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.
I think there are few more satisfying segments of musical theater than the opening 10 minutes of the musical Chicago, which is in town for a brief run at the Aronoff Center. The first number, “All That Jazz,” gives you an encyclopedia of the stylistic dance moves of iconic choreographer Bob Fosse, followed by “Funny Honey,” an introduction of Roxie Hart, who murders her low-life lover. A few minutes later, “Cell Block Tango” provides the set-up for the colorful women who are in prison for their acts of violence. The touring production stars Terra MacLeod as Velma Kelly and Bianca Marroquin as Roxie Hart (the roles played by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger in the Academy Award-winning film) and they dance and sing with the requisite zest. Chicago opens with a quick speech defining it as containing “violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery — all the things we hold near and dear to our hearts.” If you’re looking for a stylish musical with nary a whiff of the holidays, this is the show to see this weekend. It runs through Sunday. Tickets: 800-982-2787.
If you're still working on your checklist of holiday shows, there have been several added performances for shows at Know Theatre, Ensemble Theatre and other venues you should keep in mind.
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.
He is a subject whose resonance is great for both Smith — whose 2010 National Book Award-winning memoir, Just Kids, recounted their friendship as young people in New York’s art world and is being made into a film — and the CAC, which famously faced (and beat) obscenity charges in 1990 for showing the Mapplethorpe retrospective The Perfect Moment.
“It’s very much a rumination on the life and death of Robert Mapplethorpe,” Ludwig said of the exhibit. “So there are a lot of objects in the exhibition that very much relate to his life. We’ve received things like Robert’s slippers that have his initials on them, and photographs of Robert from throughout his life. So it really focuses on the relationship between these two artists.
“There are medals, necklaces that Robert wore,” Ludwig continued. “There is an inkwell. There are small elements that will be presented in cases in the exhibition. It’s presented very much like an art installation. They’re not necessarily presented as historical objects but as elements that are part of Patti’s life.”
“And we have an installation within the show called ‘Infirmary,’ which is all steel beds that are references to the beds Robert spent the end of his life in and that many people who died from AIDS passed away in. They are actual steel beds acquired by her.” (Mapplethorpe died from AIDS in 1989.)
The show will have several photographs by Mapplethorpe with text by Smith – of the sea, a boat and a sculpture. (None was in The Perfect Moment.) “They’re very beautiful,” Ludwig 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.
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.
The Covedale Center has been a busy place, but the converted 1940s movie house had minimal backstage space — until now. After several years of tight quarters, no running water or bathrooms, the facility has been renovated and expanded: There is now a rehearsal studio, a green room, two dressing rooms, shop space and two handicapped-accessible bathrooms. This evening marks the grand opening of the addition with a reception for VIPs and local media.
Cincinnati Art Museum has just released attendance figures for the recently closed Wedded Perfection: Two Centuries of the Wedding Gown, and it was a blockbuster. The exhibit, which ran Oct. 9-Jan. 30, drew 63,176 visitors, making it the biggest CAM exhibit since Petra: The Lost City of Stone drew 62,203 people in the 2004-2005 season.