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.
My best recommendation for this weekend is Ensemble Theatre's staging of Gina Gionfriddo's Rapture, Blister, Burn. This is an ultra-natural piece of writing with several generations of women arguing and contesting over the ways women should behave. (CityBeat review here.) It's focused on two women, once friends, one married to the other's ex college boyfriend. It's years later and neither woman is very happy with her present life. How that plays out will keep you engaged from start to finish. Some exceptional acting, with strong direction by D. Lynn Meyers. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
Several great choices for theatergoing this weekend. At the top of your list should be Rapture, Blister, Burn at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. I was at the opening of Gina Gionfriddo's 2013 Pulitzer Prize runner-up on Wednesday, and it's another fine example of the kind of excellent production we've come to expect from ETC. Lynn Meyers has a knack for finding exactly the right actors for her shows, and she's assembled a perfect cast for this one, the story of a twisty relationship between three one-time college friends. Two women, played by Jen Joplin and Corinne Mohlenhoff, were roommates back then, and Mohlenhoff's character had a charismatic boyfriend. She went off to a renowned academic career and Joplin's character ended up marrying Don, played by Charlie Clark. Twenty years later they're back in close proximity, and neither woman is feeling fulfilled by her life. Don is a willing player in trading places, which makes for some amusing drama. Mohlenhoff's character offers a summer seminar in feminism, film and pornography which plays out some interesting theorizing among the show's female characters about the roles women play. It's a great stew of talking and experimenting, which takes some interesting turns along the way. Definitely watchable and entertaining. Onstage through Oct. 27. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
You have two good choices at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park this weekend. Last evening I attended the opening of Martín Zimmerman's Seven Spots on the Sun (it's onstage through Oct. 27). It's a thoughtful and gripping drama about the fallout of civil war in an unnamed Latin American country. Warring factions draw lines and commit atrocities that make for inconsolable lives afterward, even when something magical seems to offer a chance for healing. It's a challenging story that will remind audiences that wars create more strife than they solve. Well-acted and swiftly staged (it's 90 minutes long, no intermission, on the Playhouse's Shelterhouse Stage), this is a world premiere by a playwright who's name will surely become familiar to audiences in the future. Meanwhile, this weekend offers the final performances of Fly on the Playhouse's mainstage. It's the story of valiant African Americans who we know today as the Tuskegee Airmen, men who overcame prejudice and doubt to be heroes during World War II. It's inventively staged using video and tap dancing. Definitely worth seeing; final performance is Saturday evening. (Tickets: 513-421-3888)
Perhaps this weekend you want to take a last-chance trip down Memory Lane. You have that option as the Showboat Majestic is wrapping up its production of Showboat Follies, the final show that Cincinnati Landmark Productions will stage on the historic vessel. It's a revue of songs and skits that should be fun if not profound, but if you go (final performance is Sunday), you'll be able to tell you foriends that you were among the last to visit this nostalgic Cincinnati venue. (Unless the City of Cincinnati finds another operator — which they've been seeking with no success.) Tickets: 513-241-6550.
Lots of choices to fulfill your appetite for good theater this weekend. Best bet is to catch one of the final performances of Other Desert Cities at Ensemble Theatre (Sunday at 2 p.m. is your last chance), the story of parents and children who just can't get along. (CityBeat review here.) Heavy doses of guilt, sarcasm and politics fuel a lot of family angst, and some unexpected twists and turns keep things interesting as a daughter who's a writer blames her parents for her activist brother's suicide — in a very public way. The show features a solid cast of local favorites. It's definitely worth seeing if you can get a ticket. 513-421-3555.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is typically the first professional theater
in town to start the season, and that's the case for 2013 with Other Desert Cities that opened a week ago. You can read my review;
I really appreciated the powerhouse cast performing the show. That led
me to give Jon Robin Baitz's provocative family drama about strife
between generations a "Critic's Pick." (It's onstage through Sept. 22.) A tip option for seats is an added 7 p.m. performance on that final Sunday. If you enjoy ETC's productions of fresh new plays, you owe a debt of gratitude to its founding supporters. Longtime friends
Ruth Sawyer and Murph Mahler got the ball rolling back in 1987 and
faithfully guided the company for two decades, sustaining the company
financially, artistically and spiritually. Mahler passed away in 2009
and Sawyer earlier this year, so ETC is commemorating their dedication
with a special free event this Sunday evening at 7 p.m. The program will offer songs and stories performed by some of ETC's best artists. Seating is limited, so you need to RSVP: 513-421-3555.
Abandon ship! Well, that's not exactly true. In fact, Cincinnati Landmark Productions has done a remarkable and loving job of sustaining the ship — in the form of the Showboat Majestic, which it has operated for 23 years in the face of at least 10 floods and countless repairs (including a leaky hull). But with its lease running out later this month, the company has decided not to return for the 2014 season.
Cincinnati Landmark will focus its endeavors on the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, the converted West Side movie theater where it will offer a "Summer Classics Season" in a vein similar to mainstream fare of classic comedies and musicals that has long drawn audiences to the Majestic. There have been 170 productions on board since 1991, attracting more than 350,000 patrons to the last floating theater in the United States. Cincinnati Landmark is also embarking on a new voyage with a performing arts center to be built in the Incline District in East Price Hill, a venue anticipated to be up and running as early as 2015.
Tim Perrino, executive artistic director at Cincinnati Landmark, says, "It's time to say goodbye. Our organization enjoyed a prolific chapter in the Majestic's grand history, painstakingly caring for the old boat" — launched in 1923 — "and producing seasons that paid tribute to her heritage."
Opening this week on Wednesday, Showboat Follies will be Cincinnati Landmark's final production on the Majestic. An annual tradition, it's a compilation of musical showstoppers, comic sketches, audience interaction and a return of the "Queen City Toast," a longtime staple of season-closing shows. "This show has become our love letter to the Majestic," Perrino says, adding that it's "a thank-you to our subscribers, longtime supporters and the many artists who helped make our time on the Showboat so special." Showboat Follies runs through Sept. 29.
During the summer of 2014, Cincinnati Landmark will present four productions at the Covedale: Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! (May 22-June 1); Neil Simon's comedy, The Sunshine Boys (June 19-29); Footloose (July 24-Aug. 3), the 2014 Cincinnati Young People's Theater production, a summer favorite using local high school talent; and a spectacular song-and-dance show, The Will Rogers Follies (Aug. 21-31).
In 1989, the Showboat Majestic was named a National Historic Landmark. No word from the City of Cincinnati, which has owned the Majestic since 1967, as to what might be next. The Majestic was operated with summertime shows by the University of Cincinnati for many years, and it served as a popular venue during several of the Tall Stacks festivals over the years.
The first week of September always brings an avalanche of theater productions, and that's exactly what's available to you this weekend.
I'll start with Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati's Other Desert Cities, which opened on Wednesday. You can read my review, which gives this excellent production a Critic's Pick. It's a drama about generational family strife coming to a boil on Christmas Eve in 2004 when conservative, politically prominent parents learn that their liberal daughter has written a supposedly tell-all memoir about the suicide of her older brother, an antiwar activist. It's a great vehicle for actors, and ETC has assembled an excellent cast of local and New York professionals, including Amy Warner, Dale Hodges, Sara Mackie, Ryan Wesley Gilreath and Dennis Parlato. The show, a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, is full of confrontations and revelations — a juicy night onstage. Through Sept. 22. Tickets ($27-$42): 513-421-3555.
Tonight at Know Theatre is a Fringe "Encore," a performance by actor/musician Kevin Thornton, a popular performer in the annual Fringe Festivals that Know produces. Stairway to Kevin focuses on the fact that he's turning 40 and questioning everything. This is an evening stuffed with new material, both the comedy and the music. Two nights only — Sept. 6 and 13 at 8 p.m. Tickets ($12): 513-300-5669.
Tonight is the opener for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic novel, Oliver Twist. If you've enjoyed stage productions of A Christmas Carol, you have a sense of Dickens' flair with colorful characters and dramatic storytelling. That's exactly what this tale of an orphan in 19th-century London has to offer, and CSC's retelling uses music and inventive staging to bring that place and its inhabitants to life. Sure to be popular with family audiences. Through Sept. 29. Tickets ($22-$31): 513-381-2273, x1.
The Cincinnati Playhouse's season doesn't officially open until Sept. 12, but the first production, Fly, a creatively staged piece about the legendary Tuskegee Airmen from World War II, is in previews this weekend, so it's a chance to catch it early. Tune in to Around Cincinnati on WVXU (FM 91.7) on Sunday at 7 p.m. to hear me interview playwright and director Ricardo Khan. Through Oct. 5. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Finally, you might want to check out the gala celebration by Footlighters this evening (Friday at 7 p.m. at the Syndicate in Newport) when the reliable community theater company marks its 50th season, quite a remarkable accomplishment. Later this month (Sept. 26-Oct. 12), Footlighters will present the jaunty musical Anything Goes at its Stained Glass Theatre; the company is one of the few community groups with its own facility. Tickets ($20): 859-652-3849.
If you're a theater fan looking for something to do this weekend, you've probably realized that the Labor Day holiday is not overflowing with options. In fact, many theater companies are gathering their strength as they prepare for shows that open next week.