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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
Listen up, fans of crafty, post-modern fiction: Local author/professor/all-around good guy Michael Griffith christens his freshly minted new book, Trophy, 7 p.m. tonight at Joseph-Beth Booksellers.
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.
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.
Cincinnati finally got its first "pop-up shop," a holiday effort by local merchants to band together to take over unused retail space in Over-the-Rhine for a short period and then vacate when done. See photos from its opening weekend here.
'Tis also the season for pop-up theater, smaller productions that are squeezed in between performances of mainstage shows. One opens tonight at Know Theatre of Cincinnati.