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by Rick Pender 12.08.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
christmas carol_cincinnati playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: A Ho-Ho-Whole Lotta ​Holiday Shows

If you want to go to the theater this weekend, you have plenty of choices, so long as you have the spirit of the season. Let's start with the familiar: Cincinnati Playhouse launched its 24th year of A Christmas Carol last week, and it's always a pleasure to see, featuring Bruce Cromer as Scrooge. But there are many more fine acting performances, including Ryan Wesley Gilreath as Bob Cratchit and Douglas Rees as the ebullient Mr. Fezziwig. Played out on a wingding of a set that spins and glitters and makes it possible to tell the story swiftly, Dickens' classic tale is a wonderful holiday tradition. Through Dec. 28. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888

Another tradition continues at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, where Sleeping Beauty is being revived for the fourth time. For 18 seasons, ETC has presented original shows by two local creators, playwright Joseph McDonough and composer David Kisor. It's a family-friendly piece that's conceived to entertain kids and adults with its innocent charm and a message that one person can truly make a difference. Many of ETC's regular actors return annually to do these shows, especially Deb G. Girdler (as the evil Wisteria) and Michael G. Bath (as her nefarious henchman). Intern Deirdre Manning is the sweet princess who sleeps for 100 years, and Terrance J. Ganser is both the prince who fulfills her curse and the one who breaks her free a century later. Especially enjoyable as a trio of mischievous fairies are Sara Mackie, Denise Devlin and Brooke Steele as Marigold, Lilac and Daisy. (They will be familiar to ETC audiences from several productions of the "Marvelous Wonderettes.") Through Jan. 4. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555

Lots of good holiday choices are up and running elsewhere: Forever Plaid – Plaid Tidings at the Covedale Center on the West Side; The Comedy of Errors at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company downtown; The Eight Reindeer Monologues at Falcon Theatre in Newport; and the Children's Theatre of Cincinnati's production of The Snow Queen at the Taft Theatre downtown.

If you prefer to avoid elves, nutcrackers and bah-humbugs, you should try Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical (CityBeat review here) at the Playhouse or The Bureau of Missing Persons, a the magical, mysterious production at Know Theatre (CityBeat review here).

Ho, ho, ho, indeed. That's enough theater to make anyone jolly.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
by Rick Pender 12.01.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
susan haefner as rosemary clooney - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Clooney, Christmas Carol and Comedy

Earlier this week I took my mom to see Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical at the Cincinnati Playhouse (CityBeat review here). It was just as good the second time around. Mom, who loved Clooney as a performer in her heyday, had this to say: "It was like seeing her perform live!" I agree: Susan Haefner offers a wonderful interpretation of a Cincinnati icon; and it's great fun to watch Michael Marotta (the only other actor onstage) play her psychiatrist and a dozen or so other characters from Rosie's life. It's a great story of a woman who overcame some daunting demons and made a second career when she had been largely forgotten. Through Jan. 4. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888.

Even though everyone's Christmas decorations have been up for a while, the holiday season doesn't really begin for me until the Cincinnati Playhouse opens its production of A Christmas Carol. Well, there's no more waiting for that one: For the 24th consecutive year, the Mt. Adams theater kicks things off tonight with a glittering production of Charles Dickens' story of the re-education of Ebenezer Scrooge by several ghosts and the loving family of Bob Cratchit. This show is worth seeing simply for Bruce Cromer's winning performance in the pivotal role, but there's so much more — it's a scenically beautiful production, and the ensemble totally enters into the spirit of the season and brings the audience right along, too. Through Dec. 28. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888.

Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors is not exactly a holiday show, but it's a lot of fun (CityBeat review here), what with two sets of twins intersecting without realizing the confusion they're causing. Of course, it all sorts out eventually with a happy ending and multiple weddings. Set in a carnival town and costumed as if it were America in the 1930s, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production induces laughter from start to finish. It would be a happy weekend outing for anyone, young or old. Through Dec. 13. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273.

Know Theatre's production of The Bureau of Missing Persons is an evocative and entertaining piece of alternative theater (CityBeat review here). The story of a woman's quest from her New York City apartment to a cave in Moscow in search of someone missing is described in the show's publicity as "a poignant tale of loss and redemption — part mystery, part love story." It's also the directorial debut for Tamara Winters, who recently became Know's associate artistic director. There's a preview tonight and the official opening is Saturday evening; it will be onstage through Dec. 20. Tickets ($20 in advance; $10 at the door 10 minutes prior to curtain, if available … cash only): 513-300-5669.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 11.21.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
susan haefner as rosemary clooney at cincinnati playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: A Girl Singer and Two Pairs of Twins

Many Cincinnati stages are momentarily paused, readying shows for the holidays. Last night the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park opened its production of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical. Susan Haefner does a remarkable job of channeling the "girl singer" from Maysville, Ky., who grew up in Greater Cincinnati. We learn how she became a star, rose to fame, almost lost it to pills and dissolute behavior, then battled back for a "flip side" to her singing career. All the other characters in her story — male and female, young and old, famous and unknown — are performed by Michael Marotta, who principally plays her counselor but is amusingly convincing as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Merv Griffin and many more. It's a thoroughly entertaining two hours on the Playhouse's Shelterhouse stage, and it's already appealing to audiences apparently, since the show's run has been extended from Dec. 28 to Jan. 4. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company kicks off its next production of the 2014-2015 season tonight with The Comedy of Errors. The emphasis in this show, one of Shakespeare's earliest works, is definitely on the comedy, what with two pairs of twins whose adventures are hysterically compounded by mistaken identities when they end up in the same town on the same day. For this staging, it's set in a seaside resort in America of the 1930s in the midst of a classic carnival, adding to the story's hilarity. This one will only be onstage until Dec. 13, so this weekend is the perfect time to catch a performance, before holiday shows take center stage elsewhere. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273

One last treat I'll mention, which happens to be operatic rather than theatrical: It's Great Scott, a new work that Cincinnati Opera is nurturing in partnership with UC's College-Conservatory of Music. The production's creators have been in town all this week honing this brand new opera, the story of a struggling opera company and the hometown football team. They come into conflict when the team is to play in the Super Bowl on the same day the company has planned to premiere a long lost opera. To heighten the drama, the team's owner is married to the opera company's founder. The composer is Jake Heggie, who wrote the music for Dead Man Walking, a work produced by Cincinnati Opera at Music Hall in 2002, and Great Scott's script is by prize-winning playwright Terrence McNally. The week's work will culminate in a public reading on Tuesday evening. It's free, but you are asked to make a reservation by calling 513-241-2742 to see it at Memorial Hall (1225 Elm Street, next door to Music Hall; it's easy to park your car in the nearby Washington Park Garage).


Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 11.14.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
once_photo_joan_marcus

Stage Door: Broadway Here, Broadway There — It's Everywhere

If you're looking for good theater this weekend you have two great choices at downtown Cincinnati's Aronoff Center. It's your pick: Recent Broadway hit Once, in a touring production, or a past award-winner, Young Frankenstein, staged by one of Cincinnati's best community theaters.

The musical Once began life as an Academy Award-winning film in 2007; the song "Falling Slowly" won an Oscar. The film became an off-Broadway production as a musical in 2011 then a Broadway contender in 2012, where it won eight Tony Awards, including best musical. Since 2013 it's been a hit in London (the film is about musicians in Dublin, and the stage adaptation is set in an Irish pub) and on a national tour in the U.S. a year ago that's been much praised. It's that tour presently onstage at the Aronoff Center's big hall. It's a very contemporary love story that succeeds in part because it's unpredictable: Boy Meets Girl (yeah, that's a cliché) but despite their chemistry and potential for romance, it doesn't turn out as you might expect. Along the way, a great cast of actor/musicians play instruments onstage and sing their hearts out as the story unfolds. And it's fun: Arrive early enough and you can queue up to go onstage and order a pint from the bar there and mingle with some of the cast. If there's such a thing as a casual musical for contemporary music lovers, this is it. Through Nov. 23. Tickets ($33-$80): 513-621-2787.

Don't think that you'll see something less than professional if you choose to head to the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater to see Young Frankenstein, presented by Cincinnati Music Theatre through Sunday. This company of local theater junkies knows how to make big musicals work, and this jokey show by Mel Brooks (based on his equally jokey classic comedy from 1974) is a great vehicle for a talented cast and crew. There are great sets (designed by Rick Kramer) and visual effects (by Jeff Surber), and the talented performers milk every laugh line to the nth degree. Charlie Harper is lots of fun as the latter-day scientist Frankenstein, Alison Evans is his fetching lab assistant Inga and Kate Mock Elliott has great moments as his twitchy fiancee Elizabeth. Chuck Ingram's portrait of the Monster is spot on, and his delivery of the show's big number, "Puttin' on the Ritz," will stick that tune in your head for days in ways that Irving Berlin never imagined. Tickets ($20-$24): 513-621-2787.

Broadway star Faith Prince is making a local appearance at Memorial Hall for an 8 p.m. concert tonight. It's part of a series of "Libations & Lite Bites," this one titled "Broadway & Bordeaux." The evening begins at 6:30 with hors d'oeuvres from local restaurants, wine and cocktails and concludes with dessert and more. Tickets ($47-$57): cincinnatimemorialhall.com.

If you've got Broadway on the brain and you're on Cincinnati's West Side, you should definitely check out the Covedale Center's production of Stephen Sondheim's fairytale musical Into the Woods, finishing up its run on Sunday. It's an entertaining classic (in December it will be on movie screens everywhere in a new film version featuring Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp), and the Covedale has a great cast to put it across. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

You still have a chance to catch one of our great local actresses, Dale Hodges, in Driving Miss Daisy at Covington's Carnegie through Sunday. She's playing haughty, elderly Daisy Wertham, unwillingly partnered with Hoke, an African-American chauffeur (Reggie Williams) hired by her solicitous son Boolie (Randy Lee Bailey). It's a solid ensemble and a very entertaining production. Tickets ($18-$25): 859-957-1940.

And if you're looking for something that's brand new and edgy, check out All New People by contemporary writer Zach Braff. It's onstage at Clifton Performance Theatre, staged by Untethered Theatre through Nov. 30. It starts with a suicide attempt on Charlie's birthday and spirals from there. I'm going to see it this weekend. Maybe I'll see you there. Tickets ($20): 513-939-0599.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here
 
 
by 11.07.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
driving miss daisy_ the carnegie_photo matt steffen

Stage Door: What You Can Learn at the Theater

Most of us go to the theater to be entertained. But we are often subtly educated and sometimes changed by the stories we witness. Take Driving Miss Daisy, for instance, Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize-winning play from 1987, currently onstage at the Carnegie in Covington. It has just three characters, all from different points on the personality compass. There's the feisty Daisy Werthan, an elderly, wealthy Jewish woman in Atlanta, fiercely independent but actually in need of assistance for daily life; her rather patronizing son, Boolie, a businessman trying to ensure her safety; and Hoke Coburn, the African-American chauffeur who Boolie hires to keep his mother from risking life and limb by driving herself. Things don't go well initially, but over the course of a quarter-century Miss Daisy and Hoke become best friends, and we learn how people can connect across vast divides. Featuring three very capable local stage veterans — the brilliant Dale Hodges as Daisy, Reggie Willis as Hoke and Randy Lee Baily as Boolie — this swift play (about 90 minutes) is a story about understanding and caring for someone whose life experience is vastly different. It's done with a lot of gentle humor and insightful moments. Staged by Mark Lutwak, whose day job is at the Cincinnati Playhouse, this very satisfying production is a great choice for theater this weekend. Through Nov. 16. Tickets ($18-$25): 859-957-1940

At the Cincinnati Playhouse, the world premiere of Safe House (CityBeat review here) connects because it's a story about family dynamics that aren't all that unusual — a pair of brothers with opposing perspectives who are on a collision course — but it's made interesting because it's set in Northern Kentucky in 1843, and the characters are "free people of color" — not slaves but not exactly free. Addison is a hardworking, itinerant cobbler, dreaming of opening his own shop, while his younger brother Frank is impetuous and chafing at restrictions imposed on them despite their freedom. They're caught up in the chaos of helping others escape bondage via the Underground Railroad. Playwright Keith Josef Adkins based his new play on his own family's history, and this meticulously crafted production will keep you guessing about the outcome and leave you with a sense of how some things evolve and some never change. Through Nov. 15. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888.

Musicals are often at the far end of the lightweight entertainment spectrum, but if composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim's name is attached, you can be sure there will be twists on stories and music that goes well beyond toe-tapping numbers. That's certainly the case with Into the Woods (CityBeat review here), currently onstage at the Covedale through Nov. 16. It's a mash-up of familiar fairy tales — Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel and more — that get entangled but seem to wrap up with happy endings by intermission. Then Act II comes along, and reality sets in. It's a show that's ultimately about understanding, caring and building community. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

Other productions worth checking out this weekend include Conor McPherson's adaptation of the psychological thriller The Birds (CityBeat review here) at Cincinnati Shakespeare (through Saturday; tickets, $22-$36: 513-381-2273); a creative stage adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby Dick (CityBeat review here) at Know Theatre (through Saturday; tickets: $20, 513-300-5669); Stephen Karam's comedy Speech and Debate about a trio of misfit teens (CCM Drama on the UC campus, through Saturday; free, but reservations required: 513-556-4183); and Zach Braff's All New People about a disrupted suicide (Untethered Theater at Clifton Performance Theatre through Nov. 30; $25: 513-939-0599). And Cincinnati Music Theatre, a community group that is both ambitioius and successful with musicals, takes on the silly but entertaining Young Frankenstein at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theatre (through Nov. 15; tickets, $20-$24; 513-621-2787).

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 10.31.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
bruce_cromer_photo_ryan_kurtz

Stage Door: No Tricks, All Treats – Theater Choices for Halloween Weekend

Don't be scared. Just because it's Halloween, you don't have to miss out on good theater. In fact, there are some great deals available. For instance, this weekend is your last chance to see Ensemble Theatre's production of An Iliad (CityBeat review here), a one-man retelling of Homer's epic tale of the Trojan War. (The final performance is Sunday at 2 p.m.) Bruce Cromer has been turning in one of the best acting performances seen locally in years as "The Poet" who narrates the story of the tragic conflict — as well as about a dozen of the story's central characters. Several of the weekend's performances are sold out, but seats do remain tonight at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and if you use the coupon code SPOOKY to order tickets for either one, you'll get them for $25 each (they're usually $44). Box office: 513-421-3555.

This is also the final weekend for Falcon Theater's staging of The Woman in Black in Newport's tiny Monmouth Theater (which the group recently purchased, so it now has a permanent home, renamed "Falcon Theater"). The final performance on Saturday is sold out, but if you attend the classic ghost story tonight at 8 p.m. in costume, you'll get a $2 discount on your ticket (normally $19; $17 for students and seniors): 513-479-6783.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production of The Birds (CityBeat review here) is also intended to give you the creeps, so it's another good choice for Halloween weekend. If that title sounds familiar, it's because Alfred Hitchcock adapted Daphne Du Maurier's short story into a classic thriller back in 1963. Cincy Shakes is presenting a more recent stage adaptation, this one by Irish playwright Conor McPherson (who has his own reputation as a storyteller who knows how to scare an audience, with past hits like The Weir and The Seafarer). It's an evening of psychological twists and turns with a cast featuring four of the company's best actors. This one will be around for another week, but if you're celebrating Halloween, you'll have fun with this one. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273, x1.

Also onstage through Nov. 8 is Know Theatre's production of Moby Dick (CityBeat review here.) It's not exactly a ghost story, but the obsessive Captain Ahab is certainly haunted by the specter of the great white whale, and Know's retelling of Herman Melville's great American novel is inventive and engaging. Tickets ($18): 513-300-5669.

Other good choices onstage are Covedale Center's Into the Woods (CityBeat review here) and the Cincinnati Playhouse's Safe House (CityBeat review here.) The former (tickets, $21-$24: 513-241-6550) is Stephen Sondheim's classic musical that's a mash-up of fairytales; the Playhouse show is a world premiere of a play by native Cincinnatian Keith Josef Adkins about people like his ancestors, free people of color in 19th-century Kentucky (tickets, $30-$75: 513-421-3888).

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 10.24.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
safe-house_cincinnati-playhouse-_photo-sandy-underwood

Stage Door: Safe House and Spooky Performances

Last night I was at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park for the opening of Keith Josef Adkins' new play, Safe House, the 71st world premiere staged by our Tony Award-winning regional theater. (CityBeat feature story here.)

It's a fascinating piece that's about the little-known circumstances of "free people of color" in 19th-century America — not slaves but not exactly free. They're put into complex and stressful situations, personified here by a pair of very different brothers: Addison is a hardworking, aspiring entrepreneur, dreaming of become a cobbler with his own store, while younger brother Frank is impetuous and chafing at the restrictions imposed on them. The heat gets turned up when runaway slaves through their Northern Kentucky county need shelter and perhaps passage to Liberia, something their Aunt Dorcas has quietly supported. The story is based on Adkins' family history in this region, and it comes to life in this provocative drama. Through Nov. 15. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888.

UC's College-Conservatory of Music only rarely gives more than one weekend to musical theater productions. This fall's privileged show is the very commercial Legally Blonde (a hit movie with Reese Witherspoon from 2001 that became a Broadway property in 2007). It's a genuinely entertaining show that actually has a meaningful message about living up to potential and not judging people by their exteriors. It also has a ton of dancing, so it's great news that this production is both being staged by veteran CCM choreographer Diane, who I profiled in my Curtain Call column this week. The production is happening at UC's Patricia Corbett Theater through Nov. 2. Tickets ($31-$35): 513-556-4183.

It's fairytale time at the Covedale Center with a production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. But proceed with caution: The first act takes more or less traditional stories of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and more, and mixes them into one happy stew. But in Act II, well, things aren't so "happily every after" when reality sets in. Big cast, great tunes, lots of humor — but some thoughtfulness, too. Through Nov. 16. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

The chance to see Bruce Cromer's one-man performance in An Iliad at Ensemble Theatre is an absolute must for anyone who's serious about theater. (CityBeat review here.) It's quite astonishing that one man can do so much and hold an audience's attention for 100 minutes in this retelling of the savagery of the Trojan War. It's all the more powerful because it's a condemnation of war across the ages. Don't miss this one. Through Nov. 2, and no chance that it will be extended, so call now for your tickets. Here's a tip, thanks to friendly relations with Know Theatre, just around the corner from ETC: Use the coupon code MOBY20 to get 20 percent off the price of two tickets for any remaining performances. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555.

With Halloween just a week away, several theaters are offering shows that will make your heart pound. There's creepy ghost in Falcon Theatre's production of The Woman in Black ($17-$19, 513-479-6783), and the characters in Conor McPherson's The Birds are under attack in ways that don't bode to well for human interaction ($22-$36, 513-381-2273). (CityBeat review here.) And while it's not exactly a Halloween story, Moby Dick at Know Theatre has some scary oddballs and a gargantuan villain out to murder everyone, so that qualifies, too. (CityBeat review here.) It's onstage through Nov. 8 ($18; 513-300-5669).

This weekend is last call for I loved, I lost, I Made Spaghetti at the Cincinnati Playhouse. (CityBeat review here.) Actress Antoinette LaVecchia spins some great stories about writer Giulia Melucci's bad taste in men, all the while making an aromatic Italian dinner — antipasti, wine, spaghetti Bolognese (homemade pasta and fresh sauce) — for a few lucky audience members. This is a totally charming show, great for weekend entertainment. Final performance is Sunday. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-2418-3888.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 10.17.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
bruce cromer_an iliad_etc _photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door: An Iliad, Varekai, and Other Items of Note

On Wednesday evening I attended one of the most remarkable solo performances I've ever seen: Bruce Cromer starring in An Iliad at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati.  Based on Homer's epic poem about the Trojan War, the poetic but dynamic script calls on one actor to play a dozen or so characters. Cromer does everyone of them (sometimes interacting with one another) with both imagination and detail. But mostly he's "The Poet," trapped by his role to tell this story — and the story of war in general — for nearly three millennia. He lets us see the attraction of glory and the devastation of senseless combat often for trivial reasons (the stealing of one man's wife by another lit the fuse on the Siege of Troy). The play is a condemnation of war and an acknowledgement of its inevitability. But it's also a celebration of theater, and Cromer is an absolute marvel to watch: After 100 minutes (no intermission) he's dripping with sweat from the effort and bowing to a genuine standing ovation. This is a production that no theater fan should miss. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555

There's a Cirque du Soleil show, Varekai, at the Bank of Kentucky Center at Northern Kentucky University. Like most, it's light on content and high on entertainment: A winged man falls from the rafters into a magical world where he recovers, witnessing the delights of strange creatures — who also happen to be marvelous performers: tumblers, aerial artists, jugglers and acrobats. As always, there's a pair of clowns who have fun with a few audience members. I didn't find Varekai (it's a Gypsy word that means "wherever") quite as breathtaking as some of the Cirque shows I've witnessed, but that's a relative remark, not a judgment on this production. The "Russian Swings" just before the finale feature acrobats hurled high into the air by massive swings, landing in the arms of others or on canvas sails. (Don't try this at home.) Varekai is a great escape and totally family friendly. Final performance is Sunday at 5 p.m. Tickets ($28-$145): 800-745-3000

For a quick taste of Know Theatre's Moby Dick, check out this trailer: http://youtu.be/QMbqos66s0s. There's singing of sea shanties, hoisting of sails and a tremendous battle with the Great White Whale. I'm hoping that this ambitious production gets its sea legs soon: It felt a bit wobbly during the opening week. But Herman Melville's classic American novel has life breathed into it by a cast of eight hardworking actors. Onstage through Nov. 8. Tickets ($18, but performances on Wednesdays are free): 513-300-3669

Other items of note: On Monday evening, Know Theatre hosts the quarterly presentation of TRUEtheatre, real stories told by everyday people; this time around it's True Hair. … The following night at KNow, Cincinnati Fringe favorite Kevin Thornton is back in town to present another of his one-man shows of music and comedy, this one is called Talky Concert Thingy. He's a load of unpredictable talent, always watchable. … Falcon Theatre (they perform at the Monmouth Theatre in Newport) this weekend opens a production of the classic thriller, The Woman in Black. It's a good scare for the Halloween season. Tickets: 513-479-6783 … Children's Theatre of Cincinnati is offering public performances of Disney's Beauty and the Beast JR. at the Taft this weekend (and Saturday, Oct. 25). Tickets ($7-$25): 800-745-3000
 
 
by Rick Pender 10.10.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
moby dick_left to right montez o jenkins as queequeg _rico reid as ahab _photo_deogracias lerma

Stage Door: A Whale, Two Brothers and a Beast

Know Theatre sets sail this weekend with tonight's opening of Moby Dick. It's Herman Melville's great American novel stripped down to its bare essentials of men at sea doing battle with a creature that maimed their obsessive captain. It's Know's first main stage show staged by new artistic director Andrew Hungerford, who's teamed with co-director Michael Burnham, retired from CCM but no doubt as inventive as ever in bringing unusual material to audiences. Featuring the haunting music of sea shanties and a stage full of theatricality, it being performed through Nov. 8. Tickets ($20 in advance): 513-300-5669. And here's a tip: Wednesday evening performances are free as part of Know's "Welcome Experiment," intended to bring new audiences to its Over-the-Rhine facility.

UC's College-Conservatory of Music is presenting Willy Russell's powerful British musical Blood Brothers today and tomorrow in the Cohen Family StudioTheater. Set in 1950s Liverpool, it's about a woman with too many children who is talked into giving up one of a pair of newborn fraternal twins. Despite her efforts and those of the unstable woman who wanted a baby, the boys meet and become not just friends but "blood brothers." They don't know their history, they simply feel drawn to one another. That leads to a tragic, perhaps inevitable, confrontation. But there is humor and an energetic Pop Rock score along the way. Hannah Kornfeld is heartbreaking as the conflicted mother; Thomas Knapp and Karl Amundson turn in heart-breaking performances as the ill-fated boys, from age 7 to 22. This weekend only; the final performance is Saturday evening at 8 p.m. Tickets are free but need to be reserved (513-556-4183); call in advance — performances are often sold out.

Perhaps you'd like to take a kid or two to see a show. The Cincinnati Playhouse's "Off the Hill" production, Roses & Thorns, based on "Beauty and the Beast," would be a fine choice. It's a touring production for kids ages 7 and up, and it's making its way to various neighborhoods over the next month or so (through Nov. 2). I attended a preview recently and found it thoroughly enjoyable. It's a sweet retelling of the familiar story whose love and devotion saves her family and breaks a curse on a monstrous beast who's really a handsome prince. The show uses clever props and costumes, slapstick, satire and high camp styles; its four actors are professionals in training, and their work, playing multiple characters and making quick changes, is great fun to watch. This weekend it's onstage at the Lebanon Theatre Company (10 S. Mechanic St., Lebanon) on Sunday at 2 p.m. Check the Playhouse's website for future performances around the Tristate. Tickets in Lebanon are $5: 513-228-0932

If you missed Kevin Crowley's one-woman show Sarge during the Cincinnati Fringe Festival last June, it's getting a reprise this weekend and next (it's onstage tonight through Oct. 20). Christine Dye's performance as the devoted but deluded wife of Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, found guilty of molesting young boys, won the Critics Pick of the Fringe. Dye is remarkable in three monologues that reveal the mind of a woman who cannot accept her husband's true nature. It's being presented in a double bill with another short script by local actor and playwright Crowley, The Monkey's Paw, a dark comedy about a couple struggling with the anxieties of early parenthood. Performances at Clifton Performance Theater, 404 Ludlow Avenue. Tickets ($25): 513-861-7469

I gave Critic's Picks in CityBeat recently to two excellent productions recently, and they remain onstage this weekend. I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a one-woman piece about cooking and relationships (charming actress Antoinette LaVecchia prepares an Italian dinner while describing her bad luck with men). Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888 … The Little Dog Laughed finishes its run this weekend at New Edgecliff Theater at Hoffner Hall (4120 Hamilton, Ave., Northside. It's the story of a gay actor whose agent is trying to keep him from ruining his career by being public about his persuasion. It's surprising how a play from 2007 could present anxieties about something that today is much more accepted, but this production is great fun to watch thanks to four fine actors, especially Kemper Florin as the motor-mouthed, scheming agent. Tickets: ($20-$27): 888-428-7311
 
 
by Rick Pender 10.03.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
antoinette lavecchia in i loved, i lost, i made spaghett_ photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Spaghetti, Macbeth and More

Last night I was at the Cincinnati Playhouse for the opening of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, a charming one-woman play based on Giulia Melucci's foodie memoir from 2009. The frame of the show is that it's set in a stylish kitchen where actress Antoinette LaVecchia prepares a meal while sketching out her numerous disconnects in search of love, feeding boyfriends but finding herself starving. Four couples pay a bit more ($35 apiece beyond the ticket price) to sit at tables directly in front of her kitchen where she serves antipasti, salad and spaghetti Bolognese that she prepares as she talks about a series of amusing but unpromising relationships, convincingly painting portraits of her ill-fated choice in men. La Vecchia is so natural in the role (which she originated in 2012 and has played at several regional theaters since then) that you'll feel like you're one of her best friends. Running through Oct. 26, this Shelterhouse production gets a Critic's Pick. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888

I also thoroughly enjoyed New Edgecliff Theatre's production of The Little Dog Laughed (at Hoffner Hall, 4120 Hamilton Ave., Northside). The four-actor comedy by Douglas Carter Beane is about Diane, an acerbic agent, and Mitch, the actor whose career she's advancing. He's found a boyfriend he really likes (even though boyfriend is a male prostitute with a girlfriend), but she's convinced that this news could ruin his chances … and hers. Kemper Florin is a hoot as the motor-mouthed agent, spouting all sorts of crazy theories about how things should be in monologues that directly address the audience. The entire cast does a fine job, and I gave this one a Critic's Pick. Tickets ($20-$27): 888-428-7311


Area universities have two classics to offer. At UC's College-Conservatory of Music in a brief weekend run (through Sunday) it's Shakespeare's classic tragedy, Macbeth. In an unusual twist, the production features third-year female drama student Laura McCarthy as the power-mad military man who seizes the throne of Scotland. Tickets ($27-$31): 513-556-4183 … South of the Ohio River, Northern Kentucky University presents Euripides' The Bacchae, a play first performed in 405 B.C. The tale of power, revenge, decadence and debauchery takes place in Thebes, where citizens are torn between worship of the god Dionysus and the centrality of reason and humanism. Sunday will be the conclusion of a two-week run of the production. Tickets ($14): 859-572-5464

The musical Dirty Dancing, based on a hit movie from 1987 about young love at a family resort in the Catskills, wraps up two weeks of performance at the Aronoff Center. The touring production, presented by Broadway in Cincinnati through Sunday, features some dazzling video and lots of dancing. The story is pretty predictable, but it's one that people love. "Don't put Baby in the corner." Tickets ($39-$89): 513-621-2787
 
 

 

 

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by Rick Pender 02.05.2016 3 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 02:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 2-5 - ifthen on tour - anthony rapp & jackie burns - photo joan marcus

Stage Door

A musical worth seeing, events at Know (one serious, the other entertaining) plus a Super Bowl commercial

Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey met with great success when they created next to normal, winning several Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama. They didn’t strike gold with their next show, If/Then, onstage locally for just a week in a touring production — but I found it to be a very satisfying, if complex work. (Read my Curtain Call interview with Kitt and Yorkey here.) Elizabeth is recently divorced and trying to decide what path to take next. She asks herself musically “What If” she takes this path or that — and this show lets us follow her down two divergent threads, one toward a successful professional career as a city planner in New York, the other in a happy marriage with kids that doesn’t quite turn out as she imagined. Her stories are presented in overlapping narratives, since some moments and events are quite close. It requires paying close attention, but it’s definitely worth the effort. It’s made all the easier by a very strong cast — including Jackie Burns in the leading role, Broadway veteran Anthony Rapp as Lucas, one of her close friends (he originated the role on Broadway Lucas and played videographer Mark in the original cast of Rent back in 1996) and Tamyra Gray as Kate, who pushes Elizabeth in a different direction. The show’s inventive staging, using video and fluidly moving set pieces, is also a fine example of contemporary theater design. Definitely worth seeing. Onstage through Sunday. 

In BlackTop Sky at Know Theatre, Ida’s view from an asphalt-paved courtyard surrounded by the housing project where she lives isn’t pretty.  The 18-year-old yearns to escape, but her avenues are limited. The safe, predictable route is with Wynn, her boyfriend, a hardworking auto mechanic. Then there’s Klass, an all-but-inarticulate homeless man who settle on two park benches. Ida is caught between these two poles. This is a show about lives that are pretty dead-end. Nevertheless, Christina Anderson’s script has its moments, especially with Kimberly Faith Hickman’s purposeful staging of 34 distinct scenes, several of them entirely wordless. Anderson writes with occasional lyricism and feeling, but desperation underlies these sad stories. That being said, the telling holds out a promise of change. That’s an important if not altogether entertaining message. Onstage through Feb. 20.

Also at Know, the fourth outing of Serials gets under way on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. They’ve dubbed this one Thunderdome 2 – Beyond Thunder, meaning that each evening two of the five shows will be voted out by the audience, to be replaced by two new shows at the following session. Serials 4 features some writers and directors who entertained audiences in previous iterations of Serials. But several new talents have entered the fray, and the Know staff tells me, “There are some seriously strong story pitches this round!” They feel that the “gentle competition” of Thunderdome leads to stronger writing and a better audience experience. Writers who take the challenge must leap quickly into their narratives; if they lag behind, they’ll be struck by a thunderclap and end up in the audience at the next round. Subsequent episodes are set for Feb. 22, March 7 and 21 and April 4.

Finally: If you’re tuned in to the Super Bowl on Sunday evening, keep an eye out for a 30-second commercial for Gold Star Chili. It was shot locally, featuring 15 Cincinnati actors at several Gold Star locations. Ensemble Theatre’s Lynn Meyers did the casting for it, so you’ll see some familiar faces often featured on local stages. 


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
by Rick Pender 01.29.2016 10 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 01:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
kathleen wise as the pilot in grounded at ensemble theatre - photo by ryan kurtz

Stage Door

Going to war — one way or another

There are so many things happening on local stages it’s a bit of a challenge make recommendations. But every one of these productions has some sort of conflict at its heart.

Grounded opened Wednesday night Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. George Brant’s a one-woman script is about a fearless fighter pilot whose career is cut short by an unexpected pregnancy, marriage and parenthood. Her new job is to fly military drones from a trailer outside Las Vegas; but she goes home to her family every night — and before long, she has trouble sorting out the boundaries between her two worlds. Kathleen Wise makes her ETC debut with this challenging performance, a woman who knows her way “in the blue” as a pilot, but must navigate new paths when she’s relegated to the “chair force,” wandering remotely “in the gray,” targeting “personality strikes.” Michael Haney is back in town to stage this one, and he always succeeds with making solo shows a powerful experience. Grounded is a pressure-filled, cautionary tale, gripping but not easy to watch. Nevertheless, it’s compelling theater. Through Feb. 14. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

Karen Zacarías’ Native Gardens, a world premiere, opened at the Cincinnati Playhouse last evening. Her Book Club Play was a Playhouse hit in 2013; this time around the subject is a tad more serious, but it’s handled with deft humor as neighbors battle over styles of gardening — formal vs. natural — and choices driven by cultural differences. New neighbors Pablo and Tania are of Hispanic descent, moving in next door to Frank and Virginia, who are as waspy as can be. You can imagine where that goes: Straight down the road to audience gasps as the couples insult one another when boundaries are crossed. The 80-minute show wraps up neatly — maybe a little too much so. But there’s no denying this is a show that has lots of comic appeal involving circumstances many people will recognize. Through Feb. 21. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Tonight is the opening for Black Top Sky at Know Theatre. Christina Anderson, a resident playwright with New York City’s New Dramatists, makes her Cincinnati debut with this show about the residents of a housing project. Ida, 18, befriends Klass, an unpredictable young homeless man. Their friendship forces Idea to make a choice: Embrace the struggle for justice or embrace a life with her successful boyfriend. Kimberly Faith Hickman, who staged 2014’s The Twentieth-Century Way for Know, is back from New York to direct. Andrew Hungerford, Know’s artistic director, chose this show because he was “struck by the poetry of the language, the visual poetry of the stage directions and the gut-wrenching timelessness of the story.” He adds, “It flips from humor to heaviness at the speed of light.” Onstage through Feb. 20. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Shakespeare’s chronicling of King Henry VI took three plays back in the 16th-century; Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has rearranged them into two productions, one onstage now and another coming next season. This portion details the roots of the War of the Roses, with relatives vying for power — it’s truly a historic “game of thrones.” It’s also is a predecessor of today’s action movies, with lots of combat — and the fiery presence of Joan of Arc (played with zest by Caitlin McWethy), as England’s zeal for dominance in France runs a parallel track to the jockeying for position among royal relatives back home. Through Feb. 13. Tickets: 513-381-2273. 


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
by Rick Pender 01.22.2016 18 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
darnell pierre benjamin as henry vi at cincinnati shakespeare - photo mikki schaffner photography

Stage Door

A little history, a little love and some fantasy

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is staging the original “game of thrones” — England’s Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) as retold by the Bard’s history plays — eight shows being presented in chronological order across five theater seasons. (Cincy Shakes is only the second theater company in the U.S. to present the history cycle in Chronological order.) We’ve already seen Richard II, Henry IV: Part 1 and 2 and Henry V. Now it’s time for the reign of Henry VI, which Shakespeare covered with three plays. This week starts the production of Henry VI, Part I, the story of Henry V’s only son who, in 1421, inherited the throne before his first birthday, after his father’s untimely death. A child on the throne opened the door to the dynastic struggles of the War of the Roses. (The cycle concludes next season with the bloody tragedy of Richard III.) Darnell Pierre Benjamin plays Henry, an unusual choice. Here’s what he says about taking on this role: “I’m a black male from St. Martinville, Louisiana. Despite how much I’ve always fixated my interests on the classics, I never thought that I’d have the honor of representing one of Shakespeare’s history kings.” He says he hopes “to open people’s minds and hearts to seeing the core of this story — a young man coming into his own as he learns that there are forces, both good and bad, that can alter his perception of himself.” Through Feb. 13. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

The Covedale Center just opened Neil Simon’s Chapter Two, a play about a widowed writer trying to start over while still grieving for his late wife. The story is rooted in Simon’s own experience, and the playwright’s famous one-liners are still there, but woven into the show’s humor is a story about coming to terms with death and moving on. Through Feb. 14. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

In Covington, The Carnegie is offering what sounds like an interesting production of The Wizard of Oz that opened last night. With musical accompaniment by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, it’s a “lightly-staged” rendition with Harold Arlen’s famous score from the 1939 movie. Of particular interest is the scenic design by local artist Pam Kravetz, a unique take on the iconic landscapes of Oz, including Munchkin Land and the Emerald City. Just to remind folks passing by on Scott Avenue, you’ll see a giant pair of legs with striped stockings and ruby slippers to remind you that one wicked witch is dead. Through Jan. 31. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

For something completely different, consider The Realistic Joneses by Clifton Players, at Clifton Performance Theater on Ludlow Avenue. It’s about two couples named Jones, next-door neighbors who get to know one another despite fear and loneliness. Will Eno’s unusual play — part comedy, part drama — digs into secrets that aren’t often spoken aloud. It’s being staged by local theater veteran Dale Hodges with a cast that includes Carter Bratton, Mindy Siebert, Miranda McGee and Phil Fiorini. It’s onstage through Feb. 7. Tickets: 513-861-7469.

Next week there will be even more theater on local stages: Grounded, a one-woman show about a fighter pilot assigned to making drone strikes (Ensemble Theatre, Jan. 27-Feb. 14, 513-421-3555), BlackTop Sky, a tale of homelessness and friendship (Know Theatre, Jan. 29-Feb. 20, 513-300-5669) and Prelude to a Kiss, a sweet love story about changing places and understanding different perspectives (Falcon Theater in Newport, Jan. 29-Feb. 13, 513-479-6783).


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 01.20.2016 19 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 05:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
incline theatre (2016) - photo provided by cincinnati landmark productions

If You're So Inclined

2016-2017 shows announced for Cincinnati Landmark venues

Even though we’ve just passed the halfway point of the 2015-2016 theater season, the over-achievers at Cincinnati Landmark Productions just announced plans for future productions at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts and the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater for 2016-2017.

Tim Perrino, CLP’s executive artistic director, says, “With our two venues, Cincinnati Landmark Productions has two great platforms to create exciting theater and palpable neighborhood vitality. We set a course for success with a summer of sellouts at the Incline in 2015, and we’re chomping at the bit to bring these just-announced shows to life in 2016 and 2017.”

The Covedale’s offerings are designed for mainstream audiences, while the Incline offers two distinct seasons — “Summer Classics” presents shows with broad appeal; the “District Series” produces more adult fare, both musicals and dramas.

The Covedale Center’s “Marquee Series” for 2016-2017 will offer:

  • Godspell (Sept. 8-Oct. 2, 2016), Stephen Schwartz’s first big musical theater hit, based on the New Testament’s Gospel of Matthew. Schwartz is the composer of Wicked.
  • The Foreigner (Oct. 20, Nov. 13, 2016), a comedy by Larry Shue, in which a shy, lonely guy poses as visitor from an exotic country who doesn’t speak English.
  • The Night Before Christmas (Dec. 1-23, 2016) for the holiday season.
  • Doubt (Jan. 19-Feb. 12, 2017), John Patrick Shanley’s 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner about a suspicious nun and a progressive priest.
  • Leading Ladies (March 9-April 2, 2017), Ken Ludwig’s farce about a pair of Shakespearean actors scheming for an inheritance.
  • My Fair Lady (April 27-May 21, 2017), Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical about a professor of linguistics who trains a Cockney gal to pose as an elegant noblewoman.

The Incline’s “District Series” plans to produce starting next fall:

  • [title of show] (Sept. 29-Oct. 16, 2016), a clever musical about creating a musical to enter in a festival.
  • God of Carnage (Nov. 17-Dec. 4, 2016), Yasmina Reza’s domestic drama about a pair of parents who come to blows arguing about a fight between their children.
  • The Rocky Horror Show (Feb. 16-March 5, 2017), the sci-fi parody musical from 1973 that inspired the 1975 cult film.
  • Equus (April 6-23, 2017), Peter Shaffer’s award-winning drama about a psychiatrist treating a teenager who blinded six horses.

Still in the pipeline for the Covedale’s current season are productions of Neil Simon’s warm-hearted comedy Chapter Two (Jan. 21-Feb. 14) and two classic musicals, She Loves Me (March 1-April 3) and Brigadoon (April 28-May 22).

Queued up at the Incline for the balance of this season are the satiric musical Avenue Q (Feb. 18-March 6) and David Mamet’s hard-as-nails real-estate drama Glengarry Glen Ross (April 6-24). Those will be followed by the previously announced “Summer Classics” season for 2016, featuring three likeable musicals Anything Goes (June 1-26), Baby (July 6-31) and Chicago (Aug. 10-Sept. 4). The Incline’s summer season in 2015 completely sold out three productions — The Producers, 1776 and 9 to 5.

 
 
by Rick Pender 01.15.2016 25 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
radium girls

Stage Door

A Fringe fix, some radioactivity, a lot of dancing — and previews of what's coming

Right now we’re about equidistant from the 2015 and the 2016 Fringe festivals. So let’s thanks the folks at Know Theatre, who are presenting a double-bill of “Fringe Encores” to keep us stoked. This weekend actually offers one encore plus a graduate from Know’s Serials! series. Occupational Hazards is about an office fling that becomes the subject of fan-fiction with wildly divergent storylines.

Occupational Hazards

The piece by Ben Dudley was a 2015 Fringe show. He’s also the writer of Cinderblock, about a guy (played by Dudley) whose windshield is smashed by a cult member. This mystery passes through an office party.

Ben Dudley

The shows are being performed this weekend at Clifton Performance Theatre (404 Ludlow Ave., Gaslight Clifton): performances of Occupational Hazards are Friday at 8:45 p.m. and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Cinderblock, which, originally presented in five 15-minute episodes, has been pieced into a full-length version that will be presented on Friday evening at 7:30 and Saturday at 8:45. You can sit in on one piece for $15 or pay $25 for the pair either evening. Tickets: knowtheatre.com

Mariemont Players, one of Cincinnati’s fine community theater groups, is presenting D. W. Gregory’s Radium Girls through Jan. 24. It’s inspired by a true story about women who painted radium numerals on glow-in-the-dark watches, unaware of the dangers of radioactivity. The play, described as being “written with warmth and humor,” is being presented at the Walton Creek Theater (4101 Walton Creek Rd., just east of Mariemont). Tickets ($20): 513-684-1236 or mariemontplayers.com

One more weekend at the Aronoff Center for the highly entertaining touring production of Kinky Boots (through Sunday). A struggling shoe factory in Northampton, England, retools to avoid bankruptcy and unemployment. Rather than continuing to manufacture stodgy men’s shoes, they turn to high-fashion footwear for drag queens, promoted as “kinky boots.” It’s an unlikely tale that happens to be true, and it’s the vehicle for some outrageous humor, especially from Lola, an extrovert of a diva and her spectacularly clad and built “Angels,” a half-dozen drag queens who back up her act. Kinky Boots offers a meaningful message about tolerance and finding your own path, fleshed out with some entertaining dancing and fine singing. Tickets: 513-621-2787

The local theater scene picks up momentum next week when three shows open on Thursday and another on Friday. That evening the Covedale Center opens Neil Simon’s Chapter Two (through Feb. 14), a warm-hearted comedy about getting back into the dating game; Covington’s Carnegie offers a “lightly-staged” concert adaptation of The Wizard of Oz (through Jan. 31) with accompaniment by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra; and Clifton Players stages The Realistic Joneses (through Feb. 7 at Clifton Performance Theatre), a comedy-drama about the secrets of next-door neighbors directed by local stage veteran Dale Hodges. On Friday evening, Cincinnati Shakespeare continues its five-year, chronological presentation of Shakespeare’s eight-play history cycle with Henry VI, Part I (through Feb. 13), the story of a young king who must rule after his father’s untimely death; Joan of Arc is a key character in this tale. 

Life in the big city: Lots of choices.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 01.08.2016 32 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 1-8 kinky boots tour - adam kaplan & j. harrison ghee - photo matthew murray

Stage Door

Get 'Kinky' — or look out for 'True Food'

If you turn up at the Aronoff Center for the touring production of Kinky Boots (it’s onstage through Jan. 17), you might think you’ve landed in Over-the-Rhine. That’s how much the show’s opening vista of a factory in Northampton, England, resembles our own historic neighborhood. It’s the Victorian brick façade of a shoe factory that’s struggling in the 21st century because it’s still manufacturing old-fashioned men’s shoes. Even if they’re “the most beautiful thing in the world” (the theme of the show’s opening song), not so many people want to buy them today. As a last-ditch effort to keep the company from closing, the fourth-generation heir to the business, Charlie Price, decides to make “kinky boots,” high-fashion footwear for drag queens whose male frames are too much for standard female shoe heels. His customer No. 1 is Lola, an extrovert of a diva who — not unlike Charlie — has struggled with living up to his dad’s expectations. There’s a lot of fun and frippery along the way: Lola has a half-dozen “Angels” — drag queens who back up her act — and they’re spectacularly clad and built. A perky factory worker, Lauren, keeps giving Charlie advice (while falling for him despite his imminent fiancée in London). Another employee, Don, a hardcore male chauvinist, wants nothing to do with Lola. Watching events unfold is the fun of this show, even if you know where it’s all headed. Kinky Boots offers a meaningful message about tolerance and finding your own path, and there’s a lot of fancy dancing and fine singing along the way. Tickets: 513-621-2787

Whether or not your New Year’s resolution had to do with losing weight, you still have to eat. So the topic this quarter’s True Theatre, True Food, should be of interest. These are true personal narratives, sometimes confessional, often humorous, told by everyday people. Monday night’s stories are about what a homeless woman did when she had access to a kitchen, a man who ate the wrong thing at the wrong time, another man reconsidering his family’s “roots” and two guys who eat like there’s no tomorrow, day in and day out. What happens when a foodie and a picky eater cross paths? You can find out on Monday when folks crowd into Know Theatre’s Underground Bar (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine) to get the dish on these stories. Call for tickets ($18); these events are often sold out.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
by Rick Pender 12.18.2015 53 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
the cast of every christmas story ever told @ cincy shakes performs its take on the year the grinch stole christmas - photo rich sofranko

Stage Door: Last Chances — and Some Big Laughs

This weekend is your final chance to see several December productions, including Low Down Dirty Blues (Cincinnati Playhouse), All Childish Things (Know Theatre) and Rent (Incline Theater). A few shows stick around after Dec. 25 — A Christmas Carol (Playhouse) continues through Dec. 30 and Ensemble Theatre’s staging of its jaunty rendition of Cinderella remains onstage until Jan. 3. I would find it odd to watch Ebenezer Scrooge getting scared into a “Merry Christmas” a few days after the holiday, but ETC’s contemporary rendition of a beloved fairytale might be just the thing to entertain bored kids after they’ve tried out all the new toys. Tickets for the latter: 513-421-3555.

I checked out opening night of the tenth anniversary presentation of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and it’s as silly and funny as ever — especially with some clever pokes at people and events from 2015. The annual gags about fruitcakes take on a whole new dimension this time around by having some fun with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her intransigence about issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Every Christmas Story trots out just about every “BHC” (Beloved Holiday Classic) you might recall and puts it through a humorous filter. It’s fun from start to finish, but there is a moment — after recreating A Charlie Brown Christmas, complete with a woebegone tree — when Justin McCombs steps into a pool of light as Linus with his security blanket and recites the New Testament passage from the Gospel of Luke about an angel speaking to the shepherds. It’s a somber and wholly lovely scene, so far removed from very tongue-in-cheek, sometimes off-color humor typical of the show that it sticks with audience members. The antic McCombs also plays a true believer who refuses to be be convinced that Santa’s existence is impossible: His enthusiasm for all the miraculous things the Jolly Old Elf can accomplish is so childlike that you’ll wish you could return to that innocent age yourself. Even if you’ve seen Every Christmas Story before, it’s a blast to go back. In fact, I’d say it’s become a BHC in its own right. Onstage through Dec. 27. Tickets (if they’re still available): 513-381-2273.

There’s also some great holiday laughs to be had compliments of OTRImprov, presenting its annual show The Naughty List in the Courtyard at Arnold’s Bar & Grill in Downtown Cincinnati. The 90-minute show — unscripted and building off suggestions from the audience — happens Sunday-Tuesday, Dec. 20-22 and Dec. 27-29. It’s a laugh-a-minute way to have fun right before or after Christmas. To make an evening of it, show up at Arnolds (201 East 8th St.) between 6 and 6:30 p.m., get seated and place your dinner order. The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. The rotating cast includes OTRImprov’s quick-witted regulars Mike Hall, Kirk Keevert, Sean Mette, Dave Powell, Charlie Roetting, Dylan Shelton and Kat Smith. Tickets (order before 4:30 on the day of the show): 513-300-5669.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
by Rick Pender 12.11.2015 60 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
sd

Stage Door

Ho-Ho-Ho, try a holiday show!

Most of the theater onstage right now is holiday-themed — or at least family-friendly. If you want to take kids to see something, your best bet is Cinderella at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, a contemporary take on the familiar fairytale — the heroine is a bookworm who prefers to sneakers to glass slippers. There’s lots of humor, especially from the loudmouthed and crass stepsisters in this telling, plus some fine musical moments. This show will be around until Jan. 3. Tickets: 513-421-3555 … Another good choice for kids is A Charlie Brown Christmas, presented at the Taft Theatre by Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. You know the story, I’m sure (this year is the 50th anniversary of the TV special) but it’s a good bet that Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati is putting a version onstage that will let kids have a good time. Performances are at 2 and 5 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets: 800-745-3000 … Want to start a family tradition? There’s no better choice than Cincinnati Playhouse’s glittering, well-acted production of A Christmas Carol. It’s fast-moving and often funny (Bruce Cromer gives Ebenezer the full range of emotion, from crabby “Bah, humbug” to a joyous “Merry Christmas.”) It’s onstage through Dec. 30. Tickets: 513-421-3888 … The Covedale Center’s production of Mary Poppins isn’t their best work (it feels a tad long for youngsters), but it has great tunes and some memorable special effects — Mary flies and Bert walks up and down the sides of the proscenium — that audiences will enjoy. Through Dec. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550

The Rock musical Rent, onstage at the Incline Theatre in Price Hill doesn’t exactly qualify as holiday or family entertainment, although its story does start and finish at Christmas (with “525,600 Minutes” in between). But this is an energetically acted and sung production for mature audiences. Through Dec. 20. Tickets: 513-241-6550 … If you can’t quite wait for The Force Awakens to open, you can get a small dose of Star Wars energy from All Childish Things at Know Theatre. It’s a comedy about some slackers trying to steal collectibles from a warehouse — they don’t succeed, but they learn a lesson about heroism that’s akin to the movie. Through Dec. 19. Tickets: 513-300-5669 … This weekend is your final opportunity to see As You Like It at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. It’s a delightful production of one of Shakespeare’s best comedies, but it’s wrapping up on Saturday. (Next week CSC opens Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some) on Wednesday.) Tickets: 513-381-2273 …The most entertaining non-holiday show this season has to be Low Down Dirty Blues on the Playhouse’s Shelterhouse stage. It’s pretty much what the title says: Three singers getting a little raunchy and having a lot of fun with some tunes about being up and down. Great performances and a really good time for grown-ups. Through Dec. 20. Tickets: 513-421-3888

Finally, if you a performance that’s simply feel-good, I heartily recommend going to Ensemble Theatre on Monday evening at 7 p.m. for their one-night-only annual presentation of Expectations of Christmas. It’s a round-up of holiday traditions, origins, music, facts and back-stories — presented by performers who frequent ETC’s stage. Admission is just $10 and all the proceeds go to Tender Mercies (an Over-the-Rhine agency right around the corner from ETC that provides permanent and transitional housing for the homeless with histories of chronic mental illness). Tickets: 513-421-3555 … or walk in on Monday and you’ll likely get in. 

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
by Rick Pender 12.04.2015 67 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 12-4 - cast of rent at incline - photo mikki schaffner

Stage Door

A fairytale, a ghost story and lots of musicals for the holidays

December is full of shows for your holiday viewing pleasure: 

Every five years or so, Ensemble Theatre rolls out a new production of its holiday rendition of Cinderella. This one just opened on Wednesday, and while it’s the same material that was presented in 2005 and 2010, it’s been freshened with a new set and colorful costumes — and especially a vibrant cast with great voices for the tunes with lyrics by David Kisor and melodies by Fitz Patton. Brooke Steele is picture-perfect as the golly-gee title character who prefers reading to going to a ball. But Kate Wilford as “Gwendolyn the Well Wisher” (“I give good advice and then wish you well,” she tells everyone with a sweep of her hand to musical accompaniment) encourages her to go so she can meet Prince Frederick (Warren Bryson), who happens to be another bookworm. They’re a lovely couple who overcome the modest barriers thrown their way (she loses a pink sneaker that helps him locate her later), but the show’s real energy comes from Sara Mackie and Torie Wiggins as Cinderella’s crass stepsisters. They’re loudmouthed losers, spewing malapropisms and ridiculous self-aggrandizement (Wiggins’ Clarissa bellows competitively, “My patheticism outshines all others”) — constantly mugging and fawning and arguing. Deb G. Girdler as their manipulative mother Brunhilda is also great fun to watch as she tries to control events to her own advantage. As is always the case with ETC’s holiday musicals with scripts by local playwright Joe McDonough, there’s a timely moral: “The essence of true beauty lies … beyond what’s seen by normal eyes.” Oh, Cinderella and Frederick wear glasses — but they see love pretty clearly. Through Jan. 3. Tickets: 513-421-3555

I’ve been attending A Christmas Carol at the Cincinnati Playhouse for 25 years, as long as they have produced it. The script — Howard Dallin excellent adaptation of Dickens’ classic story — is top-notch and doesn’t need to be tinkered, but with actors coming and going, it’s always fun to see how things shake out from one year to the next. Greg Procaccino is the only actor to be in the show every year, playing Marley’s regretful ghost and slimy junk buyer Old Joe; the always-watchable Bruce Cromer holds the longevity record playing Scrooge (11 years, after 8 as Bob Cratchit). Kathleen Wise brings a light, bemused touch to Christmas Past in her first year; returning performers include Ryan Gilreath as nervous, angular Cratchit and Kelly Mengelkoch as the patient, loving Mrs. Cratchit, as well as Douglas Rees as the ebullient Fezziwig and Annie Fitzpatrick as his playful wife. There’s a new Tiny Tim for 2015, Henry Charles Weghorst, the tiniest ever, I believe (he needs two pillows to sit at the dining table), and truly adorable. This Playhouse production continues to be a joy to watch, a glorious, glittering set and costumes that deliver you to the mid-19th century. Pay attention to the David Smith’s sound design and recorded music, which set the emotional tone for virtually every scene. A Christmas Carol is a welcome Cincinnati holiday tradition. Through Dec. 30. Tickets 513-421-3888

Cincinnati Landmark Productions is offering shows at both of its venues this month; neither is holiday per se, although the musical Rent (at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre in Price Hill through Dec. 20) begins and ends with Christmas, celebrating a year of the “seasons of love” experienced by a clutch of impoverished young artists in New York’s East Village. This is a high-quality production, a great choice for fans of contemporary Rock music. Rent is almost 20 years old, but it has stood the test of time, especially as performed by the Incline’s committed, diverse cast of excellent, energetic singers. Tyler Kuhlman as the depressed guitarist Roger has the looks and the vocal chops for the role, and Lisa Glover is a fine match as Mimi, the sexy club dancer and drug addict who makes a lot of bad choices. Kelcey Steele provides the necessary connective tissue as videographer Mark, and RJ Caldwell ably portrays Tom Collins, an anarchist professor and street activist with AIDS. But the production’s most memorable performances come from Aiden Sims as Maureen, the brassy performance artist, and especially charismatic Christopher Carter as the transgender drag queen Angel: His high-flying rendition of “Today 4 U” is a show-stopper. The ensemble shines when presenting of Rent’s iconic numbers, particularly “La Vie Bohème and “Seasons of Love.” This production is a bold choice for the new venue, seeking audiences in search of more ambitious, adult fare — there were empty seats on opening night. Rent offers strong evidence that the Incline is up to the challenge. I give this one a Critic’s Pick. … I was part of a very full house for Mary Poppins last Sunday (at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, also finished on Dec. 20); this production is clearly intended as holiday fare for families. I wish it were a bit more joyous. Mary (Alyssa Hostetler, who’s a fine singer) is a rather starchy character who’s not very loveable. The uptight Banks family she convinces to reconnect and have fun has an initially irritable dad (Dave Wilson, another excellent voice) and a mom who’s a budding feminist (Sarah Viola, who sings very well, too) — these aren’t characters that children can instantly love. Even the two Banks kids (Lili Shires and Peter Godsey, who work hard at being coy) are kind of obnoxious. The production felt long, with numerous labored scene changes. On the other hand, the audience had a great time — the songs (familiar from the 1964 movie) are beloved, and everyone seems to know them. That’s fun. Tickets: 513-241-6550

The touring production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas wraps up its engagement on Sunday. It’s a fine cast of singers and dancers, a production full of familiar tunes that’s worth seeing if you have the scratch for seats at the Aronoff Center. Tickets: 513-621-2787

If you prefer something not holiday-oriented, Xavier University’s theater program is staging Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth. It’s a three-character play from the 1990s (set in the early 1980s) about young people struggling with the transition to adulthood. Guest director Ed Stern, the Playhouse’s retired artistic director, told me it was a great opportunity to work with actors who are exactly the right age to play these roles. Read more from Stern in my recent Curtain Call column. Performances are this weekend only, including a Sunday matinee. Xavier Box Office: 513-745-3939

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
by Rick Pender 11.20.2015 81 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 11-20 - low down dirty blues @ cincinnati playhouse - felicia p. fields connects with an audience member - photo mikki schaffner .jpg

Stage Door: Non-Holiday Holiday Shows

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.

 
 
 
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