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by Rick Pender 01.30.2015
Posted In: Theater at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
etc the other place - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door: Women in Distress on Local Stages This Weekend

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati continues its hot streak of well-cast and engaging scripts with Sharr White's The Other Place, the story of a brilliant but abrasive woman who is losing her grip. Regina Pugh is excellent in this moving and sometimes funny production, ably supported by Michael G. Bath as her perplexed husband, and with two performers usually seen at Cincinnati Shakespeare, Kelly Mengelkoch and Billy Chace, in an array of supporting roles. This is a drama that keeps you guessing as to what's the truth behind the story that's unfolding. When it all comes together, the revelation is devastating. Definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-421-3555.

Another powerful piece of theater is onstage at Know Theatre, where another Cincy Shakes regular is featured in the one-woman adaptation of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. The script feels a tad long, but it's such a pleasure to watch Corinne Mohlenhoff as Offred — and a half-dozen other distinct characters — that all you can do is marvel at her skill in presenting them, not to mention in memorizing more than two hours of text. This frightening dystopian tale of America's possible future staged by Brian Phillips (Cincy Shakes artistic director and Mohlenhoff's husband) on a very effective set designed designed by Andrew Hungerford (Know's artistic director) is definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-300-5669.

Other productions worth seeing on local stages: A collection of Johnny Cash tunes in Ring of Fire at the Cincinnati Playhouse (CityBeat interview here), the humorous Greater Tuna at Covedale (CityBeat review here) and a compelling staging of Samuel Beckett's breathtaking piece of absurdity, Waiting for Godot, at Cincy Shakes (CityBeat review here).

Get ready for more fun at Know Theatre with the kick-off of the second season of Serials!, this one subtitled "Thunderdome." Starting Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. (and continuing at two-week intervals through the end of March) will be five 15-minute pieces intended to be episodically developed. But this time, two will be voted off each week by the audience, to be replaced by two new works the next time around. Sounds like fun, and if this repeats the success of last summer's inaugural event, it's a chance to see local actors and writers at work. Box office: 513-300-5669.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 01.16.2015
Posted In: Theater at 09:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: A Weekend of Classic Musicals and Plays, Plus a Party and Some Lies

Things are off to a good start for 2015: The touring production of Cinderella at the Aronoff is a very entertaining retooling of music by Rodgers and Hammerstein into a more contemporary version of the classic fairy tale. It's the same story, but the attitudes are of the 21st century, with a "power to the people" thread running through it and Cinderella conveying a populist message, convincing her prince that democracy is the way to go. The music is charming and there's some magical things done with quick changes in and out of ball gowns that will keep audiences guessing as to how it's done. I gave this one a Critic's Pick with my CityBeat review. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

Another classic musical is onstage at Covington's Carnegie: West Side Story. The show requires a lot of dancing and strong orchestral support, and this production offers both.The leads have excellent voices, although I felt (CityBeat review here) they were a tad too operatic for "kids" affected by gang warfare. Nevertheless, this show has some of the finest music ever written for the stage — the score is by Leonard Bernstein and the lyrics by Stephen Sondheim — so it's definitely worth seeing. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company opens its production of one of the 20th century's great stage works, Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot this weekend. I haven't seen it yet, but with a cast feature stage veteran Bruce Cromer and longtime Cincy Shakes actor Nick Rose, it's sure to be watchable. Here's a fun fact: Cromer has played Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at the Cincinnati Playhouse for eight years; this year Rose understudied the role and actually had to cover several performances when Cromer was out of commission with a twisted ankle. I expect their onstage chemistry to fuel a production that audiences will enjoy. 513-381-2273.

CCM voice professor Pat Linhart presents her annual faculty recital on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. It's a free event at Patricia Corbett Theater on the UC Campus. Every year Linhart assembles a program of zany humor and heartfelt singing, accompanied by the inestimable Julie Spangler. There are always a few surprises, and this year should be no exception. The theme is "It's My Party" celebrating Pat's 65th birthday, and I'm envisioning party hats and noisemakers for everyone in the audience.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 05.04.2012
Posted In: Theater at 09:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Back For More

If this week’s theater offerings sound familiar, it’s because we’ve seen some of these shows (or their inspirations).

The best choice, for my money, is Keith Glover’s Thunder Knocking on the Door at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, a revival of sorts from 1999 — but thoroughly and creatively reimagined for the final mainstage production of Ed Stern’s final season leading the Tony Award-winning theater. It’s a musical about the Blues and it features an emotional Blues score, mostly by Keb’ Mo’, to tell the story of the power of love and music — and blues guitar players. It’s presented with panache, including technology and design that are all about 2012. Through May 20. Box office: 513-421-3888.

If you loved the Doo-Wop silliness of The Marvelous Wonderettes, a hit from 2010 at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, then you’re likely to have a good time at Life Could Be A Dream, Roger Bean’s sequel to the story of some bubbly girls who bond around teen hits from the ’50s and ’60s. This time is boys, and that’s most of the difference. As in the two Wonderette shows, Dream is shot through with adolescent angst, in this case around a local radio station contest that could “make them famous.” It’s an excuse for more than two dozen tunes from the same era that are shaped to the story. So it’s a familiar formula, but ETC has a talented cast who make it a lot of fun. (Through May 20.) Box office: 513-421-3555.

Another show that totally mastered the art of wedging familiar tunes into an implausible story is Mamma Mia, and you can catch a touring production of that one at the Aronoff Center through Sunday. The cast of this tour has a lot of youthful energy and several mature characters who have fun reminiscing about their disco days. Box office: 800-982-2787.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson will have its final performance on May 12. If you haven’t yet seen this youthful mix of political commentary, driving Rock, history, humor and sober observations about the will of the people, you’d better go this weekend. (The longer you wait the less likely you are to get a ticket — the final weekend is selling fast.) Not many musicals begin with the cast flipping the bird at the audience, but then not many musicals are like this one, spinning a tale of America’s seventh president to in-your-face Indie Rock tunes. This is Bloody Bloody’s first professional regional production. I gave it a Critic’s Pick. Box office: 513-300-5669.

You have plenty of time to see The Second City 2: Less Pride – More Pork, since the Cincinnati Playhouse plans to keep it on the Shelterhouse Stage until July 1 (at least), but I predict you’ll enjoy it whenever you go. It’s a notch up from the first iteration of the show that set box-office records for the Mount Adams theater a year-and-a-half ago. Lots of hilarious fun-poking at … us. And the clever cast uniquely tailors every performance to the audience that shows up. Box office: 513-421-3888.

Know Theatre’s production of the recent off-Broadway and Broadway Rock musical hit, I was thoroughly entertained by Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last week at the Covedale. It has a cast of strong singers who do a fine job with the amusing score, stuffed with musical parodies — Calypso, Blues, County, Bubblegum Pop and more — and they’re having an infectious good time. Keep an eye out for the Pharaoh; he’s really the King! Through May 13. Box office: 513-241-6550.

Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.

by Rick Pender 02.23.2009
Posted In: Theater at 02:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

CCM Does Transmigration

Some people yearn for sunshine this time of year and find their way to a beach to recharge their batteries. Theater fans who are impatient for the annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival, which doesn’t roll around until June, were reminded this past weekend of the kind of creativity that makes those two weeks in early summer so stimulating. Thanks to the drama program at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), theater fans were offered a jolt of onstage vitality that just might be enough to sustain us for a few months. It was a festival called Transmigration.

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by Rick Pender 04.23.2012
Posted In: Theater at 07:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
pamela kay day and darin art starred in the 2007 production of parade:photo dean rettig

Carnegie Plays Well with Others

Joshua Steele will produce four collaborative shows in Covington next season

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Carnegie Center in Covington has been producing some ambitious theater and following a course that others haven’t tried: It’s called collaboration. Joshua Steele, the managing director of theater for the arts center in a one-time Carnegie Library, has amplified his results by working with other arts institutions in the region — especially, but not limited to, the fine theater programs at area universities. Steele will announce his 2012-2013 this week, and it’s evident that he’s continuing this commendable course working with Dayton’s Human Race Theatre Company for the first time and building on a productive relationship with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. He’s also engaged some top-notch freelance talent to ensure that productions will be memorable.

Steele, who previously co-founded the meteoric New Stage Collective with his friend Alan Patrick Kenny, is bringing the remarkable director back to town for his first return since NSC closed in April 2010. Kenny, who has been earning an M.F.A. in California and staging theater on the West Coast, will direct the regional premiere of the musical Xanadu (Aug. 11-26, 2012). This campy, tongue-in-cheek show, based on the 1980 move that featured Olivia Newton-John, is right up Kenny’s inventive alley, and should be a refreshing dash of onstage energy at summer’s end. (Auditions for this show will take place on May 22, 7-10 p.m. at the Carnegie. Actors interested in auditioning should contact Adrianne Eby, aeby@thecarnegie.com)

The Human Race collaboration will be next. The Dayton company, which performs regularly at the Loft Theater in that city’s downtown, is premiering a new play by Michael Slade, Under a Red Moon, in late October. The production will then move to the Carnegie for a three-weekend run (Nov. 2-18, 2012). Set in 1949, it’s a taut psychological thriller telling the story of John George Haigh, Britain’s infamous “Acid Bath Killer.”

For the third consecutive year, Steele has lined up a joint, in-concert presentation of a well known musical with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. After successful outings with the CCO for Carousel and The King and I, the late January 2013 production will be Camelot, the story of chivalry and the love triangle of King Arthur, Queen Guenevere and the knight Sir Lancelot. The lush Lerner and Loewe score will be conducted by the CCO’s music director Mischa Santora onstage with musicians from the orchestra.

Steele wraps up his four-production season with Jason Robert Brown’s powerful musical Parade (April 5-21, 2013), staged by local director-choreographer team Ed Cohen and Dee Anne Bryll, who will be joined by music director Steve Goers (currently appearing in the Carnegie’s production of Pump Boys & Dinettes). Set in Atlanta in 1913, it’s about the intolerance and misunderstanding swirling around the trial of a Jewish factory manager accused of murdering a young girl in his employ. Cohen and Bryll staged an excellent community theater production of the show with Footlighters Inc. in 2007, winning that season’s outstanding community theater award. They also staged the Huck Finn musical Big River for the Carnegie with great results in 2010.

It’s a great line-up, and I suspect audiences will be lining up in Covington for these productions.

by Rick Pender 04.18.2013
Posted In: Theater at 08:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
know at night - photo eric vosmeier

Fringe Has Sprung

Tenth annual event begins May 28

Sure signs of springtime in Cincinnati: The Reds are playing (and winning), trees in Over-the-Rhine are covered with white blossoms — and Know Theatre has announced the lineup for the upcoming Cincinnati Fringe Festival. 2013 is a significant year for the Fringe: It's marking the 10th  anniversary of the annual celebration of weird creativity. Last evening a big crowd gathered at Know Theatre's Jackson Street facility to hear what's in store for the May 28-June 8 festival.

Eric Vosmeier, Know's producing artistic director, shared the news that, building on a decade of success, the Fringe received a record number of applicants for 2013, with 70 percent of the applications coming from brand-new producers. That's one of the best parts of the Fringe, the fact that a new jolt of energy arrives annually from performers that haven't been seen locally. Sixty-three percent of the 2013 applications were from out of town, including several from international producers. There will be 35 productions in all, by 17 local groups and 18 from out of town. There will be 19 plays, seven solo shows, two dance pieces, two musicals, and five multimedia/variety pieces.

Vosmeier said that it was no easy task for the Fringe selection committee to assemble this lineup. The group was made up of theater professionals from Greater Cincinnati: Heather Britt, Michael Haney, Dave Levy, Miranda McGee, D. Lynn Meyers and Torie Wiggins. “The quality of applications continues to get stronger and larger each year," he said. "I'm so happy to have these amazing leaders of the local theatre community as a part of our jury, and we're grateful for their time in deciding the 2013 lineup.”

The official CityBeat Fringe Kick-Off Party takes place Tuesday, May 28, at Know Theatre. This year's event will also be a 10th birthday celebration, with many of the festival's founders in attendance. The evening, which kicks off at 6 p.m., will feature Indie rock group Bethesda and food from a half-dozen local eateries. The evening (suggested donation: $5) is an opportunity to meet Fringe artists, staff, volunteers and other audience members.

The full Fringe schedule will be published in CityBeat's May 15 edition, but you can get some information at the refreshed website: www.cincyfringe.com. I'm looking forward to return visits by Wonderheads (from Portland, Ore., who did some amazing work with masks in last year's Grim and Fischer; their new piece is titled LOON), Four Humors Theatre (from Minneapolis, whose always creative troupe will be staging Lolita: A Three Man Show) and Tanya O'Debra (from New York City; whose Radio Star was a much admired work in 2012; this time she's in a two-person piece, Shut UP, Emily Dickinson). Performance Gallery, based here in Cincinnati and a regular annual presence every year is staging Mater Facit, "an absurd look at motherhood, nationalism, war, sex and sacrifice." Tangled Leaves Theatrical Collective, another Cincinnati-based group popular with local audiences, will produce Vortex of the Great Unknown.

Of course, the real fun of Fringe is being surprised by new material and performers, and this year's lineup offers plenty of that: Poe and Mathews: A Misadventure in the Middle of Nowhere (Los Angeles); Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity (Bloomington, Ind.); The Bubble and Other Displays of Moral Turpitude (from Cincinnati-based North American New Opera Workshop); The Elephant in My Closet (New York City); and a production of Cincinnati playwright Catie O'Keefe's The Space Between my Head and my Body (by Shark Eat Muffin Theatre Company). I could go on and on — Know's announcement news release is 20 pages! Based on a decade of Fringing, I like to say that the festival is "theater roulette": You never know what's going to happen when you show up for a performance, and serendipity is the only predictable element. That's what makes it fun. I don't want to wish away springtime, but is it May 28 yet?

by Rick Pender 01.28.2011
Posted In: Theater at 01:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Falling for Next Fall

Quite a few local theaters are opening new productions this week, but if I were to point you to just one for this weekend, it would be Next Fall, a new play by Geoffrey Nauffts, at Ensemble Theatre.

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by Rick Pender 08.19.2011
Posted In: Theater at 12:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: 'Pippin' Steps Out at Carnegie

Stephen Schwartz is well known in the world of musical theater as the composer of Wicked, the mega-hit Broadway musical that’s been running since 2003 (more than 3,200 performances to date). But he started his career a long time ago, composing the music for Godspell way back in 1971. At the age of 24, he followed Godspell with another hit, the 1972 musical Pippin (which ran for five years, nearly 2,000 performances). It’s the season opener in a three-weekend run at Covington’s Carnegie Center beginning Friday.

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by Rick Pender 01.25.2013
Posted In: Theater at 09:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Good vs. Evil

The clash of good and evil seems to be on the mind of most of our local theaters this week as numerous openings bring plenty of offerings for you to choose from.

Abigail/1702 at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a kind of sequel to Arthur Miller's The Crucible. This new play by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (it's actually a world premiere) takes the character of Abigail Williams, the villainous and spiteful catalyst for the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, and moves her 10 years beyond. She's living in Boston, an outcast caring for people afflicted with the "pox" — and haunted by her past. She knows her actions in Salem were evil, perhaps inspired by the Devil himself. How she copes with the current events of her life is very much dictated by her actions from the past. This is a fascinating variation on a familiar character, told with an air of supernatural events and eerie sights and sounds. Box office: 513-421-3888.

Freud's Last Session at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati puts a debate about the existence of God front and center, with the distance between good and evil or right and wrong as the battleground. Psychoanalyst and atheist Sigmund Freud is dying of oral cancer; he invites to his London flat a young academic and newly converted Christian, C. S. Lewis (who later wrote the Christian allegory The Chronicles of Narnia). On the September day in 1939 when England declares war on Germany — perhaps another clash of good and evil — they meet for a conversation. The play is almost all talking and very little action, but the clash of ideas is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. That's made especially true by two fine actors: Bruce Cromer (the Playhouse's longstanding Ebenezer Scrooge and Cincinnati Shakespeare's recent Atticus Finch) as the earnest Lewis, and Barry Mulholland (a local newcomer, but a veteran actor) as the skeptical Freud. This one will make you think. Box office: 513-421-3555.

Camelot at Covington's Carnegie Center offers a distilled version of the Broadway hit from 1960. It's presented as a concert, singers backed up by members of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, led by its maestro Mischa Santora. The story of King Arthur's court, a place of goodness and justice brought down by an illicit love affair, is another glimpse of the good and evil affect history — even if it's mythic history. Former NKU professor Mark Hardy is back in town to play Arthur. Through Feb. 3. Box office: 859-957-1940.

The evils of racial injustice are at the heart and soul of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Memphis, which has a touring production at the Aronoff through Feb. 3. Set in the 1950s, it's about a white radio DJ who digs black music long before it became mainstream. His love of the music leads him to a romance with a talented singer, and that causes complications in a town where black and white don't mingle without serious repercussions. Of course, it's a musical, so this doesn't dig too deeply into the issues, but it's definitely a reminder of a time and place that feels very foreign to us today — even if some attitudes persist. Ultimately, it's about the power of music to bridge difficult boundaries, and that's a good message. Box: 800-987-2787.

by 08.31.2010
Posted In: Theater at 09:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Theater Community Parties at CEAs

CityBeat hosted the 14th annual and final Cincinnati Entertainment Awards for Theater Sunday night at Know Theatre in Over-the-Rhine, and as always the local theater community enjoyed the opportunity to catch up after summer breaks and celebrate before the new season gets underway. Awards were handed out in 27 categories, some voted on by the public and some determined by a "critical achievement" panel of local critics. Find a list of all the nominees and winners here.

In case you missed the event (or were there and "forget" exactly what happened), we've published a photo gallery here and a multimedia piece with interviews here.

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