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by Rick Pender 06.13.2013
Posted In: Theater, Dance, Visual Art at 08:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cirque du Soleil's Quidam Is a Flight of Imagination

Onstage at Dayton's Nutter Center through June 16

Cirque du Soleil's classic show, Quidam, opens with Zoé (Alessandra Gonzalez), a bored little girl whose parents ignore her. We enter the world of her imagination when Quidam, a headless wanderer under an umbrella, hands Zoé his blue bowler hat. (This imagery will resonate with those who know the surrealist paintings of René Magritte, a 20th century artist whose paintings challenged traditional perceptions of reality.) Zoé's self-absorbed parents float away and we are transported to the magical reality of Cirque's physically astonishing performers.

The "world" presently inhabited by Quidam is Dayton's Nutter Center, on the campus of Wright State University, through Sunday, June 16. The show, which originated as a big top production (it spent several weeks in Cincinnati in August and September 2006 in a "grand chapiteau" on the Ohio River bank near the Suspension Bridge) is now an arena show, and it works beautifully in the Nutter. Five giant metal arches are used to suspend performers in mid-air, but you quickly lose sight of the mechanics thanks to the artistry, visual and musical, of Cirque.

To me, the greatest wonder — beyond the physical precision and discipline of Cirque's athletic artists — is the universality of shows like Quidam, which tour the world. (In a few months, this company will be performing in Europe, playing to audiences in cities including Vienna, Munich and London, where it has a month-long engagement at Royal Albert Hall.) The performers are ethnically diverse and the storytelling spans cultural boundaries: Wordless clowning (Quidam features a segment about making a silent movie that recruits a few audience members as "actors") is laugh-out-loud funny, and the ringmaster John (Mark Ward) borders on intentional incompetence in a way that endears him to the crowd even as he moves us from act to act without saying a word.

And what acts we see: German Wheel (a pair of man-sized double hoops containing a guy who rolls around the stage); Diabolo (spinning Chinese yo-yo's tossed high into the air from a string and caught); Aerial Contortion (Tanya Burka is an amazing silk contortionist, many feet above the stage); Skipping Ropes (using 20 acrobats); Aerial Hoops (three women spinning and pivoting through the air); Hand Balancing (incredible strength and flexibility by a woman on yard-high canes); Spanish Webs (five fellows on high, hanging and twisting on ropes); Statue (a mesmerizing performance by Yves Décoste and Valentyna Sidenko who slowly and powerfully balance in various positions); and finally Banquine (acrobatics). The latter section, Quidam's finale, uses 15 artists, launching tumblers high into the air and catching them. At one point they build a tower of four humans atop each others' shoulders. Each assemblage or toss seems more daring than the previous.

Quidam might be the product of Zoé's boredom, but the show expands imaginative horizons. It's definitely worth a one-hour drive from Cincinnati.
by Rick Pender 02.20.2015
Posted In: Theater at 09:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
little women_cincy shakes-photo cal harris

Stage Door: Fatherless Families on Cincinnati Stages

Just how can Tracy Letts' sprawling play August: Osage County be wedged into the tiny Clifton Performance Theatre on Ludlow? Director Buz Davis knows that this show is more about characters and great dialogue than the set; he told me so. (Read more in my Curtain Call column here.) He's made it possible for you to sit in the midst of the home of the cantankerous Westons as they fuss and fight when their father goes missing and their mother's addiction to pain killers spills over into everyone else's lives. The show won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award in 2008, so it's one you should have on your list to see if you're a serious theatergoer. (Through March 13). Tickets: 513-861-7469.

Although it's about another family struggling to get along while husband and father is absent, there's a whole different dynamic in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. This adaptation by Emma Reeves should offer an excellent opportunity to see some of Cincy Shakes' best actresses onstage; it's being directed by Sara Clark (who would likely be in the show, but she's pregnant right now, wich doesn't quite fit this story). It opens tonight and runs through March 21. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

The short run of a touring production of Cole Porter's jaunty Anything Goes is over on Sunday. Need a mid-winter getaway? Take a madcap cruise on the S.S. American and watch as love affairs go overboard and confusion reigns. This show from 1934 has been reinvented numerous times, most recently in a 2011 Broadway revival that won a boatload of Tony Awards. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

It's always worth paying attention to productions on our local university stages, where fine renditions of classic theatrical works are the norm. Northern Kentucky University just opened a production of the great musical Les Misérables, onstage through March 1. I'm told most performances are sold out, but if you show up in person (no calls) you can be put on a wait list and fill seats available just before curtain time. At Xavier University this weekend (through a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee) you'll find a production of Shakespeare's most beloved comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream, staged by Jeremy Dubin, veteran member of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Tickets: 513-745-3939.

Continuing productions this weekend include the Cincinnati Playhouse's staging of the charming romance between dog and cat lovers, Chapatti (through March 8; CityBeat review here) and Falcon Theater's production of the tense drama about race relations in 1960s Alabama, In the Heat of the Night (through Feb. 28). Falcon performs in a small theater space on Monmouth Street in Newport. … It's also the final weekend for Know Theatre's production of the one-woman version of The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel adapted for the stage. Cincy Shakes veteran Corinne Mohlenhoff is doing a bravura job with this thoughtful and frightening piece. 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 04.29.2011
Posted In: Theater at 10:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Food For Thought

Work a little harder and see something unexpected. That's my theme for this weekend. Theater shouldn't always make you laugh or even smile. Sometimes a playwright sets out to make you uncomfortable or to portray characters who are thoroughly unlikeable. Harold Pinter (pictured) did that a generation ago, and Adam Rapp does it today. Pinter's Ashes to Ashes gets a quick production on Saturday and Sunday evenings at Hebrew Union College.

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by Rick Pender 02.03.2012
Posted In: Theater at 10:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
screen shot 2012-02-03 at 10.37.12 am

Stage Door

'The Whipping Man,' 'Spring Awakening,' 'Red' and 'Collapse' are all worthy weekend productions

Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.

The Whipping Man is drawing big audiences for Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. In fact, they’ve added several performances extending the closing date from Feb. 12 to Feb. 18. It’s the story of Simon, a dedicated former slave who remains in a ruined mansion in 1865 Richmond in the days just after the Civil War. Caleb, the wounded son of his former master, stumbles in (desperately needing some horrendous surgery) and then does John, another former slave, a young man raised side by side with Caleb. The slave-owning family was Jewish, and it’s almost time for Passover, which they must celebrate with limited means. It’s a powerful show about freedom and responsibility with a plot that will keep you guessing. As I noted recently in this week's Curtain Call column, director D. Lynn Meyers gets the most from her cast, especially Ken Early as Simon. This one is a must-see. Box office: 513-421-3555

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by Rick Pender 08.17.2010
Posted In: Theater at 04:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

In the Know: Know Theatre's 2010-11 Season

Just as the 2010-11 theater season is about to kick off, Know Theatre of Cincinnati has shared plans for its 13th season. They'll offer four mainstage productions (there were five in 2009-10), the eighth annual Cincy Fringe Festival and a new family of programs dubbed the "Jackson Street Market." The season begins in earnest after Know hosts MidPoint Music Festival showcases Sept. 23-25.

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by Rick Pender 08.28.2009
Posted In: Theater, Theater at 10:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Fringe Festival (Slight Return)

This is a weekend to catch up on local theater — or perhaps to be reminded of the many riches we have available to us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here
by Rick Pender 04.19.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
cock photo- deogracias lerma

Stage Door: Bounty of Choices

There's a bounty of theater choices to keep you entertained this weekend, with productions on venues all over town — including on several university campuses. Here are a few you might want to check out.

New Edgecliff Theatre, which has presented shows at the Columbia Performance Center on Cincinnati's East Side for quite a few years, has been itinerant this year while they seek a new home. They're completing their fifteenth season with a production of David Auburn's Proof at the Aronoff Center's Fifth Third Bank Theater, which looks like it's where they'll land for their next season. (I'll be writing more about NET in my next CityBeat "Curtain Call" column on April 24.) I attended the show's opening on Wednesday, and it's a solid production of a very engaging play, the winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. Greg Procaccino, NET's former artistic director, has returned to stage a simple but effective production that features Rebecca Whatley as Catherine, the anxious, self-doubting young woman who has been a caregiver for years for her father, a renowned math professor whose mental instability has been a factor and a threat in his daughter's life. The show has several gripping twists and turns, as well as a satisfying resolution. Through April 27. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

Last week I was at the opening of Cock, a regional premiere and Know Theatre's second production of the season. (CityBeat review here.) It's the story of a man falling out of a gay relationship and into one with a woman; he's torn by indecision and doubt about which way to go. The show is staged (by director Brian Robertson) like a cockfight, with the characters "pecking" at one another emotionally. It's also presented in an unusual setting, bertween two rows of bleachers (like a cockfight arena), so you're close to the action and able to see how others are responding. It's a fight to the finish, and you can never be certain of the outcome. Strong acting and a very contemporary, well-written script by British playwright Mike Bartlett. Through May May 11. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

This is the final weekend at the Carnegie in Covington for the hard-hitting musical Parade by composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown and playwright Alfred Uhry. (CityBeat review here.) It's based on the true story of Leo Frank, unjustly accused of murdering a young teenaged girl working in the factory he managed in Atlanta in 1913. A Jew from New York, Frank was the target of profound anti-Semitism and never had a realistic chance to defend himself, although his wife tried mightily to expose the prejudice. It's a powerful production, featuring a cast of musical theater talent from UC's College-Conservatory of Music, directed by Dee Anne Bryll and Ed Cohen. The show is not easy to watch, but it's deeply moving. Through Sunday. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

Every two years since 1981, Northern Kentucky University has presented the Year End Series Festival — shortened to the "YES," ten days of presentations of three world premieres. This year's shows are a murder-mystery farce, Heart Attack with a Knife by Oded Gross; David L. Williams Spake, a drama set in Siberia; and a comic fable about fame and friendship, Furbelow by J. Stephen Brantley. YES is a gargantuan undertaking, and it represents how NKU prepares its drama students for careers in the theater. Shows are presented in rotating repertory, so you should check the Web site for specific performance dates. Tickets: 859-572-5464.

At other area universities this weekend: At the Cohen Family Studio Theater at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, you can see a production of Emily Mann's Execution of Justice (UC's College-Conservatory of Music, through Sunday, 513-556-4183), a new docu-drama about the trial of Dan White for the murder of Harvey Milk, San Francisco's first openly gay Supervisor and Mayor George Moscone. It's staged by retiring UC drama professor Michael Burnham. And for musical theater fans, you can see Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's popular fairytale musical Into the Woods at Miami University (through April 27, 513-529-3200).
by Rick Pender 05.11.2012
Posted In: Theater at 09:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
Les Miserables

Stage Door: Musicals Rule the Weekend

I was at the Tuesday night opening of a one-week run of the tour of the 25th anniversary production of Les Misérables. You might be saying, “I’ve seen that before — more than once.” But this is a new version — no more turntable or pirouetting barricades. Now we have some startling video that let’s you see the rebellious students marching in the streets of Paris and Jean Valjean carrying Marius through the sewers. The tour has great voices in all the roles; the volume was amped up beyond my hearing threshold, but it’s a powerful show — after all these years. Through Sunday at the Aronoff Center. Tickets: 800-982-2787.

Here’s a tip if you want something that’s new(ish): The Light in the Piazza was a Tony Award winner in 2005, and it’s being staged by one of the most reliable community theaters in the Cincinnati area, Footlighters Inc., at its Stained Glass Theatre in Newport. It’s a romantic love story set in Italy in 1953, told with sophisticated music, sometimes operatic performances. In June 2006, just before it closed, it was broadcast on the PBS Live from Lincoln Center series, drawing more than two million viewers. That many can’t make it to Newport (it runs through May 19), but if you’re interested, Footlighters is offering a “buy one, get one” deal for its 2 p.m. matinee this Sunday, May 13. Tickets: 859-652-3849.

If you resonate with the Blues, I recommend that you head to the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park for Keith Glover’s Thunder Knocking on the Door. It’s a revival of sorts from 1999 — but thoroughly and creatively reimagined for the Eden Park’s last mainstage production of Ed Stern’s final season leading the Tony Award-winning theater. The musical — with emotional tunes mostly by Keb’ Mo’ — tells the story of the power of love, music and Blues guitar players. It’s presented with panache, including technology and design that are all about 2012. Through May 20. Box office: 513-421-3888.

The Doo-Wop silliness of The Marvelous Wonderettes, a hit from 2010 at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, is brought to life again with Life Could Be A Dream, Roger Bean’s sequel to the story of some bubbly girls who bond around teen hits from the ’50s and ’60s. This time it’s boys, and that’s most of the difference. As in the two Wonderette shows, Dream is shot through with adolescent angst, this time around a local radio station contest that could “make them famous.” It’s an excuse for two dozen tunes from the era, a familiar formula. But ETC’s talented cast makes it a lot of fun. (Through May 20.) Box office: 513-421-3555.

This weekend is your final chance to see Know Theatre’s production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. (Final performance is Saturday.) It’s a youthful mix of political commentary, driving Rock, history, humor and sober observations about America’s seventh president — played as a Rock hero. I gave it a Critic’s Pick. Call the box office to see if there are any cancellations: 513-300-5669.

Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.

by Rick Pender 03.27.2013
Posted In: Arts community, Theater at 12:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
american idiot photo john daughtry

Look for 'American Idiot: The Musical' in Cincinnati Next Year

Aronoff to host Green Day-inspired Punk Rock opera in spring 2014

Two weeks ago I caught a touring performance of American Idiot: The Musical when it made a three-evening stop at Dayton's Victoria Theatre (see review here). The performance of Green Day's album transformed into a musical theater piece was a noisy blast of defiance, full of energy – although a downer of a story about three guys being overwhelmed by everyday life. But that's what you's probably expect of a "Punk Rock Opera." We'll have it for two nights in Cincinnati, Friday, April 11, and Saturday, April 12, 2014 (that's right, a year from now) as part of the Broadway Across America series at the Aronoff (about twice the size of the Victoria). If you're a fan of Green Day, you'll want to see this one. And if you like shows such as next to normal, a recent big hit for Ensemble Theatre, it's worth noting that Green Day's songs were orchestrated for the stage show by Tom Kitt, who composed N2N's story of a bipolar mom struggling to keep her family together.