After a long hot summer (well, it's still feeling like a long hot summer), we have a full array of shows onstage in Cincinnati for you to choose among. I've seen two of them so far: Good People at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati and The Three Musketeers at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
ETC's production of Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire's 2011 piece (this is the regional premiere of Good People, which was nominated for a Tony a year ago) about a woman who falls off the bottom of the employment ladder has enough humor to be entertaining (especially with Annie Fitzpatrick in the central role of Margie and Kate Wilford and Deb Girdler as her gossipy friends and bingo-night comrades) and enough contemporary relevance to be thought-provoking. ETC's D. Lynn Meyers is at her best staging naturalistic shows with social meaning, and that's exactly what this one offers. It has a great cast and flexible, attractive scenic design by the ever-creative Brian c. Mehring. I gave it a Critic's Pick. Through Sept. 23. Review here. Box office: 513-421-3555.
I wanted to love The Three Musketeers at the Playhouse (through Sept. 29), but its balance of humor and heart is out of whack to my tastes. There's lots of adventure, hilarity and laughter — especially some no-holds-barred swordplay — but the show tries to hard to entertain that it misses out on the true emotion that should lie beneath. I suspect many people will love this thrill-a-minute tale of political intrigue and valor, loyalty and royalty in 17th-century France, and perhaps it will evolve to deeper feelings as it runs. I love new Artistic Director Blake Robison's desire to put appealing, family-friendly work onstage, and he's using this production to show what he means. I hope his approach gets a tad more texture and depth as his tenure continues. Review here. Box office: 513-421-3888.
I haven't yet seen To Kill a Mockingbird at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and their publicity says it's already sold out its first-two weekends. So you might want to put that one on your calendar for sometime before it wraps up (Sept. 30). In the meantime, you might want to head to Washington Park on Sunday evening at 7 p.m. for a special free presentation of CSC's touring production of The Tempest. It's a perfect piece for outdoor performance, set on an island with a sorcerer and his lovely daughter and some shipwrecked nobles who are responsible for his exile. Audience participation will be a key component of this event, with the audience asked to create large-scale effects by blowing bubbles, making waves with silk and generating sound effects. Sounds like great fun. Music (by The Young Heirlooms) begins at 6 p.m. This is a good one to bring kids to see.
Also off and running this weekend is Cincinnati Landmark's production of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It's a classic drama of sexual tension and family strife, a bit heavier fare than is usually found at the Covedale Center. It's a sign of the company's ambition to be a full-fledged theater offering a wide range of material. (Through Sept. 30.) Box office: 513-241-6550.
Move over, movie theater chains. While several films open in theaters this weekend, there’s one you won’t find at AMC or other traditional movie joints. Reaching a following across the globe, the locally made independent feature film Ctrl+Alt+Dance will have its world premiere this weekend at Memorial Hall.
When an unemployed security software specialist takes an adventure with dance, the definition of courage is surely illustrated — and that’s what audiences can expect to explore. Inspired by the Lindy Hop Movement, producer Brian Crone and producer/director Gex Williams have worked side by side on this low budget independent film that has flourished and received widespread recognition in the dance community. Filled with swing dancing, passion and an unfolding romance, it’s the perfect flick for Valentine’s Day.
Gex Williams has worked on multiple professional film projects and served as the producer and Artistic director of SAC Family Theater in Lexington, Ky. CityBeat caught up with Williams and discussed the inspiration behind the film and the experience of starting out as a small independent project.
CityBeat: Are you and Brian Crone both originally from the Cincinnati area?
Gex Williams: Yes, we both grew up in the Northern Kentucky area but we knew each other growing up. We went to high school together and made some feature films.
CB: How did your film Ctrl+Alt+Dance come about?
GW: I became an avid swing dancer in high school through college. I was aware of this film community throughout the world and no other movies catered to this kind of dance, so I was like, “Hey, I want to make a movie.” I actually wrote the initial script in 2011 but wanted to sit on it to get other projects under by belt.
CB: What was your initial inspiration for the film?
GW: In 2011 I wrote the script, sat on it, and decided to move forward with it. It has a phenomenal story and [Brian and I] reworked a ton of it in early 2013 as we wrote a fresh script together on this draft. The film had dancing, but we needed a story to carry it along. We knew we didn’t have the budget to hire a huge actor and to be solid in the entertaining experience for the audience members. And then we ended the film in summer in 2013 two years from the initial start of pre-production. It went full force in the beginning of 2014 and we’ve been cranking on it ever since. We’re really happy. With an independent film it’s very hard on a low budget and we had phenomenal team members and people.
CB: After a few offers to shoot the film across the country, why was it important for you to film it here in Cincinnati?
GW: There were a few producers who were interested in shooting it out there, but it was really important for us to shoot it in Cincinnati because we love it so much and we’ve traveled some for business and we loved going back to Cincinnati. It’s a great place to come home to and what it offers. The city holds phenomenal landmarks and has a variety of locations.
CB: What were some of your favorite spots to film?
GW: One of my favorite shots of the film was a beautiful shot at Roebling Bridge set up on the Kentucky side, and you see this beautiful river flowing underneath the city and is lit up. And we had other phenomenal locations like Memorial Hall, which is gorgeous on the inside.
CB: What are some prominent themes in Ctrl+Alt+Dance?
GW: Action overcoming fear. We really wanted to communicate that. We [Brian and I] started our own business after college, a full-time gig and there was fear in our own selves and others. We wanted to tell a story about this and the dance was a catalyst to show how that takes place in the film. It’s a great story and a really cute romance. The dancing is amazing and we encourage people to feel good about it and hopefully inspire them to take risks in doing that.
CB: I see that you had difficulty getting into large chain theaters. Tell me about your experience with that in regard to the film.
GW: I can’t fault them because it is different for an independent film to get the mass distribution that an A-list film would get because they don’t have the budget to hire famous actors like Morgan Freeman. For large theaters, it’s a risk to put their movie in there that they won’t have people to support it. It’s so cool that that we have it in countries like Russia and China and were blessed that it was quite strong. We aced that challenge and we knew we had a strong following so we wanted people to see it. So we ended up contacting theaters ourselves and said we’d like to run a campaign in your city so people buy tickets for a one-night premiere showing. A lot of theaters responded.
CB: With a following in more than 80 different countries, how did word of the film spread so quickly all before the world premiere next weekend?
GW: It’s never been showed, but Cincinnati will be the world premiere. Because the Lindy Hop Swing Movement is huge around the world in countries like Spain and London and it’s really quite astounding that a lot of them they really tuned in. Our main actors, their acting is amazing, they’re international dance champions. People were aware of them and interest grew. We worked hard and wanted this film to benefit the community all over the world and we contacted local groups and wanted the proceeds to go back to local communities. We felt so blessed by the support we received and reached a considerable percentage to help others.
CB: What were your initial expectations for the film? Did you expect it to reach the magnitude it did?
GW: We’re blessed in something that is not at all normal for a normal independent project. A lot of projects start out with a grandiose idea and get small and less feasible and it’s a reality check. It’s difficult. And we’ve been so blessed with the talented people and how it blossomed from day one. We said we’re going to do this no matter what. We had talent and it’s grown and we hope it will continue to grow.
CB: Once it started gaining success, did you get any opportunities later on from corporate theaters?
GW: We are just at the beginning of our public awareness. We’ve had interest from larger producers and we’re definitely exploring our options to get a wider distribution of it.
CB: What are your hopes for the film after the big world premiere at Memorial Hall?
GW: We’ve been working hard to deliver the film in a way for people to access. We wanted to work hard to continue to pave a way and find a way to show this film to anyone who wants to see it. We’ll be talking to distribution companies for a possibility of larger scale so we have the resources to get it out there.
Ctrl+Alt+Dance premieres Feb. 13 and 14 at Memorial Hall. More info here.
I spent two-and-a-half hours watching the Acclaim Awards last night — 150 minutes with no intermission. Thanks to affable hosts Charlie Clarke and Mark Hardy (the well-dressed “scoundrels” of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels last September at The Carnegie), there was a lot of humor, but I put an emphasis on “a lot” as in “maybe too much.”
As I’ve written previously, the Acclaims offer some solid recognition of many of the things that constitute our local theater scene. But the awards program itself lacks discipline: If this had been a stage production at one of our local theaters, I wouldn't be the only critic saying, “Nice work, but it needs a lot of trimming.” And some thoughtfulness.
I think there are few more satisfying segments of musical theater than the opening 10 minutes of the musical Chicago, which is in town for a brief run at the Aronoff Center. The first number, “All That Jazz,” gives you an encyclopedia of the stylistic dance moves of iconic choreographer Bob Fosse, followed by “Funny Honey,” an introduction of Roxie Hart, who murders her low-life lover. A few minutes later, “Cell Block Tango” provides the set-up for the colorful women who are in prison for their acts of violence. The touring production stars Terra MacLeod as Velma Kelly and Bianca Marroquin as Roxie Hart (the roles played by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger in the Academy Award-winning film) and they dance and sing with the requisite zest. Chicago opens with a quick speech defining it as containing “violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery — all the things we hold near and dear to our hearts.” If you’re looking for a stylish musical with nary a whiff of the holidays, this is the show to see this weekend. It runs through Sunday. Tickets: 800-982-2787.
There's nothing unlucky about Friday the 13th in the theater world. (Theater folks have enough other superstitions anyway.) So you have lots of excellent choices this weekend, from the very funny The Foreigner at the Playhouse (just opened) to the satiric Timon of Athens at Cincinnati Shakespeare (see review here).
If you want a heavy-duty drama, try Bent at New Stage Collective (it's about the mistreatment of gays in Nazi concentration camps; see my review here). And if you want to see some of the talent that keeps spilling out of UC's College-Conservatory of Music, I recommend that you stop by the Over-the-Rhine nightclub Below Zero tonight after 10 p.m.
OK, so it's Memorial Day weekend, and theater-going might not be what you have in mind. How about this? If you're heading downtown for the feeding frenzy at Taste of Cincinnati (and what true Cincinnatian isn't?), you can take a quick side trip to Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine to pick up some tickets or a pass for the eighth annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival. It's the perfect time to find your way to Know Theatre (1120 Jackson, right next to the Gateway Garage), which is Fringe headquarters.
In the Association of Art Museum Curators' recent Annual Awards for Excellence (for the calendar year 2010), Benedict Leca — curator of European Painting and Sculpture at Cincinnati Art Museum — won first place in the Outstanding Article, Essay or Extended Catalogue Entry category for his "A Favorite Among the Demireps" article for the museum's Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman exhibition. He also organized the show.
The firing of a high-powered rifle inside the Cincinnati Art Museum, sending a bullet past masterpieces through the first-floor Schmidlapp Gallery and into a block of bronze in the middle of the Great Hall, will occur on Monday, museum officials said.
Todd Pavlisko, the New York-based, locally born artist who proposed the project, will be at the museum Friday for final planning and discussions. (CityBeat will interview him for a story in next week’s Big Picture column.)
The museum has refused to allow press — or the public — to witness the actual event, for security concerns, according to Director Aaron Betsky. It also won’t say what time it will occur. The male sharpshooter who will fire the high-powered rifle from a mounted stand also doesn’t want to be identified. The museum normally is closed to the public on Monday.
A spokeswoman said the museum will be on “lockdown” for the event. Those who will attend the actual shooting include the artist and the sharpshooter, Betsky and Chief Curator James Crump and several others. A Cincinnati police officer also will be present, a requirement of the City Council ordinance permitting the event.
According to an earlier press release, which did not set a specific date for the actual rifle shot, Pavlisko’s project is an outgrowth of his work with photography and video. This will reference the work of Harold Edgerton, whose photographs capturing bullets passing through fruit and droplets of milk have become masterpieces for making visible that which the naked eye could not see. Pavlisko’s idea is to contrast the flight of the bullet with the timeless nature of the masterpieces on display in the Schmidlapp Gallery. (The bullet will be 12 feet from any actual artwork.)
High-speed cameras and video equipment will document the shot, and the resultant work will be on display May 25-Sept. 22 in a show called Crown. So, too, will the 36-inch cast brass cube, or what remains of it, as the bullet strikes it.
The clash of good and evil seems to be on the mind of most of our local theaters this week as numerous openings bring plenty of offerings for you to choose from.
Abigail/1702 at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a kind of sequel to Arthur Miller's The Crucible. This new play by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (it's actually a world premiere) takes the character of Abigail Williams, the villainous and spiteful catalyst for the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, and moves her 10 years beyond. She's living in Boston, an outcast caring for people afflicted with the "pox" — and haunted by her past. She knows her actions in Salem were evil, perhaps inspired by the Devil himself. How she copes with the current events of her life is very much dictated by her actions from the past. This is a fascinating variation on a familiar character, told with an air of supernatural events and eerie sights and sounds. Box office: 513-421-3888.
Freud's Last Session at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati puts a debate about the existence of God front and center, with the distance between good and evil or right and wrong as the battleground. Psychoanalyst and atheist Sigmund Freud is dying of oral cancer; he invites to his London flat a young academic and newly converted Christian, C. S. Lewis (who later wrote the Christian allegory The Chronicles of Narnia). On the September day in 1939 when England declares war on Germany — perhaps another clash of good and evil — they meet for a conversation. The play is almost all talking and very little action, but the clash of ideas is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. That's made especially true by two fine actors: Bruce Cromer (the Playhouse's longstanding Ebenezer Scrooge and Cincinnati Shakespeare's recent Atticus Finch) as the earnest Lewis, and Barry Mulholland (a local newcomer, but a veteran actor) as the skeptical Freud. This one will make you think. Box office: 513-421-3555.
Camelot at Covington's Carnegie Center offers a distilled version of the Broadway hit from 1960. It's presented as a concert, singers backed up by members of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, led by its maestro Mischa Santora. The story of King Arthur's court, a place of goodness and justice brought down by an illicit love affair, is another glimpse of the good and evil affect history — even if it's mythic history. Former NKU professor Mark Hardy is back in town to play Arthur. Through Feb. 3. Box office: 859-957-1940.
The evils of racial injustice are at the heart and soul of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Memphis, which has a touring production at the Aronoff through Feb. 3. Set in the 1950s, it's about a white radio DJ who digs black music long before it became mainstream. His love of the music leads him to a romance with a talented singer, and that causes complications in a town where black and white don't mingle without serious repercussions. Of course, it's a musical, so this doesn't dig too deeply into the issues, but it's definitely a reminder of a time and place that feels very foreign to us today — even if some attitudes persist. Ultimately, it's about the power of music to bridge difficult boundaries, and that's a good message. Box: 800-987-2787.