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.
Abandon ship! Well, that's not exactly true. In fact, Cincinnati Landmark Productions has done a remarkable and loving job of sustaining the ship — in the form of the Showboat Majestic, which it has operated for 23 years in the face of at least 10 floods and countless repairs (including a leaky hull). But with its lease running out later this month, the company has decided not to return for the 2014 season.
Cincinnati Landmark will focus its endeavors on the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, the converted West Side movie theater where it will offer a "Summer Classics Season" in a vein similar to mainstream fare of classic comedies and musicals that has long drawn audiences to the Majestic. There have been 170 productions on board since 1991, attracting more than 350,000 patrons to the last floating theater in the United States. Cincinnati Landmark is also embarking on a new voyage with a performing arts center to be built in the Incline District in East Price Hill, a venue anticipated to be up and running as early as 2015.
Tim Perrino, executive artistic director at Cincinnati Landmark, says, "It's time to say goodbye. Our organization enjoyed a prolific chapter in the Majestic's grand history, painstakingly caring for the old boat" — launched in 1923 — "and producing seasons that paid tribute to her heritage."
Opening this week on Wednesday, Showboat Follies will be Cincinnati Landmark's final production on the Majestic. An annual tradition, it's a compilation of musical showstoppers, comic sketches, audience interaction and a return of the "Queen City Toast," a longtime staple of season-closing shows. "This show has become our love letter to the Majestic," Perrino says, adding that it's "a thank-you to our subscribers, longtime supporters and the many artists who helped make our time on the Showboat so special." Showboat Follies runs through Sept. 29.
During the summer of 2014, Cincinnati Landmark will present four productions at the Covedale: Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! (May 22-June 1); Neil Simon's comedy, The Sunshine Boys (June 19-29); Footloose (July 24-Aug. 3), the 2014 Cincinnati Young People's Theater production, a summer favorite using local high school talent; and a spectacular song-and-dance show, The Will Rogers Follies (Aug. 21-31).
In 1989, the Showboat Majestic was named a National Historic Landmark. No word from the City of Cincinnati, which has owned the Majestic since 1967, as to what might be next. The Majestic was operated with summertime shows by the University of Cincinnati for many years, and it served as a popular venue during several of the Tall Stacks festivals over the years.
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.
Under the old system, grants of $3,000-$5,000 were awarded to local artists. Now, the Cincinnati Arts Ambassador Fellowship Committee will provide more impactful grants of $6,000 to seven different artists.
The process kicked off at the beginning of the year when artists were invited to submit a letter and resume to City Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan before Jan. 15. The invitation was open to artists of all different disciplines but they had to be residents of Cincinnati throughout the program (July 1, 2012-May 31, 2013).
After more than 100 applications applied, twelve finalists were announced on Tuesday.
“We were blown away at the number of applications,” Todd Wurzbacher, Chair of the Cincinnati Arts Allocation Committee, said in a press release. He presented the list of finalists in Quinlivan’s Strategic Growth Committee today.
The twelve finalists are Jesse Mooney-Bullock, Tatiana Berman, Pam Kravetz, Karen Heyl, Melissa Godoy, Guy Michael Davis, Tonya Matthews, Terri Kern, Casey Riordan Millard, Brad Austin Smith, Rondle West and Nathaniel Chaitkin.
The finalists will be interviewed by the Cincinnati Arts Allocation Committee members, who will then choose the final seven artists to receive awards. The final awards will be given to seven artists on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 11:30 a.m. on the steps of City Hall.
“I’m excited we have visual artists, musicians, dancers, filmmakers, and even a puppeteer in our finalists,” Quinlivan said in a press release. Quinlivan got council support to create the CAAF program. “More than 125 Cincinnati artists applied for the newly created Arts Ambassador Fellowship, proof that Cincinnati is a strong arts city,” she said.
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.
If you've ever wondered why musical theater fans think of Oklahoma! as the show that launched the "Golden Age" of musical theater, you need to get a ticket for this weekend's CCM performance of the 1943 classic by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. I attended the opening last night, and it's a stunning production firing on all cylinders. The cast is first-rate, especially senior John Riddle as handsome cowboy Curly McLain and Chris Blem as threatening Jud Fry. Julia Johanos is a feisty Laurey Williams, and CCM and Broadway veteran Pamela Myers comes back to where she got her start to play Aunt Eller, full of wisdom, piss and vinegar.
On Thursday evening I slogged through the humid, 100 degree soup
of downtown Cincinnati to hear a World Choir Games concert at the
Masonic Center on Fourth Street (next door to the Taft Theatre). I've
lived in Cincinnati for 32 years and covered lots of arts events, but
I've never set foot inside this honeycomb of stages, halls and meeting
rooms. The sold-out event I attended, "Global Harmony," was in a steeply
sloped, floridly decorated auditorium that seats approximately 1,000
people. A four-step set of risers was set up in front of a proscenium
with a curtain; the scenery was provided by three choirs, two
international groups — the Diocesan Schools Choral Society from Hong
Kong and the Stellenbosch University Choir from South Africa — both
highly recognized ensembles at the 2010 World Choir Games in Shaoxing,
China. The third choir had a shorter trek to Cincinnati; the Capital
University Chapel Choir, about 80 singers strong, came from Columbus and
held its own with the two groups from other continents.
The Hong Kong group, roughly 120 high school boys and girls, offered a beautiful, restrained program of earnestly conceived works performed with polish, some religious and some literary (the latter included a piece based on Robert Burns' poem, "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose"). The singers from Capital University had the men attired in black suits, shirts and ties, the women in long dresses with identical bias-cut necklines but in varying colors, bright blue, maroon and navy. Their program was an interesting mixture of pieces, with several uptempo numbers — a lovely song by Dolly Parton, "Light of a Clear Blue Morning," that featured a crystalline solo by Annie Huckaba, and several rhythmic works, "Hehehlooyuh" and "Tshotsholoza," both of which evoked strong responses from the audience. The latter, a South African number, featured two forceful soloists, Chris Bozeka and Nicholas Klein, as well as percussive accompaniment on African drums by Emily Riggin and another chorus member (not named in the program).
The Stellenbosch choir, constituted of approximately 120 white and black college students and which earned three gold medals in the 2010 World Choir Games in China, presented a half-dozen songs plus an encore. "Kiasa-isa Niyan," described by conductor André van der Merwe as a counting song from the Philippines, used catchy choreography and motion, including chest thumping, vocal clicking, head snapping and a sharply executed bow at the end. The most moving number of the program, a traditional Zulu song, "African Prayer." It pulled six strong-voiced soloists (again, not named in the program) to the front of the stage and placed two more among the audience for an emotional call-and-response counterpoint that evoked a standing ovation.
In fact, each group was greeted with sustained applause as its singers filed on stage and cheered with a standing ovation after their performance. The audience was appreciative and wildly enthusiastic; some were parents of the Capital University performers, but many others were clearly people who simply love choral performances that are delivered with finesse, creativity and enthusiasm. Fifth Street was choked with buses bringing people from various hotels beyond downtown, here as tourists to listen to these performances.
Oh, yes: The auditorium was comfortably air-conditioned, a fact appreciated by those in attendance as well as the singers. It was a fine way to be introduced to the possibilities of the World Choir Games, here in the United States — not to mention in Cincinnati — for the first time ever. I was proud to be in attendance.
In this week's Big Picture column, there is an item that Matt Distel — long active on the local contemporary art scene and current executive director of Northside's Visionaries + Voices center for artists with disabilities — had been named adjunct curator of contemporary art at Cincinnati Art Museum. Today comes the announcement he will leave V+V to be exhibitions director at The Carnegie in Covington, effective in June. He replaces Bill Seitz, who announced his retirement last month. His adjunct position at the art museum will continue.
“Matt is the perfect person to build upon the successes we’ve had in the galleries and we are honored to have him join our team,” said Katie Brass, Carnegie executive director, in a press release. “His personality, his connection to local artists, and background all make him the ideal candidate to run the Carnegie Galleries and to grow programming.”
In that same release, Distel said, “To be part of the legacy the Carnegie has for supporting local and regional artists, it’s very exciting. The Carnegie is one of the premier arts organizations in the region and Bill [Seitz] has established a great framework for me to continue to build an exhibition program that plays a compelling role in the arts community.”
If you Google search “John McClellan,” you’ll find the late Democratic senator from Arkansas and the 19th century chemist. So what is comedian, Akron native and onetime Cincinnatian John McClellan — who brings his "Punk Rock" stand-up tour, the Fuck All Comedy Ball into Northside's tiny music club/bar, The Comet, this Saturday — doing to distance himself from his fellow McClellans?
“None of those guys are funny,” says the funny McClellan. “That’s why I had to get boozecoma.com, because some guy already had johnmcclellan.com, and asking people to spell my last name was a chore. They’re working on old cars or selling real estate and I’m just out there trying to bring the jokes to the people.”