Home - Blogs - Users Blogs - Latest Blogs
Latest Blogs
by Rick Pender 10.25.2013
Posted In: Theater at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: 'Cabaret' and Halloween Fare

The Cincinnati Playhouse's production of Cabaret is a must-see for anyone who is a fan of musicals. (CityBeat review here.) Kander and Ebb's Tony Award winner from the late '60s has been brought to the main stage with inventive verve by veteran Broadway choreographer and director Marsha Milgrom Dodge. Sure, it's set in 1929 Berlin, populated by amoral entertainers and Nazis rising to power. But its scrutiny of prejudice and bigotry in the context of jaunty, thoughtless entertainment is a fascinating way to bring attention to topics that are timeless. Dodge has assembled a cast of triple-threats (who can sing, act and dance), given them choreography rooted in the 1920s, costumed them in period clothing (and some clever get-ups for the cabaret routines) and set them spinning on a stage arrayed with Expressionist imagery. It's a winning combination. Cabaret just opened on Thursday evening; you have until Nov. 16 to catch it, but it's likely to be a hot ticket, so this is a good weekend to head to Mount Adams. The other choice at the Playhouse, Seven Spots on the Sun, is in its final weekend on the Shelterhouse stage. It's a powerful drama set in a Latin American nation, torn asunder by civil war. Serious theatergoers have been giving this one a thumbs-up. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Cincinnati Shakespeare hasn't gotten around to any Shakespeare plays yet this season, but no one's complaining. Last weekend they opened a moving production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, featuring top-notch performances by Jeremy Dubin and Jim Hopkins as a pair of Depression Era migrant works who have to stay one step ahead of trouble because man-child Lennie (Hopkins) doesn't know his own strength and has emotions that are seldom reined in. Great acting, worth seeing. (CityBeat review here.) Through Nov. 10. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati finishes its run of Gina Gionfriddo's Rapture, Blister, Burn this weekend, hot from Broadway in its regional premiere. (CityBeat review here.) A story about modern women and what satisfies — and dissatisfies — them. Three generations end up debating choices made: It's both entertaining and thought-provoking, a showcase of excellent local actors. Through Sunday. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

As Halloween draws closer, you might want to check out a show or two inspired by the "season." Dracula at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts (tickets: 513-241-6550) tells the familiar tale of the legendary vampire. (CityBeat review here.) Slasher at Falcon Theatre (Monmouth Theatre in Newport; tickets 513-479-6783) is a tongue-in-cheek piece that originated a few years back at the Humana Festival in Louisvile. It's about people making a horror flick and how it affects their lives. Lots of humor, but some thoughtful moments, too.
by Rick Pender 10.18.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Choices, Choices

My best recommendation for this weekend is Ensemble Theatre's staging of Gina Gionfriddo's Rapture, Blister, Burn. This is an ultra-natural piece of writing with several generations of women arguing and contesting over the ways women should behave. (CityBeat review here.) It's focused on two women, once friends, one married to the other's ex college boyfriend. It's years later and neither woman is very happy with her present life. How that plays out will keep you engaged from start to finish. Some exceptional acting, with strong direction by D. Lynn Meyers. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

The Playhouse's world premiere of Martín Zimmerman's Seven Spots on the Sun is a powerful drama that engages all your senses as well as your imagination. The products of a devastating civil war in Central America are played out in painfully personal ways. Potent script, strong performances make this a show worth seeing. (CityBeat review here.) This weekend at the Playhouse also offers a series of previews (hence, more affordable tickets) of Kander and Ebb's Cabaret, a show that's been around for a long time — but still has a saucy kick that makes it feel very in the moment. Playhouse box office: 513-421-3888.

Need to starting getting into a Halloween state of mind? Covedale Center opened a production of Dracula on Thursday (it's onstage through Nov. 10) for you to sink your teeth into. Or vice versa. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

Cincinnati Shakespeare kicks off its production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men this evening. It's a tale of friendship in the midst of the Great Depression, two men who are migrant workers, often staying one step beyond serious trouble caused by oafish Lennie. Cincy Shakes' regular Jim Hopkins plays the simple-minded giant who's protected by the pragmatic George, brought to life by veteran Jeremy Dubin. It's a thoughtful, sad story. Opens Friday evening, continues through Nov. 10. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

Speaking of Cincinnati Shakespeare, the company is involved in bringing National Theatre Live broadcasts from London to Cincinnati. If these screenings generate any profits, Cincy Shakes will get some financial benefit. So assemble a group and head to Springdale 18's Cinema de Luxe on Sunday evening at 7 p.m. You'll see a powerful performance of Othello featuring  Adrian Lester (an Olivier Award winner) as the title character and Rory Kinnear (featured in a couple of recent James Bond films) as the manipulative Iago. Here's a link to buy tickets, $19 in general, $15 for seniors and students.

Take a kid to see a show and you're likely to create a lifetime theater lover. That's what happened to me when my grandfather took me to see the musical Brigadoon. So you can give this theory a try this weekend as the Children's Theatre of Cincinnati opens its 89th mainstage season with Annie JR. at the Taft Theatre. It's a shortened version of the Broadway hit about a spunky orphan who charms everyone (and which happens to be back on Broadway this fall in a full-length production). Public performances today, tomorrow and Sunday. Tickets: 800-745-3000.
by Rick Pender 10.11.2013
Posted In: Theater at 09:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Solid Choices

Several great choices for theatergoing this weekend. At the top of your list should be Rapture, Blister, Burn at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. I was at the opening of Gina Gionfriddo's 2013 Pulitzer Prize runner-up on Wednesday, and it's another fine example of the kind of excellent production we've come to expect from ETC. Lynn Meyers has a knack for finding exactly the right actors for her shows, and she's assembled a perfect cast for this one, the story of a twisty relationship between three one-time college friends. Two women, played by Jen Joplin and Corinne Mohlenhoff, were roommates back then, and Mohlenhoff's character had a charismatic boyfriend. She went off to a renowned academic career and Joplin's character ended up marrying Don, played by Charlie Clark. Twenty years later they're back in close proximity, and neither woman is feeling fulfilled by her life. Don is a willing player in trading places, which makes for some amusing drama. Mohlenhoff's character offers a summer seminar in feminism, film and pornography which plays out some interesting theorizing among the show's female characters about the roles women play. It's a great stew of talking and experimenting, which takes some interesting turns along the way. Definitely watchable and entertaining. Onstage through Oct. 27. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

At the Playhouse you'll find Martín Zimmerman's much more serious Seven Spots on the Sun, a story set in a Latin American nation torn asunder by civil war. (CityBeat review here.) We see the drama played out between several characters whose lives are tragically intertwined and who struggle to understand how to continue in light of past decisions and tragedies. It's a powerful story that offers small glimmers of hope, not to mention some magical turns that lead you to speculate about fate and hope. Zimmerman is a playwright whose name will become increasingly familiar in the future; the Playhouse is offer his script in its world premiere. Onstage through Oct. 27. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

If you're looking for a different kind of theater experience, check out New Edgecliff Theatre's annual fundraiser, "Sweet Suspense," back for its sixth year with a one-time performance on Sunday evening. Playwright Catie O'Keefe has adapted Mary Shelley's classic monster tale of Frankenstein into a radio adaptation, complete with creepy sound effects. Since NET is homeless this season, the event is happening at Know Theatre at 7:30 p.m. The "sweet" part of the evening is a dessert buffet at intermission with treats from many local bakeries, including Holtman's Donuts, the hot new sweet shop on Vine Street in OTR. Tickets are $35 (hey, it's a fundraiser) for adults, $20 for kids 13 and under. Seating is limited, so ordering tickets in advance is advised: 513-399-6638.

by Rick Pender 10.04.2013
Posted In: Theater at 11:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door image for 10-4 - seven spots on the sun - cincy playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Weekend Choices

You have two good choices at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park this weekend. Last evening I attended the opening of Martín Zimmerman's Seven Spots on the Sun (it's onstage through Oct. 27). It's a thoughtful and gripping drama about the fallout of civil war in an unnamed Latin American country. Warring factions draw lines and commit atrocities that make for inconsolable lives afterward, even when something magical seems to offer a chance for healing. It's a challenging story that will remind audiences that wars create more strife than they solve. Well-acted and swiftly staged (it's 90 minutes long, no intermission, on the Playhouse's Shelterhouse Stage), this is a world premiere by a playwright who's name will surely become familiar to audiences in the future. Meanwhile, this weekend offers the final performances of Fly on the Playhouse's mainstage. It's the story of valiant African Americans who we know today as the Tuskegee Airmen, men who overcame prejudice and doubt to be heroes during World War II. It's inventively staged using video and tap dancing. Definitely worth seeing; final performance is Saturday evening. (Tickets: 513-421-3888)

Arthur Miller's classic play The Crucible is being staged this weekend by CCM Drama at the University of Cincinnati. You probably know the story set in Salem, Mass., in 1692 when hysteria grips a town and leads to accusations of witchcraft. CCM Drama is a program to be reckoned with, turning out admirable professional actors. (In fact, Diana Maria Riva, a 1995 grad, is being honored today as an outstanding alum — she's done a ton of work on film and TV, including a role on the current FX series The Bridge and past work on The West Wing and NYPD Blue.) Miller's play, winner of the 1953 Tony Award, was created at a time of great turmoil and confusion in American history, and it's become a central work in the canon of American drama. For a taste of what this production will offer, check out this haunting, twitchy trailer, produced by the show's actors and Tim Neumann and Dan Marque, both students in CCM's e-media program. The final performance is Sunday at 2 p.m. (Tickets: 513-556-4183)

Community theaters typically offer fine choices at affordable prices. This weekend I'll point you to Cole Porter's classic 1934 musical Anything Goes, staged by Footlighters at its own Stained Glass Theatre in Newport through Oct. 12. (Tickets: 859-652-3849.) Another good choice will surely be Ken Jones' Darkside, a drama about astronauts trapped in space, that's being presented by Village Players of Ft. Thomas. Jones, now the head of Northern Kentucky University's theater program, wrote this script in graduate school, and this is reportedly the 140th time it's been staged. Performances through Saturday evening. (Tickets: 859-392-0500)
by Rick Pender 09.27.2013
Posted In: Theater at 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
stage door 9-13 - fly @ playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Memory Lane

Perhaps this weekend you want to take a last-chance trip down Memory Lane. You have that option as the Showboat Majestic is wrapping up its production of Showboat Follies, the final show that Cincinnati Landmark Productions will stage on the historic vessel. It's a revue of songs and skits that should be fun if not profound, but if you go (final performance is Sunday), you'll be able to tell you foriends that you were among the last to visit this nostalgic Cincinnati venue. (Unless the City of Cincinnati finds another operator — which they've been seeking with no success.) Tickets: 513-241-6550.

This weekend also offers the final performances of Oliver Twist at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. It's a tale of crime and child abuse from the Victorian era, and not terribly chipper — think A Christmas Carol without any holiday spirits. But as always with Cincy Shakes, there's some fine acting — and they've added some musical elements that keep things interest, too. Through Sunday. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

The most engaging theater onstage right now (and sticking around until Oct. 4) is Fly at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It's a creative portrait of four aspiring African Americans striving to be Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. The challenges they faced — prejudice, rigorous training and life-threatening aerial combat — not only made them pioneers who addressed civil rights issues decades before the rest of America, it made them heroes, too. Making this production all the more interesting is a modern tap dancer who "underscores" many of the scenes with movement and rhythm. I suspect you've never seen anything quite like this. Tickets: 513-241-3888.

If you're a movie fan I suspect you've seen Carrie (based on Stephen King's novel about a bullied girl who unleashed her telekinetic powers) and Ghost (about a guy who's murdered but comes back with the help of a crazy psychic to save the lover he's lost). They've both been turned into unmemorable musicals that are onstage locally for you to see. I've seen them both, and I'm sorry to say that — despite some fine voices (in Carrie at the Carnegie, presented by Showbiz Players) and a lot of video and special effects (a touring production of Ghost at the Aronoff Center) — I believe you might be better off to pull out your DVD of either film to watch. 

I haven't seen it, but I'm intrigued by Northern Kentucky University's production of Moby Dick Rehearsed. Herman Melville's great American novel is brought to life onstage when a company of Shakespearean actors stop rehearsing King Lear and consider a new play drawn from the tale of the Great White Whale. Theater elements become aspects of the Pequod as the crew is lashed along in Captain Ahab's obsessive hunt for the beast that took his leg. Through Oct. 6. Tickets: 859-572-5464.
by Rick Pender 09.20.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Choices, Choices

Lots of choices to fulfill your appetite for good theater this weekend. Best bet is to catch one of the final performances of Other Desert Cities at Ensemble Theatre (Sunday at 2 p.m. is your last chance), the story of parents and children who just can't get along. (CityBeat review here.) Heavy doses of guilt, sarcasm and politics fuel a lot of family angst, and some unexpected twists and turns keep things interesting as a daughter who's a writer blames her parents for her activist brother's suicide — in a very public way. The show features a solid cast of local favorites. It's definitely worth seeing if you can get a ticket. 513-421-3555.

A wholly different kind of show is Fly at the Cincinnati Playhouse, an imaginative recreation of the lives of four men recruited among hundreds of African Americans during World War II to fulfill piloting roles in bombing missions over Europe. (CityBeat review here.) The Tuskegee Airmen were the leading edge of the Civil Rights movement, men who had to overcome prejudice to prove their worth. The production is made visually and sonically engaging with videos that recreate flight and a soulful tap dancer who brings emotion — joy, sorrow, grief and anger — to various scenes. It's a very imaginative show. Through Oct. 5. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

On Wednesday evening, I caught the opening night of New Edgecliff Theatre's staging of William Inge's 1955 comedy-drama, Bus Stop. It's about a collection of lost souls who end up trapped in a Kansas diner during an overnight snowstorm. They're largely caricatures, but Inge was a master of naturalistic dialogue, and in the hands of some fine local performers directed by Jared Doren the show takes on a pleasant, believable life. Some good things happen, some sad stories are told, and some lessons learned. At the Aronoff Center's Fifth Third Bank Theater, through Sept. 28. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

And for something completely different, you might want to check out a production by community theater group Showbiz Players of Carrie: The Musical, Stephen King’s creepy novel about a bullied adolescent girl who unleashes telekinetic vengeance on her persecutors. The show originated on Broadway in 1988 and was long considered one of the worst ever, but it was reborn in 2012, and became a hit. Decide for yourself by seeing it at the Carnegie in Covington. Through Sept. 29. Tickets: 859-957-1940.
by Rick Pender 09.13.2013
Posted In: Theater at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 9-13 - fly @ playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Back in Business

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is typically the first professional theater in town to start the season, and that's the case for 2013 with Other Desert Cities that opened a week ago. You can read my review; I really appreciated the powerhouse cast performing the show. That led me to give Jon Robin Baitz's provocative family drama about strife between generations a "Critic's Pick." (It's onstage through Sept. 22.) A tip option for seats is an added 7 p.m. performance on that final SundayIf you enjoy ETC's productions of fresh new plays, you owe a debt of gratitude to its founding supporters. Longtime friends Ruth Sawyer and Murph Mahler got the ball rolling back in 1987 and faithfully guided the company for two decades, sustaining the company financially, artistically and spiritually. Mahler passed away in 2009 and Sawyer earlier this year, so ETC is commemorating their dedication with a special free event this Sunday evening at 7 p.m. The program will offer songs and stories performed by some of ETC's best artists. Seating is limited, so you need to RSVP: 513-421-3555.

I attended the opening of the Cincinnati Playhouse's 2013-2014 season last evening. Fly is a heart-grabbing piece of history, the story of four Tuskegee Airmen, some of those bold African Americans who overcame prejudice in the 1940s by joining the Army Air Corps and serving America valiantly during World War II. The show is imaginatively presented, using a modern tap dancer to punctuate the storytelling. There's plenty of excitement, conveyed with video and sound — but mostly with some excellent acting. The full-house audience, which included four veterans of the training program, responded warmly. Through Oct. 5. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Cincinnati Shakespeare's Oliver Twist is a stage adaptation of Charles Dickens' dark 1838 novel about crime and child abuse in Victorian London (CityBeat review here). It's a grim drama, definitely not the chipper rendition you might recall if you've seen the musical Oliver! Cincy Shakes' acting company rises to the task, but I suspect you'll leave the theater glad you weren't a child — or an adult — in that era.  Through Sept. 29. 513-381-2273.

A few years back a play was commissioned about Cincinnati as A City of Immigrants. It's a fine piece of theater about the place we call home and how it's rooted in people who came here from elsewhere. It gets presented periodically, including tonight (Friday) at 6 p.m. at the Freedom Center, 30 East Freedom Way on the Banks. (Doors open at 5:30.) There's no charge for admission; it's definitely worth seeing. The event is to mark the kickoff of the local celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
by Rick Pender 09.10.2013
Posted In: Theater at 07:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
showboat majestic 1

Landmark Productions Won't Return to Showboat Next Year

Theatre company to focus on Covedale Center after 23 years on the river

Abandon ship! Well, that's not exactly true. In fact, Cincinnati Landmark Productions has done a remarkable and loving job of sustaining the ship — in the form of the Showboat Majestic, which it has operated for 23 years in the face of at least 10 floods and countless repairs (including a leaky hull). But with its lease running out later this month, the company has decided not to return for the 2014 season. 

Cincinnati Landmark will focus its endeavors on the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, the converted West Side movie theater where it will offer a "Summer Classics Season" in a vein similar to mainstream fare of classic comedies and musicals that has long drawn audiences to the Majestic. There have been 170 productions on board since 1991, attracting more than 350,000 patrons to the last floating theater in the United States. Cincinnati Landmark is also embarking on a new voyage with a performing arts center to be built in the Incline District in East Price Hill, a venue anticipated to be up and running as early as 2015.

Tim Perrino, executive artistic director at Cincinnati Landmark, says, "It's time to say goodbye. Our organization enjoyed a prolific chapter in the Majestic's grand history, painstakingly caring for the old boat" — launched in 1923 — "and producing seasons that paid tribute to her heritage." 

Opening this week on Wednesday, Showboat Follies will be Cincinnati Landmark's final production on the Majestic. An annual tradition, it's a compilation of musical showstoppers, comic sketches, audience interaction and a return of the "Queen City Toast," a longtime staple of season-closing shows. "This show has become our love letter to the Majestic," Perrino says, adding that it's "a thank-you to our subscribers, longtime supporters and the many artists who helped make our time on the Showboat so special." Showboat Follies runs through Sept. 29.

During the summer of 2014, Cincinnati Landmark will present four productions at the Covedale: Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! (May 22-June 1); Neil Simon's comedy, The Sunshine Boys (June 19-29); Footloose (July 24-Aug. 3), the 2014 Cincinnati Young People's Theater production, a summer favorite using local high school talent; and a spectacular song-and-dance show, The Will Rogers Follies (Aug. 21-31). 

In 1989, the Showboat Majestic was named a National Historic Landmark. No word from the City of Cincinnati, which has owned the Majestic since 1967, as to what might be next. The Majestic was operated with summertime shows by the University of Cincinnati for many years, and it served as a popular venue during several of the Tall Stacks festivals over the years.

by Rick Pender 09.06.2013
Posted In: Theater at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: A Substantial Start to September

The first week of September always brings an avalanche of theater productions, and that's exactly what's available to you this weekend.

I'll start with Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati's Other Desert Cities, which opened on Wednesday. You can read my review, which gives this excellent production a Critic's Pick. It's a drama about generational family strife coming to a boil on Christmas Eve in 2004 when conservative, politically prominent parents learn that their liberal daughter has written a supposedly tell-all memoir about the suicide of her older brother, an antiwar activist. It's a great vehicle for actors, and ETC has assembled an excellent cast of local and New York professionals, including Amy Warner, Dale Hodges, Sara Mackie, Ryan Wesley Gilreath and Dennis Parlato. The show, a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, is full of confrontations and revelations — a juicy night onstage. Through Sept. 22. Tickets ($27-$42): 513-421-3555.

Tonight at Know Theatre is a Fringe "Encore," a performance by actor/musician Kevin Thornton, a popular performer in the annual Fringe Festivals that Know produces. Stairway to Kevin focuses on the fact that he's turning 40 and questioning everything. This is an evening stuffed with new material, both the comedy and the music. Two nights only — Sept. 6 and 13 at 8 p.m. Tickets ($12): 513-300-5669.

Tonight is the opener for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic novel, Oliver Twist. If you've enjoyed stage productions of A Christmas Carol, you have a sense of Dickens' flair with colorful characters and dramatic storytelling. That's exactly what this tale of an orphan in 19th-century London has to offer, and CSC's retelling uses music and inventive staging to bring that place and its inhabitants to life. Sure to be popular with family audiences. Through Sept. 29. Tickets ($22-$31): 513-381-2273, x1.

The Cincinnati Playhouse's season doesn't officially open until Sept. 12, but the first production, Fly, a creatively staged piece about the legendary Tuskegee Airmen from World War II, is in previews this weekend, so it's a chance to catch it early. Tune in to Around Cincinnati on WVXU (FM 91.7) on Sunday at 7 p.m. to hear me interview playwright and director Ricardo Khan. Through Oct. 5. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Finally, you might want to check out the gala celebration by Footlighters this evening (Friday at 7 p.m. at the Syndicate in Newport) when the reliable community theater company marks its 50th season, quite a remarkable accomplishment. Later this month (Sept. 26-Oct. 12), Footlighters will present the jaunty musical Anything Goes at its Stained Glass Theatre; the company is one of the few community groups with its own facility. Tickets ($20): 859-652-3849.

by Rick Pender 08.30.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: The King Is Back

If you're a theater fan looking for something to do this weekend, you've probably realized that the Labor Day holiday is not overflowing with options. In fact, many theater companies are gathering their strength as they prepare for shows that open next week.

But there is one good choice available: a show about the King. No, it's not an Elvis piece. It's about Cincinnati's own King Records, the recording label that made history here in the 1940s and 1950s, launching the careers of many early pop stars, including James Brown. Syd Nathan, a Cincinnati native, launched his independent label in 1943, and for two decades he and his employees did it all in house — recording, mastering, printing, pressing and shipping the music that King produced. (Nathan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.)

Documenting this revolutionary enterprise — which employed blacks and whites in one of our city's first integrated businesses — is CINCINNATI KING, a kind of documentary theater piece based on interviews with people who remember the business and the music. KJ Sanchez, one of the Cincinnati Playhouse's artistic associates, has pulled this material together for a 90-minute reading that's offered one time, on Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. (Read more in Harper Lee's feature story in this week's issue of CityBeat here.)

No charge for admission, but seating is limited in the Playhouse's Shelterhouse Theater, so reservations are required: 513-421-3888. It's sure to be a full house, so call in advance.



Latest Blogs
by Rick Pender 11.20.2015 9 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 11-20 - low down dirty blues @ cincinnati playhouse - felicia p. fields connects with an audience member - photo mikki schaffner .jpg

Stage Door: Non-Holiday Holiday Shows

Several of our local theaters produce shows this time of year that are a kind of antidote to the usual fare of A Christmas Carol and other happy, merry tales. Three get under way this weekend:

I went to a rockin’ party earlier this week, and you can, too — if you turn up for the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Low Down Dirty Blues, through Dec. 20. That’s right, a whole month of good times and sad in the intimate Shelterhouse Theater, doubling as Big Mama’s after-hours Blues bar. Every year around this time the Playhouse puts on a show as an alternate holiday choice to A Christmas Carol (which gets underway next week). This year it’s a warm-hearted good time featuring three excellent singers and a couple of very accomplished Jazz musicians (especially local Jazz pianist Steve Schmidt) performing off-color tunes, full of double-entendres and scandalous joking. The first half of the two-hour performance is mostly about lusty interaction via tunes like “Rough and Ready Man,” “I Got My Mojo Workin’ ” and “You Bring Out the Boogie in Me.” After intermission the party continues briefly (including some cute audience interaction to the tune of “I’m Not That Kind of Girl” — but then the tone darkens with passionate songs of grief (“Death Letter”), mourning (“Good Morning Heartache”) and then hope (“Change is ’Gonna Come”). Felicia P. Fields, a Broadway veteran who played a major role in the original staging of The Color Purple, anchors (and I use that word quite literally) the banter and the singing, but she is ably matched by Caron “Sugaray” Rayford, a massive force of energy, perspiration and rhythm. Chic Street Man sings and plays several guitars (especially a steel number with a gorgeous ring), and his sly, sinuous presence is a perfect complement to Fields’ and Rayford’s more ebullient performances. Don’t go if you’re offended by sexual innuendo, but if you’re looking for a “low down dirty” time, call now for a ticket: 513-421-3888

One of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, As You Like It, is the first step of holiday happiness at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. The story of tomfoolery and romance in the Forest of Arden kicks off tonight; it’s around until Dec. 12, when it’s followed by the tenth annual staging of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some). In case you missed it, Cincy Shakes announced this week that by mid-2017 it moves to its own spectacular new space in Washington Park, the Otto M. Budig Theatre, with nearly 100 more seats than its Race Street facility. (Read my story in this week's issue for more.) Until then, you need to line up for tickets, since many of the company’s performances sell out quickly. Tickets: 513-381-2273

Another “kind of” holiday show getting started is Know Theatre’s production of All Childish Things, opening tonight and onstage through Dec. 19. In a story set right here in Cincinnati (Norwood, in fact), it’s 2006 and two guys are still yearning for the galactic adventures promised by Star Wars when they were kids. One guy lives in his mom’s basement; the other has a girlfriend who could care less about The Force. They think their big break might be residing in a warehouse full of collectible Star Wars memorabilia. Zany shows rooted in childhood have become a holiday staple at Know Theatre, and this is right up that weird, happy alley. Tickets: 513-300-5669

And if you’re really longing to get the holidays under way, you have the perfect opportunity with a tour stop by a production of White Christmas at the Aronoff (next Tuesday through Dec. 6). It’s a stage version of the popular film; the tour features stage Cincinnati and Broadway veteran Pamela Myers in a cute, outspoken role. She performs a number titled “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” a perfect summary of her illustrious career. Tickets: 513-621-2787

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 11.13.2015 16 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 12:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door

Getting Down and Dirty After Hours

I’m in New York City this week to check out some Broadway shows, so I’m missing the opening night of the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Low Down Dirty Blues. It’s the holiday “alternative” to A Christmas Carol, and alternative it is. It’s set in a nameless Blues club on Chicago’s South Side that’s closing for the night. But that’s just when the party heats up as a group of musicians assembles for an after-hours jam session to swap stories and perform favorite tunes, especially numbers from the bawdier side of the Blues, tunes by the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Mama Thornton and more. “It is a spicier kind of Blues, specifically one that has two sides to it," says Dan Wheetman, the production’s co-creator and music director. "On one hand, it is a more intimate look, it is a smaller group and a smaller palate… It’s a story about the people, these people in this club and their stories, which includes the music but it is more of a personal talk about what brought them to where they are.” I’m eager to see it. Onstage through Dec. 20. Tickets: 513-421-3555

It’s that time of year when families begin thinking about going to the theater together. Getting an early start are musical productions for the entire family. Once choice is Seussical, based on the works of Dr. Seuss, at Northern Kentucky University. It opened on Thursday and continues through Nov. 22. Tickets: 859-572-5464 … The other is a production of the musical Mary Poppins by Cincinnati Music Theatre at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater. This is perhaps the city’s most ambitious community theater company, typically undertaking big musicals and doing a good job with them. It opens tonight and continues through Nov. 21. Tickets: 513-621-2787 … If you miss the latter, you’ll have a chance to see a different production: The Covedale Center will be presenting it Nov. 27-Dec. 27.

Continuing and finishing: A keep-’em-guessing murder mystery with just two characters, Sleuth, continues its run at the Carnegie through Nov. 22. (Tickets: 859-957-1940)… This is the final weekend for Mad River Rising at the Cincinnati Playhouse (final performance is Saturday; tickets: 513-421-3888); Andy’s House of [BLANK], an original musical at Know Theater (also winding up on Saturday; tickets: 513-300-5669); and an old-fashioned farce, Fox on the Fairway, at the Covedale (Sunday’s matinee is your last chance; tickets: 513-241-6550). 

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 11.06.2015 23 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Playing House

“Florala.” That’s where you are when you head down the ramp to see Know Theatre’s production of Andy’s House of [Blank]. It’s set on the state line between Florida and Alabama, but it’s recreated in two-dimensional cardboard props (telephones and ice cream cones) and decorations (comically taxidermied animals, including the backside of a dog) imaginatively designed and executed by Sarah Beth Hall. The tale is filtered through the often-divergent memories of two guys who were 16 in 1998, holding down their first jobs in roadside oddity shop and museum of “unmailed love letters.” The “guys” are Paul Strickland and Trey Tatum (truly from Florida and Alabama). They serve as the narrators — or perhaps the “recollectors” — of the oddball musical tale of Andy (Christopher Michael Richardson), the proprietor, and Sadie (Erika Kate MacDonald), the girl he had a crush on as a kid. The show was a well-received entry in Know’s “Serials” earlier this year, a story told in five 15-minute episodes. Strickland and Tatum have stitched those pieces together, and director Bridget Leak has given the piece continuity and flow. Their ebullient enthusiasm is obvious from start to finish — Tatum pounds away on an electric keyboard, Strickland (who composed the 20 or so songs) plays guitar and sings almost operatically, and Richardson and MacDonald (both with gorgeous voices) affectingly play two people caught in a looping time warp. In fact, all four characters are living out the theme repeatedly spoken and sung: “Every day is just a variation on a theme.” The music is great, and there are lots of laughs along the way, but the story is a serious, poignant rumination about love, longing and how to move forward by looking back. At two-plus hours (including an intermission) it feels a tad long, but every moment is a treat to watch. Onstage through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669

Opening this week: Anthony Schaffer’s Sleuth, a humorous but taut murder mystery is at The Carnegie in Covington. It’s a two-man show about a famous mystery writer who’s out to murder a man having an affair with his wife. There are a lot of twists and turns in this tale, so it’s fun to watch if you pay close attention. Through Nov. 14. Tickets: 859-957-1840 … Playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa fascinated Cincinnati Playhouse audiences back in 2013 with his “sequel” to The Crucible, Abigail/1702. Falcon Theatre is offering two related one-acts by him, The Mystery Plays, inspired by the tradition of medieval theater that dealt with the imponderables of death, the afterlife, religion, faith and forgiveness — but from a thoroughly American perspective. In the first piece, a horror film director survives a train wreck only to be haunted by someone who didn’t make it; in the second, a woman travels to a rural Oregon town to make peace with the man who murdered her parents and her sister: He’s her older brother. Through Nov. 21 at the Monmouth Theatre in Newport. Tickets: 513-479-6783

Continuing: Cincinnati Shakespeare’s excellent production of Arthur Miller’s classic drama Death of a Salesman has its final performance on Saturday evening. It’s worth seeing, but tickets might be scarce. Tickets: 513-381-2273 … Mad River Rising at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a compelling study of place and aging, an old man trying to forestall the sale of his family farm. It continues through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-421-3888 … Covedale Center’s staging of the comedy Fox on the Fairway, a tribute to cinematic farces from the 1930s and 1940s, is onstage until Nov. 15. Tickets: 513-241-6550

Tune in to WVXU (FM 91.7) on Saturday evening at 8 p.m. to catch LA Theater Works’ production of Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man. This show, about a young Jewish Confederate soldier marking Passover 1865 with his family’s newly freed slaves in a crumbling mansion in Richmond, Va., at the end of the Civil War, is a powerful work. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati staged this show very effectively in 2012.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 10.16.2015 44 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 10-16 - bruce cromer as willie loman in death of a salesman @ cincy shakes - photo mikki schaffner

Stage Door: A Dying Salesman, Barbra Streisand and a Prince in Search of Meaning

There are almost too many good shows for you to enjoy this weekend, but depending on what you like, you’ll probably find it somewhere.

Cincy Shakes production of Death of a Salesman doesn’t open until tonight, but all sings point to a strong production, headlined by one of our region’s best actors, Bruce Cromer, as beaten-down Willie Loman, who I interviewed for my CityBeat column this week. He’s matched with another fine local stage performer Annie Fitzpatrick as Willie’s faithful but worried wife; two of the Shakespeare team’s excellent company of actors, Jared Joplin and Justin McCombs, play Willie’s sons who can’t quite bear up to the weight of his expectations. Arthur Miller’s play is one of the greatest, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award. So if it’s serious drama, get tickets for this one, onstage through Nov. 7: 513-381-2273.

Want something more frivolous and entertaining, but still a great performance? Show up at Ensemble Theatre for Buyer and Cellar, a one-man show about a guy pretending to be a shopkeeper in a vast basement treasure trove of acquisitions on Barbra Streisand’s Malibu estate. It’s 90 minutes of non-stop storytelling, rooted in a real place — but with a fantasized chain of events. Actor Nick Cearley is a comic gem, performing in a smartly written script that requires him to conjure up not just Alex, the actor hired to wait on Barbra, “the customer” (one and only), but the singer herself and a handful of others. Great fun to watch. Here’s my review. Through Nov. 1. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

If you love a good Broadway musical, you need to show up at the Aronoff and score a seat for the touring production of Pippin. (CityBeat review here.) It’s a show from 40 years ago (by Stephen Schwartz, the creator of Wicked more recently), but this version of an award-winning Broadway revival from two years ago is full of Cirque du Soleil-styled acrobatics, as well as some great songs and performers. It’s a sort of fairytale embroidered from a real historical character from the 9th century, the son of the monarch who launched the Holy Roman Empire. It’s about the young Pippin’s arduous search for a meaningful life. The “Leading Player,” a kind of emcee/storyteller, is Gabrielle McClinton, who handled the role on Broadway for part of its two-year run there, and Charlemagne, Pippin’s father, is played by veteran actor John Rubinstein — who originated the title role back in 1972. (He’s 68 now, but still an energetic, animated performer.) Tickets: 513-621-2787.

Shows previous opened that are also worth seeing include the very serious drama Extremities at the Incline Theater in E. Price Hill (tickets: 513-241-6550), onstage through Sunday; and Sex with Strangers, a very modern romance about writers who envy one another’s careers and lust after one another’s bodies, has another week and a half at the Cincinnati Playhouse (tickets: 513-421-3888).

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 10.09.2015 51 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door

Sex and violence, plus an irreverent take on history

I gave a Critic’s Pick to the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Sex with Strangers, a new play by Laura Eason (who’s written scripts for House of Cards on Netflix). Ethan, an arrogant 28-year-old blogger has turned his writing about sexual conquests into a best-selling book, while Olivia is a serious, introspective writer who, at 39, is hiding behind a teaching career, discouraged by negative reviews and weak sales of her first novel more than a decade earlier. He’s addicted to his cell phone, while she prefers to have her nose in a book. But they have chemistry that’s both physical and driven by aspiration and envy of one another’s careers. The Playhouse production features two actors who are totally believable in their roles, and extremely watchable. It’s an entertaining tale that doesn’t tie everything up in a neat ending. Through Oct. 25. Tickets: 513-421-3888

William Mastrisomone’s Extremities (running through Oct. 18) is not an easy play to watch. A woman is attacked by a stalker, turns the tables on him and becomes as much a bloodthirsty animal as the man who thought he could have his way with her. She has two roommates who try to defuse her violent intentions, but she’s almost as harsh with them as with the bad guy. It’s a harsh story that’s not easy to watch, and it’s a departure for Cincinnati Landmark Productions, which is known for more mainstream fare, musicals and classic comedies. But the company’s artistic leaders are hoping that the new Incline Theatre can be a venue for more serious work, and this show, written in 1982, certainly signals that. Solid individual acting jobs by the four-member cast will keep you on edge. There are a few rough edges, but I give CLP props for getting serious. Tickets: 513-241-6550

Know Theatre is playing host to a production from the drama program at CCM, directed by faculty member Brant Russell. Charise Castro Smith’s The Hunchback of Seville is an irreverent and raucous comedy that turns historical atrocities — it’s set in Spain in 1504 — on their heads with storytelling that might remind you of Quentin Tarantino’s movies. Russell says the playwright “weaves history and anachronism. The subtle variances of tone, the frequently less subtle humor and the savoring of the language all speak to me. In terms of content, this play is very much about anyone who’s ever been marginalized. This is the story of a woman who is denied so many privileges that others enjoy because she was born in a body different from those around her. Ultimately it’s a story about privilege, ethics, power, and the way we tell the story of our shared history.” It opens tonight and continues through Oct. 24. Tickets: 513-300-5669 

Advance notices: I’m really looking forward to seeing Pippin, the next touring Broadway musical at the Aronoff, kicking off on Tuesday. It’s by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell and Wicked are two of his best-known works), and this is a production that won a 2013 Tony Award as the season’s best musical revival. It’s a cool concept, integrating Cirque du Soleil-like performers into the story of a young man’s quest for meaning in the Middle Ages. It’s here for just one week (through Sunday, Oct. 18), so if you hope to see it, get your tickets now. … Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati will open its production of Buyer and Cellar on Wednesday (it continues through Nov. 1). It’s a very funny one-man show about an out-of-work actor hired to manage Barbra Streisand’s collections of stuff, set up like a shopping mall. There’s enough reality to make it hilarious, and enough truth to make it meaningful. I suspect it will be a hot ticket: 513-421-3555 

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 10.02.2015 58 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door -

Stage Door

Sex and its various outcomes

Sex is pretty much a constant presence in life as we know it, and it’s often a driving force in plays, taking on many shapes and outcomes. That’s particularly the case with two shows that just opened locally, Laura Eason’s new play, Sex with Strangers, at the Cincinnati Playhouse on its Shelterhouse stage through Oct. 25, and William Mastrisimone’s 1982 script, Extremities, at Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Incline Theatre, through Oct. 18.

Eason’s script is about two writers who seem as opposite as can be — he’s an arrogant 28-year-old blogger (Nicholas Carrière as the charming and ebullient Ethan) whose writing about sexual conquests has been turned into a best-selling book, while she’s a serious, introspective novelist, 39, (Nancy Lemenager as introverted and self-conscious Olivia) who’s given up because of bad reviews and weak sales of her first book more than a decade earlier. But they end up together in a Michigan B&B due to a snowstorm (and some serious interest on his part in meeting her) and they discover a powerful mutual attraction that’s also driven by aspiration and envy of one another’s careers. Eason writes great contemporary dialogue, and director KJ Sanchez keeps things hurtling along down a road of desire and tentative trust. It seems evident that things could go off the tracks, but when they do there’s some more interesting sparks — and a lot of conversation about the state of writing and literature today. While the show’s title is titillating and they are strangers who steam things up — repeatedly — it’s really the title of his blog, and a past that he might or might not want to move beyond. There’s both humor and real emotion to be appreciated in this finely crafted production. Tickets: 513-421-3888

Mastrisimone’s off-Broadway script from three decades ago (Extremities also became a 1986 movie starring Farrah Fawcett) comes at issues of sex and attraction from a far more serious and brutal angle. It’s a significant a departure for Cincinnati Landmark, best known as a producer of safer, more mainstream fare, musicals and classical comedies. Raul (Will Reed) has been stalking three young women who share a house. He bursts in on Marjorie (Eileen Earnest), who we meet lounging around in a state of undress; he overpowers her, knowing her roommates won’t be back for hours. But she turns the tables on him, and when Terry (Katey Blood) and Patricia (Rachel Mock) return, they find Marjorie menacing and torturing her foul-mouthed attacker, hogtied and imprisoned in a large fireplace. They are shocked by her violent turn, and their perspectives — Terry is shocked and fearful, while Patricia is pragmatic and overly analytical — provide various takes on the situation and its potential resolution. Their four-cornered battle unfolds in harsh, often unhinged arguments about motives, likely outcomes and fears. Some of these feel a tad dated in 2015, but that does not diminish the story’s power. Earnest’s searing performance as Marjorie and Reed’s manipulative portrait of an intelligent, twisted man she insists on calling “The Animal” fuel the pounding pulse of this production of Extremities, staged by Tim Perrino. You’re never sure how the battle will end, and that makes for good theater. Tickets: 513-241-6550

CCM Drama head Richard Hess calls David Edgar’s Pentecost the British equivalent of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Both are big-cast plays, stuffed full of language and contending philosophies. The discovery of a 13th-century mural in an Eastern European church threatens to upset the world of art history, but it also lights the match on conflicts that go well beyond — to geopolitics, religion, history and more. It’s a heady script, with 26 roles speaking multiple languages, utterances that audiences have to intuit, just as the characters need to try to grasp one another’s motives. Read more about Pentecost in my recent Curtain Call column. Like most CCM productions, this one (at UC’s Patricia Corbett Theater) has a short weekend run; the final performance is a matinee on Sunday. Pentecost is an important play, an essential experience for serious theatergoers. Tickets: 513-556-4183

One more interesting piece of theater this weekend, inspired by Titus Kaphar’s Vesper Project at the Contemporary Arts Center, a multi-part installation in which paintings are woven into the walls of a 19th-century American house in New England, the home of a mixed-race family. His exhibit there involves a true/false backstory and familiar/unfamiliar environments. The massive exhibit invites conversation, and that’s what writer (and occasional CityBeat contributor) Stacy Sims has created after several discussions with the artist. She invited five local actors to work with her to respond to the piece, and the result, RETRACED: A theatrical conversation with the Vesper Project, will be performed three times this weekend at the CAC on Sixth Street in downtown Cincinnati, at noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Sims says, “While I have a strong idea of how the actors will move in and out of the space and intersect with each other, each of their individual stories will be deeply informed by their own personal narratives of race, power, privilege and home.” Performances are free with gallery admission.

This weekend is your last chance to see the Cincinnati Playhouse’s beautiful production of The Secret Garden, NKU’s rendition of the comedy Moon Over Buffalo and New Edgecliff Theatre’s well-acted staging of Frankie and Johnnie in the Clair de Lune.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.25.2015 65 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 9-25 - frankie & johnny @ net - sara mackie & dylan shelton - photo provided by new edgecliff theatre

Stage Door

Frankie & Johnny and a taste of Hannibal

New Edgecliff Theatre’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is under way a week later than initially announced following some issues with its not-quite-ready new home in Northside. So it’s been moved to the Essex Studio (2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills), in a performance space routinely used by Cincinnati Actors Studio & Academy, a training group for teens. It was bit of hustle and strain to move a half-built set from Northside to Walnut Hills, but it fits nicely into CASA’s black box. Rather than rattling around in a big old church sanctuary (Northside’s work-in-progress Urban Artifact), NET’s staging of Terrence McNally’s 1987 romantic dramedy works beautifully in this more intimate space. But I suspect no matter where it was staged, the two-character show would be well received thanks to actors Sara Mackie and Dylan Shelton, smartly put through their paces by director Jared Doren. As lonely co-workers in a New York greasy spoon diner, they’ve finally connected — at least for a night. They’re both kind of needy although in very different ways. Frankie, a sweet waitress, has been bruised by bad relationships and seems happy with her own insular existence; Johnny, the motor-mouthed short-order cook who can quote Shakespeare, is driven by angst and passion — filled with desperation that he doesn’t have any more chances for romances. This naturally frightens Frankie, and their navigation through this minefield, full of passion and snark, makes audiences laugh and love them both. It’s definitely worth seeing. Because of the move, it’s a short run, just through Oct. 3. Tickets: 888-528-7311

The folks who run Falcon Theater, performing in Newport at the Monmouth Theatre (636 Monmouth St.) have staked a claim on comic musical satires — they’ve produced Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical, Poseidon: The Upside-Down Musical, Evil Dead: The Musical and several more. So they worked really hard to get the rights to Silence: The Musical, based on The Silence of the Lambs, the creepy 1991 movie about “Hannibal the Cannibal” starring Anthony Hopkins as a manipulative serial killer and Jodie Foster as the young FBI cadet who needs him to solve another serial murder. The musical version was a big hit at the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival and over the past decade it's become a cult favorite. It opens tonight and continues on weekends through Oct. 10. Tickets: 513-479-6783

The first production of the season at Northern Kentucky University, Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo, is a comedy about a pair of fading actors from the 1950s on tour in Buffalo. Their marriage is coming apart, but a famous movie director is coming to see their matinee and just might cast them in an upcoming feature. But everything goes wrong when they start confusing the two shows they’re performing — Noël Coward’s Private Lives and Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. Tickets: 859-572-5464

Speaking of Cyrano, there’s a fine production of it (not to be confused with anything else …) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, with an excellent performance by company veteran Jeremy Dubin in the title role. It’s onstage through Oct. 3. 513-381-2273. • Also closing on Oct. 3 is the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s beautiful production of The Secret Garden, a musical based on a cherished novel from a century ago. This is one of the Playhouse’s “family-friendly” productions — like A Christmas Carol — suitable for multiple generations. It looks great, and the talent onstage — much of it from Broadway — is top-notch. Tickets: 513-421-3888

If you haven’t seen Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, you really should try to get there this weekend for one of its final showings. This new play hat will make you uncomfortable because it’s about a tough conflict with no obvious right or wrong — a custody fight over a baby between her irresponsible parents and her religiously conservative grandmother, refereed by an over-burdened social worker. The cast (including three former ETC apprentices who do a great job) is led by Annie Fitzpatrick as the weary social worker. She’s especially good in this role, a woman trying to do the right thing who’s thwarted at every turn. Final performance is 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: 513-421-3555

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.18.2015 72 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
annie fitzpatrick & brent vimtrup in luna gale @ etc - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door

Actors are shining in several local shows

Actors are a big reason we go to see specific performances, and there are a couple of excellent choices onstage right now as several theaters are kicking off their 2015-2016 seasons. Of particular note is Annie Fitzpatrick, a familiar performer to audiences frequenting productions at Ensemble Theatre. She’s playing Caroline, an over-burdened social worker in Luna Gale. Her character is caught in a custody tug of war involving a baby, the title character. Her immature parents are on one side, caught up in drugs and angry behavior; on the other side is Luna Gale’s well-intentioned grandmother who’s religiously conservative. Fitzpatrick portrays a beleaguered woman trying to do what’s right, but constantly thwarted by the system in which she works. You feel this desperation deep down inside Caroline’s character, in her physical presence, in her exasperated stares and sighs. Fitzpatrick is a marvel to watch. She’s a major factor in my giving this production a Critic’s Pick. (Note for the future: She’ll be onstage next at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Oct. 16-Nov. 7, playing Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman.) Luna Gale continues through Sept. 27. Tickets: 512-421-3555

Another veteran actor is shining at Cincinnati Shakespeare this month. Jeremy Dubin, a member of CSC’s acting company for 16 seasons, is playing the swashbuckling poet Cyrano de Bergerac. The show is sometimes called a heroic comedy, and Dubin handles both parts of that phrase with aplomb. He makes Cyrano larger than life in his generosity and faithfulness, but he plays him with the requisite sense of humor — especially in scenes involving Cyrano’s oversized nose, a convincing prosthetic created for Dubin’s performance. He has excelled in roles both comic and serious; Cyrano draws on both. Read more about this play and Cincy Shakes’ production in my recent column. Tickets: 513-621

One more excellent acting performance worth catching: Caitlin Cohn as 10-year-old Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden at the Cincinnati Playhouse. She’s actually a college student (New York University), but the petite actress is wholly convincing as the ornery, bright and eventually loving orphan who finds the warmth of nature and shares it with her grieving uncle. Cohn is doing an audacious job with a challenging role. Tickets: 513-421-3888

If you were planning to see New Edgecliff Theatre’s production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune this weekend, you need to put it in neutral. Due to some technical delays with NET’s new home at Urban Artifact (1622 Blue Rock Road, Northside) the company is moving the production to a different venue and delaying performances for a week. It’s not scheduled to be presented at Essex Studios (2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills) opening Sept. 24 and continuing through Oct. 3. NET is contacting people who already had reservations. If you don’t have tickets yet, call now: 888-421-7311

A few quick notes: Showbiz Players, a dependable community theater company that likes satirical shows, is presenting The Rocky Horror Show at the Carnegie in Covington, through Sept. 26. Tickets: 859-957-1940 … Performance Gallery, an avant-garde troupe of performers that’s been a steady contributor to the Cincinnati Fringe, is reprising its production from the 2015 Fringe, Shirtzencockle, at Know Theatre on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. It’s a surreal, magical, ridiculous blind of folk and fairy tales. Tickets: 513-300-5669 … Kate Tombaugh, who studied opera at UC’s CCM (and trained in numerous other places) is presenting her one-woman show, It Just Takes One. It portrays the roller-coaster story of a young woman in her 20s seeking a career in opera while struggling to find a social life. A benefit for the Charitable Care Fund at Children’s Hospital, it’s being presented at St. Thomas Episcopal Church (100 Miami Ave., Terrace Park) on Friday evening at 8 p.m. and in 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.11.2015 79 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 9-11 - luna gale @ etc - milly israel, patrick e. phillips & annie fitzpatrick - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door

And so the season begins...

The fall theater season is fully under way. I’ve seen several productions that I can recommend, starting with Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s staging of Luna Gale. The story focuses on a weary social worker caught on the horns of a horrible dilemma — a custody battle between teen parents with drug issues and a zealously religious grandmother — with veteran actress Annie Fitzpatrick turning in another outstanding acting performance. The production is also an impressive reminder of the fine work ETC has been doing for 30 years since three actors in Luna Gale were ETC apprentices a year ago. The award-winning Luna Gale is being produced at many theaters across America this season, but I can’t imagine that any of those productions will be better than the one we have right here in Cincinnati. I gave it a Critic’s Pick. Through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-421-3555

Last night I was at the Playhouse for The Secret Garden opening its 56th season. While this is a story about a 10-year-old girl, it’s quite serious and thoughtful. Orphaned and seemingly headed for unhappiness, she finds redemption in nature and friendship, bringing others along on her path to a better place through abandoned garden that comes back to life. In my review, I suggest that this production might be a bit too complex and impressionistic for kids, but the show is physically beautiful and gorgeous musically. Caitlin Cohn’s performance as Mary Lennox is impressive; she’s a student at New York University, but quite convincing as a young girl. The cast features two CCM musical theater grads, Adam Monley and Carlyn Connolly, and a raft of polished New York veterans. Through Oct. 3. Tickets: 513-241-3888

If you’re a fan of the music of the ’60s and ’70s, you’re likely to love the touring production of Motown: The Musical currently rattling the rafters at the Aronoff Center (through Sept. 20). The hardworking cast does a great job of recreating the sounds of Motown — The Four Tops, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye, and many more. The play in which this is presented, however, is not so stimulating — Motown founder Barry Gordy’s story was written by (you guessed it) Barry Gordy, and it all feels pretty self-serving. But the music is great, and it comes at you hot and heavy — nearly 60 songs, although many are in medleys or shortened versions. Nevertheless, it’s a great reminder of the Pop tunes that kept American singing and dancing several decades ago. Tickets: 513-621-2787

The Covedale Center is offering an ambitious staging of a great musical, A Chorus Line, with some fine dancing in its own right. This is a very moving show about people who put themselves “on the line” to do something they love. It’s still powerful after 40 years, and Cincinnati Landmark Productions has done a fine job with this one. (Through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550

There’s a lot of laughter at Know Theatre this weekend where the Cincinnati Improv Festival is underway. I understand that there aren’t many tickets left, but if you’re a fan of this branch of comedy, you should call to see if you can get in. Shows tonight and Saturday. Tickets: 513-300-5669

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.04.2015 86 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
seven guitars @ actors theater louisville 2015 (l-r) forrest mcclendon, j. alphonse nicholson_photo credit by bill brymer

Stage Door

Theater seasons starts movin’

There’s a lot more coming next week, once we get past Labor Day, but right now there’s just one theater locally with a production onstage. That’s the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. Artistic Director Tim Perrino has been reminding everyone that just because Cincinnati Landmark Productions has opened the Incline Theatre, don’t think that the Covedale has shut down. In fact, it has an ambitious line-up of shows, and the opening production is already under way, A Chorus Line. I haven’t seen this production of it yet, but I will tell you that it’s a show that really lit my interest in musical theater. It was a Broadway hit back in 1975, and I saw a touring production of it in Cleveland in 1978. I had next to no income at the time — and tickets for subsequent performances were pretty well sold out anyway — but I told several friends that in a perfect world, I would have gone back to see it again. I had to wait a few years for that to happen, but this story of aspiring performers grabs me every time I see it. It’s the story of eager young dancers trying to get into the chorus of an upcoming Broadway production. The group is narrowed to 17, but the ultimate goal is four men and four women. The songs are rooted in each dancer’s personal story: Some are amusing, some are heart wrenching — all are painfully true. At the end, they all coalesce into “One (Singular Sensation),” a stunning finale that has all the individuals we’ve met together, dancing as one. It’s a wonderful metaphor about the passion to perform and to be part of a larger whole. A Chorus Line at the Covedale has performances this weekend and continues through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

Last evening I drove to Louisville where Actors Theatre is opening its 2015-2016 season with a superb production of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, one of his “Century Cycle” plays chronicling African-American life in Pittsburgh across the decades of the 20th century. This one, set in the late 1940s, swirls around a promising young Blues singer, Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, who has been offered a recording contract just after his release from a 90-day stint in jail. The play opens with his funeral then circles back through scenes reminiscing about his life and six vividly different people who were close to him — three women and three men. The cast is powerful, and the minutely detailed setting, a desolate backyard in Pittsburgh’s Hill District (inspired by the art of African-American painter and collagist Romare Bearden) is a sight to behold. Seven Guitars blends humor, lyricism and tragedy. Although several of Wilson’s remarkable plays have been stage in Cincinnati, Seven Guitars — winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for best play in 1996 and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award — has not been produced locally. So you might want to make a run down I-71 to Louisville between now and Sept. 20 to see this. This production is definitely worth the trip. Tickets: 502-584-1205.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.