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.
Truth to tell, midnight has already passed and Victorian adventurer Phileas Fogg thinks he's missed the deadline for getting "around the world in 80 days." But his faithful servant Passepartout (played with manic energy by the always amusing Michael G. Bath) saves the day by sorting out travel across time zones. Your deadline has not quite passed, since Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's inventive staging of a musical version of Jules Verne's classic Around the World in 80 Days continues through a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. (CityBeat review here.) If football and cold weather aren't your preferences, maybe you should head to the Over-the-Rhine theater for a final volley of holiday entertainment. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
At the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park you'll find the traditional Christmas favorite A Christmas Carol as well as The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) onstage through Sunday. It feels a bit odd to be watching Scrooge and the ghosts after Christmas Day, but the Playhouse's rendition is such a lovely show and Bruce Cromer's portrait of the old miser is so entertaining that you'll be charmed, I'm sure. And the Reduced Shakespeare guys doing the "comedy" piece know how to evoke laughter from the making of jokes in ways you haven't imagined. They're the guys who originated this amusing formula with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), and they're making it work with this world premiere production. It's a nice bit of entertainment for a weekend between the holidays. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Holiday themed laughs are being served up at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company through Sunday, too, with their eighth annual presentation of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some). No Shakespeare in evidence (although they're performing on the gussied-up set that was built for the previous production, Twelfth Night) but four of CSC's best comic talents are mashing up every imaginable tale you might think of that has a holiday connection — Charlie Brown, Charles Dickens, Rudolph, the Nutcracker, It's a Wonderful Life and many more. They'll have you laughing from start to finish, especially if you make a stop by the bar in the lobby beforehand. Not for the kids, but a lot of fun for anyone with an adolescent sense of humor. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x 1.
If you want a nice outing for the kids, I recommend Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's holiday show, Around the World in 80 Days. Jules Verne's adventure classic about a hectic circumnavigation of the globe in 1899 has been musicalized and condensed in a way that children will enjoy it — but there's enough humor and talent onstage to keep adults entertained, too. ETC'S production actually runs through the weekend after New Year's Day, but if the kids are restless and you want to entertain them with live theater, this is a great choice. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
It's the final weekend for most holiday shows, and there are lots of good choices. I'm ranking today's listings according to the laugh-o-meter, starting with the most hilarious:
It's Friday the 13th, but if you're in the mood for holiday shows, this is your lucky weekend. Just about every theater in town has something onstage aimed at getting you into the Christmas spirit, making you laugh, diverting you from the stress of being cheerful or just poking fun at the ways of the world (at least the world of commercialism we see in America today).
Perhaps you've already done your annual brush-up on Dickens' A Christmas Carol
at the Playhouse (another fine production, now in its 23rd season with
Bruce Cromer back as Scrooge and a new interpretation of Bob Cratchit,
featuring the very angular Ryan Wesley Gilreath, who seems to be all
arms and legs and stringy hair — very Dickensian) or the musical version
being presented by Covedale Center. With the story of Scrooge's dark
night of the soul fresh in mind, perhaps you're ready for A Klingon Christmas Carol,
presented by Hugo West Theatricals at the Art Academy of Cincinnati
(1212 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). This is a newish theater group that
knows its way around satirical work (their Don't Cross the Streams, a goofy derivative of Ghostbusters,
was a popular piece in the 2012 Fringe festival), they are giving this
unusual piece its local premiere. (It's been staged in Chicago and
Minneapolis.) It's actually a rather faithful retelling of the story
with SQuja' (Donald Volpenheim), a cowardly, money-grubbing member of
Star Trek's warrior race, taking the place of Scrooge.
It's presented by a deadpan Vulcan narrator (Lauren Carr) who positions the work as the "original" of the tale. Klingons don't celebrate Christmas, but they are bound by traditions, the greatest of them being the "Feast of the Long Night." The 70-minute piece closely matches with Scrooge's story, but it's all through a Klingon filter — lots of angry outbursts and hearty laughter, grunting, growling, drinking and chest-thumping by characters with wrinkled foreheads, bushy eyebrows and fierce demeanors. Eileen Earnest handles timHom (a Muppet-like equivalent for Tiny Tim), son of Quachit (David Dreith), whose training as a warrior is being neglected because of greedy SQuja'. If you've never yearned for a visit to Qo'noS, the Klingon homeworld, you might find this production a bit impenetrable since it's performed in the guttural Klingon language, but there are projected subtitles that add humor to the action. This won't be a show for everyone, but if you're a Star Trek fan, you'll have a good time. Tickets ($20 at the door or here).
OK, the holidays are officially here. If you have any strength left after shopping last night and all day today, there are numerous theatrical offerings to consider.
The theater season takes a bit of a pause around Thanksgiving, since many companies are readying holiday productions. But there are plenty of choices available this weekend.
I'm not the only one who enjoyed the laugh-fest that is The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) at the Cincinnati Playhouse. I've heard numerous people who saw it say they were recommending it to others. In two hours the Reduced Shakespeare Company puts forth more humor than you can shake a stick at. (But be careful shaking sticks. You might get a pie in the face.) No matter your tastes in comedy — witty, loud or rude and crude — you'll find it in this production. How about Abe Lincoln as a deadpan rapper? This could be a good outing this weekend or a lot of fun for out-of-town guests who descend on you next week. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Tonight is an opening at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, the very frothy comedy Twelfth Night. (It's subtitle is "or What You Will," indicating that it's a lot of foolishness, which is an apt description.) In fact, Twelfth Night is a beautiful piece with clever situations, amusing characters, a bit of intrigue and a lot of mistaken identities. And several of the most laughable characters Shakespeare ever created, from the bombastic Malvolio to his persecutor Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, plus the best of all Shakespeare's fools, Feste. It's a safe bet that this is a production that even those who fear Shakespeare will truly enjoy. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x 1.
If you're more into storefront theater, you might check out the current production by Untethered Theater at Clifton Performance Theatre on Ludlow, just east of the business district. It's a tiny space (only 50 seats), but that makes it all the more interesting. The current production is Wendy Macleod's The House of Yes, a very dark comedy about a weirdly dysfunctional family. The story focuses happens while there's a Thanksgiving hurricane outside, so it's timely, too. Performances Friday and Saturday (through Dec. 7). Go here for tickets.
This is the last weekend for Boeing Boeing, a crazy farce about a guy juggling three fiancees who happen to be flight attendants. It's at the Carnegie, featuring performers from the drama program at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. Tickets: 859-957-1940.
There's a fine community theater production of A Chorus Line at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. It's by Cincinnati Music Theatre, and they've recruited a talented cast of dancers, singers and actors to tell the stories of 16 performers competing for roles in the chorus of a Broadway show. There are many fine performances in this show — the characters become known, one by one as they tell their stories, some humorous, some heartbreaking — but the show's greatest emotional wallop comes when they are all in synch, wearing glitter and gold, hats cocked and performing as "One." Final performance is Saturday evening. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
If you're looking for a good musical closer to home, I can certainly recommend the Cincinnati Playhouse production of Cabaret, which gets my Critic's Pick in the current issue (see review here). Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge has taken it back to 1929 with costumes and choreography very true to the period in a seedy, sexy Berlin nightclub. The Playhouse doesn't often do musicals, but this one is done right. Tickets: 513-421-3888
Know Theatre is staging another work by Mike Bartlett. Last spring it was Cock; this time it's Bull (review here). It's a story of two people bullying a third as they compete for jobs. A nasty tale, not for the faint-hearted, but some fine writing and acting. You'll feel ashamed of yourself for enjoying it, I suspect. Tickets: 513-300-5669
A fine production of John Steinbeck's Depression era tale of migrant workers and a guy who just doesn't fit in, Of Mice and Men (review here), finishes its run this weekend at Cincinnati Shakespeare. Jeremy Dubin's performance as cranky George and Jim Hopkins as simpleminded Lenny are examples of the kind of fine acting that's a regular commodity at Cincy Shakes. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
Finally, if you're in the mood for a hilarious farce, your destination should be the Carnegie in Covington. CCM Drama has transported some of its actors from the UC Campus to Covington, Ky., for a production of a deliriously funny tale of one man in Paris juggling three fiancees, Boeing Boeing. They're all flight attendants, but advances in aviation screw up his neat schedule to keep them discreet from one another. Comedy ensues. Tickets: 859-957-1940
If you love musicals, you should run, don’t walk to the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music this weekend for the short run of Singin’ in the Rain. It's a fabulous recreation of the iconic 1952 movie that featured Gene Kelly. It's about the transition from silent to talking pictures in the late 1920s. Even if you’ve never seen the film, I’m bet you know Kelly’s iconic splash down a movie-set street, joyously stomping in puddles and swinging from a lamppost. That's what's onstage at Corbett Auditorium — a whole stage full of tap dancers and a torrential rainfall! But it's only there through Sunday afternoon; shows at CCM seldom run more than one weekend. So if you want to see this one, call for tickets right away: 513-556-4183.
There's water falling on another stage right now: The touring production of Flashdance: The Musical is at the Aronoff through Nov. 10, and its star, Jenny Mueller as the free-spirited welder who aspires to be a dancer concludes the first act with a memorable sequence where she performs at a club, culminating in a backlit shower. Mueller is a fine dancer and onstage from start to finish, but the show is full of shallow characters and too many subplots that make for slow going. Tickets: 800-982-2787.
One more musical item: I gave the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's production of Cabaret a Critic's Pick, and it's definitely worth seeing. Despite the fact that it first appeared on Broadway 50 years ago, it's still a powerful piece of theater — about intolerance and willful ignorance. But it's framed in a great story with a memorable score by John Kander and Fred Ebb (who also created Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman and more) with a new production by Broadway veteran Marcia Milgrom Dodge. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
If you're in the mood for something more serious, there are plenty of choices that have received good reviews: Check out Cincinnati Shakespeare's staging of Of Mice and Men or their joint project with Xavier University of The Crucible. Tickets: 513- 381-2273, x1. And I hope you have on your radar Know Theatre's staging of Bull (which runs throughout November) by Mike Bartlett, the same playwright who wrote Cock, presented last spring. It opens tonight. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
Find reviews of Flashdance, Cabaret, Of Mice and Men and The Crucible at citybeat.com.