While other Cincinnati theaters hustle to get their seasons announced in order to ramp up subscription sales, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati has built enough faith with its audiences that they'll start signing up sight unseen. Artistic Director Lynn Meyers tells regulars that they'll be pleased, and they take her at her word; she adds that if they aren't happy with the shows she picks, they can have their money back. No one asks for it.
Of course, ETC presents shows that haven't appeared elsewhere in our region yet, typically premieres that have only recently been onstage in New York City. And they're given productions with great acting and beautiful design so well assembled that many shows have extended runs. (That's happening with the show concluding the current season, John Patrick Shanley's Outside Mullingar, which opens on Wednesday with a stellar cast that includes local stage veteran Dale Hodges and Cincy Shakes Artistic Director Brian Phillips. ETC has announced it will run a week longer than initially indicated, now closing on May 30.)
For its 30th season, ETC has assembled three regional premieres and a revival of a musical it staged to great acclaim in 1999, with a TBA slot (March 22-April 10, 2016) that's likely to bring another show that's been a recent Broadway or off-Broadway hit. Here's the lineup announced over the weekend:
Luna Gale (Sept. 8-27, 2015) by Rebecca Gilman: The show recently received the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, and it was considered by many to be a strong contender for the Pulitzer Prize in drama. It portrays the moral dilemma facing a social worker with a crushing caseload and personal baggage. She must decide whether to leave a child with neglectful drug addict parents or place her with a grandmother who is a religious zealot. It's a complex and disturbing work about faith and forgiveness that doesn't offer easy answers for the lifelong after-effects of abuse. Its first production was in January 2014 at the Chicago's Goodman Theatre. It's slated for productions at Cleveland Playhouse and Actors Theatre of Louisville in the coming season, but ETC's happens first.
Buyer and Cellar (Oct. 13-Nov. 1, 2015) by Jonathan Tollins: The one-many comedy was a big New York hit in 2013, telling the story of an out-of-work actor who takes on the odd job of playing shopkeeper for Barbra Streisand in the basement of her lavish Malibu estate. It's a fanciful imagining of what one does with decades of memories and acres of memorabilia. Performing the piece will be Nick Cearley, a Cincinnati native who has appeared at ETC in next to normal and The Great American Trailer Park Musical.
Cinderella (Dec. 2-Jan. 3, 2016) by Joe McDonough, David Kisor and Fitz Patton: ETC's holiday show is a remount of its contemporary take on the classic fairy tale that demonstrates that being smart can be truly beautiful.
Grounded (Jan. 26-Feb. 14, 2016) by George Brant: It's another solo show, described by one critic as "ardently humane," about a woman who's an ace pilot reassigned to operate a remote-controlled drone from a windowless trailer near Las Vegas. It's a hit at New York City's Public Theater right now featuring Anne Hathaway in a production directed by Julie Taymor. Hunting terrorists by day and returning to her family at night, the boundaries begin to blur between the desert where she lives and the one she patrols half a world away in Iraq.
Violet (May 3-22, 2016). Jeanine Tesori's musical won the Drama Critics Circle Award and the Lucille Award for best musical when it premiered off-Broadway in 1997. It was a local award winner, too, but not seen by many who have come to love ETC's offerings. The score features American Roots tunes as well as Folk and Gospel styles. Violet's story is set in the 1960s; she is a young woman disfigured in a childhood accident who dreams of a miraculous transformation through the power of faith provided by a televangelist. It was one of ETC's best early productions, and it's a great choice to cap off a celebration of three decades of fine theater.
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Christopher Durang's witty comedy Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike opened last night at the Cincinnati Playhouse. If that title makes you think of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, well, that's part of the playwright's comic plan. But his script reassembles some of those wry comic elements with a few modern twists. The three characters with Chekhovian names are siblings with wildly divergent perspectives; "Spike" stirs things up by being more physical than intellectual. You don't have to know any theater history to have a good time with this play, especially when Vanya launches into a 10-minute rant about what's wrong with the modern world — referencing everything from postage stamps and technology to global warming and a lot of TV from the 1950s. It's hilarious. This show is being staged at theaters all over America this season. For more about Durang, read my Curtain Call column. Through May 23. Tickets: 513-421-3888
The Covedale Center has carved our a meaningful niche in the local theater scene with staging Golden Age musicals, and they're opening one of the best this weekend, Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music. It was the final show by the pair who created Oklahoma, South Pacific, Carousel and The King and I. Thanks to the movie featuring Julie Andrews, I don't really have to tell you what it's about. But I should mention that the stage version has a bit more of a socio-political edge to it: Two of my favorite numbers (that didn't make it into the film) are "No Way to Stop It" and "How Can Love Survive?" — pay attention to them for some sassy songwriting. The show is onstage at the West Side theater through May 24; tickets: 513-241-6550
Several worthwhile productions are finishing their runs this weekend with Sunday performances. That includes the searing psychological and political drama Death and the Maiden by Diogenes Theatre Company, featuring Annie Fitzpatrick, Michael G. Bath and Giles Davies at the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Tickets: 513-621-2787 … Cincinnati Shakespeare is winding up its staging of the great comedy of love and combat, The Taming of the Shrew. (Read my review here). Tickets: 513-381-2273 … And if you've ever struggled to connect with a play by the Bard, you might enjoy John Murrell's Taking Shakespeare at Dayton's Human Race Theater Company. The latter is about a disillusioned college professor asked to tutor her dean's son through a freshman class in Shakespeare. The subject is Othello, and their wrangling helps them learn more about one another. It's some fine acting, with Jon Kovach, seen frequently on Cincinnati stages, as the opinionated but drifting young man. Tickets: 937-228-3630
Know Theatre of Cincinnati
Andrew Hungerford, Know Theatre’s artistic director, has pointed out that the coming season is the company’s 18th, and that at years of age, “We’re ready to do everything that entails: step into a wider world, fall in love, confront loss, get a crazy summer job, have a history lesson, party with some college kids, give up our childhood toys, obsess over Star Wars again, rail against poverty and injustice, engage in civic discourse, major in the sciences and then, maybe, take a trip to the beach.” Know is planning a lot of shows including works that are entertaining and socially conscious and that offer lots of opportunities for local artists.
“As we near the 10th anniversary of moving into our home at 1120 Jackson St., I think we’re getting ever closer to the vision that Know Theatre’s leadership has always had for this space,” says Producing Artistic Andrew Hungerford. “From our mainstage to Serials to Fringe, there is so much happening on our stages. It really is a theatrical playground here. And seeing the Underground filled with an audience eager to be a part of the next crazy thing we make reminds me exactly why I took this job.” Hungerford is completing his first season of artistic leadership. Here’s what’s in store for his second:
Serials 3: Roundhouse (Late June) will be another stab at short-form theater. This time out there will be five playwrights involved in creating five episodic plays. Each week they’ll trade who’s writing which story.
One-Minute Play Festival (July 10-12, 2015) This event will invite writers to consider the world around them, their cities and communities and the ways they view the world, then write topical moments that say something about what’s happening here and now. The results, probably 70 to 90 of them, will be put together into three evenings of performance.
Hundred Days (July 24-Aug. 22, 2015). This is a show conceived by the Bengsons, a singer-musician couple who have been Cincinnati Fringe festival favorites, and they workshopped it here in 2011. It’s about a couple whose time together is cut short by a fatal illness. They decide to live the 100 days left as if it were the 60 years they had hoped for.
The Hunchback of Seville by Charise Castro Smith (Oct. 9-24, 2015) with CCM drama students, will be staged by CCM drama faculty member Brant Russell. Set in 1504 in Spain, it’s an irreverent comedy that turns historical atrocities on their heads.
Andy’s House of [blank] by Paul Strickland and Trey Tatum (Oct. 30-Nov. 14, 2015). This will be a fully staged version of the show that was presented in 15-minute increments across the five evenings of Serials 2: Thunderdome. (It’s the only show that made it through five weeks.) It’s a small-town, mystery-spot, time travel musical about an unusual man who runs a store that’s an every changing emporium of oddities. Strickland and Tatum are Fringe Festival veterans.
All Childish Things by Joseph Zettelmaier (Nov. 20-Dec. 19, 2015) is about three guys who still have Star Wars on the brain, despite being 30 years old. It’s set in Norwood, and the fact that Kenner, designer of Star Wars toys was headquartered in Cincinnati, is important to this story. This production happens right around the time that Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens will be in movie theaters. The playwright has been recognized several times by the American Theatre Critics Association, including this play in 2006.
The Naughty List by OTR Improv at Arnold’s Bar & Grill (December 2015) picks up on the Star Wars theme, too. This holiday iteration is subtitled, “The Jolly Awakens.”
Serials 4! (January 2016). Another round of episodic storytelling.
BlackTop Sky by Christina Anderson (Jan. 29-Feb. 20, 2016) is a story about love, violence, community, mental illness and the line between poverty and true homelessness. Kimberly Faith Hickman, the New York City-based director who staged Know’s thought-provoking production of The Twentieth-Century Way in April 2014, will stage it.
Beertown by dog & pony DC (March 2-19, 2016) is another crossover by a Fringe Festival act: dog & Pony performed A Killing Game here in 2013. For this show, they’ll present alternative tales about our town’s history and we get to choose which version we like — a mash-up of choose your own adventure and maybe a murder mystery dinner party. Every performance begins with a dessert potluck; audiences are encouraged to bring a dessert to share.
Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson (April 15-May 14, 2016), one of America’s hottest young playwrights. Know presented her Macbeth-themed script, Toil and Trouble back in 2014, and the Cincinnati Playhouse is giving her new play The Revolutionists its world premiere in February 2016. Silent Sky is the true story of 19th-century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt and a group of revolutionary women who found a way to measure the universe.
The thirteenth annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival happens in late May and early June 2016. Followed by one more (June 24-July 16, 2016) show that’s still TBA (June 24-July 16), but Hungerford hints that it could be by Steve Yockey, whose surreal Pluto was staged by Know early in 2014.
New Edgecliff Theatre
New Edgecliff Theatre has announced three shows for its 2015-2016 season, planned for a new Northside venue at St. Patrick’s Church. “These are plays that challenge the way the characters view their lives and the circumstances they find themselves in,” says Producing Artistic Director Jim Stump. “They are stories of how much can change when you change how you look at things.”
Frankie and Johnny in the Clare de Lune by Terrence McNally (Sept. 17-Oct. 3, 2015). Jared Doren staged an excellent production of William Inge’s Bus Stop for NET in 2013, and he’ll be back to put together this show about a pair of lonely, middle-aged people whose first date ends with their tumbling into bed. Things head in different directions from there. This show, which debuted in 1987, had a sterling production at the Cincinnati Playhouse back in 1989; the Playhouse presents a new play by McNally, Mothers and Sons, in the spring of 2016.
The Santaland Diaries (Dec. 3-19, 2015) is a reprise of David Sedaris’s very funny monologue about working as an elf in Macy’s Santaland in New York City. This holiday staple has been missing from local stages for two seasons; it will be fun to see it again.
The Shape of Things by Neil LaBute (April 14-30, 2016). Former NET artistic director Elizabeth Harris will direct LaBute’s 2001 play about a man who thinks a woman is romantically interested in him when she’s actually using him as the subject of her MFA thesis project.
Under the management of new artistic director Maggie Perrino, Covington’s Carnegie will present four productions of well-known theater titles in the Otto M. Budig Theater.
Company by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth (Aug. 15-30, 2015) is about a single man and his married friends. The show, which won a dozen Tony Awards in 1971, has some of Sondheim’s greatest musical numbers, including “The Ladies Who Lunch,” “Getting Married Today” and “Being Alive.”
Sleuth by Anthony Shaffer (Nov. 7-22, 2015) is about playing games, but in this tale, the games are deadly serious. Veteran director Greg Procaccino will stage this famous Tony Award winner, a whodunit that will keep audiences guessing from start to finish.
The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg (Jan. 21-31, 2016) will be the Carnegie’s “lightly staged” musical for the coming season — a production that puts music and storytelling over physical staging. The production will feature the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, led by J. R. Cassidy, performing all the tunes from the classic 1939 movie.
The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown (April 9-24, 2016) is an excellent contemporary musical (from 2001) about Jamie and Cathy, a young couple going through a divorce. His story and hers travel in opposite directions through time. Brown is one of the best of Broadway’s next generation of composers.
Commonwealth Dinner Theater
This company offers professional productions with dinner at Northern Kentucky University during the summer months. Productions are often sold out, so be sure to call early to reserve tickets (859-572-5464). This summer’s shows have characters from opposite ends of the age spectrum.
The Sunshine Boys (June 3-21, 2015) is Neil Simon’s 1971 comedy about two aging vaudevillian comics who have grown to hate each other after 40 years of working together. They’re reuniting for a special about the history of comedy, but keeping them on the same page is no easy task.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin (July 8-26, 2015) is about a contest featuring six quirky adolescents, overseen by three oddball adults. Its 2005 Broadway production was a surprise winner of several Tony Awards. Brush up on your spelling and you could be one of several audience members invited onstage to test your skills against the “kids.”
In its second year as a degree program, Xavier University Theatre is undertaking an ambitious season that features two Broadway musicals, a world premiere and a contemporary drama, staged by former Cincinnati Playhouse artistic director Ed Stern.
The undergraduate actors at Xavier will give Cincinnati audiences a second chance to see The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Oct. 22-24, 2015).
Stern will direct Kenney Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth (Dec. 3-6, 2015), the story of three wayward young people navigating New York in 1982 as they try to thread their way into adulthood.
In an especially challenging endeavor, the theatre program will present three plays in repertory during a two-week stretch (Feb. 17-28, 2016): Miss Julie by August Strindberg will be staged by veteran actress Torie Wiggins; Betrayal by Harold Pinter will be staged by another stage veteran, Bruce Cromer; and a new play by student playwright Tatum Hunter, Eve, will be staged by Bridget Leak.
Jonathan Larson’s rock musical Rent (April 21-24, 2016) will round out the season. It’s another Tony Award winner — and it landed a Pulitzer Prize, not often bestowed on a musical. Set in New York’s East Village, it follows a story about bohemian artists struggling to get by, inspired by Puccini’s opera, La Bohème.
Actors Theatre of Louisville
In 2016 the Humana Festival of New American Plays marks its 40th anniversary at Actors Theatre of Louisville. The theater has commissioned Sarah Ruhl, one of America’s most respected current playwrights, to create a new work, Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday, for the occasion. The play, a moving look at growing up and growing old within a family, will be presented from March 10 to April 10, 2016. Ruhl’s works have been offered by many of Cincinnati’s theatres — The Clean House by the Cincinnati Playhouse, Eurydice by Know Theatre, Dead Man’s Cell Phone by Ensemble Theatre and In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) by CCM Drama at the Carnegie in Covington.
This is a busy time of year on local stages, and that's especially true at colleges and universities where the academic year is winding down.
At Northern Kentucky University, the 17th biennial Year End Series (Y.E.S.) Festival is underway, presenting three world premiere productions in rotating repertory. It's a Grand Night for Murder opened on Thursday; The Divine Visitor, a Restoration Comedy through a sci-fi filter (figure that one out) starts tonight; and Encore, Encore, about witty and caustic New York writer Dorothy Parker, gets underway on Saturday. There will be multiple performances through April 26. Tickets: 859-572-5464
At Xavier University this weekend you can find a production of the Rock musical Spring Awakening, the winner of eight Tony Awards in 2007. It's about a group of students struggling through adolescence to adulthood — with a lot of rebellion along the way. It's being presented in XU's Gallagher Student Center Theater. Tickets: 513-745-3939
A lot of high school students have been recruited by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company for more than 38 free art events based on the works of Shakespeare. You might recall that CSC "completed the canon" (produced all 38 of Shakespeare's plays) a year ago. The celebrate that accomplishment, the company devised Project 38 to work with numerous area schools. Each one was assigned and worked with some of the company's artists to be inspired in productions, art, writing — whatever moved them. The initiative is culminating in an eight-day festival of free performances and exhibitions in Over-the-Rhine's Washington Park. School performances are all free. Since performances of The Taming of the Shrew are sold out on CSC's mainstage, Project 38 gives you the chance to see Shakespeare you might have missed otherwise. Schedule here.
There's another take on a student coming to terms with the Bard at Dayton's Human Race Theatre Company: Taking Shakespeare is the story of a disillusioned college professor asked to tutor her dean's son through his freshman Shakespeare class. It's got its humorous moments, but the show delivers a serious message about living up to expectations. Playing the student is Cincinnati actor Jon Kovach, who's performed on numerous local stages. Through May 3. Tickets: 937-228-3630
The farcical show by Steve Martin, The Underpants, is evoking laughs at the Otto M. Budig Theatre in the Carnegie in Covington. It's a bit risqué, but the humor is very gentle. Tickets: 859-957-1940 … Not so gentle is the production of Death and the Maiden by Diogenes Theatre Company at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theatre. This three-character thriller is set in an unnamed Latin American country where a woman gets control of a man she believes once tortured her under a brutal dictatorship. It's a powerful piece, magnificently acted by three top-notch professionals familiar to Cincinnati theatergoers — Annie Fitzpatrick, Michael G. Bath and Giles Davies. Not for the faint-hearted or those who are squeamish about violence, but this is production that deserves to be seen. Through May 2. Tickets: 513-621-2787
One last note, for anyone interested in playing a supernumerary for Cincinnati Opera (that's like being an extra in a movie): Open casting for the upcoming summer season happens on Monday at 6 p.m. at Music Hall. You don't have to be a singer. In fact, no experience is necessary; positions are filled on a voluntary basis. Details here.
There's a ton of theater opening up this weekend, something for just about every taste. But if you're looking for something free, I have a special recommendation: It's 110 in the Shade at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. This is a production in the Cohen Family Studio Theater (an intimate black box venue that seats about 150). The production is in the "Musical Redux" series, bringing back a show that's not often produced. 110 dates back to 1963. It's the story of Lizzie Curry, on her way to being an "old maid," who lives with her dad and her brothers. A charming con man shows up posing as a rainmaker and promises relief to drought-stricken farmers. Is he for real? Lizzie has her doubts, but he works hard to win her over. CCM Studio productions are free, but reservations are required (513-556-4183), and performances are often filled up. This one is likely to be a lot of fun; it's this weekend only, final performance at .
Two shows on local stages are dealing with top-of-mind issues of race and urban living, one at the Cincinnati Playhouse, the other at Ensemble Theatre.
Last evening the Playhouse opened its production of Tracey Scott Wilson's Buzzer. Wilson is a playwright who's not afraid to get at prickly issues of contemporary life (read more here), and that's what she does in this piece that could be set in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine. (It's actually in New York City, but that doesn't make it less relevant.) Jackson returns to his onetime childhood neighborhood, once neglected and now trendy; he's black, girlfriend Suzy is white, and so is Jackson's troubled friend Don, out of rehab yet again and needing a place to stay. Their triangle is a toxic mix with a troubled past that's exacerbated by life in a neighborhood where black and white relations are strained. The Playhouse is offering talkbacks after each performance to discuss issues raised, and there will be a panel discussion focused on OTR's housing challenges here in Cincinnati on Saturday evening at 6 p.m. My take: This show is more about personal relationships that aren't entirely honest, even though there is constant conversation about "no secrets." The actors in this tense drama are vividly real, unpredictable and vulnerable; you'll feel like they're people you know. (Through April 19.) Tickets: 513-421-3888
The second show that's heating up conversations about race is ETC's staging of Dominic Morisseau's award-winning play, Detroit ’67 (reviewed here). While the story has a historical setting — the story of family aspirations and disappointments unfolds against the backdrop of the Motor City's race riots almost 50 years ago — it almost feels ripped from current news stories about unrest stemming from police brutality in Ferguson, Mo. Five actors portray some colorful and occasionally humorous characters from the era involving the family dynamic between a brother and sister who differ about making ends meet in a challenging environment. Motown tunes from the ’60s are the soundtrack for a story that's often painful but ultimately hopeful. (Through April 5.) Tickets: 513-421-3555
Know Theatre opens Hearts Like Fists tonight at its Jackson Street stage in Over-the-Rhine. Adam Szymkowicz's comic-book-inspired action adventure has some fine local actors as the Crimefighters, female superheroes who are out to stop Dr. X, on a mission to murder happy couples in their sleep using a deadly serum that goes straight to the heart. When the show was staged in New York in 2012, the New York Times called the show's comic hybrid of parody and punches "madcap" and "hysterical." That's what Know will be striving for, through April 25. Tickets: 513-300-5669
If you are interested in seeing actors, singers and dancers who are on their way to professional careers, you might want to catch Senior Showcases from the drama and musical theater programs at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. The drama majors, readying their piece for trips to Los Angeles (for potential TV work) and New York City, will perform today at 2 and 7 p.m. at Patricia Corbett Theatre. (Admission is free.) The triple threats graduating from the musical theater program offer their showcase twice on Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m. as they prepare to shine for Broadway producers and casting agents in New York next week. Admission is free but reservations are required: 513-556-4183.
Planning ahead? The popular touring production of The Lion King returns to Cincinnati where it's been a big hit twice, in 2003 and 2007. The magnificent musical about good overcoming evil and youth finding maturity opens on Tuesday for a four-week run at the Aronoff Center. (Through April 26.) Tickets: 513-621-2787
I took a trip to my senior year in high school when I attended the opening of Detroit '67 by Dominique Morisseau at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati on Wednesday. It's set in Detroit during that city's 1967 "race riots," but they are the backdrop for a family drama: Sister and brother Chelle and Lank are trying to make ends meet by running an after-hours club in the basement of their family home, now theirs since the death of their parents. Chelle is satisfied with the status quo; Lank dreams of owning his own legit bar. But they'd need to sell the house to make that possible, so they're at an impasse. He's impetuous and makes moves to buy a local joint without her knowledge, only to have the destructive riots threaten his deal. More personal complications make the story interesting, if a bit too pat. Motown tunes — Lank buys an eight-track player to replace his sister's turntable — make this production a walk down memory lane for Baby Boomers. But Detroit '67 will grab everyone because the events of five decades ago are eerily and sadly similar to recent disturbances in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere. (Through April 5; tickets: 513-421-3555)
Peter and the Starcatcher at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a playful and over-the-top imagining of the origins of Peter Pan. It's not a very adult cup of tea; it's more a swig of giggle-inducing rum. But if you yearn to head back to childhood for a few hours — playing with words, making fart jokes and having an adventure "against impossible odds" — this production is a joyous must-see. (Through April 4; tickets: 513-421-3888)
The Marvelous Wonderettes was a big hit for Ensemble Theatre a few years back. They staged the original story of girls singing Doo-Wop hits in 1958 and coming together again in 1968 for more old tunes, and did well with several sequels that kept audiences eagerly coming back for more. The show is now being presented at the Covedale Center in West Price Hill, and it has a nostalgic draw for people who grew up with those tunes. But the production's characterizations of Cindy Lou, Betty Jean, Missy and Suzy feel a little shallow, reducing the potential charm of the show. Nevertheless, it's a lot of fun if you love the music of the era and remember your own angst about boyfriends and girlfriends. (Through April 4; tickets: 513-241-6550)
Cincinnati Shakespeare's very pleasant production of an adaptation of Little Women continues through Saturday evening; tickets: 513-381-2273. The musical based on Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel about the March sisters is onstage through Saturday, too, at Newport's Stained Glass Theatre, produced by Footlighters, Inc., a community theater; tickets: 859-652-3849.
The moving play based on The Diary of Anne Frank is being presented this weekend by the School for Creative and Performing Arts with performances remaining on Friday and Saturday evening at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. It's the powerful story of a Jewish family who went into hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II; Anne, the diarist who recorded their tribulations, died at age 15 in a concentration camp. Tickets: here.
Need suggestions for a good theater production to attend this weekend? Here are some good choices on Cincinnati stages.
Last night I attended the opening of Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It’s an inventive recreation of the legendary African-American pitcher who found his fame eclipsed by Jackie Robinson. The changes wrought by events in 1947 affected both black and white Americans, and this play by Ricardo Khan and Trey Ellis explores them. They know their way around storytelling: Their play Fly, about the Tuskegee Airmen, was well received at the Playhouse in 2013. In this one, players from two teams of baseball all-stars, one black and one white, share a boarding house on a rainy night in Kansas City. We get to eavesdrop on what they might have talked about, their dreams, their grudges and their fates. Robert Karma Robinson wholly inhabits the role of Paige as an angular, grumpy philosopher of sports, race and life. It’s onstage through May 21. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Before they wrote My Fair Lady and Camelot, the lyricist-composer team of Lerner and Loewe had a 1949 hit with the musical Brigadoon. It’s about a pair of American tourists who happen upon a mysterious town in Scotland that appears just once every century. Of course, one of the guys falls in love with a resident of the town — and that gets complicated. When I was six years old, I went to see this show with my very British grandfather, my first experience of musical theater. I still love the show, and I’ll be seeing it this weekend at the Covedale Center, where it will be onstage through May 22. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
Don’t shy away from Cincinnati Shakespeare’s production of Julius Caesar because you read it in high school. Set in ancient Rome, there’s as much political intrigue — and perhaps more danger — that you’d find in your average episode of House of Cards. Several fine acting performances make this production especially watchable: Brent Vimtrup gives a textured performance of the principled but conflicted Brutus; Josh Katawick is the “lean and hungry” Cassius who recruits the assassins who bring down Caesar; and Nick Rose is the wily Mark Antony who finds a way to turn Caesar’s death to his own advantage. Once you’ve seen this production, you should make plans to return for a kind of sequel as Cincy Shakes stages Antony and Cleopatra with several of the actors from Julius Caesar reprising their roles. Through May 7. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
Playwright Lauren Gunderson presented a quartet of badass women from 18th-century France in The Revolutionists at the Cincinnati Playhouse back in February. Some more strong females — Americans from the early 20th century — are the characters of Silent Sky, the current production at Know Theatre. The central character is Henrietta Leavitt, an aspiring astronomer who had to work doubly hard to earn recognition for her scientific insights. She’s bracketed by a devoted, conservative sister and a pair of “lunatic women” who are her scientific colleagues. Director Tamara Winters has an excellent cast of actors to tell this story — especially Maggie Lou Rader in a luminous portrait of the feisty, persistent Henrietta. Through May 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati seldom brings back a show it’s presented in the past, but when it staged Jeanine Tesori’s musical Violet back in 1998, that was long before Over-the-Rhine was a go-to neighborhood for entertainment. So there’s a good rationale for reviving this lovely, heartfelt story. Check out this video preview.
You have more theater choices this weekend than time, I suspect, so choose carefully depending on the kind of show you most enjoy.
If it’s a classic, I suggest you check out Julius Caesar at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. This tale of one of history’s most memorable political assassinations is one of Shakespeare’s shorter plays, about two hours and 15 minutes. But it’s action-packed with a lot of intrigue, soul-searching and emotions that ebb and flow. Cincy Shakes relies on its acting ensemble to fill these iconic roles, and they bring them to life more vividly than I’ve seen in a long time. Josh Katawick is especially engaging as the leader, “lean and hungry” Cassius, whose motives are not far below his ambitious surface; Brent Vimtrup is Brutus, caught up in the plot for reasons of principle rather than envy, and his subtle performance of this conflicted man is compelling. Veteran Nick Rose is the blustery soldier Marc Antony, who’s actually a subtle manipulator of opinion. (We’ll see more of him next month when Cincy Shakes move on to Shakespeare’s other Roman play, Antony and Cleopatra). Through May 7. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
An engaging new play, Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky, is onstage at Know Theatre, the story of Henrietta Leavitt, a woman of science from a century ago when women were not expected to have meaningful insights. But drawn to the mysteries of astronomy, she tirelessly made advances despite many barriers. Maggie Lou Rader plays the feisty woman, and her moral support from two older women, played by Annie Fitzpatrick and Regina Pugh, has elements of humor. This is a well-acted, well-staged play (direction by Know’s Tamara Winters), worth seeing. I gave it a Critic’s Pick with my CityBeat review. Through May 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
The 2014 movie of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods featured Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, James Corden and Johnny Depp. A production currently onstage at Northern Kentucky University doesn’t have that kind of star power, but the student cast does an admirable job with a show that places extraordinary vocal demands on singers. Director Jamey Strawn hit upon an imaginative framing device for the legendary fairy tale mash-up, setting it in a library where a young boy (played with a mischievously expressive demeanor by Charlie Klesa, a sixth-grader at Mercy Montessori), hides away for an overnight adventure of reading and fantasizing. As giants threaten the kingdom, books tumble from the library’s two-story-tall shelves. Into the Woods requires a big cast, and more than 20 NKU student actors plus a stylized wooden cow are clearly committed to giving their all to this production. Opening night on Thursday was an enthusiastic full house. Through May 1. Tickets: 859-572-5464.
Neil LaBute’s plays traffic in complex, often ironic,
manipulative situations, frequently brutal stories of abusive, selfish
behavior. The Shape of Things, presented by New
Edgecliff Theatre at Hoffner Lodge in Northside, is that kind of story —
about Evelyn, an ambitious young woman who makes an art project of
Adam, another student who thinks their relationship is a love affair.
Rebecca Whatley and Matthew Krieg handle these complicated roles
believably, but you’ll walk away wondering about their motives — she’s
cold, he’s clueless. It’s a compelling, disturbing story that makes for
an evening of edgy, psychological theater. Another Critic’s Pick with my
CityBeat review. Through April 30. Tickets here.
There’s a touring production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast onstage at the Aronoff Center through Sunday. It’s an entertaining, visually captivating production. There’s nothing new about it, to be sure, but the young cast carries off the sprightly songs and choreography with lots of energy. I wish there was a little more heart and a little less clowning, especially by Sam Hartley as the Beast, who’s meant to be a tragic hero. The chemistry between him and Brooke Quintana as Belle is in the script, but it only shows up intermittently onstage. Nevertheless, Wednesday night’s full house with lots of kids dressed for the evening clearly had a good time watching the story unfold. Through Sunday. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
Quick Notes: True Theater is back for another quarterly evening of storytelling on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. Know Theatre. This time the theme is True Gay, so it will be enlightening to hear the personal reminiscences that get shared. … At UC’s College-Conservatory of Music this weekend, the drama program presents a staged reading of Grace Gardner’s new script, Very Dumb Kids, tonight 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. It’s the beginning of a new play commissioning initiative that will foster new works. … This is the final weekend for David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross at the Incline Theater in East Price Hill and for Jason Robert Brown’s musical, The Last Five Years, at The Carnegie in Covington.
We’re closing in on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1616, and today is the Ides of April (that means the 15th of the month), so let’s start with several notes about the Bard.
Cincinnati Shakespeare’s production of Julius Caesar continues this weekend (it’s onstage through May 7). You might recall that the emperor’s assassination happened on the Ides of March. We’re a month late, but it’s worth noting since that historic event was the impetus for one of Shakespeare’s great plays of Roman history. Caesar is the focal point, but the play’s most interesting characters are Brutus, the morally conflicted conspirator, and the ambitious Marc Antony, who has his own designs on the throne. It’s also worth noting this production, since it will be followed in May by Shakespeare’s other Roman story, Antony and Cleopatra. Many of the actors playing key roles in Julius Caesar will return in the second production. It’s a rare pairing of these two works, made possible by Cincy Shakes depth of talent in its resident acting company. I wrote about this project in a recent Curtain Call column. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
If a history play isn’t enough, then you might want to
head to the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood where Cincy Shakes is continuing
its education initiative, Project 38 Festival, working with more
than 1,600 students at 45+ different area schools to bring each of
Shakespeare’s 38 plays to life in creative ways. The celebration is
already underway (performances continue through Monday) in Washington
Park and the Woodward Theatre (1404 Main St.) — 43 free performances in
all. Eighteen performances feature exclusively Shakespearean text, while
others interpret the plays with music, dance, filmmaking and visual
arts. One is even told with computer animation. For the festival’s full
schedule, go here.
Know Theatre opens Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson this weekend. The Cincinnati Playhouse recently presented Gunderson’s intriguing show, The Revolutionists, a fantasy set during the French Revolution. The show at Know is rooted in real events, too, focusing on a group of brilliant women hired by the Harvard Observatory to catalog the stars. Directed by Tamara Winters, the production features a cast of excellent local professionals — Maggie Lou Rader, Justin McCombs and Miranda McGee (from Cincy Shakes) and Annie Fitzpatrick and Miranda McGee (regularly seen at Ensemble Theatre). It’s a fascinating story as well as a chance to experience another work by an award-winning young playwright. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
New Edgecliff Theatre opened the final production of its 2015-2016 season this week, Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things.
It’s an emotional drama about relationships and love and what you can
believe. Performances are at The Hoffner Lodge (4120 Hamilton Ave.,
Northside). Read my recent column for more about NET’s search for a
home. For NET tickets here.
A production with young audiences in mind kicks off this weekend with the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s “Off the Hill” staging of The Garden of Rikki Tikki Tavi adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book by playwright Y York. It’s about a fierce mongoose and his enemy the cobra Nag. The show, directed by the Playhouse’s new director of education, Daunielle Rasmussen, debuts at the theater on Saturday (10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.); tickets are $5 at the box office. The show then tours throughout Greater Cincinnati, starting Sunday at 2 p.m. at Cedar Village Retirement Community in Mason. Full schedule here.
I’m heading to Louisville this weekend for the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre. (You’ll find a report online and in CityBeat later this month.) For those of you staying in town, there are several interesting shows to catch locally.
If you’ve been a Fringe Festival regular for the past three years, it’s likely that you’ve enjoyed one of Paul Strickland’s musical monologues about the Big Fib Trailer Park Cul-de-Sac. If you missed them (or if you simply want to be outrageously entertained by them again), they’re being reprised this weekend at Falcon Theater (636 Monmouth St., Newport). Papa Squat’s Store of Sorts happens on Friday at 8 p.m.; Ain’t True and Uncle False shows up on Saturday at 8 p.m. Both evenings you can catch Tales Too Tall for Trailers at 9:15 p.m., the latter featuring Strickland with Erika Kate MacDonald, shadow puppets … and clothespins. Advance tickets: 513-300-5669
Incline Theater continues to produce adult drama, this time with David Mamet’s hard-hitting (and foul-mouthed) Glengarry Glen Ross. It’s about a group of unprincipled real estate guys competing to be the top dog in a slimy sales contest, selling worthless Florida property and homes to unsuspecting buyers. Their jockeying for position knows no ethical bounds. That might sound like a story that’s tough to watch, but the play — which won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for drama — uses a kind of word-jazz with Mamet’s rat-a-tat-tat dialogue that makes it both fascinating and darkly humorous. The Incline’s production, which opened Wednesday, features seven actors directed by stage veteran Greg Procaccino. They wrestle with this gristly verbiage, some with more success than others, but Mike Dennis (as the hard-selling No. 1 guy, Ricky Roma) has just the right amount of oiliness and superficial arrogance, and David A. Levy (as nervous George Aaronow) is especially convincing as a schlub who can’t catch a break. Nik Pajic (as brash young Dave Moss) has a lot of fire, and Joel Lind (as over-the-hill Shelly “The Machine” Levine) is sympathetic playing a character who talks way too much as he revels in past success. Mike Hall portrays the trying-to-be-tough sales manager; Tom Peters is a gruff cop investigating the very suspicious burglary in the show’s second act; and Scott Unes has a brief scene as a hapless client trying to get out of a bad deal. Through April 24. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
Perhaps you read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar
in high school. Maybe it’s time to revisit it during a presidential
election year where the draw of power and the charisma of men who want
to govern is top of mind. This production, opening tonight and running
through May 7, will be followed by Antony and Cleopatra (May
13-June 4), in which Shakespeare returned to several of the earlier
play’s central characters. Cincinnati Shakespeare is producing the two
works in sequence with the actors playing the overlapping roles in both
shows. It will be an interesting chance to see how the plays relate and
diverge, and how young generals become old politicians. Read more about
Cincy Shakes’ productions in my Curtain Call column. Tickets:
Jason Robert Brown’s musical exploration of a marriage that comes apart, The Last Five Years, is told in an unusual way, with parallel stories, one running from start to finish and the other in the opposite direction, from the final sad moments to the joyous beginning. The retelling of Jamie and Cathy’s marriage in a series of solo songs overlaps at only one moment — their wedding day. It’s a fascinating way to track the course of love … and loss. Brown’s gorgeous score makes it all the more poignant. Weekends through April 24. Tickets: 859-957-1940.
OK, the final four for men and women are now over and done, both with exciting finishes. If you’re in need of one more weekend of basketball action — featuring men and women — check out Lysistrata Jones, a musical performed in the Cohen Family Studio at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music. It’s an amusing retelling of the ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, updated to a story of women withholding their “favors” to get the men of the Athens University basketball team on the winning track. The show had a quick Broadway run in 2011-2012. Friday and Saturday. Admission is free, but you need to call ahead for tickets: 513-556-4183.
Wrapping up and continuing: Annapurna, about
the reunion of a colorful and dysfunctional couple, wraps up on Sunday
at Ensemble Theatre. At the Cincinnati Playhouse, an excellent stage
adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird finishes its run on Sunday, while the contemporary drama Mothers and Sons, about gay marriage and parenting, is on the Shelterhouse stage for another week.
Let’s start with the hilariously crude Tony winner, The Book of Mormon, in town for a brief one-week run. Even if you don’t have tickets yet (or didn’t think you could afford them), you might try your luck for the lottery with each performance. Leave your name at the Aronoff Center box office beginning two-and-a-half hours before a specific performance; you can request one or two seats. Two hours before the curtain, names are drawn at random for a limited number of $25 tickets. You have to be present for the drawing and show a valid ID. (Be forewarned: There have been as many as 800 entries at some performances.) The final performance is at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday.
There is some truly fine acting in Sharr White’s Annapurna at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. It’s the story of a once-married couple who couldn’t keep it together: Ulysses (Dennis Parlato), a recovering alcoholic who was once an esteemed poet (and a father) is now holed up in a trailer park in the wilds of Colorado. He’s not in a good way, but he’s surprised and none to hospitable when Emma (Regina Pugh), his wife from two decades earlier, shows up. Their encounter and subsequent soul-searching are sardonically comic and tragically poignant, and Parlato and Pugh make these vivid characters all the more human. Through April 10. Tickets: 513-241-3555.
Two excellent productions are onstage at Cincinnati Playhouse. Mothers and Sons by Terrence McNally (in the Shelterhouse) is a very contemporary story about gay marriage, parents and children. Even with the Supreme Court’s approval of marriage equality, there are still a lot of challenges to be faced, and this production, staged by the reliably insightful Timothy Douglas, presents them in some deeply personal ways. Read my review … In a more classic vein, although another story about parents and children, the Playhouse’s moving mainstage production of a theatrical adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird continues. In fact, it’s been extended a week beyond its initially announced closing, to April 10. That means tickets should be easily available next week. Box Office: 513-421-3888.
SHORT TAKES: A few more choices to consider this weekend: Know Theatre is presenting a Fringe Encore double-bill in Clifton. One production is a solo act, Cody Clark: A Different Way of Thinking, a young man from Louisville who has coped with autism by delving in the performance of magic. The other work is Kevin Crowley’s Hitchhikers May Be Inmates, in a performance featuring the actor-playwright with another respected local performer, Michael Bath. It’s a sarcastic cautionary tale about struggling to maintain sobriety. Both shows will be onstage at Clifton Performance Theatre (404 Ludlow Ave.) tonight and Saturday. Tickets available at the door … George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is the play Lerner & Loewe musicalized when they created My Fair Lady. Shaw’s script is a more thorny work, but the story is familiar. It’s at Northern Kentucky University’s black box theater through Sunday. Tickets: 859-572-5464 … Stay home and listen to WVXU (FM 91.7) on Saturday evening (8-10 p.m.) for an L.A. Theatre Works radio production of Moisés Kaufman’s excellent drama, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde … On Monday evening at 7 p.m., the Cincinnati Playhouse wraps up its series of script readings of works by writers whose shows are being produced there this season. This time it’s Theresa Rebeck’s Omnium Gatherum, the story of a surreal dinner party that echoes 9/11 and more. The reading is free, but a reservation is necessary. Box Office: 513-421-3888.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is really getting its act together. Not that they haven’t always been on top of things, but it’s often been deep into springtime before the coming season has been announced. Having recently shared the news about the expansion of its physical plant beginning in 2017, ETC has now shared what will be onstage for its 2016-2017 season — and much earlier than usual. Perhaps that’s because there were some evident artistic choices, as the information below will reveal.
ETC Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers has her finger on her subscribers’ pulses. Even before this announcement was released, approximately 80 percent of ETC’s 2,300 regulars had already renewed their seats for the coming season. That’s a demonstration of the confidence ETC subscribers have in Meyers’ judgment. Many of the season’s productions aren’t well known titles, but they have been chosen with specific and sharp insight into the preferences of ETC’s audience.
Here’s what’s in store:
The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez (Sept. 6-25, 2016): The season kicks off with show by Matthew Lopez, but it bears little resemblance to his powerful Civil War drama, The Whipping Man, which ETC staged back in 2012. This time it’s a heartwarming, music-filled comedy about Casey, a young optimist who’s broke, close to being evicted and discovering that he and his wife are pregnant. Oh, and he’s been fired from his gig as an Elvis impersonator in a run-down Florida Panhandle bar. His act is replaced by a B-level drag show, and he decides to go with the flow. It’s a new arena for him as a performer and a man. One review of the New York production called it “an irresistible and deceptively deep crowd pleaser.”
brownsville song (b-side for tray) by Kimber Lee (Oct. 11-30, 2016): I write annually about plays that get started at the Humana Festival in Louisville. (I’ll be headed there for the 38th annual event in April.) Two years ago this play received its world premiere there. Set in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, it moves between past and present to tell a tale about resilience in the face of tragedy. Tray, 18, is committed to making something of himself. He’s working on his college essay, boxing at the gym and holding down a part-time job. But he ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and in the blink of an eye his life is tragically over. His family is left to ponder what might have been. This poetic and powerful story jumps between a hopeful future and an uncertain present to show a unique perspective on urban violence. Myers picked this show knowing its run would overlap with August Wilson’s Jitney at the Playhouse, offering theatergoers two moving perspectives on the African-American experience.
Cinderella: After Ever After by Joe McDonough, David Kisor and Fitz Patton (Nov. 30-Dec 30): ETC’s production of Cinderella for the 2015 holiday season was one of the theater’s most attend shows ever. So for the 2016 holidays we get a world-premiere sequel, again created by playwright McDonough, lyricist Kisor and composer Patton. With the same actors who charmed audiences last December, this will be the story about what happens next. What happens when Cinderella and Prince Freddy move into the palace with her diva stepmother and her self-absorbed stepsisters in tow? What becomes of her beloved animal friends? And what’s Gwendolyn, “The Well Wisher,” up to now? All will be revealed in another family-friendly show.
First Date by Austin Winsberg, Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner (Jan. 17-Feb 5, 2017): This musical comedy had a Broadway run in 2013; ETC is presenting its regional premiere. It explores one of those treacherous human endeavors: the blind date. When Aaron, a first-time blind-date guy, is set up with serial-dater Casey, their casual drink turns into a high-stakes dinner as other restaurant patrons transform into supportive best friends, manipulative exes and protective parents — who sing and dance them through the dangerous waters of getting acquainted.
When We Were Young and Unafraid by Sarah Treem (Feb. 21-March 12, 2017): It’s 1972, before Roe v. Wade, before the Violence Against Women Act. Agnes has turned her quiet bed and breakfast into a refuge for young victims of domestic violence. But her latest runaway, Mary Anne, is beginning to influence Agnes’s college-bound daughter Penny. Playwright Treem (who’s been a writer for House of Cards and In Treatment) digs into the early days of feminism from various perspectives. The show debuted in New York in 2014; this is its regional premiere.
Bloomsday by Steven Dietz (April 4-23, 2017): Playwright Dietz’s newest play, a 2016 finalist for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award. His work has pleased ETC audiences four times in the past — Private Eyes (2000), Fiction (2007), More Fun than Bowling (2008) and Becky’s New Car (2010). This one is set against the backdrop of James Joyce’s iconic novel Ulysses. It’s about an American searches for the Irish woman who captured his heart 30 years earlier while he led “Bloomsday” walking tour in Dublin. The play bends time and space to explore a love affair that might have been. Meyers recently fell in love with this script; the show just premiered at ACT in Seattle last September; she moved quickly to obtain the rights to present its regional premiere here.
There’s plenty of theater on local stages this weekend. Here’s a round-up for you to consider:
Two shows based on very different classic novels are excellent choices. Emma, adapted from Jane Austen’s 1815 novel about well-intended matchmaking that goes awry, continues at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. The production takes advantage of the company’s strong female acting contingent, especially Courtney Lucien as the title character. At the Cincinnati Playhouse you’ll find a truly memorable and creatively staged rendition of Harper Lee’s 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Eric Ting’s production is exceptionally theatrical, using a barren stage to focus on the story’s characters rather than naturalistic settings. The big cast features numerous local professionals, somewhat unusual for the Playhouse, and they’re a pleasure to watch. It’s around until April 3. I gave Critic’s Picks to both Emma and Mockingbird. Cincy Shakes box office: 513-381-2273; Playhouse box office: 513-421-3888.
Beertown, the show currently onstage at Know Theatre, is as much an exercise in civic engagement as it is a piece of theatrical entertainment. Every five years a small town, perhaps in New England, revisits a time capsule to decide if the contents are still relevant. That leads to debate, and the audience is welcome to chime in during the “quinquennial” celebration, emceed by a self-assured mayor. You’re invited to bring desserts for a pre-show potluck; the townspeople (a cast of eight performers who are very adept at improv) mingle and introduce themselves before things get started and at intermission. This is the final weekend; Saturday evening’s performance at 8 p.m. will feature sign-language interpretation. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
With St. Patrick’s Day just passed, perhaps you’re looking for a piece of great Irish writing, with some trademark dark humor. Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane opens tonight at Falcon Theater in Newport (636 Monmouth St.). It’s about Maureen, a plain, lonely woman in her early 40s, who still lives with Mag, her manipulative, aging mother. Trying to stave off abandonment, Mag ruins what might be Maureen’s last chance at love — and that sets off some pretty bad behavior all around. This is not a show for the faint-hearted, but it’s a terrific script that was nominated for six Tony Awards in 1998. Through April 2. Tickets: 513-479-6783.
There’s a production of the 1963 musical She Loves Me on Broadway right now, and the charming show is getting pretty good reviews there. The same show is onstage at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts locally through April 3. It’s the story of Georg and Amalia, two lonely co-workers in a perfume shop, who get off on the wrong foot and quickly develop a combative relationship. At the same time, they’re having an unwitting pen-pal relationship with one another, quite charmed by the prospects. It’s a sweet, humorous tale, and the Covedale has some able performers — Rodger Pille and Erin Nicole Donahue — in the central roles. But the production, staged by Matt Wilson, feels disjointed, more a showcase for several comic story lines and amusing character roles than a coherent, offbeat tale of love that almost goes wrong before everything is happily resolved. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
The culmination of the excellent musical theater program at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music is the annual Not Yet Famous Showcase that seniors take to New York City. That’s about to happen, so CCM’s Class of 2016 is onstage locally to warm up before heading to Broadway for their debut next week in front of directors and casting agents. Two performances are set for Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m. in Patricia Corbett Theater. Admission is free but reservations are required (513-556-4183) … CCM Drama showcases its talent in both New York (for theater) and Los Angeles (for film and TV), and you can check out the acting talent coming out of that program in free programs on Friday at 2 or 7 p.m., also at Patricia Corbett Theater. Reservations are not necessary for the Drama Showcase.
The Cincinnati Playhouse is offering a series of readings of plays by playwrights whose shows are included in their 2015-2016 season. On Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. the offering is Terrence McNally’s A Perfect Ganesh, about two women from Connecticut on a journey to India as they try to heal from the deaths of their sons. (McNally’s more recent play, Mothers and Sons, is the next production in the Shelterhouse Theater, opening Thursday.) The reading is free, but reservations are required; a previous reading was sold-out, so call right away if you’re interested: 513-421-3888.
Looking for some good theater this weekend? There’s plenty to choose from on Cincinnati stages.
Last evening I was at the Cincinnati Playhouse for the opening performance of To Kill a Mockingbird. If you’ve read Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel or seen the classic film starring Gregory Peck, you know the story. But I bet you’ve never seen it quite the way Playhouse Associate Artist Eric Ting has staged this one. Reminiscent of Our Town, it’s played out on an all-but-bare stage — no scenery, minimal props — just great storytelling acting, including a lot of local professionals: Dale Hodges, Annie Fitzpatrick, Torie Wiggins, Ken Early, Barry Mulholland, Jared Joplin, Randy Bailey and three sensational kids. The set is deceptively simple, but used very effectively with Ting choreographing the action using two concentric “revolves,” atmospheric lighting and sound effects. The Playhouse clearly has a winner with this production. It just opened and the demand for tickets is already so strong that it’s been extended to April 10, a week beyond the initially announced closing. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
When you put together a songwriting team like Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (the guys behind Fiddler on the Roof) and a writer like Joe Masteroff (he also wrote the script for Cabaret), the results ought to be good. And they were in 1963 when She Loves Me debuted on Broadway. Set in a 1930s perfumery, it’s about two shop clerks, Amalia and Georg, who don’t see eye to eye; both lonely and yearning for love, they unwittingly end up as pen-pals — and a warm-hearted comic romance ensues. (Sound familiar? It’s also the story of the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan hit film from 1998, You’ve Got Mail.) She Loves Me was revived on Broadway in 1993, and there’s a current production of it w by Roundabout Theatre Company. But you don’t have to travel to New York City to enjoy this charming show, since it’s onstage at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts through April 3. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
There are numerous whiffs of Fringe shows in the air this weekend. Beertown continues at Know Theatre through March 19, a concept brought to town by dog & pony dc, a group that’s performed more than once at Cincinnati Fringe Festivals. This one is an exercise in civics that happens to be highly entertaining, as a small town decides which items to keep or replace in a time capsule that’s reviewed every five years. Audiences get to join the conversation — and they do. With a cast featuring a lot of local improv and acting talent, Beertown is a thoroughly entertaining production, and it can go in different directions every time it’s performed. Know is also presenting a double bill of two past Fringe award winners — Petunia and Chicken from Animal Engine and Edgar Allan from the Coldharts. The former is a story of love and loss inspired by the works of Midwestern Prairie author Willa Cather; two actors play all the parts piece. Edgar Allan was inspired by imagining the boyhood of Edgar Allan Poe. If you missed these shows during the 2013 and 2015 festivals, you can see them at Know’s Jackson Street theater on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Tickets, for one or both shows, which are both presented each evening: 513-300-5669 or at the door.
If you’re still pining for Fringe-styled shows, try Transmigration 2016 at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, featuring student-created works presented tonight and Saturday evening at 7 p.m. This annual event by CCM’s drama program features teams of actors who write, promote, stage and perform a handful of 30-minute shows. For 2016 the titles are “Elliot Popkin: The Best Friends I Never Had,” “The Elephant in the Room,” “The Family,” “Colony Collapse Disorder,” “Vices” and “A Brief Eternity.” Show up for an evening and dash around the CCM complex to see four of these unpredictable but wildly creative pieces. Admission is free, but reservations are required: 513-556-4183.
Also at CCM: The thrashing, pulsating production of American Idiot continues through Sunday at Patricia Corbett Theater on the UC campus. If you’re a fan of Punk Rock (the show is a stage version of Green Day’s 2004 recording), this is the show for you … Prefer something more sedate? Head downtown for Cincinnati Shakespeare’s stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, which continues through March 26. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
Take your pick from four wildly different shows on Cincinnati stages this weekend.
For something completely different, check out Beertown at Know Theatre (through March 19). It’s a national touring project by dog & pony dc, a company that was here for several recent Cincinnati Fringes. The show is set in an imagined American town that opens a time capsule every five years to review its “eternal” and “ephemeral” contents. With the exception of dog & pony dc actor Wyckham Avery as the town’s patronizing mayor, the performers are all Cincinnati actors, a majority with significant improv experience. They solemnly execute the “20th quinquennial” ceremony to revise what’s saved and removed, relying on voluntary input from the audience as to what’s most important for the community. The show includes interspersed scenes (injected as “antecedents”) that reveal details of the century-long tradition. Beertown starts out feeling like an amusing Fringe show — artifacts range from serious items such as antique photos and a family bible to trivia such as pink slips and a “jar of smoke” — but by the time it’s over, with some cleverly planted messages from the ably played “townspeople,” you realize you’ve been part of a civic exercise that has depth as it explores just what’s important to a community. Know’s artistic director Andrew Hungerford says, “There’s nothing newer than a show that is created in partnership with the audience each night.” I’m not a fan of theatrical audience participation, but I was surprised and gratified by how Beertown unfolded and landed its messages. By the way, you’re invited to bring desserts to share for the potluck before ceremony begins. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
The Disney musical Newsies, based the 1992 film, is in town through March 13 at the Aronoff Center. The true story is unsubtle and predictable: Downtrodden newsboys in 1899 New York City get fed up with the high-handed ways of arrogant publisher Joseph Pulitzer and go on strike. Their “children’s crusade” wins out and improves conditions for kids who hawked papers on street corners. There’s no question from the outset that these spunky young fellows are going to succeed; Pulitzer is an unadulterated greedy villain, and Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro), the Peter Pan-like leader of the boys is played as the hero from the get-go. Nevertheless, Newsies indeed showcases athletic dancing — about 15 high-energy young men who high-kick, cartwheel and back-flip around the stage for more than two hours to imaginative choreography by Christopher Gattelli. The production’s design, big pieces of Erector Set-like structures that double as fire escapes and more, roll into various configurations and provide surfaces for video projections that set the scene. Not profound, but fun to watch. Tickets: 513-621-2787. An additional note: The show’s “newsboys” will present a special evening of song and dance on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. in the Aronoff’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater with the proceeds to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Tickets start at $25: cincinnatiarts.org/newsboys.
For another musical populated by disaffected youth dancing, check out American Idiot at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. Onstage at Patricia Corbett Theater, like Newsies, this show is rooted in real events — it opens with ominous video recollections of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It’s based on Green Day’s 2004 Punk Rock album, full of anger and angst. The show is more impressionistic than narrative following three young men yearning to escape the deadening humdrum of suburbia to do something, be somewhere, where they will feel more real. But crushing reality — ranging from parental responsibility to military service and drug addiction — bears down in depressing ways on them. After pain and searching, they find their way to stasis if not happiness. Along the way, the production, staged by Aubrey Berg with music direction by Steve Goers, pounds out Green Day’s mostly anxious songs; of singular note is CCM senior Samantha Pollino’s thrashing, hair-whipping, fist-punching choreography. One word of caution: This show is no-holds-barred in terms of drug use, sexual content and profanity. But frankly (and I do mean frankly), that’s a big part of what it’s about. It’s onstage through March 13. Tickets: 513-556-4183.
veteran company member Kelly Mengelkoch, Emma (through March 26) lives up to Cincy Shakes previous productions
of stage adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels — romances, first and foremost,
navigating the ins and outs of love and relationships in the early 19th
century. Austen’s central characters are usually feisty but moral women,
strong-minded and judgmental, and they match up well with the versatile female
talent in Cincy Shakes’ acting company. First and foremost is Courtney Lucien
as Emma Woodhouse, whose confidence in her matchmaking skills puts her in
several pickles with friends and acquaintances as well as personally. The
object of Emma’s plans is the modest Harriet Smith, played by Caitlin McWethy,
who often says as much with demeanor and facial expression as with the words
provided by Jon Jory’s adaptation of the 1813 novel. Despite some derailments
along the way, Emma is awash in wit and good humor. I gave this production a
Critic’s Pick. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
Perhaps by now you’ve heard that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is building itself a new home at 12th and Elm streets in Over-the-Rhine. (Construction is already under way.) But before the move, there’s one last season of theater to be produced at 719 Race St., Downtown, the space where the group has performed since the late 1990s but has outgrown.
Brian Phillips, Cincy Shakes’ producing artistic director, says, “Before we go, we have one last season here on Race Street. We will present a slate of titles that are as nostalgic as they are timeless and represent the next phase of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. This is the perfect chance to join us as we bid a fond farewell to Race Street, because this goodbye is only the beginning.”
The season announced today offers nine productions, commencing with a powerful stage adaption of The Diary of Anne Frank (Sept. 9-Oct. 1) featuring Courtney Lucien — currently playing the title role in the current adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma — as the young Jewish girl who records her harrowing story in her diary. Her family’s experience, hiding from Nazi persecutors in an Amsterdam attic, endures as a condemnation of man’s capacity for cruelty and a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit. It will be followed by Bernard Pomerance’s award-winning American classic, The Elephant Man (Oct. 14-Nov. 5). Longtime favorite actor Giles Davies will play the deformed central character, Joseph Merrick, and Brent Vimtrup portrays the young doctor who finds an intelligent, sensitive man behind his horrifying disfigurement.
The season’s first Shakespearean production at the classic theater is the romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing (Nov. 18-Dec. 10). It’s about Beatrice and Benedick, a perfectly matched couple who can’t stand each other — a formula for great comedy. More Shakespeare comes in January as Cincy Shakes wraps up the History Cycle, a feat undertaken by just one other theater in the U.S. The presentation in chronological order of Shakespeare’s history plays about the reigns of five British kings and a century of turmoil began in 2013. The concluding elements of this series will be the 2017 productions of Henry VI: The Wars of the Roses, Part 2 (Jan. 20-Feb. 11) followed by the cycle’s thrilling conclusion with the story of England’s most murderous monarch, Richard III (Feb. 17-March 11), played by Billy Chace.
Lorraine Hansberry’s masterpiece of the American stage, A Raisin in the Sun (March 24-April 15) comes next, about a working class African-American family in 1950s Chicago. A financial windfall opens a door to opportunity, but social pressures undermine their dream. The 1959 play is a classic in every sense of the word.
Cincy Shakes’ final production on the Race Street stage, fittingly, will be Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest (May 5-June 3). Longtime company member Nicholas Rose will play the magician Prospero in a sweet story of revenge, love, magic and redemption.
To add several sparks of hilarity to its final season, Cincy Shakes will present two other shows outside the subscription season. They are All the Great Books (abridged) (July 22-Aug. 13, 2016), another script from the deliriously fevered brains that created The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), The Complete History of America and more. They’re calling it a refresher of literature’s greatest hits for “everyone from the illiterate to the literati.” And it wouldn’t be a Cincinnati holiday season without another round of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) (Dec. 14-31). The 90-minute send up of “Beloved Holiday Classics” returns for the 11th year.
It’s a great send-off for the company, the little literary engine that could, which will open the following season in the new facility in Over-the-Rhine in September 2017.