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by Rick Pender 08.23.2013
Posted In: Theater at 09:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.
by Rick Pender 08.18.2013
Posted In: Theater at 06:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Knowing Season (and More) Is Announced

The pickings have been kind of slim at Know Theatre over the past year. The quality has been high (the staging of When the Rain Stops Falling was one of the best shows onstage locally during 2013, and Mike Bartlett’s Cock offered a showcase of strong acting), but the works have felt few and far between. So today’s announcement from Producing Artistic Director Eric Vosmeier of a full schedule that’s already under way and extends beyond the typical end of the 2013-2014 season is welcome news. Here’s what’s in store following Lauren Gunderson’s Macbeth-inspired comedy Toil and Trouble (presently onstage through Aug. 24):

Bull by Mike Bartlett (Nov. 1-30): Yes, it’s another piece by the playwright of Cock, making Know the first U.S. theater to produce both pieces by the British writer. Both use a stripped-down aesthetic — no props and no scenery make for a lot of onstage intensity regarding characters and their relationships. This one is the story of three mid-level executives who compete for two corporate positions. Brian Robertson, who also staged Cock, returns to direct this one, and George Alexander, one of the four actors in the earlier show, will perform in this one, too.

The Naughty List (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings, Dec. 1-30): OTRImprov, an improvisational comedy troupe that’s part of Know’s Jackson Street Market, will hold forth in the courtyard at Arnold’s Bar & Grill in downtown Cincinnati for the holidays. Combining long- and short-form improv, the performers will offer a very irreverent take on the holidays — with the help of audience suggestions and participation.

Pluto (Jan. 24-Feb. 22, 2014): Know’s former artistic director Jason Bruffy comes back to town to stage a poignant and evocative new script by Steve Yockey. The production is part of a rolling world premiere through the National New Play Network, and it will feature two excellent local professionals, Annie Fitzpatrick and Tori Wiggins. An ordinary day in a suburban home takes a strange turn following a local tragedy, what with all hell breaking loose. Know’s publicity says the show “explores tragedy, loss and the way love can blind us to the truth.”

TBD (April 4-May 10, 2014): Know is holding a slot for a production to be announced later. You can be sure it will be another script with the ink still drying.

Cincinnati Fringe Festival (May 27-June 7, 2014): The 11th annual Fringe will be back with 12 days of theater, music, dance, film, art — and a lot of stuff in between that kind of defies simple description. Applications for performers will be accepted starting Sept. 1, 2013 (through Dec. 6). Info: www.cincyfringe.com.

Moby Dick (Fall 2014): Playwright Julian Rad adapted Herman Melville’s great American novel for an Off-Off-Broadway production in 2003. Michael Burnham, recently retired from a long career as a professor of drama at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music, will co-direct the show with designer Andrew Hungerford. The tale of revenge and obsession with Captain Ahab pursuing the great white whale that maimed him has been stripped to its essence for what promises to be a highly theatrical endeavor that uses sea chanteys and creative staging.

In addition to these full-scale productions, Know has announced several Fringe “encores,” the return of shows that were hits during the festival’s 10th iteration back in June. Jon Kovach will repeat his powerful one-man show based on Ron Jones’ The Wave (Aug. 26-27); comedian/storyteller/singer Kevin Thornton will present Stairway to Kevin (Sept. 6 and 13); and Paul Strickland’s one-man trailer park fairytale comedy, Ain’t True and Uncle False (Oct. 11-12).

Tickets for the full-productions are $15 in advance, and $20 the week of the performance; Fringe “encore” tickets are $12. Know offers sets of six-show flex passes for $90 that do not expire. They can be exchanged for tickets for any of these productions. For more information: 513-300-5669 or www.knowtheatre.com.

by Rick Pender 08.09.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door blog - 39 steps @ cincy shakes - nick rose & mranda mcgee - photo rich sofranko

Stage Door: Comedies and Classics

Summer is flying by, or so it seems. This is the final weekend for you to see Cincinnati Shakespeare's production of The 39 Steps (CityBeat review here), a satiric adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1935 film of espionage and intrigue. Making it all the more amusing is the fact that the story is performed by four actors, two of whom play most of the citizens of London and beyond, using a lot of quick changes and quick thinking. It's a very entertaining evening of tomfoolery, featuring four of Cincy Shakes' most talented comedic actors. Your last chances to see the show are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. 513-381-2273.

Another entertaining production is Lauren Gunderson's very new play, Toil and Trouble (CityBeat review here), at Know Theatre. It's a comedy about contemporary slackers trying to make a quick buck that's got a very Shakespearean ring to it — Macbeth, to be precise. The humor presses a bit too hard at moments, but if you go to have a good time, you'll definitely find one. Instead of warriors and kings vying for the throne, this one focuses on 30-year-olds trying to strike it rich without working too hard — but the echoes of the Elizabethan tragedy can't be missed. There's a steady stream of sports talk, too, making comparisons between baseball and life. It's a strange brew, but plenty of laughs. Through Aug. 24. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Musicals are always popular, but for some reason they seem especially attractive fare in the summer months. So we can say thanks to the Carnegie in Covington for serving up a tasty one, Kander and Ebb's Chicago, an all-time Broadway favorite. This production — the sexy, salacious tale of murderous women in Chicago in the 1920s — features choreography by Broadway veteran and Cincinnati native David Baum in his local professional debut. Word has it that he's put together some of the most inventive choreography seen on local stages in a long time. The production opens on Saturday evening (7:30 p.m.) and repeats on Sunday (3 p.m.). It continues for two more weekends, through Aug. 25. 859-957-1940.

Also onstage this weekend (and running through Aug. 25) is Woody Allen's hit Broadway comedy, Don't Drink the Water. Amusingly, it's on board the Showboat Majestic (where you definitely don't want to drink the water) — but it's a humorous tale of tourists caught in an American embassy behind the Iron Curtain. Lightweight entertainment, but a lot of fun. 513-241-6550.
by Rick Pender 08.02.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
charlie cromer and maggie lou rader - photo jeanna vellacincy shakes - romeo & juliet (shakespeare in the park tour) -

Stage Door: Double Dose from CSC

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is offering a double dose of entertainment this weekend. First and foremost is The 39 Steps at CSC's mainstage (CityBeat review here). If that title sounds familiar, it's because it was a classic espionage novel a century ago, made into a classic film by Alfred Hitchcock 80 years ago, now turned into a very funny riff on its predecessors as a play using only four actors to fill all the roles. CSC has ramped up the humor by using four of its best comedic actors — Nick Rose, Miranda McGee, Justin McComb and Billy Chace — who play the principals, plus much of the population of London, especially McComb and Chace who will make you dizzy as they shift from one part to another, sometimes within seconds. It's actually a faithful retelling of the story, but it's amped up to a high level of hilarity by the onstage shenanigans. It adds up to great summertime humor. It's being performed through Aug. 11. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

One show isn't enough for CSC: This weekend they also launch their annual free Shakespeare in the Park tour with a performance of Romeo & Juliet at Boone Woods Park in Burlington at 7 p.m. on Saturday. (If you live north of the river, you'll get your chance next Wednesday evening at Eden Park's Seasongood Pavilion or at Burnet Woods in Clifton on Thursday.) As noted, these are free presentations, presented in classic Elizabethan style and use six actors from the company's resident ensemble. These are the same productions that CSC tours to schools and community centers, so they're great for the entire family. A week from now they'll start performing A Midsummer Night's Dream at some locations. For a full schedule, go here.

Shakespeare is behind the story of Toil and Trouble, the current offering at Know Theatre. It's a new play (this is just the second time its been produced; its world premiere was in California last fall) that offers a contemporary riff on Macbeth (CityBeat review here). Instead of kings and warriors, however, its characters are a pair of thirtysomething slackers and Beth, a wildly ambitious sportscaster who has more testosterone than either of the guys. There's a lot of wacky moments in this play, replaces Macbeth's witches with fortune cookies and the kingdom of Scotland with an almost unpopulated island off the coast of Chile. You can pick up on the laughs through Aug. 24. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

At the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, the annual production by Cincinnati Young People's Theatre is Grease, a tried-and-true musical about kids in the ’50s at Rydell High. Sixty years haven't dimmed the musicality of the show, and the youthful performers will bring this one to life if you're in the mood for a classic. It wraps up with a matinee on Sunday. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

While the Cincinnati Symphony's LumenoCity isn't exactly theater, the performances in Washington Park on Saturday and Sunday evening — with a dazzling light show on the facade of Music Hall — will definitely be theatrical. It's the debut for Louis Langree as the CSO's new music director, and the program will feature performers from Cincinnati Ballet and Cincinnati Opera. But the big deal is the colorful illumination that will let you see historic Music Hall in a light you've never imagined. It's free, starting at 8:30 p.m. both nights; big crowds are expected, so come early. Don't you wish the streetcar were already here so you could ride it to Over-the-Rhine?

by Rick Pender 07.26.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
nick rose in the 39 steps at cincy shakes (for stage door 7-26) - photo rich sofranko

Stage Door: Curtain Goes Up

Finally, a weekend with some theater choices for your entertainment, even though the weather is beautiful enough to keep us outdoors. But you want to see a curtain go up somewhere, right?

You'll have fun for sure if you go to see The 39 Steps at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. If that title sounds vaguely familiar, it's because Alfred Hitchcock made a classic film that's at the root of this very amusing piece of theater. Four actors play all the roles of what was a taut tale of murder and espionage. The story's still there, but the telling of it makes it a new experience. It's a chance to see four of CSC's best comic actors at work, too. Through Aug. 11. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

Speaking of vaguely familiar, this weekend is your first chance to check out a virtually brand-new show at Know Theatre, Toil and Trouble. It's a contemporary take on Shakespeare's Macbeth, but the characters are two slackers and an over-the-top ambitious girlfriend. It opens tonight (running through Aug. 24); so I haven't seen it yet, but I've read the script, and this one shows promise. It's only had one production,it's world premiere at Impact Theatre in Berkeley, Calif., last November.

If you prefer something definitely familiar, head to the Covedale for the 32nd annual summer musical by Cincinnati Young People's Theatre, which opens tonight. It's Grease, a show about rowdy teens in the 1950s. I suspect that local teens from all over Cincinnati will have a blast with this one. It has a short run, just through Aug. 4. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

One last suggestion: The Showboat Majestic is presenting Big River, a musical based on Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. Since it's about the adventures of Huck and Jim, a runaway slave, escaping on the mighty Mississippi (a river that wouldn't be much without the contributions of the Ohio), the 'boat seems like the perfect setting. Tunes by Pop composer Roger Miller make for a rollicking evening of music. It's one of my favorite shows; I've never been disappointed by a production of it. It wraps up this weekend on Sunday. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
by Rick Pender 07.17.2013
Posted In: Theater at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: All-Star Break

So we've moved into the second half of 2013, as evidenced by last night's American League win in the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. That means you might be seeking some theatrical entertainment. I thought there would be several opportunities, but Untethered Theater Company just let me know that the Clifton Performance Theater (on Ludlow Avenue) was flooded during the Independence Day monsoon, so they've had to postpone until the fall their production of Love/Stories (or, But You Will Get Used to It) that was scheduled to open last week. But never fear: The Showboat rides on the Ohio above the flood and is offering a classic musical, Big River.

There couldn't be a more perfect show for summertime on the river — this tuneful version of the story of Huck Finn and his friend Jim, a runaway slave, is a timeless classic. Roger Miller's award-winning score is one that many people (myself included) love, and there's plenty of comedy to keep everyone entertained. Mark Twain's sense of humor is front and center as we see Huck and Tom Sawyer get into and out of scrapes, Huck's drunken dad making life difficult, and a pair of ne'er do wells who are out to fleece people with an entertainment. Fear not, they'll just be entertaining audiences on board the majestic, not picking pockets. Big River runs through Sunday, July 28. Tickets: 513-421-6550. 

by Rick Pender 07.15.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
sound of music

Carnegie to Present 'Sound of Music' with KSO

Production to complete the Carnegie's 2013-2014 theater series lineup

Can't say whether the hills will be alive, but The Carnegie in Covington certainly will be in January when it presents a "lightly staged" production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music in partnership with the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra. Presented Jan. 17-26, 2014, under the direction of Brian Robertson and KSO conductor J. R. Cassidy, the production continues a popular series that has appealed to audiences at the Carnegie's Otto M. Budig Theatre.

The story of a free-spirited nanny who brings joy and love back to the family of the Von Trapp family will be presented with an emphasis on words and music in this "lightly staged" production. That means a minimum of costumes, scenic design and props. The small orchestra will be onstage, and the performers fully enact scenes and sing the score from memory as they would in a full production.

This production completes the Carnegie's 2013-2014 theater series lineup, taking advantage of the renovated 465-seat Budig Theatre. Single tickets for The Sound of Music are priced at $28 for adults, $19 for students. The full series — which also includes the musical Chicago (Aug. 10-25); the comedy Boeing Boeing (Nov. 8-24), in a collaboration with CCM Drama; and the comedy Harvey (April 11-27, 2014) — can be purchased as a subscription for $63 to $69. For details, call 859-957-1940 or go to thecarnegie.com.
by Kenneth McNulty 07.01.2013
Posted In: Theater, COMMUNITY at 02:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Free Shakespeare in the Park Tour Returns

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company presents seventh annual summer series

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company continues its summer tradition of Shakespeare in the Park as the free series returns for the seventh year this August. Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be showcased in parks around the Greater Cincinnati area and Northern Kentucky Aug. 3-30.

CSC Ensemble Member Nicholas Rose is directing the classic lovers tale, Romeo and Juliet. While the fantastic story of betrayal and magic in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is being directed by CSC Education Associate Miranda McGee. Six actors from the CSC Resident Ensemble will be acting in these performances. After the free park tour, they will continue to tour community centers, schools, venues and other performance centers into May of 2014.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is continuing its partnership with Cincinnati Parks and Recreation, offering free shows at Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park, Burnet Woods, Mt. Echo Park and the new Smale Riverfront Park. Washington Park will see the group on their tour, alongside parks in Madeira, Colerain and Monroe in Ohio, and Burlington, Edgewood and Maysville in Kentucky. The acting troupe will have two performances at the Vinoklet Winery as well. Certain park locations will be accepting canned food and non-perishable items — CSC has a partnership with the Freestore Foodbank.

If a free, al fresco viewing of Shakespeare’s best sounds fun, then make sure to get to each performance early to ensure good seating. All shows are general admission with first-come, first-serve seating. For more information go to cincyshakes.com.

For show times and locations, refer to the list below:

Saturday, Aug. 3, Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. in Boone Woods Park, Burlington

Wednesday, Aug. 7, Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. in Eden Park – Seasongood Pavilion, Mount Adams

Thursday, Aug. 8 Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. in Burnet Woods, Clifton

Friday, Aug. 9 Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. in the Monroe Community Park, Monroe, Ohio

Saturday, Aug. 10 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 6:30 p.m. in the Harry Whiting Brown Lawn, Glendale

Sunday, Aug. 11 Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. in the McDonald Commons Park, Madeira

Wednesday, Aug. 14 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Browning Shelter, Maysville, Ky.

Thursday, Aug. 15 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Mt. Echo Park, Price Hill

Friday, Aug. 16 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. at the Vinoklet Winery, Colerain

Saturday, Aug. 17 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. at the Miami Whitewater Forest – Harbor Point, Harrison

Sunday, Aug. 18 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Washington Park, Over-the-Rhine

Wednesday, Aug. 21 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Burnet Woods, Clifton

Thursday, Aug. 22 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Colerain Park

Friday, Aug. 23 Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. at the Vinoklet Winery, Colerain

Saturday, Aug. 24 A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Keehner Park, West Chester

Sunday, Aug. 25 Romeo and Juliet at 6 p.m. in Presidents Park, Edgewood, Ky.

Tuesday, Aug. 27 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Uptown Park, Oxford

Wednesday, Aug. 28 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center Lawn

Thursday, Aug. 29 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. at the Smale Riverfront Park, Downtown

Friday, Aug. 30 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. at the Eden Park – Seasongood Pavilion, Mount Adams

by Rick Pender 06.28.2013
Posted In: Theater at 07:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
baskervilles - stage door image for 6-28

Stage Door: Wrapping Up Summer

Well, the big show that's on the way will be fireworks next week, of course. That means that most theaters are wrapping up early summer productions.

But you still have a chance to see The Hound of the Baskervilles at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. It's a daffy take on a Sherlock Holmes mystery. In truth, it pretty well follows Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle's brilliant deducer as he unthreads a mystery surrounding a diabolical dog that seems to be pursuing a cursed family on the remote moors of Devon. But the story is told using just three actors — all male performers from Cincinnati Shakespeare's corps of veterans — who play male and female, making quick (and sometimes mistaken) costume changes. Nick Rose, Jeremy Dubin and Brent Vimtrup milk every last drop of humor from this amusing script, with the able assistance of director Michael Evan Haney. Haney, who has served as the Cincinnati Playhouse's associate artistic director for more than a decade brings out the best in comic timing, so you're sure to have a rollicking good time. Final performances at Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

You can also catch The Odd Couple on board the Showboat Majestic through Sunday. Neil Simon's comedy about two divorced guys who just can't get along is an American classic, to be sure — so maybe that makes this a perfect show for the weekend before the July 4th holiday. Felix and Oscar would like nothing better than declaring their "independence," but instead, they slowly drive one another mad. Two good actors, Joshua Steele and Mike Hall, are no doubt making this an amusing piece of theater. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
by Rick Pender 06.23.2013
Posted In: Theater at 11:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
lauren gunderman - playwright of toil & trouble

Know Announces Summer Comedy Opening July 26

Vosmeier to produce second production of Lauren Gunderson’s 'Toil and Trouble'

Eric Vosmeier says he’s stoked by a show he’s just added to Know Theatre’s production schedule for the summer. He’s set to direct a modern take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth called Toil and Trouble. Lauren Gunderson’s play had its world premiere at Impact Theatre in Berkeley, Calif., last November; Know is giving the show its second production, opening July 26 and running through August 24.

Landing it, Vosmeier says, is “another victory for our new schedule model by securing the rights for the first production of this show following its world premiere. We’ve been looking for a strong comedy for quite some time, and I think this fits the bill perfectly. This contemporary retelling of Macbeth is spot on, but with enough twists and turns to keep the audience guessing. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Toil and Trouble is the story of two ambitious guys and a badass lady who decide to fight the recession with dictatorial dreams. Instead of going to grad school like everyone else they know, Adam, Matt and Beth are Bay Area thirtysomethings with too much education and not enough employment. They’re overqualified to work at Borders, and Adam is brimming with ideas — but most of them involve robots.

Thanks to three fortune cookies with some creepy fortunes (remember, Toil and Trouble this is based on Macbeth, which commences with three witches predicting Macbeth’s rise to power), the trio settles for taking over a small island nation off the coast of Chile. The show throws baseball, investors, Wikipedia, hypothetical sex and real violence into one bubbling cauldron. The overlay of Macbeth brings hipster malaise and ridiculous modernity into the mix, demonstrating that hubris, greed, power and passion never go out of style.

Vosmeier has cast Breona Conrad as Beth, Joshua Murphy as Matt and Chris Wesselman as Adam. Conrad and Murphy have been touring for several seasons in Know’s production of the Fringe hit Calculus: The Musical. Vosmeier says, “I’m thrilled to have one more chance to work with Josh and Breona before they leave Cincinnati.”

You can purchase tickets in advance for $15; they’ll be $20 the week of performance, beginning Mondays at noon. (Your best deal is to purchase one of Know’s flex-passes, six tickets for $90. You can use some for Toil and Trouble, and save the rest for future shows.) Info: 513-300-5669.




Latest Blogs
by Rick Pender 11.20.2015 11 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.

by Rick Pender 11.13.2015 18 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 12:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door

Getting Down and Dirty After Hours

I’m in New York City this week to check out some Broadway shows, so I’m missing the opening night of the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Low Down Dirty Blues. It’s the holiday “alternative” to A Christmas Carol, and alternative it is. It’s set in a nameless Blues club on Chicago’s South Side that’s closing for the night. But that’s just when the party heats up as a group of musicians assembles for an after-hours jam session to swap stories and perform favorite tunes, especially numbers from the bawdier side of the Blues, tunes by the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Mama Thornton and more. “It is a spicier kind of Blues, specifically one that has two sides to it," says Dan Wheetman, the production’s co-creator and music director. "On one hand, it is a more intimate look, it is a smaller group and a smaller palate… It’s a story about the people, these people in this club and their stories, which includes the music but it is more of a personal talk about what brought them to where they are.” I’m eager to see it. Onstage through Dec. 20. Tickets: 513-421-3555

It’s that time of year when families begin thinking about going to the theater together. Getting an early start are musical productions for the entire family. Once choice is Seussical, based on the works of Dr. Seuss, at Northern Kentucky University. It opened on Thursday and continues through Nov. 22. Tickets: 859-572-5464 … The other is a production of the musical Mary Poppins by Cincinnati Music Theatre at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater. This is perhaps the city’s most ambitious community theater company, typically undertaking big musicals and doing a good job with them. It opens tonight and continues through Nov. 21. Tickets: 513-621-2787 … If you miss the latter, you’ll have a chance to see a different production: The Covedale Center will be presenting it Nov. 27-Dec. 27.

Continuing and finishing: A keep-’em-guessing murder mystery with just two characters, Sleuth, continues its run at the Carnegie through Nov. 22. (Tickets: 859-957-1940)… This is the final weekend for Mad River Rising at the Cincinnati Playhouse (final performance is Saturday; tickets: 513-421-3888); Andy’s House of [BLANK], an original musical at Know Theater (also winding up on Saturday; tickets: 513-300-5669); and an old-fashioned farce, Fox on the Fairway, at the Covedale (Sunday’s matinee is your last chance; tickets: 513-241-6550). 

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 11.06.2015 25 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Playing House

“Florala.” That’s where you are when you head down the ramp to see Know Theatre’s production of Andy’s House of [Blank]. It’s set on the state line between Florida and Alabama, but it’s recreated in two-dimensional cardboard props (telephones and ice cream cones) and decorations (comically taxidermied animals, including the backside of a dog) imaginatively designed and executed by Sarah Beth Hall. The tale is filtered through the often-divergent memories of two guys who were 16 in 1998, holding down their first jobs in roadside oddity shop and museum of “unmailed love letters.” The “guys” are Paul Strickland and Trey Tatum (truly from Florida and Alabama). They serve as the narrators — or perhaps the “recollectors” — of the oddball musical tale of Andy (Christopher Michael Richardson), the proprietor, and Sadie (Erika Kate MacDonald), the girl he had a crush on as a kid. The show was a well-received entry in Know’s “Serials” earlier this year, a story told in five 15-minute episodes. Strickland and Tatum have stitched those pieces together, and director Bridget Leak has given the piece continuity and flow. Their ebullient enthusiasm is obvious from start to finish — Tatum pounds away on an electric keyboard, Strickland (who composed the 20 or so songs) plays guitar and sings almost operatically, and Richardson and MacDonald (both with gorgeous voices) affectingly play two people caught in a looping time warp. In fact, all four characters are living out the theme repeatedly spoken and sung: “Every day is just a variation on a theme.” The music is great, and there are lots of laughs along the way, but the story is a serious, poignant rumination about love, longing and how to move forward by looking back. At two-plus hours (including an intermission) it feels a tad long, but every moment is a treat to watch. Onstage through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669

Opening this week: Anthony Schaffer’s Sleuth, a humorous but taut murder mystery is at The Carnegie in Covington. It’s a two-man show about a famous mystery writer who’s out to murder a man having an affair with his wife. There are a lot of twists and turns in this tale, so it’s fun to watch if you pay close attention. Through Nov. 14. Tickets: 859-957-1840 … Playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa fascinated Cincinnati Playhouse audiences back in 2013 with his “sequel” to The Crucible, Abigail/1702. Falcon Theatre is offering two related one-acts by him, The Mystery Plays, inspired by the tradition of medieval theater that dealt with the imponderables of death, the afterlife, religion, faith and forgiveness — but from a thoroughly American perspective. In the first piece, a horror film director survives a train wreck only to be haunted by someone who didn’t make it; in the second, a woman travels to a rural Oregon town to make peace with the man who murdered her parents and her sister: He’s her older brother. Through Nov. 21 at the Monmouth Theatre in Newport. Tickets: 513-479-6783

Continuing: Cincinnati Shakespeare’s excellent production of Arthur Miller’s classic drama Death of a Salesman has its final performance on Saturday evening. It’s worth seeing, but tickets might be scarce. Tickets: 513-381-2273 … Mad River Rising at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a compelling study of place and aging, an old man trying to forestall the sale of his family farm. It continues through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-421-3888 … Covedale Center’s staging of the comedy Fox on the Fairway, a tribute to cinematic farces from the 1930s and 1940s, is onstage until Nov. 15. Tickets: 513-241-6550

Tune in to WVXU (FM 91.7) on Saturday evening at 8 p.m. to catch LA Theater Works’ production of Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man. This show, about a young Jewish Confederate soldier marking Passover 1865 with his family’s newly freed slaves in a crumbling mansion in Richmond, Va., at the end of the Civil War, is a powerful work. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati staged this show very effectively in 2012.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 10.16.2015 46 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 10-16 - bruce cromer as willie loman in death of a salesman @ cincy shakes - photo mikki schaffner

Stage Door: A Dying Salesman, Barbra Streisand and a Prince in Search of Meaning

There are almost too many good shows for you to enjoy this weekend, but depending on what you like, you’ll probably find it somewhere.

Cincy Shakes production of Death of a Salesman doesn’t open until tonight, but all sings point to a strong production, headlined by one of our region’s best actors, Bruce Cromer, as beaten-down Willie Loman, who I interviewed for my CityBeat column this week. He’s matched with another fine local stage performer Annie Fitzpatrick as Willie’s faithful but worried wife; two of the Shakespeare team’s excellent company of actors, Jared Joplin and Justin McCombs, play Willie’s sons who can’t quite bear up to the weight of his expectations. Arthur Miller’s play is one of the greatest, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award. So if it’s serious drama, get tickets for this one, onstage through Nov. 7: 513-381-2273.

Want something more frivolous and entertaining, but still a great performance? Show up at Ensemble Theatre for Buyer and Cellar, a one-man show about a guy pretending to be a shopkeeper in a vast basement treasure trove of acquisitions on Barbra Streisand’s Malibu estate. It’s 90 minutes of non-stop storytelling, rooted in a real place — but with a fantasized chain of events. Actor Nick Cearley is a comic gem, performing in a smartly written script that requires him to conjure up not just Alex, the actor hired to wait on Barbra, “the customer” (one and only), but the singer herself and a handful of others. Great fun to watch. Here’s my review. Through Nov. 1. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

If you love a good Broadway musical, you need to show up at the Aronoff and score a seat for the touring production of Pippin. (CityBeat review here.) It’s a show from 40 years ago (by Stephen Schwartz, the creator of Wicked more recently), but this version of an award-winning Broadway revival from two years ago is full of Cirque du Soleil-styled acrobatics, as well as some great songs and performers. It’s a sort of fairytale embroidered from a real historical character from the 9th century, the son of the monarch who launched the Holy Roman Empire. It’s about the young Pippin’s arduous search for a meaningful life. The “Leading Player,” a kind of emcee/storyteller, is Gabrielle McClinton, who handled the role on Broadway for part of its two-year run there, and Charlemagne, Pippin’s father, is played by veteran actor John Rubinstein — who originated the title role back in 1972. (He’s 68 now, but still an energetic, animated performer.) Tickets: 513-621-2787.

Shows previous opened that are also worth seeing include the very serious drama Extremities at the Incline Theater in E. Price Hill (tickets: 513-241-6550), onstage through Sunday; and Sex with Strangers, a very modern romance about writers who envy one another’s careers and lust after one another’s bodies, has another week and a half at the Cincinnati Playhouse (tickets: 513-421-3888).

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 10.09.2015 53 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door

Sex and violence, plus an irreverent take on history

I gave a Critic’s Pick to the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Sex with Strangers, a new play by Laura Eason (who’s written scripts for House of Cards on Netflix). Ethan, an arrogant 28-year-old blogger has turned his writing about sexual conquests into a best-selling book, while Olivia is a serious, introspective writer who, at 39, is hiding behind a teaching career, discouraged by negative reviews and weak sales of her first novel more than a decade earlier. He’s addicted to his cell phone, while she prefers to have her nose in a book. But they have chemistry that’s both physical and driven by aspiration and envy of one another’s careers. The Playhouse production features two actors who are totally believable in their roles, and extremely watchable. It’s an entertaining tale that doesn’t tie everything up in a neat ending. Through Oct. 25. Tickets: 513-421-3888

William Mastrisomone’s Extremities (running through Oct. 18) is not an easy play to watch. A woman is attacked by a stalker, turns the tables on him and becomes as much a bloodthirsty animal as the man who thought he could have his way with her. She has two roommates who try to defuse her violent intentions, but she’s almost as harsh with them as with the bad guy. It’s a harsh story that’s not easy to watch, and it’s a departure for Cincinnati Landmark Productions, which is known for more mainstream fare, musicals and classic comedies. But the company’s artistic leaders are hoping that the new Incline Theatre can be a venue for more serious work, and this show, written in 1982, certainly signals that. Solid individual acting jobs by the four-member cast will keep you on edge. There are a few rough edges, but I give CLP props for getting serious. Tickets: 513-241-6550

Know Theatre is playing host to a production from the drama program at CCM, directed by faculty member Brant Russell. Charise Castro Smith’s The Hunchback of Seville is an irreverent and raucous comedy that turns historical atrocities — it’s set in Spain in 1504 — on their heads with storytelling that might remind you of Quentin Tarantino’s movies. Russell says the playwright “weaves history and anachronism. The subtle variances of tone, the frequently less subtle humor and the savoring of the language all speak to me. In terms of content, this play is very much about anyone who’s ever been marginalized. This is the story of a woman who is denied so many privileges that others enjoy because she was born in a body different from those around her. Ultimately it’s a story about privilege, ethics, power, and the way we tell the story of our shared history.” It opens tonight and continues through Oct. 24. Tickets: 513-300-5669 

Advance notices: I’m really looking forward to seeing Pippin, the next touring Broadway musical at the Aronoff, kicking off on Tuesday. It’s by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell and Wicked are two of his best-known works), and this is a production that won a 2013 Tony Award as the season’s best musical revival. It’s a cool concept, integrating Cirque du Soleil-like performers into the story of a young man’s quest for meaning in the Middle Ages. It’s here for just one week (through Sunday, Oct. 18), so if you hope to see it, get your tickets now. … Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati will open its production of Buyer and Cellar on Wednesday (it continues through Nov. 1). It’s a very funny one-man show about an out-of-work actor hired to manage Barbra Streisand’s collections of stuff, set up like a shopping mall. There’s enough reality to make it hilarious, and enough truth to make it meaningful. I suspect it will be a hot ticket: 513-421-3555 

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 10.02.2015 60 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door -

Stage Door

Sex and its various outcomes

Sex is pretty much a constant presence in life as we know it, and it’s often a driving force in plays, taking on many shapes and outcomes. That’s particularly the case with two shows that just opened locally, Laura Eason’s new play, Sex with Strangers, at the Cincinnati Playhouse on its Shelterhouse stage through Oct. 25, and William Mastrisimone’s 1982 script, Extremities, at Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Incline Theatre, through Oct. 18.

Eason’s script is about two writers who seem as opposite as can be — he’s an arrogant 28-year-old blogger (Nicholas Carrière as the charming and ebullient Ethan) whose writing about sexual conquests has been turned into a best-selling book, while she’s a serious, introspective novelist, 39, (Nancy Lemenager as introverted and self-conscious Olivia) who’s given up because of bad reviews and weak sales of her first book more than a decade earlier. But they end up together in a Michigan B&B due to a snowstorm (and some serious interest on his part in meeting her) and they discover a powerful mutual attraction that’s also driven by aspiration and envy of one another’s careers. Eason writes great contemporary dialogue, and director KJ Sanchez keeps things hurtling along down a road of desire and tentative trust. It seems evident that things could go off the tracks, but when they do there’s some more interesting sparks — and a lot of conversation about the state of writing and literature today. While the show’s title is titillating and they are strangers who steam things up — repeatedly — it’s really the title of his blog, and a past that he might or might not want to move beyond. There’s both humor and real emotion to be appreciated in this finely crafted production. Tickets: 513-421-3888

Mastrisimone’s off-Broadway script from three decades ago (Extremities also became a 1986 movie starring Farrah Fawcett) comes at issues of sex and attraction from a far more serious and brutal angle. It’s a significant a departure for Cincinnati Landmark, best known as a producer of safer, more mainstream fare, musicals and classical comedies. Raul (Will Reed) has been stalking three young women who share a house. He bursts in on Marjorie (Eileen Earnest), who we meet lounging around in a state of undress; he overpowers her, knowing her roommates won’t be back for hours. But she turns the tables on him, and when Terry (Katey Blood) and Patricia (Rachel Mock) return, they find Marjorie menacing and torturing her foul-mouthed attacker, hogtied and imprisoned in a large fireplace. They are shocked by her violent turn, and their perspectives — Terry is shocked and fearful, while Patricia is pragmatic and overly analytical — provide various takes on the situation and its potential resolution. Their four-cornered battle unfolds in harsh, often unhinged arguments about motives, likely outcomes and fears. Some of these feel a tad dated in 2015, but that does not diminish the story’s power. Earnest’s searing performance as Marjorie and Reed’s manipulative portrait of an intelligent, twisted man she insists on calling “The Animal” fuel the pounding pulse of this production of Extremities, staged by Tim Perrino. You’re never sure how the battle will end, and that makes for good theater. Tickets: 513-241-6550

CCM Drama head Richard Hess calls David Edgar’s Pentecost the British equivalent of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Both are big-cast plays, stuffed full of language and contending philosophies. The discovery of a 13th-century mural in an Eastern European church threatens to upset the world of art history, but it also lights the match on conflicts that go well beyond — to geopolitics, religion, history and more. It’s a heady script, with 26 roles speaking multiple languages, utterances that audiences have to intuit, just as the characters need to try to grasp one another’s motives. Read more about Pentecost in my recent Curtain Call column. Like most CCM productions, this one (at UC’s Patricia Corbett Theater) has a short weekend run; the final performance is a matinee on Sunday. Pentecost is an important play, an essential experience for serious theatergoers. Tickets: 513-556-4183

One more interesting piece of theater this weekend, inspired by Titus Kaphar’s Vesper Project at the Contemporary Arts Center, a multi-part installation in which paintings are woven into the walls of a 19th-century American house in New England, the home of a mixed-race family. His exhibit there involves a true/false backstory and familiar/unfamiliar environments. The massive exhibit invites conversation, and that’s what writer (and occasional CityBeat contributor) Stacy Sims has created after several discussions with the artist. She invited five local actors to work with her to respond to the piece, and the result, RETRACED: A theatrical conversation with the Vesper Project, will be performed three times this weekend at the CAC on Sixth Street in downtown Cincinnati, at noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Sims says, “While I have a strong idea of how the actors will move in and out of the space and intersect with each other, each of their individual stories will be deeply informed by their own personal narratives of race, power, privilege and home.” Performances are free with gallery admission.

This weekend is your last chance to see the Cincinnati Playhouse’s beautiful production of The Secret Garden, NKU’s rendition of the comedy Moon Over Buffalo and New Edgecliff Theatre’s well-acted staging of Frankie and Johnnie in the Clair de Lune.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.25.2015 67 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 9-25 - frankie & johnny @ net - sara mackie & dylan shelton - photo provided by new edgecliff theatre

Stage Door

Frankie & Johnny and a taste of Hannibal

New Edgecliff Theatre’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is under way a week later than initially announced following some issues with its not-quite-ready new home in Northside. So it’s been moved to the Essex Studio (2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills), in a performance space routinely used by Cincinnati Actors Studio & Academy, a training group for teens. It was bit of hustle and strain to move a half-built set from Northside to Walnut Hills, but it fits nicely into CASA’s black box. Rather than rattling around in a big old church sanctuary (Northside’s work-in-progress Urban Artifact), NET’s staging of Terrence McNally’s 1987 romantic dramedy works beautifully in this more intimate space. But I suspect no matter where it was staged, the two-character show would be well received thanks to actors Sara Mackie and Dylan Shelton, smartly put through their paces by director Jared Doren. As lonely co-workers in a New York greasy spoon diner, they’ve finally connected — at least for a night. They’re both kind of needy although in very different ways. Frankie, a sweet waitress, has been bruised by bad relationships and seems happy with her own insular existence; Johnny, the motor-mouthed short-order cook who can quote Shakespeare, is driven by angst and passion — filled with desperation that he doesn’t have any more chances for romances. This naturally frightens Frankie, and their navigation through this minefield, full of passion and snark, makes audiences laugh and love them both. It’s definitely worth seeing. Because of the move, it’s a short run, just through Oct. 3. Tickets: 888-528-7311

The folks who run Falcon Theater, performing in Newport at the Monmouth Theatre (636 Monmouth St.) have staked a claim on comic musical satires — they’ve produced Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical, Poseidon: The Upside-Down Musical, Evil Dead: The Musical and several more. So they worked really hard to get the rights to Silence: The Musical, based on The Silence of the Lambs, the creepy 1991 movie about “Hannibal the Cannibal” starring Anthony Hopkins as a manipulative serial killer and Jodie Foster as the young FBI cadet who needs him to solve another serial murder. The musical version was a big hit at the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival and over the past decade it's become a cult favorite. It opens tonight and continues on weekends through Oct. 10. Tickets: 513-479-6783

The first production of the season at Northern Kentucky University, Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo, is a comedy about a pair of fading actors from the 1950s on tour in Buffalo. Their marriage is coming apart, but a famous movie director is coming to see their matinee and just might cast them in an upcoming feature. But everything goes wrong when they start confusing the two shows they’re performing — Noël Coward’s Private Lives and Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. Tickets: 859-572-5464

Speaking of Cyrano, there’s a fine production of it (not to be confused with anything else …) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, with an excellent performance by company veteran Jeremy Dubin in the title role. It’s onstage through Oct. 3. 513-381-2273. • Also closing on Oct. 3 is the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s beautiful production of The Secret Garden, a musical based on a cherished novel from a century ago. This is one of the Playhouse’s “family-friendly” productions — like A Christmas Carol — suitable for multiple generations. It looks great, and the talent onstage — much of it from Broadway — is top-notch. Tickets: 513-421-3888

If you haven’t seen Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, you really should try to get there this weekend for one of its final showings. This new play hat will make you uncomfortable because it’s about a tough conflict with no obvious right or wrong — a custody fight over a baby between her irresponsible parents and her religiously conservative grandmother, refereed by an over-burdened social worker. The cast (including three former ETC apprentices who do a great job) is led by Annie Fitzpatrick as the weary social worker. She’s especially good in this role, a woman trying to do the right thing who’s thwarted at every turn. Final performance is 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: 513-421-3555

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.18.2015 74 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
annie fitzpatrick & brent vimtrup in luna gale @ etc - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door

Actors are shining in several local shows

Actors are a big reason we go to see specific performances, and there are a couple of excellent choices onstage right now as several theaters are kicking off their 2015-2016 seasons. Of particular note is Annie Fitzpatrick, a familiar performer to audiences frequenting productions at Ensemble Theatre. She’s playing Caroline, an over-burdened social worker in Luna Gale. Her character is caught in a custody tug of war involving a baby, the title character. Her immature parents are on one side, caught up in drugs and angry behavior; on the other side is Luna Gale’s well-intentioned grandmother who’s religiously conservative. Fitzpatrick portrays a beleaguered woman trying to do what’s right, but constantly thwarted by the system in which she works. You feel this desperation deep down inside Caroline’s character, in her physical presence, in her exasperated stares and sighs. Fitzpatrick is a marvel to watch. She’s a major factor in my giving this production a Critic’s Pick. (Note for the future: She’ll be onstage next at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Oct. 16-Nov. 7, playing Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman.) Luna Gale continues through Sept. 27. Tickets: 512-421-3555

Another veteran actor is shining at Cincinnati Shakespeare this month. Jeremy Dubin, a member of CSC’s acting company for 16 seasons, is playing the swashbuckling poet Cyrano de Bergerac. The show is sometimes called a heroic comedy, and Dubin handles both parts of that phrase with aplomb. He makes Cyrano larger than life in his generosity and faithfulness, but he plays him with the requisite sense of humor — especially in scenes involving Cyrano’s oversized nose, a convincing prosthetic created for Dubin’s performance. He has excelled in roles both comic and serious; Cyrano draws on both. Read more about this play and Cincy Shakes’ production in my recent column. Tickets: 513-621

One more excellent acting performance worth catching: Caitlin Cohn as 10-year-old Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden at the Cincinnati Playhouse. She’s actually a college student (New York University), but the petite actress is wholly convincing as the ornery, bright and eventually loving orphan who finds the warmth of nature and shares it with her grieving uncle. Cohn is doing an audacious job with a challenging role. Tickets: 513-421-3888

If you were planning to see New Edgecliff Theatre’s production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune this weekend, you need to put it in neutral. Due to some technical delays with NET’s new home at Urban Artifact (1622 Blue Rock Road, Northside) the company is moving the production to a different venue and delaying performances for a week. It’s not scheduled to be presented at Essex Studios (2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills) opening Sept. 24 and continuing through Oct. 3. NET is contacting people who already had reservations. If you don’t have tickets yet, call now: 888-421-7311

A few quick notes: Showbiz Players, a dependable community theater company that likes satirical shows, is presenting The Rocky Horror Show at the Carnegie in Covington, through Sept. 26. Tickets: 859-957-1940 … Performance Gallery, an avant-garde troupe of performers that’s been a steady contributor to the Cincinnati Fringe, is reprising its production from the 2015 Fringe, Shirtzencockle, at Know Theatre on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. It’s a surreal, magical, ridiculous blind of folk and fairy tales. Tickets: 513-300-5669 … Kate Tombaugh, who studied opera at UC’s CCM (and trained in numerous other places) is presenting her one-woman show, It Just Takes One. It portrays the roller-coaster story of a young woman in her 20s seeking a career in opera while struggling to find a social life. A benefit for the Charitable Care Fund at Children’s Hospital, it’s being presented at St. Thomas Episcopal Church (100 Miami Ave., Terrace Park) on Friday evening at 8 p.m. and in 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.11.2015 81 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 9-11 - luna gale @ etc - milly israel, patrick e. phillips & annie fitzpatrick - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door

And so the season begins...

The fall theater season is fully under way. I’ve seen several productions that I can recommend, starting with Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s staging of Luna Gale. The story focuses on a weary social worker caught on the horns of a horrible dilemma — a custody battle between teen parents with drug issues and a zealously religious grandmother — with veteran actress Annie Fitzpatrick turning in another outstanding acting performance. The production is also an impressive reminder of the fine work ETC has been doing for 30 years since three actors in Luna Gale were ETC apprentices a year ago. The award-winning Luna Gale is being produced at many theaters across America this season, but I can’t imagine that any of those productions will be better than the one we have right here in Cincinnati. I gave it a Critic’s Pick. Through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-421-3555

Last night I was at the Playhouse for The Secret Garden opening its 56th season. While this is a story about a 10-year-old girl, it’s quite serious and thoughtful. Orphaned and seemingly headed for unhappiness, she finds redemption in nature and friendship, bringing others along on her path to a better place through abandoned garden that comes back to life. In my review, I suggest that this production might be a bit too complex and impressionistic for kids, but the show is physically beautiful and gorgeous musically. Caitlin Cohn’s performance as Mary Lennox is impressive; she’s a student at New York University, but quite convincing as a young girl. The cast features two CCM musical theater grads, Adam Monley and Carlyn Connolly, and a raft of polished New York veterans. Through Oct. 3. Tickets: 513-241-3888

If you’re a fan of the music of the ’60s and ’70s, you’re likely to love the touring production of Motown: The Musical currently rattling the rafters at the Aronoff Center (through Sept. 20). The hardworking cast does a great job of recreating the sounds of Motown — The Four Tops, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye, and many more. The play in which this is presented, however, is not so stimulating — Motown founder Barry Gordy’s story was written by (you guessed it) Barry Gordy, and it all feels pretty self-serving. But the music is great, and it comes at you hot and heavy — nearly 60 songs, although many are in medleys or shortened versions. Nevertheless, it’s a great reminder of the Pop tunes that kept American singing and dancing several decades ago. Tickets: 513-621-2787

The Covedale Center is offering an ambitious staging of a great musical, A Chorus Line, with some fine dancing in its own right. This is a very moving show about people who put themselves “on the line” to do something they love. It’s still powerful after 40 years, and Cincinnati Landmark Productions has done a fine job with this one. (Through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550

There’s a lot of laughter at Know Theatre this weekend where the Cincinnati Improv Festival is underway. I understand that there aren’t many tickets left, but if you’re a fan of this branch of comedy, you should call to see if you can get in. Shows tonight and Saturday. Tickets: 513-300-5669

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.04.2015 88 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
seven guitars @ actors theater louisville 2015 (l-r) forrest mcclendon, j. alphonse nicholson_photo credit by bill brymer

Stage Door

Theater seasons starts movin’

There’s a lot more coming next week, once we get past Labor Day, but right now there’s just one theater locally with a production onstage. That’s the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. Artistic Director Tim Perrino has been reminding everyone that just because Cincinnati Landmark Productions has opened the Incline Theatre, don’t think that the Covedale has shut down. In fact, it has an ambitious line-up of shows, and the opening production is already under way, A Chorus Line. I haven’t seen this production of it yet, but I will tell you that it’s a show that really lit my interest in musical theater. It was a Broadway hit back in 1975, and I saw a touring production of it in Cleveland in 1978. I had next to no income at the time — and tickets for subsequent performances were pretty well sold out anyway — but I told several friends that in a perfect world, I would have gone back to see it again. I had to wait a few years for that to happen, but this story of aspiring performers grabs me every time I see it. It’s the story of eager young dancers trying to get into the chorus of an upcoming Broadway production. The group is narrowed to 17, but the ultimate goal is four men and four women. The songs are rooted in each dancer’s personal story: Some are amusing, some are heart wrenching — all are painfully true. At the end, they all coalesce into “One (Singular Sensation),” a stunning finale that has all the individuals we’ve met together, dancing as one. It’s a wonderful metaphor about the passion to perform and to be part of a larger whole. A Chorus Line at the Covedale has performances this weekend and continues through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

Last evening I drove to Louisville where Actors Theatre is opening its 2015-2016 season with a superb production of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, one of his “Century Cycle” plays chronicling African-American life in Pittsburgh across the decades of the 20th century. This one, set in the late 1940s, swirls around a promising young Blues singer, Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, who has been offered a recording contract just after his release from a 90-day stint in jail. The play opens with his funeral then circles back through scenes reminiscing about his life and six vividly different people who were close to him — three women and three men. The cast is powerful, and the minutely detailed setting, a desolate backyard in Pittsburgh’s Hill District (inspired by the art of African-American painter and collagist Romare Bearden) is a sight to behold. Seven Guitars blends humor, lyricism and tragedy. Although several of Wilson’s remarkable plays have been stage in Cincinnati, Seven Guitars — winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for best play in 1996 and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award — has not been produced locally. So you might want to make a run down I-71 to Louisville between now and Sept. 20 to see this. This production is definitely worth the trip. Tickets: 502-584-1205.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.