I don't often write about community theater. It's really a matter of time and space; we have so much good theater here in Cincinnati and not so much space in CityBeat, so I have to make some choices. I also don't have enough time to catch every community theater production — trust me, there are a lot of them. But over the weekend I felt compelled to see The Drowsy Chaperone, produced by Cincinnati Music Theatre at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theater.
Abandon ship! Well, that's not exactly true. In fact, Cincinnati Landmark Productions has done a remarkable and loving job of sustaining the ship — in the form of the Showboat Majestic, which it has operated for 23 years in the face of at least 10 floods and countless repairs (including a leaky hull). But with its lease running out later this month, the company has decided not to return for the 2014 season.
Cincinnati Landmark will focus its endeavors on the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, the converted West Side movie theater where it will offer a "Summer Classics Season" in a vein similar to mainstream fare of classic comedies and musicals that has long drawn audiences to the Majestic. There have been 170 productions on board since 1991, attracting more than 350,000 patrons to the last floating theater in the United States. Cincinnati Landmark is also embarking on a new voyage with a performing arts center to be built in the Incline District in East Price Hill, a venue anticipated to be up and running as early as 2015.
Tim Perrino, executive artistic director at Cincinnati Landmark, says, "It's time to say goodbye. Our organization enjoyed a prolific chapter in the Majestic's grand history, painstakingly caring for the old boat" — launched in 1923 — "and producing seasons that paid tribute to her heritage."
Opening this week on Wednesday, Showboat Follies will be Cincinnati Landmark's final production on the Majestic. An annual tradition, it's a compilation of musical showstoppers, comic sketches, audience interaction and a return of the "Queen City Toast," a longtime staple of season-closing shows. "This show has become our love letter to the Majestic," Perrino says, adding that it's "a thank-you to our subscribers, longtime supporters and the many artists who helped make our time on the Showboat so special." Showboat Follies runs through Sept. 29.
During the summer of 2014, Cincinnati Landmark will present four productions at the Covedale: Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! (May 22-June 1); Neil Simon's comedy, The Sunshine Boys (June 19-29); Footloose (July 24-Aug. 3), the 2014 Cincinnati Young People's Theater production, a summer favorite using local high school talent; and a spectacular song-and-dance show, The Will Rogers Follies (Aug. 21-31).
In 1989, the Showboat Majestic was named a National Historic Landmark. No word from the City of Cincinnati, which has owned the Majestic since 1967, as to what might be next. The Majestic was operated with summertime shows by the University of Cincinnati for many years, and it served as a popular venue during several of the Tall Stacks festivals over the years.
Cincinnati Playhouse just opened Thunder Knocking on the Door, a show it staged in 1999 and sold a boatload of tickets — the most for any musical it’s presented in the past two decades! I was there on Thursday night for the opening, and this is a drop-dead gorgeous production — costumes, sets, lighting and sound by Broadway designers, and a cast of five who all have star-power. Even better, they form a wonderful musical ensemble when they need to. Keith Glover’s play is a fable about the Blues: Marvell Thunder is a mystical presence who years earlier lost a “cuttin’ contest” to a fellow named Jaguar Dupree, and now he’s back to even the score “where the two roads meet,” somewhere near Bessemer, Alabama. But Jaguar’s passed, survived by his wife (twice widowed since then) and his twin brother. Her and Jaguar’s twin children, Jaguar Jr. and Glory are musical and each have magical guitars that he bequeathed to them. Jr. has lost his to Thunder, and now he’s coming for the other one. But it’s complicated, because Thunder is turning to stone because it’s been so long since he’s been in love. All this is played out to a wonderful Blues score, most of it by singer and composer Keb’ Mo’. There’s a great band backing them up, and to make this tale all the more magical, among its technical team is an “illusion designer.” You’ll be asking, “How’d they do that?” more than once. I gave it a Critic’s Pick, and you should get your tickets right away. 513-421k-3888.
Know Theatre’s production of the recent off-Broadway and Broadway Rock musical hit, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a youthful mix of political commentary, driving Rock performances, history, humor and sober observations on the will of the people — just what we’ve come expect from Know Theatre. Not many musicals begin with the cast flipping the bird at the audience, but then not many musicals are like this one, spinning a tale of America’s seventh president to in-your-face Indie Rock tunes. This is Bloody Bloody’s first professional regional production. I gave it a Critic’s Pick, and the show is proving to be a big hit for Know. (Through May 12.) Box office: 513-300-5669.
Pump Boys & Dinettes at the Covington’s Carnegie Center is something like an off-Broadway classic (it had a brief Broadway run) from the early 1980s. Set in a filling station that’s also a diner, it’s a framework for downhome Country tunes and cornpone humor. Not much of a story, but a talented cast makes this one a lot of light-hearted fun. This is the final weekend. Box office: 859-957-1940.
Covedale Center is presenting Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s but Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I saw it last Friday and can recommend it as a production that does justice to a piece of entertaining fluff. Director Tim Perrino has assembled a fast-paced production with some fine voices. The jaunty show, which covers the familiar tale in about 90 minutes (including intermission), has fun with (and parodies) various musical styles — from Elvis-styled Rock and Western Swing to French ballads and calypso. Stone walls and palms slide back to reveal a sphinx and a smoking entrance for the Pharaoh (aka Elvis). It’s not groundbreaking in any way, but it is the kind of solid entertainment the Covedale has presented for 10 seasons. Through May 13. Box office: 513-241-6550.
And while I’m talking about lighthearted shows, make not that a tour of Mamma Mia, cramming tons of ABBA tunes into an implausible but funny story, makes a one-week stop at the Aronoff starting on Tuesday. It would be hard not to have a good time at any production of Mamma Mia. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
If you've ever wondered why musical theater fans think of Oklahoma! as the show that launched the "Golden Age" of musical theater, you need to get a ticket for this weekend's CCM performance of the 1943 classic by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. I attended the opening last night, and it's a stunning production firing on all cylinders. The cast is first-rate, especially senior John Riddle as handsome cowboy Curly McLain and Chris Blem as threatening Jud Fry. Julia Johanos is a feisty Laurey Williams, and CCM and Broadway veteran Pamela Myers comes back to where she got her start to play Aunt Eller, full of wisdom, piss and vinegar.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company continues its summer tradition of Shakespeare in the Park as the free series returns for the seventh year this August. Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be showcased in parks around the Greater Cincinnati area and Northern Kentucky Aug. 3-30.
CSC Ensemble Member Nicholas Rose is directing the classic lovers tale, Romeo and Juliet. While the fantastic story of betrayal and magic in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is being directed by CSC Education Associate Miranda McGee. Six actors from the CSC Resident Ensemble will be acting in these performances. After the free park tour, they will continue to tour community centers, schools, venues and other performance centers into May of 2014.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is continuing its partnership with Cincinnati Parks and Recreation, offering free shows at Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park, Burnet Woods, Mt. Echo Park and the new Smale Riverfront Park. Washington Park will see the group on their tour, alongside parks in Madeira, Colerain and Monroe in Ohio, and Burlington, Edgewood and Maysville in Kentucky. The acting troupe will have two performances at the Vinoklet Winery as well. Certain park locations will be accepting canned food and non-perishable items — CSC has a partnership with the Freestore Foodbank.
If a free, al fresco viewing of Shakespeare’s best sounds fun, then make sure to get to each performance early to ensure good seating. All shows are general admission with first-come, first-serve seating. For more information go to cincyshakes.com.
For show times and locations, refer to the list below:
Saturday, Aug. 3, Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. in Boone Woods Park, Burlington
Wednesday, Aug. 7, Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. in Eden Park – Seasongood Pavilion, Mount Adams
Thursday, Aug. 8 Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. in Burnet Woods, Clifton
Friday, Aug. 9 Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. in the Monroe Community Park, Monroe, Ohio
Saturday, Aug. 10 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 6:30 p.m. in the Harry Whiting Brown Lawn, Glendale
Sunday, Aug. 11 Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. in the McDonald Commons Park, Madeira
Wednesday, Aug. 14 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Browning Shelter, Maysville, Ky.
Thursday, Aug. 15 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Mt. Echo Park, Price Hill
Friday, Aug. 16 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. at the Vinoklet Winery, Colerain
Saturday, Aug. 17 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. at the Miami Whitewater Forest – Harbor Point, Harrison
Sunday, Aug. 18 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Washington Park, Over-the-Rhine
Wednesday, Aug. 21 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Burnet Woods, Clifton
Thursday, Aug. 22 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Colerain Park
Friday, Aug. 23 Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. at the Vinoklet Winery, Colerain
Saturday, Aug. 24 A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Keehner Park, West Chester
Sunday, Aug. 25 Romeo and Juliet at 6 p.m. in Presidents Park, Edgewood, Ky.
Tuesday, Aug. 27 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Uptown Park, Oxford
Wednesday, Aug. 28 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center Lawn
Thursday, Aug. 29 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. at the Smale Riverfront Park, Downtown
Friday, Aug. 30 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. at the Eden Park – Seasongood Pavilion, Mount Adams
Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues is a complicated noir-ish tale of marital deceit and cryptic crime that unfolds more clearly because of its accomplished four-actor cast, including local professionals Bruce Cromer (who’s played roles as varied as Ebenezer Scrooge for the Playhouse to King Lear for Cincinnati Shakespeare) and Amy Warner (a regular at Ensemble Theatre and Cincinnati Shakespeare). The show is a fascinating piece of theater that takes work to watch, follow and absorb. I suppose that some casual theatergoers will be put off by it, but if you like challenging drama and multi-layered acting, you’ll leave the theater with your gears spinning. I gave Speaking in Tongues a Critic’s Pick in this week's "Curtain Call" column. Onstage through March 4. Box office: 513-421-3888.
If you’re a fan of the Cincinnati Fringe, you should check out the Transmigration Festival at CCM on the University of Cincinnati campus. I was there last evening and saw three of the six performances, especially enjoying Booth, an interactive piece by nine actors based on John Wilkes Booth’s final days. I also was entertained by The Eddie Shanahan Show, closely inspired by Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but with some very modern twists. Attendees choose between six brief productions (30 minutes or less) that are completely created, promoted, enacted and staged by drama students. It’s a February boost of creativity, staged throughout the CCM facility, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30, as well as a 2:30 matinee on Saturday. Admission is free, but you need to call the CCM box office to reserve your ticket: 513-556-4183.
Another university option can be found at NKU. It’s Aaron Sorkin’s The Farnsworth Invention, telling the story of Phil Farnsworth who invented television but spent much of his life in legal wrangles with David Sarnoff, RCA executive and the first “media mogul.” Sorkin's credits — from The West Wing to The Social Network — are a guarantee of a heady, exciting tale based on real events. Tickets ($14 is the maximum price): 859-572-5464.
Know Theater’s “comedy of anxiety” by Allison Moore, Collapse, opens with the collapse of a highway bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. But it’s about all kinds of things falling down — the economy, relationships. This is the kind of edgy script Know Theatre is known for, funny but meaningful. I gave the production a Critic’s Pick because it combines heart and humor. Collapse is presented with comic finesse and fine acting, especially by local professional actress Annie Fitzpatrick. Know’s best work of the season. Through March 3. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
This weekend is your last chance to see the regional premiere of Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man at Ensemble Theatre (through Saturday evening). The historical play, set in Richmond, Va., in April 1865, just days after the end of the Civil War, is a gripping drama that’s beautifully staged and convincingly acted. I gave it a Critic’s Pick. The production has been extended a week because of demand for tickets; you won’t be contending with subscribers this weekend, so if you haven’t seen it yet — call for a ticket: 513-421-3555.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
If you're looking for an unusual but gripping theatrical production this weekend, you should head straight to UC's College-Conservatory of Music for The Threepenny Opera. Don't think that this is some stuffy old piece from 1928, although that's when the
show with a script by Bertoldt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill was first
performed. It was radical and challenging, mocking the establishment
and paying no heed to social structures. This musical theater production, staged by CCM Opera Chair Robin Guarino, feels lethal and threatening. You'll recognize a tune or two ("Mack the Knife" is the show's familiar tune), and if you've seen Cabaret or Urinetown, you'll recognize how this piece influenced those works. Guarino's production, with a big cast and an
imaginative set (designed by Tony Award winner John Arnone), captures
the vitality and spirit of the original work. I doubt we'll see another
production of this one very soon, so here's your chance to catch a bit
of theater history — and be both entertained and provoked. Definitely worth seeing. Through March 10. Box office: 513-556-4183.
If you haven't yet seen Know Theatre's production of When the Rain Stops Falling, that's another one you should have in your sights. Andrew Bovell's dense, imaginative script is a compelling story of multiple, intersecting generations of two families. (Review here.) The taut, engaging 100-minute production, staged by Cincinnati Shakespeare's Brian Phillips, features several of that company's best actors, as well as several other local standouts. One of the best productions from Know Theatre in several seasons. It's onstage through March 16. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
I haven't seen it (alas, my schedule just doesn't have room for everything), but Legally Blonde: The Musical at NKU has received props from the League of Cincinnati Theatres as an entertaining production. It's the story of Elle Woods, spurned by her fiancé, off to Harvard Law School in pursuit of him, only to discover that she's got the smarts to be more than just a girlfriend. Not profound, but surefire entertainment. Through Sunday. Tickets: 859-572-5464
The best theater is honest and real, and that's what True Theatre is setting out to offer via four evenings of "true stories told by real people" beginning tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Know Theatre and continuing into next summer.
If you're still working on your checklist of holiday shows, there have been several added performances for shows at Know Theatre, Ensemble Theatre and other venues you should keep in mind.