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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.

by Rick Pender 03.22.2013
Posted In: Theater at 07:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
dont cross the streams

Stage Door: Comedy, Conflict and Classics

My schedule hasn't afforded me the time to see the production of Don't Cross the Streams: The Cease and Desist Musical, a show that began its life in the Cincinnati Fringe Festival back in June. (It also was a festival highlight at the IndyFringe in Indianapolis in August.) But the very tongue-in-cheek piece inspired by the film Ghostbusters (but not allowed to say that) has now been expanded into a full-fledged musical that's onstage at Newport's Monmouth Theatre, presented by Falcon Theatre and Hugo West Theatricals. The League of Cincinnati Theatres has termed the show a "recommended production," so it's evident that their judging panel enjoyed it. One panelist called it "a lively, enthusiastic spoof," and another said that the show is "an evening of theater that doesn't take itself too seriously. The show just had a two-weekend run, so it's final performance is Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets: 513-479-6783.

Ensemble Theatre's production of Black Pearl Sings! features one of the finest performances by a local actor that I've seen this season. Torie Wiggins plays a woman in the 1930s who translates her memory of songs from her African ancestors into a ticket out of prison and to some notoriety in New York City. Wiggins nuanced performance is complemented by veteran Annie Fitzpatrick as the folk music researcher who sees Pearl as her own ticket to success. Their tentative relationship becomes a delicately balanced friendship, while both explore issues of racism, sexism and getting ahead. Definitely worth seeing. Through March 31. Box office: 513-421-3555. 

Lizan Mitchell is at the other end of the career spectrum from Wiggins, but she too plays Carrie Watts, a sprightly, elderly African-Amerian woman whose powerful sense of home takes her on an impromptu journey back to her roots in A Trip to Bountiful at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It's laced with sadness, since what she remembers no longer exists, but her memories and her joyful take on life make it all worthwhile, not only for her but for others in her life, including her browbeaten son and his selfish wife as well as a sweet young woman who is Carrie's companion on a long bus ride. Through April 7. Box office: 513-421-3888.

This weekend Cincinnati Shakespeare is opening a production of the much-loved Shakespearean romantic comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's been transported to 1940s America and set in a Jazz-inspired magical forest, with original musica composed by resident sound designer Doug Borntrager; there's also original choreography by Brittany Kugler. The production is staged by Jeremy Dubin, and features veteran actor Nick Rose in the role of Nick Bottom the Weaver, the guy who makes an ass of himself — literally. It's a tangled, funny story that all works out perfectly in the end. A great show to kick off springtime. Through April 21. Box office: 513-381-2273 x1. 

by Rick Pender 03.15.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
Photo: Ryan Kurtz

Stage Door: Recognizing African-American Stories

February is Black History Month, a period when the arts traditionally wake up and pay attention to African-American stories and artists. I'm always a bit troubled by this segmenting, so I want to commend both the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati for presenting two fine productions of shows featuring African Americans in engaging stories — in the middle of March. They represent two of this weekend's best choices.

At ETC, Black Pearl Sings! features two outstanding local actresses. Annie Fitzpatrick plays Susannah Mullally, a folk music researcher in the 1930s; Torie Wiggins is Alberta "Pearl" Johnson, a prisoner (for a violent but probably justified crime) who has a remarkable recollection of songs she learned as a child from her family. They form an uneasy alliance that turns into a guarded friendship, and Fitzpatrick and Wiggins have a delightful interplay and chemistry. I heard that this might be the 40th production Fitzpatrick has done at ETC; she's a versatile actress, and she convincingly creates the uptight but driven Susannah. Wiggins, who graduated from the drama program at CCM, earns her Equity card on this production: Chronologically, she's probably a tad young for the role, but she so wholly embodies Pearl's feisty character that it makes no difference. Hers is a tour-de-force rendition, musically and theatrically. This one is a definite must-see. Box office: 513-421-3555.

Let's give the Playhouse — and new artistic director Blake Robison — props for finally getting around to staging a show by Horton Foote, who died in 2009 at the age of 92. He was a prolific dramatist and screenwriter (he wrote screenplays for To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies) for years, and his play A Trip to Bountiful is a lovely, emotional paean to the notion that "there's no place like home." Foote wrote the play about an elderly Texas wido pining to return to her hometown in 1953 (as a play for television, in fact) and it was an award-winning 1985 movie  with a white cast. For the Playhouse, Timothy Douglas has changed up the story by overlaying an African-American filter over the story and casting veteran actress Lizann Mitchell as Carrie Watts. She's a dream of an actress, portraying a tiny Texas cyclone of energy with a wry sense of humor. The story is nothing too innovative — she runs away from a cramped apartment where she lives with her son and his demanding wife to return to her girlhood home, which has all but disappeared — but the truth and dignity of the tale (and Mitchell's performance) make this show worth seeing. Box office: 513-421-3888.

Finally, I need to mention Clifton Players production of A Behanding in Spokane by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. He's the writer of dark tales like The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Cripple of Inishmaan, as well as the even darker film In Bruges. Clifton Players perform at Clifton Performance Theatre, a tiny, intimate storefront space on Ludlow Avenue. I've heard lots of positive remarks about this production. Be prepared to be shocked and entertained by the show's comic violence. Tickets: 513-861-7469.

by Rick Pender 03.13.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
americani idiot (tour) - alex nee as johnny, trent saunders as st. jimmy - photo victoria theatre association

Review: 'American Idiot: The Musical'

Dayton’s Victoria Theatre presents Tony Award-nominated, Green Day-inspired musical

Critic's Pick

As I ate dinner on Tuesday evening before attending a performance at Dayton’s Victoria Theatre, my server asked, “Did you hear that Green Day is performing next door?” I had to set her straight. “Well, not exactly. Green Day’s music is being performed next door — it’s a Broadway show that uses the tunes from their American Idiot recording.” I caught the opening night of a three-day gig (through Thursday, March 14) by an energetic touring company that’s recreating the Tony Award-nominated American Idiot: The Musical. If you have time to make an hour north on I-75, you won’t be disappointed.

Green Day’s powerful Punk score — their 2004 album was conceived as a “Punk Rock Opera” — is the perfect soundtrack for the story of three disaffected guys who take different downward spirals when confronted with the numbing boredom of everyday life, “alien nation,” as they sing in the opening number. Johnny is the central character, a wannabe musician who yearns to make it in the city; he convinces his buddies Will and Tunny to join him in escaping suburbia.

Their paths diverge quickly: Will’s girlfriend is pregnant, so he stays to sort things out; Tunny is quickly disaffected by urban life and captivated by dreams of military success; and Johnny, not quite willing to admit his loneliness, dreams about a girl he sees and gets caught by a drug dealer — who’s probably a figment of his imagination. Things don’t turn out well for any of them, and by show’s end they’re back home, chastened by the experience — Tunny’s leg lost in combat, Johnny’s ego shattered and Will’s relationship in ruins. But they seem to be more accepting of their fates. The curtain call features the entire company playing guitars and performing “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” a number that reflects their disillusion, reminiscence and (maybe) forward motion.

The current tour has a young cast (it’s a non-Equity tour) without a ton of experience, but that’s perfect for this show, which demands a stage full of angry energy. They hurtle through the 100-minute performance, diving right into the title tune with thrashing energy demanded by Green Day’s music. (For theater fans, it’s worth noting that Green Day’s music has been orchestrated and arranged by Tom Kitt, composer of the Tony Award-winning next to normal, a show that has a score with similar power.) Steven Hoggett’s pounding choreography captures the physicality of Rock stage performance, rendered rapidly and rhythmically with tons of repetitive angular motion.

Alex Nee, Casey O’Farrell and Thomas Hettrick, as Johnny, Will and Tunny, turn in credible performances of roles that don’t have a lot of depth — and that’s OK. American Idiot is more about emotions than storytelling, and they each capture that: Nee’s hallucinatory attraction to destructive behavior is convincing, O’Farrell’s frustration with being trapped and left behind is believable, and Hettrick’s dreams of heroism and his wake-up call to a damaged life are rendered credibly. Female roles are more stereotyped — two of them don’t even have names: Whatsername and The Extraordinary Girl — but Alyssa DiPalma, Jenna Rubah and Kennedy Caughell (as Heather, the mother of Will’s kid) have fine voices. DiPalma and Rubah have featured choreography (Rubah does an aerial ballet with Hettrick as he recovers in a military hospital) that is effective.

The touring production retains Christine Jones’s scenic design and Kevin Adams’s lighting design, both of which landed 2010 Tony Awards. The set has a floor-to-ceiling rear wall sporting two dozen video screens that support the action — from an opening barrage of mind-numbing, multi-channel news coverage to scene-to-scene punctuation with wry titles. Additionally, the screens are sometimes fed live imagery from an onstage camera, especially when St. Jimmy (Trent Saunders) entices Johnny into the world of addiction, but also during “Favorite Son,” Tunny’s late-night infomercial of military recruitment (performed with muscle-bound humor by Jared Young, backed up by four dancers in sparkling short dresses).

The grunge of American Idiot is made all the more vivid by the green velvet and gilt trim of the Victoria Theatre in downtown Dayton (138 North Main St.). While the nihilistic young men sing, “I don’t care if you don’t care,” I suspect that a lot of people will care about this show, one that reaches out and grabs audiences by the scruff of their necks and never lets up. But bear in mind: Only two more performances — Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m. Tickets ($46-$67, half-off student rush, day of show): 937-228-3630 or victoriatheatre.com.

by Rick Pender 03.08.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
onstage 2-20 - cast of leveling up (playhouse) - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Tick Tock...

Can you hear the clock ticking? That's not just because this weekend marks the "spring forward" to Daylight Savings Time early on Sunday. It's also because several theater productions are just about over: If you want to see them, you only have a few days left.

Leveling Up, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's show about video gamers, is as contemporary as can be. One of its characters is recruited by the NSA to fly drones into war zones — activity that totally blurs the boundary between the real world and cyberspace, not to mention the moral boundaries between killing video villains and actual living people. (Review here.) The show is also about taking charge of your life in a world of maturity and responsibility, rather than retreating into simulated space. Deborah Zoe Laufer's script uses four characters, all twentysomethings, who will seem like people you know — their language, their actions, their concerns are the stuff of contemporary life. Box office: 513-421-3888.

If you want something that's quite intentionally removed from everyday life, you need to check out the wry and ironic musical theater piece at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera. (Review here.) It's an allegory and critique of corrupt capitalism, told with dark humor in a production by CCM Opera chair Robin Guarino (who has staged productions at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City). She knows how to present the stark humor and cynical attitudes in Brecht's script, and the talented CCM musical theater performers (accompanied by a small onstage orchestra dominated by woodwinds and brass) provide great renderings of Weill's score. This is a rarely produced work, definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-556-4183.

Perhaps you prefer your cynicism in an 18th century mode: That's what you'll get with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production of Dangerous Liaisons, a story of the idle rich who entertain themselves by seducing and manipulating their naive colleagues — or their innocent offspring. (Review here.) It's not a pretty story, in that the central characters are scheming and out for their own entertainment and pleasure, often for revenge. But if you like nasty behavior, this production has it in spades. Two of CSC's best veterans, Corinne Mohlenhoff and Giles Davies, play the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, a pair of arch schemers who relish making a mess of others' lives. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but it's a literate, cleverly plotted piece of theater. Box office: 513-381-2273 x.1. 

The previous three shows finish their runs this weekend. When the Rain Stops Falling at Know Theatre has one more week (it closes on March 16), but you should order your tickets now: I expect the final performances will be hard to get into on short notice. (Review here.) This is one of the best shows that Know has staged in several seasons, a fine, complex script performed by a talented cast of nine, directed by Cincy Shakes Brian Isaac Phillips. (Four of the cast members are CSC regulars.) They play four generations of two families, strangely and fatefully intertwined. The story weaves back and forth between 1959 and 2039; at first it seems to be disjointed, then things suddenly beging to fall into place. By the time it's over — with several shocking moments along the way — you'll see how it all fits together. If you haven't seen this one yet, this is the ticket you need to get. Box office: 513-300-5669.




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by Rick Pender 10.09.2015 11 hours 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 7 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 14 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 21 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 28 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 35 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.

by Rick Pender 08.28.2015 42 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 07:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
shakespeare in the park crowd - photo provided by cincinnati shakespeare company

Stage Door

Park your theatergoing outdoors

At this point in the summer you have to look a little harder for theater productions. Most of our local companies are rehearsing for shows to open their 2015-2016 seasons. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see, especially if you’d like to enjoy theater in the great outdoors.

Queen City Flash’s performances of The Complete Tom, from Mark Twain’s tales about Tom Sawyer, are both outside-the-box and — literally — outside, popping up in different area parks for each evening their final romp with Tom Sawyers, Detective, is being presented. In this installment (the fourth of four), Tom and Huck Finn set out to clear a friend implicated in a murder. To catch one of these free performances, you need to reserve a ticket at queencityflash.com. At 4 p.m. on the day of the show, you’ll receive an email with details of the “secret” outdoor location. The production, creatively staged by Bridget Leak, features six actors who play multiple roles using puppets and quick costume changes.

Another outdoor adventure is in store for you if you track down a FREE Shakespeare in the Park performance of a modern-dress staging of Romeo and Juliet this weekend. You’ll find one at Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park on Friday, another at the McDonald Commons Park Shelter in Madeira on Saturday and a third at Keehner Park in West Chester on Sunday; all performances are at 7 p.m. This series is produced by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and it will be toured (as will a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream) to local schools, community centers and other venues through May 2016.

If you prefer to sit in a theater, head to Covington where The Carnegie has a head start on the theater season with its mid-August production: Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s innovative Company, onstage through Sunday. Even though the show has been around for 45 years, its outside-the-box approach — no beginning-middle-end story, in particular, but rather a central character, Robert, who’s turning 35 but remains disconnected, despite his married friends pushing help toward relationships — seems timely. Although the Carnegie’s actors are a tad young and don’t really feel like the New Yorkers who Furth’s script portrayed, they do a good job with the songs, and Zachary Huffman does a fine job with the central role. Here’s my CityBeat review. It’s onstage through Sunday. Tickets: 859-957-1940

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

by Rick Pender 08.21.2015 49 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 8-14 hundred days @ know theatre - id from left - lindsey mercer - abigail bengson -brian koch - shaun bengson -colette alexander - photo by daniel r. winters

Stage Door

A few end-of-summer theater choices

Theater slows down this time of year as most local companies are readying to launch their 2015-2016 seasons in September. You’ll find two newish productions on local stages — Company at The Carnegie in Covington and 9 to 5 at the Incline in East Price Hill. Stephen Sondheim’s Company is a solid production with a nice turn by Zachary Huffman in the central role of Robert. There are lots of well-performed tunes by a young cast and some able musicians. Here’s my review. I’m not so enthusiastic about the third show of the Incline’s inaugural season: 9 to 5 is a weak offering after the successes of The Producers and 1776. That’s largely due to a script that’s pretty stale and silly, as I mentioned in my review. It’s based on a 1980 movie about a chauvinistic boss and three women who give him his comeuppance. Dolly Parton played a feisty secretary in the movie and had a hit with its title song. When the movie became a 2009 stage musical, she wrote the songs. They don’t add much. Cincinnati Landmark must have pulled out all the stops for the first two shows this summer; this one looks like they cut some corners. These two productions continue through Aug. 30.

This is the final weekend for Hundred Days at Know Theatre. This Rock opera has been an unqualified hit for the 18-year-old Over-the-Rhine venue. I gave it a Critic’s Pick and I’ve talked with several friends who have gone back to see it a second time. Abigail and Shaun Bengson sing their way through a tragic love affair — a marriage cut short by a terminal disease — that ends up feeling pretty joyous since they choose to celebrate their “100 days” as if it was the 60-year marriage they had hoped for. Great concept, great execution. Get a ticket if you can: 513-300-5669

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

by Rick Pender 08.14.2015 56 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 8-14 hundred days @ know theatre - id from left - lindsey mercer - abigail bengson -brian koch - shaun bengson -colette alexander - photo by daniel r. winters

Stage Door

Only a few more days for 'Hundred Days'

Know Theatre’s Hundred Days is not running for 100 days. In fact, it has only seven more performances, so I urge you to get your tickets now if you haven’t seen it yet. (I say this in part because I’ve now heard from three acquaintances that they liked the show so much they’ve purchased tickets to go back to watch a devoted couple deal with a marriage that’s foreshortened by illness. So I’m sure some performances are getting very full.) David Lyman gave it a good review in the Enquirer, and I attached a Critic’s Pick to my CityBeat commentary, so we agree — and I suspect you might, too. Abigail and Shawn Bengson, the performers and creators of Hundred Days, are full of energy and passion, and their backup musicians are infected with the same spirit. Next Wednesday (July 19) is a free admission performance, which is likely to be very full. Tickets ($25 in advance): 513-300-5669

This is the final weekend for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s very funny show, The Complete History of America (Abridged), featuring three very funny performers — Amanda McGee, Justin McCombs and Geoffrey Barnes. I don’t think you’ll leave the theater knowing more about American history, but you’ll understand our willingness to poke fun at ourselves and others. It has some moments that fall flat, but that’s to be expected in two hours of non-stop efforts at hilarity. When they hit it, the show is a laugh-out-loud riot. Final performance is Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets: 513-381-2273

Cincy Shakes’ FREE Shakespeare in the Park continues this weekend with performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Dunham Arts Center in West Price Hill (this one is actually an indoor performance) on Saturday at 2 p.m. and at Covington’s Linden Grove Cemetery on Sunday at 7 p.m. (Not that you want or need to drive to Portsmouth, Ohio, to see a performance, but the troupe is there tonight — showing just how far they’re willing to go to advance the cause of Shakespeare.)

I wish I could tell you that 9 to 5, the third musical in the inaugural season at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, is as entertaining or well done as its predecessors, The Producers and 1776. But it isn’t. Nevertheless, based on the strength of the season so far and the novelty of going to a brand-new theater most of the tickets for this lightweight musical have already been snatched up. It’s based on a movie from the 1980s that featured Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. Parton’s countrified tunes, written for the musical not the movie (which did feature her hit song of the same title), are mildly entertaining, but the story is full of clichéd stereotypes about “working girls” who struggle to work with a chauvinistic boss. The real Parton makes a video appearance, but it’s not quite enough. Through Aug. 30. 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 08.07.2015 63 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 8-5 -hundred days at know theatre - id - shaun bengson - photo by daniel r. winters

Stage Door

Make ’em Laugh: Midsummer Theater

Hundred Days, a Folk Rock Opera onstage at Know Theatre, continues to be the go-to show of the summer. The story of a marriage that gets short-circuited by a fatal illness turns into a joyous 75-minute concert music written and performed by the dynamic duo of Abigail and Shaun Bengson, with five musicians and singers behind them. Rather than wallow in grief about having only 100 days, they celebrate their love by condensing what they imagine 60 years of life might have held. It’s a lovely story, told in an imaginative, contemporary way. Read my CityBeat review, which gave it a “Critic’s Pick.” Tickets: 513-300-5669

Cincinnati Shakespeare has three excellent comic actors onstage at the moment who know how to wring every possible laugh out of a satiric script. Geoffrey Barnes, Justin McCombs and Amanda McGee are performing The Complete History of America (Abridged), another script by the zany trio who wrote The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). I think this one tries a little too hard to be hilarious, so a few moments feel kind of lame, but these three players manage to pick things up, make a little fun of themselves and move right on with more gags, jokes, pratfalls, spit takes and costume changes. It’s an evening of hilarity. Here’s my CityBeat review. Through Aug. 15. Tickets: 513-381-2273

Cincy Shakes’ FREE Shakespeare in the Park tour continues this weekend with a 7 p.m. performances of Romeo and Juliet at Cottell Park in Deerfield (Friday) and the Community Park Pavilion in Milford (Sunday) as well as A Midsummer Night’s Dream — at the Community Pavilion in Glenwood Gardens, a Hamilton County Park. 

Finally, if you’re willing to drive to Dayton for the Human Race Theatre Company’s first-ever Festival of New Works. The weekend offers a collection of readings of five scripts — three plays and two musicals — by local, national and international writers. The lineup includes full readings of Have You Ever Played, Dayton?, a play by Robb Willoughby, and Mann … and Wife, a musical by Douglas J. Cohen and Dan Elish based on the latter’s novel Nine Wives. There will also be three 30-minute “snapshot” readings: Karen Righter’s play, The Day After Epiphany; Central Park Tango, a musical by Nicky Phillips and Robert Gontier; and Scott Stoney’s adaptation of Some Self-Evident Truths, a play based on the journals of Lucille Wheat and Lois Davies. Open talkbacks with the creative teams follow the readings. The “snapshots” (Saturday at 8 p.m.) are presented and ticketed as a group. Readings will be held in the 60-seat Caryl D. Philips Creativity Center of The Human Race and The 212-seat Loft Theatre in downtown Dayton. Info: 937-228-3630 or humanracetheatre.org

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