As the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) prepares for next Tuesday's announcement of its 2009-10 season, there is indication it will be bringing the big, nationally reviewed Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand show here from Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA). The first museum retrospective for the popular and controversial street artist, Supply and Demand looks at his career up to his creation of the iconic Obama silk-screen posters, depicting the then-presidential candidate, head slightly and nobly uplifted, above the words "Progress" and "Hope."
While it’s not part of the Fringe, Avenue Q, presented by Showbiz Players at Covington’s Carnegie Center, has the same zany vibe. It’s an X-rated musical with puppets that might visually remind you of Sesame Street — until they open their dirty mouths. The show was a surprise Tony Award winner several years back, and it promises lots of laughs for those who go. Through June 10. 859-957-1940.
If you want something more traditional, try Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays. It’s officially categorized as a comedy because it has humorous and romantic elements. But the central story about a potentially fatal argument between a moneylender and a businessman is anything but amusing. CSC’s artistic director Brian Isaac Phillips takes on the role of the rapacious moneylender who has faced anti-Semitic discrimination for his entire life. Is Shylock a villain or a victim? Shakespeare gives him aspects of each, and CSC’s production does not tilt in either direction. You get to decide, and it won’t be easy. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
Be sure to consider downtown’s newest performance venue, Speakeasy Theatre, storefront space at 815 Race Street. Their inaugural production is Paul Baerman’s The Whistler, set in 1965 in an unnamed Southern city awash in racist attitudes. The Andy Griffith Show is in its fifth season, and the guy who whistles the theme (played here by local professional actor Michael G. Bath) is living off his royalties. But life gets more complicated when he meets an African-American trumpet player (played by Tony Davis) who shares his passion for music. The Whistler will be onstage through June 10. Box office: 513-861-7469
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
Last night I attended Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Grapes of Wrath, which opened a week ago and runs through April 29. It’s a powerful theatrical interpretation of John Steinbeck’s grim recounting of a Depression-era family of Oklahoma sharecroppers driven from home by ecological and economic disasters. They make an arduous trek to California in vain hope of employment and a better life. The show calls for an ensemble cast, and CSC uses more than 20 actors to pull it off convincingly. The first act revolves around the Joads’ agonizing trip in a dilapidated truck; the second act portrays the dismal conditions of unemployment and mistreatment once they arrive. It’s a sad reflection of life in the 1930s, as well as a powerful reminder that life has not improved for many Americans some 80 years later. The production is made all the more relevant by folksy musical interludes performed live by some of the actors. A downer of a story, but definitely worth seeing. Here's a link to my review. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
Know Theatre’s production of the recent off-Broadway and Broadway Rock musical hit, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, opened last Saturday. I haven’t seen it yet, but the production has a positive buzz. (It’s onstage through May 12.) Box office: 513-300-5669.
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 nothing profound about The Addams Family, onstage at the Aronoff Center in downtown Cincinnati through a Sunday matinee. The touring musical is derived from a 1960s TV series (and subsequent movies), based on on droll, mordant cartoons by Charles Addams, originally in The New Yorker. The show is a faithful reproduction of a pop culture icon; in fact, it begins with the sprightly theme from the TV show, complete with finger-snaps. It has a silly story about willful love and romance, but the entertainment comes from seeing the familiar characters come to life. The new musical numbers are largely clever, and the cast — which includes 1999 CCM grad Sara Gettelfinger as Morticia — is top-notch. Here's a link to my recent review. Tickets: 800-982-2787.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
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)
Tune to PBS this evening for A Broadway Celebration: In Performance at the White House (9 p.m. on WCET locally) , featuring some of the biggest stars from the New York stage. Nathan Lane emcees the quickly paced hour, Idina Menzel — recently in Cincinnati with the Pops — sings "Defying Gravity" from Wicked and "What I Did for Love" (with composer Marvin Hamlisch as her accompanist), and veteran Elaine Stritch belts out two numbers from Stephen Sondheim's Follies, "Broadway Baby" and "I'm Still Here" (the latter earns the event's only standing ovation).
I have three words for you regarding theater-going this weekend: Fringe. Fringe. Fringe.
If you haven't dropped in yet for this stimulating festival of push-the-envelope performances, you're missing out on the greatest dose of annual creativity that we get here in Cincinnati. And a lot of your friends have already caught on: Fringe Producer Eric Vosmeier tells me that as of Thursday they've hit their ticket goal for the entire festival ... and there are still two more days to go!
Audience response can be a good indicator of which holiday shows are hitting the mark. While I found the humor in Know Theatre's Sideways Stories from Wayside School to be a tad forced (you can read my full review here), the theater’s box office phone (513-300-5669) has been ringing steadily, so they've added a performance this weekend on Saturday at 3 p.m., and also on Dec. 27, the final day end of the run.
A completely different choice is the Afghan Women’s Writing Project at Know Theatre, this weekend only. Playwrights Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek took material written by women in Afghanistan who risk their lives to write their stories and turn them into material for the stage. Several outstanding local actresses — including CEA Hall of Famer Dale Hodges and frequent CEA award winner Annie Fitzpatrick — are among the interpreters. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. If you go on Friday, plan to stick around for a post-show discussion. Tickets ($18): 513-300-5669
If you like heart-warming, schmaltzy tales, you should find your way to Newport’s Monmouth Theatre where Falcon Theatre is presenting Visiting Mr. Green. It’s the story of a young man “sentenced” to regular visits with an elderly gentleman he nearly ran over. Beneath the surface of their disparate worlds they discover some surprising common ground. What makes this rather predictable story come to life is the acting: Joshua Steele and Mike Moskowitz, who happen to be grandfather and grandson, portray their characters with believability. This is the second of two weekends, Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets: 513-479-6783
A year ago Cincinnati Shakespeare had a big hit with Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. They’ve done it again with another adaptation, Sense & Sensibility. This time it’s two sisters, one rational and one emotional, wonderfully portrayed by Kelly Mengelkoch (as the reserved, reasonable Elinor) and Sara Clark (as willful, romantic Marianne). They’re surrounded by droll supporting characters in a story of romance and domestic intrigue. I gave the production a Critic’s Pick. It’s onstage until March 18, but many performances have sold out. Tickets: 513-381-2273
Speaking of Cincinnati Shakespeare, the company recently announced its 2012-2013 season, which will feature some memorable characters — Sherlock Holmes, Atticus Finch (in To Kill a Mockingbird), Romeo & Juliet, Lady Bracknell (in Oscar Wilde’s hilarious The Importance of Being Earnest), Richard II and Nick Bottom (Midsummer Night Dream’s aspiring actor who makes an ass of himself). You can read about the entire season in my blog post from last Sunday.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.