I don't often write about community theater. It's really a matter of time and space; we have so much good theater here in Cincinnati and not so much space in CityBeat, so I have to make some choices. I also don't have enough time to catch every community theater production — trust me, there are a lot of them. But over the weekend I felt compelled to see The Drowsy Chaperone, produced by Cincinnati Music Theatre at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theater.
John Morris Russell has been named the new conductor of the Cincinnati Pops, succeeding the orchestra’s founder and long-time conductor Erich Kunzel, who passed away in September 2009. Russell will officially begin his tenure on Sept. 1, 2011, but he’s a familiar face around Music Hall because he served as associate conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1995 to 2006. In a midday news conference at Music Hall, Russell indicated that he will make his home in Cincinnati. He presently lives in Windsor, Ontario, where he is music director of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, a post he's held for 10 years and intends to keep.
I had a trip around the world on Sunday afternoon, thanks
to the World Choir Games. It includes stops in South Africa, the
Netherlands, Venezuela, Switzerland, and the Chinese cities of
Guangdong, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Hangzhou. The program, playing to a
completely sold-out house at the Aronoff Center's Procter & Gamble
Hall, was a chance for eight choirs, each champions in one or more
categories, to briefly showcase a few selections. Singer, performer and
Cincinnati native Drew Lachey hosted the afternoon program.
In order, we were treated to performances by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music Girls Choir (Female Choirs champion); the Diocesan Boys' School Choir from Hong Kong (Young Male Chorus champion); Männerstimmen Basel from Switzerland (Male Choirs Champion); the "8 Seconds" Mixed Chorus fa Hangzhou Normal University (Mixed Youth Choir champion); the Children's Choir of the Orchestra of Laraand Camerata Singonica Larense from Venezuela (Folklore champion); Guangdong Experimental Middle School (Youth Choir of Equal Voices champion); Stellenbosch University Choir from South Africa (a double champion for Musica Sacra and Mixed Chorus); and Dekoor Close Harmony from the Netherlands (another double champion, for Popular Choral Music and Jazz).
That's too many to offer song-by-song details from the two hour program, but I want to share some memorable highlights. Perhaps most powerful was the "African Prayer," sung by the Stellenbsoch choir, following a remark from the group;s director about how much they appreciated Cincinnati's hospitality. I head this group sing the same number on Thursday evening's celebration concert, and it was equally powerful — driven by full-voiced female singing, rhythmic clapping and building enthusiasm. What's more, the director sat down and let the choir proceed under its own steam. Demonstrating their varied repertoire, the same group also did a quirky rendition of Queen's "Seaside Rendezvous," playing kazoos for part of the number.
The Chinese choruses showed tremendous discipline, carefully following their directors and, especially in the case of the group from Shanghai, creating a pure, crystalline sound that was virtually one voice. Each of those choirs were also stylishly dressed in matching costumes. (I found myself wondering how transportation was handled for these choirs, not just for the singers but for their gowns and other attire. No one seemed to have left anything behind!)
The group from Basel looked more like a scruffy Euro band, about 30 men, some with beards, others with wooly heads of hair. Many of them wore knee-length pants and suspenders. But their singing was strong and well-rehearsed. The Venezuelans were in costumes that had a Latin flair, especially the women in white, knee-length dresses with traditional, multicolored ruffles on their hems and necklines. This latter group had a fine sense of humor, especially for its tongue-twisting final number that involved singing faster and faster, then concluding in a sort of faux collapse of exhaustion.
Most unlike other choirs I've heard, Dekoor from the Netherlands, which sang in colloquial American English offered three numbers from the Pop repertoire. The group of 30, evenly divided between men and women, opened with "We Are Young," a song about friendship, youth and trust — all qualities represented by their stances and interactions (a repeated lyric: "We are young/So let's the set the world on fire/We can burn brighter/Than the sun"). They moved next to James Taylor's paean to frustration, "Damn This Traffic Jam," and as an encore rendered a funky version of George Michael's "Freedom." Quite a switch from beautifully executed but not so stirring sacred numbers.
For my second concert of the day, I was back at the Aronoff for the Energy of Youth" Celebration Concert featuring three groups. The frist was local, the Cincinnati Children's Choir, mostly junior high and high school youths. They were augmented for the second half of their program with a specially formed "Cincinnati Public Schools Honor Choir," a pair of singers selected from each of the CPS elementary schools. They concluded with two numbers commissioned for the event and conducted by composer Rollo Dillworth; the finale, "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around," had a clapping rhythm that engaged the entire audience. What this group lacked in polish (they had only three rehearsals) they more than made up for in enthusiasm.
The next group was the Farnham Youth Choir from Great Britain. Forty singers, mostly girls (there were three boys with voices not yet changed) offered a varied set that combined some sacred numbers with some folk-inspired pieces (The Piper o'Dundee" and ""Iona Boat Song"). Most interesting was a number titled "Aglepta," that began with a single member reciting this text: "To leave a enemy without an answer, say this words to him: Aglaria Pidhol garia Ananus Qepta" and blow in his direction; then he will not know which way he is headed and cannot answer you." What followed was a strange collection of sighs, whistles, squeals, shrieks, clapping and other odd noises, an odd showcase of discipline that was a long way from the more traditional numbers. It was a bit fearful, and completely captivating.
The program concluded with a set by the Guangdong Experimental Middle School Choir that was as much choreography and tradition as it was a choral performance. Native costumes, a Mongolia throat singer, drums, bells, wild dancing — this performance made me think about how little we know about other parts of the world ... and how much an event like the World Choir Games opens us to learning about other cultures.
Quite a day.
Kristy Kemper, a senior at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, creates visually beautiful works of art filled with vibrant, lovely colors and stylistic, flowing Art Nouveau shapes and forms. The artist draws attention to the world of animals and their behaviors drawing us into a magical, beautiful and sometimes dangerous world.
OK, I’m a little behind the curve in sharing the word about Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s 25th season, which was actually announced about a week ago. It was a tad anticlimactic, since Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers had announced some of this information back in early June. Nevertheless, with the opening of the 2010-2011 season just a few weeks away, the complete picture is now in place. ETC will offer four regional premieres, a premiere musical revue and several special limited performance events.
There's nothing unlucky about Friday the 13th in the theater world. (Theater folks have enough other superstitions anyway.) So you have lots of excellent choices this weekend, from the very funny The Foreigner at the Playhouse (just opened) to the satiric Timon of Athens at Cincinnati Shakespeare (see review here).
If you want a heavy-duty drama, try Bent at New Stage Collective (it's about the mistreatment of gays in Nazi concentration camps; see my review here). And if you want to see some of the talent that keeps spilling out of UC's College-Conservatory of Music, I recommend that you stop by the Over-the-Rhine nightclub Below Zero tonight after 10 p.m.
Cincinnati Playhouse just opened Thunder Knocking on the Door, a show it staged in 1999 and sold a boatload of tickets — the most for any musical it’s presented in the past two decades! I was there on Thursday night for the opening, and this is a drop-dead gorgeous production — costumes, sets, lighting and sound by Broadway designers, and a cast of five who all have star-power. Even better, they form a wonderful musical ensemble when they need to. Keith Glover’s play is a fable about the Blues: Marvell Thunder is a mystical presence who years earlier lost a “cuttin’ contest” to a fellow named Jaguar Dupree, and now he’s back to even the score “where the two roads meet,” somewhere near Bessemer, Alabama. But Jaguar’s passed, survived by his wife (twice widowed since then) and his twin brother. Her and Jaguar’s twin children, Jaguar Jr. and Glory are musical and each have magical guitars that he bequeathed to them. Jr. has lost his to Thunder, and now he’s coming for the other one. But it’s complicated, because Thunder is turning to stone because it’s been so long since he’s been in love. All this is played out to a wonderful Blues score, most of it by singer and composer Keb’ Mo’. There’s a great band backing them up, and to make this tale all the more magical, among its technical team is an “illusion designer.” You’ll be asking, “How’d they do that?” more than once. I gave it a Critic’s Pick, and you should get your tickets right away. 513-421k-3888.
Know Theatre’s production of the recent off-Broadway and Broadway Rock musical hit, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a youthful mix of political commentary, driving Rock performances, history, humor and sober observations on the will of the people — just what we’ve come expect from Know Theatre. Not many musicals begin with the cast flipping the bird at the audience, but then not many musicals are like this one, spinning a tale of America’s seventh president to in-your-face Indie Rock tunes. This is Bloody Bloody’s first professional regional production. I gave it a Critic’s Pick, and the show is proving to be a big hit for Know. (Through May 12.) Box office: 513-300-5669.
Pump Boys & Dinettes at the Covington’s Carnegie Center is something like an off-Broadway classic (it had a brief Broadway run) from the early 1980s. Set in a filling station that’s also a diner, it’s a framework for downhome Country tunes and cornpone humor. Not much of a story, but a talented cast makes this one a lot of light-hearted fun. This is the final weekend. Box office: 859-957-1940.
Covedale Center is presenting Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s but Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I saw it last Friday and can recommend it as a production that does justice to a piece of entertaining fluff. Director Tim Perrino has assembled a fast-paced production with some fine voices. The jaunty show, which covers the familiar tale in about 90 minutes (including intermission), has fun with (and parodies) various musical styles — from Elvis-styled Rock and Western Swing to French ballads and calypso. Stone walls and palms slide back to reveal a sphinx and a smoking entrance for the Pharaoh (aka Elvis). It’s not groundbreaking in any way, but it is the kind of solid entertainment the Covedale has presented for 10 seasons. Through May 13. Box office: 513-241-6550.
And while I’m talking about lighthearted shows, make not that a tour of Mamma Mia, cramming tons of ABBA tunes into an implausible but funny story, makes a one-week stop at the Aronoff starting on Tuesday. It would be hard not to have a good time at any production of Mamma Mia. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
Today, the Enquirer posted a story about the Cincinnati Museum Center considering the addition of a 11,200-square-foot green roof system, which is an awesome prospect. The roof would be covered with plants, could last longer than a normal roof, and would better deal with storm run-off. Not only that, but it would double the amount of green roof space in the city.
But buried at the bottom of this article is mention of another part of the issue. "The other components of the center's project - funded by a $2.4 million local tax levy, the city of Cincinnati, the state and a National Parks Service program called Save America's Treasures - include restoring long-unused dining rooms and exterior repairs," the article states.
It's the National Parks Service program that I think deserves a little more attention. Frankly, it seems amazing, not only for what it has done for the country, but for what it has done for Cincinnati.
Save America's Treasures (SAT) was started in 1998 and has the directive of "protected America's threatened cultural treasures," like a governmental, art-saving Boondock Saint. Actually a daughter organization of both the National Parks Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it has completed more than 850 projects since its creation with what seems like a focus on architecture.
In Cincinnati alone, the SAT in 2003 granted $199,000 in 2003 to the Majestic Theater, $250,000 to the Cincinnati Union Terminal, $150,000 to The Showboat Majestic. And in 2005, they granted $135,250 to restore Joan Miro and Saul Steinberg Murals from Terrace Plaza Hotel and get them on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
This 11 x 75 ft mural by New Yorker artist Saul Steinberg is one of the only murals he made.
What other badass art has the SAT helped saved, you might ask. Well, how about the Palace Theatre in Columbus. Not a theater buff, what about the The New York Philharmonic Leonard Bernstein Collection. Still not impressed, what about the Moundville Archaeological Park in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Oh, you're more into recent history, they gave$295,586 to the USS Joseph P. Kennedy in Massachusetts. Maybe you just like to party, in 2006 Gadsby's Tavern in Alexandria, Virginia got about $50,000 . And my personal favorite, in 1999 they granted $331,000 to save the Anti-Slavery Pamphlet Collection in Ithaca, New York.
The collections of dances, photographs and other documents that have been touched by Saving America's Treasures is astounding, not to mention the dozen of courthouse they've helped to restore across the country.
Just check them out. Our government isn't complete screwed up all the time.
Presuming that reports about Disney's High School Musical wouldn't interest CityBeat's readers, I've not previously written about that popular phenomenon, driven by repeated airing on the Disney Channel. And I'm still not certain that it's of that much interest to anyone who regularly reads this blog.
But I went to see High School Musical 2 on Feb. 28, presented by the Children's Theatre of Cincinnati (CTC) at the Taft Theatre. I imagined a show that would appeal to kids, and my expectations were reinforced by the hordes of moms and dads escorting little ones into the Taft. But what I saw onstage surprised me.
BuzzFeed, the viral video and pop culture aggregate, loves lists. And Cincinnati has been mentioned in at least two of their “random number funny sentence” list posts this past week.
First, it’s always best to start with dessert … and chili. BuzzFeed contributor and former Cincinnatian Donna Dickens makes a list of all of her favorite Cincinnati foods that are better than food from other cities, claiming, “The worst part about moving away from Cincy is leaving behind this regional feast.”
Included on the list? Graeter’s ice cream, Skyline chili (sorry, Gold Star), Izzy’s giant rueben, Busken cookies, Glier’s Goetta, LaRosa’s, Montgomery Inn sauce and the unnaturally blue, unnaturally delicious, formerly Smurffy blueberry soft serve from King’s Island.
For those of us less interested in praising our meat products (although perhaps we should since they aren’t full of horse), can praise the beautiful history of our public library.
Listed at #28 on the 30 best places to be if you love books list, which includes Shakespeare and Company in Paris as well as the Oxford Union Library, is an image of the Cincinnati Public Library looking as most of us have never seen it — in black and white, yes, but also from its original location, “Old Main,” at 629 Vine Street. With stories and stories of shelves and shelves of books, each with a small catwalk, the expanse and whimsy of this literary wonderland is fantastic. (And really makes you wish it was still there.)
According the Main Library’s flickr page (where you can find more images of the original library location):
“The Main Library has occupied a prominent position in downtown Cincinnati since 1874, when a new building was constructed at 629 Vine Street. Considered the most magnificent public library building in the country at the time, ‘Old Main’ featured one element similar to today’s library: a towering atrium with a skylight ceiling. Of the dramatic atrium, Harpers Weekly said, ‘The first impression made upon the mind on entering this hall is the immense capacity for storing books in its five tiers of alcoves, and then the eye is attracted and gratified by its graceful and carefully studied architecture.’ The building closed in 1955, when the ‘New Main Library,’ located at 800 Vine Street, opened.”
Find more historic
photos of Cincinnati and learn more about the history of our library on the
virtual library Facebook page.