The Showboat Majestic just opened a production of the classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace. It won’t break any new ground, but it is one of the funniest shows you’re likely to see, the tale of an off-kilter set of relatives who keep their quite normal nephew astonished and scrambling to keep them in line. His aunts take in boarders, quiet elderly men who are alone in the world, and polish them off with elderberry wine laced with arsenic; they convince their addled brother, who believes he’s Teddy Roosevelt, to bury them in the basement by telling him they’re victims of yellow fever who have been working on digging the Panama Canal. There’s lots more, but you get the picture. Box office: 513-241-6550
Another stage full of laughs is available from Cincinnati Shakespeare Company in the form of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). It’s your chance to see at least a passing mention of all the Bard’s works — although many are completely unrecognizable, thanks the three buffoonish characters who undertake the task. The second act is a wild send-up of Hamlet that involves the audience. There’s never a dull moment, and the CSC actors seem to especially relish the task of poking fun at their usual fare. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
Summer is the season for lighter entertainment at the Commonwealth Dinner Theater, on campus at Northern Kentucky University. They’re offering Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite, a glimpse into the relationships of three couples that occupy the same suite at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. One couple is celebrating their 23rd wedding anniversary in the same room where they honeymooned; another is an oft-married Hollywood producer who’s hoping for an encounter; the third is a mother and father trying to coax their bride-to-be daughter out of the locked bathroom and downstairs to the impatient wedding guests. Box office: 859-572-5464
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
Since you only have two more nights to enjoy the final few productions, here's a rundown of everything we know:
Peruse CityBeat's Cincy Fringe hub here, where you'll find reviews of all 32 performances.
Check out the official Fringe Festival guide here, where you'll also find a schedule that includes Friday and Saturday night's final shows.
“Marching Through the 2012 Fringe,” CityBeat issue of June 6.
And here's a little something on Homegrown Theatre, a company created by native Cincinnatians and is performing The Doppelganger Cometh and Overtaketh at the Emery Theater tonight and Saturday night.
While it’s not part of the Fringe, Avenue Q, presented by Showbiz Players at Covington’s Carnegie Center, has the same zany vibe. It’s an X-rated musical with puppets that might visually remind you of Sesame Street — until they open their dirty mouths. The show was a surprise Tony Award winner several years back, and it promises lots of laughs for those who go. Through June 10. 859-957-1940.
If you want something more traditional, try Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays. It’s officially categorized as a comedy because it has humorous and romantic elements. But the central story about a potentially fatal argument between a moneylender and a businessman is anything but amusing. CSC’s artistic director Brian Isaac Phillips takes on the role of the rapacious moneylender who has faced anti-Semitic discrimination for his entire life. Is Shylock a villain or a victim? Shakespeare gives him aspects of each, and CSC’s production does not tilt in either direction. You get to decide, and it won’t be easy. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
Be sure to consider downtown’s newest performance venue, Speakeasy Theatre, storefront space at 815 Race Street. Their inaugural production is Paul Baerman’s The Whistler, set in 1965 in an unnamed Southern city awash in racist attitudes. The Andy Griffith Show is in its fifth season, and the guy who whistles the theme (played here by local professional actor Michael G. Bath) is living off his royalties. But life gets more complicated when he meets an African-American trumpet player (played by Tony Davis) who shares his passion for music. The Whistler will be onstage through June 10. Box office: 513-861-7469
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
I haven’t seen the Showboat Majestic’s opening production of its 90th season (that’s right, the boat has been entertaining audiences for nine decades!), but Babes in Hollywood is another show that’s light and entertaining. It’s a revue of tunes made famous by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney back in the 1930s and ’40s when they were happy-go-lucky adolescent stars. I did see the four-member cast do a number at last Monday’s LCT Awards event, and they have fine voices and a sense of style. I suspect this show will be popular with the grey-haired audience that frequents the Showboat, but I bet people of any age will have a good time watching. Box office: 513-241-6550.
If you want something a tad more profound, try Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays. It’s officially categorized as a comedy because it has humorous and romantic elements. But the central story about a potentially fatal argument between a moneylender and a businessman is anything but amusing. CSC’s artistic director Brian Isaac Phillips takes on the role of the rapacious moneylender who has faced anti-Semitic discrimination for his entire life. Is Shylock a villain or a victim? Shakespeare gives him aspects of each, and CSC’s production does not tilt in either direction. You get to decide, and it won’t be easy. Review here. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
There’s a new theater downtown, just a few doors north of Cincinnati Shakespeare’s venue. They’re calling themselves Speakeasy Theatre, and they’re performing in a storefront space at 815 Race Street. Their inaugural production is Paul Baerman’s The Whistler. The show, directed by Tim Waldrip, is set in 1965 in an unnamed Southern city where a lot a racist attitudes are out in the open. The Andy Griffith Show is in its fifth season, and the guy who whistles that show’s theme (played here by local professional actor Michael G. Bath) is living off the royalties of his work. But life gets more complicated when he meets an African-American trumpet player (Tony Davis is taking on the role) who shares his passion for music. The show just opened on Thursday and I haven’t seen it, but it’s always good to give a new theater a try. The Whistler will be onstage through June 10. Box office: 513-861-7469.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
If I were you, I’d to my best to catch a performance of Titanic:
The Musical before it closes on Saturday at the Aronoff
Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater. The show puts you in the midst of
dozens of characters as they board the ship, overflowing with great
expectations — of success, of escaping poverty, of new life in
America, of achieving dreams. You get to know them, and then you see
the tragedy that comes their way after the tragic collision with an
iceberg in April 1912. Maury Yeston’s score is all about choral
singing, and Cincinnati Music Theatre, one of our most ambitious
community theaters, makes it work with an impressive physical
production and great voices. Full review: here. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
I’m pleased to tell you that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has done a fine job with its production of The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays. It’s officially categorized as a comedy because it has humorous and romantic elements. But the central story about a potentially fatal argument between a moneylender and a businessman is anything but amusing. CSC’s artistic director Brian Isaac Phillips takes on the role of the rapacious moneylender who has faced anti-Semitic discrimination for his entire life. Is Shylock a villain or a victim? Shakespeare gives him aspects of each, and CSC’s production, directed by Jeremy Dubin does not tilt in either direction. It’s up to you to decide, and that’s how this show works best. Full review: here. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
Life Could Be A Dream, Roger Bean’s sequel to The Marvelous Wonderettes and a show ful of teen hits from the ’50s and ’60s, concludes its successful run at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati this weekend. 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.” Audiences seem to have loved this excuse for two dozen tunes from the era, and ETC is keeping its cast busy to the very end, adding an extra finale on Sunday evening at 6 p.m. Box office: 513-421-3555.
This is also the final weekend for you to get down with the Blues in the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s production of Thunder Knocking on the Door. The show, a hit for the Playhouse in 1999 has been thoroughly and creatively reimagined. 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 Sunday. Full review: here. Box office: 513-421-3888.
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.
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.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, sporting a slightly abbreviated name and a half-painted façade, today announced most of its 2012-2013 season. As usual at ETC, it’s a work in progress: That how things are when you’re on the cutting edge of contemporary theater. But Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers knows how to juggle lots of moving parts, and that includes a nod to another local theater great: She’s engaged Ed Stern, about to retire from his 20-year tenure as artistic director at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, to stage a show that will feature the city’s most respected professional actor, Dale Hodges. Meyers has also designated five shows (the season will have six, one is still to be determined) for her schedule.
Meyers says, “Next season promises to be a selection of smart, contemporary, and compelling theater. The ETC experience is unique and intimate, unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else, along with the excellence you’ve come to expect.” She points out that the season features several strong female voices, too.
In 2007, ETC presented Rabbit Hole by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire. He’ll be back for the theater’s 27th season with a humor-laced drama Good People (Sept. 5-23). The recent script (its Broadway production was a Tony nominee a year ago) explores the struggles, shifting loyalties and unshakeable hopes that come with having next to nothing in America. It focuses on a woman unable to catch a break who flees from urban Boston to the suburbs, where she’s totally out of her element. It’s a look at the haves and the have-nots, the kind of tale that Meyers loves to present to ETC audiences.
Up next will be Ed Stern’s production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s irreverent but poignant comedy Mrs. Mannerly (Oct. 10-28). Dale Hodges will play a demanding etiquette teacher in 1967; she’s bedeviled by a boy trying pulling out all the stops to get a perfect score, an unprecedented feat. The boy’s name Jeffrey Hatcher, so he bears a close resemblance to the playwright. (Amusingly, we are warned that this play about proper behavior contains strong language.)
For the holidays, ETC will reprise one of its family-friendly musicals: Alice in Wonderland (Nov. 28-Dec. 30) by playwright Joseph McDonough and composer-lyricist David Kisor.
Meyers is still angling for the show she’ll present in late January.
It will be followed by the regional premiere of Frank Higgins’ Black Pearl Sings! (March 13-31, 2013). I saw a production of this show in Sarasota in 2008, and I’m convinced it’s the kind of play that ETC audiences warm to, similar to this season’s The Whipping Man. It’s set during the Great Depression focusing on a researcher collecting traditional music for the Library of Congress. She finds Pearl Johnson in a Texas prison, a woman with a head and heart full of spiritual songs and a voice to perform them. Black Pearl Sings! is about being a woman in a man’s world, being black in a white world and fighting for one’s soul in a world where anyone can be a commodity.
ETC’s season will end on a familiar and definitely lighter note with another sequel to the best-selling production from 2009, The Marvelous Wonderettes. This time it’s The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns (May 1-19, 2013). We return to 1958 at Springfield High School for graduation and high hopes including a gymnasium full of pop tunes from the era — “River Deep, Mountain High,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “Rockin’ Robin.”
Subscriptions are already on sale ($156-$186); you can purchase a FlexPass ($196), which gives you six flexible tickets to use for any show and in any combination. Single tickets for season go on sale to the general public on August 13, 2012.
Cincinnati Playhouse just opened Thunder Knocking on the Door, a show it staged in 1999 and sold a boatload of tickets — the most for any musical it’s presented in the past two decades! I was there on Thursday night for the opening, and this is a drop-dead gorgeous production — costumes, sets, lighting and sound by Broadway designers, and a cast of five who all have star-power. Even better, they form a wonderful musical ensemble when they need to. Keith Glover’s play is a fable about the Blues: Marvell Thunder is a mystical presence who years earlier lost a “cuttin’ contest” to a fellow named Jaguar Dupree, and now he’s back to even the score “where the two roads meet,” somewhere near Bessemer, Alabama. But Jaguar’s passed, survived by his wife (twice widowed since then) and his twin brother. Her and Jaguar’s twin children, Jaguar Jr. and Glory are musical and each have magical guitars that he bequeathed to them. Jr. has lost his to Thunder, and now he’s coming for the other one. But it’s complicated, because Thunder is turning to stone because it’s been so long since he’s been in love. All this is played out to a wonderful Blues score, most of it by singer and composer Keb’ Mo’. There’s a great band backing them up, and to make this tale all the more magical, among its technical team is an “illusion designer.” You’ll be asking, “How’d they do that?” more than once. I gave it a Critic’s Pick, and you should get your tickets right away. 513-421k-3888.
Know Theatre’s production of the recent off-Broadway and Broadway Rock musical hit, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a youthful mix of political commentary, driving Rock performances, history, humor and sober observations on the will of the people — just what we’ve come expect from Know Theatre. 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, and the show is proving to be a big hit for Know. (Through May 12.) Box office: 513-300-5669.
Pump Boys & Dinettes at the Covington’s Carnegie Center is something like an off-Broadway classic (it had a brief Broadway run) from the early 1980s. Set in a filling station that’s also a diner, it’s a framework for downhome Country tunes and cornpone humor. Not much of a story, but a talented cast makes this one a lot of light-hearted fun. This is the final weekend. Box office: 859-957-1940.
Covedale Center is presenting Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s but Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I saw it last Friday and can recommend it as a production that does justice to a piece of entertaining fluff. Director Tim Perrino has assembled a fast-paced production with some fine voices. The jaunty show, which covers the familiar tale in about 90 minutes (including intermission), has fun with (and parodies) various musical styles — from Elvis-styled Rock and Western Swing to French ballads and calypso. Stone walls and palms slide back to reveal a sphinx and a smoking entrance for the Pharaoh (aka Elvis). It’s not groundbreaking in any way, but it is the kind of solid entertainment the Covedale has presented for 10 seasons. Through May 13. Box office: 513-241-6550.
And while I’m talking about lighthearted shows, make not that a tour of Mamma Mia, cramming tons of ABBA tunes into an implausible but funny story, makes a one-week stop at the Aronoff starting on Tuesday. It would be hard not to have a good time at any production of Mamma Mia. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Carnegie Center in Covington has been producing some ambitious theater and following a course that others haven’t tried: It’s called collaboration. Joshua Steele, the managing director of theater for the arts center in a one-time Carnegie Library, has amplified his results by working with other arts institutions in the region — especially, but not limited to, the fine theater programs at area universities. Steele will announce his 2012-2013 this week, and it’s evident that he’s continuing this commendable course working with Dayton’s Human Race Theatre Company for the first time and building on a productive relationship with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. He’s also engaged some top-notch freelance talent to ensure that productions will be memorable.
Steele, who previously co-founded the meteoric New Stage Collective with his friend Alan Patrick Kenny, is bringing the remarkable director back to town for his first return since NSC closed in April 2010. Kenny, who has been earning an M.F.A. in California and staging theater on the West Coast, will direct the regional premiere of the musical Xanadu (Aug. 11-26, 2012). This campy, tongue-in-cheek show, based on the 1980 move that featured Olivia Newton-John, is right up Kenny’s inventive alley, and should be a refreshing dash of onstage energy at summer’s end. (Auditions for this show will take place on May 22, 7-10 p.m. at the Carnegie. Actors interested in auditioning should contact Adrianne Eby, email@example.com)
The Human Race collaboration will be next. The Dayton
company, which performs regularly at the Loft Theater in that city’s downtown,
is premiering a new play by Michael Slade, Under a Red Moon, in late October.
The production will then move to the Carnegie for a three-weekend run (Nov.
2-18, 2012). Set in 1949, it’s a taut psychological thriller telling the story
of John George Haigh, Britain’s infamous “Acid Bath Killer.”
For the third consecutive year, Steele has lined up a joint, in-concert presentation of a well known musical with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. After successful outings with the CCO for Carousel and The King and I, the late January 2013 production will be Camelot, the story of chivalry and the love triangle of King Arthur, Queen Guenevere and the knight Sir Lancelot. The lush Lerner and Loewe score will be conducted by the CCO’s music director Mischa Santora onstage with musicians from the orchestra.
Steele wraps up his four-production season with Jason Robert
Brown’s powerful musical Parade (April 5-21, 2013), staged by
local director-choreographer team Ed Cohen and Dee Anne Bryll, who will be
joined by music director Steve Goers (currently appearing in the Carnegie’s
production of Pump Boys & Dinettes).
Set in Atlanta in 1913, it’s about the intolerance and misunderstanding
swirling around the trial of a Jewish factory manager accused of murdering a
young girl in his employ. Cohen and Bryll staged an excellent community theater
production of the show with Footlighters Inc. in 2007, winning that season’s
outstanding community theater award. They also staged the Huck Finn musical Big River for the Carnegie with great
results in 2010.
It’s a great line-up, and I suspect audiences will be lining up in Covington for these productions.