say whether the hills will be alive, but The Carnegie in Covington
certainly will be in January when it presents a "lightly staged"
production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music in partnership with the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra. Presented Jan. 17-26, 2014,
under the direction of Brian Robertson and KSO conductor J. R. Cassidy,
the production continues a popular series that has appealed to
audiences at the Carnegie's Otto M. Budig Theatre.
You'll have to pick and choose this weekend because
there's so much theater onstage. In addition to our professional
theaters, it's worth checking out production at universities: Tonight
through Sunday, CCM's esteemed musical theater program is offering the
cult favorite Chess, with music by ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus
and Benny Andersson. The story is set in Bangkok and Budapest during a
mid-1970s world chess championship — and it's driven by gamesmanship
between nations, between lovers and, of course, between chess players. I
saw the opening on Thursday, and it's a BIG show with a gigantic cast.
Several leading roles are double cast (with more juniors than seniors,
in fact, which bodes well for CCM productions for this season and next).
In particular, Matthew Paul Hill, playing the Russian grand master
Anatoly, lifted the roof of Corbett Auditorium with his powerful
baritone voice singing the stirring "Anthem," the Act 1 finale. Tickets
($30) Box office: 513-556-4183. At Northern Kentucky University you'll a production of Royal Gambit
by German playwright Hermann Gressieker (translated into English in the
late 1950s). The subject is King Henry VIII and his six wives, and this
looks to be a beautifully costumed show, featuring senior Seth Wallen
in the leading role. Tickets ($14). Box office: 859-572-5464.
Neil Simon's funny and endearing Brighton Beach Memoirs is onstage at the Cincinnati Playhouse. I gave it a Critic's Pick (review here), and I'm sure audiences will love this sweet portrait of growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930s, where a loving but fractious family copes with hard times. It's told from the perspective of Eugene, a precocious adolescent (he's really Simon as a 15-year-old), who takes notes on his family's behavior. Well acted and beautifully staged. Box office: 513-421-3888l.
My schedule hasn't permitted me to see several shows that are getting good notices, including recognition from the folks evaluating productions for the League of Cincinnati Theatres. I'm catching up this evening with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, which is offering two shows this month. Romeo & Juliet is its mainstage show, and Sara Clark is getting high marks for her portrait of romantic but tragic young love. Brian Phillips' staging picked up an LCT nod, and the show received an overall recommendation from LCT. On the evenings when R&J is not onstage, there's another Shakespeare work for thrill seekers, specially selected and staged for the Halloween season: the bloody, gory tale of revenge, Titus Andronicus. Veteran actor Nick Rose plays a crazed Roman general, and just about everyone I've heard from says his performance is memorable. (It earned him an LCT nomination, too.) Box office: 513-381-2273.
This weekend is the final one for Mrs. Mannerly at Ensemble Theatre. When Harper Lee reviewed this one for CityBeat (review here), she gave it a Critic's Pick, and I agree wholeheartedly. (LCT named it a recommended production, too.) CEA Hall of Fame actress Dale Hodges is great fun to watch as a strict etiquette teacher in 1967, and Raymond McAnally plays all the other characters — a bunch of kids who are learning how to behave in a "mannerly" way. It's funny from start to finish, but there's a heart-warming message within the story. Definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-421-3555.
At Clifton Performance Theatre, Clifton Players are staging A Bright New Boise, which also picked up an LCT recommendation. I haven't seen it, but the show won an Obie Award (that's for outstanding off-Broadway plays) in 2011, and it has a strong cast. This is a newish venue that's specializing in "storefront theater." Should be worth supporting. Tickets ($20): 513-861-7469.
I haven’t seen the Showboat Majestic’s opening production of its 90th season (that’s right, the boat has been entertaining audiences for nine decades!), but Babes in Hollywood is another show that’s light and entertaining. It’s a revue of tunes made famous by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney back in the 1930s and ’40s when they were happy-go-lucky adolescent stars. I did see the four-member cast do a number at last Monday’s LCT Awards event, and they have fine voices and a sense of style. I suspect this show will be popular with the grey-haired audience that frequents the Showboat, but I bet people of any age will have a good time watching. Box office: 513-241-6550.
If you want something a tad more profound, try Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays. It’s officially categorized as a comedy because it has humorous and romantic elements. But the central story about a potentially fatal argument between a moneylender and a businessman is anything but amusing. CSC’s artistic director Brian Isaac Phillips takes on the role of the rapacious moneylender who has faced anti-Semitic discrimination for his entire life. Is Shylock a villain or a victim? Shakespeare gives him aspects of each, and CSC’s production does not tilt in either direction. You get to decide, and it won’t be easy. Review here. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
There’s a new theater downtown, just a few doors north of Cincinnati Shakespeare’s venue. They’re calling themselves Speakeasy Theatre, and they’re performing in a storefront space at 815 Race Street. Their inaugural production is Paul Baerman’s The Whistler. The show, directed by Tim Waldrip, is set in 1965 in an unnamed Southern city where a lot a racist attitudes are out in the open. The Andy Griffith Show is in its fifth season, and the guy who whistles that show’s theme (played here by local professional actor Michael G. Bath) is living off the royalties of his work. But life gets more complicated when he meets an African-American trumpet player (Tony Davis is taking on the role) who shares his passion for music. The show just opened on Thursday and I haven’t seen it, but it’s always good to give a new theater a try. The Whistler will be onstage through June 10. Box office: 513-861-7469.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
Cincinnati Landmark Productions (CLP), operator of the Showboat Majestic and owner and operator of the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, is looking to expand its entertainment empire with a new facility in East Price Hill, not far from the Primivista Restaurant. At a meeting today with the East Price Hill Improvement Association, representatives from CLP will present a proposal to build a new performing arts center in the Incline District.
plan is for a theater with approximately 250 seats that will be
programmed throughout the year. CLP estimates 112 evenings of
performances, including theatrical productions, a summer season,
concerts, comedy events and cabarets.
CLP recently marked the tenth anniversary of the Covedale Center, a onetime movie theater that the group acquired and renovated. The West Side fixture has seen stead growth in attendance over the decade since opening in 2002. In its first year, there were 804 subscribers; 3,600 are anticipated for the coming season. Season attendance in 2002-2003 was 13, 990; for 2011-2012 it grew to 35,300.
from CLP have already met with developers and leaders of the East Price
Hill Development Association for exploratory purposes. CLP’s executive
artistic director Tim Perrino says that both his organization and the
developers view the partnership as a win-win. The vacant parcel on
Matson Place has nearby parking and dining — as well as the spectacular
view that’s familiar to generations of diners at Primavista.
“The people we’ve talked to,” Perrino explains, “see the true value an arts center can bring to a neighborhood. The arts create neighborhood vibrancy, more pedestrians, good news stories, visitors from outside the neighborhood, more bar and restaurant patrons and improved neighborhood perception.
project is still a concept without a budget or plans, but it’s an
exciting prospect coming from an organization that clearly knows how to
connect with audiences.
My first and foremost recommendation for the weekend is Blue Man Group.
(Review here.) It's a performance experience unlike much of anything else you've
probably ever experienced in a theater — raucous music, zany humor,
eye-popping technology and infectiously fun engagement with the
audience. Amazingly, it's done without spoken words — the guys mime
(well, kind of, it's actually more like they're mute in the style of
Harpo Marx, with a lot of staring and double-takes), although they're
backed up by awesome video that does offer some instruction (and laughs)
for the literate. As I've said before, it's hard to describe but easy
to enjoy. This is Blue Man Group's first time in Cincinnati, presented
by Broadway Across America; the Aronoff Center might never be the same.
(Through Oct. 28) Box office: 800-982-2787.
Last night I enjoyed opening night for the thoroughly authentic and charming production of Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. It's the story of a Jewish family in Brooklyn in the 1930s, but thanks to Simon's witty, heartfelt recollections of his own youth, it has a feeling of universality. The narrator is Eugene Morris Jerome (who's a stand-in for Simon himself), and actor Ryan DeLuca conveys the joys and pangs of adolescence and puberty with feeling and hilarity. He frequently addresses the audience about his interactions with his grouchy parents and his woebegon aunt, his worldly brother, his pampered cousins — he's documenting them for something he'll write when he's older, a novel or perhaps a play! And that play is the one onstage at the Playhouse, the first Neil Simon script ever presented there in more than 50 seasons. (Through Nov. 10.) Box office: 513-421-3888.
Continuing productions of the comedy Mrs. Mannerly at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati (513-421-3555) and Shakespeare's romantic tragedy Romeo & Juliet at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (513-381-2273, x1) have been positively reviewed and appreciated by audiences. This weekend also marks the opening of Cincy Shakes' staging of Shakespeare's bloody history of the Roman emperor Titus Andronicus, staged with tongue in cheek (and in a pie) for the Halloween season. It happens on the nights when the R&J cast takes a breather.
You might also consider two special events: New Edgecliff Theatre's annual one-night fundraiser, Sweet Suspense Theatre, a presentation in the style of a radio play, happens on Saturday evening. This year the production, a new adaptation of Oscar Wilde's story of The Canterville Ghost, is being presented at the Cincinnati Art Museum — and includes an extended intermission with lots of goodies from local bakeries and restaurants. (Tickets: 888-588-0177). You might also want to check in with the Playhouse about ticket availability for Post Secret on Monday evening; the one-night presentation of a piece based on an anonymous "true confessions" website is rumored to be sold out, but there might be a waiting list if you call the box office. (513-421-3888)
Lyle Benjamin has been on and off a lot of local stages with his company Queen City Off-Broadway. He's been dormant for a few seasons, but he's back with a slightly new name — it's now called Queen City Theater — and a couple of mid-summer productions using the black box theater at the new School for Creative and Performing Arts (108 West Central Pkwy., Over-the-Rhine) as his venue. Tonight is the opening performance of The Amish Project by Jessica Dickey.
It's taken 17 years for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company to get around to staging King John. With only four more beyond this one to complete the cycle of producing all 37 of Shakespeare's plays, CSC is headed to a position that few theater companies can boast about.
I’ve been talking with lots of people about the Cincinnati Playhouse production of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. It’s been directed by John Doyle, who inventively staged Sondheim’s Company in 2006, a production that moved to Broadway and earned a Tony Award. He uses the same approach this time: actors who provide their own musical accompaniment. I liked the results he got from his strong, talented cast. But I will say that this production evokes strong reactions: Some people love it, some are mystified and some hate the nontraditional approach. No one has said it’s not skillfully done, so I can safely tell you that you ought to go and see for yourself. Merrily has long been viewed as one of Sondheim’s few failures (its original run in 1981 lasted for only 16 performances on Broadway), but you wouldn’t know that from this staging: It’s a showbiz tale of chasing success that has not resulted in happiness. We start at the end of a friendship, with three people at one another’s throats, and then trace back to their earliest, optimistic moments together. With great music, a stylized set piled with pages of music (the central character is a Broadway composer) and some intriguing decisions by Doyle about elevating a realistic tale to something more deeply emotional, this version of Merrily is a fascinating production that musical theater lovers ought to see. In addition to my Critic’s Pick, this production has garnered five awards from the League of Cincinnati Theatres for Outstanding Ensemble, for performer Becky Ann Baker, for Scott Pask’s imaginative scenic design, Matt Castle’s music direction and Mary-Mitchell Campbell’s orchestrations. Can’t quite figure why director John Doyle wasn’t cited, since he’s the mastermind behind all this, but you can judge that one for yourself. Through March 31. Box office: 513-421-3888.
I don’t get to see too much community theater, but there are several companies that consistently present work worth watching: Mariemont Players is one of them. Through March 25 the company is presenting Cole, a musical tribute to the life of songwriter Cole Porter, from his days as a student at Yale, life in Paris then Manhattan then Hollywood. I haven’t seen it, but I suspect that it will be entertaining. At the Walton Creek Theater (4101 Walton Creek Road, just east of Mariemont). Tickets: 513-684-1236.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
Check out CityBeat's extensive coverage of the 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival. As of noon Saturday we've posted reviews of 21 productions, with more coming every day until all 31 shows have been reviewed.