Some people yearn for sunshine this time of year and find their way to a beach to recharge their batteries. Theater fans who are impatient for the annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival, which doesn’t roll around until June, were reminded this past weekend of the kind of creativity that makes those two weeks in early summer so stimulating. Thanks to the drama program at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), theater fans were offered a jolt of onstage vitality that just might be enough to sustain us for a few months. It was a festival called Transmigration.
Stephen Schwartz is well known in the world of musical theater as the composer of Wicked, the mega-hit Broadway musical that’s been running since 2003 (more than 3,200 performances to date). But he started his career a long time ago, composing the music for Godspell way back in 1971. At the age of 24, he followed Godspell with another hit, the 1972 musical Pippin (which ran for five years, nearly 2,000 performances). It’s the season opener in a three-weekend run at Covington’s Carnegie Center beginning Friday.
The best choice, for my money, is Keith Glover’s Thunder Knocking on the Door at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, a revival of sorts from 1999 — but thoroughly and creatively reimagined for the final mainstage production of Ed Stern’s final season leading the Tony Award-winning theater. It’s a musical about the Blues and it features an emotional Blues score, mostly by Keb’ Mo’, to tell the story of the power of love and 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.
If you loved the Doo-Wop silliness of The Marvelous Wonderettes, a hit from 2010 at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, then you’re likely to have a good time at 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 is boys, and that’s most of the difference. As in the two Wonderette shows, Dream is shot through with adolescent angst, in this case around a local radio station contest that could “make them famous.” It’s an excuse for more than two dozen tunes from the same era that are shaped to the story. So it’s a familiar formula, but ETC has a talented cast who make it a lot of fun. (Through May 20.) Box office: 513-421-3555.
Another show that totally mastered the art of wedging familiar tunes into an implausible story is Mamma Mia, and you can catch a touring production of that one at the Aronoff Center through Sunday. The cast of this tour has a lot of youthful energy and several mature characters who have fun reminiscing about their disco days. Box office: 800-982-2787.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson will have its final performance on May 12. If you haven’t yet seen this youthful mix of political commentary, driving Rock, history, humor and sober observations about the will of the people, you’d better go this weekend. (The longer you wait the less likely you are to get a ticket — the final weekend is selling fast.) Not many musicals begin with the cast flipping the bird at the audience, but then not many musicals are like this one, spinning a tale of America’s seventh president to in-your-face Indie Rock tunes. This is Bloody Bloody’s first professional regional production. I gave it a Critic’s Pick. Box office: 513-300-5669.
You have plenty of time to see The Second City 2: Less Pride – More Pork, since the Cincinnati Playhouse plans to keep it on the Shelterhouse Stage until July 1 (at least), but I predict you’ll enjoy it whenever you go. It’s a notch up from the first iteration of the show that set box-office records for the Mount Adams theater a year-and-a-half ago. Lots of hilarious fun-poking at … us. And the clever cast uniquely tailors every performance to the audience that shows up. Box office: 513-421-3888.
Know Theatre’s production of the recent off-Broadway and Broadway Rock musical hit, I was thoroughly entertained by Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last week at the Covedale. It has a cast of strong singers who do a fine job with the amusing score, stuffed with musical parodies — Calypso, Blues, County, Bubblegum Pop and more — and they’re having an infectious good time. Keep an eye out for the Pharaoh; he’s really the King! Through May 13. Box office: 513-241-6550.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
Quite a few local theaters are opening new productions this week, but if I were to point you to just one for this weekend, it would be Next Fall, a new play by Geoffrey Nauffts, at Ensemble Theatre.
For several years Joshua Jeremian seemed to be onstage everywhere in Cincinnati. He was a regular in opera productions at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music, where he was pursuing a master’s degree and then an artist’s diploma (additional graduate-level training) as an opera singer. But he was glad to find performing opportunities with many Cincinnati perfroming arts institutions. In 2005 he played a pair of princes in Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s holiday musical, Sleeping Beauty. (In fact, the big-voiced baritone was nominated for a 2006 Cincinnati Entertainment Award for his performance at ETC.)
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) launched its new seven-week initiative, “One City, One Symphony” earlier this month. The goal of the program is to get the CSO engaged with people of all walks of life through nine listening parties across the region. “One City, One Symphony” concludes with three concerts Nov. 15, 17 and 18 at Music Hall featuring A Survivor From Warsaw by Arnold Shoenburg and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati and The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation host the free listening parties across Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. These parties are a chance for the public to interact with CSO musicians and conductors while listening and discussing the music from Schoenburg and Beethoven.
“I already feel a strong connection with our audiences, the supportive community and of course the incredible musicians of the CSO, and I am looking forward to deepening this relationship in the coming months and years," Music Director Louis Langrée said in a press release.
If you haven’t attended a listening party yet, there are still several more chances to meet the players and discuss the music around town.
Tonight, Anderson High School welcomes CSO timpanist Patrick Schleker to host a listening party from 7-8:30 p.m.
To attend one of these performances or learn more about the CSO and One City, One Symphony, click here.
The rest of the listening parties are as scheduled:
Thursday, Nov. 1, 7-8:30 p.m. at the Xavier University’s Bellarmine Chapel. This performance is hosted by CSO violinist Sylvia Samis and XU Director of Interfaith Community Engagement Abie Ingber.
Thursday, Nov. 8, 6-7:30 p.m. at Coffee Emporium. Associate Conductor Robert Treviño hosts.
Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2-3:30 p.m. at Mayerson Jewish Community Center. Again hosted by Sylvia Samis and Abie Ingber.
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.
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.
In the heat of a Carolina summer, I’m pleased to be taking in a bit of this year’s American Dance Festival (ADF) in and around Duke University in steamy Durham, N.C. I’m here with another local dance writer (Kathy Valin) for the Israeli Festival portion of ADF to catch performances from two companies: Emanuel Gat Dance and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. 2009 marks ADF’s 76th season, “Where Ballet and Modern Meet.”
CityBeat hosted the 14th annual and final Cincinnati Entertainment Awards for Theater Sunday night at Know Theatre in Over-the-Rhine, and as always the local theater community enjoyed the opportunity to catch up after summer breaks and celebrate before the new season gets underway. Awards were handed out in 27 categories, some voted on by the public and some determined by a "critical achievement" panel of local critics. Find a list of all the nominees and winners here.