If you’ve seen The Seagull at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (and CityBeat theater reviewer Tom McElfresh recommends that you do), then you should plan a return visit for The Nina Variations, playwright Steven Dietz’s delightful take on the final scene of Chekhov’s play. CSC offers another way to see the 1896 classic, via Dietz’s 1996 script, presented by the Bruce E. Coyle Intern Company from Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
As I wrote in my column in the current issue of CityBeat, there's a lot of good holiday theater available on Cincinnati stages right now. The Playhouse's production of A Christmas Carol, now in its 22nd year, is best in class — a well-told traditional tale with some of the best professional actors in town onstage, from Bruce Cromer as Scrooge and Dale Hodges as the Ghost of Christmas past. There are a few new faces, too, playing the Cratchits. And speaking of new faces, I feel comfortable recommending New Edgecliff Theatre's one-woman show, The 12 Dates of Christmas, which is being engagingly performed by Annie Kalahurka. It's paired with David Sedaris's The Santaland Diaries, which feels a little shopworn to me, but you can catch the double-bill downtown at the Arnonff's Fifth Third Bank Theater — and maybe go for drinks at Arnold's before or after the show.
If you're looking for something kind of different, try The Naughty List (review here), a holiday-themed improv show (presented in Arnold's courtyard on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings) by Know Theatre. Five quick-witted comics who constitute OTR Improv are doing routines that use audience suggestions (and occasional audience participants) for nearly two hours of entertainment. It's a different show every night.
Have kids you want to take to the theater and give them a taste of what fun it can be? Two good bets are Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati for one of its musical fairytales with a moral (this year the show is a colorful, cartoonish rendition of Alice in Wonderland) and Covedale Center, where Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella is singing and dancing its way through another familiar story the kids will know. The prince is handsome, Cinderella is sweet and the nasty Stepmother is played by a guy.
As far as familiar stories go, you've probably seen Frank Capra's classic holiday film It's a Wonderful Life a few times during the holidays. But I bet you haven't experienced in the unique way that Falcon Theater offers it up at Newport's Monmouth Theatre: The script frames the story as an old-time radio drama, and you get to watch behind-the-scenes as a handful of actors play all the roles and a few others create the necessary sound effects. It opens this weekend and runs for a week. I haven't seen this year's edition, but I've enjoyed past incarnations, and I suspect this one will be entertaining as well.
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.
I was at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music last evening to see this weekend’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. I love this densely intellectual script that’s awash in math and physics theory as well as conflicting perspectives deriving from the Romantic movement and the Age of Enlightenment. The play alternates between 1809 and 1993, with characters in the more recent era speculating about actions and motives of people, including the poet Lord Byron, from nearly two centuries earlier. It’s a fascinating conceit, but it’s also three hours of dialogue that require close attention — and a lot of the CCM audience took off at intermission. The challenge is exacerbated by a lot of fast-talking using British accents and amplification (the actors wear body mics) that sounds blurry. That’s too bad, because the production looks great, is nicely costumed and has some fine performances, and Stoppard’s script is one of the great plays of the past 30 years. But unless you’ve seen it or read it, you might find this production a challenge. Box office: 513-556-4183
Pump Boys & Dinettes at the Covington’s Carnegie Center is something like an off-Broadway classic (it had a brief Broadway run) from the early 1980s. Set in a filling station that’s also a diner — where you can “Eat and Get Gas” — it’s a jaunty framework for downhome Country tunes and cornpone humor. It opens a three-weekend run a week ago, and I found it to be a delightfully entertaining production. Read my review here. Box office: 859-957-1940
More musical froth is available this weekend, including My Favorite Year, through Sunday at Northern Kentucky University (859-572-5464), and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat through May 13 at the Covedale Center (513-241-6550). The former is a story about backstage shenanigans in the early days of television; the latter is an early show by Andrew Lloyd Webber based on a familiar biblical story. Neither is profound, but both should fun to watch.
For a musical with some sharper edge, you might check out Know Theatre’s production of the recent off-Broadway and Broadway Rock musical hit, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. The show is a youthful mix of political commentary, driving Rock performances, history, humor and sober observations on the will of the people — just what we’ve come expect from Know Theatre. (The “orchestra” for the production is the local band The Dukes Are Dead.) The show has a cast of strong musical theater performers, and they make this sassy political satire a Critic’s Pick. This is Bloody Bloody’s first professional regional production, and it will surely be the big hit of Know’s season. (Through May 12.) Box office: 513-300-5669.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Grapes of Wrath (running through April 29) is a powerful theatrical interpretation of John Steinbeck’s grim tale about a Depression-era family of Oklahoma sharecroppers driven to homelessness by ecological and economic disasters. It’s a portrait of the desperate life wrought by the Depression in the 1930s and a powerful reminder that life hasn’t improved for many Americans 80 years later. CSC’s production is made all the more relevant by folksy musical interludes performed live by some of the actors. A downer of a story, but definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
I have three words for you regarding theater-going this weekend: Fringe. Fringe. Fringe.
If you haven't dropped in yet for this stimulating festival of push-the-envelope performances, you're missing out on the greatest dose of annual creativity that we get here in Cincinnati. And a lot of your friends have already caught on: Fringe Producer Eric Vosmeier tells me that as of Thursday they've hit their ticket goal for the entire festival ... and there are still two more days to go!
For the holidays, they'll produce The Naughty List, hosted by Ronda Androski and her great staff at Arnold's Bar & Grill downtown and featuring the talent of OTR Improv, one of the groups Know has nurtured with its Jackson Street Market. They'll take holiday memories from those in attendance as they recreate holiday movies and tell you how your life would have been different if you had received that special gift you yearned for. The fun will be happeing in Arnold's courtyard on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings from Dec. 2 to 30. Tickets will be $15 in advance and $18 at the door.
Know will also offer The Apocalypse Show! for two nights on its home stage at 1120 Jackson St.. Since the world is scheduled to come to an end on Dec. 21, 2012 (according to the Mayan calendar), Know will produce a variety show to end all variety shows on Dec. 20 and 21. There will be sketch comedy, predictions, guest appearances, "gratuitous drinking and answers to all of your apocalypse FAQs." Dec. 20 will be a fundraiser (tickets: $50), despite the funny come-on that you should bring all your money, since it will be worth nothing the next day! (If you come to the performance on Dec. 21, you only need to scrape together $15 in advance or $18 at the door.)
Assuming that the world really isn't ending on Dec. 21, Know will co-host its annual New Year's Eve event with CityBeat, the Speakeasy Party from 8 p.m. on Dec. 31 (to 1 a.m.). Know typically attracts 300 well-dressed guests for this event, and everyone has fun with casino games, food, dancing to a DJ and a live band, martinis and a champagne toast at midnight.
After all this fun stuff, Know will get down to some serious theater — presenting Andrew Bovell's "best new play of 2010," When the Rain Stops Falling (Feb. 8-March 16, 2013). It's another partnership, with the production being staged by Brian Isaac Phillips, artistic director at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. (Bovell's Speaking in Tongues had a great production at the Cincinnati Playhouse last season.) The show uses an intricate fabric of overlapping connections, moving between several generations between 1959 and 2039 and between London and Australia. Acts and sins of the past are connected to three generations that follow.
More will be following, including an unnamed production running from April 5 to May 12. Sometime in late April (date TBA), just in advance of the tenth annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival (May 28-June 8, 2013), Know will host the 2013 United States Association of Fringe Festivals Conference. "We're honored to have been selected to host this year's conference," says Know's Producing Artistic Director Eric Vosmeier. "It's an amazing opportunity to work on ideas and issues at the core of all Fringe Festivals. Every time I have been to a conference, the Cincinnati Fringe is better for it. We can't wait to show off our city to festival producers from all over the United States."
One more note: Know is selling its version of a subscription, Flex Passes. But these have evolved: You can purchase six flex passes for $90. Valid for most Know productions, they do not expire. (If a show ticket has a higher price than the pass, you can use your pass and just pay the difference.) Know's website will designate: "Flex passes are valid for this event." When you run out of tickets (and you surely will), you simply need to buy another pass.
Know's Fringe Festival has promoted itself with the slogan "Weird, like us." And they're living up to that mantra in a way that should appeal to its supporters and more.
Tune to PBS this evening for A Broadway Celebration: In Performance at the White House (9 p.m. on WCET locally) , featuring some of the biggest stars from the New York stage. Nathan Lane emcees the quickly paced hour, Idina Menzel — recently in Cincinnati with the Pops — sings "Defying Gravity" from Wicked and "What I Did for Love" (with composer Marvin Hamlisch as her accompanist), and veteran Elaine Stritch belts out two numbers from Stephen Sondheim's Follies, "Broadway Baby" and "I'm Still Here" (the latter earns the event's only standing ovation).