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.
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.
Students at the Cincinnati Arts & Technology Center (CATC) had a productive summer of paint-slinging as they created a mural of local scenes for display at the bigg’s store in Florence, Ky. The mural is the 10th in a series of 11 murals being painted by the students for the supermarket chain in the Tristate area under the guidance of CATC instructor Mike McGuire.
Each week in Stage Door I offer theater tips for the weekend, sometimes with a few pieces of theater news.
The Whipping Man opened on Wednesday at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. The show made a big splash at Manhattan Theatre Club in New York last spring with Andre Braugher in the central role of Simon, a dedicated former slave who remains in a ruined mansion in 1865 Richmond in the days just after the Civil War. Caleb, the wounded son of his former master stumbles in (desperately needing some horrendous surgery) and then John, another former slave, a young man raised side by side with Caleb. The slave-owning family was Jewish, and it’s almost time for Passover, which they decide to celebrate. It’s a powerful show about freedom and responsibility with some jaw-dropping plot twists. Director D. Lynn Meyers gets the most from her cast. This one is a must-see. Onstage through Feb. 12.
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.
Filmmaker/provocateur, humorist, art collector and all-around pop-cultural icon John Waters is coming to Cincinnati on Oct. 11 as part of the opening-week programming of the FotoFocus Biennial 2014. He will be at Memorial Hall, performing This Filthy World about his long, rewarding career. Additionally, Waters' photograph "Inga #3 (1994)" is part of a FotoFocus exhibition, Stills. The theme of FotoFocus is "Photography in Dialogue."
FotoFocus has released this (edited) list of other Memorial Hall events for its first week of programming:
Wednesday, October 8
Performance by Berlin-based filmmaker Martha Colburn, with a Cincinnati ensemble led by Tatiana Berman and the Constella Ensemble
Thursday, October 9: Photography in Dialogue
Film: Gerhard Richter Painting (2011)
Featured speakers: Gallerist Deborah Bell, New York; Gallerist Howard Greenberg, New York; Director and Chief Curator Raphaela Platow, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati; Art Critic Richard B. Woodward, New York; and FotoFocus Artistic Director and Curator Kevin Moore.
Friday, October 10: Landscapes
Film: Somewhere to Disappear, with Alec Soth (2010)
Featured speakers: Curator and Art Dealer Damon Brandt, New York; Artist Elena Dorfman, Los Angeles; Artist Matthew Porter, New York; Artist David Benjamin Sherry, Los Angeles; Associate Curator Elizabeth Siegel, Art Institute of Chicago; Museum Director Alice Stites, 21c Museum Hotel; and FotoFocus Artistic Director and Curator Kevin Moore.
Keynote Speaker: Jeff L. Rosenheim, Curator in Charge, Department of Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, on photography and the Civil War.
Saturday, October 11: Urbanscapes
Film: Bill Cunningham
Featured speakers: Architect José Garcia, Cincinnati; Curator Steven Matijcio, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati; Photography Director Ivan Shaw, Vogue, New York; Associate Curator of Photography Brian Sholis, Cincinnati Art Museum; and FotoFocus Artistic Director and Curator Kevin Moore.
Sunday, October 12: Forum
Featuring presentations and panel discussions by local participants, such as Artists Jordan Tate and Aaron Cowan.
For complete details about the FotoFocus 2014 Biennial visit here.
The Cincinnati Art Museum has announced the winner of its second biennial 4th Floor Award for regional contemporary artists -- Darren Goodman of Waynesville, Ohio. He will receive $1,000 and a solo exhibition in the art museum’s Vance-Waddell Gallery this year from Sept. 17 through Nov. 27th.
According to a museum press release issued today, he earned his BFA from Bowling Green State University and apprenticed under glass master Leon Applebaum in Corning, N.Y.. Godman was commissioned by Ferrari to create trophies for the International Challenge Races (2009. From 2005 to 2007 he taught private classes in glass, and coordinated a glassblowing class for Wyoming High School students. In his work, Goodman explores color in glass and is inspired by natural forms. In his most recent installation, 2010's Tears of Joy, Goodman built on the “mistake” of molten glass falling to the ground. Using the same action, he created massive blue drops that were suspended together inches above the floor. In both his installations and individual pieces, Goodman endeavors to utilize the properties that are found solely in glass.
Three finalists each receive $500 -- Terence Hammonds, Casey Millard and Alice Pixley Young, all of Cincinnati,
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.
Lynn Meyers spends most of her time staging shows at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, where she’s the producing artistic director. However, she headed a few blocks south from her Over-the-Rhine venue this month to direct Pride and Prejudice for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company at its Race Street venue.
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."