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.
My first and foremost recommendation for the weekend is Blue Man Group.
(Review here.) It's a performance experience unlike much of anything else you've
probably ever experienced in a theater — raucous music, zany humor,
eye-popping technology and infectiously fun engagement with the
audience. Amazingly, it's done without spoken words — the guys mime
(well, kind of, it's actually more like they're mute in the style of
Harpo Marx, with a lot of staring and double-takes), although they're
backed up by awesome video that does offer some instruction (and laughs)
for the literate. As I've said before, it's hard to describe but easy
to enjoy. This is Blue Man Group's first time in Cincinnati, presented
by Broadway Across America; the Aronoff Center might never be the same.
(Through Oct. 28) Box office: 800-982-2787.
Last night I enjoyed opening night for the thoroughly authentic and charming production of Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. It's the story of a Jewish family in Brooklyn in the 1930s, but thanks to Simon's witty, heartfelt recollections of his own youth, it has a feeling of universality. The narrator is Eugene Morris Jerome (who's a stand-in for Simon himself), and actor Ryan DeLuca conveys the joys and pangs of adolescence and puberty with feeling and hilarity. He frequently addresses the audience about his interactions with his grouchy parents and his woebegon aunt, his worldly brother, his pampered cousins — he's documenting them for something he'll write when he's older, a novel or perhaps a play! And that play is the one onstage at the Playhouse, the first Neil Simon script ever presented there in more than 50 seasons. (Through Nov. 10.) Box office: 513-421-3888.
Continuing productions of the comedy Mrs. Mannerly at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati (513-421-3555) and Shakespeare's romantic tragedy Romeo & Juliet at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (513-381-2273, x1) have been positively reviewed and appreciated by audiences. This weekend also marks the opening of Cincy Shakes' staging of Shakespeare's bloody history of the Roman emperor Titus Andronicus, staged with tongue in cheek (and in a pie) for the Halloween season. It happens on the nights when the R&J cast takes a breather.
You might also consider two special events: New Edgecliff Theatre's annual one-night fundraiser, Sweet Suspense Theatre, a presentation in the style of a radio play, happens on Saturday evening. This year the production, a new adaptation of Oscar Wilde's story of The Canterville Ghost, is being presented at the Cincinnati Art Museum — and includes an extended intermission with lots of goodies from local bakeries and restaurants. (Tickets: 888-588-0177). You might also want to check in with the Playhouse about ticket availability for Post Secret on Monday evening; the one-night presentation of a piece based on an anonymous "true confessions" website is rumored to be sold out, but there might be a waiting list if you call the box office. (513-421-3888)
You have no excuse for complaining that there's not enough
theater in the days ahead. In fact, you'll have a hard time fitting it
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's regional premiere of Mrs. Mannerly opened a few days ago: It's a comedy about growing up in small-town Ohio under the watchful (perhaps oppressive) eye of a strict etiquette teacher. Jeffrey Hatcher's play (largely based on his own experience in 1967) features one of Cincinnati's best actresses, Dale Hodges, in the title role. And the production has been staged by Ed Stern, recently retired after 20 years as producing artistic director at the Cincinnati Playhouse. Box Office: 513-421-3555.
Cincinnati Shakespeare is producing Shakespeare's romantic tragedy Romeo & Juliet, featuring a pair of actors — Sara Clark and Ian Bond — who had great chemistry in recent productions of Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility. They will bring new life a familiar work, I'm sure. The production opens Friday; bear in mind that Cincy Shakes has been selling out its productions this season, so catching this one before it catches on with the larger audience might be a good idea. Box Office: 513-381-2273 x1.
For entertainment of an entirely different stripe, I suggest you check out The Beggar's Carnivale on Friday and Saturday evenings (9 p.m.) at Know Theatre. This variety show has been described as "Cirque du Soleil on a whiskey bender." It includes elements of traiditonal circus arts, gypsy folk and Rock & Roll. You'll witness a fast-paced spectacle with several acts linked by interludes in the style of silent film. There's live music, too, by their house band The Royal We and the Carnivale's personal DJ. Sounds like an evening of unusual entertainment. Box Office: 513-300-5669.
For the stay-at-homes, you might sample Lost in Yonkers on WVXU's broadcast of L.A. Theatre Works, Saturday evening at 8 p.m. on FM 91.7. This great nostalgic play by Neil Simon is part of an autobiographical trilogy; the Cincinnati Playhouse is producing Brighton Beach Memoirs, another from this set, a few weeks from now. On Sunday evening at 8 p.m. WVXU will air The Moth, a collection of monologues by everyday people, sharing anecdotes of things that actually happened to them. It's the inspiration for our local company True Theatre, which opens its third season on Monday evening (7:30 p.m.) with trueLearning at Know Theatre.
Finally, to keep you occupied next week, CCM Drama is offering a week of free, unticketed readings of gay-themed plays. On Monday it's Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart (1985); Tuesday and Wednesday offer Tony Kushner's 1993 award-winning Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches and Part 2: Perestroika. Thursday evening it's Stephen Karam's Sons of the Prophet (2011). All readings are at 7 p.m. in the Corbett Center's Room 4755 at the University of Cincinnati. On Friday evening, Dr. Richard Coons will moderate a conversation about "Storytellers, History Makers and Revolutionaries: The LGBT Story." A clinical psychologist, Coons is a CCM Drama grad; in 1998 and 1999 he played the central role of Prior Walter in CCM's local premiere of Kushner's Angels in America. (Also free, this event will be in Patricia Corbett Theatre on the UC campus.)
Your best bet for theater this weekend, based on several
enthusiastic recommendations, seems to be Daniel Beaty's one-man
performance at the Cincinnati Playhouse in Through the Night. Harper Lee gave it a Critic's Pick in her CityBeat
review this week, and the League of Cincinnati Theatres panel described
Beaty as a "brilliant showman and interpreter” whose “beautifully and
powerfully acted” performance “weaved in, out and through real people —
multifaceted people.” The show was praised as “moving and full of hope —
an evening of pure joy, celebration and a mournful reminder as well.” Through the Night
“shatters the stereotypes of the ‘African American’ plight and shows
beautifully that these predicaments and life choices are ‘human’ ones." I
caught a performance this week and found Beaty's ability to shift from
character to character quite astonishing — he plays six men and boys, as
well as numerous other figures in their lives, each well defined and
believable. It's a tour de force performance in the Shelterhouse,
presented simply with some projected images and nothing more, not even
costume changes. Box office: 513-421-3888.
College theater has good choices for you at both UC's College-Conservatory of Music and Northern Kentucky University. Each is presenting a classic, although from very different eras. NKU continues its run of You Can't Take It With You (through Sunday), a classic comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart that won a Pulitzer Prize back in 1937. It's about a wacky family that marches to the beat of several different drummers and how their "normal" daughter and her boyfriend (the product of truly straitlaced parents) try to figure out how to make a relationship work in the midst of a lot of craziness. At CCM there's another form of craziness in Michael Burnham's staging of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, a tale of mistaken lovers and magical transformations. In both cases, there's a happy ending and most of the right people end up with suitable partners. Both shows are sure to offer offer a lot of laughs, as well as plenty of opportunities for young actors to take on entertaining roles. Either show should make for a fun outing that doesn't require much serious thought. CCM Box Office: 513-556-4183; NKU Box Office: 859-572-5464.
Finally, on Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. you have a very
special opportunity to see a brand-new musical as a work-in-progress at
the Carnegie Center in Covington. It's a one-night-only presentation of The Sandman, a creepy musical created by Cincinnati native and Cirque du Soleil
maestro Richard Oberacker and his creative partner Robert Taylor. Using
a wildly imaginative story by E.T.A. Hoffmann (the guy who wrote the
wildly imaginative story of battling mice and toys coming to life that
became The Nutcracker), Oberacker and Taylor have crafted a show
that's getting a workshop locally with some serious star power. Narrated
by Van Ackerman (who turned in a great performance as the Man in the
Chair in CMT's recent production of The Drowsy Chaperone), the
performance will feature Tony nominee (and early CCM grad) Pamela Myers,
always watchable Bruce Cromer (fresh off his powerful turn as Atticus
Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird at Cincy Shakes), Charlie Clark
and Sara Mackie. While it's a "reading," it will have sound effects and
some slide projections to set the eerie scene. You can call 859-957-1940 for tickets, or order them online at www.thecarnegie.com. General admission is $25 (theater professionals and students can get in for $15). Sounds like a don't miss event.
OK, so it's MidPoint weekend and I know you're busy
running from bar to bar and band to band, but variety is the spice of
life, right? So wouldn't you enjoy it all the more if you took in a
show, just to break up the monotony of all that great music? Here are a
couple of theatrical ideas.
Shark Eat Muffin is a new Cincinnati theater company — with a name that sounds like a band! They're breaking onto our local theater scene with three short plays they're calling Just Beyond Reach. For one ticket ($10 in advance, $15 at the door) you'll get into Newport's Monmouth Theatre (636 Monmouth St.) to see Abbie Doyle's It's a Real Shame, David H. Hughes Acapulco and Catie O'Keefe's The Noise Maker. This is mostly young talent, so it's your chance to catch the theater equivalent of the up-and-coming Midpoint bands: Doyle is a senior at McAuley High School, Hughes is a recent UC theater arts grad and O'Keefe is New Edgecliff Theatre's young playwright-in-residence (and Shark Eat Muffin's artistic director). Their scripts are derived from the theme of "just beyond reach," one of several suggestions posted on the company's Facebook page two months ago. Sounds like fun: performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Tickets: www.sharkeatmuffin.com.
The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park just opened its first Shelterhouse production of the season, Daniel Beaty's Through the Night. It's a one-man show that Beaty wrote and performs — it's already won an Obie Award in New York City (that's "OB" as in Off-Broadway). He plays six African-American males whose lives intertwine during the course of one night. It's an exploration of the place of such men in America today, especially how they influence one another. I chatted with Beaty about his play in my CityBeat column this week, and I expect this to be a thought-provoking performance. Box office: 513-421-3888.
If you want something more tried-and-true, head to the Northern Kentucky University campus for You Can't Take It With You, a Pulitzer Prize winning comedy from 1937. It's about the wacky but endearing Sycamore family and the oddball characters who fill their lives. It's truly a comic masterpiece, with lots of opportunity for actors to make their mark. Box office: 859-572-5464.
The Mormons are coming! The Mormons are coming! No, not the one running for president (although he's showing up pretty often). It's the award-winning irreverent musical The Book of Mormon, which Broadway Across America announced this morning will be part of its 2013-2014 season at the Aronoff Center. The winner of nine Tony Awards (including the best musical of 2011) is a satirical look at two naive and idealistic Mormon missionaries who are sent to a remote Ugandan location where a nasty warlord is oppressing the villagers. Their clueless devotion, good-hearted but misguided — with a lot of very off-color humor — has made The Book of Mormon an unusual hit.It will come as no surprise to CityBeat readers that the guys behind this are Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of animated South Park, another outrageously irreverent look at contemporary life. Also involved was composer Robert Lopez, whose Avenue Q was another Broadway hit, this one featuring Sesame Street-styled puppets in very adult situations.
If you can't score a ticket at CSC, you might try to get in to see Good People, a new play by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire, which concludes its run on Sunday. The tale about an unskilled woman from South Boston seeking work in today's world has the ring of truth and reality to it, and Annie Fitzpatrick's portrait of hard-luck Margie — who thinks of herself as "good people" — is touching and relevant to the world we live in. Tickets are selling at a fast clip for this one, too, so call to find out if seats are available: 513-421-3555.
Want to take some kids to a show they'll enjoy? It's always fun to introduce them to live theater, and there are two great choices currently onstage: The Cincinnati Playhouse production of The Three Musketeers (running through Sept. 29, 513-421-3888) is full of action and adventure, good guys and bad guys. And The Music Man, on the Showboat Majestic (through Sept. 30, 513-241-6550), is a classic musical with a lot of humor — and a winning acting job by charming Owen Gunderman as Winthrop, the kid who overcomes his shyness when he gets a cornet to play in a boys' band.
Want something a tad more adventurous: Check out the Fringe shows that Know Theatre has brought back from last June's festival for several days. It's a sampling of some of the best work that drew big crowds to the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, including two "Pick of the Fringe" offerings, On Her Pillow and The Screw You Revue, and two solo performers, Tommy Nugent and Kevin Thornton, who always draw a crowd. Probably no problem with ticket availability, but I recommend calling in advance: 513-300-5669.
Does this late September weather make you wish you could turn back the clock? Know Theatre is ready to take you back to June and the 2012 Cincinnati Fringe Festival with a brief reprise of several shows and artists who pleased audiences three months ago. Today through Saturday you can stop by the theater on Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine for performances by Honour Pillow (her Audience "Pick of the Fringe" show On Her Pillow (review here) will be presented tonight and Friday evening) or Dewey Chaffee and Douglas McGeoch (whose Screw You Revue (review here) was the Producers' Pick of the Fringe in June and will be presented on Friday and Saturday). There will also be performances by two favorite Fringe solo performers on Thursday and Saturday — Kevin Thornton and Tommy Nugent. For the schedule and tickets, click here.