It might be hard to imagine that a show like Legally Blonde: The Musical could stir up controversy, which it did last fall at Loveland High School. But that's not stopping other theaters from putting it onstage, including Northern Kentucky University, which opened a campus production on Thursday (and continues through March 3). It's the familiar story of Elle Woods, spurned by her fiancé, off to Harvard Law School in pursuit of him, only to discover that she's got the smarts to be more than just a girlfriend. Not profound, but certainly entertaining. Tickets: 859-572-5464
On Wednesday evening, I attended the first performance of Slow Descent from Heaven, a world premiere play by local writer Catie O'Keefe. Presented by New Edgecliff Theatre (O'Keefe is their playwright-in-residence), it's an ambitious work, presented in a converted classroom at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center (3711 Clifton Ave.) in a production directed by Ed Cohen. The central character, Molly (Elizabeth A. Harris), is a NASA scientist whose story is bookended by space shuttle disasters in 1986 and 2003. She's an angry, tense character, and her involvement with men has affected her career and her attitude. The story has a reverse chronology, so we peel backward in time to learn more about why she's the way she is. I'm glad to have seen this, but I think the script needs more work in delving into Molly's psyche. Right now, her angst is all on the surface, and her interface with the two men in her life (plus the funny mother of one of them) is too predictable. Nevertheless, it's great to see a group like NET encouraging the development of new work. Tickets: 513-399-6638
Another group producing new work is Thompson House Newport (the venue formerly known as Southgate House). They are staging a new Rock musical, Variables, the comic story of five friends out for a night on the town. Their evening takes a serious turn when it's interrupted by disturbing news. It's the work of composer Jered S. Ryan and lyricist Mark D. Motz. Performances are on Feb. 23, 28 and March 2. I haven't seen it, so I can't offer an assessment, but it's another example of our fertile local theater scene. Tickets: www.thompsonhousenewport.com
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production of Dangerous Liaisons (review here) is a listless interpretation of a show that should be deliciously (dare I say "dangerously") nasty. There are some fine actors onstage — notably Giles Davies and Corinne Mohlenhoff, both longtime favorites at CSC — and moments when the chemistry works, but not enough of them. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.
Several Cincy Shakes actors are doing a fine job on another stage, in Know Theatre's production of When the Rain Stops Falling, a compelling story of multiple, intersecting generations of two families. (review here) It's a fascinating piece of writing by Andrew Bovell, and a taut, engaging 100-minute production, staged by CSC's Brian Phillips. If you're looking for the one show to see this weekend, this is the one I'd point you to. Tickets: 513-300-5669
If you're waffling between whether to go to the theater or
do something else this weekend, let me help you decide: You should get a
ticket to see When the Rain Stops Falling at Know Theatre. It's running through March 16, but it's going to be an in-demand ticket soon: I gave it a Critic's Pick in CityBeat (review here),
the League of Cincinnati Theatres bestowed eight nominations on it (I
believe that's the most they've given to any production this season),
and everyone I've talked to has been breathless in their praise of the
script, the cast, the design — well, the entire production.
Bovell's play bounces around in time between 1959 and 2039 and between
the histories of four generations of two families. That might sound a
bit complicated or confusing, but it's not: There are parallels and
intersections that slowly make sense, and the play uses language and
imagery to bring the stories together into a coherent narrative by
Two characters are played by two different actresses, representing younger and older incarnations of these unusual women: One is an intellectual in her early years, but becomes emotionally distant due to a personal trauma; the other is a free-spirited young woman whose life turns dramatically and becomes an older woman with fragmented memories and a tenuous grip on the present. The stories are about fathers and sons, parents and children, and how actions by one generation reverberate down the line. Bovell's script reinforces these echoes with lines and artifacts that recur in different contexts. It's a brilliant piece of writing, and director Brian Phillips (he's artistic director at Cincinnati Shakespeare) uses movement and scene intersections to tell the story with nine actors (four from his Cincy Shakes company). The LCT recognition singled out three performers, but I'd suggest that the show is powerful because the entire ensemble is operating in a powerful, parallel manner. You don't want to miss this one. Box office: 513-300-5669
On Thursday evening I attended Leveling Up at the Cincinnati Playhouse, a world premiere by Deborah Zoe Laufer. It's an insightful slice of contemporary life, three
young men and a girlfriend who are obsessed with video gaming, stalled
in their post-college lives. They spend 20 hours a day online, and their
social skills (if they had them previously) have deteriorated amid the
rubble of a basement game room in Las Vegas.
Laufer's script will leave you feeling like you've eavesdropped on real life (in fact, they're already playing when you enter the Shelterhouse Theatre — although the "screen" they watch is the theater's invisible fourth wall: They are staring forward at the central audience section and their attention never wavers, even when they're having distracted conversations about life. The divide between their world and being "IRL" ("in real life" as they shorthand it) increasingly and distressingly — and sometimes comically — blurs. Laufer's metaphor about "leveling up" in games and its parallel to stepping up to levels of maturity gives the show meaning and depth. The young cast are entertaining and convincing. I know this show will appeal to young audiences, but I heard many in the audience after the 90-minute performance who were impressed with the story and what it tells us about society today. It's worth noting that this weekend the Cincinnati Playhouse has two world premieres on its stages, which Abigail/1702 (review here) on its mainstage. Box office: 513-421-3888.
Opening tonight is a production of Dangerous Liaisons at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. It's Christopher Hampton's stage play that inspired the 1988 film many will recall featuring Glenn Close and John Malkovich as manipulative French nobility who play games with young innocents (including Michelle Pfeiffer). For CSC, the cast includes two popular performers from the past: Giles Davies as the Vicomte de Valmont and Corinne Mohlenhoff as the Marquise de Merteuil, the scheming pair who put devious plots in motion. This promises to be a delicious drama. Box office: 513-381-2273 x1.
On Monday, Cincinnati Art Museum announced the resignation of James Crump, its chief curator and photography curator. He arrived at the museum in 2008. A press release said he would "pursue independent projects." The press release also included high praise for Crump from Aaron Betsky, museum director:
"We are so grateful for the great work James has done here in Cincinnati. His exhibitions and acquisitions have made us a center for photography, and we look forward to building on his extraordinary achievements."
One of those achievements, the exhibition James Welling: Monograph, just opened Feb. 2. Crump was also a leader in the organization of last year's multi-venue FotoFocus photography festival, and Cincinnati Art Museum sponsored two of its biggest shows — Herb Ritts: L.A. Style and Doug and Mike Starn's Gravity of Light.
The museum said an interim chief curator will be named soon.
Recently, the Italian art-book publisher Damiani launched a new line of Damiani / Crump books. It begins in March with Empire Falling, photographer Elena Dorfman's study of Midwest rock quarries.
Know Theatre is finally getting around to its first full-fledged production of the season, Andrew Bovell's award-winning drama, When the Rain Stops Falling. (The playwright's Speaking in Tongues was a much admired production at the Cincinnati Playhouse a year ago.) An intricate fabric of overlapping connections, Bovell's 2010 script moves seamlessly through time and across continents between the years of 1959 and 2039. In a world where the rain rarely stops falling, four generations of a family search for truth and hope to mend broken connections. What they discover is the impossibility of escaping the past. The production should be all the more interesting since it's being directed by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's Brian Isaac Phillips and features a cast of nine excellent actors, four of whom are CSC regulars. It will be onstage through March 16. Box office: 513-300-5669.
To see another award winner, you need to head up I-75 to Dayton where the Human Race Theatre Company is offering the regional premiere of Eric Simonson's bio-play, Lombardi. Set in 1965, it's a portrait of the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers through the eyes of a young reporter assigned to follow the sports icon, a man full of passion and drive without equal. The show had a recent run on Broadway, and I expect it will attract an audience not normally drawn to the theater. Through Feb. 24. Box office: 937-228-6830
Falcon Theater, which presents its shows in the tiny Monmouth Theatre in Newport, is staging the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning play Doubt, a success on Broadway, at the Cincinnati Playhouse, and on movie screens. It's the provocative story of a starchy nun who thinks it's possible that a priest has abused one of her students. Although she's not sure, her accusations have dire ramifications. Through Feb. 23. Box office: 513-479-6783
Finally, a blast from the past at UC's College-Conservatory of Music: William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life. Set in October 1939 in a run-down waterfront dive bar on the docks of San Francisco, the script is full of colorful, eccentric characters and portrays the love and follies of human nature. It's being staged by veteran faculty member Diane Kvapil with a cast of 29. This production has a short run (one weekend, wrapping up with a performance in Patricia Corbett Theatre on Sunday at 2 p.m.) Box office: 513-556-4183
The clash of good and evil seems to be on the mind of most of our local theaters this week as numerous openings bring plenty of offerings for you to choose from.
Abigail/1702 at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a kind of sequel to Arthur Miller's The Crucible. This new play by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (it's actually a world premiere) takes the character of Abigail Williams, the villainous and spiteful catalyst for the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, and moves her 10 years beyond. She's living in Boston, an outcast caring for people afflicted with the "pox" — and haunted by her past. She knows her actions in Salem were evil, perhaps inspired by the Devil himself. How she copes with the current events of her life is very much dictated by her actions from the past. This is a fascinating variation on a familiar character, told with an air of supernatural events and eerie sights and sounds. Box office: 513-421-3888.
Freud's Last Session at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati puts a debate about the existence of God front and center, with the distance between good and evil or right and wrong as the battleground. Psychoanalyst and atheist Sigmund Freud is dying of oral cancer; he invites to his London flat a young academic and newly converted Christian, C. S. Lewis (who later wrote the Christian allegory The Chronicles of Narnia). On the September day in 1939 when England declares war on Germany — perhaps another clash of good and evil — they meet for a conversation. The play is almost all talking and very little action, but the clash of ideas is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. That's made especially true by two fine actors: Bruce Cromer (the Playhouse's longstanding Ebenezer Scrooge and Cincinnati Shakespeare's recent Atticus Finch) as the earnest Lewis, and Barry Mulholland (a local newcomer, but a veteran actor) as the skeptical Freud. This one will make you think. Box office: 513-421-3555.
Camelot at Covington's Carnegie Center offers a distilled version of the Broadway hit from 1960. It's presented as a concert, singers backed up by members of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, led by its maestro Mischa Santora. The story of King Arthur's court, a place of goodness and justice brought down by an illicit love affair, is another glimpse of the good and evil affect history — even if it's mythic history. Former NKU professor Mark Hardy is back in town to play Arthur. Through Feb. 3. Box office: 859-957-1940.
The evils of racial injustice are at the heart and soul of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Memphis, which has a touring production at the Aronoff through Feb. 3. Set in the 1950s, it's about a white radio DJ who digs black music long before it became mainstream. His love of the music leads him to a romance with a talented singer, and that causes complications in a town where black and white don't mingle without serious repercussions. Of course, it's a musical, so this doesn't dig too deeply into the issues, but it's definitely a reminder of a time and place that feels very foreign to us today — even if some attitudes persist. Ultimately, it's about the power of music to bridge difficult boundaries, and that's a good message. Box: 800-987-2787.
Cincinnati will see the regional premiere of The Book of Mormon a year from now. The winner of nine Tony Awards will be the highlight of Broadway in Cincinnati's 2013-2014 season at downtown's Aronoff Center for the Arts. It's set for a three-week run, Jan. 7-26, 2014. A show described as "the funniest musical of all time" that was created by the guys behind the satirical South Park TV series has enough raucous, off-color humor to melt away any winter chill that settles in following the holidays. It's about two naive and optimistic Mormon missionaries who tryto persuade residents of Uganda to follow their faith — but threatened by a maniacal warlord, the locals are more concerned with war, famine, poverty and AIDS than religion. The satire is laid on thick, and it's the kind of show that's bound to offend some people. Nevertheless, it's been a gigantic Broadway hit since it opened in March 2011; the tour that comes our way began back in August, so Cincinnati is an early stop.The season will have a number of familiar titles, including another three-week run for the Broadway hit Wicked (March 5-23, 2014). The Wizard of Oz musical has been running on Broadway for a decade. There will also be two Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, a new production of his 1978 musical Evita (Feb. 18-March 2, 2014), based on the show's successful 2012 Broadway revival; as well as another chance to see Lloyd Webber's phenomenal hit, The Phantom of the Opera (April 30-May, 11, 2014).
By the way, there's apparently such anticipation for Freud's Last Session, which features local actor Bruce Cromer, that tickets are selling out for some performances. As a result, even before the show opens on Jan. 23, ETC has extended the show's run by a week, to Feb. 16. Box office: 513-421-3555
If you haven't yet caught Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's staging of Richard II, you really should make a point of doing so. In my review, I pointed to Brent Vimtrup's multi-faceted performance. I'll add here that there are strong supporting performances from Jim Hopkins, Nick Rose and Giles Davies (this longtime CSC favorite is back in town for a few productions). This show isn't often produced (it's the first time for Cincy Shakes in its 19-year history), but this staging will make you wonder why. It's bursting with poetry, and there's lots to look at with beautiful 14th-century-styled costumes. An Acclaim Awards panel cited Vimtrup's performance as well as Andrew Hungerford's lighting design; I gave the production a Critic's Pick. Need any more encouragement? Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1
Elsewhere, you'll find a production of Adam Rapp's Red Light Winter by Untethered Theater at Clifton Performance Theatre. This is a chilly drama about a weird love triangle. It's a great piece for three young actors. Look for a review in the next issue of CityBeat. (Tickets: 513-939-0599) If you want something a little lighter, consider Moonlight and Magnolias at Mariemont Players, a very dependable community theater on Cincinnati's east side. The show is an amusing reconstruction of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans involved in writing the script for Gone with the Wind. It's told with a lot of slapstick that will have audiences laughing out loud. (513-684-1236)
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is the first out of the
chute with a new production in 2013. Of course, it's a 400-year-old play
about a king from two centuries before that. But Shakespeare proved
with his script for Richard II that there are universal
traits that make us all human, even if we're a king who's supposedly
given his powers directly from God.
Richard was thrust onto the throne while still a teenager, and in Shakespeare's version he's an adult but very uncertain of his right to rule and doubtful of his ability to do so. That kind of anxiety still makes sense in the 21st century. So CSC's first-ever staging of the show is something that should interest both to your average theatergoer as well as anyone looking to complete the experience of seeing every play the Bard penned. This one marks No. 37 of 38 for CSC; one more year and they'll have staged every one of Shakespeare's surviving works, quite an accomplishment. With a fine actor, Brent Vimtrup, playing Richard, and a script that's all poetry, this one promises to be both fascinating and satisfying.
More things start up next week and the one after that has a veritable avalanche of shows, so I suggest you hustle on downtown to Cincy Shakes venue and catch this one before you have too many choices.