this production: Chronologically, she's probably a tad young for the role, but she so wholly embodies Pearl's feisty character that it makes no difference. Hers is a tour-de-force rendition, musically and theatrically. This one is a definite must-see. Box office: 513-421-3555.

Let's give the Playhouse — and new artistic director Blake Robison — props for finally getting around to staging a show by Horton Foote, who died in 2009 at the age of 92. He was a prolific dramatist and screenwriter (he wrote screenplays for To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies) for years, and his play A Trip to Bountiful is a lovely, emotional paean to the notion that "there's no place like home." Foote wrote the play about an elderly Texas wido pining to return to her hometown in 1953 (as a play for television, in fact) and it was an award-winning 1985 movie  with a white cast. For the Playhouse, Timothy Douglas has changed up the story by overlaying an African-American filter over the story and casting veteran actress Lizann Mitchell as Carrie Watts. She's a dream of an actress, portraying a tiny Texas cyclone of energy with a wry sense of humor. The story is nothing too innovative — she runs away from a cramped apartment where she lives with her son and his demanding wife to return to her girlhood home, which has all but disappeared — but the truth and dignity of the tale (and Mitchell's performance) make this show worth seeing. Box office: 513-421-3888.

Finally, I need to mention Clifton Players production of A Behanding in Spokane by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. He's the writer of dark tales like The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Cripple of Inishmaan, as well as the even darker film In Bruges. Clifton Players perform at Clifton Performance Theatre, a tiny, intimate storefront space on Ludlow Avenue. I've heard lots of positive remarks about this production. Be prepared to be shocked and entertained by the show's comic violence. Tickets: 513-861-7469.

 
 
by Rick Pender 03.13.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
americani idiot (tour) - alex nee as johnny, trent saunders as st. jimmy - photo victoria theatre association

Review: 'American Idiot: The Musical'

Dayton’s Victoria Theatre presents Tony Award-nominated, Green Day-inspired musical

Critic's Pick

As I ate dinner on Tuesday evening before attending a performance at Dayton’s Victoria Theatre, my server asked, “Did you hear that Green Day is performing next door?” I had to set her straight. “Well, not exactly. Green Day’s music is being performed next door — it’s a Broadway show that uses the tunes from their American Idiot recording.” I caught the opening night of a three-day gig (through Thursday, March 14) by an energetic touring company that’s recreating the Tony Award-nominated American Idiot: The Musical. If you have time to make an hour north on I-75, you won’t be disappointed.

Green Day’s powerful Punk score — their 2004 album was conceived as a “Punk Rock Opera” — is the perfect soundtrack for the story of three disaffected guys who take different downward spirals when confronted with the numbing boredom of everyday life, “alien nation,” as they sing in the opening number. Johnny is the central character, a wannabe musician who yearns to make it in the city; he convinces his buddies Will and Tunny to join him in escaping suburbia.

Their paths diverge quickly: Will’s girlfriend is pregnant, so he stays to sort things out; Tunny is quickly disaffected by urban life and captivated by dreams of military success; and Johnny, not quite willing to admit his loneliness, dreams about a girl he sees and gets caught by a drug dealer — who’s probably a figment of his imagination. Things don’t turn out well for any of them, and by show’s end they’re back home, chastened by the experience — Tunny’s leg lost in combat, Johnny’s ego shattered and Will’s relationship in ruins. But they seem to be more accepting of their fates. The curtain call features the entire company playing guitars and performing “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” a number that reflects their disillusion, reminiscence and (maybe) forward motion.

The current tour has a young cast (it’s a non-Equity tour) without a ton of experience, but that’s perfect for this show, which demands a stage full of angry energy. They hurtle through the 100-minute performance, diving right into the title tune with thrashing energy demanded by Green Day’s music. (For theater fans, it’s worth noting that Green Day’s music has been orchestrated and arranged by Tom Kitt, composer of the Tony Award-winning next to normal, a show that has a score with similar power.) Steven Hoggett’s pounding choreography captures the physicality of Rock stage performance, rendered rapidly and rhythmically with tons of repetitive angular motion.

Alex Nee, Casey O’Farrell and Thomas Hettrick, as Johnny, Will and Tunny, turn in credible performances of roles that don’t have a lot of depth — and that’s OK. American Idiot is more about emotions than storytelling, and they each capture that: Nee’s hallucinatory attraction to destructive behavior is convincing, O’Farrell’s frustration with being trapped and left behind is believable, and Hettrick’s dreams of heroism and his wake-up call to a damaged life are rendered credibly. Female roles are more stereotyped — two of them don’t even have names: Whatsername and The Extraordinary Girl — but Alyssa DiPalma, Jenna Rubah and Kennedy Caughell (as Heather, the mother of Will’s kid) have fine voices. DiPalma and Rubah have featured choreography (Rubah does an aerial ballet with Hettrick as he recovers in a military hospital) that is effective.

The touring production retains Christine Jones’s scenic design and Kevin Adams’s lighting design, both of which landed 2010 Tony Awards. The set has a floor-to-ceiling rear wall sporting two dozen video screens that support the action — from an opening barrage of mind-numbing, multi-channel news coverage to scene-to-scene punctuation with wry titles. Additionally, the screens are sometimes fed live imagery from an onstage camera, especially when St. Jimmy (Trent Saunders) entices Johnny into the world of addiction, but also during “Favorite Son,” Tunny’s late-night infomercial of military recruitment (performed with muscle-bound humor by Jared Young, backed up by four dancers in sparkling short dresses).

The grunge of American Idiot is made all the more vivid by the green velvet and gilt trim of the Victoria Theatre in downtown Dayton (138 North Main St.). While the nihilistic young men sing, “I don’t care if you don’t care,” I suspect that a lot of people will care about this show, one that reaches out and grabs audiences by the scruff of their necks and never lets up. But bear in mind: Only two more performances — Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m. Tickets ($46-$67, half-off student rush, day of show): 937-228-3630 or victoriatheatre.com.

 
 
by Rick Pender 03.08.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage 2-20 - cast of leveling up (playhouse) - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Tick Tock...

Can you hear the clock ticking? That's not just because this weekend marks the "spring forward" to Daylight Savings Time early on Sunday. It's also because several theater productions are just about over: If you want to see them, you only have a few days left.

Leveling Up, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's show about video gamers, is as contemporary as can be. One of its characters is recruited by the NSA to fly drones into war zones — activity that totally blurs the boundary between the real world and cyberspace, not to mention the moral boundaries between killing video villains and actual living people. (Review here.) The show is also about taking charge of your life in a world of maturity and responsibility, rather than retreating into simulated space. Deborah Zoe Laufer's script uses four characters, all twentysomethings, who will seem like people you know — their language, their actions, their concerns are the stuff of contemporary life. Box office: 513-421-3888.

If you want something that's quite intentionally removed from everyday life, you need to check out the wry and ironic musical theater piece at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera. (Review here.) It's an allegory and critique of corrupt capitalism, told with dark humor in a production by CCM Opera chair Robin Guarino (who has staged productions at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City). She knows how to present the stark humor and cynical attitudes in Brecht's script, and the talented CCM musical theater performers (accompanied by a small onstage orchestra dominated by woodwinds and brass) provide great renderings of Weill's score. This is a rarely produced work, definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-556-4183.

Perhaps you prefer your cynicism in an 18th century mode: That's what you'll get with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production of Dangerous Liaisons, a story of the idle rich who entertain themselves by seducing and manipulating their naive colleagues — or their innocent offspring. (Review here.) It's not a pretty story, in that the central characters are scheming and out for their own entertainment and pleasure, often for revenge. But if you like nasty behavior, this production has it in spades. Two of CSC's best veterans, Corinne Mohlenhoff and Giles Davies, play the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, a pair of arch schemers who relish making a mess of others' lives. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but it's a literate, cleverly plotted piece of theater. Box office: 513-381-2273 x.1. 

The previous three shows finish their runs this weekend. When the Rain Stops Falling at Know Theatre has one more week (it closes on March 16), but you should order your tickets now: I expect the final performances will be hard to get into on short notice. (Review here.) This is one of the best shows that Know has staged in several seasons, a fine, complex script performed by a talented cast of nine, directed by Cincy Shakes Brian Isaac Phillips. (Four of the cast members are CSC regulars.) They play four generations of two families, strangely and fatefully intertwined. The story weaves back and forth between 1959 and 2039; at first it seems to be disjointed, then things suddenly beging to fall into place. By the time it's over — with several shocking moments along the way — you'll see how it all fits together. If you haven't seen this one yet, this is the ticket you need to get. Box office: 513-300-5669.

 
 
by Rick Pender 03.01.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage 2-20 - when the rain stops falling (know) cast at table - photo deogracias lerma

Stage Door: Old and New

If you're looking for an unusual but gripping theatrical production this weekend, you should head straight to UC's College-Conservatory of Music for The Threepenny Opera. Don't think that this is some stuffy old piece from 1928, although that's when the show with a script by Bertoldt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill was first performed. It was radical and challenging, mocking the establishment and paying no heed to social structures. This musical theater production, staged by CCM Opera Chair Robin Guarino, feels lethal and threatening. You'll recognize a tune or two ("Mack the Knife" is the show's familiar tune), and if you've seen Cabaret or Urinetown, you'll recognize how this piece influenced those works. Guarino's production, with a big cast and an imaginative set (designed by Tony Award winner John Arnone), captures the vitality and spirit of the original work. I doubt we'll see another production of this one very soon, so here's your chance to catch a bit of theater history — and be both entertained and provoked. Definitely worth seeing. Through March 10. Box office: 513-556-4183.

If you haven't yet seen Know Theatre's production of When the Rain Stops Falling, that's another one you should have in your sights. Andrew Bovell's dense, imaginative script is a compelling story of multiple, intersecting generations of two families. (Review here.) The taut, engaging 100-minute production, staged by Cincinnati Shakespeare's Brian Phillips, features several of that company's best actors, as well as several other local standouts. One of the best productions from Know Theatre in several seasons. It's onstage through March 16. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

I haven't seen it (alas, my schedule just doesn't have room for everything), but Legally Blonde: The Musical at NKU has received props from the League of Cincinnati Theatres as an entertaining production.
It's the story of Elle Woods, spurned by her fiancé, off to Harvard Law School in pursuit of him, only to discover that she's got the smarts to be more than just a girlfriend. Not profound, but surefire entertainment. Through Sunday. Tickets: 859-572-5464

This is the second and final weekend for Catie O'Keefe's world premiere, Slow Descent from Heaven, presented by New Edgecliff Theatre. (O'Keefe is NET's playwright-in-residence). It's being performed in a converted classroom at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, directed by Ed Cohen. The central character, Molly (Elizabeth A. Harris), is a NASA scientist whose story is bookended by space shuttle disasters in 1986 and 2003. An angry, tense character, her involvement with men has affected her career and her attitude. The story has a reverse chronology, so we peal backwards in time to learn more about why she's the way she is. This is a good chance to see an original script by a local writer. Tickets: 513-399-6638.
 
 
by Rick Pender 02.24.2013
Posted In: Visual Art, Theater, Arts community at 10:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage_blake robison - photo sarah bradley

Flying High at the Playhouse Next Fall

According to Cincinnati Playhouse's new artistic director, Blake Robison, "I'm thrilled to give everyone a sneak peak at our upcoming 2013-2014 season by announcing our first two Marx productions." Behind this announcement is the fact that the two shows are co-productions with Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, which kind of spilled the beans with an announcement a few weeks back of its two opening shows, which are swapped with the Playhouse. But that's neither here nor there, since they both mean theatrical excitement for audiences here in Cincinnati.

The Playhouse will open the season in September with Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan's Fly, the powerful story of World War II's famed Tuskegee Airmen. The production, staged by Khan, combines live action and video projections with a tap dancer who offers insights into the hopes, fears, angers and triumphs faced by the airmen as they fight two wars — one in Europe and another back home against a rising tide of racism. Following Fly (which will run Sept. 12-Oct. 5), the Playhouse will present Kander & Ebb's classic musical Cabaret (Oct. 24-Nov. 16), a show with iconic choreography and unforgettable songs. It's set in pre-World War II Berlin, where a rising storm of Nazism swirls outside the decadent Kit Kat Club. This one will be staged by Broadway director and choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge, nominated for a Tony and Drama Desk awards in 2010 for her much-praised revival of Ragtime.

Robison says, "Fly is a truly unique play that brings the important and inspirational story of the Tuskegee Airmen alive for adults and young people alike. Cabaret marks the return of the big Broadway musical to the Marx stage. I've always loved Kander and Ebb for their ability to explore characters and stories in depth while entertaining the heck out of you."

 
 
by Rick Pender 02.24.2013
Posted In: Theater at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
know at night - photo eric vosmeier

Know Theatre Adds to Current Season

Announces the regional premiere of Mike Bartlett's 'Cock' April-May

Know Theatre today announced the regional premiere of Mike Bartlett's provocative play Cock to fill another slot in its 2012-2013 season. The show will run from April 12 to May 11, 2013, at the Over-the-Rhine theater's Jackson Street stage. It's just the second American production of the show, following its 2009 premiere at London's Royal Court Theatre. (Know is actually just a week into its season "opener," a bravura production of Andrew Bovell's When the Rain Stops Falling that's earned praise from critics and audiences.) Last fall the theater company announced a more flexible approach to scheduling, rather than announcing an entire season of shows: “This is one of the first victories of the new scheduling model," says Producing Artistic Director Eric Vosmeier. "Rights for this production have only just become available, and because we've created a schedule that can bend and flex, we can schedule a production almost immediately. We're thrilled to be one of first post-New York productions of this work.”

Cock is a tense comedy about sexual identity. The show explores one man’s choices about which path of love he will pursue. When John takes a break from his longtime boyfriend, the last thing he expects is to fall in love with a woman. Finding himself trapped in a tug-of-war between two lovers, he has a choice to make as he navigates his sexuality, selfhood and the intersection of the two. Bartlett's script opens a dialogue about what people are physically attracted to and why. Cock is staged without scenery or props, enabling the audience to focus on the relationships. The story is described as "an exercise in emotional carnage" in which characters know what they want and are willing to fight for it.

Vosmeier saw the show in New York City last fall. “It's a kind of pansexual love story that's told very simply without all the trappings of a traditional production. A very simple set, no props, minimal lighting and sound all conspire to allow the actors and Bartlett's text to take center stage and shine.” Know's production will be staged by Brian Robertson, who teaches in the theater and dance department at Northern Kentucky University. No casting has been announced.

 
 
by Rick Pender 02.15.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage 2-20 - when the rain stops falling (know) cast at table - photo deogracias lerma

Stage Door: Stop Waffling

If you're waffling between whether to go to the theater or do something else this weekend, let me help you decide: You should get a ticket to see When the Rain Stops Falling at Know Theatre. It's running through March 16, but it's going to be an in-demand ticket soon: I gave it a Critic's Pick in CityBeat (review here), the League of Cincinnati Theatres bestowed eight nominations on it (I believe that's the most they've given to any production this season), and everyone I've talked to has been breathless in their praise of the script, the cast, the design — well, the entire production.

Andrew Bovell's play bounces around in time between 1959 and 2039 and between the histories of four generations of two families. That might sound a bit complicated or confusing, but it's not: There are parallels and intersections that slowly make sense, and the play uses language and imagery to bring the stories together into a coherent narrative by play's end.

Two characters are played by two different actresses, representing younger and older incarnations of these unusual women: One is an intellectual in her early years, but becomes emotionally distant due to a personal trauma; the other is a free-spirited young woman whose life turns dramatically and becomes an older woman with fragmented memories and a tenuous grip on the present. The stories are about fathers and sons, parents and children, and how actions by one generation reverberate down the line. Bovell's script reinforces these echoes with lines and artifacts that recur in different contexts. It's a brilliant piece of writing, and director Brian Phillips (he's artistic director at Cincinnati Shakespeare) uses movement and scene intersections to tell the story with nine actors (four from his Cincy Shakes company). The LCT recognition singled out three performers, but I'd suggest that the show is powerful because the entire ensemble is operating in a powerful, parallel manner. You don't want to miss this one. Box office: 513-300-5669

On Thursday evening I attended Leveling Up at the Cincinnati Playhouse, a world premiere by Deborah Zoe Laufer. It's an insightful slice of contemporary life, three young men and a girlfriend who are obsessed with video gaming, stalled in their post-college lives. They spend 20 hours a day online, and their social skills (if they had them previously) have deteriorated amid the rubble of a basement game room in Las Vegas.

Laufer's script will leave you feeling like you've eavesdropped on real life (in fact, they're already playing when you enter the Shelterhouse Theatre — although the "screen" they watch is the theater's invisible fourth wall: They are staring forward at the central audience section and their attention never wavers, even when they're having distracted conversations about life. The divide between their world and being "IRL" ("in real life" as they shorthand it) increasingly and distressingly — and sometimes comically — blurs. Laufer's metaphor about "leveling up" in games and its parallel to stepping up to levels of maturity gives the show meaning and depth. The young cast are entertaining and convincing. I know this show will appeal to young audiences, but I heard many in the audience after the 90-minute performance who were impressed with the story and what it tells us about society today. It's worth noting that this weekend the Cincinnati Playhouse has two world premieres on its stages, which Abigail/1702 (review here) on its mainstage. Box office: 513-421-3888.

Opening tonight is a production of Dangerous Liaisons at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. It's Christopher Hampton's stage play that inspired the 1988 film many will recall featuring Glenn Close and John Malkovich as manipulative French nobility who play games with young innocents (including Michelle Pfeiffer). For CSC, the cast includes two popular performers from the past: Giles Davies as the Vicomte de Valmont and Corinne Mohlenhoff as the Marquise de Merteuil, the scheming pair who put devious plots in motion. This promises to be a delicious drama. Box office: 513-381-2273 x1. 


 
 
by Rick Pender 02.08.2013
Posted In: Visual Art, Theater, Arts community at 08:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
todo_onstage_whentherainstopsfalling_deograciaslerma

Stage Door: Something Old, Something New

A new round of shows comes your way this weekend (while several good ones remain onstage, including Freud's Last Session at Ensemble Theatre and Abigail/1702 at the Cincinnati Playhouse). Here are a few choices that are just opening:

Know Theatre is finally getting around to its first full-fledged production of the season, Andrew Bovell's award-winning drama, When the Rain Stops Falling. (The playwright's Speaking in Tongues was a much admired production at the Cincinnati Playhouse a year ago.) An intricate fabric of overlapping connections, Bovell's 2010 script moves seamlessly through time and across continents between the years of 1959 and 2039. In a world where the rain rarely stops falling, four generations of a family search for truth and hope to mend broken connections. What they discover is the impossibility of escaping the past. The production should be all the more interesting since it's being directed by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's Brian Isaac Phillips and features a cast of nine excellent actors, four of whom are CSC regulars. It will be onstage through March 16. Box office: 513-300-5669.

To see another award winner, you need to head up I-75 to Dayton where the Human Race Theatre Company is offering the regional premiere of Eric Simonson's bio-play, Lombardi. Set in 1965, it's a portrait of the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers through the eyes of a young reporter assigned to follow the sports icon, a man full of passion and drive without equal. The show had a recent run on Broadway, and I expect it will attract an audience not normally drawn to the theater. Through Feb. 24. Box office: 937-228-6830

Falcon Theater, which presents its shows in the tiny Monmouth Theatre in Newport, is staging the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning play Doubt, a success on Broadway, at the Cincinnati Playhouse, and on movie screens. It's the provocative story of a starchy nun who thinks it's possible that a priest has abused one of her students. Although she's not sure, her accusations have dire ramifications. Through Feb. 23. Box office: 513-479-6783

Finally, a blast from the past at UC's College-Conservatory of Music: William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life. Set in October 1939 in a run-down waterfront dive bar on the docks of San Francisco, the script is full of colorful, eccentric characters and portrays the love and follies of human nature. It's being staged by veteran faculty member Diane Kvapil with a cast of 29. This production has a short run (one weekend, wrapping up with a performance in Patricia Corbett Theatre on Sunday at 2 p.m.) Box office: 513-556-4183


 
 
by Rick Pender 02.01.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
brent vimtrup as king richard ii - cincinnati shakespeare company - photo by rich sofranki

Stage Door: Closing Shows

No new shows opened this week. But several will close this weekend, so it's your last chance to see them. At the top of that list I would put Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production of Richard II (Review here). If you're a completist, this is a rare chance to catch a show that's produced very infrequently. (CSC's staging is its first in 19 seasons, leaving it just one shy of producing all 38 of Shakespeare's surviving plays.) But an even more important reason is that actor Brent Vimtrup offers a breathtaking portrait of a weak king (he ruled in the 14th century) who questioned his own ability to reign, decided to hand over his throne and then agonized over relinquishing his "God-given" right. Vimtrup makes Richard real and human in some unexpected ways; it's a performance that's definitely worth seeing. It doesn't hurt that the script is entirely in verse — CSC's actors know how to revel in this language, so the words are wondrous things to hear. But you last chances are this weekend; the final performance is Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

A British king of a different sort is onstage at the Carnegie in Covington, where the musical
Camelot is on view in a concert staging (Review here). The mythical King Arthur — he of chivalry and knighthood and the Round Table — is the subject, as well as his beautiful Queen Guinevere and his valiant retainer Sir Lancelot. Like Richard, Arthur has some shortcomings — hey, we're all human, right? — but his problems are more about being too idealistic and trusting. The truth about Camelot is that the story is kind of choppy and the characters rather one-dimensional, but Lerner and Loewe's music is beautiful, especially in this production, where some great voices are accompanied by an ensemble of musicians from the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, conducted by the CCO's Mischa Santora. The show is minimally staged and costumed, but its maximally sung. This one wraps up with a 3 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

Two other productions that are definitely worth seeing: The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's world premiere of
Abigail/1702 (through Feb. 17, 513-421-3888) (Review here), a spooky sequel to Arthur Miller's The Crucible, and Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's regional premiere of the recent Off-Broadway hit Freud's Last Sesson (through Feb. 16, 513-421-3555) (Review here). The latter is an imagined conversation between Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis about some big issues of life and death, faith and belief. It's a very thought-provoking script, performed at ETC by two fine actors, Bruce Cromer and Barry Mulholland. This one was scheduled to close on Feb. 10, but demand for tickets led to an extension. Take advantage of it!

 
 
by Rick Pender 01.25.2013
Posted In: Theater at 09:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
a&c1_abigail1702_photo_clintonbphotography

Stage Door: Good vs. Evil

The clash of good and evil seems to be on the mind of most of our local theaters this week as numerous openings bring plenty of offerings for you to choose from.

Abigail/1702 at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a kind of sequel to Arthur Miller's The Crucible. This new play by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (it's actually a world premiere) takes the character of Abigail Williams, the villainous and spiteful catalyst for the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, and moves her 10 years beyond. She's living in Boston, an outcast caring for people afflicted with the "pox" — and haunted by her past. She knows her actions in Salem were evil, perhaps inspired by the Devil himself. How she copes with the current events of her life is very much dictated by her actions from the past. This is a fascinating variation on a familiar character, told with an air of supernatural events and eerie sights and sounds. Box office: 513-421-3888.

Freud's Last Session at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati puts a debate about the existence of God front and center, with the distance between good and evil or right and wrong as the battleground. Psychoanalyst and atheist Sigmund Freud is dying of oral cancer; he invites to his London flat a young academic and newly converted Christian, C. S. Lewis (who later wrote the Christian allegory The Chronicles of Narnia). On the September day in 1939 when England declares war on Germany — perhaps another clash of good and evil — they meet for a conversation. The play is almost all talking and very little action, but the clash of ideas is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. That's made especially true by two fine actors: Bruce Cromer (the Playhouse's longstanding Ebenezer Scrooge and Cincinnati Shakespeare's recent Atticus Finch) as the earnest Lewis, and Barry Mulholland (a local newcomer, but a veteran actor) as the skeptical Freud. This one will make you think. Box office: 513-421-3555.

Camelot at Covington's Carnegie Center offers a distilled version of the Broadway hit from 1960. It's presented as a concert, singers backed up by members of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, led by its maestro Mischa Santora. The story of King Arthur's court, a place of goodness and justice brought down by an illicit love affair, is another glimpse of the good and evil affect history — even if it's mythic history. Former NKU professor Mark Hardy is back in town to play Arthur. Through Feb. 3. Box office: 859-957-1940.

The evils of racial injustice are at the heart and soul of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Memphis, which has a touring production at the Aronoff through Feb. 3. Set in the 1950s, it's about a white radio DJ who digs black music long before it became mainstream. His love of the music leads him to a romance with a talented singer, and that causes complications in a town where black and white don't mingle without serious repercussions. Of course, it's a musical, so this doesn't dig too deeply into the issues, but it's definitely a reminder of a time and place that feels very foreign to us today — even if some attitudes persist. Ultimately, it's about the power of music to bridge difficult boundaries, and that's a good message. Box: 800-987-2787.

 
 

 

 

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by Rick Pender 09.26.2014 6 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 07:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 9-26 little dog laughed by new edgecliff theatre - nic pajic, jared earland, erin ward -  photo mikki schaffner

Stage Door: Dirty Dancing, Laughing Dogs and More

To see some of Cincinnati's finest actors working together in close quarters, check out Clifton Players' production of Kevin Crowley's new play The Riverside, onstage through Saturday at Clifton Performance Theatre (located just west of the Clifton/Ludlow business district at 404 Ludlow). It's 1989 and the denizens of a fictional bar in a very real Mt. Adams are riled up over Pete Rose's battle with the baseball commissioner gambling problems as well as the imminent closing of the family-owner bar where they all hang out. Although a few of the characters are rather caricatured, it's evident that Crowley is a close observer of everyday people. They drink and fight, love and cheat. And they have their passions, feelings that bubble up and over. The theater is a small space with seating for just a few dozen, but that's part of the fun — you feel like you're one of the regulars at the Riverside. Tickets ($25): https://cpt.tixato/com/buy

I caught a performance of Dirty Dancing, a musical based on the iconic 1987 movie about sensual dancing and the intermingling of guests and staff at a posh resort in the Catskills in 1963. This touring show is presented by Broadway in Cincinnati at the Aronoff Center, even though it has yet to land on Broadway. It uses a lot of creative video and projections, a constant reminder that its roots are cinematic. But it has an ensemble of vigorous dancers, especially Jillian Mueller as idealistic Frances "Baby" Houseman, who's eager to grow up, and Samuel Pergande as bad-boy dance instructor Johnny Castle. There's also Jenny Winton, whose dancing is especially watchable as the very sexy Penny Johnson. This is a dance show from start to finish, using familiar Pop tunes from the '60s plus a lot of sambas and rumbas. I realized as the performance  was winding up that the central characters never sang — not once. Mueller and Pergande look great as they recreate the iconic movie roles created by Jennifer Gray and Patrick Swayze, but virtually all the singing is handled by ensemble members Doug Carpenter and Jennlee Shallow — powerful vocalists who handle a number of singing styles, but who especially elevate the temperature with the show's best-known numbers, including "The Time of My Life." Don't go expecting great acting beyond the leads: Most of the rest of the roles range from shallow to silly. But trust me, you'll be surrounded by people who know and love this story, and they're having a good time, waiting until the moment when Johnny shouts, "Don't put Baby in the corner!" Through Oct. 5. Tickets: $39-$89: 513-621-2787

New Edgecliff Theatre has finally found a new home, Hoffner Lodge (4120 Hamilton Ave., Northside), after a season at the Aronoff. NET's first production at the former St. Patrick's church will be Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed, a very funny four-character comedy from 2006 about a Hollywood star, his controlling agent, his boyfriend and the boyfriend's girlfriend. Yes, it's that complicated, and that's the source of much of the humor as the agent tries to keep the lid on the gossip about her star client. Through Oct. 11. Tickets ($20-$27): 888-428-7311

A couple of well-received shows are still running, including Tennessee Williams' classic drama A Streetcar Named Desire at the Covedale Center (through Oct. 5; tickets: 513-241-6550), a stage version of The Great Gatsby at Cincinnati Shakespeare (through Oct. 4; tickets 513-381-2273), and a fast-paced mystery, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club, at the Cincinnati Playhouse (through Oct. 4; tickets: 513-421-3888). Finally, this weekend is your last chance to see Showbiz Players' staging of the tongue-in-cheek musical Reefer Madness, about the "dangers" of marijuana, at the Carnegie in Covington. Tickets ($19.50-$22.50): 859-957-1940.
 
 
by Rick Pender 09.19.2014 13 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
the riverside _daniel c britt _l_ and gary mcgurk_r_ photo provided

Stage Door: Riverside, Reefer and Sondheim

There are several good productions onstage around town — check out CityBeat coverage of Hands on a Hardbody (a musical at ETC), The Great Gatsby (a classic American novel adapted for the stage at Cincy Shakes), Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club (a new adventure for the great detective at the Cincinnati Playhouse) and Tennessee Williams' prize-winning A Streetcar Named Desire (at the Covedale) — but if you've seen those, you have other choices for onstage entertainment. Here are three suggestions for shows a little more off the beaten path:

Local actor/director/writer Kevin Crowley has written a play called The Riverside, rooted in Cincinnati (Crowley is a member of a family that's lived locally for generations) and getting a production — he's directing it, too — at Clifton Performance Theatre, just west of the Clifton/Ludlow business district (404 Ludlow). It's set in an imaginary (or rather an imagined) bar called the Riverside, where a bunch of folks in 1989 are following the Pete Rose case about gambling that eventually got him banned from baseball. But there's a lot more happening — like protests in Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin Wall. In CPT's tiny space is filled up with a lot of talent — Michael Shooner, Daniel Britt, Buz Davis, Mike Dennis, Mindy Heithaus, Reggie Willis, Mark Bowen, MaryKate Moran, Gary McGurk, Pete Wood, Cathy Springfield and Paul Morris — playing folks who hang out and argue about what's going on. I haven't caught this one yet, but everyone who has says it's worth seeing. Through Sept. 27. Tickets ($25): https://cpt.tixato/com/buy

Community theater company Showbiz Players is staging the musical Reefer Madness at the Carnegie in Covington. It opens tonight (and runs through Sept. 28). This tongue-in-cheek show was inspired by a very serious film from 1936 designed to inspire fear and loathing when clean-cut kids fall prey to marijuana. The producers "warn" that it contains adult humor, religious parody and drug use — and note that it will go "straight to your head." Should be a lot of fun for those mature enough to get the jokes ... Tickets ($19.50-$22.50): 859-957-1940

Side by Side by Sondheim was the first musical revue created using songs by the guy who wrote the music and lyrics for shows including Company, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Gypsy and A Little Night Music. That was in 1976 in London, but the tunes are just as fresh and vibrant today as they were nearly four decades ago. Middletown Lyric Theatre is presenting this collection of 25 numbers for two weekends (tonight and tomorrow, as well as Sept. 26-27) — using seven singers and two pianists. Tickets ($15): 513-425-7140
 
 
by Rick Pender 09.12.2014 20 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 9-12 - sherlock holmes and the adventure of the suicide club - cincinnati playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Sherlock Holmes & More

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club opened last night at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. It's a new adventure for the Victorian sleuth. How can that be, you might ask, if you're a Sherlock fan — this isn't a familiar title. That's because playwright Jeffrey Hatcher picked up Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's memorable detective, a master of deductive observation, and plugged him into a tale of mystery and intrigue conceived by Robert Louis Stevenson back in 1878. No spoilers here, but I will tell you that the plot of this show requires closely following a complex tale of both personal and political intrigue. Hatcher has set the story in 1914, on the brink of the first World War, and the state of international relations in Europe is woven into the tale. But there's nothing dry about this story, and Steven Hauck's performance as Sherlock is very satisfying: He brings a quirky physicality as well as a sharp wit to the character that makes him very engaging. Fans of Sherlock will not be disappointed by this show. Through Oct. 4. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888.

 

I attended the opening of The Great Gatsby at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company last week. In my review, I said, "the production gets the story and the era right," and I added that CSC's Justin McCombs "perfectly embodies" Nick Carraway, the honest narrator of this Jazz Age tale of nouveau riche Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, the one-time debutante who obsesses him. There's lots to like about this production, which captures the essence of lavish parties and the fast life of the Roaring Twenties. Cincy Shakes is committed to bringing classic literary works to the stage, and this production is a good example of how they get it done. Simon Levy's script hews close to F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1924 novel, and the company's actors bring life to the characters. Through Oct. 4. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273.

 

Everyone I've talked to about Hands on a Hardbody at Ensemble Theatre has been enthusiastic about the show that brings to life a contest to win a Nissan pickup truck by keeping one hand on it the longest. It's a true story (it was a 1997 documentary) and these feel like real people, down on their luck but dreaming what a difference that winning could make. The music is by Trey Anastasio (of Phish) and Amanda Green, and the script was written by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright. ETC has staged memorable productions of his play I Am My Own Wife and his musical, Grey Gardens. But the real attraction is an excellent cast who make you believe in these people, struggling to stay away and outlast one another under the brutal sun beating down on the Texas parking lot of a Nissan dealership. It's a fine entertainment. Through Sept. 21. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555.

 

Just opened at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is a production of Tennessee Williams's great American play, A Streetcar Named Desire. It's about a woman who's down on her luck but unwilling to admit it. When genteel Blanche DuBois moves with her pragmatic sister and her brutal, blue-collar husband, Stanley Kowalski, is a rude awakening that goes downhill fast. Through Oct. 5. Tickets ($-$): 513-241-6550.

 

If you've become a fan of shows in the intimate Clifton Performance Theatre, you might want to check out The Riverside, a play written and directed by local theater artist Kevin Crowley. It's a story set in a Cincinnati bar in 1989 as locals follow the saga of Pete Rose's demise in baseball, the fall of the Berlin Wall and Tiananmen Square. But the bar itself is changing, too, impacting the lives of the family that owns it as well as its patrons.

Through Sept. 27. Tickets ($25): https://cpt.tixato.com/buy/.

 
 
by Rick Pender 09.05.2014 26 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 01:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 9-5 - etc hands on a hardbody - dallas padoven as chris alvaro - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door: 'Tis the Season for Theater

If you'd like to go to the theater every evening for the next four days, there are plenty of options for you to consider as the 2014-2015 season is getting underway on stages all over town. Here are some good choices to consider:

Hands on a Hardbody opened on Wednesday at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, and CityBeat reviewer Stacy Sims called it "effervescent" and "offbeat" in her review, giving it a Critic's Pick. I was there, too, and couldn't agree more about the infectious, heartfelt joy coming from the big cast of 15. The show is based on a true story (the subject of a 1997 documentary) about people in a downtrodden Texas town who enter a contest to win a Nissan pickup truck by outlasting others who vow to keep one hand on the vehicle. The cherry-red truck is as much a character as any of the contestants, the physical embodiment of their hopes and dreams — which take the form of songs by Trey Anastasio (of Phish) and Amanda Green. The script by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright treats these diverse, down-on-their-luck folks with dignity, and the performers (who often perform with the truck as their dance partner) bring every one of them to life in vivid ways. This one is a must-see, a great way to kick-off ETC's theater season. Through Sept. 21. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555

The Great Gatsby kicks off Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's season tonight. You didn't know Shakespeare wrote it? Well, he didn't. This theater company focuses on the Bard, to be sure, but it frequently branches out to present stage versions of other classics, in this case an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 classic about a mysterious nouveau-riche millionaire who's obsessed with a one-time debutante. Set in the Jazz Age and inspired by lavish parties the high-flying Fitzgerald attended on the prosperous North Shore of Long Island, Gatsby is a story about the ups and downs of the American Dream. Simon Levy's script is the only one authorized by Fitzgerald's estate, and Cincy Shakes is presenting its regional premiere. (And here's a tip: on opening nights at 6 p.m., the theater offers ticket holders a complimentary catered meal, beer and wine.) Through Oct. 4. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club opens next Thursday at the Cincinnati Playhouse, but previews begin for the season opener this Saturday (through Wednesday). Tickets for these performances are discounted, and you'll be seeing a show that's pretty much ready to go. Jeffrey Hatcher's script should be lots of fun for fans of the Victorian sleuth. He's taken the character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and dropped him into a tale conceived by another inventive writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, for a mash-up that will keep even Baker Street regulars guessing. Tickets: 513-421-3888

Serials! at Know Theatre, which has presented episodes of six Fringe-like shows at two-week intervals all summer long, culminates on Monday evening at 8 p.m. with finales of each tale. Who will win the ultimate fist fight with the Devil in Flesh Descending? How long can Luke really stay in his bedroom during The Funeral? Will we ever find out what's really happening in Mars vs. The Atom? These questions and more will be answered on Monday. Even if you've missed a few episodes, don't worry: Each 15-minute performance begins with a brief recap of the story so far. Zany and fun for anyone who's enjoyed the annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival. Tickets ($15): 513-300-5669

Finally, a tip for an eye-opening theater experience next weekend: On Sunday, Sept. 14, the Cincinnati area's first-ever South Asian Theater Festival happens in an all-day event at the Anderson Theater (7850 Five Mile Rd.). Five plays are scheduled to be presented, as well as panel discussions, seven hours of programming in all. The day begins at 12:30 p.m. and is set to conclude around 8 p.m. A limited number of tickets remain ($19-$29): SATFCincy.org

 
 
by Rick Pender 08.15.2014 48 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
for stage door 8-15 - know theatre presents harry & the thief by sigrid gilmer id left to right sola thompson as vivian - darnell pierre benjamin as knox - photo by deogracias lerma

Stage Door: Busy August

Not too many years ago August was a very quiet month on local stages. No longer. You have plenty of good choices this weekend.

Stacy Sims reviewed Know Theatre's production of Harry & the Thief, which opened last week. She called it "a wonderfully ridiculous, history-twisting, large cast mash-up of a play," and that's just the beginning." Sigrid Gilmer's play is a riot of modern perspectives and Civil War values, a mingling of contemporary attitudes with opinions and behaviors long since set aside — but not so far off that we can't recognize them as prejudice, misogyny and racism. But Gilmer's weaves a lot of humor and satire around Harriet Tubman (a real woman who led many people out of slavery into freedom in the 1850s and 1860s). The play has been staged by guest director Holly Derr to spotlight a zany streak of humor that the playwright has generously salted across her script from start to finish. This feels a lot like a Fringe festival show, and that makes sense, since Know is the annual producer of the Cincy Fringe, and Harry & the Thief kicks off its 2014-2015 season.

As Stacy noted, "this bodes well" for the theater now being managed artistically by Andrew Hungerford. I watched a performance earlier this week with a full house resulting from Know's "Welcome Project," throwing its doors open to anyone who wants to come on several Wednesday evenings (hoping that a few of them will pay something, but requiring nothing more than showing up). I suspect many of those in attendance will be recommending this production to friends. Through Aug. 30. Tickets ($20 most of the time, although you can get rush tickets for remaining seats 10 minutes before curtain time, and free next Wednesday, Aug. 20): 513-300-5669.

Speaking of the Fringe, Know presents occasional encores from past festivals. On Sunday evening at 8 p.m. (one night only) you can catch one of the best acts I've ever enjoyed in the Cincy Fringe: David Gaines returns with 7(x1) Samurai, retelling Kurasawa's classic 1954 film in a one-man show that was a hit of the 2009 festival. It's true to the source about victimized peasants, marauding bandits and samurai warriors, astonishing to watch and one hell of a performance. Tickets ($15): 513-300-5669.

There's another astonishing, virtuoso work of theater onstage, this one south of the Ohio River at Covington's Carnegie Theatre. It's Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I plan to see it on Friday evening (it opened last week), but people are already saying that Justin Glaser brings a great voice to the maniacal killer and Helen Raymond-Goers sings the role of the meat-pie-baking Mrs. Lovett with both wit and polish. This is one of the greatest musicals of the late 20th century, and all indicators are that this is a production worth seeing. Through Aug. 23. Tickets ($21-$28): 859-857-1940.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company will double your choices this weekend. At its Race Street theater you'll find the final performances of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), a comic rendering — or at least passing references to — all 38 of the Bard's plays, his sonnets and some amusingly presented "facts" about his life. It's a romp from start to finish, featuring three of Cincy Shakes' best actors having a hell of a good time onstage, Jeremy Dubin, Justin McCombs and Nicholas Rose. Tickets ($22-$31): 513-381-2273.

If you want something a tad closer to the original, find one of CSC's free touring productions at an area park: Macbeth on Friday night (7 p.m.) at Keehner Park in West Chester and Saturday evening (7 p.m.) at Cottell Park in Mason or A Midsummer Night's Dream on Sunday evening (6 p.m.) at Washington Park. These are somewhat reduced productions (done in two hours) using just six actors: That makes them all the more exciting to watch — and to be dazzled by actors who can convincingly play multiple roles.
 
 
by Rick Pender 08.01.2014 62 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
shakes

Stage Door: Free Shakespeare!

The big show this weekend will be Lumenocity in Washington Park. If you were lucky enough to get a ticket, you'll be seeing some great images on Music Hall's facade with accompaniment by the Cincinnati Symphony. If you weren't so lucky, you can still enjoy the show via radio (WGUC), television, big screens (at Fountain Square and Riverbend, for free) or via live streaming at lumenocity2014.com.

If you want to check out a free show at another park, how about free performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream? Cincinnati Shakespeare kicks off its Shakespeare in the Park tour this weekend. They'll be at Seasongood Pavilion at Eden Park on Friday evening, at Harry Whiting Brown Lawn in Glendale on Saturday and the Community Park Pavilion at the Milford Historical Society in Milford on Sunday. Performances generally begin around 7 p.m. Show up earlier to get a good seat and enjoy six of Cincy Shakes actors playing a bunch of characters in a very funny comedy.

On the West Side, it's the final weekend for Footloose The Musical, presented as the 33rd annual summer show by Cincinnati Young People's Theatre at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. This is a program that gives teens from across Greater Cincinnati a chance to work onstage and backstage. During the past three decades more than 2,300 kids have participated. The show, based on a popular movie from 1984, is about a teenager and his mother who move from Chicago to a small farming town where dancing is frowned upon by the local preacher. But his rebellious daughter shakes things up and love wins out. It's a fine show for teens. Tickets ($12-$16): 513-241-6550.

If you're willing to make the drive to Dayton, you have the opportunity to check out workshops of new musical theater material at the Human Race Theatre Company. Molly Sweeney is about a young woman whose blindness becomes an obstacle for her new husband to overcome, even though she has a different perspective. (It's happening Friday night at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.) The second work is a songwriter showcase (Saturday at 8 p.m.) by a dozen creators who are working on new shows. It's being hosted by Dayton native Susan Blackwell, creator of the clever [title of show]. Advance tickets ($15): 888-228-3630 – or $20 at the door at the Loft Theatre (126 N. Main St., Dayton).
 
 
by Rick Pender 07.25.2014 69 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: Shakin' It

If you paid attention to the local theater season just concluded, you will recall that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company completed a herculean task: During its 20-year existence, the classic theater has produced all 38 of Shakespeare's plays. This summer three of Cincy Shakes' best actors are repeating the feat — sort of — with a production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), opening tonight. Jeremy Dubin, Justin McCombs and Nicholas Rose will be careening through the comedies, histories and tragedies digging props, wigs and ridiculous costumes out of a trunk. This is a perfect summer laugh-fest, and it's been a predictable hit in past seasons for Cincy Shakes, so tickets are sure to sell fast. Through Aug. 11. Tickets ($22-$35): 513-381-2273.

Summertime musicals are another great tradition, and Cincinnati Young People's Theatre has been presenting them with big casts of high school students for three decades. In fact, the just-opened production of Footloose at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is the 33rd summer show. It's the stage version of the popular 1984 movie musical, and it's a perfect vehicle for youthful energy focused on a group of high school kids — despite a repressive conservative atmosphere, kids in a small farming town just want to dance and have fun. With Tim Perrino at the helm, CYPT has steered more than 2,300 teens through entertaining shows, and this one will be another notch in his director's belt, providing experience for performers and techies alike. Through Aug. 3, you'll be able to come out and "Hear It for the Boy"! Tickets ($12-$16): 513-241-6559.

I wrote a CityBeat column a week ago about John Leo Muething, an ambitious young theater artistic who's staging a couple of shows this summer at the Art Academy's auditorium on Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine. His second of three shows, repertory theatre, will be produced this weekend (Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.). It's about a timid young playwright who approaches a veteran director about his new play. With Shakespeare's Hamlet echoing throughout, things get wilder and wilder. This show was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe for two years, and its original production is still touring in England; this is its U.S. premiere. Tickets ($10) at the door.

The Commonwealth Theatre Company's Route 66 winds up its run at Northern Kentucky University this weekend on Sunday. It's the tale of a band headed for the West Coast in the 1960s stopping at juke joints, diners, cheap motels and curio shops along one of America's legendary highways. Wes Carman, Roderick Justice, Dain Alan Paige and Joshua Steele play The Chicago Avenue Band. Dinner and the show ($30): 859-572-5464.

If Monday evening arrives and you're still yearning for something entertaining onstage, you can't go wrong with the next quarterly installment of TrueTheatre. This time around it's trueBLOOD, with the warning that if you cringe easily, this might not be the show for you. Whether it's stories that make your blood run cold — or just run — you can be sure that there will be first-person tales of memorable experiences. Great fun with a lively audience. One night only, Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. at Know Theatre. Tickets ($15, only a few left): 513-300-5669.

 
 
by Rick Pender 07.18.2014 76 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
route 66 - commonwealth theatre company - photo tyler gabbard

Stage Door: Kentucky's the Place for Theater this Weekend

The Commonwealth Theatre Company's production of Route 66 continues its dinner-theater run at Northern Kentucky University. It's about a band traveling from Chicago to the West Coast in the 1960s along one of America's most legendary highways. Along the way, they meet a lot of colorful characters and see a lot of America. Wes Carman, Roderick Justice, Dain Alan Paige and Joshua Steele make up "The Chicago Avenue Band," who make stops at juke joints, diners, cheap motels and curio shops in this coming of age story. Through July 27. Dinner and the show ($30): 859-572-5464.

Last Saturday evening I ended up at Highlands High School in Fort Thomas to see teacher Jason Burgess's production of The Addams Family featuring a herd of high school kids from all over Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. It's a perfect musical for the program Burgess has created (C.A.S.T, the Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre), bringing together a ton of students who are in love with theater. Surrounding the central characters in The Addams Family, nicely portrayed by Aaron Schilling as Gomez, Lindsey Gwen Franxman as Morticia and Harrison Swayne as Uncle Fester, are 18 ghostly "ancestors." Each one is costumed (designer Laura Martin) from various periods with a clearly evident character; together they sing and dance as a coherent company. (Amy Burgess served as the production's choreographer, and Alex Gartner is the music director — in creepy makeup.) Through Sunday at 2 p.m. General admission ($10) at the door or online via www.showtix4u.com.

Monday evening at 8 p.m. brings the third installment of Serials! at Know Theatre (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). It's a wacky summer-long set of a half-dozen episodic plays by local playwrights. So far we have seen meat falling from the sky, an NSA spook monitoring a contentious couple, a kid refusing to go to a funeral, a philosophical fetus, a suicidal pair competing over techniques and more. Each 10-15 minute episode is preceded by a clever recap to catch you up, even if it's your first time there. Rest assured there are cliffhangers — not to mention Know's well-stocked Underground Bar. Admission is $15. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

 
 
by Rick Pender 07.11.2014 83 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: Opera, Dinner Theater and More

I saw Cincinnati Opera's production of Silent Night on Thursday evening. It's the regional premiere of a work that won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for music, and our local opera is doing a bang-up job of presenting it. And "bang-up" is the operative term: This opera is set during some of the darkest days of World War I, and the opening segment of the production reproduces the violent and deadly combat between troops from England (actually a regiment from Scotland), France and Germany. You're not likely to see a more gripping onstage representation of battle than what's happening at Music Hall. Before Thursday's performance I listened to composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell talk about how to "musicalize" such a scene: Their research included studying the opening sequence of the Saving Private Ryan, the graphic, Academy Award-winning film of the D-Day invasion during World War II. It's a powerfully real scene, a perfect opening to the moving tale of soldiers pitted as enemies who found common ground in one another's humanity on Christmas Eve 1914. You can get good seats for the concluding performance on Saturday evening (7:30 p.m.) for $30-$45 by calling the Opera's box office: 513-241-2742.

Area high school students are the talent in onstage for Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre (C.A.S.T.) at Highlands High School (2400 Memorial Pkwy., Fort Thomas). Starting tonight is a two-week run (July 11-20) of The Addams Family, a Broadway musical based on cartoonist Charles Addams' bizarre and beloved family of characters. The group is headed up by Fort Thomas theater instructor Jason Burgess, who has assembled theater kids from the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky who are eager to develop their skills in performance and production. Tickets: $10 (http://www.showtix4u.com) or at the door.

The Tony Award-winning musical next to normal, about a woman with bipolar disorder, gets not one but two productions by Cincinnati-area community theaters: Sunset Players on the West Side and Paradise Players for East Side siders. You can choose between them tonight. The venerable Sunset Players, which presents shows at the Dunham Arts Center (in the Dunham Recreation Complex, 4320 Guerley Rd., Price Hill), has performances through July 26, mostly at 8 p.m. Tickets ($14-$16): 513-588-4988. Meanwhile, Paradise Players, a newish group offering summer productions at McNicholas High School's Jeanne Spurlock Theatre (6536 Beechmont Ave.), is presenting its rendition of the show this weekend only, tonight at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $15 (http://mcnhs.seatyourself.biz).

Tickets tend to be a bit harder to come by at Northern Kentucky University for a dinner-theater production by Commonwealth Theatre Company of Route 66. It's about a band traveling from Chicago to the West Coast in the 1960s along one of America's most legendary highways. Along the way, they meet a lot of colorful characters and see a lot of America. The production features four solid local performers: Wes Carman, Roderick Justice, Dain Alan Paige and Joshua Steele are likely to make this a very entertaining evening. Through July 27. Dinner and the show ($30): 859-572-5464.

 
 
by Rick Pender 07.07.2014 87 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
andrew hungerford

Stage Door: Cincinnati Stages Are Waking up This Week

Cincinnati stages were pretty quiet over the Independence Day weekend, but this week they start waking up and getting ready for more. Tonight at 8 p.m. is the second installment of Serials! at Know Theatre. You can see six fresh, 10-minute episodes of brand-new plays by local playwrights — Trey Tatum, Chris Wesselman, Jon Kovach, Ben Dudley, Michael Hall and the team of Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin — and featuring lots of Cincinnati-area actors. New artistic director Andrew Hungerford calls it a "theater party" offering cold beer, air-conditioning and world-premiere stories in Know's Underground bar (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). Even if you missed the "pilots" on June 23, you'll get caught up with a recap before each episode. I had a blast watching these tantalizing tidbits two weeks ago, and I suspect tickets will become harder to get as the summer progresses. (Subsequent performances on July 21, Aug. 11 and 25 and Sept. 8.) Tickets ($15): 513-300-5669.


Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is assembling a cast for its season opener, Hands on a Hardbody (Sept. 3-21), a recent Tony-nominated musical about 10 people vying to win a truck by outlasting their competitors and keeping their hands touching the vehicle — which will be onstage at the Over-the-Rhine theater (1127 Vine St.). ETC is seeking actors, singers and dancers for the show with an open audition on Wednesday this week (July 9, 5-8 p.m.). All are welcome, but an appointment is required. (Contact bholmes@ensemblecincinnati.com) Ensemble Theatre is an AEA Theatre. Union and non-union actors are encouraged to apply. Rehearsals begin August 11. ETC is seeking a diverse cast, and all ethnicities are encouraged to apply, especially African-American men and Hispanic males and females.

ETC had a big hit on its hands three years ago with the Tony Award-winning musical next to normal about a woman with bipolar disorder. In fact it was such a draw that they revived it in the summer of 2012. Although the Rock musical is a challenging work, this week features not one but two productions by Cincinnati-area community theaters: Sunset Players on the West Side and Paradise Players on the East Side. Both productions open Friday evening. The venerable Sunset Players, which presents shows at the Dunham Arts Center (in the Dunham Recreation Complex, 4320 Guerley Rd., Price Hill), has performances through July 26, mostly at 8 p.m. (July 20 is a 2 p.m. matinee.) Tickets ($14-$16): 513-588-4988. Meanwhile, Paradise Players, a newish group offering summer productions at McNicholas High School's Jeanne Spurlock Theatre (6536 Beechmont Ave.), will offer the show just this week, July 10-11 (7:30 p.m.) and July 12 (2:30 and 7:30 p.m.). Tickets: $15 (http://mcnhs.seatyourself.biz

Area high schoolers now have Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre (C.A.S.T.) as a summer outlet for theatrical opportunities at Highlands High School (2400 Memorial Pkwy., Fort Thomas). Starting Friday is a two-week run (July 11-20) of The Addams Family, a Broadway musical based on the bizarre and beloved family of characters created by cartoonist Charles Addams. C.A.S.T., headed by Fort Thomas Independent Schools' theater instructor Jason Burgess, enables kids from the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky to develop their skills in performance and production beyond their school year and beyond their school population. Tickets: $10 (http://www.showtix4u.com) or at the door.
 
 
 
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