A lot of Stephen Sondheim’s shows are kind of heady, but Into the Woods — a bunch of fairytales put through a blender — is perhaps his most approachable. Given the delightful treatment, overflowing with talent you’ll find in this production at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music, tickets might be in short supply but try — it’s a longer run than usual. Act I is about “happily every after,” while Act II explores what comes next. CCM has a remarkably skilled crop of seniors this year (they’ll be on Broadway before long), and professor and director Aubrey Berg, who heads the program in musical theater, has used them to full advantage in a wildly clever staging. There are many featured performances and songs — the characters include Cinderella and her evil stepsisters, Jack (from the beanstalk story) with a very funny pet cow, a handsome but empty-headed prince, a precocious Little Red Riding Hood and a lascivious Wolf — but this is way more than a tale for kids. In fact, Into the Woods is one of the best theater productions I’ve seen all season. Read my review (a Critic’s Pick), and then go to see it. Tickets: 513-556-4183.
A year ago Cincinnati Shakespeare had a big hit with Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. They’ve done it again with another adaptation, Sense & Sensibility. This time it’s two sisters, one rational and one emotional, wonderfully portrayed by Kelly Mengelkoch (as the reserved, reasonable Elinor) and Sara Clark (as willful, romantic Marianne). They’re surrounded by droll supporting characters — and a story of romance and domestic intrigue. I gave the production a Critic’s Pick. It’s onstage for two more weeks, but many performances have sold out, so don’t dally. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
This is the final weekend for two more excellent productions. Know Theatre’s “comedy of anxiety” by Allison Moore, Collapse, about all kinds of things falling down — a highway bridge, the economy, relationships — winds up on Saturday evening. Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues, a complicated noir-ish tale of marital deceit and cryptic crime, finishes its run at Cincinnati Playhouse’s Shelterhouse Theater on Sunday. Both earned Critic’s Picks.
In addition to Into the Woods, there are more shows by Sondheim on local stages. You’ll find the touring production of West Side Story at the Aronoff through March 11. It’s a show Sondheim wrote the lyrics for when he was 26 (he’ll soon be 82). Tickets: 800-982-2787. ... This weekend the Cincinnati Playhouse begins previews of Merrily We Roll Along, a Sondheim show from 1981 that was a flop at first, but now is praised as one of his greatest musical accomplishments. Tony Award winner John Doyle is directing; he makes things interesting by having his actors play musical instruments, too. (He did that at the Playhouse in 2007 with Sondheim’s Company, a production that transferred to Broadway.) Merrily opens next Thursday on the Marx Stage, but previews are the most affordable tickets, so think about catching it this weekend. Through March 31. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
Know Theatre of Cincinnati has called Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine home for several years, but it's been easy to miss them, tucked away behind the Gateway Garage on a short block between Central Parkway and 12th Street. That's being remedied right now with the construction of a marquee that should be highly visible from both north and south of the theater, especially from busy Central Parkway.
Sondheim created the tale of the “Demon Barber of Fleet Street” with the notion that he wanted it to scare people, and it’s done just that for three decades. It’s a great show in the run-up to Halloween — what with Sweeney’s collaboration with Mrs. Lovett to turn his victims into meat pies — and that’s surely what Footlighters, Inc., had in mind when they scheduled it. (It opens tonight and continues through Oct. 24.)
The 13th annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards for Theater were handed out last night in a loose, fun event at Below Zero Lounge in Over-the-Rhine. Amazingly, 11 different local theater organizations took home a trophy: Cincinnati Playhouse, Ensemble Theatre, Cincinnati Shakespeare, Know Theatre, College-Conservatory of Music, New Stage Collective, New Edgecliff Theatre, Cincinnati Music Theatre, Footlighters, Covedale Center for the Performing Arts and Artemis Exchange for a production at the 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival.
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.
Halloween seems on its way to being celebrated as a classic holiday, so perhaps it's appropriate that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has not one but two productions that specifically the give-me-goosebumps crowd.
When you see a show like Emma, the Jane Austen musical recently presented at the Cincinnati Playhouse (pictured), do you ever wonder where it came from? If you paid attention to some of the Playhouse’s publicity, you might know it premiered at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, Calif., where it was a big box-office hit. In fact, the theater’s artistic director Robert Kelley, who staged the original, and several cast members from the original production came together again in Cincinnati for the Playhouse production.
Check out CityBeat's extensive coverage of the 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival. As of noon Saturday we've posted reviews of 21 productions, with more coming every day until all 31 shows have been reviewed.