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.
I spent 12 hours on Thursday absorbing events and
performances of the 2012 World Choir Games. My "day pass" gave me way
too much to write up in detail, but here are some highlights and random
Show Choirs: I spent several morning hours at the Aronoff Center (which was "sold-out" — no empty seats, before 10 a.m.!) watching groups perform in the manner popularized by the TV series Glee. Some followed the familiar model completely — glittering costumes, athletic dance numbers, lots of fist-pumping and high energy. They were fun to watch, but the international filter provided by groups from the Bahamas and Venezuela provided a whole new filter. The 26 members of the Bahama National Youth Choir dispensed with flashy costumes — young men and women wore khaki pants and skirts, topped with navy blue blazers and white shirts. But, boy, could they dance: From "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing" to Michael Jackson's "Beat It." And when they finished (to a standing ovation), the next group, Orfeón Universitario Rafael Montaño from Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, dazzled us with a salsa-inspired Spanish-language set with costume changes for every number — at one point including a dozen women with palm trees atop their heads! About half the numbers utilized wonderful soloists, mature women with incredible voices backed up by the choir in tributes to pop singers from the world of Hispanic music. The group's performance was a riot of color, dancing and joyous outbursts of energy.
Barbershop: This is a first-time category for WCG, a popular choir form in North America that's not practiced much elsewhere. But based on the big crowd for the competition at Music Hall, I'd say that singers of the world might be adopting this happy form of choral performance that involves close harmony, typically by groups that are all male or female. I smiled at a group of 32 from Minnesota, the North Star Boys Choir, and enjoyed the "mature" group of women, the Cincinnati Sound Chorus, who clearly enjoyed their set, opening with "As long as I'm singing my song." Three more choruses in colorful costumes — A Cappella Showcase (from Canada), Greater Harrisburg Sweet Adelines Chorus (from Pennsylvania) and Bay Area Showcase Chorus (from California) were all dazzlingly entertaining.
Friendship Concert: Departing from Music Hall late in the afternoon, I encountered a big crowd in Washington Park surrounding the bandstand. Patiently waiting for the moment to begin was a chorus of kids from Goteborg School in South Africa. The surrounding crowd was dotted with other performers, young African-American girls in maroon choir robes and pale girls from Russia in floaty pastel chiffon dresses with flowers in their hair, looking like escapees from a fantasy bridal party. I was tempted to pass by until the South African choir started to sing: They were elementary aged children who sang with lusty enthusiasm, and I couldn't tear myself away from listening to their rhythmic songs and high spirits. The crowd responded accordingly.
After dinner at Bakersfield on Vine Street, I went on to the day's real highlight, the Cultural Showcase at the Aronoff — another completely full house at the P&G Hall starting at 7:30 p.m. The Venezuelans I'd seen earlier in show choir mode were back doing a program of somewhat less flashy folk music numbers. There was still plenty of energy and costumes, as well as more work from the outstanding soloists. The next group was 65 boys from Kearsney College, a high school in Botha's Hill, South Africa. Half their program was sung in blue-and-white choir robes with a brilliant yellow icon of Africa on the front; this was a powerfully emotional set, full of the rhythms and zest that I've come to expect from South African ensembles. The second portion of their program focused on Zulu folklore and one of its heroes, King Shaka. For this portion the boys dressed in black shirts and pants with cardinal red belts and knee-high rubber boots, like those worn by miners. This set of music was non-stop athleticism, dancing, acrobatics and lusty singing. The audience responded warmly to this off-the-hook segment, and conductor Bernard Krüger told the audience that he loves Americans because they really know how to cheer. The final set of performers were from Istanbul, Turkey, the Bogaziçi Jazz Choir. This was a different kind of folk music from a country about which I don't know much, but watching their earnest, sometimes serious sometimes humorous delivery, I feel that I understand their character more fully. They concluded with several songs in English that warmed the audience even more — earning two standing ovations.
My final observation on the evening: It was so satisfying to be in an audience that truly loved what they were witnessing and expressed their joy at the performances with honest reactions. These were some of the most genuine standing ovations I've ever witnessed. I was proud to be in this crowd, and I have to believe that it was a truly memorable experience for the performers.
A final observation: Every choir I've heard from South Africa has deeply moved me. Knowing that nation's history of apartheid and seeing choirs of mixed races reveling in music gave me hope that music can indeed heal the world. That's a great lesson to learn from the World Choir Games.
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.
Stephen Schwartz is well known in the world of musical theater as the composer of Wicked, the mega-hit Broadway musical that’s been running since 2003 (more than 3,200 performances to date). But he started his career a long time ago, composing the music for Godspell way back in 1971. At the age of 24, he followed Godspell with another hit, the 1972 musical Pippin (which ran for five years, nearly 2,000 performances). It’s the season opener in a three-weekend run at Covington’s Carnegie Center beginning Friday.
CityBeat hosted the 14th annual and final Cincinnati Entertainment Awards for Theater Sunday night at Know Theatre in Over-the-Rhine, and as always the local theater community enjoyed the opportunity to catch up after summer breaks and celebrate before the new season gets underway. Awards were handed out in 27 categories, some voted on by the public and some determined by a "critical achievement" panel of local critics. Find a list of all the nominees and winners here.
Jason Bruffy will leave his position as artistic director of Know Theatre of Cincinnati on Sept. 4 to lead the Salt Lake Acting Company (SLAC) in Utah.
He became Know's artistic leader in 2004 and oversaw the company's 2006 move from a church basement in Over-the-Rhine to a remodeled, two-story building on Jackson Street in another part of the neighborhood that has become a focal point for Cincinnati's performing arts scene. His departure coincides with that of Know founder, Jay Kalagayan, who announced earlier in the summer his intention to relinquish his responsibilities as the 11-year-old company's development director. Managing Director Eric Vosmeier will be Know's interim leader while a search is conducted for Know's next artistic director.
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.
Move over, movie theater chains. While several films open in theaters this weekend, there’s one you won’t find at AMC or other traditional movie joints. Reaching a following across the globe, the locally made independent feature film Ctrl+Alt+Dance will have its world premiere this weekend at Memorial Hall.
When an unemployed security software specialist takes an adventure with dance, the definition of courage is surely illustrated — and that’s what audiences can expect to explore. Inspired by the Lindy Hop Movement, producer Brian Crone and producer/director Gex Williams have worked side by side on this low budget independent film that has flourished and received widespread recognition in the dance community. Filled with swing dancing, passion and an unfolding romance, it’s the perfect flick for Valentine’s Day.
Gex Williams has worked on multiple professional film projects and served as the producer and Artistic director of SAC Family Theater in Lexington, Ky. CityBeat caught up with Williams and discussed the inspiration behind the film and the experience of starting out as a small independent project.
CityBeat: Are you and Brian Crone both originally from the Cincinnati area?
Gex Williams: Yes, we both grew up in the Northern Kentucky area but we knew each other growing up. We went to high school together and made some feature films.
CB: How did your film Ctrl+Alt+Dance come about?
GW: I became an avid swing dancer in high school through college. I was aware of this film community throughout the world and no other movies catered to this kind of dance, so I was like, “Hey, I want to make a movie.” I actually wrote the initial script in 2011 but wanted to sit on it to get other projects under by belt.
CB: What was your initial inspiration for the film?
GW: In 2011 I wrote the script, sat on it, and decided to move forward with it. It has a phenomenal story and [Brian and I] reworked a ton of it in early 2013 as we wrote a fresh script together on this draft. The film had dancing, but we needed a story to carry it along. We knew we didn’t have the budget to hire a huge actor and to be solid in the entertaining experience for the audience members. And then we ended the film in summer in 2013 two years from the initial start of pre-production. It went full force in the beginning of 2014 and we’ve been cranking on it ever since. We’re really happy. With an independent film it’s very hard on a low budget and we had phenomenal team members and people.
CB: After a few offers to shoot the film across the country, why was it important for you to film it here in Cincinnati?
GW: There were a few producers who were interested in shooting it out there, but it was really important for us to shoot it in Cincinnati because we love it so much and we’ve traveled some for business and we loved going back to Cincinnati. It’s a great place to come home to and what it offers. The city holds phenomenal landmarks and has a variety of locations.
CB: What were some of your favorite spots to film?
GW: One of my favorite shots of the film was a beautiful shot at Roebling Bridge set up on the Kentucky side, and you see this beautiful river flowing underneath the city and is lit up. And we had other phenomenal locations like Memorial Hall, which is gorgeous on the inside.
CB: What are some prominent themes in Ctrl+Alt+Dance?
GW: Action overcoming fear. We really wanted to communicate that. We [Brian and I] started our own business after college, a full-time gig and there was fear in our own selves and others. We wanted to tell a story about this and the dance was a catalyst to show how that takes place in the film. It’s a great story and a really cute romance. The dancing is amazing and we encourage people to feel good about it and hopefully inspire them to take risks in doing that.
CB: I see that you had difficulty getting into large chain theaters. Tell me about your experience with that in regard to the film.
GW: I can’t fault them because it is different for an independent film to get the mass distribution that an A-list film would get because they don’t have the budget to hire famous actors like Morgan Freeman. For large theaters, it’s a risk to put their movie in there that they won’t have people to support it. It’s so cool that that we have it in countries like Russia and China and were blessed that it was quite strong. We aced that challenge and we knew we had a strong following so we wanted people to see it. So we ended up contacting theaters ourselves and said we’d like to run a campaign in your city so people buy tickets for a one-night premiere showing. A lot of theaters responded.
CB: With a following in more than 80 different countries, how did word of the film spread so quickly all before the world premiere next weekend?
GW: It’s never been showed, but Cincinnati will be the world premiere. Because the Lindy Hop Swing Movement is huge around the world in countries like Spain and London and it’s really quite astounding that a lot of them they really tuned in. Our main actors, their acting is amazing, they’re international dance champions. People were aware of them and interest grew. We worked hard and wanted this film to benefit the community all over the world and we contacted local groups and wanted the proceeds to go back to local communities. We felt so blessed by the support we received and reached a considerable percentage to help others.
CB: What were your initial expectations for the film? Did you expect it to reach the magnitude it did?
GW: We’re blessed in something that is not at all normal for a normal independent project. A lot of projects start out with a grandiose idea and get small and less feasible and it’s a reality check. It’s difficult. And we’ve been so blessed with the talented people and how it blossomed from day one. We said we’re going to do this no matter what. We had talent and it’s grown and we hope it will continue to grow.
CB: Once it started gaining success, did you get any opportunities later on from corporate theaters?
GW: We are just at the beginning of our public awareness. We’ve had interest from larger producers and we’re definitely exploring our options to get a wider distribution of it.
CB: What are your hopes for the film after the big world premiere at Memorial Hall?
GW: We’ve been working hard to deliver the film in a way for people to access. We wanted to work hard to continue to pave a way and find a way to show this film to anyone who wants to see it. We’ll be talking to distribution companies for a possibility of larger scale so we have the resources to get it out there.
Ctrl+Alt+Dance premieres Feb. 13 and 14 at Memorial Hall. More info here.
A bunch of classic characters will be showing up at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company to entertain us for the 2012-2013 theater season, announced today: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson; Atticus Finch; Romeo and Juliet; Lady Bracknell; Nick Bottom and Puck. Oh, and a few kings and generals — Richard II and the bloody Titus Andronicus — plus a hearty dose of laughs with reprises of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Here’s the rundown:
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).