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."
I haven’t seen the Showboat Majestic’s opening production of its 90th season (that’s right, the boat has been entertaining audiences for nine decades!), but Babes in Hollywood is another show that’s light and entertaining. It’s a revue of tunes made famous by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney back in the 1930s and ’40s when they were happy-go-lucky adolescent stars. I did see the four-member cast do a number at last Monday’s LCT Awards event, and they have fine voices and a sense of style. I suspect this show will be popular with the grey-haired audience that frequents the Showboat, but I bet people of any age will have a good time watching. Box office: 513-241-6550.
If you want something a tad more profound, 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. Review here. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
There’s a new theater downtown, just a few doors north of Cincinnati Shakespeare’s venue. They’re calling themselves Speakeasy Theatre, and they’re performing in a storefront space at 815 Race Street. Their inaugural production is Paul Baerman’s The Whistler. The show, directed by Tim Waldrip, is set in 1965 in an unnamed Southern city where a lot a racist attitudes are out in the open. The Andy Griffith Show is in its fifth season, and the guy who whistles that show’s theme (played here by local professional actor Michael G. Bath) is living off the royalties of his work. But life gets more complicated when he meets an African-American trumpet player (Tony Davis is taking on the role) who shares his passion for music. The show just opened on Thursday and I haven’t seen it, but it’s always good to give a new theater a try. 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.
The Cincinnati Art Museum's 2009-2010 season will include several photography shows, all in 2010: Starburst: Color Photography in America 1970-1980 (Feb. 13-May 9); local photographer Thomas Schiff's Las Vegas 360 (April 3-July 18): and Walker Evans: Decade by Decade (June 12-Sept. 5).
As I wrote in my column in the current issue of CityBeat, there's a lot of good holiday theater available on Cincinnati stages right now. The Playhouse's production of A Christmas Carol, now in its 22nd year, is best in class — a well-told traditional tale with some of the best professional actors in town onstage, from Bruce Cromer as Scrooge and Dale Hodges as the Ghost of Christmas past. There are a few new faces, too, playing the Cratchits. And speaking of new faces, I feel comfortable recommending New Edgecliff Theatre's one-woman show, The 12 Dates of Christmas, which is being engagingly performed by Annie Kalahurka. It's paired with David Sedaris's The Santaland Diaries, which feels a little shopworn to me, but you can catch the double-bill downtown at the Arnonff's Fifth Third Bank Theater — and maybe go for drinks at Arnold's before or after the show.
If you're looking for something kind of different, try The Naughty List (review here), a holiday-themed improv show (presented in Arnold's courtyard on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings) by Know Theatre. Five quick-witted comics who constitute OTR Improv are doing routines that use audience suggestions (and occasional audience participants) for nearly two hours of entertainment. It's a different show every night.
Have kids you want to take to the theater and give them a taste of what fun it can be? Two good bets are Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati for one of its musical fairytales with a moral (this year the show is a colorful, cartoonish rendition of Alice in Wonderland) and Covedale Center, where Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella is singing and dancing its way through another familiar story the kids will know. The prince is handsome, Cinderella is sweet and the nasty Stepmother is played by a guy.
As far as familiar stories go, you've probably seen Frank Capra's classic holiday film It's a Wonderful Life a few times during the holidays. But I bet you haven't experienced in the unique way that Falcon Theater offers it up at Newport's Monmouth Theatre: The script frames the story as an old-time radio drama, and you get to watch behind-the-scenes as a handful of actors play all the roles and a few others create the necessary sound effects. It opens this weekend and runs for a week. I haven't seen this year's edition, but I've enjoyed past incarnations, and I suspect this one will be entertaining as well.
I can't say that a musical based on the Adam Sandler film The Wedding Singer
is going to be either edifying or educational for a bunch of teens. But
I can assure you that the kids from all over the region involved in
Cincinnati Young People's Theatre, which opens its production of the
show tonight, will be having a blast at the Covedale Center for the
Performing Arts. I bet their good times with this goofy show will mean
contagious entertainment for everyone who shows up to see it. Whether
they're related to the kids or not! It's onstage through Aug. 5. Box
It appears that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has a summertime hit on its hands with its very tongue-in-cheek staging of The Hound of the Baskervilles using three of its best actors. The show opened a week ago and there is so much demand for tickets that CSC has added matinee performances through the production's three-week run. Several performances have completely sold out. It's directed by Michael Evan Haney, associate artistic director at the Cincinnati Playhouse and one of our area's best at staging witty and complicated pieces — his Cincinnati Playhouse production of Around the World in Eighty Days was a big hit several seasons back (it used four actors) and it moved on to a well-received run in New York City. While Hound retells the well known Sherlock Holmes tale, it does it with actors in multiple roles (Jeremy Dubin, who portrays Holmes, for instance, also plays all the villains) and a lot of visual humor and slapstick physicality. Through Aug. 12. Box office: 513-381-2273.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
For the holidays, they'll produce The Naughty List, hosted by Ronda Androski and her great staff at Arnold's Bar & Grill downtown and featuring the talent of OTR Improv, one of the groups Know has nurtured with its Jackson Street Market. They'll take holiday memories from those in attendance as they recreate holiday movies and tell you how your life would have been different if you had received that special gift you yearned for. The fun will be happeing in Arnold's courtyard on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings from Dec. 2 to 30. Tickets will be $15 in advance and $18 at the door.
Know will also offer The Apocalypse Show! for two nights on its home stage at 1120 Jackson St.. Since the world is scheduled to come to an end on Dec. 21, 2012 (according to the Mayan calendar), Know will produce a variety show to end all variety shows on Dec. 20 and 21. There will be sketch comedy, predictions, guest appearances, "gratuitous drinking and answers to all of your apocalypse FAQs." Dec. 20 will be a fundraiser (tickets: $50), despite the funny come-on that you should bring all your money, since it will be worth nothing the next day! (If you come to the performance on Dec. 21, you only need to scrape together $15 in advance or $18 at the door.)
Assuming that the world really isn't ending on Dec. 21, Know will co-host its annual New Year's Eve event with CityBeat, the Speakeasy Party from 8 p.m. on Dec. 31 (to 1 a.m.). Know typically attracts 300 well-dressed guests for this event, and everyone has fun with casino games, food, dancing to a DJ and a live band, martinis and a champagne toast at midnight.
After all this fun stuff, Know will get down to some serious theater — presenting Andrew Bovell's "best new play of 2010," When the Rain Stops Falling (Feb. 8-March 16, 2013). It's another partnership, with the production being staged by Brian Isaac Phillips, artistic director at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. (Bovell's Speaking in Tongues had a great production at the Cincinnati Playhouse last season.) The show uses an intricate fabric of overlapping connections, moving between several generations between 1959 and 2039 and between London and Australia. Acts and sins of the past are connected to three generations that follow.
More will be following, including an unnamed production running from April 5 to May 12. Sometime in late April (date TBA), just in advance of the tenth annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival (May 28-June 8, 2013), Know will host the 2013 United States Association of Fringe Festivals Conference. "We're honored to have been selected to host this year's conference," says Know's Producing Artistic Director Eric Vosmeier. "It's an amazing opportunity to work on ideas and issues at the core of all Fringe Festivals. Every time I have been to a conference, the Cincinnati Fringe is better for it. We can't wait to show off our city to festival producers from all over the United States."
One more note: Know is selling its version of a subscription, Flex Passes. But these have evolved: You can purchase six flex passes for $90. Valid for most Know productions, they do not expire. (If a show ticket has a higher price than the pass, you can use your pass and just pay the difference.) Know's website will designate: "Flex passes are valid for this event." When you run out of tickets (and you surely will), you simply need to buy another pass.
Know's Fringe Festival has promoted itself with the slogan "Weird, like us." And they're living up to that mantra in a way that should appeal to its supporters and more.
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!
In 2007 Perri released a Folk-inflected album called Tiny Mirrors, which for the first time was presented under his own name. While the shift found him dabbling in more conventional singer/songwriter waters, it still left room for his more experimental leanings. His latest “solo” album, the addictive Impossible Spaces, expands upon Tiny Mirrors, employing a variety of sounds, instruments and textures — Arto Lindsay’s Brazilian-tinged post-DNA solo records pop to mind — all anchored by Perri’s understated yet oddly affecting vocals and guitar work.
The peeps at Pitchfork named Impossible Spaces one of the 40 best albums of 2011, and Bryce Dessner gushed when asked why he was compelled to have Perri play at this year’s MusicNOW: “It’s one of the best records I’ve heard in a long time. It’s interesting because it’s not the type of music I tend to be drawn to. It has a bit of a Jazz-inflected kind of range to it, and I tend to be turned off by kind of Jazzy songs, but his music is so incredibly well made, the melodies are so infectious and the playing so inventive.”
CityBeat recently phoned Perri to talk about his creative process, his move from Electronic music to (relatively) more conventional songwriting and his hometown of Toronto.
CityBeat: How are you, Sandro?
Sandro Perri: I’m well. And you?
CB: Not bad. A little hungover.
SP: (Laughs) I’ll be gentle.
CB: Were you familiar with MusicNOW before agreeing to play this year?
SP: I had heard about it, yeah, but I had never been to it and wasn’t that familiar with it. I think I heard about it through Owen Pallett, who lives in Toronto and played there a couple of years ago.
CB: Right. Given your initial Dance-based Electronic recordings, I thought it interesting that you studied Jazz guitar in college for a time.
SP: Yes. Part of my training is studying guitar through Jazz theory. It’s the kind of thing where you learn some of the techniques and the theory behind it, but it takes a lot more than that to really be a Jazz guitar player, to really embrace the whole genre fully in spirit and everything. I didn’t quite have it in me to follow one specific sort of genre, so I just kind of studied the music and some of the theory. I’m a big fan of a lot of Jazz, but it’s not by any means a foundational thing for me.
CB: How do you think it impacted what you’re doing now?
SP: I got interested in Jazz mostly through the stuff that was considered outside (the genre) at some point — like mid-to-late ’60s Miles Davis and Eric Dolphy and Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman, stuff like that. It’s interesting for me because of the harmonic richness you hear in a lot of Jazz. There are also some challenging rhythmic things that you hear in Jazz that were appealing to me as a kid, and just the sense of freedom that you hear within a lot of Jazz. That’s what has impacted me the most. It took a lot of studying to scratch the surface to how musicians start to approach that kind of style of playing.
CB: How then did you get interested in Electronic music? It seems like a complete 180 in many ways.
SP: Yeah. Partially it was a reaction to being in Jazz school, but more than that it was just being seduced by how good Electronic music really plays with timbre and texture and the idea of morphing sounds together and creating new sounds and having music which can end up sounding more liquid, I suppose, than a lot of performed music or acoustically made music. That’s appealing for someone who thinks just in terms of pure sound.
Once I had been in school and sort of started to get over the idea of music having to be performed by live musicians, then it opened up this whole world of the seduction of working in a studio and creating music which is more like creating a painting or creating a film where you’re doing it in real time but you’re creating something in a medium that will be experienced outside of a performance. That kind of opens you up to this whole world of possibilities that doesn’t really exist in performing music. I think Electronic music kind of embodies that idea, and that’s very appealing.
CB: Creatively you can do almost anything when you’re not limited by your own technical skill as a player and musician.
SP: Yes. The studio allows for all kinds of things to happen that might not happen in real time and don’t necessarily need to happen in real time. I think the idea of music as a performing art is only one way of looking at it.
CB: Well, interestingly, the new album has a lot going on sonically, a lot of interesting textures. I’m curious how you go about presenting the songs in a live setting. Do you try to re-create them as they sound on the record, or is it a little bit of different take on the songs?
SP: By necessity it ends up being a different take on the songs because the kind of process that went into making the record and mixing it is not really possible in a live setting because there are so many factors that are unknown. It’s a bit of a rabbit hole to try and control the live situation as much as you can control a recording. You end up working against the essence of performing live, which is to communicate in real time and to try and reach a place where you’re needing more broad strokes to express what is at the heart of a song or a piece of music. A lot of details can’t really be adhered to. As much as I’d like to — I’m tempted often to try and do that — it’s just not really feasible. I think it would end up coming off as being hyper-controlling to try and do that in a live setting. Hopefully the essence of the music remains when a slightly different approach is taken live.
CB: Well, specifically, in the song “Love & Light” there is this rhythmic, kind of breathy, panting at the beginning that works so well on the recorded version. Do you try to re-create something like that live?
SP: We do usually, yeah. There are a couple of different ways that we approach it. We’re sort of working out some of the details. We do things and we try different approaches and we’re always sort of experimenting with different ways to play things live. I can’t make any guarantees about any part at this point, but, yeah, we usually try and do stuff like that if we can.
CB: In recent years you’ve come to a more conventional singer/songwriter approach. Why were you interested in moving in that direction?
SP: It’s a new challenge. I like words. I like the idea of putting words to music. After a while I got stuck in a place where I was repeating myself a lot with the Electronic music. The stuff I was doing had a very similar tone all the way through. I found it to be a little bit of a safe place once you find your thing. It can feel comfortable, but it can also get kind of boring. I get restless, and I think that writing words and music was just an extension of what I was doing.
I was doing that when I was a kid, too, but it was not something that I chose for whatever reason to have be part of my output. I initially started putting out the Electronic records because maybe it seemed more feasible at the time. Ultimately I think it just comes down to wanting more challenges and being excited about those challenges and deciding to try it regardless of whether you think you can do it or not, just stretching out and putting yourself in a place where there is an unknown factor.
CB: Can you tell me about your songwriting process? Do you come up with the sounds and the music and then write the lyrics based on that? Or is it more of a combination?
SP: It can be more of a combination, and it can be sometimes lyrics first, sometimes music first, sometimes just a melody first. It can be a very slow, laborious process with endless revisions and experimentation with instruments and with length of the songs and tempo and arrangements and the key. Often the things that end up on my records have been through so many revisions and re-workings that there might be 10 or 15 different versions of a song somewhere in my sketchbook or on my hard drive.
That’s the joy of it, too — all of the possibilities that you can go through with a piece. But all of that just goes to the essence of what it is, and sometimes it takes a while to learn what a song actually is before it’s ready to be finalized. The process can involve a lot of different approaches depending on the song and depending on how it came about. I’ve found that for me there hasn’t been any standard way yet that I’ve hit upon to write.
CB: Do you basically create the songs on your own? You don’t really have a full-time band, right?
SP: Most of it is on my own because my band tends to change from time to time. Different members will come and go depending on the music, depending on schedules and all kinds of things. For the most part the process is one that I do on my own. I often play things for friends and ask them what they think, but for the most part it’s a solitary thing because sometimes too many options can come in the more people you involve. It can be easy to lose focus sometimes if there is something really specific that you’re trying to get at. But it’s nice to have other people involved later on, once you’ve worked on a bunch of ideas. It can help to re-energize when I start to introduce the music to other people and we start to work at putting it together in the final stages.
CB: I’m not that familiar with the Toronto music scene, but I go up every year for the film festival. It’s a really fascinating city, much more multicultural than I envisioned before going there. I’m curious how Toronto and the arts scene there have impacted you as a musician.
SP: Well, like you said, it’s very multicultural, it’s very broad and it’s very non-competitive, which is maybe more specifically a Canadian thing and a Toronto thing. There are a lot of opportunities to play regularly, and, coming back to a national thing, there is pretty good arts support in Canada federally, provincially and even locally within cities.
If you get to a certain level of seriousness as an artist you’re eligible for funding for making records and for touring and stuff. I’ve been lucky with some of that — I’ve been turned down plenty of times as well — so it can be nice to make music in Canada for that reason. Or to make any art for that matter if you’re serious about it. Even if you’re not a full-time professional artist there is still encouragement to explore things and to try things even if you’re just semi-professional or a hobbyist.
There is a lot of exchange that can happen amongst musicians, in particular, in this city. Over the last 10 or 15 years I’ve made a lot of inspiring connections with musicians and artists here in the city. It’s hard to say or pinpoint exactly how that impacts your work, but I think overall just having people around you who support and who do similar things creates a feeling that you’re not doing it in a vacuum. That gives you the confidence to keep working and to keep pushing yourself into new territories, but without it being a competitive thing. I find there is a distinct lack of competitiveness amongst the people I know in Toronto making music…
CB: What do you mean when you say “competitiveness”? Do you mean in terms of getting attention?
SP: I think just the general feeling between people. The feeling is very supportive and people help each other out and play on each other’s recordings. There is just a general willingness to help other people out and to be involved in what other people are doing without there being a feeling of threat to your professional aspirations. It’s maybe not a matter of survival like it is for some people in other countries. I’m really not sure. Maybe it’s the way the social system is set up here in Canada where it’s hard to feel like you need to cut the person beside you in order to survive.
I’m not sure what it is, but there is just a general feeling of support and friendliness between artists here that I think has had a pretty positive long-term effect both in your ability and your willingness to try different artistic mediums and try things and feel safe and entitled to do so. I might not be the right person to comment on this, because it’s probably a lot more complex than that, but that’s just my general feeling on making music in Toronto and Canada. As a result there may be people here in Toronto who are phenomenal talents but who just don’t reach the outside world because they don’t really care to or they don’t try to. It’s just about what they’re doing and less about who they’re reaching.
CB: I looked at your bio on your website the other day and it was interesting that the very first sentence describes you as “a songwriter and a producer of new music.” I thought that was a curious way to describe what you do. What does the term “new music” mean to you? Is it that you’re creating new music all the time, or is it that you’re trying to do something new with the music?
SP: Maybe a little of both. It’s maybe one of those things that just has a nice ring to it. You also have to be careful what you read into bios, because it ultimately can be sort of a meaningless thing. But to me the idea of making “new music” means not worrying too much about what genre you’re doing or what someone will call it and just think about following your gut and your instinct. That to me is “new music.” Anything else is when you say to yourself, “Oh, I make Hip Hop or whatever.” When you decide and tell yourself, “I am this and this is what I do,” then it informs in a lot of the choices that you make and what you are willing to do and what you are not willing to do, what you are afraid of and what you’re not afraid of. There is a lot of music that just goes for it and doesn’t try and define itself or whatever.
To me that’s “new” music. I think it’s a pretty broad term, but it’s optimistic to me to call something new but without the trap of something having to be new to be relevant. That’s maybe a dangerous way to read into it; that it’s only good or relevant if it came out this week. New music can be found new maybe long after it’s been made, long after it’s been released into the world. The reason for that is that it comes from a place of just genuine curiosity and adventure, and that lasts through time. You can sort of smell that in music, you can sense it.
So, yeah, a longwinded answer, and perhaps meaningless, but that’s kind of how I feel about it (laughs).
CB: I hear a lot of different influences on the new album, including, maybe surprisingly, a kind of 1970s and ’80s Pop radio singer/songwriter thing. Did you listen to Pop radio growing up?
SP: Oh yes, I definitely heard all that stuff when I was growing up. I probably listened to a lot of Pop radio that was playing older music, like even for the ’80s. I would hear a lot of Motown. I definitely wasn’t in a vacuum growing up. I didn’t latch onto a lot of popular music in the ’80s, but I certainly heard it. Though sometimes it took me 10 or 20 years to get into music from my childhood, to really get into it in a new way.
much as I love listening to and exploring different and more
“difficult” music, Pop music has always appealed to me if it’s
done well. If it speaks to me then I don’t discriminate against Pop
music at all; I definitely love it. So I suppose there is probably a
lot of that in the new album. Trying to write melodies will often end
up sounding pretty Pop (laughs).
I was at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music last evening to see this weekend’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. I love this densely intellectual script that’s awash in math and physics theory as well as conflicting perspectives deriving from the Romantic movement and the Age of Enlightenment. The play alternates between 1809 and 1993, with characters in the more recent era speculating about actions and motives of people, including the poet Lord Byron, from nearly two centuries earlier. It’s a fascinating conceit, but it’s also three hours of dialogue that require close attention — and a lot of the CCM audience took off at intermission. The challenge is exacerbated by a lot of fast-talking using British accents and amplification (the actors wear body mics) that sounds blurry. That’s too bad, because the production looks great, is nicely costumed and has some fine performances, and Stoppard’s script is one of the great plays of the past 30 years. But unless you’ve seen it or read it, you might find this production a challenge. Box office: 513-556-4183
Pump Boys & Dinettes at the Covington’s Carnegie Center is something like an off-Broadway classic (it had a brief Broadway run) from the early 1980s. Set in a filling station that’s also a diner — where you can “Eat and Get Gas” — it’s a jaunty framework for downhome Country tunes and cornpone humor. It opens a three-weekend run a week ago, and I found it to be a delightfully entertaining production. Read my review here. Box office: 859-957-1940
More musical froth is available this weekend, including My Favorite Year, through Sunday at Northern Kentucky University (859-572-5464), and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat through May 13 at the Covedale Center (513-241-6550). The former is a story about backstage shenanigans in the early days of television; the latter is an early show by Andrew Lloyd Webber based on a familiar biblical story. Neither is profound, but both should fun to watch.
For a musical with some sharper edge, you might check out Know Theatre’s production of the recent off-Broadway and Broadway Rock musical hit, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. The show is a youthful mix of political commentary, driving Rock performances, history, humor and sober observations on the will of the people — just what we’ve come expect from Know Theatre. (The “orchestra” for the production is the local band The Dukes Are Dead.) The show has a cast of strong musical theater performers, and they make this sassy political satire a Critic’s Pick. This is Bloody Bloody’s first professional regional production, and it will surely be the big hit of Know’s season. (Through May 12.) Box office: 513-300-5669.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Grapes of Wrath (running through April 29) is a powerful theatrical interpretation of John Steinbeck’s grim tale about a Depression-era family of Oklahoma sharecroppers driven to homelessness by ecological and economic disasters. It’s a portrait of the desperate life wrought by the Depression in the 1930s and a powerful reminder that life hasn’t improved for many Americans 80 years later. CSC’s 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. 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.