Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is typically the first professional theater
in town to start the season, and that's the case for 2013 with Other Desert Cities that opened a week ago. You can read my review;
I really appreciated the powerhouse cast performing the show. That led
me to give Jon Robin Baitz's provocative family drama about strife
between generations a "Critic's Pick." (It's onstage through Sept. 22.) A tip option for seats is an added 7 p.m. performance on that final Sunday. If you enjoy ETC's productions of fresh new plays, you owe a debt of gratitude to its founding supporters. Longtime friends
Ruth Sawyer and Murph Mahler got the ball rolling back in 1987 and
faithfully guided the company for two decades, sustaining the company
financially, artistically and spiritually. Mahler passed away in 2009
and Sawyer earlier this year, so ETC is commemorating their dedication
with a special free event this Sunday evening at 7 p.m. The program will offer songs and stories performed by some of ETC's best artists. Seating is limited, so you need to RSVP: 513-421-3555.
Abandon ship! Well, that's not exactly true. In fact, Cincinnati Landmark Productions has done a remarkable and loving job of sustaining the ship — in the form of the Showboat Majestic, which it has operated for 23 years in the face of at least 10 floods and countless repairs (including a leaky hull). But with its lease running out later this month, the company has decided not to return for the 2014 season.
Cincinnati Landmark will focus its endeavors on the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, the converted West Side movie theater where it will offer a "Summer Classics Season" in a vein similar to mainstream fare of classic comedies and musicals that has long drawn audiences to the Majestic. There have been 170 productions on board since 1991, attracting more than 350,000 patrons to the last floating theater in the United States. Cincinnati Landmark is also embarking on a new voyage with a performing arts center to be built in the Incline District in East Price Hill, a venue anticipated to be up and running as early as 2015.
Tim Perrino, executive artistic director at Cincinnati Landmark, says, "It's time to say goodbye. Our organization enjoyed a prolific chapter in the Majestic's grand history, painstakingly caring for the old boat" — launched in 1923 — "and producing seasons that paid tribute to her heritage."
Opening this week on Wednesday, Showboat Follies will be Cincinnati Landmark's final production on the Majestic. An annual tradition, it's a compilation of musical showstoppers, comic sketches, audience interaction and a return of the "Queen City Toast," a longtime staple of season-closing shows. "This show has become our love letter to the Majestic," Perrino says, adding that it's "a thank-you to our subscribers, longtime supporters and the many artists who helped make our time on the Showboat so special." Showboat Follies runs through Sept. 29.
During the summer of 2014, Cincinnati Landmark will present four productions at the Covedale: Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! (May 22-June 1); Neil Simon's comedy, The Sunshine Boys (June 19-29); Footloose (July 24-Aug. 3), the 2014 Cincinnati Young People's Theater production, a summer favorite using local high school talent; and a spectacular song-and-dance show, The Will Rogers Follies (Aug. 21-31).
In 1989, the Showboat Majestic was named a National Historic Landmark. No word from the City of Cincinnati, which has owned the Majestic since 1967, as to what might be next. The Majestic was operated with summertime shows by the University of Cincinnati for many years, and it served as a popular venue during several of the Tall Stacks festivals over the years.
The first week of September always brings an avalanche of theater productions, and that's exactly what's available to you this weekend.
I'll start with Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati's Other Desert Cities, which opened on Wednesday. You can read my review, which gives this excellent production a Critic's Pick. It's a drama about generational family strife coming to a boil on Christmas Eve in 2004 when conservative, politically prominent parents learn that their liberal daughter has written a supposedly tell-all memoir about the suicide of her older brother, an antiwar activist. It's a great vehicle for actors, and ETC has assembled an excellent cast of local and New York professionals, including Amy Warner, Dale Hodges, Sara Mackie, Ryan Wesley Gilreath and Dennis Parlato. The show, a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, is full of confrontations and revelations — a juicy night onstage. Through Sept. 22. Tickets ($27-$42): 513-421-3555.
Tonight at Know Theatre is a Fringe "Encore," a performance by actor/musician Kevin Thornton, a popular performer in the annual Fringe Festivals that Know produces. Stairway to Kevin focuses on the fact that he's turning 40 and questioning everything. This is an evening stuffed with new material, both the comedy and the music. Two nights only — Sept. 6 and 13 at 8 p.m. Tickets ($12): 513-300-5669.
Tonight is the opener for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic novel, Oliver Twist. If you've enjoyed stage productions of A Christmas Carol, you have a sense of Dickens' flair with colorful characters and dramatic storytelling. That's exactly what this tale of an orphan in 19th-century London has to offer, and CSC's retelling uses music and inventive staging to bring that place and its inhabitants to life. Sure to be popular with family audiences. Through Sept. 29. Tickets ($22-$31): 513-381-2273, x1.
The Cincinnati Playhouse's season doesn't officially open until Sept. 12, but the first production, Fly, a creatively staged piece about the legendary Tuskegee Airmen from World War II, is in previews this weekend, so it's a chance to catch it early. Tune in to Around Cincinnati on WVXU (FM 91.7) on Sunday at 7 p.m. to hear me interview playwright and director Ricardo Khan. Through Oct. 5. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Finally, you might want to check out the gala celebration by Footlighters this evening (Friday at 7 p.m. at the Syndicate in Newport) when the reliable community theater company marks its 50th season, quite a remarkable accomplishment. Later this month (Sept. 26-Oct. 12), Footlighters will present the jaunty musical Anything Goes at its Stained Glass Theatre; the company is one of the few community groups with its own facility. Tickets ($20): 859-652-3849.
If you're a theater fan looking for something to do this weekend, you've probably realized that the Labor Day holiday is not overflowing with options. In fact, many theater companies are gathering their strength as they prepare for shows that open next week.
A few good local productions are winding up this weekend. On Labor Day weekend, you won't find much onstage. But you have a couple of decent choices right now to tide you over.
The pickings have been kind of slim at Know Theatre over the past year. The quality has been high (the staging of When the Rain Stops Falling was one of the best shows onstage locally during 2013, and Mike Bartlett’s Cock offered a showcase of strong acting), but the works have felt few and far between. So today’s announcement from Producing Artistic Director Eric Vosmeier of a full schedule that’s already under way and extends beyond the typical end of the 2013-2014 season is welcome news. Here’s what’s in store following Lauren Gunderson’s Macbeth-inspired comedy Toil and Trouble (presently onstage through Aug. 24):
Bull by Mike Bartlett (Nov. 1-30): Yes, it’s another piece by the playwright of Cock, making Know the first U.S. theater to produce both pieces by the British writer. Both use a stripped-down aesthetic — no props and no scenery make for a lot of onstage intensity regarding characters and their relationships. This one is the story of three mid-level executives who compete for two corporate positions. Brian Robertson, who also staged Cock, returns to direct this one, and George Alexander, one of the four actors in the earlier show, will perform in this one, too.
The Naughty List (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings, Dec. 1-30): OTRImprov, an improvisational comedy troupe that’s part of Know’s Jackson Street Market, will hold forth in the courtyard at Arnold’s Bar & Grill in downtown Cincinnati for the holidays. Combining long- and short-form improv, the performers will offer a very irreverent take on the holidays — with the help of audience suggestions and participation.
Pluto (Jan. 24-Feb. 22, 2014): Know’s former artistic director Jason Bruffy comes back to town to stage a poignant and evocative new script by Steve Yockey. The production is part of a rolling world premiere through the National New Play Network, and it will feature two excellent local professionals, Annie Fitzpatrick and Tori Wiggins. An ordinary day in a suburban home takes a strange turn following a local tragedy, what with all hell breaking loose. Know’s publicity says the show “explores tragedy, loss and the way love can blind us to the truth.”
TBD (April 4-May 10, 2014): Know is holding a slot for a production to be announced later. You can be sure it will be another script with the ink still drying.
Cincinnati Fringe Festival (May 27-June 7, 2014): The 11th annual Fringe will be back with 12 days of theater, music, dance, film, art — and a lot of stuff in between that kind of defies simple description. Applications for performers will be accepted starting Sept. 1, 2013 (through Dec. 6). Info: www.cincyfringe.com.
Moby Dick (Fall 2014): Playwright Julian Rad adapted Herman Melville’s great American novel for an Off-Off-Broadway production in 2003. Michael Burnham, recently retired from a long career as a professor of drama at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music, will co-direct the show with designer Andrew Hungerford. The tale of revenge and obsession with Captain Ahab pursuing the great white whale that maimed him has been stripped to its essence for what promises to be a highly theatrical endeavor that uses sea chanteys and creative staging.
In addition to these full-scale productions, Know has announced several Fringe “encores,” the return of shows that were hits during the festival’s 10th iteration back in June. Jon Kovach will repeat his powerful one-man show based on Ron Jones’ The Wave (Aug. 26-27); comedian/storyteller/singer Kevin Thornton will present Stairway to Kevin (Sept. 6 and 13); and Paul Strickland’s one-man trailer park fairytale comedy, Ain’t True and Uncle False (Oct. 11-12).
Tickets for the full-productions are $15 in advance, and $20 the week of the performance; Fringe “encore” tickets are $12. Know offers sets of six-show flex passes for $90 that do not expire. They can be exchanged for tickets for any of these productions. For more information: 513-300-5669 or www.knowtheatre.com.
Summer is flying by, or so it seems. This is the final weekend for you to see Cincinnati Shakespeare's production of The 39 Steps (CityBeat review here),
a satiric adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1935 film of
espionage and intrigue. Making it all the more amusing is the fact that
the story is performed by four actors, two of whom play most of the
citizens of London and beyond, using a lot of quick changes and quick
thinking. It's a very entertaining evening of tomfoolery, featuring four
of Cincy Shakes' most talented comedic actors. Your last chances to see
the show are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. 513-381-2273.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is offering a double dose of entertainment this weekend. First and foremost is The 39 Steps at CSC's mainstage (CityBeat review here). If that title sounds familiar, it's because it was a classic espionage novel a century ago, made into a classic film by Alfred Hitchcock 80 years ago, now turned into a very funny riff on its predecessors as a play using only four actors to fill all the roles. CSC has ramped up the humor by using four of its best comedic actors — Nick Rose, Miranda McGee, Justin McComb and Billy Chace — who play the principals, plus much of the population of London, especially McComb and Chace who will make you dizzy as they shift from one part to another, sometimes within seconds. It's actually a faithful retelling of the story, but it's amped up to a high level of hilarity by the onstage shenanigans. It adds up to great summertime humor. It's being performed through Aug. 11. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.
One show isn't enough for CSC: This weekend they also
launch their annual free Shakespeare in the Park tour with a performance
of Romeo & Juliet at Boone Woods Park in Burlington at 7
p.m. on Saturday. (If you live north of the river, you'll get your
chance next Wednesday evening at Eden Park's Seasongood Pavilion or at
Burnet Woods in Clifton on Thursday.) As noted, these are free
presentations, presented in classic Elizabethan style and use six actors
from the company's resident ensemble. These are the same productions
that CSC tours to schools and community centers, so they're great for
the entire family. A week from now they'll start performing A Midsummer Night's Dream at some locations. For a full schedule, go here.
Shakespeare is behind the story of Toil and Trouble, the current offering at Know Theatre. It's a new play (this is just the second time its been produced; its world premiere was in California last fall) that offers a contemporary riff on Macbeth (CityBeat review here). Instead of kings and warriors, however, its characters are a pair of thirtysomething slackers and Beth, a wildly ambitious sportscaster who has more testosterone than either of the guys. There's a lot of wacky moments in this play, replaces Macbeth's witches with fortune cookies and the kingdom of Scotland with an almost unpopulated island off the coast of Chile. You can pick up on the laughs through Aug. 24. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
At the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, the annual production by Cincinnati Young People's Theatre is Grease, a tried-and-true musical about kids in the ’50s at Rydell High. Sixty years haven't dimmed the musicality of the show, and the youthful performers will bring this one to life if you're in the mood for a classic. It wraps up with a matinee on Sunday. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
While the Cincinnati Symphony's LumenoCity isn't exactly theater, the performances in Washington Park on Saturday and Sunday evening — with a dazzling light show on the facade of Music Hall — will definitely be theatrical. It's the debut for Louis Langree as the CSO's new music director, and the program will feature performers from Cincinnati Ballet and Cincinnati Opera. But the big deal is the colorful illumination that will let you see historic Music Hall in a light you've never imagined. It's free, starting at 8:30 p.m. both nights; big crowds are expected, so come early. Don't you wish the streetcar were already here so you could ride it to Over-the-Rhine?
Finally, a weekend
with some theater choices for your entertainment, even though the
weather is beautiful enough to keep us outdoors. But you want to see a
curtain go up somewhere, right?
There couldn't be a more perfect show for summertime on the river — this tuneful version of the story of Huck Finn and his friend Jim, a runaway slave, is a timeless classic. Roger Miller's award-winning score is one that many people (myself included) love, and there's plenty of comedy to keep everyone entertained. Mark Twain's sense of humor is front and center as we see Huck and Tom Sawyer get into and out of scrapes, Huck's drunken dad making life difficult, and a pair of ne'er do wells who are out to fleece people with an entertainment. Fear not, they'll just be entertaining audiences on board the majestic, not picking pockets. Big River runs through Sunday, July 28. Tickets: 513-421-6550.