CityBeat Blogs - Arts http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-37.html <![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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<![CDATA[Aaron Betsky Lands New Job]]>

Aaron Betsky, who stepped down from his post as Cincinnati Art Museum director last year, has a new job: Dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. 

The school, which offers M.Arch degrees, offers graduate students educational training at Taliesin in Spring Grove, Wisc., and Taliesin West in Arizona. It is an evolution of the Taliesin Fellowship program created by Wright in 1932. Betsky, in addition to his curatorial and leadership experience at art and architecture museums, was trained as an architect at Yale University.

In a press release, Maura Grogan, chair of the Frank Lloyd Wright School's Board of Governors, said, "We sought a Director who, like Wright, relishes invention, challenge, and discovery; someone who is excited to chart architecture's next frontier; a person who in a time of conformity understands the beauty of idiosyncrasy; a leader who is ready to speak enthusiastically and persuasively to a profession in need of direction. It is clear to us that Aaron is that person."

Betsky succeeds Victor Sidy, dean since 2005, who is stepping down to return to his architectural practice. 

Betsky will lead a fundraising campaign to help the school become an autonomous independent subsidiary of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, as required by the Higher Learning Commission for it to continue its accreditation.

"I look forward to continuing the tradition of experimental architecture (Wright) did so much to define by helping new generations to discover how they can use design to make our world better," Betsky said in the release.
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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Theater Abounds This Weekend]]> I attended the opening of Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Musical at the Cincinnati Playhouse last evening. The show offers some sense of the great Country music singer's life, but it's not detailed in the way Rosemary Clooney was portrayed in the Playhouse's recent production. Instead, it's Cash's music that's front and center, performed by a half-dozen veteran musicians and four singer/actors, two men and two women, all of whom convey the sincerity and strength that were his calling card. Jason Edwards and Derek Keeling have voices reminiscent of the"Man in Black," the former in maturity and the latter as brash young man. Trenna Barnes and Allison Briner round out the quartet, sometimes conjuring the persona of June Carter, Cash's talented wife. Both are great singers, but Barnes is especially powerful and entertaining as a young spitfire in numbers like "Cry, Cry, Cry." The show features more than 30 numbers, some familiar, several sung amusingly by the musicians, and all engaging. Especially fun is "I've Been Everywhere," the second act opener that has all 10 performers singing, playing guitars and accelerating through a list of cities where Cash toured. Read more about the show in my interview (CityBeat interview here) with Edwards, who is also the show's director. Box office: 513-421-3888.

Speaking of the Playhouse, I should also mention that this weekend kicks off performances of Theory of Mind, the story of a teenager on the autism spectrum. It's about his first date with a young woman unsure of her own reasons for romance. Ken LaZebnik's play, created for young people who are 11 or older, premiered at the Playhouse in 2009 and was successful with kids and adults. This weekend it will show up at Prospect House in Price Hill on Friday at 7 p.m., at the Hyde Park Health Center on Saturday at 2 p.m. and at the Dunham Recreation Center in Price Hill on Saturday at 7 p.m. Some performances are free. For more details and a schedule of locations and dates (through Feb. 22), go to www.cincyplay.com.

You shouldn't miss Waiting for Godot at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (through Feb. 7). The production features excellent acting by Bruce Cromer (if you've seen A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse, you know him as Ebenezer Scrooge) and Cincy Shakes stalwart Nick Rose. Playing a pair of sad-sack hobos waiting for someone who never shows up, they capture the desperation of human existence in Samuel Beckett's masterpiece of theater of the absurd. I gave the show a Critic's Pick. (CityBeat review here.) Tickets: 513-381-2273. 

Two other productions kick off this weekend — the very funny Greater Tuna at the Covedale Center, through Feb. 15 (513-241-6550) in which two actors play many of the people in the "third smallest town in Texas," and the very serious Handmaid's Tale at Know Theatre, through Feb. 21 (513-300-5669). The latter, a one-woman adaptation of Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, features Cincy Shakes regular Corinne Mohlenhoff. I interviewed playwright Joe Stollenwerk in my Curtain Call (review here) column in CityBeat. 

At Clifton Performance Theatre on Ludlow Avenue Friday through Sunday only, you'll find a free show about coping with mental illness, She's Crazy, Mental Health and Other Myths features two local actresses, Sherry McCamley and Cathy Springfield, who developed this cabaret show that uses original songs and personal stories to reduce the stigma of mental health. Space is limited, so you are urged to call for reservations: 513-861-7469.

Not for this weekend, but coming soon, you can get some bargains on tickets at Ensemble Theatre (where The Other Place opens next Wednesday). If you've never purchased tickets to ETC, you can score two $10 tickets during the first two weeks of each of its next three productions. A few restrictions apply, but it's a perfect opportunity to check out this excellent theater company if you've not been there. ETC is quick to point out that it's located in the Over-the-Rhine, where there are restaurants and events galore and easy parking in nearby garages. 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: A Weekend of Classic Musicals and Plays, Plus a Party and Some Lies]]> Things are off to a good start for 2015: The touring production of Cinderella at the Aronoff is a very entertaining retooling of music by Rodgers and Hammerstein into a more contemporary version of the classic fairy tale. It's the same story, but the attitudes are of the 21st century, with a "power to the people" thread running through it and Cinderella conveying a populist message, convincing her prince that democracy is the way to go. The music is charming and there's some magical things done with quick changes in and out of ball gowns that will keep audiences guessing as to how it's done. I gave this one a Critic's Pick with my CityBeat review. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

Another classic musical is onstage at Covington's Carnegie: West Side Story. The show requires a lot of dancing and strong orchestral support, and this production offers both.The leads have excellent voices, although I felt (CityBeat review here) they were a tad too operatic for "kids" affected by gang warfare. Nevertheless, this show has some of the finest music ever written for the stage — the score is by Leonard Bernstein and the lyrics by Stephen Sondheim — so it's definitely worth seeing. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company opens its production of one of the 20th century's great stage works, Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot this weekend. I haven't seen it yet, but with a cast feature stage veteran Bruce Cromer and longtime Cincy Shakes actor Nick Rose, it's sure to be watchable. Here's a fun fact: Cromer has played Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at the Cincinnati Playhouse for eight years; this year Rose understudied the role and actually had to cover several performances when Cromer was out of commission with a twisted ankle. I expect their onstage chemistry to fuel a production that audiences will enjoy. 513-381-2273.

CCM voice professor Pat Linhart presents her annual faculty recital on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. It's a free event at Patricia Corbett Theater on the UC Campus. Every year Linhart assembles a program of zany humor and heartfelt singing, accompanied by the inestimable Julie Spangler. There are always a few surprises, and this year should be no exception. The theme is "It's My Party" celebrating Pat's 65th birthday, and I'm envisioning party hats and noisemakers for everyone in the audience.

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: Alternative Theater & More]]> The tragic suicide of Leelah Alcorn a week ago has drawn attention to the challenges faced by transgendered individuals. All the more reason that you ought to head to Know Theatre (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine) on Friday or Saturday evening at 8 p.m. for Rebecca Kling's Fringe Encore performance of Something Something New Vagina. Kling's solo show in the 2014 Fringe fascinated and informed audiences (she was also in town for the 2012 Fringe with a piece about being transgendered, Storms Beneath Her Skin), and we're lucky she's returned coincidentally close to the Kings High School student's death. Kling's show is about loving one's self and one's body; it's a shame Leelah couldn't have seen it. But you have the chance. Be forewarned that Kling, who is a transgender artist and educator is frank and funny; she ends each evening with a "Strip Q&A" answering any questions audience members wish to pose. If you attend one of her performances, I guarantee you'll come away with new insights into the transgender experience. Tickets ($15) can be purchased at the door or online.

Since I'm on the subject of alternative theater, let me point you to the Queen City Queer Theatre Collective which presents a reading at Below Zero Lounge (1122 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine) of Paula Vogel's And Baby Makes Seven on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. It's the story of two lesbians who enlist the help of a friend to have a child while they negotiate the imaginary family they have already created. Performing will be Maggie Lou Rader and Justin McCombs from Cincy Shakes and local actress Erin McCamley. QCQTC uses theater to celebrate and encourage dialogue around queer experiences; the group offers these readings on the second Monday of each month. Admission is free, but they'd appreciate a $5 donation at the door. More info: facebook.com/qcqtccincinnati.

If you're looking for more traditional fare you have two choices this weekend: The touring production of Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella retells the traditional fairytale with a few modern twists. It's an entertaining production with lavish costumes (Tony Award-winning, by the way), imaginative sets, lovely choreography and a cast of fresh-faced performers. I gave it a Critic's Pick with my CityBeat review here. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

If Broadway musicals are your thing, you need to catch West Side Story at the Carnegie between now and Jan. 18. The show was a big hit back in 1957, and its iconic score by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim is one of the best collections of stage music ever. Abigail Paschke, who played Maria in the Carnegie's staging of The Sound of Music a year ago, is a very different Maria this time, one of the star-crossed lovers in this contemporary version of Romeo and Juliet. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

This is the last weekend for Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical, which started back in November at the Cincinnati Playhouse and has been extended twice because of audience demand. It's the story of the girl singer from Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati who became an international star in the 1950s, then had to reinvent herself when pop music moved in a new direction and drugs nearly ended her high-flying career. Many of Clooney's best tunes are authentically recreated by actress Susan Haefner. Final performance is 7 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

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

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<![CDATA[More National Kudos For Over-the-Rhine Renaissance]]>

Over-the-Rhine is getting more national praise — this time from Conde Nast Traveler, which on its website in December named OTR one of the 10 best architectural sites in the Midwest.

In “Seeking Frank Lloyd Wright: Best Architecture in the Midwest,” Ashley Petry writes:

Not too long ago, Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood was one of the roughest parts of town. Now it serves as a case study in successful urban renewal, thanks in part to its notable architecture. The district is home to a large concentration of 19th-century Italianate architecture, and those ornate brick buildings now house trendy restaurants and swanky boutiques. While you’re in town, swing by the University of Cincinnati, whose new building complex was designed by architecture firm Morphosis.

What is remarkable about this is the company OTR's 19th Century Italianate architecture keeps on this select list — except for the Victorian "painted ladies" of St. Louis' Lafayette Square, the others are all Modernist or Contemporary masterpieces, many by the world's great architects.

These include Frank Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago's Millennium Park as well as his contribution to Toledo Art Museum's complex; the bedroom at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin in Spring Green, Wis., as well as his contributions to Racine's SC Johnson company's headquarters (and home of one of its presidents), Eero Saarinen's Mid-Century Modernist Miller House in Columbus, Ind. (owned by Indianapolis Art Museum), Santiago Calatrava's breathtaking 2001 addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum and Jean Nouvel's 2006 Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

Just a random thought here, but if Cincinnati's past architecture is worthy of such lofty company, should we be putting more thought into getting architects worthy of those mentioned above for our future projects? Calatrava has done some amazing bridges and the Cincinnati Art Museum in the past has had ambitious (but now-stalled) plans for a landmark Contemporary addition. 

Read the full Conde Nast Traveler feature here.

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Start the New Year with a Show]]> With the holidays just behind us, there's a kind of a lull on local stages, but this weekend has a few offerings to consider. At the Cincinnati Playhouse there's a popular production that's been extended twice, so you still have chances to see Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical through Jan. 11. The show is a great recreation of the career of girl singer Clooney who grew up in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati and rose to stardom in the 1950s and 1960s, only to find that the music world's fascination with Rock 'n' Roll was putting her in the rear view mirror. But she figured out how to reinvent herself and overcome drug dependency, too. Susan Haefner acts the part and sings a slew of convincing renditions of Clooney's Pop and Jazz hits. Michael Marotta plays her therapist and more: He steps in and out of portraits of all the other people in Clooney's life, from her mother and her sister to big names like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. It's a very entertaining show, guaranteed to warm up an early January night at the theater. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888.

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is offering one final weekend of its "non-denominational" holiday fairytale musical, Sleeping Beauty. With songs by local composer David Kisor and an entertaining script by Cincinnati playwright Joe McDonough, this production is good for kids and adults. Acting intern Deirdre Manning steps out in the title role with a fine singing voice and fellow intern Terrance J. Ganser is her Rock star prince and her soulful savior a century later. But the real zip in the show comes from Deb G. Girdler's evil Wisteria and Michael G. Bath as Falcon, her devious assistant. Final performance is 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets ($18-$44): 513-421-3555.

Speaking of ETC, for the next week or so the theater is offering $10 off adult tickets to performances early in the runs of an engaging thriller The Other Place (Jan. 29-Feb. 3), the drama with historical context Detroit '67 (March 18-24) and a romantic comedy Outside Mullingar set in Ireland (May 6-12). Just mention the coupon code NEWYEAR15 when purchasing tickets in those date ranges online (www.ensemblecincinnati.com), in person or by phone (513-421-3555), and you'll save $10. That's a good way to get 2015 off on the right foot!

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: Still a Lot of Christmas Stories at Cincinnati Theaters]]>

Even though Christmas was yesterday, there are still holiday shows in the pipeline for you to enjoy. 

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has an annual hit with Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some!), and this ninth go-round has been no exception. In fact, all 12 of the show's originally scheduled performances were sold out. A 13th performance was added on Sunday, Dec. 21, and it too sold out. So one more has been tacked on, this Sunday, Dec. 28, at 7:30 p.m. If you want to see this hilarious mash-up of Christmas stories — Ebenezer Scrooge, Frosty, Rudolph (he's Gustav the Green-Nosed RainGoat in this rendition), the Grinch, the Peanuts gang, Clarence Oddbody and others from It's a Wonderful Life — check for tickets right away. You'll be laughing all the way into 2015 it you can get in. Tickets ($28): 513-381-2273 (or, a better chance, online at cincyshakes.com).

The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's 24th annual production of A Christmas Carol continues through Sunday, and the charming, tuneful recreation of girl singer Rosemary Clooney in Tenderly has proved so popular that it's on the Shelterhouse stage until Jan. 11. Tickets: 513-421-3888

If the kids are already tired of the toys they ripped open on Christmas morning, how about taking them to see Sleeping Beauty at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati? It's onstage at the Over-the-Rhine theater through Jan. 4. Yes, it's a familiar fairytale, but it's told with some new twists in the humorous script by playwright Joe McDonough accompanied by a toe-tapping score by composer David KIsor. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

For musical theater fans, take note that a cinematic rendition of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods just opened at a movie theater near you. It has a mind-boggling cast — Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine, Christine Baranski, Tracy Ullman and more — so it's just about as good as going to see a live show, but with incredible special effects. Here's a the film's trailer:


Now that Christmas is in your rearview mirror, maybe it's time to make plans for New Year's Eve. Know Theatre of Cincinnati has the event you're looking for: Get ready to party like it's 1923, the seventh annual celebration (sponsored by CityBeat, so you know it will be fun) has a Speakeasy theme at Know's Underground Bar. You'll find backroom games, tasty appetizers and libations including Martinis, Sidecars and Manhattans. There's a hot dance floor and a complimentary champagne toast at midnight. You can order tickets online in advance for $35, or wait until the last minute and — if there's room left — and pay $50 at the door on New Year's Eve, starting at 8 p.m.

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 News]]> More Directing Talent at the Playhouse. Last Wednesday the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park announced that Obie Award-winning director Eric Ting will join the theater as an Associate Artist for the 2015-2016 season. Playhouse Artistic Director Blake Robison said, "I've known Eric for nearly 15 years, when he began his career as a student at the University of Tennessee. Since then he has created an impressive body of work as one of the country's most gifted young directors. He's in touch with a new generation of American playwrights, and he brings a fresh perspective to the classics. He's distinguished himself off-Broadway with an Obie Award. And his time at Long Wharf Theatre [in Connecticut as associate artistic director] has given him experience in an institutional theatre." Ting's 2012 Obie recognized his direction of Jackie Sibblies Drury's We Are Proud to Present a Presentation on the Herero of Namibia, Formerly South-West Africa from the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915. The New Yorker called his production at Soho Rep "a thrilling opportunity to see both a serious new talent developing her voice and what an inspiring director can do to encourage it." Ting said he's honored to be named an associate artist at the Playhouse: "I've long admired Blake's work as an artistic leader and have been following the storied work of the Playhouse ever since my sister's family settled in nearby Montgomery. The associate artists program combines two of the things I hold most dear in life: art-making and community building." Ting joins three other associate artists: Timothy Douglas, Michael Evan Haney and KJ Sanchez. According to Robison, these directors "form the backbone of our directing corps and bring diverse backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints to the Playhouse."

Bowled Over. I made my first excursion to Cheviot late last week to see The Drama Workshop's production of a revue of music by Stephen Sondheim, Putting It Together. The community theater's cast of five did a commendable job with Sondheim's challenging tunes, and I was glad to get to see what TDW has done with its new home, The Glenmore Playhouse, a former bowling alley that's become a spacious performance venue thanks to the hard work of the group's many volunteers. TDW recently announced its five-show 2015-2016 season: the musical comedy I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change (Sept. 11-27); Ira Levin's murder mystery, Death Trap (Oct. 22-Nov. 8); Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Dec. 4-13); Paul Slade Smith's Unnecessary Farce (Feb. 26-March 13, 2016); and the world's longest-running musical, The Fantasticks (April 22-May 8, 2016). More information: www.thedramaworkshop.org.

Christmas Caroling. For the first time in 24 years, the Cincinnati Playhouse decided to have an understudy for Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, and it's a good thing they did: Bruce Cromer had to miss several performances after he sprained his ankle "making merry" during a rambunctious scene in the show. Another local professional, Nick Rose — a founder and a stalwart performer with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company for two decades — stepped up from a smaller role and handled a number of performances commendably. Cromer has played Scrooge for a decade (following eight years as Bob Cratchit), so it's nice to know that another fine actor might be ready to become the old curmudgeon when it's time. … Speaking of Dickens' classic story, tune in to WVXU (FM 91.7) on Christmas Eve at 7 p.m. for a recording of versatile master comedian Jonathan Winters (an Ohio native who died at age 87 in 2013) presenting his own distinctive reading of the holiday story of redemption. The pioneer of improvisational stand-up comedy, an Ohio native, was a mentor for the late Robin Williams.

Last-Minute Theater Gift? Need just one more gift to finish your Christmas shopping? The creative folks at Cincinnati Landmark Productions have put together three clever packages for dinner and a show at one of their theaters. For $75 there's the "Covedale and Coneys Bundle," offering a pair of tickets to a performance at the Covedale and a $25 gift card for Price Hill Chili. If you're willing to wait until summer is here, you can purchase an "Incline District Complete Night Out" for $100; it includes two tickets to a show at the brand new Warsaw Federal Incline Theater (due to open in June), plus a $50 gift card to either the Incline Public House or Primavista. And if you care to splurge, for $200 you can get "The Incline District Summer of Fun" tickets for all three shows during the summer of 2015 at the Incline Theater plus a $75 gift card for either the Incline Public House or Primavista. For more information or to purchase one of these packages: 513-241-6550.

Happy holidays to one and all!


CityBeat's Rick Pender posts theater notices on CALL BOARD every Monday morning.
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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Tears or Laughs]]> It's unusual that we get a chance during the holidays to see a world premiere of a new play, but it's happening at Northern Kentucky University's Corbett Theatre, where New Edgecliff Theatre and Actor & Playwrights Collaborative are producing Phil Paradis's new script, Soldier's Christmas, through Sunday. The show commemorates the centennial of the memorable "Christmas Truce" in which British and German troops stopped fighting along the Western Front during World War I and came together to celebrate the holiday. I had the opportunity to see its opening performance last week, and I can assure you that it's worth your time. A strong cast of men play nine solders, especially focused on one Brit, Corporal Tug Wilson (Aaron Epstein) and one German, Sgt. Gerhardt Dietrich (Jeffrey K. Miller). They meet tentatively after a furious episode of hand-to-hand combat, seeking warmth. They recognize their common ground and slowly convince their fellow soldiers of the common humanity that they share, leading to a momentary celebratory event in which they sing carols in their own language and discover how much alike they are. These scenes are counterpointed by five actresses playing women — wives, mothers, sisters, lovers — of the soldiers, telling their stories in monologues and chorus-like passages. Paradis's script covers the emotional spectrum, from humor to pathos, from anguish to joy. Cincinnati theatrical veteran Robert Allen directed the piece, and he keeps it from become maudlin or unbelievable. In fact, the tale is deeply moving — not to mention profoundly sad when the men are all but forced to return to their trenches and the senseless warfare that they've momentarily escaped. Nevertheless, a thread of hope runs through Soldier's Christmas, an emotion that makes this seem fitting for the season. Tickets ($18-$22) are available for performances on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and a Sunday matinee at 3 p.m.

For something completely different, look for the hilarious production of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. This is the ninth consecutive year for Cincy Shakes to present this mash-up of holiday tales told by three inventive comic actors and one very drunk Santa Claus. I've seen the production, featuring Sara Clark, Billy Chace, Justin McComb and Miranda McGee (she's Santa with a can of Foster's and her native Australian accent) for several years running. Even when I know what's coming, I find myself laughing out loud. That's because the cast and director Jeremy Dubin refresh the material every year with topical references and new bits, so it you have to keep up with their quick wit and frequent ad libs. McComb is the goofy but mischievous innocent; Chace is a pompous hipster; and Clark is the Dickens devotee who tries to coax her colleagues to pull together for the greatest "BHC" (Beloved Holiday Classic) of them all, A Christmas Carol. They steadfastly refuse, spewing forth with machine-gun rapidity one sharp parody or silly take on these familiar stories . The second act (the entire performance is about 90 minutes with an intermission) seems to be headed into Scrooge territory, but it keeps veering off into It's a Wonderful Life — in the most delightful and daffy way. After awhile you begin to wonder whether these shows are all somehow connected. And in fact they are: with an exclamation point provided at the end with a rendition of "Every Christmas Carol Ever Sung," an amazing compilation of musical numbers spliced together. Tickets ($28) for this production are virtually sold out, but it's worth a call to see if you can get in, especially for tonight's special 11 p.m. performance. In case you're wondering, Cincy Shakes does have a liquor license so you can join in the good fun with a drink of you own. Box office: 513-381-2273.

Most every local stage in Cincinnati is presenting a holiday show this weekend, so check CityBeat's listings for more choices. It's a great weekend to go out and have fun at the theater.

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

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