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.
That means the company believes the adult-oriented film, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, not only will be an Oscar contender but will also be a holiday-season hit along the lines of another film it distributed this way in 2014, The Imitation Game.
Indiewire reports Carol will face the youth-oriented The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 on its limited-release opening weekend, “but should benefit from an earlier start than was originally planned.”
Cincinnati Opera winds up its 95th season in truly grand operatic
fashion with an opulent production of Puccini’s Turandot. The singing is (mostly) sublime, the spectacle is lavish
and all the production elements are executed with stylish precision.
The opera is a fantasy based on a play by the Venetian Carlo Gozzi. Turandot is
a Chinese princess bent on revenge for the rape and murder of an ancient
ancestor. If a prospective suitor fails to answer three riddles, off with his
head. That doesn’t discourage Prince Calaf, who manages to solve the riddles
and melt the ice princess’s reserve. Oh yes indeed, this is a fairy tale.
It’s also Puccini’s grandest opera with fabulous music incorporating romance,
drama and Chinese folk melodies. The score was unfinished when Puccini died in
1924; composer Franco Alfano composed the final section using Puccini’s
sketches. Despite Calaf’s signature aria “Nessun Dorma,” the best music belongs
to the chorus and the two female leads.
Biggest ups to the chorus. They sing with power, precision and a remarkable dynamic
control thanks to Chorusmaster Henri Venanzi, who celebrates his 41st year with
the CO. Unlike most other operas that feature one big choral number and that’s
it, Turandot’s chorus is onstage for
almost the entire piece.
Marcy Stonikas is a formidable Turandot, physically and vocally. Her voice has
the cold, steely edge for an ice princess but there’s a hint of warmth that
fully emerged in the final scene to convey a sense of humanity. “In questa
reggia” is Turandot’s big aria and Stonikas did not disappoint. Hers is one of
the most exciting voices I’ve heard in a long time and I hope she’ll be back.
The role of the slave Liu usually steals the shows and this was no exception.
French soprano Norah Amsellem sings with haunting delicacy and tremendous
power. It’s a performance to savor, and she garnered the evening’s loudest
ovations. And her limping on the stage was no act — she injured an ankle
earlier in the week and was using a brace.
Frank Porretta’s Calaf was barely audible in the first act. He may have been
having vocal problems because he powered up in the second act, but “Nessun
Dorma” was under pitch and lagged behind the orchestra. Let’s hope he recovers
for the remaining performances.
As the court officials Ping, Pang and Pong, Jonathan Beyer, Julius Ahn and
Joseph Hu were genuinely responsive Puccini’s score, offering characters
ironically comic and human as they sing of returning home. They also executed a
vaudeville soft shoe routine with panache.
Bass Andrea Mastroni made an impressive debut as Calaf’s father, Timur. Tenor
Chris Merritt sang the Emperor Altoum with poignant beauty.
Under the baton of Ramón Tebar, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra gave a
stunning performance of this magnificent score. There are so many gorgeous
subtleties, from the loudest of gongs to shimmering woodwinds and strings, and
they were heard to wonderful effect.
Red is the operative color for André Barbe’s sets and costumes, with black and
white running close seconds. A huge red lacquer arch is the main set piece,
punctuated by huge white heads on pikes, reminders of the executed princes. The
chorus, mandarins and dancers are swathed in black and red. Ping, Pang and Pong
sport sky-blue robes, and Turandot and Emperor Altoum are garbed in white. It’s
opulent but never excessive.
Most impressive are Renaud Doucet’s staging and choreography. The huge cast of
choristers, supernumeraries and dancers move with confidence and precision. Fortunately
for us all, the leads are equally graceful and they respond to each other with
more than outstretched arms. Doucet creates stage pictures that, for all their
scope, never lose focus on the performers. The dancers are a special pleasure.
Their costumes with multiple flags projecting from the back don’t make for easy
movement, but they make it look effortless.
Go see it. And go hear it. There aren’t many opportunities to see spectacle like this, unless it’s Andrew Lloyd Webber, who mined Puccini’s melodies for inspiration. Puccini did it way better.
Did you attend the Cincy Fringe back in 2011? If so, maybe you saw Abigail and Shaun Bengson perform a musical work in progress then called “Songs from the Proof.” They came back in 2012 to present a one-night concert of some of the songs. The work evolved into a show called Hundred Days, which had a staging in San Francisco in early 2014. It’s continued to evolve — and its next incarnation will be onstage at Know Theatre for the next month, opening on Friday and running through Aug. 22. It’s about a young couple who fall in love, only to have their time together cut short by a fatal illness. They decide to live the 100 days they have left as though it were 60 years they had hoped for. Lots of music and creativity have gone into this one, and it promises to be a powerful performance with some great tunes. (Read more in my Curtain Call column in this week’s edition of CityBeat.) Tickets: $25 in advance; rush tickets at the door ($10, if available). Free performances on Wednesdays, but reservations required: 513-300-5669.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s 2015-2016 season is beginning as it has for several years with a light-hearted abridgement — but this time it’s The Complete History of America (abridged), opening Friday night and continuing through Aug. 15. The show is the creation of the same nuts responsible for the hilarious Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). It’s the same format: Veteran comic actors Miranda McGee and Justin McCombs, along with newcomer Geoffrey Barnes, will take audiences on a whirlwind tour that sends up America’s greatest hits … and misses. It’s the kind of delirious summer entertainment we’ve come to expect the from our often-more-serious classical theater folks. Tickets ($22-$35): 513-381-2273Last weekend I went to Stanberry Park in Mt. Washington to see The Complete Tom: 3. Abroad, presented by Queen City Flash, Cincinnati’s flash-mob theater company. It’s the third installment of its four-part play cycle of Mark Twain’s tales of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Jim, the runaway slave. It was charmingly performed by Dave Powell, Rico Reid and Trey Tatum — plus some amusing puppets (aka wooden spoons) and a few sheets for ghost stories. This charming episode features the threesome on a trans-Atlantic voyage in a Jules Verne-like airship, meeting a number of interesting characters along the way — played in quick-change manner by the three actors. Free performances begin at 8 p.m. but don’t go to Stanberry Park — they’ll be elsewhere this weekend. In fact, the outdoor locations remain secret until 4 p.m. the day of performance when an email is sent to ticket holders with a map and parking instructions. The show is a lot of fun and great entertainment for kids, and part of the adventure is figuring out where you’re headed. Take a chance! Tickets — no charge — can be reserved at QueenCityFlash.com
It continues to be a good year for movies shot in Cincinnati. First, Todd Haynes’ Carol premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival and was so well-received that its distributor, Weinstein Company, has scheduled a December release to showcase it for Oscar consideration.
Today, Indiewire is reporting that Miles Ahead, the Don Cheadle-directed movie about Jazz musician Miles Davis’ troubled final years, will be the Oct. 11 closing-night showcase for the prestigious 53rd New York Film Festival. The fest is presented by The Film Society of Lincoln Center. Cheadle also plays Davis in the film, shot in Cincinnati last year.
The Indiewire story, written by David Canfield, reports that “NYFF Director and Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones said, ‘I admire Don's film because of all the intelligent decisions he's made about how to deal with Miles, but I was moved — deeply moved — by Miles Ahead for other reasons. Don knows, as an actor, a writer, a director, and a lover of Miles' music, that intelligent decisions and well-planned strategies only get you so far, that finally it's your own commitment and attention to every moment and every detail that brings a movie to life.’”
In the story, Cheadle is quoted as adding, "I am happy that the selection committee saw fit to invite us to the dance. It's very gratifying that all the hard work that went into the making of this film, from every person on the team, has brought us here. Miles' music is all-encompassing, forward-leaning, and expansive. He changed the game time after time, and New York is really where it all took off for him.”
Roughly one month in advance of the Contemporary Arts Center opening Myopia, its highly anticipated retrospective of Mark Mothersbaugh’s artwork, he will come to Woodward Theater for a special concert.
The Aug. 28 performance will be what the CAC is calling a “three-headed evening.” It will start with a small orchestral group playing DEVO covers and Wes Anderson scores — Mothersbaugh co-founded the ground-breaking New Wave/Post-punk band and then moved into film-score composition, working often with Anderson. He also has long been active as a visual artist, having studied art at Kent State University.
Next, there will be a short “onstage dialogue” with Mothersbaugh. Then he will conduct an ensemble in “Music for Six Sided Keyboard.” He did a similar performance in Denver in connection to Myopia’s opening there.
Tickets will be $60 seated and $30 standing, and more information should be available next week on the Contemporary Art Center’s website, www.contemportaryartcenter.org. Myopia opens at the CAC on Sept. 25 and runs through Jan. 9. The exhibit is curated by Adam Lerner of Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
UPDATE: A pricing change has been added.
Every year, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati brings together a
group of young professionals who spend a season at the Over-the-Rhine
theater understudying roles, working backstage, helping build sets and
run lights and sound — learning the ins and outs of professional
theater. Many of them stick around town continuing their lives in the
theater. Several of them will come together at
Washington Park on Sunday evening at 6 p.m. for a free performance of Still Life with Iris,
a play by Steven Dietz. The 1996 script is an adventure about a little
girl’s search for the simplest of things: home. She lives with her mom
on a magical island where by night workers make things seen in the world
by day. The rulers are determined to have the best of everything on
their island, so they kidnap Iris and bring her to be their daughter,
leaving her with no memory of her home or family. She joins with friends
she meets on her journey as she embarks on a quest to return home. The
family-friendly play, written in 1998, was the first to receive the
Kennedy Center’s Fund for New American Plays Award. The cast is
comprised entirely of former ETC interns, including: Jared D. Doren
(1996), Sara Mackie and Burgess Byrd (2000), Daniel Winters (2005), Lisa
DeRoberts (2011), Ben Raanan and Jared Earland (2014), and Molly Israel
and Patrick Phillips (2015).
The summer theater company, Stone on a Rock, is back for the second production of its second season with a new version of Aristophanes’ ancient comedy Lysistrata. The company focuses on productions that are “short, sweet and cheap.” This one is a time-tested farce about the women of Greece giving their husbands an ultimatum: Stop waging war or no more sex. Maybe they can next bring their strategy to bear on Greece’s current financial crisis? Performances are at Simple Space, 16 E. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine. Tickets ($10) can be purchased at the door.
Another summer company is presenting the 1998 Tony Award-winning musical Ragtime at Highlands High School’s Performing Arts Center (2400 Memorial Parkway in Ft. Thomas). The Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre (C.A.S.T.) is led by theatre instructor Jason Burgess; his cast includes students from Anderson, Walnut Hills, Newport Central Catholic, Cincinnati Country Day, Seven Hills, Highlands, Scott High Schools and more. Ragtime is a remarkable show with great music (composed by Stephen Flaherty, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music). Set at the dawn of the 20th century, it’s a time of change and possibility in the volatile melting pot New York City. The show tells three interwoven stories — a stifled upper-class wife, a determined Jewish immigrant and a daring young Harlem musician — united by courage, compassion and belief in the promise of the future. It’s being presented for two weekends, opening tonight and continuing through a matinee on July 26. Tickets ($10) can be reserved at http://www.showtix4u.com. (Remaining unreserved seats may be purchased at the door one hour prior to each performance.)
Queen City Flash, Cincinnati’s flash-mob theater company, is up to the third installment of its four-part play cycle of Mark Twain’s tales of Tom Sawyer. This part, The Complete Tom: 3. Abroad, is performed by three actors and an array of puppets. For this episode, the characters of Tom, Huck Finn and Jim the runaway slave are on a trans-Atlantic voyage in a Jules Verne-like airship. Free performances begin at 8 p.m. but the outdoor locations remain secret until 4 p.m. when an email is sent to ticket holders with a map and parking instructions. (The fourth installment is set to happen in August.) Tickets — no charge — can be reserved at http://www.QueenCityFlash.com
You can stay at home on Saturday evening, if you prefer, and enjoy a radio theater production of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac by LA Theatre Works, broadcast on WVXU-FM 91.7 at 8 p.m. The story of the brash 17th-century soldier-poet with an oversized nose is also a tale of love and longing. The audio production features Hamish Linklater, Jason Ritter, Devon Sovari and Gregory Itzin. This is your chance to get prepared for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s season opening production (Sept. 11-Oct. 13).
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
Of course, everyone is focused on baseball this weekend, leading up to Tuesday’s All-Star Game right in our own backyard — and that’s great for Cincinnati. But if you’re looking for theatrical entertainment, it’s here, too.
I had a chance to see the musical 1776 at Cincinnati Landmark’s new Warsaw Federal Incline Theater on Wednesday. It’s just the second show to be staged there, but it’s a fine one from just about every angle. The 1969 show — as much a play about American history as a musical (it has a stretch of 30 minutes in which no music happens) — is seldom produced in part because it requires nearly two-dozen strong singing male actors. This production found them, and they do a fine job: Especially noteworthy is Rodger Pille as the feisty John Adams, as well as his colleagues Ben Franklin (played by Bob Brunner )and Thomas Jefferson (taken on by Matt Krieg). But numerous others have their “historical” moments, as do Allison Muennich as Adams’ understanding wife Abigail and Lindsey Franxman as Jefferson’s lovely wife Martha. The show is both entertaining and inspiring, even if it takes a lot of liberties with real events. It won the 1969 Tony Award for best musical, and it’s a delight to see. It’s onstage at the Incline through July 26. Tickets: 513-241-6550
After 10 years, the musical about adolescents vying for honors in the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has become pretty familiar. But it’s still a lot of fun to watch, and I suspect anyone who goes to the Commonwealth Theatre Company’s dinner theater production on campus at Northern Kentucky University will be having a good time — maybe even becoming a volunteer speller to join the contest. For 8 p.m. shows in the Stauss Theatre, there’s dinner at 6:30 p.m. in the Corbett Lobby. Through July 26. Tickets: 859-572-5464
If you want something a little more off the beaten path, you’ll find it at Know Theatre on Saturday and Sunday when the One-Minute Play Festival has three performances. Part community-convening, part social action and part play festival, the program investigates who we are and how we relate to our community through a series of 60 moments of storytelling by local writers and actors. If you’ve enjoyed the annual Fringe Festival, you should show up for this one. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
In a similar vein — and just a block away from Know Theatre’s Over-the-Rhine location — you’ll find a show by the GoodPeople Theatre Company, Is This Really Happening Right Now? It’s some vignettes by two local writers exploring friendships and relationships — on a blind date, in a coffee shop, in a Laundromat and over Tinder. Tickets ($15) at the door at Simple Space (16 E. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine).
And if you still need more, remember that Monday will be the second round of Serials! at Know Theatre, with five plays started by local writers pick up for another 15-minute episode, but now penned by a different playwright. This time around the theme is “Round House,” and it’s sure to generate some zany stuff.
Cincinnati Opera's Don Pasquale was a delight and, so far, the season’s best overall production. Burak Bilgili’s Pasquale and Alexey Lavrov’s Malatesta share the honors for outstanding performances and the entire enchilada (as Peter Schickele would say) was directed by Chuck Hudson, with production elements and costumes built by Arizona Opera.
The setting is
1950s Hollywood and Don Pasquale is a silent film star trying to make a comeback
by marrying a starlet. We get Don’s backstory through a series of black-and-white
film clips of his biggest hits, press notices and his subsequent failures in
talkies and as a director. They’re brilliantly effective and the opening
segments are in synch with the overture.
Pasquale’s black-and-white environment takes on
color as he decides to seek a bride, and by Act II, the only gray spot is
Burak Bilgili brought crisp articulation and robust
presence to the aging Pasquale. He’s a gifted comic and he handled the physical
demands (and there were plenty) moving gracefully across the stage. His foil
Malatesta was Polish baritone Alexey Lavrov; the phrase "silky
elegance" is the best descriptor of his voice. Since he’s scheduled to
sing this role at the Met, it doesn’t look like he has to worry about future
gigs, but if he ever does, he’s got a great future as Dracula — he can handle a
cape with the best of them.
Tenor Ji-Min Park sang Ernesto with clarity and
sweetness, especially “Com’e Gentil” but the stage business covered up a lot of
the loveliest passages. Eglise Gutierrez broke her ankle earlier in the week,
but she navigated the stage in such a way that unless you saw her wearing a
slightly different slipper, you wouldn’t suspect anything was amiss. But
something was because she was a
restrained Norina and I frequently couldn’t hear her. She might have been in a
lot of pain and backstage, she had on a boot, so I’m more than willing to give
her a break. One hopes she'll notch it up by Saturday.
Richard Buckley led a lively reading of this
delightful score. Hudson’s staging is based on his studies with Marcel Marceau
and the best example of that was the staging “Com’e Gentil.” It was hilarious
(the long arm reaching for Pasquale’s keys) but it upstaged the aria. Oh well.
The audience loved it. The actors proved to be deft comedians, especially Park,
whose wonky Ernesto can’t do anything right. Of course the revenge duet got an
Fun, fun, fun. And with a ‘50s setting, there might have been a T Bird lurking backstage.
With the Fourth of July falling on a weekend, most theaters will be dark, and all the hubbub around the All-Star Game means that most of them will wait until the dust settles at Great American Ball Park before they crank things up again. But if you’re jonesing for some good summer theater and you haven’t seen Cincinnati Shakespeare’s hilarious One Man, Two Guvnors, it has performances on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Be forewarned that both are sold out, but if you want to try your luck with the regional premiere of this excellent situation comedy about a hapless guy with two bosses, show up at the theater 719 Race St., Downtown 30 minutes before the performance and ask to join the waiting list. Box Office: 513-381-2273
While you’re waiting for the fireworks on Saturday, you might consider what theater you’ll see over the next week or so. Of particular interest is The 1st Cincinnati One-Minute Play Festival that will be presented at Know Theater at 8 p.m. on July 11 and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on July 12. It’s a collaboration between Know and One-Minute Play Festival (aka #1MPF). In nearly 20 cities #1MPF partners with local companies to present brief works by local writers. They are given a prompt that asks them to consider the world around them, their community and all the ways in which they view and engage with the world, and to write and submit moments that could only happen at this time and in this place. It’s a great chance to check out local talent in the form of brand-new one-minute plays by Linnea Bond, John Bromels, Michael Burnham, Nick Carmine, Kevin Crowley, Bekka Eaton, Kate Fine, Brian Griffin, Mike Hall, Becca Howell, Alan Jozwiak, David Loehr, Robert Macke, Erica MacDonald, Joe McDonough, Eric Pfeffinger, Maggie Lou Rader, Alison Rampa, Brant Russell, Paul Shortt, Stacy Sims, Andy Simpson, Nathan Singer, Jim Stark, Paul Strickland, Trey Tatum, Eileen Tull, Chris Wesselman, Torie Wiggins and Alison Vodnoy Wolf. It’s also a showcase for local directors including Michael Burnham, Ed Cohen, Katie Lupica, Regina Pugh, Brant Russell, Carrington Rowe and Torie Wiggins. Tickets ($20): 513-300-5669. Part of the proceeds will benefit new play development at Know Theatre.
In the mood for more locally generated material? Check out the premiere of Is This Really Happening Right Now? – A Series of Vignettes, developed and presented by Good People Theatre on July 9, 10 and 11 at 8 p.m.. They’re performing at Simple Space, located in Over-the-Rhine at 16 E. 13th St., just a block or so north of Know Theatre. Four original pieces by Mollie J. Amburgey and Will Bonfiglio are about friendships and relationships — one takes place on a blind date, one in a coffee shop, one via Tinder and one in a Laundromat. Tickets $20: http://goodpeopletheatre.ticketleap.com/CincyPremiere