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by Rick Pender 05.03.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
measure for measure copy 2

Stage Door: Shake It Up

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company opens its production of the infrequently staged Measure for Measure tonight. Director Brian Isaac Phillips says, “We have discovered a lot of satire and wit as we explore the biting social criticism in this play. The behavior of these characters … is like a dark comic mirror, held up to nature. Shakespeare has written a play that begs us to examine modern day decadence and hypocrisy.” Phillips has set the production in the corrupt and hypocritical Prohibition Era, to "give modern audiences a context for the actions and the characters' deeply held opinions." It's onstage through May 26. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x.1.

The Marvelous Wonderettes are back at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati with another sequel to the 2010 show that set box-office records. This time the theme is "Caps and Gowns" — which means graduation (in 1958) and a wedding (in 1968). The quartet of girl singers are lively and sometimes harmonious, although each one has her quirks and pet peeves. The spread of a decade allows a range through two distinct periods of Rock & Roll, one innocent, the other a bit more knowing. ETC has reunited three of the four actresses who've played these parts before, and the fourth slot – filled by Leslie Goddard — is a petite stick of dynamite in cats' eye glasses. The show opened on Wednesday, and it will surely be a hot ticket again — ETC has already extended it by two weeks beyond its original closing date. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

I went to see Sister Act, based on the Whoopi Goldberg film from 1992 about nuns and disco, with low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised: This is a solid production of a very silly show, with some genuine talent in the leading roles, and plenty of energy in the ensemble. The music (by composer Alan Menken, who also wrote Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Newsies and many more) is entertaining, the production looks great — lots of glitter and sequins — and some moments of touching emotion (cliched, but moving nonetheless). Don't expect anything profound and you'll have a good time. It's onstage at the Aronoff Center. Tickets: 800-982-2782.

If you're in a darker mood, check out Double Indemnity at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It's a stage version of a noir classic, a pair of lovers plot to murder her husband and score a big insurance take (boyfriend is an insurance salesman). But things don't quite work out as planned. Very stylish imagery and actors who get the hard-boiled tough-guy style of story-telling from the 1940s. Paul Shortt's cleverly designed set moves the action quickly from scene to scene using two turntables, so it's almost like a movie with "wipes" from once setting to the next. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
by Rick Pender 05.02.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
photo joan marcus

Well, Bless My Soul: 'Sister Act' is Fun!

You probably remember Whoopi Goldberg's popular film Sister Act from 1992, an unlikely story about an aspiring singer who witnesses a murder and needs to be hidden until the trial — in a convent. Of course, the contrast between Goldberg and the staid nuns, especially the Mother Superior (played by Maggie Smith). It became a musical in 2009 in London, in 2011 on Broadway and now a touring production. Sister Act: The Musical opened Tuesday at the Aronoff Center.

Of course, Goldberg isn't in it, 20 years later. But she is the producer, and her attitude prevails. Her statement about the show pretty well sums it up: "Sister Act is not rocket science — it's hell-bent on being fun and silly, with a little heart thrown in." That's pretty much what I expected.

What surprised me was the talent of the touring cast, performers who are fully committed to deliver an evening of entertainment. Ta'rea Campbell has star power in the Delores/Sister Mary Clarence role, and she's surely a better singer than Whoopi Goldberg ever was. She conveys the shift from attitude to gratidude with sincerity. Hollis Resnik, a veteran musical theater performer from Chicago, captures the starchy disdain needed for the Mother Superior.

The entire ensemble is solid, especially Lael Van Keuren as the innocent postulant who breaks out of her shell, Florrie Bagel as an enthusiastic, starstruck nun and Diane J. Findlay as an elderly nun who finds her mojo. E. Clayton Cornelious is the socially inept cop looking out for Delores, in part because he had a crush on her in high school; he has dreams of being a smooth operator ("I Could Be That Guy," which features some astonishing costume changes as he fantasizes). And there are cartoonish villains: Delores's violent one-time boyfriend Curtis played by Kingsley Leggs. His three thugs, played hilariously by Ernie Pruneda, Charles Barksdale and Jason Simon bring the house down when they explain how they can have their way with the ladies, even if they're nuns ("Lady in the Long Black Dress").

Of course, Sister Act is full of stereotypes and predictable humor, but its all done with energy and polish, which makes it worth seeing. Production values are excellent, from a lot of quick costume changes (you can't imagine how many acres of glittering material went into this show) to a psychedelic Philadelphia cathedral interior that gets wilder and brighter as the story builds, culminating in a performance for the Pope.

There's nothing profound about Sister Act, which is part of the fun.

by Rick Pender 04.28.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
lynn meyers

ETC Shares News About Four Shows for Next Season

Two additional shows will round out 2013-14 season

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati today announced four of its six shows for the 2013-2014 season, which opens on Sept. 4. Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers says, "We are planning a truly original, fresh and exhilarating season of dynamic regional premieres, and I am absolutely thrilled to showcase some of the hottest titles and newest voices this coming year." 

I'll add my vote of confidence: Meyers' play selection has been unerring for several seasons: Even if the titles aren't immediately familiar, ETC's productions have been engaging and among the best work onstage locally. It's a bit of annual amusement for ETC subscribers that Meyers takes longer than most to pull together what she will present — but that's because she's bargaining, wheedling and pleading with agents, rights organizations and sometimes playwrights themselves right up until the last minute to land very recently produced works. In fact, for the coming season, rather than wait until everything is in place, Meyers has is announcing four shows for the company's 28th season, with slots still open for productions in February and May 2014.

Here's what we know, for now:

Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz (Sept. 4-22, 2013). The searing comedy by the creator of TV's hit drama Brothers & Sisters, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and The New York Times called it "the best new play on Broadway" a year ago. When a once-promising novelist returns home to Palm Springs to visit her parents, conflict ensues when she reveals she's been writing a juicy, tell-all memoir focusing on the tragic death of her antiwar-activist brother. 

Rapture, Blister, Burn by Gina Gionfriddo (Oct. 9-27, 2013). It's another Pulitzer Prize finalist, this one is by a writer whose credits include Law & Order and the recent Netflix series starting Kevin Spacey, House of Cards. It's a social comedy about a rising young academic who's not at all certain that she's leading the life she wants. An evening with a friend who's a stay-at-home mom leads to an interesting game of musical chairs.

Around the World in 80 Days by Joseph McDonough and David Kisor (Dec. 4, 2013-Jan. 4, 2014). ETC will revive one of the first of its holiday shows created back in 1999. Based on Jules Verne's classic novel, it's the story of a crazed circumnavigation of the globe in 1899 by the brilliant Englishman Phileas Fogg, who wages a fortune that he can do it in record time. Bandits, buffalo and winter storms are just a few of the obstacles he must overcome, but the story promises great fun for families.

The Mountaintop by Katori Hall (March 19-April 6, 2014). This show won London's Olivier Award for the season's best new play, and its Broadway production featured Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a feisty young hotel maid. The civil rights leader is cooling down in a lonely Memphis hotel room after delivering one of his greatest speeches. The next day, tragedy would strike. It's a powerful piece of theater by a rising young playwright, according to all who have seen it.

Subscriptions are already on sale for ETC's season. More information is available by calling 513-421-3555. Single tickets will go on sale to the general public on August 5, 2013.
by Rick Pender 04.26.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Weekend Choices

You still have several weeks to see Cock (aka "The Cockfight Play" for journalism wimps) at Know Theatre. (It's onstage through May 11.) It's an oh-so-contemporary piece of theater about a gay man — or rather a man — who thought himself to be gay until he breaks up with his boyfriend and takes up with a woman. (CityBeat review here.) The play involves the tense dance of indecision he becomes part of as his lovers fight over him. It's about 90-minutes of fiercely acted theatrics, staged in a setting that looks like the arena where cockfighting happens. Definitely for mature audiences who appreciate shows that don't pull punches. Tickets: 513-3

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by Rick Pender 04.19.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
cock photo- deogracias lerma

Stage Door: Bounty of Choices

There's a bounty of theater choices to keep you entertained this weekend, with productions on venues all over town — including on several university campuses. Here are a few you might want to check out.

New Edgecliff Theatre, which has presented shows at the Columbia Performance Center on Cincinnati's East Side for quite a few years, has been itinerant this year while they seek a new home. They're completing their fifteenth season with a production of David Auburn's Proof at the Aronoff Center's Fifth Third Bank Theater, which looks like it's where they'll land for their next season. (I'll be writing more about NET in my next CityBeat "Curtain Call" column on April 24.) I attended the show's opening on Wednesday, and it's a solid production of a very engaging play, the winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. Greg Procaccino, NET's former artistic director, has returned to stage a simple but effective production that features Rebecca Whatley as Catherine, the anxious, self-doubting young woman who has been a caregiver for years for her father, a renowned math professor whose mental instability has been a factor and a threat in his daughter's life. The show has several gripping twists and turns, as well as a satisfying resolution. Through April 27. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

Last week I was at the opening of Cock, a regional premiere and Know Theatre's second production of the season. (CityBeat review here.) It's the story of a man falling out of a gay relationship and into one with a woman; he's torn by indecision and doubt about which way to go. The show is staged (by director Brian Robertson) like a cockfight, with the characters "pecking" at one another emotionally. It's also presented in an unusual setting, bertween two rows of bleachers (like a cockfight arena), so you're close to the action and able to see how others are responding. It's a fight to the finish, and you can never be certain of the outcome. Strong acting and a very contemporary, well-written script by British playwright Mike Bartlett. Through May May 11. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

This is the final weekend at the Carnegie in Covington for the hard-hitting musical Parade by composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown and playwright Alfred Uhry. (CityBeat review here.) It's based on the true story of Leo Frank, unjustly accused of murdering a young teenaged girl working in the factory he managed in Atlanta in 1913. A Jew from New York, Frank was the target of profound anti-Semitism and never had a realistic chance to defend himself, although his wife tried mightily to expose the prejudice. It's a powerful production, featuring a cast of musical theater talent from UC's College-Conservatory of Music, directed by Dee Anne Bryll and Ed Cohen. The show is not easy to watch, but it's deeply moving. Through Sunday. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

Every two years since 1981, Northern Kentucky University has presented the Year End Series Festival — shortened to the "YES," ten days of presentations of three world premieres. This year's shows are a murder-mystery farce, Heart Attack with a Knife by Oded Gross; David L. Williams Spake, a drama set in Siberia; and a comic fable about fame and friendship, Furbelow by J. Stephen Brantley. YES is a gargantuan undertaking, and it represents how NKU prepares its drama students for careers in the theater. Shows are presented in rotating repertory, so you should check the Web site for specific performance dates. Tickets: 859-572-5464.

At other area universities this weekend: At the Cohen Family Studio Theater at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, you can see a production of Emily Mann's Execution of Justice (UC's College-Conservatory of Music, through Sunday, 513-556-4183), a new docu-drama about the trial of Dan White for the murder of Harvey Milk, San Francisco's first openly gay Supervisor and Mayor George Moscone. It's staged by retiring UC drama professor Michael Burnham. And for musical theater fans, you can see Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's popular fairytale musical Into the Woods at Miami University (through April 27, 513-529-3200).
by Rick Pender 04.18.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
know at night - photo eric vosmeier

Fringe Has Sprung

Tenth annual event begins May 28

Sure signs of springtime in Cincinnati: The Reds are playing (and winning), trees in Over-the-Rhine are covered with white blossoms — and Know Theatre has announced the lineup for the upcoming Cincinnati Fringe Festival. 2013 is a significant year for the Fringe: It's marking the 10th  anniversary of the annual celebration of weird creativity. Last evening a big crowd gathered at Know Theatre's Jackson Street facility to hear what's in store for the May 28-June 8 festival.

Eric Vosmeier, Know's producing artistic director, shared the news that, building on a decade of success, the Fringe received a record number of applicants for 2013, with 70 percent of the applications coming from brand-new producers. That's one of the best parts of the Fringe, the fact that a new jolt of energy arrives annually from performers that haven't been seen locally. Sixty-three percent of the 2013 applications were from out of town, including several from international producers. There will be 35 productions in all, by 17 local groups and 18 from out of town. There will be 19 plays, seven solo shows, two dance pieces, two musicals, and five multimedia/variety pieces.

Vosmeier said that it was no easy task for the Fringe selection committee to assemble this lineup. The group was made up of theater professionals from Greater Cincinnati: Heather Britt, Michael Haney, Dave Levy, Miranda McGee, D. Lynn Meyers and Torie Wiggins. “The quality of applications continues to get stronger and larger each year," he said. "I'm so happy to have these amazing leaders of the local theatre community as a part of our jury, and we're grateful for their time in deciding the 2013 lineup.”

The official CityBeat Fringe Kick-Off Party takes place Tuesday, May 28, at Know Theatre. This year's event will also be a 10th birthday celebration, with many of the festival's founders in attendance. The evening, which kicks off at 6 p.m., will feature Indie rock group Bethesda and food from a half-dozen local eateries. The evening (suggested donation: $5) is an opportunity to meet Fringe artists, staff, volunteers and other audience members.

The full Fringe schedule will be published in CityBeat's May 15 edition, but you can get some information at the refreshed website: www.cincyfringe.com. I'm looking forward to return visits by Wonderheads (from Portland, Ore., who did some amazing work with masks in last year's Grim and Fischer; their new piece is titled LOON), Four Humors Theatre (from Minneapolis, whose always creative troupe will be staging Lolita: A Three Man Show) and Tanya O'Debra (from New York City; whose Radio Star was a much admired work in 2012; this time she's in a two-person piece, Shut UP, Emily Dickinson). Performance Gallery, based here in Cincinnati and a regular annual presence every year is staging Mater Facit, "an absurd look at motherhood, nationalism, war, sex and sacrifice." Tangled Leaves Theatrical Collective, another Cincinnati-based group popular with local audiences, will produce Vortex of the Great Unknown.

Of course, the real fun of Fringe is being surprised by new material and performers, and this year's lineup offers plenty of that: Poe and Mathews: A Misadventure in the Middle of Nowhere (Los Angeles); Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity (Bloomington, Ind.); The Bubble and Other Displays of Moral Turpitude (from Cincinnati-based North American New Opera Workshop); The Elephant in My Closet (New York City); and a production of Cincinnati playwright Catie O'Keefe's The Space Between my Head and my Body (by Shark Eat Muffin Theatre Company). I could go on and on — Know's announcement news release is 20 pages! Based on a decade of Fringing, I like to say that the festival is "theater roulette": You never know what's going to happen when you show up for a performance, and serendipity is the only predictable element. That's what makes it fun. I don't want to wish away springtime, but is it May 28 yet?

by Rick Pender 04.12.2013
Posted In: Theater, Visual Art at 09:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Controversy, Conversation and Comedy

Tonight (Friday) Know Theatre opens a new production of a work that's bound to launch a lot of conversations. And let's not beat around the bush: The real title of Mike Bartlett's play is Cock (The Cockfight Play is the substitute title for media that are afraid to offend). It's a tense comedy about sexual identity: John takes a break from his longtime boyfriend and unexpectedly falls in love with a woman. The story is about how he's caught in a tug-of-war between these two lovers, and the play's conflict is John's navigation of his sexuality and his selfhood. It's also told without scenery or props, focusing squarely on the relationships. According to Know's Eric Vosmeier, "It's a kind of pansexual love story that's told very simply without all the trappings of a traditional production." Vosmeier describes this production as "one of the first victories of Know's new scheduling model." The rights for Cock just became available; this is only the second American production of the play that premiered at London's Royal Court Theatre in 2009. The show runs through May 11. Box office: 513-300-5669

This weekend is the opener for Covedale Center's production of Legally Blonde, the show that kicked up controversy in a Loveland High School staging last fall that led to the firing of a dedicated director. I still shake my head over what could offend anyone about this PG rated piece of musical theater, but you can check it out and decide for yourself at the Covedale. It's about a young woman who won't take "no" for an answer and becomes her own woman in the process — outshining everyone at Harvard Law School. It's kind of crazy, but a lot of fun. No one will get fired over this one, I suspect. Box office: 513-241-6550

The Otto M. Budig Theatre at the Carnegie in Covington is in the midst of a run of Jason Robert Brown's Parade. My schedule and the theater's haven't matched up yet, but I'm eager to see it — I'm headed there for the Sunday matinee this weekend. Set in the sweltering intolerance of 1913 Atlanta, Parade is the story of Leo Frank, a northerner and Jewish factory manager, wrongfully accused of murdering a 13-year-old girl in his employment. Despite media frenzy and public outrage, his courageous wife struggles in vain to clear his name. The show won 1999 Tony Awards for best book and best score. This is an off-campus production by the musical theater program at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, and it's been given high marks by the judging panel from the League of Cincinnati Theatres: for the ensemble, for musical direction by Steve Goers, for featured actor Noah Ricketts and for lighting design by Alan Hanson and Wes Richter. It's onstage through April 21. Box office: 859-957-1940

Untethered Theater is midway through it's run of Jeff Daniels' Apartment 3A, presented at the Clifton Performance Theatre on Ludlow, a few blocks east of the Esquire. It's about a once idealistic young woman who has been disillusioned in just about every aspect of her life. The show is an exploration of faith and hope in today's world, described as "an uncynical play about cynics in cynical times." Through April 27. Tickets: 513-939-0599

by Rick Pender 04.05.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
onstage 4-3 - midsummer @ cincy shakes - maggie lou rader & justin mccomb - photo rich sofranko

Stage Door: Tickets Available for 'War Horse'

I'm off to the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville this weekend, where I'll be checking out plays that could well be on their way to theaters across America in future seasons. For those of you staying here in Greater Cincinnati, there's lots of good stuff to get out and see onstage:

War Horse completes its Cincinnati stop on Sunday. I heard a rumor that it's not selling well, which strikes me as mystifying. It's one of the best pieces of theater I've seen on tour in ages. (Review here.) Of course, it's not a musical (which is what people who go to the Broadway Series at the Aronoff have come to expect) and it was made into a moderately successful movie by Steven Spielberg. But the stage production is a miraculous piece of theater artistry, especially the onstage creation of living breathing horses, life-sized puppets that are manipulated (by three performers) that you'll be convinced you're watching the real thing. The silver lining to poor attendance, I suppose, is that tickets are readily available. You should get yours right away for the chance to see this Tony Award-winning production: Final performance is on Sunday. Box office: 800-987-2787

Last evening I made time to see Cincinnati Shakespeare's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's going to be around for several more weeks, and it's definitely an entertaining — and unusual — rendition of the tale of mixed-up lovers. (Review here.) Director Jeremy Dubin has transported it from the mythical Athens that Shakespeare envisioned and landed it in a swampy Southeastern U.S. in the 1940s, complete with a few guys with drawls in uniform and a clown in a loud plaid sports coat. The latter is CSC Nick Rose, and watching him overact as Nick Bottom, the weaver who imagines himself to be a brilliant performer, is hilarious. MND's mix of magic and humor is always fun, even if it doesn't make much sense, especially in this setting.  Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.

Also worth checking out is the Cincinnati Playhouse's entertaining production of The Book Club Play. It's good in the same way as a well-done TV sitcom: Familiar characters pushed to comic extremes, funny situations that you can identify with, story twists that surprise and amuse. (Review here.) Because book clubs are a big deal these days, lots of people are flocking to see this show (it's been extended to May 5), so you should call now to get your tickets. I can assure you that you'll leave the theater with a smile on your face. Box office: 513-421-3888.

Smiles cannot be predicted with the staging of Jason Robert Brown's very serious musical, Parade, at the Carnegie. But a piece of great drama and fine music is certainly in store if you head to Covington for this one, staged by Ed Cohen and Dee Ann Bryll. It's actually a studio production from UC's College-Conservatory of Music, featuring some outstanding talent from one of America's best training programs for Broadway talent. The story of a falsely accused factor manager, railroaded into a murder conviction mainly because of anti-Semitic attitudes, is heart-rending. But it makes for powerful theater. It opens tonight and runs through April 21. Box office: 859-957-1940.
by Rick Pender 03.27.2013
Posted In: Arts community, Theater at 12:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
american idiot photo john daughtry

Look for 'American Idiot: The Musical' in Cincinnati Next Year

Aronoff to host Green Day-inspired Punk Rock opera in spring 2014

Two weeks ago I caught a touring performance of American Idiot: The Musical when it made a three-evening stop at Dayton's Victoria Theatre (see review here). The performance of Green Day's album transformed into a musical theater piece was a noisy blast of defiance, full of energy – although a downer of a story about three guys being overwhelmed by everyday life. But that's what you's probably expect of a "Punk Rock Opera." We'll have it for two nights in Cincinnati, Friday, April 11, and Saturday, April 12, 2014 (that's right, a year from now) as part of the Broadway Across America series at the Aronoff (about twice the size of the Victoria). If you're a fan of Green Day, you'll want to see this one. And if you like shows such as next to normal, a recent big hit for Ensemble Theatre, it's worth noting that Green Day's songs were orchestrated for the stage show by Tom Kitt, who composed N2N's story of a bipolar mom struggling to keep her family together.

by Rick Pender 03.25.2013
Posted In: Theater at 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
onstage_blake robison - photo sarah bradley

Playhouse Announces 2013-14 Season

Blake Robison to stage "Cabaret," "Pride and Prejudice" among compelling new work

People look to the Cincinnati Playhouse for classic entertainment and the best contemporary theatre,” says Blake Robison, producing artistic director, as he announces his second season, coming in September. For 2013-2014 he’s assembled an array of big titles — including the classic Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret and a stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice — and a collection compelling new work (including two world premieres), mostly on the Shelterhouse Theatre stage.

The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park has two stages: The Robert S. Marx Theatre is the mainstage with 626 seats; the Thompson Shelterhouse (which is in fact a one-time park shelter) can accommodate an audience of 225. Both have thrust-style stages surrounded by audience seating on three sides, making the action is close and intimate in both theaters.

On the Marx Stage:

·      Fly by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan (Sept. 7-Oct. 5, 2013). The story of World War II’s Tuskegee Airmen is told using live action, video projections and tap dancing. This new work will be directed by Khan, its co-creator.

·      Cabaret by John Kander and Fred Ebb (Oct. 19-Nov. 16, 2013). Set in Berlin in the 1930s, and especially in the decadent Kit Kat Club, it’s a musical love story with lots of choreography. Marcia Milgrom Dodge, a Broadway veteran, will direct.

·      A Christmas Carol, adapted by Howard Dallin (Nov. 27-Dec. 29, 2013). Michael Evan Haney will direct the holiday show with a cast of 30 for the 21st time.

·      Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris (Jan.18-Feb. 16, 2014). This one won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for best play. Inspired by Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play, A Raisin in the Sun, the play is explores racial attitudes in a Chicago neighborhood in 1959 and 2009. Artistic Associate Timothy Douglas (who staged the current production of A Trip to Bountiful) is the director.

·      Pride and Prejudice, adapted by Joseph Hanreddy and J. R. Sullivan (March 8-April 5, 2014). Robison will direct this lavish, full-scale production of Jane Austen’s classic romance.

·      Venus in Fur by David Ives (April 19-May 17, 2014). Maybe you know Ives’ very funny collection of skits, All in the Timing. This is a full-length comedy about a director seeking the right actress who gets more than he bargained for. Artistic Associate KJ Sanchez is staging this one. 

On the Shelterhouse Stage:

·      Seven Spots on the Sun by Martín Zimmerman (Sept. 28-Oct. 27, 2013). The first of several world premieres for the season, this one is a fable of revenge and redemption set in a Latin American village just after a brutal civil war. Sanchez is directing this one.

·      The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged) by the Reduced Shakespeare Company (Nov. 9-Dec. 29, 2013). The same guys who abbreviated Shakespeare, the Bible and American history are at it again, premiering their latest abridgment right here in River City.

·      4000 Miles by Amy Herzog (Feb. 8-March 9, 2014). Robison will stage this tale of a pair of unlikely roommates, a 91-year-old grandmother and her 21-year-old grandson.

·      A Delicate Ship by Anna Ziegler (March 22-April 20, 2014). Another world premiere production, this one by an impressive young playwright who offers a humorous and heartbreaking look at love, memory and decisions that change lives. Michael Haney will direct. (Haney, perhaps Cincinnati’s best local director, was the Playhouse’s Associate Artistic Director from 2001 to 2013; starting in the fall, he joins Douglas and Sanchez in a trio of “artistic associates” who each will direct two shows.)

·      The North Pool by Rajiv Joseph (May 3-June 1, 2014). Rajiv Joseph’s riveting psychological drama is the story of a transfer student from the Middle East whose life quickly becomes complicated. Douglas is the director.




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by Rick Pender 11.20.2015 8 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 11-20 - low down dirty blues @ cincinnati playhouse - felicia p. fields connects with an audience member - photo mikki schaffner .jpg

Stage Door: Non-Holiday Holiday Shows

Several of our local theaters produce shows this time of year that are a kind of antidote to the usual fare of A Christmas Carol and other happy, merry tales. Three get under way this weekend:

I went to a rockin’ party earlier this week, and you can, too — if you turn up for the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Low Down Dirty Blues, through Dec. 20. That’s right, a whole month of good times and sad in the intimate Shelterhouse Theater, doubling as Big Mama’s after-hours Blues bar. Every year around this time the Playhouse puts on a show as an alternate holiday choice to A Christmas Carol (which gets underway next week). This year it’s a warm-hearted good time featuring three excellent singers and a couple of very accomplished Jazz musicians (especially local Jazz pianist Steve Schmidt) performing off-color tunes, full of double-entendres and scandalous joking. The first half of the two-hour performance is mostly about lusty interaction via tunes like “Rough and Ready Man,” “I Got My Mojo Workin’ ” and “You Bring Out the Boogie in Me.” After intermission the party continues briefly (including some cute audience interaction to the tune of “I’m Not That Kind of Girl” — but then the tone darkens with passionate songs of grief (“Death Letter”), mourning (“Good Morning Heartache”) and then hope (“Change is ’Gonna Come”). Felicia P. Fields, a Broadway veteran who played a major role in the original staging of The Color Purple, anchors (and I use that word quite literally) the banter and the singing, but she is ably matched by Caron “Sugaray” Rayford, a massive force of energy, perspiration and rhythm. Chic Street Man sings and plays several guitars (especially a steel number with a gorgeous ring), and his sly, sinuous presence is a perfect complement to Fields’ and Rayford’s more ebullient performances. Don’t go if you’re offended by sexual innuendo, but if you’re looking for a “low down dirty” time, call now for a ticket: 513-421-3888

One of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, As You Like It, is the first step of holiday happiness at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. The story of tomfoolery and romance in the Forest of Arden kicks off tonight; it’s around until Dec. 12, when it’s followed by the tenth annual staging of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some). In case you missed it, Cincy Shakes announced this week that by mid-2017 it moves to its own spectacular new space in Washington Park, the Otto M. Budig Theatre, with nearly 100 more seats than its Race Street facility. (Read my story in this week's issue for more.) Until then, you need to line up for tickets, since many of the company’s performances sell out quickly. Tickets: 513-381-2273

Another “kind of” holiday show getting started is Know Theatre’s production of All Childish Things, opening tonight and onstage through Dec. 19. In a story set right here in Cincinnati (Norwood, in fact), it’s 2006 and two guys are still yearning for the galactic adventures promised by Star Wars when they were kids. One guy lives in his mom’s basement; the other has a girlfriend who could care less about The Force. They think their big break might be residing in a warehouse full of collectible Star Wars memorabilia. Zany shows rooted in childhood have become a holiday staple at Know Theatre, and this is right up that weird, happy alley. Tickets: 513-300-5669

And if you’re really longing to get the holidays under way, you have the perfect opportunity with a tour stop by a production of White Christmas at the Aronoff (next Tuesday through Dec. 6). It’s a stage version of the popular film; the tour features stage Cincinnati and Broadway veteran Pamela Myers in a cute, outspoken role. She performs a number titled “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” a perfect summary of her illustrious career. Tickets: 513-621-2787

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 11.13.2015 15 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 12:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door

Getting Down and Dirty After Hours

I’m in New York City this week to check out some Broadway shows, so I’m missing the opening night of the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Low Down Dirty Blues. It’s the holiday “alternative” to A Christmas Carol, and alternative it is. It’s set in a nameless Blues club on Chicago’s South Side that’s closing for the night. But that’s just when the party heats up as a group of musicians assembles for an after-hours jam session to swap stories and perform favorite tunes, especially numbers from the bawdier side of the Blues, tunes by the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Mama Thornton and more. “It is a spicier kind of Blues, specifically one that has two sides to it," says Dan Wheetman, the production’s co-creator and music director. "On one hand, it is a more intimate look, it is a smaller group and a smaller palate… It’s a story about the people, these people in this club and their stories, which includes the music but it is more of a personal talk about what brought them to where they are.” I’m eager to see it. Onstage through Dec. 20. Tickets: 513-421-3555

It’s that time of year when families begin thinking about going to the theater together. Getting an early start are musical productions for the entire family. Once choice is Seussical, based on the works of Dr. Seuss, at Northern Kentucky University. It opened on Thursday and continues through Nov. 22. Tickets: 859-572-5464 … The other is a production of the musical Mary Poppins by Cincinnati Music Theatre at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater. This is perhaps the city’s most ambitious community theater company, typically undertaking big musicals and doing a good job with them. It opens tonight and continues through Nov. 21. Tickets: 513-621-2787 … If you miss the latter, you’ll have a chance to see a different production: The Covedale Center will be presenting it Nov. 27-Dec. 27.

Continuing and finishing: A keep-’em-guessing murder mystery with just two characters, Sleuth, continues its run at the Carnegie through Nov. 22. (Tickets: 859-957-1940)… This is the final weekend for Mad River Rising at the Cincinnati Playhouse (final performance is Saturday; tickets: 513-421-3888); Andy’s House of [BLANK], an original musical at Know Theater (also winding up on Saturday; tickets: 513-300-5669); and an old-fashioned farce, Fox on the Fairway, at the Covedale (Sunday’s matinee is your last chance; tickets: 513-241-6550). 

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 11.06.2015 22 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Playing House

“Florala.” That’s where you are when you head down the ramp to see Know Theatre’s production of Andy’s House of [Blank]. It’s set on the state line between Florida and Alabama, but it’s recreated in two-dimensional cardboard props (telephones and ice cream cones) and decorations (comically taxidermied animals, including the backside of a dog) imaginatively designed and executed by Sarah Beth Hall. The tale is filtered through the often-divergent memories of two guys who were 16 in 1998, holding down their first jobs in roadside oddity shop and museum of “unmailed love letters.” The “guys” are Paul Strickland and Trey Tatum (truly from Florida and Alabama). They serve as the narrators — or perhaps the “recollectors” — of the oddball musical tale of Andy (Christopher Michael Richardson), the proprietor, and Sadie (Erika Kate MacDonald), the girl he had a crush on as a kid. The show was a well-received entry in Know’s “Serials” earlier this year, a story told in five 15-minute episodes. Strickland and Tatum have stitched those pieces together, and director Bridget Leak has given the piece continuity and flow. Their ebullient enthusiasm is obvious from start to finish — Tatum pounds away on an electric keyboard, Strickland (who composed the 20 or so songs) plays guitar and sings almost operatically, and Richardson and MacDonald (both with gorgeous voices) affectingly play two people caught in a looping time warp. In fact, all four characters are living out the theme repeatedly spoken and sung: “Every day is just a variation on a theme.” The music is great, and there are lots of laughs along the way, but the story is a serious, poignant rumination about love, longing and how to move forward by looking back. At two-plus hours (including an intermission) it feels a tad long, but every moment is a treat to watch. Onstage through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669

Opening this week: Anthony Schaffer’s Sleuth, a humorous but taut murder mystery is at The Carnegie in Covington. It’s a two-man show about a famous mystery writer who’s out to murder a man having an affair with his wife. There are a lot of twists and turns in this tale, so it’s fun to watch if you pay close attention. Through Nov. 14. Tickets: 859-957-1840 … Playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa fascinated Cincinnati Playhouse audiences back in 2013 with his “sequel” to The Crucible, Abigail/1702. Falcon Theatre is offering two related one-acts by him, The Mystery Plays, inspired by the tradition of medieval theater that dealt with the imponderables of death, the afterlife, religion, faith and forgiveness — but from a thoroughly American perspective. In the first piece, a horror film director survives a train wreck only to be haunted by someone who didn’t make it; in the second, a woman travels to a rural Oregon town to make peace with the man who murdered her parents and her sister: He’s her older brother. Through Nov. 21 at the Monmouth Theatre in Newport. Tickets: 513-479-6783

Continuing: Cincinnati Shakespeare’s excellent production of Arthur Miller’s classic drama Death of a Salesman has its final performance on Saturday evening. It’s worth seeing, but tickets might be scarce. Tickets: 513-381-2273 … Mad River Rising at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a compelling study of place and aging, an old man trying to forestall the sale of his family farm. It continues through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-421-3888 … Covedale Center’s staging of the comedy Fox on the Fairway, a tribute to cinematic farces from the 1930s and 1940s, is onstage until Nov. 15. Tickets: 513-241-6550

Tune in to WVXU (FM 91.7) on Saturday evening at 8 p.m. to catch LA Theater Works’ production of Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man. This show, about a young Jewish Confederate soldier marking Passover 1865 with his family’s newly freed slaves in a crumbling mansion in Richmond, Va., at the end of the Civil War, is a powerful work. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati staged this show very effectively in 2012.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 10.16.2015 43 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 10-16 - bruce cromer as willie loman in death of a salesman @ cincy shakes - photo mikki schaffner

Stage Door: A Dying Salesman, Barbra Streisand and a Prince in Search of Meaning

There are almost too many good shows for you to enjoy this weekend, but depending on what you like, you’ll probably find it somewhere.

Cincy Shakes production of Death of a Salesman doesn’t open until tonight, but all sings point to a strong production, headlined by one of our region’s best actors, Bruce Cromer, as beaten-down Willie Loman, who I interviewed for my CityBeat column this week. He’s matched with another fine local stage performer Annie Fitzpatrick as Willie’s faithful but worried wife; two of the Shakespeare team’s excellent company of actors, Jared Joplin and Justin McCombs, play Willie’s sons who can’t quite bear up to the weight of his expectations. Arthur Miller’s play is one of the greatest, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award. So if it’s serious drama, get tickets for this one, onstage through Nov. 7: 513-381-2273.

Want something more frivolous and entertaining, but still a great performance? Show up at Ensemble Theatre for Buyer and Cellar, a one-man show about a guy pretending to be a shopkeeper in a vast basement treasure trove of acquisitions on Barbra Streisand’s Malibu estate. It’s 90 minutes of non-stop storytelling, rooted in a real place — but with a fantasized chain of events. Actor Nick Cearley is a comic gem, performing in a smartly written script that requires him to conjure up not just Alex, the actor hired to wait on Barbra, “the customer” (one and only), but the singer herself and a handful of others. Great fun to watch. Here’s my review. Through Nov. 1. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

If you love a good Broadway musical, you need to show up at the Aronoff and score a seat for the touring production of Pippin. (CityBeat review here.) It’s a show from 40 years ago (by Stephen Schwartz, the creator of Wicked more recently), but this version of an award-winning Broadway revival from two years ago is full of Cirque du Soleil-styled acrobatics, as well as some great songs and performers. It’s a sort of fairytale embroidered from a real historical character from the 9th century, the son of the monarch who launched the Holy Roman Empire. It’s about the young Pippin’s arduous search for a meaningful life. The “Leading Player,” a kind of emcee/storyteller, is Gabrielle McClinton, who handled the role on Broadway for part of its two-year run there, and Charlemagne, Pippin’s father, is played by veteran actor John Rubinstein — who originated the title role back in 1972. (He’s 68 now, but still an energetic, animated performer.) Tickets: 513-621-2787.

Shows previous opened that are also worth seeing include the very serious drama Extremities at the Incline Theater in E. Price Hill (tickets: 513-241-6550), onstage through Sunday; and Sex with Strangers, a very modern romance about writers who envy one another’s careers and lust after one another’s bodies, has another week and a half at the Cincinnati Playhouse (tickets: 513-421-3888).

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 10.09.2015 50 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door

Sex and violence, plus an irreverent take on history

I gave a Critic’s Pick to the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Sex with Strangers, a new play by Laura Eason (who’s written scripts for House of Cards on Netflix). Ethan, an arrogant 28-year-old blogger has turned his writing about sexual conquests into a best-selling book, while Olivia is a serious, introspective writer who, at 39, is hiding behind a teaching career, discouraged by negative reviews and weak sales of her first novel more than a decade earlier. He’s addicted to his cell phone, while she prefers to have her nose in a book. But they have chemistry that’s both physical and driven by aspiration and envy of one another’s careers. The Playhouse production features two actors who are totally believable in their roles, and extremely watchable. It’s an entertaining tale that doesn’t tie everything up in a neat ending. Through Oct. 25. Tickets: 513-421-3888

William Mastrisomone’s Extremities (running through Oct. 18) is not an easy play to watch. A woman is attacked by a stalker, turns the tables on him and becomes as much a bloodthirsty animal as the man who thought he could have his way with her. She has two roommates who try to defuse her violent intentions, but she’s almost as harsh with them as with the bad guy. It’s a harsh story that’s not easy to watch, and it’s a departure for Cincinnati Landmark Productions, which is known for more mainstream fare, musicals and classic comedies. But the company’s artistic leaders are hoping that the new Incline Theatre can be a venue for more serious work, and this show, written in 1982, certainly signals that. Solid individual acting jobs by the four-member cast will keep you on edge. There are a few rough edges, but I give CLP props for getting serious. Tickets: 513-241-6550

Know Theatre is playing host to a production from the drama program at CCM, directed by faculty member Brant Russell. Charise Castro Smith’s The Hunchback of Seville is an irreverent and raucous comedy that turns historical atrocities — it’s set in Spain in 1504 — on their heads with storytelling that might remind you of Quentin Tarantino’s movies. Russell says the playwright “weaves history and anachronism. The subtle variances of tone, the frequently less subtle humor and the savoring of the language all speak to me. In terms of content, this play is very much about anyone who’s ever been marginalized. This is the story of a woman who is denied so many privileges that others enjoy because she was born in a body different from those around her. Ultimately it’s a story about privilege, ethics, power, and the way we tell the story of our shared history.” It opens tonight and continues through Oct. 24. Tickets: 513-300-5669 

Advance notices: I’m really looking forward to seeing Pippin, the next touring Broadway musical at the Aronoff, kicking off on Tuesday. It’s by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell and Wicked are two of his best-known works), and this is a production that won a 2013 Tony Award as the season’s best musical revival. It’s a cool concept, integrating Cirque du Soleil-like performers into the story of a young man’s quest for meaning in the Middle Ages. It’s here for just one week (through Sunday, Oct. 18), so if you hope to see it, get your tickets now. … Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati will open its production of Buyer and Cellar on Wednesday (it continues through Nov. 1). It’s a very funny one-man show about an out-of-work actor hired to manage Barbra Streisand’s collections of stuff, set up like a shopping mall. There’s enough reality to make it hilarious, and enough truth to make it meaningful. I suspect it will be a hot ticket: 513-421-3555 

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 10.02.2015 57 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door -

Stage Door

Sex and its various outcomes

Sex is pretty much a constant presence in life as we know it, and it’s often a driving force in plays, taking on many shapes and outcomes. That’s particularly the case with two shows that just opened locally, Laura Eason’s new play, Sex with Strangers, at the Cincinnati Playhouse on its Shelterhouse stage through Oct. 25, and William Mastrisimone’s 1982 script, Extremities, at Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Incline Theatre, through Oct. 18.

Eason’s script is about two writers who seem as opposite as can be — he’s an arrogant 28-year-old blogger (Nicholas Carrière as the charming and ebullient Ethan) whose writing about sexual conquests has been turned into a best-selling book, while she’s a serious, introspective novelist, 39, (Nancy Lemenager as introverted and self-conscious Olivia) who’s given up because of bad reviews and weak sales of her first book more than a decade earlier. But they end up together in a Michigan B&B due to a snowstorm (and some serious interest on his part in meeting her) and they discover a powerful mutual attraction that’s also driven by aspiration and envy of one another’s careers. Eason writes great contemporary dialogue, and director KJ Sanchez keeps things hurtling along down a road of desire and tentative trust. It seems evident that things could go off the tracks, but when they do there’s some more interesting sparks — and a lot of conversation about the state of writing and literature today. While the show’s title is titillating and they are strangers who steam things up — repeatedly — it’s really the title of his blog, and a past that he might or might not want to move beyond. There’s both humor and real emotion to be appreciated in this finely crafted production. Tickets: 513-421-3888

Mastrisimone’s off-Broadway script from three decades ago (Extremities also became a 1986 movie starring Farrah Fawcett) comes at issues of sex and attraction from a far more serious and brutal angle. It’s a significant a departure for Cincinnati Landmark, best known as a producer of safer, more mainstream fare, musicals and classical comedies. Raul (Will Reed) has been stalking three young women who share a house. He bursts in on Marjorie (Eileen Earnest), who we meet lounging around in a state of undress; he overpowers her, knowing her roommates won’t be back for hours. But she turns the tables on him, and when Terry (Katey Blood) and Patricia (Rachel Mock) return, they find Marjorie menacing and torturing her foul-mouthed attacker, hogtied and imprisoned in a large fireplace. They are shocked by her violent turn, and their perspectives — Terry is shocked and fearful, while Patricia is pragmatic and overly analytical — provide various takes on the situation and its potential resolution. Their four-cornered battle unfolds in harsh, often unhinged arguments about motives, likely outcomes and fears. Some of these feel a tad dated in 2015, but that does not diminish the story’s power. Earnest’s searing performance as Marjorie and Reed’s manipulative portrait of an intelligent, twisted man she insists on calling “The Animal” fuel the pounding pulse of this production of Extremities, staged by Tim Perrino. You’re never sure how the battle will end, and that makes for good theater. Tickets: 513-241-6550

CCM Drama head Richard Hess calls David Edgar’s Pentecost the British equivalent of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Both are big-cast plays, stuffed full of language and contending philosophies. The discovery of a 13th-century mural in an Eastern European church threatens to upset the world of art history, but it also lights the match on conflicts that go well beyond — to geopolitics, religion, history and more. It’s a heady script, with 26 roles speaking multiple languages, utterances that audiences have to intuit, just as the characters need to try to grasp one another’s motives. Read more about Pentecost in my recent Curtain Call column. Like most CCM productions, this one (at UC’s Patricia Corbett Theater) has a short weekend run; the final performance is a matinee on Sunday. Pentecost is an important play, an essential experience for serious theatergoers. Tickets: 513-556-4183

One more interesting piece of theater this weekend, inspired by Titus Kaphar’s Vesper Project at the Contemporary Arts Center, a multi-part installation in which paintings are woven into the walls of a 19th-century American house in New England, the home of a mixed-race family. His exhibit there involves a true/false backstory and familiar/unfamiliar environments. The massive exhibit invites conversation, and that’s what writer (and occasional CityBeat contributor) Stacy Sims has created after several discussions with the artist. She invited five local actors to work with her to respond to the piece, and the result, RETRACED: A theatrical conversation with the Vesper Project, will be performed three times this weekend at the CAC on Sixth Street in downtown Cincinnati, at noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Sims says, “While I have a strong idea of how the actors will move in and out of the space and intersect with each other, each of their individual stories will be deeply informed by their own personal narratives of race, power, privilege and home.” Performances are free with gallery admission.

This weekend is your last chance to see the Cincinnati Playhouse’s beautiful production of The Secret Garden, NKU’s rendition of the comedy Moon Over Buffalo and New Edgecliff Theatre’s well-acted staging of Frankie and Johnnie in the Clair de Lune.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.25.2015 64 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 9-25 - frankie & johnny @ net - sara mackie & dylan shelton - photo provided by new edgecliff theatre

Stage Door

Frankie & Johnny and a taste of Hannibal

New Edgecliff Theatre’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is under way a week later than initially announced following some issues with its not-quite-ready new home in Northside. So it’s been moved to the Essex Studio (2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills), in a performance space routinely used by Cincinnati Actors Studio & Academy, a training group for teens. It was bit of hustle and strain to move a half-built set from Northside to Walnut Hills, but it fits nicely into CASA’s black box. Rather than rattling around in a big old church sanctuary (Northside’s work-in-progress Urban Artifact), NET’s staging of Terrence McNally’s 1987 romantic dramedy works beautifully in this more intimate space. But I suspect no matter where it was staged, the two-character show would be well received thanks to actors Sara Mackie and Dylan Shelton, smartly put through their paces by director Jared Doren. As lonely co-workers in a New York greasy spoon diner, they’ve finally connected — at least for a night. They’re both kind of needy although in very different ways. Frankie, a sweet waitress, has been bruised by bad relationships and seems happy with her own insular existence; Johnny, the motor-mouthed short-order cook who can quote Shakespeare, is driven by angst and passion — filled with desperation that he doesn’t have any more chances for romances. This naturally frightens Frankie, and their navigation through this minefield, full of passion and snark, makes audiences laugh and love them both. It’s definitely worth seeing. Because of the move, it’s a short run, just through Oct. 3. Tickets: 888-528-7311

The folks who run Falcon Theater, performing in Newport at the Monmouth Theatre (636 Monmouth St.) have staked a claim on comic musical satires — they’ve produced Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical, Poseidon: The Upside-Down Musical, Evil Dead: The Musical and several more. So they worked really hard to get the rights to Silence: The Musical, based on The Silence of the Lambs, the creepy 1991 movie about “Hannibal the Cannibal” starring Anthony Hopkins as a manipulative serial killer and Jodie Foster as the young FBI cadet who needs him to solve another serial murder. The musical version was a big hit at the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival and over the past decade it's become a cult favorite. It opens tonight and continues on weekends through Oct. 10. Tickets: 513-479-6783

The first production of the season at Northern Kentucky University, Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo, is a comedy about a pair of fading actors from the 1950s on tour in Buffalo. Their marriage is coming apart, but a famous movie director is coming to see their matinee and just might cast them in an upcoming feature. But everything goes wrong when they start confusing the two shows they’re performing — Noël Coward’s Private Lives and Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. Tickets: 859-572-5464

Speaking of Cyrano, there’s a fine production of it (not to be confused with anything else …) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, with an excellent performance by company veteran Jeremy Dubin in the title role. It’s onstage through Oct. 3. 513-381-2273. • Also closing on Oct. 3 is the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s beautiful production of The Secret Garden, a musical based on a cherished novel from a century ago. This is one of the Playhouse’s “family-friendly” productions — like A Christmas Carol — suitable for multiple generations. It looks great, and the talent onstage — much of it from Broadway — is top-notch. Tickets: 513-421-3888

If you haven’t seen Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, you really should try to get there this weekend for one of its final showings. This new play hat will make you uncomfortable because it’s about a tough conflict with no obvious right or wrong — a custody fight over a baby between her irresponsible parents and her religiously conservative grandmother, refereed by an over-burdened social worker. The cast (including three former ETC apprentices who do a great job) is led by Annie Fitzpatrick as the weary social worker. She’s especially good in this role, a woman trying to do the right thing who’s thwarted at every turn. Final performance is 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: 513-421-3555

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.18.2015 71 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
annie fitzpatrick & brent vimtrup in luna gale @ etc - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door

Actors are shining in several local shows

Actors are a big reason we go to see specific performances, and there are a couple of excellent choices onstage right now as several theaters are kicking off their 2015-2016 seasons. Of particular note is Annie Fitzpatrick, a familiar performer to audiences frequenting productions at Ensemble Theatre. She’s playing Caroline, an over-burdened social worker in Luna Gale. Her character is caught in a custody tug of war involving a baby, the title character. Her immature parents are on one side, caught up in drugs and angry behavior; on the other side is Luna Gale’s well-intentioned grandmother who’s religiously conservative. Fitzpatrick portrays a beleaguered woman trying to do what’s right, but constantly thwarted by the system in which she works. You feel this desperation deep down inside Caroline’s character, in her physical presence, in her exasperated stares and sighs. Fitzpatrick is a marvel to watch. She’s a major factor in my giving this production a Critic’s Pick. (Note for the future: She’ll be onstage next at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Oct. 16-Nov. 7, playing Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman.) Luna Gale continues through Sept. 27. Tickets: 512-421-3555

Another veteran actor is shining at Cincinnati Shakespeare this month. Jeremy Dubin, a member of CSC’s acting company for 16 seasons, is playing the swashbuckling poet Cyrano de Bergerac. The show is sometimes called a heroic comedy, and Dubin handles both parts of that phrase with aplomb. He makes Cyrano larger than life in his generosity and faithfulness, but he plays him with the requisite sense of humor — especially in scenes involving Cyrano’s oversized nose, a convincing prosthetic created for Dubin’s performance. He has excelled in roles both comic and serious; Cyrano draws on both. Read more about this play and Cincy Shakes’ production in my recent column. Tickets: 513-621

One more excellent acting performance worth catching: Caitlin Cohn as 10-year-old Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden at the Cincinnati Playhouse. She’s actually a college student (New York University), but the petite actress is wholly convincing as the ornery, bright and eventually loving orphan who finds the warmth of nature and shares it with her grieving uncle. Cohn is doing an audacious job with a challenging role. Tickets: 513-421-3888

If you were planning to see New Edgecliff Theatre’s production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune this weekend, you need to put it in neutral. Due to some technical delays with NET’s new home at Urban Artifact (1622 Blue Rock Road, Northside) the company is moving the production to a different venue and delaying performances for a week. It’s not scheduled to be presented at Essex Studios (2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills) opening Sept. 24 and continuing through Oct. 3. NET is contacting people who already had reservations. If you don’t have tickets yet, call now: 888-421-7311

A few quick notes: Showbiz Players, a dependable community theater company that likes satirical shows, is presenting The Rocky Horror Show at the Carnegie in Covington, through Sept. 26. Tickets: 859-957-1940 … Performance Gallery, an avant-garde troupe of performers that’s been a steady contributor to the Cincinnati Fringe, is reprising its production from the 2015 Fringe, Shirtzencockle, at Know Theatre on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. It’s a surreal, magical, ridiculous blind of folk and fairy tales. Tickets: 513-300-5669 … Kate Tombaugh, who studied opera at UC’s CCM (and trained in numerous other places) is presenting her one-woman show, It Just Takes One. It portrays the roller-coaster story of a young woman in her 20s seeking a career in opera while struggling to find a social life. A benefit for the Charitable Care Fund at Children’s Hospital, it’s being presented at St. Thomas Episcopal Church (100 Miami Ave., Terrace Park) on Friday evening at 8 p.m. and in 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.11.2015 78 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 9-11 - luna gale @ etc - milly israel, patrick e. phillips & annie fitzpatrick - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door

And so the season begins...

The fall theater season is fully under way. I’ve seen several productions that I can recommend, starting with Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s staging of Luna Gale. The story focuses on a weary social worker caught on the horns of a horrible dilemma — a custody battle between teen parents with drug issues and a zealously religious grandmother — with veteran actress Annie Fitzpatrick turning in another outstanding acting performance. The production is also an impressive reminder of the fine work ETC has been doing for 30 years since three actors in Luna Gale were ETC apprentices a year ago. The award-winning Luna Gale is being produced at many theaters across America this season, but I can’t imagine that any of those productions will be better than the one we have right here in Cincinnati. I gave it a Critic’s Pick. Through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-421-3555

Last night I was at the Playhouse for The Secret Garden opening its 56th season. While this is a story about a 10-year-old girl, it’s quite serious and thoughtful. Orphaned and seemingly headed for unhappiness, she finds redemption in nature and friendship, bringing others along on her path to a better place through abandoned garden that comes back to life. In my review, I suggest that this production might be a bit too complex and impressionistic for kids, but the show is physically beautiful and gorgeous musically. Caitlin Cohn’s performance as Mary Lennox is impressive; she’s a student at New York University, but quite convincing as a young girl. The cast features two CCM musical theater grads, Adam Monley and Carlyn Connolly, and a raft of polished New York veterans. Through Oct. 3. Tickets: 513-241-3888

If you’re a fan of the music of the ’60s and ’70s, you’re likely to love the touring production of Motown: The Musical currently rattling the rafters at the Aronoff Center (through Sept. 20). The hardworking cast does a great job of recreating the sounds of Motown — The Four Tops, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye, and many more. The play in which this is presented, however, is not so stimulating — Motown founder Barry Gordy’s story was written by (you guessed it) Barry Gordy, and it all feels pretty self-serving. But the music is great, and it comes at you hot and heavy — nearly 60 songs, although many are in medleys or shortened versions. Nevertheless, it’s a great reminder of the Pop tunes that kept American singing and dancing several decades ago. Tickets: 513-621-2787

The Covedale Center is offering an ambitious staging of a great musical, A Chorus Line, with some fine dancing in its own right. This is a very moving show about people who put themselves “on the line” to do something they love. It’s still powerful after 40 years, and Cincinnati Landmark Productions has done a fine job with this one. (Through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550

There’s a lot of laughter at Know Theatre this weekend where the Cincinnati Improv Festival is underway. I understand that there aren’t many tickets left, but if you’re a fan of this branch of comedy, you should call to see if you can get in. Shows tonight and Saturday. Tickets: 513-300-5669

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.04.2015 85 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
seven guitars @ actors theater louisville 2015 (l-r) forrest mcclendon, j. alphonse nicholson_photo credit by bill brymer

Stage Door

Theater seasons starts movin’

There’s a lot more coming next week, once we get past Labor Day, but right now there’s just one theater locally with a production onstage. That’s the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. Artistic Director Tim Perrino has been reminding everyone that just because Cincinnati Landmark Productions has opened the Incline Theatre, don’t think that the Covedale has shut down. In fact, it has an ambitious line-up of shows, and the opening production is already under way, A Chorus Line. I haven’t seen this production of it yet, but I will tell you that it’s a show that really lit my interest in musical theater. It was a Broadway hit back in 1975, and I saw a touring production of it in Cleveland in 1978. I had next to no income at the time — and tickets for subsequent performances were pretty well sold out anyway — but I told several friends that in a perfect world, I would have gone back to see it again. I had to wait a few years for that to happen, but this story of aspiring performers grabs me every time I see it. It’s the story of eager young dancers trying to get into the chorus of an upcoming Broadway production. The group is narrowed to 17, but the ultimate goal is four men and four women. The songs are rooted in each dancer’s personal story: Some are amusing, some are heart wrenching — all are painfully true. At the end, they all coalesce into “One (Singular Sensation),” a stunning finale that has all the individuals we’ve met together, dancing as one. It’s a wonderful metaphor about the passion to perform and to be part of a larger whole. A Chorus Line at the Covedale has performances this weekend and continues through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

Last evening I drove to Louisville where Actors Theatre is opening its 2015-2016 season with a superb production of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, one of his “Century Cycle” plays chronicling African-American life in Pittsburgh across the decades of the 20th century. This one, set in the late 1940s, swirls around a promising young Blues singer, Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, who has been offered a recording contract just after his release from a 90-day stint in jail. The play opens with his funeral then circles back through scenes reminiscing about his life and six vividly different people who were close to him — three women and three men. The cast is powerful, and the minutely detailed setting, a desolate backyard in Pittsburgh’s Hill District (inspired by the art of African-American painter and collagist Romare Bearden) is a sight to behold. Seven Guitars blends humor, lyricism and tragedy. Although several of Wilson’s remarkable plays have been stage in Cincinnati, Seven Guitars — winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for best play in 1996 and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award — has not been produced locally. So you might want to make a run down I-71 to Louisville between now and Sept. 20 to see this. This production is definitely worth the trip. Tickets: 502-584-1205.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.