If you can't find some good theater to attend this weekend, you simply aren't looking. I'm sure that fans of musicals will be heading to the Aronoff to check out the tour of Mary Poppins, and for a meaty dramatic classic, you simply can't go wrong with Angels in America at Know Theatre (read my review here). But let me offer a tip on a show you've certainly never seen but that's likely to have people talking: It's the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's world premiere of David Bar Katz's The History of Invulnerability.
Halloween seems on its way to being celebrated as a classic holiday, so perhaps it's appropriate that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has not one but two productions that specifically the give-me-goosebumps crowd.
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.
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.
The Cincinnati Arts Association (CAA) manages the Aronoff Center — that means they run our downtown performing arts center on Walnut Street, but it also means they work to fill the facility with occasional performances to supplement the big shows brought to town by Broadway Across America.
The first of those opens tonight, when CAA presents Late Nite Catechism for a two-week run (Oct. 7-19) at the Jarson-Kaplan Theater. This funny one-woman show about a nun preparing adults for the rigors of the Roman Catholic Church has a built-in local appeal, what with the large number of local residents who went to parochial schools where various teachings and behaviors were drilled into them.
When this played in Cincinnati several years ago for a one-week run, people flocked to see it — laughing from start to finish as audience members were chastised, scolded and gently (or firmly) reminded of tenets of belief and proper behavior. There’s lots of audience participation (including rewards in the form of glow-in-the-dark rosaries and other nifty prizes like trading cards depicting various saints); every performance takes on a life of its own because actress Kimberly Richards as “Sister” plays off those present and responds to moments in the theater that are seldom predictable. Get tickets and more info here.
CAA recently announced an extensive lineup of other performances in the next two weeks:
1. Christian musicians Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman will offer a one-night program on Oct. 10 in the Procter & Gamble Hall.
2. NBC’s Last Comic Standing Live Tour will provide some laughs from the comedians you saw recently on TV on Oct. 16 in the Procter & Gamble Hall.
More good things are also booked for 2009:
• Lily Tomlin will offer a program of her classic routines on Feb. 6, 2009.
• Neil Berg’s 100 Years of Broadway will offer music from a century of Broadway shows, and is likely to include some musical theater performers with Cincinnati connections. This one is planned for Feb. 20, 2009.
• DrumLine Live! happens on March 16, 2009, featuring thunderous entertainment from the African-American marching band tradition.
• The Afro-Cuban All Stars will show up on March 22, 2009. You might know some of these performers from the wonderful film The Buena Vista Social Club.
• Actor Hal Holbrook has been playing 19th-century American writer Mark Twain for more than 50 years. He’ll bring his act to the Aronoff on May 14, 2009. Holbrook has more than 16 hours of material he’s developed, and he tailors each performance to the moment, often offering comment on current events drawn from Twain’s observations. He’s a treasure of the American theater.
For more information about CAA’s offerings: www.cincinnatiarts.org
— Rick Pender
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).
The 13th annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards for Theater were handed out last night in a loose, fun event at Below Zero Lounge in Over-the-Rhine. Amazingly, 11 different local theater organizations took home a trophy: Cincinnati Playhouse, Ensemble Theatre, Cincinnati Shakespeare, Know Theatre, College-Conservatory of Music, New Stage Collective, New Edgecliff Theatre, Cincinnati Music Theatre, Footlighters, Covedale Center for the Performing Arts and Artemis Exchange for a production at the 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival.
The local multimedia festival celebrating of the life and legacy of Beat poet Gregory Corso, dubbed "I Gave Away the Sky," culminates this week with two events.
From 7-9 p.m. Thursday is “The Nightest Night: A Reading Honoring the Poetry and Posey of Gregory Corso” at the Reed Gallery in UC’s DAAP building. Among those taking part is local poet Matt Hart, who was gracious enough to let CityBeat publish his tribute to Corso on our Web site.
When you see a show like Emma, the Jane Austen musical recently presented at the Cincinnati Playhouse (pictured), do you ever wonder where it came from? If you paid attention to some of the Playhouse’s publicity, you might know it premiered at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, Calif., where it was a big box-office hit. In fact, the theater’s artistic director Robert Kelley, who staged the original, and several cast members from the original production came together again in Cincinnati for the Playhouse production.
The beginning of this week was a slower pace for the World
Choir Games in Cincinnati. At the halfway point, choirs visiting for
the first week departed and new ones arrived, so there was very little
activity on Monday. A festive, rambunctious parade from the Convention
Center to Fountain Square too place 6 p.m. Tuesday, with dozens of
choirs, many in traditional dress from their home countries and others
in matching T-shirts that designated their team, nation and so on. Each
choir was preceded by a WCG volunteer bearing their national flag, and
the crowd — lined up five-to-six people deep along both sides of Fifth
Street — cheered for each choir as strolled by. There were as many
cameras in the parade as well among those watching: Everyone wanted to
capture the fun to share later.
On Wednesday evening at the Aronoff Center, I went to the "Music of the World" Celebration Concert. Since two of the four performing groups were from the U.S., I guess this title referred more to the music than their origins, but each had something to offer. The opening set was by the Collegiate Honor Choir from regional universities near or in Cincinnati: CCM at UC, Xavier, Capital University (Columbus), Wright State (Dayton), Miami and NKU. They sang as a large ensemble at first, conducted by Earl Rivers from CCM (also one of the WCG's artistic directors) and then several groups were broken out for specific numbers, led by their own director. The most interesting number was "The Storm is Passing Over" by the singers from NKU: Amid some angsty singing, several performers spoke out lines of dismay about contemporary life or laughed maniacally. After several minutes of that, once a few singers collapsed from exhaustion, a spiritually inspired passage resolved the piece on an air of hope for the future. This segment also included a brief film tribute to esteemed American composer Morten Lauridsen (the full film is on view at various times at the Downtown Public Library during the WCG) and then a performance of two of his pieces, "Dirait-on" and "Sure on this Shining Morning," with Lauridsen accompanying the singers on the piano.
Up next was the University of Newcastle (Australia) Chamber Choir with 40 singers, male and female. I especially enjoyed their second number, "Birds," based on three traditional Australian Bush songs. It was full of whistles and shrieks, as well as choreographed hand motions that simulated the movements of various kinds of birds. It was an unusually delightful piece. More delight came from the Gema Sangkakala Choir from Manado, Indonesia. Another mixed group of approximately 40, its men were attired in black jackets with symmetrical yellow patterns (eight leaves about the size of a human hand is my best guess since my seat was far back from the stage) and the women wearing beautiful sparkling traditional dresses accented with scarves of primary colors tied around their waists. The group sang four numbers with lots of dance motion; in fact, each number concluded with a held pose — arms upraised, for instance — that became the initial pose of the following song. Their very coherent program was full of humor: One song appeared to be a flirtatious exchange between the men and the women, while another was a tongue-twisting piece full of what were probably nonsense works (my notes say "packa-packa-dum-dee-dum," a phrase and others like it were repeated at high speed). Neither the program, the emcees nor the directors offer any insights about the songs, so audiences are left to figure them out — I wish I'd known more about the substance of this Indonesian group's performance, but it was delightful from start to finish.
The final group was the Indianapolis Children's Choir, about 100 young adolescent girls and boys. They were wonderfully trained, and their program was a perfect selection of material for young performers, not too challenging but very appropriate for youngsters full of energy and expression. "Tell My Ma" (accompanied by an adult playing the spoons!) was a clever song about competition between groups of boys and girls; "Happy Together" (a Pop tune from the 1960s by the Turtles) was a great number for the kids to cut loose with their own swaying body and hand motions, not synchronized but each doing something that expressed their joy at young love. That approach typified this group's performance — carefully chosen numbers that fit the youthful nature of the performers. Everyone left the Aronoff smiling!
I have a "day pass" for Thursday, so I'll be wandering in and out of activities all over downtown. I'll report on that on Friday morning. There's only a few days left — WCG ends on Saturday evening. If you haven't attended anything yet, there's still time.