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by Rick Pender 04.24.2015
Posted In: Theater at 08:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Searing Drama and Silly Comedy

A group you might not have heard of, Diogenes Theatre Company, is establishing a solid reputation with its recent production of Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 and its current staging of Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden, featuring three professional actors you will know if you're a regular Cincinnati theatergoer. It's an award-winning moral thriller that explores the aftermath of violence and the uncertainties of truth and justice. Set in a Latin American country, perhaps Chile, it's about a woman who was once the prisoner of a cruel dictatorship. Years later, a man visits her home who she's convinced was her torturer. She turns the table on him. Annie Fitzpatrick is the woman; Giles Davies is the man she believes to be her captor; Michael G. Bath plays her government official husband who is caught in the middle. Diogenes has strong ties with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and the connections are evident. This production is staged by Lindsay Augusta Mercer, CSC's resident assistant director, and Brian Phillips, CSC's producing artistic director, is an artistic consultant. This taut drama, presented at the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater, is definitely worth seeing. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

If you're into works that are hot off the press, you have this weekend to still catch productions at Northern Kentucky University's Y.E.S. Festival, onstage through Sunday. The best of them is Colin Speers Crowley's Encore, Encore, making its final performances on Saturday at 8 p.m. It's about the caustic drama critic Dorothy Parker and her sad, failed marriage; well-written and sparklingly performed by a student cast, directed by Ed Cohen. Read my review here. Tickets: 859-572-5464.

Another student production is onstage at UC's Cohen Family Studio Theater at CCM: You're Welcome (a cycle of bad plays).  It's a set of five small plays — intentionally silly and misshapen, with directors and stage managers wandering on and off and cutting things short or addressing malfunctions — that's as silly as it is amusing. In a bit more than an hour it covers love, death, desire, tragedy, comedy, drunk driving, sexiness, beauty, loss and the battle between good an evil. There's also a fog machine that works (occasionally) and a T-shirt cannon. Give yourself into the madness and you'll have fun; don't look for a lot of close meaning. But the student actors are great fun to watch, especially Bartley Booz's start-and-stop curtain speech at the beginning, which gives away (intentionally) most of what's to follow. Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. Admission is free, but reservations are required: 513-556-4183.

If you're an adventurer who likes unusual performance experiences, you should look into getting a ticket from the Contemporary Arts Center for the bus to Batavia tonight or Saturday evening. That's where you'll take a walk in the woods to see a piece of performance art imported from Norway: Ingrid Fiksdal's Night Tripper. No spoken words, but intriguing and mystical dance and music elements, combined with the natural environment. It sounds fascinating; read more about it here. Tickets via the CAC's website.

Queen City Flash, the flash-mob styled theater company that took off last fall is back with The Complete Tom: 2. Huckleberry, based on Mark Twain's stories about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, adapted by Trey Tatum. It gets underway on Monday and continues through May 9. Here's the catch: free tickets are reserved at QueenCityFlash.com for the date and time of your choice; at 4 p.m. on the day of the show, you'll receive an email with a map and parking instructions to a secret outdoor location. Unusual, but intriguing.

Two productions are wrapping up this weekend: The very funny farce by Steve Martin, The Underpants, at The Carnegie in Covington [read my review here] and David Mamet's very taut drama Race, presented by New Edgecliff Theatre at the Hoffner Lodge on Hamilton Avenue in Northside.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 04.17.2015
Posted In: Theater at 11:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
yes festival  nku - grand night for murder - robert macke as ginger baer - photo mikki schaffner

Stage Door: The Kids Are All Right

This is a busy time of year on local stages, and that's especially true at colleges and universities where the academic year is winding down.

At Northern Kentucky University, the 17th biennial Year End Series (Y.E.S.) Festival is underway, presenting three world premiere productions in rotating repertory. It's a Grand Night for Murder opened on Thursday; The Divine Visitor, a Restoration Comedy through a sci-fi filter (figure that one out) starts tonight; and Encore, Encore, about witty and caustic New York writer Dorothy Parker, gets underway on Saturday. There will be multiple performances through April 26. Tickets: 859-572-5464

At Xavier University this weekend you can find a production of the Rock musical Spring Awakening, the winner of eight Tony Awards in 2007. It's about a group of students struggling through adolescence to adulthood — with a lot of rebellion along the way. It's being presented in XU's Gallagher Student Center Theater. Tickets: 513-745-3939

A lot of high school students have been recruited by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company for more than 38 free art events based on the works of Shakespeare. You might recall that CSC "completed the canon" (produced all 38 of Shakespeare's plays) a year ago. The celebrate that accomplishment, the company devised Project 38 to work with numerous area schools. Each one was assigned and worked with some of the company's artists to be inspired in productions, art, writing — whatever moved them. The initiative is culminating in an eight-day festival of free performances and exhibitions in Over-the-Rhine's Washington Park. School performances are all free. Since performances of The Taming of the Shrew are sold out on CSC's mainstage, Project 38 gives you the chance to see Shakespeare you might have missed otherwise. Schedule here.

There's another take on a student coming to terms with the Bard at Dayton's Human Race Theatre Company: Taking Shakespeare is the story of a disillusioned college professor asked to tutor her dean's son through his freshman Shakespeare class. It's got its humorous moments, but the show delivers a serious message about living up to expectations. Playing the student is Cincinnati actor Jon Kovach, who's performed on numerous local stages. Through May 3. Tickets: 937-228-3630

The farcical show by Steve Martin, The Underpants, is evoking laughs at the Otto M. Budig Theatre in the Carnegie in Covington. It's a bit risqué, but the humor is very gentle. Tickets: 859-957-1940 … Not so gentle is the production of Death and the Maiden by Diogenes Theatre Company at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theatre. This three-character thriller is set in an unnamed Latin American country where a woman gets control of a man she believes once tortured her under a brutal dictatorship. It's a powerful piece, magnificently acted by three top-notch professionals familiar to Cincinnati theatergoers — Annie Fitzpatrick, Michael G. Bath and Giles Davies. Not for the faint-hearted or those who are squeamish about violence, but this is production that deserves to be seen. Through May 2. Tickets: 513-621-2787

One last note, for anyone interested in playing a supernumerary for Cincinnati Opera (that's like being an extra in a movie): Open casting for the upcoming summer season happens on Monday at 6 p.m. at Music Hall. You don't have to be a singer. In fact, no experience is necessary; positions are filled on a voluntary basis. Details here.

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

by Rick Pender 04.10.2015
Posted In: Theater at 08:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 4-10 - 110 in the shade @ ccm - (l-r) ben biggers, john battagliese & brianna barnes - photo adam zeek copy

Stage Door: The Heat Is on at CCM ... And All Over Town

There's a ton of theater opening up this weekend, something for just about every taste. But if you're looking for something free, I have a special recommendation: It's 110 in the Shade at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. This is a production in the Cohen Family Studio Theater (an intimate black box venue that seats about 150). The production is in the "Musical Redux" series, bringing back a show that's not often produced. 110 dates back to 1963. It's the story of Lizzie Curry, on her way to being an "old maid," who lives with her dad and her brothers. A charming con man shows up posing as a rainmaker and promises relief to drought-stricken farmers. Is he for real? Lizzie has her doubts, but he works hard to win her over. CCM Studio productions are free, but reservations are required (513-556-4183), and performances are often filled up. This one is likely to be a lot of fun; it's this weekend only, final performance at 8 p.m. Saturday.

I gave Cincinnati Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew a Critic's Pick in my CityBeat review here. It's lusty and lewd, and the battle of the sexes has never been fought in a more entertaining way. Two of the company's veteran actors, Nick Rose and Kelly Mengelkoch, play Petruchio and Katherine, and they mix it up with with and humor. Definitely an entertaining evening. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

A week ago I had a chance to see one of the Cincinnati Playhouse's current touring productions (this one is aimed at kids in grades K-3), Bird Brain. It's funny fable that teaches a lesson that strange behavior isn't always foolish. More info here. This weekend it will be presented at Springfield Townships Grove Banquet Hall (Friday at 7 p.m.), The Drama Workshop at Glenmore Playhouse in Cheviot (Saturday at 2 p.m.), the Blue Ash Recreation Center (Saturday at 7 p.m.) and The Lebanon Theatre Company (Sunday at 1 and 3 p.m.). Admission is usually free (or very inexpensive). Grab a kid and go.

Other productions opening this weekend: Steve Martin's very funny farce,The Underpants, kicks off a three weekend run at the Carnegie in Covington. New Edgecliff Theatre, still not in its new permanent home in Northside, is staging David Mamet's piercing drama, Race, at the Hoffner Lodge (4120 Hamilton Ave., Northside). At Falcon Theatre (636 Monmouth St., Newport) you can catch the first weekend of The Cover of Life, a drama about three young women married to brothers from the same small town who have gone off to fight in World War II. Meanwhile, in Bellevue, Ky., at St. John United Church of Christ, you can see a production of Joanna Murray-Smith's Honour by WIT-Women in Theatre. The story of three women propelled to ask the question "What is love?" when they've been struggling with tough relationships, is onstage for two weekends. Children's Theatre kicks off two weekends of public performances of Disney's Aladdin JR. at the Taft Theatre. It's a stage version of the popular animated musical feature; the production includes jugglers, acrobats and stilt walkers. And Lion King continues its month-long run at the Aronoff. (CityBeat review here.)

Don't forget that Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. is another quarterly offering from the True Theatre guys at Know Theatre. The theme this time is "true beauty," with real monologues by people who talk about things they've really experienced.

Something for everyone, as they say!

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

by Rick Pender 03.27.2015
Posted In: Theater at 08:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Race and Urban Living on Local Stages

Two shows on local stages are dealing with top-of-mind issues of race and urban living, one at the Cincinnati Playhouse, the other at Ensemble Theatre.

Last evening the Playhouse opened its production of Tracey Scott Wilson's Buzzer. Wilson is a playwright who's not afraid to get at prickly issues of contemporary life (read more here), and that's what she does in this piece that could be set in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine. (It's actually in New York City, but that doesn't make it less relevant.) Jackson returns to his onetime childhood neighborhood, once neglected and now trendy; he's black, girlfriend Suzy is white, and so is Jackson's troubled friend Don, out of rehab yet again and needing a place to stay. Their triangle is a toxic mix with a troubled past that's exacerbated by life in a neighborhood where black and white relations are strained. The Playhouse is offering talkbacks after each performance to discuss issues raised, and there will be a panel discussion focused on OTR's housing challenges here in Cincinnati on Saturday evening at 6 p.m. My take: This show is more about personal relationships that aren't entirely honest, even though there is constant conversation about "no secrets." The actors in this tense drama are vividly real, unpredictable and vulnerable; you'll feel like they're people you know. (Through April 19.) Tickets: 513-421-3888

The second show that's heating up conversations about race is ETC's staging of Dominic Morisseau's award-winning play, Detroit ’67 (reviewed here). While the story has a historical setting — the story of family aspirations and disappointments unfolds against the backdrop of the Motor City's race riots almost 50 years ago — it almost feels ripped from current news stories about unrest stemming from police brutality in Ferguson, Mo. Five actors portray some colorful and occasionally humorous characters from the era involving the family dynamic between a brother and sister who differ about making ends meet in a challenging environment. Motown tunes from the ’60s are the soundtrack for a story that's often painful but ultimately hopeful. (Through April 5.) Tickets: 513-421-3555

Know Theatre opens Hearts Like Fists tonight at its Jackson Street stage in Over-the-Rhine. Adam Szymkowicz's comic-book-inspired action adventure has some fine local actors as the Crimefighters, female superheroes who are out to stop Dr. X, on a mission to murder happy couples in their sleep using a deadly serum that goes straight to the heart. When the show was staged in New York in 2012, the New York Times called the show's comic hybrid of parody and punches "madcap" and "hysterical." That's what Know will be striving for, through April 25. Tickets: 513-300-5669

If you are interested in seeing actors, singers and dancers who are on their way to professional careers, you might want to catch Senior Showcases from the drama and musical theater programs at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. The drama majors, readying their piece for trips to Los Angeles (for potential TV work) and New York City, will perform today at 2 and 7 p.m. at Patricia Corbett Theatre. (Admission is free.) The triple threats graduating from the musical theater program offer their showcase twice on Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m. as they prepare to shine for Broadway producers and casting agents in New York next week. Admission is free but reservations are required: 513-556-4183.  

Planning ahead? The popular touring production of The Lion King returns to Cincinnati where it's been a big hit twice, in 2003 and 2007. The magnificent musical about good overcoming evil and youth finding maturity opens on Tuesday for a four-week run at the Aronoff Center. (Through April 26.) 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 03.20.2015
Posted In: Theater at 08:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 3-20 - etc detroit67 - photo mikki schaffner

Stage Door: Memory Lane and Beyond

I took a trip to my senior year in high school when I attended the opening of Detroit '67 by Dominique Morisseau at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati on Wednesday. It's set in Detroit during that city's 1967 "race riots," but they are the backdrop for a family drama: Sister and brother Chelle and Lank are trying to make ends meet by running an after-hours club in the basement of their family home, now theirs since the death of their parents. Chelle is satisfied with the status quo; Lank dreams of owning his own legit bar. But they'd need to sell the house to make that possible, so they're at an impasse. He's impetuous and makes moves to buy a local joint without her knowledge, only to have the destructive riots threaten his deal. More personal complications make the story interesting, if a bit too pat. Motown tunes — Lank buys an eight-track player to replace his sister's turntable — make this production a walk down memory lane for Baby Boomers. But Detroit '67 will grab everyone because the events of five decades ago are eerily and sadly similar to recent disturbances in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere. (Through April 5; tickets: 513-421-3555)

Peter and the Starcatcher at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a playful and over-the-top imagining of the origins of Peter Pan. It's not a very adult cup of tea; it's more a swig of giggle-inducing rum. But if you yearn to head back to childhood for a few hours — playing with words, making fart jokes and having an adventure "against impossible odds" — this production is a joyous must-see. (Through April 4; tickets: 513-421-3888)

The Marvelous Wonderettes was a big hit for Ensemble Theatre a few years back. They staged the original story of girls singing Doo-Wop hits in 1958 and coming together again in 1968 for more old tunes, and did well with several sequels that kept audiences eagerly coming back for more. The show is now being presented at the Covedale Center in West Price Hill, and it has a nostalgic draw for people who grew up with those tunes. But the production's characterizations of Cindy Lou, Betty Jean, Missy and Suzy feel a little shallow, reducing the potential charm of the show. Nevertheless, it's a lot of fun if you love the music of the era and remember your own angst about boyfriends and girlfriends. (Through April 4; tickets: 513-241-6550)

Cincinnati Shakespeare's very pleasant production of an adaptation of Little Women continues through Saturday evening; tickets: 513-381-2273. The musical based on Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel about the March sisters is onstage through Saturday, too, at Newport's Stained Glass Theatre, produced by Footlighters, Inc., a community theater; tickets: 859-652-3849.

The moving play based on The Diary of Anne Frank is being presented this weekend by the School for Creative and Performing Arts with performances remaining on Friday and Saturday evening at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. It's the powerful story of a Jewish family who went into hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II; Anne, the diarist who recorded their tribulations, died at age 15 in a concentration camp. Tickets: here.

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



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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.