The Cincinnati Arts Association (CAA) manages the Aronoff Center — that means they run our downtown performing arts center on Walnut Street, but it also means they work to fill the facility with occasional performances to supplement the big shows brought to town by Broadway Across America.
The first of those opens tonight, when CAA presents Late Nite Catechism for a two-week run (Oct. 7-19) at the Jarson-Kaplan Theater. This funny one-woman show about a nun preparing adults for the rigors of the Roman Catholic Church has a built-in local appeal, what with the large number of local residents who went to parochial schools where various teachings and behaviors were drilled into them.
When this played in Cincinnati several years ago for a one-week run, people flocked to see it — laughing from start to finish as audience members were chastised, scolded and gently (or firmly) reminded of tenets of belief and proper behavior. There’s lots of audience participation (including rewards in the form of glow-in-the-dark rosaries and other nifty prizes like trading cards depicting various saints); every performance takes on a life of its own because actress Kimberly Richards as “Sister” plays off those present and responds to moments in the theater that are seldom predictable. Get tickets and more info here.
CAA recently announced an extensive lineup of other performances in the next two weeks:
1. Christian musicians Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman will offer a one-night program on Oct. 10 in the Procter & Gamble Hall.
2. NBC’s Last Comic Standing Live Tour will provide some laughs from the comedians you saw recently on TV on Oct. 16 in the Procter & Gamble Hall.
More good things are also booked for 2009:
• Lily Tomlin will offer a program of her classic routines on Feb. 6, 2009.
• Neil Berg’s 100 Years of Broadway will offer music from a century of Broadway shows, and is likely to include some musical theater performers with Cincinnati connections. This one is planned for Feb. 20, 2009.
• DrumLine Live! happens on March 16, 2009, featuring thunderous entertainment from the African-American marching band tradition.
• The Afro-Cuban All Stars will show up on March 22, 2009. You might know some of these performers from the wonderful film The Buena Vista Social Club.
• Actor Hal Holbrook has been playing 19th-century American writer Mark Twain for more than 50 years. He’ll bring his act to the Aronoff on May 14, 2009. Holbrook has more than 16 hours of material he’s developed, and he tailors each performance to the moment, often offering comment on current events drawn from Twain’s observations. He’s a treasure of the American theater.
For more information about CAA’s offerings: www.cincinnatiarts.org
— Rick Pender
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.
The 13th annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards for Theater were handed out last night in a loose, fun event at Below Zero Lounge in Over-the-Rhine. Amazingly, 11 different local theater organizations took home a trophy: Cincinnati Playhouse, Ensemble Theatre, Cincinnati Shakespeare, Know Theatre, College-Conservatory of Music, New Stage Collective, New Edgecliff Theatre, Cincinnati Music Theatre, Footlighters, Covedale Center for the Performing Arts and Artemis Exchange for a production at the 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival.
Just as the 2010-11 theater season is about to kick off, Know Theatre of Cincinnati has shared plans for its 13th season. They'll offer four mainstage productions (there were five in 2009-10), the eighth annual Cincy Fringe Festival and a new family of programs dubbed the "Jackson Street Market." The season begins in earnest after Know hosts MidPoint Music Festival showcases Sept. 23-25.
When you see a show like Emma, the Jane Austen musical recently presented at the Cincinnati Playhouse (pictured), do you ever wonder where it came from? If you paid attention to some of the Playhouse’s publicity, you might know it premiered at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, Calif., where it was a big box-office hit. In fact, the theater’s artistic director Robert Kelley, who staged the original, and several cast members from the original production came together again in Cincinnati for the Playhouse production.
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)
I can't say that a musical based on the Adam Sandler film The Wedding Singer
is going to be either edifying or educational for a bunch of teens. But
I can assure you that the kids from all over the region involved in
Cincinnati Young People's Theatre, which opens its production of the
show tonight, will be having a blast at the Covedale Center for the
Performing Arts. I bet their good times with this goofy show will mean
contagious entertainment for everyone who shows up to see it. Whether
they're related to the kids or not! It's onstage through Aug. 5. Box
It appears that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has a summertime hit on its hands with its very tongue-in-cheek staging of The Hound of the Baskervilles using three of its best actors. The show opened a week ago and there is so much demand for tickets that CSC has added matinee performances through the production's three-week run. Several performances have completely sold out. It's directed by Michael Evan Haney, associate artistic director at the Cincinnati Playhouse and one of our area's best at staging witty and complicated pieces — his Cincinnati Playhouse production of Around the World in Eighty Days was a big hit several seasons back (it used four actors) and it moved on to a well-received run in New York City. While Hound retells the well known Sherlock Holmes tale, it does it with actors in multiple roles (Jeremy Dubin, who portrays Holmes, for instance, also plays all the villains) and a lot of visual humor and slapstick physicality. Through Aug. 12. Box office: 513-381-2273.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
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.
Work a little harder and see something unexpected. That's my theme for this weekend. Theater shouldn't always make you laugh or even smile. Sometimes a playwright sets out to make you uncomfortable or to portray characters who are thoroughly unlikeable. Harold Pinter (pictured) did that a generation ago, and Adam Rapp does it today. Pinter's Ashes to Ashes gets a quick production on Saturday and Sunday evenings at Hebrew Union College.