Despite the 100-plus heat on Friday evening, on my way to a
World Choir Games concert at Over-the-Rhine's School for Creative and
Performing Arts (SCPA) I took an extra half-hour to wander through the
renovated Washington Park, which officially opened earlier in the day.
What an incredible scene! Hundreds of operagoers were streaming through
the park on their way to see Porgy and Bess at Music Hall, while
kids from the neighborhood — young and old, I must add — were playing in
the people-friendly fountain. Everyone was strolling around admiring
the views and the colorful "OTR Flags," another festive element of the
On from there to SCPA's Corbett Theater for another sold-out "Celebration Concert." This one used the theme "Voices of Gold," because each of the three choirs have won multiple honors in past World Choir Games and other choral competitions. SCPA seemed like the perfect setting, since each group was made up of youthful performers: Zvonky Praha is a school group from a school in Prague in the Czech Republic and some of its singers were obviously elementary school age kids; SKH Lam Woo Memorial Secondary School were high schoolers; and the Mansfield University Concert Choir was a mixed choir of young adults from the university in Pennsylvania. It's fascinating to observe the differing personalities of the choirs, here a product of age but also of directors with very different styles of leading the singing.
Zvonky Praha begain with its 19-member chamber component, separately named "Abbellimento," all high school age girls clad in black pants and shirts, with scarlet sashes, some worn as belts, others as scarves and one as a head band. Their female voices were reedy but strong for their program, virtually all sung in Czech, so I can't tell you much of what the music was about. But I can say it was delivered with passion and clarity, accompanied in most cases by a blonde-haired pianist who played with expressive emotion. Several numbers were enhanced by one of the singers picking up a clarinet and offering soulful punctuation. When the balance of the choir came on to join Abbellimento, the numbers were roughly doubled, but again almost all girls wearing red choir capes. (There were two young boys, but I suspect their voices had not yet changed, and the feminine quality of the singing did not change.) Director Jamila Noveknová kept the ensemble in tight control, but for several final numbers had some soloists step forward, including one of the younger performers with a gorgeous soprano voice. Their final number, a choral replication of bells, was especially memorable.
Lam Woo's director, Siu Mei Lee, is a petite, beautiful woman with shining, black hair. She conducted with the expressive grace of a ballerina, using large gestures and physical movement to inspire her very focused choristers. This was a big group, roughly 80 singers, wearing school uniforms: The boys had white shirts with a school emblem and ties while girls wore knee-length pale blue dresses with white "sailor" collars and white knee socks. This group were serious in their demeanor, totally focused on their animated director. Their wide ranging program encompassed works by Mendelssohn as well as Asian composers; their concluding number, "Zum Gali," was a rhythmic traditional number from Israel that swung between soft and loud passages and up and down energy, but with a beautiful fading elevation of tone as its conclusion. The intense singers maintained their demeanor as the audience gave them a standing ovation, but when a little boy entered from the wings to hand a bouquet to Siu Mei Lee, the entire chorus burst into applause. Their affection for her was evident.
Peggy Dettwiler is clearly a veteran conductor (she teaches the craft to others at Mansfield University) and her work with her more mature singers was the most satisfying component of the evening. A balanced choir of about 60, the men wore traditional tuxedoes and black ties, while the women were attired in floor-length gowns all cut the same way. (The women also wore identical sparkling necklaces and earrings.) According to the introductions made for this group, their repertoire is generally drawn from religious works, but that did not mean it was a lot of the same thing: They offered a beautiful piece with German lyrics and music by Mendelssohn, followed by a solemn, stately song by Stephen Paulus, "The Old Church." Next was a traditional Gospel number, "Hold On!," delivered with relaxed energy. For a traditional Appalachian hymn, "Every Night When the Sun Goes Down," the group formed an unorthodox circle around Dettwiler, who conducted the entire program without music from a small, square platform about six-inches in height. That meant that some had their backs to the audience, but at one key moment, they turned toward us, which elevated not only their volume but the intensity of their heartfelt performance. Their finale, "Pal-so seong," was a humorous number in which various solo singers burst into giggles, hoots and chortles, culminating in gales of laughter — a truly unusual piece. The group's encore, an infectious "Alleluia," had them file up the aisles at Corbett Theater, surrounding the audience with joyous song. It was a perfect conclusion to the varied program.
The Audience Pick, voted by theatergoers, went to Gravesongs (pictured), Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s intern showcase, a piece by local playwright Sarah Underwood written for the five actresses who spent this season at ETC (Rachel Christianson, Emily Eaton, Lauren Shiveley, Rebecca Whatley and Elizabeth L. Worley). It was directed by another ETC intern, Elizabeth Maxwell. The script is about death from the perspective of women in their early twenties.
For the ninth time during Ed Stern’s tenure at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, a show by Stephen Sondheim will be presented. Stern, the Playhouse’ Producing Artistic Director, has a soft spot for the great American composer and lyricist who turned 80 a year ago. He will bring back Tony Award-winning director John Doyle (pictured) to stage Merrily We Roll Along in a production that uses actors who also provide the musical accompaniment. The show will be presented next year in March.
I admit that I occasionally watch the popular TV series Glee with some mixed feelings: The musical theater side of me loves it, the serious theater nut thinks it's too shallow for words. But the world seems more in the former camp than the latter, and that's led to a new social phenomena — "Glee Parties," which are popping up around the country, including one right here in Cincinnati.
I wish I could point you to a good production of a Shakespearean play today, since it's the Bard's 446th birthday. But Cincy Shakes is presenting Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband in a delightfully enacted production that ranges from witty humor to heartfelt emotion. It's definitely worth seeing.
Even cheap bastards like you deserve a good scare. Here are a few homebrew haunts we found out about. They’re all free, so check ’em out and enjoy.
16 rooms, a tunnel, cabin and chainsaw killers.
Dusk to 9 p.m. Halloween.
2759 Niagra St., Northgate
Terror on Timberlake
An extensive home haunt with a children's area.
7-10 p.m. Halloween.
300 Timberlake Ave., Erlanger, www.wescareyou.com
Walker Cemetery Yard Haunt
Free yard haunt courtesy of Damien Reaper’s dad, Grey Ghost. (Damien Reaper is a character at the Dent Schoolhouse.)
5-9 p.m. Halloween.
5142 State Route 128, Cleves, 513-353-2556
If you want the real haunted house scare, peruse CityBeat's reviews of 17 area attractions here.
Know Theatre has announced the 2012 Cincinnati Fringe Festival, kicking off May 29 and continuing through June 9. Festivities begin with the official CityBeat Fringe Kick-Off Party on May 29 at 6 p.m. (A suggested donation of $5 gets you in.) During the Festivals’ two-week run, 29 productions will receive multiple performances. Some shows are locally originated (14) and others are by touring artists (15) who travel to festivals around the United States. If everything selected actually happens (that’s seldom the case), there will be 10 plays, nine solo shows, four dance works and six multimedia/variety pieces.
Several award-winning groups popular with past Fringe audiences are set to return. One of the most popular performers from 2011, Kevin J. Thornton — his I Love You (We’re Fucked) had a sold-out run and returned for another stint last October — is back with Strange Dreamz. Thornton has appeared in the Capital Fringe, Indy Fringe, NYC Frigid Festival, Tucson Fringe Festival, Phoenix Fringe Festival, Orlando Fringe Festival, Kansas City Fringe Festival, and the Minnesota Fringe Festival.
Four Humors Theater from the Twin Cities is back for the fifth consecutive year, this time presenting Bombus and Berrylinne, or the Bumblebee and the Hummingbird. The group has previously produced Mortem Capiendum (Producer’s Pick of the Fringe, 2008), April Fools (2009), and Harold (Critic’s Pick of the Fringe, 2010) and the hilarious James Bond-inspired puppet show You Only Live Forever Once (2011).
The longevity honors will continue to be held by Cincinnati Fringe veteran group Performance Gallery, returning for their ninth year with Rodney Rumple's Random Reality. Past Cincinnati Fringe appearances include Images of a Beating Heart (2004), The Killer Whispers and Prays (2005), Godsplay (2006), Girlfight (2007), Fricative (2008), KAZ/m (2009), The Council (2010) and The Body Speaks (2011). Brad Cupples, the playwright for Performance Gallery’s 2010 entry, returns with Third Quarter Moon: A Complex Derivative Love Story.
We’ll see shows from established local companies, including Quake: A Love Story from New Edgecliff Theatre (they presented Darker in 2011) and Don't Cross The Streams: The Cease and Desist Musical, a stage musical from Covington’s Carnegie Visual & Performing Arts Center.
Two new local companies will present for the first time. Homegrown Theatre, led by local actress Leah Strasser will present an absurdist piece, The Doppelganger Cometh and Overtaketh, while Essex Theatre Arts Studio, founded by actors Bob Allen and Elizabeth Harris, will stage Love Knots, a series of shorts plays about love and romance by local playwright Phil Paradis.
There will be plenty of new acts, including Grim & Fisher (the award-winning A deathly comedy in full-face mask) from Portland, Ore., and Rebecca King (Storms Beneath Her Skin), a transgender artist from Chicago. New York artist Tanya O’Debra’s Radio Star has won awards in San Francisco, Montreal and New York City.
There will be dance performances by Houston-based dance company Psophonia (Delicious) and two local groups, MamLuft&Co.’s (Latitude) and Pones, Inc. (Project Activate). The latter is a collaborative and participatory performance that asks “How do you activate Cincinnati?” It’s the product of five local service organizations with 12 professional artists from a variety of disciplines.
Each evening after performances, artists, audience members, staff, and volunteers gather at Know Theatre’s Underground bar for the Fringe Bar Series featuring the “Channel Fringe Hard Hitting Action News Update.” Events there include Fringe previews, Fringe Olympics, Fringe-e-Oke, Fringe Prom, and the 22.5 hour play project.
This year marks the second year of FringeNext, offering three shows created and performed by high school students. Two are originating from the School for Creative and Performing Arts; the third is from Lakota West High School.
Individual tickets to shows are still $12. “Full Frontal” passes are $200, providing access to every event in the festival. “Flexible Voyeur” six-show passes are on sale for $60, the price equivalent of five tickets. “One Night Stand” passes are $35; that’s good for one weeknight (as many as three shows) and a drink at Know Theatre's Bar. Pre-sale single tickets will go on sale mid-May.
For more information about the performances or to purchase passes, check out www.cincyfringe.com or call (513) 300-KNOW (5669).
Earlier this week, Bicycles: Love Poems by Cincinnati-native and Virginia Tech professor Nikki Giovanni went on sale. The poems in this collection are meant to serve as a companion to her 1997 work, Love Poems. This is her 27th work. In the book, she addresses, among many things, the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Hear an interview with Giovanni and read an excerpt on NPR here.
You'll have to pick and choose this weekend because
there's so much theater onstage. In addition to our professional
theaters, it's worth checking out production at universities: Tonight
through Sunday, CCM's esteemed musical theater program is offering the
cult favorite Chess, with music by ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus
and Benny Andersson. The story is set in Bangkok and Budapest during a
mid-1970s world chess championship — and it's driven by gamesmanship
between nations, between lovers and, of course, between chess players. I
saw the opening on Thursday, and it's a BIG show with a gigantic cast.
Several leading roles are double cast (with more juniors than seniors,
in fact, which bodes well for CCM productions for this season and next).
In particular, Matthew Paul Hill, playing the Russian grand master
Anatoly, lifted the roof of Corbett Auditorium with his powerful
baritone voice singing the stirring "Anthem," the Act 1 finale. Tickets
($30) Box office: 513-556-4183. At Northern Kentucky University you'll a production of Royal Gambit
by German playwright Hermann Gressieker (translated into English in the
late 1950s). The subject is King Henry VIII and his six wives, and this
looks to be a beautifully costumed show, featuring senior Seth Wallen
in the leading role. Tickets ($14). Box office: 859-572-5464.
Neil Simon's funny and endearing Brighton Beach Memoirs is onstage at the Cincinnati Playhouse. I gave it a Critic's Pick (review here), and I'm sure audiences will love this sweet portrait of growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930s, where a loving but fractious family copes with hard times. It's told from the perspective of Eugene, a precocious adolescent (he's really Simon as a 15-year-old), who takes notes on his family's behavior. Well acted and beautifully staged. Box office: 513-421-3888l.
My schedule hasn't permitted me to see several shows that are getting good notices, including recognition from the folks evaluating productions for the League of Cincinnati Theatres. I'm catching up this evening with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, which is offering two shows this month. Romeo & Juliet is its mainstage show, and Sara Clark is getting high marks for her portrait of romantic but tragic young love. Brian Phillips' staging picked up an LCT nod, and the show received an overall recommendation from LCT. On the evenings when R&J is not onstage, there's another Shakespeare work for thrill seekers, specially selected and staged for the Halloween season: the bloody, gory tale of revenge, Titus Andronicus. Veteran actor Nick Rose plays a crazed Roman general, and just about everyone I've heard from says his performance is memorable. (It earned him an LCT nomination, too.) Box office: 513-381-2273.
This weekend is the final one for Mrs. Mannerly at Ensemble Theatre. When Harper Lee reviewed this one for CityBeat (review here), she gave it a Critic's Pick, and I agree wholeheartedly. (LCT named it a recommended production, too.) CEA Hall of Fame actress Dale Hodges is great fun to watch as a strict etiquette teacher in 1967, and Raymond McAnally plays all the other characters — a bunch of kids who are learning how to behave in a "mannerly" way. It's funny from start to finish, but there's a heart-warming message within the story. Definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-421-3555.
At Clifton Performance Theatre, Clifton Players are staging A Bright New Boise, which also picked up an LCT recommendation. I haven't seen it, but the show won an Obie Award (that's for outstanding off-Broadway plays) in 2011, and it has a strong cast. This is a newish venue that's specializing in "storefront theater." Should be worth supporting. Tickets ($20): 513-861-7469.
The clash of good and evil seems to be on the mind of most of our local theaters this week as numerous openings bring plenty of offerings for you to choose from.
Abigail/1702 at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a kind of sequel to Arthur Miller's The Crucible. This new play by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (it's actually a world premiere) takes the character of Abigail Williams, the villainous and spiteful catalyst for the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, and moves her 10 years beyond. She's living in Boston, an outcast caring for people afflicted with the "pox" — and haunted by her past. She knows her actions in Salem were evil, perhaps inspired by the Devil himself. How she copes with the current events of her life is very much dictated by her actions from the past. This is a fascinating variation on a familiar character, told with an air of supernatural events and eerie sights and sounds. Box office: 513-421-3888.
Freud's Last Session at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati puts a debate about the existence of God front and center, with the distance between good and evil or right and wrong as the battleground. Psychoanalyst and atheist Sigmund Freud is dying of oral cancer; he invites to his London flat a young academic and newly converted Christian, C. S. Lewis (who later wrote the Christian allegory The Chronicles of Narnia). On the September day in 1939 when England declares war on Germany — perhaps another clash of good and evil — they meet for a conversation. The play is almost all talking and very little action, but the clash of ideas is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. That's made especially true by two fine actors: Bruce Cromer (the Playhouse's longstanding Ebenezer Scrooge and Cincinnati Shakespeare's recent Atticus Finch) as the earnest Lewis, and Barry Mulholland (a local newcomer, but a veteran actor) as the skeptical Freud. This one will make you think. Box office: 513-421-3555.
Camelot at Covington's Carnegie Center offers a distilled version of the Broadway hit from 1960. It's presented as a concert, singers backed up by members of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, led by its maestro Mischa Santora. The story of King Arthur's court, a place of goodness and justice brought down by an illicit love affair, is another glimpse of the good and evil affect history — even if it's mythic history. Former NKU professor Mark Hardy is back in town to play Arthur. Through Feb. 3. Box office: 859-957-1940.
The evils of racial injustice are at the heart and soul of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Memphis, which has a touring production at the Aronoff through Feb. 3. Set in the 1950s, it's about a white radio DJ who digs black music long before it became mainstream. His love of the music leads him to a romance with a talented singer, and that causes complications in a town where black and white don't mingle without serious repercussions. Of course, it's a musical, so this doesn't dig too deeply into the issues, but it's definitely a reminder of a time and place that feels very foreign to us today — even if some attitudes persist. Ultimately, it's about the power of music to bridge difficult boundaries, and that's a good message. Box: 800-987-2787.