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by Rick Pender 01.03.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: Couple of Classics

Truth to tell, midnight has already passed and Victorian adventurer Phileas Fogg thinks he's missed the deadline for getting "around the world in 80 days." But his faithful servant Passepartout (played with manic energy by the always amusing Michael G. Bath) saves the day by sorting out travel across time zones. Your deadline has not quite passed, since Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's inventive staging of a musical version of Jules Verne's classic Around the World in 80 Days continues through a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. (CityBeat review here.) If football and cold weather aren't your preferences, maybe you should head to the Over-the-Rhine theater for a final volley of holiday entertainment. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

While you're thinking about theater, you should be making plans to see Shakespeare's greatest tragedy (some say it's the greatest play ever written), Hamlet, which opens next week at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Once you've taken that one in, you'll be ready to head back in mid-February for Tom Stoppard's other-end-of-the-telescope version of the show (using the same actors), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

Happy New Year!
 
 
by Rick Pender 12.27.2013
Posted In: Theater at 11:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
to do onstage 12-25 - complete history of comedy @ playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Post-Holiday Options

Don't despair that the Christmas holiday is behind you. Several theaters are still staging enough cheer to keep you going for another week or so. Here's what continues this weekend:

At the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park you'll find the traditional Christmas favorite A Christmas Carol as well as The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) onstage through Sunday. It feels a bit odd to be watching Scrooge and the ghosts after Christmas Day, but the Playhouse's rendition is such a lovely show and Bruce Cromer's portrait of the old miser is so entertaining that you'll be charmed, I'm sure. And the Reduced Shakespeare guys doing the "comedy" piece know how to evoke laughter from the making of jokes in ways you haven't imagined. They're the guys who originated this amusing formula with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), and they're making it work with this world premiere production. It's a nice bit of entertainment for a weekend between the holidays. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Holiday themed laughs are being served up at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company through Sunday, too, with their eighth annual presentation of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some). No Shakespeare in evidence (although they're performing on the gussied-up set that was built for the previous production, Twelfth Night) but four of CSC's best comic talents are mashing up every imaginable tale you might think of that has a holiday connection — Charlie Brown, Charles Dickens, Rudolph, the Nutcracker, It's a Wonderful Life and many more. They'll have you laughing from start to finish, especially if you make a stop by the bar in the lobby beforehand. Not for the kids, but a lot of fun for anyone with an adolescent sense of humor. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x 1.

If you want a nice outing for the kids, I recommend Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's holiday show, Around the World in 80 Days. Jules Verne's adventure classic about a hectic circumnavigation of the globe in 1899 has been musicalized and condensed in a way that children will enjoy it — but there's enough humor and talent onstage to keep adults entertained, too. ETC'S production actually runs through the weekend after New Year's Day, but if the kids are restless and you want to entertain them with live theater, this is a great choice. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

Happy theatergoing!

 
 
by Rick Pender 12.20.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: Wrapping up Holiday Shows

It's the final weekend for most holiday shows, and there are lots of good choices. I'm ranking today's listings according to the laugh-o-meter, starting with the most hilarious:

No. 1: Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some). This is the eighth year the Cincinnati Shakespeare has put this show together, but it's fun even for if you've been before. The cast of four talented actors who usually do Shakespeare and the Classics prove adept at silly, in-the-moment humor. While they're poking fun at many things local, they also manage to touch on just about every Christmas story you can imagine, all with laugh-out-loud results. The biggest challenge is getting a ticket, since the run (through Dec. 29) was nearly sold out when it opened last Sunday. A performance has been added on Saturday at 2 p.m., which might be your best bet to score a seat or two. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

No. 2: The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), a show by the same guys who came up with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). The Cincinnati Playhouse is presenting the show's world premiere, and it's a wide-ranging evening of every kind of humor imaginable by three very adept performers. They can impersonate people and characters, they can do improv, they can satirize the classics — and they can keep everyone in the audience paying attention lest they get a pie in the face. Seriously. Our should I say "humorously"? It's an evening of fun, through Dec. 29. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

No. 3: The 12 Dates of Christmas is the story of a gal who struggles through a year of awful dating after she loses her fiancé when she sees him making out with another woman on national TV during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Lots of losers, lovers and louts — and a few nice guys who aren't quite right. It's a one-woman show with a good heart and a great performance by Annie Kalahurka. New Edgecliff Theatre is presenting the production at Know Theatre. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

No. 4: A Klingon Christmas Carol. This one isn't really laugh-out-loud, but it's a lot of fun to see actors telling the familiar story of Scrooge and his ghosts through the filter of Star Trek's fierce warrior race, the Klingons. SQuja' (he's the central character) isn't a miser, he's a coward — which is sinful for these tough guys. Find out how he gets retuned. It's a good bet for Trekkies; others venture in at your own risk. Tickets for this one ($20) can be obtained at the door, in the lobby of the Art Academy of Cincinnati (1212 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). 

Lots of more traditional fare elsewhere, of course, including Christmas Carols at the Playhouse and Covedale, as well as the family-oriented Around the World in 80 Days at Ensemble Theatre.
 
 
by Rick Pender 12.13.2013
Posted In: Theater at 11:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: Holiday Cheer

It's Friday the 13th, but if you're in the mood for holiday shows, this is your lucky weekend. Just about every theater in town has something onstage aimed at getting you into the Christmas spirit, making you laugh, diverting you from the stress of being cheerful or just poking fun at the ways of the world (at least the world of commercialism we see in America today).

Perhaps you've already done your annual brush-up on Dickens' A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse (another fine production, now in its 23rd season with Bruce Cromer back as Scrooge and a new interpretation of Bob Cratchit, featuring the very angular Ryan Wesley Gilreath, who seems to be all arms and legs and stringy hair — very Dickensian) or the musical version being presented by Covedale Center. With the story of Scrooge's dark night of the soul fresh in mind, perhaps you're ready for A Klingon Christmas Carol, presented by Hugo West Theatricals at the Art Academy of Cincinnati (1212 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). This is a newish theater group that knows its way around satirical work (their Don't Cross the Streams, a goofy derivative of Ghostbusters, was a popular piece in the 2012 Fringe festival), they are giving this unusual piece its local premiere. (It's been staged in Chicago and Minneapolis.) It's actually a rather faithful retelling of the story with SQuja' (Donald Volpenheim), a cowardly, money-grubbing member of Star Trek's warrior race, taking the place of Scrooge.

It's presented by a deadpan Vulcan narrator (Lauren Carr) who positions the work as the "original" of the tale. Klingons don't celebrate Christmas, but they are bound by traditions, the greatest of them being the "Feast of the Long Night." The 70-minute piece closely matches with Scrooge's story, but it's all through a Klingon filter — lots of angry outbursts and hearty laughter, grunting, growling, drinking and chest-thumping by characters with wrinkled foreheads, bushy eyebrows and fierce demeanors. Eileen Earnest handles timHom (a Muppet-like equivalent for Tiny Tim), son of Quachit (David Dreith), whose training as a warrior is being neglected because of greedy SQuja'. If you've never yearned for a visit to Qo'noS, the Klingon homeworld, you might find this production a bit impenetrable since it's performed in the guttural Klingon language, but there are projected subtitles that add humor to the action. This won't be a show for everyone, but if you're a Star Trek fan, you'll have a good time. Tickets ($20 at the door or here).

Elsewhere in OTR, there's no need for subtitles for New Edgecliff Theatre's The 12 Dates of Christmas, presented this year at Know Theatre (1120 Jackson St.). It's a remount of NET's 2012 holiday, again featuring Annie Kalahurka as Mary, a New York actress whose chipper view of the holidays is trashed when she sees her fiancé kissing another woman on national TV at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The one-woman show recounts her trajectory through a year of dating a dozen men, a few with potential, others with "what were you thinking?" qualities. Kalahurka does it all, from her central character, her oppressive matchmaking aunt, her nervously worried mother and a parade of bad choices marked by ornaments she hangs on a tree — an old friend, a doctor, a bartender, guys met at weddings, a musician and more. Along the way, she's in a production of Macbeth and A Christmas Carol (she plays Christmas Past) adding more humor with references to theater and such. This is a contemporary show with language to match (so it's not for the kids), but Kalahurka is a charming performer who makes this one totally worth seeing. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

On Sunday evening, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company kicks off two weeks of Every Christmas Carol Ever Told (and then some) for the eighth consecutive year. As the title implies, it's a mash-up of everything from A Christmas Carol to the Grinch, with stops for Charlie Brown, It's a Wonderful Life, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, the Nutcracker and more. It's been a great evening of adult entertainment in past incarnations: This year returns last year's cast intact — Miranda McGee, Sara Clark, Justin McComb and Billy Chace. They're individually funny, and together they can be downright hilarious. Even if you've seen this one before, it's worth a return trip. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

For those who want to take the kids to a show, you can't go wrong with Around the World in 80 Days at Ensemble Theatre through Jan. 4 (513-421-3555) or the Children's Theatre of Cincinnati's production of The Day Before Christmas with performances today and Saturday at the Taft Theatre (800-745-3000).
 
 
by Rick Pender 11.29.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: Holidays Are Here

OK, the holidays are officially here. If you have any strength left after shopping last night and all day today, there are numerous theatrical offerings to consider.

On Wednesday night, I attended the opening of a musical version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a touring production at the Aronoff through Sunday. I suspect most everyone knows the story (which certainly resembles A Christmas Carol, with the Grinch replacing Scrooge as the meanie who's taught the meaning of Christmas). This newish musical uses some of the songs from the beloved 1966 animated version of Dr. Seuss's classic 1957 story of the green guy with a heart "two sizes too small." Audiences, in fact, are invited to sing along on "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." What's touring is a 90-minute-rendition that's family-friendly, outfitted with wild costumes, technicolor scenery and a gaggle of special effects that include snow inside the Aronoff and festive confetti cannons for the finale. 

The tale is narrated by the senior citizen version of Max, the Grinch's hapless dog; Bob Lauder has a great baritone voice, a bemused mindset and a great tail that still wags. (He's complimented by and partnered with his eager younger self, played by Andreas Wyatt.) There's a whole raft of happy singing and dancing citizens of Whoville, of course, especially sweet Cindy Lou who wins over the Grinch's meager heart. Two kids alternate in this demanding role; I saw the adorable Jenna Iacono, but I'm sure Piper Birney is just as charming when she's singing "Santa for a Day" and wearing down the Grinch from his nasty ways.

As the Grinch, Stefan Karl gets to mug, growl, grimace and just be a general grouch (he does some farting and belching, just to add to his inappropriateness). He's great fun to watch from his first entrance, as "ugly as a cactus," outfitted in something across between newly mown grass, tattered green feathers and seaweed, to his final scene where he's embraced by the Whos. He's so bad he's good. And his story is a fine addition to Thanksgiving weekend from Broadway in Cincinnati. Performances, including several matinees, are at the Aronoff through Sunday evening. Tickets (starting at $28): 513-621-2787

Starting tonight (and for the next several weeks), you can also choose between two different productions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The Cincinnati Playhouse returns its beautiful retelling of Scrooge's dark night of the soul for the 23rd consecutive year. If you're a theater fan, it's a pleasure to see Bruce Cromer, one of southwest Ohio's finest actors, in the bah-humbug role. He makes Scrooge such fun, a genuine holiday treat. With all the whiz-bang spinning scenery, ghostly presences and gorgeous Victorian costumes, well, this show is a great dose of holiday sentiment and cheer. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

For a different rendition of Dickens' grouch who gets his comeuppance, the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is offering a musical version of A Christmas Carol that's new this season. (In fact, the book and lyrics are by Cincinnati Landmark's Tim Perrino with music by Jeremy Helmes; Perrino directs the show.) West Siders love the Covedale, and I suspect more than a few folks from Cincinnati's supposedly more "refined" side will make the trek to 4990 Glenway Avenue to see this one. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

If you prefer some non-holiday entertainment, the Playhouse offers The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), which begins a hysterical two hours with a skit that literally presents the "birth of comedy." (CityBeat review here.) You won't stop laughing until it's over, and I can guarantee some unexpected things along the way — there is a script, but the three performers play fast and loose through the performance, including bringing a few audience members into the merriment. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

And if Thanksgiving leaves you overdosed on goodness and sick of being nice, you might want to catch one of the final performances of Bull at Know Theatre. (CityBeat review here.) It's the story of three office workers competing for two jobs — and they're not nice at all. If you're seeking some  vicarious nastiness, this is the show for you. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
 
 
by Rick Pender 11.22.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
abe lincoln as a rapper - complete history of comedy - playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Comedies Abound

The theater season takes a bit of a pause around Thanksgiving, since many companies are readying holiday productions. But there are plenty of choices available this weekend.

I'm not the only one who enjoyed the laugh-fest that is The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) at the Cincinnati Playhouse. I've heard numerous people who saw it say they were recommending it to others. In two hours the Reduced Shakespeare Company puts forth more humor than you can shake a stick at. (But be careful shaking sticks. You might get a pie in the face.) No matter your tastes in comedy — witty, loud or rude and crude — you'll find it in this production. How about Abe Lincoln as a deadpan rapper? This could be a good outing this weekend or a lot of fun for out-of-town guests who descend on you next week. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Tonight is an opening at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, the very frothy comedy Twelfth Night. (It's subtitle is "or What You Will," indicating that it's a lot of foolishness, which is an apt description.) In fact, Twelfth Night is a beautiful piece with clever situations, amusing characters, a bit of intrigue and a lot of mistaken identities. And several of the most laughable characters Shakespeare ever created, from the bombastic Malvolio to his persecutor Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, plus the best of all Shakespeare's fools, Feste. It's a safe bet that this is a production that even those who fear Shakespeare will truly enjoy. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x 1.

If you're more into storefront theater, you might check out the current production by Untethered Theater at Clifton Performance Theatre on Ludlow, just east of the business district. It's a tiny space (only 50 seats), but that makes it all the more interesting. The current production is Wendy Macleod's The House of Yes, a very dark comedy about a weirdly dysfunctional family. The story focuses happens while there's a Thanksgiving hurricane outside, so it's timely, too. Performances Friday and Saturday (through Dec. 7). Go here for tickets.

This is the last weekend for Boeing Boeing, a crazy farce about a guy juggling three fiancees who happen to be flight attendants. It's at the Carnegie, featuring performers from the drama program at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

 
 
by Rick Pender 11.15.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
to do onstage 11-13 complete history of comedy dominic conti, austin tichenor and reed martin - reduced shakespeare company - photo john burgess

Stage Door: Theatre Large and Small

There's a fine community theater production of A Chorus Line at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. It's by Cincinnati Music Theatre, and they've recruited a talented cast of dancers, singers and actors to tell the stories of 16 performers competing for roles in the chorus of a Broadway show. There are many fine performances in this show — the characters become known, one by one as they tell their stories, some humorous, some heartbreaking — but the show's greatest emotional wallop comes when they are all in synch, wearing glitter and gold, hats cocked and performing as "One." Final performance is Saturday evening. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

If you prefer your theater small and intimate, you might want to head to the tiny Clifton Performance Theater on Ludlow, just east of the business district. Untethered Theater opens a production of Wendy MacLeod's The House of Yes tonight for a three-week run. It's a very dark comedy about a dysfunctional family obsessed with the Kennedys. I haven't seen this one, but it's a solid script and the young Untethered company has a good track record of interesting shows. Through Dec. 7. Tickets: 513-939-0599.

If you are in the mood for something totally silly, I can recommend the Cincinnati Playhouse's presentation of The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged) that opened last evening. (It has a long run, through the holidays, closing on Dec. 29.) It's a world premiere by the same guys who created The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and other works — several presented at the Playhouse — comically condensing subject matter like the Bible, great literature and American history. These guys are the originators of this material, so it's a special treat to see them at work. If you’ve enjoyed Shakespeare (abridged), you’ll find this right up your alley. The performers are truly adept jokesters, physical shtick, music, improv — they can do it all. … Also, the Playhouse's excellent production of the legendary Kander & Ebb musical Cabaret winds up on Saturday evening. (CityBeat review here.) By now, most of the subscribers have attended, so you might be able to call at the last-minute and get a ticket. Marcia Milgrom Dodge's production traces back to the roots of the show, adhering closely to the stories of Berlin in the 1920s that inspired the show. Worth seeing. Playhouse box office: 513-421-3888.

CityBeat's other reviewer, Stacy Sims, really enjoyed the production of the farce Boeing Boeing at the Carnegie by CCM Drama. (CityBeat review here.) It's about a Casanova in Paris who's careful juggling of three flight attendances to whom he's engaged goes awry when Trans-Atlantic flights happen faster thanks to new aircraft. Silly but obviously a lot of fun. Through Nov. 24. Tickets: 859-957-1940.
 
 
by Rick Pender 11.08.2013
Posted In: Arts community, Theater, Visual Art at 11:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door blog 11-8 - drew pulver as tevye human race - photo scott j. kimmins

Stage Door: Choices Galore

I had occasion to be in downtown Dayton on business earlier this week and thought I'd stay for the evening to catch the Human Race Theatre Company's production of Fiddler on the Roof at the Loft Theatre. It's not a space you'd immediately think of for this often large-scale show, but director Kevin Moore has put of lot of action and choreography (by Chris Crowthers) on the stage, centering on Drew Pulver as the philosophical Jewish milkman, Tevye. He's the show's charismatic core, but he's surrounded by a strong cast who really embody their roles. Wandering on and off the stage, a four-musician band, including George Abud as the expressive fiddler, ably accompanies the cast, several of whom play multiple roles. The intimacy of the Loft amplifies the heartfelt nature of the show, and the actors pour heart and soul into the joyous storytelling. This production runs through Nov. 30, so you have time to plan a trip to Dayton yourself. If you're a fan of musicals, you won't be disappointed. Tickets: 937-228-3630

If you're looking for a good musical closer to home, I can certainly recommend the Cincinnati Playhouse production of Cabaret, which gets my Critic's Pick in the current issue (see review here). Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge has taken it back to 1929 with costumes and choreography very true to the period in a seedy, sexy Berlin nightclub. The Playhouse doesn't often do musicals, but this one is done right. Tickets: 513-421-3888

Know Theatre is staging another work by Mike Bartlett. Last spring it was Cock; this time it's Bull (review here). It's a story of two people bullying a third as they compete for jobs. A nasty tale, not for the faint-hearted, but some fine writing and acting. You'll feel ashamed of yourself for enjoying it, I suspect. Tickets: 513-300-5669

A fine production of John Steinbeck's Depression era tale of migrant workers and a guy who just doesn't fit in, Of Mice and Men (review here), finishes its run this weekend at Cincinnati Shakespeare. Jeremy Dubin's performance as cranky George and Jim Hopkins as simpleminded Lenny are examples of the kind of fine acting that's a regular commodity at Cincy Shakes. Tickets: 513-381-2273

Finally, if you're in the mood for a hilarious farce, your destination should be the Carnegie in Covington. CCM Drama has transported some of its actors from the UC Campus to Covington, Ky., for a production of a deliriously funny tale of one man in Paris juggling three fiancees, Boeing Boeing. They're all flight attendants, but advances in aviation screw up his neat schedule to keep them discreet from one another. Comedy ensues. Tickets: 859-957-1940

 
 
by Rick Pender 11.01.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage 11-6 - flashdance -photo_by_jeremy_daniel

Stage Door: Musicals Galore

If you love musicals, you should run, don’t walk to the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music this weekend for the short run of Singin’ in the Rain. It's a fabulous recreation of the iconic 1952 movie that featured Gene Kelly. It's about the transition from silent to talking pictures in the late 1920s. Even if you’ve never seen the film, I’m bet you know Kelly’s iconic splash down a movie-set street, joyously stomping in puddles and swinging from a lamppost. That's what's onstage at Corbett Auditorium — a whole stage full of tap dancers and a torrential rainfall! But it's only there through Sunday afternoon; shows at CCM seldom run more than one weekend. So if you want to see this one, call for tickets right away: 513-556-4183.

There's water falling on another stage right now: The touring production of Flashdance: The Musical is at the Aronoff through Nov. 10, and its star, Jenny Mueller as the free-spirited welder who aspires to be a dancer concludes the first act with a memorable sequence where she performs at a club, culminating in a backlit shower. Mueller is a fine dancer and onstage from start to finish, but the show is full of shallow characters and too many subplots that make for slow going. Tickets: 800-982-2787.

One more musical item: I gave the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's production of Cabaret a Critic's Pick, and it's definitely worth seeing. Despite the fact that it first appeared on Broadway 50 years ago, it's still a powerful piece of theater — about intolerance and willful ignorance. But it's framed in a great story with a memorable score by John Kander and Fred Ebb (who also created Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman and more) with a new production by Broadway veteran Marcia Milgrom Dodge. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

If you're in the mood for something more serious, there are plenty of choices that have received good reviews: Check out Cincinnati Shakespeare's staging of Of Mice and Men or their joint project with Xavier University of The Crucible. Tickets: 513- 381-2273, x1. And I hope you have on your radar Know Theatre's staging of Bull (which runs throughout November) by Mike Bartlett, the same playwright who wrote Cock, presented last spring. It opens tonight. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Find reviews of Flashdance, Cabaret, Of Mice and Men and The Crucible at citybeat.com. 

 
 
by Rick Pender 10.25.2013
Posted In: Theater at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cabaret

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.
 
 

 

 

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by Rick Pender 02.05.2016 60 hours ago
Posted In: Theater at 02:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 2-5 - ifthen on tour - anthony rapp & jackie burns - photo joan marcus

Stage Door

A musical worth seeing, events at Know (one serious, the other entertaining) plus a Super Bowl commercial

Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey met with great success when they created next to normal, winning several Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama. They didn’t strike gold with their next show, If/Then, onstage locally for just a week in a touring production — but I found it to be a very satisfying, if complex work. (Read my Curtain Call interview with Kitt and Yorkey here.) Elizabeth is recently divorced and trying to decide what path to take next. She asks herself musically “What If” she takes this path or that — and this show lets us follow her down two divergent threads, one toward a successful professional career as a city planner in New York, the other in a happy marriage with kids that doesn’t quite turn out as she imagined. Her stories are presented in overlapping narratives, since some moments and events are quite close. It requires paying close attention, but it’s definitely worth the effort. It’s made all the easier by a very strong cast — including Jackie Burns in the leading role, Broadway veteran Anthony Rapp as Lucas, one of her close friends (he originated the role on Broadway Lucas and played videographer Mark in the original cast of Rent back in 1996) and Tamyra Gray as Kate, who pushes Elizabeth in a different direction. The show’s inventive staging, using video and fluidly moving set pieces, is also a fine example of contemporary theater design. Definitely worth seeing. Onstage through Sunday. 

In BlackTop Sky at Know Theatre, Ida’s view from an asphalt-paved courtyard surrounded by the housing project where she lives isn’t pretty.  The 18-year-old yearns to escape, but her avenues are limited. The safe, predictable route is with Wynn, her boyfriend, a hardworking auto mechanic. Then there’s Klass, an all-but-inarticulate homeless man who settle on two park benches. Ida is caught between these two poles. This is a show about lives that are pretty dead-end. Nevertheless, Christina Anderson’s script has its moments, especially with Kimberly Faith Hickman’s purposeful staging of 34 distinct scenes, several of them entirely wordless. Anderson writes with occasional lyricism and feeling, but desperation underlies these sad stories. That being said, the telling holds out a promise of change. That’s an important if not altogether entertaining message. Onstage through Feb. 20.

Also at Know, the fourth outing of Serials gets under way on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. They’ve dubbed this one Thunderdome 2 – Beyond Thunder, meaning that each evening two of the five shows will be voted out by the audience, to be replaced by two new shows at the following session. Serials 4 features some writers and directors who entertained audiences in previous iterations of Serials. But several new talents have entered the fray, and the Know staff tells me, “There are some seriously strong story pitches this round!” They feel that the “gentle competition” of Thunderdome leads to stronger writing and a better audience experience. Writers who take the challenge must leap quickly into their narratives; if they lag behind, they’ll be struck by a thunderclap and end up in the audience at the next round. Subsequent episodes are set for Feb. 22, March 7 and 21 and April 4.

Finally: If you’re tuned in to the Super Bowl on Sunday evening, keep an eye out for a 30-second commercial for Gold Star Chili. It was shot locally, featuring 15 Cincinnati actors at several Gold Star locations. Ensemble Theatre’s Lynn Meyers did the casting for it, so you’ll see some familiar faces often featured on local stages. 


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

 
 
by Rick Pender 01.29.2016 9 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 01:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
kathleen wise as the pilot in grounded at ensemble theatre - photo by ryan kurtz

Stage Door

Going to war — one way or another

There are so many things happening on local stages it’s a bit of a challenge make recommendations. But every one of these productions has some sort of conflict at its heart.

Grounded opened Wednesday night Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. George Brant’s a one-woman script is about a fearless fighter pilot whose career is cut short by an unexpected pregnancy, marriage and parenthood. Her new job is to fly military drones from a trailer outside Las Vegas; but she goes home to her family every night — and before long, she has trouble sorting out the boundaries between her two worlds. Kathleen Wise makes her ETC debut with this challenging performance, a woman who knows her way “in the blue” as a pilot, but must navigate new paths when she’s relegated to the “chair force,” wandering remotely “in the gray,” targeting “personality strikes.” Michael Haney is back in town to stage this one, and he always succeeds with making solo shows a powerful experience. Grounded is a pressure-filled, cautionary tale, gripping but not easy to watch. Nevertheless, it’s compelling theater. Through Feb. 14. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

Karen Zacarías’ Native Gardens, a world premiere, opened at the Cincinnati Playhouse last evening. Her Book Club Play was a Playhouse hit in 2013; this time around the subject is a tad more serious, but it’s handled with deft humor as neighbors battle over styles of gardening — formal vs. natural — and choices driven by cultural differences. New neighbors Pablo and Tania are of Hispanic descent, moving in next door to Frank and Virginia, who are as waspy as can be. You can imagine where that goes: Straight down the road to audience gasps as the couples insult one another when boundaries are crossed. The 80-minute show wraps up neatly — maybe a little too much so. But there’s no denying this is a show that has lots of comic appeal involving circumstances many people will recognize. Through Feb. 21. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Tonight is the opening for Black Top Sky at Know Theatre. Christina Anderson, a resident playwright with New York City’s New Dramatists, makes her Cincinnati debut with this show about the residents of a housing project. Ida, 18, befriends Klass, an unpredictable young homeless man. Their friendship forces Idea to make a choice: Embrace the struggle for justice or embrace a life with her successful boyfriend. Kimberly Faith Hickman, who staged 2014’s The Twentieth-Century Way for Know, is back from New York to direct. Andrew Hungerford, Know’s artistic director, chose this show because he was “struck by the poetry of the language, the visual poetry of the stage directions and the gut-wrenching timelessness of the story.” He adds, “It flips from humor to heaviness at the speed of light.” Onstage through Feb. 20. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Shakespeare’s chronicling of King Henry VI took three plays back in the 16th-century; Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has rearranged them into two productions, one onstage now and another coming next season. This portion details the roots of the War of the Roses, with relatives vying for power — it’s truly a historic “game of thrones.” It’s also is a predecessor of today’s action movies, with lots of combat — and the fiery presence of Joan of Arc (played with zest by Caitlin McWethy), as England’s zeal for dominance in France runs a parallel track to the jockeying for position among royal relatives back home. Through Feb. 13. Tickets: 513-381-2273. 


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

 
 
by Rick Pender 01.22.2016 16 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
darnell pierre benjamin as henry vi at cincinnati shakespeare - photo mikki schaffner photography

Stage Door

A little history, a little love and some fantasy

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is staging the original “game of thrones” — England’s Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) as retold by the Bard’s history plays — eight shows being presented in chronological order across five theater seasons. (Cincy Shakes is only the second theater company in the U.S. to present the history cycle in Chronological order.) We’ve already seen Richard II, Henry IV: Part 1 and 2 and Henry V. Now it’s time for the reign of Henry VI, which Shakespeare covered with three plays. This week starts the production of Henry VI, Part I, the story of Henry V’s only son who, in 1421, inherited the throne before his first birthday, after his father’s untimely death. A child on the throne opened the door to the dynastic struggles of the War of the Roses. (The cycle concludes next season with the bloody tragedy of Richard III.) Darnell Pierre Benjamin plays Henry, an unusual choice. Here’s what he says about taking on this role: “I’m a black male from St. Martinville, Louisiana. Despite how much I’ve always fixated my interests on the classics, I never thought that I’d have the honor of representing one of Shakespeare’s history kings.” He says he hopes “to open people’s minds and hearts to seeing the core of this story — a young man coming into his own as he learns that there are forces, both good and bad, that can alter his perception of himself.” Through Feb. 13. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

The Covedale Center just opened Neil Simon’s Chapter Two, a play about a widowed writer trying to start over while still grieving for his late wife. The story is rooted in Simon’s own experience, and the playwright’s famous one-liners are still there, but woven into the show’s humor is a story about coming to terms with death and moving on. Through Feb. 14. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

In Covington, The Carnegie is offering what sounds like an interesting production of The Wizard of Oz that opened last night. With musical accompaniment by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, it’s a “lightly-staged” rendition with Harold Arlen’s famous score from the 1939 movie. Of particular interest is the scenic design by local artist Pam Kravetz, a unique take on the iconic landscapes of Oz, including Munchkin Land and the Emerald City. Just to remind folks passing by on Scott Avenue, you’ll see a giant pair of legs with striped stockings and ruby slippers to remind you that one wicked witch is dead. Through Jan. 31. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

For something completely different, consider The Realistic Joneses by Clifton Players, at Clifton Performance Theater on Ludlow Avenue. It’s about two couples named Jones, next-door neighbors who get to know one another despite fear and loneliness. Will Eno’s unusual play — part comedy, part drama — digs into secrets that aren’t often spoken aloud. It’s being staged by local theater veteran Dale Hodges with a cast that includes Carter Bratton, Mindy Siebert, Miranda McGee and Phil Fiorini. It’s onstage through Feb. 7. Tickets: 513-861-7469.

Next week there will be even more theater on local stages: Grounded, a one-woman show about a fighter pilot assigned to making drone strikes (Ensemble Theatre, Jan. 27-Feb. 14, 513-421-3555), BlackTop Sky, a tale of homelessness and friendship (Know Theatre, Jan. 29-Feb. 20, 513-300-5669) and Prelude to a Kiss, a sweet love story about changing places and understanding different perspectives (Falcon Theater in Newport, Jan. 29-Feb. 13, 513-479-6783).


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 01.20.2016 18 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 05:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
incline theatre (2016) - photo provided by cincinnati landmark productions

If You're So Inclined

2016-2017 shows announced for Cincinnati Landmark venues

Even though we’ve just passed the halfway point of the 2015-2016 theater season, the over-achievers at Cincinnati Landmark Productions just announced plans for future productions at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts and the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater for 2016-2017.

Tim Perrino, CLP’s executive artistic director, says, “With our two venues, Cincinnati Landmark Productions has two great platforms to create exciting theater and palpable neighborhood vitality. We set a course for success with a summer of sellouts at the Incline in 2015, and we’re chomping at the bit to bring these just-announced shows to life in 2016 and 2017.”

The Covedale’s offerings are designed for mainstream audiences, while the Incline offers two distinct seasons — “Summer Classics” presents shows with broad appeal; the “District Series” produces more adult fare, both musicals and dramas.

The Covedale Center’s “Marquee Series” for 2016-2017 will offer:

  • Godspell (Sept. 8-Oct. 2, 2016), Stephen Schwartz’s first big musical theater hit, based on the New Testament’s Gospel of Matthew. Schwartz is the composer of Wicked.
  • The Foreigner (Oct. 20, Nov. 13, 2016), a comedy by Larry Shue, in which a shy, lonely guy poses as visitor from an exotic country who doesn’t speak English.
  • The Night Before Christmas (Dec. 1-23, 2016) for the holiday season.
  • Doubt (Jan. 19-Feb. 12, 2017), John Patrick Shanley’s 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner about a suspicious nun and a progressive priest.
  • Leading Ladies (March 9-April 2, 2017), Ken Ludwig’s farce about a pair of Shakespearean actors scheming for an inheritance.
  • My Fair Lady (April 27-May 21, 2017), Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical about a professor of linguistics who trains a Cockney gal to pose as an elegant noblewoman.

The Incline’s “District Series” plans to produce starting next fall:

  • [title of show] (Sept. 29-Oct. 16, 2016), a clever musical about creating a musical to enter in a festival.
  • God of Carnage (Nov. 17-Dec. 4, 2016), Yasmina Reza’s domestic drama about a pair of parents who come to blows arguing about a fight between their children.
  • The Rocky Horror Show (Feb. 16-March 5, 2017), the sci-fi parody musical from 1973 that inspired the 1975 cult film.
  • Equus (April 6-23, 2017), Peter Shaffer’s award-winning drama about a psychiatrist treating a teenager who blinded six horses.

Still in the pipeline for the Covedale’s current season are productions of Neil Simon’s warm-hearted comedy Chapter Two (Jan. 21-Feb. 14) and two classic musicals, She Loves Me (March 1-April 3) and Brigadoon (April 28-May 22).

Queued up at the Incline for the balance of this season are the satiric musical Avenue Q (Feb. 18-March 6) and David Mamet’s hard-as-nails real-estate drama Glengarry Glen Ross (April 6-24). Those will be followed by the previously announced “Summer Classics” season for 2016, featuring three likeable musicals Anything Goes (June 1-26), Baby (July 6-31) and Chicago (Aug. 10-Sept. 4). The Incline’s summer season in 2015 completely sold out three productions — The Producers, 1776 and 9 to 5.

 
 
by Rick Pender 01.15.2016 23 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
radium girls

Stage Door

A Fringe fix, some radioactivity, a lot of dancing — and previews of what's coming

Right now we’re about equidistant from the 2015 and the 2016 Fringe festivals. So let’s thanks the folks at Know Theatre, who are presenting a double-bill of “Fringe Encores” to keep us stoked. This weekend actually offers one encore plus a graduate from Know’s Serials! series. Occupational Hazards is about an office fling that becomes the subject of fan-fiction with wildly divergent storylines.

Occupational Hazards

The piece by Ben Dudley was a 2015 Fringe show. He’s also the writer of Cinderblock, about a guy (played by Dudley) whose windshield is smashed by a cult member. This mystery passes through an office party.

Ben Dudley

The shows are being performed this weekend at Clifton Performance Theatre (404 Ludlow Ave., Gaslight Clifton): performances of Occupational Hazards are Friday at 8:45 p.m. and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Cinderblock, which, originally presented in five 15-minute episodes, has been pieced into a full-length version that will be presented on Friday evening at 7:30 and Saturday at 8:45. You can sit in on one piece for $15 or pay $25 for the pair either evening. Tickets: knowtheatre.com

Mariemont Players, one of Cincinnati’s fine community theater groups, is presenting D. W. Gregory’s Radium Girls through Jan. 24. It’s inspired by a true story about women who painted radium numerals on glow-in-the-dark watches, unaware of the dangers of radioactivity. The play, described as being “written with warmth and humor,” is being presented at the Walton Creek Theater (4101 Walton Creek Rd., just east of Mariemont). Tickets ($20): 513-684-1236 or mariemontplayers.com

One more weekend at the Aronoff Center for the highly entertaining touring production of Kinky Boots (through Sunday). A struggling shoe factory in Northampton, England, retools to avoid bankruptcy and unemployment. Rather than continuing to manufacture stodgy men’s shoes, they turn to high-fashion footwear for drag queens, promoted as “kinky boots.” It’s an unlikely tale that happens to be true, and it’s the vehicle for some outrageous humor, especially from Lola, an extrovert of a diva and her spectacularly clad and built “Angels,” a half-dozen drag queens who back up her act. Kinky Boots offers a meaningful message about tolerance and finding your own path, fleshed out with some entertaining dancing and fine singing. Tickets: 513-621-2787

The local theater scene picks up momentum next week when three shows open on Thursday and another on Friday. That evening the Covedale Center opens Neil Simon’s Chapter Two (through Feb. 14), a warm-hearted comedy about getting back into the dating game; Covington’s Carnegie offers a “lightly-staged” concert adaptation of The Wizard of Oz (through Jan. 31) with accompaniment by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra; and Clifton Players stages The Realistic Joneses (through Feb. 7 at Clifton Performance Theatre), a comedy-drama about the secrets of next-door neighbors directed by local stage veteran Dale Hodges. On Friday evening, Cincinnati Shakespeare continues its five-year, chronological presentation of Shakespeare’s eight-play history cycle with Henry VI, Part I (through Feb. 13), the story of a young king who must rule after his father’s untimely death; Joan of Arc is a key character in this tale. 

Life in the big city: Lots of choices.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 01.08.2016 30 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 1-8 kinky boots tour - adam kaplan & j. harrison ghee - photo matthew murray

Stage Door

Get 'Kinky' — or look out for 'True Food'

If you turn up at the Aronoff Center for the touring production of Kinky Boots (it’s onstage through Jan. 17), you might think you’ve landed in Over-the-Rhine. That’s how much the show’s opening vista of a factory in Northampton, England, resembles our own historic neighborhood. It’s the Victorian brick façade of a shoe factory that’s struggling in the 21st century because it’s still manufacturing old-fashioned men’s shoes. Even if they’re “the most beautiful thing in the world” (the theme of the show’s opening song), not so many people want to buy them today. As a last-ditch effort to keep the company from closing, the fourth-generation heir to the business, Charlie Price, decides to make “kinky boots,” high-fashion footwear for drag queens whose male frames are too much for standard female shoe heels. His customer No. 1 is Lola, an extrovert of a diva who — not unlike Charlie — has struggled with living up to his dad’s expectations. There’s a lot of fun and frippery along the way: Lola has a half-dozen “Angels” — drag queens who back up her act — and they’re spectacularly clad and built. A perky factory worker, Lauren, keeps giving Charlie advice (while falling for him despite his imminent fiancée in London). Another employee, Don, a hardcore male chauvinist, wants nothing to do with Lola. Watching events unfold is the fun of this show, even if you know where it’s all headed. Kinky Boots offers a meaningful message about tolerance and finding your own path, and there’s a lot of fancy dancing and fine singing along the way. Tickets: 513-621-2787

Whether or not your New Year’s resolution had to do with losing weight, you still have to eat. So the topic this quarter’s True Theatre, True Food, should be of interest. These are true personal narratives, sometimes confessional, often humorous, told by everyday people. Monday night’s stories are about what a homeless woman did when she had access to a kitchen, a man who ate the wrong thing at the wrong time, another man reconsidering his family’s “roots” and two guys who eat like there’s no tomorrow, day in and day out. What happens when a foodie and a picky eater cross paths? You can find out on Monday when folks crowd into Know Theatre’s Underground Bar (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine) to get the dish on these stories. Call for tickets ($18); these events are often sold out.

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

 
 
by Rick Pender 12.18.2015 51 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
the cast of every christmas story ever told @ cincy shakes performs its take on the year the grinch stole christmas - photo rich sofranko

Stage Door: Last Chances — and Some Big Laughs

This weekend is your final chance to see several December productions, including Low Down Dirty Blues (Cincinnati Playhouse), All Childish Things (Know Theatre) and Rent (Incline Theater). A few shows stick around after Dec. 25 — A Christmas Carol (Playhouse) continues through Dec. 30 and Ensemble Theatre’s staging of its jaunty rendition of Cinderella remains onstage until Jan. 3. I would find it odd to watch Ebenezer Scrooge getting scared into a “Merry Christmas” a few days after the holiday, but ETC’s contemporary rendition of a beloved fairytale might be just the thing to entertain bored kids after they’ve tried out all the new toys. Tickets for the latter: 513-421-3555.

I checked out opening night of the tenth anniversary presentation of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and it’s as silly and funny as ever — especially with some clever pokes at people and events from 2015. The annual gags about fruitcakes take on a whole new dimension this time around by having some fun with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her intransigence about issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Every Christmas Story trots out just about every “BHC” (Beloved Holiday Classic) you might recall and puts it through a humorous filter. It’s fun from start to finish, but there is a moment — after recreating A Charlie Brown Christmas, complete with a woebegone tree — when Justin McCombs steps into a pool of light as Linus with his security blanket and recites the New Testament passage from the Gospel of Luke about an angel speaking to the shepherds. It’s a somber and wholly lovely scene, so far removed from very tongue-in-cheek, sometimes off-color humor typical of the show that it sticks with audience members. The antic McCombs also plays a true believer who refuses to be be convinced that Santa’s existence is impossible: His enthusiasm for all the miraculous things the Jolly Old Elf can accomplish is so childlike that you’ll wish you could return to that innocent age yourself. Even if you’ve seen Every Christmas Story before, it’s a blast to go back. In fact, I’d say it’s become a BHC in its own right. Onstage through Dec. 27. Tickets (if they’re still available): 513-381-2273.

There’s also some great holiday laughs to be had compliments of OTRImprov, presenting its annual show The Naughty List in the Courtyard at Arnold’s Bar & Grill in Downtown Cincinnati. The 90-minute show — unscripted and building off suggestions from the audience — happens Sunday-Tuesday, Dec. 20-22 and Dec. 27-29. It’s a laugh-a-minute way to have fun right before or after Christmas. To make an evening of it, show up at Arnolds (201 East 8th St.) between 6 and 6:30 p.m., get seated and place your dinner order. The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. The rotating cast includes OTRImprov’s quick-witted regulars Mike Hall, Kirk Keevert, Sean Mette, Dave Powell, Charlie Roetting, Dylan Shelton and Kat Smith. Tickets (order before 4:30 on the day of the show): 513-300-5669.


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

 
 
by Rick Pender 12.11.2015 58 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
sd

Stage Door

Ho-Ho-Ho, try a holiday show!

Most of the theater onstage right now is holiday-themed — or at least family-friendly. If you want to take kids to see something, your best bet is Cinderella at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, a contemporary take on the familiar fairytale — the heroine is a bookworm who prefers to sneakers to glass slippers. There’s lots of humor, especially from the loudmouthed and crass stepsisters in this telling, plus some fine musical moments. This show will be around until Jan. 3. Tickets: 513-421-3555 … Another good choice for kids is A Charlie Brown Christmas, presented at the Taft Theatre by Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. You know the story, I’m sure (this year is the 50th anniversary of the TV special) but it’s a good bet that Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati is putting a version onstage that will let kids have a good time. Performances are at 2 and 5 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets: 800-745-3000 … Want to start a family tradition? There’s no better choice than Cincinnati Playhouse’s glittering, well-acted production of A Christmas Carol. It’s fast-moving and often funny (Bruce Cromer gives Ebenezer the full range of emotion, from crabby “Bah, humbug” to a joyous “Merry Christmas.”) It’s onstage through Dec. 30. Tickets: 513-421-3888 … The Covedale Center’s production of Mary Poppins isn’t their best work (it feels a tad long for youngsters), but it has great tunes and some memorable special effects — Mary flies and Bert walks up and down the sides of the proscenium — that audiences will enjoy. Through Dec. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550

The Rock musical Rent, onstage at the Incline Theatre in Price Hill doesn’t exactly qualify as holiday or family entertainment, although its story does start and finish at Christmas (with “525,600 Minutes” in between). But this is an energetically acted and sung production for mature audiences. Through Dec. 20. Tickets: 513-241-6550 … If you can’t quite wait for The Force Awakens to open, you can get a small dose of Star Wars energy from All Childish Things at Know Theatre. It’s a comedy about some slackers trying to steal collectibles from a warehouse — they don’t succeed, but they learn a lesson about heroism that’s akin to the movie. Through Dec. 19. Tickets: 513-300-5669 … This weekend is your final opportunity to see As You Like It at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. It’s a delightful production of one of Shakespeare’s best comedies, but it’s wrapping up on Saturday. (Next week CSC opens Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some) on Wednesday.) Tickets: 513-381-2273 …The most entertaining non-holiday show this season has to be Low Down Dirty Blues on the Playhouse’s Shelterhouse stage. It’s pretty much what the title says: Three singers getting a little raunchy and having a lot of fun with some tunes about being up and down. Great performances and a really good time for grown-ups. Through Dec. 20. Tickets: 513-421-3888

Finally, if you a performance that’s simply feel-good, I heartily recommend going to Ensemble Theatre on Monday evening at 7 p.m. for their one-night-only annual presentation of Expectations of Christmas. It’s a round-up of holiday traditions, origins, music, facts and back-stories — presented by performers who frequent ETC’s stage. Admission is just $10 and all the proceeds go to Tender Mercies (an Over-the-Rhine agency right around the corner from ETC that provides permanent and transitional housing for the homeless with histories of chronic mental illness). Tickets: 513-421-3555 … or walk in on Monday and you’ll likely get in. 

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

 
 
by Rick Pender 12.04.2015 65 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 12-4 - cast of rent at incline - photo mikki schaffner

Stage Door

A fairytale, a ghost story and lots of musicals for the holidays

December is full of shows for your holiday viewing pleasure: 

Every five years or so, Ensemble Theatre rolls out a new production of its holiday rendition of Cinderella. This one just opened on Wednesday, and while it’s the same material that was presented in 2005 and 2010, it’s been freshened with a new set and colorful costumes — and especially a vibrant cast with great voices for the tunes with lyrics by David Kisor and melodies by Fitz Patton. Brooke Steele is picture-perfect as the golly-gee title character who prefers reading to going to a ball. But Kate Wilford as “Gwendolyn the Well Wisher” (“I give good advice and then wish you well,” she tells everyone with a sweep of her hand to musical accompaniment) encourages her to go so she can meet Prince Frederick (Warren Bryson), who happens to be another bookworm. They’re a lovely couple who overcome the modest barriers thrown their way (she loses a pink sneaker that helps him locate her later), but the show’s real energy comes from Sara Mackie and Torie Wiggins as Cinderella’s crass stepsisters. They’re loudmouthed losers, spewing malapropisms and ridiculous self-aggrandizement (Wiggins’ Clarissa bellows competitively, “My patheticism outshines all others”) — constantly mugging and fawning and arguing. Deb G. Girdler as their manipulative mother Brunhilda is also great fun to watch as she tries to control events to her own advantage. As is always the case with ETC’s holiday musicals with scripts by local playwright Joe McDonough, there’s a timely moral: “The essence of true beauty lies … beyond what’s seen by normal eyes.” Oh, Cinderella and Frederick wear glasses — but they see love pretty clearly. Through Jan. 3. Tickets: 513-421-3555

I’ve been attending A Christmas Carol at the Cincinnati Playhouse for 25 years, as long as they have produced it. The script — Howard Dallin excellent adaptation of Dickens’ classic story — is top-notch and doesn’t need to be tinkered, but with actors coming and going, it’s always fun to see how things shake out from one year to the next. Greg Procaccino is the only actor to be in the show every year, playing Marley’s regretful ghost and slimy junk buyer Old Joe; the always-watchable Bruce Cromer holds the longevity record playing Scrooge (11 years, after 8 as Bob Cratchit). Kathleen Wise brings a light, bemused touch to Christmas Past in her first year; returning performers include Ryan Gilreath as nervous, angular Cratchit and Kelly Mengelkoch as the patient, loving Mrs. Cratchit, as well as Douglas Rees as the ebullient Fezziwig and Annie Fitzpatrick as his playful wife. There’s a new Tiny Tim for 2015, Henry Charles Weghorst, the tiniest ever, I believe (he needs two pillows to sit at the dining table), and truly adorable. This Playhouse production continues to be a joy to watch, a glorious, glittering set and costumes that deliver you to the mid-19th century. Pay attention to the David Smith’s sound design and recorded music, which set the emotional tone for virtually every scene. A Christmas Carol is a welcome Cincinnati holiday tradition. Through Dec. 30. Tickets 513-421-3888

Cincinnati Landmark Productions is offering shows at both of its venues this month; neither is holiday per se, although the musical Rent (at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre in Price Hill through Dec. 20) begins and ends with Christmas, celebrating a year of the “seasons of love” experienced by a clutch of impoverished young artists in New York’s East Village. This is a high-quality production, a great choice for fans of contemporary Rock music. Rent is almost 20 years old, but it has stood the test of time, especially as performed by the Incline’s committed, diverse cast of excellent, energetic singers. Tyler Kuhlman as the depressed guitarist Roger has the looks and the vocal chops for the role, and Lisa Glover is a fine match as Mimi, the sexy club dancer and drug addict who makes a lot of bad choices. Kelcey Steele provides the necessary connective tissue as videographer Mark, and RJ Caldwell ably portrays Tom Collins, an anarchist professor and street activist with AIDS. But the production’s most memorable performances come from Aiden Sims as Maureen, the brassy performance artist, and especially charismatic Christopher Carter as the transgender drag queen Angel: His high-flying rendition of “Today 4 U” is a show-stopper. The ensemble shines when presenting of Rent’s iconic numbers, particularly “La Vie Bohème and “Seasons of Love.” This production is a bold choice for the new venue, seeking audiences in search of more ambitious, adult fare — there were empty seats on opening night. Rent offers strong evidence that the Incline is up to the challenge. I give this one a Critic’s Pick. … I was part of a very full house for Mary Poppins last Sunday (at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, also finished on Dec. 20); this production is clearly intended as holiday fare for families. I wish it were a bit more joyous. Mary (Alyssa Hostetler, who’s a fine singer) is a rather starchy character who’s not very loveable. The uptight Banks family she convinces to reconnect and have fun has an initially irritable dad (Dave Wilson, another excellent voice) and a mom who’s a budding feminist (Sarah Viola, who sings very well, too) — these aren’t characters that children can instantly love. Even the two Banks kids (Lili Shires and Peter Godsey, who work hard at being coy) are kind of obnoxious. The production felt long, with numerous labored scene changes. On the other hand, the audience had a great time — the songs (familiar from the 1964 movie) are beloved, and everyone seems to know them. That’s fun. Tickets: 513-241-6550

The touring production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas wraps up its engagement on Sunday. It’s a fine cast of singers and dancers, a production full of familiar tunes that’s worth seeing if you have the scratch for seats at the Aronoff Center. Tickets: 513-621-2787

If you prefer something not holiday-oriented, Xavier University’s theater program is staging Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth. It’s a three-character play from the 1990s (set in the early 1980s) about young people struggling with the transition to adulthood. Guest director Ed Stern, the Playhouse’s retired artistic director, told me it was a great opportunity to work with actors who are exactly the right age to play these roles. Read more from Stern in my recent Curtain Call column. Performances are this weekend only, including a Sunday matinee. Xavier Box Office: 513-745-3939

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

 
 
by Rick Pender 11.20.2015 79 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.

 
 
 
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