CityBeat Blogs - Theater http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-37-16.html <![CDATA[Stage Door: Weekend Theater Picks]]>

There are several good theater choices south of the Ohio River this weekend.

The theater (and dance) program at Northern Kentucky University presents a truly varied array of programming — this season has included a play by Orson Welles, the legendary musical South Pacific, Shakespeare's As You Like It and more. The academic year's final production Monty Python's Spamalot, opened last evening, and it seems to be a perfect vehicle for a lot of onstage clowning. (In case you haven't been tuned in, the show is subtitled "A musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail," and many of the show's most hilarious moments are reproduced wholesale onstage.) But clowning can be serious work, and if you catch NKU's production, pay attention to the choreography (the work of NKU grad Roderick Justice) which is complex, amusing and very well executed by the cast of 25. Director Ken Jones keeps things moving; the actors get into the tomfoolery from start to finish, especially Kat Moser as the diva who's the Lady of the Lake and Bradley Goren as long-suffering Patsy (he's the one who clicks the coconut shells to simulate King Arthur riding on horseback, among other amusing moments). The show is a fine entertainment, if you're a fan of the low but articulate humor of the Python troupe. Through April 27. Tickets ($8-$14): 859-572-5464.

Comedy of an entirely different sort is available at another Kentucky venue, the Carnegie in Covington, where Mary Chase's 1945 Pulitzer Prize winner Harvey is available through April 27. This is a piece of gentle humor from the past, about a slightly off-kilter guy who sees a six-foot-plus rabbit — he calls it a "pooka" — named Harvey, much to the dismay of several family members who are embarrassed by his behavior. Their efforts to get him committed to a local asylum go awry to much merriment and a message about being, well, gentle and sweet. This is good, old-fashioned fun. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

If you prefer a well-written contemporary drama, this weekend is your last chance to see A Delicate Ship at the Cincinnati Playhouse. Anna Ziegler's new show (this is its world premiere) is a memory play that explores an unexpected chain of events triggered by a love triangle. It's beautifully staged by Michael Evan Haney with a cast of three actors who are just right for each of their roles. I gave this one a Critic's Pick when it opened; it's as good as anything I saw recently at the much-respected Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Tickets ($30-$80): 513-421-3888
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<![CDATA[Know Theatre Announces 2014 Fringe Festival Lineup]]>

This evening at its Jackson Street headquarters in Over-the-Rhine, Know Theatre of Cincinnati revealed the lineup for the 11th annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival to a crowd of nearly 100 enthusiastic supporters and performers. The two-week festival begins Tuesday, May 27, with the CityBeat Fringe Kick-Off Party; it winds up 12 days later on Saturday, June 7, having presented 32 productions — 17 plays, two musicals, seven solo performers, and six dance presentations. In addition, there will be four FringeNext productions (selected from 11 applicants — a record number), featuring original material produced and performed by local students from the School for Creative and Performing Arts, Newport Central Catholic High School, St. Xavier High School and Highlands High School.

Performance Gallery is kind of the alpha and omega of the Cincinnati Fringe: They’ve been in all 11 festivals, including the 2008 hit show fricative. Producer Eric Vosmeier calls them the inspiration for much of what the Fringe is about: They were doing “fringe-like” work before the festival began, and they’ve returned annually with work that pushes the envelope. This time they’ll offer Heist, about three crooks of questionable ability. Vosmeier also cited Pones Inc., the dance-based company that returns for the seventh time with Traffick, a piece of audience engagement that explores issues of human trafficking. Vosmeier says, “This is the kind of work the Fringe was built to exhibit.”

“We had a great mix of new producers and returning favorites in the applicant pool,” Vosmeier says. “The word continues to spread about our Cincinnati Fringe Festival, which has a national reputation for being the most artist-friendly festival. We’ve worked very hard on this over the years, and I believe that we’ve created something special for our artists and for our region.”

The Cincinnati Fringe differs from festivals elsewhere in that productions are screened and handpicked by a committee of local theater artists. Drawing from a large pool of applicants, comparable to last year’s record-breaking number, this yielded a balanced mix of local vs. out-of-town producers: 15 from Greater Cincinnati and 18 from beyond. The latter number includes three international shows, the most ever for the festival: Around Dark Matter, a Holocaust memory piece by Mica Dvir, is from Tel Aviv, Israel; A Brief History of Beer by Wish Experience from London, a company that has performed at festivals from Edinburgh to Adelaide; and Prefer Not to Say, an interactive piece by blueDragonfly Productions, another U.K. group, the presenter of And All the Rest is Junk Mail a year ago.

For Wednesday evening’s announcement event, members of the Fringe staff mentioned the shows they were most looking forward to. They named:

·     An Unauthorized Autobiography of Benny Hill by Four Humors Theater (Minneapolis), the creative minds behind such past Festival favorites as Lolita: A Three Man Show, Bombus and Berylline and Harold. This will be their sixth consecutive Cincinnati Fringe appearance.

·     Blogging Behind Bars by Unity Productions, creators of two past Fringe hits, The Wave and Nothing. This time it’s a true story about a young, nonviolent criminal who wrote a blog while incarcerated in a maximum-security prison.

·     Papa Squat’s Store of Sorts by solo artist Paul Strickland from Indianapolis, whose Ain’t True and Uncle False was a “Pick of the Fringe” last year. His new show is a music-filled memorial for a guy who “once filled the emptiness in Big-Fib Cul-de-sac with his insightful songs.”

·     Something Something New Vagina by Rebecca Kling, a transgender artist and educator from Chicago with a follow-up show to her 2012 production, Beneath Her Skin.

·     The Ultimate Stimulus by Felipe Ossa, a Brooklyn-based playwright and a new artist to the Cincy Fringe, is presented in the form of a TED Talk that argues for concubinage as a way to address the problem of income inequality.

The festival is also a chance for Cincinnati’s local theater companies to show off. Clifton Performance Theatre will present Sarge, a piece by Kevin Crowley about the wife of discredited Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Untethered Theatre has prepared Where Edward Went, a new play by Ben Dudley and Adam Sievering about a screenwriter’s effort to make a documentary about Edward, the late fiancé of Elyse, a painter. They don’t quite agree about the portrait. New Edgecliff Theatre will offer TRAGEDY: a tragedy, described as “one of the funniest apocalypses of our time.” And Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s intern company always offers a fine showcase of young talent. This year it’s two one-act plays: Sheila Callaghan’s Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) and Itamar Moses’s Authorial Intent.

In addition to the productions offered nightly, artists, audience members, staff and volunteers flock nightly at Know Theatre’s Underground and headquarters for the Fringe Bar Series, with a reasonably priced bar, some free food inside and offerings for purchase from food wagons on Jackson Street. Each evening after the Channel Fringe Hard Hitting Action News Update, everyone has a chance to be a performer with activities such as the Fringe Olympics, Fringe-A-Oke, Fringe Prom, Segway Night and the Night Without Technology. This year the Bar Series night adds Fringetoberfest, an evening of German-inspired food and brews from local craft beer creators.

Vosmeier expects the festival to attract more than 8,000 visitors this year. If you’re someone who tries to see as much as possible, your best bet is a “Full Frontal” Fringe pass ($200) providing access to every event in the festival. Know also offers “Voyeur” passes ($60) good for six shows of your choice. If you can only make it once, a “One Night Stand” pass ($25) is available — admission to any two performances in an evening plus one drink at Know’s Underground bar. Single tickets to Fringe shows continue to be priced at $12; they’ll go on sale in mid-May.

There will be lots more — and the lineup can change. Hey, it’s the Fringe, so be ready for anything. You’ll find details on all these shows and more at cincyfringe.com.

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<![CDATA[Know to Announce 2014 Fringe Lineup Tonight]]> This evening at its Jackson Street headquarters in Over-the-Rhine, Know Theatre of Cincinnati will announce the lineup for the 11th annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival. The two-week festival begins on Tuesday, May 27, with the CityBeat Fringe Kick-Off Party, and continues through Saturday, June 7, presenting 33 productions — 17 plays, two musicals, seven solo performers, six dance presentations and one defined as “variety/other.” In addition, there will be four FringeNext productions, featuring area high school students, and an array of special events.

“We had a great mix of new producers and returning favorites in the applicant pool,” says Producing Artistic Director Eric Vosmeier. “The word continues to spread about our Cincinnati Fringe Festival, which has a national reputation for being the most artist-friendly festival. We’ve worked very hard on this over the years, and I believe that we’ve created something special for our artists and for our region.”

The pool of applicants, comparable to last year’s record-breaking number, has yielded a mix of local vs. out-of-town producers: 15 from Greater Cincinnati, including the return of Performance Gallery for the 11th consecutive year (it’s the only group that’s been in every Fringe) with a new piece, Heist, about three crooks of questionable ability. There will be 18 productions from beyond Cincinnati, including three international shows.

Vosmeier expects the festival to attract more than 8,000 visitors for 2014. If you’re one of those people who tries to see as much as possible, your best bet is a “Full Frontal” Fringe pass ($200) that gives you access to every event in the festival. Know also offers “Voyeur” passes ($60) good for six shows of your choice. If you can be there for one evening, a “One Night Stand” pass ($25) is available, offering access to any two performances in an evening and one drink at Know Theatre’s Underground bar. Individual tickets to Fringe Festival shows continue to be priced at $12; they’ll go on sale in mid-May.

Look for more information at CityBeat.com after the 7 p.m. announcement tonight. More info: cincyfringe.com.

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Green Day and More]]>

If you follow music coverage in CityBeat (hey, isn't that really why you pick up the paper?), you're certainly aware of Green Day's 2004 recording American Idiot. But since you're reading my weekend theater previews, you must be interested in other kinds of performance, so here's a tip: For two nights only, Green Day's American Idiot, a stage version of the powerful Punk score, will be onstage at the Aronoff. That's right — Friday and Saturday only, just three performances, much shorter that Broadway in Cincinnati's two-week presentation of touring Broadway musicals. I can vouch for this one, since I saw it a year ago during a similar tour stop in Dayton.

It's the story of three disaffected guys who take different downward spirals when confronted with the numbing boredom of everyday life — "alien nation" — as they sing in the opening number. The recording was conceived as a "Punk Rock Opera" and turned into a Tony Award-nominated Broadway show in 2010, with a lot of involvement by Green Day's lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong (who actually appeared onstage in New York at various performances; that's not happening here in Cincinnati). There's a day-of-performance lottery for a limited number of $25 tickets; you need to show up two-and-a-half hours before the performance you're hoping to see (8 p.m. Friday, and 5 and 8 p.m. on Saturday) with a valid photo ID. Complete an entry form and wait 30 minutes to find out if you're a winner. If you prefer to just go ahead and buy your seats ($38-$91), you can call the Aronoff box office: 513-621-2787.

In the classic musical Gypsy, Rose has very concrete ideas regarding how to turn her daughters into stars (long before Green Day was punking out, to be sure): Back in the 1920s and ’30s she pushed her kids onto vaudeville stages whether they liked it or not. Things never went quite as she imagined, which was really a desire for her own fame and stardom. It's one of the great musicals, and the role of Rose has been compared to King Lear. That might be a bit of a stretch, but she's a tragic character who's fascinating to watch. There's a ton of great music, composed by Jule Styne with lyrics by a very young Stephen Sondheim and lots of humor along the way, especially the hilarious number by three strippers, "You Gotta Get a Gimmick." Cincinnati Landmark opened its production Thursday night, and it will be onstage at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts through May 4. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

Mary Chase's comedy Harvey won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize and had a four-year Broadway run (1,800 performances). The story of Elwood P. Dowd and his invisible friend, a 6-foot tall rabbit named Harvey, is perhaps best known for the 1950 movie featuring Jimmy Stewart in an Oscar-nominated performance. That's all well and good, but it's a show that audiences love to see live and in-person, and you can do just that at Covington's Carnegie for the next three weekends (tonight through April 27). It's directed by Buz Davis, who produced shows at the Carnegie when it was a dilapidated wreck back in the ’80s and ’90s. Now he's returning to stage Harvey in the beautifully renovated Otto M. Budig Theatre.
(Tickets ($17-$24): 859-957-1940.) Davis has assembled a strong cast for this family-friendly comedy, you can catch a few of them in this charming promotional video:



Still onstage are several recommended productions: The Mountaintop at Ensemble Theatre (final extended performance is Saturday evening; 513-421-3555); A Delicate Ship at the Cincinnati Playhouse (through April 20; 513-421-3888; CityBeat review here); and The Twentieth-Century Way at Know Theatre (through May 3; CityBeat review here.) And if Monday comes and you want still more: Check out True Theatre's next installment — True Dating (7:30 p.m. at Know Theatre). This round of monologues of real experiences will feature stories of dating that led to true love, and some that went off the tracks along the way. Tickets ($15): 513-300-5669.
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<![CDATA[Playhouse World Premiere 'Seven Spots on the Sun' Earns National Recognition]]>

Actors Theatre’s Humana Festival is indeed a launching pad for exciting new works. That makes its final weekend the perfect moment for the American Theatre Critics Association to recognize a set of outstanding plays produced at regional theaters during 2013. None of the 2013 Humana Festival shows was nominated, but one of the three works to win a significant cash prize ($7,500) was Martín Zimmerman’s Seven Spots on the Sun, given its world premiere at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park last fall. The play blends magical realism and political issues in an affecting tale examining if forgiveness is truly possible. Set in a Central American nation ravaged by civil war, lust, plague and a consuming need for vengeance, it’s about a widowed doctor in a small village and a newly-married soldier charged with subduing dissent. Their journeys towards redemption converge in some painful ways.

The top prize ($25,000) went to Lauren Gunderson for her play I and You, about a cranky high school student who needs a liver transplant. A smart, athletic classmate recruits her to help him finish a school project focused on Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. As their unlikely relationship evolves, they explore the meaning of life and death without a shred of condescension or pretentiousness. I and You was staged last October at Marin Theatre Company in California, where Jasson Minadakis, who founded Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, is now artistic director and nurtured the development of Gunderson’s script. Her play Toil & Trouble was presented locally last summer by Know Theatre.

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Excellent Options]]>

The three-week run of the tour of Wicked wraps up this Sunday at the Aronoff Center. It's a faithful reproduction of the Broadway hit, with performers who can give you the experience of seeing the original, a kind of prequel to The Wizard of Oz. (Tickets, $38-$188: 513-621-2787, but each performance has a pre-show lottery; if your name is pulled, you can buy a ticket for $25). If you've already seen this one, I suggest you check out one of the great new productions on local stages.

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati has offered another powerhouse season this year, but I'll venture to say that The Mountaintop is aptly named: It's at the peak. It's an imagined story about Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the night before he was assassinated. I'll venture to say that you've never seen him in quite this altogether human light, as portrayed — dare I say wholly embodied — by Gavin Lawrence. And then he's visited by Camae, a sassy maid who evolves into something so much more as he contemplates the meaning of his life. The always watchable Torie Wiggins takes on this role, and it might be one of her best performances yet at ETC. The Mountaintop won London's Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2011, and in my opinion, it's one of the best productions we'll see here in Cincinnati this theater season. Through April 6. (Tickets, $25-$43: 513-421-3555).

I caught up with the Cincinnati Playhouse's production of Pride and Prejudice at the Playhouse earlier this week. (It opened a week ago, but I was out of town.) It's a faithful rendition of Jane Austen's beloved novel, gorgeously staged and costumed. It has a big cast, so all the characters, quirky and memorable, are present and accounted for — a few actors need to play more than one role. If you're an Austen fan, I suspect you'll like this one; if not, you might find it kind of uneven, since some characters come across as cartoons (especially Elizabeth Bennet's meddlesome, garrulous mother and the arrogant Lady Catherine de Bourgh) while others are more naturalistic. Kate Cook's Lizzie has all the right notes (she ought to, as she's played the role several times elsewhere) and Loren Dunn's Mr. Darcy, while a bit slow out of the gate, eventually captures the character's aloof charm. Director Blake Robison has done a good job with an interesting adaptation that has scenes that flow swiftly one into the next, sometimes with overlapping elements that recall past moments. Through April 5. (Tickets, $30-$80: 513-421-3888).

Back in the early 1980s, the musical A … My Name is Alice had a long run at New York City's The Village Gate. Northern Kentucky University is producing its version of this collection of songs focused on the paradoxes women face — beauty, strength and heart. The show, created by an array of comedians, lyricists and composers, has 20 songs. It's being staged by Corrie Daniely, the newest faculty member in NKU's theater and dance department. Through April 30. (Tickets, $8-$14: 859-572-5464).

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Broadway's Future]]>

I had a glimpse of Broadway's future last night on campus at UC. I attended Not Yet Famous, the 22nd edition of CCM's musical theater showcase, featuring the about-to-graduate senior class. The 19 vibrant performers presented a 45-minute program that they'll take to New York City on April 7 to present to casting agents, producers and others. It's how they begin to land contracts and establish relationships that will give them solid professional careers. With accompanist Julie Spangler at the piano, the singers worked as a large ensemble and smaller sets, but each one had multiple chances to show off her or his strengths as a singer, dancer and actor — they're all trained to be "triple threats" with a polished arsenal of vocal and movement skills. They were warmly received by the Friends of CCM, the support group that helps keep various programs at the conservatory going; the evening was a benefit. You have a chance to see the showcase for free if you act quickly: There will be performances on Saturday at 5 and 8 p.m. at Patricia Corbett Theater. No charge, but you need to call CCM's box office to reserve a seat (limit of two per order). I suspect tickets will be snapped up, so call right away: 513-556-4183.

Wicked is in the midst of its three-week run at the Aronoff Center. This is one of the most popular Broadway shows of the 21st century (it's been running for a decade, as well as spawning productions around the world plus two national tours, one of which is in our midst). It's here through April 23, but tickets are expensive (cheap seats are $38 and anything else is more), so you might want to try your chances in the daily lottery for a $25 orchestra seats. Grab your valid ID and show up in person 2.5 hours before the curtain time to enter; if your name is chosen, you can purchase one or two tickets. Of course, if you're flush you can guarantee seats by buying what you need at 513-621-2787.

The Playhouse just opened Pride and Prejudice, a theatrical adaptation of Jane Austen's most popular 200-year-old novel. I won't see it until next week (busy schedule), but if you're a fan — and it seems that everyone loves her novels of manners and romance — you probably need to line up to see this one. Director Blake Robison calls his production "epic," adding, "The story is a satire of the marriage market and an exploration of true love. What could be more fun than that?" It's onstage through April 5. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

What with St. Patrick’s Day coming on Monday, this might be the perfect weekend to see Clifton Players’ production of The Irish Curse (at Clifton Performance Theatre, 404 Ludlow Ave.). Lots of folks have told me they enjoyed this tale about a group of Irish-American men who meet weekly in a self-help group in a Catholic church basement to discuss a sad “shortcoming” — let’s call it “small equipment,” a curse they believe has ruined their lives. It gets its final performance on Sunday, right before you line up for your first green beer. Tickets: 513-861-7469.

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Options for All Ages]]>

Can you imagine Les Misérables without a turntable or the immense barricades lumbering down from the wings? Aubrey Berg, head of the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music’s renowned musical theater program, has dramatically re-imagined the legendary show for a run at UC, using a largely bare stage backed by a wall of ladders, staircases, shelves and recessed ledges. Berg's simplified physical production earned my Critic's Pick with its sharper focus on characters, action and music. Les Mis has a remarkable cast of 40 or so with soaring vocal talent for solo numbers and breathtaking choral power when they combine forces in iconic numbers such as “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and “One Day More.” It's a spectacular production, onstage through Sunday. Tickets: 513-556-4183.

Wicked just opened a three-week run at the Aronoff (it's the third time the show has been here, and it's set box office records every time). Tickets can be expensive (the cheap seats start at $38 and go up quickly from there), so keep in mind there's lottery for a limited number of $25 orchestra seats for each performance. You need to show up in person 2.5 hours before the curtain time (with a valid photo ID) to submit your name; if it's pulled you can purchase one or two tickets. It's worth a shot. Otherwise, you can purchase tickets by calling 513-621-2787.

If you're a Tony Bennett fan, you might consider heading to the West Side for I Left My Heart at the Covedale Center, a salute to the legendary crooner. You'll get to hear 40 standards that he's known for — "Because of You," "I Wanna Be Around," "The Good Life" and, of course, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Tom Highley, Deondra Kamau Means and Brian Wylie will be singing, with Mark Magistrelli at the piano. Through March 23. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

Here's an item worth considering for Monday evening: The Educational Theatre Association, a national organization for high school kids involved in theater, is headquartered here in Cincinnati. (They're the folks behind the National Thespian Society.) They're partnering with the School for Creative and Performing Arts on Monday at 7 p.m. for Making Magic, Defying Gravity. Presented at SCPA's Corbett Theatre (108 Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine), the evening offers a program of music and conversation featuring members of the touring cast of Wicked (as noted above) and performances by high school students from the area. You'll hear from Jason Daunter, Wicked's production stage manager, and Matt Conover, VP with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. They'll talk about how their high school dreams led to careers in the theater. Tickets are $10 in advance; 15 at the door (going on sale at 5:45 p.m.). Proceeds from this event will benefit the Friends of SCPA Scholarship Fund and the Educational Theatre Association's Scholarship Fund, both of which will help develop talent for the future of the theater.

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<![CDATA[Playhouse in the Park Announces 2014-15 Season ]]> The Cincinnati Playhouse announced its 2014-15 season on Monday. 

I’m especially looking forward to Peter and the Starcatcher, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and Circle Mirror Transformation, as well as the premiere production, Safe House

Here’s what’s coming our way, in chronological order:
  • Jeffrey Hatcher’s new whodunit featuring the world’s favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club. (Marx Theatre, Sept. 6-Oct. 4, 2014)
  • I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, adapted from foodie Giulia Melucci’s hilarious memoir. (Shelterhouse Theatre, Sept. 27-Oct. 26, 2014)
  • A world premiere by up-and-coming playwright and Cincinnati native Keith Josef Adkins, Safe House, inspired by his Kentucky ancestors. (Marx Theatre, Oct. 18-Nov. 15, 2014)
  • Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical, which traces America’s favorite girl singer from her Cincinnati childhood and Hollywood stardom to triumphant comeback. It’s by the local team of composer Janet Yates Vogt and writer Mark Friedman. (Shelterhouse Theatre, Nov. 15-Dec. 28)
  • The season also includes Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, back for its 24th year. (Marx Theatre, Nov. 26-Dec. 28, 2014)
  • A new version of the recent Broadway show, Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, directed by and featuring the star of the Broadway production, Jason Edwards. (Marx Theatre, Jan. 17-Feb. 15, 2015)
  • The second U.S. production of an offbeat love story, Chapatti, a tasty new comedy of misadventures involving love and pets. (Shelterhouse Theatre, Feb. 7-March 8, 2015)
  • Peter and the Starcatcher, the magical, family-friendly Peter Pan prequel that hooked five Tony Awards. (Marx Theatre, March 7-April 4, 2015)
  • A compelling, darkly funny new play by Tracey Scott Wilson, Buzzer, getting its world premiere at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre this month. (Shelterhouse Theatre, March 21-April 19, 2015)
  • The 2013 Tony Award-winning best play, Christopher Durang’s hit comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, full of echoes of Anton Chekhov. (Marx Theatre, April 25-May 23, 2015)
  • The comic off-Broadway hit Circle Mirror Transformation, winner of the 2009 Obie Award for best new American play. (Shelterhouse Theatre, May 9-June 7, 2015)

In a recent conversation, Artistic Director Blake Robison described his program priorities and told me the Playhouse takes them seriously. “Variety is one of our hallmarks. We’re always going to make sure there are new works and culturally diverse works and that there are family-friendly or multigenerational things. We will find ways to continue to support and entertain the traditional audience while reaching out in various directions to new audiences. It’s our responsibility to bring the best theatrical material both old and new to our community.” 

I’d say Robison’s third season sticks to his priorities.

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Hapless Heroes at Cincy Shakes]]>

There's a magnificent production of the legendary musical Les Misérables at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. I attended the opening performance at Patricia Corbett on Thursday evening, and a show that I've seen umpteen times has been given new life with fresh direction, impassioned staging and innovative design — even if you've seen the legendary original with its turntable and massive barricades, you'll find CCM's rendition, directed by Aubrey Berg, an eye-opener. It's simpler and more dramatic (that's quite a claim for a show designed to pluck your heart-strings), and it's especially noteworthy for the leads' strong vocal performances — Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert are double-cast, a demonstration of the depth of talent in this nationally renowned program — as well as each and every every performer in an ensemble of more than 40.

The 16-musician orchestra, conducted energetically by Steve Goers, sounds larger whole lot more, since several players handle three to five instruments. Berg's staging gives the show a clarity and power that makes it feel fresh and new. It has vivid feature characters and storytelling with momentum and emotional impact. This one is a must-see, so it's great that the production runs longer than many at CCM, where it's usually one-weekend and done: There are nine more performances through Sunday, March 9, which means that more tickets ($31-$35; $18-$24 for students) are available. Nonetheless, they'll be snatched up quickly, so you should call right away to get yours. 513-556-4183.

I saw Cincinnati Shakespeare's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead a week ago, and gave it a Critic's Pick in my CityBeat review here. It's a one-off from Hamlet, which Cincy Shakes just staged, using the same cast — but Tom Stoppard's 1966 script puts two throwaway characters in the limelight. Just like the Prince of Denmark, his college chums are perplexed and bedeviled by questions of existence and the meaning of life. They're caught in the swirl of the court — the characters of Hamlet dart in and out around them and add to their confusion — which adds to their confusion about their own roles, the expectations they need to fulfill and their ultimate fate. Billy Chace and Justin McCombs have a firm grasp on their hapless characters: Their sure-handed comic portraits of loquacious Guildenstern and bewildered Rosencrantz might remind you of the movie comedy team of Laurel and Hardy. This classic modern work of absurdity drawn from perhaps the greatest Elizabethan tragedy makes for a fine evening for lovers of great drama. Tickets ($22-$31): 513-381-2273, x1

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical Evita is at the Aronoff Center through Sunday. It looks great with some epic scenery and excellent choreography. Josh Young as Che is charismatic and strong-voiced in his role as the show’s commentator. But Caroline Bowman’s Eva Perón is shrill, and Sean MacLaughlin's Juan Perón lacks the sinister gravitas that the role requires. So there's not nearly enough of the complex passion and manipulation that bonded them as a political machine. The tale of the ambitious woman who rose to the highest levels of power in Argentina then crashed and burned at age 32 is a memorable modern tragedy, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock-opera tunes by will stick in your head. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

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<![CDATA[Cincinnati Shakespeare Company Announces 2014-15 Season]]> Cincinnati Shakespeare Company today announced its 21st season, commencing in July. The company is committed to staging works by Shakespeare, of course, but its goal is broader: It also presents definitive works of drama and literary classics adapted for the stage. As far as the Bard's work, the 2014-2015 season will include a holiday staging of the silly but hilarious The Comedy of Errors. Also on tap is the powerful history play, Henry V, another step in the company's epic five-year, eight-play history cycle that began with Richard II and continues during the current season with the upcoming Henry IV. Additionally, there will be a production in April 2015 of the comic battle of the sexes, The Taming of the Shrew, a popular work that Cincy Shakes staged during its first season in 1994 (as well as in 1999, 2003 and 2009). 

Aside from Shakespeare's works, the coming season will offer stage versions of two beloved American classics: a new adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age classic The Great Gatsby and the regional premiere of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Daphne du Maurier's thriller, The Birds (familiar to many as a 1963 film by Alfred Hitchcock) will show up in a 2009 adaptation by Irish playwright Conor McPherson (known for numerous works staged locally, including St. Nicholas, The Weir, Port Authority, Shining City and The Seafarer). Next January will bring forth Samuel Beckett’s profound comedy, Waiting for Godot featuring veteran actors Joneal Joplin and Bruce Cromer, and the season concludes in June 2015 with the Cincinnati debut of the Tony-award winning, West-End smash hit comedy, Richard Bean's One Man, Two Guvnors, a 2011 play based on Carlo Goldoni's 1743 comic masterpiece, The Servant of Two Masters.

Tickets for the 2014-2015 season went on sale earlier this month, resulting in a record-breaking first day of sales on Feb. 3. Single tickets are now on sale. For more information, go to cincyshakes.com or call the box office at 513-381-2273, x1.

On Wednesday the department of theater and dance at Northern Kentucky University also announced its productions for the 2014-2015 academic year, a mix of classics and contemporary works. The year kicks off in late September with the ancient Greek tragedy The Bacchae by Euripedes. The fall semester also includes the hit 2003 Tony Award-winning musical Hairspray in October-November and, in November-December, Philip Dawkins' Failure: A Love Story, the magical story of three sisters in 1928 Chicago who live and die in a rickety home by the Chicago River. In February, launching the spring semester, NKU will stage the epic musical Les Misérables, the popular masterpiece that affirms the human desire to achieve redemption. The academic year's theater productions will conclude with the 17th Biennial Year End Series Festival of New Plays. During April, the "YES" festival, as it's shorthanded, will present three world-premiere plays which have not yet been selected. Info: theatre.nku.edu or 859-572-5464.

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Options Abound]]> I’m not making up a story when I suggest you could be charmed by Mary Zimmerman’s Arabian Nights at Northern Kentucky University. After all, her play is about telling tales: Scheherazade, the latest bride of a cruel king who has a history of marrying and executing his wives, survives by stringing him along with stories she promises to finish the next night — for a “Thousand and One Nights.” (Read my profile of Mary Zimmerman here.) She plies him with tales of Sinbad and Ali Baba. Audiences at NKU will likely be strung along, too. Senior Cynthea Mercado plays Scheherazade, whose life, she says, “is threatened with the reality of her situation, and yet she is still able to enjoy her own tales and sometimes get lost in them.” No need to get lost. Find your way to Highland Heights and NKU’s Corbett Theatre for this production, through March 2. Tickets: 859-572-5464.

If a classic musical is to your taste, you might try Andrew Lloyd Webber’s epic musical Evita, in a touring production at the Aronoff Center through March 2. I caught a performance last evening, and it looks great — some epic scenery and excellent choreography. Josh Young as Che is charismatic and strong-voiced in his role as the show’s commentator. Unfortunately, Caroline Bowman’s Eva Perón gets too shrill way too fast and becomes a grasping harpy before there’s a chance to be won over by her Machiavellian charms. As Juan Peron, Sean MacLaughlin looks young and slimy, without the sinister gravitas that the historical figure possessed. That doesn’t leave much opportunity to convey the complex chemistry — passion and manipulation — that bonded them as a political machine. But the tale of the ambitious young woman who rose to the highest levels of power in Argentina then crashed and burned is a memorable modern tragedy, and the show’s rock-opera tunes by Andrew Lloyd Webber will stick in your head. Tickets: 513-621-ARTS.

Cincinnati Shakespeare is keeping the cast of its recent production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet intact with its current production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. This time around, it’s the story of Hamlet’s college buddies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who move from Shakespeare’s sidelines to Stoppard’s center stage. In this classic 1967 script, the pawns become the central characters, while Prince Hamlet, Queen Gertrude, King Claudius, Ophelia and others wander by. The classic tragedy is turned on its head, and it becomes an existential tragedy for two guys who everyone has a hard time telling apart. Through March 9. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s production of Amy Herzog’s Pulitzer Prize finalist script, 4000 Miles, is onstage at the Shelterhouse Theatre. It’s about a 91-year-old grandmother and her 21-year-old grandson bridging a giant generation gap and finding that they actually have a lot in common. Through March 9. Tickets: 513-421-3888. 

It’s the final weekend for several shows that have been pleasing audiences. Nina Raine’s Tribes at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati was originally scheduled to close last Sunday, but to meet ticket demand for the show about coping with deafness — and contentious families — ETC added performances through Saturday. (CityBeat review here.) Tickets: 513-421-3555. … A block away at Know Theatre, the off-kilter script by Steve Yockey, Pluto, winds up on Saturday, too. It’s about dealing with tragedy and grief, told in an inventive, sometimes even humorous, manner. Two of Cincinnati’s finest actors — Annie Fitzpatrick and Tori Wiggins — are in this one, making it very watchable. (CityBeat review here.) Tickets: 513-300-5669 … For the younger set, this weekend offers the final public performance, Saturday at 2 p.m., of Children’s Theatre’s Pinkalicious at the Taft. It’s the story of a girl who can’s stop eating pink cupcakes. Tickets: 800-745-3000.

And here’s a tip for Monday evening: Dayton native Daniel Beaty, who pleased a lot of Playhouse patrons last season with his tour-de-force one-man show, Through the Night, will be in town for a one-night performance to promote his new book, Transforming Pain to Power. His performance (6:30 p.m. in the Marx Theatre) and the book signing afterward in the Rosenthal Plaza) are free, but you need to make a reservation with the Playhouse box office: 513-421-3888.

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Valentine's Weekend]]>

Last night I caught the opening of 4000 Miles at the Cincinnati Playhouse. What with today being Valentine's Day, this tale of a feisty grandmother and her hippie grandson — separated by a 70-year gap in age — might not seem like a very typical love story. But it's about understanding and finding common ground, and what else is that but true love? Actor Robbie Tann plays 21-year-old Leo and Rosemary Prinz is Vera, his 91-year-old grandmother. You'd think that seven decades might be an uncrossable chasm, but each is a lonely soul — she as the result of old age, he by virtue of the tragic accidental death of his best friend — and they find consolation and support from one another as the become better acquainted. Both actors are delightful in their roles, he kind of spacey but caring, she feisty and loving. If you're looking for a good date night for Valentine's weekend, you should give Amy Herzog's play a chance. It happens to be a very credible script, by the way, having been a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize. Through March 9. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Tonight is the opening for Cincinnati Shakespeare's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard's now-classic through-the-looking-glass take on Hamlet. Since Cincy Shakes just finished a production of the latter, it's the same cast, but with the royals in the background and two lowly minor characters moved to center stage. Their plight? They don't quite understand the intrigues swirling around them, and they wonder about the meaning of their own existence. There's a lot of dark humor, and actors Billy Chace and Justin McComb are just the guys to carry it off. Through: March 9. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

If it's darkness you crave, you might also consider Pluto at Know Theatre. No, it's not about the Disney dog, but rather about unexpected changes in life — like the demotion of the solar system's one-time farthest planet into something less — as well as the Roman god of the underworld. How does all that fit together in a modest contemporary kitchen? Steve Yockey's play is an absurdist study in contemporary angst, an instant of tragedy dissected and set in amber. It's not easy to watch (there's some extreme gun violence), but the show's strong cast, especially Annie Fitzpatrick and Tori Wiggins plus NKU student actor Wesley Carman, make it extremely watchable. You just have one more week to catch this one. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

If you thought you'd missed out on Tribes at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, you actually have a grace period, since the show about deafness and family strife has been extended to Feb. 22. It was originally set to close on Feb. 16; the additional dates should make it possible for anyone who's interested to get tickets. Watching the fine acting performances of guest actor Dale Dymkoski as a young man who has been isolated by deafness and Cincy Shakes regular Kelly Mengelkoch as a young woman, adept with sign language, who is losing her hearing, will make you glad you made the effort to see this one. Tickets: 513-421-3555
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<![CDATA[Know Introduces New Artistic Director]]>

Know Theatre formally introduced its incoming artistic director, Andrew Hungerford, before a full house on Wednesday evening. He might not approach the boundless energy of his predecessor Eric Vosmeier (more on his half-dozen years at the helm here), but Hungerford has a kind of boyish enthusiasm for the job he's taking on that feels fresh and infectious. The crowd of supporters seemed enthusiastic about his engagement and were especially pleased as he filled in details about coming productions for the months ahead in 2014.

Calling Know's 17th season "Adaptation," he stressed that shows he's selected are adaptations of literary works, of different genres for the stage, of people struggling with changing circumstances and — by the way — of a theater company adapting to a new artistic director. He announced four shows.

The Twentieth-Century Way by Tom Jacobson (April). Two actors play more than a dozen roles to recreate the true story of how, in 1914, police in Long Beach, Calif., hired two actors to entrap gay men in the crime of "social vagrancy." 

Know Serials (Summer). Inspired by episodic TV series, Know will present 15-minute slices of six "series" every other week, commencing during the Fringe (in early June) and proceeding through the summer. This promises to be a playground for local artists to connect with audiences returning for more during the summer months on Know's Underground stage, with the bar nearby — and popcorn promised. 

Harry and the Thief by Sigrid Gilmer (August). The story of a guy with a time machine and a plan to go back to the Civil War era, find abolitionist Harriet Tubman and give her guns. Hungerford describes this play "a socially conscious riot of a play that uses a form of a Michael Bay action movie to tell a story full of adventure, social relevance, and answering the call of destiny." 

Moby Dick (October). This one was previously announced, a stage version of Herman Melville's immense 19th-century American novel about an obsessive sea captain and a "great white whale." Hungerford will co-direct Julian Rad's script with "local theatrical rabble-rouser" Michael Burnham (recently retired from the drama faculty at CCM). The production mixes sea shanties and inventive physicality with a text that explores issues of youth, friendship, duty and how far a man like Captain Ahab will go.

It's an intriguing lineup, one that seems likely to keep audiences returning for doses of Know's brand of off-kilter but engaging theater.
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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Choices Galore]]>

Last evening I went to see Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. You can read more about playwright Zimmerman in my column in this week's issue here, and you'll probably figure out that this is one of my favorite scripts. CCM's drama program has created a shimmering, playful production that's getting a brief run (final performance is a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday) at Patricia Corbett Theatre.

Guest director D. Lynn Meyers took a break from Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati to travel up the hill and stage this one on the UC campus, and her cast of 18 student performers wholly embraced this unusual show — which requires a pool of water as its central design feature. (Water plays a significant and meaningful role in the retelling of a set of classical myths shaped and recorded by Ovid two millennia ago.) But Dana Hall's scenic design doesn't stop with water; it's elemental, with immense hanging slabs of stone that resonate with the decorative concrete slabs in PCT. Wes Richter's lighting — it really does shimmer — enhances the stories of characters changed by circumstances, good intentions and bad decisions, and Kevin Semancik's sound design brings vivid punctuation to many stories, including a destructive storm at sea.

Speaking of sound, cellist Jacob Yates, a senior at CCM, composed moody accompaniment that distills the moving emotional essence of each scene; he performs live from stage left as the tales unfold. Amanda Kai Newman's costume designs complete the visual power of the show, whether they are fluttering around the edge of the pool or from a high balcony upstage from which the gods watch and control the mortals — and even when they are sopping wet from action in the variable-depth pool. Much of the action is beautifully choreographed and delivered with confident physicality. All in all, CCM's Metamorphoses is a total theatrical package that's definitely worth seeing. Tickets are likely available if you call quickly: 513-556-4183..

If you want a two-fer featuring shows staged by D. Lynn Meyers, you can catch her production of Tribes back at her ETC home base. (CityBeat review here.) Nina Raine's script focuses on two young adults who come from different "tribes," families with distinctively separate approaches to deafness. Billy's family wants to approximate normalcy by teaching him to lip read, while Sylvia's parents, both deaf, have used signing. Now that she's going deaf herself and has befriended Billy, these practices are at odds. But this is also a show about family dynamics, love and acceptance — something everyone can relate to. Billy's family is boisterous and rude, behaviors that often exclude him. Sylvia's gentle, thoughtful manner is both solace and revelation to him. Actors Dale Dymkoski and Kelly Mengelkoch (familiar to Cincinnati Shakespeare audiences; she's a company member there) are simply excellent in these two roles, and the balance of the cast creates real, human characters. Tribes has been extended to Feb. 22, a week beyond its announced closing, to accommodate ticket demand. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

Other productions worth checking out this weekend are Seminar by Falcon Theater at Newport's Monmouth Theater, a play by Cincinnatian Theresa Rebeck about a writing class with a tyrannical teacher (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-479-6783); Bruce Norris's Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park, revealing how attitudes about race and class haven't evolved all that much in 50 years, at Cincinnati Playhouse (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-421-3888); and Steve Yockey's absurdist drama Pluto at Know Theatre, an inventively told story of contemporary grief (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-300-5669).
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<![CDATA[Broadway in Cincinnati Announces 2014-15 Season]]> Broadway in Cincinnati today is announcing its 2014-2015 season, which will bring back The Lion King for a month-long run in April 2015 as well as the 2012 Tony Award winner, Once, which has a two week run in mid-November 2014. Lion King had a record-breaking engagement at the downtown Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center in 2007, and the winner of 1998’s best musical Tony continues its long run on Broadway. Once, based on the 2007 movie of the same name, is theatrical retelling of the story of musicians in Dublin. Played out in an Irish pub, if features an impressive ensemble of actor-musicians who play their own instruments onstage.
\"The Lion King\"
Photo: Joan Marcus
The season also offers two tried-and-true classics: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, a made-for-TV musical fairytale from 1957 which had a well-received Broadway run in 2013, will land at the Aronoff Center next January for two weeks. And a classic from 1934, Cole Porter’s Anything Goes will show up for five days in February; the story of love and blackmail on a cruise ship sailed back to Broadway in 2011 and won three Tonys.

Rounding out the season are several shows with roots in pop culture. The season opens with Dirty Dancing, a musical based on the 1987 movie about a summer vacation in the Catskills that turns into a steamy romance with a lot of choreography. For the holidays, we get another short run aimed at families: Elf: The Musical about an human orphan who ends up as one of Santa’s elves, but never quite fits in. It’s based on the 2003 film that starred Will Farrell. (Broadway in Cincinnati had good luck last Thanksgiving with a short run of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and this is surely aimed at the same audience.)

Also likely to capture an audience in search of for laughs is the season’s concluding production, I Love Lucy: Live On Stage, bringing to life recreations of one of TV’s greatest sitcoms with actors portraying Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and Ethel and Fred Mertz. Set in 1952, it lets audiences pretend they’re attending the filming of a pair of classic episodes on an L.A. soundstage. It’s not a musical, but it has lots of tuneful interludes by Ricky’s orchestra at the Tropicana Nightclub, plus ’50s style singing commercials.

Season subscriptions go on sale today: 800-294-1816 or BroadwayinCincinnati.com

Dirty Dancing (Sept. 23-Oct. 5, 2014)

Once (Nov. 11-23, 2014)

Elf: The Musical (Dec. 2-7, 2014)

Cinderella (Jan. 6-18, 2015)

Anything Goes (Feb. 17-22, 2015)

The Lion King (March 31-April 26, 2015)

I Love Lucy (June 2-14, 2015.

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Full Weekend]]>

Lots of plays not previously seen in Cincinnati are good theater choices this weekend:

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati just opened its regional premiere of Tribes by Nina Raines on Wednesday, and I've given it a Critic's Pick. The story circles around two young adults from families with very different approaches to deafness. Billy's family has tried to give him a "normal" life by teaching him to speak and lip read, while Sylvia's deaf parents have always communicated using sign language. Now that she's going deaf, she's more and more dependent on that skill. But Billy's loud, boisterous family objects to him to make his deafness so obvious, even though he's finally found a path to overcome his loneliness. This tale of warring tribes is as much about family dynamics and human nature as it is about coming to terms with a disability. Provocative and thoughtful, with a sterling cast of convincing actors. Through Feb. 16. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park has a winner with its production of Bruce Norris's Clybourne Park, a show that portrays territoriality rooted in insensitivity and prejudice. (CityBeat review here.) Using a 1959 play, Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun*, as its jumping-off point, Norris's first act portrays a white Chicago neighborhood where the sale of a home to an African-American family has set off warfare between residents. In the second act, it's 2009 and the same neighborhood, blighted by deterioration, is now being gentrified. The tables are turned, but many of the arguments — and in Norris's clever script, even some of the same words — resurface. I gave this one a Critic's Pick, too. Through Feb. 16. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

*A footnote to Clybourne Park: To experience this show's inspiration, A Raisin in the Sun, tune to WVXU (FM 91.7) on Saturday evening, 8-10 p.m., for a radio production of Lorraine Hansberry's play by LA Theatre Works. It's a seminal American drama in its own right.

This bounty of premieres is joined by Know Theater's staging of Steve Yockey's brand-new play, Pluto. (CityBeat review here.) It's the story of a single mom and her sullen, disconnected son in a generic suburb. It feels realistic, but there are signs that it goes beyond that: A blossoming cherry tree has crashed through the ceiling, and a three-headed dog (played by a one-headed actress) sits nearby, offering curious observations about what's going on. A radio spits out news about a school shooting, sometimes speaking directly to the mom, and then the refrigerator begins to shake violently, as if some force is trying to escape. There's more to be revealed, and I should warn that gun violence and death are portrayed. But this is a poetic and emotional tale of grief distilled. Through Feb. 22. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Daniel Beaty's one-man show, Through the Night, was well-received at the Cincinnati Playhouse in a Fall 2012 production, performed by the playwright. (CityBeat previewed that piece here.) Northern Kentucky University this weekend is offering another of Beaty's solo works, the multi-character show (27 roles in all) Emergency, a piece that features slam poetry, performed by local actor Deondra Means. It begins with a fanciful premise, a slave ship arriving in a New York City harbor in the 21st century. Director Daryl Harris calls Emergency "a perfect storm for the social activist and the theater artist in me." It's onstage only this weekend at NKU's Stauss Theatre. Tickets: 859-572-5464.
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<![CDATA[Advising a Louisville Theatre Field Trip]]>

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

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

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

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

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

It was a joyous, festive hoot from start to finish, a wonderful tonic for a bitterly cold winter. My only regret is that I'm late to the party: The production of Pirates of Penzance wraps up on Saturday. If you have the time to drive down I-71 and can score a ticket (Actors Theatre box office: 502-584-1205), you'll feel like you took a mini-vacation.
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<![CDATA[Stage Door: 'Clybourne Park' and More]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hamlet, at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, runs until Feb.9, but you should catch it if you plan to attend the next CSC show, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which tells the same story from the perspective of two minor characters — using the same cast. It opens on Feb. 14. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.
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<![CDATA[Stage Door: 'South Park,' Sondheim and Shakespeare]]> The big buzz is around The Book of Mormon, the musical by the South Park guys that's rude, crude and sweet, all at once. An acquaintance of mine aptly describes it as "blasphemy without malice." Regardless of what you call it, it's the talk of the town, and a lot of people have told me that affordable tickets are not to be found. Since it's a hot item the ticket resellers have really jacked up the prices, so it's a better bet to go straight to the box office at the Aronoff Center and ask them what's available. If you have the time, come the box office two-and-a-half hours before the performance you're hoping to see and apply for one or two tickets (that's the limit). Two hours before curtain names will be drawn randomly. You have to be there and you can only enter once. Of course it's a gamble, but if your name is pulled, you'll pay just $25 per ticket. This touring production will be in downtown Cincinnati through Jan. 26.

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

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

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