If you enjoyed "great theater in a great theater" at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park during past seasons, you'll be pleased to learn that Ed Stern, former producing artistic director, and Michael Evan Haney, whose tenure as associate artistic director ends on , have both been engaged to stage shows at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati (ETC) for its 2013-2014 season. Haney will stage Nina Raine's Tribes () and Stern will co-direct the world premiere of Raymond McAnally's Size Matters (); the playwright is also an actor (he co-starred in ETC's production of Mrs. Mannerly last fall) and he will be the solo performer of the one-man show.
Two more days of the
2013 Cincy Fringe remain. In its 10th year, this year's festival has
provided consistently high-quality offerings. If you're serious about
the full range of theater, you owe it to yourself to catch a couple of
them. I can't go into everything here, but you can check out my column
from the current issue of CityBeat here or go straight to CityBeat's hub for web coverage where you can read coverage of all the shows, thanks to our dedicated corps of reviewers.
More 2013 Fringe coverage:
• May 22 cover story: “Navigating the Novelties”
• April 18 Curtain Call column: “Fringe Has Sprung”
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company finishes its run of Measure for Measure this weekend (CityBeat review here). It's a dark tale of hypocrisy and manipulation, with a few glimmers of ribald humor. Director Brian Phillips has transported the story from Renaissance-Era Vienna to the United States of the 1920s when Prohibition made everyday occurrences of fast living and bad behavior. (Can you say Boardwalk Empire?) In 20 seasons, CSC has only staged it once before, but this is a production worth seeing because of the strong acting company — especially Brent Vimtrup, Kelly Mengelkoch and Nick Rose. Billy Chace does a nice job with the comic bits, too, even though they feel weird in this difficult story of self-righteousness and double-dealing. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.
As the 2012-2013
theater season winds down, there are still several good productions
worth seeing: You can still be entertained by the froth of The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns at Ensemble Theatre (which runs through June 1), intrigued by the dark comedy Measure for Measure at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (through May 26; CityBeat review here) or titillated by the noir tale of lust and murder, Double Indemnity, at the Cincinnati Playhouse (wrapping up on Saturday; CityBeat review here).
Nothing new onstage
this week, but lots of good work continues as we head toward the summer
when theater gets scarce. Now's the time to stock up.
This is the final weekend for Cock at Know Theatre. (Some publications call it The Cockfight Play, but Cock is Mike Bartlett's actual title for his play.) It's the story of a man who thought he was gay but now finds himself powerfully drawn to a woman. (CityBeat review here.) His former lover and his new passion both push him to make a choice, and he's torn. It's a great piece of theater, fueled by strong acting and interesting staging. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company opens its
production of the infrequently staged Measure for Measure tonight. Director Brian Isaac Phillips says, “We have discovered a lot of
satire and wit as we explore the biting social criticism in
this play. The behavior of these characters … is like a dark comic
mirror, held up to nature. Shakespeare has written a play that begs us
to examine modern day decadence and hypocrisy.” Phillips has set the
production in the corrupt and hypocritical Prohibition Era, to "give
modern audiences a context for the
actions and the characters' deeply held opinions." It's onstage through
May 26. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x.1.
You probably remember Whoopi Goldberg's popular film Sister Act from 1992, an unlikely story about an aspiring singer who witnesses a murder and needs to be hidden until the trial — in a convent. Of course, the contrast between Goldberg and the staid nuns, especially the Mother Superior (played by Maggie Smith). It became a musical in 2009 in London, in 2011 on Broadway and now a touring production. Sister Act: The Musical opened Tuesday at the Aronoff Center.
Of course, Goldberg isn't in it, 20 years later. But she is the producer, and her attitude prevails. Her statement about the show pretty well sums it up: "Sister Act is not rocket science — it's hell-bent on being fun and silly, with a little heart thrown in." That's pretty much what I expected.
What surprised me was the talent of the touring cast, performers who are fully committed to deliver an evening of entertainment. Ta'rea Campbell has star power in the Delores/Sister Mary Clarence role, and she's surely a better singer than Whoopi Goldberg ever was. She conveys the shift from attitude to gratidude with sincerity. Hollis Resnik, a veteran musical theater performer from Chicago, captures the starchy disdain needed for the Mother Superior.
The entire ensemble is solid, especially Lael Van Keuren as the innocent postulant who breaks out of her shell, Florrie Bagel as an enthusiastic, starstruck nun and Diane J. Findlay as an elderly nun who finds her mojo. E. Clayton Cornelious is the socially inept cop looking out for Delores, in part because he had a crush on her in high school; he has dreams of being a smooth operator ("I Could Be That Guy," which features some astonishing costume changes as he fantasizes). And there are cartoonish villains: Delores's violent one-time boyfriend Curtis played by Kingsley Leggs. His three thugs, played hilariously by Ernie Pruneda, Charles Barksdale and Jason Simon bring the house down when they explain how they can have their way with the ladies, even if they're nuns ("Lady in the Long Black Dress").
Of course, Sister Act is full of stereotypes and predictable humor, but its all done with energy and polish, which makes it worth seeing. Production values are excellent, from a lot of quick costume changes (you can't imagine how many acres of glittering material went into this show) to a psychedelic Philadelphia cathedral interior that gets wilder and brighter as the story builds, culminating in a performance for the Pope.
There's nothing profound about Sister Act, which is part of the fun.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati today announced four of its six shows for the 2013-2014 season, which opens on Sept. 4. Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers says, "We are planning a truly original, fresh and exhilarating season of dynamic regional premieres, and I am absolutely thrilled to showcase some of the hottest titles and newest voices this coming year."
Two shows on local stages are dealing with top-of-mind issues of race and urban living, one at the Cincinnati Playhouse, the other at Ensemble Theatre.
Last evening the Playhouse opened its production of Tracey Scott Wilson's Buzzer. Wilson is a playwright who's not afraid to get at prickly issues of contemporary life (read more here), and that's what she does in this piece that could be set in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine. (It's actually in New York City, but that doesn't make it less relevant.) Jackson returns to his onetime childhood neighborhood, once neglected and now trendy; he's black, girlfriend Suzy is white, and so is Jackson's troubled friend Don, out of rehab yet again and needing a place to stay. Their triangle is a toxic mix with a troubled past that's exacerbated by life in a neighborhood where black and white relations are strained. The Playhouse is offering talkbacks after each performance to discuss issues raised, and there will be a panel discussion focused on OTR's housing challenges here in Cincinnati on Saturday evening at 6 p.m. My take: This show is more about personal relationships that aren't entirely honest, even though there is constant conversation about "no secrets." The actors in this tense drama are vividly real, unpredictable and vulnerable; you'll feel like they're people you know. (Through April 19.) Tickets: 513-421-3888
The second show that's heating up conversations about race is ETC's staging of Dominic Morisseau's award-winning play, Detroit ’67 (reviewed here). While the story has a historical setting — the story of family aspirations and disappointments unfolds against the backdrop of the Motor City's race riots almost 50 years ago — it almost feels ripped from current news stories about unrest stemming from police brutality in Ferguson, Mo. Five actors portray some colorful and occasionally humorous characters from the era involving the family dynamic between a brother and sister who differ about making ends meet in a challenging environment. Motown tunes from the ’60s are the soundtrack for a story that's often painful but ultimately hopeful. (Through April 5.) Tickets: 513-421-3555
Know Theatre opens Hearts Like Fists tonight at its Jackson Street stage in Over-the-Rhine. Adam Szymkowicz's comic-book-inspired action adventure has some fine local actors as the Crimefighters, female superheroes who are out to stop Dr. X, on a mission to murder happy couples in their sleep using a deadly serum that goes straight to the heart. When the show was staged in New York in 2012, the New York Times called the show's comic hybrid of parody and punches "madcap" and "hysterical." That's what Know will be striving for, through April 25. Tickets: 513-300-5669
If you are interested in seeing actors, singers and dancers who are on their way to professional careers, you might want to catch Senior Showcases from the drama and musical theater programs at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. The drama majors, readying their piece for trips to Los Angeles (for potential TV work) and New York City, will perform today at 2 and 7 p.m. at Patricia Corbett Theatre. (Admission is free.) The triple threats graduating from the musical theater program offer their showcase twice on Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m. as they prepare to shine for Broadway producers and casting agents in New York next week. Admission is free but reservations are required: 513-556-4183.
Planning ahead? The popular touring production of The Lion King returns to Cincinnati where it's been a big hit twice, in 2003 and 2007. The magnificent musical about good overcoming evil and youth finding maturity opens on Tuesday for a four-week run at the Aronoff Center. (Through April 26.) Tickets: 513-621-2787
I took a trip to my senior year in high school when I attended the opening of Detroit '67 by Dominique Morisseau at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati on Wednesday. It's set in Detroit during that city's 1967 "race riots," but they are the backdrop for a family drama: Sister and brother Chelle and Lank are trying to make ends meet by running an after-hours club in the basement of their family home, now theirs since the death of their parents. Chelle is satisfied with the status quo; Lank dreams of owning his own legit bar. But they'd need to sell the house to make that possible, so they're at an impasse. He's impetuous and makes moves to buy a local joint without her knowledge, only to have the destructive riots threaten his deal. More personal complications make the story interesting, if a bit too pat. Motown tunes — Lank buys an eight-track player to replace his sister's turntable — make this production a walk down memory lane for Baby Boomers. But Detroit '67 will grab everyone because the events of five decades ago are eerily and sadly similar to recent disturbances in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere. (Through April 5; tickets: 513-421-3555)
Peter and the Starcatcher at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a playful and over-the-top imagining of the origins of Peter Pan. It's not a very adult cup of tea; it's more a swig of giggle-inducing rum. But if you yearn to head back to childhood for a few hours — playing with words, making fart jokes and having an adventure "against impossible odds" — this production is a joyous must-see. (Through April 4; tickets: 513-421-3888)
The Marvelous Wonderettes was a big hit for Ensemble Theatre a few years back. They staged the original story of girls singing Doo-Wop hits in 1958 and coming together again in 1968 for more old tunes, and did well with several sequels that kept audiences eagerly coming back for more. The show is now being presented at the Covedale Center in West Price Hill, and it has a nostalgic draw for people who grew up with those tunes. But the production's characterizations of Cindy Lou, Betty Jean, Missy and Suzy feel a little shallow, reducing the potential charm of the show. Nevertheless, it's a lot of fun if you love the music of the era and remember your own angst about boyfriends and girlfriends. (Through April 4; tickets: 513-241-6550)
Cincinnati Shakespeare's very pleasant production of an adaptation of Little Women continues through Saturday evening; tickets: 513-381-2273. The musical based on Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel about the March sisters is onstage through Saturday, too, at Newport's Stained Glass Theatre, produced by Footlighters, Inc., a community theater; tickets: 859-652-3849.
The moving play based on The Diary of Anne Frank is being presented this weekend by the School for Creative and Performing Arts with performances remaining on Friday and Saturday evening at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. It's the powerful story of a Jewish family who went into hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II; Anne, the diarist who recorded their tribulations, died at age 15 in a concentration camp. Tickets: here.
I hope my Curtain Call column (found here) in a recent issue moves you to head to UC's College Conservatory of Music for Richard Hess's staging of Wendy Wasserstein's Pulitzer Prize winner, The Heidi Chronicles, onstage through . If you remember the 1970s and ’80s, this production will transport you back in time as you watch young feminist Heidi Holland grow up, grow weary and grow wise. Tickets: 513-556-4183.