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by Rick Pender 01.02.2015
Posted In: Theater at 09:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
michael marotta_susan haefner_rosemary clooney in tenderly_photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Start the New Year with a Show

With the holidays just behind us, there's a kind of a lull on local stages, but this weekend has a few offerings to consider. At the Cincinnati Playhouse there's a popular production that's been extended twice, so you still have chances to see Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical through Jan. 11. The show is a great recreation of the career of girl singer Clooney who grew up in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati and rose to stardom in the 1950s and 1960s, only to find that the music world's fascination with Rock 'n' Roll was putting her in the rear view mirror. But she figured out how to reinvent herself and overcome drug dependency, too. Susan Haefner acts the part and sings a slew of convincing renditions of Clooney's Pop and Jazz hits. Michael Marotta plays her therapist and more: He steps in and out of portraits of all the other people in Clooney's life, from her mother and her sister to big names like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. It's a very entertaining show, guaranteed to warm up an early January night at the theater. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888.

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is offering one final weekend of its "non-denominational" holiday fairytale musical, Sleeping Beauty. With songs by local composer David Kisor and an entertaining script by Cincinnati playwright Joe McDonough, this production is good for kids and adults. Acting intern Deirdre Manning steps out in the title role with a fine singing voice and fellow intern Terrance J. Ganser is her Rock star prince and her soulful savior a century later. But the real zip in the show comes from Deb G. Girdler's evil Wisteria and Michael G. Bath as Falcon, her devious assistant. Final performance is 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets ($18-$44): 513-421-3555.

Speaking of ETC, for the next week or so the theater is offering $10 off adult tickets to performances early in the runs of an engaging thriller The Other Place (Jan. 29-Feb. 3), the drama with historical context Detroit '67 (March 18-24) and a romantic comedy Outside Mullingar set in Ireland (May 6-12). Just mention the coupon code NEWYEAR15 when purchasing tickets in those date ranges online (www.ensemblecincinnati.com), in person or by phone (513-421-3555), and you'll save $10. That's a good way to get 2015 off on the right foot!

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by RICK PENDER, CityBeat staff 12.22.2014
Posted In: Theater, Arts community at 09:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
eric ting, associate artist - photo_cincinnati playhouse in the park

Call Board: Theater News

More Directing Talent at the Playhouse. Last Wednesday the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park announced that Obie Award-winning director Eric Ting will join the theater as an Associate Artist for the 2015-2016 season. Playhouse Artistic Director Blake Robison said, "I've known Eric for nearly 15 years, when he began his career as a student at the University of Tennessee. Since then he has created an impressive body of work as one of the country's most gifted young directors. He's in touch with a new generation of American playwrights, and he brings a fresh perspective to the classics. He's distinguished himself off-Broadway with an Obie Award. And his time at Long Wharf Theatre [in Connecticut as associate artistic director] has given him experience in an institutional theatre." Ting's 2012 Obie recognized his direction of Jackie Sibblies Drury's We Are Proud to Present a Presentation on the Herero of Namibia, Formerly South-West Africa from the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915. The New Yorker called his production at Soho Rep "a thrilling opportunity to see both a serious new talent developing her voice and what an inspiring director can do to encourage it." Ting said he's honored to be named an associate artist at the Playhouse: "I've long admired Blake's work as an artistic leader and have been following the storied work of the Playhouse ever since my sister's family settled in nearby Montgomery. The associate artists program combines two of the things I hold most dear in life: art-making and community building." Ting joins three other associate artists: Timothy Douglas, Michael Evan Haney and KJ Sanchez. According to Robison, these directors "form the backbone of our directing corps and bring diverse backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints to the Playhouse."

Bowled Over. I made my first excursion to Cheviot late last week to see The Drama Workshop's production of a revue of music by Stephen Sondheim, Putting It Together. The community theater's cast of five did a commendable job with Sondheim's challenging tunes, and I was glad to get to see what TDW has done with its new home, The Glenmore Playhouse, a former bowling alley that's become a spacious performance venue thanks to the hard work of the group's many volunteers. TDW recently announced its five-show 2015-2016 season: the musical comedy I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change (Sept. 11-27); Ira Levin's murder mystery, Death Trap (Oct. 22-Nov. 8); Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Dec. 4-13); Paul Slade Smith's Unnecessary Farce (Feb. 26-March 13, 2016); and the world's longest-running musical, The Fantasticks (April 22-May 8, 2016). More information: www.thedramaworkshop.org.

Christmas Caroling. For the first time in 24 years, the Cincinnati Playhouse decided to have an understudy for Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, and it's a good thing they did: Bruce Cromer had to miss several performances after he sprained his ankle "making merry" during a rambunctious scene in the show. Another local professional, Nick Rose — a founder and a stalwart performer with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company for two decades — stepped up from a smaller role and handled a number of performances commendably. Cromer has played Scrooge for a decade (following eight years as Bob Cratchit), so it's nice to know that another fine actor might be ready to become the old curmudgeon when it's time. … Speaking of Dickens' classic story, tune in to WVXU (FM 91.7) on Christmas Eve at 7 p.m. for a recording of versatile master comedian Jonathan Winters (an Ohio native who died at age 87 in 2013) presenting his own distinctive reading of the holiday story of redemption. The pioneer of improvisational stand-up comedy, an Ohio native, was a mentor for the late Robin Williams.

Last-Minute Theater Gift? Need just one more gift to finish your Christmas shopping? The creative folks at Cincinnati Landmark Productions have put together three clever packages for dinner and a show at one of their theaters. For $75 there's the "Covedale and Coneys Bundle," offering a pair of tickets to a performance at the Covedale and a $25 gift card for Price Hill Chili. If you're willing to wait until summer is here, you can purchase an "Incline District Complete Night Out" for $100; it includes two tickets to a show at the brand new Warsaw Federal Incline Theater (due to open in June), plus a $50 gift card to either the Incline Public House or Primavista. And if you care to splurge, for $200 you can get "The Incline District Summer of Fun" tickets for all three shows during the summer of 2015 at the Incline Theater plus a $75 gift card for either the Incline Public House or Primavista. For more information or to purchase one of these packages: 513-241-6550.

Happy holidays to one and all!

CityBeat's Rick Pender posts theater notices on CALL BOARD every Monday morning.
by Rick Pender 12.19.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
soldiers christmas - aaron epstein_ jeffrey k. miller - photo mikki schaffner

Stage Door: Tears or Laughs

Take your pick with these holiday shows

It's unusual that we get a chance during the holidays to see a world premiere of a new play, but it's happening at Northern Kentucky University's Corbett Theatre, where New Edgecliff Theatre and Actor & Playwrights Collaborative are producing Phil Paradis's new script, Soldier's Christmas, through Sunday. The show commemorates the centennial of the memorable "Christmas Truce" in which British and German troops stopped fighting along the Western Front during World War I and came together to celebrate the holiday. I had the opportunity to see its opening performance last week, and I can assure you that it's worth your time. A strong cast of men play nine solders, especially focused on one Brit, Corporal Tug Wilson (Aaron Epstein) and one German, Sgt. Gerhardt Dietrich (Jeffrey K. Miller). They meet tentatively after a furious episode of hand-to-hand combat, seeking warmth. They recognize their common ground and slowly convince their fellow soldiers of the common humanity that they share, leading to a momentary celebratory event in which they sing carols in their own language and discover how much alike they are. These scenes are counterpointed by five actresses playing women — wives, mothers, sisters, lovers — of the soldiers, telling their stories in monologues and chorus-like passages. Paradis's script covers the emotional spectrum, from humor to pathos, from anguish to joy. Cincinnati theatrical veteran Robert Allen directed the piece, and he keeps it from become maudlin or unbelievable. In fact, the tale is deeply moving — not to mention profoundly sad when the men are all but forced to return to their trenches and the senseless warfare that they've momentarily escaped. Nevertheless, a thread of hope runs through Soldier's Christmas, an emotion that makes this seem fitting for the season. Tickets ($18-$22) are available for performances on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and a Sunday matinee at 3 p.m.

For something completely different, look for the hilarious production of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. This is the ninth consecutive year for Cincy Shakes to present this mash-up of holiday tales told by three inventive comic actors and one very drunk Santa Claus. I've seen the production, featuring Sara Clark, Billy Chace, Justin McComb and Miranda McGee (she's Santa with a can of Foster's and her native Australian accent) for several years running. Even when I know what's coming, I find myself laughing out loud. That's because the cast and director Jeremy Dubin refresh the material every year with topical references and new bits, so it you have to keep up with their quick wit and frequent ad libs. McComb is the goofy but mischievous innocent; Chace is a pompous hipster; and Clark is the Dickens devotee who tries to coax her colleagues to pull together for the greatest "BHC" (Beloved Holiday Classic) of them all, A Christmas Carol. They steadfastly refuse, spewing forth with machine-gun rapidity one sharp parody or silly take on these familiar stories . The second act (the entire performance is about 90 minutes with an intermission) seems to be headed into Scrooge territory, but it keeps veering off into It's a Wonderful Life — in the most delightful and daffy way. After awhile you begin to wonder whether these shows are all somehow connected. And in fact they are: with an exclamation point provided at the end with a rendition of "Every Christmas Carol Ever Sung," an amazing compilation of musical numbers spliced together. Tickets ($28) for this production are virtually sold out, but it's worth a call to see if you can get in, especially for tonight's special 11 p.m. performance. In case you're wondering, Cincy Shakes does have a liquor license so you can join in the good fun with a drink of you own. Box office: 513-381-2273.

Most every local stage in Cincinnati is presenting a holiday show this weekend, so check CityBeat's listings for more choices. It's a great weekend to go out and have fun at the theater.

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

by Rick Pender 12.15.2014
Posted In: Theater, Performance Art at 09:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Call Board: Theater News

Actors Sought: If you're an actor looking for an unusual afternoon this week, the Cincinnati Police S.W.A.T. team invites you to volunteer for a training event on Tuesday from noon to 3 p.m. at a location near downtown. Officer Tim Eppstein wrote this in his announcement: "Volunteers will play characters in S.W.A.T.-type situations that may include hostage situations, barricaded individuals and suicidal individuals. These trainings have been very effective for the S.W.A.T. negotiators, and the volunteer actors report that it is a positive experience, allowing them to grow as actors and have fun in an extreme role." Eppstein needs 5-6 volunteers; if you're interested, give him a call at 513-352-4566. ]

A Mega-Hit: Crossroads Church in Oakley (3500 Madison Rd.) has a major holiday hit on its hands, it appears. Its annual monumental production of Awaited, under way since Dec. 5, completely filled 29 performances in less than 24 hours when free tickets were made available in late November. That's a total audience of 100,000 seats, double the number that attended a year ago. Crossroads has presented Awaited since 2007. It's the familiar Bible story of Jesus's birth staged in a spectacular production described as "a Christmas rock concert meets the ballet meets Cirque du Soleil meets the Omnimax"; it uses a cast and crew of 265 volunteers. Performances continue through Dec. 23, and the event's website encourages those interested to look into standby seating and to check in periodically regarding the availability of returned tickets.

Celebrate on the West Side: There's a new event on Saturday at the historic Dunham Arts Center (1945 Dunham Way): A day full of festivities, The Price Hill Holiday Xtravaganza, begins at 11 a.m. with Santa's Frosty Follies, a 45-minute revue of favorite holiday characters and songs. (Tickets are $8.) Santa shows up after the show to review kids' lists and pose for picture. The day culminates with a 7 p.m. performance of It's All About Love, a 90-minute holiday variety show featuring tributes to the Andrews Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Whitney Houston and more. (Tickets for this one are $16; $14 for students and seniors.). Proceeds from the day will benefit restorations of the arts center, which is the home for Sunset Players, a community theater company. (The building was part of a one-time tuberculosis hospital dating back to 1879.) You can order tickets online or by calling 513-588-4988.

The Feds Support Our Local Arts Scene: The National Endowment for the Arts made seven grants to Cincinnati area arts organizations, pumping $165,000 into our local arts economy for 2015. One of these will support the Cincinnati Playhouse's production of Tracy Scott Wilson's Buzzer, about a young lawyer who moves back to a rapidly redeveloping neighborhood where he grew up. The play (March 21-April 19 on the Shelterhouse Stage) will encourage dialogue about race, gentrification and urban renewal. Another grant will support Cincinnati Opera's world premiere of Morning Star (June 30-July 9 at the School for Creative and Performing Arts) by composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist William Hoffman, a work about the immigrant experience a century ago in New York City. Other local grant recipients include ArtWorks, Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Symphony, Kennedy Heights Art Center and Taft Museum of Art.

At the Movies: In less than two weeks you'll be able to see the new film of Stephen Sondheim's great musical Into the Woods featuring Meryl Streep, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp. Directed by Rob Marshall (he won the 2002 Academy Award for his film of the musical Chicago), it opens on Christmas Day. Here's the trailer: http://youtu.be/Rl1CWNFClqg

CityBeat's Rick Pender posts theater notices on CALL BOARD every Monday morning.
by Rick Pender 12.12.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
plaid tidings_covedale center- photo mikki schaffner

Stage Door: A Weekend of Holiday Theater

This weekend affords you numerous chances to see a holiday show. (Quite a few shows will still be onstage in another week, but you might be too busy shopping or baking cookies ...)

A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse has been drawing crowds for 24 seasons, and it's worth seeing (CityBeat review here). Lots of people do it as a family outing. (Tickets: 513-421-3888.) If kids are younger, you might consider Sleeping Beauty at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati (CityBeat review here). This is the 18th year that ETC has offered a musical fairy tale created by two local artists, playwright Joe McDonough and composer David Kisor. (Tickets: 513-421-3555). Both shows are lots of fun (Christmas Carol does have some ghosts, of course, but they are portrayed with humor and wit), quickly paced and dazzlingly produced with costumes and sets that make watching an enjoyable outing.

A new holiday show to the area is Soldier's Christmas, presented at Northern Kentucky University by New Edgecliff Theatre and the Actors & Playwrights Collaborative. This weekend marks the premiere of local playwright Phil Paradis's show about a remarkable event that happened on Christmas Eve 1914 when battle-weary British and German soldiers came out of their World War I trenches, left their weapons behind and celebrated the holiday together. The "Christmas Truce" was also the subject of Cincinnati Opera's Silent Night, presented last July. (Tickets: 888-428-7311).

If you simply want to have a good time, I gave a Critic's Pick to the Covedale Center's production of Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings (CityBeat review here). The show is a sequel to the amusing musical about a quartet of Doo-Wop singers who return from heaven to do the big concert they missed out on in life (they died when their car was broadsided by a busload of girls on their way to see the Beatles' American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show). This time they're back to do a Christmas concert. It's a lot of silliness, of course, but the four guys — all musical theater majors at UC's College-Conservatory of Music — are talented singers, dancers and actors, so they're a blast to watch. (Tickets: 513-241-6550).

More high-jinks are available thanks to OTR Improv at the courtyard at Arnold's Bar & Grill for The Naughty Show (starting Sunday evening, presented by Know Theatre; tickets: 513-300-5669), as well as Falcon Theater's production in Newport of The Eight Reindeer Monologues (it finishes up this weekend; 513-479-6783).

Finally, if you're tired of holiday stuff (and who isn't when it gets cranked up not long after Halloween?) there are three choices for you: Cincinnati Shakespeare's very funny The Comedy of Errors (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-
381-2273); Know Theatre's mysterious and magical The Bureau of Missing Persons (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-300-5669); and Cincinnati Playhouse's staging of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical (CityBeat review here; 513-421-3888). The latter has been selling lots of tickets, causing the Playhouse to extend the show until Jan. 11.
Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 12.09.2014
Posted In: Theater at 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
clooney copy

Call Board: Theater News

Actors Sought. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati hosts its third annual Meals for Monologues on Monday and Tuesday between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 1127 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine. It's an open casting call to Equity and non-union actors for theater, film, TV and/or commercial projects cast by the theater's artistic director D. Lynn Meyers. Interested performers should bring two non-perishable food (pasta, canned goods, etc.) or toiletry items (soap, toothpaste) to the theater — to be donated to the Freestore/Foodbank as well as a current headshot and résumé and a short prepared monologue, song or two monologues. (No accompanist, so songs need to be performed a capellla.) Time slots are five minutes maximum and are available by appointment only. The deadline was last Friday, but a quick email to Ben Raanan (braanan@ensemblecincinnati.org) will let you know if any slots are still available. Meyers is a member of the Casting Society of America, and she has tons of projects and connections beyond shows at ETC; she recently did a lot of casting during two locally shot films, Carol and Miles Ahead.

Seasonal Fundraiser for New Edgecliff. The classic holiday story, Miracle on 34th Street — yes, the one with Kris Kringle and Natalie Wood as a child actor — will be brought to life as a radio production on Sunday evening at the Northside Tavern (4163 Hamilton Ave.) as an old-time radio drama. Produced by New Edgecliff Theatre with sound effects by WMKV's Mike Martini, it's a benefit to the theater group. Admission is $35, and it includes a dessert buffet at intermission provided by Cincinnati State's Midwest Culinary Institute. Tickets: 888-428-7311 (or at the door).

Rosie Keeps Singing. The Cincinnati Playhouse's production of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical seems to be a big hit. The show, onstage in the Shelterhouse, opened on Nov. 20, and on its first night artistic director Blake Robison announced that sales were brisk enough to make it possible to extend the production a week beyond its intended closing date (Dec. 28) to Jan. 4. Demand for tickets has continued, so the Playhouse has extended the show another week, now closing on Jan. 11. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Welcome to Dystopia. If you've read Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale, you know it's a creepy vision of the not-too-distant future in which the United States has become a theocracy called the Republic of Gilead. An oppressive regime forces women to bear children for population growth, but Offred resists the demands made of her. Cincinnati Shakespeare gave Joe Stollenwerk's adaptation of the show a workshop in 2009 and a short-run production in 2011 featuring veteran Cincy Shakes actress Corinne Mohlenhoff as Offred. Next month Know Theatre fills in a TBA slot in its season with the show's first full-fledged production (Jan. 23-Feb. 21). Cincy Shakes' Brian Phillips will stage the one-woman piece with Mohlenhoff. They are married, so this is an unusual opportunity for them to work together on a new work rather than the classics that Cincy Shakes usually stages. Tickets ($20) are now available: 513-300-5669.

CityBeat's Rick Pender posts theater notices on CALL BOARD every Monday morning.

by Rick Pender 12.08.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
christmas carol_cincinnati playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: A Ho-Ho-Whole Lotta ​Holiday Shows

If you want to go to the theater this weekend, you have plenty of choices, so long as you have the spirit of the season. Let's start with the familiar: Cincinnati Playhouse launched its 24th year of A Christmas Carol last week, and it's always a pleasure to see, featuring Bruce Cromer as Scrooge. But there are many more fine acting performances, including Ryan Wesley Gilreath as Bob Cratchit and Douglas Rees as the ebullient Mr. Fezziwig. Played out on a wingding of a set that spins and glitters and makes it possible to tell the story swiftly, Dickens' classic tale is a wonderful holiday tradition. Through Dec. 28. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888

Another tradition continues at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, where Sleeping Beauty is being revived for the fourth time. For 18 seasons, ETC has presented original shows by two local creators, playwright Joseph McDonough and composer David Kisor. It's a family-friendly piece that's conceived to entertain kids and adults with its innocent charm and a message that one person can truly make a difference. Many of ETC's regular actors return annually to do these shows, especially Deb G. Girdler (as the evil Wisteria) and Michael G. Bath (as her nefarious henchman). Intern Deirdre Manning is the sweet princess who sleeps for 100 years, and Terrance J. Ganser is both the prince who fulfills her curse and the one who breaks her free a century later. Especially enjoyable as a trio of mischievous fairies are Sara Mackie, Denise Devlin and Brooke Steele as Marigold, Lilac and Daisy. (They will be familiar to ETC audiences from several productions of the "Marvelous Wonderettes.") Through Jan. 4. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555

Lots of good holiday choices are up and running elsewhere: Forever Plaid – Plaid Tidings at the Covedale Center on the West Side; The Comedy of Errors at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company downtown; The Eight Reindeer Monologues at Falcon Theatre in Newport; and the Children's Theatre of Cincinnati's production of The Snow Queen at the Taft Theatre downtown.

If you prefer to avoid elves, nutcrackers and bah-humbugs, you should try Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical (CityBeat review here) at the Playhouse or The Bureau of Missing Persons, a the magical, mysterious production at Know Theatre (CityBeat review here).

Ho, ho, ho, indeed. That's enough theater to make anyone jolly.

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

by Rick Pender 12.01.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
susan haefner as rosemary clooney - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Clooney, Christmas Carol and Comedy

Earlier this week I took my mom to see Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical at the Cincinnati Playhouse (CityBeat review here). It was just as good the second time around. Mom, who loved Clooney as a performer in her heyday, had this to say: "It was like seeing her perform live!" I agree: Susan Haefner offers a wonderful interpretation of a Cincinnati icon; and it's great fun to watch Michael Marotta (the only other actor onstage) play her psychiatrist and a dozen or so other characters from Rosie's life. It's a great story of a woman who overcame some daunting demons and made a second career when she had been largely forgotten. Through Jan. 4. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888.

Even though everyone's Christmas decorations have been up for a while, the holiday season doesn't really begin for me until the Cincinnati Playhouse opens its production of A Christmas Carol. Well, there's no more waiting for that one: For the 24th consecutive year, the Mt. Adams theater kicks things off tonight with a glittering production of Charles Dickens' story of the re-education of Ebenezer Scrooge by several ghosts and the loving family of Bob Cratchit. This show is worth seeing simply for Bruce Cromer's winning performance in the pivotal role, but there's so much more — it's a scenically beautiful production, and the ensemble totally enters into the spirit of the season and brings the audience right along, too. Through Dec. 28. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888.

Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors is not exactly a holiday show, but it's a lot of fun (CityBeat review here), what with two sets of twins intersecting without realizing the confusion they're causing. Of course, it all sorts out eventually with a happy ending and multiple weddings. Set in a carnival town and costumed as if it were America in the 1930s, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production induces laughter from start to finish. It would be a happy weekend outing for anyone, young or old. Through Dec. 13. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273.

Know Theatre's production of The Bureau of Missing Persons is an evocative and entertaining piece of alternative theater (CityBeat review here). The story of a woman's quest from her New York City apartment to a cave in Moscow in search of someone missing is described in the show's publicity as "a poignant tale of loss and redemption — part mystery, part love story." It's also the directorial debut for Tamara Winters, who recently became Know's associate artistic director. There's a preview tonight and the official opening is Saturday evening; it will be onstage through Dec. 20. Tickets ($20 in advance; $10 at the door 10 minutes prior to curtain, if available … cash only): 513-300-5669.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 11.21.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
susan haefner as rosemary clooney at cincinnati playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: A Girl Singer and Two Pairs of Twins

Many Cincinnati stages are momentarily paused, readying shows for the holidays. Last night the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park opened its production of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical. Susan Haefner does a remarkable job of channeling the "girl singer" from Maysville, Ky., who grew up in Greater Cincinnati. We learn how she became a star, rose to fame, almost lost it to pills and dissolute behavior, then battled back for a "flip side" to her singing career. All the other characters in her story — male and female, young and old, famous and unknown — are performed by Michael Marotta, who principally plays her counselor but is amusingly convincing as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Merv Griffin and many more. It's a thoroughly entertaining two hours on the Playhouse's Shelterhouse stage, and it's already appealing to audiences apparently, since the show's run has been extended from Dec. 28 to Jan. 4. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company kicks off its next production of the 2014-2015 season tonight with The Comedy of Errors. The emphasis in this show, one of Shakespeare's earliest works, is definitely on the comedy, what with two pairs of twins whose adventures are hysterically compounded by mistaken identities when they end up in the same town on the same day. For this staging, it's set in a seaside resort in America of the 1930s in the midst of a classic carnival, adding to the story's hilarity. This one will only be onstage until Dec. 13, so this weekend is the perfect time to catch a performance, before holiday shows take center stage elsewhere. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273

One last treat I'll mention, which happens to be operatic rather than theatrical: It's Great Scott, a new work that Cincinnati Opera is nurturing in partnership with UC's College-Conservatory of Music. The production's creators have been in town all this week honing this brand new opera, the story of a struggling opera company and the hometown football team. They come into conflict when the team is to play in the Super Bowl on the same day the company has planned to premiere a long lost opera. To heighten the drama, the team's owner is married to the opera company's founder. The composer is Jake Heggie, who wrote the music for Dead Man Walking, a work produced by Cincinnati Opera at Music Hall in 2002, and Great Scott's script is by prize-winning playwright Terrence McNally. The week's work will culminate in a public reading on Tuesday evening. It's free, but you are asked to make a reservation by calling 513-241-2742 to see it at Memorial Hall (1225 Elm Street, next door to Music Hall; it's easy to park your car in the nearby Washington Park Garage).

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 11.14.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Broadway Here, Broadway There — It's Everywhere

If you're looking for good theater this weekend you have two great choices at downtown Cincinnati's Aronoff Center. It's your pick: Recent Broadway hit Once, in a touring production, or a past award-winner, Young Frankenstein, staged by one of Cincinnati's best community theaters.

The musical Once began life as an Academy Award-winning film in 2007; the song "Falling Slowly" won an Oscar. The film became an off-Broadway production as a musical in 2011 then a Broadway contender in 2012, where it won eight Tony Awards, including best musical. Since 2013 it's been a hit in London (the film is about musicians in Dublin, and the stage adaptation is set in an Irish pub) and on a national tour in the U.S. a year ago that's been much praised. It's that tour presently onstage at the Aronoff Center's big hall. It's a very contemporary love story that succeeds in part because it's unpredictable: Boy Meets Girl (yeah, that's a cliché) but despite their chemistry and potential for romance, it doesn't turn out as you might expect. Along the way, a great cast of actor/musicians play instruments onstage and sing their hearts out as the story unfolds. And it's fun: Arrive early enough and you can queue up to go onstage and order a pint from the bar there and mingle with some of the cast. If there's such a thing as a casual musical for contemporary music lovers, this is it. Through Nov. 23. Tickets ($33-$80): 513-621-2787.

Don't think that you'll see something less than professional if you choose to head to the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater to see Young Frankenstein, presented by Cincinnati Music Theatre through Sunday. This company of local theater junkies knows how to make big musicals work, and this jokey show by Mel Brooks (based on his equally jokey classic comedy from 1974) is a great vehicle for a talented cast and crew. There are great sets (designed by Rick Kramer) and visual effects (by Jeff Surber), and the talented performers milk every laugh line to the nth degree. Charlie Harper is lots of fun as the latter-day scientist Frankenstein, Alison Evans is his fetching lab assistant Inga and Kate Mock Elliott has great moments as his twitchy fiancee Elizabeth. Chuck Ingram's portrait of the Monster is spot on, and his delivery of the show's big number, "Puttin' on the Ritz," will stick that tune in your head for days in ways that Irving Berlin never imagined. Tickets ($20-$24): 513-621-2787.

Broadway star Faith Prince is making a local appearance at Memorial Hall for an 8 p.m. concert tonight. It's part of a series of "Libations & Lite Bites," this one titled "Broadway & Bordeaux." The evening begins at 6:30 with hors d'oeuvres from local restaurants, wine and cocktails and concludes with dessert and more. Tickets ($47-$57): cincinnatimemorialhall.com.

If you've got Broadway on the brain and you're on Cincinnati's West Side, you should definitely check out the Covedale Center's production of Stephen Sondheim's fairytale musical Into the Woods, finishing up its run on Sunday. It's an entertaining classic (in December it will be on movie screens everywhere in a new film version featuring Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp), and the Covedale has a great cast to put it across. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

You still have a chance to catch one of our great local actresses, Dale Hodges, in Driving Miss Daisy at Covington's Carnegie through Sunday. She's playing haughty, elderly Daisy Wertham, unwillingly partnered with Hoke, an African-American chauffeur (Reggie Williams) hired by her solicitous son Boolie (Randy Lee Bailey). It's a solid ensemble and a very entertaining production. Tickets ($18-$25): 859-957-1940.

And if you're looking for something that's brand new and edgy, check out All New People by contemporary writer Zach Braff. It's onstage at Clifton Performance Theatre, staged by Untethered Theatre through Nov. 30. It starts with a suicide attempt on Charlie's birthday and spirals from there. I'm going to see it this weekend. Maybe I'll see you there. Tickets ($20): 513-939-0599.

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



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by Rick Pender 10.02.2015 5 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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Stage Door

Sex and its various outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Rick Pender 09.25.2015 12 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 18 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 26 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 32 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
seven guitars @ actors theater louisville 2015 (l-r) forrest mcclendon, j. alphonse nicholson_photo credit by bill brymer

Stage Door

Theater seasons starts movin’

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

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

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

by Rick Pender 08.28.2015 40 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 07:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
shakespeare in the park crowd - photo provided by cincinnati shakespeare company

Stage Door

Park your theatergoing outdoors

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

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

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

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

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

by Rick Pender 08.21.2015 47 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 8-14 hundred days @ know theatre - id from left - lindsey mercer - abigail bengson -brian koch - shaun bengson -colette alexander - photo by daniel r. winters

Stage Door

A few end-of-summer theater choices

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

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

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

by Rick Pender 08.14.2015 53 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 8-14 hundred days @ know theatre - id from left - lindsey mercer - abigail bengson -brian koch - shaun bengson -colette alexander - photo by daniel r. winters

Stage Door

Only a few more days for 'Hundred Days'

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

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

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

I wish I could tell you that 9 to 5, the third musical in the inaugural season at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, is as entertaining or well done as its predecessors, The Producers and 1776. But it isn’t. Nevertheless, based on the strength of the season so far and the novelty of going to a brand-new theater most of the tickets for this lightweight musical have already been snatched up. It’s based on a movie from the 1980s that featured Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. Parton’s countrified tunes, written for the musical not the movie (which did feature her hit song of the same title), are mildly entertaining, but the story is full of clichéd stereotypes about “working girls” who struggle to work with a chauvinistic boss. The real Parton makes a video appearance, but it’s not quite enough. Through Aug. 30. Tickets: 513-241-6550

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

by Rick Pender 08.07.2015 61 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 8-5 -hundred days at know theatre - id - shaun bengson - photo by daniel r. winters

Stage Door

Make ’em Laugh: Midsummer Theater

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

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

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

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

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

by Rick Pender 07.31.2015 68 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 7-31 - hundred days at know theatre - id - abigail bengson -  photo by daniel r. winters (1)

Stage Door

Make ’em Laugh: Midsummer Theater

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

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

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

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

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

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