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by Rick Pender 02.04.2009
Posted In: Theater at 04:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Snow City

You might think that Dead City is a play about Cincinnati, especially after our second snowstorm in a week. But it's actually the next production coming to New Stage Collective, one of the "Gems of the Neighborhood," those hardy theaters that are, in fact, bringing new life to Over-the-Rhine, as described in CityBeat's cover story this week. 

Dead City was supposed to open on Thursday this week, but with all the bad weather in the past seven days rehearsal time has been held to a minimum. So NSC's Alan Patrick Kenny has decided to push his opening night to Friday.

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by 06.06.2009
Posted In: Theater, Theater, Dance at 10:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fringe Fest Ends Tonight

The 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival wraps up tonight. Starting today at 2 p.m., 18 different productions are presenting their final shows and both Film Fringe and Visual Fringe are wrapping up at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.

Rick Pender reports that ticket sales have already surpassed Fringe organizers' goals, and today's beautiful weather should bring out a final wave of good attendance.

Reviews of all 18 of today's shows are posted on CityBeat's Fringe micro-site, including The Secrets Project, which opened last night at New Stage Collective and presents its second and final performance tonight at 7:30. In fact, CityBeat writers have reviewed all 31 Fringe shows, with most reviews being posted the morning after their debut performances.

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by Rick Pender 11.14.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Broadway Here, Broadway There — It's Everywhere

If you're looking for good theater this weekend you have two great choices at downtown Cincinnati's Aronoff Center. It's your pick: Recent Broadway hit Once, in a touring production, or a past award-winner, Young Frankenstein, staged by one of Cincinnati's best community theaters.

The musical Once began life as an Academy Award-winning film in 2007; the song "Falling Slowly" won an Oscar. The film became an off-Broadway production as a musical in 2011 then a Broadway contender in 2012, where it won eight Tony Awards, including best musical. Since 2013 it's been a hit in London (the film is about musicians in Dublin, and the stage adaptation is set in an Irish pub) and on a national tour in the U.S. a year ago that's been much praised. It's that tour presently onstage at the Aronoff Center's big hall. It's a very contemporary love story that succeeds in part because it's unpredictable: Boy Meets Girl (yeah, that's a cliché) but despite their chemistry and potential for romance, it doesn't turn out as you might expect. Along the way, a great cast of actor/musicians play instruments onstage and sing their hearts out as the story unfolds. And it's fun: Arrive early enough and you can queue up to go onstage and order a pint from the bar there and mingle with some of the cast. If there's such a thing as a casual musical for contemporary music lovers, this is it. Through Nov. 23. Tickets ($33-$80): 513-621-2787.

Don't think that you'll see something less than professional if you choose to head to the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater to see Young Frankenstein, presented by Cincinnati Music Theatre through Sunday. This company of local theater junkies knows how to make big musicals work, and this jokey show by Mel Brooks (based on his equally jokey classic comedy from 1974) is a great vehicle for a talented cast and crew. There are great sets (designed by Rick Kramer) and visual effects (by Jeff Surber), and the talented performers milk every laugh line to the nth degree. Charlie Harper is lots of fun as the latter-day scientist Frankenstein, Alison Evans is his fetching lab assistant Inga and Kate Mock Elliott has great moments as his twitchy fiancee Elizabeth. Chuck Ingram's portrait of the Monster is spot on, and his delivery of the show's big number, "Puttin' on the Ritz," will stick that tune in your head for days in ways that Irving Berlin never imagined. Tickets ($20-$24): 513-621-2787.

Broadway star Faith Prince is making a local appearance at Memorial Hall for an 8 p.m. concert tonight. It's part of a series of "Libations & Lite Bites," this one titled "Broadway & Bordeaux." The evening begins at 6:30 with hors d'oeuvres from local restaurants, wine and cocktails and concludes with dessert and more. Tickets ($47-$57): cincinnatimemorialhall.com.

If you've got Broadway on the brain and you're on Cincinnati's West Side, you should definitely check out the Covedale Center's production of Stephen Sondheim's fairytale musical Into the Woods, finishing up its run on Sunday. It's an entertaining classic (in December it will be on movie screens everywhere in a new film version featuring Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp), and the Covedale has a great cast to put it across. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

You still have a chance to catch one of our great local actresses, Dale Hodges, in Driving Miss Daisy at Covington's Carnegie through Sunday. She's playing haughty, elderly Daisy Wertham, unwillingly partnered with Hoke, an African-American chauffeur (Reggie Williams) hired by her solicitous son Boolie (Randy Lee Bailey). It's a solid ensemble and a very entertaining production. Tickets ($18-$25): 859-957-1940.

And if you're looking for something that's brand new and edgy, check out All New People by contemporary writer Zach Braff. It's onstage at Clifton Performance Theatre, staged by Untethered Theatre through Nov. 30. It starts with a suicide attempt on Charlie's birthday and spirals from there. I'm going to see it this weekend. Maybe I'll see you there. Tickets ($20): 513-939-0599.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here
by Rick Pender 12.14.2012
Posted In: Theater, Arts community at 11:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Stage Door: Making Merry Edition

By next weekend you'll be all crazy with gift shopping and baking cookies, so theater might not be such a high priority. So how about catching a great holiday show this weekend to put in in the holiday mood?

Starting Sunday evening you can get caught up on Christmas lore — well, at least a funny, off-kilter version of it — thanks to the jolly folks at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company who are presenting Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some)! The mash-up of Rudolph and Frosty and Santa and Ebenezer and George Bailey (and a lot more) opens on Sunday evening. Cincy Shakes used to offer this one in the courtyard at Arnold's Bar & Grill, but they had such demand for tickets that they've moved it to their mainstage, over on Race Street in Downtown Cincinnati. They seem to have been correct in anticipating that people wanted to see the show: Several days before it opened, almost all the tickets had been sold! So they've added four more performances, 2 p.m. on Dec. 22-23 and 29-30. It all wraps up on Dec. 30, so don't waste any time figuring out when you're going fit this in. And to keep up your holiday spirits, Cincy Shakes has scored a temporary liquor permit for the run of this show. Cheers! Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

Speaking of Cincy Shakes, you still have a few more chances to see The Importance of Being Earnest (see review here) before it vacates the premises for Every Christmas Story. Oscar Wilde's witty farce is not a holiday show, but it's a great deal of fun, guaranteed to put you in a good mood. Although I haven't seen Falcon Theater's production of It's a Wonderful Life — recreating the story of George Bailey and Bedford Falls as it might have been without him —  it's picked up some solid recognition from a panel of judges for the Acclaim Awards. The story is presented as a production of a 1940s radio play, and it's happening in Newport's intimate Monmouth Theatre. Tickets: 513-479-6783.

Ensemble Theatre's fractured musical retelling of Alice in Wonderland (see review here) offers a colorful, visual feast as well as a take on the story that has a few lessons for kids, but plenty of entertainment for everyone. (Tickets: 513-421-3555) And the most traditional of all the holiday shows, A Christmas Carol at the Cincinnati Playhouse, continues to be a great outing for families. We had out of town guests last weekend who came to Cincinnati to see it, and they loved every minute of it. If you haven't seen it, this is one you'll remember — and probably want to add as a must-see every holiday season. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

by Rick Pender 11.16.2012
Posted In: Arts community, Theater at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
onstage to do 11-21 - leah strasser and mindy heitkamp  in savage in limbo by untethered theatre company - photo kirk sheppard

Stage Door: Thanksgiving Edition

The weekends around Thanksgiving tend to offer fewer theater opportunities than most since lots of companies are readying holiday productions that open near the end of the month. (In fact, from Nov. 28 to 30, eight shows will open!) But that doesn't mean you should look elsewhere for entertainment.

First and foremost is Street Scene at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, the kick-off of a year-long celebration of works by Kurt Weill. It's a dramatic American opera in two acts, a story set in a mid-century Manhattan neighborhood. It's a massive undertaking involving hundreds of students from several CCM departments; Steven Goldstein is directing, and the performances will be musically conducted by Mark Gibson. The opera is based on Elmer Rice's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama; it's sometimes compared to Porgy & Bess, presenting a wide range of multi-ethnic characters and two intertwined love stories. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets ($17-$30): 513-556-4183.

A feisty young theater company, Untethered Theatre, is producing a dark comedy, John Patrick Shanley's Savage in Limbo in a storefront theater on Ludlow Avenue, Clifton Performance Theater. The performers are young and the characters they portray are young adults who haven't yet taken hold of life. The venue is intimate, recreating a bar where the characters gather, and the audience sits amidst the action. Tickets ($15): 513-938-0599. If you show up at 7:55 p.m. you might get lucky and score a rush seat for $5.

Two community theaters are wrapping up productions of classics that ought to be worth seeing: Cincinnati Music Theatre is presenting Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Tony Award-winning musical from 1970, Company, at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theatre. Tickets: ($20-$22): 513-621-2787 … And Footlighters' is finishing up a run of Thornton Wilder's 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Our Town, at the Stained Glass Theatre in Newport. Tickets ($20): 859-652-3849.

Finally, if you want an evening of great music with a bit of true life biography, check out Hank Williams: Lost Highway, at the Cincinnati Playhouse. This one runs through the holidays, but tickets will be hard to come by in December, so this would be a perfect weekend to take in a performance of two dozen songs by the guy who blended the Blues with "Hillbilly" tunes and more or less created Country Western music in the early 1950s. You'll know lots of the tunes. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

by Rick Pender 01.05.2011
Posted In: Theater at 11:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Human Race Theatre Co. Director Dies

Marsha Hanna, artistic director of Dayton's Human Race Theatre Company, died on Monday. I was saddened to learn of her passing — especially at age 59 — because she was a passionate advocate for theater, not just in Dayton but throughout the region.

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by Rick Pender 03.15.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
Photo: Ryan Kurtz

Stage Door: Recognizing African-American Stories

February is Black History Month, a period when the arts traditionally wake up and pay attention to African-American stories and artists. I'm always a bit troubled by this segmenting, so I want to commend both the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati for presenting two fine productions of shows featuring African Americans in engaging stories — in the middle of March. They represent two of this weekend's best choices.

At ETC, Black Pearl Sings! features two outstanding local actresses. Annie Fitzpatrick plays Susannah Mullally, a folk music researcher in the 1930s; Torie Wiggins is Alberta "Pearl" Johnson, a prisoner (for a violent but probably justified crime) who has a remarkable recollection of songs she learned as a child from her family. They form an uneasy alliance that turns into a guarded friendship, and Fitzpatrick and Wiggins have a delightful interplay and chemistry. I heard that this might be the 40th production Fitzpatrick has done at ETC; she's a versatile actress, and she convincingly creates the uptight but driven Susannah. Wiggins, who graduated from the drama program at CCM, earns her Equity card on this production: Chronologically, she's probably a tad young for the role, but she so wholly embodies Pearl's feisty character that it makes no difference. Hers is a tour-de-force rendition, musically and theatrically. This one is a definite must-see. Box office: 513-421-3555.

Let's give the Playhouse — and new artistic director Blake Robison — props for finally getting around to staging a show by Horton Foote, who died in 2009 at the age of 92. He was a prolific dramatist and screenwriter (he wrote screenplays for To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies) for years, and his play A Trip to Bountiful is a lovely, emotional paean to the notion that "there's no place like home." Foote wrote the play about an elderly Texas wido pining to return to her hometown in 1953 (as a play for television, in fact) and it was an award-winning 1985 movie  with a white cast. For the Playhouse, Timothy Douglas has changed up the story by overlaying an African-American filter over the story and casting veteran actress Lizann Mitchell as Carrie Watts. She's a dream of an actress, portraying a tiny Texas cyclone of energy with a wry sense of humor. The story is nothing too innovative — she runs away from a cramped apartment where she lives with her son and his demanding wife to return to her girlhood home, which has all but disappeared — but the truth and dignity of the tale (and Mitchell's performance) make this show worth seeing. Box office: 513-421-3888.

Finally, I need to mention Clifton Players production of A Behanding in Spokane by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. He's the writer of dark tales like The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Cripple of Inishmaan, as well as the even darker film In Bruges. Clifton Players perform at Clifton Performance Theatre, a tiny, intimate storefront space on Ludlow Avenue. I've heard lots of positive remarks about this production. Be prepared to be shocked and entertained by the show's comic violence. Tickets: 513-861-7469.

by Rick Pender 12.18.2009
Posted In: Theater at 03:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Sideways Stories a Hot Ticket

Audience response can be a good indicator of which holiday shows are hitting the mark. While I found the humor in Know Theatre's Sideways Stories from Wayside School to be a tad forced (you can read my full review here), the theater’s box office phone (513-300-5669) has been ringing steadily, so they've added a performance this weekend on Saturday at 3 p.m., and also on Dec. 27, the final day end of the run.

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by Rick Pender 10.05.2012
Posted In: Theater at 11:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door - daniel beaty in through the night at the cincinnati playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: 'Through the Night,' CCM, NKU and the Carnegie

Your best bet for theater this weekend, based on several enthusiastic recommendations, seems to be Daniel Beaty's one-man performance at the Cincinnati Playhouse in Through the Night. Harper Lee gave it a Critic's Pick in her CityBeat review this week, and the League of Cincinnati Theatres panel described Beaty as a "brilliant showman and interpreter” whose “beautifully and powerfully acted” performance “weaved in, out and through real people — multifaceted people.” The show was praised as “moving and full of hope — an evening of pure joy, celebration and a mournful reminder as well.” Through the Night “shatters the stereotypes of the ‘African American’ plight and shows beautifully that these predicaments and life choices are ‘human’ ones." I caught a performance this week and found Beaty's ability to shift from character to character quite astonishing — he plays six men and boys, as well as numerous other figures in their lives, each well defined and believable. It's a tour de force performance in the Shelterhouse, presented simply with some projected images and nothing more, not even costume changes. Box office: 513-421-3888.

College theater has good choices for you at both UC's College-Conservatory of Music and Northern Kentucky University. Each is presenting a classic, although from very different eras. NKU continues its run of
You Can't Take It With You (through Sunday), a classic comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart that won a Pulitzer Prize back in 1937. It's about a wacky family that marches to the beat of several different drummers and how their "normal" daughter and her boyfriend (the product of truly straitlaced parents) try to figure out how to make a relationship work in the midst of a lot of craziness. At CCM there's another form of craziness in Michael Burnham's staging of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, a tale of mistaken lovers and magical transformations. In both cases, there's a happy ending and most of the right people end up with suitable partners. Both shows are sure to offer offer a lot of laughs, as well as plenty of opportunities for young actors to take on entertaining roles. Either show should make for a fun outing that doesn't require much serious thought. CCM Box Office: 513-556-4183; NKU Box Office: 859-572-5464.

Finally, on Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. you have a very special opportunity to see a brand-new musical as a work-in-progress at the Carnegie Center in Covington. It's a one-night-only presentation of The Sandman, a creepy musical created by Cincinnati native and Cirque du Soleil maestro Richard Oberacker and his creative partner Robert Taylor. Using a wildly imaginative story by E.T.A. Hoffmann (the guy who wrote the wildly imaginative story of battling mice and toys coming to life that became The Nutcracker), Oberacker and Taylor have crafted a show that's getting a workshop locally with some serious star power. Narrated by Van Ackerman (who turned in a great performance as the Man in the Chair in CMT's recent production of The Drowsy Chaperone), the performance will feature Tony nominee (and early CCM grad) Pamela Myers, always watchable Bruce Cromer (fresh off his powerful turn as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird at Cincy Shakes), Charlie Clark and Sara Mackie. While it's a "reading," it will have sound effects and some slide projections to set the eerie scene. You can call 859-957-1940 for tickets, or order them online at www.thecarnegie.com. General admission is $25 (theater professionals and students can get in for $15). Sounds like a don't miss event.

by Rick Pender 03.25.2011
Posted In: Theater at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Rapture, Quilts Et Tu, Brute!

It's a good weekend for local theater, with two confirmed choices and a fascinating new production with a lot of potential. Both shows that opened a week ago — End Days at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati and Gee's Bend at Cincinnati Playhouse — have been recommended by the Acclaims judging panel that considered them, and both have received nominations for performers and other aspects.

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