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)
The Contemporary Arts Center has canceled one of its first shows of the 2009-10 season, Young Country. That group show, in which young artists address issues and symbols of Americana, was scheduled to open Oct. 3 and continue through Jan. 10.
Thanks to spot-on casting of the four actors who bring Kim Rosenstock’s new play Tigers Be Still to life at the Cincinnati Playhouse, the show about people dealing with depression is charming, funny, optimistic and even heart-warming. It’s about a young woman with a recently earned degree in art therapy; she’s been down in the dumps about finding work, but not as much as her mom who’s gained weight and her sister who’s been dumped by her fiancé. She’s starting a new job thanks to her mom’s long-ago boyfriend, now a middle school principal. He has issues of his own — from a slacker son to anxiety about a tiger that’s escaped from the local zoo. Sound zany? Well, it is — as well as entertaining. The League of Cincinnati Theatres singled out this production’s sound design by Vincent Olivieri for an award. One panelist wrote, “On a very small stage, scenes took place in a school gym, drugstore, office, closet, outdoors and in the living spaces of two houses. Except for the main set, capturing the essence of these scenes was limited to a couple of props and pieces of furniture — and the sound!” Through April 15. Box office: 513-421-3888.
There’s a final performance on Saturday afternoon of Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale, presented by The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. The world premiere musical by composer Janet Vogt and writer Mark Friedman has received an award from the league of Cincinnati Theatres for its scenic design by David Centers. Tickets: 513-569-8080, x13. His design for the show was described by LCT judges as “simple and very well executed in a style that was great for the play.” In addition to the show’s signature tower, the set also boasts a forest that “wasn’t too dank, dark and dismal, but instead had personality.” (Centers, a veteran local designer and a graduate of the School for Creative and Performing Arts, received an LCT Award in the same category earlier this year for his work Disney’s My Son Pinocchio Jr.) Tickets: 513-569-8080, x13.
On Wednesday I attended the Cirque du Soleil production of Dralion at the Bank of Kentucky Arena, adjacent to Northern Kentucky University. It’s another extravaganza of strength and showmanship, athleticism and artistry. This struck me as a somewhat more compact show than I’ve seen in the past: The talent is just as great, but the concept — connections between East and West — is pretty vaporous. But there are three wonderful clowns, and several of the performances do things that make you say, “How can a human body do that?” Balancing on one hand, flying through the air on a hoop, skipping rope in a human pyramid — it’s amazing stuff. It’s being presented through Sunday: Lots of available seats on opening night, so I’m guessing you can still find tickets for all performances. Through Sunday. Tickets: 800-745-3000
Two excellent productions wrap up this weekend. The Cincinnati Playhouse’s unique staging of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s musical Merrily We Roll Along, which uses actors who also play musical instruments has its final performances on Saturday. I gave the production a Critic's Pick; Merrily is only infrequently staged, so this is a chance not to be missed. Box office: 513-421-3888. Ensemble Theatre concludes the run of Time Stands Still, a fine drama with a great ensemble cast directed by Michael Evan Haney. Final performance is on Sunday. This tale of burned-out journalists and last gasps at relationships by Donald Margulies, a Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist, also earned a Critic's Pick. Box office: 513-421-3555.
Know Theatre’s production of the recent off-Broadway and Broadway Rock musical hit, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, opens on Saturday. (It’s onstage through May 12.) Word has it that tickets are already selling fast. Box office: 513-300-5669. This weekend is also the opening for Cincinnati Shakespeare’s production of The Grapes of Wrath, which runs through April 29. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati today announced four of its six shows for the 2013-2014 season, which opens on Sept. 4. Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers says, "We are planning a truly original, fresh and exhilarating season of dynamic regional premieres, and I am absolutely thrilled to showcase some of the hottest titles and newest voices this coming year."
The Manhattan Dolls will make a one-night tour stop at Know Theatre on Sunday evening at 7:30, performing their Swing-style revue of tunes from the 1930s and 1940s, "Sentimental Journey," in the Over-the-Rhine theatre’s Underground cabaret space. The trio of singers from New York City travel the world performing for military events, air shows, award ceremonies, parades, Jazz clubs and concert series.
I’ve been talking with lots of people about the Cincinnati Playhouse production of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. It’s been directed by John Doyle, who inventively staged Sondheim’s Company in 2006, a production that moved to Broadway and earned a Tony Award. He uses the same approach this time: actors who provide their own musical accompaniment. I liked the results he got from his strong, talented cast. But I will say that this production evokes strong reactions: Some people love it, some are mystified and some hate the nontraditional approach. No one has said it’s not skillfully done, so I can safely tell you that you ought to go and see for yourself. Merrily has long been viewed as one of Sondheim’s few failures (its original run in 1981 lasted for only 16 performances on Broadway), but you wouldn’t know that from this staging: It’s a showbiz tale of chasing success that has not resulted in happiness. We start at the end of a friendship, with three people at one another’s throats, and then trace back to their earliest, optimistic moments together. With great music, a stylized set piled with pages of music (the central character is a Broadway composer) and some intriguing decisions by Doyle about elevating a realistic tale to something more deeply emotional, this version of Merrily is a fascinating production that musical theater lovers ought to see. In addition to my Critic’s Pick, this production has garnered five awards from the League of Cincinnati Theatres for Outstanding Ensemble, for performer Becky Ann Baker, for Scott Pask’s imaginative scenic design, Matt Castle’s music direction and Mary-Mitchell Campbell’s orchestrations. Can’t quite figure why director John Doyle wasn’t cited, since he’s the mastermind behind all this, but you can judge that one for yourself. Through March 31. Box office: 513-421-3888.
I don’t get to see too much community theater, but there are several companies that consistently present work worth watching: Mariemont Players is one of them. Through March 25 the company is presenting Cole, a musical tribute to the life of songwriter Cole Porter, from his days as a student at Yale, life in Paris then Manhattan then Hollywood. I haven’t seen it, but I suspect that it will be entertaining. At the Walton Creek Theater (4101 Walton Creek Road, just east of Mariemont). Tickets: 513-684-1236.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
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.
ArtsWave has put out a very positive press release about the attendance for its first three Sampler Weekends, as well as information for the next three — including one this Saturday.
The 36th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville is set for Feb. 26 through April 1, 2012. The theater today announced the line-up of full-length works. (A bill of three ten-minute plays will be announced at a later date.) Here’s what’s in store for the festival that the theater world looks to every year for the hottest new plays and playwrights. (Maple and Vine by Jordan Harrison from the 2011 festival is getting rave reviews at Chicago’s Next Theatre Company and is about to open at Playwrights Horizons in New York City.)
The League of Cincinnati Theatres LCT) continues its program of recognition for 2011-2012 theater productions with recently announced awards for productions of As You Like It at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and Gruesome Playground Injuries at Know Theatre of Cincinnati. Nine shows have now been handed awards by panels of informed theatergoers.