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by Rick Pender 04.20.2012
Posted In: Theater at 09:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
onstage 4-18 - carnegie - cast of pump boys & dinettes - photo matt steffen.widea

Stage Door: More Musicals

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.

by Rick Pender 07.07.2011
Posted In: Theater at 12:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

'Winter Wonderettes' Wins LCT Award

In my CityBeat column this week I shared the news that the Acclaim Awards are gone and that the League of Cincinnati Theatres (LCT) have stepped up to create a new awards program. The first two recognitions of the season have been awarded to Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s (ETC) Christmas-in-July celebration, Roger Bean’s Winter Wonderettes. This musical sequel to ETC’s biggest-ever box-office hit, The Marvelous Wonderettes, has earned these awards for its acting ensemble and specialized design.

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by Rick Pender 07.27.2012
Posted In: Theater at 09:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: 'Wedding Singer' and 'Hound of the Baskervilles'

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 office: 513-241-6550.

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.

by Rick Pender 03.03.2014
Posted In: Theater at 07:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
onstage_blake robison - photo sarah bradley

Playhouse in the Park Announces 2014-15 Season

Season ahead includes homegrown works, award-winning shows and a couple of musicals

The Cincinnati Playhouse announced its 2014-15 season on Monday. 

I’m especially looking forward to Peter and the Starcatcher, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and Circle Mirror Transformation, as well as the premiere production, Safe House

Here’s what’s coming our way, in chronological order:
  • Jeffrey Hatcher’s new whodunit featuring the world’s favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club. (Marx Theatre, Sept. 6-Oct. 4, 2014)
  • I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, adapted from foodie Giulia Melucci’s hilarious memoir. (Shelterhouse Theatre, Sept. 27-Oct. 26, 2014)
  • A world premiere by up-and-coming playwright and Cincinnati native Keith Josef Adkins, Safe House, inspired by his Kentucky ancestors. (Marx Theatre, Oct. 18-Nov. 15, 2014)
  • Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical, which traces America’s favorite girl singer from her Cincinnati childhood and Hollywood stardom to triumphant comeback. It’s by the local team of composer Janet Yates Vogt and writer Mark Friedman. (Shelterhouse Theatre, Nov. 15-Dec. 28)
  • The season also includes Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, back for its 24th year. (Marx Theatre, Nov. 26-Dec. 28, 2014)
  • A new version of the recent Broadway show, Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, directed by and featuring the star of the Broadway production, Jason Edwards. (Marx Theatre, Jan. 17-Feb. 15, 2015)
  • The second U.S. production of an offbeat love story, Chapatti, a tasty new comedy of misadventures involving love and pets. (Shelterhouse Theatre, Feb. 7-March 8, 2015)
  • Peter and the Starcatcher, the magical, family-friendly Peter Pan prequel that hooked five Tony Awards. (Marx Theatre, March 7-April 4, 2015)
  • A compelling, darkly funny new play by Tracey Scott Wilson, Buzzer, getting its world premiere at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre this month. (Shelterhouse Theatre, March 21-April 19, 2015)
  • The 2013 Tony Award-winning best play, Christopher Durang’s hit comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, full of echoes of Anton Chekhov. (Marx Theatre, April 25-May 23, 2015)
  • The comic off-Broadway hit Circle Mirror Transformation, winner of the 2009 Obie Award for best new American play. (Shelterhouse Theatre, May 9-June 7, 2015)

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.

by Rick Pender 06.05.2009
Posted In: Theater, Dance at 10:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Fringe. Fringe. Fringe!

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!

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by Rick Pender 11.12.2012
Posted In: Theater at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
Photo: Eric Vosmeier

At Last, We Can Know ...

Looking ahead at Know Theatre's holiday schedule and beyond

In my recent Curtain Call column, I talked about collaboration and made some mention of past ventures by Know Theatre. After a period of self-examination covered in an earlier column ("Big-Picture Thinking at Know Theatre," issue of Oct. 24), the Over-the-Rhine company has now shared some of its programming plans for the holidays and the months ahead.

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.

by Rick Pender 10.20.2010
Posted In: Television, Theater at 09:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Broadway "In Performance" at the White House

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).

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by Rick Pender 11.09.2012
Posted In: Theater at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
to do_onstage_grim and fischer_ kate braidwood and andrew phoenix_photo james douglas

Stage Door: The Little Guys

There's plenty of good theater available around town in the next few days, including the just-opened production of Hank Williams: Lost Highway at the Cincinnati Playhouse, as well as Romeo and Juliet and Titus Andronicus, which finish their runs at Cincinnati Shakespeare this weekend. But for this week's edition of Stage Door, I'm recommending three productions that might not be on your radar.

One of the big hits of the 2012 Cincinnati Fringe Festival, Grim and Fischer, is back for performances on Friday and Saturday. It was only offered three times back in June, and a lot of people missed the unusual "full-face mask" show about death (aka Grim, as in "Grim Reaper") matching wits with elderly Mrs. Fischer, who's not ready to take her leave of this world. Everyone who saw the wordless piece raved about it, so Know Theatre (they guys who present the Fringe) have brought back the two performers from Wonderheads Theatre in Portland, Ore., to give us three more chances, Friday and Saturday evening at 8 p.m. plus a 3 p.m. Saturday matinee. I'm not missing their 50-minute performance this time around. Tickets ($12): 513-300-5669.

Community theater often brings back classics that audiences love, and Footlighters (you can find them at Newport's Stained Glass Theatre, right across the street from the York Street Cafe) is doing just that with Thornton Wilder's 1938 Pulitzer Prize winner, Our Town. But don't think you've been there and done that, since this production takes several familiar conventions and freshens them. The "Stage Manager," usually a folksy older guy, is played by a woman, and many of the references to New England life in the early 1900s are minimized, which makes the show feel a lot more universal and relevant to life today. Through Nov. 18. Tickets ($20): 859-652-3849.

And my third recommendation is from another community theater, one that really knows its way around musicals: Cincinnati Music Theatre is staging Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company, a Tony winner from 1970 — and again in 2007 when the Cincinnati Playhouse's revival of the story of Bobby and his married friends moved to Broadway and was named the year's best musical revival. It has a brilliant and energetic score, great comic scenes and songs you're likely to know, including "Another Hundred People," "The Ladies Who Lunch" and "Being Alive." CMT presents its shows at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Through Nov. 17. Tickets ($22): 513-621-2787.

by Rick Pender 07.22.2011
Posted In: Theater at 08:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Lyle Benjamin Is Back

Lyle Benjamin has been on and off a lot of local stages with his company Queen City Off-Broadway. He's been dormant for a few seasons, but he's back with a slightly new name — it's now called Queen City Theater — and a couple of mid-summer productions using the black box theater at the new School for Creative and Performing Arts (108 West Central Pkwy., Over-the-Rhine) as his venue. Tonight is the opening performance of The Amish Project by Jessica Dickey.

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by Rick Pender 07.13.2012
Posted In: World Choir Games, Theater at 08:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
to do_onstage the foreigner_photo mikki schaffner

Stage Door: 'The Foreigner' + World Choir Games

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: 859-572-5464.

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.