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by Rick Pender 04.23.2012
Posted In: Theater at 07:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pamela kay day and darin art starred in the 2007 production of parade:photo dean rettig

Carnegie Plays Well with Others

Joshua Steele will produce four collaborative shows in Covington next season

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, aeby@thecarnegie.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.

 
 
by Rick Pender 04.20.2012
Posted In: Theater at 09:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage 4-18 - carnegie - cast of pump boys & dinettes - photo matt steffen.widea

Stage Door: More Musicals

I was at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music last evening to see this weekend’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. I love this densely intellectual script that’s awash in math and physics theory as well as conflicting perspectives deriving from the Romantic movement and the Age of Enlightenment. The play alternates between 1809 and 1993, with characters in the more recent era speculating about actions and motives of people, including the poet Lord Byron, from nearly two centuries earlier. It’s a fascinating conceit, but it’s also three hours of dialogue that require close attention — and a lot of the CCM audience took off at intermission. The challenge is exacerbated by a lot of fast-talking using British accents and amplification (the actors wear body mics) that sounds blurry. That’s too bad, because the production looks great, is nicely costumed and has some fine performances, and Stoppard’s script is one of the great plays of the past 30 years. But unless you’ve seen it or read it, you might find this production a challenge. Box office: 513-556-4183

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 — where you can “Eat and Get Gas” — it’s a jaunty framework for downhome Country tunes and cornpone humor. It opens a three-weekend run a week ago, and I found it to be a delightfully entertaining production. Read my review here. Box office: 859-957-1940

More musical froth is available this weekend, including My Favorite Year, through Sunday at Northern Kentucky University (859-572-5464), and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat through May 13 at the Covedale Center (513-241-6550). The former is a story about backstage shenanigans in the early days of television; the latter is an early show by Andrew Lloyd Webber based on a familiar biblical story. Neither is profound, but both should fun to watch.

For a musical with some sharper edge, you might check out Know Theatre’s production of the recent off-Broadway and Broadway Rock musical hit, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. The show 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. (The “orchestra” for the production is the local band The Dukes Are Dead.) The show has a cast of strong musical theater performers, and they make this sassy political satire a Critic’s Pick. This is Bloody Bloody’s first professional regional production, and it will surely be the big hit of Know’s season. (Through May 12.) Box office: 513-300-5669.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Grapes of Wrath (running through April 29) is a powerful theatrical interpretation of John Steinbeck’s grim tale about a Depression-era family of Oklahoma sharecroppers driven to homelessness by ecological and economic disasters. It’s a portrait of the desperate life wrought by the Depression in the 1930s and a powerful reminder that life hasn’t improved for many Americans 80 years later. CSC’s production is made all the more relevant by folksy musical interludes performed live by some of the actors. A downer of a story, but definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.

Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.


 
 
by Rick Pender 04.19.2012
Posted In: Theater at 08:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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2012 Fringe Cranks Up its Engine

Twenty-nine shows in two weeks, commencing May 29

Know Theatre has announced the 2012 Cincinnati Fringe Festival, kicking off May 29 and continuing through June 9. Festivities begin with the official CityBeat Fringe Kick-Off Party on May 29 at 6 p.m. (A suggested donation of $5 gets you in.) During the Festivals’ two-week run, 29 productions will receive multiple performances. Some shows are locally originated (14) and others are by touring artists (15) who travel to festivals around the United States. If everything selected actually happens (that’s seldom the case), there will be 10 plays, nine solo shows, four dance works and six multimedia/variety pieces.


Several award-winning groups popular with past Fringe audiences are set to return. One of the most popular performers from 2011, Kevin J. Thornton — his I Love You (We’re Fucked) had a sold-out run and returned for another stint last October — is back with Strange Dreamz. Thornton has appeared in the Capital Fringe, Indy Fringe, NYC Frigid Festival, Tucson Fringe Festival, Phoenix Fringe Festival, Orlando Fringe Festival, Kansas City Fringe Festival, and the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

 Four Humors Theater from the Twin Cities is back for the fifth consecutive year, this time presenting Bombus and Berrylinne, or the Bumblebee and the Hummingbird. The group has previously produced Mortem Capiendum (Producer’s Pick of the Fringe, 2008), April Fools (2009), and Harold (Critic’s Pick of the Fringe, 2010) and the hilarious James Bond-inspired puppet show You Only Live Forever Once (2011).

The longevity honors will continue to be held by Cincinnati Fringe veteran group Performance Gallery, returning for their ninth year with Rodney Rumple's Random Reality. Past Cincinnati Fringe appearances include Images of a Beating Heart (2004), The Killer Whispers and Prays (2005), Godsplay (2006), Girlfight (2007), Fricative (2008), KAZ/m (2009), The Council (2010) and The Body Speaks (2011). Brad Cupples, the playwright for Performance Gallery’s 2010 entry, returns with Third Quarter Moon: A Complex Derivative Love Story.

We’ll see shows from established local companies, including Quake: A Love Story from New Edgecliff Theatre (they presented Darker in 2011) and Don't Cross The Streams: The Cease and Desist Musical, a stage musical from Covington’s Carnegie Visual & Performing Arts Center.

Two new local companies will present for the first time. Homegrown Theatre, led by local actress Leah Strasser will present an absurdist piece, The Doppelganger Cometh and Overtaketh, while Essex Theatre Arts Studio, founded by actors Bob Allen and Elizabeth Harris, will stage Love Knots, a series of shorts plays about love and romance by local playwright Phil Paradis.

There will be plenty of new acts, including Grim & Fisher (the award-winning A deathly comedy in full-face mask) from Portland, Ore., and Rebecca King (Storms Beneath Her Skin), a transgender artist from Chicago. New York artist Tanya O’Debra’s Radio Star has won awards in San Francisco, Montreal and New York City.

There will be dance performances by Houston-based dance company Psophonia (Delicious) and two local groups, MamLuft&Co.’s (Latitude) and Pones, Inc. (Project Activate). The latter is a collaborative and participatory performance that asks “How do you activate Cincinnati?” It’s the product of five local service organizations with 12 professional artists from a variety of disciplines.

Each evening after performances, artists, audience members, staff, and volunteers gather at Know Theatre’s Underground bar for the Fringe Bar Series featuring the “Channel Fringe Hard Hitting Action News Update.” Events there include Fringe previews, Fringe Olympics, Fringe-e-Oke, Fringe Prom, and the 22.5 hour play project.

This year marks the second year of FringeNext, offering three shows created and performed by high school students. Two are originating from the School for Creative and Performing Arts; the third is from Lakota West High School.

Individual tickets to shows are still $12. “Full Frontal” passes are $200, providing access to every event in the festival. “Flexible Voyeur” six-show passes are on sale for $60, the price equivalent of five tickets. “One Night Stand” passes are $35; that’s good for one weeknight (as many as three shows) and a drink at Know Theatre's Bar. Pre-sale single tickets will go on sale mid-May.

For more information about the performances or to purchase passes, check out www.cincyfringe.com or call (513) 300-KNOW (5669).

 
 
by Rick Pender 04.13.2012
Posted In: Theater at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage 4-11 bloody bloody andrew jackson @ know theatre - kellen york as aj - photo deogracias lerma

Stage Door: Shatner, CSC and 'Bloody Bloody'

I’m not a big fan of playwright Neil LaBute, whose characters tend to be misogynistic, shallow and selfish. That’s the case with reasons to be pretty at New Edgecliff Theatre, which I saw last night. It’s in the same vein as other LaBute scripts, with a semi-sensitive guy who gets lost in being a man, pulls back slightly, but pays the price for his own thoughtless behavior and his collaboration with a caricatured, boorish friend. NET’s production benefits from some decent acting, and on opening night the audience was caught up in watching guys say nasty things and women act out and suffer. This show (full of coarse language and reprehensible behavior) appeals to the worst in human nature. The modest effort to pull it out at the end wasn’t enough for me. Box office: 888-588-0137.

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. (The “orchestra” for the production is the local band The Dukes Are Dead.) Kellen York, playing the title role is note even a remotely good singer, but he looks and acts the part, strutting around the stage as an “agent of change.” He’s surrounded by a cast of strong musical theater performers, and their work plus a sassy political satire makes this show a Critic’s Pick. This is Bloody Bloody’s first professional regional production, and it will surely be the big hit of Know’s season. (Through May 12.) Box office: 513-300-5669.

Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It is a one-man tour by the actor who’s played an iconic starship captain on Star Trek and a sleazy attorney on television on Boston Legal. He’s been a character from start to finish, and this act has earned positive reviews in New York City and in cities where he’s making stops. He’s at the Aronoff on Friday night (one night only). Beam me up. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

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. It opens a three-weekend run on April 13; I haven’t seen it yet, but the cast and an online video tell me it will be a lot of fun. Box office: 859-957-1940.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Grapes of Wrath (running through April 29) is a powerful theatrical interpretation of John Steinbeck’s grim tale about a Depression-era family of Oklahoma sharecroppers driven to homelessness by ecological and economic disasters. It’s a portrait of the desperate life wrought by the Depression in the 1930s and a powerful reminder that life hasn’t improved for many Americans 80 years later. CSC’s production is made all the more relevant by folksy musical interludes performed live by some of the actors. A downer of a story, but definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.

It’s the final weekend for Kim Rosenstock’s new play Tigers Be Still at the Cincinnati Playhouse, a show about people dealing with depression in a way that’s charming, funny, optimistic and even heart-warming. It’s about a young woman with a recently earned degree in art therapy; she’s been down in the dumps about finding work, but not as much as her mom who’s gained weight and her sister who’s been dumped by her fiancé. There’s lots more to keep you laughing and paying attention. Through Sunday. Box office: 513-421-3888.

Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.

 
 
by Rick Pender 03.30.2012
Posted In: Theater at 10:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage 3-28 - tigers be still - cincy playhouse - (l-r) joanne tucker, eric nelsen & lindsey kyler - photo by sandy underwood..widea

Stage Door: Entertainments For All Ages

Traditional shows, Cirque du Soleil and openings at Know and Cincy Shakes

Thanks to spot-on casting of the four actors who bring Kim Rosenstock’s new play Tigers Be Still to life at the Cincinnati Playhouse, the show about people dealing with depression is charming, funny, optimistic and even heart-warming. It’s about a young woman with a recently earned degree in art therapy; she’s been down in the dumps about finding work, but not as much as her mom who’s gained weight and her sister who’s been dumped by her fiancé. She’s starting a new job thanks to her mom’s long-ago boyfriend, now a middle school principal. He has issues of his own — from a slacker son to anxiety about a tiger that’s escaped from the local zoo. Sound zany? Well, it is — as well as entertaining. The League of Cincinnati Theatres singled out this production’s sound design by Vincent Olivieri for an award. One panelist wrote, “On a very small stage, scenes took place in a school gym, drugstore, office, closet, outdoors and in the living spaces of two houses. Except for the main set, capturing the essence of these scenes was limited to a couple of props and pieces of furniture — and the sound!” Through April 15. Box office: 513-421-3888.

There’s a final performance on Saturday afternoon of Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale, presented by The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. The world premiere musical by composer Janet Vogt and writer Mark Friedman has received an award from the league of Cincinnati Theatres for its scenic design by David Centers. Tickets: 513-569-8080, x13. His design for the show was described by LCT judges as “simple and very well executed in a style that was great for the play.” In addition to the show’s signature tower, the set also boasts a forest that “wasn’t too dank, dark and dismal, but instead had personality.” (Centers, a veteran local designer and a graduate of the School for Creative and Performing Arts, received an LCT Award in the same category earlier this year for his work Disney’s My Son Pinocchio Jr.) Tickets: 513-569-8080, x13.

On Wednesday I attended the Cirque du Soleil production of Dralion at the Bank of Kentucky Arena, adjacent to Northern Kentucky University. It’s another extravaganza of strength and showmanship, athleticism and artistry. This struck me as a somewhat more compact show than I’ve seen in the past: The talent is just as great, but the concept — connections between East and West — is pretty vaporous. But there are three wonderful clowns, and several of the performances do things that make you say, “How can a human body do that?” Balancing on one hand, flying through the air on a hoop, skipping rope in a human pyramid — it’s amazing stuff. It’s being presented through Sunday: Lots of available seats on opening night, so I’m guessing you can still find tickets for all performances. Through Sunday. Tickets: 800-745-3000

Two excellent productions wrap up this weekend. The Cincinnati Playhouse’s unique staging of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s musical Merrily We Roll Along, which uses actors who also play musical instruments has its final performances on Saturday. I gave the production a Critic's Pick; Merrily is only infrequently staged, so this is a chance not to be missed. Box office: 513-421-3888. Ensemble Theatre concludes the run of Time Stands Still, a fine drama with a great ensemble cast directed by Michael Evan Haney. Final performance is on Sunday. This tale of burned-out journalists and last gasps at relationships by Donald Margulies, a Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist, also earned a Critic's Pick. Box office: 513-421-3555.

Know Theatre’s production of the recent off-Broadway and Broadway Rock musical hit, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, opens on Saturday. (It’s onstage through May 12.) Word has it that tickets are already selling fast. Box office: 513-300-5669. This weekend is also the opening for Cincinnati Shakespeare’s production of The Grapes of Wrath, which runs through April 29. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.

Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.

 
 
by Rick Pender 03.26.2012
Posted In: Theater at 11:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Cincinnati Playhouse Releases 2012-2013 Schedule

Incoming artistic director chooses new works and shows for the entire family

The Cincinnati Playhouse’s incoming artistic director, Blake Robison, today announced the shows to be produced for the 2012-2013 season. Robison takes over from Ed Stern, who retires on June 30 after 20 years setting the course for the respected regional theater. During Stern’s tenure, the Playhouse has twice won Tony Awards — in 2004 as an outstanding regional theater, and again in 2007 when its production of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company moved to Broadway and was named the season’s best revival of a musical.

Robison’s new season looks a little different from seasons that Stern has assembled in the past. In particular, he’s included two shows that offer journeys for the entire family — a big swashbuckling adaptation of The Three Musketeers (by Ken Ludwig, who wrote Lend Me a Tenor) to open the season on the Marx stage, and a seafaring expedition, Shipwrecked! An Entertainment – The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (by Donald Margulies, whose usual fare is dramas — including Time Stands Still, currently onstage at Ensemble Theatre.

The season's schedule will include two world premieres, Abigail/1702, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s script based on a central character from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. On the Shelterhouse stage, Robison will offer Deborah Zoe Laufer’s Leveling Up, about four twentysomethings mired in video games who find the real world a lot more complicated. (Laufer’s End Days was presented by Ensemble Theatre a year ago.) We’ll also see Dayton native Daniel Beaty perform his one-man show, Through the Night, in which he plays six African-American men, ranging in age from 10 to 60. The show recently earned positive reviews as well as Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle award nominations in New York City.

Robison has several selected classic plays for the Marx by two legendary playwrights whose plays, I’m astonished to say, have never been produced at the Playhouse. Next fall will see Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical script, Brighton Beach Memoirs, set in 1937. Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful (a television script best known for a 1985 movie version starring Geraldine Page), the story of an aging woman determined to return to her childhood home for one last visit, will be staged using African-American actors. Two more classic tales will be produced on the Marx stage: A Christmas Carol returns for its 22nd holiday season, and a new stage version of Double Indemnity, Billy Wilder’s spellbinding noir thriller from 1944.

Rounding out the season will be two Shelterhouse productions. For November and December, Robison has scheduled Hank Williams: Lost Highway, a show about the legendary Country artist created and staged by Randal Myler, who brought Love, Janis to the same space back in 2005. I suspect that Karen Zacarias’s The Book Club Play, a comedy about books and the people who love them, will be popular with audiences. It’s the story of a group that becomes the subject of a documentary with surprising results.

On the brink of his first season, Robison says, “It is an honor and a privilege to take the reins as the Playhouse’s new artistic director. To me, there is so much to celebrate here at the Playhouse — from the tremendous legacy of Ed Stern to the unlimited possibilities before us. What excites me most about joining the Playhouse family is the vibrant role that this theater plays within the region. The doors to the Playhouse are wide open, and we aim to invite as many people as possible inside.”

Here’s the season rundown in chronological order:

  • The Three Musketeers (Marx Theatre, Sept. 1-29, 2012)
  • Through the Night (Shelterhouse Theatre, Sept. 22-Oct. 21, 2012)
  • Brighton Beach Memoirs (Marx Theatre, Oct. 13-Nov. 10, 2012)
  • Hank Williams: Lost Highway (Shelterhouse Theatre, Nov. 3-Dec. 30, 2012)
  • A Christmas Carol (Marx Theatre, Nov. 29-Dec. 30, 2012)
  • Abigail/1702 (Marx Theatre, Jan. 19-Feb. 17, 2013)
  • Leveling Up (Shelterhouse Theatre, Feb. 9-March 10, 2013)
  • The Trip to Bountiful (Marx Theatre, March 9-April 7, 2013)
  • The Book Club Play (Shelterhouse Theatre, March 23-April 28, 2013)
  • Double Indemnity (Marx Theatre, April 20-May 18, 2013)
  • Shipwrecked! An Entertainment – The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as told by Himself) (Shelterhouse Theatre, May 11-June 16, 2013)

 
 
by Rick Pender 03.25.2012
Posted In: Theater at 08:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Lifting the Curtain (Well, a Corner of It) at the Playhouse

Playhouse will stage world premiere of 'Abigail/1702'

Around noon on Monday, the Cincinnati Playhouse will announcement its 2012-2013 season, the first mapped out by someone other than Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern in 20 years. Blake Robison takes over for the retiring Stern on July 1, so he’s had the daunting task of following in those big (and very successful) footsteps. Stern liked to present work by up-and-coming playwrights, and Robison has the same inclination, although as someone a generation younger than Stern, he has his own connections and ideas. He’s landed a world premiere by one of the most intriguing young playwrights in the United States, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. The show is called Abigail/1702, and we’ll see it early in 2013 (Jan. 19-Feb. 17).

It’s Aguirre-Sacasa’s imaginative exploration of what became of Abigail Williams, the young girl who sets in motion the Salem witch trials portrayed in Arthur Miller’s classic play from 1952, The Crucible. The new work, set a decade after Abigail accused many people of witchcraft, portrays her in her late 20s, struggling to atone for her sins, the ones portrayed in that memorable play — as well as darker ones that live in her heart. As she cares for a young sailor on the brink of death, a stranger from her past finds her and sets her on a quest for redemption.

Robison, who will direct the production, staged another work by Aguirre-Sacasa, his adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray that proved to be a bit hit at the Roundhouse Theatre in Maryland, where Robison served as artistic director. “When I found out that I was coming to the Playhouse, one of the first calls I made was to Roberto because I value his voice as an artist so much. I told him, ‘Send me whatever you’re working on right now.’ He sent me this play and I read it. I texted him and said, ‘You wrote an awesome play! I want to do it.’”

Robison admires the writer’s breadth of work: He’s written for Marvel Comics (Marvel Knights, Spider-Man and The Stand), for television (as a staff writer for HBO’s Big Love and the hit Fox series Glee) as well as nearly a dozen plays. “One of the fun things for me as the incoming artistic director,” Robison told me recently, “is to bring new voices to the community and to introduce some writers who I have a wonderful relationship with who haven’t been seen yet in Cincinnati.”

Robison loves Aguirre-Sacasa’s new script. “He has a gift for dialogue, and a highly visual sense to his writing. This play is quite unlike any of his other plays, quite unlike anything I’ve seen onstage before. To go back into our collective consciousness and pluck this famous figure from the dramatic canon and imagine what her life must be like 10 years down the line is a wonderfully creative act.”

Not to mention a great way for Robison to define his own artistic tastes for Cincinnati audiences. Keep an eye on CityBeat’s Arts Blog tomorrow for more news of the Playhouse’s upcoming season.

 
 
by Rick Pender 03.24.2012
Posted In: Theater at 11:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
onstage 3-9 merrily  review image - photo sandy underwood.widea

Stage Door: More Love for 'Merrily'

Ensemble Theatre, NKU and Children's Theater also have quality offerings

Last Sunday evening I gave a lecture prior to the Cincinnati Playhouse performance of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. I stuck around to see the show again (I attended the opening on March 8 in order to review it for CityBeat). I gave the show a Critic’s Pick, but empty seats on Sunday reminded me that a theater critic’s opinion is not necessarily the only endorsement needed for a show to sell tickets. Although this is a fine production, several reasons come to mind: The show is not well known; if people do know it, they’ve heard it was a flop when it had a brief Broadway run in 1981. John Doyle’s production shows little evidence of the latter and demonstrates amply that there’s much to be appreciated. But there’s not been much buzz around Merrily at the Playhouse, despite the work of Doyle and his excellent cast. The upshot is tickets are still available for most performances, through March 31. Doyle inventively staged Sondheim’s Company in 2006 at the Playhouse, a production that moved to Broadway and earned a Tony Award. This production uses the same approach: actors provide their own musical accompaniment. It’s a showbiz tale about chasing success at the expense of happiness. We start at the demise of a bond between three former friends who wonder what happened to the “good thing going” they once had. We trace back to their earliest, optimistic moments via great music, brilliant design and excellent performances. If you love musicals, you should see Merrily We Roll Along. I’ve talked with several people who have returned the Playhouse production. (Merrily is not likely to transfer to New York as Company did in 2006. The show was presented by Encores! at New York’s City Center in February, so theater critics have not paid attention to the Cincinnati production as they did with Company in 2006, right after Doyle staged Sweeney Todd on Broadway.) Box office: 513-421-3888

You can’t go wrong with Donald Margulies’ very much in-the-moment drama Time Stands Still at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. It’s the story of two journalists who have been addicted to the adrenalin rush of covering wars. He’s now running away and hiding in film reviews (there’s a touch of post-traumatic stress, it seems, because he’s watching classic horror films all the time), and she’s recovering from injuries that resulted from a roadside bomb blast in Iraq. What’s next for them? Well, that’s what the play is about — a return for more or settling for a calmer, safer life, represented by a happy if unlikely couple who visit them, the photographer’s editor and mentor and his naïve young girlfriend. Four intriguing character studies add up to an evening of thoughtful drama. I gave it a Critic’s Pick; here’s a link to my review. Through April 1. Tickets: 513-421-3555

Northern Kentucky University just opened a production of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good. It’s about people sent off to a penal colony in Australia in the 1780s. The governor decides to impose order on the criminals by having them put on a play. It’s not an easy undertaking — but it changes the lives of everyone involved. It’s a play about the power of the arts to humanize people and transform them into something new and better. The show’s original Broadway production in 1991 was nominated for six Tony Awards. It’s one of my favorite scripts, a fine choice for NKU’s drama program, where it’s being staged by Daryl Harris. Through April 1. Tickets: 859-572-5464

Finally, if you’d like to instill some interest in the theater in a couple of kids, take them to one of this weekend’s performances of Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale, presented by The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. It’s a world premiere musical created by composer Janet Vogt and writer Mark Friedman, who wrote How I Became a Pirate, a hit from last season. Performances happen at the nicely renovated Taft Theatre on Saturday and Sunday (as well as March 31). Tickets: 513-569-8080, x13.

Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.


 
 
by Rick Pender 03.16.2012
Posted In: Theater at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage 3-21 - time stands still - jen johansen as sarah goodwin - photo ryan kurtz.widea

Stage Door: ETC, Playhouse, Mariemont Players

Fewer productions onstage this week, but still some great choices. On Wednesday evening I attended the premiere of Donald Margulies’ very much in-the-moment drama Time Stands Still at Ensemble Theater. It’s the story of two journalists who have been addicted to the adrenalin rush of covering wars. He’s now running away and hiding in film reviews (there’s a touch of post-traumatic stress, it seems, because he’s watching classic horror films all the time), and she’s recovering from injuries that resulted from a roadside bomb blast in Iraq. What’s next for them? Well, that’s what the play is about — a return for more or settling for a calmer, safer life, represented by a happy if unlikely couple who visit them, the photographer’s editor and mentor and his naïve young girlfriend. Four intriguing character studies add up to an evening of thoughtful drama. I gave it a Critic’s Pick; here’s a link to my review. Through April 1. Tickets: 513-421-3555

I’ve been talking with lots of people about the Cincinnati Playhouse production of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. It’s been directed by John Doyle, who inventively staged Sondheim’s Company in 2006, a production that moved to Broadway and earned a Tony Award. He uses the same approach this time: actors who provide their own musical accompaniment. I liked the results he got from his strong, talented cast. But I will say that this production evokes strong reactions: Some people love it, some are mystified and some hate the nontraditional approach. No one has said it’s not skillfully done, so I can safely tell you that you ought to go and see for yourself. Merrily has long been viewed as one of Sondheim’s few failures (its original run in 1981 lasted for only 16 performances on Broadway), but you wouldn’t know that from this staging: It’s a showbiz tale of chasing success that has not resulted in happiness. We start at the end of a friendship, with three people at one another’s throats, and then trace back to their earliest, optimistic moments together. With great music, a stylized set piled with pages of music (the central character is a Broadway composer) and some intriguing decisions by Doyle about elevating a realistic tale to something more deeply emotional, this version of Merrily is a fascinating production that musical theater lovers ought to see. In addition to my Critic’s Pick, this production has garnered five awards from the League of Cincinnati Theatres for Outstanding Ensemble, for performer Becky Ann Baker, for Scott Pask’s imaginative scenic design, Matt Castle’s music direction and Mary-Mitchell Campbell’s orchestrations. Can’t quite figure why director John Doyle wasn’t cited, since he’s the mastermind behind all this, but you can judge that one for yourself. Through March 31. Box office: 513-421-3888.

I don’t get to see too much community theater, but there are several companies that consistently present work worth watching: Mariemont Players is one of them. Through March 25 the company is presenting Cole, a musical tribute to the life of songwriter Cole Porter, from his days as a student at Yale, life in Paris then Manhattan then Hollywood. I haven’t seen it, but I suspect that it will be entertaining. At the Walton Creek Theater (4101 Walton Creek Road, just east of Mariemont). Tickets: 513-684-1236.

Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.

 
 
by Rick Pender 03.09.2012
Posted In: Theater at 11:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage 3-9 - merrily we roll along - cast at cincinnti playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Sondheim, Afghan Women's Writing and More

Last night I attended the opening of the Cincinnati Playhouse production of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. It’s been directed by John Doyle, who inventively staged Sondheim’s Company in 2006, a production that moved to Broadway and earned a Tony Award. He uses the same approach this time — actors who provide their own musical accompaniment — and the results are top-notch because he’s assembled a strong, talented cast. This show has long been viewed as one of Sondheim’s few failures, but you wouldn’t know that from this staging: It’s a showbiz tale of success that has not led to happiness. We start at the end, with three former friends at one another’s throats, and then trace back to their earliest moments together. With great music, a stylized set piled with pages of music (the central character is a composer) and some intriguing decisions by Doyle about elevating a realistic tale to something more deeply emotional, this version of Merrily is a great choice for anyone who loves musicals. Through March 31. Box office: 513-421-3888

A completely different choice is the Afghan Women’s Writing Project at Know Theatre, this weekend only. Playwrights Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek took material written by women in Afghanistan who risk their lives to write their stories and turn them into material for the stage. Several outstanding local actresses — including CEA Hall of Famer Dale Hodges and frequent CEA award winner Annie Fitzpatrick — are among the interpreters. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. If you go on Friday, plan to stick around for a post-show discussion. Tickets ($18): 513-300-5669

If you like heart-warming, schmaltzy tales, you should find your way to Newport’s Monmouth Theatre where Falcon Theatre is presenting Visiting Mr. Green. It’s the story of a young man “sentenced” to regular visits with an elderly gentleman he nearly ran over. Beneath the surface of their disparate worlds they discover some surprising common ground. What makes this rather predictable story come to life is the acting: Joshua Steele and Mike Moskowitz, who happen to be grandfather and grandson, portray their characters with believability. This is the second of two weekends, Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets: 513-479-6783

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 in a story of romance and domestic intrigue. I gave the production a Critic’s Pick. It’s onstage until March 18, but many performances have sold out. Tickets: 513-381-2273

Speaking of Cincinnati Shakespeare, the company recently announced its 2012-2013 season, which will feature some memorable characters — Sherlock Holmes, Atticus Finch (in To Kill a Mockingbird), Romeo & Juliet, Lady Bracknell (in Oscar Wilde’s hilarious The Importance of Being Earnest), Richard II and Nick Bottom (Midsummer Night Dream’s aspiring actor who makes an ass of himself). You can read about the entire season in my blog post from last Sunday.

Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.

 
 

 

 

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by Rick Pender 07.25.2014 3 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: Shakin' It

If you paid attention to the local theater season just concluded, you will recall that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company completed a herculean task: During its 20-year existence, the classic theater has produced all 38 of Shakespeare's plays. This summer three of Cincy Shakes' best actors are repeating the feat — sort of — with a production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), opening tonight. Jeremy Dubin, Justin McCombs and Nicholas Rose will be careening through the comedies, histories and tragedies digging props, wigs and ridiculous costumes out of a trunk. This is a perfect summer laugh-fest, and it's been a predictable hit in past seasons for Cincy Shakes, so tickets are sure to sell fast. Through Aug. 11. Tickets ($22-$35): 513-381-2273.

Summertime musicals are another great tradition, and Cincinnati Young People's Theatre has been presenting them with big casts of high school students for three decades. In fact, the just-opened production of Footloose at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is the 33rd summer show. It's the stage version of the popular 1984 movie musical, and it's a perfect vehicle for youthful energy focused on a group of high school kids — despite a repressive conservative atmosphere, kids in a small farming town just want to dance and have fun. With Tim Perrino at the helm, CYPT has steered more than 2,300 teens through entertaining shows, and this one will be another notch in his director's belt, providing experience for performers and techies alike. Through Aug. 3, you'll be able to come out and "Hear It for the Boy"! Tickets ($12-$16): 513-241-6559.

I wrote a CityBeat column a week ago about John Leo Muething, an ambitious young theater artistic who's staging a couple of shows this summer at the Art Academy's auditorium on Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine. His second of three shows, repertory theatre, will be produced this weekend (Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.). It's about a timid young playwright who approaches a veteran director about his new play. With Shakespeare's Hamlet echoing throughout, things get wilder and wilder. This show was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe for two years, and its original production is still touring in England; this is its U.S. premiere. Tickets ($10) at the door.

The Commonwealth Theatre Company's Route 66 winds up its run at Northern Kentucky University this weekend on Sunday. It's the tale of a band headed for the West Coast in the 1960s stopping at juke joints, diners, cheap motels and curio shops along one of America's legendary highways. Wes Carman, Roderick Justice, Dain Alan Paige and Joshua Steele play The Chicago Avenue Band. Dinner and the show ($30): 859-572-5464.

If Monday evening arrives and you're still yearning for something entertaining onstage, you can't go wrong with the next quarterly installment of TrueTheatre. This time around it's trueBLOOD, with the warning that if you cringe easily, this might not be the show for you. Whether it's stories that make your blood run cold — or just run — you can be sure that there will be first-person tales of memorable experiences. Great fun with a lively audience. One night only, Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. at Know Theatre. Tickets ($15, only a few left): 513-300-5669.

 
 
by Rick Pender 07.18.2014 10 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
route 66 - commonwealth theatre company - photo tyler gabbard

Stage Door: Kentucky's the Place for Theater this Weekend

The Commonwealth Theatre Company's production of Route 66 continues its dinner-theater run at Northern Kentucky University. It's about a band traveling from Chicago to the West Coast in the 1960s along one of America's most legendary highways. Along the way, they meet a lot of colorful characters and see a lot of America. Wes Carman, Roderick Justice, Dain Alan Paige and Joshua Steele make up "The Chicago Avenue Band," who make stops at juke joints, diners, cheap motels and curio shops in this coming of age story. Through July 27. Dinner and the show ($30): 859-572-5464.

Last Saturday evening I ended up at Highlands High School in Fort Thomas to see teacher Jason Burgess's production of The Addams Family featuring a herd of high school kids from all over Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. It's a perfect musical for the program Burgess has created (C.A.S.T, the Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre), bringing together a ton of students who are in love with theater. Surrounding the central characters in The Addams Family, nicely portrayed by Aaron Schilling as Gomez, Lindsey Gwen Franxman as Morticia and Harrison Swayne as Uncle Fester, are 18 ghostly "ancestors." Each one is costumed (designer Laura Martin) from various periods with a clearly evident character; together they sing and dance as a coherent company. (Amy Burgess served as the production's choreographer, and Alex Gartner is the music director — in creepy makeup.) Through Sunday at 2 p.m. General admission ($10) at the door or online via www.showtix4u.com.

Monday evening at 8 p.m. brings the third installment of Serials! at Know Theatre (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). It's a wacky summer-long set of a half-dozen episodic plays by local playwrights. So far we have seen meat falling from the sky, an NSA spook monitoring a contentious couple, a kid refusing to go to a funeral, a philosophical fetus, a suicidal pair competing over techniques and more. Each 10-15 minute episode is preceded by a clever recap to catch you up, even if it's your first time there. Rest assured there are cliffhangers — not to mention Know's well-stocked Underground Bar. Admission is $15. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

 
 
by Rick Pender 07.11.2014 17 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: Opera, Dinner Theater and More

I saw Cincinnati Opera's production of Silent Night on Thursday evening. It's the regional premiere of a work that won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for music, and our local opera is doing a bang-up job of presenting it. And "bang-up" is the operative term: This opera is set during some of the darkest days of World War I, and the opening segment of the production reproduces the violent and deadly combat between troops from England (actually a regiment from Scotland), France and Germany. You're not likely to see a more gripping onstage representation of battle than what's happening at Music Hall. Before Thursday's performance I listened to composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell talk about how to "musicalize" such a scene: Their research included studying the opening sequence of the Saving Private Ryan, the graphic, Academy Award-winning film of the D-Day invasion during World War II. It's a powerfully real scene, a perfect opening to the moving tale of soldiers pitted as enemies who found common ground in one another's humanity on Christmas Eve 1914. You can get good seats for the concluding performance on Saturday evening (7:30 p.m.) for $30-$45 by calling the Opera's box office: 513-241-2742.

Area high school students are the talent in onstage for Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre (C.A.S.T.) at Highlands High School (2400 Memorial Pkwy., Fort Thomas). Starting tonight is a two-week run (July 11-20) of The Addams Family, a Broadway musical based on cartoonist Charles Addams' bizarre and beloved family of characters. The group is headed up by Fort Thomas theater instructor Jason Burgess, who has assembled theater kids from the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky who are eager to develop their skills in performance and production. Tickets: $10 (http://www.showtix4u.com) or at the door.

The Tony Award-winning musical next to normal, about a woman with bipolar disorder, gets not one but two productions by Cincinnati-area community theaters: Sunset Players on the West Side and Paradise Players for East Side siders. You can choose between them tonight. The venerable Sunset Players, which presents shows at the Dunham Arts Center (in the Dunham Recreation Complex, 4320 Guerley Rd., Price Hill), has performances through July 26, mostly at 8 p.m. Tickets ($14-$16): 513-588-4988. Meanwhile, Paradise Players, a newish group offering summer productions at McNicholas High School's Jeanne Spurlock Theatre (6536 Beechmont Ave.), is presenting its rendition of the show this weekend only, tonight at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $15 (http://mcnhs.seatyourself.biz).

Tickets tend to be a bit harder to come by at Northern Kentucky University for a dinner-theater production by Commonwealth Theatre Company of Route 66. It's about a band traveling from Chicago to the West Coast in the 1960s along one of America's most legendary highways. Along the way, they meet a lot of colorful characters and see a lot of America. The production features four solid local performers: Wes Carman, Roderick Justice, Dain Alan Paige and Joshua Steele are likely to make this a very entertaining evening. Through July 27. Dinner and the show ($30): 859-572-5464.

 
 
by Rick Pender 07.07.2014 21 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
andrew hungerford

Stage Door: Cincinnati Stages Are Waking up This Week

Cincinnati stages were pretty quiet over the Independence Day weekend, but this week they start waking up and getting ready for more. Tonight at 8 p.m. is the second installment of Serials! at Know Theatre. You can see six fresh, 10-minute episodes of brand-new plays by local playwrights — Trey Tatum, Chris Wesselman, Jon Kovach, Ben Dudley, Michael Hall and the team of Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin — and featuring lots of Cincinnati-area actors. New artistic director Andrew Hungerford calls it a "theater party" offering cold beer, air-conditioning and world-premiere stories in Know's Underground bar (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). Even if you missed the "pilots" on June 23, you'll get caught up with a recap before each episode. I had a blast watching these tantalizing tidbits two weeks ago, and I suspect tickets will become harder to get as the summer progresses. (Subsequent performances on July 21, Aug. 11 and 25 and Sept. 8.) Tickets ($15): 513-300-5669.


Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is assembling a cast for its season opener, Hands on a Hardbody (Sept. 3-21), a recent Tony-nominated musical about 10 people vying to win a truck by outlasting their competitors and keeping their hands touching the vehicle — which will be onstage at the Over-the-Rhine theater (1127 Vine St.). ETC is seeking actors, singers and dancers for the show with an open audition on Wednesday this week (July 9, 5-8 p.m.). All are welcome, but an appointment is required. (Contact bholmes@ensemblecincinnati.com) Ensemble Theatre is an AEA Theatre. Union and non-union actors are encouraged to apply. Rehearsals begin August 11. ETC is seeking a diverse cast, and all ethnicities are encouraged to apply, especially African-American men and Hispanic males and females.

ETC had a big hit on its hands three years ago with the Tony Award-winning musical next to normal about a woman with bipolar disorder. In fact it was such a draw that they revived it in the summer of 2012. Although the Rock musical is a challenging work, this week features not one but two productions by Cincinnati-area community theaters: Sunset Players on the West Side and Paradise Players on the East Side. Both productions open Friday evening. The venerable Sunset Players, which presents shows at the Dunham Arts Center (in the Dunham Recreation Complex, 4320 Guerley Rd., Price Hill), has performances through July 26, mostly at 8 p.m. (July 20 is a 2 p.m. matinee.) Tickets ($14-$16): 513-588-4988. Meanwhile, Paradise Players, a newish group offering summer productions at McNicholas High School's Jeanne Spurlock Theatre (6536 Beechmont Ave.), will offer the show just this week, July 10-11 (7:30 p.m.) and July 12 (2:30 and 7:30 p.m.). Tickets: $15 (http://mcnhs.seatyourself.biz

Area high schoolers now have Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre (C.A.S.T.) as a summer outlet for theatrical opportunities at Highlands High School (2400 Memorial Pkwy., Fort Thomas). Starting Friday is a two-week run (July 11-20) of The Addams Family, a Broadway musical based on the bizarre and beloved family of characters created by cartoonist Charles Addams. C.A.S.T., headed by Fort Thomas Independent Schools' theater instructor Jason Burgess, enables kids from the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky to develop their skills in performance and production beyond their school year and beyond their school population. Tickets: $10 (http://www.showtix4u.com) or at the door.
 
 
by Rick Pender 06.27.2014 31 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 04:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 6-27 - private lives  @ cincy shakes - photo rich sofranko  copy

Stage Door: Options Abound

There's a great array of theater this weekend, no matter what you like. That's a good thing, because local theater, like baseball, takes a kind of midsummer break (no All-Star Game onstage anywhere, however). So get out and see something this weekend, then enjoy the fireworks and picnics next. Here are some suggestions:

Traditionally entertaining shows can be found at two professional theaters. At Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, it's the closing weekend for Private Lives, a very witty classic comedy about marriage by Nöel Coward. (CityBeat review here.) Two couples are honeymooning in the south of France, in adjacent hotel rooms. Things go awry when one husband and the other wife cross paths by chance. They were once married to one another, and the spark quickly rekindles, despite the fact that they had a very volatile chemistry. It's a great piece for four comic actors, and Cincy Shakes has a great cast to handle it. Staged by Ensemble Theatre's D. Lynn Meyers. Tickets ($22-$31): 513-381-2273.

A different kind of couple is showcased at Covedale Center, where Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys is in its final weekend. Two guys who were comic partners in the days of vaudeville — and who grew very tired of one another — are brought together for a TV special about the "good old days." They don't much want to do it, but they're coaxed, and the results of their bickering and nastiness makes for a lot of laughter. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

A new theater company, Stone on a Walk, has its inaugural production this weekend, a low-budget performance of Cain by Lord Byron at the Art Academy's lecture hall, a venue familiar to Fringe Festival mavens. Yes, the playwright is that Romantic poet George Gordon you might recall from lit classes. He also wrote plays, and this one from 1821 focuses on Adam and Eve's first son, resentful that his parents' transgressions have forced them out of Eden and made death a real possibility. He spars with Lucifer, still hanging around to make trouble, and is at odds with his pious brother Abel, as well as his wife Adah. Things don't go well, as you might recall — Cain becomes the first murderer. John Leo Muething has put together a three-show season for his new theater venture, Stone on a Walk, with a one-weekend performance of each work (more to follow in July and August). This one features three actresses: Caitlyn Maurmeier is Cain; Hannah Rahe is Adah, Cain's dutiful wife; and Aiden Sims plays Lucifer and Abel. The casting of females in male roles is unusual, and the doubling of Sims as villain and victim might cause a bit of confusion (although she plays Lucifer with sinister hissing vigor, while Abel is the picture of sincerity). The 70-minute performance is done with no stage lighting or scenery; the final section, with actors on the floor, is hard to see unless you're in the front row or two. Cain is a lot of talking, poetry and high emotions, but Maurmeier powerfully renders Cain's despair, and Sims is very watchable as Lucifer. Tickets ($10) at the door; the Art Academy is at 1212 Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine.

How about a showcase of excerpts from Cincinnati's community theaters? Friday evening and all day Saturday that's what's happening at Parrish Auditorium at Miami University's Hamilton campus (1601 University Blvd., Hamilton). Four 30-minute selections tonight include A Midsummer Night's Dream and Les Misérables, and eight more tomorrow morning and afternoon (GodspellSteel MagnoliasNunsense and Tommy are among them). Each performance will be assessed and a few will be selected for a statewide competition in early September. Cincinnati has a lot of excellent community theater, and this is your opportunity to see some of the best shows that have been offered during the 2013-2014 season. Ticket information: http://bit.ly/1lkw098.

And in the off-week between Cincinnati Opera's opening production of Carmen and the upcoming staging of Silent Night, opera seekers might want to check out two works presented by the North American New Opera Workshop (they shorthand that name as "NANOWorks") at Below Zero's Cabaret Room (1122 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine). It's the midwest premiere of Marie Incontrera's At the Other Side of the Earth, a riot girl opera followed by Eric Knechtges's Last Call (Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m.,Sunday at 2 p.m.). Incontrera's piece combines classical performance with punk sensibilities; the piece by Knechtges (who is head of the musical composition program at Northern Kentucky University) is loosely based on the Cincinnati gay bar scene and includes at "techno/house aria" and a high-energy drag performance. This is definitely not your grandmother's opera. Tickets: $20 at the door. 
 
 
by Rick Pender 06.20.2014 38 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: Keep the Groove Going

Probably the most entertaining thing onstage right now is Private Lives at Cincinnati Shakespeare. It's been selling so well that 2 p.m. matinee performances have been added this Saturday and June 28. (It closes on June 29.) It's the story of honeymoons going bad when a feisty divorced couple decide to reunite rather than stick with their new spouses — when they find themselves coincidentally in adjacent hotel rooms in Southern France. (CityBeat review here.) Cleverly staged by Ensemble Theatre's Lynn Meyers, using four of Cincy Shakes best actors. Of course it's all improbable and overdone, but that's a Noël Coward play for you — witty, silly and lots of fun. Tickets ($22-$31): 513-381-2273.

You'll find laughs elsewhere with the Covedale Center's just-opened production of The Sunshine Boys by Neil Simon, a master of comedy. It's about a pair of vaudeville partners who spent 40 years working together and ended up not speaking. But they're being coaxed to come together to re-stage one of their old routines for a TV special. Rehearsals don't go well and the actual live broadcast spirals down from there. Simon is a master of one-liners, and this show has a million of them. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

If Monday leaves you still looking for something onstage, Know Theatre is ready to open its doors for something entertaining: Serials! All summer long at two-week intervals (starting Monday) there will be 15-minute episodes of plays by local writers. This week you'll get to see pilots of Mars vs. The Atom by Trey Tatum, Flesh Descending by Chris Wesselman, The Funeral by Jon Kovach, The Listener by Mike Hall and Fetus and the God by Ben Dudley. These stories are open-ended and audience response will be a factor in where they go. If some of those names sound familiar, it's because most of them are veterans of the Cincy Fringe. If you had a good time there earlier this month, here's a way to keep your groove going. Tickets ($15): 513-300-5669.
 
 
by Rick Pender 06.06.2014 52 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
2014-fringe-festival-image - designed by alex kesman copy

Stage Door: Wrapping up Fringe

Just two more days of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, so here are a few recommendations for great shows you can still catch. (Look for reviews of these performances on CityBeat's Fringe page here.) Many Fringe performances are sold-out, so check in advance to be sure seats are still available: cincyfringe.com.

I was very impressed by Christine Dye's moving performance in Kevin Crowley's one-woman show, Sarge, about a woman whose husband is accused of child molestation. It's final offering is tonight at 7 p.m. Four Humors' An Unauthorized Autobiography of Benny Hill epitomizes the off-kilter nature of the Fringe, a piece that's funny and poignant. Last chance to see it is Saturday at 8:45 p.m. If you like storytelling, you can catch two of those on Saturday evening: Mike Fotis's Fotis Canyon (7 p.m.) and Paul Strickland's Papa Squat's Store of Sorts (9 p.m.) You might also want to check out the intern showcase at Ensemble Theatre, which just opened on Thursday evening; performances Friday (7:45 p.m.) and Saturday (1 and 7 p.m.). It includes some fine acting in some unusual scripts. True Theatre is offers another Fringe iteration featuring its own brand of revelatory truth-telling, featuring several Fringe artists providing back stories about their careers and experiences. That's at 9 p.m. tonight at Coffee Emporium. 

If your taste is for more traditional — but equally entertaining — theater, head to Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production of Noël Coward's Private Lives, a witty comedy classic from 1930. A formerly married couple find themselves on honeymoons with new spouses, but in close proximity to one another. Trouble ensues. Four of Cincy Shakes best actors — Kelly Mengelkoch, Jeremy Dubin, Sara Clark and Brent Vimtrup — constitute the cast. It opens tonight and continues through June 29. Tickets ($22-$31): 513-381-2273, x1.

Finally, whether or not you're a fan of garage sales, you might be interested in what's happening on Saturday morning, 8 a.m. to noon, at the Cincinnati Playhouse's Scenery Shop (2827 Gilbert Ave., Walnut Hills, across from Thomson-MacConnell Cadillac): It's the regional theater's annual sale of props, furniture, dresses and more. If you're a regular at the Playhouse, you might recognize items from productions of A Delicate Ship, The Trip to Bountiful, Thunder Knocking on the Door, As You Like It and more. You'll have your choice of lots of miscellaneous items like china and glassware, dining chairs, tables and desks, area rugs, a bathtub and even a "concrete cherub planter." There's also a collection of 20th-century "day dresses," along with some formal gowns and fabric yardage. Prices are cheap; payment must be by cash or check. All items are sold "as is." 
 
 
by Rick Pender 05.30.2014 59 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 5-30 - spamalot by showbiz players - photo provided

Stage Door: Full Speed Fringe

If you haven't found a couple of 2014 Cincinnati Fringe show that you're dying to see this weekend, you need to go to CityBeat's Fringe hub for some recommendations — including reviews of early performances of all 30-plus shows. But if you're still coming up short, there are more choices from area theaters. 

If it's fun you're seeking, you might want to stop by the Carnegie in Covington, where Showbiz Players is presenting Spamalot. It opens tonight and runs through June 8. You probably know that this very amusing musical (it won three 2005 Tony Awards, including best musical) is "lovingly ripped off" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If you can repeat lines from that 1975 cult hit, then this is surely the show for you. Tickets ($21.50-$24.50): 859-957-1940

Although it's not part of the Fringe, Marc Bamuthi Joseph's red, black & GREEN: a blues surely could be. The hybrid performance work leads audiences through four seasons in four cities: summer in Chicago, fall in Houston, winter in Harlem and spring in Oakland. Memories, hallucinations, dreams and lamentations are set in shotgun houses and subway cars, on park benches and in father-son conversations. I haven't seen it, but people I know have raved about the power of the work, which ranges from hilarious to poignantly sad. Joseph is a spoken-word poet, and his work is meant to be a conversation starter about sustainability and community building. It's being presented on Friday and Saturday evening by the Contemporary Arts Center at the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Tickets ($18 for CAC members, $23 for everyone else): 513-621-2787

This is the final weekend for The North Pool at the Cincinnati Playhouse. (CityBeat review here.) Rajiv Joseph's anxiety-filled drama is a sparring match between a hard-nosed vice principal who thinks he knows something and a student, the son of Middle Eastern immigrants, who has things he wants to keep to himself — but it's not what the school official thinks. In fact, they both have secrets that are slowly, painfully revealed. Great script, great actors. This one is definitely worth catching. Tickets ($25 for students; $30-$75 for others): 513-421-3888

 
 
by Rick Pender 05.23.2014 66 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: Fringe and More

The really big show this weekend happens tonight when the The Cappies of Greater Cincinnati present their eighth annual awards for high school theater productions and performers. Our local program is one of the most established, right up there with programs in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and beyond. Our local awards are presented at the Aronoff Center's Procter & Gamble Hall. In addition to the recognition of high school student performers, the evening offers excerpts from a dozen or so schools plus ensemble numbers featuring kids from all over the region — more than 20 schools participate in the program. An especially exciting aspect (at least from my point of view as a critic) is the fact that an element of the Cappies involves students attending one another's performances and writing about them. Tonight will open with a recognition of the outstanding boy and girl critics, and wrap up by citing the top team of high school critics. I'll be onstage at the Aronoff to present that award, as well as something new: An award for the "top critique" by a student writer. I had the privilege of choosing the winner, which will be posted on CityBeat's arts blog after the award ceremony. And to show how profoundly CityBeat is committed to cultivating arts coverage, we're inviting that winner to cover a high school Fringe Next production in the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, which kicks off next week. No award for me, but I'm honored to be asked to hand out this recognition to the next generation of theater writers!

Speaking of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, I should remind you that it kicks off with a special party hosted by CityBeat on Tuesday. Performances begin on Wednesday evening (continuing through June 7). You can read my overview of the Fringe here touching on the many aspects of creativity, talent, emotion and flat-out fun that will be happening at venues throughout Over-the-Rhine and the northern edge of Downtown Cincinnati. For more information: www.cincyfringe.com.

It's Memorial Day weekend, which is sort of the end of the local theater season, but there's still plenty to see. Size Matters, Ray McAnally's entertaining one-man show about his career as a "hefty" actor gets its final performance on Sunday (CityBeat review here; box office: 513-421-3555), and the Cincinnati Playhouse's taut drama The North Pool is still available on its Shelterhouse Stage (CityBeat review here; box office: 513-421-3888).

One last tidbit: After many years of producing shows aboard the Showboat Majestic, Cincinnati Landmark Productions has pulled into port to stage its summer productions on dry land. They just opened a production of Jerry Herman's classic musical Hello, Dolly!, the kind of show that people have flocked to see on the 'Boat for decades. The Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is an interim stop: By next summer, CLP intends to steam into its new facility, The Warsaw Federal Incline Theater. If that name is unfamiliar, it's because it's just been announced. The savings and loan has been a West Side institution since 1893, and it's lending its venerable moniker to the brand-new 220-seat performing arts center, slated to break ground this summer. The fundraising effort seeking $5.6 million for the project is nearing completion. In the meantime, catch Hello, Dolly! between now and June 1. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
 
 
by Rick Pender 05.16.2014 73 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 5-16 - north pool @ cincinnati playhouse - eli gelb & ted deasy - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Cat-and-Mouse Games at the Playhouse

You really can't go wrong with a show at the Cincinnati Playhouse this weekend. I gave both productions Critic's Picks. The North Pool, on the Shelterhouse stage through June 1, is a taut dialogue between a suspicious high school vice principal and a wary student of Middle Eastern descent. (CityBeat review here.) It takes a while (the show is about 90 minutes, played in real time) to decide who's the good guy and who's the bad guy, and you'll be turned around several times in the process. Excellent acting and a fine script by Ohio native (and Miami University grad) Rajiv Joseph makes this an excellent theatrical experience. On the Playhouse's Marx Stage, it's the final weekend for another kind of cat-and-mouse game. Venus in Fur is all about sexual tension, between an imperious playwright/director and the woman who's auditioning for a role in a play he's adapted from an erotic novel. (CityBeat review here.) David Ives' witty and allusive script (it's literary and mythical in some most amusing ways) is being produced at theaters from coast-to-coast, but I can't imagine there's a finer production than this one anywhere. Tickets: ($30-$75) 513-421-3888.

At Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, you still have two weeks to catch a rare production of The Two Noble Kinsmen. The play is rarely staged (perhaps with good reason: it's not one of Shakespeare's best), but Cincy Shakes' rendition is noteworthy because it's the final work to complete their endeavor of staging all 38 of the Bard's works. (More on that feat here; CityBeat review of The Two Noble Kinsmen here.) It's a feat accomplished by just a handful of theaters worldwide, and it's your chance to check this one off your bucket list. Through May 25. Tickets ($22-$35): 513-381-2273.

Falcon theater, which produces shows in the tiny Monmouth Theater in Newport, Ky., opens Bat Boy the Musical tonight. It's a show that was lifted from the headlines of the Weekly World News (yes, found in the finest grocery store check-out lines) about a strange creature found in a cave in West Virginia. Of course it's crazy, but the show is actually a really entertaining piece about acceptance and community. Three weekends, through May 31. Tickets ($17-$20): 513-479-6783

If you missed The Irish Curse presented by Clifton Players at the tiny Clifton Performance Theatre on Ludlow Avenue back in February and March, they've brought it back for a couple of weekends, this being the second of two. It's an amusing adult comedy about a bunch of guys fretting over the size of their "equipment." Tickets can be ordered online (brownpapertickets.com) or purchased at the door (but be aware: it's a small venue that quickly sells out).
 
 
 
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