CityBeat Blogs - Arts & Culture http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-37.html <![CDATA[Stage Door]]>

Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey met with great success when they created next to normal, winning several Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama. They didn’t strike gold with their next show, If/Then, onstage locally for just a week in a touring production — but I found it to be a very satisfying, if complex work. (Read my Curtain Call interview with Kitt and Yorkey here.) Elizabeth is recently divorced and trying to decide what path to take next. She asks herself musically “What If” she takes this path or that — and this show lets us follow her down two divergent threads, one toward a successful professional career as a city planner in New York, the other in a happy marriage with kids that doesn’t quite turn out as she imagined. Her stories are presented in overlapping narratives, since some moments and events are quite close. It requires paying close attention, but it’s definitely worth the effort. It’s made all the easier by a very strong cast — including Jackie Burns in the leading role, Broadway veteran Anthony Rapp as Lucas, one of her close friends (he originated the role on Broadway Lucas and played videographer Mark in the original cast of Rent back in 1996) and Tamyra Gray as Kate, who pushes Elizabeth in a different direction. The show’s inventive staging, using video and fluidly moving set pieces, is also a fine example of contemporary theater design. Definitely worth seeing. Onstage through Sunday. 

In BlackTop Sky at Know Theatre, Ida’s view from an asphalt-paved courtyard surrounded by the housing project where she lives isn’t pretty.  The 18-year-old yearns to escape, but her avenues are limited. The safe, predictable route is with Wynn, her boyfriend, a hardworking auto mechanic. Then there’s Klass, an all-but-inarticulate homeless man who settle on two park benches. Ida is caught between these two poles. This is a show about lives that are pretty dead-end. Nevertheless, Christina Anderson’s script has its moments, especially with Kimberly Faith Hickman’s purposeful staging of 34 distinct scenes, several of them entirely wordless. Anderson writes with occasional lyricism and feeling, but desperation underlies these sad stories. That being said, the telling holds out a promise of change. That’s an important if not altogether entertaining message. Onstage through Feb. 20.

Also at Know, the fourth outing of Serials gets under way on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. They’ve dubbed this one Thunderdome 2 – Beyond Thunder, meaning that each evening two of the five shows will be voted out by the audience, to be replaced by two new shows at the following session. Serials 4 features some writers and directors who entertained audiences in previous iterations of Serials. But several new talents have entered the fray, and the Know staff tells me, “There are some seriously strong story pitches this round!” They feel that the “gentle competition” of Thunderdome leads to stronger writing and a better audience experience. Writers who take the challenge must leap quickly into their narratives; if they lag behind, they’ll be struck by a thunderclap and end up in the audience at the next round. Subsequent episodes are set for Feb. 22, March 7 and 21 and April 4.

Finally: If you’re tuned in to the Super Bowl on Sunday evening, keep an eye out for a 30-second commercial for Gold Star Chili. It was shot locally, featuring 15 Cincinnati actors at several Gold Star locations. Ensemble Theatre’s Lynn Meyers did the casting for it, so you’ll see some familiar faces often featured on local stages. 


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

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<![CDATA[Slice of Cincinnati: Cincinnati Art Museum's Conservation Department]]>

It’s the 15th century, and remnants of the Middle Ages hang over Europe as it unknowingly waits for the Renaissance. In the dim candlelight somewhere in Spain shines an altarpiece painted to depict the lives of St. Peter and Jesus Christ along with images of the Virgin Mary and other saints. With its impressive strokes of paint and gold and silver leaf, Lorenzo Zaragoza’s “Retablo of St. Peter” is remarkable to behold.

More than 600 years later, the altarpiece rests under the skilled hands of Cincinnati Art Museum’s chief conservator Serena Urry. With only the clack of museum visitor’s shoes disturbing the quiet peace, the setting resembles the serenity of the piece’s original home.

Zaragoza’s piece has stood the test of time, more or less. While it has been admired by thousands of Cincinnati Art Museum visitors since the museum purchased the piece in1960, it was taken off exhibit in 2010 due to its poor condition. It is now back on exhibit through April 24, as visitors can watch Urry bring the retablo to life again through cleaning all 18 of its panels.

It’s a two-in-one exhibit, giving visitors an insider’s look at the work done by the museum’s conservation department while they view and learn about the piece. Established in 1935, the museum’s conservation department is one of the oldest in the country. Since then it has grown from one part-time paintings conservator to four professionally trained conservators, each of whom have their own specialization in paintings, paper, textiles or objects. The department is in charge of conserving the museum’s entire collection (with the exception of works that are on loan to the museum).

Urry proposed the exhibit because the retablo needed to be treated before it could go back on view in the galleries. However, this is no small task — the retouching is not expected to be complete for another few years. On view in the exhibit is only the first step of the process: cleaning and consolidating.

“Museums usually put conservation on view to the public when the work of art is simply too big to remove it from the gallery or garden,” Urry says. Before the retablo was taken off exhibit, it was the only piece in the room it occupied.
Conserving a work of art like the retablo first involves examining them closely under infrared and ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light reveals differences on the painting’s surface that are not visible to the naked eye; infrared light reveals what is underneath the paint on the ground layer.

Urry says determining the full condition of a piece of art before beginning its conservation treatment is the hardest part of conserving art. The two most important tenants that guide painting conservation are reversibility, which ensures that nothing will be done to the work that cannot be removed later, and dissimilarity, which means suing conservation materials that are not found in the original painting.

Of course, Uri’s conservation efforts are not the first for the retablo. With a piece of art this old, it is common for there to be many years of retouching — the first effort to conserve the retablo may have occurred around the early 1500s. It is believed that the central sculpture of St. Peter was created to replace the original lost piece.

Urry’s work includes using a variety of solvents, hand tools and a hot air gun to remove the effects of older retouching campaigns, such as discolored varnish and wax. This includes a layer of wax added by the Art Museum in 1960 to contain flaking. Since then it has become clouded with dust and grime, and the wax tinted to match the gold leaf of the painting has discolored to a greenish metallic hue.

After cleaning, painting conservation also involves structural treatments, such as modifying or replacing the canvas, its lining and stretcher. There may also be surface treatments done to conserve paintings, such as filling losses of paint, toning the fillings and adding layers of varnish.

“All of the paintings in a multi-piece work like this should be worked on together to ensure consistency,” Urry says. “The gallery space gives me an opportunity to have all of them on view as they are conserved.”

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<![CDATA[Stage Door]]>

There are so many things happening on local stages it’s a bit of a challenge make recommendations. But every one of these productions has some sort of conflict at its heart.

Grounded opened Wednesday night Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. George Brant’s a one-woman script is about a fearless fighter pilot whose career is cut short by an unexpected pregnancy, marriage and parenthood. Her new job is to fly military drones from a trailer outside Las Vegas; but she goes home to her family every night — and before long, she has trouble sorting out the boundaries between her two worlds. Kathleen Wise makes her ETC debut with this challenging performance, a woman who knows her way “in the blue” as a pilot, but must navigate new paths when she’s relegated to the “chair force,” wandering remotely “in the gray,” targeting “personality strikes.” Michael Haney is back in town to stage this one, and he always succeeds with making solo shows a powerful experience. Grounded is a pressure-filled, cautionary tale, gripping but not easy to watch. Nevertheless, it’s compelling theater. Through Feb. 14. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

Karen Zacarías’ Native Gardens, a world premiere, opened at the Cincinnati Playhouse last evening. Her Book Club Play was a Playhouse hit in 2013; this time around the subject is a tad more serious, but it’s handled with deft humor as neighbors battle over styles of gardening — formal vs. natural — and choices driven by cultural differences. New neighbors Pablo and Tania are of Hispanic descent, moving in next door to Frank and Virginia, who are as waspy as can be. You can imagine where that goes: Straight down the road to audience gasps as the couples insult one another when boundaries are crossed. The 80-minute show wraps up neatly — maybe a little too much so. But there’s no denying this is a show that has lots of comic appeal involving circumstances many people will recognize. Through Feb. 21. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Tonight is the opening for Black Top Sky at Know Theatre. Christina Anderson, a resident playwright with New York City’s New Dramatists, makes her Cincinnati debut with this show about the residents of a housing project. Ida, 18, befriends Klass, an unpredictable young homeless man. Their friendship forces Idea to make a choice: Embrace the struggle for justice or embrace a life with her successful boyfriend. Kimberly Faith Hickman, who staged 2014’s The Twentieth-Century Way for Know, is back from New York to direct. Andrew Hungerford, Know’s artistic director, chose this show because he was “struck by the poetry of the language, the visual poetry of the stage directions and the gut-wrenching timelessness of the story.” He adds, “It flips from humor to heaviness at the speed of light.” Onstage through Feb. 20. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Shakespeare’s chronicling of King Henry VI took three plays back in the 16th-century; Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has rearranged them into two productions, one onstage now and another coming next season. This portion details the roots of the War of the Roses, with relatives vying for power — it’s truly a historic “game of thrones.” It’s also is a predecessor of today’s action movies, with lots of combat — and the fiery presence of Joan of Arc (played with zest by Caitlin McWethy), as England’s zeal for dominance in France runs a parallel track to the jockeying for position among royal relatives back home. Through Feb. 13. Tickets: 513-381-2273. 


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

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<![CDATA[Slice of Cincinnati: WNKU]]>

From a dark studio strung to the brim with Christmas lights comes a music that seems as if it could have originated in an Indian temple, yet it resonates with the charm of American Folk music. A barefoot guitar player taps his foot on a pedal as he strums along flawlessly next to his bandmate, who is playing an instrument of his own creation — a sitar with some strings and a bell removed, frets added and a homemade capo fashioned out of plastic rollers and a piece of a lampshade.

As Dawg Yawp plays its song “I Wanna Be a Dawg” in WNKU’s Studio 89, the duo emits a powerful sound that blends together traditional Folk instruments with electronic elements. Their John Cage-esque ability to reinvent new ways to play music (minus slapping a dead fish on a piano) sets them apart from any other folk artist. It’s the perfect combination of worldly and psychedelic.

“It sounds amazing to sit there and listen to all of the different elements coming together,” says WNKU’s sound engineer Matt Moermond as he watches a video of the performance on his iPad. “They did big things this year. Their new music has even more of an electronic side with a lot of samples and layers.”

The video is part of the station’s promotion of local music. Dawg Yawp is one of the artists that has been featured as the station’s Local Discovery of the Month, an honor that has also been spotlighted other Cincinnati-based artists such as Jeremy Pinnell, Multimagic and The Yugos.

Moermond remarks on how the Local Discovery videos — all filmed in Studio 89 — have become viral on social media. With the help of sharing and instant viewing on Facebook, a WNKU video of a Jeremy Pinnell performance has had more than 13,000 views.

Along with the monthly spotlight, WNKU plays a song by a local artist at least once an hour. However, it isn’t just music from Cincinnati. For WNKU, local means as far as their radio signal goes out. Artists from areas nearby Cincinnati, such as Columbus and Indianapolis, can also enjoy being aired on the station.

WNKU’s Assistant Program Director Liz Felix sees playing local music as the convergence of the station’s mission.

“Ultimately our mission is two-fold: play awesome music that’s not necessarily exposed anywhere else and tying into the local community,” Felix says. “Playing local music is both of those things together, and I think that’s what exciting about it.”

Both Felix and Moermond say they are blown away by the quality of recordings they receive from local artists. So much so, that it is difficult for them to pick who they will feature each month because there are so many great artists to choose from.

“This is music that I would have no problem telling other people in the record industry, ‘Here are the great bands from Cincinnati,’ and I think they would stand up against any national release,” Felix says.

The local artists featured monthly are chosen from the pool of local artists already being played on WNKU. The station also looks for artists who are actively releasing new music and who may be familiar, but not too widely known.

“It is extremely important that we play the local artists and support the local scene,” Moermond says. “That’s one of the main reasons that we’re here. It gives bands a voice that they may not otherwise receive in broadcast. We were the first ones to ever air Walk the Moon.”

Local artists can submit their music to WNKU in order to be played. Moermond says when he is listening to local music submissions, he looks for quality. While quality production is a requirement for airtime on WNKU, he says this does not mean that music has to be expensively produced, as there are ways to make quality recordings within your home.

Moermond also explains that local music submission should clearly be marked as local recordings. The station receives so many submissions a day, it is easier to find local music that is marked as such.

Aside from submissions, Moermund and Felix say they try to attend shows throughout Cincinnati at least a few nights per week to stay in touch with the local music scene and discover new artists. They enjoy artists who present lively, energetic performances no matter how small or large the crowd. Both agree it is as much fun as it is necessary to be in tune with the local music community.

“I like how everyone seems to know each other, and builds off that,” Moermond says. “It’s fun to see everyone help each other to grow and expand. It’s neat to see how they work together.”

The vibrant scene also gives them a unique sampling of the many local artists making great music.

“There’s such a diversity of sounds that there doesn’t seem like there is an overarching sound of Cincinnati,” Felix says. “Everyone is kind of doing their own thing and there’s so much good stuff and so many different genres.”

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<![CDATA[Stage Door]]>

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is staging the original “game of thrones” — England’s Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) as retold by the Bard’s history plays — eight shows being presented in chronological order across five theater seasons. (Cincy Shakes is only the second theater company in the U.S. to present the history cycle in Chronological order.) We’ve already seen Richard II, Henry IV: Part 1 and 2 and Henry V. Now it’s time for the reign of Henry VI, which Shakespeare covered with three plays. This week starts the production of Henry VI, Part I, the story of Henry V’s only son who, in 1421, inherited the throne before his first birthday, after his father’s untimely death. A child on the throne opened the door to the dynastic struggles of the War of the Roses. (The cycle concludes next season with the bloody tragedy of Richard III.) Darnell Pierre Benjamin plays Henry, an unusual choice. Here’s what he says about taking on this role: “I’m a black male from St. Martinville, Louisiana. Despite how much I’ve always fixated my interests on the classics, I never thought that I’d have the honor of representing one of Shakespeare’s history kings.” He says he hopes “to open people’s minds and hearts to seeing the core of this story — a young man coming into his own as he learns that there are forces, both good and bad, that can alter his perception of himself.” Through Feb. 13. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

The Covedale Center just opened Neil Simon’s Chapter Two, a play about a widowed writer trying to start over while still grieving for his late wife. The story is rooted in Simon’s own experience, and the playwright’s famous one-liners are still there, but woven into the show’s humor is a story about coming to terms with death and moving on. Through Feb. 14. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

In Covington, The Carnegie is offering what sounds like an interesting production of The Wizard of Oz that opened last night. With musical accompaniment by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, it’s a “lightly-staged” rendition with Harold Arlen’s famous score from the 1939 movie. Of particular interest is the scenic design by local artist Pam Kravetz, a unique take on the iconic landscapes of Oz, including Munchkin Land and the Emerald City. Just to remind folks passing by on Scott Avenue, you’ll see a giant pair of legs with striped stockings and ruby slippers to remind you that one wicked witch is dead. Through Jan. 31. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

For something completely different, consider The Realistic Joneses by Clifton Players, at Clifton Performance Theater on Ludlow Avenue. It’s about two couples named Jones, next-door neighbors who get to know one another despite fear and loneliness. Will Eno’s unusual play — part comedy, part drama — digs into secrets that aren’t often spoken aloud. It’s being staged by local theater veteran Dale Hodges with a cast that includes Carter Bratton, Mindy Siebert, Miranda McGee and Phil Fiorini. It’s onstage through Feb. 7. Tickets: 513-861-7469.

Next week there will be even more theater on local stages: Grounded, a one-woman show about a fighter pilot assigned to making drone strikes (Ensemble Theatre, Jan. 27-Feb. 14, 513-421-3555), BlackTop Sky, a tale of homelessness and friendship (Know Theatre, Jan. 29-Feb. 20, 513-300-5669) and Prelude to a Kiss, a sweet love story about changing places and understanding different perspectives (Falcon Theater in Newport, Jan. 29-Feb. 13, 513-479-6783).


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
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<![CDATA[If You're So Inclined]]>

Even though we’ve just passed the halfway point of the 2015-2016 theater season, the over-achievers at Cincinnati Landmark Productions just announced plans for future productions at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts and the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater for 2016-2017.

Tim Perrino, CLP’s executive artistic director, says, “With our two venues, Cincinnati Landmark Productions has two great platforms to create exciting theater and palpable neighborhood vitality. We set a course for success with a summer of sellouts at the Incline in 2015, and we’re chomping at the bit to bring these just-announced shows to life in 2016 and 2017.”

The Covedale’s offerings are designed for mainstream audiences, while the Incline offers two distinct seasons — “Summer Classics” presents shows with broad appeal; the “District Series” produces more adult fare, both musicals and dramas.

The Covedale Center’s “Marquee Series” for 2016-2017 will offer:

  • Godspell (Sept. 8-Oct. 2, 2016), Stephen Schwartz’s first big musical theater hit, based on the New Testament’s Gospel of Matthew. Schwartz is the composer of Wicked.
  • The Foreigner (Oct. 20, Nov. 13, 2016), a comedy by Larry Shue, in which a shy, lonely guy poses as visitor from an exotic country who doesn’t speak English.
  • The Night Before Christmas (Dec. 1-23, 2016) for the holiday season.
  • Doubt (Jan. 19-Feb. 12, 2017), John Patrick Shanley’s 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner about a suspicious nun and a progressive priest.
  • Leading Ladies (March 9-April 2, 2017), Ken Ludwig’s farce about a pair of Shakespearean actors scheming for an inheritance.
  • My Fair Lady (April 27-May 21, 2017), Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical about a professor of linguistics who trains a Cockney gal to pose as an elegant noblewoman.

The Incline’s “District Series” plans to produce starting next fall:

  • [title of show] (Sept. 29-Oct. 16, 2016), a clever musical about creating a musical to enter in a festival.
  • God of Carnage (Nov. 17-Dec. 4, 2016), Yasmina Reza’s domestic drama about a pair of parents who come to blows arguing about a fight between their children.
  • The Rocky Horror Show (Feb. 16-March 5, 2017), the sci-fi parody musical from 1973 that inspired the 1975 cult film.
  • Equus (April 6-23, 2017), Peter Shaffer’s award-winning drama about a psychiatrist treating a teenager who blinded six horses.

Still in the pipeline for the Covedale’s current season are productions of Neil Simon’s warm-hearted comedy Chapter Two (Jan. 21-Feb. 14) and two classic musicals, She Loves Me (March 1-April 3) and Brigadoon (April 28-May 22).

Queued up at the Incline for the balance of this season are the satiric musical Avenue Q (Feb. 18-March 6) and David Mamet’s hard-as-nails real-estate drama Glengarry Glen Ross (April 6-24). Those will be followed by the previously announced “Summer Classics” season for 2016, featuring three likeable musicals Anything Goes (June 1-26), Baby (July 6-31) and Chicago (Aug. 10-Sept. 4). The Incline’s summer season in 2015 completely sold out three productions — The Producers, 1776 and 9 to 5.

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<![CDATA[Stage Door]]>

Right now we’re about equidistant from the 2015 and the 2016 Fringe festivals. So let’s thanks the folks at Know Theatre, who are presenting a double-bill of “Fringe Encores” to keep us stoked. This weekend actually offers one encore plus a graduate from Know’s Serials! series. Occupational Hazards is about an office fling that becomes the subject of fan-fiction with wildly divergent storylines.

Occupational Hazards

The piece by Ben Dudley was a 2015 Fringe show. He’s also the writer of Cinderblock, about a guy (played by Dudley) whose windshield is smashed by a cult member. This mystery passes through an office party.

Ben Dudley

The shows are being performed this weekend at Clifton Performance Theatre (404 Ludlow Ave., Gaslight Clifton): performances of Occupational Hazards are Friday at 8:45 p.m. and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Cinderblock, which, originally presented in five 15-minute episodes, has been pieced into a full-length version that will be presented on Friday evening at 7:30 and Saturday at 8:45. You can sit in on one piece for $15 or pay $25 for the pair either evening. Tickets: knowtheatre.com

Mariemont Players, one of Cincinnati’s fine community theater groups, is presenting D. W. Gregory’s Radium Girls through Jan. 24. It’s inspired by a true story about women who painted radium numerals on glow-in-the-dark watches, unaware of the dangers of radioactivity. The play, described as being “written with warmth and humor,” is being presented at the Walton Creek Theater (4101 Walton Creek Rd., just east of Mariemont). Tickets ($20): 513-684-1236 or mariemontplayers.com

One more weekend at the Aronoff Center for the highly entertaining touring production of Kinky Boots (through Sunday). A struggling shoe factory in Northampton, England, retools to avoid bankruptcy and unemployment. Rather than continuing to manufacture stodgy men’s shoes, they turn to high-fashion footwear for drag queens, promoted as “kinky boots.” It’s an unlikely tale that happens to be true, and it’s the vehicle for some outrageous humor, especially from Lola, an extrovert of a diva and her spectacularly clad and built “Angels,” a half-dozen drag queens who back up her act. Kinky Boots offers a meaningful message about tolerance and finding your own path, fleshed out with some entertaining dancing and fine singing. Tickets: 513-621-2787

The local theater scene picks up momentum next week when three shows open on Thursday and another on Friday. That evening the Covedale Center opens Neil Simon’s Chapter Two (through Feb. 14), a warm-hearted comedy about getting back into the dating game; Covington’s Carnegie offers a “lightly-staged” concert adaptation of The Wizard of Oz (through Jan. 31) with accompaniment by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra; and Clifton Players stages The Realistic Joneses (through Feb. 7 at Clifton Performance Theatre), a comedy-drama about the secrets of next-door neighbors directed by local stage veteran Dale Hodges. On Friday evening, Cincinnati Shakespeare continues its five-year, chronological presentation of Shakespeare’s eight-play history cycle with Henry VI, Part I (through Feb. 13), the story of a young king who must rule after his father’s untimely death; Joan of Arc is a key character in this tale. 

Life in the big city: Lots of choices.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
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<![CDATA[Remember This Artist's Name: Ato Ribeiro]]> One of the most remarkable artworks I saw in Cincinnati in 2015 — in terms of its beauty and the painstaking effort that went into its creation — will soon leave town.

It was in a rear area of the Brick 939 pop-up market in Walnut Hills. It’s already no longer on view and just waiting to be sent back to its artist. But I have a feeling we’ll be hearing much more from that artist — Ato Ribeiro — responsible for the monumental-sized portrait, “Edith Motte Young, Forever,” made through a charcoal-erasing process on brown paper.

It is a 13-by-9-foot drawing of the Detroit artist’s great-grandmother. At that size, you immediately wonder if the image deserves the space devoted to it.

It does, indeed — the woman’s eyes look upward, hopefully and compellingly. She seems, in her vaguely Modernist apparel, to be both of our relatively recent past and timeless. And the work seems both authoritative and fragile, given the use of (crumpled) paper.

Communicating by email from Detroit, where he is working on his M.F.A. at Cranbrook Academy of Art in suburban Bloomfield Hills, Ribeiro explains his process.

 “(It) consists of applying a few flat layers of charcoal across each sheet of brown paper before crumpling each sheet into a little ball in order to work the creases into the paper,” Ribeiro says.

“These creases create the sense of a discarded object. After unraveling the paper, I would use a kneaded eraser to erase out my image's details, one little section at a time. There were no drawing tools involved in my process.

“Over the last 5 years, my work has gravitated towards the use of discarded natural and found objects as my preferred choice in materials. The reason the brown paper feels the way it does is because this was paper that I collected (close to the beach) while in Ghana a few months ago, where the tropical weather tends to get pretty humid. This easily accessible paper (in Ghana) is commonly used by students to cover their academic textbooks, protecting them from damage.

“Through the reductive process of charcoal erasing to create my subjects, I attempt to highlight several members of my African-American history (whom I use as role models in my life) while addressing the struggles that African-Americans face relating to the preservation of much of our culture. Also the work is intentionally not fixed so that viewers who do decide to touch the piece would become aware of the how easy it is to erase/remove part of our 'history.' ’’

Exactly how this piece came to be shown here — where it was on display Nov. 27-Jan. 3 — is an interesting story. A fellow Cranbrook artist from Cincinnati, Ingrid Alexandra Schmidt, heard of the opportunity and arranged for Ribeiro to present his work.

“Though I have never spent an extended amount of time in Ohio, Edith Motte Young ended up moving her family to Oberlin, Ohio in 1929 (where my grandfather went to Oberlin High School and Oberlin College before becoming a pilot),” Ribeiro says. “So I thought it would be a little poetic to send the piece of her back in that direction. Thus I applied and was later accepted.”

Ribeiro is at work on a Forever Young series of family portraits — Young is his mother's maiden name. When it is finished, one hopes to be able to see it in Cincinnati. From the work shown here, his series is a remarkable and inspirational display of love and respect (and artistic ability) from a young man to his family.

Meanwhile, the Brick pop-up shop and the organization behind it — MORTAR, which is out to empower residents of Over-the-Rhine and Walnut Hills through entrepreneurship — should be proud of giving Cincinnati a chance to see this fine artist.  For more information about him, visit atoribeiroart.com.

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<![CDATA[Stage Door]]>

If you turn up at the Aronoff Center for the touring production of Kinky Boots (it’s onstage through Jan. 17), you might think you’ve landed in Over-the-Rhine. That’s how much the show’s opening vista of a factory in Northampton, England, resembles our own historic neighborhood. It’s the Victorian brick façade of a shoe factory that’s struggling in the 21st century because it’s still manufacturing old-fashioned men’s shoes. Even if they’re “the most beautiful thing in the world” (the theme of the show’s opening song), not so many people want to buy them today. As a last-ditch effort to keep the company from closing, the fourth-generation heir to the business, Charlie Price, decides to make “kinky boots,” high-fashion footwear for drag queens whose male frames are too much for standard female shoe heels. His customer No. 1 is Lola, an extrovert of a diva who — not unlike Charlie — has struggled with living up to his dad’s expectations. There’s a lot of fun and frippery along the way: Lola has a half-dozen “Angels” — drag queens who back up her act — and they’re spectacularly clad and built. A perky factory worker, Lauren, keeps giving Charlie advice (while falling for him despite his imminent fiancée in London). Another employee, Don, a hardcore male chauvinist, wants nothing to do with Lola. Watching events unfold is the fun of this show, even if you know where it’s all headed. Kinky Boots offers a meaningful message about tolerance and finding your own path, and there’s a lot of fancy dancing and fine singing along the way. Tickets: 513-621-2787

Whether or not your New Year’s resolution had to do with losing weight, you still have to eat. So the topic this quarter’s True Theatre, True Food, should be of interest. These are true personal narratives, sometimes confessional, often humorous, told by everyday people. Monday night’s stories are about what a homeless woman did when she had access to a kitchen, a man who ate the wrong thing at the wrong time, another man reconsidering his family’s “roots” and two guys who eat like there’s no tomorrow, day in and day out. What happens when a foodie and a picky eater cross paths? You can find out on Monday when folks crowd into Know Theatre’s Underground Bar (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine) to get the dish on these stories. Call for tickets ($18); these events are often sold out.

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: Last Chances — and Some Big Laughs]]>

This weekend is your final chance to see several December productions, including Low Down Dirty Blues (Cincinnati Playhouse), All Childish Things (Know Theatre) and Rent (Incline Theater). A few shows stick around after Dec. 25 — A Christmas Carol (Playhouse) continues through Dec. 30 and Ensemble Theatre’s staging of its jaunty rendition of Cinderella remains onstage until Jan. 3. I would find it odd to watch Ebenezer Scrooge getting scared into a “Merry Christmas” a few days after the holiday, but ETC’s contemporary rendition of a beloved fairytale might be just the thing to entertain bored kids after they’ve tried out all the new toys. Tickets for the latter: 513-421-3555.

I checked out opening night of the tenth anniversary presentation of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and it’s as silly and funny as ever — especially with some clever pokes at people and events from 2015. The annual gags about fruitcakes take on a whole new dimension this time around by having some fun with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her intransigence about issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Every Christmas Story trots out just about every “BHC” (Beloved Holiday Classic) you might recall and puts it through a humorous filter. It’s fun from start to finish, but there is a moment — after recreating A Charlie Brown Christmas, complete with a woebegone tree — when Justin McCombs steps into a pool of light as Linus with his security blanket and recites the New Testament passage from the Gospel of Luke about an angel speaking to the shepherds. It’s a somber and wholly lovely scene, so far removed from very tongue-in-cheek, sometimes off-color humor typical of the show that it sticks with audience members. The antic McCombs also plays a true believer who refuses to be be convinced that Santa’s existence is impossible: His enthusiasm for all the miraculous things the Jolly Old Elf can accomplish is so childlike that you’ll wish you could return to that innocent age yourself. Even if you’ve seen Every Christmas Story before, it’s a blast to go back. In fact, I’d say it’s become a BHC in its own right. Onstage through Dec. 27. Tickets (if they’re still available): 513-381-2273.

There’s also some great holiday laughs to be had compliments of OTRImprov, presenting its annual show The Naughty List in the Courtyard at Arnold’s Bar & Grill in Downtown Cincinnati. The 90-minute show — unscripted and building off suggestions from the audience — happens Sunday-Tuesday, Dec. 20-22 and Dec. 27-29. It’s a laugh-a-minute way to have fun right before or after Christmas. To make an evening of it, show up at Arnolds (201 East 8th St.) between 6 and 6:30 p.m., get seated and place your dinner order. The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. The rotating cast includes OTRImprov’s quick-witted regulars Mike Hall, Kirk Keevert, Sean Mette, Dave Powell, Charlie Roetting, Dylan Shelton and Kat Smith. Tickets (order before 4:30 on the day of the show): 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[Stage Door]]>

Most of the theater onstage right now is holiday-themed — or at least family-friendly. If you want to take kids to see something, your best bet is Cinderella at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, a contemporary take on the familiar fairytale — the heroine is a bookworm who prefers to sneakers to glass slippers. There’s lots of humor, especially from the loudmouthed and crass stepsisters in this telling, plus some fine musical moments. This show will be around until Jan. 3. Tickets: 513-421-3555 … Another good choice for kids is A Charlie Brown Christmas, presented at the Taft Theatre by Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. You know the story, I’m sure (this year is the 50th anniversary of the TV special) but it’s a good bet that Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati is putting a version onstage that will let kids have a good time. Performances are at 2 and 5 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets: 800-745-3000 … Want to start a family tradition? There’s no better choice than Cincinnati Playhouse’s glittering, well-acted production of A Christmas Carol. It’s fast-moving and often funny (Bruce Cromer gives Ebenezer the full range of emotion, from crabby “Bah, humbug” to a joyous “Merry Christmas.”) It’s onstage through Dec. 30. Tickets: 513-421-3888 … The Covedale Center’s production of Mary Poppins isn’t their best work (it feels a tad long for youngsters), but it has great tunes and some memorable special effects — Mary flies and Bert walks up and down the sides of the proscenium — that audiences will enjoy. Through Dec. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550

The Rock musical Rent, onstage at the Incline Theatre in Price Hill doesn’t exactly qualify as holiday or family entertainment, although its story does start and finish at Christmas (with “525,600 Minutes” in between). But this is an energetically acted and sung production for mature audiences. Through Dec. 20. Tickets: 513-241-6550 … If you can’t quite wait for The Force Awakens to open, you can get a small dose of Star Wars energy from All Childish Things at Know Theatre. It’s a comedy about some slackers trying to steal collectibles from a warehouse — they don’t succeed, but they learn a lesson about heroism that’s akin to the movie. Through Dec. 19. Tickets: 513-300-5669 … This weekend is your final opportunity to see As You Like It at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. It’s a delightful production of one of Shakespeare’s best comedies, but it’s wrapping up on Saturday. (Next week CSC opens Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some) on Wednesday.) Tickets: 513-381-2273 …The most entertaining non-holiday show this season has to be Low Down Dirty Blues on the Playhouse’s Shelterhouse stage. It’s pretty much what the title says: Three singers getting a little raunchy and having a lot of fun with some tunes about being up and down. Great performances and a really good time for grown-ups. Through Dec. 20. Tickets: 513-421-3888

Finally, if you a performance that’s simply feel-good, I heartily recommend going to Ensemble Theatre on Monday evening at 7 p.m. for their one-night-only annual presentation of Expectations of Christmas. It’s a round-up of holiday traditions, origins, music, facts and back-stories — presented by performers who frequent ETC’s stage. Admission is just $10 and all the proceeds go to Tender Mercies (an Over-the-Rhine agency right around the corner from ETC that provides permanent and transitional housing for the homeless with histories of chronic mental illness). Tickets: 513-421-3555 … or walk in on Monday and you’ll likely get in. 

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

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<![CDATA[Beyond the Books]]>

While this time of year is the season to go out and explore various holiday happenings, sometimes it’s nice to have a quiet movie night. As a seasoned college student, some of my favorite times with friends are the nights we hole up in bed and watch a Disney film. So when I saw that the Kenton County Public Library’s main branch was hosting a free movie screening last Tuesday, I found myself venturing to Covington for the event. The screening was of the 1993 film, And the Band Played On, a docu-drama depicting the beginnings of the AIDS virus in America. The screening was held on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, as a way to spread education and awareness of the virus.

My first worry was about walking in a few minutes late, but that concern was quickly doused when I entered the large but empty room. The film had already been started and was running through the beginning credits at the front, where dozens of vacant chairs sat in rows facing the screen. As there was no one in the audience to protest, I settled down, taking up more than my fair share of seats as I cozy. After about an hour, I looked around and noticed that I was still alone, a fact I attributed to the cold and rainy weather of the day.

The film itself was an interesting depiction of how the U.S. medical and political communities first handled the virus, especially in the wake of a changing presidential administration and the changing dynamics of the gay community at the time.

“This is the third year we have screened this film,” says Gary Pilkington, Adult Program Coordinator for the Kenton County Public Library. “At previous screenings, most people enjoyed the film. They don’t usually think about AIDS very much in their day-to-day lives, so this helped to re-focus their awareness.”

According to Pilkington, it’s important to host events that bring attention to health concerns in the community. “We chose to screen And the Band Played On … to help the community understand that HIV and AIDS haven’t disappeared,” he says. “Most people don’t think twice about it unless a major celebrity reveals they have it or are HIV-positive … It has reached the point where it isn’t in the public consciousness as much as it had been, yet it is still a real threat to health.”

I learned a lot about AIDS from the film, since most of my prior knowledge had been brief training on how to safely avoid contracting HIV and AIDS from the lifeguard training I received years ago. While I personally enjoyed the film, it was disappointing to see that no one else took advantage of the free screening, but perhaps with better weather and more awareness the next showing will be packed.

Find this event interesting? Check out similar events at the Kenton County Public Library:
Star Wars Bash: The Force Awakens at the library with themed crafts, food and a costume contest.
Film Friday Matinee: Come to the library for a showing of Far From the Madding Crowd.
Classic Movie Matinee: Join the crowd for a special showing of holiday film Christmas in Connecticut.

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<![CDATA[Memorial Marker Unveiled For 1979 Who Concert Tragedy]]>

The cold temperature Thursday night was appropriate for the solemn gathering on the plaza outside the main entrance of U.S. Bank Arena. Since the 30th anniversary of the Dec. 3, 1979 Who concert tragedy — 11 people died in the crush trying to get inside the doors of what was then Riverfront Coliseum — Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation has been having memorial observances with lighting of lanterns outside the site on that date.

At last night’s observance, which drew a sizeable crowd, the organization unveiled the two-sided memorial marker that will now permanently be at the location. It had been a long time in the works.

Before that occurred, Andy Bowes — brother of victim Peter Bowes of Wyoming — gave a speech to the crowd that included reading a statement of support for the memorial from the Who’s longtime manager, Bill Curbishley. Here it is:

“With the laying of the marker in dedication to those that lost their lives at the Riverfront Coliseum, on this day in 1979, I would like to pay tribute from myself and the two surviving members of the Who, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. I can fully understand how difficult it has been for the families who lost a loved one to go forward and attempt to regain their lives. That night will always stay with myself, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. It is a scar from the past and though the wound has healed, the scar is still there to be touched on occasion and felt. The band themselves were not aware of what had happened and were playing on stage when I was informed and saw the devastation on the plaza level. Nothing will erase that memory other than their soft edges.

“It’s with this in mind that I decided not to attend today because I felt it should not be turned into a Who media day or circus. There has to be dignity to this ceremony and the unfolding of the dedication of remembrance. This is not about the Who or their music but it’s about the families involved. Many people suffered as a result of that day and I am sure that many still do. If myself and the band can be of any assistance in the healing process going forward we are there for you.

Love

Bill Curbishley”

Mayor John Cranley, who promised at last year’s observance to dedicate a permanent memorial marker at this one, also gave a brief, moving address. He closed with, “Something happened a long time ago but is still with us. As your mayor, I’m proud to stand with you and say we will never forget.”

The band, itself, posted a short online comment, “Today we remember those 11 Who fans who lost their lives in the crush to enter the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio. May they rest in peace.”

Incidentally, something that seems to have gone overlooked at the time it occurred here but has continuing resonance and pertinence today can be discovered in a YouTube clip of Pearl Jam playing at U.S. Bank Arena on Oct. 1, 2014.

During that band’s 2000 appearance at a Danish festival, nine fans in the mosh pit died from suffocation. At U.S. Bank Arena, Eddie Veder reminded the crowd about the tragedy outside the arena in 1979 and how the Who “have to go on living with that event that happened 35 years ago. That became something we had to learn about, and they reached out to us when we really needed it.”

Pear Jam then played “The Real Me,” the last song the Who performed in Cincinnati at the December 3, 1979 show. Here’s the clip:


For more background on this new memorial, read my Big Picture column in this week's issue.

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<![CDATA[Stage Door]]>

December is full of shows for your holiday viewing pleasure: 

Every five years or so, Ensemble Theatre rolls out a new production of its holiday rendition of Cinderella. This one just opened on Wednesday, and while it’s the same material that was presented in 2005 and 2010, it’s been freshened with a new set and colorful costumes — and especially a vibrant cast with great voices for the tunes with lyrics by David Kisor and melodies by Fitz Patton. Brooke Steele is picture-perfect as the golly-gee title character who prefers reading to going to a ball. But Kate Wilford as “Gwendolyn the Well Wisher” (“I give good advice and then wish you well,” she tells everyone with a sweep of her hand to musical accompaniment) encourages her to go so she can meet Prince Frederick (Warren Bryson), who happens to be another bookworm. They’re a lovely couple who overcome the modest barriers thrown their way (she loses a pink sneaker that helps him locate her later), but the show’s real energy comes from Sara Mackie and Torie Wiggins as Cinderella’s crass stepsisters. They’re loudmouthed losers, spewing malapropisms and ridiculous self-aggrandizement (Wiggins’ Clarissa bellows competitively, “My patheticism outshines all others”) — constantly mugging and fawning and arguing. Deb G. Girdler as their manipulative mother Brunhilda is also great fun to watch as she tries to control events to her own advantage. As is always the case with ETC’s holiday musicals with scripts by local playwright Joe McDonough, there’s a timely moral: “The essence of true beauty lies … beyond what’s seen by normal eyes.” Oh, Cinderella and Frederick wear glasses — but they see love pretty clearly. Through Jan. 3. Tickets: 513-421-3555

I’ve been attending A Christmas Carol at the Cincinnati Playhouse for 25 years, as long as they have produced it. The script — Howard Dallin excellent adaptation of Dickens’ classic story — is top-notch and doesn’t need to be tinkered, but with actors coming and going, it’s always fun to see how things shake out from one year to the next. Greg Procaccino is the only actor to be in the show every year, playing Marley’s regretful ghost and slimy junk buyer Old Joe; the always-watchable Bruce Cromer holds the longevity record playing Scrooge (11 years, after 8 as Bob Cratchit). Kathleen Wise brings a light, bemused touch to Christmas Past in her first year; returning performers include Ryan Gilreath as nervous, angular Cratchit and Kelly Mengelkoch as the patient, loving Mrs. Cratchit, as well as Douglas Rees as the ebullient Fezziwig and Annie Fitzpatrick as his playful wife. There’s a new Tiny Tim for 2015, Henry Charles Weghorst, the tiniest ever, I believe (he needs two pillows to sit at the dining table), and truly adorable. This Playhouse production continues to be a joy to watch, a glorious, glittering set and costumes that deliver you to the mid-19th century. Pay attention to the David Smith’s sound design and recorded music, which set the emotional tone for virtually every scene. A Christmas Carol is a welcome Cincinnati holiday tradition. Through Dec. 30. Tickets 513-421-3888

Cincinnati Landmark Productions is offering shows at both of its venues this month; neither is holiday per se, although the musical Rent (at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre in Price Hill through Dec. 20) begins and ends with Christmas, celebrating a year of the “seasons of love” experienced by a clutch of impoverished young artists in New York’s East Village. This is a high-quality production, a great choice for fans of contemporary Rock music. Rent is almost 20 years old, but it has stood the test of time, especially as performed by the Incline’s committed, diverse cast of excellent, energetic singers. Tyler Kuhlman as the depressed guitarist Roger has the looks and the vocal chops for the role, and Lisa Glover is a fine match as Mimi, the sexy club dancer and drug addict who makes a lot of bad choices. Kelcey Steele provides the necessary connective tissue as videographer Mark, and RJ Caldwell ably portrays Tom Collins, an anarchist professor and street activist with AIDS. But the production’s most memorable performances come from Aiden Sims as Maureen, the brassy performance artist, and especially charismatic Christopher Carter as the transgender drag queen Angel: His high-flying rendition of “Today 4 U” is a show-stopper. The ensemble shines when presenting of Rent’s iconic numbers, particularly “La Vie Bohème and “Seasons of Love.” This production is a bold choice for the new venue, seeking audiences in search of more ambitious, adult fare — there were empty seats on opening night. Rent offers strong evidence that the Incline is up to the challenge. I give this one a Critic’s Pick. … I was part of a very full house for Mary Poppins last Sunday (at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, also finished on Dec. 20); this production is clearly intended as holiday fare for families. I wish it were a bit more joyous. Mary (Alyssa Hostetler, who’s a fine singer) is a rather starchy character who’s not very loveable. The uptight Banks family she convinces to reconnect and have fun has an initially irritable dad (Dave Wilson, another excellent voice) and a mom who’s a budding feminist (Sarah Viola, who sings very well, too) — these aren’t characters that children can instantly love. Even the two Banks kids (Lili Shires and Peter Godsey, who work hard at being coy) are kind of obnoxious. The production felt long, with numerous labored scene changes. On the other hand, the audience had a great time — the songs (familiar from the 1964 movie) are beloved, and everyone seems to know them. That’s fun. Tickets: 513-241-6550

The touring production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas wraps up its engagement on Sunday. It’s a fine cast of singers and dancers, a production full of familiar tunes that’s worth seeing if you have the scratch for seats at the Aronoff Center. Tickets: 513-621-2787

If you prefer something not holiday-oriented, Xavier University’s theater program is staging Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth. It’s a three-character play from the 1990s (set in the early 1980s) about young people struggling with the transition to adulthood. Guest director Ed Stern, the Playhouse’s retired artistic director, told me it was a great opportunity to work with actors who are exactly the right age to play these roles. Read more from Stern in my recent Curtain Call column. Performances are this weekend only, including a Sunday matinee. Xavier Box Office: 513-745-3939

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

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<![CDATA['Anomalisa' in the Running for Academy Award Nominations]]>

There looks to be another very artful Cincinnati-related movie, besides Carol, that is on important Best Films of 2015 lists, wins critics awards and even figures in Oscar nominations.

And it wouldn’t be Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead, which like Carol was predominately filmed in Cincinnati but set in New York. Sony Classics isn’t planning to release that Miles Davis biopic, which Cheadle directed and stars in, until April.

Rather, this is a film that is set in Cincinnati but wasn’t shot here because it’s an animated feature for adults that uses stop-motion puppets.

It’s called Anomalisa and was written and co-directed by the always-adventurous Charlie Kaufman, who wrote Being John Malkovich and Adaptation and also wrote and directed Synecdoche, New York. (The co-director is Duke Johnson.) Anomalisa started life as a 2005 play called Hope Leaves the Theater.

I have not seen it, but going by online and print stories from those who have, it is the tale of a depressed, married motivational speaker who, on a trip to Cincinnati that features a one-night hotel stay, believes he has found his ideal mate. But there may be complications.

David Thewlis voices the lead character; Jennifer Jason Leigh is the woman he is attracted to. All other characters are voiced by Tom Noonan and have the same faces. That latter fact is important because it could be interpreted as a characteristic of a delusion called Fregoli Syndrome. In fact, the hotel in the film is named Fregoli.

Independently financed, partly through Kickstarter, Anomalisa has won raves since premiering at Telluride and Venice film festivals in September. Britain’s Sight & Sound, one of the world’s most important film journals, has just ranked it the 11th best new film of 2015 — Carol ranked second. And both it and Carol are Best Feature nominees for the Independent Spirit Awards.

It has been acquired by Paramount Pictures and is getting a limited release at the end of this month, after playing at film festivals, to qualify for Academy Awards. A huge poster board for its (still-undetermined) Cincinnati opening is already up at Esquire Theatre.

If all this sounds too good to be true, there is a catch. Advance reports and early reviews don’t make it appear that Anomalisa’s depiction of Cincinnati is an especially complimentary one. In fact, the city just might have been chosen intentionally as an appropriate place for someone like the film’s principal character, Michael Stone, to have an emotional crisis.

Here’s how Rodrigo Perez’ review on Indie Wire began:

“With apologies in advance to the people of Cincinnati, in the worldview of Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa, or at least to the misfortune of its characters, the Queen City represents a soul-crushing dullness and boredom that could drive any man mad. For customer service guru and author Michael Stone (brilliantly voiced by David Thewlis as a classic Kaufman-esque misanthrope), already fundamentally unhappy and in the midst of a huge existential crisis, Cincy is a grueling hell on Earth of fatuous people and irritating small talk.

“In all fairness, it could be any faceless and anonymous city — part of Kaufman’s aim is to examine and send-up the mundanity of the business trip and that odd experience of feeling like an alien exploring the world of this not-quite-real, single-serving fantasy existence where people wait on you hand and foot.”

Whatever its take on Cincinnati, the work that went into making Anomalisa is impressive. According to the Crafting Anomalisa short, it involved the creation of 1,261 faces and 1,000 costumes and required 118,089 frames of film to reach its final 90-minute running time.

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<![CDATA['Carol' Wins Major Best Film Prize]]>

The Cincinnati-filmed Carol has just won the first big critics poll of the year — the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Film of 2015. The announcement was made this afternoon, following voting by the group.

Directed by Todd Haynes from the novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, it concerns a lesbian relationship in the New York of the early 1950s. It stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

Besides the film’s award, Haynes received a Best Director nod; Phyllis Nagy got Best Screenplay and Edward Lachman got Best Cinematography.

Because the two actresses both have leading parts, they may have split the vote — Saoirse Ronan received Best Actress for her part in the film Brooklyn.

Carol is in four theaters in New York and L.A. and is getting a very slow national release to build word-of-mouth, hopefully through awards and nominations.

Here is the Variety story on today’s awards.

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<![CDATA[Beyond the Books]]>

There’s nothing like being greeted by the bright echoes of music as you step inside from the pouring rain. On this particular day I was visiting the main branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County for the monthly Jazz of the Month Club performance, featuring the Jamey Aebersold Quartet. It wasn’t hard to find the musicians, since their tunes bounced all around the library atrium, and as I slipped into my seat I settled down and let the warm jazz beats warm my cold body.

The Jamey Aebersold Quartet, the third performer in the Jazz of the Month Club, featured an extremely talented group of musicians, led by an award-winning Jazz master and educator. Jamey Aebersold, who led the group on the alto sax, received the 2014 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award, the highest jazz honor in America. A native of New Albany, Ind., Aebersold has been playing Jazz for more than 50 years, and has gained international recognition as a Jazz musician and educator. It was perhaps the educator in him that couldn’t resist adding tidbits of the pieces and artists they performed.

The quartet played several Jazz tunes, including “Lament” by J.J. Johnson, “Hi-Fly” by Randy Weston and “In a Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington, one of the most famous Jazz compositions. As I listened to the lively beats I couldn’t help but look around at the rest of the audience. While a couple people slept in the back row, most were intently focused on the performers, nodding their heads, tapping their toes or even dancing in their seats. Peeking out at passersby, I noticed a few that were even dancing as they walked, and I saw more than one librarian sneak a peek between tasks.

At one point, Aebersold pulled a Jamaican pianist into the performance and gave him a rehearsal for their next song in “be-dos,” singing the melody in gibberish. As strange as that seemed, Aebersold’s next instruction confused me further: “There’s a two-bar break on bar…something. You’ll hear it.” While we all laughed, I couldn’t help but wonder how the pianist could follow those instructions, but to my amazement he jumped right in without missing a beat, improvising as if he’d known the tune all along.

As a Jazz enthusiast, it was wonderful to hear the different styles of Jazz played in a way that drew crowds from all sections of the library. Older adults sat patiently through the program while younger audiences slipped in and out. But no matter how long they stayed, all seemed to leave with an expression of peace and pleasure at the simple but beautiful tunes wafting through the building. It was evidence of what Aebersold described by saying, “The world’s a mess. But we can make it better by playing some music.”

Did this event sound interesting? Check out similar programs at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s Main Branch:
History of Cincinnati Music Reprise: Explore the musical history of Cincinnati with Musicologist Uncle Dave Lewis.
Jazz Jam Session: Enjoy an evening of jazz with the Blue Night Jazz Band.
Ring in the Holidays: Listen to a holiday performance by the Pyropus Hand Bell Choir.

 

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<![CDATA[Beyond the Books]]>

There was little reading happening at the Boone County Public Library on Native American Day on Nov. 14. A life-size tipi sat on the lawn of the main branch, and inside the sound of drums carried from the second floor. In a corner of the children’s area sat craft tables where kids could make pinch pots out of clay, and Sioux dancers wandered around in traditional dress and face paint.

November, which is Native American Heritage Month, was the perfect time to host this event, although it took library staff several months of planning to get it ready. Adult Programmer Kathy Utz says this was the first-ever Native American Day at the library. “This is totally an experiment for us,” she says. “It’s really turned out to be a good program, and people are interested in it.” Utz added that one of the library’s goals is to expose the community to different cultures. “We always like to broaden the horizon of Boone County and to see something they haven’t seen before,” she said. They certainly achieved the desired effect, for as I wandered through the various stations, I can honestly say I’d never before experienced so much Native American culture in one place.

Chaske Hotain, a group of Sioux drummers, performed with brothers and sisters from around the country, beating the rhythms of their ancestors. Wearing their traditional dress, the dancers presented various Native American styles, at times inviting the audience to join them as they circled gracefully inside the wide perimeter of chairs. “It’s great … I’ve never been to a powwow or anything like that before, so I didn’t know what to expect,” says Kaitlin Barber, public service associate with the library’s local history department and the one who arranged the demonstration. “It’s really surpassed my expectations.” Outside the crowd was just as enthralled, and children could scarcely contain their excitement to enter the life-size tipi. It was surprising how many could fit into what looked like a small space — as I stood there I watched at least 30 people file in and settle comfortably on the floor. As I listened in I heard the owner, Tim Deane of Morristown, Tenn., describe the hand-made, authentic Sioux articles inside.

No matter which corner of the library you found yourself, there was something exciting to greet you. Patrons and performers alike took advantage of the vibrant atmosphere, and all around I could see the results of exposure to a different culture. This is what Jordan Padgett, youth services programmer, says the library strives to provide: “That is part of what we do here at the library, is really engage the community and reach them where they’re at. [And] providing stuff that amplifies what they’re already learning is a big key.”

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Non-Holiday Holiday Shows]]>

Several of our local theaters produce shows this time of year that are a kind of antidote to the usual fare of A Christmas Carol and other happy, merry tales. Three get under way this weekend:

I went to a rockin’ party earlier this week, and you can, too — if you turn up for the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Low Down Dirty Blues, through Dec. 20. That’s right, a whole month of good times and sad in the intimate Shelterhouse Theater, doubling as Big Mama’s after-hours Blues bar. Every year around this time the Playhouse puts on a show as an alternate holiday choice to A Christmas Carol (which gets underway next week). This year it’s a warm-hearted good time featuring three excellent singers and a couple of very accomplished Jazz musicians (especially local Jazz pianist Steve Schmidt) performing off-color tunes, full of double-entendres and scandalous joking. The first half of the two-hour performance is mostly about lusty interaction via tunes like “Rough and Ready Man,” “I Got My Mojo Workin’ ” and “You Bring Out the Boogie in Me.” After intermission the party continues briefly (including some cute audience interaction to the tune of “I’m Not That Kind of Girl” — but then the tone darkens with passionate songs of grief (“Death Letter”), mourning (“Good Morning Heartache”) and then hope (“Change is ’Gonna Come”). Felicia P. Fields, a Broadway veteran who played a major role in the original staging of The Color Purple, anchors (and I use that word quite literally) the banter and the singing, but she is ably matched by Caron “Sugaray” Rayford, a massive force of energy, perspiration and rhythm. Chic Street Man sings and plays several guitars (especially a steel number with a gorgeous ring), and his sly, sinuous presence is a perfect complement to Fields’ and Rayford’s more ebullient performances. Don’t go if you’re offended by sexual innuendo, but if you’re looking for a “low down dirty” time, call now for a ticket: 513-421-3888

One of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, As You Like It, is the first step of holiday happiness at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. The story of tomfoolery and romance in the Forest of Arden kicks off tonight; it’s around until Dec. 12, when it’s followed by the tenth annual staging of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some). In case you missed it, Cincy Shakes announced this week that by mid-2017 it moves to its own spectacular new space in Washington Park, the Otto M. Budig Theatre, with nearly 100 more seats than its Race Street facility. (Read my story in this week's issue for more.) Until then, you need to line up for tickets, since many of the company’s performances sell out quickly. Tickets: 513-381-2273

Another “kind of” holiday show getting started is Know Theatre’s production of All Childish Things, opening tonight and onstage through Dec. 19. In a story set right here in Cincinnati (Norwood, in fact), it’s 2006 and two guys are still yearning for the galactic adventures promised by Star Wars when they were kids. One guy lives in his mom’s basement; the other has a girlfriend who could care less about The Force. They think their big break might be residing in a warehouse full of collectible Star Wars memorabilia. Zany shows rooted in childhood have become a holiday staple at Know Theatre, and this is right up that weird, happy alley. Tickets: 513-300-5669

And if you’re really longing to get the holidays under way, you have the perfect opportunity with a tour stop by a production of White Christmas at the Aronoff (next Tuesday through Dec. 6). It’s a stage version of the popular film; the tour features stage Cincinnati and Broadway veteran Pamela Myers in a cute, outspoken role. She performs a number titled “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” a perfect summary of her illustrious career. 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[Cincinnati Art Museum to Screen 'Dior and I' Movie Sunday]]>

As a perfect accompaniment for its current High Style: Twentieth-Century Masterworks from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection exhibition, the Cincinnati Art Museum is offering a free screening of the new documentary Dior and I this Sunday at 2 p.m.

The film, by director Frederic Tcheng, shows the high-pressure process by which new designer/creative director Raf Simons prepares to debut a line of clothing at Fashion Week.

Tcheng’s previous fashion documentaries include 2008’s Valentino: The Last Emperor and 2011’s Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel.

The screening is part of the monthly Moving Pictures series. It occurs in Fath Auditorium and no reservations are needed. There is a parking fee for non-members.

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