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by Rick Pender 06.14.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
circque

Stage Door: Cirque du Soleil and More

Head to Dayton's Nutter Center this weekend to see Cirque du Soleil's classic show, Quidam. The show, at the time a big top production, spent several weeks in Cincinnati in August and September 2006 in a "grand chapiteau" on the Ohio River bank near the Suspension Bridge. It's the story of a bored kid named Zoé whose parents ignore her. We enter the world of her imagination when Quidam, a headless wanderer under an umbrella, hands her his blue bowler hat. As her self-absorbed parents float away, the story moves into the magical reality her imagination, populated by Cirque's physically astonishing performers. There's a "German Wheel," a pair of man-sized double hoops with a guy rolling around the stage; an amazing silk contortionist, high above the stage); and "Statue," a mesmerizing performance by a muscle-bound guy and a powerful woman who slowly balance in various positions. My favorite was Banquine, the finale by 15 acrobats, launching tumblers high into the air and catching them. Through Sunday. Tickets: cirquedusoleil.com

Other productions to consider for your theater calendar this weekend: The Odd Couple (just opened on the Showboat Majestic, 513-241-6550); The Hound of the Baskervilles (Cincinnati Shakespeare, 513-381-2273), Nunsense (Commonwealth Dinner Theatre at Northern Kentucky University, 859-572-5465) and, if you're looking to make a theater weekend in Dayton with Quidam on one evening, how about filling the other with the outrageously funny X-rated Sesame Street-inspired Avenue Q at Human Race Theatre Company (888-228-3630).
 
 
by Rick Pender 06.13.2013
Posted In: Theater, Dance, Visual Art at 08:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cirque

Cirque du Soleil's Quidam Is a Flight of Imagination

Onstage at Dayton's Nutter Center through June 16

Cirque du Soleil's classic show, Quidam, opens with Zoé (Alessandra Gonzalez), a bored little girl whose parents ignore her. We enter the world of her imagination when Quidam, a headless wanderer under an umbrella, hands Zoé his blue bowler hat. (This imagery will resonate with those who know the surrealist paintings of René Magritte, a 20th century artist whose paintings challenged traditional perceptions of reality.) Zoé's self-absorbed parents float away and we are transported to the magical reality of Cirque's physically astonishing performers.

The "world" presently inhabited by Quidam is Dayton's Nutter Center, on the campus of Wright State University, through Sunday, June 16. The show, which originated as a big top production (it spent several weeks in Cincinnati in August and September 2006 in a "grand chapiteau" on the Ohio River bank near the Suspension Bridge) is now an arena show, and it works beautifully in the Nutter. Five giant metal arches are used to suspend performers in mid-air, but you quickly lose sight of the mechanics thanks to the artistry, visual and musical, of Cirque.

To me, the greatest wonder — beyond the physical precision and discipline of Cirque's athletic artists — is the universality of shows like Quidam, which tour the world. (In a few months, this company will be performing in Europe, playing to audiences in cities including Vienna, Munich and London, where it has a month-long engagement at Royal Albert Hall.) The performers are ethnically diverse and the storytelling spans cultural boundaries: Wordless clowning (Quidam features a segment about making a silent movie that recruits a few audience members as "actors") is laugh-out-loud funny, and the ringmaster John (Mark Ward) borders on intentional incompetence in a way that endears him to the crowd even as he moves us from act to act without saying a word.

And what acts we see: German Wheel (a pair of man-sized double hoops containing a guy who rolls around the stage); Diabolo (spinning Chinese yo-yo's tossed high into the air from a string and caught); Aerial Contortion (Tanya Burka is an amazing silk contortionist, many feet above the stage); Skipping Ropes (using 20 acrobats); Aerial Hoops (three women spinning and pivoting through the air); Hand Balancing (incredible strength and flexibility by a woman on yard-high canes); Spanish Webs (five fellows on high, hanging and twisting on ropes); Statue (a mesmerizing performance by Yves Décoste and Valentyna Sidenko who slowly and powerfully balance in various positions); and finally Banquine (acrobatics). The latter section, Quidam's finale, uses 15 artists, launching tumblers high into the air and catching them. At one point they build a tower of four humans atop each others' shoulders. Each assemblage or toss seems more daring than the previous.

Quidam might be the product of Zoé's boredom, but the show expands imaginative horizons. It's definitely worth a one-hour drive from Cincinnati.
 
 
by Rick Pender 06.09.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
haney_m

Ensemble Theatre Announces Remainder of Season

Cincy Playhouse veterans Ed Stern and Michael Evan Haney to stage shows

If you enjoyed "great theater in a great theater" at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park during past seasons, you'll be pleased to learn that Ed Stern, former producing artistic director, and Michael Evan Haney, whose tenure as associate artistic director ends on June 30, have both been engaged to stage shows at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati (ETC) for its 2013-2014 season. Haney will stage Nina Raine's Tribes (Jan. 29-Feb. 16, 2014) and Stern will co-direct the world premiere of Raymond McAnally's Size Matters (May 7-25, 2014); the playwright is also an actor (he co-starred in ETC's production of Mrs. Mannerly last fall) and he will be the solo performer of the one-man show.

Tribes is about Billy, the deaf son of an outspoken family obsessed with self-expression. He  has adapted to his family but not vice versa. Then he begins to connect with the deaf community, and his family resents his new "tribe." The show uses spoken and sign language as well as surtitles so  audiences can fully follow the action. The show has been a hit in New York (where it won the 2012 Drama Desk Award for outstanding play) and London, where it debuted in 2010 at the Royal Court Theatre. It's only been seen at a few theaters in the U.S. including the La Jolla Playhouse and the Guthrie in Minneapolis. As usual, ETC's Lynn Meyers is ahead of the curve in picking up great new works, and it's a good bet that Haney will make this a fine production. (Haney remains connected with the Playhouse as one of three artistic associates; he will direct A Christmas Carol as well as the world premiere of Anna Ziegler's A Delicate Ship during the Playhouse's 2013-2014 season.)

McAnally's comedy, Size Matters is even newer, of course, as a world premiere. It's about a "big guy," living in a crowded city and getting work based on his weight. McAnally, an actor who's weighed more than 280 pounds since he was 18, explores the impact his weight has had on who he is: It's apparent to him that "size matters" much of the time, but not always. The show about body issues and self-confidence is based on true events. Stern will co-direct with ETC's Meyers.

The balance of ETC's season was announced earlier: It opens on Sept. 4 with Jon Robin Baitz's Other Desert Cities, andincludes Gina Gionfriddo's Rapture, Blister, Burn, the holiday musical Around the World in 80 Days and Katori Hall's The Mountaintop about Martin Luther King Jr. Find more details here
 
 
by Rick Pender 06.07.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
know at night - photo eric vosmeier

Stage Door: Finishing Up Fringe

Two more days of the 2013 Cincy Fringe remain. In its 10th year, this year's festival has provided consistently high-quality offerings. If you're serious about the full range of theater, you owe it to yourself to catch a couple of them. I can't go into everything here, but you can check out my column from the current issue of CityBeat here or go straight to CityBeat's hub for web coverage where you can read coverage of all the shows, thanks to our dedicated corps of reviewers.

One further recommendation: Make your way to Know Theatre after 10 p.m. on Saturday to mix and mingle with the lively crowd and be among the first to learn which shows have earned "Pick of the Fringe" honors. There's no charge for admission; buy a drink or two and tip the bartenders generously. This is a volunteer-driven event, so you might also say thanks to anyone wearing a volunteer T-shirt.

Even as the Fringe sails off into the sunset, there's still plenty of theater onstage locally. For instance, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company opens its revival of its hit from last summer, The Hound of the Baskervilles. (Find CityBeat's review of last summer's CSC production here.) A three-man cast plays all the characters in a very funny take on the classic Sherlock Holmes tale. The actors, a trio of Cincy Shakes' best (Jeremy Dubin, Nicholas Rose and Brent Vimtrup), have been staged by the always inventive Michael Evan Haney, the Cincinnati Playhouse's associate artistic director and perhaps our finest local stage director, who manages to squeeze every possible ounce of entertainment from this hilarious script. The show had a sold-out run last July, and you can expect a similar response this month; the run continues through June 30. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

Another option: Duck Hunter Shoots Angel, at Falcon Theater in Newport. It's a funny script by Mitch Albom (the author of Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet In Heaven) about two bumbling Alabama duck hunters who think they’ve shot an angel. The story lands in a New York tabloid and explodes from there. Through June 15. Tickets: 513-479-6783.

For something more serious, I suggest Showbiz Players production of Spring Awakening at the Carnegie in Covington, the winner of eight Tony Awards (including best musical). It's a tale of teen angst and emerging sexuality, a powerful piece with a driving Rock score. Onstage through June 8. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

And there's still time to catch Shipwrecked! on the Playhouse's Shelterhouse stage (through June 16). It's a fantastic and family-friendly tale about adventure and storytelling, told imaginatively using three actors and a lot of clever sound effects and adaptation of everyday things to create exotic settings and dangerous moments, rescued by heroism or happenstance. (CityBeat review here.) A good show for the whole family. Tickets: 513-421-3888

Finally, a reminder: The Tony Awards, recognizing Broadway's best shows, will be be broadcast on Sunday evening on CBS, starting at 8 p.m., hosted by Neil Patrick Harris.
 
 
by Rick Pender 05.31.2013
Posted In: Arts community, COMMUNITY, Visual Art, Theater at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
fringefestival-loon

Stage Door: Fringe Your Weekend

The 2013 Cincinnati Fringe is at its first weekend with almost two dozen shows available for you to attend over the weekend. Pick a few and take a chance — read the commentaries by CityBeat reviewers posted here, if you want the inside scoop on various productions.

This is the 10th annual event, and it's become a big-time part of our local theater scene. You owe it to yourself to see some of these creative, odd, amusing, thoughtful pieces. And stop by Know Theatre's Underground Bar after 10 p.m. any evening to meet performers and talk with others who are enjoying the Fringe. It's a great way to get more perspectives.

More 2013 Fringe coverage:

• May 22 cover story: “Navigating the Novelties

• April 18 Curtain Call column: “Fringe Has Sprung

Complete festival schedule 

Official Fringe Festival guide



 
 
by Rick Pender 05.24.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage 5-15 - measure for measure - kelly mengelkoch & brent vimtrup - photo rich sofranko

Stage Door: Near Season's End

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company finishes its run of Measure for Measure this weekend (CityBeat review here). It's a dark tale of hypocrisy and manipulation, with a few glimmers of ribald humor. Director Brian Phillips has transported the story from Renaissance-Era Vienna to the United States of the 1920s when Prohibition made everyday occurrences of fast living and bad behavior. (Can you say Boardwalk Empire?)  In 20 seasons, CSC has only staged it once before, but this is a production worth seeing because of the strong acting company — especially Brent Vimtrup, Kelly Mengelkoch and Nick Rose. Billy Chace does a nice job with the comic bits, too, even though they feel weird in this difficult story of self-righteousness and double-dealing. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

For those into crooning, sentimental nostalgia, you'll find an ample supply aboard the Showboat Majestic's production of Forever Plaid. Jinx, Sparky Francis and Smudge conjure up a lot of good clean fun and close harmonies for their final concert. And I do mean final — in fact, they're kind of after the fact: Coming back from the great beyond for one last gig after a tragic bus accident on their way to a career-making gig. There's a lot of tomfoolery that makes this show amusing and entertaining. Through June 2. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

If you prefer the girls to the boys, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is into the extended run of The Mavelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns. The spunky gals — who also traffic in tunes from the ’50s and ’60s — provide two more rounds of melodies and moodiness. "Caps" is a reconstruction of their graduation night in 1958, while "Gowns" is a decade later at the wedding reception of Missy, who always has a plan, and Mr. Lee, a teacher she idolized. We get to see what life has brought to her three friends, love-'em-and-leave-'em Cindy Lou, jealous Betty Jean and vapid Suzy. ETC's casting gets an A+. Through June 1. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

For our early summer enjoyment, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park has put together the charming and family-friendly Shipwrecked! An Entertainment: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told by Himself). I attended the opening on Thursday evening and witnessed three actors who play a host of characters, change costumes in plain view, create wildly imaginative scenery and make their own sound effects. It's a wistful story of adventure that revels in the adventure of storytelling. It's onstage through June 16. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
 
 
by Rick Pender 05.23.2013
Posted In: Theater, Visual Art, Arts community at 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
todo_onstage_parade@carnegie_mattsteffen

Rising Stars

LCT singles out great theater productions and performers for 2012-2013

I wrote my Curtain Call column before the League of Cincinnati Theatres held its Monday night awards gala at The Know Theatre. So I thought you might want to learn the results. I'm glad to report that the LCT voters and I agreed about the season's best shows: I thought that Know Theatre's When the Rain Stops Falling was the best theatrical production, and that CCM Musical Theatre's production of Parade at the Carnegie was the most satisfying musical — and those are the productions that LCT cited, too.

LCT employed social media to identify audience favorites: Untethered Theatre's Red Light Winter won as the favored play, NKU's production of the musical Legally Blonde got the nod. I'm sure these were both fine productions, and it's nice to see Untethered, a new company, receive this recognition. But it's also apparent that some theaters lobbied supporters to vote for their productions, which is part of this game. So take such results with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, recognition is recognition, and that's what the awards are ultimately about — bringing good theater to the attention of the theater-going public.

There were some nice touches to LCT's program this year, including an "audience service award" that singled out people who serve audience members — box office managers and bartenders, for instance. Sue Bolger, who runs the ticket operation at NKU was named the winner, but all of these folks make going to the theater a pleasure — Brenda Berger at the Carnegie, Cal Harris at Cincy Shakes, Barb Marino with New Edgecliff and John Simpson, who runs the bar at the Playhouse.

LCT annually recognizes outstanding theater educators: This year's honorees, Mike Sherman from Colerain High School and Chad Weddle from Anderson High School, both gave grateful speeches thanking parents and hard-working kids for making it possible. These guys (and everyone who puts together high school productions) are heroes in my book: They instill a love of theater in kids, some of whom go on to careers, but many more who just come to love theater and enjoy a lifetime of happy audience membership.

Speaking of heroes, Cincinnati Playhouse Associate Artistic Director Michael Evan Haney received a standing ovation from the crowd of 200 or so when he was presented with the Rick Steiner Award for Excellence. Haney is marking his 40th year in professional theater, having spent more than 20 years staging shows for the Playhouse (including 20+ iterations of A Christmas Carol, a show he first appeared in as Bob Cratchit), as well as work at other local theaters including Ensemble Theatre and Cincinnati Shakespeare.

Four Rising Stars were also named, performers under age 25 who are on the front end of promising careers. Ellie Jamison (CCM Drama), Drew Blakeman (NKU), Jon Kovach (Miami) and Sydney Kuhlman (an Ohio Northern grad who has been a stage management intern at the Playhouse) each received a $1,000 check to get them started.

The full list of LCT winners (as well as other nominees), can be found at leagueofcincytheatres.info.

 
 
by Rick Pender 05.17.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
dale hodges in krisit - photo jim springfield

Stage Door: Choices, Choices

As the 2012-2013 theater season winds down, there are still several good productions worth seeing: You can still be entertained by the froth of The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns at Ensemble Theatre (which runs through June 1), intrigued by the dark comedy Measure for Measure at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (through May 26; CityBeat review here) or titillated by the noir tale of lust and murder, Double Indemnity, at the Cincinnati Playhouse (wrapping up on Saturday; CityBeat review here).

But if you're looking for other options, you'll find them. Slightly more off the beaten path is Sunset Boulevard, the Andrew Lloyd Webber about a faded silent film star living in her grandiose memory of her glory days rather than in the cynical present of the 1940s. Cincinnati Music Theatre has assembled a fine production of the show at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theater, onstage through Saturday evening. This is a big show in terms of cast, choreography, scenery and more, but CMT, a community theater, has the personnel to pull it off. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

Another tale of a film legend contemplating a return to the screen — but on a decidedly smaller scale — is offered in Krisit, a new play by local playwright Y York. Veteran actress Dale Hodges plays the title character in a show characterized by director Mark Lutwak as a funny play about a serious subject. York and Hodges have a history that goes back to New York City many years ago. It's onstage (through June 2) at Clifton Performance Theatre (the space once occupied by Sitwell's Coffee House, 404 Ludlow Ave.). Tickets: 513-861-7469.

Speaking of legends, at the Aronoff tonight (Friday) you'll find Hal Holbrook in Mark Twain Tonight! He's been presenting the humor, satirical wit and timeless observations of one of America's most iconic literary figures for more than a half-century. Holbrook is now 88, more than a decade older than Twain when he passed away in 1910. But he keeps his performances fresh and timely with constant edits and changes about politics, culture and the world, carefully attuned to the moment. (He has more than 16 hours of Twain material in his repertoire!) His performance is in the Procter & Gamble Hall at the Aronoff Center. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

If you've already enjoyed the Wonderettes at ETC, you might want to attend Forever Plaid, which just opened the 2013 summer season on board the Showboat Majestic. It's a similar story, a quartet of singers aspiring for their big musical break. They get it, but at a high (and highly comic) price. Lots of great tunes from the ’50s, surrounded by nostalgic humor. It's onstage through June 2. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

Finally, if you're a regular theatergoer in Cincinnati, you might want to attend the League of Cincinnati's awards program on Monday evening, 7 p.m. at Know Theatre. Details here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 05.10.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cock photo- deogracias lerma

Stage Door: Stock Up

Nothing new onstage this week, but lots of good work continues as we head toward the summer when theater gets scarce. Now's the time to stock up.

This is the final weekend for Cock at Know Theatre. (Some publications call it The Cockfight Play, but Cock is Mike Bartlett's actual title for his play.) It's the story of a man who thought he was gay but now finds himself powerfully drawn to a woman. (CityBeat review here.) His former lover and his new passion both push him to make a choice, and he's torn. It's a great piece of theater, fueled by strong acting and interesting staging. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Ensemble Theatre's production of The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns is off and running — and on its way to being another box-office hit for ETC. It's the same four spunky gals who audiences loved back in 2010 (in ETC's best-selling show ever), with new tuneful glimpses into their high school graduation in 1958 and a wedding reception in 1968. Talented singers, individually and as a quartet, make this a fine evening's entertainment. If you've seen it before, you know the drill — and you're probably ready for more. Tickets: 513-421-3555

James M. Cain's novel of crime and deception, Double Indemnity, continues at the Cincinnati Playhouse. (CityBeat review here.) If you think you know this show from Billy Wilder's 1944 film (one that defined the noir genre), you're in for a treat: While this production adopts the elements of terse narration, tough guys and sexy dames, the playwrights tell the story differently for the stage. And the Playhouse stages it inventively — one might even say cinematically. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Shakespeare's Measure for Measure is a strange piece, a comedy with a deeply disturbing story about hypocrisy. (CityBeat review here.) A judgmental official condemns men for their licentious behavior, then turns around and propositions a virtuous woman pleading to spare her brother. This troublesome tale is interspersed with comic moments as minor characters wend their way through a time of sordid behavior — in Cincinnati Shakespeare's production it's been moved to Prohibition-era America. If you're a Shakespeare buff, this one is worth seeing, since it's not often staged. (It's been 18 years since it's been presented locally.) Tickets: 513-381-2273 x.1.

The musical Sister Act, based on the Whoopi Goldberg film from 1992, continues at the Aronoff. (CityBeat review here.) It's an evening of silly fluff, but the touring production, onstage through Sunday, is polished and entertaining. The plot is implausible, but it's a framework for some great singing and an eye-popping series of set pieces. Tickets: 800-982-2787. 

If you prefer a musical with a little more grit, head to Dayton where the Human Race Theatre Company is presenting next to normal at the Victoria Theater. This Rock musical about a paranoid schizophrenic mom and the damage her affliction imposes on her family is a powerful show, one that Cincinnati's Ensemble Theatre gave a well received production in 2011 that was revived a year ago. The show was an unusual winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama. It's onstage in Dayton through May 19. Tickets: 937-228-9360.
 
 
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.
 
 

 

 

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by Rick Pender 02.05.2016 7 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 02:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 2-5 - ifthen on tour - anthony rapp & jackie burns - photo joan marcus

Stage Door

A musical worth seeing, events at Know (one serious, the other entertaining) plus a Super Bowl commercial

Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey met with great success when they created next to normal, winning several Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama. They didn’t strike gold with their next show, If/Then, onstage locally for just a week in a touring production — but I found it to be a very satisfying, if complex work. (Read my Curtain Call interview with Kitt and Yorkey here.) Elizabeth is recently divorced and trying to decide what path to take next. She asks herself musically “What If” she takes this path or that — and this show lets us follow her down two divergent threads, one toward a successful professional career as a city planner in New York, the other in a happy marriage with kids that doesn’t quite turn out as she imagined. Her stories are presented in overlapping narratives, since some moments and events are quite close. It requires paying close attention, but it’s definitely worth the effort. It’s made all the easier by a very strong cast — including Jackie Burns in the leading role, Broadway veteran Anthony Rapp as Lucas, one of her close friends (he originated the role on Broadway Lucas and played videographer Mark in the original cast of Rent back in 1996) and Tamyra Gray as Kate, who pushes Elizabeth in a different direction. The show’s inventive staging, using video and fluidly moving set pieces, is also a fine example of contemporary theater design. Definitely worth seeing. Onstage through Sunday. 

In BlackTop Sky at Know Theatre, Ida’s view from an asphalt-paved courtyard surrounded by the housing project where she lives isn’t pretty.  The 18-year-old yearns to escape, but her avenues are limited. The safe, predictable route is with Wynn, her boyfriend, a hardworking auto mechanic. Then there’s Klass, an all-but-inarticulate homeless man who settle on two park benches. Ida is caught between these two poles. This is a show about lives that are pretty dead-end. Nevertheless, Christina Anderson’s script has its moments, especially with Kimberly Faith Hickman’s purposeful staging of 34 distinct scenes, several of them entirely wordless. Anderson writes with occasional lyricism and feeling, but desperation underlies these sad stories. That being said, the telling holds out a promise of change. That’s an important if not altogether entertaining message. Onstage through Feb. 20.

Also at Know, the fourth outing of Serials gets under way on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. They’ve dubbed this one Thunderdome 2 – Beyond Thunder, meaning that each evening two of the five shows will be voted out by the audience, to be replaced by two new shows at the following session. Serials 4 features some writers and directors who entertained audiences in previous iterations of Serials. But several new talents have entered the fray, and the Know staff tells me, “There are some seriously strong story pitches this round!” They feel that the “gentle competition” of Thunderdome leads to stronger writing and a better audience experience. Writers who take the challenge must leap quickly into their narratives; if they lag behind, they’ll be struck by a thunderclap and end up in the audience at the next round. Subsequent episodes are set for Feb. 22, March 7 and 21 and April 4.

Finally: If you’re tuned in to the Super Bowl on Sunday evening, keep an eye out for a 30-second commercial for Gold Star Chili. It was shot locally, featuring 15 Cincinnati actors at several Gold Star locations. Ensemble Theatre’s Lynn Meyers did the casting for it, so you’ll see some familiar faces often featured on local stages. 


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

 
 
by Rick Pender 01.29.2016 14 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 01:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
kathleen wise as the pilot in grounded at ensemble theatre - photo by ryan kurtz

Stage Door

Going to war — one way or another

There are so many things happening on local stages it’s a bit of a challenge make recommendations. But every one of these productions has some sort of conflict at its heart.

Grounded opened Wednesday night Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. George Brant’s a one-woman script is about a fearless fighter pilot whose career is cut short by an unexpected pregnancy, marriage and parenthood. Her new job is to fly military drones from a trailer outside Las Vegas; but she goes home to her family every night — and before long, she has trouble sorting out the boundaries between her two worlds. Kathleen Wise makes her ETC debut with this challenging performance, a woman who knows her way “in the blue” as a pilot, but must navigate new paths when she’s relegated to the “chair force,” wandering remotely “in the gray,” targeting “personality strikes.” Michael Haney is back in town to stage this one, and he always succeeds with making solo shows a powerful experience. Grounded is a pressure-filled, cautionary tale, gripping but not easy to watch. Nevertheless, it’s compelling theater. Through Feb. 14. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

Karen Zacarías’ Native Gardens, a world premiere, opened at the Cincinnati Playhouse last evening. Her Book Club Play was a Playhouse hit in 2013; this time around the subject is a tad more serious, but it’s handled with deft humor as neighbors battle over styles of gardening — formal vs. natural — and choices driven by cultural differences. New neighbors Pablo and Tania are of Hispanic descent, moving in next door to Frank and Virginia, who are as waspy as can be. You can imagine where that goes: Straight down the road to audience gasps as the couples insult one another when boundaries are crossed. The 80-minute show wraps up neatly — maybe a little too much so. But there’s no denying this is a show that has lots of comic appeal involving circumstances many people will recognize. Through Feb. 21. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Tonight is the opening for Black Top Sky at Know Theatre. Christina Anderson, a resident playwright with New York City’s New Dramatists, makes her Cincinnati debut with this show about the residents of a housing project. Ida, 18, befriends Klass, an unpredictable young homeless man. Their friendship forces Idea to make a choice: Embrace the struggle for justice or embrace a life with her successful boyfriend. Kimberly Faith Hickman, who staged 2014’s The Twentieth-Century Way for Know, is back from New York to direct. Andrew Hungerford, Know’s artistic director, chose this show because he was “struck by the poetry of the language, the visual poetry of the stage directions and the gut-wrenching timelessness of the story.” He adds, “It flips from humor to heaviness at the speed of light.” Onstage through Feb. 20. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Shakespeare’s chronicling of King Henry VI took three plays back in the 16th-century; Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has rearranged them into two productions, one onstage now and another coming next season. This portion details the roots of the War of the Roses, with relatives vying for power — it’s truly a historic “game of thrones.” It’s also is a predecessor of today’s action movies, with lots of combat — and the fiery presence of Joan of Arc (played with zest by Caitlin McWethy), as England’s zeal for dominance in France runs a parallel track to the jockeying for position among royal relatives back home. Through Feb. 13. Tickets: 513-381-2273. 


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

 
 
by Rick Pender 01.22.2016 21 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
darnell pierre benjamin as henry vi at cincinnati shakespeare - photo mikki schaffner photography

Stage Door

A little history, a little love and some fantasy

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is staging the original “game of thrones” — England’s Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) as retold by the Bard’s history plays — eight shows being presented in chronological order across five theater seasons. (Cincy Shakes is only the second theater company in the U.S. to present the history cycle in Chronological order.) We’ve already seen Richard II, Henry IV: Part 1 and 2 and Henry V. Now it’s time for the reign of Henry VI, which Shakespeare covered with three plays. This week starts the production of Henry VI, Part I, the story of Henry V’s only son who, in 1421, inherited the throne before his first birthday, after his father’s untimely death. A child on the throne opened the door to the dynastic struggles of the War of the Roses. (The cycle concludes next season with the bloody tragedy of Richard III.) Darnell Pierre Benjamin plays Henry, an unusual choice. Here’s what he says about taking on this role: “I’m a black male from St. Martinville, Louisiana. Despite how much I’ve always fixated my interests on the classics, I never thought that I’d have the honor of representing one of Shakespeare’s history kings.” He says he hopes “to open people’s minds and hearts to seeing the core of this story — a young man coming into his own as he learns that there are forces, both good and bad, that can alter his perception of himself.” Through Feb. 13. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

The Covedale Center just opened Neil Simon’s Chapter Two, a play about a widowed writer trying to start over while still grieving for his late wife. The story is rooted in Simon’s own experience, and the playwright’s famous one-liners are still there, but woven into the show’s humor is a story about coming to terms with death and moving on. Through Feb. 14. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

In Covington, The Carnegie is offering what sounds like an interesting production of The Wizard of Oz that opened last night. With musical accompaniment by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, it’s a “lightly-staged” rendition with Harold Arlen’s famous score from the 1939 movie. Of particular interest is the scenic design by local artist Pam Kravetz, a unique take on the iconic landscapes of Oz, including Munchkin Land and the Emerald City. Just to remind folks passing by on Scott Avenue, you’ll see a giant pair of legs with striped stockings and ruby slippers to remind you that one wicked witch is dead. Through Jan. 31. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

For something completely different, consider The Realistic Joneses by Clifton Players, at Clifton Performance Theater on Ludlow Avenue. It’s about two couples named Jones, next-door neighbors who get to know one another despite fear and loneliness. Will Eno’s unusual play — part comedy, part drama — digs into secrets that aren’t often spoken aloud. It’s being staged by local theater veteran Dale Hodges with a cast that includes Carter Bratton, Mindy Siebert, Miranda McGee and Phil Fiorini. It’s onstage through Feb. 7. Tickets: 513-861-7469.

Next week there will be even more theater on local stages: Grounded, a one-woman show about a fighter pilot assigned to making drone strikes (Ensemble Theatre, Jan. 27-Feb. 14, 513-421-3555), BlackTop Sky, a tale of homelessness and friendship (Know Theatre, Jan. 29-Feb. 20, 513-300-5669) and Prelude to a Kiss, a sweet love story about changing places and understanding different perspectives (Falcon Theater in Newport, Jan. 29-Feb. 13, 513-479-6783).


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 01.20.2016 22 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 05:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
incline theatre (2016) - photo provided by cincinnati landmark productions

If You're So Inclined

2016-2017 shows announced for Cincinnati Landmark venues

Even though we’ve just passed the halfway point of the 2015-2016 theater season, the over-achievers at Cincinnati Landmark Productions just announced plans for future productions at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts and the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater for 2016-2017.

Tim Perrino, CLP’s executive artistic director, says, “With our two venues, Cincinnati Landmark Productions has two great platforms to create exciting theater and palpable neighborhood vitality. We set a course for success with a summer of sellouts at the Incline in 2015, and we’re chomping at the bit to bring these just-announced shows to life in 2016 and 2017.”

The Covedale’s offerings are designed for mainstream audiences, while the Incline offers two distinct seasons — “Summer Classics” presents shows with broad appeal; the “District Series” produces more adult fare, both musicals and dramas.

The Covedale Center’s “Marquee Series” for 2016-2017 will offer:

  • Godspell (Sept. 8-Oct. 2, 2016), Stephen Schwartz’s first big musical theater hit, based on the New Testament’s Gospel of Matthew. Schwartz is the composer of Wicked.
  • The Foreigner (Oct. 20, Nov. 13, 2016), a comedy by Larry Shue, in which a shy, lonely guy poses as visitor from an exotic country who doesn’t speak English.
  • The Night Before Christmas (Dec. 1-23, 2016) for the holiday season.
  • Doubt (Jan. 19-Feb. 12, 2017), John Patrick Shanley’s 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner about a suspicious nun and a progressive priest.
  • Leading Ladies (March 9-April 2, 2017), Ken Ludwig’s farce about a pair of Shakespearean actors scheming for an inheritance.
  • My Fair Lady (April 27-May 21, 2017), Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical about a professor of linguistics who trains a Cockney gal to pose as an elegant noblewoman.

The Incline’s “District Series” plans to produce starting next fall:

  • [title of show] (Sept. 29-Oct. 16, 2016), a clever musical about creating a musical to enter in a festival.
  • God of Carnage (Nov. 17-Dec. 4, 2016), Yasmina Reza’s domestic drama about a pair of parents who come to blows arguing about a fight between their children.
  • The Rocky Horror Show (Feb. 16-March 5, 2017), the sci-fi parody musical from 1973 that inspired the 1975 cult film.
  • Equus (April 6-23, 2017), Peter Shaffer’s award-winning drama about a psychiatrist treating a teenager who blinded six horses.

Still in the pipeline for the Covedale’s current season are productions of Neil Simon’s warm-hearted comedy Chapter Two (Jan. 21-Feb. 14) and two classic musicals, She Loves Me (March 1-April 3) and Brigadoon (April 28-May 22).

Queued up at the Incline for the balance of this season are the satiric musical Avenue Q (Feb. 18-March 6) and David Mamet’s hard-as-nails real-estate drama Glengarry Glen Ross (April 6-24). Those will be followed by the previously announced “Summer Classics” season for 2016, featuring three likeable musicals Anything Goes (June 1-26), Baby (July 6-31) and Chicago (Aug. 10-Sept. 4). The Incline’s summer season in 2015 completely sold out three productions — The Producers, 1776 and 9 to 5.

 
 
by Rick Pender 01.15.2016 28 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
radium girls

Stage Door

A Fringe fix, some radioactivity, a lot of dancing — and previews of what's coming

Right now we’re about equidistant from the 2015 and the 2016 Fringe festivals. So let’s thanks the folks at Know Theatre, who are presenting a double-bill of “Fringe Encores” to keep us stoked. This weekend actually offers one encore plus a graduate from Know’s Serials! series. Occupational Hazards is about an office fling that becomes the subject of fan-fiction with wildly divergent storylines.

Occupational Hazards

The piece by Ben Dudley was a 2015 Fringe show. He’s also the writer of Cinderblock, about a guy (played by Dudley) whose windshield is smashed by a cult member. This mystery passes through an office party.

Ben Dudley

The shows are being performed this weekend at Clifton Performance Theatre (404 Ludlow Ave., Gaslight Clifton): performances of Occupational Hazards are Friday at 8:45 p.m. and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Cinderblock, which, originally presented in five 15-minute episodes, has been pieced into a full-length version that will be presented on Friday evening at 7:30 and Saturday at 8:45. You can sit in on one piece for $15 or pay $25 for the pair either evening. Tickets: knowtheatre.com

Mariemont Players, one of Cincinnati’s fine community theater groups, is presenting D. W. Gregory’s Radium Girls through Jan. 24. It’s inspired by a true story about women who painted radium numerals on glow-in-the-dark watches, unaware of the dangers of radioactivity. The play, described as being “written with warmth and humor,” is being presented at the Walton Creek Theater (4101 Walton Creek Rd., just east of Mariemont). Tickets ($20): 513-684-1236 or mariemontplayers.com

One more weekend at the Aronoff Center for the highly entertaining touring production of Kinky Boots (through Sunday). A struggling shoe factory in Northampton, England, retools to avoid bankruptcy and unemployment. Rather than continuing to manufacture stodgy men’s shoes, they turn to high-fashion footwear for drag queens, promoted as “kinky boots.” It’s an unlikely tale that happens to be true, and it’s the vehicle for some outrageous humor, especially from Lola, an extrovert of a diva and her spectacularly clad and built “Angels,” a half-dozen drag queens who back up her act. Kinky Boots offers a meaningful message about tolerance and finding your own path, fleshed out with some entertaining dancing and fine singing. Tickets: 513-621-2787

The local theater scene picks up momentum next week when three shows open on Thursday and another on Friday. That evening the Covedale Center opens Neil Simon’s Chapter Two (through Feb. 14), a warm-hearted comedy about getting back into the dating game; Covington’s Carnegie offers a “lightly-staged” concert adaptation of The Wizard of Oz (through Jan. 31) with accompaniment by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra; and Clifton Players stages The Realistic Joneses (through Feb. 7 at Clifton Performance Theatre), a comedy-drama about the secrets of next-door neighbors directed by local stage veteran Dale Hodges. On Friday evening, Cincinnati Shakespeare continues its five-year, chronological presentation of Shakespeare’s eight-play history cycle with Henry VI, Part I (through Feb. 13), the story of a young king who must rule after his father’s untimely death; Joan of Arc is a key character in this tale. 

Life in the big city: Lots of choices.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 01.08.2016 35 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 1-8 kinky boots tour - adam kaplan & j. harrison ghee - photo matthew murray

Stage Door

Get 'Kinky' — or look out for 'True Food'

If you turn up at the Aronoff Center for the touring production of Kinky Boots (it’s onstage through Jan. 17), you might think you’ve landed in Over-the-Rhine. That’s how much the show’s opening vista of a factory in Northampton, England, resembles our own historic neighborhood. It’s the Victorian brick façade of a shoe factory that’s struggling in the 21st century because it’s still manufacturing old-fashioned men’s shoes. Even if they’re “the most beautiful thing in the world” (the theme of the show’s opening song), not so many people want to buy them today. As a last-ditch effort to keep the company from closing, the fourth-generation heir to the business, Charlie Price, decides to make “kinky boots,” high-fashion footwear for drag queens whose male frames are too much for standard female shoe heels. His customer No. 1 is Lola, an extrovert of a diva who — not unlike Charlie — has struggled with living up to his dad’s expectations. There’s a lot of fun and frippery along the way: Lola has a half-dozen “Angels” — drag queens who back up her act — and they’re spectacularly clad and built. A perky factory worker, Lauren, keeps giving Charlie advice (while falling for him despite his imminent fiancée in London). Another employee, Don, a hardcore male chauvinist, wants nothing to do with Lola. Watching events unfold is the fun of this show, even if you know where it’s all headed. Kinky Boots offers a meaningful message about tolerance and finding your own path, and there’s a lot of fancy dancing and fine singing along the way. Tickets: 513-621-2787

Whether or not your New Year’s resolution had to do with losing weight, you still have to eat. So the topic this quarter’s True Theatre, True Food, should be of interest. These are true personal narratives, sometimes confessional, often humorous, told by everyday people. Monday night’s stories are about what a homeless woman did when she had access to a kitchen, a man who ate the wrong thing at the wrong time, another man reconsidering his family’s “roots” and two guys who eat like there’s no tomorrow, day in and day out. What happens when a foodie and a picky eater cross paths? You can find out on Monday when folks crowd into Know Theatre’s Underground Bar (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine) to get the dish on these stories. Call for tickets ($18); these events are often sold out.

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

 
 
by Rick Pender 12.18.2015 56 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
the cast of every christmas story ever told @ cincy shakes performs its take on the year the grinch stole christmas - photo rich sofranko

Stage Door: Last Chances — and Some Big Laughs

This weekend is your final chance to see several December productions, including Low Down Dirty Blues (Cincinnati Playhouse), All Childish Things (Know Theatre) and Rent (Incline Theater). A few shows stick around after Dec. 25 — A Christmas Carol (Playhouse) continues through Dec. 30 and Ensemble Theatre’s staging of its jaunty rendition of Cinderella remains onstage until Jan. 3. I would find it odd to watch Ebenezer Scrooge getting scared into a “Merry Christmas” a few days after the holiday, but ETC’s contemporary rendition of a beloved fairytale might be just the thing to entertain bored kids after they’ve tried out all the new toys. Tickets for the latter: 513-421-3555.

I checked out opening night of the tenth anniversary presentation of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and it’s as silly and funny as ever — especially with some clever pokes at people and events from 2015. The annual gags about fruitcakes take on a whole new dimension this time around by having some fun with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her intransigence about issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Every Christmas Story trots out just about every “BHC” (Beloved Holiday Classic) you might recall and puts it through a humorous filter. It’s fun from start to finish, but there is a moment — after recreating A Charlie Brown Christmas, complete with a woebegone tree — when Justin McCombs steps into a pool of light as Linus with his security blanket and recites the New Testament passage from the Gospel of Luke about an angel speaking to the shepherds. It’s a somber and wholly lovely scene, so far removed from very tongue-in-cheek, sometimes off-color humor typical of the show that it sticks with audience members. The antic McCombs also plays a true believer who refuses to be be convinced that Santa’s existence is impossible: His enthusiasm for all the miraculous things the Jolly Old Elf can accomplish is so childlike that you’ll wish you could return to that innocent age yourself. Even if you’ve seen Every Christmas Story before, it’s a blast to go back. In fact, I’d say it’s become a BHC in its own right. Onstage through Dec. 27. Tickets (if they’re still available): 513-381-2273.

There’s also some great holiday laughs to be had compliments of OTRImprov, presenting its annual show The Naughty List in the Courtyard at Arnold’s Bar & Grill in Downtown Cincinnati. The 90-minute show — unscripted and building off suggestions from the audience — happens Sunday-Tuesday, Dec. 20-22 and Dec. 27-29. It’s a laugh-a-minute way to have fun right before or after Christmas. To make an evening of it, show up at Arnolds (201 East 8th St.) between 6 and 6:30 p.m., get seated and place your dinner order. The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. The rotating cast includes OTRImprov’s quick-witted regulars Mike Hall, Kirk Keevert, Sean Mette, Dave Powell, Charlie Roetting, Dylan Shelton and Kat Smith. Tickets (order before 4:30 on the day of the show): 513-300-5669.


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

 
 
by Rick Pender 12.11.2015 63 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
sd

Stage Door

Ho-Ho-Ho, try a holiday show!

Most of the theater onstage right now is holiday-themed — or at least family-friendly. If you want to take kids to see something, your best bet is Cinderella at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, a contemporary take on the familiar fairytale — the heroine is a bookworm who prefers to sneakers to glass slippers. There’s lots of humor, especially from the loudmouthed and crass stepsisters in this telling, plus some fine musical moments. This show will be around until Jan. 3. Tickets: 513-421-3555 … Another good choice for kids is A Charlie Brown Christmas, presented at the Taft Theatre by Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. You know the story, I’m sure (this year is the 50th anniversary of the TV special) but it’s a good bet that Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati is putting a version onstage that will let kids have a good time. Performances are at 2 and 5 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets: 800-745-3000 … Want to start a family tradition? There’s no better choice than Cincinnati Playhouse’s glittering, well-acted production of A Christmas Carol. It’s fast-moving and often funny (Bruce Cromer gives Ebenezer the full range of emotion, from crabby “Bah, humbug” to a joyous “Merry Christmas.”) It’s onstage through Dec. 30. Tickets: 513-421-3888 … The Covedale Center’s production of Mary Poppins isn’t their best work (it feels a tad long for youngsters), but it has great tunes and some memorable special effects — Mary flies and Bert walks up and down the sides of the proscenium — that audiences will enjoy. Through Dec. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550

The Rock musical Rent, onstage at the Incline Theatre in Price Hill doesn’t exactly qualify as holiday or family entertainment, although its story does start and finish at Christmas (with “525,600 Minutes” in between). But this is an energetically acted and sung production for mature audiences. Through Dec. 20. Tickets: 513-241-6550 … If you can’t quite wait for The Force Awakens to open, you can get a small dose of Star Wars energy from All Childish Things at Know Theatre. It’s a comedy about some slackers trying to steal collectibles from a warehouse — they don’t succeed, but they learn a lesson about heroism that’s akin to the movie. Through Dec. 19. Tickets: 513-300-5669 … This weekend is your final opportunity to see As You Like It at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. It’s a delightful production of one of Shakespeare’s best comedies, but it’s wrapping up on Saturday. (Next week CSC opens Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some) on Wednesday.) Tickets: 513-381-2273 …The most entertaining non-holiday show this season has to be Low Down Dirty Blues on the Playhouse’s Shelterhouse stage. It’s pretty much what the title says: Three singers getting a little raunchy and having a lot of fun with some tunes about being up and down. Great performances and a really good time for grown-ups. Through Dec. 20. Tickets: 513-421-3888

Finally, if you a performance that’s simply feel-good, I heartily recommend going to Ensemble Theatre on Monday evening at 7 p.m. for their one-night-only annual presentation of Expectations of Christmas. It’s a round-up of holiday traditions, origins, music, facts and back-stories — presented by performers who frequent ETC’s stage. Admission is just $10 and all the proceeds go to Tender Mercies (an Over-the-Rhine agency right around the corner from ETC that provides permanent and transitional housing for the homeless with histories of chronic mental illness). Tickets: 513-421-3555 … or walk in on Monday and you’ll likely get in. 

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

 
 
by Rick Pender 12.04.2015 70 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 12-4 - cast of rent at incline - photo mikki schaffner

Stage Door

A fairytale, a ghost story and lots of musicals for the holidays

December is full of shows for your holiday viewing pleasure: 

Every five years or so, Ensemble Theatre rolls out a new production of its holiday rendition of Cinderella. This one just opened on Wednesday, and while it’s the same material that was presented in 2005 and 2010, it’s been freshened with a new set and colorful costumes — and especially a vibrant cast with great voices for the tunes with lyrics by David Kisor and melodies by Fitz Patton. Brooke Steele is picture-perfect as the golly-gee title character who prefers reading to going to a ball. But Kate Wilford as “Gwendolyn the Well Wisher” (“I give good advice and then wish you well,” she tells everyone with a sweep of her hand to musical accompaniment) encourages her to go so she can meet Prince Frederick (Warren Bryson), who happens to be another bookworm. They’re a lovely couple who overcome the modest barriers thrown their way (she loses a pink sneaker that helps him locate her later), but the show’s real energy comes from Sara Mackie and Torie Wiggins as Cinderella’s crass stepsisters. They’re loudmouthed losers, spewing malapropisms and ridiculous self-aggrandizement (Wiggins’ Clarissa bellows competitively, “My patheticism outshines all others”) — constantly mugging and fawning and arguing. Deb G. Girdler as their manipulative mother Brunhilda is also great fun to watch as she tries to control events to her own advantage. As is always the case with ETC’s holiday musicals with scripts by local playwright Joe McDonough, there’s a timely moral: “The essence of true beauty lies … beyond what’s seen by normal eyes.” Oh, Cinderella and Frederick wear glasses — but they see love pretty clearly. Through Jan. 3. Tickets: 513-421-3555

I’ve been attending A Christmas Carol at the Cincinnati Playhouse for 25 years, as long as they have produced it. The script — Howard Dallin excellent adaptation of Dickens’ classic story — is top-notch and doesn’t need to be tinkered, but with actors coming and going, it’s always fun to see how things shake out from one year to the next. Greg Procaccino is the only actor to be in the show every year, playing Marley’s regretful ghost and slimy junk buyer Old Joe; the always-watchable Bruce Cromer holds the longevity record playing Scrooge (11 years, after 8 as Bob Cratchit). Kathleen Wise brings a light, bemused touch to Christmas Past in her first year; returning performers include Ryan Gilreath as nervous, angular Cratchit and Kelly Mengelkoch as the patient, loving Mrs. Cratchit, as well as Douglas Rees as the ebullient Fezziwig and Annie Fitzpatrick as his playful wife. There’s a new Tiny Tim for 2015, Henry Charles Weghorst, the tiniest ever, I believe (he needs two pillows to sit at the dining table), and truly adorable. This Playhouse production continues to be a joy to watch, a glorious, glittering set and costumes that deliver you to the mid-19th century. Pay attention to the David Smith’s sound design and recorded music, which set the emotional tone for virtually every scene. A Christmas Carol is a welcome Cincinnati holiday tradition. Through Dec. 30. Tickets 513-421-3888

Cincinnati Landmark Productions is offering shows at both of its venues this month; neither is holiday per se, although the musical Rent (at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre in Price Hill through Dec. 20) begins and ends with Christmas, celebrating a year of the “seasons of love” experienced by a clutch of impoverished young artists in New York’s East Village. This is a high-quality production, a great choice for fans of contemporary Rock music. Rent is almost 20 years old, but it has stood the test of time, especially as performed by the Incline’s committed, diverse cast of excellent, energetic singers. Tyler Kuhlman as the depressed guitarist Roger has the looks and the vocal chops for the role, and Lisa Glover is a fine match as Mimi, the sexy club dancer and drug addict who makes a lot of bad choices. Kelcey Steele provides the necessary connective tissue as videographer Mark, and RJ Caldwell ably portrays Tom Collins, an anarchist professor and street activist with AIDS. But the production’s most memorable performances come from Aiden Sims as Maureen, the brassy performance artist, and especially charismatic Christopher Carter as the transgender drag queen Angel: His high-flying rendition of “Today 4 U” is a show-stopper. The ensemble shines when presenting of Rent’s iconic numbers, particularly “La Vie Bohème and “Seasons of Love.” This production is a bold choice for the new venue, seeking audiences in search of more ambitious, adult fare — there were empty seats on opening night. Rent offers strong evidence that the Incline is up to the challenge. I give this one a Critic’s Pick. … I was part of a very full house for Mary Poppins last Sunday (at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, also finished on Dec. 20); this production is clearly intended as holiday fare for families. I wish it were a bit more joyous. Mary (Alyssa Hostetler, who’s a fine singer) is a rather starchy character who’s not very loveable. The uptight Banks family she convinces to reconnect and have fun has an initially irritable dad (Dave Wilson, another excellent voice) and a mom who’s a budding feminist (Sarah Viola, who sings very well, too) — these aren’t characters that children can instantly love. Even the two Banks kids (Lili Shires and Peter Godsey, who work hard at being coy) are kind of obnoxious. The production felt long, with numerous labored scene changes. On the other hand, the audience had a great time — the songs (familiar from the 1964 movie) are beloved, and everyone seems to know them. That’s fun. Tickets: 513-241-6550

The touring production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas wraps up its engagement on Sunday. It’s a fine cast of singers and dancers, a production full of familiar tunes that’s worth seeing if you have the scratch for seats at the Aronoff Center. Tickets: 513-621-2787

If you prefer something not holiday-oriented, Xavier University’s theater program is staging Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth. It’s a three-character play from the 1990s (set in the early 1980s) about young people struggling with the transition to adulthood. Guest director Ed Stern, the Playhouse’s retired artistic director, told me it was a great opportunity to work with actors who are exactly the right age to play these roles. Read more from Stern in my recent Curtain Call column. Performances are this weekend only, including a Sunday matinee. Xavier Box Office: 513-745-3939

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

 
 
by Rick Pender 11.20.2015 84 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.

 
 
 
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