You probably remember Whoopi Goldberg's popular film Sister Act from 1992, an unlikely story about an aspiring singer who witnesses a murder and needs to be hidden until the trial — in a convent. Of course, the contrast between Goldberg and the staid nuns, especially the Mother Superior (played by Maggie Smith). It became a musical in 2009 in London, in 2011 on Broadway and now a touring production. Sister Act: The Musical opened Tuesday at the Aronoff Center.
Of course, Goldberg isn't in it, 20 years later. But she is the producer, and her attitude prevails. Her statement about the show pretty well sums it up: "Sister Act is not rocket science — it's hell-bent on being fun and silly, with a little heart thrown in." That's pretty much what I expected.
What surprised me was the talent of the touring cast, performers who are fully committed to deliver an evening of entertainment. Ta'rea Campbell has star power in the Delores/Sister Mary Clarence role, and she's surely a better singer than Whoopi Goldberg ever was. She conveys the shift from attitude to gratidude with sincerity. Hollis Resnik, a veteran musical theater performer from Chicago, captures the starchy disdain needed for the Mother Superior.
The entire ensemble is solid, especially Lael Van Keuren as the innocent postulant who breaks out of her shell, Florrie Bagel as an enthusiastic, starstruck nun and Diane J. Findlay as an elderly nun who finds her mojo. E. Clayton Cornelious is the socially inept cop looking out for Delores, in part because he had a crush on her in high school; he has dreams of being a smooth operator ("I Could Be That Guy," which features some astonishing costume changes as he fantasizes). And there are cartoonish villains: Delores's violent one-time boyfriend Curtis played by Kingsley Leggs. His three thugs, played hilariously by Ernie Pruneda, Charles Barksdale and Jason Simon bring the house down when they explain how they can have their way with the ladies, even if they're nuns ("Lady in the Long Black Dress").
Of course, Sister Act is full of stereotypes and predictable humor, but its all done with energy and polish, which makes it worth seeing. Production values are excellent, from a lot of quick costume changes (you can't imagine how many acres of glittering material went into this show) to a psychedelic Philadelphia cathedral interior that gets wilder and brighter as the story builds, culminating in a performance for the Pope.
There's nothing profound about Sister Act, which is part of the fun.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati today announced four of its six shows for the 2013-2014 season, which opens on Sept. 4. Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers says, "We are planning a truly original, fresh and exhilarating season of dynamic regional premieres, and I am absolutely thrilled to showcase some of the hottest titles and newest voices this coming year."
You still have several weeks to see Cock (aka "The Cockfight Play" for journalism wimps) at Know Theatre. (It's onstage through May 11.) It's an oh-so-contemporary piece of theater about a gay man — or rather a man — who thought himself to be gay until he breaks up with his boyfriend and takes up with a woman. (CityBeat review here.) The play involves the tense dance of indecision he becomes part of as his lovers fight over him. It's about 90-minutes of fiercely acted theatrics, staged in a setting that looks like the arena where cockfighting happens. Definitely for mature audiences who appreciate shows that don't pull punches. Tickets: 513-3
There's a bounty of
theater choices to keep you entertained this weekend, with productions
on venues all over town — including on several university campuses. Here
are a few you might want to check out.
Sure signs of springtime in Cincinnati: The Reds are playing (and
winning), trees in Over-the-Rhine are covered with white blossoms — and
Know Theatre has announced the lineup for the upcoming Cincinnati Fringe
Festival. 2013 is a significant year for the Fringe: It's marking the 10th anniversary of the annual celebration of weird creativity. Last
evening a big crowd gathered at Know Theatre's Jackson Street facility
to hear what's in store for the May 28-June 8 festival.
Know's producing artistic director, shared the news that, building on a
decade of success, the Fringe received a
record number of applicants for 2013, with 70 percent of the
applications coming from brand-new producers. That's one of the best
parts of the Fringe, the fact that a new jolt of energy arrives annually
from performers that haven't been seen locally. Sixty-three percent of the 2013
applications were from out of town, including several from
international producers. There will be 35 productions in all, by 17
local groups and 18 from out of town. There will be 19 plays, seven solo
shows, two dance pieces, two musicals, and five multimedia/variety
Vosmeier said that it was no easy task for the Fringe selection committee to assemble this lineup. The group was made up of theater professionals from Greater Cincinnati: Heather Britt, Michael Haney, Dave Levy, Miranda McGee, D. Lynn Meyers and Torie Wiggins. “The quality of applications continues to get stronger and larger each year," he said. "I'm so happy to have these amazing leaders of the local theatre community as a part of our jury, and we're grateful for their time in deciding the 2013 lineup.”
The official CityBeat Fringe Kick-Off Party takes place Tuesday, May 28, at Know Theatre. This year's event will also be a 10th birthday celebration, with many of the festival's founders in attendance. The evening, which kicks off at 6 p.m., will feature Indie rock group Bethesda and food from a half-dozen local eateries. The evening (suggested donation: $5) is an opportunity to meet Fringe artists, staff, volunteers and other audience members.
full Fringe schedule will be published in CityBeat's May 15 edition,
but you can get some information at the refreshed website: www.cincyfringe.com.
I'm looking forward to return visits by Wonderheads (from Portland,
Ore., who did some amazing work with masks in last year's Grim and Fischer; their new piece is titled LOON), Four Humors Theatre (from Minneapolis, whose always creative troupe will be staging Lolita: A Three Man Show) and Tanya O'Debra (from New York City; whose Radio Star was a much admired work in 2012; this time she's in a two-person piece, Shut UP, Emily Dickinson).
Performance Gallery, based here in Cincinnati and a regular annual
presence every year is staging Mater Facit, "an absurd look at
motherhood, nationalism, war, sex and sacrifice." Tangled Leaves
Theatrical Collective, another Cincinnati-based group popular with local
audiences, will produce Vortex of the Great Unknown.
Of course, the real fun of Fringe is being surprised by new material and performers, and this year's lineup offers plenty of that: Poe and Mathews: A Misadventure in the Middle of Nowhere (Los Angeles); Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity (Bloomington, Ind.); The Bubble and Other Displays of Moral Turpitude (from Cincinnati-based North American New Opera Workshop); The Elephant in My Closet (New York City); and a production of Cincinnati playwright Catie O'Keefe's The Space Between my Head and my Body (by Shark Eat Muffin Theatre Company). I could go on and on — Know's announcement news release is 20 pages! Based on a decade of Fringing, I like to say that the festival is "theater roulette": You never know what's going to happen when you show up for a performance, and serendipity is the only predictable element. That's what makes it fun. I don't want to wish away springtime, but is it May 28 yet?
This weekend is the opener for Covedale Center's production of Legally Blonde, the show that kicked up controversy in a Loveland High School staging last fall that led to the firing of a dedicated director. I still shake my head over what could offend anyone about this PG rated piece of musical theater, but you can check it out and decide for yourself at the Covedale. It's about a young woman who won't take "no" for an answer and becomes her own woman in the process — outshining everyone at Harvard Law School. It's kind of crazy, but a lot of fun. No one will get fired over this one, I suspect. Box office: 513-241-6550
The Otto M. Budig Theatre at the Carnegie in Covington is in the midst of a run of Jason Robert Brown's Parade. My schedule and the theater's haven't matched up yet, but I'm eager to see it — I'm headed there for the Sunday matinee this weekend. Set in the sweltering intolerance of 1913 Atlanta, Parade is the story of Leo Frank, a northerner and Jewish factory manager, wrongfully accused of murdering a 13-year-old girl in his employment. Despite media frenzy and public outrage, his courageous wife struggles in vain to clear his name. The show won 1999 Tony Awards for best book and best score. This is an off-campus production by the musical theater program at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, and it's been given high marks by the judging panel from the League of Cincinnati Theatres: for the ensemble, for musical direction by Steve Goers, for featured actor Noah Ricketts and for lighting design by Alan Hanson and Wes Richter. It's onstage through April 21. Box office: 859-957-1940
Untethered Theater is midway through it's run of Jeff Daniels' Apartment 3A, presented at the Clifton Performance Theatre on Ludlow, a few blocks east of the Esquire. It's about a once idealistic young woman who has been disillusioned in just about every aspect of her life. The show is an exploration of faith and hope in today's world, described as "an uncynical play about cynics in cynical times." Through April 27. Tickets: 513-939-0599
I'm off to the Humana
Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville this
weekend, where I'll be checking out plays that could well be on their
way to theaters across America in future seasons. For those of you
staying here in Greater Cincinnati, there's lots of good stuff to get
out and see onstage:
The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park has two stages: The Robert S. Marx Theatre is the mainstage with 626 seats; the Thompson Shelterhouse (which is in fact a one-time park shelter) can accommodate an audience of 225. Both have thrust-style stages surrounded by audience seating on three sides, making the action is close and intimate in both theaters.
On the Marx Stage:
· Fly by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan (Sept. 7-Oct. 5, 2013). The story of World War II’s Tuskegee Airmen is told using live action, video projections and tap dancing. This new work will be directed by Khan, its co-creator.
· Cabaret by John Kander and Fred Ebb (Oct. 19-Nov. 16, 2013). Set in Berlin in the 1930s, and especially in the decadent Kit Kat Club, it’s a musical love story with lots of choreography. Marcia Milgrom Dodge, a Broadway veteran, will direct.
· A Christmas Carol, adapted by Howard Dallin (Nov. 27-Dec. 29, 2013). Michael Evan Haney will direct the holiday show with a cast of 30 for the 21st time.
· Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris (Jan.18-Feb. 16, 2014). This one won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for best play. Inspired by Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play, A Raisin in the Sun, the play is explores racial attitudes in a Chicago neighborhood in 1959 and 2009. Artistic Associate Timothy Douglas (who staged the current production of A Trip to Bountiful) is the director.
· Pride and Prejudice, adapted by Joseph Hanreddy and J. R. Sullivan (March 8-April 5, 2014). Robison will direct this lavish, full-scale production of Jane Austen’s classic romance.
· Venus in Fur by David Ives (April 19-May 17, 2014). Maybe you know Ives’ very funny collection of skits, All in the Timing. This is a full-length comedy about a director seeking the right actress who gets more than he bargained for. Artistic Associate KJ Sanchez is staging this one.
On the Shelterhouse Stage:
· Seven Spots on the Sun by Martín Zimmerman (Sept. 28-Oct. 27, 2013). The first of several world premieres for the season, this one is a fable of revenge and redemption set in a Latin American village just after a brutal civil war. Sanchez is directing this one.
· The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged) by the Reduced Shakespeare Company (Nov. 9-Dec. 29, 2013). The same guys who abbreviated Shakespeare, the Bible and American history are at it again, premiering their latest abridgment right here in River City.
· 4000 Miles by Amy Herzog (Feb. 8-March 9, 2014). Robison will stage this tale of a pair of unlikely roommates, a 91-year-old grandmother and her 21-year-old grandson.
· A Delicate Ship by Anna Ziegler (March 22-April 20, 2014). Another world premiere production, this one by an impressive young playwright who offers a humorous and heartbreaking look at love, memory and decisions that change lives. Michael Haney will direct. (Haney, perhaps Cincinnati’s best local director, was the Playhouse’s Associate Artistic Director from 2001 to 2013; starting in the fall, he joins Douglas and Sanchez in a trio of “artistic associates” who each will direct two shows.)
· The North Pool by Rajiv Joseph (May 3-June 1, 2014). Rajiv Joseph’s riveting psychological drama is the story of a transfer student from the Middle East whose life quickly becomes complicated. Douglas is the director.
My schedule hasn't afforded me the time to see the production of Don't Cross the Streams: The Cease and Desist Musical, a show that began its life in the Cincinnati Fringe Festival back in June. (It also was a festival highlight at the IndyFringe in Indianapolis in August.) But the very tongue-in-cheek piece inspired by the film Ghostbusters (but not allowed to say that) has now been expanded into a full-fledged
musical that's onstage at Newport's Monmouth Theatre, presented by
Falcon Theatre and Hugo West Theatricals. The League of Cincinnati
Theatres has termed the show a "recommended production," so it's evident
that their judging panel enjoyed it. One panelist called
it "a lively, enthusiastic spoof," and another said that the show is
"an evening of theater that doesn't take itself too seriously. The show just had a two-weekend run, so it's final performance is Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets: 513-479-6783.
Ensemble Theatre's production of Black Pearl Sings! features one of the finest performances by a local actor that I've seen this season. Torie Wiggins plays a woman in the 1930s who translates her memory of songs from her African ancestors into a ticket out of prison and to some notoriety in New York City. Wiggins nuanced performance is complemented by veteran Annie Fitzpatrick as the folk music researcher who sees Pearl as her own ticket to success. Their tentative relationship becomes a delicately balanced friendship, while both explore issues of racism, sexism and getting ahead. Definitely worth seeing. Through March 31. Box office: 513-421-3555.
Lizan Mitchell is at the other end of the career spectrum from Wiggins, but she too plays Carrie Watts, a sprightly, elderly African-Amerian woman whose powerful sense of home takes her on an impromptu journey back to her roots in A Trip to Bountiful at the Cincinnati Playhouse.
It's laced with sadness, since what she remembers no longer exists, but
her memories and her joyful take on life make it all worthwhile, not
only for her but for others in her life, including her browbeaten son and his selfish wife as well as a sweet young woman who is Carrie's companion on a long bus ride. Through April 7. Box office: 513-421-3888.
This weekend Cincinnati Shakespeare is opening a production of the much-loved Shakespearean romantic comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's been transported to 1940s America and set in a Jazz-inspired magical forest, with original musica composed by resident sound designer Doug Borntrager; there's also original choreography by Brittany Kugler. The production is staged by Jeremy Dubin, and features veteran actor Nick Rose in the role of Nick Bottom the Weaver, the guy who makes an ass of himself — literally. It's a tangled, funny story that all works out perfectly in the end. A great show to kick off springtime. Through April 21. Box office: 513-381-2273 x1.
This is a busy time of year on local stages, and that's especially true at colleges and universities where the academic year is winding down.
At Northern Kentucky University, the 17th biennial Year End Series (Y.E.S.) Festival is underway, presenting three world premiere productions in rotating repertory. It's a Grand Night for Murder opened on Thursday; The Divine Visitor, a Restoration Comedy through a sci-fi filter (figure that one out) starts tonight; and Encore, Encore, about witty and caustic New York writer Dorothy Parker, gets underway on Saturday. There will be multiple performances through April 26. Tickets: 859-572-5464
At Xavier University this weekend you can find a production of the Rock musical Spring Awakening, the winner of eight Tony Awards in 2007. It's about a group of students struggling through adolescence to adulthood — with a lot of rebellion along the way. It's being presented in XU's Gallagher Student Center Theater. Tickets: 513-745-3939
A lot of high school students have been recruited by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company for more than 38 free art events based on the works of Shakespeare. You might recall that CSC "completed the canon" (produced all 38 of Shakespeare's plays) a year ago. The celebrate that accomplishment, the company devised Project 38 to work with numerous area schools. Each one was assigned and worked with some of the company's artists to be inspired in productions, art, writing — whatever moved them. The initiative is culminating in an eight-day festival of free performances and exhibitions in Over-the-Rhine's Washington Park. School performances are all free. Since performances of The Taming of the Shrew are sold out on CSC's mainstage, Project 38 gives you the chance to see Shakespeare you might have missed otherwise. Schedule here.
There's another take on a student coming to terms with the Bard at Dayton's Human Race Theatre Company: Taking Shakespeare is the story of a disillusioned college professor asked to tutor her dean's son through his freshman Shakespeare class. It's got its humorous moments, but the show delivers a serious message about living up to expectations. Playing the student is Cincinnati actor Jon Kovach, who's performed on numerous local stages. Through May 3. Tickets: 937-228-3630
The farcical show by Steve Martin, The Underpants, is evoking laughs at the Otto M. Budig Theatre in the Carnegie in Covington. It's a bit risqué, but the humor is very gentle. Tickets: 859-957-1940 … Not so gentle is the production of Death and the Maiden by Diogenes Theatre Company at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theatre. This three-character thriller is set in an unnamed Latin American country where a woman gets control of a man she believes once tortured her under a brutal dictatorship. It's a powerful piece, magnificently acted by three top-notch professionals familiar to Cincinnati theatergoers — Annie Fitzpatrick, Michael G. Bath and Giles Davies. Not for the faint-hearted or those who are squeamish about violence, but this is production that deserves to be seen. Through May 2. Tickets: 513-621-2787
One last note, for anyone interested in playing a supernumerary for Cincinnati Opera (that's like being an extra in a movie): Open casting for the upcoming summer season happens on Monday at 6 p.m. at Music Hall. You don't have to be a singer. In fact, no experience is necessary; positions are filled on a voluntary basis. Details here.
There's a ton of theater opening up this weekend, something for just about every taste. But if you're looking for something free, I have a special recommendation: It's 110 in the Shade at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. This is a production in the Cohen Family Studio Theater (an intimate black box venue that seats about 150). The production is in the "Musical Redux" series, bringing back a show that's not often produced. 110 dates back to 1963. It's the story of Lizzie Curry, on her way to being an "old maid," who lives with her dad and her brothers. A charming con man shows up posing as a rainmaker and promises relief to drought-stricken farmers. Is he for real? Lizzie has her doubts, but he works hard to win her over. CCM Studio productions are free, but reservations are required (513-556-4183), and performances are often filled up. This one is likely to be a lot of fun; it's this weekend only, final performance at .
Two shows on local stages are dealing with top-of-mind issues of race and urban living, one at the Cincinnati Playhouse, the other at Ensemble Theatre.
Last evening the Playhouse opened its production of Tracey Scott Wilson's Buzzer. Wilson is a playwright who's not afraid to get at prickly issues of contemporary life (read more here), and that's what she does in this piece that could be set in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine. (It's actually in New York City, but that doesn't make it less relevant.) Jackson returns to his onetime childhood neighborhood, once neglected and now trendy; he's black, girlfriend Suzy is white, and so is Jackson's troubled friend Don, out of rehab yet again and needing a place to stay. Their triangle is a toxic mix with a troubled past that's exacerbated by life in a neighborhood where black and white relations are strained. The Playhouse is offering talkbacks after each performance to discuss issues raised, and there will be a panel discussion focused on OTR's housing challenges here in Cincinnati on Saturday evening at 6 p.m. My take: This show is more about personal relationships that aren't entirely honest, even though there is constant conversation about "no secrets." The actors in this tense drama are vividly real, unpredictable and vulnerable; you'll feel like they're people you know. (Through April 19.) Tickets: 513-421-3888
The second show that's heating up conversations about race is ETC's staging of Dominic Morisseau's award-winning play, Detroit ’67 (reviewed here). While the story has a historical setting — the story of family aspirations and disappointments unfolds against the backdrop of the Motor City's race riots almost 50 years ago — it almost feels ripped from current news stories about unrest stemming from police brutality in Ferguson, Mo. Five actors portray some colorful and occasionally humorous characters from the era involving the family dynamic between a brother and sister who differ about making ends meet in a challenging environment. Motown tunes from the ’60s are the soundtrack for a story that's often painful but ultimately hopeful. (Through April 5.) Tickets: 513-421-3555
Know Theatre opens Hearts Like Fists tonight at its Jackson Street stage in Over-the-Rhine. Adam Szymkowicz's comic-book-inspired action adventure has some fine local actors as the Crimefighters, female superheroes who are out to stop Dr. X, on a mission to murder happy couples in their sleep using a deadly serum that goes straight to the heart. When the show was staged in New York in 2012, the New York Times called the show's comic hybrid of parody and punches "madcap" and "hysterical." That's what Know will be striving for, through April 25. Tickets: 513-300-5669
If you are interested in seeing actors, singers and dancers who are on their way to professional careers, you might want to catch Senior Showcases from the drama and musical theater programs at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. The drama majors, readying their piece for trips to Los Angeles (for potential TV work) and New York City, will perform today at 2 and 7 p.m. at Patricia Corbett Theatre. (Admission is free.) The triple threats graduating from the musical theater program offer their showcase twice on Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m. as they prepare to shine for Broadway producers and casting agents in New York next week. Admission is free but reservations are required: 513-556-4183.
Planning ahead? The popular touring production of The Lion King returns to Cincinnati where it's been a big hit twice, in 2003 and 2007. The magnificent musical about good overcoming evil and youth finding maturity opens on Tuesday for a four-week run at the Aronoff Center. (Through April 26.) Tickets: 513-621-2787
I took a trip to my senior year in high school when I attended the opening of Detroit '67 by Dominique Morisseau at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati on Wednesday. It's set in Detroit during that city's 1967 "race riots," but they are the backdrop for a family drama: Sister and brother Chelle and Lank are trying to make ends meet by running an after-hours club in the basement of their family home, now theirs since the death of their parents. Chelle is satisfied with the status quo; Lank dreams of owning his own legit bar. But they'd need to sell the house to make that possible, so they're at an impasse. He's impetuous and makes moves to buy a local joint without her knowledge, only to have the destructive riots threaten his deal. More personal complications make the story interesting, if a bit too pat. Motown tunes — Lank buys an eight-track player to replace his sister's turntable — make this production a walk down memory lane for Baby Boomers. But Detroit '67 will grab everyone because the events of five decades ago are eerily and sadly similar to recent disturbances in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere. (Through April 5; tickets: 513-421-3555)
Peter and the Starcatcher at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a playful and over-the-top imagining of the origins of Peter Pan. It's not a very adult cup of tea; it's more a swig of giggle-inducing rum. But if you yearn to head back to childhood for a few hours — playing with words, making fart jokes and having an adventure "against impossible odds" — this production is a joyous must-see. (Through April 4; tickets: 513-421-3888)
The Marvelous Wonderettes was a big hit for Ensemble Theatre a few years back. They staged the original story of girls singing Doo-Wop hits in 1958 and coming together again in 1968 for more old tunes, and did well with several sequels that kept audiences eagerly coming back for more. The show is now being presented at the Covedale Center in West Price Hill, and it has a nostalgic draw for people who grew up with those tunes. But the production's characterizations of Cindy Lou, Betty Jean, Missy and Suzy feel a little shallow, reducing the potential charm of the show. Nevertheless, it's a lot of fun if you love the music of the era and remember your own angst about boyfriends and girlfriends. (Through April 4; tickets: 513-241-6550)
Cincinnati Shakespeare's very pleasant production of an adaptation of Little Women continues through Saturday evening; tickets: 513-381-2273. The musical based on Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel about the March sisters is onstage through Saturday, too, at Newport's Stained Glass Theatre, produced by Footlighters, Inc., a community theater; tickets: 859-652-3849.
The moving play based on The Diary of Anne Frank is being presented this weekend by the School for Creative and Performing Arts with performances remaining on Friday and Saturday evening at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. It's the powerful story of a Jewish family who went into hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II; Anne, the diarist who recorded their tribulations, died at age 15 in a concentration camp. Tickets: here.
I hope my Curtain Call column (found here) in a recent issue moves you to head to UC's College Conservatory of Music for Richard Hess's staging of Wendy Wasserstein's Pulitzer Prize winner, The Heidi Chronicles, onstage through . If you remember the 1970s and ’80s, this production will transport you back in time as you watch young feminist Heidi Holland grow up, grow weary and grow wise. Tickets: 513-556-4183.