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by Rick Pender 10.18.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
todo_onstage_raptureblisterburn_ryankurtz

Stage Door: Choices, Choices

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.

The Playhouse's world premiere of Martín Zimmerman's Seven Spots on the Sun is a powerful drama that engages all your senses as well as your imagination. The products of a devastating civil war in Central America are played out in painfully personal ways. Potent script, strong performances make this a show worth seeing. (CityBeat review here.) This weekend at the Playhouse also offers a series of previews (hence, more affordable tickets) of Kander and Ebb's Cabaret, a show that's been around for a long time — but still has a saucy kick that makes it feel very in the moment. Playhouse box office: 513-421-3888.

Need to starting getting into a Halloween state of mind? Covedale Center opened a production of Dracula on Thursday (it's onstage through Nov. 10) for you to sink your teeth into. Or vice versa. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

Cincinnati Shakespeare kicks off its production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men this evening. It's a tale of friendship in the midst of the Great Depression, two men who are migrant workers, often staying one step beyond serious trouble caused by oafish Lennie. Cincy Shakes' regular Jim Hopkins plays the simple-minded giant who's protected by the pragmatic George, brought to life by veteran Jeremy Dubin. It's a thoughtful, sad story. Opens Friday evening, continues through Nov. 10. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

Speaking of Cincinnati Shakespeare, the company is involved in bringing National Theatre Live broadcasts from London to Cincinnati. If these screenings generate any profits, Cincy Shakes will get some financial benefit. So assemble a group and head to Springdale 18's Cinema de Luxe on Sunday evening at 7 p.m. You'll see a powerful performance of Othello featuring  Adrian Lester (an Olivier Award winner) as the title character and Rory Kinnear (featured in a couple of recent James Bond films) as the manipulative Iago. Here's a link to buy tickets, $19 in general, $15 for seniors and students.

Take a kid to see a show and you're likely to create a lifetime theater lover. That's what happened to me when my grandfather took me to see the musical Brigadoon. So you can give this theory a try this weekend as the Children's Theatre of Cincinnati opens its 89th mainstage season with Annie JR. at the Taft Theatre. It's a shortened version of the Broadway hit about a spunky orphan who charms everyone (and which happens to be back on Broadway this fall in a full-length production). Public performances today, tomorrow and Sunday. Tickets: 800-745-3000.
 
 
by Rick Pender 10.11.2013
Posted In: Theater at 09:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
todo_onstage_raptureblisterburn_ryankurtz

Stage Door: Solid Choices

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.

At the Playhouse you'll find Martín Zimmerman's much more serious Seven Spots on the Sun, a story set in a Latin American nation torn asunder by civil war. (CityBeat review here.) We see the drama played out between several characters whose lives are tragically intertwined and who struggle to understand how to continue in light of past decisions and tragedies. It's a powerful story that offers small glimmers of hope, not to mention some magical turns that lead you to speculate about fate and hope. Zimmerman is a playwright whose name will become increasingly familiar in the future; the Playhouse is offer his script in its world premiere. Onstage through Oct. 27. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

If you're looking for a different kind of theater experience, check out New Edgecliff Theatre's annual fundraiser, "Sweet Suspense," back for its sixth year with a one-time performance on Sunday evening. Playwright Catie O'Keefe has adapted Mary Shelley's classic monster tale of Frankenstein into a radio adaptation, complete with creepy sound effects. Since NET is homeless this season, the event is happening at Know Theatre at 7:30 p.m. The "sweet" part of the evening is a dessert buffet at intermission with treats from many local bakeries, including Holtman's Donuts, the hot new sweet shop on Vine Street in OTR. Tickets are $35 (hey, it's a fundraiser) for adults, $20 for kids 13 and under. Seating is limited, so ordering tickets in advance is advised: 513-399-6638.

 
 
by Rick Pender 10.04.2013
Posted In: Theater at 11:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door image for 10-4 - seven spots on the sun - cincy playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Weekend Choices

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)

Arthur Miller's classic play The Crucible is being staged this weekend by CCM Drama at the University of Cincinnati. You probably know the story set in Salem, Mass., in 1692 when hysteria grips a town and leads to accusations of witchcraft. CCM Drama is a program to be reckoned with, turning out admirable professional actors. (In fact, Diana Maria Riva, a 1995 grad, is being honored today as an outstanding alum — she's done a ton of work on film and TV, including a role on the current FX series The Bridge and past work on The West Wing and NYPD Blue.) Miller's play, winner of the 1953 Tony Award, was created at a time of great turmoil and confusion in American history, and it's become a central work in the canon of American drama. For a taste of what this production will offer, check out this haunting, twitchy trailer, produced by the show's actors and Tim Neumann and Dan Marque, both students in CCM's e-media program. The final performance is Sunday at 2 p.m. (Tickets: 513-556-4183)

Community theaters typically offer fine choices at affordable prices. This weekend I'll point you to Cole Porter's classic 1934 musical Anything Goes, staged by Footlighters at its own Stained Glass Theatre in Newport through Oct. 12. (Tickets: 859-652-3849.) Another good choice will surely be Ken Jones' Darkside, a drama about astronauts trapped in space, that's being presented by Village Players of Ft. Thomas. Jones, now the head of Northern Kentucky University's theater program, wrote this script in graduate school, and this is reportedly the 140th time it's been staged. Performances through Saturday evening. (Tickets: 859-392-0500)
 
 
by Rick Pender 09.27.2013
Posted In: Theater at 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
stage door 9-13 - fly @ playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Memory Lane

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.

This weekend also offers the final performances of Oliver Twist at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. It's a tale of crime and child abuse from the Victorian era, and not terribly chipper — think A Christmas Carol without any holiday spirits. But as always with Cincy Shakes, there's some fine acting — and they've added some musical elements that keep things interest, too. Through Sunday. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

The most engaging theater onstage right now (and sticking around until Oct. 4) is Fly at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It's a creative portrait of four aspiring African Americans striving to be Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. The challenges they faced — prejudice, rigorous training and life-threatening aerial combat — not only made them pioneers who addressed civil rights issues decades before the rest of America, it made them heroes, too. Making this production all the more interesting is a modern tap dancer who "underscores" many of the scenes with movement and rhythm. I suspect you've never seen anything quite like this. Tickets: 513-241-3888.

If you're a movie fan I suspect you've seen Carrie (based on Stephen King's novel about a bullied girl who unleashed her telekinetic powers) and Ghost (about a guy who's murdered but comes back with the help of a crazy psychic to save the lover he's lost). They've both been turned into unmemorable musicals that are onstage locally for you to see. I've seen them both, and I'm sorry to say that — despite some fine voices (in Carrie at the Carnegie, presented by Showbiz Players) and a lot of video and special effects (a touring production of Ghost at the Aronoff Center) — I believe you might be better off to pull out your DVD of either film to watch. 

I haven't seen it, but I'm intrigued by Northern Kentucky University's production of Moby Dick Rehearsed. Herman Melville's great American novel is brought to life onstage when a company of Shakespearean actors stop rehearsing King Lear and consider a new play drawn from the tale of the Great White Whale. Theater elements become aspects of the Pequod as the crew is lashed along in Captain Ahab's obsessive hunt for the beast that took his leg. Through Oct. 6. Tickets: 859-572-5464.
 
 
by Rick Pender 09.20.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
todo_onstage_etc_otherdesertcities_ryankurtz

Stage Door: Choices, Choices

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.

A wholly different kind of show is Fly at the Cincinnati Playhouse, an imaginative recreation of the lives of four men recruited among hundreds of African Americans during World War II to fulfill piloting roles in bombing missions over Europe. (CityBeat review here.) The Tuskegee Airmen were the leading edge of the Civil Rights movement, men who had to overcome prejudice to prove their worth. The production is made visually and sonically engaging with videos that recreate flight and a soulful tap dancer who brings emotion — joy, sorrow, grief and anger — to various scenes. It's a very imaginative show. Through Oct. 5. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

On Wednesday evening, I caught the opening night of New Edgecliff Theatre's staging of William Inge's 1955 comedy-drama, Bus Stop. It's about a collection of lost souls who end up trapped in a Kansas diner during an overnight snowstorm. They're largely caricatures, but Inge was a master of naturalistic dialogue, and in the hands of some fine local performers directed by Jared Doren the show takes on a pleasant, believable life. Some good things happen, some sad stories are told, and some lessons learned. At the Aronoff Center's Fifth Third Bank Theater, through Sept. 28. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

And for something completely different, you might want to check out a production by community theater group Showbiz Players of Carrie: The Musical, Stephen King’s creepy novel about a bullied adolescent girl who unleashes telekinetic vengeance on her persecutors. The show originated on Broadway in 1988 and was long considered one of the worst ever, but it was reborn in 2012, and became a hit. Decide for yourself by seeing it at the Carnegie in Covington. Through Sept. 29. Tickets: 859-957-1940.
 
 
by Rick Pender 09.13.2013
Posted In: Theater at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 9-13 - fly @ playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Back in Business

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 SundayIf 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.

I attended the opening of the Cincinnati Playhouse's 2013-2014 season last evening. Fly is a heart-grabbing piece of history, the story of four Tuskegee Airmen, some of those bold African Americans who overcame prejudice in the 1940s by joining the Army Air Corps and serving America valiantly during World War II. The show is imaginatively presented, using a modern tap dancer to punctuate the storytelling. There's plenty of excitement, conveyed with video and sound — but mostly with some excellent acting. The full-house audience, which included four veterans of the training program, responded warmly. Through Oct. 5. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Cincinnati Shakespeare's Oliver Twist is a stage adaptation of Charles Dickens' dark 1838 novel about crime and child abuse in Victorian London (CityBeat review here). It's a grim drama, definitely not the chipper rendition you might recall if you've seen the musical Oliver! Cincy Shakes' acting company rises to the task, but I suspect you'll leave the theater glad you weren't a child — or an adult — in that era.  Through Sept. 29. 513-381-2273.

A few years back a play was commissioned about Cincinnati as A City of Immigrants. It's a fine piece of theater about the place we call home and how it's rooted in people who came here from elsewhere. It gets presented periodically, including tonight (Friday) at 6 p.m. at the Freedom Center, 30 East Freedom Way on the Banks. (Doors open at 5:30.) There's no charge for admission; it's definitely worth seeing. The event is to mark the kickoff of the local celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
 
 
by Rick Pender 09.10.2013
Posted In: Theater at 07:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
showboat majestic 1

Landmark Productions Won't Return to Showboat Next Year

Theatre company to focus on Covedale Center after 23 years on the river

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.

 
 
by Rick Pender 09.06.2013
Posted In: Theater at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
todo_onstage_etc_otherdesertcities_ryankurtz

Stage Door: A Substantial Start to September

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.

 
 
by Rick Pender 08.30.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
aclead_kingrecordintegration_stevehalper

Stage Door: The King Is Back

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.

But there is one good choice available: a show about the King. No, it's not an Elvis piece. It's about Cincinnati's own King Records, the recording label that made history here in the 1940s and 1950s, launching the careers of many early pop stars, including James Brown. Syd Nathan, a Cincinnati native, launched his independent label in 1943, and for two decades he and his employees did it all in house — recording, mastering, printing, pressing and shipping the music that King produced. (Nathan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.)

Documenting this revolutionary enterprise — which employed blacks and whites in one of our city's first integrated businesses — is CINCINNATI KING, a kind of documentary theater piece based on interviews with people who remember the business and the music. KJ Sanchez, one of the Cincinnati Playhouse's artistic associates, has pulled this material together for a 90-minute reading that's offered one time, on Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. (Read more in Harper Lee's feature story in this week's issue of CityBeat here.)

No charge for admission, but seating is limited in the Playhouse's Shelterhouse Theater, so reservations are required: 513-421-3888. It's sure to be a full house, so call in advance.
 
 
by Rick Pender 08.23.2013
Posted In: Theater at 09:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
chicago

Stage Door: Pre-Labor Day Offerings

A few good local productions are winding up this weekend. On Labor Day weekend, you won't find much onstage. But you have a couple of decent choices right now to tide you over.

At the top of my list would be Chicago at the Carnegie (CityBeat review here). It's a classic musical by Kander & Ebb, getting an excellent staging — great performances (by some solid professionals with Broadway experience as well as rising talent from universities around the Tristate), great choreography (Bob Fosse's iconic style has been updated in some very imaginative ways) and really hot orchestral accompaniment (the musicians would be worth listening to on their own!) It all adds up to some fabulous razzle-dazzle. Final performance is Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets ($19-$26): 859-957-1940.

Know Theatre wraps up its run of Lauren Gunderson's very contemporary comedy, Toil and Trouble, which has echoes of Shakespeare's Macbeth from start to finish (CityBeat review here). Inspired by messages from fortune cookies (in place of Macbeth's witches) A couple of slackers and their aggressive sportscaster girlfriend concoct a crazy scheme to grab power and wealth. Of course, it goes wildly wrong, with a lot of laughs along the way. Final performance is Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets ($20): 513-300-5669

And if you're a Woody Allen fan, you might want to board the Showboat Majestic at the Public Landing for Don't Drink the Water, a play he wrote in 1966 that had a two-year run on Broadway. Set inside an American embassy behind the Iron Curtain, the show features lots of Allen's hallmarks: farcical situations, loopy characters and a high dose of humor. Final performance is Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets ($19-$20): 513-241-6550

The current issue of CityBeat includes previews of the fall arts season. It's online here, including my suggestions about shows from local theaters here.
 
 

 

 

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by Rick Pender 02.05.2016 63 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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