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.
The Showboat Majestic just opened a production of the classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace. It won’t break any new ground, but it is one of the funniest shows you’re likely to see, the tale of an off-kilter set of relatives who keep their quite normal nephew astonished and scrambling to keep them in line. His aunts take in boarders, quiet elderly men who are 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 working on digging the Panama Canal. There’s lots more, but you get the picture. Box office: 513-241-6550
Another stage full of laughs is available from Cincinnati Shakespeare Company in the form of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). It’s your chance to see at least a passing mention 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. There’s never a dull moment, and the CSC actors seem to especially relish the task of poking fun at their usual fare. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
Summer is the season for lighter entertainment at the Commonwealth Dinner Theater, on campus at Northern Kentucky University. They’re offering Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite, a glimpse into the relationships of three couples that occupy the same suite at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. One couple is celebrating their 23rd wedding anniversary in the same room where they honeymooned; another is an oft-married Hollywood producer who’s hoping for an encounter; the third is a mother and father trying to coax their bride-to-be daughter out of the locked bathroom and downstairs to the impatient wedding guests. Box office: 859-572-5464
Since you only have two more nights to enjoy the final few productions, here's a rundown of everything we know:
Peruse CityBeat's Cincy Fringe hub here, where you'll find reviews of all 32 performances.
Check out the official Fringe Festival guide here, where you'll also find a schedule that includes Friday and Saturday night's final shows.
“Marching Through the 2012 Fringe,” CityBeat issue of June 6.
And here's a little something on Homegrown Theatre, a company created by native Cincinnatians and is performing The Doppelganger Cometh and Overtaketh at the Emery Theater tonight and Saturday night.
While it’s not part of the Fringe, Avenue Q, presented by Showbiz Players at Covington’s Carnegie Center, has the same zany vibe. It’s an X-rated musical with puppets that might visually remind you of Sesame Street — until they open their dirty mouths. The show was a surprise Tony Award winner several years back, and it promises lots of laughs for those who go. Through June 10. 859-957-1940.
If you want something more traditional, try Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays. It’s officially categorized as a comedy because it has humorous and romantic elements. But the central story about a potentially fatal argument between a moneylender and a businessman is anything but amusing. CSC’s artistic director Brian Isaac Phillips takes on the role of the rapacious moneylender who has faced anti-Semitic discrimination for his entire life. Is Shylock a villain or a victim? Shakespeare gives him aspects of each, and CSC’s production does not tilt in either direction. You get to decide, and it won’t be easy. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
Be sure to consider downtown’s newest performance venue, Speakeasy Theatre, storefront space at 815 Race Street. Their inaugural production is Paul Baerman’s The Whistler, set in 1965 in an unnamed Southern city awash in racist attitudes. The Andy Griffith Show is in its fifth season, and the guy who whistles the theme (played here by local professional actor Michael G. Bath) is living off his royalties. But life gets more complicated when he meets an African-American trumpet player (played by Tony Davis) who shares his passion for music. The Whistler will be onstage through June 10. Box office: 513-861-7469
There are several good theater choices south of the Ohio River this weekend.
The theater (and dance) program at Northern Kentucky University presents a truly varied array of programming — this season has included a play by Orson Welles, the legendary musical South Pacific, Shakespeare's As You Like It and more. The academic year's final production Monty Python's Spamalot, opened last evening, and it seems to be a perfect vehicle for a lot of onstage clowning. (In case you haven't been tuned in, the show is subtitled "A musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail," and many of the show's most hilarious moments are reproduced wholesale onstage.) But clowning can be serious work, and if you catch NKU's production, pay attention to the choreography (the work of NKU grad Roderick Justice) which is complex, amusing and very well executed by the cast of 25. Director Ken Jones keeps things moving; the actors get into the tomfoolery from start to finish, especially Kat Moser as the diva who's the Lady of the Lake and Bradley Goren as long-suffering Patsy (he's the one who clicks the coconut shells to simulate King Arthur riding on horseback, among other amusing moments). The show is a fine entertainment, if you're a fan of the low but articulate humor of the Python troupe. Through April 27. Tickets ($8-$14): 859-572-5464.
Comedy of an entirely different sort is available at another Kentucky venue, the Carnegie in Covington, where Mary Chase's 1945 Pulitzer Prize winner Harvey is available through April 27. This is a piece of gentle humor from the past, about a slightly off-kilter guy who sees a six-foot-plus rabbit — he calls it a "pooka" — named Harvey, much to the dismay of several family members who are embarrassed by his behavior. Their efforts to get him committed to a local asylum go awry to much merriment and a message about being, well, gentle and sweet. This is good, old-fashioned fun. Tickets: 859-957-1940.
If you prefer a well-written contemporary drama, this weekend is your last chance to see A Delicate Ship at the Cincinnati Playhouse. Anna Ziegler's new show (this is its world premiere) is a memory play that explores an unexpected chain of events triggered by a love triangle. It's beautifully staged by Michael Evan Haney with a cast of three actors who are just right for each of their roles. I gave this one a Critic's Pick when it opened; it's as good as anything I saw recently at the much-respected Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Tickets ($30-$80): 513-421-3888.
This evening at its Jackson Street headquarters in Over-the-Rhine, Know Theatre of Cincinnati revealed the lineup for the 11th annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival to a crowd of nearly 100 enthusiastic supporters and performers. The two-week festival begins Tuesday, May 27, with the CityBeat Fringe Kick-Off Party; it winds up 12 days later on Saturday, June 7, having presented 32 productions — 17 plays, two musicals, seven solo performers, and six dance presentations. In addition, there will be four FringeNext productions (selected from 11 applicants — a record number), featuring original material produced and performed by local students from the School for Creative and Performing Arts, Newport Central Catholic High School, St. Xavier High School and Highlands High School.
Performance Gallery is kind of the alpha and omega of the Cincinnati Fringe: They’ve been in all 11 festivals, including the 2008 hit show fricative. Producer Eric Vosmeier calls them the inspiration for much of what the Fringe is about: They were doing “fringe-like” work before the festival began, and they’ve returned annually with work that pushes the envelope. This time they’ll offer Heist, about three crooks of questionable ability. Vosmeier also cited Pones Inc., the dance-based company that returns for the seventh time with Traffick, a piece of audience engagement that explores issues of human trafficking. Vosmeier says, “This is the kind of work the Fringe was built to exhibit.”
“We had a great mix of new producers and returning favorites in the applicant pool,” Vosmeier says. “The word continues to spread about our Cincinnati Fringe Festival, which has a national reputation for being the most artist-friendly festival. We’ve worked very hard on this over the years, and I believe that we’ve created something special for our artists and for our region.”
The Cincinnati Fringe differs from festivals elsewhere in that productions are screened and handpicked by a committee of local theater artists. Drawing from a large pool of applicants, comparable to last year’s record-breaking number, this yielded a balanced mix of local vs. out-of-town producers: 15 from Greater Cincinnati and 18 from beyond. The latter number includes three international shows, the most ever for the festival: Around Dark Matter, a Holocaust memory piece by Mica Dvir, is from Tel Aviv, Israel; A Brief History of Beer by Wish Experience from London, a company that has performed at festivals from Edinburgh to Adelaide; and Prefer Not to Say, an interactive piece by blueDragonfly Productions, another U.K. group, the presenter of And All the Rest is Junk Mail a year ago.
For Wednesday evening’s announcement event, members of the Fringe staff mentioned the shows they were most looking forward to. They named:
· An Unauthorized Autobiography of Benny Hill by Four Humors Theater (Minneapolis), the creative minds behind such past Festival favorites as Lolita: A Three Man Show, Bombus and Berylline and Harold. This will be their sixth consecutive Cincinnati Fringe appearance.
· Blogging Behind Bars by Unity Productions, creators of two past Fringe hits, The Wave and Nothing. This time it’s a true story about a young, nonviolent criminal who wrote a blog while incarcerated in a maximum-security prison.
· Papa Squat’s Store of Sorts by solo artist Paul Strickland from Indianapolis, whose Ain’t True and Uncle False was a “Pick of the Fringe” last year. His new show is a music-filled memorial for a guy who “once filled the emptiness in Big-Fib Cul-de-sac with his insightful songs.”
· Something Something New Vagina by Rebecca Kling, a transgender artist and educator from Chicago with a follow-up show to her 2012 production, Beneath Her Skin.
· The Ultimate Stimulus by Felipe Ossa, a Brooklyn-based playwright and a new artist to the Cincy Fringe, is presented in the form of a TED Talk that argues for concubinage as a way to address the problem of income inequality.
The festival is also a chance for Cincinnati’s local theater companies to show off. Clifton Performance Theatre will present Sarge, a piece by Kevin Crowley about the wife of discredited Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Untethered Theatre has prepared Where Edward Went, a new play by Ben Dudley and Adam Sievering about a screenwriter’s effort to make a documentary about Edward, the late fiancé of Elyse, a painter. They don’t quite agree about the portrait. New Edgecliff Theatre will offer TRAGEDY: a tragedy, described as “one of the funniest apocalypses of our time.” And Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s intern company always offers a fine showcase of young talent. This year it’s two one-act plays: Sheila Callaghan’s Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) and Itamar Moses’s Authorial Intent.
In addition to the productions offered nightly, artists, audience members, staff and volunteers flock nightly at Know Theatre’s Underground and headquarters for the Fringe Bar Series, with a reasonably priced bar, some free food inside and offerings for purchase from food wagons on Jackson Street. Each evening after the Channel Fringe Hard Hitting Action News Update, everyone has a chance to be a performer with activities such as the Fringe Olympics, Fringe-A-Oke, Fringe Prom, Segway Night and the Night Without Technology. This year the Bar Series night adds Fringetoberfest, an evening of German-inspired food and brews from local craft beer creators.
Vosmeier expects the festival to attract more than 8,000 visitors this year. If you’re someone who tries to see as much as possible, your best bet is a “Full Frontal” Fringe pass ($200) providing access to every event in the festival. Know also offers “Voyeur” passes ($60) good for six shows of your choice. If you can only make it once, a “One Night Stand” pass ($25) is available — admission to any two performances in an evening plus one drink at Know’s Underground bar. Single tickets to Fringe shows continue to be priced at $12; they’ll go on sale in mid-May.
There will be lots more — and the lineup can change. Hey, it’s the Fringe, so be ready for anything. You’ll find details on all these shows and more at cincyfringe.com.
“We had a great mix of new producers and returning favorites in the applicant pool,” says Producing Artistic Director Eric Vosmeier. “The word continues to spread about our Cincinnati Fringe Festival, which has a national reputation for being the most artist-friendly festival. We’ve worked very hard on this over the years, and I believe that we’ve created something special for our artists and for our region.”
The pool of applicants, comparable to last year’s record-breaking number, has yielded a mix of local vs. out-of-town producers: 15 from Greater Cincinnati, including the return of Performance Gallery for the 11th consecutive year (it’s the only group that’s been in every Fringe) with a new piece, Heist, about three crooks of questionable ability. There will be 18 productions from beyond Cincinnati, including three international shows.
Vosmeier expects the festival to attract more than 8,000 visitors for 2014. If you’re one of those people who tries to see as much as possible, your best bet is a “Full Frontal” Fringe pass ($200) that gives you access to every event in the festival. Know also offers “Voyeur” passes ($60) good for six shows of your choice. If you can be there for one evening, a “One Night Stand” pass ($25) is available, offering access to any two performances in an evening and one drink at Know Theatre’s Underground bar. Individual tickets to Fringe Festival shows continue to be priced at $12; they’ll go on sale in mid-May.
Look for more information at CityBeat.com after the 7 p.m. announcement tonight. More info: cincyfringe.com.
If you follow music coverage in CityBeat (hey, isn't that really why you pick up the paper?), you're certainly aware of Green Day's 2004 recording American Idiot.
But since you're reading my weekend theater previews, you must be
interested in other kinds of performance, so here's a tip: For two nights
only, Green Day's American Idiot, a stage version of the powerful Punk score, will be onstage at the Aronoff. That's right — Friday and Saturday
only, just three performances, much shorter that Broadway in
Cincinnati's two-week presentation of touring Broadway musicals. I can
vouch for this one, since I saw it a year ago during a similar tour stop
It's the story of three disaffected guys who take different downward spirals when confronted with the numbing boredom of everyday life — "alien nation" — as they sing in the opening number. The recording was conceived as a "Punk Rock Opera" and turned into a Tony Award-nominated Broadway show in 2010, with a lot of involvement by Green Day's lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong (who actually appeared onstage in New York at various performances; that's not happening here in Cincinnati). There's a day-of-performance lottery for a limited number of $25 tickets; you need to show up two-and-a-half hours before the performance you're hoping to see (8 p.m. Friday, and 5 and 8 p.m. on Saturday) with a valid photo ID. Complete an entry form and wait 30 minutes to find out if you're a winner. If you prefer to just go ahead and buy your seats ($38-$91), you can call the Aronoff box office: 513-621-2787.
Actors Theatre’s Humana Festival is indeed a launching pad for exciting new works. That makes its final weekend the perfect moment for the American Theatre Critics Association to recognize a set of outstanding plays produced at regional theaters during 2013. None of the 2013 Humana Festival shows was nominated, but one of the three works to win a significant cash prize ($7,500) was Martín Zimmerman’s Seven Spots on the Sun, given its world premiere at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park last fall. The play blends magical realism and political issues in an affecting tale examining if forgiveness is truly possible. Set in a Central American nation ravaged by civil war, lust, plague and a consuming need for vengeance, it’s about a widowed doctor in a small village and a newly-married soldier charged with subduing dissent. Their journeys towards redemption converge in some painful ways.
The top prize ($25,000) went to Lauren Gunderson for her play I and You, about a cranky high school student who needs a liver transplant. A smart, athletic classmate recruits her to help him finish a school project focused on Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. As their unlikely relationship evolves, they explore the meaning of life and death without a shred of condescension or pretentiousness. I and You was staged last October at Marin Theatre Company in California, where Jasson Minadakis, who founded Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, is now artistic director and nurtured the development of Gunderson’s script. Her play Toil & Trouble was presented locally last summer by Know Theatre.
The three-week run of the tour of Wicked wraps up this Sunday at the Aronoff Center. It's a faithful reproduction of the Broadway hit, with performers who can give you the experience of seeing the original, a kind of prequel to The Wizard of Oz. (Tickets, $38-$188: 513-621-2787, but each performance has a pre-show lottery; if your name is pulled, you can buy a ticket for $25). If you've already seen this one, I suggest you check out one of the great new productions on local stages.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati has offered another powerhouse season this year, but I'll venture to say that The Mountaintop is aptly named: It's at the peak. It's an imagined story about Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the night before he was assassinated. I'll venture to say that you've never seen him in quite this altogether human light, as portrayed — dare I say wholly embodied — by Gavin Lawrence. And then he's visited by Camae, a sassy maid who evolves into something so much more as he contemplates the meaning of his life. The always watchable Torie Wiggins takes on this role, and it might be one of her best performances yet at ETC. The Mountaintop won London's Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2011, and in my opinion, it's one of the best productions we'll see here in Cincinnati this theater season. Through April 6. (Tickets, $25-$43: 513-421-3555).
I caught up with the Cincinnati Playhouse's production of Pride and Prejudice at the Playhouse earlier this week. (It opened a week ago, but I was out of town.) It's a faithful rendition of Jane Austen's beloved novel, gorgeously staged and costumed. It has a big cast, so all the characters, quirky and memorable, are present and accounted for — a few actors need to play more than one role. If you're an Austen fan, I suspect you'll like this one; if not, you might find it kind of uneven, since some characters come across as cartoons (especially Elizabeth Bennet's meddlesome, garrulous mother and the arrogant Lady Catherine de Bourgh) while others are more naturalistic. Kate Cook's Lizzie has all the right notes (she ought to, as she's played the role several times elsewhere) and Loren Dunn's Mr. Darcy, while a bit slow out of the gate, eventually captures the character's aloof charm. Director Blake Robison has done a good job with an interesting adaptation that has scenes that flow swiftly one into the next, sometimes with overlapping elements that recall past moments. Through April 5. (Tickets, $30-$80: 513-421-3888).
Back in the early 1980s, the musical A … My Name is Alice had a long run at New York City's The Village Gate. Northern Kentucky University is producing its version of this collection of songs focused on the paradoxes women face — beauty, strength and heart. The show, created by an array of comedians, lyricists and composers, has 20 songs. It's being staged by Corrie Daniely, the newest faculty member in NKU's theater and dance department. Through April 30. (Tickets, $8-$14: 859-572-5464).
I had a glimpse of Broadway's future last night on campus at UC. I attended Not Yet Famous, the 22nd edition of CCM's musical theater showcase, featuring the about-to-graduate senior class. The 19 vibrant performers presented a 45-minute program that they'll take to New York City on April 7 to present to casting agents, producers and others. It's how they begin to land contracts and establish relationships that will give them solid professional careers. With accompanist Julie Spangler at the piano, the singers worked as a large ensemble and smaller sets, but each one had multiple chances to show off her or his strengths as a singer, dancer and actor — they're all trained to be "triple threats" with a polished arsenal of vocal and movement skills. They were warmly received by the Friends of CCM, the support group that helps keep various programs at the conservatory going; the evening was a benefit. You have a chance to see the showcase for free if you act quickly: There will be performances on Saturday at 5 and 8 p.m. at Patricia Corbett Theater. No charge, but you need to call CCM's box office to reserve a seat (limit of two per order). I suspect tickets will be snapped up, so call right away: 513-556-4183.
Wicked is in the midst of its three-week run at the Aronoff Center. This is one of the most popular Broadway shows of the 21st century (it's been running for a decade, as well as spawning productions around the world plus two national tours, one of which is in our midst). It's here through April 23, but tickets are expensive (cheap seats are $38 and anything else is more), so you might want to try your chances in the daily lottery for a $25 orchestra seats. Grab your valid ID and show up in person 2.5 hours before the curtain time to enter; if your name is chosen, you can purchase one or two tickets. Of course, if you're flush you can guarantee seats by buying what you need at 513-621-2787.
The Playhouse just opened Pride and Prejudice, a theatrical adaptation of Jane Austen's most popular 200-year-old novel. I won't see it until next week (busy schedule), but if you're a fan — and it seems that everyone loves her novels of manners and romance — you probably need to line up to see this one. Director Blake Robison calls his production "epic," adding, "The story is a satire of the marriage market and an exploration of true love. What could be more fun than that?" It's onstage through April 5. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
What with St. Patrick’s Day coming on Monday, this might be the perfect weekend to see Clifton Players’ production of The Irish Curse (at Clifton Performance Theatre, 404 Ludlow Ave.). Lots of folks have told me they enjoyed this tale about a group of Irish-American men who meet weekly in a self-help group in a Catholic church basement to discuss a sad “shortcoming” — let’s call it “small equipment,” a curse they believe has ruined their lives. It gets its final performance on Sunday, right before you line up for your first green beer. Tickets: 513-861-7469.
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.