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by Rick Pender 01.28.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage blog 1-28 - pirates of penzance @ actors theatre -photo by bill brymer

Advising a Louisville Theatre Field Trip

Actors Theatre's "Pirates of Penzance" is a joyous, festive hoot from start to finish

If I could charter a bus and offer you transportation to Louisville over the next few days to see a production at Actors Theatre, I'd happily do so. I made the drive to see a Sunday matinee of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, "reimagined by The Hypocrites." This zany group of theater artists from Chicago have found contemporary ways to inject new energy into traditional works from Shakespeare to Golden Age musicals. And that's what they've done with Pirates, a show that was a silly musical hit in the 1880s on both sides of the Atlantic.

In fact, what this energetic cast of 10 does with the show is restore its comic brilliance in a way that's wholly suited to the 21st century but in keeping with the original. The story of soft-hearted pirates, a soft-headed major-general and his melodic daughters and a crew of incompetent cops remains intact and is inherently funny. But The Hypocrites have pushed it to a contemporary level.

Entering Actors Theatre's arena-styled Bingham Theatre, audiences were immediately immersed in a beach party on the central stage. Beach balls were bouncing everywhere; the ushers were wearing floral shirts. The performers, also musicians, were leading a folksy singalong, tunes like the Lumineers' "Ho Hey" and Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard." It was downright festive, and audience members who had seating onstage (many with kids) joined right in with the fun.

When showtime arrived, a few ground rules were laid out by actress Christine Stulik, who played both the matronly awkward Ruth and the sweet ingenue Mabel. She asked those onstage to follow any requests made by the stage managers, dressed as Victorian lifeguards, so that actors would have clear paths to move to their required locations. She also mentioned that the show would be one hour, 20 minutes, with a one-minute intermission. (That's what really happened: a quick break, with actors sipping bottled water, audience members running up the steps to an in-theater bar, stretching and so on.)

The performance follows Pirates' amusing tale of the virtuous young Fredric, who is a "Slave of Duty" (we were regularly reminded by the word DUTY, spelled out in giant red letters at the top of one audience section). The performers executed their roles in exaggerated fashion, squeezing humor out of every moment. They also played an astonishing array of musical instruments: guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, flute, clarinet, accordion, squeezebox and other esoteric items such as a toy piano, a kiddie xylophone and a saw(!). They were all accomplished singers, too, and just about everyone played multiple roles — including sweet young ladies who doubled as comically mustachioed police officers.

It was a joyous, festive hoot from start to finish, a wonderful tonic for a bitterly cold winter. My only regret is that I'm late to the party: The production of Pirates of Penzance wraps up on Saturday. If you have the time to drive down I-71 and can score a ticket (Actors Theatre box office: 502-584-1205), you'll feel like you took a mini-vacation.
 
 
by Rick Pender 01.24.2014
Posted In: Theater at 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 1-24 - clyybourne park @ cincy playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: 'Clybourne Park' and More

I caught the opening night of the Cincinnati Playhouse's production of Clybourne Park last night. The play won the theater triple crown: Tony for best play on Broadway, Olivier for best play in London, and the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for drama. It's being staged by a lot of big theaters this season, but you need go no farther than Mount Adams to see what all the fuss is about. And there is a ton of fussing in Bruce Norris's script. He took his inspiration from the events of Lorraine Hansberry's historic 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun, the story of a black family seeking to improve its lot by buying a home — in a previously all-white neighborhood. Clybourne Park's first act looks at the same events from the neighborhood's perspective; Act II jumps ahead 50 years to the same neighborhood, deteriorated but coming back. Curiously enough — or is it predictably? — many of the stresses and strains have only moved from one set of people to another. Norris's clever script subtly presents parallels and contrasts, with some humor and some pathos, and a sardonic sense that human nature is what it is. The Playhouse does a great job with a cast that plays different roles (some slightly connected from past to present) and a revolving set that recreates the house at 406 Clybourne in Chicago in 1959 and 2009. This production will spur lots of thoughtful and spirited conversation. Onstage through Feb. 16. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Pluto at Know Theatre is being staged by former artistic director Jason Bruffy. Steve Yockey's unusual script blurs the line between real life and mythology, as weird events materialize in a suburban kitchen, what with a talking three-headed dog and other unusual phenomena getting in the way of necessary dialogue between a mom and her sullen son. It opens tonight and runs through Feb. 22. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Also opening tonight is Revelation by Untethered Theater, in the compact space at Clifton Performance Theater (404 Ludlow). It's described as a "pitch black comedy" about a couple, one a Southern Baptist who is expecting the Rapture and the other a premed student who happens to be an atheist. They travel from New York to Arkansas in search of the New Jerusalem. Along the way, they find a whole lot more. Opening tonight, onstage through Feb. 8. Info: 513-939-0599.

I don't mean to sound like a broken record — I've mentioned the following productions before — but several shows are here a bit longer that are definitely worth considering:

The Book of Mormon continues at the Aronoff through Sunday. If you haven't seen this hilarious musical, I have to ask why? And if you have, you might want to catch it one more time if you can. (I went twice, and it was every bit as funny the second time around — maybe more so because I could focus on the crazy, rude lyrics and the beautifully timed comedy.) Tickets: 800-982-2787.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic tale of singing kids, their stoic dad and the nun who brings them together, The Sound of Music, is being offered in a "lightly staged" concert version accompanied by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra at Covington's Carnegie Center. It's been enthusiastically received by folks I've talked with who've seen it. Final performance is Sunday. 859-957-1940.

This is also the final weekend for a charming production of Stephen Sondheim's musical of mixed-up lovers in early 20th-century Sweden, A Little Night Music, at Mariemont Players. Tickets: 513-684-1236.

Hamlet, at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, runs until Feb.9, but you should catch it if you plan to attend the next CSC show, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which tells the same story from the perspective of two minor characters — using the same cast. It opens on Feb. 14. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.
 
 
by Rick Pender 01.17.2014
Posted In: Theater at 12:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
mormon

Stage Door: 'South Park,' Sondheim and Shakespeare

The big buzz is around The Book of Mormon, the musical by the South Park guys that's rude, crude and sweet, all at once. An acquaintance of mine aptly describes it as "blasphemy without malice." Regardless of what you call it, it's the talk of the town, and a lot of people have told me that affordable tickets are not to be found. Since it's a hot item the ticket resellers have really jacked up the prices, so it's a better bet to go straight to the box office at the Aronoff Center and ask them what's available. If you have the time, come the box office two-and-a-half hours before the performance you're hoping to see and apply for one or two tickets (that's the limit). Two hours before curtain names will be drawn randomly. You have to be there and you can only enter once. Of course it's a gamble, but if your name is pulled, you'll pay just $25 per ticket. This touring production will be in downtown Cincinnati through Jan. 26.

Last weekend I drove out through Mariemont to the Walton Creek Playhouse where Mariemont Players has assembled a thoroughly enjoyable production of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, a show once described as "whipped cream with knives." The theater, an old schoolhouse, has an intimate performing space, a perfect setting for this tale of mixed-up couples in early-20th-century Sweden. The show, simply and effectively staged by Skip Fenker, revolves around a free-spirited but aging actress who eventually sings "Send in the Clowns," Sondheim's best-known tune. The Sunday matinee I attended was all but sold out, so you should call in advance for a reservation: 513-684-1236. Onstage through Jan. 26.

If you're looking for some outstanding acting, you should definitely head to Cincinnati Shakespeare and watch Brent Vimtrup play the title role in Hamlet. He plays the role of the indecisive Prince of Denmark, pointed toward vengeance but filled with doubt. Vimtrup uses an expressive physicality and natural insight that makes long-familiar speeches ("To be or not to be," "What a rogue and peasant slave am I" and more) feel fresh and new. He's onstage for most of the three-and-a-half hour production, a highly watchable marathon. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x 1. Through Jan. 26.

 
 
by Rick Pender 01.03.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage copy

Stage Door: Couple of Classics

Truth to tell, midnight has already passed and Victorian adventurer Phileas Fogg thinks he's missed the deadline for getting "around the world in 80 days." But his faithful servant Passepartout (played with manic energy by the always amusing Michael G. Bath) saves the day by sorting out travel across time zones. Your deadline has not quite passed, since Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's inventive staging of a musical version of Jules Verne's classic Around the World in 80 Days continues through a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. (CityBeat review here.) If football and cold weather aren't your preferences, maybe you should head to the Over-the-Rhine theater for a final volley of holiday entertainment. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

While you're thinking about theater, you should be making plans to see Shakespeare's greatest tragedy (some say it's the greatest play ever written), Hamlet, which opens next week at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Once you've taken that one in, you'll be ready to head back in mid-February for Tom Stoppard's other-end-of-the-telescope version of the show (using the same actors), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

Happy New Year!
 
 
by Rick Pender 12.27.2013
Posted In: Theater at 11:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
to do onstage 12-25 - complete history of comedy @ playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Post-Holiday Options

Don't despair that the Christmas holiday is behind you. Several theaters are still staging enough cheer to keep you going for another week or so. Here's what continues this weekend:

At the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park you'll find the traditional Christmas favorite A Christmas Carol as well as The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) onstage through Sunday. It feels a bit odd to be watching Scrooge and the ghosts after Christmas Day, but the Playhouse's rendition is such a lovely show and Bruce Cromer's portrait of the old miser is so entertaining that you'll be charmed, I'm sure. And the Reduced Shakespeare guys doing the "comedy" piece know how to evoke laughter from the making of jokes in ways you haven't imagined. They're the guys who originated this amusing formula with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), and they're making it work with this world premiere production. It's a nice bit of entertainment for a weekend between the holidays. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Holiday themed laughs are being served up at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company through Sunday, too, with their eighth annual presentation of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some). No Shakespeare in evidence (although they're performing on the gussied-up set that was built for the previous production, Twelfth Night) but four of CSC's best comic talents are mashing up every imaginable tale you might think of that has a holiday connection — Charlie Brown, Charles Dickens, Rudolph, the Nutcracker, It's a Wonderful Life and many more. They'll have you laughing from start to finish, especially if you make a stop by the bar in the lobby beforehand. Not for the kids, but a lot of fun for anyone with an adolescent sense of humor. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x 1.

If you want a nice outing for the kids, I recommend Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's holiday show, Around the World in 80 Days. Jules Verne's adventure classic about a hectic circumnavigation of the globe in 1899 has been musicalized and condensed in a way that children will enjoy it — but there's enough humor and talent onstage to keep adults entertained, too. ETC'S production actually runs through the weekend after New Year's Day, but if the kids are restless and you want to entertain them with live theater, this is a great choice. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

Happy theatergoing!

 
 
by Rick Pender 12.20.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: Wrapping up Holiday Shows

It's the final weekend for most holiday shows, and there are lots of good choices. I'm ranking today's listings according to the laugh-o-meter, starting with the most hilarious:

No. 1: Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some). This is the eighth year the Cincinnati Shakespeare has put this show together, but it's fun even for if you've been before. The cast of four talented actors who usually do Shakespeare and the Classics prove adept at silly, in-the-moment humor. While they're poking fun at many things local, they also manage to touch on just about every Christmas story you can imagine, all with laugh-out-loud results. The biggest challenge is getting a ticket, since the run (through Dec. 29) was nearly sold out when it opened last Sunday. A performance has been added on Saturday at 2 p.m., which might be your best bet to score a seat or two. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

No. 2: The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), a show by the same guys who came up with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). The Cincinnati Playhouse is presenting the show's world premiere, and it's a wide-ranging evening of every kind of humor imaginable by three very adept performers. They can impersonate people and characters, they can do improv, they can satirize the classics — and they can keep everyone in the audience paying attention lest they get a pie in the face. Seriously. Our should I say "humorously"? It's an evening of fun, through Dec. 29. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

No. 3: The 12 Dates of Christmas is the story of a gal who struggles through a year of awful dating after she loses her fiancé when she sees him making out with another woman on national TV during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Lots of losers, lovers and louts — and a few nice guys who aren't quite right. It's a one-woman show with a good heart and a great performance by Annie Kalahurka. New Edgecliff Theatre is presenting the production at Know Theatre. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

No. 4: A Klingon Christmas Carol. This one isn't really laugh-out-loud, but it's a lot of fun to see actors telling the familiar story of Scrooge and his ghosts through the filter of Star Trek's fierce warrior race, the Klingons. SQuja' (he's the central character) isn't a miser, he's a coward — which is sinful for these tough guys. Find out how he gets retuned. It's a good bet for Trekkies; others venture in at your own risk. Tickets for this one ($20) can be obtained at the door, in the lobby of the Art Academy of Cincinnati (1212 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). 

Lots of more traditional fare elsewhere, of course, including Christmas Carols at the Playhouse and Covedale, as well as the family-oriented Around the World in 80 Days at Ensemble Theatre.
 
 
by Rick Pender 12.13.2013
Posted In: Theater at 11:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door

Stage Door: Holiday Cheer

It's Friday the 13th, but if you're in the mood for holiday shows, this is your lucky weekend. Just about every theater in town has something onstage aimed at getting you into the Christmas spirit, making you laugh, diverting you from the stress of being cheerful or just poking fun at the ways of the world (at least the world of commercialism we see in America today).

Perhaps you've already done your annual brush-up on Dickens' A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse (another fine production, now in its 23rd season with Bruce Cromer back as Scrooge and a new interpretation of Bob Cratchit, featuring the very angular Ryan Wesley Gilreath, who seems to be all arms and legs and stringy hair — very Dickensian) or the musical version being presented by Covedale Center. With the story of Scrooge's dark night of the soul fresh in mind, perhaps you're ready for A Klingon Christmas Carol, presented by Hugo West Theatricals at the Art Academy of Cincinnati (1212 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). This is a newish theater group that knows its way around satirical work (their Don't Cross the Streams, a goofy derivative of Ghostbusters, was a popular piece in the 2012 Fringe festival), they are giving this unusual piece its local premiere. (It's been staged in Chicago and Minneapolis.) It's actually a rather faithful retelling of the story with SQuja' (Donald Volpenheim), a cowardly, money-grubbing member of Star Trek's warrior race, taking the place of Scrooge.

It's presented by a deadpan Vulcan narrator (Lauren Carr) who positions the work as the "original" of the tale. Klingons don't celebrate Christmas, but they are bound by traditions, the greatest of them being the "Feast of the Long Night." The 70-minute piece closely matches with Scrooge's story, but it's all through a Klingon filter — lots of angry outbursts and hearty laughter, grunting, growling, drinking and chest-thumping by characters with wrinkled foreheads, bushy eyebrows and fierce demeanors. Eileen Earnest handles timHom (a Muppet-like equivalent for Tiny Tim), son of Quachit (David Dreith), whose training as a warrior is being neglected because of greedy SQuja'. If you've never yearned for a visit to Qo'noS, the Klingon homeworld, you might find this production a bit impenetrable since it's performed in the guttural Klingon language, but there are projected subtitles that add humor to the action. This won't be a show for everyone, but if you're a Star Trek fan, you'll have a good time. Tickets ($20 at the door or here).

Elsewhere in OTR, there's no need for subtitles for New Edgecliff Theatre's The 12 Dates of Christmas, presented this year at Know Theatre (1120 Jackson St.). It's a remount of NET's 2012 holiday, again featuring Annie Kalahurka as Mary, a New York actress whose chipper view of the holidays is trashed when she sees her fiancé kissing another woman on national TV at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The one-woman show recounts her trajectory through a year of dating a dozen men, a few with potential, others with "what were you thinking?" qualities. Kalahurka does it all, from her central character, her oppressive matchmaking aunt, her nervously worried mother and a parade of bad choices marked by ornaments she hangs on a tree — an old friend, a doctor, a bartender, guys met at weddings, a musician and more. Along the way, she's in a production of Macbeth and A Christmas Carol (she plays Christmas Past) adding more humor with references to theater and such. This is a contemporary show with language to match (so it's not for the kids), but Kalahurka is a charming performer who makes this one totally worth seeing. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

On Sunday evening, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company kicks off two weeks of Every Christmas Carol Ever Told (and then some) for the eighth consecutive year. As the title implies, it's a mash-up of everything from A Christmas Carol to the Grinch, with stops for Charlie Brown, It's a Wonderful Life, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, the Nutcracker and more. It's been a great evening of adult entertainment in past incarnations: This year returns last year's cast intact — Miranda McGee, Sara Clark, Justin McComb and Billy Chace. They're individually funny, and together they can be downright hilarious. Even if you've seen this one before, it's worth a return trip. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

For those who want to take the kids to a show, you can't go wrong with Around the World in 80 Days at Ensemble Theatre through Jan. 4 (513-421-3555) or the Children's Theatre of Cincinnati's production of The Day Before Christmas with performances today and Saturday at the Taft Theatre (800-745-3000).
 
 
by Rick Pender 11.29.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door

Stage Door: Holidays Are Here

OK, the holidays are officially here. If you have any strength left after shopping last night and all day today, there are numerous theatrical offerings to consider.

On Wednesday night, I attended the opening of a musical version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a touring production at the Aronoff through Sunday. I suspect most everyone knows the story (which certainly resembles A Christmas Carol, with the Grinch replacing Scrooge as the meanie who's taught the meaning of Christmas). This newish musical uses some of the songs from the beloved 1966 animated version of Dr. Seuss's classic 1957 story of the green guy with a heart "two sizes too small." Audiences, in fact, are invited to sing along on "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." What's touring is a 90-minute-rendition that's family-friendly, outfitted with wild costumes, technicolor scenery and a gaggle of special effects that include snow inside the Aronoff and festive confetti cannons for the finale. 

The tale is narrated by the senior citizen version of Max, the Grinch's hapless dog; Bob Lauder has a great baritone voice, a bemused mindset and a great tail that still wags. (He's complimented by and partnered with his eager younger self, played by Andreas Wyatt.) There's a whole raft of happy singing and dancing citizens of Whoville, of course, especially sweet Cindy Lou who wins over the Grinch's meager heart. Two kids alternate in this demanding role; I saw the adorable Jenna Iacono, but I'm sure Piper Birney is just as charming when she's singing "Santa for a Day" and wearing down the Grinch from his nasty ways.

As the Grinch, Stefan Karl gets to mug, growl, grimace and just be a general grouch (he does some farting and belching, just to add to his inappropriateness). He's great fun to watch from his first entrance, as "ugly as a cactus," outfitted in something across between newly mown grass, tattered green feathers and seaweed, to his final scene where he's embraced by the Whos. He's so bad he's good. And his story is a fine addition to Thanksgiving weekend from Broadway in Cincinnati. Performances, including several matinees, are at the Aronoff through Sunday evening. Tickets (starting at $28): 513-621-2787

Starting tonight (and for the next several weeks), you can also choose between two different productions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The Cincinnati Playhouse returns its beautiful retelling of Scrooge's dark night of the soul for the 23rd consecutive year. If you're a theater fan, it's a pleasure to see Bruce Cromer, one of southwest Ohio's finest actors, in the bah-humbug role. He makes Scrooge such fun, a genuine holiday treat. With all the whiz-bang spinning scenery, ghostly presences and gorgeous Victorian costumes, well, this show is a great dose of holiday sentiment and cheer. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

For a different rendition of Dickens' grouch who gets his comeuppance, the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is offering a musical version of A Christmas Carol that's new this season. (In fact, the book and lyrics are by Cincinnati Landmark's Tim Perrino with music by Jeremy Helmes; Perrino directs the show.) West Siders love the Covedale, and I suspect more than a few folks from Cincinnati's supposedly more "refined" side will make the trek to 4990 Glenway Avenue to see this one. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

If you prefer some non-holiday entertainment, the Playhouse offers The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), which begins a hysterical two hours with a skit that literally presents the "birth of comedy." (CityBeat review here.) You won't stop laughing until it's over, and I can guarantee some unexpected things along the way — there is a script, but the three performers play fast and loose through the performance, including bringing a few audience members into the merriment. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

And if Thanksgiving leaves you overdosed on goodness and sick of being nice, you might want to catch one of the final performances of Bull at Know Theatre. (CityBeat review here.) It's the story of three office workers competing for two jobs — and they're not nice at all. If you're seeking some  vicarious nastiness, this is the show for you. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
 
 
by Rick Pender 11.22.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
abe lincoln as a rapper - complete history of comedy - playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Comedies Abound

The theater season takes a bit of a pause around Thanksgiving, since many companies are readying holiday productions. But there are plenty of choices available this weekend.

I'm not the only one who enjoyed the laugh-fest that is The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) at the Cincinnati Playhouse. I've heard numerous people who saw it say they were recommending it to others. In two hours the Reduced Shakespeare Company puts forth more humor than you can shake a stick at. (But be careful shaking sticks. You might get a pie in the face.) No matter your tastes in comedy — witty, loud or rude and crude — you'll find it in this production. How about Abe Lincoln as a deadpan rapper? This could be a good outing this weekend or a lot of fun for out-of-town guests who descend on you next week. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Tonight is an opening at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, the very frothy comedy Twelfth Night. (It's subtitle is "or What You Will," indicating that it's a lot of foolishness, which is an apt description.) In fact, Twelfth Night is a beautiful piece with clever situations, amusing characters, a bit of intrigue and a lot of mistaken identities. And several of the most laughable characters Shakespeare ever created, from the bombastic Malvolio to his persecutor Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, plus the best of all Shakespeare's fools, Feste. It's a safe bet that this is a production that even those who fear Shakespeare will truly enjoy. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x 1.

If you're more into storefront theater, you might check out the current production by Untethered Theater at Clifton Performance Theatre on Ludlow, just east of the business district. It's a tiny space (only 50 seats), but that makes it all the more interesting. The current production is Wendy Macleod's The House of Yes, a very dark comedy about a weirdly dysfunctional family. The story focuses happens while there's a Thanksgiving hurricane outside, so it's timely, too. Performances Friday and Saturday (through Dec. 7). Go here for tickets.

This is the last weekend for Boeing Boeing, a crazy farce about a guy juggling three fiancees who happen to be flight attendants. It's at the Carnegie, featuring performers from the drama program at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

 
 
by Rick Pender 11.15.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
to do onstage 11-13 complete history of comedy dominic conti, austin tichenor and reed martin - reduced shakespeare company - photo john burgess

Stage Door: Theatre Large and Small

There's a fine community theater production of A Chorus Line at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. It's by Cincinnati Music Theatre, and they've recruited a talented cast of dancers, singers and actors to tell the stories of 16 performers competing for roles in the chorus of a Broadway show. There are many fine performances in this show — the characters become known, one by one as they tell their stories, some humorous, some heartbreaking — but the show's greatest emotional wallop comes when they are all in synch, wearing glitter and gold, hats cocked and performing as "One." Final performance is Saturday evening. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

If you prefer your theater small and intimate, you might want to head to the tiny Clifton Performance Theater on Ludlow, just east of the business district. Untethered Theater opens a production of Wendy MacLeod's The House of Yes tonight for a three-week run. It's a very dark comedy about a dysfunctional family obsessed with the Kennedys. I haven't seen this one, but it's a solid script and the young Untethered company has a good track record of interesting shows. Through Dec. 7. Tickets: 513-939-0599.

If you are in the mood for something totally silly, I can recommend the Cincinnati Playhouse's presentation of The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged) that opened last evening. (It has a long run, through the holidays, closing on Dec. 29.) It's a world premiere by the same guys who created The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and other works — several presented at the Playhouse — comically condensing subject matter like the Bible, great literature and American history. These guys are the originators of this material, so it's a special treat to see them at work. If you’ve enjoyed Shakespeare (abridged), you’ll find this right up your alley. The performers are truly adept jokesters, physical shtick, music, improv — they can do it all. … Also, the Playhouse's excellent production of the legendary Kander & Ebb musical Cabaret winds up on Saturday evening. (CityBeat review here.) By now, most of the subscribers have attended, so you might be able to call at the last-minute and get a ticket. Marcia Milgrom Dodge's production traces back to the roots of the show, adhering closely to the stories of Berlin in the 1920s that inspired the show. Worth seeing. Playhouse box office: 513-421-3888.

CityBeat's other reviewer, Stacy Sims, really enjoyed the production of the farce Boeing Boeing at the Carnegie by CCM Drama. (CityBeat review here.) It's about a Casanova in Paris who's careful juggling of three flight attendances to whom he's engaged goes awry when Trans-Atlantic flights happen faster thanks to new aircraft. Silly but obviously a lot of fun. Through Nov. 24. Tickets: 859-957-1940.
 
 

 

 

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by Rick Pender 07.02.2015 65 hours ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
todo_serials-knowtheatre_photoericvosmeier

Stage Door

'Two Guvs' has a few last laughs; next week look for some brand new work

With the Fourth of July falling on a weekend, most theaters will be dark, and all the hubbub around the All-Star Game means that most of them will wait until the dust settles at Great American Ball Park before they crank things up again. But if you’re jonesing for some good summer theater and you haven’t seen Cincinnati Shakespeare’s hilarious One Man, Two Guvnors, it has performances on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Be forewarned that both are sold out, but if you want to try your luck with the regional premiere of this excellent situation comedy about a hapless guy with two bosses, show up at the theater 719 Race St., Downtown 30 minutes before the performance and ask to join the waiting list. Box Office: 513-381-2273

While you’re waiting for the fireworks on Saturday, you might consider what theater you’ll see over the next week or so. Of particular interest is The 1st Cincinnati One-Minute Play Festival that will be presented at Know Theater at 8 p.m. on July 11 and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on July 12. It’s a collaboration between Know and One-Minute Play Festival (aka #1MPF). In nearly 20 cities #1MPF partners with local companies to present brief works by local writers. They are given a prompt that asks them to consider the world around them, their community and all the ways in which they view and engage with the world, and to write and submit moments that could only happen at this time and in this place. It’s a great chance to check out local talent in the form of brand-new one-minute plays by Linnea Bond, John Bromels, Michael Burnham, Nick Carmine, Kevin Crowley, Bekka Eaton, Kate Fine, Brian Griffin, Mike Hall, Becca Howell, Alan Jozwiak, David Loehr, Robert Macke, Erica MacDonald, Joe McDonough, Eric Pfeffinger, Maggie Lou Rader, Alison Rampa, Brant Russell, Paul Shortt, Stacy Sims, Andy Simpson, Nathan Singer, Jim Stark, Paul Strickland, Trey Tatum, Eileen Tull, Chris Wesselman, Torie Wiggins and Alison Vodnoy Wolf. It’s also a showcase for local directors including Michael Burnham, Ed Cohen, Katie Lupica, Regina Pugh, Brant Russell, Carrington Rowe and Torie Wiggins. Tickets ($20): 513-300-5669. Part of the proceeds will benefit new play development at Know Theatre.

In the mood for more locally generated material? Check out the premiere of Is This Really Happening Right Now? – A Series of Vignettes, developed and presented by Good People Theatre on July 9, 10 and 11 at 8 p.m.. They’re performing at Simple Space, located in Over-the-Rhine at 16 E. 13th St., just a block or so north of Know Theatre. Four original pieces by Mollie J. Amburgey and Will Bonfiglio are about friendships and relationships — one takes place on a blind date, one in a coffee shop, one via Tinder and one in a Laundromat. Tickets $20: http://goodpeopletheatre.ticketleap.com/CincyPremiere


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here
 
 
by Rick Pender 06.26.2015 8 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
sanger - pamela daly - photo flash productions

Stage Door: Too Many Bosses, One Crusader and a Theater Party

Need a good laugh this weekend? Cincinnati Shakespeare has the show you want to see: One Man Two Guvnors, based on an 18th-century comedy, The Servant of Two Masters. It’s a riot of slapstick, fart jokes, pratfalls, lewd innuendo and more. Francis Henshaw (Matthew Lewis Johnson) is the hapless hero, trapped between jealous bosses and a crew of comic types, each one funnier than the last. The show was an award winner London and on Broadway, where James Corden played the manic guy who can barely keep all the plates spinning. I gave this one a Critic’s Pick. Read my full review here. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

In 1916, Margaret Sanger founded the organization that eventually became Planned Parenthood. She was a fearless protester for women’s rights and an ardent crusader for birth control when it was a hush-hush topic. She was often arrested for speaking frankly about sexuality. Cincinnati native Pamela Daly this weekend is presenting a one-woman show that she personally commissioned; it’s onstage at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Sanger uses the militant firebrand’s own words to dig into issues that remain inflammatory today: abortion, birth control, sex education and the plight of women. Performances on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. is the first installment in the third run of Serials! at Know Theatre. This time the theme is “Roundhouse”: You’ll find the 15-minute episodes of new plays, every two weeks for a total of five evenings. Five playwrights, five stories, five directors, five casts. Each week the playwrights switch, so not even the original writers know where their shows are headed. Here at the titles: Hangin’ with BenFire Down Below#roxybalboaThe Good, The Bad, and the Elderly; and Real Time Strategy. Tickets for this crazy episodic theater party: 513-300-5669  More info here.

Not for this weekend (in fact, this fills in a gap in Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s upcoming season next spring, March 22-April 10, 2016), but you might want to know that Sharr White’s Annapurna will be onstage. White wrote The Other Place, a well-received script that ETC presented earlier this year. The award-winning show from 2011 is a simple piece — two people in a room, in fact, a room in a mobile home. It’s about a woman and her husband, a poet, who deserted her. He’s in failing health, living in a low-rent trailer park, and she decides to re-enter his life. More information about ETC’s complete season here.


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

 
 
by Rick Pender 06.19.2015 15 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: A Good Chance for Laughs, and the Opportunity to Dance the Night Away

There’s not too much theater going on as summer moves in with full heat. But there are enough laughs at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company for several shows with the production of the great 2011 British farce, One Man Two Guvnors. It’s based on a play from the 18th century called The Servant of Two Masters, but don’t think that because it’s a classic it will be over your head. This show has slapstick, fart jokes, silly antics, sly innuendo and just about anything else that might induce laughter. Matthew Lewis Johnson is a comedy machine as the irrepressibly hungry (and hopelessly confused) Francis Henshaw, and he’s not the only one. At least a half-dozen of Cincy Shakes regulars dive into the hilarity headfirst. There’s also a great band playing tunes that sound like Pop numbers from the early 1960s; the story had been updated to the British seaside town of Brighton, where scandalous behavior was apparently the norm. Signing on to work for two bosses who have cross-purposes and connections that Francis doesn’t know about, he’s in for a raucous 24 hours as he tries to keep a lot of plates spinning — almost literally. Demand for tickets was strong from the opening last week (this show won awards in London’s West End as well as on Broadway in 2012, where James Corden played the manic Henshaw), so you’ll find two added performances to the announced schedule — this Saturday and next at 2 p.m. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

Tickets are even scarcer, apparently for The Producers at Cincinnati Landmark Productions new Incline Theater. That zany musical about trying to make money on a Broadway flop has been a big success, heavily subscribed from start to finish. You might try for the waiting list (513-241-6550), but don’t get your hopes up. Same goes for Commonwealth Theater Company’s production of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys at Northern Kentucky University, (859-572-5464) also in its final weekend. It’s a dinner theater production, and it looks like most of the seats at that table are taken, too.

Since you can’t get into either of those, how about a free interpretation of the movie Footloose on Saturday evening? The dance troupe Pones Inc. and Gorilla Cinema have joined up to present the film in a parking lot in Covington (at West Seventh and Washington streets) starting at 8 p.m. All the inspired dance scenes from the 1984 film about teens in a town where dancing is discouraged will be performed live, and you’re welcome to join in! No charge for admission; snacks and suds available for purchase. Check out the trailer:


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

 
 
by Rick Pender 06.12.2015 22 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 07:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: Laughs, a New World and Some Bad Guys

Several productions onstage at the moment have been so successful that tickets are scarce, if available at all: The opening show at Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, The Producers — and in fact, the Inclines three-show summer season — is heavily subscribed, so the chance of finding seats at the last minute is slim. The same goes for the Commonwealth Theatre Company’s dinner-theater production of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys at Northern Kentucky University. So let’s consider some other options.

I suspect your best bet for hilarity this weekend will be Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors, which opens tonight. Playwright Richard Bean struck Gold with his adaptation of a 17th-century comedy, The Servant of Two Masters: He shifted it to the 1960s in Brighton, England, and put a fast-talking chap seeking a quick buck and a bite to eat. His greed puts him in a sticky predicament when he ends up working for two rival masters. It’s full of physical humor, improvisation, audience interaction — and a skiffle band with live musicians. The show was a smash hit in London in 2011 (one reviewer called it “the funniest show in the Western World”). When it moved to Broadway in 2012 it was nominated for seven Tony Awards. Need an evening of laughter? This is the show for you. It’s onstage through July 5. Tickets: 513-381-2273

If you want something a tad more serious, you might want to check out The Tramp’s New World, presented by Diogenes Theatre Company at the Aronoff’s Fifth Third Bank Theater. It turns Charlie Chaplin’s “Tramp” character into the sole survivor of an atomic blast. It’s a multidisciplinary piece that uses projections, physical comedy, music and silent-film technique to tell the story of the Little Tramp trying to create a new world from the ruins of the old. The show is performed by its creator, actor Rob Jansen, a Cincinnati native who spent six years in Cincy Shakes’ acting company; he performed with several companies and turned in memorable performances in Know Theatre’s productions of Corpus Christi and Angels in America. The Tramp’s New World had a well-received run in Washington, D.C., at Cultural DC’s Mead Theatre Lab, and it’s onstage here through Saturday evening. Tickets: 513-621-2787 

At Falcon Theater in Newport, you can see Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, an unusual work imagining interactions between the real historical individuals who succeeded in shooting American presidents. It features fascinating music and a story line about the American Dream and what happens when people see it slipping beyond their grasp. It’s at Newport’s Monmouth Theatre, which Falcon now owns and is renovating. Assassins is onstage through Saturday evening. Tickets: 513-479-6783


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 06.05.2015 29 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
moonlight after midnight 2 (photo credit- andrew alexander)

Stage Door: Fringe and a Few Alternatives

Let’s start with the Cincinnati Fringe Festival. There are just two more days of performances, so you need to choose carefully. Based on what I’ve seen personally, I suggest you should seriously consider several shows still in the rotation: Moonlight After Midnight (Friday at 6:30 p.m., Saturday at 8:40 p.m.) is my favorite among this year’s productions, a well-written, well-acted two-hander that’s both romantic and thoughtful. Tales Too Tall for Trailers (Friday at 8:15 p.m.) is an entertaining hour of storytelling by Paul Strickland and Erika Kate MacDonald; Andy’s House of Blank, a script co-authored by Strickland during the winter run of Serials!, will be produced as a full-length show during the fall by Know Theatre. Edgar Allan (Saturday at 7:25 p.m.) is a fascinating piece inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, although it’s not one of his stories. But it’s slightly creepy and features two excellent performers, The Coldharts (aka Katie Hartman and Nick Ryan). For some great laughs, try Dog Show (Saturday at 9:10 p.m.), a fantasy from Animal Engine about what three dogs do when left at home alone. (Turns out it’s a French farce). To see some fine acting, I suggest you see Chemistry, another two-actor production, this one featuring Laurie Benning Roberts and Jay Hobson, recent members of the Cincinnati Playhouse’s acting intern company. She plays a chronic depressive; he portrays a manic and optimistic. They’re attracted, but their joint destiny is complicated and ultimately doomed. This is a serious and moving piece about mental illness. There are lots of other shows to see, and if you’d like to read full reviews of any of them, go to CityBeat’s Fringe review hub here.

If you prefer your theater a tad more mainstream than Fringe fare, you have several options. I particularly recommend Circle Mirror Transformation at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. It’s the final weekend for this show about five people engaged in an acting class in a small-town community center. What they learn is as much about themselves as it is about theater, and it’s sweet, profound and moving. The final performance is Saturday evening on the Shelterhouse stage. It’s the final production of the 2014-2015 season. Tickets: 513-241-3888

There are a couple of musicals you might want to catch, too. Showbiz Players is offering The Addams Family, based on the oddball cartoons of Charles Addams featured in The New Yorker (as well as an iconic TV show from the 1960s). It’s in its final weekend at the Carnegie in Covington. Tickets: 859-957-1940 … Also in Northern Kentucky, you can drop by the Monmouth Theatre in Newport to see Falcon Theater’s staging of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, an unusual work about the actual historical individuals who succeeded in shooting a president. It features fascinating music and a story line about the American Dream and what happens when people can’t grab ahold of it. It’s being presented through June 13. Tickets: 513-479-6783 … I’d like to recommend The Producers currently in production at the new Incline Theater in East Price Hill. It’s a delightfully silly show about showbiz. But the folks at Cincinnati Landmark Productions have so successfully marketed this opening production of its summer season that most performances are sold out. However, if you’re persistent, you might get your name on a waiting list by calling the box office: 513-241-6550.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here. 
 
 
by Rick Pender 05.29.2015 36 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 02:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
moonlight after midnight 2 photo credit- andrew alexander

Stage Door: Fringing, a Free Performance and More Good Choices

Cincy Fringe is hot and heavy right now. If you’re planning to attend and want to get the scoop on some shows you might enjoy over the weekend, head to the CityBeat's Fringe hub, where reviews are being posted by a team of writers that I’m managing. We go to see the opening performance of each show, write about it overnight and post it the next day. You won’t find more timely coverage anywhere else. There are several “Critic’s Picks” so far including METH: a love story, Moonlight After Midnight and Edgar Allan. With more than 40 productions available over the course of 12 days, there’s lots of choices. About two-thirds are up and running already. What are you waiting for?

Speaking of the Fringe, there’s a special event on Sunday evening in Washington Park that’s free and open to the public. It’s a staged concert reading of Cincinnati King, a new work by Playhouse Associate Artist KJ Sanchez. It’s about the history of Cincinnati music, racial equality, music pioneer Syd Nathan and his recording label King Records. The evening starts at 5 p.m. with music and theater activities for kids. At 5:30 the Philip Paul Quartet plays some of King Records’ greatest hits; Paul was a drummer at King Records. The concert reading happens on the stage at the Public Lawn at the north end of the park. All you have to do is show up! More info here.

There are shows elsewhere to be seen, depending on your preferences. Showbiz Players is offering a production of The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy at The Carnegie in Covington. It opens tonight and continues through June 7. All your favorite characters from the wacky cartoons of Charles Addams (which inspired the cult TV series that ran from 1964 to 1966) are onstage, singing and dancing: Gomez and Morticia, Wednesday and Pugsley, Uncle Fester and Lurch. Tickets: 859-957-1940

If you want something a little more serious, you might check out Falcon Theater’s production of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s Assassins at the Monmouth Theater in Newport. Believe it or not, it features many of the men and women who thought their path to the American dream was to shoot a president. It’s a powerful show about values and motivations, and it features some fascinating melodies by Sondheim, perhaps the greatest musical theater composer of our time. It’s onstage through June 13. Tickets: 513-479-6783

You can still catch Ensemble Theatre’s charming production of Outside Mullingar this weekend (it has to wrap up on Saturday to make way for ETC’s Fringe production, Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, performed by the theater’s intern company on June 4, 5 and 6). Mullingar features four outstanding actors — Joneal Joplin, Dale Hodges, Brian Isaac Phillips and Jenn Joplin — in a story about spirited Irish parents and children, about love and longing, and about finding a place in the world. Definitely worth seeing. Tickets: 513-421-3555

One other production still running that I recommend you make an effort to see is Circle Mirror Transformation at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It features five excellent actors playing everyday people in an acting class at a community center. Their efforts to find their talent lead to revelations more profound than any of them initially imagine. Great fun and thoughtful at the same time. Tickets: 512-421-3888


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

 
 
by Rick Pender 05.22.2015 43 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cappies recipients

Stage Door: Theater Critics of the Future?

There’s lots happening on Cincinnati stages this weekend — including excellent productions of Circle Mirror Transformation at the Cincinnati Playhouse and Outside Mullingar at Ensemble Theatre. The Cincinnati Fringe Festival is right around the corner. But I want to use this week’s Stage Door to highlight a glimpse of the future. Tonight the CAPPIE AWARDS will celebrate productions and performers from area high schools with a festive event at the Aronoff Center’s Procter & Gamble Hall.

Among the students being recognized are critics. That’s right: As part of the Cappies, teens from high schools visit other schools to critique performances. I have the privilege of handing out awards to the outstanding team of students from one particular high school. Starting last year, another recognition was added, sponsored by CityBeat, identifying the outstanding single critique written over the course of the year.

I received a half-dozen essays deemed by Cappies organizers to be the best pieces written during the 2014-2015 school year. (I did not know the names of the critics or their high schools when I was picking the winner.) At tonight’s ceremony, I’ll announce one I believe to be the best. You can read all of the reviews I considered in today’s blog, below. In addition to taking home a dandy trophy, the winner is invited to review a FringeNext show, one of three high school productions presented at the Cincy Fringe next week.

I urge you to read what these insightful young people have written about productions at other schools. It’s possible that someday one of these promising writers will be writing about shows and helping theater fans decide what to see onstage in Greater Cincinnati.


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



West Side Story at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy

REVIEWED BY COLE HANKINS, Loveland High School

Amidst a fearsome gang war, two lovers are forever torn apart by the pull of a pistol’s trigger. And as a girl mourns her horrible loss, she extends two hands, one to each side. In the left hand, a Jet; in the right, a Shark, two groups sworn enemies, now holding hands united under common loss. It is with this heart-wrenching image of solidarity that Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy’s production of West Side Story leaves its audience, and with this image that its excellence finally hits home.

An American theatrical classic, West Side Story takes place in New York City, where two local teenage gangs — the Caucasian “Jets” and Puerto Rican “Sharks” — are amidst a territorial dispute. Jets leader Riff plans to challenge the Sharks and leader Bernardo to a rumble in order to settle the issue. However, the plot thickens when fellow Jet Tony meets Bernardo’s sister Maria, and the two quickly fall in love. The result is ultimately a situation spun far out of control, a vengeful gunshot separating the lovers forever, and grave consequences to a merciless feud.

Fittingly, CHCA’s production started with a bang in “Prologue,” where the Jets’ and Sharks’ choreographic and combat execution splendidly set the tone for the action to come. The Jets were particularly sharp in songs such as “Jet Song” and the lighthearted character number “Gee, Officer Krupke.” Other show highlights included the upbeat, toe-tapping song “America,” and “Tonight,” where both Jets and Sharks alike came together for a powerful prelude to the action-packed “The Rumble.”

As headliner Tony, actor Will Ellis’s performance was defined by pristine tenor vocals and a captivating vibrato, mastering his character’s higher range. In solo songs like “Maria,” Ellis never shied away from the spotlight, boldly owning critical character moments. Opposite of Ellis, Allie Kuroff’s operatic soprano was equally impressive as the lovely Maria, clearly acting her finest in the show’s riveting finale. Both Ellis and Kuroff played their roles with a unique tenderness, providing an interesting presentation of two classic characters.

Likewise, actress Merrie Drees brought a thrilling flair to the flashy, spunky Anita. Drees’s powerfully sassy vocals proved phenomenal, and her ability to balance great comedic timing in earlier scenes with compelling emotion later on was marvelous, a dynamic lacking in other characters. As the charismatic Riff, Gabe Hoyer also crafted an extraordinary performance. Hoyer featured a mesmerizing gravity to his presence that added an unmistakable charm to Riff, making his Act I death one of the musical’s most tragic moments.

Tasked with a very challenging musical score, the CHCA Orchestra played fabulously. Despite drowning out certain vocalists at times, the pit kept accompaniment clean, crisp, and well polished throughout. Equally crisp and well polished was manager Kaitlyn Nickol’s stage crew, making scene changes promptly and effortlessly and contributing to the show’s timely pacing.

Doing justice to one of the most beloved musicals of all time is undoubtedly a daunting task. Yet as the lights faded on that aforementioned scene of unity, the cast of Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy’s recent production of West Side Story had accomplished exactly this. In a wildly successful effort, these talented performers honored not only the endearing charm of this theatrical legend, but also its strikingly poignant message.

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Larry A. Ryle High School

REVIEWED BY ELEANOR CONNIFF, Highlands High School

Although written nearly 400 years ago, the works of William Shakespeare are still revered today as some of the most influential in all of Western literature. The Bard's plays are usually an essential component of any English course. The classic tales are still performed often by actors and theatre companies alike. It is difficult to imagine something as old as the publication of Shakespeare's First Folio in 1623 continuing to remain relevant and entertaining to audiences. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, performed by Larry A. Ryle High School, students brought life to the timeless classic and gave a performance that stayed true to the tradition of Shakespeare with unique and original twists.

The story of A Midsummer Night's Dream centers around a love triangle, or rather, rectangle, between Hermia and Lysander, two star-crossed lovers; Demetrius, who loves Hermia, although unrequited; and Helena, who loves Demetrius. When Puck, a mischievous fairy from the woods, accidentally casts a spell on the two young men, he reverses their affections, causing both to fall in love with Helena. Chaos ensues as Puck attempts to reverse the mistaken spell and keep peace within both the fairy and the lovers' world.

In Larry A. Ryle's production of this classic story, the students met the challenge of Shakespeare with eagerness and understanding of the style, far beyond the years of most high school students. The production also paired the original Shakespearean text with 1950s style costumes, props, and characters in order to portray a commentary on the time period's stratified nature and to modernize the theme of unrequited love.

Under the pressures of a four-way love triangle, Willow Davis's portrayal of Helena stood out among the leading roles of the show as her characterization and poise set her apart. Helena’s nagging but endearing nature allowed the audience to laugh at her melodramatic soliloquies while also sympathizing with her broken heart. Samuel Greenhill stood out in his portrayal of Demetrius as well, creating a character that was both likable and antagonistic and keeping him true to the attitudes of the time period.

Of course, it is impossible to forget Macy Bates’s performance as the mischievous Puck. The youthful energy that she brought to the role was extremely refreshing and played well into her comedic timing, keeping the audience laughing again and again.

From a technical aspect, the show was extremely fine-tuned. Albert Harris's lighting was absolutely stunning, with a purposeful contrast in the lighting of the fairy world versus that of the real world. This choice, while subtle, was extremely impactful, as the set's minimalist style made the setting of the story extremely ambiguous and versatile, with the shift in lighting as the main indicator of shifting worlds.

Love and mischief are the same now as they were in the 1950s, and the same in the 1950s as they were in Shakespeare's time. Larry A. Ryle High School's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream portrayed these themes in a fresh and unique way, while also paying homage to the tradition of William Shakespeare.

 

Beauty and the Beast at McAuley High School

REVIEWED BY SAMANTHA TIMMERS, Scott High School

It’s not every day you see a humanoid clock charging at foes with a silver fork. Nor is it every day that an audience finds themselves yet again floored by a performance they've seen on the screen a hundred times before. Yet in this heartwarming rendition of Beauty and the Beast, McAuley High School charmed both adult and child once again through their humor and talent.

This stage rendition, written by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Linda Wolverton, is actually an adaptation of an adaptation. The Oscar-winning movie version with which the world is familiar came out in 1991, the inspiration stemming from the 1756 fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. In this third version, a beautiful and bookish Belle becomes the only hope for a long-forgotten castle staff and Prince, who are slowly becoming inanimate objects as a result of a spell caused by the Prince’s vanity. But can Belle learn to love a Beast who can barely learn to love anyone else?

Overall, McAuley created a magnificent performance that was filled with magic and surprises. The cast was bouncing with energy from start to finish, and their vocal quality was solid amongst all actors. The technical crew skillfully created a lively atmosphere that resonated with audience members, phenomenally recreating classic scenes. With glittering costumes and whimsical choreography, Beauty and the Beast did not disappoint.

Danielle Mouch was extraordinary in her performance as Belle. Her vocal quality was pristine and clear, effortlessly reaching every note as well as maintaining her character’s spunky yet thoughtful personality. Gregory Miller, a well-established actor in Cincinnati high school theater, outdid expectations in his performance as the Beast. Though he might have had hair and tusks masking his face, his powerful yet perfectly controlled voice said more than facial expressions ever could.

Audience favorites included the actors playing Lumière and Cogsworth. AJ Keith’s (Cogsworth) dry humor was expertly delivered and well received, his deadpans flawless and his mannerisms appropriate for the endearing yet bossy character. Benjamin Burton seemed to be made for the role of Lumière: his French accent was spot-on (and maintained throughout the length of the show), and his eye for comedy was terrific—all it took was a few suggestive hip movements to send the audience into uncontrollable laughter.

The crew provided dazzling effects for the show. The lighting was of almost professional quality, with a highlight being the mystical, Northern Lights-sequel brilliance that occurred during the Beast’s transformation. While the costumes seemed to closely follow the movie adaptation, they were of high quality and were well constructed and designed. The choreography flowed seamlessly, from the Mob’s parade around the auditorium to the Wolves’ deathly yet entrancing dance. Overall, McAuley’s crew was a force to be reckoned with, achieving seemingly magical transitions and mirages.

In this tale as old as time, McAuley High School enchanted youth and elderly alike with its whimsy personality and spellbinding characters, reminding everyone not to be deceived by appearances; there “may be something there that wasn't there before.”


The Mourner’s Bench at the School for Creative and Performing Arts

REVIEWED BY SARAH MORGAN, Mariemont High School

A single gunshot can end a life, create irreversible emotional damage, and shatter even the closest of relationships in an instant. The School for Creative and Performing Arts’ dark, poignant, and haunting performance of The Mourners’ Bench explored the crippling emotional aftermath of a deplorable tragedy.

The first act opened up to an intense argument between siblings Bobby (Bradley Mingo) and Melissa (Nina Walker). Twenty years after they witnessed their father shoot their mother, Evelyn, in a murder-suicide, Bobby and Melissa have still not healed. While Melissa has attempted to move on with her life, marrying a nice man and bearing two children, Bobby is trapped in a state of perpetual dependency, turning to alcohol and eventually buying the childhood house in which the tragedy occurred. Mingo and Walker perfectly captured the essence of a tumultuous sibling relationship, from emotionally depleting shouting matches to interrupting one another mid-sentence. The two were able to adroitly deal with dark themes, including murder, rape, and suicide, by presenting an air of deep gravity and maturity to their lines.

Act Two, set immediately after Evelyn’s funeral, featured her sisters Caroline (Mallory Kraus) and Wilma (Danielle Brockmann) bickering about the future of their niece and nephew. Kraus and Brockmann both give performances rife with emotion, utilizing familiar body language to heighten the intimacy of their conversation. The timing of their dialogue was natural and seemed completely organic, inviting the viewer into their quarrel. Brockmann approached her role as Wilma with a gentle softness, providing a foil for Kraus’s seemingly callous, unemotional Caroline. The scene ended touchingly, with Kraus playing the piano while Brockmann watched, a testament to the boundless power of redemption.

Act Three centered around elderly, married couple Joe (Cameron Baker) and Sarah (Maggie Hoffecker). They moved into Bobby and Melissa’s childhood home immediately after the tragedy and become inextricably tangled in the history of the house they have purchased. The tenderness between Hoffecker and Baker truly reflected that of a couple on the brink of death; while just sitting next to each other on a couch, they seem comfortable and at ease, with no trace of awkwardness. By the end of the scene, sniffling could be heard throughout the theater as the pair gazed out of a window, contemplating life’s transience.

SCPA’s theater was a room with seating on all four sides, providing an intimate view of the stage and connecting the audience to the characters. The set was sparse: a living room furnished with an unadorned couch and a dilapidated piano. The simpleness of the set allowed the raw emotion of the actors to shine through, creating a memorable performance.

All in all, SCPA’s production of The Mourners’ Bench was an evocative and haunting testament to the power of loss, recovery, and redemption.

 

Sweeney Todd at Taylor High School

REVIEWED BY MADISON LUKEN, St. Ursula Academy 

A trip to the barber never seemed so dangerous than in Taylor High School’s production of Sweeney Todd, where deceit leads to a menagerie of questionable pies, ineffective Italian barbers and a tempest of revenge, violence and tragedy.

An ordinary barber, husband and young father, Benjamin Barker has his world turned upside down when he is thrown in jail on a trumped-up charge that costs him his wife and daughter. Escaping prison, Barker renames himself Sweeney Todd and moves back into his shop on Fleet Street when he discovers the suicide of his wife Lucy. Out for blood, he teams up with the pie baker below his flat, Mrs. Lovett, to take revenge on the ones responsible — Judge Turpin and Beadle Bamford. Leaving a trail of deception, misery and gore in his wake, Sweeney Todd becomes the demon barber of Fleet Street in this haunting musical thriller.

From the smoke that billowed from Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop to the synchronization of the company in “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir,” the unwavering commitment of both the cast and crew of this show did not go unnoticed in both details and central events. Every aspect of the show came together to create a product of suspense, drama, and overall beauty as an elaborate set, apt lighting and emotional vocals blended with the energy of everyone on and off stage.

Despite the incredible amount of music and its difficulty, the leads of the show, Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett, performed by Antonio Ortiz and Annie Gerth respectively, conquered the tumultuous trials of Steven Sondheim almost flawlessly. In addition to this vocal aptitude, Gerth was able to portray the comedic elements of Lovett through her accent and equally strong acting propensity. Reciprocated by Ortiz, the two radiated a brilliant, psychotic chemistry that was always present, especially in songs such as “A Little Priest.”

A buttress to the leading couple, the ensemble floated eerily onto the stage relentlessly, booming out “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” and “City on Fire” without wavering. Additionally appearing repeatedly, the Beggar Woman, played by Eliana Batsakis, brought further skill to light both vocally and in her physical acting as she drifted across the stage, crawling in the shadows of London, cackling manically and uttering desperate warnings until she met her demise.

Behind the scenes, this show demanded both sets and costumes reflective of the dark, dirty setting of 19th-century London. In both areas, demands were met, as buildings faded into darkness under a smoky pall and windows appeared cracked in places like Fogg’s Asylum while their inhabitants skulked about in ripped clothes with faces scorched with the grime of the streets. The crew was also able to create credible deaths with their use of stage blood.

Altogether, Taylor’s production was consistent and energetic in every scene of the show, creating a thrilling and gripping story through its performers and behind-the-scenes crew. It was ultimately well deserving of the standing ovation it received.


Once Upon a Mattress at Ursuline Academy

REVIEWED BY CARISSA SAFFIRO, Cincinnati Christian Schools

From childhood one is taught that princesses are the immaculately beautiful creatures that epitomize all that is grace and beauty. Who could imagine that the next princess of a medieval land would be an uncouth and unruly woman from the swamps? Ursuline Academy’s recent production of Once Upon a Mattress explores what happens when an ill-mannered yet charming woman steps — or rather swims — into court looking for a prince.

Written in the 1950s, Once Upon a Mattress is a musical comedy adapted from Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.” The musical was written by Jay Thompson, Marshall Barer, and Dean Fuller with lyrics and music by Marshall Barer and Mary Rodgers, respectively. The show features Princess Winnifred of the swamplands who comes to marry Dauntless the Drab, despite all the women before her who have been turned down by his tyrannical mother. Following the classic tale, the queen puts a pea under twenty mattresses to determine whether Winnifred is a true princess.

With intricate music and challenging characters, the leads of Once Upon a Mattress certainly had their work cut out for them. The ludicrously uncouth yet lovable Princess Winnifred was played by Kennedy Carstens. From the moment she stepped on the stage the audience was in the palm of her hand and her vocal performance was unequalled by any cast member in the show. CJ Allen had the challenge of playing the role of Dauntless the Drab and chose to play this arguably flat character with a charming and comedic twist. The audience’s narrator and another lead actor in the show was the Minstrel, played by Arjun Sheth. Sheth not only brought the audience through the show with a confidence and charisma, but also had the vocal range required for the role.

King Sextimus the Silent, played by Michael Viox, was another leading force in the show, although because of an old curse he was unable to speak for most of the musical. However, his inability to communicate with words in no way inhibited his connection with the audience or his stage presence. His counterpart and friend, the Jester, played by Claire Westover, played alongside Viox with excellent chemistry but also showed a deeper side of her character as well as impressive tapping ability in her song “Very Soft Shoes.” Carmen Carigan must also be commended for her performance as the Wizard. Although in a smaller part, Carigan has the ability to leave the audience clapping and laughing hysterically every time she stepped off stage.

The most unique thing about Ursuline, however, is the wealth of talent in their dancers. The dancing chorus was always together whether they were doing ballet or tap. With dancers such as Keely Wissel on point and other incredible soloists such as Caroline Nymberg, the dancers stood out as one of the highlights of the show.

The technical aspects of the show seemed to move effortlessly. There were few to no microphone errors, although the cast was working with fifteen wireless mikes, and the lighting was flawless. Arguably the most unique and ingenious part of the show was the costuming. Almost completely student-made, the costumes were imaginative and well put together. In the chorus, each lady’s costume had a corresponding knight’s costume, just one example of the color and brightness of the show.

The costumes, actors, and dancers certainly mirrored the fun, bright, and slightly unconventional style of this production and brought the audience for an enjoyable ride.

 
 
by Rick Pender 05.15.2015 50 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: Take a Trip to Ireland?

If you debating which show you might go see this weekend, my strong recommendation is Ensemble Theatre's Outside Mullingar (ETC, 5/6-24). It's a great script by John Patrick Shanley (who wrote the award-winning play Doubt and the award-winning screenplay Moonstruck). It's set in Ireland, so the characters are overflowing with dry wit. And the actors playing them are a quartet of the performers who Cincinnati audiences love: Joneal Joplin (Scrooge for many years at the Playhouse) is a crusty old man who might not pass the family farm on to his more sensitive son, played by Cincinnati Shakespeare's artistic director Brian Phillips. Dale Hodges, a respected local stage veteran, plays Aiofe, the owner of an adjacent farm; Jenn Joplin (Joneal's daughter) is Aoife's grumpy, opinionated daughter. This is a tale of parents and children, but there's a lovely, stumbling love story at the heart of the play, and it's that's emotionally satisfying. The production was staged by Ed Stern, now retired as the Cincinnati Playhouse's artistic director. It's onstage through May 24. Tickets: 513-421-3555.


Brian Phillips did double-duty recently rehearsing to perform inOutside Mullingar while staging  Henry V at Cincy Shakes. As the title suggests, this is one of the Bard's history plays, and it's a chest-thumping one about warfare and England's claim to power. The company is midway through a multi-year project to stage all of Shakespeare's tales of the kings of England in chronological order. That might sound a tad stodgy, but this one is full of fighting and bluster, and there's a thread of comic relief, too. Let's call it the Shakespearean equivalent of an action movie. It's onstage throughMay 30. Tickets: 513-381-2273.


You'll find two plays worth seeing at the Cincinnati Playhouse this weekend. One just opened last night (I haven't seen it yet): It's Annie Baker's award-winner, Circle Mirror Transformation, about some folks taking an acting class at a community center. Their lessons about performing expand to be come life lessons. It's a warm, thoughtful play in the Shelterhouse. On the Marx mainstage, you'll find the very funny Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, inspired by Chekhov but from the zany perspective of Christopher Durang, you don't need any theater history to be laughing out loud as three adult siblings from a dysfunctional family try to keep their balance. Tickets: 513-421-3888.


If you're eagerly awaiting the start of the Cincinnati Fringe (it kicks off on May 26), you should stop by Know Theatre for the American premiere of the Bane Trilogy with performances this weekend and next. It's three monologues about a guy who shoots first and doesn't ask questions in a one-musician film noir comic trilogy. You can experience them sequentially or out of order. Performer Joe Bone is the Guinness world record holder for the most characters portrayed by one actor in a performance; he's accompanied musically by Ben Roe. This show has a heavy-duty buzz: People were telling me about it weeks ago, so I'm sharing the news with you — although I haven't fit it into my schedule yet. It's running for two more weeks. Tickets: 513-300-5669.


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



 
 
by Rick Pender 05.07.2015 58 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 02:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
sonia and masha mourning their lives - vanya & sonia & masha & spike - cincinnati playhouse - photo sandy unerwoodjpg

Stage Door: Trips Down Memory Lane

If you're feeling nostalgic, Cincinnati stages have several offerings for you to enjoy. Let's start with Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It's set in the present, but Vanya, one of three angsty siblings, thinks that contemporary life is missing the point, and he yearns for things he loved during his childhood in the 1950s. He love them to the point that he's spurred to a 10-minute rant (by a feckless actor who pays more attention to texting than the people in the room with him) about all that life is lacking today. It's a very funny moment in Christopher Durang's award winning play. I gave it a Critic's Pick in my CityBeat review. Tickets: 513-421-3888

The production of Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike wraps up with the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun." If you'd like a whole evening of Beatles tunes, you need to be at the Aronoff Center in Downtown Cincinnati on Monday evening for RAIN: A Tribute to the Beatles. It's more than two hours of music, covering the progression from "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to "I Am the Walrus," with more than 30 numbers being authentically performed. The live, multi-media spectacle covers the entire career of the band and its four famous musicians. These guys pay attention to details in recreating the music and the mood. Tickets: 513-621-2787

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati just opened a production of John Patrick Shanley's Outside Mullingar that will make anyone who's Irish long to head to the Emerald Isle. It's about generational differences and the possibility of love between two unlikely souls. What will make this one good is the cast: Joneal Joplin (Scrooge for many years at the Playhouse) plays a crusty old man, and Dale Hodges, one of Cincinnati's best professional actresses, is his outspoken neighbor. Jen Joplin (Joneal's daughter in real life) plays Hodges' daughter in the show; and the old man's son is brought to life by Brian Isaac Phillips from Cincinnati Shakespeare. It's being staged by Ed Stern, former artistic director at the Cincinnati Playhouse. With that many theater veterans working on it, the show is sure to be worth watching. Lots of people must think so, since ETC has already announced an extension of the show to May 30. Tickets: 513-421-3555

Cincinnati Music Theater can always be depended on to do a good job with a big musical. Our city's most ambitious community theater takes on the lighthearted Gershwin tuner, Crazy for You, which will be staged at the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. It's onstage for two weekends, through May 16.

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

 
 
by Rick Pender 05.04.2015 61 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Call Board: Theater News

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's 30th season will present three world premieres, the revival of a great musical and Cinderella

While other Cincinnati theaters hustle to get their seasons announced in order to ramp up subscription sales, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati has built enough faith with its audiences that they'll start signing up sight unseen. Artistic Director Lynn Meyers tells regulars that they'll be pleased, and they take her at her word; she adds that if they aren't happy with the shows she picks, they can have their money back. No one asks for it.

Of course, ETC presents shows that haven't appeared elsewhere in our region yet, typically premieres that have only recently been onstage in New York City. And they're given productions with great acting and beautiful design so well assembled that many shows have extended runs. (That's happening with the show concluding the current season, John Patrick Shanley's Outside Mullingar, which opens on Wednesday with a stellar cast that includes local stage veteran Dale Hodges and Cincy Shakes Artistic Director Brian Phillips. ETC has announced it will run a week longer than initially indicated, now closing on May 30.)

For its 30th season, ETC has assembled three regional premieres and a revival of a musical it staged to great acclaim in 1999, with a TBA slot (March 22-April 10, 2016) that's likely to bring another show that's been a recent Broadway or off-Broadway hit. Here's the lineup announced over the weekend:

Luna Gale (Sept. 8-27, 2015) by Rebecca Gilman: The show recently received the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, and it was considered by many to be a strong contender for the Pulitzer Prize in drama. It portrays the moral dilemma facing a social worker with a crushing caseload and personal baggage. She must decide whether to leave a child with neglectful drug addict parents or place her with a grandmother who is a religious zealot. It's a complex and disturbing work about faith and forgiveness that doesn't offer easy answers for the lifelong after-effects of abuse. Its first production was in January 2014 at the Chicago's Goodman Theatre. It's slated for productions at Cleveland Playhouse and Actors Theatre of Louisville in the coming season, but ETC's happens first.

Buyer and Cellar (Oct. 13-Nov. 1, 2015) by Jonathan Tollins: The one-many comedy was a big New York hit in 2013, telling the story of an out-of-work actor who takes on the odd job of playing shopkeeper for Barbra Streisand in the basement of her lavish Malibu estate. It's a fanciful imagining of what one does with decades of memories and acres of memorabilia. Performing the piece will be Nick Cearley, a Cincinnati native who has appeared at ETC in next to normal and The Great American Trailer Park Musical.

Cinderella (Dec. 2-Jan. 3, 2016) by Joe McDonough, David Kisor and Fitz Patton: ETC's holiday show is a remount of its contemporary take on the classic fairy tale that demonstrates that being smart can be truly beautiful.

Grounded (Jan. 26-Feb. 14, 2016) by George Brant: It's another solo show, described by one critic as "ardently humane," about a woman who's an ace pilot reassigned to operate a remote-controlled drone from a windowless trailer near Las Vegas. It's a hit at New York City's Public Theater right now featuring Anne Hathaway in a production directed by Julie Taymor. Hunting terrorists by day and returning to her family at night, the boundaries begin to blur between the desert where she lives and the one she patrols half a world away in Iraq.

Violet (May 3-22, 2016). Jeanine Tesori's musical won the Drama Critics Circle Award and the Lucille Award for best musical when it premiered off-Broadway in 1997. It was a local award winner, too, but not seen by many who have come to love ETC's offerings. The score features American Roots tunes as well as Folk and Gospel styles. Violet's story is set in the 1960s; she is a young woman disfigured in a childhood accident who dreams of a miraculous transformation through the power of faith provided by a televangelist. It was one of ETC's best early productions, and it's a great choice to cap off a celebration of three decades of fine theater.

Subscriptions are currently available. Call 513-421-3555 for information.

 
 
 
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