Ed Stern, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s producing artistic director, today announced the shows that will make up his 20th and final season for the city’s Tony Award-winning regional theater. It consists of several shows that have proven track records with audiences as well as a smattering of new works. The season is precisely the kind of mix that audiences have come to expect from Stern during his two decades at the Playhouse — that is, unpredictable selections with enough of the tried-and-true and the wait-til-you-see-this-one that will keep everyone eager to see what’s next.
On Friday evening, I hiked down to U.S. Bank Arena for
the World Choir Games awards ceremony. It was bustling at The Banks,
since the Reds are back in town and playing the Cardinals. It was fun to
see the WCG participants, many dressed in colorful team T-shirts,
mingling with the crowds around Great American Ball Park in their Reds
gear. Lots of folks from other nations had a chance to peer into the
stadium and see American fans revving up.
But there was no lack of revving — or revelry — inside the arena for the program. This was not a musical event, but a ceremony in which choirs in eight categories were recognized for their performances and champions crowned. For 20 minutes before the event began, there was a ton of merriment going on as teams did the "wave" around the arena and cheered whenever their own choir showed up on the big video monitors.
Lots of awards are handed out at WCG, some simply for participating. Choirs can choose to compete in an open category, in which they are evaluated but not competing for medals (although they are ranked and can receive gold, silver or brionze "diplomas") or in the head-to-head competitions. By scoring within certain point ranges, singing groups are awarded bronze, silver or gold medals. The ultimate designation, "Champion," is bestowed on the choir that scores the highest point total among the gold medalists in each category. Other medalists send forward their director and one singer to receive the medal and a certificate. When the champions are named, the entire choir races jubilantly to the stage, hugging, screaming and celebrating. Once assembled there and the medal bestowed, the choir's national flag is raised and its national anthem sung, often with tear-streamed faces on the video screens.
Champions were named eight categories. Three were from the United States, including in two largely American categories included in the games for the first time, Barbershop and Show Choirs. Gospel was also broken out from Music of Religions. The most wildly celebrated champion was surely the Choraliers, from Fairfield, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati, which was named the champion Show Choir (amid choirs from other nations and several from universities). Also from Ohio, the Jeremy Winston Choir from Wilberforce University was named the champion Gospel group. The other American champion was a barbershop chorus from Pennsylvania, the Greater Harrisburg Chapter of Sweet Adelines.
The remaining five champions were: Female Chamber Choir: Latvian Voices from Riga, Latvia (where the 2014 World Choir Games will be held); Male Chamber Choir: Newman Sound (Canada); Music of Religions: Stellenberg Girls Choir (South Africa); and Young Children's Choir's: Wenzhou Children Art School Boys Choir (China). The latter category's winners of gold medals were all youth choirs from China, where it's clear such ensembles are prized and emphasized.
More champions are being announced on Saturday morning, and a selection of champions will perform in a concert at Music Hall on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. That concert, as well as the Closing Ceremony at U.S. Bank Arena on Saturday at 7 p.m., are both sold out.
I recently spent three days in Louisville at the 34th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays. Actors Theatre of Louisville annually assembles a lineup of productions that offers a fascinating cross-section of contemporary American theater.
I found this year’s array to be an especially pleasing collection of works: It included two excellent comedies, a thoughtful drama, two experimental performance pieces from creative ensembles and an inventive piece to showcase interns (and a Louisville hotel/museum showplace). A bill of 10-minute plays was clever and creative, and only a musical play was a disappointment.
The Mormons are coming! The Mormons are coming! No, not the one running for president (although he's showing up pretty often). It's the award-winning irreverent musical The Book of Mormon, which Broadway Across America announced this morning will be part of its 2013-2014 season at the Aronoff Center. The winner of nine Tony Awards (including the best musical of 2011) is a satirical look at two naive and idealistic Mormon missionaries who are sent to a remote Ugandan location where a nasty warlord is oppressing the villagers. Their clueless devotion, good-hearted but misguided — with a lot of very off-color humor — has made The Book of Mormon an unusual hit.It will come as no surprise to CityBeat readers that the guys behind this are Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of animated South Park, another outrageously irreverent look at contemporary life. Also involved was composer Robert Lopez, whose Avenue Q was another Broadway hit, this one featuring Sesame Street-styled puppets in very adult situations.
So it's almost Thanksgiving and you need to find some good theater before you can begin working on all the preparations for the big meal later next week. My recommendation — Evita at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Aubrey Berg, who has headed the musical theater training program at the University of Cincinnati for 24 years, directs the show about Eva Duarte Peron's rise to fame and power in Argentina and subsequent fall from grace (she died from cancer at 33).
Critic's PickAs I ate dinner on Tuesday evening before attending a performance at Dayton’s Victoria Theatre, my server asked, “Did you hear that Green Day is performing next door?” I had to set her straight. “Well, not exactly. Green Day’s music is being performed next door — it’s a Broadway show that uses the tunes from their American Idiot recording.” I caught the opening night of a three-day gig (through Thursday, March 14) by an energetic touring company that’s recreating the Tony Award-nominated American Idiot: The Musical. If you have time to make an hour north on I-75, you won’t be disappointed.
Green Day’s powerful Punk score — their 2004 album was conceived as a “Punk Rock Opera” — is the perfect soundtrack for the story of three disaffected guys who take different downward spirals when confronted with the numbing boredom of everyday life, “alien nation,” as they sing in the opening number. Johnny is the central character, a wannabe musician who yearns to make it in the city; he convinces his buddies Will and Tunny to join him in escaping suburbia.
Their paths diverge quickly: Will’s girlfriend is pregnant, so he stays to sort things out; Tunny is quickly disaffected by urban life and captivated by dreams of military success; and Johnny, not quite willing to admit his loneliness, dreams about a girl he sees and gets caught by a drug dealer — who’s probably a figment of his imagination. Things don’t turn out well for any of them, and by show’s end they’re back home, chastened by the experience — Tunny’s leg lost in combat, Johnny’s ego shattered and Will’s relationship in ruins. But they seem to be more accepting of their fates. The curtain call features the entire company playing guitars and performing “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” a number that reflects their disillusion, reminiscence and (maybe) forward motion.
The current tour has a young cast (it’s a non-Equity tour) without a ton of experience, but that’s perfect for this show, which demands a stage full of angry energy. They hurtle through the 100-minute performance, diving right into the title tune with thrashing energy demanded by Green Day’s music. (For theater fans, it’s worth noting that Green Day’s music has been orchestrated and arranged by Tom Kitt, composer of the Tony Award-winning next to normal, a show that has a score with similar power.) Steven Hoggett’s pounding choreography captures the physicality of Rock stage performance, rendered rapidly and rhythmically with tons of repetitive angular motion.
Alex Nee, Casey O’Farrell and Thomas Hettrick, as Johnny, Will and Tunny, turn in credible performances of roles that don’t have a lot of depth — and that’s OK. American Idiot is more about emotions than storytelling, and they each capture that: Nee’s hallucinatory attraction to destructive behavior is convincing, O’Farrell’s frustration with being trapped and left behind is believable, and Hettrick’s dreams of heroism and his wake-up call to a damaged life are rendered credibly. Female roles are more stereotyped — two of them don’t even have names: Whatsername and The Extraordinary Girl — but Alyssa DiPalma, Jenna Rubah and Kennedy Caughell (as Heather, the mother of Will’s kid) have fine voices. DiPalma and Rubah have featured choreography (Rubah does an aerial ballet with Hettrick as he recovers in a military hospital) that is effective.
The touring production retains Christine Jones’s scenic design and Kevin Adams’s lighting design, both of which landed 2010 Tony Awards. The set has a floor-to-ceiling rear wall sporting two dozen video screens that support the action — from an opening barrage of mind-numbing, multi-channel news coverage to scene-to-scene punctuation with wry titles. Additionally, the screens are sometimes fed live imagery from an onstage camera, especially when St. Jimmy (Trent Saunders) entices Johnny into the world of addiction, but also during “Favorite Son,” Tunny’s late-night infomercial of military recruitment (performed with muscle-bound humor by Jared Young, backed up by four dancers in sparkling short dresses).
The grunge of American Idiot is made all the more vivid by the green velvet and gilt trim of the Victoria Theatre in downtown Dayton (138 North Main St.). While the nihilistic young men sing, “I don’t care if you don’t care,” I suspect that a lot of people will care about this show, one that reaches out and grabs audiences by the scruff of their necks and never lets up. But bear in mind: Only two more performances — Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m. Tickets ($46-$67, half-off student rush, day of show): 937-228-3630 or victoriatheatre.com.
The Carol Ann’s Carousel was named to honor the life and philanthropy of Carol Ann Haile, according to the information page at mysmaleriverfrontpark.org, and is being funded by a $5 million donation from the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation.
It will sit in a tree-lined plaza amongst a two-story staircase, water cascade and a series of water curtains. The plaza’s lower level will hold a conference center and offices, which will open up to Mehring Way and overlook the lower area of the park. The riverfront carousel is slated to open May 2015.
There will be 44 animals and characters featured on the carousel’s platform, and community engagement sessions are currently being hosted in order to gather as many ideas as possible. The public is invited to share their ideas until June 9, when later the park design team will decide on the final designs based on the city’s suggestions.
Carousel Works of Mansfield, Ohio, the world’s largest wooden carousel manufacturer, will hand carve and paint each animal and character chosen. Ideas are also being gathered for several mural scenes to be painted on the carousel. Jonathan Queen, a local artist, will paint based on what citizens deem what makes Cincinnati unique — its parks, traditions, landmarks.
This riverfront icon will offer a standard two-minute ride and operate year-round.
It was sad news to hear that Thom Shaw, a well-known local printmaker and artist, passed away July 6 from complications due to diabetes. Unfortunately, I heard the news too late to write something in time for the memorial service that took place July 17.
The Fine Arts Fund has released the results of a year-long study intended to start the process of building more collective responsibility in Greater Cincinnati for the arts. Despite the general public’s longstanding support for arts and culture in their communities, charitable giving to and public funding of the arts struggle to keep up with demand nationally and locally — and this study was undertaken to try to “change the conversation” here about the arts as a shared public good and to motivate Cincinnatians to increase support.
New Stage Collective has announced it's shutting down operations after presenting Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music April 30-May 8. Producing Artistic Director Alan Patrick Kenny says the musical will be staged at Know Theatre of Cincinnati instead of the company's Main Street space.