WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
Home - Blogs - Users Blogs - Latest Blogs
Latest Blogs
 
by Rick Pender 02.26.2014
Posted In: Theater at 06:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
godard

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company Announces 2014-15 Season

Cincy Shakes to offer Gatsby, Birds, Godot and the Bard; NKU has hit musicals and more

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company today announced its 21st season, commencing in July. The company is committed to staging works by Shakespeare, of course, but its goal is broader: It also presents definitive works of drama and literary classics adapted for the stage. As far as the Bard's work, the 2014-2015 season will include a holiday staging of the silly but hilarious The Comedy of Errors. Also on tap is the powerful history play, Henry V, another step in the company's epic five-year, eight-play history cycle that began with Richard II and continues during the current season with the upcoming Henry IV. Additionally, there will be a production in April 2015 of the comic battle of the sexes, The Taming of the Shrew, a popular work that Cincy Shakes staged during its first season in 1994 (as well as in 1999, 2003 and 2009). 

Aside from Shakespeare's works, the coming season will offer stage versions of two beloved American classics: a new adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age classic The Great Gatsby and the regional premiere of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Daphne du Maurier's thriller, The Birds (familiar to many as a 1963 film by Alfred Hitchcock) will show up in a 2009 adaptation by Irish playwright Conor McPherson (known for numerous works staged locally, including St. Nicholas, The Weir, Port Authority, Shining City and The Seafarer). Next January will bring forth Samuel Beckett’s profound comedy, Waiting for Godot featuring veteran actors Joneal Joplin and Bruce Cromer, and the season concludes in June 2015 with the Cincinnati debut of the Tony-award winning, West-End smash hit comedy, Richard Bean's One Man, Two Guvnors, a 2011 play based on Carlo Goldoni's 1743 comic masterpiece, The Servant of Two Masters.

Tickets for the 2014-2015 season went on sale earlier this month, resulting in a record-breaking first day of sales on Feb. 3. Single tickets are now on sale. For more information, go to cincyshakes.com or call the box office at 513-381-2273, x1.

On Wednesday the department of theater and dance at Northern Kentucky University also announced its productions for the 2014-2015 academic year, a mix of classics and contemporary works. The year kicks off in late September with the ancient Greek tragedy The Bacchae by Euripedes. The fall semester also includes the hit 2003 Tony Award-winning musical Hairspray in October-November and, in November-December, Philip Dawkins' Failure: A Love Story, the magical story of three sisters in 1928 Chicago who live and die in a rickety home by the Chicago River. In February, launching the spring semester, NKU will stage the epic musical Les Misérables, the popular masterpiece that affirms the human desire to achieve redemption. The academic year's theater productions will conclude with the 17th Biennial Year End Series Festival of New Plays. During April, the "YES" festival, as it's shorthanded, will present three world-premiere plays which have not yet been selected. Info: theatre.nku.edu or 859-572-5464.

 
 
by Rick Pender 02.21.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 2-21 - cynthea mercado as scheherazade in arabian nights @ nku - photo provided by northern kentucky university14an press photo 3 copy

Stage Door: Options Abound

I’m not making up a story when I suggest you could be charmed by Mary Zimmerman’s Arabian Nights at Northern Kentucky University. After all, her play is about telling tales: Scheherazade, the latest bride of a cruel king who has a history of marrying and executing his wives, survives by stringing him along with stories she promises to finish the next night — for a “Thousand and One Nights.” (Read my profile of Mary Zimmerman here.) She plies him with tales of Sinbad and Ali Baba. Audiences at NKU will likely be strung along, too. Senior Cynthea Mercado plays Scheherazade, whose life, she says, “is threatened with the reality of her situation, and yet she is still able to enjoy her own tales and sometimes get lost in them.” No need to get lost. Find your way to Highland Heights and NKU’s Corbett Theatre for this production, through March 2. Tickets: 859-572-5464.

If a classic musical is to your taste, you might try Andrew Lloyd Webber’s epic musical Evita, in a touring production at the Aronoff Center through March 2. I caught a performance last evening, and it looks great — some epic scenery and excellent choreography. Josh Young as Che is charismatic and strong-voiced in his role as the show’s commentator. Unfortunately, Caroline Bowman’s Eva Perón gets too shrill way too fast and becomes a grasping harpy before there’s a chance to be won over by her Machiavellian charms. As Juan Peron, Sean MacLaughlin looks young and slimy, without the sinister gravitas that the historical figure possessed. That doesn’t leave much opportunity to convey the complex chemistry — passion and manipulation — that bonded them as a political machine. But the tale of the ambitious young woman who rose to the highest levels of power in Argentina then crashed and burned is a memorable modern tragedy, and the show’s rock-opera tunes by Andrew Lloyd Webber will stick in your head. Tickets: 513-621-ARTS.

Cincinnati Shakespeare is keeping the cast of its recent production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet intact with its current production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. This time around, it’s the story of Hamlet’s college buddies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who move from Shakespeare’s sidelines to Stoppard’s center stage. In this classic 1967 script, the pawns become the central characters, while Prince Hamlet, Queen Gertrude, King Claudius, Ophelia and others wander by. The classic tragedy is turned on its head, and it becomes an existential tragedy for two guys who everyone has a hard time telling apart. Through March 9. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s production of Amy Herzog’s Pulitzer Prize finalist script, 4000 Miles, is onstage at the Shelterhouse Theatre. It’s about a 91-year-old grandmother and her 21-year-old grandson bridging a giant generation gap and finding that they actually have a lot in common. Through March 9. Tickets: 513-421-3888. 

It’s the final weekend for several shows that have been pleasing audiences. Nina Raine’s Tribes at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati was originally scheduled to close last Sunday, but to meet ticket demand for the show about coping with deafness — and contentious families — ETC added performances through Saturday. (CityBeat review here.) Tickets: 513-421-3555. … A block away at Know Theatre, the off-kilter script by Steve Yockey, Pluto, winds up on Saturday, too. It’s about dealing with tragedy and grief, told in an inventive, sometimes even humorous, manner. Two of Cincinnati’s finest actors — Annie Fitzpatrick and Tori Wiggins — are in this one, making it very watchable. (CityBeat review here.) Tickets: 513-300-5669 … For the younger set, this weekend offers the final public performance, Saturday at 2 p.m., of Children’s Theatre’s Pinkalicious at the Taft. It’s the story of a girl who can’s stop eating pink cupcakes. Tickets: 800-745-3000.

And here’s a tip for Monday evening: Dayton native Daniel Beaty, who pleased a lot of Playhouse patrons last season with his tour-de-force one-man show, Through the Night, will be in town for a one-night performance to promote his new book, Transforming Pain to Power. His performance (6:30 p.m. in the Marx Theatre) and the book signing afterward in the Rosenthal Plaza) are free, but you need to make a reservation with the Playhouse box office: 513-421-3888.

 
 
by Rick Pender 02.14.2014
Posted In: Theater at 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
curtain call - 4000 miles @ playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Valentine's Weekend

Last night I caught the opening of 4000 Miles at the Cincinnati Playhouse. What with today being Valentine's Day, this tale of a feisty grandmother and her hippie grandson — separated by a 70-year gap in age — might not seem like a very typical love story. But it's about understanding and finding common ground, and what else is that but true love? Actor Robbie Tann plays 21-year-old Leo and Rosemary Prinz is Vera, his 91-year-old grandmother. You'd think that seven decades might be an uncrossable chasm, but each is a lonely soul — she as the result of old age, he by virtue of the tragic accidental death of his best friend — and they find consolation and support from one another as the become better acquainted. Both actors are delightful in their roles, he kind of spacey but caring, she feisty and loving. If you're looking for a good date night for Valentine's weekend, you should give Amy Herzog's play a chance. It happens to be a very credible script, by the way, having been a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize. Through March 9. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Tonight is the opening for Cincinnati Shakespeare's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard's now-classic through-the-looking-glass take on Hamlet. Since Cincy Shakes just finished a production of the latter, it's the same cast, but with the royals in the background and two lowly minor characters moved to center stage. Their plight? They don't quite understand the intrigues swirling around them, and they wonder about the meaning of their own existence. There's a lot of dark humor, and actors Billy Chace and Justin McComb are just the guys to carry it off. Through: March 9. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

If it's darkness you crave, you might also consider Pluto at Know Theatre. No, it's not about the Disney dog, but rather about unexpected changes in life — like the demotion of the solar system's one-time farthest planet into something less — as well as the Roman god of the underworld. How does all that fit together in a modest contemporary kitchen? Steve Yockey's play is an absurdist study in contemporary angst, an instant of tragedy dissected and set in amber. It's not easy to watch (there's some extreme gun violence), but the show's strong cast, especially Annie Fitzpatrick and Tori Wiggins plus NKU student actor Wesley Carman, make it extremely watchable. You just have one more week to catch this one. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

If you thought you'd missed out on Tribes at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, you actually have a grace period, since the show about deafness and family strife has been extended to Feb. 22. It was originally set to close on Feb. 16; the additional dates should make it possible for anyone who's interested to get tickets. Watching the fine acting performances of guest actor Dale Dymkoski as a young man who has been isolated by deafness and Cincy Shakes regular Kelly Mengelkoch as a young woman, adept with sign language, who is losing her hearing, will make you glad you made the effort to see this one. Tickets: 513-421-3555
.

 
 
by Rick Pender 02.13.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
andrew hungerford - know theatre

Know Introduces New Artistic Director

Andrew Hungerford announces four coming productions

Know Theatre formally introduced its incoming artistic director, Andrew Hungerford, before a full house on Wednesday evening. He might not approach the boundless energy of his predecessor Eric Vosmeier (more on his half-dozen years at the helm here), but Hungerford has a kind of boyish enthusiasm for the job he's taking on that feels fresh and infectious. The crowd of supporters seemed enthusiastic about his engagement and were especially pleased as he filled in details about coming productions for the months ahead in 2014.

Calling Know's 17th season "Adaptation," he stressed that shows he's selected are adaptations of literary works, of different genres for the stage, of people struggling with changing circumstances and — by the way — of a theater company adapting to a new artistic director. He announced four shows.

The Twentieth-Century Way by Tom Jacobson (April). Two actors play more than a dozen roles to recreate the true story of how, in 1914, police in Long Beach, Calif., hired two actors to entrap gay men in the crime of "social vagrancy." 

Know Serials (Summer). Inspired by episodic TV series, Know will present 15-minute slices of six "series" every other week, commencing during the Fringe (in early June) and proceeding through the summer. This promises to be a playground for local artists to connect with audiences returning for more during the summer months on Know's Underground stage, with the bar nearby — and popcorn promised. 

Harry and the Thief by Sigrid Gilmer (August). The story of a guy with a time machine and a plan to go back to the Civil War era, find abolitionist Harriet Tubman and give her guns. Hungerford describes this play "a socially conscious riot of a play that uses a form of a Michael Bay action movie to tell a story full of adventure, social relevance, and answering the call of destiny." 

Moby Dick (October). This one was previously announced, a stage version of Herman Melville's immense 19th-century American novel about an obsessive sea captain and a "great white whale." Hungerford will co-direct Julian Rad's script with "local theatrical rabble-rouser" Michael Burnham (recently retired from the drama faculty at CCM). The production mixes sea shanties and inventive physicality with a text that explores issues of youth, friendship, duty and how far a man like Captain Ahab will go.

It's an intriguing lineup, one that seems likely to keep audiences returning for doses of Know's brand of off-kilter but engaging theater.
 
 
by Rick Pender 02.07.2014
Posted In: Theater at 10:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
stage

Stage Door: Choices Galore

Last evening I went to see Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. You can read more about playwright Zimmerman in my column in this week's issue here, and you'll probably figure out that this is one of my favorite scripts. CCM's drama program has created a shimmering, playful production that's getting a brief run (final performance is a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday) at Patricia Corbett Theatre.

Guest director D. Lynn Meyers took a break from Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati to travel up the hill and stage this one on the UC campus, and her cast of 18 student performers wholly embraced this unusual show — which requires a pool of water as its central design feature. (Water plays a significant and meaningful role in the retelling of a set of classical myths shaped and recorded by Ovid two millennia ago.) But Dana Hall's scenic design doesn't stop with water; it's elemental, with immense hanging slabs of stone that resonate with the decorative concrete slabs in PCT. Wes Richter's lighting — it really does shimmer — enhances the stories of characters changed by circumstances, good intentions and bad decisions, and Kevin Semancik's sound design brings vivid punctuation to many stories, including a destructive storm at sea.

Speaking of sound, cellist Jacob Yates, a senior at CCM, composed moody accompaniment that distills the moving emotional essence of each scene; he performs live from stage left as the tales unfold. Amanda Kai Newman's costume designs complete the visual power of the show, whether they are fluttering around the edge of the pool or from a high balcony upstage from which the gods watch and control the mortals — and even when they are sopping wet from action in the variable-depth pool. Much of the action is beautifully choreographed and delivered with confident physicality. All in all, CCM's Metamorphoses is a total theatrical package that's definitely worth seeing. Tickets are likely available if you call quickly: 513-556-4183..

If you want a two-fer featuring shows staged by D. Lynn Meyers, you can catch her production of Tribes back at her ETC home base. (CityBeat review here.) Nina Raine's script focuses on two young adults who come from different "tribes," families with distinctively separate approaches to deafness. Billy's family wants to approximate normalcy by teaching him to lip read, while Sylvia's parents, both deaf, have used signing. Now that she's going deaf herself and has befriended Billy, these practices are at odds. But this is also a show about family dynamics, love and acceptance — something everyone can relate to. Billy's family is boisterous and rude, behaviors that often exclude him. Sylvia's gentle, thoughtful manner is both solace and revelation to him. Actors Dale Dymkoski and Kelly Mengelkoch (familiar to Cincinnati Shakespeare audiences; she's a company member there) are simply excellent in these two roles, and the balance of the cast creates real, human characters. Tribes has been extended to Feb. 22, a week beyond its announced closing, to accommodate ticket demand. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

Other productions worth checking out this weekend are Seminar by Falcon Theater at Newport's Monmouth Theater, a play by Cincinnatian Theresa Rebeck about a writing class with a tyrannical teacher (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-479-6783); Bruce Norris's Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park, revealing how attitudes about race and class haven't evolved all that much in 50 years, at Cincinnati Playhouse (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-421-3888); and Steve Yockey's absurdist drama Pluto at Know Theatre, an inventively told story of contemporary grief (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-300-5669).
 
 
by Rick Pender 02.03.2014
Posted In: Theater at 10:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
once

Broadway in Cincinnati Announces 2014-15 Season

Tony winners fairytales and Pop titles to grace Aronoff audiences

Broadway in Cincinnati today is announcing its 2014-2015 season, which will bring back The Lion King for a month-long run in April 2015 as well as the 2012 Tony Award winner, Once, which has a two week run in mid-November 2014. Lion King had a record-breaking engagement at the downtown Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center in 2007, and the winner of 1998’s best musical Tony continues its long run on Broadway. Once, based on the 2007 movie of the same name, is theatrical retelling of the story of musicians in Dublin. Played out in an Irish pub, if features an impressive ensemble of actor-musicians who play their own instruments onstage.
\"The Lion King\"
Photo: Joan Marcus
The season also offers two tried-and-true classics: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, a made-for-TV musical fairytale from 1957 which had a well-received Broadway run in 2013, will land at the Aronoff Center next January for two weeks. And a classic from 1934, Cole Porter’s Anything Goes will show up for five days in February; the story of love and blackmail on a cruise ship sailed back to Broadway in 2011 and won three Tonys.

Rounding out the season are several shows with roots in pop culture. The season opens with Dirty Dancing, a musical based on the 1987 movie about a summer vacation in the Catskills that turns into a steamy romance with a lot of choreography. For the holidays, we get another short run aimed at families: Elf: The Musical about an human orphan who ends up as one of Santa’s elves, but never quite fits in. It’s based on the 2003 film that starred Will Farrell. (Broadway in Cincinnati had good luck last Thanksgiving with a short run of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and this is surely aimed at the same audience.)

Also likely to capture an audience in search of for laughs is the season’s concluding production, I Love Lucy: Live On Stage, bringing to life recreations of one of TV’s greatest sitcoms with actors portraying Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and Ethel and Fred Mertz. Set in 1952, it lets audiences pretend they’re attending the filming of a pair of classic episodes on an L.A. soundstage. It’s not a musical, but it has lots of tuneful interludes by Ricky’s orchestra at the Tropicana Nightclub, plus ’50s style singing commercials.

Season subscriptions go on sale today: 800-294-1816 or BroadwayinCincinnati.com

Dirty Dancing (Sept. 23-Oct. 5, 2014)

Once (Nov. 11-23, 2014)

Elf: The Musical (Dec. 2-7, 2014)

Cinderella (Jan. 6-18, 2015)

Anything Goes (Feb. 17-22, 2015)

The Lion King (March 31-April 26, 2015)

I Love Lucy (June 2-14, 2015.

 
 
by Rick Pender 01.31.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 1-31 - dale dymkoski is billy, torn between two divisive approaches to deafness in tribes at etc - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door: Full Weekend

Lots of plays not previously seen in Cincinnati are good theater choices this weekend:

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati just opened its regional premiere of Tribes by Nina Raines on Wednesday, and I've given it a Critic's Pick. The story circles around two young adults from families with very different approaches to deafness. Billy's family has tried to give him a "normal" life by teaching him to speak and lip read, while Sylvia's deaf parents have always communicated using sign language. Now that she's going deaf, she's more and more dependent on that skill. But Billy's loud, boisterous family objects to him to make his deafness so obvious, even though he's finally found a path to overcome his loneliness. This tale of warring tribes is as much about family dynamics and human nature as it is about coming to terms with a disability. Provocative and thoughtful, with a sterling cast of convincing actors. Through Feb. 16. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park has a winner with its production of Bruce Norris's Clybourne Park, a show that portrays territoriality rooted in insensitivity and prejudice. (CityBeat review here.) Using a 1959 play, Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun*, as its jumping-off point, Norris's first act portrays a white Chicago neighborhood where the sale of a home to an African-American family has set off warfare between residents. In the second act, it's 2009 and the same neighborhood, blighted by deterioration, is now being gentrified. The tables are turned, but many of the arguments — and in Norris's clever script, even some of the same words — resurface. I gave this one a Critic's Pick, too. Through Feb. 16. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

*A footnote to Clybourne Park: To experience this show's inspiration, A Raisin in the Sun, tune to WVXU (FM 91.7) on Saturday evening, 8-10 p.m., for a radio production of Lorraine Hansberry's play by LA Theatre Works. It's a seminal American drama in its own right.

This bounty of premieres is joined by Know Theater's staging of Steve Yockey's brand-new play, Pluto. (CityBeat review here.) It's the story of a single mom and her sullen, disconnected son in a generic suburb. It feels realistic, but there are signs that it goes beyond that: A blossoming cherry tree has crashed through the ceiling, and a three-headed dog (played by a one-headed actress) sits nearby, offering curious observations about what's going on. A radio spits out news about a school shooting, sometimes speaking directly to the mom, and then the refrigerator begins to shake violently, as if some force is trying to escape. There's more to be revealed, and I should warn that gun violence and death are portrayed. But this is a poetic and emotional tale of grief distilled. Through Feb. 22. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Daniel Beaty's one-man show, Through the Night, was well-received at the Cincinnati Playhouse in a Fall 2012 production, performed by the playwright. (CityBeat previewed that piece here.) Northern Kentucky University this weekend is offering another of Beaty's solo works, the multi-character show (27 roles in all) Emergency, a piece that features slam poetry, performed by local actor Deondra Means. It begins with a fanciful premise, a slave ship arriving in a New York City harbor in the 21st century. Director Daryl Harris calls Emergency "a perfect storm for the social activist and the theater artist in me." It's onstage only this weekend at NKU's Stauss Theatre. Tickets: 859-572-5464.
 
 
by Rick Pender 01.28.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage blog 1-28 - pirates of penzance @ actors theatre -photo by bill brymer

Advising a Louisville Theatre Field Trip

Actors Theatre's "Pirates of Penzance" is a joyous, festive hoot from start to finish

If I could charter a bus and offer you transportation to Louisville over the next few days to see a production at Actors Theatre, I'd happily do so. I made the drive to see a Sunday matinee of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, "reimagined by The Hypocrites." This zany group of theater artists from Chicago have found contemporary ways to inject new energy into traditional works from Shakespeare to Golden Age musicals. And that's what they've done with Pirates, a show that was a silly musical hit in the 1880s on both sides of the Atlantic.

In fact, what this energetic cast of 10 does with the show is restore its comic brilliance in a way that's wholly suited to the 21st century but in keeping with the original. The story of soft-hearted pirates, a soft-headed major-general and his melodic daughters and a crew of incompetent cops remains intact and is inherently funny. But The Hypocrites have pushed it to a contemporary level.

Entering Actors Theatre's arena-styled Bingham Theatre, audiences were immediately immersed in a beach party on the central stage. Beach balls were bouncing everywhere; the ushers were wearing floral shirts. The performers, also musicians, were leading a folksy singalong, tunes like the Lumineers' "Ho Hey" and Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard." It was downright festive, and audience members who had seating onstage (many with kids) joined right in with the fun.

When showtime arrived, a few ground rules were laid out by actress Christine Stulik, who played both the matronly awkward Ruth and the sweet ingenue Mabel. She asked those onstage to follow any requests made by the stage managers, dressed as Victorian lifeguards, so that actors would have clear paths to move to their required locations. She also mentioned that the show would be one hour, 20 minutes, with a one-minute intermission. (That's what really happened: a quick break, with actors sipping bottled water, audience members running up the steps to an in-theater bar, stretching and so on.)

The performance follows Pirates' amusing tale of the virtuous young Fredric, who is a "Slave of Duty" (we were regularly reminded by the word DUTY, spelled out in giant red letters at the top of one audience section). The performers executed their roles in exaggerated fashion, squeezing humor out of every moment. They also played an astonishing array of musical instruments: guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, flute, clarinet, accordion, squeezebox and other esoteric items such as a toy piano, a kiddie xylophone and a saw(!). They were all accomplished singers, too, and just about everyone played multiple roles — including sweet young ladies who doubled as comically mustachioed police officers.

It was a joyous, festive hoot from start to finish, a wonderful tonic for a bitterly cold winter. My only regret is that I'm late to the party: The production of Pirates of Penzance wraps up on Saturday. If you have the time to drive down I-71 and can score a ticket (Actors Theatre box office: 502-584-1205), you'll feel like you took a mini-vacation.
 
 
by Rick Pender 01.24.2014
Posted In: Theater at 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 1-24 - clyybourne park @ cincy playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: 'Clybourne Park' and More

I caught the opening night of the Cincinnati Playhouse's production of Clybourne Park last night. The play won the theater triple crown: Tony for best play on Broadway, Olivier for best play in London, and the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for drama. It's being staged by a lot of big theaters this season, but you need go no farther than Mount Adams to see what all the fuss is about. And there is a ton of fussing in Bruce Norris's script. He took his inspiration from the events of Lorraine Hansberry's historic 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun, the story of a black family seeking to improve its lot by buying a home — in a previously all-white neighborhood. Clybourne Park's first act looks at the same events from the neighborhood's perspective; Act II jumps ahead 50 years to the same neighborhood, deteriorated but coming back. Curiously enough — or is it predictably? — many of the stresses and strains have only moved from one set of people to another. Norris's clever script subtly presents parallels and contrasts, with some humor and some pathos, and a sardonic sense that human nature is what it is. The Playhouse does a great job with a cast that plays different roles (some slightly connected from past to present) and a revolving set that recreates the house at 406 Clybourne in Chicago in 1959 and 2009. This production will spur lots of thoughtful and spirited conversation. Onstage through Feb. 16. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Pluto at Know Theatre is being staged by former artistic director Jason Bruffy. Steve Yockey's unusual script blurs the line between real life and mythology, as weird events materialize in a suburban kitchen, what with a talking three-headed dog and other unusual phenomena getting in the way of necessary dialogue between a mom and her sullen son. It opens tonight and runs through Feb. 22. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Also opening tonight is Revelation by Untethered Theater, in the compact space at Clifton Performance Theater (404 Ludlow). It's described as a "pitch black comedy" about a couple, one a Southern Baptist who is expecting the Rapture and the other a premed student who happens to be an atheist. They travel from New York to Arkansas in search of the New Jerusalem. Along the way, they find a whole lot more. Opening tonight, onstage through Feb. 8. Info: 513-939-0599.

I don't mean to sound like a broken record — I've mentioned the following productions before — but several shows are here a bit longer that are definitely worth considering:

The Book of Mormon continues at the Aronoff through Sunday. If you haven't seen this hilarious musical, I have to ask why? And if you have, you might want to catch it one more time if you can. (I went twice, and it was every bit as funny the second time around — maybe more so because I could focus on the crazy, rude lyrics and the beautifully timed comedy.) Tickets: 800-982-2787.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic tale of singing kids, their stoic dad and the nun who brings them together, The Sound of Music, is being offered in a "lightly staged" concert version accompanied by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra at Covington's Carnegie Center. It's been enthusiastically received by folks I've talked with who've seen it. Final performance is Sunday. 859-957-1940.

This is also the final weekend for a charming production of Stephen Sondheim's musical of mixed-up lovers in early 20th-century Sweden, A Little Night Music, at Mariemont Players. Tickets: 513-684-1236.

Hamlet, at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, runs until Feb.9, but you should catch it if you plan to attend the next CSC show, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which tells the same story from the perspective of two minor characters — using the same cast. It opens on Feb. 14. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.
 
 
by Rick Pender 01.17.2014
Posted In: Theater at 12:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
mormon

Stage Door: 'South Park,' Sondheim and Shakespeare

The big buzz is around The Book of Mormon, the musical by the South Park guys that's rude, crude and sweet, all at once. An acquaintance of mine aptly describes it as "blasphemy without malice." Regardless of what you call it, it's the talk of the town, and a lot of people have told me that affordable tickets are not to be found. Since it's a hot item the ticket resellers have really jacked up the prices, so it's a better bet to go straight to the box office at the Aronoff Center and ask them what's available. If you have the time, come the box office two-and-a-half hours before the performance you're hoping to see and apply for one or two tickets (that's the limit). Two hours before curtain names will be drawn randomly. You have to be there and you can only enter once. Of course it's a gamble, but if your name is pulled, you'll pay just $25 per ticket. This touring production will be in downtown Cincinnati through Jan. 26.

Last weekend I drove out through Mariemont to the Walton Creek Playhouse where Mariemont Players has assembled a thoroughly enjoyable production of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, a show once described as "whipped cream with knives." The theater, an old schoolhouse, has an intimate performing space, a perfect setting for this tale of mixed-up couples in early-20th-century Sweden. The show, simply and effectively staged by Skip Fenker, revolves around a free-spirited but aging actress who eventually sings "Send in the Clowns," Sondheim's best-known tune. The Sunday matinee I attended was all but sold out, so you should call in advance for a reservation: 513-684-1236. Onstage through Jan. 26.

If you're looking for some outstanding acting, you should definitely head to Cincinnati Shakespeare and watch Brent Vimtrup play the title role in Hamlet. He plays the role of the indecisive Prince of Denmark, pointed toward vengeance but filled with doubt. Vimtrup uses an expressive physicality and natural insight that makes long-familiar speeches ("To be or not to be," "What a rogue and peasant slave am I" and more) feel fresh and new. He's onstage for most of the three-and-a-half hour production, a highly watchable marathon. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x 1. Through Jan. 26.

 
 

 

 

Latest Blogs
 
by Rick Pender 02.05.2016 52 hours ago
Posted In: Theater at 02:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 2-5 - ifthen on tour - anthony rapp & jackie burns - photo joan marcus

Stage Door

A musical worth seeing, events at Know (one serious, the other entertaining) plus a Super Bowl commercial

Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey met with great success when they created next to normal, winning several Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama. They didn’t strike gold with their next show, If/Then, onstage locally for just a week in a touring production — but I found it to be a very satisfying, if complex work. (Read my Curtain Call interview with Kitt and Yorkey here.) Elizabeth is recently divorced and trying to decide what path to take next. She asks herself musically “What If” she takes this path or that — and this show lets us follow her down two divergent threads, one toward a successful professional career as a city planner in New York, the other in a happy marriage with kids that doesn’t quite turn out as she imagined. Her stories are presented in overlapping narratives, since some moments and events are quite close. It requires paying close attention, but it’s definitely worth the effort. It’s made all the easier by a very strong cast — including Jackie Burns in the leading role, Broadway veteran Anthony Rapp as Lucas, one of her close friends (he originated the role on Broadway Lucas and played videographer Mark in the original cast of Rent back in 1996) and Tamyra Gray as Kate, who pushes Elizabeth in a different direction. The show’s inventive staging, using video and fluidly moving set pieces, is also a fine example of contemporary theater design. Definitely worth seeing. Onstage through Sunday. 

In BlackTop Sky at Know Theatre, Ida’s view from an asphalt-paved courtyard surrounded by the housing project where she lives isn’t pretty.  The 18-year-old yearns to escape, but her avenues are limited. The safe, predictable route is with Wynn, her boyfriend, a hardworking auto mechanic. Then there’s Klass, an all-but-inarticulate homeless man who settle on two park benches. Ida is caught between these two poles. This is a show about lives that are pretty dead-end. Nevertheless, Christina Anderson’s script has its moments, especially with Kimberly Faith Hickman’s purposeful staging of 34 distinct scenes, several of them entirely wordless. Anderson writes with occasional lyricism and feeling, but desperation underlies these sad stories. That being said, the telling holds out a promise of change. That’s an important if not altogether entertaining message. Onstage through Feb. 20.

Also at Know, the fourth outing of Serials gets under way on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. They’ve dubbed this one Thunderdome 2 – Beyond Thunder, meaning that each evening two of the five shows will be voted out by the audience, to be replaced by two new shows at the following session. Serials 4 features some writers and directors who entertained audiences in previous iterations of Serials. But several new talents have entered the fray, and the Know staff tells me, “There are some seriously strong story pitches this round!” They feel that the “gentle competition” of Thunderdome leads to stronger writing and a better audience experience. Writers who take the challenge must leap quickly into their narratives; if they lag behind, they’ll be struck by a thunderclap and end up in the audience at the next round. Subsequent episodes are set for Feb. 22, March 7 and 21 and April 4.

Finally: If you’re tuned in to the Super Bowl on Sunday evening, keep an eye out for a 30-second commercial for Gold Star Chili. It was shot locally, featuring 15 Cincinnati actors at several Gold Star locations. Ensemble Theatre’s Lynn Meyers did the casting for it, so you’ll see some familiar faces often featured on local stages. 


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
by Rick Pender 01.29.2016 9 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 01:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
kathleen wise as the pilot in grounded at ensemble theatre - photo by ryan kurtz

Stage Door

Going to war — one way or another

There are so many things happening on local stages it’s a bit of a challenge make recommendations. But every one of these productions has some sort of conflict at its heart.

Grounded opened Wednesday night Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. George Brant’s a one-woman script is about a fearless fighter pilot whose career is cut short by an unexpected pregnancy, marriage and parenthood. Her new job is to fly military drones from a trailer outside Las Vegas; but she goes home to her family every night — and before long, she has trouble sorting out the boundaries between her two worlds. Kathleen Wise makes her ETC debut with this challenging performance, a woman who knows her way “in the blue” as a pilot, but must navigate new paths when she’s relegated to the “chair force,” wandering remotely “in the gray,” targeting “personality strikes.” Michael Haney is back in town to stage this one, and he always succeeds with making solo shows a powerful experience. Grounded is a pressure-filled, cautionary tale, gripping but not easy to watch. Nevertheless, it’s compelling theater. Through Feb. 14. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

Karen Zacarías’ Native Gardens, a world premiere, opened at the Cincinnati Playhouse last evening. Her Book Club Play was a Playhouse hit in 2013; this time around the subject is a tad more serious, but it’s handled with deft humor as neighbors battle over styles of gardening — formal vs. natural — and choices driven by cultural differences. New neighbors Pablo and Tania are of Hispanic descent, moving in next door to Frank and Virginia, who are as waspy as can be. You can imagine where that goes: Straight down the road to audience gasps as the couples insult one another when boundaries are crossed. The 80-minute show wraps up neatly — maybe a little too much so. But there’s no denying this is a show that has lots of comic appeal involving circumstances many people will recognize. Through Feb. 21. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Tonight is the opening for Black Top Sky at Know Theatre. Christina Anderson, a resident playwright with New York City’s New Dramatists, makes her Cincinnati debut with this show about the residents of a housing project. Ida, 18, befriends Klass, an unpredictable young homeless man. Their friendship forces Idea to make a choice: Embrace the struggle for justice or embrace a life with her successful boyfriend. Kimberly Faith Hickman, who staged 2014’s The Twentieth-Century Way for Know, is back from New York to direct. Andrew Hungerford, Know’s artistic director, chose this show because he was “struck by the poetry of the language, the visual poetry of the stage directions and the gut-wrenching timelessness of the story.” He adds, “It flips from humor to heaviness at the speed of light.” Onstage through Feb. 20. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Shakespeare’s chronicling of King Henry VI took three plays back in the 16th-century; Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has rearranged them into two productions, one onstage now and another coming next season. This portion details the roots of the War of the Roses, with relatives vying for power — it’s truly a historic “game of thrones.” It’s also is a predecessor of today’s action movies, with lots of combat — and the fiery presence of Joan of Arc (played with zest by Caitlin McWethy), as England’s zeal for dominance in France runs a parallel track to the jockeying for position among royal relatives back home. Through Feb. 13. Tickets: 513-381-2273. 


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
by Rick Pender 01.22.2016 16 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
darnell pierre benjamin as henry vi at cincinnati shakespeare - photo mikki schaffner photography

Stage Door

A little history, a little love and some fantasy

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is staging the original “game of thrones” — England’s Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) as retold by the Bard’s history plays — eight shows being presented in chronological order across five theater seasons. (Cincy Shakes is only the second theater company in the U.S. to present the history cycle in Chronological order.) We’ve already seen Richard II, Henry IV: Part 1 and 2 and Henry V. Now it’s time for the reign of Henry VI, which Shakespeare covered with three plays. This week starts the production of Henry VI, Part I, the story of Henry V’s only son who, in 1421, inherited the throne before his first birthday, after his father’s untimely death. A child on the throne opened the door to the dynastic struggles of the War of the Roses. (The cycle concludes next season with the bloody tragedy of Richard III.) Darnell Pierre Benjamin plays Henry, an unusual choice. Here’s what he says about taking on this role: “I’m a black male from St. Martinville, Louisiana. Despite how much I’ve always fixated my interests on the classics, I never thought that I’d have the honor of representing one of Shakespeare’s history kings.” He says he hopes “to open people’s minds and hearts to seeing the core of this story — a young man coming into his own as he learns that there are forces, both good and bad, that can alter his perception of himself.” Through Feb. 13. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

The Covedale Center just opened Neil Simon’s Chapter Two, a play about a widowed writer trying to start over while still grieving for his late wife. The story is rooted in Simon’s own experience, and the playwright’s famous one-liners are still there, but woven into the show’s humor is a story about coming to terms with death and moving on. Through Feb. 14. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

In Covington, The Carnegie is offering what sounds like an interesting production of The Wizard of Oz that opened last night. With musical accompaniment by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, it’s a “lightly-staged” rendition with Harold Arlen’s famous score from the 1939 movie. Of particular interest is the scenic design by local artist Pam Kravetz, a unique take on the iconic landscapes of Oz, including Munchkin Land and the Emerald City. Just to remind folks passing by on Scott Avenue, you’ll see a giant pair of legs with striped stockings and ruby slippers to remind you that one wicked witch is dead. Through Jan. 31. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

For something completely different, consider The Realistic Joneses by Clifton Players, at Clifton Performance Theater on Ludlow Avenue. It’s about two couples named Jones, next-door neighbors who get to know one another despite fear and loneliness. Will Eno’s unusual play — part comedy, part drama — digs into secrets that aren’t often spoken aloud. It’s being staged by local theater veteran Dale Hodges with a cast that includes Carter Bratton, Mindy Siebert, Miranda McGee and Phil Fiorini. It’s onstage through Feb. 7. Tickets: 513-861-7469.

Next week there will be even more theater on local stages: Grounded, a one-woman show about a fighter pilot assigned to making drone strikes (Ensemble Theatre, Jan. 27-Feb. 14, 513-421-3555), BlackTop Sky, a tale of homelessness and friendship (Know Theatre, Jan. 29-Feb. 20, 513-300-5669) and Prelude to a Kiss, a sweet love story about changing places and understanding different perspectives (Falcon Theater in Newport, Jan. 29-Feb. 13, 513-479-6783).


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 01.20.2016 18 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 05:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
incline theatre (2016) - photo provided by cincinnati landmark productions

If You're So Inclined

2016-2017 shows announced for Cincinnati Landmark venues

Even though we’ve just passed the halfway point of the 2015-2016 theater season, the over-achievers at Cincinnati Landmark Productions just announced plans for future productions at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts and the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater for 2016-2017.

Tim Perrino, CLP’s executive artistic director, says, “With our two venues, Cincinnati Landmark Productions has two great platforms to create exciting theater and palpable neighborhood vitality. We set a course for success with a summer of sellouts at the Incline in 2015, and we’re chomping at the bit to bring these just-announced shows to life in 2016 and 2017.”

The Covedale’s offerings are designed for mainstream audiences, while the Incline offers two distinct seasons — “Summer Classics” presents shows with broad appeal; the “District Series” produces more adult fare, both musicals and dramas.

The Covedale Center’s “Marquee Series” for 2016-2017 will offer:

  • Godspell (Sept. 8-Oct. 2, 2016), Stephen Schwartz’s first big musical theater hit, based on the New Testament’s Gospel of Matthew. Schwartz is the composer of Wicked.
  • The Foreigner (Oct. 20, Nov. 13, 2016), a comedy by Larry Shue, in which a shy, lonely guy poses as visitor from an exotic country who doesn’t speak English.
  • The Night Before Christmas (Dec. 1-23, 2016) for the holiday season.
  • Doubt (Jan. 19-Feb. 12, 2017), John Patrick Shanley’s 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner about a suspicious nun and a progressive priest.
  • Leading Ladies (March 9-April 2, 2017), Ken Ludwig’s farce about a pair of Shakespearean actors scheming for an inheritance.
  • My Fair Lady (April 27-May 21, 2017), Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical about a professor of linguistics who trains a Cockney gal to pose as an elegant noblewoman.

The Incline’s “District Series” plans to produce starting next fall:

  • [title of show] (Sept. 29-Oct. 16, 2016), a clever musical about creating a musical to enter in a festival.
  • God of Carnage (Nov. 17-Dec. 4, 2016), Yasmina Reza’s domestic drama about a pair of parents who come to blows arguing about a fight between their children.
  • The Rocky Horror Show (Feb. 16-March 5, 2017), the sci-fi parody musical from 1973 that inspired the 1975 cult film.
  • Equus (April 6-23, 2017), Peter Shaffer’s award-winning drama about a psychiatrist treating a teenager who blinded six horses.

Still in the pipeline for the Covedale’s current season are productions of Neil Simon’s warm-hearted comedy Chapter Two (Jan. 21-Feb. 14) and two classic musicals, She Loves Me (March 1-April 3) and Brigadoon (April 28-May 22).

Queued up at the Incline for the balance of this season are the satiric musical Avenue Q (Feb. 18-March 6) and David Mamet’s hard-as-nails real-estate drama Glengarry Glen Ross (April 6-24). Those will be followed by the previously announced “Summer Classics” season for 2016, featuring three likeable musicals Anything Goes (June 1-26), Baby (July 6-31) and Chicago (Aug. 10-Sept. 4). The Incline’s summer season in 2015 completely sold out three productions — The Producers, 1776 and 9 to 5.

 
 
by Rick Pender 01.15.2016 23 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
radium girls

Stage Door

A Fringe fix, some radioactivity, a lot of dancing — and previews of what's coming

Right now we’re about equidistant from the 2015 and the 2016 Fringe festivals. So let’s thanks the folks at Know Theatre, who are presenting a double-bill of “Fringe Encores” to keep us stoked. This weekend actually offers one encore plus a graduate from Know’s Serials! series. Occupational Hazards is about an office fling that becomes the subject of fan-fiction with wildly divergent storylines.

Occupational Hazards

The piece by Ben Dudley was a 2015 Fringe show. He’s also the writer of Cinderblock, about a guy (played by Dudley) whose windshield is smashed by a cult member. This mystery passes through an office party.

Ben Dudley

The shows are being performed this weekend at Clifton Performance Theatre (404 Ludlow Ave., Gaslight Clifton): performances of Occupational Hazards are Friday at 8:45 p.m. and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Cinderblock, which, originally presented in five 15-minute episodes, has been pieced into a full-length version that will be presented on Friday evening at 7:30 and Saturday at 8:45. You can sit in on one piece for $15 or pay $25 for the pair either evening. Tickets: knowtheatre.com

Mariemont Players, one of Cincinnati’s fine community theater groups, is presenting D. W. Gregory’s Radium Girls through Jan. 24. It’s inspired by a true story about women who painted radium numerals on glow-in-the-dark watches, unaware of the dangers of radioactivity. The play, described as being “written with warmth and humor,” is being presented at the Walton Creek Theater (4101 Walton Creek Rd., just east of Mariemont). Tickets ($20): 513-684-1236 or mariemontplayers.com

One more weekend at the Aronoff Center for the highly entertaining touring production of Kinky Boots (through Sunday). A struggling shoe factory in Northampton, England, retools to avoid bankruptcy and unemployment. Rather than continuing to manufacture stodgy men’s shoes, they turn to high-fashion footwear for drag queens, promoted as “kinky boots.” It’s an unlikely tale that happens to be true, and it’s the vehicle for some outrageous humor, especially from Lola, an extrovert of a diva and her spectacularly clad and built “Angels,” a half-dozen drag queens who back up her act. Kinky Boots offers a meaningful message about tolerance and finding your own path, fleshed out with some entertaining dancing and fine singing. Tickets: 513-621-2787

The local theater scene picks up momentum next week when three shows open on Thursday and another on Friday. That evening the Covedale Center opens Neil Simon’s Chapter Two (through Feb. 14), a warm-hearted comedy about getting back into the dating game; Covington’s Carnegie offers a “lightly-staged” concert adaptation of The Wizard of Oz (through Jan. 31) with accompaniment by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra; and Clifton Players stages The Realistic Joneses (through Feb. 7 at Clifton Performance Theatre), a comedy-drama about the secrets of next-door neighbors directed by local stage veteran Dale Hodges. On Friday evening, Cincinnati Shakespeare continues its five-year, chronological presentation of Shakespeare’s eight-play history cycle with Henry VI, Part I (through Feb. 13), the story of a young king who must rule after his father’s untimely death; Joan of Arc is a key character in this tale. 

Life in the big city: Lots of choices.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 01.08.2016 30 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 1-8 kinky boots tour - adam kaplan & j. harrison ghee - photo matthew murray

Stage Door

Get 'Kinky' — or look out for 'True Food'

If you turn up at the Aronoff Center for the touring production of Kinky Boots (it’s onstage through Jan. 17), you might think you’ve landed in Over-the-Rhine. That’s how much the show’s opening vista of a factory in Northampton, England, resembles our own historic neighborhood. It’s the Victorian brick façade of a shoe factory that’s struggling in the 21st century because it’s still manufacturing old-fashioned men’s shoes. Even if they’re “the most beautiful thing in the world” (the theme of the show’s opening song), not so many people want to buy them today. As a last-ditch effort to keep the company from closing, the fourth-generation heir to the business, Charlie Price, decides to make “kinky boots,” high-fashion footwear for drag queens whose male frames are too much for standard female shoe heels. His customer No. 1 is Lola, an extrovert of a diva who — not unlike Charlie — has struggled with living up to his dad’s expectations. There’s a lot of fun and frippery along the way: Lola has a half-dozen “Angels” — drag queens who back up her act — and they’re spectacularly clad and built. A perky factory worker, Lauren, keeps giving Charlie advice (while falling for him despite his imminent fiancée in London). Another employee, Don, a hardcore male chauvinist, wants nothing to do with Lola. Watching events unfold is the fun of this show, even if you know where it’s all headed. Kinky Boots offers a meaningful message about tolerance and finding your own path, and there’s a lot of fancy dancing and fine singing along the way. Tickets: 513-621-2787

Whether or not your New Year’s resolution had to do with losing weight, you still have to eat. So the topic this quarter’s True Theatre, True Food, should be of interest. These are true personal narratives, sometimes confessional, often humorous, told by everyday people. Monday night’s stories are about what a homeless woman did when she had access to a kitchen, a man who ate the wrong thing at the wrong time, another man reconsidering his family’s “roots” and two guys who eat like there’s no tomorrow, day in and day out. What happens when a foodie and a picky eater cross paths? You can find out on Monday when folks crowd into Know Theatre’s Underground Bar (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine) to get the dish on these stories. Call for tickets ($18); these events are often sold out.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
by Rick Pender 12.18.2015 51 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
the cast of every christmas story ever told @ cincy shakes performs its take on the year the grinch stole christmas - photo rich sofranko

Stage Door: Last Chances — and Some Big Laughs

This weekend is your final chance to see several December productions, including Low Down Dirty Blues (Cincinnati Playhouse), All Childish Things (Know Theatre) and Rent (Incline Theater). A few shows stick around after Dec. 25 — A Christmas Carol (Playhouse) continues through Dec. 30 and Ensemble Theatre’s staging of its jaunty rendition of Cinderella remains onstage until Jan. 3. I would find it odd to watch Ebenezer Scrooge getting scared into a “Merry Christmas” a few days after the holiday, but ETC’s contemporary rendition of a beloved fairytale might be just the thing to entertain bored kids after they’ve tried out all the new toys. Tickets for the latter: 513-421-3555.

I checked out opening night of the tenth anniversary presentation of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and it’s as silly and funny as ever — especially with some clever pokes at people and events from 2015. The annual gags about fruitcakes take on a whole new dimension this time around by having some fun with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her intransigence about issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Every Christmas Story trots out just about every “BHC” (Beloved Holiday Classic) you might recall and puts it through a humorous filter. It’s fun from start to finish, but there is a moment — after recreating A Charlie Brown Christmas, complete with a woebegone tree — when Justin McCombs steps into a pool of light as Linus with his security blanket and recites the New Testament passage from the Gospel of Luke about an angel speaking to the shepherds. It’s a somber and wholly lovely scene, so far removed from very tongue-in-cheek, sometimes off-color humor typical of the show that it sticks with audience members. The antic McCombs also plays a true believer who refuses to be be convinced that Santa’s existence is impossible: His enthusiasm for all the miraculous things the Jolly Old Elf can accomplish is so childlike that you’ll wish you could return to that innocent age yourself. Even if you’ve seen Every Christmas Story before, it’s a blast to go back. In fact, I’d say it’s become a BHC in its own right. Onstage through Dec. 27. Tickets (if they’re still available): 513-381-2273.

There’s also some great holiday laughs to be had compliments of OTRImprov, presenting its annual show The Naughty List in the Courtyard at Arnold’s Bar & Grill in Downtown Cincinnati. The 90-minute show — unscripted and building off suggestions from the audience — happens Sunday-Tuesday, Dec. 20-22 and Dec. 27-29. It’s a laugh-a-minute way to have fun right before or after Christmas. To make an evening of it, show up at Arnolds (201 East 8th St.) between 6 and 6:30 p.m., get seated and place your dinner order. The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. The rotating cast includes OTRImprov’s quick-witted regulars Mike Hall, Kirk Keevert, Sean Mette, Dave Powell, Charlie Roetting, Dylan Shelton and Kat Smith. Tickets (order before 4:30 on the day of the show): 513-300-5669.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
by Rick Pender 12.11.2015 58 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
sd

Stage Door

Ho-Ho-Ho, try a holiday show!

Most of the theater onstage right now is holiday-themed — or at least family-friendly. If you want to take kids to see something, your best bet is Cinderella at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, a contemporary take on the familiar fairytale — the heroine is a bookworm who prefers to sneakers to glass slippers. There’s lots of humor, especially from the loudmouthed and crass stepsisters in this telling, plus some fine musical moments. This show will be around until Jan. 3. Tickets: 513-421-3555 … Another good choice for kids is A Charlie Brown Christmas, presented at the Taft Theatre by Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. You know the story, I’m sure (this year is the 50th anniversary of the TV special) but it’s a good bet that Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati is putting a version onstage that will let kids have a good time. Performances are at 2 and 5 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets: 800-745-3000 … Want to start a family tradition? There’s no better choice than Cincinnati Playhouse’s glittering, well-acted production of A Christmas Carol. It’s fast-moving and often funny (Bruce Cromer gives Ebenezer the full range of emotion, from crabby “Bah, humbug” to a joyous “Merry Christmas.”) It’s onstage through Dec. 30. Tickets: 513-421-3888 … The Covedale Center’s production of Mary Poppins isn’t their best work (it feels a tad long for youngsters), but it has great tunes and some memorable special effects — Mary flies and Bert walks up and down the sides of the proscenium — that audiences will enjoy. Through Dec. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550

The Rock musical Rent, onstage at the Incline Theatre in Price Hill doesn’t exactly qualify as holiday or family entertainment, although its story does start and finish at Christmas (with “525,600 Minutes” in between). But this is an energetically acted and sung production for mature audiences. Through Dec. 20. Tickets: 513-241-6550 … If you can’t quite wait for The Force Awakens to open, you can get a small dose of Star Wars energy from All Childish Things at Know Theatre. It’s a comedy about some slackers trying to steal collectibles from a warehouse — they don’t succeed, but they learn a lesson about heroism that’s akin to the movie. Through Dec. 19. Tickets: 513-300-5669 … This weekend is your final opportunity to see As You Like It at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. It’s a delightful production of one of Shakespeare’s best comedies, but it’s wrapping up on Saturday. (Next week CSC opens Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some) on Wednesday.) Tickets: 513-381-2273 …The most entertaining non-holiday show this season has to be Low Down Dirty Blues on the Playhouse’s Shelterhouse stage. It’s pretty much what the title says: Three singers getting a little raunchy and having a lot of fun with some tunes about being up and down. Great performances and a really good time for grown-ups. Through Dec. 20. Tickets: 513-421-3888

Finally, if you a performance that’s simply feel-good, I heartily recommend going to Ensemble Theatre on Monday evening at 7 p.m. for their one-night-only annual presentation of Expectations of Christmas. It’s a round-up of holiday traditions, origins, music, facts and back-stories — presented by performers who frequent ETC’s stage. Admission is just $10 and all the proceeds go to Tender Mercies (an Over-the-Rhine agency right around the corner from ETC that provides permanent and transitional housing for the homeless with histories of chronic mental illness). Tickets: 513-421-3555 … or walk in on Monday and you’ll likely get in. 

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
by Rick Pender 12.04.2015 65 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 12-4 - cast of rent at incline - photo mikki schaffner

Stage Door

A fairytale, a ghost story and lots of musicals for the holidays

December is full of shows for your holiday viewing pleasure: 

Every five years or so, Ensemble Theatre rolls out a new production of its holiday rendition of Cinderella. This one just opened on Wednesday, and while it’s the same material that was presented in 2005 and 2010, it’s been freshened with a new set and colorful costumes — and especially a vibrant cast with great voices for the tunes with lyrics by David Kisor and melodies by Fitz Patton. Brooke Steele is picture-perfect as the golly-gee title character who prefers reading to going to a ball. But Kate Wilford as “Gwendolyn the Well Wisher” (“I give good advice and then wish you well,” she tells everyone with a sweep of her hand to musical accompaniment) encourages her to go so she can meet Prince Frederick (Warren Bryson), who happens to be another bookworm. They’re a lovely couple who overcome the modest barriers thrown their way (she loses a pink sneaker that helps him locate her later), but the show’s real energy comes from Sara Mackie and Torie Wiggins as Cinderella’s crass stepsisters. They’re loudmouthed losers, spewing malapropisms and ridiculous self-aggrandizement (Wiggins’ Clarissa bellows competitively, “My patheticism outshines all others”) — constantly mugging and fawning and arguing. Deb G. Girdler as their manipulative mother Brunhilda is also great fun to watch as she tries to control events to her own advantage. As is always the case with ETC’s holiday musicals with scripts by local playwright Joe McDonough, there’s a timely moral: “The essence of true beauty lies … beyond what’s seen by normal eyes.” Oh, Cinderella and Frederick wear glasses — but they see love pretty clearly. Through Jan. 3. Tickets: 513-421-3555

I’ve been attending A Christmas Carol at the Cincinnati Playhouse for 25 years, as long as they have produced it. The script — Howard Dallin excellent adaptation of Dickens’ classic story — is top-notch and doesn’t need to be tinkered, but with actors coming and going, it’s always fun to see how things shake out from one year to the next. Greg Procaccino is the only actor to be in the show every year, playing Marley’s regretful ghost and slimy junk buyer Old Joe; the always-watchable Bruce Cromer holds the longevity record playing Scrooge (11 years, after 8 as Bob Cratchit). Kathleen Wise brings a light, bemused touch to Christmas Past in her first year; returning performers include Ryan Gilreath as nervous, angular Cratchit and Kelly Mengelkoch as the patient, loving Mrs. Cratchit, as well as Douglas Rees as the ebullient Fezziwig and Annie Fitzpatrick as his playful wife. There’s a new Tiny Tim for 2015, Henry Charles Weghorst, the tiniest ever, I believe (he needs two pillows to sit at the dining table), and truly adorable. This Playhouse production continues to be a joy to watch, a glorious, glittering set and costumes that deliver you to the mid-19th century. Pay attention to the David Smith’s sound design and recorded music, which set the emotional tone for virtually every scene. A Christmas Carol is a welcome Cincinnati holiday tradition. Through Dec. 30. Tickets 513-421-3888

Cincinnati Landmark Productions is offering shows at both of its venues this month; neither is holiday per se, although the musical Rent (at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre in Price Hill through Dec. 20) begins and ends with Christmas, celebrating a year of the “seasons of love” experienced by a clutch of impoverished young artists in New York’s East Village. This is a high-quality production, a great choice for fans of contemporary Rock music. Rent is almost 20 years old, but it has stood the test of time, especially as performed by the Incline’s committed, diverse cast of excellent, energetic singers. Tyler Kuhlman as the depressed guitarist Roger has the looks and the vocal chops for the role, and Lisa Glover is a fine match as Mimi, the sexy club dancer and drug addict who makes a lot of bad choices. Kelcey Steele provides the necessary connective tissue as videographer Mark, and RJ Caldwell ably portrays Tom Collins, an anarchist professor and street activist with AIDS. But the production’s most memorable performances come from Aiden Sims as Maureen, the brassy performance artist, and especially charismatic Christopher Carter as the transgender drag queen Angel: His high-flying rendition of “Today 4 U” is a show-stopper. The ensemble shines when presenting of Rent’s iconic numbers, particularly “La Vie Bohème and “Seasons of Love.” This production is a bold choice for the new venue, seeking audiences in search of more ambitious, adult fare — there were empty seats on opening night. Rent offers strong evidence that the Incline is up to the challenge. I give this one a Critic’s Pick. … I was part of a very full house for Mary Poppins last Sunday (at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, also finished on Dec. 20); this production is clearly intended as holiday fare for families. I wish it were a bit more joyous. Mary (Alyssa Hostetler, who’s a fine singer) is a rather starchy character who’s not very loveable. The uptight Banks family she convinces to reconnect and have fun has an initially irritable dad (Dave Wilson, another excellent voice) and a mom who’s a budding feminist (Sarah Viola, who sings very well, too) — these aren’t characters that children can instantly love. Even the two Banks kids (Lili Shires and Peter Godsey, who work hard at being coy) are kind of obnoxious. The production felt long, with numerous labored scene changes. On the other hand, the audience had a great time — the songs (familiar from the 1964 movie) are beloved, and everyone seems to know them. That’s fun. Tickets: 513-241-6550

The touring production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas wraps up its engagement on Sunday. It’s a fine cast of singers and dancers, a production full of familiar tunes that’s worth seeing if you have the scratch for seats at the Aronoff Center. Tickets: 513-621-2787

If you prefer something not holiday-oriented, Xavier University’s theater program is staging Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth. It’s a three-character play from the 1990s (set in the early 1980s) about young people struggling with the transition to adulthood. Guest director Ed Stern, the Playhouse’s retired artistic director, told me it was a great opportunity to work with actors who are exactly the right age to play these roles. Read more from Stern in my recent Curtain Call column. Performances are this weekend only, including a Sunday matinee. Xavier Box Office: 513-745-3939

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
by Rick Pender 11.20.2015 79 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 11-20 - low down dirty blues @ cincinnati playhouse - felicia p. fields connects with an audience member - photo mikki schaffner .jpg

Stage Door: Non-Holiday Holiday Shows

Several of our local theaters produce shows this time of year that are a kind of antidote to the usual fare of A Christmas Carol and other happy, merry tales. Three get under way this weekend:

I went to a rockin’ party earlier this week, and you can, too — if you turn up for the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Low Down Dirty Blues, through Dec. 20. That’s right, a whole month of good times and sad in the intimate Shelterhouse Theater, doubling as Big Mama’s after-hours Blues bar. Every year around this time the Playhouse puts on a show as an alternate holiday choice to A Christmas Carol (which gets underway next week). This year it’s a warm-hearted good time featuring three excellent singers and a couple of very accomplished Jazz musicians (especially local Jazz pianist Steve Schmidt) performing off-color tunes, full of double-entendres and scandalous joking. The first half of the two-hour performance is mostly about lusty interaction via tunes like “Rough and Ready Man,” “I Got My Mojo Workin’ ” and “You Bring Out the Boogie in Me.” After intermission the party continues briefly (including some cute audience interaction to the tune of “I’m Not That Kind of Girl” — but then the tone darkens with passionate songs of grief (“Death Letter”), mourning (“Good Morning Heartache”) and then hope (“Change is ’Gonna Come”). Felicia P. Fields, a Broadway veteran who played a major role in the original staging of The Color Purple, anchors (and I use that word quite literally) the banter and the singing, but she is ably matched by Caron “Sugaray” Rayford, a massive force of energy, perspiration and rhythm. Chic Street Man sings and plays several guitars (especially a steel number with a gorgeous ring), and his sly, sinuous presence is a perfect complement to Fields’ and Rayford’s more ebullient performances. Don’t go if you’re offended by sexual innuendo, but if you’re looking for a “low down dirty” time, call now for a ticket: 513-421-3888

One of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, As You Like It, is the first step of holiday happiness at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. The story of tomfoolery and romance in the Forest of Arden kicks off tonight; it’s around until Dec. 12, when it’s followed by the tenth annual staging of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some). In case you missed it, Cincy Shakes announced this week that by mid-2017 it moves to its own spectacular new space in Washington Park, the Otto M. Budig Theatre, with nearly 100 more seats than its Race Street facility. (Read my story in this week's issue for more.) Until then, you need to line up for tickets, since many of the company’s performances sell out quickly. Tickets: 513-381-2273

Another “kind of” holiday show getting started is Know Theatre’s production of All Childish Things, opening tonight and onstage through Dec. 19. In a story set right here in Cincinnati (Norwood, in fact), it’s 2006 and two guys are still yearning for the galactic adventures promised by Star Wars when they were kids. One guy lives in his mom’s basement; the other has a girlfriend who could care less about The Force. They think their big break might be residing in a warehouse full of collectible Star Wars memorabilia. Zany shows rooted in childhood have become a holiday staple at Know Theatre, and this is right up that weird, happy alley. Tickets: 513-300-5669

And if you’re really longing to get the holidays under way, you have the perfect opportunity with a tour stop by a production of White Christmas at the Aronoff (next Tuesday through Dec. 6). It’s a stage version of the popular film; the tour features stage Cincinnati and Broadway veteran Pamela Myers in a cute, outspoken role. She performs a number titled “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” a perfect summary of her illustrious career. Tickets: 513-621-2787

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
 
Close
Close
Close