If you’ve seen The Seagull at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (and CityBeat theater reviewer Tom McElfresh recommends that you do), then you should plan a return visit for The Nina Variations, playwright Steven Dietz’s delightful take on the final scene of Chekhov’s play. CSC offers another way to see the 1896 classic, via Dietz’s 1996 script, presented by the Bruce E. Coyle Intern Company from Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues is a complicated noir-ish tale of marital deceit and cryptic crime that unfolds more clearly because of its accomplished four-actor cast, including local professionals Bruce Cromer (who’s played roles as varied as Ebenezer Scrooge for the Playhouse to King Lear for Cincinnati Shakespeare) and Amy Warner (a regular at Ensemble Theatre and Cincinnati Shakespeare). The show is a fascinating piece of theater that takes work to watch, follow and absorb. I suppose that some casual theatergoers will be put off by it, but if you like challenging drama and multi-layered acting, you’ll leave the theater with your gears spinning. I gave Speaking in Tongues a Critic’s Pick in this week's "Curtain Call" column. Onstage through March 4. Box office: 513-421-3888.
If you’re a fan of the Cincinnati Fringe, you should check out the Transmigration Festival at CCM on the University of Cincinnati campus. I was there last evening and saw three of the six performances, especially enjoying Booth, an interactive piece by nine actors based on John Wilkes Booth’s final days. I also was entertained by The Eddie Shanahan Show, closely inspired by Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but with some very modern twists. Attendees choose between six brief productions (30 minutes or less) that are completely created, promoted, enacted and staged by drama students. It’s a February boost of creativity, staged throughout the CCM facility, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30, as well as a 2:30 matinee on Saturday. Admission is free, but you need to call the CCM box office to reserve your ticket: 513-556-4183.
Another university option can be found at NKU. It’s Aaron Sorkin’s The Farnsworth Invention, telling the story of Phil Farnsworth who invented television but spent much of his life in legal wrangles with David Sarnoff, RCA executive and the first “media mogul.” Sorkin's credits — from The West Wing to The Social Network — are a guarantee of a heady, exciting tale based on real events. Tickets ($14 is the maximum price): 859-572-5464.
Know Theater’s “comedy of anxiety” by Allison Moore, Collapse, opens with the collapse of a highway bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. But it’s about all kinds of things falling down — the economy, relationships. This is the kind of edgy script Know Theatre is known for, funny but meaningful. I gave the production a Critic’s Pick because it combines heart and humor. Collapse is presented with comic finesse and fine acting, especially by local professional actress Annie Fitzpatrick. Know’s best work of the season. Through March 3. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
This weekend is your last chance to see the regional premiere of Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man at Ensemble Theatre (through Saturday evening). The historical play, set in Richmond, Va., in April 1865, just days after the end of the Civil War, is a gripping drama that’s beautifully staged and convincingly acted. I gave it a Critic’s Pick. The production has been extended a week because of demand for tickets; you won’t be contending with subscribers this weekend, so if you haven’t seen it yet — call for a ticket: 513-421-3555.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
Audience response can be a good indicator of which holiday shows are hitting the mark. While I found the humor in Know Theatre's Sideways Stories from Wayside School to be a tad forced (you can read my full review here), the theater’s box office phone (513-300-5669) has been ringing steadily, so they've added a performance this weekend on Saturday at 3 p.m., and also on Dec. 27, the final day end of the run.
I spent two-and-a-half hours watching the Acclaim Awards last night — 150 minutes with no intermission. Thanks to affable hosts Charlie Clarke and Mark Hardy (the well-dressed “scoundrels” of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels last September at The Carnegie), there was a lot of humor, but I put an emphasis on “a lot” as in “maybe too much.”
As I’ve written previously, the Acclaims offer some solid recognition of many of the things that constitute our local theater scene. But the awards program itself lacks discipline: If this had been a stage production at one of our local theaters, I wouldn't be the only critic saying, “Nice work, but it needs a lot of trimming.” And some thoughtfulness.
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.
OK, so it's Memorial Day weekend, and theater-going might not be what you have in mind. How about this? If you're heading downtown for the feeding frenzy at Taste of Cincinnati (and what true Cincinnatian isn't?), you can take a quick side trip to Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine to pick up some tickets or a pass for the eighth annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival. It's the perfect time to find your way to Know Theatre (1120 Jackson, right next to the Gateway Garage), which is Fringe headquarters.
ArtsWave has put out a very positive press release about the attendance for its first three Sampler Weekends, as well as information for the next three — including one this Saturday.
Tracy Letts' plays haven't quite caught on in Cincinnati. We're yet to see a production locally of August: Osage County, his 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner. Neither the Cincinnati Playhouse nor Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati� have picked up Superior Donuts, his 2011 Tony-nominated script that will be staged by at least eight major regional theaters across the United States during the coming season. However, a local pick-up company will present Letts' latest script at the Clifton Performance Theatre (404 Ludlow Ave.) in a brief run (Sept. 9-18).
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, firstname.lastname@example.org)
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.