It was quite the spectacle and in a good way. As I, along with other members of MUSE, approached Great American Ballpark around 4 p.m., there were already hundreds of World Choir Games participants thronging the entrance, and despite the stifling temperature, the excitement was palpable. All the hype about this being an international event was no hype at all. For the first time I can remember, Cincinnati looked like an international city.
Choirs from West Chester, Loveland and Pleasant Ridge chatted with groups from Japan, Colombia, Canada and Australia. Cheers erupted from all parts of the plaza, spontaneous singing and dancing were everywhere. The plaza was a riot of color: the Colombians in vivid red, orange, and yellow; Japanese women in blue and pink kimonos; the Nigerian choir in bright green dashikis and caps; and the Costa Rican women's choir in flowing white dresses embroidered in bright red.
With no signage but a multitude of helpful volunteers, 5,000 of us were mustered into holding areas before marching over to U.S. Bank Arena. Bottled water and mist sprayers relieved the heat, and when the water ran out, there plenty of ice cubes — putting them down my back never felt better.
We found ourselves in a shaded area along with a youth choir from Erie, Pa. Suddenly they started chanting, "Sing! Sing! Sing!" As we launched in the South African Xhosa song "Bambelela," their eyes lit up in recognition and suddenly we were one big chorus. They answered us with "The Storm is Passing Over," and this time, our eyes lit up. Same arrangement we do. They sang a beautiful arrangement of "As I Went Down to the River to Pray." When we sang Bernice Johnson Reagon's "I'm Gon' Stand," with Lois Shegog belting out the solo, they were riveted.
Once inside the arena, more cheering as groups saw themselves on the JumboTrons. The soundtrack took in The Temptations, The Jackson 5, Gloria Estafan, The Monkees, and I think Neil Diamond was in there somewhere. The Aussies sitting below us started a beach ball toss that would have gone on longer if an arena-wide wave hadn't taken over. I didn't see many empty seats.
WCPO's Clyde Gray and Carol Williams were affable emcees and the opening remarks by Mayor Mallory and Interkultur head Gunther Titsch were mercifully brief (Titsch spoke in heavily accented English and then reverted to his native German. That was fine — I'd rather look at his translator any day. Williams read greetings from President Obama — the letter was projected on the video screens to the accompaniment of hundreds of camera flashes. Rob Portman didn't applaud. But he recovered to declare the games open.
Cincinnati Pops conductor John Morris Russell paid tribute to the late Erich Kunzel, who was the driving force behind bringing the WCG to Cincinnati. And it was his vision to include the traditional July 4th concert as part of the opening ceremony. I think he would have been delighted and not at all surprised at the power of singing to bring people together. Choruses rose with pride as their nation's flag was announced, but they also cheered on their peers. I'll never forget the group from Namibia turning to cheer South Africa.
As we left, I couldn't help singing India Arie's "There's Hope." MUSE sang that, too.
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.
It is with sadness that we report the death of one of Cincinnati's great art patrons, Lois Rosenthal, at age 75. This notice was in today's issue of The New York Times:
ROSENTHAL--Lois, 75, on July 20, 2014, died peacefully. She is survived by her husband Richard, their children Jennie (Allan) Berliant and David, her grandchildren Elizabeth and Andrew Berliant and Eva and Mae Rosenthal, and her brother Harvey (Mary) Reis. An activist, environmentalist, supporter and participant in organizations that defended the oppressed, the hungry, and the disadvantaged, she initiated many programs and activities. From the Ohio Innocence Project which has exonerated 17 wrongfully convicted people, to the Fresh Produce initiative at the Freestore Foodbank, and the Rosey Reader Program which has provided books to over 30,000 Cincinnati Public School children, grades K-3, to foster a love of reading, to her creation of Uptown Arts which provides free classes in art, music, acting and dance to five-ten year old city kids. During Lois' 28-year tenure on the board of the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, she and her husband established the Rosenthal New Play Prize which produced 15 world premier productions, several nominated both for the Pulitzer Prize and produced in New York. As a member of the Board of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Lois and Dick endowed the museum to allow free admission in perpetuity. Lois was also a member of the Board of The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. There, once again drawing on her compassion for those with little or no voice, she envisioned, championed and funded Invisible: Slavery Today, the world's first museum-quality, permanent exhibition on the subjects of modern-day slavery and human trafficking. Along the way, Lois wrote a weekly consumer column for the Cincinnati Enquirer for 10 years, had a call-in radio show, and wrote features for several national magazines. Among her seven books, Living Better was a Book of the Month Club selection. Lois relaunched Story magazine in 1989 with her husband. In five of the 10 years she edited Story, it was nominated for the National Magazine Award for short fiction. In two of those years Story won the prestigious award. Like the founders of Story-- Whit Burnet and Martha Foley-- who first published the works of today's marquis writers, Lois first published stories by Juno Diaz, Elizabeth Graver and Nathan Englander among others. Mother, wife, friend to many, Lois Rosenthal transformed organizations, intellectually and with creative determination. We're all better for her high standards, her dynamic personality, the impact she made on so many lives, and her contagious enthusiasm for doing good.There will be a memorial service in the Marx Theater at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park at 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 15.
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.
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.
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 hope my Curtain Call column (found here) in a recent issue moves you to head to UC's College Conservatory of Music for Richard Hess's staging of Wendy Wasserstein's Pulitzer Prize winner, The Heidi Chronicles, onstage through . If you remember the 1970s and ’80s, this production will transport you back in time as you watch young feminist Heidi Holland grow up, grow weary and grow wise. Tickets: 513-556-4183.
The 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival wraps up tonight. Starting today at 2 p.m., 18 different productions are presenting their final shows and both Film Fringe and Visual Fringe are wrapping up at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.
Rick Pender reports that ticket sales have already surpassed Fringe organizers' goals, and today's beautiful weather should bring out a final wave of good attendance.
Reviews of all 18 of today's shows are posted on CityBeat's Fringe micro-site, including The Secrets Project, which opened last night at New Stage Collective and presents its second and final performance tonight at 7:30. In fact, CityBeat writers have reviewed all 31 Fringe shows, with most reviews being posted the morning after their debut performances.
Lyle Benjamin has been on and off a lot of local stages with his company Queen City Off-Broadway. He's been dormant for a few seasons, but he's back with a slightly new name — it's now called Queen City Theater — and a couple of mid-summer productions using the black box theater at the new School for Creative and Performing Arts (108 West Central Pkwy., Over-the-Rhine) as his venue. Tonight is the opening performance of The Amish Project by Jessica Dickey.
In what sounds like an innovative way to bring its art to the people, a mobile printmaking studio known as Drive By Press will be parked at the plaza outside the student union at Northern Kentucky University on Thursday to show the contemporary graphic art its creators have collected driving across the country.
Actually, the exhibition will be in the Fine Arts Building for that day; Drive By's Gregory Nanney and Joseph Velasquez will be making and selling (for about $20) fine-art T-shirts derived from their woodcuts. They'll also be doing a lecture in the Fine Arts Building at noon. Nanney and Velasquez, in their travels, have collected 1,200 contemporary prints from around the country. Their journey is self-funded through T-shirt sales and honoraria from universities and museums.
You can learn more about them at www.Drivebypress.org.