If it weren't for the Carnegie's production of Xanadu,
there wouldn't much to point you for theater choices in mid-August. I'm
happy to report that the judges from the League of Cincinnati Theatres
and I are in agreement that
this frothy piece of roller-disco and Greek mythology is a great piece
of silly entertainment. (Review here.) It's great to see the work of Alan Patrick Kenny
onstage again in Cincinnati. I should mention that this show
constituted his master's thesis for his graduate degree from U.C.L.A.,
and his advisors came to town to pass judgment on it. They apparently
gave him a passing grade, completing his academic efforts and
green-lighting him for his new job teaching musical theater at the
University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. I hope it's not too long
before he gets another gig locally, but in the meantime, I bet the folks
in central Wisconsin will be highly entertained. If you want to catch
Xanadu, you should call for tickets now, since the positive buzz means
that tickets will be getting snapped up between now and the final
performance on Aug. 26. Box office: 859-957-1940.
One other show that some of you might find entertaining is Rounding Third, on board the Showboat Majestic. It's about two wildly different guys coaching a Little League team — one is a win-at-all-costs kind of guy, the other is a geek who just wants the kids to have fun. You can imagine the fireworks. The LCT judging panel recommended it, and I can say that it's got two solid actors performing it. I thought the script was a tad predictable, but it's got some good laughs, and if you love baseball (or if you played Knothole ball here in Cincinnati) you'll find a lot to identify with. Box office: 513-241-6550.
The theater scene is still in vacation mode this weekend,
so there are only a few choices. Your best sure bet is the final weekend
of The Hound of the Baskervilles at Cincinnati
Shakespeare Company through Sunday. [REVIEW LINK]I suspect if you're a
Sherlock Holmes fan with a sense of humor, you'll love this production:
It does follow the plot of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle's ace detective's
greatest adventure, but it does so in a very tongue-in-cheek and
slapstick manner. It's also a romp for three actors who play all the
roles, including veteran CSC actor Jeremy Dubin who is Holmes as well as
all the villains (or potential villains) in the piece. It's as much fun
watching the trio do quick costume changes as it is following the story
of a cursed family on a remote moor in Northern England. It's been a
busy box office for this production, so be sure to call in advance if
you want a ticket. 513-381-2273, x1.
The Carnegie Center's production of Xanadu doesn't open until Saturday, but the odds are good that it will be worth seeing since it's being staged by wunderkind director Alan Patrick Kenny. Read more about Kenny here. The musical is based on the cult-favorite cinematic flop from 1980, reinvented more recently as a stage production by a clever creative team. Kenny, who dazzled local audiences for three years with productions at New Stage Collective (2007-2009), returns for a brief directing stint before he moves off to Stevens Point, Wisc., where he'll be teaching theater at a University of Wisconsin campus. He's spent the past two years studying directing at UCLA — and being engaged in some creative staging and a bit of professional work, too, while on the West Coast. He's one of the most inventive and fearless directors to stage work in Cincinnati in recent years, so Xanadu at the Carnegie s a production that's probably going to draw a crowd. (It's only having eight performances, through Aug. 26. Box office: 859-957-1940.
I saw the Showboat Majestic's Rounding Third when it opened on Wednesday evening. It's a tale of dads who coach Little League baseball from very different perspectives. I'm afraid the script is rife with cliches and stereotypes, but the actors — it's a two-man show; when they address the team, they're talking to the audience — capture the essence of their characters. Mike Sherman plays a win-at-all-costs head coach while Michael Schlotterbeck is a gentle nebbish who's trying to connect with his geeky son by offering to be an assistant coach. They're differing philosophies are the meat of the story, and they do end up learning from one another — although the story is pretty predictable from the get-go. Nevertheless, a baseball story in August might be just the thing you're looking for in some summer entertainment. 513-241-6550.
Light entertainment is what most of us are looking for
onstage during August, and Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has just the
answer: The Hound of the Baskervilles. The amusing script
takes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's class Sherlock Holmes tale and turns it
into a silly romp around the moor. CSC's cast of three veteran
performers — Nick Rose, Jeremy Dubin and Brent Vimtrup — have just the
right attitude to keep it amusing from start to finish without becoming
tiresome. That's also due to the work of director Michael Evan Haney.
He's the longtime associate artistic director at the Cincinnati
Playhouse in the Park, and he's done fine work on other stages locally,
but this is his debut with Cincy Shakes. It's a fine partnership,
building on his experience with a similar show — a funny romp through
Around the World in 80 Days that entertained Playhouse/Shelterhouse
audiences several years back and then moved on to New York City where it
had a successful run at the Irish Repertory Theatre. Hound is like
drinking fine English tea from a dribble cup. Review here. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.
While other theaters are largely dormant, the folks at Cincy Shakes are very busy in August. In addition to the aforementioned production at their Race Street theater, they also launch their Shakespeare in the Park series this weekend with a performance of The Tempest at Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park. It gets its first outing on Saturday evening at 7 p.m. Go to cincyshakes.com for more dates and locations. These are free performances, so they're definitely worth checking out.
And in case you need a reminder that we have a great theater scene locally, here's a tidbit. The Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis just announced its 2012-2013 season; this is a fine theater company, rather like Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati in its presentation of new works. But they're touting their September production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson as the "Midwest Premiere," and they've given a similar designation to their January-February staging of next to normal. Um, I'm sorry to burst their bubble, but those shows have already been onstage here in Cincinnati (and I believe we're in the Midwest). Both were produced last season. In fact, ETC offered next to normal last September (not long after the Tony and Pulitzer prize winner closed in New York) and already presented a sold-out revival in June. Know Theatre gave us the hard-rockin' version of our seventh president in a heavily sold run last spring. So the Indy theater's claims are more than a bit overblown. But we'll let them believe their own hype, and aren't we smug that we didn't have to leave town to see those shows. That being said, the Phoenix is offering Seminar, a snarky drama by Cincinnati native Theresa Rebeck (her play Dead Accounts had its world premiere at the Cincinnati Playhouse back in January) this fall (Oct. 25-Nov. 25) and Nicky Silver's dark comedy The Lyons next spring (Feb. 28-March 31). Both could be worth the drive. www.phoenixtheatre.org.
I can't say that a musical based on the Adam Sandler film The Wedding Singer
is going to be either edifying or educational for a bunch of teens. But
I can assure you that the kids from all over the region involved in
Cincinnati Young People's Theatre, which opens its production of the
show tonight, will be having a blast at the Covedale Center for the
Performing Arts. I bet their good times with this goofy show will mean
contagious entertainment for everyone who shows up to see it. Whether
they're related to the kids or not! It's onstage through Aug. 5. Box
It appears that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has a summertime hit on its hands with its very tongue-in-cheek staging of The Hound of the Baskervilles using three of its best actors. The show opened a week ago and there is so much demand for tickets that CSC has added matinee performances through the production's three-week run. Several performances have completely sold out. It's directed by Michael Evan Haney, associate artistic director at the Cincinnati Playhouse and one of our area's best at staging witty and complicated pieces — his Cincinnati Playhouse production of Around the World in Eighty Days was a big hit several seasons back (it used four actors) and it moved on to a well-received run in New York City. While Hound retells the well known Sherlock Holmes tale, it does it with actors in multiple roles (Jeremy Dubin, who portrays Holmes, for instance, also plays all the villains) and a lot of visual humor and slapstick physicality. Through Aug. 12. Box office: 513-381-2273.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
Some fine entertainment can be found onstage this weekend. Just opening is Cincinnati Shakespeare's production of The Hound of the Baskervilles, a clever, three-man rendition done in the style of The 39 Steps,
with actors taking on multiple roles and looking for moments of humor
and slapstick. In addition to using three fine actors from CSC's company
— Jeremy Dubin, Nick Rose and Brent Vimtrup — the show is being staged
by Michael Evan Haney, associate artistic director at the Cincinnati
Playhouse. A few years back he staged a similar version of Around the World in 80 Days
that was an entertaining delight. Haney is one of our finest local
directors, so you can expect this to be a production definitely worth
seeing. It opens tonight and runs through Aug. 12. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
In its final weekend onstage, Commonwealth Dinner Theatre's production of The Foreigner continues through Sunday. It's a daffy situation comedy about a shy Brit stuck at a fishing lodge in rural Georgia where there are a lot of nefarious goings-on. To help him cope, his friend tells the innkeeper that Charlie is a "foreigner" who doesn't speak English. That premise leads to all kinds of complications and a hilariously happy ending. This production is a laugh machine, but its star Roderick Justice is absolutely perfect in the role, giving it a funny physicality to match the comedic writing. Box office: 859-572-5464.
And if the weekend isn't enough for you, call up Know Theatre and make a reservation for Monday evening's quarterly dose of True Theatre. This time the theme for sincerely presented monologues is "true Grit." It will be an evening of storytelling, tales of perseverance, endurance and survival from everyday people. These programs are always fascinating because they're told with heartfelt honesty. I highly recommend attending; tickets are only $15. Box office: 513-300-5669.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
The best theatrical entertainment onstage this weekend is
The Foreigner, presented by the Commonwealth Theatre Company at Northern
Kentucky University. I saw it a week ago (review here) and it's a winner — a
very funny play with a marvelously inventive performance by Roderick
Justice in the title role. He plays a painfully shy man who tries to
avoid social contact by posing as someone who doesn't speak English,
even though he's quite literate. The concept doesn't quite work out as
planned when his "cover" means that people have all kinds of revealing
conversations around him. The plot is hilarious, but it's Justice's
performance that makes it run like clockwork. It's part of a dinner
theater package — dinner at 6:30 most nights, show at 8:00 p.m. Tickets:
There's not a lot of theater right now, but if you're looking for great onstage entertainment right now, the World Choir Games have plenty to offer. I've been blogging about it for the past week, and you can read more here. Events and performances through Saturday evening. www.2012worldchoirgames.com.
Sunday winds up Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s revival of the Tony Award-winning musical next to normal. (Review here.) The story of a woman struggling with schizophrenia and how it affects her family is even better than it was back in September. The show uses the power of a brilliant Rock score to enhance the impact of this painful story. ETC has reassembled most of its superb cast from last fall, including Jessica Hendy in the central role. Her beleaguered husband is now played by Bruce Cromer, who you might know as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Playhouse’s annual A Christmas Carol. His character’s relationship with Hendy’s makes their struggles all the more deeply felt. Box office: 513-421-3555.
Last Sunday I had some good laughs at the classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace on the Showboat Majestic. It’s an old chestnut (it was a hit in 1944), but it’s one of the funniest shows you’re likely to see, about a pair of off-kilter elderly maiden aunts who keep their rather normal nephew astonished and scrambling to keep them in line. The kind-hearted women take in boarders, quiet elderly men who are “all alone in the world,” and polish them off with elderberry wine laced with arsenic. They convince another nephew, who believes he’s Teddy Roosevelt, to bury them in the basement by telling him they’re Panama Canal works who are victims of yellow fever. A great show for the whole family. Box office: 513-241-6550.
Also winding up this weekend is Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). This rambunctious show mentions of all the Bard’s works — although many are completely unrecognizable, thanks the three buffoonish guys who undertake the task. Order your tickets online where you’ll find an automatic buy-one, get-one offer. Website: www.cincyshakes.com.
Cincinnati Opera is offering Porgy & Bess for the first time ever, with a performances on Saturday evening (as well as July 6 and 8). (Preview here.) Is it an opera or a musical? Judge for yourself (and read about it in my Curtain Call column in next week’s issue of CityBeat). It’s at Music Hall, with lots of seats, but as always, a limited run. This is one you shouldn’t miss. I saw it Thursday night, and the leading performers are great: Measha Brueggergosman is a conflicted Bess, Jonathan Lemalu conveys Porgy’s dignified but depressed life, Gordon Hawkins is the brutal Crown, and Steven Cole steals the show as the animated, irreverent Sporting Life. And pay attention to the chorus — it’s a wonderful ensemble. Box office: 513-241-2742.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
The excerpt competition, with performances evaluated by three adjudicators from elsewhere in Ohio, results in three productions being selected to go to the statewide event on Labor Day weekend. Selected this year were Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, presented by the Drama Workshop; the musical Avenue Q, presented by Showbiz Players; and the musical Rent, presented by Footlighters, Inc. An alternate is selected, too, in the event that some complication prevents one of the chosen productions from traveling to the state competition. The 2012 alternate is An Inspector Calls, presented by The Village Players.
Nineteen Cincinnati community theaters — all-volunteer groups that produce shows throughout the region — were honored with Orchid Awards at Saturday’s banquet, with recognition for individuals as well as elements of productions. Footlighters, which presents its shows at the Stained Glass Theater in Newport, had the show with the most awards: Rent picked up 26, including one for “overall performance quality.” Coming in second with 20 awards was Greater Hamilton Community Theater’s production of the musical Little Women. Footlighters, always a strong contender, also took third place (16 awards) with a production of the musical The Light in the Piazza. Rounding out the top 10 award-winning productions were Cole (15 awards; Mariemont Players); The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (13, Greater Hamilton Community Theater); Titanic (12, Cincinnati Music Theatre); Over the River and Through the Woods (12, Mariemont Players); Same Time Next Year (12, Mariemont Players); Becky’s New Car (12, Middletown Lyric Theatre); and The Crucible (12, The Drama Workshop).
A final note: Mariemont Players, which produces six shows annually (most groups present three or four, at most) had the strongest overall showing, picking up a total of 68 Orchid recognitions.
If you can land a ticket for Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s revival of the Tony Award-winning musical next to normal, that’s what you should be doing this weekend. I saw it on Tuesday night, and it’s even better than it was last September. It’s the story of a woman struggling with schizophrenia and how it affects her family; that might not sound like the stuff that musicals are made of, but it uses the power of a brilliant Rock score to deliver the impact of this story. ETC has reassembled virtually all of its superb cast from last fall, including Jessica Hendy in the central role. Her beleaguered husband is now being played one of our area’s best actors, Bruce Cromer, and his relationship with Hendy makes their pain all the more deeply felt. It’s only around for one more week, so you should do your best to grab a ticket now. Box office: 513-421-3555.
ETC’s revival isn’t the only thing worth seeing this weekend. You might check out the classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace on the Showboat Majestic. It’s an old chestnut (it was a hit in 1944), but it’s one of the funniest shows you’re likely to see, the tale of an off-kilter pair of elderly maiden aunts who keep their quite normal nephew astonished and scrambling to keep them in line. The kind-hearted women take in boarders, quiet elderly men who are “all alone in the world,” and polish them off with elderberry wine laced with arsenic. They convince their addled brother, who believes he’s Teddy Roosevelt, to bury them in the basement by telling him they’re victims of yellow fever who have been digging the Panama Canal. A great show for the whole family, with lots of comic twists. Box office: 513-241-6550.
You’ll also find a stage full of laughs at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, which is producing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). You’ll witness mentions of all the Bard’s works — although many are completely unrecognizable, thanks the three buffoonish characters who undertake the task. The second act is a wild send-up of Hamlet that involves the audience. Order your tickets online, and there’s an automatic buy-one, get-one offer available. Website: www.cincyshakes.com.
Don’t forget to look in out-of-the-way places for good summer theater entertainment: At Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Ky., you’ll find the Tony Award-winning musical The Producers, the first outing by C.A.S.T. (Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre), the brainchild of Jason Burgess, a one-time directing intern at Ensemble Theatre who’s now an award-winning teacher at Highlands. The hilarious show about putting on a musical so bad that the guys doing it can abscond with all the investments will be onstage through July 1, with performances at the high school (2400 Memorial Parkway, Fort Thomas) on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets (only $10): www.showtix4u.com (or at the door).
Cincinnati Landmark Productions (CLP), operator of the Showboat Majestic and owner and operator of the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, is looking to expand its entertainment empire with a new facility in East Price Hill, not far from the Primivista Restaurant. At a meeting today with the East Price Hill Improvement Association, representatives from CLP will present a proposal to build a new performing arts center in the Incline District.
plan is for a theater with approximately 250 seats that will be
programmed throughout the year. CLP estimates 112 evenings of
performances, including theatrical productions, a summer season,
concerts, comedy events and cabarets.
CLP recently marked the tenth anniversary of the Covedale Center, a onetime movie theater that the group acquired and renovated. The West Side fixture has seen stead growth in attendance over the decade since opening in 2002. In its first year, there were 804 subscribers; 3,600 are anticipated for the coming season. Season attendance in 2002-2003 was 13, 990; for 2011-2012 it grew to 35,300.
from CLP have already met with developers and leaders of the East Price
Hill Development Association for exploratory purposes. CLP’s executive
artistic director Tim Perrino says that both his organization and the
developers view the partnership as a win-win. The vacant parcel on
Matson Place has nearby parking and dining — as well as the spectacular
view that’s familiar to generations of diners at Primavista.
“The people we’ve talked to,” Perrino explains, “see the true value an arts center can bring to a neighborhood. The arts create neighborhood vibrancy, more pedestrians, good news stories, visitors from outside the neighborhood, more bar and restaurant patrons and improved neighborhood perception.
project is still a concept without a budget or plans, but it’s an
exciting prospect coming from an organization that clearly knows how to
connect with audiences.
Can you imagine Les Misérables without a turntable or the immense barricades lumbering down from the wings? Aubrey Berg, head of the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music’s renowned musical theater program, has dramatically re-imagined the legendary show for a run at UC, using a largely bare stage backed by a wall of ladders, staircases, shelves and recessed ledges. Berg's simplified physical production earned my Critic's Pick with its sharper focus on characters, action and music. Les Mis has a remarkable cast of 40 or so with soaring vocal talent for solo numbers and breathtaking choral power when they combine forces in iconic numbers such as “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and “One Day More.” It's a spectacular production, onstage through Sunday. Tickets: 513-556-4183.
Wicked just opened a three-week run at the Aronoff (it's the third time the show has been here, and it's set box office records every time). Tickets can be expensive (the cheap seats start at $38 and go up quickly from there), so keep in mind there's lottery for a limited number of $25 orchestra seats for each performance. You need to show up in person 2.5 hours before the curtain time (with a valid photo ID) to submit your name; if it's pulled you can purchase one or two tickets. It's worth a shot. Otherwise, you can purchase tickets by calling 513-621-2787.
If you're a Tony Bennett fan, you might consider heading to the West Side for I Left My Heart at the Covedale Center, a salute to the legendary crooner. You'll get to hear 40 standards that he's known for — "Because of You," "I Wanna Be Around," "The Good Life" and, of course, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Tom Highley, Deondra Kamau Means and Brian Wylie will be singing, with Mark Magistrelli at the piano. Through March 23. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
Here's an item worth considering for Monday evening: The Educational Theatre Association, a national organization for high school kids involved in theater, is headquartered here in Cincinnati. (They're the folks behind the National Thespian Society.) They're partnering with the School for Creative and Performing Arts on Monday at 7 p.m. for Making Magic, Defying Gravity. Presented at SCPA's Corbett Theatre (108 Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine), the evening offers a program of music and conversation featuring members of the touring cast of Wicked (as noted above) and performances by high school students from the area. You'll hear from Jason Daunter, Wicked's production stage manager, and Matt Conover, VP with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. They'll talk about how their high school dreams led to careers in the theater. Tickets are $10 in advance; 15 at the door (going on sale at 5:45 p.m.). Proceeds from this event will benefit the Friends of SCPA Scholarship Fund and the Educational Theatre Association's Scholarship Fund, both of which will help develop talent for the future of the theater.
In a recent conversation, Artistic Director Blake Robison described his program priorities and told me the Playhouse takes them seriously. “Variety is one of our hallmarks. We’re always going to make sure there are new works and culturally diverse works and that there are family-friendly or multigenerational things. We will find ways to continue to support and entertain the traditional audience while reaching out in various directions to new audiences. It’s our responsibility to bring the best theatrical material both old and new to our community.”
I’d say Robison’s third season sticks to his priorities.
There's a magnificent production of the legendary musical Les Misérables at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. I attended the opening performance at Patricia Corbett on Thursday
evening, and a show that I've seen umpteen times has been given new
life with fresh direction, impassioned staging and innovative design —
even if you've seen the legendary original with its turntable and
massive barricades, you'll find CCM's rendition, directed by Aubrey
Berg, an eye-opener. It's simpler and more dramatic (that's quite a
claim for a show designed to pluck your heart-strings), and it's
especially noteworthy for the leads' strong vocal performances — Jean
Valjean and Inspector Javert are double-cast, a demonstration of the
depth of talent in this nationally renowned program — as well as each
and every every performer in an ensemble of more than 40.
The 16-musician orchestra, conducted energetically by Steve Goers, sounds larger whole lot more, since several players handle three to five instruments. Berg's staging gives the show a clarity and power that makes it feel fresh and new. It has vivid feature characters and storytelling with momentum and emotional impact. This one is a must-see, so it's great that the production runs longer than many at CCM, where it's usually one-weekend and done: There are nine more performances through Sunday, March 9, which means that more tickets ($31-$35; $18-$24 for students) are available. Nonetheless, they'll be snatched up quickly, so you should call right away to get yours. 513-556-4183.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical Evita is at the Aronoff Center through Sunday. It looks great with some epic scenery and excellent choreography. Josh Young as Che is charismatic and strong-voiced in his role as the show’s commentator. But Caroline Bowman’s Eva Perón is shrill, and Sean MacLaughlin's Juan Perón lacks the sinister gravitas that the role requires. So there's not nearly enough of the complex passion and manipulation that bonded them as a political machine. The tale of the ambitious woman who rose to the highest levels of power in Argentina then crashed and burned at age 32 is a memorable modern tragedy, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock-opera tunes by will stick in your head. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
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.
Lots of plays not previously seen in Cincinnati are good theater choices this weekend: