There are several good productions onstage around town — check out CityBeat coverage of Hands on a Hardbody (a musical at ETC), The Great Gatsby (a classic American novel adapted for the stage at Cincy Shakes), Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club (a new adventure for the great detective at the Cincinnati Playhouse) and Tennessee Williams' prize-winning A Streetcar Named Desire (at the Covedale) — but if you've seen those, you have other choices for onstage entertainment. Here are three suggestions for shows a little more off the beaten path:
Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of
the Suicide Club opened last night at the Cincinnati
Playhouse in the Park. It's a new adventure for the Victorian sleuth. How can
that be, you might ask, if you're a Sherlock fan — this isn't a familiar title.
That's because playwright Jeffrey Hatcher picked up Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's
memorable detective, a master of deductive observation, and plugged him into a
tale of mystery and intrigue conceived by Robert Louis Stevenson back in 1878.
No spoilers here, but I will tell you that the plot of this show requires
closely following a complex tale of both personal and political intrigue.
Hatcher has set the story in 1914, on the brink of the first World War, and the
state of international relations in Europe is woven into the tale. But there's
nothing dry about this story, and Steven Hauck's performance as Sherlock is
very satisfying: He brings a quirky physicality as well as a sharp wit to the
character that makes him very engaging. Fans of Sherlock will not be disappointed
by this show. Through Oct. 4. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888.
I attended the opening of The Great Gatsby at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company last week. In my review, I said, "the production gets the story and the era right," and I added that CSC's Justin McCombs "perfectly embodies" Nick Carraway, the honest narrator of this Jazz Age tale of nouveau riche Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, the one-time debutante who obsesses him. There's lots to like about this production, which captures the essence of lavish parties and the fast life of the Roaring Twenties. Cincy Shakes is committed to bringing classic literary works to the stage, and this production is a good example of how they get it done. Simon Levy's script hews close to F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1924 novel, and the company's actors bring life to the characters. Through Oct. 4. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273.
Everyone I've talked to about Hands on a Hardbody at Ensemble Theatre has been enthusiastic about the show that brings to life a contest to win a Nissan pickup truck by keeping one hand on it the longest. It's a true story (it was a 1997 documentary) and these feel like real people, down on their luck but dreaming what a difference that winning could make. The music is by Trey Anastasio (of Phish) and Amanda Green, and the script was written by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright. ETC has staged memorable productions of his play I Am My Own Wife and his musical, Grey Gardens. But the real attraction is an excellent cast who make you believe in these people, struggling to stay away and outlast one another under the brutal sun beating down on the Texas parking lot of a Nissan dealership. It's a fine entertainment. Through Sept. 21. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555.
Just opened at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is a production of Tennessee Williams's great American play, A Streetcar Named Desire. It's about a woman who's down on her luck but unwilling to admit it. When genteel Blanche DuBois moves with her pragmatic sister and her brutal, blue-collar husband, Stanley Kowalski, is a rude awakening that goes downhill fast. Through Oct. 5. Tickets ($-$): 513-241-6550.
If you've become a fan of shows in the intimate Clifton
Performance Theatre, you might want to check out The Riverside, a
play written and directed by local theater artist Kevin Crowley. It's a story
set in a Cincinnati bar in 1989 as locals follow the saga of Pete Rose's demise
in baseball, the fall of the Berlin Wall and Tiananmen Square. But the bar
itself is changing, too, impacting the lives of the family that owns it as well
as its patrons.
Through Sept. 27. Tickets ($25): https://cpt.tixato.com/buy/.
If you'd like to go to the theater every evening for the next four days, there are plenty of options for you to consider as the 2014-2015 season is getting underway on stages all over town. Here are some good choices to consider:
Hands on a Hardbody opened on Wednesday at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, and CityBeat reviewer Stacy Sims called it "effervescent" and "offbeat" in her review, giving it a Critic's Pick. I was there, too, and couldn't agree more about the infectious, heartfelt joy coming from the big cast of 15. The show is based on a true story (the subject of a 1997 documentary) about people in a downtrodden Texas town who enter a contest to win a Nissan pickup truck by outlasting others who vow to keep one hand on the vehicle. The cherry-red truck is as much a character as any of the contestants, the physical embodiment of their hopes and dreams — which take the form of songs by Trey Anastasio (of Phish) and Amanda Green. The script by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright treats these diverse, down-on-their-luck folks with dignity, and the performers (who often perform with the truck as their dance partner) bring every one of them to life in vivid ways. This one is a must-see, a great way to kick-off ETC's theater season. Through Sept. 21. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555The Great Gatsby kicks off Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's season tonight. You didn't know Shakespeare wrote it? Well, he didn't. This theater company focuses on the Bard, to be sure, but it frequently branches out to present stage versions of other classics, in this case an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 classic about a mysterious nouveau-riche millionaire who's obsessed with a one-time debutante. Set in the Jazz Age and inspired by lavish parties the high-flying Fitzgerald attended on the prosperous North Shore of Long Island, Gatsby is a story about the ups and downs of the American Dream. Simon Levy's script is the only one authorized by Fitzgerald's estate, and Cincy Shakes is presenting its regional premiere. (And here's a tip: on opening nights at 6 p.m., the theater offers ticket holders a complimentary catered meal, beer and wine.) Through Oct. 4. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273
Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club opens next Thursday at the Cincinnati Playhouse, but previews begin for the season opener this Saturday (through Wednesday). Tickets for these performances are discounted, and you'll be seeing a show that's pretty much ready to go. Jeffrey Hatcher's script should be lots of fun for fans of the Victorian sleuth. He's taken the character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and dropped him into a tale conceived by another inventive writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, for a mash-up that will keep even Baker Street regulars guessing. Tickets: 513-421-3888
Serials! at Know Theatre, which has presented episodes of six Fringe-like shows at two-week intervals all summer long, culminates on Monday evening at 8 p.m. with finales of each tale. Who will win the ultimate fist fight with the Devil in Flesh Descending? How long can Luke really stay in his bedroom during The Funeral? Will we ever find out what's really happening in Mars vs. The Atom? These questions and more will be answered on Monday. Even if you've missed a few episodes, don't worry: Each 15-minute performance begins with a brief recap of the story so far. Zany and fun for anyone who's enjoyed the annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival. Tickets ($15): 513-300-5669
Finally, a tip for an eye-opening theater experience next weekend: On Sunday, Sept. 14, the Cincinnati area's first-ever South Asian Theater Festival happens in an all-day event at the Anderson Theater (7850 Five Mile Rd.). Five plays are scheduled to be presented, as well as panel discussions, seven hours of programming in all. The day begins at 12:30 p.m. and is set to conclude around 8 p.m. A limited number of tickets remain ($19-$29): SATFCincy.org
Not too many years ago August was a very quiet month on local stages. No longer. You have plenty of good choices this weekend.
The big show this weekend will be Lumenocity in Washington Park. If you were lucky enough to get a ticket, you'll be seeing some great images on Music Hall's facade with accompaniment by the Cincinnati Symphony. If you weren't so lucky, you can still enjoy the show via radio (WGUC), television, big screens (at Fountain Square and Riverbend, for free) or via live streaming at lumenocity2014.com.
If you paid attention to the local theater season just concluded, you will recall that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company completed a herculean task: During its 20-year existence, the classic theater has produced all 38 of Shakespeare's plays. This summer three of Cincy Shakes' best actors are repeating the feat — sort of — with a production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), opening tonight. Jeremy Dubin, Justin McCombs and Nicholas Rose will be careening through the comedies, histories and tragedies digging props, wigs and ridiculous costumes out of a trunk. This is a perfect summer laugh-fest, and it's been a predictable hit in past seasons for Cincy Shakes, so tickets are sure to sell fast. Through Aug. 11. Tickets ($22-$35): 513-381-2273.
Summertime musicals are another great tradition, and Cincinnati Young People's Theatre has been presenting them with big casts of high school students for three decades. In fact, the just-opened production of Footloose at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is the 33rd summer show. It's the stage version of the popular 1984 movie musical, and it's a perfect vehicle for youthful energy focused on a group of high school kids — despite a repressive conservative atmosphere, kids in a small farming town just want to dance and have fun. With Tim Perrino at the helm, CYPT has steered more than 2,300 teens through entertaining shows, and this one will be another notch in his director's belt, providing experience for performers and techies alike. Through Aug. 3, you'll be able to come out and "Hear It for the Boy"! Tickets ($12-$16): 513-241-6559.
I wrote a CityBeat column a week ago about John Leo Muething, an ambitious young theater artistic who's staging a couple of shows this summer at the Art Academy's auditorium on Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine. His second of three shows, repertory theatre, will be produced this weekend (Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.). It's about a timid young playwright who approaches a veteran director about his new play. With Shakespeare's Hamlet echoing throughout, things get wilder and wilder. This show was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe for two years, and its original production is still touring in England; this is its U.S. premiere. Tickets ($10) at the door.
The Commonwealth Theatre Company's Route 66 winds up its run at Northern Kentucky University this weekend on Sunday. It's the tale of a band headed for the West Coast in the 1960s stopping at juke joints, diners, cheap motels and curio shops along one of America's legendary highways. Wes Carman, Roderick Justice, Dain Alan Paige and Joshua Steele play The Chicago Avenue Band. Dinner and the show ($30): 859-572-5464.
If Monday evening arrives and you're still yearning for something entertaining onstage, you can't go wrong with the next quarterly installment of TrueTheatre. This time around it's trueBLOOD, with the warning that if you cringe easily, this might not be the show for you. Whether it's stories that make your blood run cold — or just run — you can be sure that there will be first-person tales of memorable experiences. Great fun with a lively audience. One night only, Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. at Know Theatre. Tickets ($15, only a few left): 513-300-5669.
The Commonwealth Theatre Company's production of Route 66 continues its dinner-theater run at Northern Kentucky University. It's about a band traveling from Chicago to the West Coast in the 1960s along one of America's most legendary highways. Along the way, they meet a lot of colorful characters and see a lot of America. Wes Carman, Roderick Justice, Dain Alan Paige and Joshua Steele make up "The Chicago Avenue Band," who make stops at juke joints, diners, cheap motels and curio shops in this coming of age story. Through July 27. Dinner and the show ($30): 859-572-5464.
Last Saturday evening I ended up at Highlands High School in Fort Thomas to see teacher Jason Burgess's production of The Addams Family featuring a herd of high school kids from all over Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. It's a perfect musical for the program Burgess has created (C.A.S.T, the Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre), bringing together a ton of students who are in love with theater. Surrounding the central characters in The Addams Family, nicely portrayed by Aaron Schilling as Gomez, Lindsey Gwen Franxman as Morticia and Harrison Swayne as Uncle Fester, are 18 ghostly "ancestors." Each one is costumed (designer Laura Martin) from various periods with a clearly evident character; together they sing and dance as a coherent company. (Amy Burgess served as the production's choreographer, and Alex Gartner is the music director — in creepy makeup.) Through Sunday at 2 p.m. General admission ($10) at the door or online via www.showtix4u.com.
Monday evening at 8 p.m. brings the third installment of Serials! at Know Theatre (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). It's a wacky summer-long set of a half-dozen episodic plays by local playwrights. So far we have seen meat falling from the sky, an NSA spook monitoring a contentious couple, a kid refusing to go to a funeral, a philosophical fetus, a suicidal pair competing over techniques and more. Each 10-15 minute episode is preceded by a clever recap to catch you up, even if it's your first time there. Rest assured there are cliffhangers — not to mention Know's well-stocked Underground Bar. Admission is $15. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
I saw Cincinnati Opera's production of Silent Night on Thursday evening. It's the regional premiere of a work that won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for music, and our local opera is doing a bang-up job of presenting it. And "bang-up" is the operative term: This opera is set during some of the darkest days of World War I, and the opening segment of the production reproduces the violent and deadly combat between troops from England (actually a regiment from Scotland), France and Germany. You're not likely to see a more gripping onstage representation of battle than what's happening at Music Hall. Before Thursday's performance I listened to composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell talk about how to "musicalize" such a scene: Their research included studying the opening sequence of the Saving Private Ryan, the graphic, Academy Award-winning film of the D-Day invasion during World War II. It's a powerfully real scene, a perfect opening to the moving tale of soldiers pitted as enemies who found common ground in one another's humanity on Christmas Eve 1914. You can get good seats for the concluding performance on Saturday evening (7:30 p.m.) for $30-$45 by calling the Opera's box office: 513-241-2742.
Area high school students are the talent in onstage for Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre (C.A.S.T.) at Highlands High School (2400 Memorial Pkwy., Fort Thomas). Starting tonight is a two-week run (July 11-20) of The Addams Family, a Broadway musical based on cartoonist Charles Addams' bizarre and beloved family of characters. The group is headed up by Fort Thomas theater instructor Jason Burgess, who has assembled theater kids from the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky who are eager to develop their skills in performance and production. Tickets: $10 (http://www.showtix4u.com) or at the door.
Tony Award-winning musical next to normal, about a
woman with bipolar disorder, gets not one but two productions by
Cincinnati-area community theaters: Sunset Players on the West Side and
Paradise Players for East Side siders. You can choose between them tonight. The
venerable Sunset Players, which presents shows at the Dunham Arts Center (in
the Dunham Recreation Complex, 4320 Guerley Rd., Price Hill), has performances
through July 26,
mostly at 8 p.m.
Tickets ($14-$16): 513-588-4988. Meanwhile,
Paradise Players, a newish group offering summer productions at McNicholas High
School's Jeanne Spurlock Theatre (6536 Beechmont Ave.), is presenting its
rendition of the show this weekend only, tonight at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at
2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $15 (http://mcnhs.seatyourself.biz
Several of our local theaters produce shows this time of year that are a kind of antidote to the usual fare of A Christmas Carol and other happy, merry tales. Three get under way this weekend:
I went to a rockin’ party earlier this week, and you can, too — if you turn up for the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Low Down Dirty Blues, through Dec. 20. That’s right, a whole month of good times and sad in the intimate Shelterhouse Theater, doubling as Big Mama’s after-hours Blues bar. Every year around this time the Playhouse puts on a show as an alternate holiday choice to A Christmas Carol (which gets underway next week). This year it’s a warm-hearted good time featuring three excellent singers and a couple of very accomplished Jazz musicians (especially local Jazz pianist Steve Schmidt) performing off-color tunes, full of double-entendres and scandalous joking. The first half of the two-hour performance is mostly about lusty interaction via tunes like “Rough and Ready Man,” “I Got My Mojo Workin’ ” and “You Bring Out the Boogie in Me.” After intermission the party continues briefly (including some cute audience interaction to the tune of “I’m Not That Kind of Girl” — but then the tone darkens with passionate songs of grief (“Death Letter”), mourning (“Good Morning Heartache”) and then hope (“Change is ’Gonna Come”). Felicia P. Fields, a Broadway veteran who played a major role in the original staging of The Color Purple, anchors (and I use that word quite literally) the banter and the singing, but she is ably matched by Caron “Sugaray” Rayford, a massive force of energy, perspiration and rhythm. Chic Street Man sings and plays several guitars (especially a steel number with a gorgeous ring), and his sly, sinuous presence is a perfect complement to Fields’ and Rayford’s more ebullient performances. Don’t go if you’re offended by sexual innuendo, but if you’re looking for a “low down dirty” time, call now for a ticket: 513-421-3888
One of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, As You Like It, is the first step of holiday happiness at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. The story of tomfoolery and romance in the Forest of Arden kicks off tonight; it’s around until Dec. 12, when it’s followed by the tenth annual staging of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some). In case you missed it, Cincy Shakes announced this week that by mid-2017 it moves to its own spectacular new space in Washington Park, the Otto M. Budig Theatre, with nearly 100 more seats than its Race Street facility. (Read my story in this week's issue for more.) Until then, you need to line up for tickets, since many of the company’s performances sell out quickly. Tickets: 513-381-2273
Another “kind of” holiday show getting started is Know Theatre’s production of All Childish Things, opening tonight and onstage through Dec. 19. In a story set right here in Cincinnati (Norwood, in fact), it’s 2006 and two guys are still yearning for the galactic adventures promised by Star Wars when they were kids. One guy lives in his mom’s basement; the other has a girlfriend who could care less about The Force. They think their big break might be residing in a warehouse full of collectible Star Wars memorabilia. Zany shows rooted in childhood have become a holiday staple at Know Theatre, and this is right up that weird, happy alley. Tickets: 513-300-5669
And if you’re really longing to get the holidays under way, you have the perfect opportunity with a tour stop by a production of White Christmas at the Aronoff (next Tuesday through Dec. 6). It’s a stage version of the popular film; the tour features stage Cincinnati and Broadway veteran Pamela Myers in a cute, outspoken role. She performs a number titled “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” a perfect summary of her illustrious career. Tickets: 513-621-2787
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
I’m in New York City this week to check out some Broadway shows, so I’m missing the opening night of the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Low Down Dirty Blues. It’s the holiday “alternative” to A Christmas Carol, and alternative it is. It’s set in a nameless Blues club on Chicago’s South Side that’s closing for the night. But that’s just when the party heats up as a group of musicians assembles for an after-hours jam session to swap stories and perform favorite tunes, especially numbers from the bawdier side of the Blues, tunes by the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Mama Thornton and more. “It is a spicier kind of Blues, specifically one that has two sides to it," says Dan Wheetman, the production’s co-creator and music director. "On one hand, it is a more intimate look, it is a smaller group and a smaller palate… It’s a story about the people, these people in this club and their stories, which includes the music but it is more of a personal talk about what brought them to where they are.” I’m eager to see it. Onstage through Dec. 20. Tickets: 513-421-3555
It’s that time of year when families begin thinking about going to the theater together. Getting an early start are musical productions for the entire family. Once choice is Seussical, based on the works of Dr. Seuss, at Northern Kentucky University. It opened on Thursday and continues through Nov. 22. Tickets: 859-572-5464 … The other is a production of the musical Mary Poppins by Cincinnati Music Theatre at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater. This is perhaps the city’s most ambitious community theater company, typically undertaking big musicals and doing a good job with them. It opens tonight and continues through Nov. 21. Tickets: 513-621-2787 … If you miss the latter, you’ll have a chance to see a different production: The Covedale Center will be presenting it Nov. 27-Dec. 27.
Continuing and finishing: A keep-’em-guessing murder mystery with just two characters, Sleuth, continues its run at the Carnegie through Nov. 22. (Tickets: 859-957-1940)… This is the final weekend for Mad River Rising at the Cincinnati Playhouse (final performance is Saturday; tickets: 513-421-3888); Andy’s House of [BLANK], an original musical at Know Theater (also winding up on Saturday; tickets: 513-300-5669); and an old-fashioned farce, Fox on the Fairway, at the Covedale (Sunday’s matinee is your last chance; tickets: 513-241-6550).
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
“Florala.” That’s where you are when you head down the ramp to see Know Theatre’s production of Andy’s House of [Blank]. It’s set on the state line between Florida and Alabama, but it’s recreated in two-dimensional cardboard props (telephones and ice cream cones) and decorations (comically taxidermied animals, including the backside of a dog) imaginatively designed and executed by Sarah Beth Hall. The tale is filtered through the often-divergent memories of two guys who were 16 in 1998, holding down their first jobs in roadside oddity shop and museum of “unmailed love letters.” The “guys” are Paul Strickland and Trey Tatum (truly from Florida and Alabama). They serve as the narrators — or perhaps the “recollectors” — of the oddball musical tale of Andy (Christopher Michael Richardson), the proprietor, and Sadie (Erika Kate MacDonald), the girl he had a crush on as a kid. The show was a well-received entry in Know’s “Serials” earlier this year, a story told in five 15-minute episodes. Strickland and Tatum have stitched those pieces together, and director Bridget Leak has given the piece continuity and flow. Their ebullient enthusiasm is obvious from start to finish — Tatum pounds away on an electric keyboard, Strickland (who composed the 20 or so songs) plays guitar and sings almost operatically, and Richardson and MacDonald (both with gorgeous voices) affectingly play two people caught in a looping time warp. In fact, all four characters are living out the theme repeatedly spoken and sung: “Every day is just a variation on a theme.” The music is great, and there are lots of laughs along the way, but the story is a serious, poignant rumination about love, longing and how to move forward by looking back. At two-plus hours (including an intermission) it feels a tad long, but every moment is a treat to watch. Onstage through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669
Opening this week: Anthony Schaffer’s Sleuth, a humorous but taut murder mystery is at The Carnegie in Covington. It’s a two-man show about a famous mystery writer who’s out to murder a man having an affair with his wife. There are a lot of twists and turns in this tale, so it’s fun to watch if you pay close attention. Through Nov. 14. Tickets: 859-957-1840 … Playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa fascinated Cincinnati Playhouse audiences back in 2013 with his “sequel” to The Crucible, Abigail/1702. Falcon Theatre is offering two related one-acts by him, The Mystery Plays, inspired by the tradition of medieval theater that dealt with the imponderables of death, the afterlife, religion, faith and forgiveness — but from a thoroughly American perspective. In the first piece, a horror film director survives a train wreck only to be haunted by someone who didn’t make it; in the second, a woman travels to a rural Oregon town to make peace with the man who murdered her parents and her sister: He’s her older brother. Through Nov. 21 at the Monmouth Theatre in Newport. Tickets: 513-479-6783
Continuing: Cincinnati Shakespeare’s excellent production of Arthur Miller’s classic drama Death of a Salesman has its final performance on Saturday evening. It’s worth seeing, but tickets might be scarce. Tickets: 513-381-2273 … Mad River Rising at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a compelling study of place and aging, an old man trying to forestall the sale of his family farm. It continues through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-421-3888 … Covedale Center’s staging of the comedy Fox on the Fairway, a tribute to cinematic farces from the 1930s and 1940s, is onstage until Nov. 15. Tickets: 513-241-6550
Tune in to WVXU (FM 91.7) on Saturday evening at 8 p.m. to catch LA Theater Works’ production of Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man. This show, about a young Jewish Confederate soldier marking Passover 1865 with his family’s newly freed slaves in a crumbling mansion in Richmond, Va., at the end of the Civil War, is a powerful work. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati staged this show very effectively in 2012.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
There are almost too many good shows for you to enjoy this weekend, but depending on what you like, you’ll probably find it somewhere.
Cincy Shakes production of Death of a Salesman doesn’t open until tonight, but all sings point to a strong production, headlined by one of our region’s best actors, Bruce Cromer, as beaten-down Willie Loman, who I interviewed for my CityBeat column this week. He’s matched with another fine local stage performer Annie Fitzpatrick as Willie’s faithful but worried wife; two of the Shakespeare team’s excellent company of actors, Jared Joplin and Justin McCombs, play Willie’s sons who can’t quite bear up to the weight of his expectations. Arthur Miller’s play is one of the greatest, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award. So if it’s serious drama, get tickets for this one, onstage through Nov. 7: 513-381-2273.
Want something more frivolous and entertaining, but still a great performance? Show up at Ensemble Theatre for Buyer and Cellar, a one-man show about a guy pretending to be a shopkeeper in a vast basement treasure trove of acquisitions on Barbra Streisand’s Malibu estate. It’s 90 minutes of non-stop storytelling, rooted in a real place — but with a fantasized chain of events. Actor Nick Cearley is a comic gem, performing in a smartly written script that requires him to conjure up not just Alex, the actor hired to wait on Barbra, “the customer” (one and only), but the singer herself and a handful of others. Great fun to watch. Here’s my review. Through Nov. 1. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
If you love a good Broadway musical, you need to show up at the Aronoff and score a seat for the touring production of Pippin. (CityBeat review here.) It’s a show from 40 years ago (by Stephen Schwartz, the creator of Wicked more recently), but this version of an award-winning Broadway revival from two years ago is full of Cirque du Soleil-styled acrobatics, as well as some great songs and performers. It’s a sort of fairytale embroidered from a real historical character from the 9th century, the son of the monarch who launched the Holy Roman Empire. It’s about the young Pippin’s arduous search for a meaningful life. The “Leading Player,” a kind of emcee/storyteller, is Gabrielle McClinton, who handled the role on Broadway for part of its two-year run there, and Charlemagne, Pippin’s father, is played by veteran actor John Rubinstein — who originated the title role back in 1972. (He’s 68 now, but still an energetic, animated performer.) Tickets: 513-621-2787.
Shows previous opened that are also worth seeing include the very serious drama Extremities at the Incline Theater in E. Price Hill (tickets: 513-241-6550), onstage through Sunday; and Sex with Strangers, a very modern romance about writers who envy one another’s careers and lust after one another’s bodies, has another week and a half at the Cincinnati Playhouse (tickets: 513-421-3888).
Sex is pretty much a constant presence in life as we know
it, and it’s often a driving force in plays, taking on many shapes and
outcomes. That’s particularly the case with two shows that just opened
locally, Laura Eason’s new play, Sex with Strangers, at the Cincinnati Playhouse on its Shelterhouse stage through Oct. 25, and William Mastrisimone’s 1982 script, Extremities, at Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Incline Theatre, through Oct. 18.
Eason’s script is about two writers who seem as opposite as can be — he’s an arrogant 28-year-old blogger (Nicholas Carrière as the charming and ebullient Ethan) whose writing about sexual conquests has been turned into a best-selling book, while she’s a serious, introspective novelist, 39, (Nancy Lemenager as introverted and self-conscious Olivia) who’s given up because of bad reviews and weak sales of her first book more than a decade earlier. But they end up together in a Michigan B&B due to a snowstorm (and some serious interest on his part in meeting her) and they discover a powerful mutual attraction that’s also driven by aspiration and envy of one another’s careers. Eason writes great contemporary dialogue, and director KJ Sanchez keeps things hurtling along down a road of desire and tentative trust. It seems evident that things could go off the tracks, but when they do there’s some more interesting sparks — and a lot of conversation about the state of writing and literature today. While the show’s title is titillating and they are strangers who steam things up — repeatedly — it’s really the title of his blog, and a past that he might or might not want to move beyond. There’s both humor and real emotion to be appreciated in this finely crafted production. Tickets: 513-421-3888
Mastrisimone’s off-Broadway script from three decades ago (Extremities also became a 1986 movie starring Farrah Fawcett) comes at issues of sex and attraction from a far more serious and brutal angle. It’s a significant a departure for Cincinnati Landmark, best known as a producer of safer, more mainstream fare, musicals and classical comedies. Raul (Will Reed) has been stalking three young women who share a house. He bursts in on Marjorie (Eileen Earnest), who we meet lounging around in a state of undress; he overpowers her, knowing her roommates won’t be back for hours. But she turns the tables on him, and when Terry (Katey Blood) and Patricia (Rachel Mock) return, they find Marjorie menacing and torturing her foul-mouthed attacker, hogtied and imprisoned in a large fireplace. They are shocked by her violent turn, and their perspectives — Terry is shocked and fearful, while Patricia is pragmatic and overly analytical — provide various takes on the situation and its potential resolution. Their four-cornered battle unfolds in harsh, often unhinged arguments about motives, likely outcomes and fears. Some of these feel a tad dated in 2015, but that does not diminish the story’s power. Earnest’s searing performance as Marjorie and Reed’s manipulative portrait of an intelligent, twisted man she insists on calling “The Animal” fuel the pounding pulse of this production of Extremities, staged by Tim Perrino. You’re never sure how the battle will end, and that makes for good theater. Tickets: 513-241-6550
CCM Drama head Richard Hess calls David Edgar’s Pentecost the British equivalent of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Both are big-cast plays, stuffed full of language and contending philosophies. The discovery of a 13th-century mural in an Eastern European church threatens to upset the world of art history, but it also lights the match on conflicts that go well beyond — to geopolitics, religion, history and more. It’s a heady script, with 26 roles speaking multiple languages, utterances that audiences have to intuit, just as the characters need to try to grasp one another’s motives. Read more about Pentecost in my recent Curtain Call column. Like most CCM productions, this one (at UC’s Patricia Corbett Theater) has a short weekend run; the final performance is a matinee on Sunday. Pentecost is an important play, an essential experience for serious theatergoers. Tickets: 513-556-4183
One more interesting piece of theater this weekend, inspired by Titus Kaphar’s Vesper Project at the Contemporary Arts Center, a multi-part installation in which paintings are woven into the walls of a 19th-century American house in New England, the home of a mixed-race family. His exhibit there involves a true/false backstory and familiar/unfamiliar environments. The massive exhibit invites conversation, and that’s what writer (and occasional CityBeat contributor) Stacy Sims has created after several discussions with the artist. She invited five local actors to work with her to respond to the piece, and the result, RETRACED: A theatrical conversation with the Vesper Project, will be performed three times this weekend at the CAC on Sixth Street in downtown Cincinnati, at noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Sims says, “While I have a strong idea of how the actors will move in and out of the space and intersect with each other, each of their individual stories will be deeply informed by their own personal narratives of race, power, privilege and home.” Performances are free with gallery admission.
This weekend is your last chance to see the Cincinnati Playhouse’s beautiful production of The Secret Garden, NKU’s rendition of the comedy Moon Over Buffalo and New Edgecliff Theatre’s well-acted staging of Frankie and Johnnie in the Clair de Lune.
New Edgecliff Theatre’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is under way a week later than initially announced following some issues with its not-quite-ready new home in Northside. So it’s been moved to the Essex Studio (2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills), in a performance space routinely used by Cincinnati Actors Studio & Academy, a training group for teens. It was bit of hustle and strain to move a half-built set from Northside to Walnut Hills, but it fits nicely into CASA’s black box. Rather than rattling around in a big old church sanctuary (Northside’s work-in-progress Urban Artifact), NET’s staging of Terrence McNally’s 1987 romantic dramedy works beautifully in this more intimate space. But I suspect no matter where it was staged, the two-character show would be well received thanks to actors Sara Mackie and Dylan Shelton, smartly put through their paces by director Jared Doren. As lonely co-workers in a New York greasy spoon diner, they’ve finally connected — at least for a night. They’re both kind of needy although in very different ways. Frankie, a sweet waitress, has been bruised by bad relationships and seems happy with her own insular existence; Johnny, the motor-mouthed short-order cook who can quote Shakespeare, is driven by angst and passion — filled with desperation that he doesn’t have any more chances for romances. This naturally frightens Frankie, and their navigation through this minefield, full of passion and snark, makes audiences laugh and love them both. It’s definitely worth seeing. Because of the move, it’s a short run, just through Oct. 3. Tickets: 888-528-7311
The folks who run Falcon Theater, performing in Newport at the Monmouth Theatre (636 Monmouth St.) have staked a claim on comic musical satires — they’ve produced Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical, Poseidon: The Upside-Down Musical, Evil Dead: The Musical and several more. So they worked really hard to get the rights to Silence: The Musical, based on The Silence of the Lambs, the creepy 1991 movie about “Hannibal the Cannibal” starring Anthony Hopkins as a manipulative serial killer and Jodie Foster as the young FBI cadet who needs him to solve another serial murder. The musical version was a big hit at the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival and over the past decade it's become a cult favorite. It opens tonight and continues on weekends through Oct. 10. Tickets: 513-479-6783
The first production of the season at Northern Kentucky University, Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo, is a comedy about a pair of fading actors from the 1950s on tour in Buffalo. Their marriage is coming apart, but a famous movie director is coming to see their matinee and just might cast them in an upcoming feature. But everything goes wrong when they start confusing the two shows they’re performing — Noël Coward’s Private Lives and Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. Tickets: 859-572-5464
Speaking of Cyrano, there’s a fine production of it (not to be confused with anything else …) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, with an excellent performance by company veteran Jeremy Dubin in the title role. It’s onstage through Oct. 3. 513-381-2273. • Also closing on Oct. 3 is the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s beautiful production of The Secret Garden, a musical based on a cherished novel from a century ago. This is one of the Playhouse’s “family-friendly” productions — like A Christmas Carol — suitable for multiple generations. It looks great, and the talent onstage — much of it from Broadway — is top-notch. Tickets: 513-421-3888
If you haven’t seen Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, you really should try to get there this weekend for one of its final showings. This new play hat will make you uncomfortable because it’s about a tough conflict with no obvious right or wrong — a custody fight over a baby between her irresponsible parents and her religiously conservative grandmother, refereed by an over-burdened social worker. The cast (including three former ETC apprentices who do a great job) is led by Annie Fitzpatrick as the weary social worker. She’s especially good in this role, a woman trying to do the right thing who’s thwarted at every turn. Final performance is 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: 513-421-3555
Actors are a big reason we go to see specific performances, and there are a couple of excellent choices onstage right now as several theaters are kicking off their 2015-2016 seasons. Of particular note is Annie Fitzpatrick, a familiar performer to audiences frequenting productions at Ensemble Theatre. She’s playing Caroline, an over-burdened social worker in Luna Gale. Her character is caught in a custody tug of war involving a baby, the title character. Her immature parents are on one side, caught up in drugs and angry behavior; on the other side is Luna Gale’s well-intentioned grandmother who’s religiously conservative. Fitzpatrick portrays a beleaguered woman trying to do what’s right, but constantly thwarted by the system in which she works. You feel this desperation deep down inside Caroline’s character, in her physical presence, in her exasperated stares and sighs. Fitzpatrick is a marvel to watch. She’s a major factor in my giving this production a Critic’s Pick. (Note for the future: She’ll be onstage next at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Oct. 16-Nov. 7, playing Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman.) Luna Gale continues through Sept. 27. Tickets: 512-421-3555
Another veteran actor is shining at Cincinnati Shakespeare this month. Jeremy Dubin, a member of CSC’s acting company for 16 seasons, is playing the swashbuckling poet Cyrano de Bergerac. The show is sometimes called a heroic comedy, and Dubin handles both parts of that phrase with aplomb. He makes Cyrano larger than life in his generosity and faithfulness, but he plays him with the requisite sense of humor — especially in scenes involving Cyrano’s oversized nose, a convincing prosthetic created for Dubin’s performance. He has excelled in roles both comic and serious; Cyrano draws on both. Read more about this play and Cincy Shakes’ production in my recent column. Tickets: 513-621
One more excellent acting performance worth catching: Caitlin Cohn as 10-year-old Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden at the Cincinnati Playhouse. She’s actually a college student (New York University), but the petite actress is wholly convincing as the ornery, bright and eventually loving orphan who finds the warmth of nature and shares it with her grieving uncle. Cohn is doing an audacious job with a challenging role. Tickets: 513-421-3888
If you were planning to see New Edgecliff Theatre’s production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune this weekend, you need to put it in neutral. Due to some technical delays with NET’s new home at Urban Artifact (1622 Blue Rock Road, Northside) the company is moving the production to a different venue and delaying performances for a week. It’s not scheduled to be presented at Essex Studios (2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills) opening Sept. 24 and continuing through Oct. 3. NET is contacting people who already had reservations. If you don’t have tickets yet, call now: 888-421-7311
A few quick notes: Showbiz Players, a dependable community theater company that likes satirical shows, is presenting The Rocky Horror Show at the Carnegie in Covington, through Sept. 26. Tickets: 859-957-1940 … Performance Gallery, an avant-garde troupe of performers that’s been a steady contributor to the Cincinnati Fringe, is reprising its production from the 2015 Fringe, Shirtzencockle, at Know Theatre on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. It’s a surreal, magical, ridiculous blind of folk and fairy tales. Tickets: 513-300-5669 … Kate Tombaugh, who studied opera at UC’s CCM (and trained in numerous other places) is presenting her one-woman show, It Just Takes One. It portrays the roller-coaster story of a young woman in her 20s seeking a career in opera while struggling to find a social life. A benefit for the Charitable Care Fund at Children’s Hospital, it’s being presented at St. Thomas Episcopal Church (100 Miami Ave., Terrace Park) on Friday evening at 8 p.m. and in 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
The fall theater season is fully under way. I’ve seen several productions that I can recommend, starting with Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s staging of Luna Gale. The story focuses on a weary social worker caught on the horns of a horrible dilemma — a custody battle between teen parents with drug issues and a zealously religious grandmother — with veteran actress Annie Fitzpatrick turning in another outstanding acting performance. The production is also an impressive reminder of the fine work ETC has been doing for 30 years since three actors in Luna Gale were ETC apprentices a year ago. The award-winning Luna Gale is being produced at many theaters across America this season, but I can’t imagine that any of those productions will be better than the one we have right here in Cincinnati. I gave it a Critic’s Pick. Through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-421-3555
Last night I was at the Playhouse for The Secret Garden opening its 56th season. While this is a story about a 10-year-old girl, it’s quite serious and thoughtful. Orphaned and seemingly headed for unhappiness, she finds redemption in nature and friendship, bringing others along on her path to a better place through abandoned garden that comes back to life. In my review, I suggest that this production might be a bit too complex and impressionistic for kids, but the show is physically beautiful and gorgeous musically. Caitlin Cohn’s performance as Mary Lennox is impressive; she’s a student at New York University, but quite convincing as a young girl. The cast features two CCM musical theater grads, Adam Monley and Carlyn Connolly, and a raft of polished New York veterans. Through Oct. 3. Tickets: 513-241-3888
If you’re a fan of the music of the ’60s and ’70s, you’re likely to love the touring production of Motown: The Musical currently rattling the rafters at the Aronoff Center (through Sept. 20). The hardworking cast does a great job of recreating the sounds of Motown — The Four Tops, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye, and many more. The play in which this is presented, however, is not so stimulating — Motown founder Barry Gordy’s story was written by (you guessed it) Barry Gordy, and it all feels pretty self-serving. But the music is great, and it comes at you hot and heavy — nearly 60 songs, although many are in medleys or shortened versions. Nevertheless, it’s a great reminder of the Pop tunes that kept American singing and dancing several decades ago. Tickets: 513-621-2787
The Covedale Center is offering an ambitious staging of a great musical, A Chorus Line, with some fine dancing in its own right. This is a very moving show about people who put themselves “on the line” to do something they love. It’s still powerful after 40 years, and Cincinnati Landmark Productions has done a fine job with this one. (Through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550
There’s a lot of laughter at Know Theatre this weekend where the Cincinnati Improv Festival is underway. I understand that there aren’t many tickets left, but if you’re a fan of this branch of comedy, you should call to see if you can get in. Shows tonight and Saturday. Tickets: 513-300-5669
There’s a lot more coming next week, once we get past Labor Day, but right now there’s just one theater locally with a production onstage. That’s the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. Artistic Director Tim Perrino has been reminding everyone that just because Cincinnati Landmark Productions has opened the Incline Theatre, don’t think that the Covedale has shut down. In fact, it has an ambitious line-up of shows, and the opening production is already under way, A Chorus Line. I haven’t seen this production of it yet, but I will tell you that it’s a show that really lit my interest in musical theater. It was a Broadway hit back in 1975, and I saw a touring production of it in Cleveland in 1978. I had next to no income at the time — and tickets for subsequent performances were pretty well sold out anyway — but I told several friends that in a perfect world, I would have gone back to see it again. I had to wait a few years for that to happen, but this story of aspiring performers grabs me every time I see it. It’s the story of eager young dancers trying to get into the chorus of an upcoming Broadway production. The group is narrowed to 17, but the ultimate goal is four men and four women. The songs are rooted in each dancer’s personal story: Some are amusing, some are heart wrenching — all are painfully true. At the end, they all coalesce into “One (Singular Sensation),” a stunning finale that has all the individuals we’ve met together, dancing as one. It’s a wonderful metaphor about the passion to perform and to be part of a larger whole. A Chorus Line at the Covedale has performances this weekend and continues through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
Last evening I drove to Louisville where Actors Theatre is opening its 2015-2016 season with a superb production of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, one of his “Century Cycle” plays chronicling African-American life in Pittsburgh across the decades of the 20th century. This one, set in the late 1940s, swirls around a promising young Blues singer, Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, who has been offered a recording contract just after his release from a 90-day stint in jail. The play opens with his funeral then circles back through scenes reminiscing about his life and six vividly different people who were close to him — three women and three men. The cast is powerful, and the minutely detailed setting, a desolate backyard in Pittsburgh’s Hill District (inspired by the art of African-American painter and collagist Romare Bearden) is a sight to behold. Seven Guitars blends humor, lyricism and tragedy. Although several of Wilson’s remarkable plays have been stage in Cincinnati, Seven Guitars — winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for best play in 1996 and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award — has not been produced locally. So you might want to make a run down I-71 to Louisville between now and Sept. 20 to see this. This production is definitely worth the trip. Tickets: 502-584-1205.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.