CityBeat Blogs - Arts http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-37.html <![CDATA[Stage Door: Race and Urban Living on Local Stages]]>

Two shows on local stages are dealing with top-of-mind issues of race and urban living, one at the Cincinnati Playhouse, the other at Ensemble Theatre.

Last evening the Playhouse opened its production of Tracey Scott Wilson's Buzzer. Wilson is a playwright who's not afraid to get at prickly issues of contemporary life (read more here), and that's what she does in this piece that could be set in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine. (It's actually in New York City, but that doesn't make it less relevant.) Jackson returns to his onetime childhood neighborhood, once neglected and now trendy; he's black, girlfriend Suzy is white, and so is Jackson's troubled friend Don, out of rehab yet again and needing a place to stay. Their triangle is a toxic mix with a troubled past that's exacerbated by life in a neighborhood where black and white relations are strained. The Playhouse is offering talkbacks after each performance to discuss issues raised, and there will be a panel discussion focused on OTR's housing challenges here in Cincinnati on Saturday evening at 6 p.m. My take: This show is more about personal relationships that aren't entirely honest, even though there is constant conversation about "no secrets." The actors in this tense drama are vividly real, unpredictable and vulnerable; you'll feel like they're people you know. (Through April 19.) Tickets: 513-421-3888

The second show that's heating up conversations about race is ETC's staging of Dominic Morisseau's award-winning play, Detroit ’67 (reviewed here). While the story has a historical setting — the story of family aspirations and disappointments unfolds against the backdrop of the Motor City's race riots almost 50 years ago — it almost feels ripped from current news stories about unrest stemming from police brutality in Ferguson, Mo. Five actors portray some colorful and occasionally humorous characters from the era involving the family dynamic between a brother and sister who differ about making ends meet in a challenging environment. Motown tunes from the ’60s are the soundtrack for a story that's often painful but ultimately hopeful. (Through April 5.) Tickets: 513-421-3555

Know Theatre opens Hearts Like Fists tonight at its Jackson Street stage in Over-the-Rhine. Adam Szymkowicz's comic-book-inspired action adventure has some fine local actors as the Crimefighters, female superheroes who are out to stop Dr. X, on a mission to murder happy couples in their sleep using a deadly serum that goes straight to the heart. When the show was staged in New York in 2012, the New York Times called the show's comic hybrid of parody and punches "madcap" and "hysterical." That's what Know will be striving for, through April 25. Tickets: 513-300-5669

If you are interested in seeing actors, singers and dancers who are on their way to professional careers, you might want to catch Senior Showcases from the drama and musical theater programs at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. The drama majors, readying their piece for trips to Los Angeles (for potential TV work) and New York City, will perform today at 2 and 7 p.m. at Patricia Corbett Theatre. (Admission is free.) The triple threats graduating from the musical theater program offer their showcase twice on Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m. as they prepare to shine for Broadway producers and casting agents in New York next week. Admission is free but reservations are required: 513-556-4183.  

Planning ahead? The popular touring production of The Lion King returns to Cincinnati where it's been a big hit twice, in 2003 and 2007. The magnificent musical about good overcoming evil and youth finding maturity opens on Tuesday for a four-week run at the Aronoff Center. (Through April 26.) Tickets: 513-621-2787


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

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<![CDATA[FotoFocus Sponsors Upcoming Robert Mapplethorpe Symposium]]>

Last night before photographer Roe Ethridge's FotoFocus Lecture at Cincinnati Art Museum, FotoFocus' Artistic Director Kevin Moore announced the organization is co-presenting a two-day symposium on photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's work with the Contemporary Arts Center on Oct. 23-24.

It will mark the 25th anniversary of CAC's presentation of The Perfect Moment, the retrospective of Mapplethorpe's work that prompted conservative elements — led by then-Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. — to pursue criminal charges for alleged obscenity. (Some of Maplethorpe's work in the show was sexually graphic.) A Hamilton County jury cleared the museum of all charges.

Specifics for the symposium have yet to be announced, although indications are speakers from around the country will be invited. Also not yet announced is what, if any, works by Mapplethorpe will be shown and in what context.

Information should go on on the FotoFocus site when firm.

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Memory Lane and Beyond]]>

I took a trip to my senior year in high school when I attended the opening of Detroit '67 by Dominique Morisseau at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati on Wednesday. It's set in Detroit during that city's 1967 "race riots," but they are the backdrop for a family drama: Sister and brother Chelle and Lank are trying to make ends meet by running an after-hours club in the basement of their family home, now theirs since the death of their parents. Chelle is satisfied with the status quo; Lank dreams of owning his own legit bar. But they'd need to sell the house to make that possible, so they're at an impasse. He's impetuous and makes moves to buy a local joint without her knowledge, only to have the destructive riots threaten his deal. More personal complications make the story interesting, if a bit too pat. Motown tunes — Lank buys an eight-track player to replace his sister's turntable — make this production a walk down memory lane for Baby Boomers. But Detroit '67 will grab everyone because the events of five decades ago are eerily and sadly similar to recent disturbances in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere. (Through April 5; tickets: 513-421-3555)

Peter and the Starcatcher at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a playful and over-the-top imagining of the origins of Peter Pan. It's not a very adult cup of tea; it's more a swig of giggle-inducing rum. But if you yearn to head back to childhood for a few hours — playing with words, making fart jokes and having an adventure "against impossible odds" — this production is a joyous must-see. (Through April 4; tickets: 513-421-3888)

The Marvelous Wonderettes was a big hit for Ensemble Theatre a few years back. They staged the original story of girls singing Doo-Wop hits in 1958 and coming together again in 1968 for more old tunes, and did well with several sequels that kept audiences eagerly coming back for more. The show is now being presented at the Covedale Center in West Price Hill, and it has a nostalgic draw for people who grew up with those tunes. But the production's characterizations of Cindy Lou, Betty Jean, Missy and Suzy feel a little shallow, reducing the potential charm of the show. Nevertheless, it's a lot of fun if you love the music of the era and remember your own angst about boyfriends and girlfriends. (Through April 4; tickets: 513-241-6550)

Cincinnati Shakespeare's very pleasant production of an adaptation of Little Women continues through Saturday evening; tickets: 513-381-2273. The musical based on Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel about the March sisters is onstage through Saturday, too, at Newport's Stained Glass Theatre, produced by Footlighters, Inc., a community theater; tickets: 859-652-3849.

The moving play based on The Diary of Anne Frank is being presented this weekend by the School for Creative and Performing Arts with performances remaining on Friday and Saturday evening at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. It's the powerful story of a Jewish family who went into hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II; Anne, the diarist who recorded their tribulations, died at age 15 in a concentration camp. Tickets: here.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
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<![CDATA[Call Board: Theater Seasons ]]> Every year, BROADWAY IN CINCINNATI brings to downtown Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center a series of touring shows that got started in New York City. This year marks the 20th year shows have been presented at the Aronoff. Today the presenters released details about what’s in store starting September and running through May 2016. There will be several recent Tony Award-winning productions coming our way: Kinky Boots (winner of six awards in 2013), Pippin (winner of four awards in 2013), Newsies (its score and choreography won awards in 2012) and one of the longest running Broadway revivals of all time, Cabaret (which won eight awards back in 1966 and more for much-lauded revivals in 1998 and 2014). Here’s the lineup:

Motown The Musical (Sept. 8-20) is the story of how Berry Gordy journeyed from being a featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music entrepreneur who founded Motown. His label launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and many more. The show premiered on Broadway two years ago and had a run of more than 700 performances.

Pippin (Oct. 13-18) was an early work by Stephen Schwartz, who made his name with shows as varied as Godspell and Wicked. Pippin began a five-year run in 1972 with a production that won five Tony Awards. It’s had several well-received Broadway revivals: The most recent in 2014 (now touring) was recognized as the season’s best revival with its extraordinary acrobatics, magical feats and great songs. It’s the story of a young prince in the Middle Ages on a death-defying journey to find meaning in his existence. His choices include a happy but simple life or a big flash of glory. With a clever circus filter, the show uses spectacular choreography — and features great songs such as “Magic To Do,” “Glory,” and “Morning Glow.”

Cast of the national touring production of Pippin
Photo: Terry Shapiro

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
(Nov. 24-Dec. 6) arrives right before Thanksgiving to kick off the holidays. It’s about two showbiz buddies who put on a production in a picturesque New England inn and find romance in the process. The tunes from this show are icons in the American Songbook (“Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “Sisters” and “Blue Skies”) as well as seasonal numbers like “Happy Holiday” and, of course, the title song.

Kinky Boots (Jan. 5-17, 2016) was named the best musical of 2013 by the Tonys, and it landed six more trophies (it had 13 nominations), so it’s a certified hit. (In fact, it’s still running on Broadway and a London production is in the works.) Maybe you remember the 2005 movie it’s based on about a struggling shoe factory that “reboots” itself to manufacture footwear for drag queens. For the stage version, it’s been tricked out with an upbeat score by Pop star Cyndi Lauper

Kinky Boots
Photo: Matthew Murphy

If/Then (Feb. 2-7, 2016) is a 2014 Broadway musical about living in New York today — and contemplating the possibilities of tomorrow. The show’s creative team made its mark with Next to Normal (winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award); that show was a big hit (and revival) for Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. If/Then follows two possible life paths for Elizabeth (played on Broadway by Idina Menzel), and it paints a moving portrait of the lives people lead, as well as the lives they might have led.

Newsies The Musical (March 1-13, 2016) was a 2012 crowd-pleasing musical based on a 1992 Disney film. It recounts real events from 1899 when a bunch of orphaned and homeless boys who hawked newspapers on street corners stood up to the power elite, personified by Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World. Their spunk and tenacity — aided by Gov. Theodore Roosevelt — resulted in a compromise that made a difference for the hardworking kids. The show has a great score and eye-popping choreography, both of which won Tony Awards.

Cabaret (May 10-22, 2016). It’s hard to believe but this show has been around for just about a half-century, winning awards every time it’s been staged on Broadway. The production coming to town is from the 2014 New York staging by Sam Mendes, director of Skyfall and American Beauty, and Rob Marshall (whose film of another Kander & Ebb musical, Chicago, was the 2002 Oscar-winning best picture, and who recently dazzled musical theater lovers with a fine rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.)

While the Broadway in Cincinnati season (sponsored by Fifth Third Bank and presented by TriHealth) is great news — the presentation of so many recent Broadway hits is a step up from several seasons with shows that hadn’t even made it to Broadway — but there’s lots more theater that’s been announced recently. Here are some quick rundowns:

The musical theater and drama programs at UC’S COLLEGE-CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC have announced mainstage productions for 2015-2016. David Edgar’s epic drama Pentecost will be at Patricia Corbett Theater on Oct. 1-4; the same venue will be the site for a coming-of-age comedy by Eugene O’Neill, Ah! Wilderness (Feb. 11-14, 2016). Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical Carousel will get a big-stage production at Corbett Auditorium (Oct. 20-Nov.1). The most exciting CCM news for 2016 is that the program has obtained the rights for one of the first university productions of American Idiot, based on Green Day’s Grammy-winning album of the same name. The show, nominated for a Tony as 2010’s best musical, will be presented at Patricia Corbett Theater (March 3-13, 2016), staged by Aubrey Berg, the musical theater program’s chair.

The 2015-2016 academic theater season at NORTHERN KENTUCKY UNIVERSITY has also been announced. It will start with Ken Ludwig’s theater-based comedy Moon Over Buffalo (Sept. 24-Oct. 4, Corbett Theatre), and continue with Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (Oct. 20-25) in the Stauss black box theatre. Back at the Corbett Theatre, Ahrens and Flaherty’s whimsical musical, Seussical will be staged (Nov. 12-22). For 2016, productions will include the George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart 1930 comedy, Once in a Lifetime (Feb. 18-28, Corbett Theatre); George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion from 1913 (March 29-April 3, Stauss Theatre), later adapted into My Fair Lady; and Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s fairytale mash-up, Into the Woods (April 21-May 1, Corbett Theatre).

North of Cincinnati at Springboro’s LACOMEDIA DINNER THEATRE, 2015 marks the 40th anniversary season at Ohio’s only combination theater and restaurant. It’s already under way with a staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific (through May 3), followed by The Addams Family (May 7-June 28), The Little Mermaid (July 8-Aug. 30), The Church Basement Ladies Last Potluck Supper (Sept. 3-Oct. 31) and A Christmas Story (Nov. 4-Dec. 31) for the holidays. The venue also presents a lunch-and-learn series for kids (featuring The True Story of the Three Little Pigs) and a concert series featuring an Elvis impersonator, music in the style of the Van Dells and a family of Gospel singers. Info: http://www.lacomedia.com.

A bit farther away and in the more or less the opposite direction, ACTORS THEATRE OF LOUISVILLE will begin its 2015-2016 season with August Wilson’s Seven Guitars (Sept. 1-20), then Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale (Oct. 6-25). Having seen The Hypocrites perform a daffy version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance early in 2014, I’m glad to hear that the inventive group will return to re-imagine H.M.S. Pinafore (Nov. 17-Dec. 13). Early in 2016, Actors Theatre will stage two shows already familiar to Cincinnati Playhouse audiences: Amy Herzog’s comedic drama 4000 Miles (Jan. 5-31, 2016) and Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher (Jan. 26-Feb. 17, 2016), a show that’s currently onstage locally at our own regional theater. The 40th anniversary of the venerable Humana Festival of New American Plays runs March 2 to April 10, 2016, typically featuring a half-dozen world premieres. Actors Theatre also presents two holiday-related shows for 2015: Dracula for Halloween (Sept. 9-Nov. 1, 2015) and A Christmas Carol (Nov. 24-Dec. 23, 2015). Info: http://www.actorstheatre.org.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
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<![CDATA[Rondle West Piece Finds New Home]]>

One of my favorite Cincinnati artists is Rondle West, whose "assemblage sculptures" round up all manner of strange found objects (often toys) and adheres them, sometimes like appendages, to the surfaces of "host" objects. They can look like something ready to start walking or like shelving that has been attacked by miniature aliens. The finished work often has a monochromatic, other-worldly appearance.

I was hopeful his association last year with Miller Gallery would lead to a large, dramatic, high-profile one-person show, but it didn't. Now, the 2014 piece "My Date With Barbie" has turned up in an unexpected but welcome place, the front window of Electronic Arts at 1428 Race St. It's just the right touch of creative weirdness needed for an OTR store window, and it's great to look at its pinkness as other buildings reflect on the glass and add their own richness to the view. Definitely worth a visit.

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<![CDATA[REVIEW: 'Figurative Folklore' at Covington Arts]]>

Selena Reder, a former contributor to CityBeat's visual arts coverage, has curated the current Figurative Folklore exhibition at the City of Covington's gallery at 2 W. Pike St. It's devoted to six artists whose figural work tells a strong narrative. Particularly noteworthy at the show is the work of two artists who do three-dimensional work.

Ken Page brings a sense of fun an visual playfulness to his "Hole in the Wall," a sculpture that is like a small wall shelf. On that shelf a boy — carved and painted — has apparently cut a circle out of the painted "brick" wall behind him and is attempting to "roll" it away. It is not a kinetic piece, thus the necessity for those air quotes as the sense of movement is illusory. It's quite well done.

The absolute standout of this show is Stephanie Cooper — who has six pieces, some quite large. These are wood sculptures with added elements. I hate to call them carvings, as that implies folk art and these use folk art as a reference point to build from.

Her "He Who Sups With the Devil Needs a Long Spoon" features a dapper, well-dressed man at a dining table (he looks a bit like Ronald Reagan) holding a spoon. You can hand-crank the spoon to get some movement. And "Hermes" — a large piece with a height of 76 inches — is a scary wooden figure from whose head sprouts a tangle of twigs and roots, like a bird's nest.

Her other contributions, too, are good.

This show is on display through March 27. Gallery hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. You may find a note on the door to call a city employee to come and unlock the place (a number is provided), but it's worth it. And the employee's office is just a short distance away — I waited at most five minutes for her arrival.

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<![CDATA[CAC Unveils New Lobby This Weekend]]>

The Contemporary Arts Center will open its renovated lobby to the public Saturday after a members preview Friday night. The $1.1 million upgrade includes a new lounge area, a much-needed cafe and overall artsy facelift.

Local architecture and design firm firm FRCH Design Worldwide reimagined the interior space, which was under construction since Jan. 6.

The CAC's updated lobby features more seating and gathering spaces, a relocated welcome desk and, yes, more art. Previously exhibited mostly upstairs, artworks will now be displayed around the ground-level. Of course, the museum's excellent gift shop is still a part of the lobby, just more centrally located now.

Collective CAC, the museum's new cafe, comes courtesy Dustin Miller and Dave Hart of local favorite Collective Espresso. Located where the gift shop used to be in the corner of the lobby, Collective CAC will serve signature coffees along with breakfast, lunch and dessert items, plus beer and wine. Visitors can sit at communal tables or grab a drink at the bar.

The new CAC gallery hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday-Monday, closed Tuesday and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Friday. Collective CAC will be open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Tuesday and 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Friday.

The CAC celebrated its 75th anniversary in May 2014.

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Not Parrots — It's Pirates!]]>

I seldom laugh out loud when I'm watching a comedy, but I found myself doing just that more than once at last night's opening of Peter and the Starcatcher at the Cincinnati Playhouse. You can read about this show and the appeal of Peter Pan here, but let me simply say this is a deliriously silly but wholly heartfelt prequel about the origins of the boy who "won't grow up." This award-winning play uses simple theatrics, not special effects, to work its magic, and the Playhouse cast of a dozen quick-change performers dive into the wacky storytelling with zest and zeal. Everyone is having a good time, perhaps Tom Story most of all, playing "Black Stache" (the pirate who will become Captain Hook) who spews malapropisms and extravagant posturing: "There's a poet in these pirate veins," he announces. The laugh-inducing moment that sets up his subsequent need for a hook is both ghastly and breathlessly funny, not to mention milked for all it's worth. Everyone in the cast has moments of fun. This is imaginative storytelling and extravagant theatricality at its best. You'll have fun if you bring a kid or two; but even if you don't, go by yourself and feel like a kid again. Through April 4. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

A show that's stuck with me since last June's Fringe Festival, Katie Hartman’s ghostly and mournful song cycle, The Legend of White Woman Creek, is back for a pair of performances at Know Theatre tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. It's the tale of Anna Morgan Faber, a white woman captured then slowly absorbed into the Cheyenne tribe in 1860s Kansas. Hartman sings about a desperate, lonely woman who finally finds happiness only to have it it brutally snatched away. “It’s not a stand-up-and-cheer kind of show,” I wrote in my review. Instead, “it’s artfully crafted and professionally delivered in an understated way. But it is powerfully effective.” Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Elsewhere you can catch Covedale Center's production of The Marvelous Wonderettes, the story of four high school girls in the ’50s and ’60s who get their big break singing Doo-Wop tunes. This show kicked off a string of hits for Ensemble Theatre a few years back, and I imagine the Covedale's audience will love it, too. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

If Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is a book you've treasured over the years, you can see a stage adaptation at Cincinnati Shakespeare through March 21 (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-381-2273) or a musical theater version by Footlighters, the community theater that performs at Newport's Stained Glass Theater (tickets: 859-652-3849).

This is the final weekend for August: Osage County at Clifton Performance Theatre. It's a big sprawling play wedged into a tiny space, but with a great script and a fine cast, it's definitely worth seeing. You'll be close enough to feel like a member of the dysfunctional Weston family. I gave it a Critic's Pick here. Tickets: 513-861-7469.

I missed the first two installments of Serials 2: Thunderdome! at Know Theatre, but I was there on March 2, and I'll be back on Monday evening to see which of five 15-minute segments gets to live on. I'm looking forward to Josh Bromels' So In Tents (there's a pun in there) and Trey Tatum and Paul Strickland's Andy's House of [blank], a wild, time-shifting musical. But there will be more surprises, I'm sure. It's a breath of fresh creative air. Tickets: 513-300-5669

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday.]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Pirates, Indians, Lost Boys and Little Women]]> I wanted to start today's note about theater opportunities for this weekend by bringing your attention to my CityBeat column here, a tribute to my late friend Tom McElfresh, who passed away in February. Tom was a Cincinnati theater critic in the 1970s and ’80s who I brought on board as my back-up at CityBeat in 1998. For a dozen years, his enthusiasm for theater — as well as his sometimes blunt observations — kept CityBeat readers informed about shows on local stages. If he were still writing, he'd be encouraging you to go see a show.

I was at UC's College-Conservatory of Music last event for the opening of a short but spectacular run of the Peter Pan, the legendary Golden Age musical from 1954. This is an eye-popping production of the show with familiar tunes such as "I've Gotta Crow," "I'm Flying" and "I Won't Grow Up," backed up by an orchestra of nearly 30 players. That's about double the number that you'll find in the pit at touring Broadway shows; and these players are decked out as pirates! Even more spectacular are Dean Mogle and Rebecca Senske's funny, over-the-top costumes for Captain Hook (played with delicious deviltry by Nathaniel Irvin) and his crew, Tiger Lily (Samantha Pollino, an athletic dancer) and her storybook Indians and Peter (alternating between Clara Cox and Hannah Zazzaro) and his Lost Boys. Mark Halpin's big circus-inspired set is fun to watch, and guest director and choreographer Joe Locarro's staging is inventive and wonderfully danced by the big cast, especially "Ugg-a-Wugg," with nearly 20 closely synchronized performers. Oh, there's flying, too. It's a shame this one doesn't have a longer run, but that's what happens at CCM, where productions come and go quickly. The final performance is a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Get there to see this one — and take a kid with you. Tickets: 513-556-4183.

The March sisters whose story is told in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women remain popular after more than 150 years. You can find a spirited adaptation (CityBeat review here) of the novel onstage at Cincinnati Shakespeare through March 21, featuring the company's excellent actresses, especially Maggie Lou Rader as fiercely independent Jo, who aspires to be a writer. Tickets: 513-381-6673, x1.  A musical adaptation of the story about the sensitive, imaginative girls who grow into strong, diverse women during and after the Civil War is happening at Footlighters, the community theater that performs at the Stained Glass Theater in Newport. It too is running through March 21. Tickets: 859-652-3849.

Still worth seeing are Chapatti (CityBeat review here), the heartwarming story of two lonely senior citizens who love their pets but need more human companionship, at the Cincinnati Playhouse through Sunday (tickets: 513-421-3888) and Clifton Players portrait of the contentious and dysfunctional Weston family in the Pulitzer Prize-winning sprawling three-act drama August: Osage County (CityBeat review here), surprisingly well staged in the intimate Clifton Performance Theatre, which has just 40 or so seats for each performance (tickets: 513-861-7469) through March 13.

If you missed Theory of Mind, the Cincinnati Playhouse's February touring production for young audiences about a kid on the autism spectrum, you can catch it for free at Music Hall on Sunday at 2 p.m. The charming show is about a socially awkward kid trying to find his way in the world of dating; it's not only endearing, it's quite funny. The performance is part of the Artswave Sampler Weekend, sponsored by Macy's to draw attention to the annual fundraising campaign on behalf of the arts.

Once upon a time dinner theaters were a big thing.That's not so much the case in 2015, but La Comedia continues to thrive in Springboro, 40 miles north of Cincinnati. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, it's one of the largest theaters in America where you can enjoy a buffet meal before a show — and it's the only one still operating in Ohio. It just opened a two-month run of Rodgers and Hammerstein's legendary musical South Pacific. This organization knows the formula for combining dining and theatergoing — and you can't beat the sweet potato soufflé! Tickets: 800-677-9505.

I want to close with a shout-out to Gina Cerimele-Mechley, winner of the 2015 recognition for outstanding arts educators from the annual Overture Awards. She's been part of the local theater scene for years, and if you watch this video nomination from her students at Cincinnati Music Academy, you'll see why she's made a difference. Here's a remark she made: “My strength as a teacher is constantly being a student. I learn the strengths of each individual student and try to hone those skills into something marketable. When a student has completed working with me I want them to be able to stand on their own two feet and make their own choices.”

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Cincinnati Theaters Generating Heat, Despite Cold Weather]]> Last weekend's snowstorm canceled performances at several local theaters (including the Cincinnati Playhouse), so you might have had several days without theater. Is it time to make up? I finally caught up with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's adaptation of Little Women​ last night, and I'm glad of it. While the weather is still cold and sidewalks still treacherously icy, the warmth generated by Jo March and her saucy sisters is a welcome tonic. Of course Louisa May Alcott's story of a temporarily fatherless family during the American Civil War is sentimental and, at times, rather maudlin, but the actresses at Cincy Shakes bring such vivacity to their roles that there's plenty to enjoy. Maggie Lou Rader is especially vivacious as Jo, the fiercely independent aspiring writer who insists on finding her own way in a world controlled by men; Kelly Mengelkoch is emotional, conscientious elder sister Meg; Caitlin McWethy is shy and loving Beth; and Courtney Lucien is Amy, the impetuous baby who matures in the second act. Annie Fitzpatrick is Marmee, their steadfast mother, and Justin McCombs is the spirited boy next door who captures the hearts of several of the sisters. The production is simply but effectively staged, enhanced by some subtle video projections and lovely choral singing of period hymns by the ensemble. It's a gentle story that beautifully conveys the virtues of family, sisterhood and feminine intellect in a period when such matters were not always top of mind. It's onstage through March 21. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.

Last Sunday, while many of you might have been watching the Academy Awards, I was one of 15 or so people in the audience watching Clifton Players' staging of August: Osage County. That's not quite as pitiful as it might sound, since the tiny Clifton Performance Theatre has only about 40 seats for this production. You're right in the midst of the bitter wars being conducted by the combative Weston family, brought together by the disappearance of their father and their mother's relapse into drug dependence and impossibly difficult behavior. But each of Beverly and Vi's three daughters have problems, issues and complicated family situations of their own, so Tracy Letts' three-act, three-plus hour show offers plenty of juicy roles for some of Cincinnati's best actors. The show has typically been played on a big set, but the closeness of CPT makes August: Osage County a powerful evening of dysfunction that's right in your face. Need some heat despite the cold snap? This is your show. It's a Critic's Pick (CityBeat review here). Onstage through March 13. Tickets: 513-861-7469.

Performances tonight and Saturday evening will wrap up the run of In the Heat of the Night at Falcon Players in Newport (tickets: 513-479-6783), and Northern Kentucky University's Les Misérables continues through a Sunday matinee. The latter has been sold our for most performances, but if you show up an hour before curtain time, you can get your name on a wait-list for a seat.

For a glimpse of the future, check out my blog postings here and here from earlier this week with 2015-2016 season announcements for the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Cincinnati Landmark Productions (at the Covedale Center and the new Incline Theatre) and Cincinnati Shakespeare.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
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<![CDATA[Cincinnati Shakespeare Company Announces 22nd Season]]>

As I wrote on Monday, season announcements from Cincinnati theaters are a sure sign that warmer days are ahead. The temperature cranked up a few more notches tonight when Cincinnati Shakespeare Company announced its 2015-2016 season. It’s no secret that CSC’s history and stock-in-trade are plays by William Shakespeare, of which they’ll offer four in the coming months. But their broadened scope includes definitive works of drama and stage adaptations of literary classics by great writers. Here’s what will be onstage at 719 Race St. from August 2015 through June 2016:

THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF AMERICA (ABRIDGED) by Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor. Cincy Shakes has had tons of fun with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). But Long, Martin and Tichenor have been generating laughs with numerous other subjects, and this is one of their best works. (It was staged at the Cincinnati Playhouse 10 years ago.) This one is a wild ride through our nation’s past featuring three actors, who probably did not pass high school history, who set off on a whirlwind historical tour that’s finds laughs in many of our nation’s greatest hits and misses. This production is a “season extra,” not included in subscription packages. July 24-Aug. 15, 2015.

CYRANO DE BERGERAC (based on Anthony Burgess’s translation of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 French play). Cincy Shakes will kick off the fall theater season with this classic romantic tale of the valiant and clever Cyrano de Bergerac, with long-time ensemble member Jeremy Dubin in the title role. Cyrano epitomized panache: In fact, that French word a feather or a plume was the hallmark of this dazzling swordsman and brilliant 16th-century poet. But he has a flaw, a gargantuan nose. He loves the beautiful and brilliant Roxane but is convinced his clownish appearance means he has no chance with her. Unaware of his feelings, Roxane tells him she loves Christian, a handsome but dull solider; Cyrano intercedes by writing letters and verses to her as if they were from Christian. The play has wit, swashbuckling adventure and profound romance. Sept. 1-Oct. 3, 2015.

 Jeremy Dubin as Cyrano in Cyrano de Bergerac. Photo: Mikki Schaffner.

DEATH OF A SALESMAN by Arthur Miller, written in 1949, won multiple Tony Awards as well as the Pulitzer Prize for drama. The story of the waning days of an aging salesman who still yearns to make it big is one of the great plays of the 20th century. Cincinnati stage veteran Bruce Cromer will play Willy Loman, the show’s memorable loser. This poignant tale of an average man trying to achieve the American Dream, surrounded by his strident sons and his loving wife is an exploration of failure and success that still resonates today. Oct. 16-Nov. 7, 2015.

AS YOU LIKE IT by William Shakespeare is the first of Shakespeare’s plays for the season and one of the Bard’s most popular, a predictable bestseller for Cincy Shakes. This time it will be the company’s offering around the holidays, featuring ensemble member Sara Clark playing the spirited Rosalind, banished to the Forest of Arden with only her cousin and a fool for company. She dresses as a man for protection and comedy ensues in the woods where love poems to her are posted on the trees. The lovelorn poet is handsome Orlando, whom she tests while hiding behind her boyish disguise. This show is great fun because it features numerous comic characters, delightful music and warm-hearted romance. Nov. 20-Dec. 12, 2015.

 Sara Clark as Rosalind in As You Like It. Photo: Mikki Schaffner.

EVERY CHRISTMAS STORY EVER TOLD (AND THEN SOME!) by Michael Carlton, James Fitzgerald and John K Alvarez. Cincy Shakes finishes up As You Like It just in time to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its annual holiday hit, an irreverent look at umpteen BHCs — the show’s acronym for “Beloved Holiday Classics.” The evening starts out innocently enough as one character endeavors to perform a solemn reading of A Christmas Carol. But before long audiences are entangled in the stories of Frosty, Rudolph, Charlie Brown and George Bailey. Four of Cincy Shakes’ veteran actors (one as a highly inebriated Santa) send up everything from Dickens to Dr. Seuss. It’s another “season extra” (outside regular subscriptions) and definitely not for anyone who still believes in Santa. Dec. 16-27, 2015.

HENRY VI , PART I by William Shakespeare. The company has committed parts of several seasons to work its way through Shakespeare’s cycle of history plays. This year it’s the first of three parts that tell the story of Henry VI. Actors continue to reprise roles they’ve played for several seasons in two parts of Henry IV and Henry V. In this installment, the untimely death of Henry V puts his infant son on the throne, and the War of the Roses, pitting the houses of York and Lancaster against one another, is off and running. Jan. 22-Feb. 13, 2016.

JANE AUSTEN’S EMMA (adapted by Jon Jory). Cincy Shakes has struck gold with stage productions of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen’s novels of early 19th-century manners as adapted by Jon Jory, the longtime artistic director of Actors Theatre of Louisville. These shows appealed to audiences in part because the company has a corps of talented female actors (presently showcased in Little Women) who will find great opportunities in Austen’s tale about amateur matchmaker Emma Wodehouse who lives to meddle in others’ love lives. When she tries to set up her less than promising friend Harriet, the plan goes awry, and Emma must try to undo the damage. It’s another classic story of wit, whimsy and anxious romance. Feb. 26-March 26, 2016.

JULIUS CAESAR by William Shakespeare. Part one of a season-ending epic pairing of two of the Bard’s great plays begins with this tragedy about the brilliant general, a cunning politician and beloved leader of ancient Rome. Jealous Roman patriots decide his ambition is a threat to the Republic and assassinate him on the senate floor. The result is a civil war that tests friendships and loyalties; it also determines the fate of the Roman Empire. April 8-May 7, 2016.

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA by William Shakespeare. The second part of the company’s special event offers this rarely staged epic sequel to Julius Caesar. The civil war has ended and the empire has been divided. Marc Antony heads to Egypt to rule his corner of the globe, but his plans are sidetracked by Egypt’s Cleopatra. Their love affair pits Rome and Egypt against each other and changes the ancient world forever. May 13- June 4, 2016.

Subscriptions ($143-$233) are sold in flexible sets of seven that can be used one per production or in other combinations. Subscriptions and single tickets are now for sale via cincyshakes.com or by calling 513-381-2273, x1.

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<![CDATA[Cincinnati Artist Shinji Turner-Yamamoto Attracts International Attention]]>

Shinji Turner-Yamamoto's 2012 Global Tree Project: Hanging Garden — two trees suspended by wire inside Mt. Adams' deconsecrated (and crumbling) Holy Cross Church — is now generally recognized as one of the high points of public art in Cincinnati in recent years.

In addition to proving inspirational for us in terms of what large-scale, site-specific art can be and what local artists can accomplish, it also has attracted ongoing international attention for him.

The latest development is his inclusion in an exhibition, About Trees, opening this fall at the Zentrum Paul Klee museum in Bern, Switzerland. For his site-specific work in the museum's main hall, he will work with a dying linden tree on the museum grounds.

The exhibit — part of a trilogy of related shows that continues into 2017 — is dedicated to the tree as a motif in international contemporary art. Turner-Yamamoto finds himself in some very impressive company. Others with work in the show include Paul Klee, Carlos Amorales, Louise Bourgeois, Paul McCarthy, Ana Mendieta and Shirin Neshat.

Meanwhile, a large-scale photograph of the Hanging Garden installation was commissioned by Caroline Kennedy, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, for the ambassadorial residence in Tokyo as part of the Art in Embassies Program.

Also, he will have a show at the Weston Gallery here next year.

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<![CDATA[FotoFocus Lecture to Feature Roe Ethridge]]>

The FotoFocus Lecture and Visiting Artist Series at Cincinnati Art Museum will feature photographer Roe Ethridge on March 25 at 7 p.m. 

According to FotoFocus, Ethridge — who works in both commercial and fine art photography — draws upon the descriptive power of photography and the ease with which it can be accessed, duplicated and recombined. He is considered a post-Modernist. 

His work has been shown in such venues as MOMA/PS1, London's Barbican Center, Carnegie Museum of Art Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art, the 2008 Whitney Biennial (2008); and the Museum of Modern Art. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize.

His presentation at the museum is free and reservations are not required, though parking for non-museum members is $4. More info here.

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<![CDATA[Playhouse Announces World Premieres and Other Works for 2015-2016]]>

I don’t pay much attention to Groundhog Day for signs of spring, and Reds Opening Day is way too late to celebrate the promise of warmer weather. My key indicator for when spring is just around the corner is when Cincinnati-area theaters start announcing their upcoming seasons. (In fact, Cincinnati Landmark Productions was the first out of the gate a few weeks back; more about that in a moment.) But this evening’s big news is rundown of shows to be presented on the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s two stages, the Robert S. Marx Theater and the Shelterhouse.

As Blake Robison enters his fourth season as the Playhouse’s artistic director, he says he does not approach a season in a thematic way. “Our priorities continue to be new works, culturally diverse works and family-friendly works.” He’s include several of each in the Playhouse’s 2015-2016 season, the Tony Award-winning regional theater’s 56th.

In particular, Robison has slated two world-premiere comedies, Native Gardens, a hilarious tale of clashing neighbors by Karen Zacarías, whose Book Club Play was a big hit for the Mount Adams theater two seasons ago, and The Revolutionists, an irreverent, girl-powered fantasia set during the French Revolution and written by one of America’s best emerging playwrights, Lauren Gunderson. (Know Theatre staged Toil and Trouble in 2013, and her 2014 script I and You won the American Theatre Critics Association’s 2014 Steinberg Prize.) In fact, girl-power has clearly arrived at the Playhouse: Half of the season’s productions are works by women. 

In the family-friendly category, Robison has selected two shows based on classic novels: the musical version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and a stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning novel that’s been much in the news recently with the announcement that a prior version of the story will be published later this year. The creators of the memorable show Fly — about the legendary Tuskegee Airmen — will return with Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing, their new Jazz-infused drama focused on African-American sports legend. Robison will also stage a captivating drama, Mad River Rising, set on an Ohio farm at the time of the horrendous floods of 1936.

Here’s a chronological rundown of what’s in store, with dates a few more details.

THE SECRET GARDEN, with book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon. The show features Norman’s Tony Award-winning script, adapted from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel. It’s the story of Mary Lennox, orphaned at age 10, and sent from India to live with her aloof uncle in his foreboding English manor. There she discovers the locked-away secrets of an abandoned garden. It’s going to be staged by Marcia Millgrom Dodge, a Tony Award winner who staged Cabaret for the Playhouse in 2013. Robison says that this is the kind of musically complex show that is “what the Playhouse does.” Sept. 5-Oct. 3, 2015 on the Robert S. Marx Mainstage. 

SEX WITH STRANGERS by Laura Eason. Playwright Eason has been one of the writers behind Netflix’s engaging series, House of Cards, staring Kevin Spacey. Robison tells me he’s wanted to stage this provocative, sexy and funny show since its 2011 debut at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre because of its “intergenerational appeal,” but he had to wait until it had its Broadway debut last year. Associate Artist KJ Sanchez will stage this show that explores what happens when private lives become public domain as a famous blogger finds himself snowbound with a talented but unknown novelist. They’re attracted to each other, but envious, too. Sept. 26-Oct. 25, 2015 in the Thompson Shelterhouse.

MAD RIVER RISING by Dana Yeaton. The playwright is an acquaintance of Robison’s, and this 1998 work debuted in Vermont when Robison worked at a theater there. An 85-year-old man escapes from a nursing home and hides out in his family’s barn. As a boy, he saw his family’s home wash away and now “progress” is threatening to destroy the farm again. The story slips back and forth between past and present, and the production, which Robison will stage features music by a singer/songwriter also from Vermont. Robison calls the drama “poetic, poignant and utterly captivating.” Oct. 17-Nov. 14, 2015 on the Robert S. Marx Mainstage.

LOW DOWN DIRTY BLUES by Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman. For the holiday season on the Thompson Shelterhouse stage, the Playhouse will present a revue with musicians gathered for an after-hours jam session where they swap stories and play nearly two dozen tunes they love by Muddy Waters, Ma Rainey, Sophie Tucker, Howlin’ Wolf, Pearl Bailey and more. Myler was the creative force behind the Playhouse’s popular production of Love, Janis (about Janis Joplin) in 2005 as well as Hank Williams: Lost Highway in 2012, and he’ll be in town to stage this one, too. Nov. 7-Dec. 20, 2015.

For the 25th consecutive season, the Playhouse will present A CHRISTMAS CAROL Nov. 25-Dec. 30, 2015 on the Robert S. Marx Mainstage. I’ve seen it for most all of those years, and I never grow tired of Howard Dallin’s excellent adaptation. It uses 29 actors, many of them local professionals, and features veteran Bruce Cromer as the miserly Scrooge (it’s his 11th year in the role). Michael Evan Haney, who has staged the production every year since 1992 will return, too. The show, by the way is not part of any subscription package, but subscribers are eligible for discounts and early buying opportunities.

NATIVE GARDENS by Karen Zacarías. 2016 kicks off with a world premiere by the playwright whose Book Club Play charmed Playhouse audiences in 2013. Her new script is about how friendly neighbors become feuding enemies when their gardens and fences don’t quite align. One couple is Hispanic while the other is Anglo, and their disagreements escalate into an all-out war of taste, class, privilege and entitlement with hilarious results. Robison will stage this one, as he did her previous Playhouse show. Jan. 23-Feb. 21, 2016 on the Roberts S. Marx Mainstage. 

THE REVOLUTIONISTS by Lauren Gunderson. As noted, Gunderson is a rising star in the theater world — and Robison has scheduled her new script to overlap for a few weeks with Zacarías’s show, resulting in simultaneous world premieres by women playwrights. In Gunderson’s new script, at the height of the French Revolution, four historic characters — playwright Olympe De Gouges, assassin Charlotte Corday, activist Angelle Ogé and former queen Marie Antoinette — conspire to escape the extremist forces swirling around them. Eleanor Holdridge from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., who has been working closely with Gunderson to develop the script, will stage this fantasy about how we change the world. Feb. 6-March 6, 2016, in the Thompson Shelterhouse.

 The Revolutionists

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee (adapted by Christopher Sergel). Set in Depression-era Alabama, it’s about precocious tomboy Scout and her brother Jem during a life-changing summer when their father, Atticus, a small-town lawyer, defends a black man accused of a crime he didn’t commit. The Playhouse was one of the first theaters to stage Sergel’s adaptation in 1993; it’s a slightly different version (with more roles and a different narrator) than the one, also by Sergel, presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company in 2012. The Playhouse’s newest artistic associate, Eric Ting, is slated to direct this one. March 5-April 3, 2016, on the Robert S. Marx Mainstage.

MOTHERS AND SONS by Terrence McNally. Another artistic associate, Timothy Douglas, will stage this show, which was a 2014 Tony nominee the year’s best play on Broadway. McNally, who has written more than 30 plays and musicals (including the Tony Award-winning Love! Valour! Compassion!) has created a drama about change, reconciliation and what it means to be a family. A gay couple have a happy life with their 6-year-old child until the mother of a former lover makes a surprise visit to their Manhattan home, two decades years after her son’s untimely death. No play by McNally has been presented at the Playhouse since 1990, so this exploration of the complexities of life that gay men face is a welcome addition to the Playhouse’s repertoire. March 19-April 17, 2016, in the Thompson Shelterhouse.

SATCHEL PAIGE AND THE KANSAS CITY SWING by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan. This new play focuses on the 1947 Negro Leagues when pitcher Satchel Paige was the king of baseball, despite his advancing age. But Jackie Robinson’s meteoric rise to fame overshadowed Paige who found himself hemmed in by many barriers. Ellis and Khan’s story of the Tuskegee Airmen, Fly!, used a tap dancer as part of the storytelling, and this one will use a Jazz musician who interacts with the characters in a similar vein. April 23-May 21, 2016, on the Robert S. Marx Mainstage.

BAD DATES by Theresa Rebeck. In 2005 and 2006 this play by Cincinnati born-and-bred playwright Rebeck was a big hit locally and nationally; the comedy was, in fact, one of the most produced plays in America for two years. A middle-aged woman and single mom who manages a restaurant and loves shoes, decides to start dating again. She talks and we listen while she gets ready for one dreadful date after another. Then a turn of events makes life all the more interesting. Originally presented on the Marx stage, this revival will happen in the Thompson Shelterhouse; Michael Haney, who staged it a decade ago, will return to make Cincinnatians laugh again. April 30-June 12, 2016. 

For subscription information: 513-421-3888 or http://www.cincyplay.com.

Cincinnati Landmark Productions has a lot to offer, too

Cincinnati Landmark Productions is growing, complementing its productions at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts with a new venue, the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater. A month or so ago artistic director Tim Perrino laid out more than a dozen productions that will be happening during 2015-2016.

“We’ve created distinct seasons of exciting show titles that our audiences will absolutely love,” he said at the time. “The Covedale season will represent the legacy of our company, while the Incline will be an expansion of our programming. Together, they deepen the impact of Cincinnati Landmark Productions in the communities we call home.” Audiences have flocked to the Covedale (4990 Glenway Avenue) in recent years, leading to an expansion of runs from three to four weeks as annual attendance grew from less than 14,000 in 2003 to more than 37,000 in 2014. Perrino hopes for similar success at the Incline Theater (801 Matson Place, East Price Hill).

This summer the Incline will offer three “summer classics” — somewhat in the vein of shows that Cincinnati Landmark once presented on the Showboat Majestic. They are Mel Brooks’ hilarious showbiz spoof, The Producers (June 3-21); 1776 (July 8-26), the story of America’s patriotic heritage by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone; and Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 (August 12-30), the story of women in an office who take administration into their own hands.

The Covedale will offer a “Marquee Series,” a half-dozen productions between September and May. On the schedule are classically entertaining musicals and comedies — A Chorus Line (Sept. 3-27), the story of a dance audition process for a Broadway show; Fox on the Fairway, a comedy by Ken Ludwig (author of Lend Me a Tenor); Mary Poppins (Nov. 27-Dec. 20), a perfect storybook musical for the holidays; Neil Simon’s Chapter Two (Jan. 21-Feb. 14, 2016), a laugh-infused tale about getting back into the dating game; She Loves Me (March 10-April 3, 2016), from the creators of Fiddler on the Roof, a Tony Award Winner from 1964 about two shop clerks who don’t see eye to eye but unwittingly become romantic pen pals; and Brigadoon (April 28-May 22, 2016) by Lerner and Loewe (the guys who created My Fair Lady), the story of a town in Scotland that that vanishes only to reappear once every 100 years.

While those shows are happening on Glenway Avenue, the energetic folks at Cincinnati Landmark have mapped out a more mature set of shows for the Incline Theater, starting with William Mastrisimone’s Extremities (Sept. 30-Oct. 18), about a woman who turns the tables on a would-be rapist with complicated results. Subsequent productions will be Jonathan Larson’s groundbreaking, Tony Award-winning musical Rent (Dec. 2-20) about impoverished artists trying to survive in New York City; Avenue Q (Feb. 17-March 6, 2016), the hilarious musical featuring puppets that’s about a neighborhood quite a few blocks from Sesame Street — it deals with adult issues, but it’s funny and heartwarming; and another searing drama, David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross (April 6-24, 2016), about the lives of four desperate real estate agents in Chicago who are willing to do anything to win.

Seasons like these are big undertakings for this ambitious theatrical organization. With a new 220-seat Incline adding to the 385-seat Covedale, we can expect a lot of Cincinnatians will be heading west for these enhanced theater choices. 

For subscription information: 513-241-6550 or http://cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.

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<![CDATA[Performance and Time Arts Series Hosts Original Production ]]>

Performance and Time Arts (PTA), a project of Contemporary Dance Theater, is the longest-running performance art showcase in the city, but until this weekend it has never been host to a single production. One Way Road on a Two Way Street, an original multi-act examination by an all-female cast of unrequited love and its ramifications, debuts Friday and Saturday at the College Hill Town Hall. Producer, flugelist (yes, someone who plays the flugelhorn), dancer and choreographer Shakira Rae Adams reveals that the theme is derived from personal experience. “A certain woman has sparked this creation — someone very close to my heart,” she says.

Acts include spoken word, dance, live and recorded music, visual media and theater. A post-performance reception offers pastry treats from Oliver’s Desserts.

Adams, born in Findlay, Ohio, is an outgoing personality with a contagious smile who describes herself as an “outside-the-box nerd.” Her life so far has included pre-med and nursing studies, work as a doula (a person trained to assist in childbirth) and a trip to West Africa, from which she brought back the African dance techniques she uses to teach her own choreography. Oh, and she also designed and teaches a class on the dissection of the human body for kids 5-14.

“I found dance through jazz dance, and it’s help me keep my sanity,” Adams says. “I think music and science and dance all go together. Anyhow, it’s worked for me. I hope One Way Road on a Two Way Street inspires people to be more honest and open with their emotions, not to be locked down like the society we live in.” 

ONE WAY ROAD ON A TWO WAY STREET takes place at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Contemporary Dance Theater Studios at College Hill Town Hall. More info: http://cdt-dance.org/1502pta ]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Fatherless Families on Cincinnati Stages]]> Just how can Tracy Letts' sprawling play August: Osage County be wedged into the tiny Clifton Performance Theatre on Ludlow? Director Buz Davis knows that this show is more about characters and great dialogue than the set; he told me so. (Read more in my Curtain Call column here.) He's made it possible for you to sit in the midst of the home of the cantankerous Westons as they fuss and fight when their father goes missing and their mother's addiction to pain killers spills over into everyone else's lives. The show won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award in 2008, so it's one you should have on your list to see if you're a serious theatergoer. (Through March 13). Tickets: 513-861-7469.

Although it's about another family struggling to get along while husband and father is absent, there's a whole different dynamic in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. This adaptation by Emma Reeves should offer an excellent opportunity to see some of Cincy Shakes' best actresses onstage; it's being directed by Sara Clark (who would likely be in the show, but she's pregnant right now, wich doesn't quite fit this story). It opens tonight and runs through March 21. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

The short run of a touring production of Cole Porter's jaunty Anything Goes is over on Sunday. Need a mid-winter getaway? Take a madcap cruise on the S.S. American and watch as love affairs go overboard and confusion reigns. This show from 1934 has been reinvented numerous times, most recently in a 2011 Broadway revival that won a boatload of Tony Awards. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

It's always worth paying attention to productions on our local university stages, where fine renditions of classic theatrical works are the norm. Northern Kentucky University just opened a production of the great musical Les Misérables, onstage through March 1. I'm told most performances are sold out, but if you show up in person (no calls) you can be put on a wait list and fill seats available just before curtain time. At Xavier University this weekend (through a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee) you'll find a production of Shakespeare's most beloved comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream, staged by Jeremy Dubin, veteran member of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Tickets: 513-745-3939.

Continuing productions this weekend include the Cincinnati Playhouse's staging of the charming romance between dog and cat lovers, Chapatti (through March 8; CityBeat review here) and Falcon Theater's production of the tense drama about race relations in 1960s Alabama, In the Heat of the Night (through Feb. 28). Falcon performs in a small theater space on Monmouth Street in Newport. … It's also the final weekend for Know Theatre's production of the one-woman version of The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel adapted for the stage. Cincy Shakes veteran Corinne Mohlenhoff is doing a bravura job with this thoughtful and frightening piece. Tickets: 513-300-5669

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
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<![CDATA[Cincinnati Filmmaking and Dance Collide in 'Ctrl+Alt+Dance']]>

Move over, movie theater chains. While several films open in theaters this weekend, there’s one you won’t find at AMC or other traditional movie joints. Reaching a following across the globe, the locally made independent feature film Ctrl+Alt+Dance will have its world premiere this weekend at Memorial Hall.

When an unemployed security software specialist takes an adventure with dance, the definition of courage is surely illustrated — and that’s what audiences can expect to explore. Inspired by the Lindy Hop Movement, producer Brian Crone and producer/director Gex Williams have worked side by side on this low budget independent film that has flourished and received widespread recognition in the dance community. Filled with swing dancing, passion and an unfolding romance, it’s the perfect flick for Valentine’s Day.

Gex Williams has worked on multiple professional film projects and served as the producer and Artistic director of SAC Family Theater in Lexington, Ky. CityBeat caught up with Williams and discussed the inspiration behind the film and the experience of starting out as a small independent project. 

CityBeat: Are you and Brian Crone both originally from the Cincinnati area?

Gex Williams: Yes, we both grew up in the Northern Kentucky area but we knew each other growing up. We went to high school together and made some feature films.

CB: How did your film Ctrl+Alt+Dance come about?

GW: I became an avid swing dancer in high school through college. I was aware of this film community throughout the world and no other movies catered to this kind of dance, so I was like, “Hey, I want to make a movie.” I actually wrote the initial script in 2011 but wanted to sit on it to get other projects under by belt.

CB: What was your initial inspiration for the film?

GW: In 2011 I wrote the script, sat on it, and decided to move forward with it. It has a phenomenal story and [Brian and I] reworked a ton of it in early 2013 as we wrote a fresh script together on this draft. The film had dancing, but we needed a story to carry it along. We knew we didn’t have the budget to hire a huge actor and to be solid in the entertaining experience for the audience members. And then we ended the film in summer in 2013 two years from the initial start of pre-production. It went full force in the beginning of 2014 and we’ve been cranking on it ever since. We’re really happy. With an independent film it’s very hard on a low budget and we had phenomenal team members and people.

CB: After a few offers to shoot the film across the country, why was it important for you to film it here in Cincinnati?

GW: There were a few producers who were interested in shooting it out there, but it was really important for us to shoot it in Cincinnati because we love it so much and we’ve traveled some for business and we loved going back to Cincinnati. It’s a great place to come home to and what it offers. The city holds phenomenal landmarks and has a variety of locations.

CB: What were some of your favorite spots to film?

GW: One of my favorite shots of the film was a beautiful shot at Roebling Bridge set up on the Kentucky side, and you see this beautiful river flowing underneath the city and is lit up. And we had other phenomenal locations like Memorial Hall, which is gorgeous on the inside.

CB: What are some prominent themes in Ctrl+Alt+Dance?

GW: Action overcoming fear. We really wanted to communicate that. We [Brian and I] started our own business after college, a full-time gig and there was fear in our own selves and others. We wanted to tell a story about this and the dance was a catalyst to show how that takes place in the film. It’s a great story and a really cute romance. The dancing is amazing and we encourage people to feel good about it and hopefully inspire them to take risks in doing that.

CB: I see that you had difficulty getting into large chain theaters. Tell me about your experience with that in regard to the film.

GW: I can’t fault them because it is different for an independent film to get the mass distribution that an A-list film would get because they don’t have the budget to hire famous actors like Morgan Freeman. For large theaters, it’s a risk to put their movie in there that they won’t have people to support it. It’s so cool that that we have it in countries like Russia and China and were blessed that it was quite strong. We aced that challenge and we knew we had a strong following so we wanted people to see it. So we ended up contacting theaters ourselves and said we’d like to run a campaign in your city so people buy tickets for a one-night premiere showing. A lot of theaters responded.

CB: With a following in more than 80 different countries, how did word of the film spread so quickly all before the world premiere next weekend?

GW: It’s never been showed, but Cincinnati will be the world premiere. Because the Lindy Hop Swing Movement is huge around the world in countries like Spain and London and it’s really quite astounding that a lot of them they really tuned in. Our main actors, their acting is amazing, they’re international dance champions. People were aware of them and interest grew. We worked hard and wanted this film to benefit the community all over the world and we contacted local groups and wanted the proceeds to go back to local communities. We felt so blessed by the support we received and reached a considerable percentage to help others.

CB: What were your initial expectations for the film? Did you expect it to reach the magnitude it did?

GW: We’re blessed in something that is not at all normal for a normal independent project. A lot of projects start out with a grandiose idea and get small and less feasible and it’s a reality check. It’s difficult. And we’ve been so blessed with the talented people and how it blossomed from day one. We said we’re going to do this no matter what. We had talent and it’s grown and we hope it will continue to grow.

CB: Once it started gaining success, did you get any opportunities later on from corporate theaters?

GW: We are just at the beginning of our public awareness. We’ve had interest from larger producers and we’re definitely exploring our options to get a wider distribution of it.

CB: What are your hopes for the film after the big world premiere at Memorial Hall?

GW: We’ve been working hard to deliver the film in a way for people to access. We wanted to work hard to continue to pave a way and find a way to show this film to anyone who wants to see it. We’ll be talking to distribution companies for a possibility of larger scale so we have the resources to get it out there.

Ctrl+Alt+Dance premieres Feb. 13 and 14 at Memorial Hall. More info here.

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: One Weekend Run for Heidi Chronicles at CCM]]>

I hope my Curtain Call column (found here) in a recent issue moves you to head to UC's College Conservatory of Music for Richard Hess's staging of Wendy Wasserstein's Pulitzer Prize winner, The Heidi Chronicles, onstage through Sunday. If you remember the 1970s and ’80s, this production will transport you back in time as you watch young feminist Heidi Holland grow up, grow weary and grow wise. Tickets: 513-556-4183.

A dog might be man's best friend, but sometimes that's not quite enough. That's one of the lessons of Christian O'Reilly's
Chapatti, which opened last night at the Cincinnati Playhouse. Set in contemporary Ireland, it's about two lonely hearts, both in their 60s, who love animals — he's a dog guy ("Chapatti" is his dog's name) and she's a cat lady (she has 19 of them). That brings them together, but what they need is human companionship. That might sound predictable, but there's more to it than that. (Through March 8.) Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Falcon Theatre in Newport is opening its stage adaptation of In the Heat of the Night this evening for a two-weekend run. It's the story of a black homicide detective from L.A. who gets caught up in an Alabama homicide investigation in the early 1960s. It's a powerful drama that reminds us of how messy race relations were a half-century ago. With Ed Cohen as director and Derek Snow as Virgil Tibbs, this is likely to be a solid production. Tickets: 513-479-6783.

Get a kid started on going to theater: Take her or him to see School House Rock Live! JR., presented by the Children's Theatre of Cincinnati this weekend at the Taft. It's an adaptation of the educational cartoon from the '70s and '80s. And grown-ups are likely to have fun, too, since the local rock band The Rusty Griswolds is performing tunes like "Conjunction Junction" and "Three Is a Magic Number." Public performances tonight (7:30 p.m.), Saturday (2 and 5 p.m.) and Sunday (2 p.m.) Tickets: 800-745-3000.

Three well-received productions have their final performances this weekend on Sunday: Ensemble Theatre's riveting mystery/psychological drama, The Other Place (CityBeat review here), with a fine cast led by Regina Pugh; the Cincinnati Playhouse's assemblage of Johnny Cash numbers, Ring of Fire (CityBeat interview here), featuring four singers and six excellent supporting musicians; and the funny two-man, 20+ character show Greater Tuna at the Covedale Center (CityBeat review here). And The Handmaid's Tale at Know Theatre, a one-woman adaptation of Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, has just one more week in its run.

The energizer bunnies at Know keep things going with Serials 2: Thunderdome on Monday evening, 15-minute episodes of five new scripts. The concept had a big following over the summer, and one of those works has its parts reassembled as a "full-length" piece: Saturday the 14th, a dark romantic comedy. Playing two lonely losers who meet as they mutually contemplate suicide are Miranda McGee from Cincinnati Shakespeare and Nic Pajic. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

The Broadway Series offers a quick stop (they call it a "season extra") of the musical Anything Goes next week, openingTuesday and running through Sunday. If you can't get away for a mid-February cruise, this Cole Porter classic on an ocean liner might be just the ticket for an evening's escape. Tickets: 513-621-2786.
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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Two One-Woman Shows Worth Seeing This Weekend]]> A special treat onstage at the Aronoff Center's Fifth Third Bank Theater through a Sunday 2 p.m. matinee: Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, featuring Torie Wiggins giving voice to people making pronouncements about race, justice and violence in America. The script by Anna Deavere Smith, drawn verbatim from numerous interviews, was created in the mid-1990s in the following the Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King verdict more than two decades ago. But it feels incredibly timely in light of recent tragic events in Ferguson, Mo., New York City and elsewhere — leading to questions about whether America has made any progress since then. Wiggins brings to life dozens of people — black, white, Hispanic and Asian — offering a myriad of opinions about events and outcomes. "No Justice/No Peace," words heard recently, echo through this script, punctuated with videos and quick audio introductions as Wiggins flips from role to role. It's an impressive performance and a reminder how theater can be more than entertainment — Twilight is a provocative presentation about American culture. Staged by Cincinnati Shakespeare's artistic director Brian Isaac Phillips. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

A second one-woman show worth seeing is The Year of Magical Thinking, an effective, bare-bones production at the College Hill Town Hall (1805 Larch Ave., Cincinnati 45205) by the Cincy One Act Festival. It's based on Joan Didion's painful confrontation with grief following her husband's unexpected death and their daughter's serious and ultimately mortal illness. Cate White performs as Didion, the narrator of this deeply personal story; Lyle Benjamin is the director. The show is being presented on Fridays and Saturdays through Feb. 28 (no performances on Feb. 20-21). Tickets: 888-428-7311.

It's a great month for women onstage month on local stages, what with Corinne Mohlenhoff in another solo show The Handmaid's Tale at Know Theatre (CityBeat review here; box office: 513-300-5669), which also happens to be directed by Brian Phillips; and Regina Pugh as a beleaguered scientist whose world is coming unraveled in The Other Place at Ensemble Theatre (CityBeat review here; box office: 513-421-3555).

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Women in Distress on Local Stages This Weekend]]> Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati continues its hot streak of well-cast and engaging scripts with Sharr White's The Other Place, the story of a brilliant but abrasive woman who is losing her grip. Regina Pugh is excellent in this moving and sometimes funny production, ably supported by Michael G. Bath as her perplexed husband, and with two performers usually seen at Cincinnati Shakespeare, Kelly Mengelkoch and Billy Chace, in an array of supporting roles. This is a drama that keeps you guessing as to what's the truth behind the story that's unfolding. When it all comes together, the revelation is devastating. Definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-421-3555.

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

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

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

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