Around noon on Monday, the Cincinnati Playhouse will announcement its 2012-2013 season, the first mapped out by someone other than Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern in 20 years. Blake Robison takes over for the retiring Stern on July 1, so he’s had the daunting task of following in those big (and very successful) footsteps. Stern liked to present work by up-and-coming playwrights, and Robison has the same inclination, although as someone a generation younger than Stern, he has his own connections and ideas. He’s landed a world premiere by one of the most intriguing young playwrights in the United States, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. The show is called Abigail/1702, and we’ll see it early in 2013 (Jan. 19-Feb. 17).
It’s Aguirre-Sacasa’s imaginative exploration of what became of Abigail Williams, the young girl who sets in motion the Salem witch trials portrayed in Arthur Miller’s classic play from 1952, The Crucible. The new work, set a decade after Abigail accused many people of witchcraft, portrays her in her late 20s, struggling to atone for her sins, the ones portrayed in that memorable play — as well as darker ones that live in her heart. As she cares for a young sailor on the brink of death, a stranger from her past finds her and sets her on a quest for redemption.
Robison, who will direct the production, staged another work by Aguirre-Sacasa, his adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray that proved to be a bit hit at the Roundhouse Theatre in Maryland, where Robison served as artistic director. “When I found out that I was coming to the Playhouse, one of the first calls I made was to Roberto because I value his voice as an artist so much. I told him, ‘Send me whatever you’re working on right now.’ He sent me this play and I read it. I texted him and said, ‘You wrote an awesome play! I want to do it.’”
Robison admires the writer’s breadth of work: He’s written for Marvel Comics (Marvel Knights, Spider-Man and The Stand), for television (as a staff writer for HBO’s Big Love and the hit Fox series Glee) as well as nearly a dozen plays. “One of the fun things for me as the incoming artistic director,” Robison told me recently, “is to bring new voices to the community and to introduce some writers who I have a wonderful relationship with who haven’t been seen yet in Cincinnati.”
Robison loves Aguirre-Sacasa’s new script. “He has a gift for dialogue, and a highly visual sense to his writing. This play is quite unlike any of his other plays, quite unlike anything I’ve seen onstage before. To go back into our collective consciousness and pluck this famous figure from the dramatic canon and imagine what her life must be like 10 years down the line is a wonderfully creative act.”
Not to mention a great way for Robison to define his own artistic tastes for Cincinnati audiences. Keep an eye on CityBeat’s Arts Blog tomorrow for more news of the Playhouse’s upcoming season.
Last Sunday evening I gave a lecture prior to the Cincinnati Playhouse performance of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. I stuck around to see the show again (I attended the opening on March 8 in order to review it for CityBeat). I gave the show a Critic’s Pick, but empty seats on Sunday reminded me that a theater critic’s opinion is not necessarily the only endorsement needed for a show to sell tickets. Although this is a fine production, several reasons come to mind: The show is not well known; if people do know it, they’ve heard it was a flop when it had a brief Broadway run in 1981. John Doyle’s production shows little evidence of the latter and demonstrates amply that there’s much to be appreciated. But there’s not been much buzz around Merrily at the Playhouse, despite the work of Doyle and his excellent cast. The upshot is tickets are still available for most performances, through March 31. Doyle inventively staged Sondheim’s Company in 2006 at the Playhouse, a production that moved to Broadway and earned a Tony Award. This production uses the same approach: actors provide their own musical accompaniment. It’s a showbiz tale about chasing success at the expense of happiness. We start at the demise of a bond between three former friends who wonder what happened to the “good thing going” they once had. We trace back to their earliest, optimistic moments via great music, brilliant design and excellent performances. If you love musicals, you should see Merrily We Roll Along. I’ve talked with several people who have returned the Playhouse production. (Merrily is not likely to transfer to New York as Company did in 2006. The show was presented by Encores! at New York’s City Center in February, so theater critics have not paid attention to the Cincinnati production as they did with Company in 2006, right after Doyle staged Sweeney Todd on Broadway.) Box office: 513-421-3888
You can’t go wrong with Donald Margulies’ very much in-the-moment drama Time Stands Still at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. It’s the story of two journalists who have been addicted to the adrenalin rush of covering wars. He’s now running away and hiding in film reviews (there’s a touch of post-traumatic stress, it seems, because he’s watching classic horror films all the time), and she’s recovering from injuries that resulted from a roadside bomb blast in Iraq. What’s next for them? Well, that’s what the play is about — a return for more or settling for a calmer, safer life, represented by a happy if unlikely couple who visit them, the photographer’s editor and mentor and his naïve young girlfriend. Four intriguing character studies add up to an evening of thoughtful drama. I gave it a Critic’s Pick; here’s a link to my review. Through April 1. Tickets: 513-421-3555
Northern Kentucky University just opened a production of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good. It’s about people sent off to a penal colony in Australia in the 1780s. The governor decides to impose order on the criminals by having them put on a play. It’s not an easy undertaking — but it changes the lives of everyone involved. It’s a play about the power of the arts to humanize people and transform them into something new and better. The show’s original Broadway production in 1991 was nominated for six Tony Awards. It’s one of my favorite scripts, a fine choice for NKU’s drama program, where it’s being staged by Daryl Harris. Through April 1. Tickets: 859-572-5464
Finally, if you’d like to instill some interest in the theater in a couple of kids, take them to one of this weekend’s performances of Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale, presented by The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. It’s a world premiere musical created by composer Janet Vogt and writer Mark Friedman, who wrote How I Became a Pirate, a hit from last season. Performances happen at the nicely renovated Taft Theatre on Saturday and Sunday (as well as March 31). Tickets: 513-569-8080, x13.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
Fairey's return is made possible by ArtsWave, the local organization that works with entities in all facets of the arts community to foster a creative environment in Cincinnati. ArtsWave has awarded Fairey with the 80-year-old Rosa F. and Samuel B. Sachs Fund Prize, created to celebrate outstanding achievements in the arts.
In a press release, ArtsWave President and CEO Mary McCullough-Hudson said, "The committee members felt strongly that Fairey's exhibition and public murals increased the vibrancy of our city and engaged citizens in a dynamic conversation about art and society."
While he won't be covertly pasting images around town this time, Fairey has been invited to return to DJ at the CAC and mingle with fans at 8 p.m. that Friday. Limited edition prints by Fairey will be raffled off at this members-only event. That's right – the party will not be open to the public, so it's a pretty good excuse to buy a CAC membership. Go here to renew or register (student memberships are only $25).His exhibition Supply and Demand opened at the CAC in February 2010, offering a mix of screen prints, illustrations and mixed media works throughout the space. Being a street artist, a public art supplement was to be expected. Those concerned about graffiti in the city were soon stunned to see beautiful posters glued to previously naked walls.
Fairey gained notoriety for his Andre the Gaint/OBEY stickers, which really drew attention to the idea of street art. After creating the iconic HOPE poster in support of Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, Fairey became a household name. While not officially endorsed by the president, the image has become nationally recognizable. Most recently, he appeared on the March 4 episode of The Simpsons.
I’ve been talking with lots of people about the Cincinnati Playhouse production of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. It’s been directed by John Doyle, who inventively staged Sondheim’s Company in 2006, a production that moved to Broadway and earned a Tony Award. He uses the same approach this time: actors who provide their own musical accompaniment. I liked the results he got from his strong, talented cast. But I will say that this production evokes strong reactions: Some people love it, some are mystified and some hate the nontraditional approach. No one has said it’s not skillfully done, so I can safely tell you that you ought to go and see for yourself. Merrily has long been viewed as one of Sondheim’s few failures (its original run in 1981 lasted for only 16 performances on Broadway), but you wouldn’t know that from this staging: It’s a showbiz tale of chasing success that has not resulted in happiness. We start at the end of a friendship, with three people at one another’s throats, and then trace back to their earliest, optimistic moments together. With great music, a stylized set piled with pages of music (the central character is a Broadway composer) and some intriguing decisions by Doyle about elevating a realistic tale to something more deeply emotional, this version of Merrily is a fascinating production that musical theater lovers ought to see. In addition to my Critic’s Pick, this production has garnered five awards from the League of Cincinnati Theatres for Outstanding Ensemble, for performer Becky Ann Baker, for Scott Pask’s imaginative scenic design, Matt Castle’s music direction and Mary-Mitchell Campbell’s orchestrations. Can’t quite figure why director John Doyle wasn’t cited, since he’s the mastermind behind all this, but you can judge that one for yourself. Through March 31. Box office: 513-421-3888.
I don’t get to see too much community theater, but there are several companies that consistently present work worth watching: Mariemont Players is one of them. Through March 25 the company is presenting Cole, a musical tribute to the life of songwriter Cole Porter, from his days as a student at Yale, life in Paris then Manhattan then Hollywood. I haven’t seen it, but I suspect that it will be entertaining. At the Walton Creek Theater (4101 Walton Creek Road, just east of Mariemont). Tickets: 513-684-1236.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
The Kaplan New Works Series (Sept. 6-16, Cincinnati Ballet Center): This annual season opener celebrates new ideas and creative movement showcasing the female choreographer and focusing on local artists. This world premiere features dancers Amy Seiwert and Paige Cunningham, two SCPA alum, Director Heather Britt and choreographer Jessica Lang.
Frisch's Presents: The Nutcracker (Dec. 14-23, Aronoff Center): Victoria Morgan re-imagined the classic for 2011's world premiere, The New Nutcracker. This whimsical interpretation returns in 2012, complete with dancing cupcakes, flying bumblebees and a Sugar Plum Parade, where audience members will be invited to walk acrid stage and get a closer peek at the sets, costumes and dancers.
Prodigal Son with Extremely Close (March 22-23, Aronoff Center): Neo-classical choreographer George Balanchine comes to Cincinnati with his rendering of the classic parable about sin, redemption and unconditional love. On the same bill, Extremely Close is Alejandro Cerrudo’s thoughtful contemporary work. The performance opens on a stage of falling feathers, reflecting the delicacy and fluidity of movement, and connected throughout, punctuated by a surprising, thought-provoking ending.
Frampton & CB Come Alive (April 26-27, Aronoff Center): Legendary guitarist Peter Frampton will create a new work specifically for the performance and play live alongside choreography collaboration from Cincinnati Ballet and Exhale Dance Tribe.
New subscriptions and subscription renewals are now available at the Cincinnati Ballet Center (1555 Central Pkwy., Over-the-Rhine) or by calling 513-621-5282. Individual tickets to the following shows will be available July 22 at cballet.org.
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.
A bunch of classic characters will be showing up at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company to entertain us for the 2012-2013 theater season, announced today: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson; Atticus Finch; Romeo and Juliet; Lady Bracknell; Nick Bottom and Puck. Oh, and a few kings and generals — Richard II and the bloody Titus Andronicus — plus a hearty dose of laughs with reprises of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Here’s the rundown:
A lot of Stephen Sondheim’s shows are kind of heady, but Into the Woods — a bunch of fairytales put through a blender — is perhaps his most approachable. Given the delightful treatment, overflowing with talent you’ll find in this production at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music, tickets might be in short supply but try — it’s a longer run than usual. Act I is about “happily every after,” while Act II explores what comes next. CCM has a remarkably skilled crop of seniors this year (they’ll be on Broadway before long), and professor and director Aubrey Berg, who heads the program in musical theater, has used them to full advantage in a wildly clever staging. There are many featured performances and songs — the characters include Cinderella and her evil stepsisters, Jack (from the beanstalk story) with a very funny pet cow, a handsome but empty-headed prince, a precocious Little Red Riding Hood and a lascivious Wolf — but this is way more than a tale for kids. In fact, Into the Woods is one of the best theater productions I’ve seen all season. Read my review (a Critic’s Pick), and then go to see it. Tickets: 513-556-4183.
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 — and a story of romance and domestic intrigue. I gave the production a Critic’s Pick. It’s onstage for two more weeks, but many performances have sold out, so don’t dally. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
This is the final weekend for two more excellent productions. Know Theatre’s “comedy of anxiety” by Allison Moore, Collapse, about all kinds of things falling down — a highway bridge, the economy, relationships — winds up on Saturday evening. Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues, a complicated noir-ish tale of marital deceit and cryptic crime, finishes its run at Cincinnati Playhouse’s Shelterhouse Theater on Sunday. Both earned Critic’s Picks.
In addition to Into the Woods, there are more shows by Sondheim on local stages. You’ll find the touring production of West Side Story at the Aronoff through March 11. It’s a show Sondheim wrote the lyrics for when he was 26 (he’ll soon be 82). Tickets: 800-982-2787. ... This weekend the Cincinnati Playhouse begins previews of Merrily We Roll Along, a Sondheim show from 1981 that was a flop at first, but now is praised as one of his greatest musical accomplishments. Tony Award winner John Doyle is directing; he makes things interesting by having his actors play musical instruments, too. (He did that at the Playhouse in 2007 with Sondheim’s Company, a production that transferred to Broadway.) Merrily opens next Thursday on the Marx Stage, but previews are the most affordable tickets, so think about catching it this weekend. Through March 31. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
A year ago Cincinnati Shakespeare had a big hit with a stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Looks like they’ve done it again with another adaptation of the 19th-century novelists Sense & Sensibility. This time it’s the sisters Dashwood, one rational and one emotional. The roles are wonderfully played by Kelly Mengelkoch (as the reserved, reasonable Elinor) and Sara Clark (as the willful and romantic Marianne), and they’re surrounded by delightfully drawn supporting characters — and a story of romance and domestic intrigue. I gave the production a Critic’s Pick. I’m told that several performances are already sold out (it’s onstage through March 18), so if you hope to see this one, you should line your tickets up right away. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
In case you wanted a short course in shows by Sondheim, the next few weeks is your big opportunity. In addition to Into the Woods at CCM, you can catch the touring production of West Side Story at the Aronoff (it opens a two-week run on Tuesday), a show that Sondheim wrote the lyrics for when he was 26 (he’s about to turn 82). And a week from now, the Cincinnati Playhouse will start previews of Merrily We Roll Along, a show from 1981 that was a flop at first, but now is praised as one of his greatest musical accomplishments. It’s about the joys and frustrations of success from the perspective of people involved in creating musical theater. It will be on the Marx Stage through March 31.
Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues is a complicated noir-ish tale of marital deceit and cryptic crime that unfolds more clearly because of its accomplished four-actor cast, including local professionals Bruce Cromer (who’s played roles as varied as Ebenezer Scrooge for the Playhouse to King Lear for Cincinnati Shakespeare) and Amy Warner (a regular at Ensemble Theatre and Cincinnati Shakespeare). The show is a fascinating piece of theater that takes work to watch, follow and absorb. I suppose that some casual theatergoers will be put off by it, but if you like challenging drama and multi-layered acting, you’ll leave the theater with their gears spinning. I gave Speaking in Tongues a Critic’s Pick. Through March 4. Box office: 513-421-3888.
Know Theater’s “comedy of anxiety” by Allison Moore, Collapse, opens with the collapse of a highway bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. But it’s about all kinds of things falling down — the economy, relationships. This is the kind of edgy script Know Theatre is known for, funny but meaningful. I gave the production a Critic’s Pick because it combines heart and humor. Collapse is presented with comic finesse and fine acting, especially by local professional actress Annie Fitzpatrick. Know’s best work of the season. Through March 3. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
Planning for next season? Check out my blog from last Sunday about what Broadway in Cincinnati will be presenting, including the zany Blue Man Group.
The 2012-2013 season of touring productions presented by Broadway in Cincinnati marks a quarter-century of bringing high-quality shows to the Aronoff Center, which the series has called home since it opened in 1995. The shows that will keep the Walnut Street facility humming – not to mention nearby restaurants – were announced today. They include the funky Blue Man Group making its first appearance in Cincinnati, plus a selection of shows that have been Broadway hits and award winners. Here’s the rundown:
Blue Man Group (Oct. 16-28, 2012) is a wild and crazy theatrical experience, a performance act that has been combining comedy, music and technology for more than 10 years. With no spoken language, the trio of guys with blue plastic skin presents a show that’s big, loud, funny, silly, visually arresting – and not easy to describe. The show won a special citation in the 1991 Obie Awards, and recognition in 1992 from the Lucille Lortel Awards (for excellence in off-Broadway theatre) and from the Village Voice’s Obie Awards.
Jersey Boys (Nov. 28-Dec. 9, 2012), the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, was a big hit for the series in 2008 when it sold approximately 64,000 tickets during a two-week run. It’s one of the best of the jukebox musicals, and it should be a popular choice again. (Since it’s a repeat Broadway in Cincinnati invites subscribers to choose between this one and Peter Pan to fill out a six-show subscription.)
Memphis (Jan. 22-Feb. 3, 2013) is a fine musical derived from a true story about the challenge race relations in that Tennessee city in the 1960s when a white DJ and a talented black singer find themselves attracted to one another. The show, which won four Tony Awards in 2010, has a rhythm-and-blues score and a lot of great dancing as it tells a powerful story about love, show biz and how the races interacted. One critic called this show “the very essence of what a Broadway musical should be,” and I agree wholeheartedly.
Million Dollar Quartet (Feb. 19-March 3, 2013) was also nominated for the best musical Tony in 2010, losing out to Memphis. It too is based on a real event that happened in Memphis, this one at the studios of Sun Records on Dec. 4, 1956, when four young Rock-and-Roll musicians intersected: Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. It was the only time they were together in a recording session, and the legendary results are the subject matter of this lively show.
Peter Pan (March 12-17, 2013) brings back one-time Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby who has made a career of performing in this show. She turns 60 in December, which brings some kindof weird irony to playing the boy who “won’t grow up,” but Rigby’s athletic skills for flying and fighting mean she’s popular with audiences. She performed the role at the Aronoff in 2000 and 2006. This show is the “choose-one” that subscribers get for their sixth choice.
War Horse (March 26-April 7, 2013) won the 2011 Tony Award for best drama. Set in England in 1914, it’s about an adolescent named Albert and his horse Joey, the latter recruited to go with the troops to World War I in France. It’s an epic tale of the powerful connection between Albert and Joey, and it’s told using remarkably realistic “puppets,” a term hardly seems to suit the manner in which life-sized horses are created and become key characters in this production.
Sister Act (April 30-May 12, 2013) is a musical comedy based on the popular Whoopi Goldberg film from 1992 about a woman whose life takes an unexpected turn when she witnesses a crime and is “hidden” at a convent. This show promises a lot of fun, and it’s been running on Broadway for almost a year. However, I’m afraid that it strikes me as all too typical of the tendency to create shows from mildly popular movies. That film was a vehicle for Whoopi, and without her, I suspect the show is a meager reflection.
Prices for six-season ticket packages range from $149 to $543, depending on seat location. Subscriptions go on sale on Monday at the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati box office in the Mercantile Center downtown at 120 East Fourth Street. You can also order subscriptions online at BroadwayinCincinnati.com or by calling 800-294-1816.