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by Rick Pender 06.19.2015
Posted In: Theater at 09:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: A Good Chance for Laughs, and the Opportunity to Dance the Night Away

There’s not too much theater going on as summer moves in with full heat. But there are enough laughs at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company for several shows with the production of the great 2011 British farce, One Man Two Guvnors. It’s based on a play from the 18th century called The Servant of Two Masters, but don’t think that because it’s a classic it will be over your head. This show has slapstick, fart jokes, silly antics, sly innuendo and just about anything else that might induce laughter. Matthew Lewis Johnson is a comedy machine as the irrepressibly hungry (and hopelessly confused) Francis Henshaw, and he’s not the only one. At least a half-dozen of Cincy Shakes regulars dive into the hilarity headfirst. There’s also a great band playing tunes that sound like Pop numbers from the early 1960s; the story had been updated to the British seaside town of Brighton, where scandalous behavior was apparently the norm. Signing on to work for two bosses who have cross-purposes and connections that Francis doesn’t know about, he’s in for a raucous 24 hours as he tries to keep a lot of plates spinning — almost literally. Demand for tickets was strong from the opening last week (this show won awards in London’s West End as well as on Broadway in 2012, where James Corden played the manic Henshaw), so you’ll find two added performances to the announced schedule — this Saturday and next at 2 p.m. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

Tickets are even scarcer, apparently for The Producers at Cincinnati Landmark Productions new Incline Theater. That zany musical about trying to make money on a Broadway flop has been a big success, heavily subscribed from start to finish. You might try for the waiting list (513-241-6550), but don’t get your hopes up. Same goes for Commonwealth Theater Company’s production of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys at Northern Kentucky University, (859-572-5464) also in its final weekend. It’s a dinner theater production, and it looks like most of the seats at that table are taken, too.

Since you can’t get into either of those, how about a free interpretation of the movie Footloose on Saturday evening? The dance troupe Pones Inc. and Gorilla Cinema have joined up to present the film in a parking lot in Covington (at West Seventh and Washington streets) starting at 8 p.m. All the inspired dance scenes from the 1984 film about teens in a town where dancing is discouraged will be performed live, and you’re welcome to join in! No charge for admission; snacks and suds available for purchase. Check out the trailer:

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 06.12.2015
Posted In: Theater at 07:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Laughs, a New World and Some Bad Guys

Several productions onstage at the moment have been so successful that tickets are scarce, if available at all: The opening show at Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, The Producers — and in fact, the Inclines three-show summer season — is heavily subscribed, so the chance of finding seats at the last minute is slim. The same goes for the Commonwealth Theatre Company’s dinner-theater production of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys at Northern Kentucky University. So let’s consider some other options.

I suspect your best bet for hilarity this weekend will be Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors, which opens tonight. Playwright Richard Bean struck Gold with his adaptation of a 17th-century comedy, The Servant of Two Masters: He shifted it to the 1960s in Brighton, England, and put a fast-talking chap seeking a quick buck and a bite to eat. His greed puts him in a sticky predicament when he ends up working for two rival masters. It’s full of physical humor, improvisation, audience interaction — and a skiffle band with live musicians. The show was a smash hit in London in 2011 (one reviewer called it “the funniest show in the Western World”). When it moved to Broadway in 2012 it was nominated for seven Tony Awards. Need an evening of laughter? This is the show for you. It’s onstage through July 5. Tickets: 513-381-2273

If you want something a tad more serious, you might want to check out The Tramp’s New World, presented by Diogenes Theatre Company at the Aronoff’s Fifth Third Bank Theater. It turns Charlie Chaplin’s “Tramp” character into the sole survivor of an atomic blast. It’s a multidisciplinary piece that uses projections, physical comedy, music and silent-film technique to tell the story of the Little Tramp trying to create a new world from the ruins of the old. The show is performed by its creator, actor Rob Jansen, a Cincinnati native who spent six years in Cincy Shakes’ acting company; he performed with several companies and turned in memorable performances in Know Theatre’s productions of Corpus Christi and Angels in America. The Tramp’s New World had a well-received run in Washington, D.C., at Cultural DC’s Mead Theatre Lab, and it’s onstage here through Saturday evening. Tickets: 513-621-2787 

At Falcon Theater in Newport, you can see Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, an unusual work imagining interactions between the real historical individuals who succeeded in shooting American presidents. It features fascinating music and a story line about the American Dream and what happens when people see it slipping beyond their grasp. It’s at Newport’s Monmouth Theatre, which Falcon now owns and is renovating. Assassins is onstage through Saturday evening. Tickets: 513-479-6783

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 06.05.2015
Posted In: Theater at 08:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
moonlight after midnight 2 (photo credit- andrew alexander)

Stage Door: Fringe and a Few Alternatives

Let’s start with the Cincinnati Fringe Festival. There are just two more days of performances, so you need to choose carefully. Based on what I’ve seen personally, I suggest you should seriously consider several shows still in the rotation: Moonlight After Midnight (Friday at 6:30 p.m., Saturday at 8:40 p.m.) is my favorite among this year’s productions, a well-written, well-acted two-hander that’s both romantic and thoughtful. Tales Too Tall for Trailers (Friday at 8:15 p.m.) is an entertaining hour of storytelling by Paul Strickland and Erika Kate MacDonald; Andy’s House of Blank, a script co-authored by Strickland during the winter run of Serials!, will be produced as a full-length show during the fall by Know Theatre. Edgar Allan (Saturday at 7:25 p.m.) is a fascinating piece inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, although it’s not one of his stories. But it’s slightly creepy and features two excellent performers, The Coldharts (aka Katie Hartman and Nick Ryan). For some great laughs, try Dog Show (Saturday at 9:10 p.m.), a fantasy from Animal Engine about what three dogs do when left at home alone. (Turns out it’s a French farce). To see some fine acting, I suggest you see Chemistry, another two-actor production, this one featuring Laurie Benning Roberts and Jay Hobson, recent members of the Cincinnati Playhouse’s acting intern company. She plays a chronic depressive; he portrays a manic and optimistic. They’re attracted, but their joint destiny is complicated and ultimately doomed. This is a serious and moving piece about mental illness. There are lots of other shows to see, and if you’d like to read full reviews of any of them, go to CityBeat’s Fringe review hub here.

If you prefer your theater a tad more mainstream than Fringe fare, you have several options. I particularly recommend Circle Mirror Transformation at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. It’s the final weekend for this show about five people engaged in an acting class in a small-town community center. What they learn is as much about themselves as it is about theater, and it’s sweet, profound and moving. The final performance is Saturday evening on the Shelterhouse stage. It’s the final production of the 2014-2015 season. Tickets: 513-241-3888

There are a couple of musicals you might want to catch, too. Showbiz Players is offering The Addams Family, based on the oddball cartoons of Charles Addams featured in The New Yorker (as well as an iconic TV show from the 1960s). It’s in its final weekend at the Carnegie in Covington. Tickets: 859-957-1940 … Also in Northern Kentucky, you can drop by the Monmouth Theatre in Newport to see Falcon Theater’s staging of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, an unusual work about the actual historical individuals who succeeded in shooting a president. It features fascinating music and a story line about the American Dream and what happens when people can’t grab ahold of it. It’s being presented through June 13. Tickets: 513-479-6783 … I’d like to recommend The Producers currently in production at the new Incline Theater in East Price Hill. It’s a delightfully silly show about showbiz. But the folks at Cincinnati Landmark Productions have so successfully marketed this opening production of its summer season that most performances are sold out. However, if you’re persistent, you might get your name on a waiting list by calling the box office: 513-241-6550.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here. 
by Rick Pender 05.29.2015
Posted In: Theater at 02:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
moonlight after midnight 2 photo credit- andrew alexander

Stage Door: Fringing, a Free Performance and More Good Choices

Cincy Fringe is hot and heavy right now. If you’re planning to attend and want to get the scoop on some shows you might enjoy over the weekend, head to the CityBeat's Fringe hub, where reviews are being posted by a team of writers that I’m managing. We go to see the opening performance of each show, write about it overnight and post it the next day. You won’t find more timely coverage anywhere else. There are several “Critic’s Picks” so far including METH: a love story, Moonlight After Midnight and Edgar Allan. With more than 40 productions available over the course of 12 days, there’s lots of choices. About two-thirds are up and running already. What are you waiting for?

Speaking of the Fringe, there’s a special event on Sunday evening in Washington Park that’s free and open to the public. It’s a staged concert reading of Cincinnati King, a new work by Playhouse Associate Artist KJ Sanchez. It’s about the history of Cincinnati music, racial equality, music pioneer Syd Nathan and his recording label King Records. The evening starts at 5 p.m. with music and theater activities for kids. At 5:30 the Philip Paul Quartet plays some of King Records’ greatest hits; Paul was a drummer at King Records. The concert reading happens on the stage at the Public Lawn at the north end of the park. All you have to do is show up! More info here.

There are shows elsewhere to be seen, depending on your preferences. Showbiz Players is offering a production of The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy at The Carnegie in Covington. It opens tonight and continues through June 7. All your favorite characters from the wacky cartoons of Charles Addams (which inspired the cult TV series that ran from 1964 to 1966) are onstage, singing and dancing: Gomez and Morticia, Wednesday and Pugsley, Uncle Fester and Lurch. Tickets: 859-957-1940

If you want something a little more serious, you might check out Falcon Theater’s production of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s Assassins at the Monmouth Theater in Newport. Believe it or not, it features many of the men and women who thought their path to the American dream was to shoot a president. It’s a powerful show about values and motivations, and it features some fascinating melodies by Sondheim, perhaps the greatest musical theater composer of our time. It’s onstage through June 13. Tickets: 513-479-6783

You can still catch Ensemble Theatre’s charming production of Outside Mullingar this weekend (it has to wrap up on Saturday to make way for ETC’s Fringe production, Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, performed by the theater’s intern company on June 4, 5 and 6). Mullingar features four outstanding actors — Joneal Joplin, Dale Hodges, Brian Isaac Phillips and Jenn Joplin — in a story about spirited Irish parents and children, about love and longing, and about finding a place in the world. Definitely worth seeing. Tickets: 513-421-3555

One other production still running that I recommend you make an effort to see is Circle Mirror Transformation at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It features five excellent actors playing everyday people in an acting class at a community center. Their efforts to find their talent lead to revelations more profound than any of them initially imagine. Great fun and thoughtful at the same time. Tickets: 512-421-3888

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here

by Rick Pender 05.22.2015
Posted In: Theater at 08:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
cappies recipients

Stage Door: Theater Critics of the Future?

There’s lots happening on Cincinnati stages this weekend — including excellent productions of Circle Mirror Transformation at the Cincinnati Playhouse and Outside Mullingar at Ensemble Theatre. The Cincinnati Fringe Festival is right around the corner. But I want to use this week’s Stage Door to highlight a glimpse of the future. Tonight the CAPPIE AWARDS will celebrate productions and performers from area high schools with a festive event at the Aronoff Center’s Procter & Gamble Hall.

Among the students being recognized are critics. That’s right: As part of the Cappies, teens from high schools visit other schools to critique performances. I have the privilege of handing out awards to the outstanding team of students from one particular high school. Starting last year, another recognition was added, sponsored by CityBeat, identifying the outstanding single critique written over the course of the year.

I received a half-dozen essays deemed by Cappies organizers to be the best pieces written during the 2014-2015 school year. (I did not know the names of the critics or their high schools when I was picking the winner.) At tonight’s ceremony, I’ll announce one I believe to be the best. You can read all of the reviews I considered in today’s blog, below. In addition to taking home a dandy trophy, the winner is invited to review a FringeNext show, one of three high school productions presented at the Cincy Fringe next week.

I urge you to read what these insightful young people have written about productions at other schools. It’s possible that someday one of these promising writers will be writing about shows and helping theater fans decide what to see onstage in Greater Cincinnati.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

West Side Story at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy


Amidst a fearsome gang war, two lovers are forever torn apart by the pull of a pistol’s trigger. And as a girl mourns her horrible loss, she extends two hands, one to each side. In the left hand, a Jet; in the right, a Shark, two groups sworn enemies, now holding hands united under common loss. It is with this heart-wrenching image of solidarity that Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy’s production of West Side Story leaves its audience, and with this image that its excellence finally hits home.

An American theatrical classic, West Side Story takes place in New York City, where two local teenage gangs — the Caucasian “Jets” and Puerto Rican “Sharks” — are amidst a territorial dispute. Jets leader Riff plans to challenge the Sharks and leader Bernardo to a rumble in order to settle the issue. However, the plot thickens when fellow Jet Tony meets Bernardo’s sister Maria, and the two quickly fall in love. The result is ultimately a situation spun far out of control, a vengeful gunshot separating the lovers forever, and grave consequences to a merciless feud.

Fittingly, CHCA’s production started with a bang in “Prologue,” where the Jets’ and Sharks’ choreographic and combat execution splendidly set the tone for the action to come. The Jets were particularly sharp in songs such as “Jet Song” and the lighthearted character number “Gee, Officer Krupke.” Other show highlights included the upbeat, toe-tapping song “America,” and “Tonight,” where both Jets and Sharks alike came together for a powerful prelude to the action-packed “The Rumble.”

As headliner Tony, actor Will Ellis’s performance was defined by pristine tenor vocals and a captivating vibrato, mastering his character’s higher range. In solo songs like “Maria,” Ellis never shied away from the spotlight, boldly owning critical character moments. Opposite of Ellis, Allie Kuroff’s operatic soprano was equally impressive as the lovely Maria, clearly acting her finest in the show’s riveting finale. Both Ellis and Kuroff played their roles with a unique tenderness, providing an interesting presentation of two classic characters.

Likewise, actress Merrie Drees brought a thrilling flair to the flashy, spunky Anita. Drees’s powerfully sassy vocals proved phenomenal, and her ability to balance great comedic timing in earlier scenes with compelling emotion later on was marvelous, a dynamic lacking in other characters. As the charismatic Riff, Gabe Hoyer also crafted an extraordinary performance. Hoyer featured a mesmerizing gravity to his presence that added an unmistakable charm to Riff, making his Act I death one of the musical’s most tragic moments.

Tasked with a very challenging musical score, the CHCA Orchestra played fabulously. Despite drowning out certain vocalists at times, the pit kept accompaniment clean, crisp, and well polished throughout. Equally crisp and well polished was manager Kaitlyn Nickol’s stage crew, making scene changes promptly and effortlessly and contributing to the show’s timely pacing.

Doing justice to one of the most beloved musicals of all time is undoubtedly a daunting task. Yet as the lights faded on that aforementioned scene of unity, the cast of Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy’s recent production of West Side Story had accomplished exactly this. In a wildly successful effort, these talented performers honored not only the endearing charm of this theatrical legend, but also its strikingly poignant message.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Larry A. Ryle High School


Although written nearly 400 years ago, the works of William Shakespeare are still revered today as some of the most influential in all of Western literature. The Bard's plays are usually an essential component of any English course. The classic tales are still performed often by actors and theatre companies alike. It is difficult to imagine something as old as the publication of Shakespeare's First Folio in 1623 continuing to remain relevant and entertaining to audiences. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, performed by Larry A. Ryle High School, students brought life to the timeless classic and gave a performance that stayed true to the tradition of Shakespeare with unique and original twists.

The story of A Midsummer Night's Dream centers around a love triangle, or rather, rectangle, between Hermia and Lysander, two star-crossed lovers; Demetrius, who loves Hermia, although unrequited; and Helena, who loves Demetrius. When Puck, a mischievous fairy from the woods, accidentally casts a spell on the two young men, he reverses their affections, causing both to fall in love with Helena. Chaos ensues as Puck attempts to reverse the mistaken spell and keep peace within both the fairy and the lovers' world.

In Larry A. Ryle's production of this classic story, the students met the challenge of Shakespeare with eagerness and understanding of the style, far beyond the years of most high school students. The production also paired the original Shakespearean text with 1950s style costumes, props, and characters in order to portray a commentary on the time period's stratified nature and to modernize the theme of unrequited love.

Under the pressures of a four-way love triangle, Willow Davis's portrayal of Helena stood out among the leading roles of the show as her characterization and poise set her apart. Helena’s nagging but endearing nature allowed the audience to laugh at her melodramatic soliloquies while also sympathizing with her broken heart. Samuel Greenhill stood out in his portrayal of Demetrius as well, creating a character that was both likable and antagonistic and keeping him true to the attitudes of the time period.

Of course, it is impossible to forget Macy Bates’s performance as the mischievous Puck. The youthful energy that she brought to the role was extremely refreshing and played well into her comedic timing, keeping the audience laughing again and again.

From a technical aspect, the show was extremely fine-tuned. Albert Harris's lighting was absolutely stunning, with a purposeful contrast in the lighting of the fairy world versus that of the real world. This choice, while subtle, was extremely impactful, as the set's minimalist style made the setting of the story extremely ambiguous and versatile, with the shift in lighting as the main indicator of shifting worlds.

Love and mischief are the same now as they were in the 1950s, and the same in the 1950s as they were in Shakespeare's time. Larry A. Ryle High School's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream portrayed these themes in a fresh and unique way, while also paying homage to the tradition of William Shakespeare.


Beauty and the Beast at McAuley High School


It’s not every day you see a humanoid clock charging at foes with a silver fork. Nor is it every day that an audience finds themselves yet again floored by a performance they've seen on the screen a hundred times before. Yet in this heartwarming rendition of Beauty and the Beast, McAuley High School charmed both adult and child once again through their humor and talent.

This stage rendition, written by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Linda Wolverton, is actually an adaptation of an adaptation. The Oscar-winning movie version with which the world is familiar came out in 1991, the inspiration stemming from the 1756 fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. In this third version, a beautiful and bookish Belle becomes the only hope for a long-forgotten castle staff and Prince, who are slowly becoming inanimate objects as a result of a spell caused by the Prince’s vanity. But can Belle learn to love a Beast who can barely learn to love anyone else?

Overall, McAuley created a magnificent performance that was filled with magic and surprises. The cast was bouncing with energy from start to finish, and their vocal quality was solid amongst all actors. The technical crew skillfully created a lively atmosphere that resonated with audience members, phenomenally recreating classic scenes. With glittering costumes and whimsical choreography, Beauty and the Beast did not disappoint.

Danielle Mouch was extraordinary in her performance as Belle. Her vocal quality was pristine and clear, effortlessly reaching every note as well as maintaining her character’s spunky yet thoughtful personality. Gregory Miller, a well-established actor in Cincinnati high school theater, outdid expectations in his performance as the Beast. Though he might have had hair and tusks masking his face, his powerful yet perfectly controlled voice said more than facial expressions ever could.

Audience favorites included the actors playing Lumière and Cogsworth. AJ Keith’s (Cogsworth) dry humor was expertly delivered and well received, his deadpans flawless and his mannerisms appropriate for the endearing yet bossy character. Benjamin Burton seemed to be made for the role of Lumière: his French accent was spot-on (and maintained throughout the length of the show), and his eye for comedy was terrific—all it took was a few suggestive hip movements to send the audience into uncontrollable laughter.

The crew provided dazzling effects for the show. The lighting was of almost professional quality, with a highlight being the mystical, Northern Lights-sequel brilliance that occurred during the Beast’s transformation. While the costumes seemed to closely follow the movie adaptation, they were of high quality and were well constructed and designed. The choreography flowed seamlessly, from the Mob’s parade around the auditorium to the Wolves’ deathly yet entrancing dance. Overall, McAuley’s crew was a force to be reckoned with, achieving seemingly magical transitions and mirages.

In this tale as old as time, McAuley High School enchanted youth and elderly alike with its whimsy personality and spellbinding characters, reminding everyone not to be deceived by appearances; there “may be something there that wasn't there before.”

The Mourner’s Bench at the School for Creative and Performing Arts


A single gunshot can end a life, create irreversible emotional damage, and shatter even the closest of relationships in an instant. The School for Creative and Performing Arts’ dark, poignant, and haunting performance of The Mourners’ Bench explored the crippling emotional aftermath of a deplorable tragedy.

The first act opened up to an intense argument between siblings Bobby (Bradley Mingo) and Melissa (Nina Walker). Twenty years after they witnessed their father shoot their mother, Evelyn, in a murder-suicide, Bobby and Melissa have still not healed. While Melissa has attempted to move on with her life, marrying a nice man and bearing two children, Bobby is trapped in a state of perpetual dependency, turning to alcohol and eventually buying the childhood house in which the tragedy occurred. Mingo and Walker perfectly captured the essence of a tumultuous sibling relationship, from emotionally depleting shouting matches to interrupting one another mid-sentence. The two were able to adroitly deal with dark themes, including murder, rape, and suicide, by presenting an air of deep gravity and maturity to their lines.

Act Two, set immediately after Evelyn’s funeral, featured her sisters Caroline (Mallory Kraus) and Wilma (Danielle Brockmann) bickering about the future of their niece and nephew. Kraus and Brockmann both give performances rife with emotion, utilizing familiar body language to heighten the intimacy of their conversation. The timing of their dialogue was natural and seemed completely organic, inviting the viewer into their quarrel. Brockmann approached her role as Wilma with a gentle softness, providing a foil for Kraus’s seemingly callous, unemotional Caroline. The scene ended touchingly, with Kraus playing the piano while Brockmann watched, a testament to the boundless power of redemption.

Act Three centered around elderly, married couple Joe (Cameron Baker) and Sarah (Maggie Hoffecker). They moved into Bobby and Melissa’s childhood home immediately after the tragedy and become inextricably tangled in the history of the house they have purchased. The tenderness between Hoffecker and Baker truly reflected that of a couple on the brink of death; while just sitting next to each other on a couch, they seem comfortable and at ease, with no trace of awkwardness. By the end of the scene, sniffling could be heard throughout the theater as the pair gazed out of a window, contemplating life’s transience.

SCPA’s theater was a room with seating on all four sides, providing an intimate view of the stage and connecting the audience to the characters. The set was sparse: a living room furnished with an unadorned couch and a dilapidated piano. The simpleness of the set allowed the raw emotion of the actors to shine through, creating a memorable performance.

All in all, SCPA’s production of The Mourners’ Bench was an evocative and haunting testament to the power of loss, recovery, and redemption.


Sweeney Todd at Taylor High School


A trip to the barber never seemed so dangerous than in Taylor High School’s production of Sweeney Todd, where deceit leads to a menagerie of questionable pies, ineffective Italian barbers and a tempest of revenge, violence and tragedy.

An ordinary barber, husband and young father, Benjamin Barker has his world turned upside down when he is thrown in jail on a trumped-up charge that costs him his wife and daughter. Escaping prison, Barker renames himself Sweeney Todd and moves back into his shop on Fleet Street when he discovers the suicide of his wife Lucy. Out for blood, he teams up with the pie baker below his flat, Mrs. Lovett, to take revenge on the ones responsible — Judge Turpin and Beadle Bamford. Leaving a trail of deception, misery and gore in his wake, Sweeney Todd becomes the demon barber of Fleet Street in this haunting musical thriller.

From the smoke that billowed from Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop to the synchronization of the company in “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir,” the unwavering commitment of both the cast and crew of this show did not go unnoticed in both details and central events. Every aspect of the show came together to create a product of suspense, drama, and overall beauty as an elaborate set, apt lighting and emotional vocals blended with the energy of everyone on and off stage.

Despite the incredible amount of music and its difficulty, the leads of the show, Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett, performed by Antonio Ortiz and Annie Gerth respectively, conquered the tumultuous trials of Steven Sondheim almost flawlessly. In addition to this vocal aptitude, Gerth was able to portray the comedic elements of Lovett through her accent and equally strong acting propensity. Reciprocated by Ortiz, the two radiated a brilliant, psychotic chemistry that was always present, especially in songs such as “A Little Priest.”

A buttress to the leading couple, the ensemble floated eerily onto the stage relentlessly, booming out “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” and “City on Fire” without wavering. Additionally appearing repeatedly, the Beggar Woman, played by Eliana Batsakis, brought further skill to light both vocally and in her physical acting as she drifted across the stage, crawling in the shadows of London, cackling manically and uttering desperate warnings until she met her demise.

Behind the scenes, this show demanded both sets and costumes reflective of the dark, dirty setting of 19th-century London. In both areas, demands were met, as buildings faded into darkness under a smoky pall and windows appeared cracked in places like Fogg’s Asylum while their inhabitants skulked about in ripped clothes with faces scorched with the grime of the streets. The crew was also able to create credible deaths with their use of stage blood.

Altogether, Taylor’s production was consistent and energetic in every scene of the show, creating a thrilling and gripping story through its performers and behind-the-scenes crew. It was ultimately well deserving of the standing ovation it received.

Once Upon a Mattress at Ursuline Academy

REVIEWED BY CARISSA SAFFIRO, Cincinnati Christian Schools

From childhood one is taught that princesses are the immaculately beautiful creatures that epitomize all that is grace and beauty. Who could imagine that the next princess of a medieval land would be an uncouth and unruly woman from the swamps? Ursuline Academy’s recent production of Once Upon a Mattress explores what happens when an ill-mannered yet charming woman steps — or rather swims — into court looking for a prince.

Written in the 1950s, Once Upon a Mattress is a musical comedy adapted from Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.” The musical was written by Jay Thompson, Marshall Barer, and Dean Fuller with lyrics and music by Marshall Barer and Mary Rodgers, respectively. The show features Princess Winnifred of the swamplands who comes to marry Dauntless the Drab, despite all the women before her who have been turned down by his tyrannical mother. Following the classic tale, the queen puts a pea under twenty mattresses to determine whether Winnifred is a true princess.

With intricate music and challenging characters, the leads of Once Upon a Mattress certainly had their work cut out for them. The ludicrously uncouth yet lovable Princess Winnifred was played by Kennedy Carstens. From the moment she stepped on the stage the audience was in the palm of her hand and her vocal performance was unequalled by any cast member in the show. CJ Allen had the challenge of playing the role of Dauntless the Drab and chose to play this arguably flat character with a charming and comedic twist. The audience’s narrator and another lead actor in the show was the Minstrel, played by Arjun Sheth. Sheth not only brought the audience through the show with a confidence and charisma, but also had the vocal range required for the role.

King Sextimus the Silent, played by Michael Viox, was another leading force in the show, although because of an old curse he was unable to speak for most of the musical. However, his inability to communicate with words in no way inhibited his connection with the audience or his stage presence. His counterpart and friend, the Jester, played by Claire Westover, played alongside Viox with excellent chemistry but also showed a deeper side of her character as well as impressive tapping ability in her song “Very Soft Shoes.” Carmen Carigan must also be commended for her performance as the Wizard. Although in a smaller part, Carigan has the ability to leave the audience clapping and laughing hysterically every time she stepped off stage.

The most unique thing about Ursuline, however, is the wealth of talent in their dancers. The dancing chorus was always together whether they were doing ballet or tap. With dancers such as Keely Wissel on point and other incredible soloists such as Caroline Nymberg, the dancers stood out as one of the highlights of the show.

The technical aspects of the show seemed to move effortlessly. There were few to no microphone errors, although the cast was working with fifteen wireless mikes, and the lighting was flawless. Arguably the most unique and ingenious part of the show was the costuming. Almost completely student-made, the costumes were imaginative and well put together. In the chorus, each lady’s costume had a corresponding knight’s costume, just one example of the color and brightness of the show.

The costumes, actors, and dancers certainly mirrored the fun, bright, and slightly unconventional style of this production and brought the audience for an enjoyable ride.

by Rick Pender 05.15.2015
Posted In: Theater at 08:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Take a Trip to Ireland?

If you debating which show you might go see this weekend, my strong recommendation is Ensemble Theatre's Outside Mullingar (ETC, 5/6-24). It's a great script by John Patrick Shanley (who wrote the award-winning play Doubt and the award-winning screenplay Moonstruck). It's set in Ireland, so the characters are overflowing with dry wit. And the actors playing them are a quartet of the performers who Cincinnati audiences love: Joneal Joplin (Scrooge for many years at the Playhouse) is a crusty old man who might not pass the family farm on to his more sensitive son, played by Cincinnati Shakespeare's artistic director Brian Phillips. Dale Hodges, a respected local stage veteran, plays Aiofe, the owner of an adjacent farm; Jenn Joplin (Joneal's daughter) is Aoife's grumpy, opinionated daughter. This is a tale of parents and children, but there's a lovely, stumbling love story at the heart of the play, and it's that's emotionally satisfying. The production was staged by Ed Stern, now retired as the Cincinnati Playhouse's artistic director. It's onstage through May 24. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

Brian Phillips did double-duty recently rehearsing to perform inOutside Mullingar while staging  Henry V at Cincy Shakes. As the title suggests, this is one of the Bard's history plays, and it's a chest-thumping one about warfare and England's claim to power. The company is midway through a multi-year project to stage all of Shakespeare's tales of the kings of England in chronological order. That might sound a tad stodgy, but this one is full of fighting and bluster, and there's a thread of comic relief, too. Let's call it the Shakespearean equivalent of an action movie. It's onstage throughMay 30. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

You'll find two plays worth seeing at the Cincinnati Playhouse this weekend. One just opened last night (I haven't seen it yet): It's Annie Baker's award-winner, Circle Mirror Transformation, about some folks taking an acting class at a community center. Their lessons about performing expand to be come life lessons. It's a warm, thoughtful play in the Shelterhouse. On the Marx mainstage, you'll find the very funny Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, inspired by Chekhov but from the zany perspective of Christopher Durang, you don't need any theater history to be laughing out loud as three adult siblings from a dysfunctional family try to keep their balance. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

If you're eagerly awaiting the start of the Cincinnati Fringe (it kicks off on May 26), you should stop by Know Theatre for the American premiere of the Bane Trilogy with performances this weekend and next. It's three monologues about a guy who shoots first and doesn't ask questions in a one-musician film noir comic trilogy. You can experience them sequentially or out of order. Performer Joe Bone is the Guinness world record holder for the most characters portrayed by one actor in a performance; he's accompanied musically by Ben Roe. This show has a heavy-duty buzz: People were telling me about it weeks ago, so I'm sharing the news with you — although I haven't fit it into my schedule yet. It's running for two more weeks. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 05.07.2015
Posted In: Theater at 02:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
sonia and masha mourning their lives - vanya & sonia & masha & spike - cincinnati playhouse - photo sandy unerwoodjpg

Stage Door: Trips Down Memory Lane

If you're feeling nostalgic, Cincinnati stages have several offerings for you to enjoy. Let's start with Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It's set in the present, but Vanya, one of three angsty siblings, thinks that contemporary life is missing the point, and he yearns for things he loved during his childhood in the 1950s. He love them to the point that he's spurred to a 10-minute rant (by a feckless actor who pays more attention to texting than the people in the room with him) about all that life is lacking today. It's a very funny moment in Christopher Durang's award winning play. I gave it a Critic's Pick in my CityBeat review. Tickets: 513-421-3888

The production of Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike wraps up with the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun." If you'd like a whole evening of Beatles tunes, you need to be at the Aronoff Center in Downtown Cincinnati on Monday evening for RAIN: A Tribute to the Beatles. It's more than two hours of music, covering the progression from "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to "I Am the Walrus," with more than 30 numbers being authentically performed. The live, multi-media spectacle covers the entire career of the band and its four famous musicians. These guys pay attention to details in recreating the music and the mood. Tickets: 513-621-2787

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati just opened a production of John Patrick Shanley's Outside Mullingar that will make anyone who's Irish long to head to the Emerald Isle. It's about generational differences and the possibility of love between two unlikely souls. What will make this one good is the cast: Joneal Joplin (Scrooge for many years at the Playhouse) plays a crusty old man, and Dale Hodges, one of Cincinnati's best professional actresses, is his outspoken neighbor. Jen Joplin (Joneal's daughter in real life) plays Hodges' daughter in the show; and the old man's son is brought to life by Brian Isaac Phillips from Cincinnati Shakespeare. It's being staged by Ed Stern, former artistic director at the Cincinnati Playhouse. With that many theater veterans working on it, the show is sure to be worth watching. Lots of people must think so, since ETC has already announced an extension of the show to May 30. Tickets: 513-421-3555

Cincinnati Music Theater can always be depended on to do a good job with a big musical. Our city's most ambitious community theater takes on the lighthearted Gershwin tuner, Crazy for You, which will be staged at the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. It's onstage for two weekends, through May 16.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 05.04.2015
Posted In: Theater at 08:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Call Board: Theater News

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's 30th season will present three world premieres, the revival of a great musical and Cinderella

While other Cincinnati theaters hustle to get their seasons announced in order to ramp up subscription sales, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati has built enough faith with its audiences that they'll start signing up sight unseen. Artistic Director Lynn Meyers tells regulars that they'll be pleased, and they take her at her word; she adds that if they aren't happy with the shows she picks, they can have their money back. No one asks for it.

Of course, ETC presents shows that haven't appeared elsewhere in our region yet, typically premieres that have only recently been onstage in New York City. And they're given productions with great acting and beautiful design so well assembled that many shows have extended runs. (That's happening with the show concluding the current season, John Patrick Shanley's Outside Mullingar, which opens on Wednesday with a stellar cast that includes local stage veteran Dale Hodges and Cincy Shakes Artistic Director Brian Phillips. ETC has announced it will run a week longer than initially indicated, now closing on May 30.)

For its 30th season, ETC has assembled three regional premieres and a revival of a musical it staged to great acclaim in 1999, with a TBA slot (March 22-April 10, 2016) that's likely to bring another show that's been a recent Broadway or off-Broadway hit. Here's the lineup announced over the weekend:

Luna Gale (Sept. 8-27, 2015) by Rebecca Gilman: The show recently received the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, and it was considered by many to be a strong contender for the Pulitzer Prize in drama. It portrays the moral dilemma facing a social worker with a crushing caseload and personal baggage. She must decide whether to leave a child with neglectful drug addict parents or place her with a grandmother who is a religious zealot. It's a complex and disturbing work about faith and forgiveness that doesn't offer easy answers for the lifelong after-effects of abuse. Its first production was in January 2014 at the Chicago's Goodman Theatre. It's slated for productions at Cleveland Playhouse and Actors Theatre of Louisville in the coming season, but ETC's happens first.

Buyer and Cellar (Oct. 13-Nov. 1, 2015) by Jonathan Tollins: The one-many comedy was a big New York hit in 2013, telling the story of an out-of-work actor who takes on the odd job of playing shopkeeper for Barbra Streisand in the basement of her lavish Malibu estate. It's a fanciful imagining of what one does with decades of memories and acres of memorabilia. Performing the piece will be Nick Cearley, a Cincinnati native who has appeared at ETC in next to normal and The Great American Trailer Park Musical.

Cinderella (Dec. 2-Jan. 3, 2016) by Joe McDonough, David Kisor and Fitz Patton: ETC's holiday show is a remount of its contemporary take on the classic fairy tale that demonstrates that being smart can be truly beautiful.

Grounded (Jan. 26-Feb. 14, 2016) by George Brant: It's another solo show, described by one critic as "ardently humane," about a woman who's an ace pilot reassigned to operate a remote-controlled drone from a windowless trailer near Las Vegas. It's a hit at New York City's Public Theater right now featuring Anne Hathaway in a production directed by Julie Taymor. Hunting terrorists by day and returning to her family at night, the boundaries begin to blur between the desert where she lives and the one she patrols half a world away in Iraq.

Violet (May 3-22, 2016). Jeanine Tesori's musical won the Drama Critics Circle Award and the Lucille Award for best musical when it premiered off-Broadway in 1997. It was a local award winner, too, but not seen by many who have come to love ETC's offerings. The score features American Roots tunes as well as Folk and Gospel styles. Violet's story is set in the 1960s; she is a young woman disfigured in a childhood accident who dreams of a miraculous transformation through the power of faith provided by a televangelist. It was one of ETC's best early productions, and it's a great choice to cap off a celebration of three decades of fine theater.

Subscriptions are currently available. Call 513-421-3555 for information.

by Rick Pender 05.01.2015
Posted In: Theater at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
vanya and sonia and masha and spike - cincinnati playhouse - john feltch, elizabeth hess and suzanne grodner - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Durang and One Dang Funny Dysfunctional Family

Christopher Durang's witty comedy Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike opened last night at the Cincinnati Playhouse. If that title makes you think of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, well, that's part of the playwright's comic plan. But his script reassembles some of those wry comic elements with a few modern twists. The three characters with Chekhovian names are siblings with wildly divergent perspectives; "Spike" stirs things up by being more physical than intellectual. You don't have to know any theater history to have a good time with this play, especially when Vanya launches into a 10-minute rant about what's wrong with the modern world — referencing everything from postage stamps and technology to global warming and a lot of TV from the 1950s. It's hilarious. This show is being staged at theaters all over America this season. For more about Durang, read my Curtain Call column. Through May 23. Tickets: 513-421-3888

The Covedale Center has carved our a meaningful niche in the local theater scene with staging Golden Age musicals, and they're opening one of the best this weekend, Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music. It was the final show by the pair who created Oklahoma, South Pacific, Carousel and The King and I. Thanks to the movie featuring Julie Andrews, I don't really have to tell you what it's about. But I should mention that the stage version has a bit more of a socio-political edge to it: Two of my favorite numbers (that didn't make it into the film) are "No Way to Stop It" and "How Can Love Survive?" — pay attention to them for some sassy songwriting. The show is onstage at the West Side theater through May 24; tickets: 513-241-6550

Several worthwhile productions are finishing their runs this weekend with Sunday performances. That includes the searing psychological and political drama Death and the Maiden by Diogenes Theatre Company, featuring Annie Fitzpatrick, Michael G. Bath and Giles Davies at the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Tickets: 513-621-2787 … Cincinnati Shakespeare is winding up its staging of the great comedy of love and combat, The Taming of the Shrew. (Read my review here). Tickets: 513-381-2273 … And if you've ever struggled to connect with a play by the Bard, you might enjoy John Murrell's Taking Shakespeare at Dayton's Human Race Theater Company. The latter is about a disillusioned college professor asked to tutor her dean's son through a freshman class in Shakespeare. The subject is Othello, and their wrangling helps them learn more about one another. It's some fine acting, with Jon Kovach, seen frequently on Cincinnati stages, as the opinionated but drifting young man. Tickets: 937-228-3630

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 04.26.2015
Posted In: Theater at 11:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Call Board: Coming Attractions for Cincinnati Theatergoers

Know Theatre, New Edgecliff, Carnegie, Commonwealth, Xavier announce new seasons

Get your calendars read for another avalanche of shows from local theaters. Know Theatre just announced its 2015-2016 season, and several others have done the same recently, so you’ll find everything rounded up in this “Call Board” blog for CityBeat theater fans. Nearly two dozen full-scale shows and a handful of other events are headed your way.

Know Theatre of Cincinnati

Andrew Hungerford, Know Theatre’s artistic director, has pointed out that the coming season is the company’s 18th, and that at years of age, “We’re ready to do everything that entails: step into a wider world, fall in love, confront loss, get a crazy summer job, have a history lesson, party with some college kids, give up our childhood toys, obsess over Star Wars again, rail against poverty and injustice, engage in civic discourse, major in the sciences and then, maybe, take a trip to the beach.” Know is planning a lot of shows including works that are entertaining and socially conscious and that offer lots of opportunities for local artists.

“As we near the 10th anniversary of moving into our home at 1120 Jackson St., I think we’re getting ever closer to the vision that Know Theatre’s leadership has always had for this space,” says Producing Artistic Andrew Hungerford. “From our mainstage to Serials to Fringe, there is so much happening on our stages. It really is a theatrical playground here. And seeing the Underground filled with an audience eager to be a part of the next crazy thing we make reminds me exactly why I took this job.” Hungerford is completing his first season of artistic leadership. Here’s what’s in store for his second:

Serials 3: Roundhouse (Late June) will be another stab at short-form theater. This time out there will be five playwrights involved in creating five episodic plays. Each week they’ll trade who’s writing which story.

One-Minute Play Festival (July 10-12, 2015) This event will invite writers to consider the world around them, their cities and communities and the ways they view the world, then write topical moments that say something about what’s happening here and now. The results, probably 70 to 90 of them, will be put together into three evenings of performance.

Hundred Days (July 24-Aug. 22, 2015). This is a show conceived by the Bengsons, a singer-musician couple who have been Cincinnati Fringe festival favorites, and they workshopped it here in 2011. It’s about a couple whose time together is cut short by a fatal illness. They decide to live the 100 days left as if it were the 60 years they had hoped for.

The Hunchback of Seville by Charise Castro Smith (Oct. 9-24, 2015) with CCM drama students, will be staged by CCM drama faculty member Brant Russell. Set in 1504 in Spain, it’s an irreverent comedy that turns historical atrocities on their heads.

Andy’s House of [blank] by Paul Strickland and Trey Tatum (Oct. 30-Nov. 14, 2015). This will be a fully staged version of the show that was presented in 15-minute increments across the five evenings of Serials 2: Thunderdome. (It’s the only show that made it through five weeks.) It’s a small-town, mystery-spot, time travel musical about an unusual man who runs a store that’s an every changing emporium of oddities. Strickland and Tatum are Fringe Festival veterans.

All Childish Things by Joseph Zettelmaier (Nov. 20-Dec. 19, 2015) is about three guys who still have Star Wars on the brain, despite being 30 years old. It’s set in Norwood, and the fact that Kenner, designer of Star Wars toys was headquartered in Cincinnati, is important to this story. This production happens right around the time that Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens will be in movie theaters. The playwright has been recognized several times by the American Theatre Critics Association, including this play in 2006.

The Naughty List by OTR Improv at Arnold’s Bar & Grill (December 2015) picks up on the Star Wars theme, too. This holiday iteration is subtitled, “The Jolly Awakens.”

Serials 4! (January 2016). Another round of episodic storytelling.

BlackTop Sky by Christina Anderson (Jan. 29-Feb. 20, 2016) is a story about love, violence, community, mental illness and the line between poverty and true homelessness. Kimberly Faith Hickman, the New York City-based director who staged Know’s thought-provoking production of The Twentieth-Century Way in April 2014, will stage it.

Beertown by dog & pony DC (March 2-19, 2016) is another crossover by a Fringe Festival act: dog & Pony performed A Killing Game here in 2013. For this show, they’ll present alternative tales about our town’s history and we get to choose which version we like — a mash-up of choose your own adventure and maybe a murder mystery dinner party. Every performance begins with a dessert potluck; audiences are encouraged to bring a dessert to share.

Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson (April 15-May 14, 2016), one of America’s hottest young playwrights. Know presented her Macbeth-themed script, Toil and Trouble back in 2014, and the Cincinnati Playhouse is giving her new play The Revolutionists its world premiere in February 2016. Silent Sky is the true story of 19th-century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt and a group of revolutionary women who found a way to measure the universe.

The thirteenth annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival happens in late May and early June 2016. Followed by one more (June 24-July 16, 2016) show that’s still TBA (June 24-July 16), but Hungerford hints that it could be by Steve Yockey, whose surreal Pluto was staged by Know early in 2014.

New Edgecliff Theatre

New Edgecliff Theatre has announced three shows for its 2015-2016 season, planned for a new Northside venue at St. Patrick’s Church. “These are plays that challenge the way the characters view their lives and the circumstances they find themselves in,” says Producing Artistic Director Jim Stump. “They are stories of how much can change when you change how you look at things.”

Frankie and Johnny in the Clare de Lune by Terrence McNally (Sept. 17-Oct. 3, 2015). Jared Doren staged an excellent production of William Inge’s Bus Stop for NET in 2013, and he’ll be back to put together this show about a pair of lonely, middle-aged people whose first date ends with their tumbling into bed. Things head in different directions from there. This show, which debuted in 1987, had a sterling production at the Cincinnati Playhouse back in 1989; the Playhouse presents a new play by McNally, Mothers and Sons, in the spring of 2016.

The Santaland Diaries (Dec. 3-19, 2015) is a reprise of David Sedaris’s very funny monologue about working as an elf in Macy’s Santaland in New York City. This holiday staple has been missing from local stages for two seasons; it will be fun to see it again.

The Shape of Things by Neil LaBute (April 14-30, 2016). Former NET artistic director Elizabeth Harris will direct LaBute’s 2001 play about a man who thinks a woman is romantically interested in him when she’s actually using him as the subject of her MFA thesis project.

The Carnegie

Under the management of new artistic director Maggie Perrino, Covington’s Carnegie will present four productions of well-known theater titles in the Otto M. Budig Theater.

Company by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth (Aug. 15-30, 2015) is about a single man and his married friends. The show, which won a dozen Tony Awards in 1971, has some of Sondheim’s greatest musical numbers, including “The Ladies Who Lunch,” “Getting Married Today” and “Being Alive.”

Sleuth by Anthony Shaffer (Nov. 7-22, 2015) is about playing games, but in this tale, the games are deadly serious. Veteran director Greg Procaccino will stage this famous Tony Award winner, a whodunit that will keep audiences guessing from start to finish.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg (Jan. 21-31, 2016) will be the Carnegie’s “lightly staged” musical for the coming season — a production that puts music and storytelling over physical staging. The production will feature the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, led by J. R. Cassidy, performing all the tunes from the classic 1939 movie.

The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown (April 9-24, 2016) is an excellent contemporary musical (from 2001) about Jamie and Cathy, a young couple going through a divorce. His story and hers travel in opposite directions through time. Brown is one of the best of Broadway’s next generation of composers.

Commonwealth Dinner Theater

This company offers professional productions with dinner at Northern Kentucky University during the summer months. Productions are often sold out, so be sure to call early to reserve tickets (859-572-5464). This summer’s shows have characters from opposite ends of the age spectrum.

The Sunshine Boys (June 3-21, 2015) is Neil Simon’s 1971 comedy about two aging vaudevillian comics who have grown to hate each other after 40 years of working together. They’re reuniting for a special about the history of comedy, but keeping them on the same page is no easy task.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin (July 8-26, 2015) is about a contest featuring six quirky adolescents, overseen by three oddball adults. Its 2005 Broadway production was a surprise winner of several Tony Awards. Brush up on your spelling and you could be one of several audience members invited onstage to test your skills against the “kids.”

Xavier University

In its second year as a degree program, Xavier University Theatre is undertaking an ambitious season that features two Broadway musicals, a world premiere and a contemporary drama, staged by former Cincinnati Playhouse artistic director Ed Stern.

The undergraduate actors at Xavier will give Cincinnati audiences a second chance to see The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Oct. 22-24, 2015).

Stern will direct Kenney Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth (Dec. 3-6, 2015), the story of three wayward young people navigating New York in 1982 as they try to thread their way into adulthood.

In an especially challenging endeavor, the theatre program will present three plays in repertory during a two-week stretch (Feb. 17-28, 2016): Miss Julie by August Strindberg will be staged by veteran actress Torie Wiggins; Betrayal by Harold Pinter will be staged by another stage veteran, Bruce Cromer; and a new play by student playwright Tatum Hunter, Eve, will be staged by Bridget Leak.

Jonathan Larson’s rock musical Rent (April 21-24, 2016) will round out the season. It’s another Tony Award winner — and it landed a Pulitzer Prize, not often bestowed on a musical. Set in New York’s East Village, it follows a story about bohemian artists struggling to get by, inspired by Puccini’s opera, La Bohème

Actors Theatre of Louisville

In 2016 the Humana Festival of New American Plays marks its 40th anniversary at Actors Theatre of Louisville. The theater has commissioned Sarah Ruhl, one of America’s most respected current playwrights, to create a new work, Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday, for the occasion. The play, a moving look at growing up and growing old within a family, will be presented from March 10 to April 10, 2016. Ruhl’s works have been offered by many of Cincinnati’s theatres — The Clean House by the Cincinnati Playhouse, Eurydice by Know Theatre, Dead Man’s Cell Phone by Ensemble Theatre and In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) by CCM Drama at the Carnegie in Covington.




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by Rick Pender 11.20.2015 4 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 11-20 - low down dirty blues @ cincinnati playhouse - felicia p. fields connects with an audience member - photo mikki schaffner .jpg

Stage Door: Non-Holiday Holiday Shows

Several of our local theaters produce shows this time of year that are a kind of antidote to the usual fare of A Christmas Carol and other happy, merry tales. Three get under way this weekend:

I went to a rockin’ party earlier this week, and you can, too — if you turn up for the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Low Down Dirty Blues, through Dec. 20. That’s right, a whole month of good times and sad in the intimate Shelterhouse Theater, doubling as Big Mama’s after-hours Blues bar. Every year around this time the Playhouse puts on a show as an alternate holiday choice to A Christmas Carol (which gets underway next week). This year it’s a warm-hearted good time featuring three excellent singers and a couple of very accomplished Jazz musicians (especially local Jazz pianist Steve Schmidt) performing off-color tunes, full of double-entendres and scandalous joking. The first half of the two-hour performance is mostly about lusty interaction via tunes like “Rough and Ready Man,” “I Got My Mojo Workin’ ” and “You Bring Out the Boogie in Me.” After intermission the party continues briefly (including some cute audience interaction to the tune of “I’m Not That Kind of Girl” — but then the tone darkens with passionate songs of grief (“Death Letter”), mourning (“Good Morning Heartache”) and then hope (“Change is ’Gonna Come”). Felicia P. Fields, a Broadway veteran who played a major role in the original staging of The Color Purple, anchors (and I use that word quite literally) the banter and the singing, but she is ably matched by Caron “Sugaray” Rayford, a massive force of energy, perspiration and rhythm. Chic Street Man sings and plays several guitars (especially a steel number with a gorgeous ring), and his sly, sinuous presence is a perfect complement to Fields’ and Rayford’s more ebullient performances. Don’t go if you’re offended by sexual innuendo, but if you’re looking for a “low down dirty” time, call now for a ticket: 513-421-3888

One of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, As You Like It, is the first step of holiday happiness at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. The story of tomfoolery and romance in the Forest of Arden kicks off tonight; it’s around until Dec. 12, when it’s followed by the tenth annual staging of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some). In case you missed it, Cincy Shakes announced this week that by mid-2017 it moves to its own spectacular new space in Washington Park, the Otto M. Budig Theatre, with nearly 100 more seats than its Race Street facility. (Read my story in this week's issue for more.) Until then, you need to line up for tickets, since many of the company’s performances sell out quickly. Tickets: 513-381-2273

Another “kind of” holiday show getting started is Know Theatre’s production of All Childish Things, opening tonight and onstage through Dec. 19. In a story set right here in Cincinnati (Norwood, in fact), it’s 2006 and two guys are still yearning for the galactic adventures promised by Star Wars when they were kids. One guy lives in his mom’s basement; the other has a girlfriend who could care less about The Force. They think their big break might be residing in a warehouse full of collectible Star Wars memorabilia. Zany shows rooted in childhood have become a holiday staple at Know Theatre, and this is right up that weird, happy alley. Tickets: 513-300-5669

And if you’re really longing to get the holidays under way, you have the perfect opportunity with a tour stop by a production of White Christmas at the Aronoff (next Tuesday through Dec. 6). It’s a stage version of the popular film; the tour features stage Cincinnati and Broadway veteran Pamela Myers in a cute, outspoken role. She performs a number titled “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” a perfect summary of her illustrious career. Tickets: 513-621-2787

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 11.13.2015 11 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 12:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door

Getting Down and Dirty After Hours

I’m in New York City this week to check out some Broadway shows, so I’m missing the opening night of the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Low Down Dirty Blues. It’s the holiday “alternative” to A Christmas Carol, and alternative it is. It’s set in a nameless Blues club on Chicago’s South Side that’s closing for the night. But that’s just when the party heats up as a group of musicians assembles for an after-hours jam session to swap stories and perform favorite tunes, especially numbers from the bawdier side of the Blues, tunes by the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Mama Thornton and more. “It is a spicier kind of Blues, specifically one that has two sides to it," says Dan Wheetman, the production’s co-creator and music director. "On one hand, it is a more intimate look, it is a smaller group and a smaller palate… It’s a story about the people, these people in this club and their stories, which includes the music but it is more of a personal talk about what brought them to where they are.” I’m eager to see it. Onstage through Dec. 20. Tickets: 513-421-3555

It’s that time of year when families begin thinking about going to the theater together. Getting an early start are musical productions for the entire family. Once choice is Seussical, based on the works of Dr. Seuss, at Northern Kentucky University. It opened on Thursday and continues through Nov. 22. Tickets: 859-572-5464 … The other is a production of the musical Mary Poppins by Cincinnati Music Theatre at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater. This is perhaps the city’s most ambitious community theater company, typically undertaking big musicals and doing a good job with them. It opens tonight and continues through Nov. 21. Tickets: 513-621-2787 … If you miss the latter, you’ll have a chance to see a different production: The Covedale Center will be presenting it Nov. 27-Dec. 27.

Continuing and finishing: A keep-’em-guessing murder mystery with just two characters, Sleuth, continues its run at the Carnegie through Nov. 22. (Tickets: 859-957-1940)… This is the final weekend for Mad River Rising at the Cincinnati Playhouse (final performance is Saturday; tickets: 513-421-3888); Andy’s House of [BLANK], an original musical at Know Theater (also winding up on Saturday; tickets: 513-300-5669); and an old-fashioned farce, Fox on the Fairway, at the Covedale (Sunday’s matinee is your last chance; tickets: 513-241-6550). 

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 11.06.2015 18 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Playing House

“Florala.” That’s where you are when you head down the ramp to see Know Theatre’s production of Andy’s House of [Blank]. It’s set on the state line between Florida and Alabama, but it’s recreated in two-dimensional cardboard props (telephones and ice cream cones) and decorations (comically taxidermied animals, including the backside of a dog) imaginatively designed and executed by Sarah Beth Hall. The tale is filtered through the often-divergent memories of two guys who were 16 in 1998, holding down their first jobs in roadside oddity shop and museum of “unmailed love letters.” The “guys” are Paul Strickland and Trey Tatum (truly from Florida and Alabama). They serve as the narrators — or perhaps the “recollectors” — of the oddball musical tale of Andy (Christopher Michael Richardson), the proprietor, and Sadie (Erika Kate MacDonald), the girl he had a crush on as a kid. The show was a well-received entry in Know’s “Serials” earlier this year, a story told in five 15-minute episodes. Strickland and Tatum have stitched those pieces together, and director Bridget Leak has given the piece continuity and flow. Their ebullient enthusiasm is obvious from start to finish — Tatum pounds away on an electric keyboard, Strickland (who composed the 20 or so songs) plays guitar and sings almost operatically, and Richardson and MacDonald (both with gorgeous voices) affectingly play two people caught in a looping time warp. In fact, all four characters are living out the theme repeatedly spoken and sung: “Every day is just a variation on a theme.” The music is great, and there are lots of laughs along the way, but the story is a serious, poignant rumination about love, longing and how to move forward by looking back. At two-plus hours (including an intermission) it feels a tad long, but every moment is a treat to watch. Onstage through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669

Opening this week: Anthony Schaffer’s Sleuth, a humorous but taut murder mystery is at The Carnegie in Covington. It’s a two-man show about a famous mystery writer who’s out to murder a man having an affair with his wife. There are a lot of twists and turns in this tale, so it’s fun to watch if you pay close attention. Through Nov. 14. Tickets: 859-957-1840 … Playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa fascinated Cincinnati Playhouse audiences back in 2013 with his “sequel” to The Crucible, Abigail/1702. Falcon Theatre is offering two related one-acts by him, The Mystery Plays, inspired by the tradition of medieval theater that dealt with the imponderables of death, the afterlife, religion, faith and forgiveness — but from a thoroughly American perspective. In the first piece, a horror film director survives a train wreck only to be haunted by someone who didn’t make it; in the second, a woman travels to a rural Oregon town to make peace with the man who murdered her parents and her sister: He’s her older brother. Through Nov. 21 at the Monmouth Theatre in Newport. Tickets: 513-479-6783

Continuing: Cincinnati Shakespeare’s excellent production of Arthur Miller’s classic drama Death of a Salesman has its final performance on Saturday evening. It’s worth seeing, but tickets might be scarce. Tickets: 513-381-2273 … Mad River Rising at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a compelling study of place and aging, an old man trying to forestall the sale of his family farm. It continues through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-421-3888 … Covedale Center’s staging of the comedy Fox on the Fairway, a tribute to cinematic farces from the 1930s and 1940s, is onstage until Nov. 15. Tickets: 513-241-6550

Tune in to WVXU (FM 91.7) on Saturday evening at 8 p.m. to catch LA Theater Works’ production of Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man. This show, about a young Jewish Confederate soldier marking Passover 1865 with his family’s newly freed slaves in a crumbling mansion in Richmond, Va., at the end of the Civil War, is a powerful work. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati staged this show very effectively in 2012.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 10.16.2015 39 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 10-16 - bruce cromer as willie loman in death of a salesman @ cincy shakes - photo mikki schaffner

Stage Door: A Dying Salesman, Barbra Streisand and a Prince in Search of Meaning

There are almost too many good shows for you to enjoy this weekend, but depending on what you like, you’ll probably find it somewhere.

Cincy Shakes production of Death of a Salesman doesn’t open until tonight, but all sings point to a strong production, headlined by one of our region’s best actors, Bruce Cromer, as beaten-down Willie Loman, who I interviewed for my CityBeat column this week. He’s matched with another fine local stage performer Annie Fitzpatrick as Willie’s faithful but worried wife; two of the Shakespeare team’s excellent company of actors, Jared Joplin and Justin McCombs, play Willie’s sons who can’t quite bear up to the weight of his expectations. Arthur Miller’s play is one of the greatest, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award. So if it’s serious drama, get tickets for this one, onstage through Nov. 7: 513-381-2273.

Want something more frivolous and entertaining, but still a great performance? Show up at Ensemble Theatre for Buyer and Cellar, a one-man show about a guy pretending to be a shopkeeper in a vast basement treasure trove of acquisitions on Barbra Streisand’s Malibu estate. It’s 90 minutes of non-stop storytelling, rooted in a real place — but with a fantasized chain of events. Actor Nick Cearley is a comic gem, performing in a smartly written script that requires him to conjure up not just Alex, the actor hired to wait on Barbra, “the customer” (one and only), but the singer herself and a handful of others. Great fun to watch. Here’s my review. Through Nov. 1. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

If you love a good Broadway musical, you need to show up at the Aronoff and score a seat for the touring production of Pippin. (CityBeat review here.) It’s a show from 40 years ago (by Stephen Schwartz, the creator of Wicked more recently), but this version of an award-winning Broadway revival from two years ago is full of Cirque du Soleil-styled acrobatics, as well as some great songs and performers. It’s a sort of fairytale embroidered from a real historical character from the 9th century, the son of the monarch who launched the Holy Roman Empire. It’s about the young Pippin’s arduous search for a meaningful life. The “Leading Player,” a kind of emcee/storyteller, is Gabrielle McClinton, who handled the role on Broadway for part of its two-year run there, and Charlemagne, Pippin’s father, is played by veteran actor John Rubinstein — who originated the title role back in 1972. (He’s 68 now, but still an energetic, animated performer.) Tickets: 513-621-2787.

Shows previous opened that are also worth seeing include the very serious drama Extremities at the Incline Theater in E. Price Hill (tickets: 513-241-6550), onstage through Sunday; and Sex with Strangers, a very modern romance about writers who envy one another’s careers and lust after one another’s bodies, has another week and a half at the Cincinnati Playhouse (tickets: 513-421-3888).

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 10.09.2015 46 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door

Sex and violence, plus an irreverent take on history

I gave a Critic’s Pick to the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Sex with Strangers, a new play by Laura Eason (who’s written scripts for House of Cards on Netflix). Ethan, an arrogant 28-year-old blogger has turned his writing about sexual conquests into a best-selling book, while Olivia is a serious, introspective writer who, at 39, is hiding behind a teaching career, discouraged by negative reviews and weak sales of her first novel more than a decade earlier. He’s addicted to his cell phone, while she prefers to have her nose in a book. But they have chemistry that’s both physical and driven by aspiration and envy of one another’s careers. The Playhouse production features two actors who are totally believable in their roles, and extremely watchable. It’s an entertaining tale that doesn’t tie everything up in a neat ending. Through Oct. 25. Tickets: 513-421-3888

William Mastrisomone’s Extremities (running through Oct. 18) is not an easy play to watch. A woman is attacked by a stalker, turns the tables on him and becomes as much a bloodthirsty animal as the man who thought he could have his way with her. She has two roommates who try to defuse her violent intentions, but she’s almost as harsh with them as with the bad guy. It’s a harsh story that’s not easy to watch, and it’s a departure for Cincinnati Landmark Productions, which is known for more mainstream fare, musicals and classic comedies. But the company’s artistic leaders are hoping that the new Incline Theatre can be a venue for more serious work, and this show, written in 1982, certainly signals that. Solid individual acting jobs by the four-member cast will keep you on edge. There are a few rough edges, but I give CLP props for getting serious. Tickets: 513-241-6550

Know Theatre is playing host to a production from the drama program at CCM, directed by faculty member Brant Russell. Charise Castro Smith’s The Hunchback of Seville is an irreverent and raucous comedy that turns historical atrocities — it’s set in Spain in 1504 — on their heads with storytelling that might remind you of Quentin Tarantino’s movies. Russell says the playwright “weaves history and anachronism. The subtle variances of tone, the frequently less subtle humor and the savoring of the language all speak to me. In terms of content, this play is very much about anyone who’s ever been marginalized. This is the story of a woman who is denied so many privileges that others enjoy because she was born in a body different from those around her. Ultimately it’s a story about privilege, ethics, power, and the way we tell the story of our shared history.” It opens tonight and continues through Oct. 24. Tickets: 513-300-5669 

Advance notices: I’m really looking forward to seeing Pippin, the next touring Broadway musical at the Aronoff, kicking off on Tuesday. It’s by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell and Wicked are two of his best-known works), and this is a production that won a 2013 Tony Award as the season’s best musical revival. It’s a cool concept, integrating Cirque du Soleil-like performers into the story of a young man’s quest for meaning in the Middle Ages. It’s here for just one week (through Sunday, Oct. 18), so if you hope to see it, get your tickets now. … Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati will open its production of Buyer and Cellar on Wednesday (it continues through Nov. 1). It’s a very funny one-man show about an out-of-work actor hired to manage Barbra Streisand’s collections of stuff, set up like a shopping mall. There’s enough reality to make it hilarious, and enough truth to make it meaningful. I suspect it will be a hot ticket: 513-421-3555 

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 10.02.2015 53 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door -

Stage Door

Sex and its various outcomes

Sex is pretty much a constant presence in life as we know it, and it’s often a driving force in plays, taking on many shapes and outcomes. That’s particularly the case with two shows that just opened locally, Laura Eason’s new play, Sex with Strangers, at the Cincinnati Playhouse on its Shelterhouse stage through Oct. 25, and William Mastrisimone’s 1982 script, Extremities, at Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Incline Theatre, through Oct. 18.

Eason’s script is about two writers who seem as opposite as can be — he’s an arrogant 28-year-old blogger (Nicholas Carrière as the charming and ebullient Ethan) whose writing about sexual conquests has been turned into a best-selling book, while she’s a serious, introspective novelist, 39, (Nancy Lemenager as introverted and self-conscious Olivia) who’s given up because of bad reviews and weak sales of her first book more than a decade earlier. But they end up together in a Michigan B&B due to a snowstorm (and some serious interest on his part in meeting her) and they discover a powerful mutual attraction that’s also driven by aspiration and envy of one another’s careers. Eason writes great contemporary dialogue, and director KJ Sanchez keeps things hurtling along down a road of desire and tentative trust. It seems evident that things could go off the tracks, but when they do there’s some more interesting sparks — and a lot of conversation about the state of writing and literature today. While the show’s title is titillating and they are strangers who steam things up — repeatedly — it’s really the title of his blog, and a past that he might or might not want to move beyond. There’s both humor and real emotion to be appreciated in this finely crafted production. Tickets: 513-421-3888

Mastrisimone’s off-Broadway script from three decades ago (Extremities also became a 1986 movie starring Farrah Fawcett) comes at issues of sex and attraction from a far more serious and brutal angle. It’s a significant a departure for Cincinnati Landmark, best known as a producer of safer, more mainstream fare, musicals and classical comedies. Raul (Will Reed) has been stalking three young women who share a house. He bursts in on Marjorie (Eileen Earnest), who we meet lounging around in a state of undress; he overpowers her, knowing her roommates won’t be back for hours. But she turns the tables on him, and when Terry (Katey Blood) and Patricia (Rachel Mock) return, they find Marjorie menacing and torturing her foul-mouthed attacker, hogtied and imprisoned in a large fireplace. They are shocked by her violent turn, and their perspectives — Terry is shocked and fearful, while Patricia is pragmatic and overly analytical — provide various takes on the situation and its potential resolution. Their four-cornered battle unfolds in harsh, often unhinged arguments about motives, likely outcomes and fears. Some of these feel a tad dated in 2015, but that does not diminish the story’s power. Earnest’s searing performance as Marjorie and Reed’s manipulative portrait of an intelligent, twisted man she insists on calling “The Animal” fuel the pounding pulse of this production of Extremities, staged by Tim Perrino. You’re never sure how the battle will end, and that makes for good theater. Tickets: 513-241-6550

CCM Drama head Richard Hess calls David Edgar’s Pentecost the British equivalent of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Both are big-cast plays, stuffed full of language and contending philosophies. The discovery of a 13th-century mural in an Eastern European church threatens to upset the world of art history, but it also lights the match on conflicts that go well beyond — to geopolitics, religion, history and more. It’s a heady script, with 26 roles speaking multiple languages, utterances that audiences have to intuit, just as the characters need to try to grasp one another’s motives. Read more about Pentecost in my recent Curtain Call column. Like most CCM productions, this one (at UC’s Patricia Corbett Theater) has a short weekend run; the final performance is a matinee on Sunday. Pentecost is an important play, an essential experience for serious theatergoers. Tickets: 513-556-4183

One more interesting piece of theater this weekend, inspired by Titus Kaphar’s Vesper Project at the Contemporary Arts Center, a multi-part installation in which paintings are woven into the walls of a 19th-century American house in New England, the home of a mixed-race family. His exhibit there involves a true/false backstory and familiar/unfamiliar environments. The massive exhibit invites conversation, and that’s what writer (and occasional CityBeat contributor) Stacy Sims has created after several discussions with the artist. She invited five local actors to work with her to respond to the piece, and the result, RETRACED: A theatrical conversation with the Vesper Project, will be performed three times this weekend at the CAC on Sixth Street in downtown Cincinnati, at noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Sims says, “While I have a strong idea of how the actors will move in and out of the space and intersect with each other, each of their individual stories will be deeply informed by their own personal narratives of race, power, privilege and home.” Performances are free with gallery admission.

This weekend is your last chance to see the Cincinnati Playhouse’s beautiful production of The Secret Garden, NKU’s rendition of the comedy Moon Over Buffalo and New Edgecliff Theatre’s well-acted staging of Frankie and Johnnie in the Clair de Lune.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.25.2015 60 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 9-25 - frankie & johnny @ net - sara mackie & dylan shelton - photo provided by new edgecliff theatre

Stage Door

Frankie & Johnny and a taste of Hannibal

New Edgecliff Theatre’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is under way a week later than initially announced following some issues with its not-quite-ready new home in Northside. So it’s been moved to the Essex Studio (2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills), in a performance space routinely used by Cincinnati Actors Studio & Academy, a training group for teens. It was bit of hustle and strain to move a half-built set from Northside to Walnut Hills, but it fits nicely into CASA’s black box. Rather than rattling around in a big old church sanctuary (Northside’s work-in-progress Urban Artifact), NET’s staging of Terrence McNally’s 1987 romantic dramedy works beautifully in this more intimate space. But I suspect no matter where it was staged, the two-character show would be well received thanks to actors Sara Mackie and Dylan Shelton, smartly put through their paces by director Jared Doren. As lonely co-workers in a New York greasy spoon diner, they’ve finally connected — at least for a night. They’re both kind of needy although in very different ways. Frankie, a sweet waitress, has been bruised by bad relationships and seems happy with her own insular existence; Johnny, the motor-mouthed short-order cook who can quote Shakespeare, is driven by angst and passion — filled with desperation that he doesn’t have any more chances for romances. This naturally frightens Frankie, and their navigation through this minefield, full of passion and snark, makes audiences laugh and love them both. It’s definitely worth seeing. Because of the move, it’s a short run, just through Oct. 3. Tickets: 888-528-7311

The folks who run Falcon Theater, performing in Newport at the Monmouth Theatre (636 Monmouth St.) have staked a claim on comic musical satires — they’ve produced Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical, Poseidon: The Upside-Down Musical, Evil Dead: The Musical and several more. So they worked really hard to get the rights to Silence: The Musical, based on The Silence of the Lambs, the creepy 1991 movie about “Hannibal the Cannibal” starring Anthony Hopkins as a manipulative serial killer and Jodie Foster as the young FBI cadet who needs him to solve another serial murder. The musical version was a big hit at the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival and over the past decade it's become a cult favorite. It opens tonight and continues on weekends through Oct. 10. Tickets: 513-479-6783

The first production of the season at Northern Kentucky University, Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo, is a comedy about a pair of fading actors from the 1950s on tour in Buffalo. Their marriage is coming apart, but a famous movie director is coming to see their matinee and just might cast them in an upcoming feature. But everything goes wrong when they start confusing the two shows they’re performing — Noël Coward’s Private Lives and Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. Tickets: 859-572-5464

Speaking of Cyrano, there’s a fine production of it (not to be confused with anything else …) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, with an excellent performance by company veteran Jeremy Dubin in the title role. It’s onstage through Oct. 3. 513-381-2273. • Also closing on Oct. 3 is the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s beautiful production of The Secret Garden, a musical based on a cherished novel from a century ago. This is one of the Playhouse’s “family-friendly” productions — like A Christmas Carol — suitable for multiple generations. It looks great, and the talent onstage — much of it from Broadway — is top-notch. Tickets: 513-421-3888

If you haven’t seen Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, you really should try to get there this weekend for one of its final showings. This new play hat will make you uncomfortable because it’s about a tough conflict with no obvious right or wrong — a custody fight over a baby between her irresponsible parents and her religiously conservative grandmother, refereed by an over-burdened social worker. The cast (including three former ETC apprentices who do a great job) is led by Annie Fitzpatrick as the weary social worker. She’s especially good in this role, a woman trying to do the right thing who’s thwarted at every turn. Final performance is 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: 513-421-3555

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.18.2015 67 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
annie fitzpatrick & brent vimtrup in luna gale @ etc - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door

Actors are shining in several local shows

Actors are a big reason we go to see specific performances, and there are a couple of excellent choices onstage right now as several theaters are kicking off their 2015-2016 seasons. Of particular note is Annie Fitzpatrick, a familiar performer to audiences frequenting productions at Ensemble Theatre. She’s playing Caroline, an over-burdened social worker in Luna Gale. Her character is caught in a custody tug of war involving a baby, the title character. Her immature parents are on one side, caught up in drugs and angry behavior; on the other side is Luna Gale’s well-intentioned grandmother who’s religiously conservative. Fitzpatrick portrays a beleaguered woman trying to do what’s right, but constantly thwarted by the system in which she works. You feel this desperation deep down inside Caroline’s character, in her physical presence, in her exasperated stares and sighs. Fitzpatrick is a marvel to watch. She’s a major factor in my giving this production a Critic’s Pick. (Note for the future: She’ll be onstage next at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Oct. 16-Nov. 7, playing Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman.) Luna Gale continues through Sept. 27. Tickets: 512-421-3555

Another veteran actor is shining at Cincinnati Shakespeare this month. Jeremy Dubin, a member of CSC’s acting company for 16 seasons, is playing the swashbuckling poet Cyrano de Bergerac. The show is sometimes called a heroic comedy, and Dubin handles both parts of that phrase with aplomb. He makes Cyrano larger than life in his generosity and faithfulness, but he plays him with the requisite sense of humor — especially in scenes involving Cyrano’s oversized nose, a convincing prosthetic created for Dubin’s performance. He has excelled in roles both comic and serious; Cyrano draws on both. Read more about this play and Cincy Shakes’ production in my recent column. Tickets: 513-621

One more excellent acting performance worth catching: Caitlin Cohn as 10-year-old Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden at the Cincinnati Playhouse. She’s actually a college student (New York University), but the petite actress is wholly convincing as the ornery, bright and eventually loving orphan who finds the warmth of nature and shares it with her grieving uncle. Cohn is doing an audacious job with a challenging role. Tickets: 513-421-3888

If you were planning to see New Edgecliff Theatre’s production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune this weekend, you need to put it in neutral. Due to some technical delays with NET’s new home at Urban Artifact (1622 Blue Rock Road, Northside) the company is moving the production to a different venue and delaying performances for a week. It’s not scheduled to be presented at Essex Studios (2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills) opening Sept. 24 and continuing through Oct. 3. NET is contacting people who already had reservations. If you don’t have tickets yet, call now: 888-421-7311

A few quick notes: Showbiz Players, a dependable community theater company that likes satirical shows, is presenting The Rocky Horror Show at the Carnegie in Covington, through Sept. 26. Tickets: 859-957-1940 … Performance Gallery, an avant-garde troupe of performers that’s been a steady contributor to the Cincinnati Fringe, is reprising its production from the 2015 Fringe, Shirtzencockle, at Know Theatre on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. It’s a surreal, magical, ridiculous blind of folk and fairy tales. Tickets: 513-300-5669 … Kate Tombaugh, who studied opera at UC’s CCM (and trained in numerous other places) is presenting her one-woman show, It Just Takes One. It portrays the roller-coaster story of a young woman in her 20s seeking a career in opera while struggling to find a social life. A benefit for the Charitable Care Fund at Children’s Hospital, it’s being presented at St. Thomas Episcopal Church (100 Miami Ave., Terrace Park) on Friday evening at 8 p.m. and in 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.11.2015 74 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 9-11 - luna gale @ etc - milly israel, patrick e. phillips & annie fitzpatrick - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door

And so the season begins...

The fall theater season is fully under way. I’ve seen several productions that I can recommend, starting with Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s staging of Luna Gale. The story focuses on a weary social worker caught on the horns of a horrible dilemma — a custody battle between teen parents with drug issues and a zealously religious grandmother — with veteran actress Annie Fitzpatrick turning in another outstanding acting performance. The production is also an impressive reminder of the fine work ETC has been doing for 30 years since three actors in Luna Gale were ETC apprentices a year ago. The award-winning Luna Gale is being produced at many theaters across America this season, but I can’t imagine that any of those productions will be better than the one we have right here in Cincinnati. I gave it a Critic’s Pick. Through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-421-3555

Last night I was at the Playhouse for The Secret Garden opening its 56th season. While this is a story about a 10-year-old girl, it’s quite serious and thoughtful. Orphaned and seemingly headed for unhappiness, she finds redemption in nature and friendship, bringing others along on her path to a better place through abandoned garden that comes back to life. In my review, I suggest that this production might be a bit too complex and impressionistic for kids, but the show is physically beautiful and gorgeous musically. Caitlin Cohn’s performance as Mary Lennox is impressive; she’s a student at New York University, but quite convincing as a young girl. The cast features two CCM musical theater grads, Adam Monley and Carlyn Connolly, and a raft of polished New York veterans. Through Oct. 3. Tickets: 513-241-3888

If you’re a fan of the music of the ’60s and ’70s, you’re likely to love the touring production of Motown: The Musical currently rattling the rafters at the Aronoff Center (through Sept. 20). The hardworking cast does a great job of recreating the sounds of Motown — The Four Tops, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye, and many more. The play in which this is presented, however, is not so stimulating — Motown founder Barry Gordy’s story was written by (you guessed it) Barry Gordy, and it all feels pretty self-serving. But the music is great, and it comes at you hot and heavy — nearly 60 songs, although many are in medleys or shortened versions. Nevertheless, it’s a great reminder of the Pop tunes that kept American singing and dancing several decades ago. Tickets: 513-621-2787

The Covedale Center is offering an ambitious staging of a great musical, A Chorus Line, with some fine dancing in its own right. This is a very moving show about people who put themselves “on the line” to do something they love. It’s still powerful after 40 years, and Cincinnati Landmark Productions has done a fine job with this one. (Through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550

There’s a lot of laughter at Know Theatre this weekend where the Cincinnati Improv Festival is underway. I understand that there aren’t many tickets left, but if you’re a fan of this branch of comedy, you should call to see if you can get in. Shows tonight and Saturday. Tickets: 513-300-5669

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.04.2015 81 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
seven guitars @ actors theater louisville 2015 (l-r) forrest mcclendon, j. alphonse nicholson_photo credit by bill brymer

Stage Door

Theater seasons starts movin’

There’s a lot more coming next week, once we get past Labor Day, but right now there’s just one theater locally with a production onstage. That’s the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. Artistic Director Tim Perrino has been reminding everyone that just because Cincinnati Landmark Productions has opened the Incline Theatre, don’t think that the Covedale has shut down. In fact, it has an ambitious line-up of shows, and the opening production is already under way, A Chorus Line. I haven’t seen this production of it yet, but I will tell you that it’s a show that really lit my interest in musical theater. It was a Broadway hit back in 1975, and I saw a touring production of it in Cleveland in 1978. I had next to no income at the time — and tickets for subsequent performances were pretty well sold out anyway — but I told several friends that in a perfect world, I would have gone back to see it again. I had to wait a few years for that to happen, but this story of aspiring performers grabs me every time I see it. It’s the story of eager young dancers trying to get into the chorus of an upcoming Broadway production. The group is narrowed to 17, but the ultimate goal is four men and four women. The songs are rooted in each dancer’s personal story: Some are amusing, some are heart wrenching — all are painfully true. At the end, they all coalesce into “One (Singular Sensation),” a stunning finale that has all the individuals we’ve met together, dancing as one. It’s a wonderful metaphor about the passion to perform and to be part of a larger whole. A Chorus Line at the Covedale has performances this weekend and continues through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

Last evening I drove to Louisville where Actors Theatre is opening its 2015-2016 season with a superb production of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, one of his “Century Cycle” plays chronicling African-American life in Pittsburgh across the decades of the 20th century. This one, set in the late 1940s, swirls around a promising young Blues singer, Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, who has been offered a recording contract just after his release from a 90-day stint in jail. The play opens with his funeral then circles back through scenes reminiscing about his life and six vividly different people who were close to him — three women and three men. The cast is powerful, and the minutely detailed setting, a desolate backyard in Pittsburgh’s Hill District (inspired by the art of African-American painter and collagist Romare Bearden) is a sight to behold. Seven Guitars blends humor, lyricism and tragedy. Although several of Wilson’s remarkable plays have been stage in Cincinnati, Seven Guitars — winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for best play in 1996 and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award — has not been produced locally. So you might want to make a run down I-71 to Louisville between now and Sept. 20 to see this. This production is definitely worth the trip. Tickets: 502-584-1205.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.