As I wrote in my column in the current issue of CityBeat, there's a lot of good holiday theater available on Cincinnati stages right now. The Playhouse's production of A Christmas Carol, now in its 22nd year, is best in class — a well-told traditional tale with some of the best professional actors in town onstage, from Bruce Cromer as Scrooge and Dale Hodges as the Ghost of Christmas past. There are a few new faces, too, playing the Cratchits. And speaking of new faces, I feel comfortable recommending New Edgecliff Theatre's one-woman show, The 12 Dates of Christmas, which is being engagingly performed by Annie Kalahurka. It's paired with David Sedaris's The Santaland Diaries, which feels a little shopworn to me, but you can catch the double-bill downtown at the Arnonff's Fifth Third Bank Theater — and maybe go for drinks at Arnold's before or after the show.
If you're looking for something kind of different, try The Naughty List (review here), a holiday-themed improv show (presented in Arnold's courtyard on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings) by Know Theatre. Five quick-witted comics who constitute OTR Improv are doing routines that use audience suggestions (and occasional audience participants) for nearly two hours of entertainment. It's a different show every night.
Have kids you want to take to the theater and give them a taste of what fun it can be? Two good bets are Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati for one of its musical fairytales with a moral (this year the show is a colorful, cartoonish rendition of Alice in Wonderland) and Covedale Center, where Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella is singing and dancing its way through another familiar story the kids will know. The prince is handsome, Cinderella is sweet and the nasty Stepmother is played by a guy.
As far as familiar stories go, you've probably seen Frank Capra's classic holiday film It's a Wonderful Life a few times during the holidays. But I bet you haven't experienced in the unique way that Falcon Theater offers it up at Newport's Monmouth Theatre: The script frames the story as an old-time radio drama, and you get to watch behind-the-scenes as a handful of actors play all the roles and a few others create the necessary sound effects. It opens this weekend and runs for a week. I haven't seen this year's edition, but I've enjoyed past incarnations, and I suspect this one will be entertaining as well.
8 is the real-life story about two loving same-sex couples
living in California who want to get married but can't because in 2008 Proposition 8
took away the right for LGBT couples to marry in California.
Just like these couples, gay-rights
activists have been fighting for same-sex marriages across America for more than a
decade. Some progress has been made as gay marriage is now legal in nine states
and the District of Columbia, but many California residents feel left
out and are eager to resume same-sex marriage in their state.
After being engrossed with all the drama of the courtroom and seeing
how the case affects the plaintiffs in 8, tune back into
reality as the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to announce a decision about
Proposition 8 today.
So Thanksgiving was early this year, and that means that not only
retailers but all of our local theaters have fired their starting guns
earlier than usual with family-friendly holiday shows. That began with
Ensemble Theatre's opening of Alice in Wonderland on Nov. 28, and
Cinderella at the Covedale, A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse and New Edgecliff's Santaland Diaries (newly paired with The 12 Dates of Christmas) using a new venue, the Aronoff's Fifth Third Bank Theater.
But before you start wearing your Christmas sweaters and holiday socks, I have a few non-seasonal but highly entertaining productions you should consider:
Let's start with Cincinnati Shakespeare's staging of The Importance of Being Earnest. This is a classic comedy from 1895 by Oscar Wilde, but don't think there's anything old and musty about it. The production of this witty, romantic tale of harmless manipulation bubbles with laughter and sprightly performances. I gave it a Critic's Pick here and I suspect it will be another sold-out run for Cincy Shakes, which has assembled a gangbuster season. You should note that it's only onstage through Dec. 16, so if you want to see it, don't wait too long. (As of the 16th it will be supplanted by Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some), Cincy Shakes' holiday offering.) Box office: 513-381-2273 x.1.
And if smiles without holiday trimming are something you seek, I highly recommend the touring production of Jersey Boys. This is the true story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Pop stars from the 1960s, and the show is stuffed full of their memorable, tuneful hits. The four leading actors faithfully recreate the group's close harmonies and Valli's soaring falsetto tenor — he's one of the great Pop vocalists of all time, and Nick Cosgrove nails the role. Although the history of these four singers has its ups and downs, the story is told with a sense of wry humor (and numerous F-bombs) that keeps things light and entertaining. Audiences have been clamoring for Broadway in Cincinnati to bring this show back since it appeared at the Aronoff back in 2008, and tickets are selling fast. Box office: 800-982-2787.
Don't forget Hank Williams: Lost Highway at the Playhouse's Shelterhouse stage. (Review here.) It's another genuine reincarnation of a singer who made an indelible mark on the world of Pop music. Box office: 513-421-3888.
For the holidays, they'll produce The Naughty List, hosted by Ronda Androski and her great staff at Arnold's Bar & Grill downtown and featuring the talent of OTR Improv, one of the groups Know has nurtured with its Jackson Street Market. They'll take holiday memories from those in attendance as they recreate holiday movies and tell you how your life would have been different if you had received that special gift you yearned for. The fun will be happeing in Arnold's courtyard on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings from Dec. 2 to 30. Tickets will be $15 in advance and $18 at the door.
Know will also offer The Apocalypse Show! for two nights on its home stage at 1120 Jackson St.. Since the world is scheduled to come to an end on Dec. 21, 2012 (according to the Mayan calendar), Know will produce a variety show to end all variety shows on Dec. 20 and 21. There will be sketch comedy, predictions, guest appearances, "gratuitous drinking and answers to all of your apocalypse FAQs." Dec. 20 will be a fundraiser (tickets: $50), despite the funny come-on that you should bring all your money, since it will be worth nothing the next day! (If you come to the performance on Dec. 21, you only need to scrape together $15 in advance or $18 at the door.)
Assuming that the world really isn't ending on Dec. 21, Know will co-host its annual New Year's Eve event with CityBeat, the Speakeasy Party from 8 p.m. on Dec. 31 (to 1 a.m.). Know typically attracts 300 well-dressed guests for this event, and everyone has fun with casino games, food, dancing to a DJ and a live band, martinis and a champagne toast at midnight.
After all this fun stuff, Know will get down to some serious theater — presenting Andrew Bovell's "best new play of 2010," When the Rain Stops Falling (Feb. 8-March 16, 2013). It's another partnership, with the production being staged by Brian Isaac Phillips, artistic director at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. (Bovell's Speaking in Tongues had a great production at the Cincinnati Playhouse last season.) The show uses an intricate fabric of overlapping connections, moving between several generations between 1959 and 2039 and between London and Australia. Acts and sins of the past are connected to three generations that follow.
More will be following, including an unnamed production running from April 5 to May 12. Sometime in late April (date TBA), just in advance of the tenth annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival (May 28-June 8, 2013), Know will host the 2013 United States Association of Fringe Festivals Conference. "We're honored to have been selected to host this year's conference," says Know's Producing Artistic Director Eric Vosmeier. "It's an amazing opportunity to work on ideas and issues at the core of all Fringe Festivals. Every time I have been to a conference, the Cincinnati Fringe is better for it. We can't wait to show off our city to festival producers from all over the United States."
One more note: Know is selling its version of a subscription, Flex Passes. But these have evolved: You can purchase six flex passes for $90. Valid for most Know productions, they do not expire. (If a show ticket has a higher price than the pass, you can use your pass and just pay the difference.) Know's website will designate: "Flex passes are valid for this event." When you run out of tickets (and you surely will), you simply need to buy another pass.
Know's Fringe Festival has promoted itself with the slogan "Weird, like us." And they're living up to that mantra in a way that should appeal to its supporters and more.
If you can tear yourself way from TV ads for the
presidential election this weekend, you'll find plenty of good theater
to distract you, starting with a production at Covington's Carnegie
Center opening Friday night. It's Under a Red Moon, a
world premiere co-production with Dayton’s Human Race Theatre Company.
Michael Slade's taut psychological thriller just spent nearly a month
onstage at the Loft Theatre in Dayton, so it's already a seasoned
production. A dramatized psychological interview in the same vein as Silence of the Lambs,
it’s based on the chilling true story of England’s notorious “Acid Bath
Murderer” from a half-century ago. The play features Broadway actors
Bradford Cover as the criminal and Dee Pelletier as the psychologist
trying to get inside his head. Box office: 859-957-1940.
A different set of thrills are available from Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, which is staging Shakespeare's bloody revenge tragedy, Titus Andronicus. This show requires a lot of hand-to-hand combat, blood and gore — presented by CSC with ghastly zeal. Just as creepy tales like Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween have chilled film audiences in recent years, this kind of play was all the rage in the early 1590s. (CSC director Jeremy Dubin calls it “a snuff film in blank verse.”) It's especially fun to watch veteran Nick Rose as a Roman general who gets into a grotesque battle of wills with the amoral Queen of the Goths, played by Miranda McGee. The awful things they they do to one another's families make for some delicious, hair-raising storytelling. Also onstage at Cincy Shakes is Romeo & Juliet, with the central characters played as hormonal, irrational teens. Sara Clark is especially good as Juliet. Both productions tell their tale through more contemporary visual filters — R&J's characters wear contemporary clothing and are surrounded with music of the here and now, while Titus gets a "Steampunk" treatment that presumes that the Victorian ingenuity of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells extended its steam-driven, mechanical technology to the present. Both approaches give new vitality to the shows. (Review here.) Box office: 513-381-2273.
Also worth seeing is a funny, touching tale of growing up in Depression-era Brooklyn, Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs at the Cincinnati Playhouse (513-381-3888)). (Review here.) It's the first time that the Playhouse has staged a work by Simon, one of America's most prolific playwrights of the 20th century. Box office: 513-421-3888
You'll have to pick and choose this weekend because
there's so much theater onstage. In addition to our professional
theaters, it's worth checking out production at universities: Tonight
through Sunday, CCM's esteemed musical theater program is offering the
cult favorite Chess, with music by ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus
and Benny Andersson. The story is set in Bangkok and Budapest during a
mid-1970s world chess championship — and it's driven by gamesmanship
between nations, between lovers and, of course, between chess players. I
saw the opening on Thursday, and it's a BIG show with a gigantic cast.
Several leading roles are double cast (with more juniors than seniors,
in fact, which bodes well for CCM productions for this season and next).
In particular, Matthew Paul Hill, playing the Russian grand master
Anatoly, lifted the roof of Corbett Auditorium with his powerful
baritone voice singing the stirring "Anthem," the Act 1 finale. Tickets
($30) Box office: 513-556-4183. At Northern Kentucky University you'll a production of Royal Gambit
by German playwright Hermann Gressieker (translated into English in the
late 1950s). The subject is King Henry VIII and his six wives, and this
looks to be a beautifully costumed show, featuring senior Seth Wallen
in the leading role. Tickets ($14). Box office: 859-572-5464.
Neil Simon's funny and endearing Brighton Beach Memoirs is onstage at the Cincinnati Playhouse. I gave it a Critic's Pick (review here), and I'm sure audiences will love this sweet portrait of growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930s, where a loving but fractious family copes with hard times. It's told from the perspective of Eugene, a precocious adolescent (he's really Simon as a 15-year-old), who takes notes on his family's behavior. Well acted and beautifully staged. Box office: 513-421-3888l.
My schedule hasn't permitted me to see several shows that are getting good notices, including recognition from the folks evaluating productions for the League of Cincinnati Theatres. I'm catching up this evening with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, which is offering two shows this month. Romeo & Juliet is its mainstage show, and Sara Clark is getting high marks for her portrait of romantic but tragic young love. Brian Phillips' staging picked up an LCT nod, and the show received an overall recommendation from LCT. On the evenings when R&J is not onstage, there's another Shakespeare work for thrill seekers, specially selected and staged for the Halloween season: the bloody, gory tale of revenge, Titus Andronicus. Veteran actor Nick Rose plays a crazed Roman general, and just about everyone I've heard from says his performance is memorable. (It earned him an LCT nomination, too.) Box office: 513-381-2273.
This weekend is the final one for Mrs. Mannerly at Ensemble Theatre. When Harper Lee reviewed this one for CityBeat (review here), she gave it a Critic's Pick, and I agree wholeheartedly. (LCT named it a recommended production, too.) CEA Hall of Fame actress Dale Hodges is great fun to watch as a strict etiquette teacher in 1967, and Raymond McAnally plays all the other characters — a bunch of kids who are learning how to behave in a "mannerly" way. It's funny from start to finish, but there's a heart-warming message within the story. Definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-421-3555.
At Clifton Performance Theatre, Clifton Players are staging A Bright New Boise, which also picked up an LCT recommendation. I haven't seen it, but the show won an Obie Award (that's for outstanding off-Broadway plays) in 2011, and it has a strong cast. This is a newish venue that's specializing in "storefront theater." Should be worth supporting. Tickets ($20): 513-861-7469.
OK, the holidays are officially here. If you have any strength left after shopping last night and all day today, there are numerous theatrical offerings to consider.
The theater season takes a bit of a pause around Thanksgiving, since many companies are readying holiday productions. But there are plenty of choices available this weekend.
I'm not the only one who enjoyed the laugh-fest that is The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) at the Cincinnati Playhouse. I've heard numerous people who saw it say they were recommending it to others. In two hours the Reduced Shakespeare Company puts forth more humor than you can shake a stick at. (But be careful shaking sticks. You might get a pie in the face.) No matter your tastes in comedy — witty, loud or rude and crude — you'll find it in this production. How about Abe Lincoln as a deadpan rapper? This could be a good outing this weekend or a lot of fun for out-of-town guests who descend on you next week. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Tonight is an opening at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, the very frothy comedy Twelfth Night. (It's subtitle is "or What You Will," indicating that it's a lot of foolishness, which is an apt description.) In fact, Twelfth Night is a beautiful piece with clever situations, amusing characters, a bit of intrigue and a lot of mistaken identities. And several of the most laughable characters Shakespeare ever created, from the bombastic Malvolio to his persecutor Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, plus the best of all Shakespeare's fools, Feste. It's a safe bet that this is a production that even those who fear Shakespeare will truly enjoy. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x 1.
If you're more into storefront theater, you might check out the current production by Untethered Theater at Clifton Performance Theatre on Ludlow, just east of the business district. It's a tiny space (only 50 seats), but that makes it all the more interesting. The current production is Wendy Macleod's The House of Yes, a very dark comedy about a weirdly dysfunctional family. The story focuses happens while there's a Thanksgiving hurricane outside, so it's timely, too. Performances Friday and Saturday (through Dec. 7). Go here for tickets.
This is the last weekend for Boeing Boeing, a crazy farce about a guy juggling three fiancees who happen to be flight attendants. It's at the Carnegie, featuring performers from the drama program at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. Tickets: 859-957-1940.
There's a fine community theater production of A Chorus Line at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. It's by Cincinnati Music Theatre, and they've recruited a talented cast of dancers, singers and actors to tell the stories of 16 performers competing for roles in the chorus of a Broadway show. There are many fine performances in this show — the characters become known, one by one as they tell their stories, some humorous, some heartbreaking — but the show's greatest emotional wallop comes when they are all in synch, wearing glitter and gold, hats cocked and performing as "One." Final performance is Saturday evening. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
If you're looking for a good musical closer to home, I can certainly recommend the Cincinnati Playhouse production of Cabaret, which gets my Critic's Pick in the current issue (see review here). Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge has taken it back to 1929 with costumes and choreography very true to the period in a seedy, sexy Berlin nightclub. The Playhouse doesn't often do musicals, but this one is done right. Tickets: 513-421-3888
Know Theatre is staging another work by Mike Bartlett. Last spring it was Cock; this time it's Bull (review here). It's a story of two people bullying a third as they compete for jobs. A nasty tale, not for the faint-hearted, but some fine writing and acting. You'll feel ashamed of yourself for enjoying it, I suspect. Tickets: 513-300-5669
A fine production of John Steinbeck's Depression era tale of migrant workers and a guy who just doesn't fit in, Of Mice and Men (review here), finishes its run this weekend at Cincinnati Shakespeare. Jeremy Dubin's performance as cranky George and Jim Hopkins as simpleminded Lenny are examples of the kind of fine acting that's a regular commodity at Cincy Shakes. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
Finally, if you're in the mood for a hilarious farce, your destination should be the Carnegie in Covington. CCM Drama has transported some of its actors from the UC Campus to Covington, Ky., for a production of a deliriously funny tale of one man in Paris juggling three fiancees, Boeing Boeing. They're all flight attendants, but advances in aviation screw up his neat schedule to keep them discreet from one another. Comedy ensues. Tickets: 859-957-1940
If you love musicals, you should run, don’t walk to the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music this weekend for the short run of Singin’ in the Rain. It's a fabulous recreation of the iconic 1952 movie that featured Gene Kelly. It's about the transition from silent to talking pictures in the late 1920s. Even if you’ve never seen the film, I’m bet you know Kelly’s iconic splash down a movie-set street, joyously stomping in puddles and swinging from a lamppost. That's what's onstage at Corbett Auditorium — a whole stage full of tap dancers and a torrential rainfall! But it's only there through Sunday afternoon; shows at CCM seldom run more than one weekend. So if you want to see this one, call for tickets right away: 513-556-4183.
There's water falling on another stage right now: The touring production of Flashdance: The Musical is at the Aronoff through Nov. 10, and its star, Jenny Mueller as the free-spirited welder who aspires to be a dancer concludes the first act with a memorable sequence where she performs at a club, culminating in a backlit shower. Mueller is a fine dancer and onstage from start to finish, but the show is full of shallow characters and too many subplots that make for slow going. Tickets: 800-982-2787.
One more musical item: I gave the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's production of Cabaret a Critic's Pick, and it's definitely worth seeing. Despite the fact that it first appeared on Broadway 50 years ago, it's still a powerful piece of theater — about intolerance and willful ignorance. But it's framed in a great story with a memorable score by John Kander and Fred Ebb (who also created Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman and more) with a new production by Broadway veteran Marcia Milgrom Dodge. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
If you're in the mood for something more serious, there are plenty of choices that have received good reviews: Check out Cincinnati Shakespeare's staging of Of Mice and Men or their joint project with Xavier University of The Crucible. Tickets: 513- 381-2273, x1. And I hope you have on your radar Know Theatre's staging of Bull (which runs throughout November) by Mike Bartlett, the same playwright who wrote Cock, presented last spring. It opens tonight. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
Find reviews of Flashdance, Cabaret, Of Mice and Men and The Crucible at citybeat.com.
The Cincinnati Playhouse's production of Cabaret is a must-see for anyone who is a fan of musicals. (CityBeat review here.) Kander and Ebb's Tony Award winner from the late '60s has been brought to the main stage with inventive verve by veteran Broadway choreographer and director Marsha Milgrom Dodge. Sure, it's set in 1929 Berlin, populated by amoral entertainers and Nazis rising to power. But its scrutiny of prejudice and bigotry in the context of jaunty, thoughtless entertainment is a fascinating way to bring attention to topics that are timeless. Dodge has assembled a cast of triple-threats (who can sing, act and dance), given them choreography rooted in the 1920s, costumed them in period clothing (and some clever get-ups for the cabaret routines) and set them spinning on a stage arrayed with Expressionist imagery. It's a winning combination. Cabaret just opened on Thursday evening; you have until Nov. 16 to catch it, but it's likely to be a hot ticket, so this is a good weekend to head to Mount Adams. The other choice at the Playhouse, Seven Spots on the Sun, is in its final weekend on the Shelterhouse stage. It's a powerful drama set in a Latin American nation, torn asunder by civil war. Serious theatergoers have been giving this one a thumbs-up. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
My best recommendation for this weekend is Ensemble Theatre's staging of Gina Gionfriddo's Rapture, Blister, Burn. This is an ultra-natural piece of writing with several generations of women arguing and contesting over the ways women should behave. (CityBeat review here.) It's focused on two women, once friends, one married to the other's ex college boyfriend. It's years later and neither woman is very happy with her present life. How that plays out will keep you engaged from start to finish. Some exceptional acting, with strong direction by D. Lynn Meyers. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
Several great choices for theatergoing this weekend. At the top of your list should be Rapture, Blister, Burn at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. I was at the opening of Gina Gionfriddo's 2013 Pulitzer Prize runner-up on Wednesday, and it's another fine example of the kind of excellent production we've come to expect from ETC. Lynn Meyers has a knack for finding exactly the right actors for her shows, and she's assembled a perfect cast for this one, the story of a twisty relationship between three one-time college friends. Two women, played by Jen Joplin and Corinne Mohlenhoff, were roommates back then, and Mohlenhoff's character had a charismatic boyfriend. She went off to a renowned academic career and Joplin's character ended up marrying Don, played by Charlie Clark. Twenty years later they're back in close proximity, and neither woman is feeling fulfilled by her life. Don is a willing player in trading places, which makes for some amusing drama. Mohlenhoff's character offers a summer seminar in feminism, film and pornography which plays out some interesting theorizing among the show's female characters about the roles women play. It's a great stew of talking and experimenting, which takes some interesting turns along the way. Definitely watchable and entertaining. Onstage through Oct. 27. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
You have two good choices at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park this weekend. Last evening I attended the opening of Martín Zimmerman's Seven Spots on the Sun (it's onstage through Oct. 27). It's a thoughtful and gripping drama about the fallout of civil war in an unnamed Latin American country. Warring factions draw lines and commit atrocities that make for inconsolable lives afterward, even when something magical seems to offer a chance for healing. It's a challenging story that will remind audiences that wars create more strife than they solve. Well-acted and swiftly staged (it's 90 minutes long, no intermission, on the Playhouse's Shelterhouse Stage), this is a world premiere by a playwright who's name will surely become familiar to audiences in the future. Meanwhile, this weekend offers the final performances of Fly on the Playhouse's mainstage. It's the story of valiant African Americans who we know today as the Tuskegee Airmen, men who overcame prejudice and doubt to be heroes during World War II. It's inventively staged using video and tap dancing. Definitely worth seeing; final performance is Saturday evening. (Tickets: 513-421-3888)
Perhaps this weekend you want to take a last-chance trip down Memory Lane. You have that option as the Showboat Majestic is wrapping up its production of Showboat Follies, the final show that Cincinnati Landmark Productions will stage on the historic vessel. It's a revue of songs and skits that should be fun if not profound, but if you go (final performance is Sunday), you'll be able to tell you foriends that you were among the last to visit this nostalgic Cincinnati venue. (Unless the City of Cincinnati finds another operator — which they've been seeking with no success.) Tickets: 513-241-6550.