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.
Cincinnati will see the regional premiere of The Book of Mormon a year from now. The winner of nine Tony Awards will be the highlight of Broadway in Cincinnati's 2013-2014 season at downtown's Aronoff Center for the Arts. It's set for a three-week run, Jan. 7-26, 2014. A show described as "the funniest musical of all time" that was created by the guys behind the satirical South Park TV series has enough raucous, off-color humor to melt away any winter chill that settles in following the holidays. It's about two naive and optimistic Mormon missionaries who tryto persuade residents of Uganda to follow their faith — but threatened by a maniacal warlord, the locals are more concerned with war, famine, poverty and AIDS than religion. The satire is laid on thick, and it's the kind of show that's bound to offend some people. Nevertheless, it's been a gigantic Broadway hit since it opened in March 2011; the tour that comes our way began back in August, so Cincinnati is an early stop.The season will have a number of familiar titles, including another three-week run for the Broadway hit Wicked (March 5-23, 2014). The Wizard of Oz musical has been running on Broadway for a decade. There will also be two Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, a new production of his 1978 musical Evita (Feb. 18-March 2, 2014), based on the show's successful 2012 Broadway revival; as well as another chance to see Lloyd Webber's phenomenal hit, The Phantom of the Opera (April 30-May, 11, 2014).
By the way, there's apparently such anticipation for Freud's Last Session, which features local actor Bruce Cromer, that tickets are selling out for some performances. As a result, even before the show opens on Jan. 23, ETC has extended the show's run by a week, to Feb. 16. Box office: 513-421-3555
If you haven't yet caught Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's staging of Richard II, you really should make a point of doing so. In my review, I pointed to Brent Vimtrup's multi-faceted performance. I'll add here that there are strong supporting performances from Jim Hopkins, Nick Rose and Giles Davies (this longtime CSC favorite is back in town for a few productions). This show isn't often produced (it's the first time for Cincy Shakes in its 19-year history), but this staging will make you wonder why. It's bursting with poetry, and there's lots to look at with beautiful 14th-century-styled costumes. An Acclaim Awards panel cited Vimtrup's performance as well as Andrew Hungerford's lighting design; I gave the production a Critic's Pick. Need any more encouragement? Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1
Elsewhere, you'll find a production of Adam Rapp's Red Light Winter by Untethered Theater at Clifton Performance Theatre. This is a chilly drama about a weird love triangle. It's a great piece for three young actors. Look for a review in the next issue of CityBeat. (Tickets: 513-939-0599) If you want something a little lighter, consider Moonlight and Magnolias at Mariemont Players, a very dependable community theater on Cincinnati's east side. The show is an amusing reconstruction of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans involved in writing the script for Gone with the Wind. It's told with a lot of slapstick that will have audiences laughing out loud. (513-684-1236)
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is the first out of the
chute with a new production in 2013. Of course, it's a 400-year-old play
about a king from two centuries before that. But Shakespeare proved
with his script for Richard II that there are universal
traits that make us all human, even if we're a king who's supposedly
given his powers directly from God.
Richard was thrust onto the throne while still a teenager, and in Shakespeare's version he's an adult but very uncertain of his right to rule and doubtful of his ability to do so. That kind of anxiety still makes sense in the 21st century. So CSC's first-ever staging of the show is something that should interest both to your average theatergoer as well as anyone looking to complete the experience of seeing every play the Bard penned. This one marks No. 37 of 38 for CSC; one more year and they'll have staged every one of Shakespeare's surviving works, quite an accomplishment. With a fine actor, Brent Vimtrup, playing Richard, and a script that's all poetry, this one promises to be both fascinating and satisfying.
More things start up next week and the one after that has a veritable avalanche of shows, so I suggest you hustle on downtown to Cincy Shakes venue and catch this one before you have too many choices.
As I wrote in my column in the current issue of CityBeat, there's a lot of good holiday theater available on Cincinnati stages right now. The Playhouse's production of A Christmas Carol, now in its 22nd year, is best in class — a well-told traditional tale with some of the best professional actors in town onstage, from Bruce Cromer as Scrooge and Dale Hodges as the Ghost of Christmas past. There are a few new faces, too, playing the Cratchits. And speaking of new faces, I feel comfortable recommending New Edgecliff Theatre's one-woman show, The 12 Dates of Christmas, which is being engagingly performed by Annie Kalahurka. It's paired with David Sedaris's The Santaland Diaries, which feels a little shopworn to me, but you can catch the double-bill downtown at the Arnonff's Fifth Third Bank Theater — and maybe go for drinks at Arnold's before or after the show.
If you're looking for something kind of different, try The Naughty List (review here), a holiday-themed improv show (presented in Arnold's courtyard on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings) by Know Theatre. Five quick-witted comics who constitute OTR Improv are doing routines that use audience suggestions (and occasional audience participants) for nearly two hours of entertainment. It's a different show every night.
Have kids you want to take to the theater and give them a taste of what fun it can be? Two good bets are Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati for one of its musical fairytales with a moral (this year the show is a colorful, cartoonish rendition of Alice in Wonderland) and Covedale Center, where Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella is singing and dancing its way through another familiar story the kids will know. The prince is handsome, Cinderella is sweet and the nasty Stepmother is played by a guy.
As far as familiar stories go, you've probably seen Frank Capra's classic holiday film It's a Wonderful Life a few times during the holidays. But I bet you haven't experienced in the unique way that Falcon Theater offers it up at Newport's Monmouth Theatre: The script frames the story as an old-time radio drama, and you get to watch behind-the-scenes as a handful of actors play all the roles and a few others create the necessary sound effects. It opens this weekend and runs for a week. I haven't seen this year's edition, but I've enjoyed past incarnations, and I suspect this one will be entertaining as well.
8 is the real-life story about two loving same-sex couples
living in California who want to get married but can't because in 2008 Proposition 8
took away the right for LGBT couples to marry in California.
Just like these couples, gay-rights
activists have been fighting for same-sex marriages across America for more than a
decade. Some progress has been made as gay marriage is now legal in nine states
and the District of Columbia, but many California residents feel left
out and are eager to resume same-sex marriage in their state.
After being engrossed with all the drama of the courtroom and seeing
how the case affects the plaintiffs in 8, tune back into
reality as the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to announce a decision about
Proposition 8 today.
So Thanksgiving was early this year, and that means that not only
retailers but all of our local theaters have fired their starting guns
earlier than usual with family-friendly holiday shows. That began with
Ensemble Theatre's opening of Alice in Wonderland on Nov. 28, and
Cinderella at the Covedale, A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse and New Edgecliff's Santaland Diaries (newly paired with The 12 Dates of Christmas) using a new venue, the Aronoff's Fifth Third Bank Theater.
But before you start wearing your Christmas sweaters and holiday socks, I have a few non-seasonal but highly entertaining productions you should consider:
Let's start with Cincinnati Shakespeare's staging of The Importance of Being Earnest. This is a classic comedy from 1895 by Oscar Wilde, but don't think there's anything old and musty about it. The production of this witty, romantic tale of harmless manipulation bubbles with laughter and sprightly performances. I gave it a Critic's Pick here and I suspect it will be another sold-out run for Cincy Shakes, which has assembled a gangbuster season. You should note that it's only onstage through Dec. 16, so if you want to see it, don't wait too long. (As of the 16th it will be supplanted by Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some), Cincy Shakes' holiday offering.) Box office: 513-381-2273 x.1.
And if smiles without holiday trimming are something you seek, I highly recommend the touring production of Jersey Boys. This is the true story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Pop stars from the 1960s, and the show is stuffed full of their memorable, tuneful hits. The four leading actors faithfully recreate the group's close harmonies and Valli's soaring falsetto tenor — he's one of the great Pop vocalists of all time, and Nick Cosgrove nails the role. Although the history of these four singers has its ups and downs, the story is told with a sense of wry humor (and numerous F-bombs) that keeps things light and entertaining. Audiences have been clamoring for Broadway in Cincinnati to bring this show back since it appeared at the Aronoff back in 2008, and tickets are selling fast. Box office: 800-982-2787.
Don't forget Hank Williams: Lost Highway at the Playhouse's Shelterhouse stage. (Review here.) It's another genuine reincarnation of a singer who made an indelible mark on the world of Pop music. Box office: 513-421-3888.
People who’ve never heard of her or the carpet cleaning company are tuning in now by the thousands, thanks to a YouTube video, cleverly titled “The Stanley Steemer Variations (by Mia).” Gentile generated with local musician and producer Roger Klug. Julie Spangler, a professional pianist and musical theater instructor at CCM, introduced Klug and Gentile, who wanted to produce a voiceover demo of the various musical styles she could reproduce (which appears to be limitless). Klug convinced her to translate her vocal performances into a video, which they shot in one day over the summer. “It was a total collaboration,” Klug tells me. “We talked about what each character would look like, she did the makeup and hair, I shot and edited the thing. We completely did it for no other reason than ‘just for the fun of it.’” It was shot at the local studio Mental Giant with Klug using a Sony Handycam.
Well, that it was — it’s apparent from watching. But everyone is getting in on the fun, and the video has taken off virally on YouTube. When Klug contacted me on Monday morning, it had had 40,000 hits in just a few days. By midnight the piece had exploded, exceeding 100,000 hits. He and Gentile have created a blog site to support it: http://miavideo.wordpress.com.
Even better, the Stanley Steemer people have picked it up, hyping it on their Facebook page, which has led to a suspicion that the whole thing is a clever marketing ploy. “Another faction thinks Stanley Steemer owes us a big check,” Klug jokes, “which I'm inclined to agree with!” It’s spread to an international audience now, dare I say “picking up steam” with a mention and a link in the U.K. edition of The Huffington Post. Before this winds up, Gentile will need her own 1-800 number!