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by Rick Pender 03.16.2015
Posted In: Theater, Visual Art at 03:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Call Board: Theater Seasons

Broadway in Cincinnati, Local Universities, LaComedia and Actors Theatre of Louisville

Every year, BROADWAY IN CINCINNATI brings to downtown Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center a series of touring shows that got started in New York City. This year marks the 20th year shows have been presented at the Aronoff. Today the presenters released details about what’s in store starting September and running through May 2016. There will be several recent Tony Award-winning productions coming our way: Kinky Boots (winner of six awards in 2013), Pippin (winner of four awards in 2013), Newsies (its score and choreography won awards in 2012) and one of the longest running Broadway revivals of all time, Cabaret (which won eight awards back in 1966 and more for much-lauded revivals in 1998 and 2014). Here’s the lineup:

Motown The Musical (Sept. 8-20) is the story of how Berry Gordy journeyed from being a featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music entrepreneur who founded Motown. His label launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and many more. The show premiered on Broadway two years ago and had a run of more than 700 performances.

Pippin (Oct. 13-18) was an early work by Stephen Schwartz, who made his name with shows as varied as Godspell and Wicked. Pippin began a five-year run in 1972 with a production that won five Tony Awards. It’s had several well-received Broadway revivals: The most recent in 2014 (now touring) was recognized as the season’s best revival with its extraordinary acrobatics, magical feats and great songs. It’s the story of a young prince in the Middle Ages on a death-defying journey to find meaning in his existence. His choices include a happy but simple life or a big flash of glory. With a clever circus filter, the show uses spectacular choreography — and features great songs such as “Magic To Do,” “Glory,” and “Morning Glow.”

Cast of the national touring production of Pippin
Photo: Terry Shapiro

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
(Nov. 24-Dec. 6) arrives right before Thanksgiving to kick off the holidays. It’s about two showbiz buddies who put on a production in a picturesque New England inn and find romance in the process. The tunes from this show are icons in the American Songbook (“Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “Sisters” and “Blue Skies”) as well as seasonal numbers like “Happy Holiday” and, of course, the title song.

Kinky Boots (Jan. 5-17, 2016) was named the best musical of 2013 by the Tonys, and it landed six more trophies (it had 13 nominations), so it’s a certified hit. (In fact, it’s still running on Broadway and a London production is in the works.) Maybe you remember the 2005 movie it’s based on about a struggling shoe factory that “reboots” itself to manufacture footwear for drag queens. For the stage version, it’s been tricked out with an upbeat score by Pop star Cyndi Lauper

Kinky Boots
Photo: Matthew Murphy

If/Then (Feb. 2-7, 2016) is a 2014 Broadway musical about living in New York today — and contemplating the possibilities of tomorrow. The show’s creative team made its mark with Next to Normal (winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award); that show was a big hit (and revival) for Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. If/Then follows two possible life paths for Elizabeth (played on Broadway by Idina Menzel), and it paints a moving portrait of the lives people lead, as well as the lives they might have led.

Newsies The Musical (March 1-13, 2016) was a 2012 crowd-pleasing musical based on a 1992 Disney film. It recounts real events from 1899 when a bunch of orphaned and homeless boys who hawked newspapers on street corners stood up to the power elite, personified by Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World. Their spunk and tenacity — aided by Gov. Theodore Roosevelt — resulted in a compromise that made a difference for the hardworking kids. The show has a great score and eye-popping choreography, both of which won Tony Awards.

Cabaret (May 10-22, 2016). It’s hard to believe but this show has been around for just about a half-century, winning awards every time it’s been staged on Broadway. The production coming to town is from the 2014 New York staging by Sam Mendes, director of Skyfall and American Beauty, and Rob Marshall (whose film of another Kander & Ebb musical, Chicago, was the 2002 Oscar-winning best picture, and who recently dazzled musical theater lovers with a fine rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.)

While the Broadway in Cincinnati season (sponsored by Fifth Third Bank and presented by TriHealth) is great news — the presentation of so many recent Broadway hits is a step up from several seasons with shows that hadn’t even made it to Broadway — but there’s lots more theater that’s been announced recently. Here are some quick rundowns:

The musical theater and drama programs at UC’S COLLEGE-CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC have announced mainstage productions for 2015-2016. David Edgar’s epic drama Pentecost will be at Patricia Corbett Theater on Oct. 1-4; the same venue will be the site for a coming-of-age comedy by Eugene O’Neill, Ah! Wilderness (Feb. 11-14, 2016). Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical Carousel will get a big-stage production at Corbett Auditorium (Oct. 20-Nov.1). The most exciting CCM news for 2016 is that the program has obtained the rights for one of the first university productions of American Idiot, based on Green Day’s Grammy-winning album of the same name. The show, nominated for a Tony as 2010’s best musical, will be presented at Patricia Corbett Theater (March 3-13, 2016), staged by Aubrey Berg, the musical theater program’s chair.

The 2015-2016 academic theater season at NORTHERN KENTUCKY UNIVERSITY has also been announced. It will start with Ken Ludwig’s theater-based comedy Moon Over Buffalo (Sept. 24-Oct. 4, Corbett Theatre), and continue with Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (Oct. 20-25) in the Stauss black box theatre. Back at the Corbett Theatre, Ahrens and Flaherty’s whimsical musical, Seussical will be staged (Nov. 12-22). For 2016, productions will include the George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart 1930 comedy, Once in a Lifetime (Feb. 18-28, Corbett Theatre); George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion from 1913 (March 29-April 3, Stauss Theatre), later adapted into My Fair Lady; and Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s fairytale mash-up, Into the Woods (April 21-May 1, Corbett Theatre).

North of Cincinnati at Springboro’s LACOMEDIA DINNER THEATRE, 2015 marks the 40th anniversary season at Ohio’s only combination theater and restaurant. It’s already under way with a staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific (through May 3), followed by The Addams Family (May 7-June 28), The Little Mermaid (July 8-Aug. 30), The Church Basement Ladies Last Potluck Supper (Sept. 3-Oct. 31) and A Christmas Story (Nov. 4-Dec. 31) for the holidays. The venue also presents a lunch-and-learn series for kids (featuring The True Story of the Three Little Pigs) and a concert series featuring an Elvis impersonator, music in the style of the Van Dells and a family of Gospel singers. Info: http://www.lacomedia.com.

A bit farther away and in the more or less the opposite direction, ACTORS THEATRE OF LOUISVILLE will begin its 2015-2016 season with August Wilson’s Seven Guitars (Sept. 1-20), then Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale (Oct. 6-25). Having seen The Hypocrites perform a daffy version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance early in 2014, I’m glad to hear that the inventive group will return to re-imagine H.M.S. Pinafore (Nov. 17-Dec. 13). Early in 2016, Actors Theatre will stage two shows already familiar to Cincinnati Playhouse audiences: Amy Herzog’s comedic drama 4000 Miles (Jan. 5-31, 2016) and Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher (Jan. 26-Feb. 17, 2016), a show that’s currently onstage locally at our own regional theater. The 40th anniversary of the venerable Humana Festival of New American Plays runs March 2 to April 10, 2016, typically featuring a half-dozen world premieres. Actors Theatre also presents two holiday-related shows for 2015: Dracula for Halloween (Sept. 9-Nov. 1, 2015) and A Christmas Carol (Nov. 24-Dec. 23, 2015). Info: http://www.actorstheatre.org.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 03.06.2015
Posted In: Theater at 09:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
peter pan at ccm -  photo mark lyona

Stage Door: Pirates, Indians, Lost Boys and Little Women

I wanted to start today's note about theater opportunities for this weekend by bringing your attention to my CityBeat column here, a tribute to my late friend Tom McElfresh, who passed away in February. Tom was a Cincinnati theater critic in the 1970s and ’80s who I brought on board as my back-up at CityBeat in 1998. For a dozen years, his enthusiasm for theater — as well as his sometimes blunt observations — kept CityBeat readers informed about shows on local stages. If he were still writing, he'd be encouraging you to go see a show.

I was at UC's College-Conservatory of Music last event for the opening of a short but spectacular run of the Peter Pan, the legendary Golden Age musical from 1954. This is an eye-popping production of the show with familiar tunes such as "I've Gotta Crow," "I'm Flying" and "I Won't Grow Up," backed up by an orchestra of nearly 30 players. That's about double the number that you'll find in the pit at touring Broadway shows; and these players are decked out as pirates! Even more spectacular are Dean Mogle and Rebecca Senske's funny, over-the-top costumes for Captain Hook (played with delicious deviltry by Nathaniel Irvin) and his crew, Tiger Lily (Samantha Pollino, an athletic dancer) and her storybook Indians and Peter (alternating between Clara Cox and Hannah Zazzaro) and his Lost Boys. Mark Halpin's big circus-inspired set is fun to watch, and guest director and choreographer Joe Locarro's staging is inventive and wonderfully danced by the big cast, especially "Ugg-a-Wugg," with nearly 20 closely synchronized performers. Oh, there's flying, too. It's a shame this one doesn't have a longer run, but that's what happens at CCM, where productions come and go quickly. The final performance is a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Get there to see this one — and take a kid with you. Tickets: 513-556-4183.

The March sisters whose story is told in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women remain popular after more than 150 years. You can find a spirited adaptation (CityBeat review here) of the novel onstage at Cincinnati Shakespeare through March 21, featuring the company's excellent actresses, especially Maggie Lou Rader as fiercely independent Jo, who aspires to be a writer. Tickets: 513-381-6673, x1.  A musical adaptation of the story about the sensitive, imaginative girls who grow into strong, diverse women during and after the Civil War is happening at Footlighters, the community theater that performs at the Stained Glass Theater in Newport. It too is running through March 21. Tickets: 859-652-3849.

Still worth seeing are Chapatti (CityBeat review here), the heartwarming story of two lonely senior citizens who love their pets but need more human companionship, at the Cincinnati Playhouse through Sunday (tickets: 513-421-3888) and Clifton Players portrait of the contentious and dysfunctional Weston family in the Pulitzer Prize-winning sprawling three-act drama August: Osage County (CityBeat review here), surprisingly well staged in the intimate Clifton Performance Theatre, which has just 40 or so seats for each performance (tickets: 513-861-7469) through March 13.

If you missed Theory of Mind, the Cincinnati Playhouse's February touring production for young audiences about a kid on the autism spectrum, you can catch it for free at Music Hall on Sunday at 2 p.m. The charming show is about a socially awkward kid trying to find his way in the world of dating; it's not only endearing, it's quite funny. The performance is part of the Artswave Sampler Weekend, sponsored by Macy's to draw attention to the annual fundraising campaign on behalf of the arts.

Once upon a time dinner theaters were a big thing.That's not so much the case in 2015, but La Comedia continues to thrive in Springboro, 40 miles north of Cincinnati. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, it's one of the largest theaters in America where you can enjoy a buffet meal before a show — and it's the only one still operating in Ohio. It just opened a two-month run of Rodgers and Hammerstein's legendary musical South Pacific. This organization knows the formula for combining dining and theatergoing — and you can't beat the sweet potato soufflé! Tickets: 800-677-9505.

I want to close with a shout-out to Gina Cerimele-Mechley, winner of the 2015 recognition for outstanding arts educators from the annual Overture Awards. She's been part of the local theater scene for years, and if you watch this video nomination from her students at Cincinnati Music Academy, you'll see why she's made a difference. Here's a remark she made: “My strength as a teacher is constantly being a student. I learn the strengths of each individual student and try to hone those skills into something marketable. When a student has completed working with me I want them to be able to stand on their own two feet and make their own choices.”

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 02.27.2015
Posted In: Theater at 09:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Cincinnati Theaters Generating Heat, Despite Cold Weather

Last weekend's snowstorm canceled performances at several local theaters (including the Cincinnati Playhouse), so you might have had several days without theater. Is it time to make up? I finally caught up with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's adaptation of Little Women​ last night, and I'm glad of it. While the weather is still cold and sidewalks still treacherously icy, the warmth generated by Jo March and her saucy sisters is a welcome tonic. Of course Louisa May Alcott's story of a temporarily fatherless family during the American Civil War is sentimental and, at times, rather maudlin, but the actresses at Cincy Shakes bring such vivacity to their roles that there's plenty to enjoy. Maggie Lou Rader is especially vivacious as Jo, the fiercely independent aspiring writer who insists on finding her own way in a world controlled by men; Kelly Mengelkoch is emotional, conscientious elder sister Meg; Caitlin McWethy is shy and loving Beth; and Courtney Lucien is Amy, the impetuous baby who matures in the second act. Annie Fitzpatrick is Marmee, their steadfast mother, and Justin McCombs is the spirited boy next door who captures the hearts of several of the sisters. The production is simply but effectively staged, enhanced by some subtle video projections and lovely choral singing of period hymns by the ensemble. It's a gentle story that beautifully conveys the virtues of family, sisterhood and feminine intellect in a period when such matters were not always top of mind. It's onstage through March 21. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.

Last Sunday, while many of you might have been watching the Academy Awards, I was one of 15 or so people in the audience watching Clifton Players' staging of August: Osage County. That's not quite as pitiful as it might sound, since the tiny Clifton Performance Theatre has only about 40 seats for this production. You're right in the midst of the bitter wars being conducted by the combative Weston family, brought together by the disappearance of their father and their mother's relapse into drug dependence and impossibly difficult behavior. But each of Beverly and Vi's three daughters have problems, issues and complicated family situations of their own, so Tracy Letts' three-act, three-plus hour show offers plenty of juicy roles for some of Cincinnati's best actors. The show has typically been played on a big set, but the closeness of CPT makes August: Osage County a powerful evening of dysfunction that's right in your face. Need some heat despite the cold snap? This is your show. It's a Critic's Pick (CityBeat review here). Onstage through March 13. Tickets: 513-861-7469.

Performances tonight and Saturday evening will wrap up the run of In the Heat of the Night at Falcon Players in Newport (tickets: 513-479-6783), and Northern Kentucky University's Les Misérables continues through a Sunday matinee. The latter has been sold our for most performances, but if you show up an hour before curtain time, you can get your name on a wait-list for a seat.

For a glimpse of the future, check out my blog postings here and here from earlier this week with 2015-2016 season announcements for the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Cincinnati Landmark Productions (at the Covedale Center and the new Incline Theatre) and Cincinnati Shakespeare.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 02.20.2015
Posted In: Theater at 09:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
little women_cincy shakes-photo cal harris

Stage Door: Fatherless Families on Cincinnati Stages

Just how can Tracy Letts' sprawling play August: Osage County be wedged into the tiny Clifton Performance Theatre on Ludlow? Director Buz Davis knows that this show is more about characters and great dialogue than the set; he told me so. (Read more in my Curtain Call column here.) He's made it possible for you to sit in the midst of the home of the cantankerous Westons as they fuss and fight when their father goes missing and their mother's addiction to pain killers spills over into everyone else's lives. The show won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award in 2008, so it's one you should have on your list to see if you're a serious theatergoer. (Through March 13). Tickets: 513-861-7469.

Although it's about another family struggling to get along while husband and father is absent, there's a whole different dynamic in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. This adaptation by Emma Reeves should offer an excellent opportunity to see some of Cincy Shakes' best actresses onstage; it's being directed by Sara Clark (who would likely be in the show, but she's pregnant right now, wich doesn't quite fit this story). It opens tonight and runs through March 21. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

The short run of a touring production of Cole Porter's jaunty Anything Goes is over on Sunday. Need a mid-winter getaway? Take a madcap cruise on the S.S. American and watch as love affairs go overboard and confusion reigns. This show from 1934 has been reinvented numerous times, most recently in a 2011 Broadway revival that won a boatload of Tony Awards. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

It's always worth paying attention to productions on our local university stages, where fine renditions of classic theatrical works are the norm. Northern Kentucky University just opened a production of the great musical Les Misérables, onstage through March 1. I'm told most performances are sold out, but if you show up in person (no calls) you can be put on a wait list and fill seats available just before curtain time. At Xavier University this weekend (through a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee) you'll find a production of Shakespeare's most beloved comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream, staged by Jeremy Dubin, veteran member of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Tickets: 513-745-3939.

Continuing productions this weekend include the Cincinnati Playhouse's staging of the charming romance between dog and cat lovers, Chapatti (through March 8; CityBeat review here) and Falcon Theater's production of the tense drama about race relations in 1960s Alabama, In the Heat of the Night (through Feb. 28). Falcon performs in a small theater space on Monmouth Street in Newport. … It's also the final weekend for Know Theatre's production of the one-woman version of The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel adapted for the stage. Cincy Shakes veteran Corinne Mohlenhoff is doing a bravura job with this thoughtful and frightening piece. 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 02.13.2015
Posted In: Theater at 09:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
heidi chronicles_ ccm- photo mark lyons

Stage Door: One Weekend Run for Heidi Chronicles at CCM

I hope my Curtain Call column (found here) in a recent issue moves you to head to UC's College Conservatory of Music for Richard Hess's staging of Wendy Wasserstein's Pulitzer Prize winner, The Heidi Chronicles, onstage through Sunday. If you remember the 1970s and ’80s, this production will transport you back in time as you watch young feminist Heidi Holland grow up, grow weary and grow wise. Tickets: 513-556-4183.

A dog might be man's best friend, but sometimes that's not quite enough. That's one of the lessons of Christian O'Reilly's
Chapatti, which opened last night at the Cincinnati Playhouse. Set in contemporary Ireland, it's about two lonely hearts, both in their 60s, who love animals — he's a dog guy ("Chapatti" is his dog's name) and she's a cat lady (she has 19 of them). That brings them together, but what they need is human companionship. That might sound predictable, but there's more to it than that. (Through March 8.) Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Falcon Theatre in Newport is opening its stage adaptation of In the Heat of the Night this evening for a two-weekend run. It's the story of a black homicide detective from L.A. who gets caught up in an Alabama homicide investigation in the early 1960s. It's a powerful drama that reminds us of how messy race relations were a half-century ago. With Ed Cohen as director and Derek Snow as Virgil Tibbs, this is likely to be a solid production. Tickets: 513-479-6783.

Get a kid started on going to theater: Take her or him to see School House Rock Live! JR., presented by the Children's Theatre of Cincinnati this weekend at the Taft. It's an adaptation of the educational cartoon from the '70s and '80s. And grown-ups are likely to have fun, too, since the local rock band The Rusty Griswolds is performing tunes like "Conjunction Junction" and "Three Is a Magic Number." Public performances tonight (7:30 p.m.), Saturday (2 and 5 p.m.) and Sunday (2 p.m.) Tickets: 800-745-3000.

Three well-received productions have their final performances this weekend on Sunday: Ensemble Theatre's riveting mystery/psychological drama, The Other Place (CityBeat review here), with a fine cast led by Regina Pugh; the Cincinnati Playhouse's assemblage of Johnny Cash numbers, Ring of Fire (CityBeat interview here), featuring four singers and six excellent supporting musicians; and the funny two-man, 20+ character show Greater Tuna at the Covedale Center (CityBeat review here). And The Handmaid's Tale at Know Theatre, a one-woman adaptation of Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, has just one more week in its run.

The energizer bunnies at Know keep things going with Serials 2: Thunderdome on Monday evening, 15-minute episodes of five new scripts. The concept had a big following over the summer, and one of those works has its parts reassembled as a "full-length" piece: Saturday the 14th, a dark romantic comedy. Playing two lonely losers who meet as they mutually contemplate suicide are Miranda McGee from Cincinnati Shakespeare and Nic Pajic. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

The Broadway Series offers a quick stop (they call it a "season extra") of the musical Anything Goes next week, openingTuesday and running through Sunday. If you can't get away for a mid-February cruise, this Cole Porter classic on an ocean liner might be just the ticket for an evening's escape. Tickets: 513-621-2786.
by Rick Pender 02.06.2015
Posted In: Theater at 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
twilight lo 1992 - photo daniel l winters photography

Stage Door: Two One-Woman Shows Worth Seeing This Weekend

A special treat onstage at the Aronoff Center's Fifth Third Bank Theater through a Sunday 2 p.m. matinee: Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, featuring Torie Wiggins giving voice to people making pronouncements about race, justice and violence in America. The script by Anna Deavere Smith, drawn verbatim from numerous interviews, was created in the mid-1990s in the following the Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King verdict more than two decades ago. But it feels incredibly timely in light of recent tragic events in Ferguson, Mo., New York City and elsewhere — leading to questions about whether America has made any progress since then. Wiggins brings to life dozens of people — black, white, Hispanic and Asian — offering a myriad of opinions about events and outcomes. "No Justice/No Peace," words heard recently, echo through this script, punctuated with videos and quick audio introductions as Wiggins flips from role to role. It's an impressive performance and a reminder how theater can be more than entertainment — Twilight is a provocative presentation about American culture. Staged by Cincinnati Shakespeare's artistic director Brian Isaac Phillips. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

A second one-woman show worth seeing is The Year of Magical Thinking, an effective, bare-bones production at the College Hill Town Hall (1805 Larch Ave., Cincinnati 45205) by the Cincy One Act Festival. It's based on Joan Didion's painful confrontation with grief following her husband's unexpected death and their daughter's serious and ultimately mortal illness. Cate White performs as Didion, the narrator of this deeply personal story; Lyle Benjamin is the director. The show is being presented on Fridays and Saturdays through Feb. 28 (no performances on Feb. 20-21). Tickets: 888-428-7311.

It's a great month for women onstage month on local stages, what with Corinne Mohlenhoff in another solo show The Handmaid's Tale at Know Theatre (CityBeat review here; box office: 513-300-5669), which also happens to be directed by Brian Phillips; and Regina Pugh as a beleaguered scientist whose world is coming unraveled in The Other Place at Ensemble Theatre (CityBeat review here; box office: 513-421-3555).

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 01.30.2015
Posted In: Theater at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
etc the other place - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door: Women in Distress on Local Stages This Weekend

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati continues its hot streak of well-cast and engaging scripts with Sharr White's The Other Place, the story of a brilliant but abrasive woman who is losing her grip. Regina Pugh is excellent in this moving and sometimes funny production, ably supported by Michael G. Bath as her perplexed husband, and with two performers usually seen at Cincinnati Shakespeare, Kelly Mengelkoch and Billy Chace, in an array of supporting roles. This is a drama that keeps you guessing as to what's the truth behind the story that's unfolding. When it all comes together, the revelation is devastating. Definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-421-3555.

Another powerful piece of theater is onstage at Know Theatre, where another Cincy Shakes regular is featured in the one-woman adaptation of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. The script feels a tad long, but it's such a pleasure to watch Corinne Mohlenhoff as Offred — and a half-dozen other distinct characters — that all you can do is marvel at her skill in presenting them, not to mention in memorizing more than two hours of text. This frightening dystopian tale of America's possible future staged by Brian Phillips (Cincy Shakes artistic director and Mohlenhoff's husband) on a very effective set designed designed by Andrew Hungerford (Know's artistic director) is definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-300-5669.

Other productions worth seeing on local stages: A collection of Johnny Cash tunes in Ring of Fire at the Cincinnati Playhouse (CityBeat interview here), the humorous Greater Tuna at Covedale (CityBeat review here) and a compelling staging of Samuel Beckett's breathtaking piece of absurdity, Waiting for Godot, at Cincy Shakes (CityBeat review here).

Get ready for more fun at Know Theatre with the kick-off of the second season of Serials!, this one subtitled "Thunderdome." Starting Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. (and continuing at two-week intervals through the end of March) will be five 15-minute pieces intended to be episodically developed. But this time, two will be voted off each week by the audience, to be replaced by two new works the next time around. Sounds like fun, and if this repeats the success of last summer's inaugural event, it's a chance to see local actors and writers at work. Box office: 513-300-5669.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 01.23.2015
Posted In: Theater at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
cast of ring of fire_ photo sandy underwood 2

Stage Door: Theater Abounds This Weekend

I attended the opening of Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Musical at the Cincinnati Playhouse last evening. The show offers some sense of the great Country music singer's life, but it's not detailed in the way Rosemary Clooney was portrayed in the Playhouse's recent production. Instead, it's Cash's music that's front and center, performed by a half-dozen veteran musicians and four singer/actors, two men and two women, all of whom convey the sincerity and strength that were his calling card. Jason Edwards and Derek Keeling have voices reminiscent of the"Man in Black," the former in maturity and the latter as brash young man. Trenna Barnes and Allison Briner round out the quartet, sometimes conjuring the persona of June Carter, Cash's talented wife. Both are great singers, but Barnes is especially powerful and entertaining as a young spitfire in numbers like "Cry, Cry, Cry." The show features more than 30 numbers, some familiar, several sung amusingly by the musicians, and all engaging. Especially fun is "I've Been Everywhere," the second act opener that has all 10 performers singing, playing guitars and accelerating through a list of cities where Cash toured. Read more about the show in my interview (CityBeat interview here) with Edwards, who is also the show's director. Box office: 513-421-3888.

Speaking of the Playhouse, I should also mention that this weekend kicks off performances of Theory of Mind, the story of a teenager on the autism spectrum. It's about his first date with a young woman unsure of her own reasons for romance. Ken LaZebnik's play, created for young people who are 11 or older, premiered at the Playhouse in 2009 and was successful with kids and adults. This weekend it will show up at Prospect House in Price Hill on Friday at 7 p.m., at the Hyde Park Health Center on Saturday at 2 p.m. and at the Dunham Recreation Center in Price Hill on Saturday at 7 p.m. Some performances are free. For more details and a schedule of locations and dates (through Feb. 22), go to www.cincyplay.com.

You shouldn't miss Waiting for Godot at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (through Feb. 7). The production features excellent acting by Bruce Cromer (if you've seen A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse, you know him as Ebenezer Scrooge) and Cincy Shakes stalwart Nick Rose. Playing a pair of sad-sack hobos waiting for someone who never shows up, they capture the desperation of human existence in Samuel Beckett's masterpiece of theater of the absurd. I gave the show a Critic's Pick. (CityBeat review here.) Tickets: 513-381-2273. 

Two other productions kick off this weekend — the very funny Greater Tuna at the Covedale Center, through Feb. 15 (513-241-6550) in which two actors play many of the people in the "third smallest town in Texas," and the very serious Handmaid's Tale at Know Theatre, through Feb. 21 (513-300-5669). The latter, a one-woman adaptation of Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, features Cincy Shakes regular Corinne Mohlenhoff. I interviewed playwright Joe Stollenwerk in my Curtain Call (review here) column in CityBeat. 

At Clifton Performance Theatre on Ludlow Avenue Friday through Sunday only, you'll find a free show about coping with mental illness, She's Crazy, Mental Health and Other Myths features two local actresses, Sherry McCamley and Cathy Springfield, who developed this cabaret show that uses original songs and personal stories to reduce the stigma of mental health. Space is limited, so you are urged to call for reservations: 513-861-7469.

Not for this weekend, but coming soon, you can get some bargains on tickets at Ensemble Theatre (where The Other Place opens next Wednesday). If you've never purchased tickets to ETC, you can score two $10 tickets during the first two weeks of each of its next three productions. A few restrictions apply, but it's a perfect opportunity to check out this excellent theater company if you've not been there. ETC is quick to point out that it's located in the Over-the-Rhine, where there are restaurants and events galore and easy parking in nearby garages. Box office: 513-421-3555.

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

by Rick Pender 01.16.2015
Posted In: Theater at 09:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: A Weekend of Classic Musicals and Plays, Plus a Party and Some Lies

Things are off to a good start for 2015: The touring production of Cinderella at the Aronoff is a very entertaining retooling of music by Rodgers and Hammerstein into a more contemporary version of the classic fairy tale. It's the same story, but the attitudes are of the 21st century, with a "power to the people" thread running through it and Cinderella conveying a populist message, convincing her prince that democracy is the way to go. The music is charming and there's some magical things done with quick changes in and out of ball gowns that will keep audiences guessing as to how it's done. I gave this one a Critic's Pick with my CityBeat review. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

Another classic musical is onstage at Covington's Carnegie: West Side Story. The show requires a lot of dancing and strong orchestral support, and this production offers both.The leads have excellent voices, although I felt (CityBeat review here) they were a tad too operatic for "kids" affected by gang warfare. Nevertheless, this show has some of the finest music ever written for the stage — the score is by Leonard Bernstein and the lyrics by Stephen Sondheim — so it's definitely worth seeing. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company opens its production of one of the 20th century's great stage works, Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot this weekend. I haven't seen it yet, but with a cast feature stage veteran Bruce Cromer and longtime Cincy Shakes actor Nick Rose, it's sure to be watchable. Here's a fun fact: Cromer has played Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at the Cincinnati Playhouse for eight years; this year Rose understudied the role and actually had to cover several performances when Cromer was out of commission with a twisted ankle. I expect their onstage chemistry to fuel a production that audiences will enjoy. 513-381-2273.

CCM voice professor Pat Linhart presents her annual faculty recital on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. It's a free event at Patricia Corbett Theater on the UC Campus. Every year Linhart assembles a program of zany humor and heartfelt singing, accompanied by the inestimable Julie Spangler. There are always a few surprises, and this year should be no exception. The theme is "It's My Party" celebrating Pat's 65th birthday, and I'm envisioning party hats and noisemakers for everyone in the audience.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 01.09.2015
Posted In: Theater at 09:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
rebecca kling - photo provided

Stage Door: Alternative Theater & More

The tragic suicide of Leelah Alcorn a week ago has drawn attention to the challenges faced by transgendered individuals. All the more reason that you ought to head to Know Theatre (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine) on Friday or Saturday evening at 8 p.m. for Rebecca Kling's Fringe Encore performance of Something Something New Vagina. Kling's solo show in the 2014 Fringe fascinated and informed audiences (she was also in town for the 2012 Fringe with a piece about being transgendered, Storms Beneath Her Skin), and we're lucky she's returned coincidentally close to the Kings High School student's death. Kling's show is about loving one's self and one's body; it's a shame Leelah couldn't have seen it. But you have the chance. Be forewarned that Kling, who is a transgender artist and educator is frank and funny; she ends each evening with a "Strip Q&A" answering any questions audience members wish to pose. If you attend one of her performances, I guarantee you'll come away with new insights into the transgender experience. Tickets ($15) can be purchased at the door or online.

Since I'm on the subject of alternative theater, let me point you to the Queen City Queer Theatre Collective which presents a reading at Below Zero Lounge (1122 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine) of Paula Vogel's And Baby Makes Seven on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. It's the story of two lesbians who enlist the help of a friend to have a child while they negotiate the imaginary family they have already created. Performing will be Maggie Lou Rader and Justin McCombs from Cincy Shakes and local actress Erin McCamley. QCQTC uses theater to celebrate and encourage dialogue around queer experiences; the group offers these readings on the second Monday of each month. Admission is free, but they'd appreciate a $5 donation at the door. More info: facebook.com/qcqtccincinnati.

If you're looking for more traditional fare you have two choices this weekend: The touring production of Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella retells the traditional fairytale with a few modern twists. It's an entertaining production with lavish costumes (Tony Award-winning, by the way), imaginative sets, lovely choreography and a cast of fresh-faced performers. I gave it a Critic's Pick with my CityBeat review here. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

If Broadway musicals are your thing, you need to catch West Side Story at the Carnegie between now and Jan. 18. The show was a big hit back in 1957, and its iconic score by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim is one of the best collections of stage music ever. Abigail Paschke, who played Maria in the Carnegie's staging of The Sound of Music a year ago, is a very different Maria this time, one of the star-crossed lovers in this contemporary version of Romeo and Juliet. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

This is the last weekend for Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical, which started back in November at the Cincinnati Playhouse and has been extended twice because of audience demand. It's the story of the girl singer from Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati who became an international star in the 1950s, then had to reinvent herself when pop music moved in a new direction and drugs nearly ended her high-flying career. Many of Clooney's best tunes are authentically recreated by actress Susan Haefner. Final performance is 7 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

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




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by Rick Pender 10.02.2015 3 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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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 10 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 17 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 24 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 31 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.

by Rick Pender 08.28.2015 38 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 07:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
shakespeare in the park crowd - photo provided by cincinnati shakespeare company

Stage Door

Park your theatergoing outdoors

At this point in the summer you have to look a little harder for theater productions. Most of our local companies are rehearsing for shows to open their 2015-2016 seasons. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see, especially if you’d like to enjoy theater in the great outdoors.

Queen City Flash’s performances of The Complete Tom, from Mark Twain’s tales about Tom Sawyer, are both outside-the-box and — literally — outside, popping up in different area parks for each evening their final romp with Tom Sawyers, Detective, is being presented. In this installment (the fourth of four), Tom and Huck Finn set out to clear a friend implicated in a murder. To catch one of these free performances, you need to reserve a ticket at queencityflash.com. At 4 p.m. on the day of the show, you’ll receive an email with details of the “secret” outdoor location. The production, creatively staged by Bridget Leak, features six actors who play multiple roles using puppets and quick costume changes.

Another outdoor adventure is in store for you if you track down a FREE Shakespeare in the Park performance of a modern-dress staging of Romeo and Juliet this weekend. You’ll find one at Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park on Friday, another at the McDonald Commons Park Shelter in Madeira on Saturday and a third at Keehner Park in West Chester on Sunday; all performances are at 7 p.m. This series is produced by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and it will be toured (as will a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream) to local schools, community centers and other venues through May 2016.

If you prefer to sit in a theater, head to Covington where The Carnegie has a head start on the theater season with its mid-August production: Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s innovative Company, onstage through Sunday. Even though the show has been around for 45 years, its outside-the-box approach — no beginning-middle-end story, in particular, but rather a central character, Robert, who’s turning 35 but remains disconnected, despite his married friends pushing help toward relationships — seems timely. Although the Carnegie’s actors are a tad young and don’t really feel like the New Yorkers who Furth’s script portrayed, they do a good job with the songs, and Zachary Huffman does a fine job with the central role. Here’s my CityBeat review. It’s onstage through Sunday. Tickets: 859-957-1940

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

by Rick Pender 08.21.2015 45 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 8-14 hundred days @ know theatre - id from left - lindsey mercer - abigail bengson -brian koch - shaun bengson -colette alexander - photo by daniel r. winters

Stage Door

A few end-of-summer theater choices

Theater slows down this time of year as most local companies are readying to launch their 2015-2016 seasons in September. You’ll find two newish productions on local stages — Company at The Carnegie in Covington and 9 to 5 at the Incline in East Price Hill. Stephen Sondheim’s Company is a solid production with a nice turn by Zachary Huffman in the central role of Robert. There are lots of well-performed tunes by a young cast and some able musicians. Here’s my review. I’m not so enthusiastic about the third show of the Incline’s inaugural season: 9 to 5 is a weak offering after the successes of The Producers and 1776. That’s largely due to a script that’s pretty stale and silly, as I mentioned in my review. It’s based on a 1980 movie about a chauvinistic boss and three women who give him his comeuppance. Dolly Parton played a feisty secretary in the movie and had a hit with its title song. When the movie became a 2009 stage musical, she wrote the songs. They don’t add much. Cincinnati Landmark must have pulled out all the stops for the first two shows this summer; this one looks like they cut some corners. These two productions continue through Aug. 30.

This is the final weekend for Hundred Days at Know Theatre. This Rock opera has been an unqualified hit for the 18-year-old Over-the-Rhine venue. I gave it a Critic’s Pick and I’ve talked with several friends who have gone back to see it a second time. Abigail and Shaun Bengson sing their way through a tragic love affair — a marriage cut short by a terminal disease — that ends up feeling pretty joyous since they choose to celebrate their “100 days” as if it was the 60-year marriage they had hoped for. Great concept, great execution. Get a ticket if you can: 513-300-5669

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

by Rick Pender 08.14.2015 52 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 8-14 hundred days @ know theatre - id from left - lindsey mercer - abigail bengson -brian koch - shaun bengson -colette alexander - photo by daniel r. winters

Stage Door

Only a few more days for 'Hundred Days'

Know Theatre’s Hundred Days is not running for 100 days. In fact, it has only seven more performances, so I urge you to get your tickets now if you haven’t seen it yet. (I say this in part because I’ve now heard from three acquaintances that they liked the show so much they’ve purchased tickets to go back to watch a devoted couple deal with a marriage that’s foreshortened by illness. So I’m sure some performances are getting very full.) David Lyman gave it a good review in the Enquirer, and I attached a Critic’s Pick to my CityBeat commentary, so we agree — and I suspect you might, too. Abigail and Shawn Bengson, the performers and creators of Hundred Days, are full of energy and passion, and their backup musicians are infected with the same spirit. Next Wednesday (July 19) is a free admission performance, which is likely to be very full. Tickets ($25 in advance): 513-300-5669

This is the final weekend for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s very funny show, The Complete History of America (Abridged), featuring three very funny performers — Amanda McGee, Justin McCombs and Geoffrey Barnes. I don’t think you’ll leave the theater knowing more about American history, but you’ll understand our willingness to poke fun at ourselves and others. It has some moments that fall flat, but that’s to be expected in two hours of non-stop efforts at hilarity. When they hit it, the show is a laugh-out-loud riot. Final performance is Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets: 513-381-2273

Cincy Shakes’ FREE Shakespeare in the Park continues this weekend with performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Dunham Arts Center in West Price Hill (this one is actually an indoor performance) on Saturday at 2 p.m. and at Covington’s Linden Grove Cemetery on Sunday at 7 p.m. (Not that you want or need to drive to Portsmouth, Ohio, to see a performance, but the troupe is there tonight — showing just how far they’re willing to go to advance the cause of Shakespeare.)

I wish I could tell you that 9 to 5, the third musical in the inaugural season at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, is as entertaining or well done as its predecessors, The Producers and 1776. But it isn’t. Nevertheless, based on the strength of the season so far and the novelty of going to a brand-new theater most of the tickets for this lightweight musical have already been snatched up. It’s based on a movie from the 1980s that featured Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. Parton’s countrified tunes, written for the musical not the movie (which did feature her hit song of the same title), are mildly entertaining, but the story is full of clichéd stereotypes about “working girls” who struggle to work with a chauvinistic boss. The real Parton makes a video appearance, but it’s not quite enough. Through Aug. 30. 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 08.07.2015 59 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 8-5 -hundred days at know theatre - id - shaun bengson - photo by daniel r. winters

Stage Door

Make ’em Laugh: Midsummer Theater

Hundred Days, a Folk Rock Opera onstage at Know Theatre, continues to be the go-to show of the summer. The story of a marriage that gets short-circuited by a fatal illness turns into a joyous 75-minute concert music written and performed by the dynamic duo of Abigail and Shaun Bengson, with five musicians and singers behind them. Rather than wallow in grief about having only 100 days, they celebrate their love by condensing what they imagine 60 years of life might have held. It’s a lovely story, told in an imaginative, contemporary way. Read my CityBeat review, which gave it a “Critic’s Pick.” Tickets: 513-300-5669

Cincinnati Shakespeare has three excellent comic actors onstage at the moment who know how to wring every possible laugh out of a satiric script. Geoffrey Barnes, Justin McCombs and Amanda McGee are performing The Complete History of America (Abridged), another script by the zany trio who wrote The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). I think this one tries a little too hard to be hilarious, so a few moments feel kind of lame, but these three players manage to pick things up, make a little fun of themselves and move right on with more gags, jokes, pratfalls, spit takes and costume changes. It’s an evening of hilarity. Here’s my CityBeat review. Through Aug. 15. Tickets: 513-381-2273

Cincy Shakes’ FREE Shakespeare in the Park tour continues this weekend with a 7 p.m. performances of Romeo and Juliet at Cottell Park in Deerfield (Friday) and the Community Park Pavilion in Milford (Sunday) as well as A Midsummer Night’s Dream — at the Community Pavilion in Glenwood Gardens, a Hamilton County Park. 

Finally, if you’re willing to drive to Dayton for the Human Race Theatre Company’s first-ever Festival of New Works. The weekend offers a collection of readings of five scripts — three plays and two musicals — by local, national and international writers. The lineup includes full readings of Have You Ever Played, Dayton?, a play by Robb Willoughby, and Mann … and Wife, a musical by Douglas J. Cohen and Dan Elish based on the latter’s novel Nine Wives. There will also be three 30-minute “snapshot” readings: Karen Righter’s play, The Day After Epiphany; Central Park Tango, a musical by Nicky Phillips and Robert Gontier; and Scott Stoney’s adaptation of Some Self-Evident Truths, a play based on the journals of Lucille Wheat and Lois Davies. Open talkbacks with the creative teams follow the readings. The “snapshots” (Saturday at 8 p.m.) are presented and ticketed as a group. Readings will be held in the 60-seat Caryl D. Philips Creativity Center of The Human Race and The 212-seat Loft Theatre in downtown Dayton. Info: 937-228-3630 or humanracetheatre.org

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

by Rick Pender 07.31.2015 66 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 7-31 - hundred days at know theatre - id - abigail bengson -  photo by daniel r. winters (1)

Stage Door

Make ’em Laugh: Midsummer Theater

On Wednesday evening I took a bunch of kids (four elementary-school-age nieces and a nephew in town for a visit) to see a bunch of kids (high schoolers, average age 16) in Hairspray, this summers’ Cincinnati Young People’s Theatre production at the Covedale Center. The verdict: “We loved it.” One of them said, “They did more singing than talking.” (A good thing, in her opinion.) And one even got the message of black and white teens breaking color barriers and just being teens. So the story from 1962 still makes some sense. The CYPT performers come from 33 schools across Greater Cincinnati. It’s a big undertaking to get that so many performers (I counted 70 in the program) working together, plus several more backstage. Tim Perrino has been doing this for 34 years, so he knows how to get the best out of teen performers, and there are some standouts in this cast — especially Julie Deye and Gabe Schenker as the ebullient but fair-minded plus-sized teen and her lumpy mom. The kids are all right! Performances continue through Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: 513-241-6550

The most dazzling show onstage right now is Hundred Days, a Folk Rock Opera, at Know Theatre. It’s 75 minutes of great music written and performed by the dynamic duo of Abigail and Shaun Bengson, backed by five talented musicians and singers. But it’s also a fine piece of theater — a love affair cut short by a fatal illness that’s met head-on with clarity and joy to celebrate what might have been 60 wonderful years in just “100 days.” Great concept, great execution. I gave it a Critic’s Pick in my CityBeat review.

You’ll get a lot of laughs out of Cincinnati Shakespeare’s performance of The Complete History of America (Abridged), largely thanks to the comic talents of actors Justin McCombs, Miranda McGee and Geoffrey Barnes. Even if the script  — by the comic trio who originated The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) — strains a little too hard to be hilarious, playing fast and loose with America’s past, these three know how to turn every scene into a good laugh. Things occasionally fall flat and a few elements are borderline tasteless, but before you know it they’re off and running again with another gag, joke, pratfall, misunderstanding or just tossing a bucket of water. All in good fun; it’s not very profound nor is it intended to be. Here’s my CityBeat review. Through Aug. 15. Tickets: 513-381-2273

If you like your Shakespeare a bit more traditional — but perhaps just a little funny — some of Cincy Shakes' troupe begins their FREE Shakespeare in the Park tour this weekend. Throughout August they’ll be offering performances in parks across Greater Cincinnati and beyond using a handful of young actors handling multiple roles in two-hour reductions of plays by Shakespeare. This weekend you have three chances to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream — at Eden Park’s Seasongood Pavilion on Friday at 7 p.m., at the Harry Whiting Brown Lawn in Glendale on Saturday at 7 p.m. and in Washington Park on Sunday at 6 p.m.

If you haven’t tuned in yet for the third iteration of Serials! at Know Theatre, you might want to show up on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. Each of five plays will have the third of five 15-minute installments; the trick this time out is that the playwrights trade places with each biweekly event, so stories definitely veer off in unexpected and unplanned directions. Don’t worry about catching up — there’s a quick preview as each piece starts. But even more, these are just zany stories, made all the zanier by the format. You’ll have fun watching even if you can’t quite figure out what’s going on. Tickets: 513-300-5669

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